Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Melioria coffee house salon transcript: Tolerance in the Englightenment


Our coffee House Salon held on July 23, 2011

My apologies for my tardiness in posting this--the convoluted adventure that is my meatspace existence has delayed me from attending to more important issues. What follows is the transcript from out second "coffee house salon" on the island of Melioria in Second Life. The subject was Tolerance in the Enlightenment, and participants prepared by reading a variety of pieces from the period including John Locke's Letters on Tolerance, an excerpt from an 18th century German play in which Jewish and Muslim characters were treated with great sympathy and respect, and the one of the key British anti-catholic laws of the 18th century. Please keep in mind that the discussion was conducted "in character" set in the year 1780 (which kept us from including some later interesting materials).

[08:12] Aldo Stern: The topic for today is...tolerance...particularly as it applies to various religions and religious affiliations in Europe.

[08:13] Aldo Stern: have you all had the opportunity to look at the readings that the Baronessa and I prepared in advance?

[08:14] OFlaherty Dreadlow: I confess that I haven't.

[08:14] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): Quite allright that is. It is merely to get the conversation going.

[08:14] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Yes, I have looked at the materials. And have been reviewing some recent publications by Monsieur’s Rousseau and Voltaire.

[08:15] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Ah, yes....I did read through it quickly.

[08:15] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): and I would start there...

[08:15] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): The Professore wanted to put the quote from the Jew, Shylock, at the beginning ... what did you have in mind with that, Herr Professor?

[08:15] OFlaherty Dreadlow: There are, of course, newer writings...from our friends in the erstwhile colonies.

[08:16] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Jefferson, for one

[08:16] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Indeed. Mr. Jefferson has stirred up quite a bit of trouble with his Declaration of Independence.

[08:16] Aldo Stern: oh excellent points...we will get to those in minute...

[08:16] Aldo Stern: in answer to the Baronessa, I put that piece from the play there, because I think it represents something ...the mixed state of tolerance and it's cousins, empathy and acceptance, in Europe have been for some time and remain mixed.

[08:18] Aldo Stern: the playwright puts words in Shylock's mouth that imply an understanding of the injustice of his situation and of his people.

[08:18] Aldo Stern: at the same time, that he is unlikable character and comes out badly in the end of the play.

[08:19] Aldo Stern: our feelings versus our ideals are often at odds...

[08:19] Aldo Stern: but let us start with ideals...Sere, you mentioned looking at Rousseau and others...what did you take away from reviewing their thoughts on tolerance?

[08:20] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): The idea that it is important to separate religious allegiance from civil allegiance.

[08:20] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): That for the good of the state we must allow every person the right to their own religious practice.

[08:21] Aldo Stern: then they are saying societies should tolerate religious differences not so much for ideals, but for pragmatic reasons?

[08:22] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): I think so. But both Rousseau and Voltaire clearly believe there are some common civil ideals that must bind us all together.

[08:23] Aldo Stern: civil ideals , but not spiritual ones?

[08:23] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): It is interesting, I think, that both of those gentleman seem to separate the two. Yet when each talks about civic/civil ideas they seem very much grounded in the Christian tradition.

[08:24] Aldo Stern: interesting, indeed...

[08:24] Aldo Stern: your Lordship, you mentioned the American, Signore you have some insights into how he views the issue?

[08:24] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Well, that touches on what I think is the crucial point.

[08:24] Aldo Stern: yes?

[08:24] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Note that we tend to talk about religious tolerance....

[08:25] OFlaherty Dreadlow: In essence, that means that we "tolerate" those with dissenting--that is, incorrect--views for the sake of a civil society.

[08:25] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Jefferson wrote the Statute of Religious FREEDOM in 1777.

[08:26] OFlaherty Dreadlow: That states that ALL religious points of view--from the point of the state--are equally valid and is revolutionary

[08:27] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): I wonder if Mr. Jefferson would be quite so tolerant of a religion that required human sacrifice. That would seem to put religious beliefs and the common good at odds.

[08:27] OFlaherty Dreadlow: And, if I may broach a delicate subject, why most of views like that were hidden in secret societies.

[08:28] OFlaherty Dreadlow: That would violate a basic civil law and could be banned on that basis.

[08:29] Aldo Stern: but then is not Signore Jefferson essentially a deist.

[08:30] OFlaherty Dreadlow: He was but it was not crucial for him to be a deist to believe that--from society's point of view--all religions are valid.

[08:30] Aldo Stern: taking a philosophical perspective that there is a Divine, and all religions are some form of manifestation of that, and consequently all valid.

[08:31] OFlaherty Dreadlow: It's important to keep in mind that one period of "tolerance" can be followed by one of intolerance when those in "hiding" come out in the open and are...removed.

