Sunday, May 30, 2010

Volatile Voltaire

Revered and sometimes ridiculed, he was a writer and philosopher who helped shape the world. He's commonly referred to as the father of the Enlightenment.

Voltaire wrote poetry and prose, history and philosophy, about civil rights and fair governance.  Too, he spoke out emphatically about Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as well.

Voltaire was a self-professed theist; his anti-church writings were focused on the practices of the church in his day and over the years. In his "The Philosophical Dictionary", he recounts the  bloody centuries of religious intolerance and the millions who died from it.  At the end of the writing, though, he declares to the spirit that has explained it all to him, "Well, if that is so, I take you for my only master."

Neale Donald Walsch is author of the
series Conversations with God.
Today's culture shares Voltaire's disdain for the narrow-mindedness that can rule a religion and the exclusivist mindset that typically persists there.  Public discussions equate such judgmental thinking with bigotry and suggest that bringing up a child in that context is abusive.  That same religious thought-path we tolerate in the west is carried a step further to violence and slaughter elsewhere in the world.  Both Voltaire's and today's observations are relevant; you'll note they are unrelated to the legitimacy of one's faith or an honest pursuit of knowing God.

How then shall people of faith go forward?
Curious what comes next?

Voltaire died today in 1778 after a long life in an extraordinarily corrupt world. The revolution in France came a decade later, perhaps precipitated to some degree by Voltaire's writings. The revolution spread across Europe and portions of Latin America.  I wonder what Voltaire would think now of how things have progressed; or more appropriately, how many things remain unchanged.