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?
Yes. In a society that is bound to its duties to God, there can be no true innovations that can move that society forward. For instance in the Middle Ages, all science had to be backed by religious evidence or it was not valid or relevant. If that notion still existed, our society would know nothing of electricity, genetics, energy, or evolution, just to name a few. Also, there was creativity in this purely religious society, but every art form was intended to glorify God. Now, for instance, we have books that broaden our knowledge on a myriad of subjects, and without which our world would be vastly less advanced and cultured. - Erin :)
I agree with Erin on the topic of innovation. A more secular approach to science and art forms has allowed for a lot more creativity in our world. However, from a social stand point, I think the world could use a little reminder of the Christian faith. Whether people call themselves Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or atheists, I think most rational people would agree that some of the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith are a strong code to live by. For example: thou shalt not kill. I think most of us would agree that's a good rule. Additionally: thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother…these are all basic principles that most people consider basic laws of humanity! Whether you want to cite these morals as being a part of your faith is up to you. But if Western society hadn't entirely moved in such a secular direction, there would be more of an emphasis on these basic ideals than there is today. I'm not saying that we would have world peace if secularism hadn't arisen, but being reminded more often of basic human morals certainly wouldn't be a bad thing. ~Ashley
I agree with Erin that the arts and sciences were limited by strict devotion to God during the Middle Ages. Until trade connected Medieval Europe with the rest of the world, the region was almost completely isolated, which prevented the exchange of ideas and customs that broadens our world perspective today. Scholasticism definitely restricted science and innovation because every theory had to be consistent with the Christian doctrine. However, there were still many inventions and advancements that occurred during the Middle Ages, such as the printing press, new agricultural techniques, flying buttresses, and beautiful art. Their devotion to God actually motivated the medieval people to improve and perfect their artistic and intellectual creations… In terms of the morality of the population, I think the transition to a secular society changed little. Instead of being moral for fear of God's wrath and accepting that man (and the world) will never attain a divine status, in a secular society, most people strive to be moral and reform the world because they believe they can be perfect and think of their time on earth as the main part of their life. Additionally, the most spiritual aspect of the "City of God," in my opinion, was the faith of individuals, which continued for the most part into the Renaissance period despite the decrease in the power of the Church. -Grace
I believe that society has benefited greatly from the shift to a secular society. Scientifically, as mentioned above, we have progressed as a society largely due to the shift away from a purely spiritual society. During the Middle Ages, sciences all had to be rooted in some form of Christian theology or they were thrown out and considered wrong. When using reason was first accepted, it was only allowed as long as it brought the person to the conclusions already laid out in the scriptures. As Erin said, the vast majority of scientific discoveries simply would not have taken place if the world had remained as it was in the Middle Ages.
Economically the world has also progressed thanks to the shift. The Church saw merchants and thus trade as something to be avoided at all costs. Places like Venice, Milan, and Florence were only able to thrive once they moved away from the Church's teachings, albeit only partially. Similarly to the scientific arena, the commercial industry was only able to truly grow once the Church was not the number 1 authority on everything. The Church feared trade because it was believed to lead to greed, which it did in many cases, but this was not the only source of such greed. The Church itself was the main landowner in Europe at the time, and there were many cases of corruption inside the establishment that claimed to be the moral beacon for all of humanity. In short the Church's fear regarding commerce was well-founded, but was too little too late as greed had already crept into other aspect of society before trade truly began to thrive.
Finally the idea of morality. Many would argue that the shift away from Christianity as the head of all aspects of life led to a decline in the basic decency of mankind, but I believe that nothing was lost with this transition. Religion can provide a good moral compass, but it is not the only way to have morality. For instance, as Ashley said, most people would agree that killing another persion is wrong, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Simply because a person is not religious does not mean that they will not be a moral person. There are certain morals that are necessary for a society, based on religion or not, to function. Treat others as you want to be treated is often cited as the 'Golden Rule', and can exist without religion. A society where everyone went around doing what they wanted, killing, stealing, lying, etc., would clearly fall apart. Thus certain rules must be put in place and instilled in the people to keep society progressing in a healthy way. These rules would include some of the most basic rules for society to work, those taught by religion. Regardless of wether a society is founded by religion or not, its members will have a 'moral compass' to guide them and keep their community from falling apart. Basically the world gained ground economically and scientifically while simultaneously not losing any ground morally (in my opinion). Sorry about the length -Sam
I actually agree with both Erin and Ashley to an extent: If Medeival society had continued to flourish, Europe may still be an unchanging, caste-run society. Because of the lack of individualism of the times prevented most people from questioning their places in society, nobody would ever break free from their class. The move toward a more secular society broke down these barriers that the church had helped to maintain and allowed people to break out of their castes, and be the best they could be. This individualism was the key to new innovations in art and education in particular, however, I also agree with Ashley that an entirely secular society isn’t exactly the most beneficial either. The spiritual ideals within the society that remained into the Renaissance still kept some of the moral code in tact, and gave people a goal: to show God how thankful they were by reaching for the pinnacles of achievement. Overall the move toward a more secular society was beneficial in that it actually revolutionized people’s relationships with God, and did not leave it behind entirely. (I know the content has been updated since I wrote this, as you can probably tell, but everyone's been kicking me off the site until now!) -Alexis
In terms of morality, society in many ways has not benefited from the Renaissance. I personally don't have much to say regarding the influences of religion on morality, but I do think that in the Middle Ages, people were in general less selfish. Because all of man's creations were devoted to and belonged to their god, people did not scrabble to claim credit for their accomplishments, like Michelangelo did with his Pieta. Because morals in the Middle Ages did emphasized conformity and an acceptance of current living conditions, and limited trade with foreign nations and limited access to exotic luxury goods for most people encouraged people to live for the community, not for themselves. On the other hand, the Humanistic philosophies that accompanied the Renaissance led to the abuse of the arts as a means to glorify the wealthy, as the richest men hired the best artists and writers to create dazzling portraits and write heroic biographies, while the opportunities for acquiring material wealth and moving up on the socioeconomic ladder contributed to greed.
However, in practical real-world terms, the Renaissance and Humanistic philosophies that went along with it not only directly aided the furthering of the arts and the sciences, as Erin pointed out, but also provided people with the motivation and the confidence to try discovering and inventing and creating new, beautiful things. I agree that without the Renaissance and associated social changes, the modern world probably could not be so advanced. —Connie
2. Reformation: Which of the Big Three of the Reformation (Luther, Calvin, Loyola) can you personally connect with the most? Why?