We do in CoPhi, though. It’s on the syllabus, along with Giordano Bruno, Montaigne, the Libertines, and Matteo Ricci. Shakespeare deserves a word too.
We don’t do full-scale inquisitions anymore, though there was report of a professor being canned in Utah for using Socratic method. Another martyr for philosophy? No, he’s a business & marketing guy. Still, the principle’s the same: you have to stand for virtue, not expediency. Care more for the state of your soul than your reputation, do the right thing, etc. Unrighteousness runs faster than death.
Nobody expects the Inquisition, which explains why people like Capuano, Menocchio, Vanini and Bruno were so forthright in saying what is simply sane, from a naturalistic point of view: “angels and demons do not exist… there are no true witches… it’s impossible that Mary gave birth to Jesus and remained a virgin…” etc.
Bruno’s story, as noted, is tragic and inspiring. But its real significance is that “many future doubters would find Democritus and Epicurus” through him.
He was torched for pronouncing prescient truths and inspiring speculations about a vastly larger cosmos than his persecutors wanted to fathom. He imagined lifeforms elsewhere, anticipating Carl Sagan (Cosmos) and Baruch Spinoza: “God, for him, was the same thing as the universe.” He refused the comfort of a crucifix and departed this earth with these brave words:
Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it.
Cullen Murphy’s new book suggests we should all expect the possibility of inquisition, especially if the forces currently agitating for an end to the separation of church and state continue to succeed. That would be the end of liberty of conscience. Beware holy missions rooted in fear, that (Murphy explains) is the root of all inquisitions. The tragedy of Trayvon Martin we were discussing in class yesterday is an example.
And where does fear come from? In part, as Dale McGowan, notes, it’s a natural inheritance we need to renounce. We need to teach our children well.
I think we’re more naturally inclined to hate and fear difference than not. Religion isn’t the only parting gift we got from the Paleolithic. A lot of the things we are, including some of our worst pathologies, were once strongly adaptive traits. Evolution just hasn’t had time to catch up to our circumstances. As a result, we’re a whole panel of buttons waiting to be pushed. And one of the best things a parent can do is to help those buttons rust.
Montaigne, again. The anti-Descartes. Renaissance skeptic, earthy explorer of all things human, original essayist, frank and happy skeptic. “If we lived someplace else, we would believe other things.” Most of us just instinctively follow the custom of the country, and our raisin’, until challenged. Or, until we discover philosophy.
But he also advised going along to get along. Why burn for something nobody knows for sure, anyway? As Epicurus and others had advised, just “follow the religion of tradition” and keep your own counsel about your doubts. I’ll heed that advice when the next Inquisition comes. “In God we trust?” Hope we don’t get fooled again. “Isn’t it better, Montaigne asks, to free oneself from certainty and thereby glide above the fray?”
Montaigne was a collector of solid ancient advice, like that of Ecclesiastes: accept and enjoy, and remember that you don’t really know. Que scais-je?
But that’s no argument for fideism. Blind belief, like scholastic dogmatism, is stuck in the dark. But it might be an argument for laying low, when Inquisitors are lurking about. On the other hand, how do you nip an Inquisitor in the bud if you don’t confront him?
Montaigne’s honorary adopted daughter Marie de Gournay, one of the first successful women writers, summarized his philosophy with her own: “act respectfully & doubt everything.”
Clear light… 1st blogger… humanists believe… modern times… What do I know? …Descartes & Montaigne… cool medium… wisdom & cheerfulness… Bakewell’s How to Live
“There is something dryly secular and loosely skeptical about Shakespeare’s whole project.” Ahhh. Now I get why my old Mizzou mentor introducedHeidegger‘s concept of authenticity with “This above all, to thine own self be true.” We are such stuff as dreams are made on, our little life is rounded with a sleep, and there is always another side to things. Shakespeare was a doubter.
Pierre Charron repeats, in On Wisdom, and we can’t remind ourselves too often: “things are done differently everywhere, and if you were born there, you’d do it that way too.” Can you picture the late Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, or George W. Bush in a robe and turban? I can.
Charron’s claim that “doubt can make you happy, can ease your pain, and can be a home” articulates the very core of humanist spiritualilty. It’s something you can actually believe.
Fidelity matters more than faith… There is no need to believe in God– one need believe only in one’s parents and mentors, one’s friends (provided they are well chosen) and one’s conscience… Believing or not believing in God changes nothing of great significance, except in the eyes of fundamentalists. Whether you have a religion or not, nothing can exempt you from having to respect the lives, freedom and dignity of other people. Andre Comte-Sponville
The libertines valued most their opportunity to speak “freely about everything, without scandalizing a soul.” Well, they probably didn’t resist being scandalous too vigorously. That’s the philosopher’s dream too. It wasMersenne‘s : “we are free simply to investigate the phenomena that our senses present to us, whether or not we trust our senses in some ultimate fashion.” The all-devouring Pyrrhonnian pirannha here ceases to cannibalize itself, as it escapes through a Skeptical wormhole.
Gassendi anticipated theistic evolutionists of the 19th and 20th centuries: “atomism explained how the world could have made itself” but “God made the atoms.” And, as Epicurus said, God (or the Gods) is no longer keeping a close watch on the atoms. We and they are free to swerve on our own, or condemned to it.
Matteo Ricci went to China long before Nixon, with far greater irony attaching to the journey. He and his Jesuit confreres brought the old European brand of rationalism to China and came home with news of a world of atheists. Plenty to keep all sides occupied.