[08:31] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): I think his Lordship makes a interesting point about the revolutionary nature of it does seem to be a mix of principles and ideals ... it is good for the state for the different groups to be productive elements of society.

[08:31] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Hence, the Masons....even more, speaking of Jefferson, hence the Illuminati.

[08:31] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): but also there is an idealism there.

[08:32] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): it not just simply like with the Jews in some places where they are tolerated, but not accepted, because of their banking skills and resources.

[08:33] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Exactly, until the wealth those areas provide become tempting and subject to jealousy.

[08:33] Aldo Stern: yes, or they are perceived as becoming too politically powerful.

[08:33] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Indeed.

[08:34] OFlaherty Dreadlow: AND they are identifiable because of the earlier "tolerance."

[08:34] Aldo Stern: as happened when the British were considering a naturalization act for the Jews back in the 1750s.

[08:34] Aldo Stern: popular opinion was stirred up and the act failed not so much on issues of faith, but because many English people feared the Jews could take control of their political affairs.

[08:35] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Which brings us to the crux of the problem: human nature that seeks to protect itself by attacking the "other"

[08:36] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): well is that not why the Freemasons are suppressed some places--fear of their power and influence?

[08:36] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): and isn't that what happened to the Jesuits as well?

[08:36] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): And it is often easier to "justify" acts of intolerance and suppression by appealing to religious belief and God, than to admit to jealousy and fear.

[08:37] OFlaherty Dreadlow: At the moment, their influence is open--consider General Washington--but there will undoubtedly be a reaction from those outside their area of power.

[08:37] Aldo Stern: well that is a very complex chicken and egg thing isn't it?

[08:37] Aldo Stern: like with Catholics in Britain

[08:37] Aldo Stern: there is a fundamental ideological difference between the catholic and protestant perspectives

[08:38] Aldo Stern: they each think they are the one true version of Christianity.

[08:38] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Yes, I fear my mother's family (I'm half British/half Irish) will suffer much for their refusal to "conform"

[08:39] Aldo Stern: but in trying to impose the ideals, there is a see-saw history of struggling for power, and kings of the different faiths, and the gunpowder plot and the Jacobites uprising... and on and on.

[08:39] Aldo Stern: there is fear of Catholics among protestant Britons not just because of issues of faith, but because of the history that is there.

[08:40] Aldo Stern: that is why they have the settlement act regarding the faith that their rulers must adhere to.

[08:40] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): which we had in our notes

[08:40] Aldo Stern: yes, Baronessa, we did

[08:40] Aldo Stern: thank you for finding that

[08:40] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): *grins*

[08:40] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): One thing that makes Britain and the papal states different from many other nations is the fact that their civil authority -- the king or the Pope -- is also a religious authority.

[08:41] Aldo Stern: ah an important point...head of state as also head of the state religion.

[08:41] OFlaherty Dreadlow: All wars--both military and political--believe that THEIR war will end all wars.

[08:42] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Hence the appearance, and often the reality, is that if you don't conform to the state religion you are somehow a lesser citizen.

[08:42] Aldo Stern: well speaking of political do you all feel regarding the Jesuits...and speaking of popes and their authority...

[08:42] Aldo Stern: have the Jesuits been suppressed in so many catholic states because someone fears them?

[08:43] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Intellectuals of all types are feared by the state

[08:43] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): but not all states.

[08:44] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): the Prussian King and Great Catherine in Russia have taken in the Jesuits and given them refuge.

[08:44] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Refuge....not inclusion

[08:44] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): mostly for the pragmatic reasons I think...good teachers they are.

[08:44] OFlaherty Dreadlow: And refuge can turn into entrapment at any time.

[08:44] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): I know Der Alte Fritz thinks having them teaching in Prussia strengthens his state.

[08:44] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): There is often fear of things that one does not understand and cannot control. Most secret societies, including the Jesuits, fall into that category.

[08:45] Aldo Stern: There are some who see a connection between the Jesuits and the freemasons and revolutionary ideas that could potentially overthrow old systems in places like France.

[08:46] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Since Rome ruled the western world, we have seen outsiders being taken into the state as "workers" but they usually grow into threats to the state.

[08:46] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): Greetings...

[08:47] Aldo Stern: good day , Your Eminence. How good of you to join us

[08:47] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): Good Morning, Sir and Madame. Please continue your conversation...

[08:47] Aldo Stern: we were discussing the various manifestations of intolerance...and the suppression of certain groups such as the Freemasons and the Jesuits and the limitation of rights for Jews in many places, or Catholics in England.

[08:48] Aldo Stern: and I think one theme that we have seemed to agree on, is that at the heart of intolerance is fear.

[08:48] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): oh well, the age of enlightenment is an interesting topic...

