1. Renaissance: Do you think that Western society has benefitted from this move away from a public sphere dominated by spiritual ideals and towards a more secular society?
Out of the diffusion of the idea of secularism emerges a human being’s fearlessness in delving into the sphere of all knowledge; an accomplishment which I think should be celebrated. While the popularization of secularism doesn’t mark some kind of widespread moral awakening, I think that it did bring us to question man’s ability in reaching the realm of intellectual and spiritual greatness. Essentially, I think that secularism’s spread was a reaction to the confines of religion which was having a toll on the Church, and as a result, on the laity. In the time before secularism man was made to beckon to the call of his doctrine and his doctrine alone. And although secularism does become a big deal, I would disagree completely with the notion that it somehow took over people’s dedication to their faith; if anything, it strengthened it in a healthy way. The freedom that it allotted called man to believe in his own ingenuity; I see the contrast between medieval art and architecture to that of the renaissance as a testimony to how grand man knew he could be when he was made more aware of his surroundings through the study of things other than religious doctrine. -Tahira
Regarding today, I don’t think I can put my finger on which is better, per say, the public sphere of spirituality or secular society, for I think they both have highs and lows to take into account. First, I personally tend to ere on the side that there has been a little too much of a shift towards secularism and not enough rooted in spirituality. I think some of the biggest problems in today’s culture arise because so many people lack a firm moral compass, which could be easily established by religion. It is a fact that almost every religion in the world has a basic rubric for morality, the same structure, and importance placed on about the same moral code. I think it would be more beneficial for today’s society to root itself in a common belief rather than a common goal. In addition, I think today too many people have become dependent on the secular side of society. Even choosing colleges and choosing majors has become a game of which is most well known or which will earn you the most money out of college which I think depreciates the value of an entire person as a whole and unjustly escalates the importance of certain characteristics. (RORS)
In responce to Rory's very thoughtful, well written answer, I would add that spirituality is not a necesary ingrediant for a person to have a sturdy moral compass and one's religious choice can only effect one's morals as much as that individual person wants it to. For example, if Christianity were forced upon individuals, the ability for society to deviate from the secular world would be in the hands of each individuals dicisions - and many Christians would still buy jacked up cars and pompous houses. She is correct in that spitiual ideals may help encourage a devotion to our morals, but to me it is moreso the environment in which that person grew up, not only their faith. Some of the most moral people I know question the Bible and God, but still make good decisions based on their upbringing. To conclude this thought, yes faith can help reduce the amount of problems in society, but one's morals do not need a faith base to promote good works. Western Culture has wrongly transitioned to a more secular society, but it is not only the shift away from spiritual ideals that caused this, but rather the materialistic environment that we breed into. This modification to our culture is benfitfial in that it allows more innovative thinking, but for the most part has caused a lack of morality, which leads to much worse consequences. (Ellie Sheild)
Yes, I do think that Western Society has benefitted from its move away from a religiously dominated society. While many people who participate in secular society are religious people and thus still abide by the moral principles established by their religion, the release of the clerical stranglehold on the economy has allowed business to flourish free of the religious restrictions that were previously imposed upon it. In a way, what we have now is the best of both worlds. The moral code that the church sought to establish is still held in place by institutions like churchs, families, and schools, but the church does not seek to extend its influence into business, allowing accumulation of wealth, growth of industry, and other key components of our western society. (CarolineBeuley)
I think Western society has benefitted from the shift towards a more secular society for many reasons. First of all, I think a public sphere that is too dominated by spirituality, and religion in particular (since I believe there is a distinction between spirituality and religion), is in danger of hindering the creativity and curiosity of its members. For example, due to the spriritual influences of the Church on the public, DaVinci feared what the Church would do if it discovered his scribbles about heliocentricity and other radical ideas and thus kept his ideas to himself. I also think that a more secular society allows for nonconformity and uniqueness since a more spiritual public sphere can easily push a widely held belief onto members with other views, forcing them to accept a dominant spiritual ideal so as to avoid persecution or exclusion. (KatieMayo)
Not only is it good that society has moved away from a public sphere dominated by spiritual ideals, but it was also necessary that this occurred. These spiritual ideals were pursued by almost all who lived in the medieval era, yet we have been able to see how imperfectly these ideals were followed. The massive corruption in the Catholic Church, the body that was supposed to enforce these ideals, is just one example of how medieval society could never live up to be the perfect “City of God” that it endeavored to be. It is simply impossible for an entire society to aim for an unattainable perfection. It is a recipe for failure. Yet, not only are the perfect ideals of a “City of God” impossible to live up to, but they also hindered societal advancement during the Middle Ages. The spiritual ideals stymied all possibility of progress in science or technology (with the exception of architecture), as those in the Catholic Church held that all knowledge was already known, and therefore both discovery and reform were impossible. Intellectual questioning was often deemed heretical, and learning was controlled almost entirely by the Church. Life spans were pitifully low as the masses lived in squalid conditions while corruption thrived. The serfs were certainly unhappy: they had no “meaningful” work (they had no chance of improving their lot), and nihilistic peasant adages from this time show us this. While the Church tranquilized them, I did not ease their suffering. The Renaissance, while certainly not coinciding with a scientific revolution, created the atmosphere necessary for a scientific revolution to occur: the Church’s stranglehold on learning and questioning had slackened significantly. Thus, if not for the secularization that took place, western society would never have advanced at the alarming rate it did, and we would likely not have the luxuries we have today. A different society would likely have developed faster and taken on the dominant role in the world.
