The Comenian Cure for Fundamentalism
By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 03, Ilm 19, 166 BE
The Reformation was the result of a general realization that change in religion was unavoidable; unfortunately efforts at reform often cause yet more disagreement, disputation and even war. John Amos Comenius's solution to fanaticism was a systematic process of reasoning combined with efforts at reconciliation, starting with the self by eliminating lazy imitation. Every vexed question must be depoliticized by undergoing treatment by each of the big three, politics, science and religion. These lay down three "channels" of sure knowledge, sense, reason and faith,
"No-one who has received a taste of true knowledge, wisdom and piety will doubt my words. For he must have acquired it by means of his own senses, his own reasoning and his own testimony from God. Knowledge and wisdom are rooted in the senses and reason, but piety depends on faith. He who accepts dogmas and beliefs for no other reason than that he sees other people holding them has no faith worthy of the name, but only superficial persuasion or idle superstition or grievous error. But if the three channels, sense, reason and faith even in isolation have power to convey sure knowledge, there will be no limit to their power when they act in unison to convey the combined light of God's three fountains. Here in the light of God we cannot fail to see the light and rejoice.'" (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 3, para 39, p. 80)
Early in Panorthosia he lays out ten more criteria for sifting out blocks to reconciliation. They constitute a veritable list of the characteristics of what we now call fundamentalism. Whatever point of doctrine does not pass through should be labeled "not clear" and left aside for the resurrection. Some include:
3. "Nothing should be affirmed in absolute terms, unless its truth is so manifest as to be undeniable."
4. "Nothing should be absolutely denied, unless its falsity is so manifest as to be indefensible." (Ch. 8, para 39, pp. 125-126)
Those with a professional interest in the search for truth, especially philosophers (they were not called scientists until the 19th Century) and spiritual and political leaders, should use particular rigor in this.
"I mean that all philosophers should prove the truth of their opinions by real experiments, based with the truest skill on the hypotheses of their theory. Theologians, too, should prove the truth of their doctrines by passionate practice in the worship of God, and by evidence of Regeneration in those who worship Him in this way, and lastly, politicians should prove their theories by establishing true peace and tranquillity." (Ch. 8, para 39, pp. 125-126)
Above all, it is important to avoid conflicts in matters of religious opinion. In a chapter about reform of the church in Panorthosia, Comenius cites a saying attributed to the poet Sir Henry Wotton (d. 1639) that "The itch for disputation is the scab of the churches." (Panorthosia, Ch. 23, para 9, pp. 62-64) Frances Bacon, who heavily influenced Comenius, wrote in "Of Unity in Religion" that "it is certain that heresies and schisms are of all others the greatest scandals (of the Church)." Comenius agreed, though he added that can be some limited good in allowing diverse opinions to clash as long as it is not prolonged long enough to become an end in itself.
"The question could also be asked at this point whether there is any need for religious disputations in the church. My answer is: Yes, there are certain periods for controversies, like disease symptoms which do not last for ever. The itch of disputation has infected the church with a scab, so that we achieve nothing by our disputing and grasping at knowledge except to inflame one another into hostility, forgetting the better parts of Christ's teaching, namely: compassion, long-suffering, prayer, and lamentation. Everything has been disputed in the past, even whether there was any such person as God or any such thing as revelation. Therefore universal reform is necessary, so that wars and quarrels cease with the dawning of light in which all men can see the same things in the same way. Now therefore, is the time for action. Let us change things for the better (I shall demonstrate a way that far excels it, namely, contemplation)... (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 23, para 21, pp. 69-82)
It is refreshing to read Comenius because he did not despair, as we unfortunately do today, of finding common ground in disputed issues. As an educator, he saw the problem as one of ignorance on all sides. If an argument becomes too entrenched, one solution is simply to stand back and reflect. If that does not work, get away from theorizing completely, since words upon words often only multiplies argumentation, and jump right to practice. Very often just serving and experimenting together is enough to reconcile opposing parties.
"If anything cannot be reconciled in theory, one should begin to try it out in practice, for better practice would follow from the earnest attention given to both aspects. (I mean that all philosophers should prove the truth of their opinions by real experiments, based with the truest skill on the hypotheses of their theory. Theologians, too, should prove the truth of their doctrines by passionate practice in the worship of God, and by evidence of Regeneration in those who worship Him in this way, and lastly, politicians should prove their theories by establishing true peace and tranquillity)." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 39, p. 126)
Many matters only seem complicated; they can be solved to general satisfaction if we subject them, one after the other, to the three basics of knowledge: philosophy (science), theology and politics. Each must contribute to the result. This means first testing each idea for universality, since philosophy and science give results that apply everywhere. Then testing for simplicity, since the religious lifestyle simplifies desires of the heart. Last, we can test for agreement, since peace is the chief goal of politics. These three act as a sort of filter to purify the mind from violent, complex or biased opinions. Whatever passes through this filter must be universal, simple and unifying, and therefore pleasing to all parties.
"Suitable means to restore our happy state to its true form will be 1. New Philosophy, 2. New Theology, 3. New Politics all conforming to true laws of universality, simplicity and agreement. Since contemporary philosophies, theologies and political systems are biased, complex, and violent, they cannot therefore be brought back to the ideas and laws of true universality or true simplicity or agreement unless retraced from their very foundations so that they are left with no taint of bias, no knotty problems, no threat of fear, alarm, hatred or schism." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 5, para 24, pp. 96-97)
This can be distilled to two basic Christian principles, first, strict testing, "narrow is the way and strait the gate..." Once a matter has been tested though, the second principle applies, freedom: "the truth shall set you free," and "my yoke is easy..." Comenius sums up this latter principle in a passage that rings true in the ears of every lover of freedom:
" ... our Good, as God will restore it to us, should not only be genuinely good and well-ordered, but also sweet and agreeable, without even the outward semblance of compulsion, everything flowing along, as it were, of its own accord. For human nature has an innate preference for guidance rather than force, for action of its own free will rather than at the behest of others, for self-reliance rather than to rely upon others. Whenever high-handed treatment is involved, man turns away in disgust, and whenever he is confident of making his own way forward, he goes without a guide.
Take the case of an infant, for example, as soon as he begins to walk regularly, he refuses a helping hand and wishes to be left to himself. Similarly no adult finds it easy to put up with a master.
Therefore, our whole aim and object must be to secure the return of Philosophical liberty, Religious liberty, and Political liberty to the human race; liberty, I say, which is Man's most exquisite good, created with him and inseparable from him except in the hour of his death. Hence God restores to liberty those whom He carries away to death, according to the word of His son, in John VIII, 36, and His apostles, in Galatians IV, 31, and V, 1, 13, 17, etc.6 Therefore let us assert the claim of human nature to its full portion of liberty, by setting men free from the yoke of compulsory Dogma, Worship and Obedience." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 9, pp. 155-156)