[08:48] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): about the Jesuits...I have some definite ideas...

[08:49] Aldo Stern: yes, Your Eminence, what are your thoughts regarding the Jesuits?

[08:49] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): In my own opinion I don't think the Jesuits will be suppressed.

[08:50] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): first of all, if the Jesuits really introduce new ideas I don't see anything that will undermine His Holiness...

[08:51] OFlaherty Dreadlow: Not suppressed? Everywhere, Eminence....or just where the Pope holds power?

[08:51] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): There are some people who may disagree with my opinion, however, and we must obey the decisions of His Holiness...

[08:51] Aldo Stern: there is the possibility that His Holiness was pressured, particularly by the Spanish and French courts about the Jesuits, but that his heart is not really in the suppression and that he was secretly pleased that Prussia and Russia have given them refuge.

[08:52] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): The biggest problem, I think, will be the Spanish monarch.

[08:52] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Why do you suppose that the Spanish and French courts are so fearful of the Jesuits?

[08:53] Aldo Stern: Perhaps that brings us to the other side of this ... what moves some people to look upon the benefits of tolerance...and to give more rights to oppressed religious minorities in their countries...

[08:53] OFlaherty Dreadlow: And we should not forget the Dutch....who have been most tolerant.

[08:54] OFlaherty Dreadlow glances at the cardinal for his reaction to that

[08:54] Aldo Stern: we mentioned Jefferson and Rousseau and Voltaire, but I rather liked the quote we included in the readings from John Locke, the English philosopher and doctor who was such an early influence.

[08:54] Aldo Stern: and he seems to be saying that tolerance is what a good Christian would do.

[08:55] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): The monarchs of Spain are afraid of what will happen if their colonies and trade arrangements are subjected to an organization that isn’t Spanish. Jesuits actually stand for the Papal State.

[08:56] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Getting back to the Professore’s point, I think many of the current batch of philosophers make the point that Christian teaching makes it clear that all human knowledge is fallible.

[08:56] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Thus it is difficult to assert that one group's understanding of religion is better than the rest.

[08:56] Aldo Stern: which brings us back to a philosophical underpinning for tolerance.

[08:57] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): philosophy is one thing, but ultimately when most states act ... when governments act, when rulers act, they are doing what they see as good for their interests.

[08:57] OFlaherty Dreadlow: and this is probably a good point for me to beg your pardon.

[08:57] OFlaherty Dreadlow: I fear I have another engagement...

[08:57] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr):

[08:57] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): We have appreciated your company and insights, Lord Dreadlow.

[08:59] Aldo Stern: your Lordship, thank you for joining us .

[08:59] Aldo Stern: anyway, Baronessa, you were saying?

[08:59] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): well...

[08:59] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): that Prussia takes in the Jesuits because they are an intellectual resource.

[09:00] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): they take in the Jews and treat them relatively fairly because they have resources and skills.

[09:00] Aldo Stern: the British have arguably done the same.

[09:00] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): Russia has also done the same, I know.

[09:00] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): And so Prussia has separated religious belief from acting for the good of the state. Very progressive.

[09:00] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): and sometimes maybe one nation might take in the French protestants just because they are thinking it will annoy the French.

[09:01] Aldo Stern: *laughs*

[09:01] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): but apart from insuring the survival of the Jesuits, I see accepting the Jesuits into Russia as a more progressive action, especially because of what they can do for education.

[09:01] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): ja, Eminence you are right, I think Catharine likes the Jesuits for what they can do to advance learning in her country.

[09:02] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): pretty much backward they are, you know.

[09:02] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): exactly

[09:02] Aldo Stern: yes, she desperately wants to create a modern nation.

[09:03] Aldo Stern: It is essential for Russia's survival and that means modernizing thought and education as well as industry and the military.

[09:04] Aldo Stern: but as we have said before...

[09:04] Aldo Stern: it is one thing to be tolerant of a religious group or an organization for pragmatic reasons, but it is another to see the "other" as a person.

[09:05] Aldo Stern: to accept him and his beliefs

[09:05] Aldo Stern: which is why we included the last bit from the play Nathan the Wise

[09:05] Aldo Stern: because what is interesting to me in that is that the Jewish characters, unlike Shylock, are likable and sympathetic.

[09:05] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): Don’t forget that during most of the 18th Century, the church is a kingdom with a monarch (pope), prince (cardinal), land, and money.

[09:06] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): ja. eminence

[09:06] Aldo Stern: the individuals in the play ..., Muslim, Jewish and Christian

all have good qualities

[09:07] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): But 1773 is the year that the Papal State dissolved, and most of the cardinals became representative of their kingdom’s monarch ... not the Pope. This is especially true in Spain.

