A Suggestion from the 17th Century for Combating Fundamentalism
By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 01, Mashiyyat 05, 166 BE
The Comenian Cure to Fundamentalism, Part II
The narrow, blinkered view of prejudice holds back all progress, Comenius believed. This is especially true of those who profess to be religious. A sort of "pagan philosophy" beguiles Christians, first of all, making them arrogant fanatics rather than wise benefactors. This "paganism" keeps us all from thinking universally and blocks any hope we may have for a better world.
"Indeed, the world will fail in its onerous task of reforming schools, churches, and politics unless it first eliminates this ferment of human devising and begins again to dig the first wells of wisdom which our Heavenly Father had digged for us but the ungodly Philistines had stopped through their envy (Genesis XXVI, 15, 18)." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 13, p. 147)
Only by digging the wells of divine wisdom can we make progress against the evils of fundamentalism. But how do you dig them? One way is to direct everybody's attention to what is most of benefit. As a teacher, Comenius had a very specific suggestion.
Long before advertising gained the pervasive influence that it has today, Comenius suggested that slogans be used for education, not for propaganda. Throughout the Panorthosia he proposes various slogans to be placed in prominent locations in order to promote the goals and ideals of a united world. In the 10th chapter of Panorthosia he proposes a slogan designed to condition the religious life of all human beings:
"God and the sun are the same for all."
This nine-word saying takes in not only those with a claim to being religious, the pious and the zealot, but everybody else, people of all faiths and no faith. Even those who for whatever reason remain averse to the word "God" can relate by recalling that all life on earth depends on the sun for sustenance and that in this sense some high ideals and truths must be "the same for all." Here is how Comenius introduces the slogan at the end of the tenth chapter,
"For we may be sure that there will be no improvement in human affairs until we recognise that we are all fellow-pupils in the same School of God, and brethren in the same House of God, and fellow-citizens in the same city of God, and begin to compare opinions on our common interest, safety, and security for the benefit of all, so that everyone without exception is invited, admitted and heard, and enjoys the common goods of light, peace, and life. This would therefore eradicate the curse of sectional differences now and forever. Let us adopt as our common motto the idea expressed by our Common Master (Matthew V, 45) GOD AND THE SUN ARE THE SAME FOR ALL." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 13, p. 157)
The reference here is to the teaching that a truly religious person or group has an obligation to love one's enemies, "... that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." (Matt 5:45, WEB) It goes on to point out that there is no particular merit in loving one's friends, all human groups love their friends. This insipid, particular love is in no way a distinction to be proud of, since even criminals and bloodthirsty carnivores love their friends.
What does make us distinctive is effort to become a reflection of God, or, if you prefer, imitating the life-giving sun by shedding invigorating, energy filled rays upon all, be they friend or enemy. This universal love also implies that a scientist, say, who makes a new discovery is far more godly than a religious fanatic, since her inventions are universal, they benefit all, friend or foe, pagan or believer; a fundamentalist's work benefits only those who share in the same opinions.
It seems to me that it would not be difficult to set up statistical measures of a religious group's love for its enemies. Such metrics are commonly taken to rate charities by the percentage of funds going to administrative expenses. Nations too are carefully rated by freedom and corruption indices. However, in spite of an increased awareness of the damage of fundamentalism, there remains no common standard or measure of faith groups.
A similar merit system could be set up using standard measures, a sort of "love thine enemies" index, to give everybody a basis of comparison among faith groups. Believers could assist this by posting their own progress and rating how loving they are to their enemies, that is, the universality of their services together. In Panorthosia Comenius suggested that this self-assessment be done not only for the religious, but in science, politics and every other human endeavour. He even suggested that this be done on the family level; households should set up what might be called "self-diagnostics" to be posted in prominent places in the home, and when they indicate progress, that a similar slogan be posted above the family doorway.
If the ratings of contributions to the broader community indicate that a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other faith group are sufficiently disinterested and beneficial to all, they would earn the right to post an official sign saying, "God and the sun are the same for all," over their doorway. The decision as to which criteria to use for this index would be a task for the world Parliament of Religions, a body that Comenius suggested be called the "Ecumenical Consistory."
In the following, also from the tenth chapter of Panorthosia, Comenius points to the rewards that such positive, scientific efforts to remove the blight of fundamentalism would bring to believers and non-believers alike.
"If it were possible to prevail upon all men to share and copy this example, we would in effect release the human race (1) from particular prisons into the open freedom of Heaven, (2) from labyrinths of multiplicity into level pathways, (3) from the thorns of violence into the fragrance of lilies. The result would be that all men would escape from the distractions of endless preoccupations and concentrate on the true necessities of Life; they would also know how to rely only on certain knowledge instead of endless obscurities, and to lead a pleasant life instead of engaging in a welter of compulsion and conflict, and this would be a boon to all mankind. (Panorthosia II, p. 171)