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 Three: Enlightened History
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History is a discipline that cannot escape its humanity. It is continually involved in the all-too-human process of selecting and representing people and events to highlight what is significant for the “lesson” at hand. If science cannot know the “thing-in-itself” in the post-Kantian world, with all its direct and existential relation to the empirical object, then history cannot know the “past-in-itself” through the indirect testimony of its human records and documents.1 No better illustration of this problem is the many and continuous quests of scholars to obtain objective or semi-objective information on Jesus of Nazareth—perhaps, the most pivotal or crucial figure in western civilization. Scholars find the humanity of the early reports disconcerting when trying to ascertain the exact historical truth about him. These reports were written in such a way that the subjectivity of the authors is woven together with the object of the inquiry, the style of the authors with the words of Jesus, the soteriological significance with the person, and the kerygma or message with the historical events, making it difficult to separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of faith.2 Was it Jesus or John who proclaimed God’s love for the world in sending the only-begotten Son (Jn 3:16)? Was Jesus still speaking to Nicodemus about the Spirit and salvation, or John expanding the account and providing his metaphysical commentary when these famous words are related in the text...
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