[09:08] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): The people who are afraid of the ideas of the enlightenment think the new ideas will destroy the christianity of the Church because they could undermine the traditional order and rules of the church. For example, the church had strong views about the nature of the universe.

[09:09] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): I forget the name of the scientist who was executed by the church because he described a theory of the universe which contradicted the church’s teaching.

[09:10] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Cardinal, do you think that the notion of religious tolerance ought to extend to matters of science?

[09:11] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): For the most part I agree. On the one hand I think the rule of the church, or I shall say the belief, should be under control by the Pope himself, but the Jesuits are another matter.

[09:11] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): Because of the Jesuits I think the church will be better able to focus on what we should focus on to do better.

[09:11] Aldo Stern: but again, as the Jesuits showed ... or John Locke stated ... learning, science, new ideas do not necessarily undermine our faith.

[09:12] Aldo Stern: we can be good Christians, ..or Jews ... or Zoroastrians I suppose, and still believe in the importance of new ideas and reason.

[09:12] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): But learning and science can undermine the ideas that have been promulgated for centuries by the head of a religious group like the Pope. That can seem very threatening.

[09:13] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): I certainly accept it will be threatening, but the oversight of the papal state is needed because the inventor of a new idea might overreach and cause further rebellion.

[09:14] Aldo Stern: change is always threatening from a certain perspective.

[09:14] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): But the Jesuits seem to be changing the thinking of the church especially on education and new scientific invention which is needed in the world today.

[09:15] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): I think we can agree that it is more difficult for a state to be tolerant of dissenting views, whether religious or scientific, when the head of the state is a religious leader.

[09:16] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): But I would like to get back to the ideas of Locke about how ordinary people view other religious groups.

[09:16] Aldo Stern: which is why as you said Sere, it was so interesting that Frederick of Prussia has separated the civil and religious authority...

[09:16] Aldo Stern: and his primary concern is what is good for the state.

[09:17] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): That separation makes it easier for ordinary people to be tolerant of other religions, I think. It seems almost a necessary precursor.

[09:19] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): I enjoyed the conversation today but must be going.

[09:19] Aldo Stern: we are very pleased that you could join us, Your Eminence

[09:20] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Thank you for coming Your Eminence. We have appreciated your ideas

[09:20] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): I am glad that the people have thought about the importance of enlightenment ... I am not one of those ultra-conservatives.

[09:20] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): have a good day...

[09:20] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): a pleasure it was to meet you.

[09:20] Giovanni Marco Byers (joubert.byers): pleasure to meet you all too.

[09:20] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Good day.

[09:20] Aldo Stern: arrividerci

[09:22] Aldo Stern: well shall we finish with Locke?

[09:22] Aldo Stern: the bit I was really impressed by was this:

[09:22] Aldo Stern: "I esteem that toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church."

[09:23] Aldo Stern: I think Locke sees tolerance as a Christian duty.

[09:23] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): A very revolutionary idea, and one that has resonated among the Enlightenment thinkers.

[09:24] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): well I think especially those who have a broader, less dogmatic view of their Christianity.

[09:25] Aldo Stern: like a Jefferson?

[09:26] Aldo Stern: unless I am very much mistaken we are all getting mentally tired.

[09:27] Aldo Stern: but may I sum up a few pints and see if we agree...

[09:27] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): I think perhaps you are right, Professore.

[09:27] Aldo Stern: that the root cause of intolerance and persecution may be ideological...or based in issues of faith...

[09:27] Aldo Stern: but he real engine of intolerance is fear.

[09:28] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): I would agree with that

[09:28] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): An excellent summary.

[09:28] Aldo Stern: and that the growth of tolerance is to a great extent based in pragmatism.

[09:29] Aldo Stern: but what will give it greater resonance is the philosophical ideals...from a broader view of what it means to be a person of faith.

[09:29] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): hmmm

[09:29] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): maybe

[09:30] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Certainly if tolerance can be made to seem like a core tenet of faith it is easier for most people to practice it.

[09:30] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): but what makes tolerance work in my old homeland in Franconia...where both Catholics and Lutherans coexist happily...

[09:30] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): is simple live close with people and you see them as people, not a papist or a Lutheran.

[09:31] Aldo Stern: or a Jew

[09:31] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): ja

[09:31] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Living side by side reduces the amount of the "unknown" -- there is simply less to fear about people you know.

[09:31] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): my husband he was a Lutheran but not such a good one.

[09:32] Diogeneia (diogenes.kuhr): maybe that helped?

[09:32] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): If tolerance is a Christian virtue, your late husband might have been the very best kind of Lutheran.

[09:32] Aldo Stern: well on that note, I think we can bring this to a close

[09:32] Aldo Stern: I found the discussion very interesting

[09:33] Sere Timeless (serenek.timeless): Thank you for leading us Professore.