Monday, 30 June 2014

Some ecumenical reflections on the 225th anniversary of Bastille Day

The 14th of July this year (2014) is the 225th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the iconic event of the French Revolution. 

This is not only a significant day for people who are French or of a French background (or who are otherwise Francophones, Francophiles, or both).  The 14th of July, 1789, is one of those watershed dates in human history, one of those dates that divide history into two periods:  "before" and "after".

Before the French Revolution, the majority of the massive atrocities of human history can be blamed on governments, movements, and individuals who saw themselves as acting in the interests of their particular religious faith.  Thus, we have the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years' War in Germany, the bloodbath in Ireland under Cromwell, etc.

After the French Revolution, the majority of the massive atrocities of more recent history were the result of governments, movements, and individuals who saw themselves as acting in the interests of non-religious ideologies and - frequently - in the interests of markedly anti-religious ideologies.  If people were moved (pre-1789) to commit atrocities in the name of their God or gods, they were moved (post-1789) to commit atrocities in the name of nationalism, or race, or class, or economics.  The "gods" whose devotees committed the bulk of post-1789 atrocities were idols with such names as "National Pride", "Racial Purity", "The Class Struggle", or "Free Enterprise". 

In fact, the main role for classical religion (for classical religions of all sorts) in the post-1789 world was a humanitarian role.  People of faith (people of all faiths) saw their role as binding up the wounds (both literal wounds and social wounds) caused in the name of these secular conflicts.

If you read any media personality with an axe to grind against religion, you'll frequently find them emphasising those tragic events pre-1789 such as the Crusades and the Inquisition.  You'll rarely hear them mention such post-1789 figures as Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Mother Theresa, Father Damian, Mary MacKillop, John Flynn, Mahatma Gandhi, ... etc.

14th July 1789 was a watershed moment in history, not only for the people of France but for the whole world.  Let's remember the major shift in history which it represents.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.