Don’t you all wish you were in Saskatoon and members of this awesome group? It was terrific. Sadly koinosuke couldn’t be at today’s meet but she’s the one who contacted the Pastor about talking to us so I promised I’d take copious notes and report back. Hopefully my notes don’t make hash of what she said or misrepresent any of it. If any Freethinkers who were there want to add comments, please do. I’m going to do this in parts, the second to drop tomorrow morning, and a third in the afternoon if needed.
Sandra is currently a professor of Church History and Ecumenics at St. Andrew’s College on the U of Saskatchewan campus. She participates in research related to Christian history and the development of interfaith/interchurch dialogue. She talked about the history of Enlightenment and how the philosophies of René Descartes and others ultimately affected the Church.
Thanks to those writers in the 16th and 17th centuries, ideologies evolved from an automatic given that God was the root of all things to people developing theories and mindsets with a more internalized, self-based origin to thought and philosophy. “I think, therefore I am,” Descartes eventually declared and that was a bigger deal than I ever realized. It was a big deal for philosophers at the time, too, as they worked on ways to build on this wild epiphany and completely new thought process. This was the Enlightenment of humanity, finally being able to give humans credit for their own minds and thoughts instead of automatically assuming (without question) a god’s personal hands were guiding everyone.
The Church and theologians had some trouble with the idea that the self could be the center of knowledge. Sandra listed several reactions they had to this concept.
The first she mentioned was the creation of a more deistic approach to God, the notion that a prime mover of sorts got the world rolling but overall has left us the hell alone to do our own thing, for good or ill. Deists, she said, focus mostly on ethics and behaviour, the need to do one’s duty, employ reason, and delight in creation. (Not to be confused with Creationists, though. Different ball of wax.)
The second was the development of orthodoxy and a retreat in some circles toward a focus on “correct belief.” She went on a bit of a tangent here to discuss Europe’s changing political structure at the time that had a lot to do with why the orthodox movement enamoured so many believers. The feudal system had collapsed or was on the verge or something and merchant-based commerce and trade was starting to gain in popularity, shifting money and power around in bunch of good and not so good ways. I scribbled down “guard turf” for some reason… She was talking about how the nature of Authority was changing at this time, so the social stress of that helped lead people back into thinking of the past and past beliefs being better for people. Safer, I suppose, traditional? (That part’s lost to my brain now. I have large gaps in my history knowledge and this is one of them. If I feel like it later I’ll look for some links to expand on this and learn more. You see why I say this was fantastic, though, right?)
The third reaction was a move toward “pietism” and the creation of the Evangelical and Spriritualism movements that gained a lot of popularity later on. Germans get the credit for jump-starting this, apparently. (I’ve got Quakers written down here and Jacob Bain — I guessed on spelling and might have gotten that completely wrong. Some spiritualist/mystic styled guy of some reknown.) The emphasis for these people was to bring belief to the heart, I guess could be said, to share experiences of God from very personal perspectives, independent of doctrine or theology. I wrote “emphasis on interior experience, feeling; congruence of the inner and outer self” here.
From all these diverse paths, more things grew out of them. Those I’ll get to in part two.