The Enlightenment was an important philosophical movement that dominated Europe in the eighteenth century. The movement was also known as the Age of Reason, and it completely shifted people’s understanding of nature and resulted in a rapid increase of knowledge in all spheres of human endeavor. However, a wide range of ideas associated with the movement was not supported and promulgated by all intellectuals of the century (Cole et al. 404).
We will write a custom Essay on Religious Thinking in the Enlightenment Era specifically for you
301 certified writers online
The aim of this paper is to explore the link between the Enlightenment project and the religious mode of thinking of the past. The paper will argue that although the Age of Reason was associated with the strengthening of faith in human reason, eighteenth-century intellectuals did not completely escape from the religious thinking of the previous centuries.
The scientific revolution that emerged as a result of the intellectual efforts of distinguished thinkers such as David Hume and Isaac Newton helped to create a new approach to scientific inquiry (Cole et al. 404). This approach was at variance with traditional thought that favored superstition. Kant, who believed that the Enlightenment represented the disappearance of “humanity’s self-imposed immaturity” (qtd. in Cole et al. 404), also saw it as an escape from the intellectual authority of the Catholic Church. In an attempt to systemize human knowledge, great thinkers of the era developed the scientific method. The expansion of literacy that occurred simultaneously with the Age of Reason allowed the broad masses to discover works of Voltaire and Rousseau.
Voltaire was a free thinker whose works were not constrained by religious and political dogmas of the time. The intellectual praised the weakening of British aristocracy and showed his respect for British scientists (Cole et al. 405). The man opposed religious bigotry and argued that fanaticism was linked to human misery. Montesquieu was another prominent thinker of the era who criticized monarchies and claimed that “the soul of a republic was virtue” (Cole et al. 405).
The spirit of the century was captured in the Encyclopedia—a collective project that summarized contemporary knowledge. Diderot overviewed the publication of the work and promoted the application of science. The Encyclopedia was banned by government officials who believed that it thought to destroy religion (Cole et al. 407).
Although France was an engine of intellectual progress in the Enlightenment era, Great Britain and Scotland also produced remarkable philosophers such as Edward Gibbon, David Hume, and Adam Smith. Secular ideas were prominent in works of a British literati, Mary Wollstonecraft. The woman believed in equality of relationships between the sexes, which represented a diversion from religious traditions of the past. Rousseau, on the other hand, claimed that women were radically different from men and, therefore, they should not engage in intellectual pursuits (Cole et al. 418). The intellectual’s reasoning was in line with that of religious authorities.
During the Enlightenment era, the church wanted to stop the spread of humanitarianism and toleration—respect for human dignity—and wanted to maintain an old social order. Even though powerful intellectual elites opposed the persecution of religious minorities and rebelled against dogma, they were deists who believed in a “divine clockmaker” (Cole et al. 408). Moreover, thinkers such as Lessing, who considered Christianity to be superior to other religions, treated followers of Islam and Judaism with disdain. It means that ideas of the Age of Reason were not sufficient for a complete break with the religious thinking of the previous centuries.
The discovery of the New World affected Enlightenment thinkers to a great degree. The importance of the event was underscored by Raynal, who argued that “everything changed, and will go on changing” (Cole et al. 411). The discovery also helped to permanently change Western identity, thereby diminishing the power of the church.
The weakening of the church authority over the intellectual discourse of the century occurred with the help of the book trade. Cheap printing and distribution methods resulted in the emergence of daily newspapers in London (Cole et al. 416). Governments were not capable of censuring a flood of publications that swept across Europe. However, Russian, Prussian, and Austrian authorities were not so permissive of intellectual freedoms; therefore, the countries had much less subversive literature.
The spread of revolutionary books in Europe led to the emergence of high culture. They educated aristocratic women that visited salons often engaged in intellectual discussions of politics and religion, thereby promoting critical thinking. According to Cole et al., the ability to speak and think freely without regard for religious dogma was “a point of pride” (417). Most importantly, the reading culture of the Enlightenment became a part of popular culture. Despite the fact that there was not primary schooling in most of Europe, the self-taught public enjoyed reading and discussing published materials.
The paper has explored the connection between the Age of Reason and the religious mode of thinking of the previous centuries. The paper has argued that although the Enlightenment was associated with the systematization of knowledge and strengthening of faith in human reason, eighteenth-century thinkers did not completely escape from the religious thinking of the past. Nonetheless, during the eighteenth century, the power of religious authorities was substantially diminished, which helped to advance human progress.