Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism:
…[T]his attitude was relatively new. What people admired was wholeheartedness, sincerity, purity of soul, the ability and readiness to dedicate yourself to your ideal, no matter what it was.No matter what it was: that is the important thing. Suppose you had a conversation in the sixteenth century with somebody fighting in the great religious wars which tore Europe apart at that period, and suppose you said to a Catholic of that period, engaged in hostilities, `Of course these Protestants believe what is false; of course to believe what they believe is to court perdition; of course they are dangerous to the salvation of human souls, than which there is nothing more important; but they are so sincere, they die so readily for their cause, their integrity is so splendid, one must yield a certain meed of admiration for the moral dignity and sublimity of people who are prepared to do that.’ Such a sentiment would have been unintelligible. Anyone who really knew, supposed themselves to know, the truth, say a Catholic who believed in the truths preached to him by the Church, would have known that persons able to put the whole of themselves into the theory and practice of falsehood were simply dangerous persons, and that the more sincere they were, the more dangerous, the more mad.
No Christian knight would have supposed, when he fought against the Muslim, that he was expected to admire the purity and the sincerity with which the paynim believed in their absurd doctrines. No doubt if you were a decent person, and you killed a brave enemy, you were not obliged to spit upon his corpse. You took the line that it was a pity that so much courage (which was a universally admired quality), so much ability, so much devotion should have been expended on a cause so palpably absurd or dangerous. But you would not have said, `It matters little what these people believe, what matters is the state of mind in which they believe it. What matters is that they did not sell out, that they were men of integrity. These are people I can respect. If they had come over to our side simply in order to save themselves, that would have been a very self-seeking, a very prudent, a very contemptible form of action.’
Berlin credits the Romantics with the invention of this mentality, and the point I’m making with regard to the last post is that our modern notion of individuality, the right of people to follow their own conscience in religious/contemplative matters and the obligation of others to respect the integrity of that choice even if they disagree with it, is a direct descendant of it, and a thoroughly modern one. Revisionists who pretend that this mindset has always been a prominent feature of the world’s great religions make me think of archaeologists salting a dig site, though an archaeologist would know full well he was perpetrating a fraud. But through the mysteries of human psychology, the people who claim that all religions basically carry the same positive message have apparently managed to convince themselves that they’ve genuinely uncovered something that was there all along.