On a potentially unrelated note, no society has ever had no dissent without first silencing its dissenters. There will always be disagreement, and understanding this fact, rather than ignoring it, is important in any society (I know I used the word society a lot…) A democracy takes this into account, while the quasi-theocracy of the Middle Ages did not. -DavisHeniford
The medieval world was dominated by a society of forced Christendom. Christianity was as much cultural as it was a choice. If your family were Christian, then you would be Christian, simple as that. When any religion is forced upon you, it loses its effectiveness. You cannot teach faith, or force belief. This resulted in a twisted Christianity during the Middle Ages that was more about cultural expectation then genuine faith. This twisted Christianity was ripe for corruption, culminating in Christianity being used more as a tool of power than as an expression of the doctrine of grace and love on which it was founded. Western society has benefitted from the fading of the Church as a vessel of insurmountable political power, but on the flip side, is critically wounded by the decrease of genuine faith. It is a real shame that genuine Christianity, focused on loving God and loving Others, and prizing such virtues as honesty and mercy, is not more prevalent in our modern society. - Connor Haines
In terms of scientific achievement and cultural growth, of course the shift away from a governing church was a good thing. While the Renaissance itself wasn't the true beginning of scientific exploration, it did set the stage for people having the ability to, although there would always be roadblocks to those who were progressively minded. It was also a cultural rebirth, which, if had in the right ways, can be good. I see the opulence of Venice during this time to be an example of what can go wrong here, where I see the culture of Florence to be more of an experimentation with other cultures, but not in direct conflict with specific moral values (of course there are exceptions to each of these examples). Socially however, I believe that this was the beginning of a great decline in human life. While the "City of God" may not have been perfect, with corrupt church officials and wars/famine, I can honestly say that I would rather live in a society where people don't have a proper spelling for their own name then one where they chisel it onto the front of beautiful works of art. (Matt Borin)
A shift away from religion to a secular society offers the truest path to human advancement. First, I’d like to address the differences between religion and morals, to show that within a secular society to show how moral decision-making can still occur. Religion offers faith-based dogma that does not promotes questioning or further exploration of the religion’s key tenants. As such, the morality promoted is less based on general societal welfare, but instead based on how much an individual contorts himself or herself to fit an esoteric set of guidelines. For example, lets look at the idea of compassion promoted by western religions, most prominently Christianity. Compassion, specifically through “the Golden Rule”, is taught as a key tenant of Christianity, and most religious followers would claim to be compassionate, thus, through agreeing with the doctrine preached, they can claim to act in such a way that is compassionate. However, this claim of having the moral guideline of “compassion” proves unsubstantial when looking at the actions of most members of society. To prove this point, I’ll look towards a thought experiment conducted by political-philosopher Peter Singer (if you’re interested, here’s the link http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/singer/Default.aspx). Singer’s logic follows that if a person is compassionate, they would be willing to sacrifice luxury to save a life. To prove this, think of the fact that most people would save a child drowning in a pond, even if it would provide them with the inconvenience of muddying their clothes, essentially sacrificing convenience in the short term to save a life in the long term. However, when turning to the idea of donating to help starving children around the world (there are more logical steps to get to this point that Singer offers, but for the sake of this argument I’ll skip them), most people would not give up all of their luxury to save their fellow man, in essence most people prefer luxery to compassion in the face of ascribing to being compassionate as part of their religion. This contradiction; however, is glazed over by religious people as they can claim to be compassionate through following the dogma of the religion, instead of through acting truly compassionate. The main point being that a society based on religion only states that people will act in a certain “moral” way without truly forcing them to, as one can simply say they are of X religion and are therefore compassionate. Within a secular society; however, there is a much greater focus placed on actually changing the world, something thought of as paramount to heresy during the Middle Ages. This rekindled faith in human ability to change the world draws from secularism as, instead of hoping a deity will bring about change, the burden of changing the world is placed on man. In order to achieve change, man must then focus on scientific and economic changes to enhance the wellbeing the most people, true compassion in my opinion. Lacking the dogma of religion, a secular society will also not arbitrarily harm certain members of society for being different and will also have no incentive to reject people for their difference. If the entire world is embraced as one humanity, instead of segment groups, then less conflict would occur. Also, lacking strict dogmatism, people will be willing to question established hierarchies and rules, in the process, looking for true justice instead of simply justice for certain people who believe a certain thing. My views are very utilitarian, in that I feel there is an obligation to maximize happiness for the maximum number of people, so, if you disagree with my aforementioned opinions, then it may be do to philosophical differences as to the obligation of a society. Also, this probably all sounded very pretentious and, for that, I apologize.-David Farrow
