Joseph Pearson 9 Comments BerlinBerliner SchnauzeClaire WaldoffGermanhumorhumoursassunfriendly From the interior of the Dicke Wirten an old Berlin tavern Berlin rudeness is explained to newcomers as a charming local curiosity:
Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please. Twice a year I meet with seven of your colleagues to talk about what topics we want to talk about at Key West, and one of the topics that came up at our last luncheon was the rise of the new atheism books.
Now, Professor McClay is not going to be addressing that specifically, but [rather] the whole question of how we settled our disputes in American history between religious believers and secular believers, and Bill McClay is one of the finest people in the country to do that.
I call your attention to your packets, which include the bios of our speakers. Self and Society in Modern America. But anyway, you won that award. He [was] an American historian. He was [the] generation of-what-circa or [something like] that. Oh, earlier than that. But no relation to Merle Haggard?
We got that clear. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bill McClay. Being a historian by training, I necessarily start out with [a] whole list of ticks and caveats. I do tend to think in terms of particular cases and situations rather than generalities, vast and otherwise.
Maybe the earliest meaning has to do with the clergy who were not monastics but who had their vocation in the world, and who were, therefore-the medieval church regarded [them] as lesser beings because they were not engaged in contemplation, which was the highest good.
There are several other meanings to secularism, and the distinction I want to make is between philosophical secularism, which is secularism as a kind of godless system of the world, a system of beliefs about ultimate things, and secularism in a political sense: A secular political order may be one in which religious practice or religious exercise, as we say, can flourish.
As I say, to some extent the usage of these terms is defined by history, and I think we go astray if we try to define things too abstractly.
Even the word religion, I think, may depend on: What religion are we talking about, and when and where are we talking about it? Some of you probably have heard of Diana Eck.
It seemed a little too professorial and platitudinous. But I became a believer, shall we say, when I took a trip about a year ago to Turkey under the auspices of the State Department.
Turkey [is] a country 95 percent Muslim, where other religions have no particular political profile or public profile at all.
The imams are paid by the state. Religious garb, as you know, is forbidden in public institutions or by public officials because of the rigid secularism of the Turkish state. The Turks have a certain understanding of the separation of religion and public life. What I was speaking about [in Turkey] was how Americans understand the separation of church and state, and I went all over the country speaking to various audiences about this subject, and they were absolutely fascinated.
It proscribes public expression of religion to a very high degree. Of course there were others, particularly women, who were absolutely terrified by this because they immediately think of the Iranian example as the sort of thing they can expect to happen in Turkey if the Kemalist secularism of the past, 90 years or so, 80 years, is rolled back.
Video Highlight Watch more event video on the multimedia page So let me begin with two propositions. The first one is that in the American experience, the separation of church and state, which by and large we acknowledge as a rough-and-ready principle, does not necessarily mean the separation of religion from public life.
Another way of saying this is that America has a strong commitment to secularism, but it is secularism of a particular kind, understood in a particular way. Second, that the United States has achieved in practice what seemed impossible in theory: In the United States religious belief has proven amazingly persistent even as the culture has been more and more willing to embrace enthusiastically all or most of the scientific and technological agenda of modernity.Berlin rudeness is explained to newcomers as a charming local curiosity: like those enormous gingerbread hearts you buy at the Christmas markets that break your teeth.
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