October 28, 2007

The Enlightenment, a Christian heresy?

A few snippets from an interesting essay by Philip Trower: (Thanks to Argent)

... To begin with then, there are two facts about the Enlightenment which I believe it is essential to grasp if we are to understand its true historical significance. The first is that, regardless of how it began, the Enlightenment became far more than just another movement in the history of ideas like the Romantic movement. What happened in the drawing-rooms, libraries, and coffeehouses of 18th-century Europe resembled in at least one crucial respect what happened in the deserts of Arabia in the seventh century A.D. A new world religion was born...


Stepping back a minute then and surveying our new world religion as a whole, we can see it as made up of two components: what I will call the humanist or humanistic project, which within limits we can all bless, onto which has been grafted a missionary atheism bent on sidelining or completely eliminating religion.

By the humanist project I mean the idea of bettering human life in this world in every possible way and developing as many of natures' potentialities as possible. Rightly understood this is not incompatible with Christian and Catholic belief. Indeed it is part of it. What is in conflict with Christian belief, as well, I believe, as with reason and common sense, is the idea that all this can be achieved without God's help and that a state of perfection — which would involve the disappearance of sin — can be overcome this side of the last day.

The second of the two facts which I said it is necessary to grasp if we are to understand the full historical significance of the Enlightenment is, namely, that in its deepest roots and many of its practical objectives, this new "world religion" is — and I hope this won't startle you too much — a Christian heresy.

Taken individually its teachings either have their origins in Christianity, like the idea of raising up of the poor and lowly, or have always had a prominent place in the Christian scheme of things, like the notion of human brotherhood. Collectively, they are the product of 2,000 years of a Christian way of looking at the world. It is impossible to imagine them occurring in the form they do in any civilization or culture so far known to history other than a Judeo-Christian one. Nor have they in fact done so. They can be accurately described as "secularized Christianity."....


....This is what makes the whole Enlightenment "package" so singularly difficult for most of us to handle. It is not something totally alien as paganism was. As a result, we tend to assume that, except about God and Christ and the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, our liberal or secularist neighbors are on the same wavelength in regard to more or less everything else.

What we often fail to notice is that, when wrenched from their Christian context and raised to the status of absolutes, notions like liberty and equality no matter how good in themselves, can receive a quite different significance and even become appallingly destructive...

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

...Then with the First World War, and the Russian Revolution, classical 19th-century liberalism meets its Götterdämmerung. Its cultural influence and intellectual prestige pass to collectivist theories of government and social life and collectivist political parties, which for the best part of a century have been living a largely underground life, erupting from time to time in revolutionary outbursts that are quickly suppressed. After the Russian Revolution, however, they can live openly in the daylight with Marxism rapidly occupying first place.

From the late 1920s on, the reaction of many Western liberals to this new situation and this newly empowered rival is not unlike that of moths to a flame or rabbits to a cobra. Some are attracted, others repelled. But the common roots and underlying unity of purpose linking all the offshoots of the original Enlightenment corpus of ideas produces that curious notion "No enemy to the left" — the left is always right and the right is always wrong — and that even more curious phenomenon, people who call themselves "liberals" admiring or making excuses for perhaps the longest lasting and socially and psychologically most devastating tyranny known to history....
Posted by John Weidner at October 28, 2007 7:24 AM
Weblog by John Weidner