Overall, I do not think Western society has benefitted from the move away from spiritual domination. Although the scientific and intellectual growth is undeniably beneficial, these advancements intended to solve problems have simply created new problems. For example, the development of modern medicines keeps people alive, and this is great. However, by keeping so many people alive, we are overpopulating the planet; to keep the planet at its carrying capacity, people will have to die anyway. On the contrary, medical advancements have also made abortions easy to obtain in Western nations. An interesting illogicality arises: modern society squirms at the thought of letting someone die of natural causes yet has no problem killing an unborn baby. In my opinion, the faith of the people during the Middle Ages was so strong that they truly believed eternal life with God in His kingdom of heaven was better than any life on earth—no matter the amount of personal fame or riches. Because of this faith, they went with the flow of life, accepting both its blessings and sufferings. Although pessimistic, they acknowledged that it is not possible to solve all of the world’s problems. I would rather accept the natural problems of the world then attempt to solve them and in turn create new ones; I would like to maintain faith that eternal life will be incomparably better than life on earth. One final example: the plague killed 1/3 of the people in Europe; a nuclear war—thanks to scientific development—can destroy our whole planet. (megs)
While Connor's answer is well-written and insightful, I respectfully disagree. While certainly some people were forced to convert to Christianity without truly understanding or believing in the faith, I think that on the whole, the Middle Ages were indeed a very moral time. The morality that dominated the era can be separated from the corrupt bureaucracy that was the administrative arm of the Church. Therefore, I agree that "Western society benefited from the fading of the church as a vessel of insurmountable political power," but I disagree that society was "critically wounded by the decrease of genuine faith." I think that the core moral values of Christianity were continued into the Renaissance by humanist (Christian) and other philosophers, and only the more surface-level religious restrictions - on free thought, science, and enterprise - were wiped away. Europe came into the Renaissance maintaining, as a society, the morality and ethics encouraged by Christianity (and, for that matter, by basically every other religion ever, as Rory said), while freed from the Church's rule enough to experiment and progress economically, artistically, and technologically (Katie Mayo explains this effect awesomely). (Jane Wester)
Although I do agree that the Middle Ages were in some respect a moral time period, I do believe that the shift from the Christian theology to a more secular mindset was valuable to the progress made in the Renaissance era. With the church being quite corrupt during the Middle Ages along with the distrust of the merchants, Europe needed a fresh start to rejuvenate its moral compass. The secularism that was brought about by the Renaissance was just what Europe needed to get back on track. While religion was still a factor, it was not as heavily emphasized so people could freely experience other sectors of life away from religion like philosophy, studying the classics, or art. All the various activities away from the binding hold of the church allowed man to flourish and find his way, without the strict sayings of the church. Secularism did not push people away from religion. Instead religion could be seen as more worthwhile because instead of being so heavily enforced it was more of a need-based service. Sometimes you get more out of something if you haven't seen or used it in a long time. The Renaissance was in a way that break Europe needed from the strangling hold of the church. People needed the opportunity to go out and explore the world, and to return back to their religion a new person. (Lauren Burton)
I believe that Western Society definitely benefitted from a move away from the strict and overly controlling ideals of the Church, however the code of morality that the Church preaches is one that I think should be adhered to a little more. Without the necessary adherance to the regulations of the Church, people of the Western culture are able to hold jobs which produce a wealth of money and spark such innovative periods such as the Renaissance. However, with this society based upon money and power, it would be nice to see more of a moral compass or some code of conduct that keeps these people from becoming just total scoundrels. I mean take the Popes and the corruption with the Church in the early Renaissance for example. I mean these guys should be the epitamy of the Church’s rules and a paradigm for society, but in reality they were toroughly drunk on their own power. I supposed in history its kind of a balance, you can’t have too much of a secular society or it’ll become too corrupt and religion and morality will have to bring things back into balance, but then when the Church becomes too controlling secular powers will fight against it, keeping an ongoing battle going between the Church and the King, secular society and relgiious society. (Carter Wiles)
2. Reformation: Which of the Big Three of the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Loyola) can you personally connect with the most? Why?