Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.
Chapter One: The Rise of Acquisitive Capitalism in France
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The Rise of Acquisitive Capitalism in France
The modern world brought a challenge to the religious and ethical categories of the metaphysical past in understanding how life worked in the real world and evolved on its terms, apart from outside rational intervention or moral restraints. Many advocates of an early form of capitalism came to argue that the economy worked well through its natural laws, apart from the government interfering with the basic flow of commerce; that questionable motives like self-interest often worked for the benefit of society and fueled the economy, alleviating any religious onus to cleanse the world from sin; that value was best determined by the law of supply and demand, freeing society from moral considerations in finding a just price or wage. This new type of economic thinking suggested the possibility of interpreting life in general as a secular process. It found little need to follow a metaphysical standard or posit that a miraculous force is intervening in the course of things to provide the world with design, purpose, or direction, and allowed life to use its efficacious means of producing results, regardless of intent or foresight. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution looked to the economic insights of the early capitalists and thought of life developing in a similar manner through the happenstance of individual struggle or self-interest. Social Darwinism combined the new economic and biological theories, showing their mutual dependence and proclivity to...
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