and the Fragile Exception

The Renaissance, which marked the end of the Catholic Church’s dominance in Europe allowing for a flowering of the arts and sciences, and the Enlightenment which ushered in the Age of Reason may turn out to have been a short detour taken by a relatively small segment of humanity in the march of history.

A fragile exception, writes Mark Lilla, professor of the humanities at Columbia University in The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West (2007):

After centuries of strife, the West has learned to separate religion and politics – to establish the legitimacy of its leaders without referring to divine command. There is little reason to expect the rest of the world – the Islamic world in particular – will follow.

We in the West find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still inflame the minds of men, stirring up messianic passions that can leave societies in ruin. We had assumed that this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that political theology died in 16th-century Europe. We were wrong. It's we who are the fragile exception.

Bernard Payeur