A Travellerspoint blog


Laïcité: separation of church and state


This picture shows the press room of the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, France. The logo in the middle depicts a sketch of the building’s architecture. You can see from the rest of the picture that the building design, materials, and color scheme is very modern and simplistic.

Looking at other court buildings, like the Supreme Court building as the most familiar example, it is obvious that the imagery and design of such buildings has changed. The Supreme Court building depicts biblical imagery like Moses and the Ten Commandments, as well as imagery of Justinian, Muhammad, Charlemagne, John of England, Louis IX of France, Hugo Grotius, Sir William Blackstone, John Marshall, Napoleon, and other famous lawgivers (according to Wikipedia).

As we were sitting in the human rights court, I thought it was interesting that there is no attempt to appeal to imagery to represent ideals like law and justice that the Court upholds. It seems to me that this must have started with Laïcité. Before the separation of church and state, court buildings would have been heavily decorated with appeals to religious symbols and values. Religious symbols served as objective images of biblical morality and virtue. As we’ve distanced ourselves from national religious affiliation, we’ve also come farther away from an objective way to measure right from wrong, guilty from innocent, etc. This isn’t necessarily all good or all bad, but it is a change.

Posted by Tayler 10:03 Comments (0)


smiles mean something


“Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise.” Such a beautiful poem in such a beautiful place. Looking back on the France trip, now that I have spent a few weeks back in the US, I see an American virtue hiding in this couplet.

When you enter a café in France, a straight-faced man or woman will ask you what you want to order. France has a social script including polite phrases like “S’il vous plaît,” but they are often spoken without any warm accompanying facial gestures. In America, when you walk into a restaurant, you will usually be greeted by a big smile and a loud “hello.” It is not uncommon to have a conversation with a restaurant worker that goes beyond social script and branches into personal life details. This would never happen in France.

America is not a perfect place; we have much to improve. But after our time in France, I am able to recognize that America’s hospitality is admirable. It sets America apart. In France, I realized that this is probably the characteristic that most defines me as an American. I smile at every café waitress. Even though I reminded myself many times to stop doing so, I couldn’t help it. I am so used to smiling at strangers. I’m accustomed to speaking with random people in grocery stores about what I’m making for dinner when we’re waiting in line.

I’m not sure why America is so different from its European roots in the area of hospitality and openness to strangers. Maybe it is because religion is not as far removed from our culture as it is in Europe. Maybe it’s because of the size of the middle class in America, because it seems that hospitable strangerly kindness is most prevalent in the middle classes. Whatever its reason, everyday friendliness is one factor that makes me proud to be an American.

Posted by Tayler 22:14 Comments (0)


lover of beauty


Perhaps my favorite thing about spending May in Europe was the abundance of beauty all around. I loved walking through the streets and noticing all the florist shops and vendors selling fresh flowers. I greatly enjoyed looking in the windows of pastry shops to see all the perfectly crafted desserts. I was constantly blown away by the architecture all around. The large landmarks and cathedrals are more than impressive. Notre Dame is magnificent. But there is also beauty in the little details of Europe. I probably took at least thirty pictures of doors in Paris, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, and Switzerland, because they were all so lovely. I have an equal number of pictures of windows, fences, and storefronts.

Europeans’ appreciation for beauty is a defining characteristic of that culture. Europe is a more aesthetically pleasing place than America and other areas of the world I have been. America grew to its prominence as a country of production. There are many positive results of such a mindset, such as independence, a solid work ethic, efficiency, time management, and etc. But this also creates a temptation to becoming overly practical with everything.

For example, the parks in Europe are different than in America. Why do we have parks in cities? We have parks to create green space, where people and pets can exercise and spend time in a somewhat natural setting. But instead of just being green spaces for dogs to run, European parks have flowers and fountains and courtyards. A good amount of money and labor has gone into making European parks extremely beautiful. Since providing beauty is not the primary objective of city parks, is it worth it to spend extra money to do so? I would guess that a higher percentage of Europeans would answer yes than Americans.

Americans are more hesitant to see genuine purpose in arts and aesthetics. There’s a failure to realize that God is beautiful, and experiencing beauty in what God has created, and what He has enabled us to create, allows us to experience a reflection of God. It is good for our souls to see beauty around us. It can be good to slow down for a minute and notice a finely crafted doorway, it can be good to see the Alps on a sunny day, it is good to spend a few dollars bringing beautiful fresh flowers into your home, it can be good to spend extra time creating a meal that pleases all the senses instead of just your appetite. Europeans understand this. Europeans appreciate a part of the reflection of God that is too often ignored.

Posted by Tayler 21:40 Comments (0)

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