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The Enlightenment and Religion Relations Essay

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Updated: Oct 1st, 2021

Enlightenment is a special page in the history of Europe. Religion, an understanding of nature, society and political system – everything was subjected to the most merciless criticism, everything should have been brought before a court of reason and either justify its existence or renounce it. Reasoning mind was the only measure of all existing. It was a time when the world, according to the words of Hegel, was placed on the head first, in the sense that the human head and those that it has opened by his thinking, made demands to be recognized foundation of all human actions and public relations, and then in the broader sense that reality, contrary to these provisions, was actually turned from top to bottom.

All the old forms of society and state, all the traditional presentation were found unreasonable and abandoned as old lumber, the world has so far been guided by prejudice and all the past is deplorable and despicable.

Enlightenment has such great names which are well known to any educated person: Voltaire and Rousseau, Montesquieu and Diderot, Jefferson and Condorcet, Paine and Franklin, Herder and Goethe, Ferguson and d’Alamber.

Most of greatest representatives of Enlightenment objectively fulfill the mission ideologues of rising bourgeois class and therefore primarily concerned about the social restructuring of society, political power, economic relations, economic and social inequalities. They were interested in the problems of learning the meaning of human history, purpose and essence of rights. They raised the questions of aesthetics, and a lot of discussing in detail about the nature of beauty and patterns of art. They focused on the issue of progress, the balance of nature and society.

It is not accidently that the XVIII-th century in the history is called as the epoch of Enlightenment: scientific knowledge, narrow circled before, extends: beyond the universities and laboratories in the secular salons of Paris and London, becoming a subject of debate among writers, popular forth the latest advances in science and philosophy. Confidence in the power of human reason, in its infinite possibilities, in the progress of science, creates the conditions for economic and social prosperity – these are the pathos of Enlightenment.

In come things the epoch of Enlightenment has common features with the features of Renaissance, but there’s a distinction. First, the XVIII century much stronger than the XVII, emphasizes the relationship of science and practice, its social usefulness. Secondly, criticism, which in the Renaissance philosophers and scientists directed mainly against scholasticism, is now invoked against metaphysics, according to convince educators, it is necessary to destroy metaphysics, which came in the XVI-XVII centuries replacing the medieval scholasticism.

There is a main slogan of Enlightenment – science and progress. Enlightenment is an optimistic philosophy of rapidly growing middle class, philosophy, entirely dedicated to progress. Voltaire liked to said: “Once everything will be better – this is our hope.” (Spencer, 1997).

Thus, enlightener created a cult of Reason, following the ideas of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz. But they appealed not just to reason, but to the scientific mind, which is based on experience and is free not only from religious prejudice, but also on the metaphysical “hypotheses”.

Human can not be just considered from the point of view of reason, but all that is related to it, you can explore with the help of reason: the foundation of knowledge, ethics, political institutions and structures, philosophical systems, religious beliefs.

These views have been historically due to the fact that Enlightenment has expressed the mentality of rising and growing middle class. It is no coincidence that the motherland of the Enlightenment philosophy has become England, before other countries embarked on a path of capitalist development.

It is the appearance on the historic stage of bourgeoisie, with its secular, practical interests; the needs of the capitalist mode of production have stimulated the development of science, technology, culture, and education.

Changes in public relations and public consciousness served as a prerequisite for the emancipation of minds, the liberation of human thought from the feudal-religious ideology, a new outlook.

Religion has got a new interpretation and a new view on religion appeared – “natural religion”.

Associated with the experience and directed against the metaphysical systems of enlightenment rationality represents a secular movement, and educators often contemptuous sarcastically ridiculed “myths” and “superstition” of positive “religions.

Skeptical and often openly disrespect attitude to the church is the main hallmark of the Enlightenment, philosophy, which can be called “secularization of thought.” As we can see, English and German lines of the Enlightenment were more reserved in contempt of religion. Despite the materialistic and even atheistic overtones, raising the idea linked to deism, and deism – part of the Enlightenment is rational and natural religion – it is the largest that can prevent the human mind.

Deism recognizes:

  1. the existence of God;
  2. God created the world and governs it;
  3. future life, in which each will be awarded for good and punished for evil.

So, at the overall flow of the Enlightenment there are atheistic and materialistic currents. But it can not make us forget that the Enlightenment permeated deism, in other words, good, normal, secular religion, which connected the secular, common morality: “The obligations which we must perform in relation to each other are primarily and exclusively in the area of intelligence, so they are uniform for all peoples.”

Natural duties – such as tolerance, freedom – are rational, are civilian in nature, independent of revelation. E. Kassirer argues that the Enlightenment is indeed a creative sense, dominated by absolute confidence in the updating and improvement of peace.

The more there is an incomplete answers provided by religion to the main issues of knowledge and morality, the more intense and passionate become staging such issues. The struggle is no longer around certain dogmas and their interpretations, but around the very religious credibility: this applies not only to religion but also the ways and direction to the function of faith itself.

There is a desire, mainly in the German enlightenment philosophy which strives for the transcendental explanation of religion. This desire explains the specific nature of religion in the Enlightenment; attributed to the negative and positive trends in philosophy, belief and disbelief. Only by combining these two elements, recognizing their interdependence, it is possible to understand its true unity of the process of historical development of philosophy XVIII century.

The enlightenment reason is the basis of legal norms and concepts of the state. And if you can talk about the natural religion and natural morality, the same way you can talk about natural law. The natural means good. Thus, natural law theory, which was the direct heir of humanist ideas of the Renaissance, shifting these ideas into the language of law, thus providing theoretical and legal grounds and formulate common, moral values, perceptions of fairness in the relationship between man, society and state (Spencer, 1997).

The spirit of criticism, forcing carefully to weigh every opinion, representation and beliefs of the past permeates everywhere and found also in the works for the legal and political philosophy, warned the reform projects. It should be noted that these projects are sometimes designed by monarchs, many of whom want to be “enlightened” while remaining as absolute ruler. At times such projects, by contrast, were directed against the absolutist state; in France politico-legal during the Enlightenment led to the revolution, one of the first steps became typical for the natural right of the Declaration of human and civil rights.

Speaking about the attitude of enlighteners to the human nature it should be mentioned that the philosophers of Enlightenment wanted to find a “solution” to the actual individual, to their real life. The physical properties of human thought specially defined, but it was believed that each individual possesses them: everyone tends to have the shape, growth, to produce movement, each is a sensual creature, particularly through the senses come into contact with nature (Wood, 2001).

Everyone has “natural” needs, it has an appropriate desire to meet them that remains true in those extreme cases where people are seeking or have to minimize. Reasonableness is also thought to be at least a minimal degree of belonging to everyone, but people live according to the requirements of the “true reason” rather seldom.

Clearly, the philosophy of the XVIII-th century was an important step towards the liberation of theology and therefore from a dogmatic bias. The new ideals have been abandoned by some of the principles of medieval ideology and philosophy of rights, the whole of their formations, for example, to the ideas of sinfulness of human nature, the search for forms and degrees according to the will of man and mind of God.

However, for several reasons, social, personal, moral and theoretical philosophy of the Enlightenment, in fact, built a utopia of ” new world”, turning science into a means of social projects and determine the life goals of humankind.

The philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment, perhaps the first time in the history of European culture revealed tensions between actual reality and the future paradigm, streamline these tensions and were able to send people hope to change the existing world. Other views perceived as opposition to the light of reason, but dissidents were assessed as “enemies of the people.” (Wood, 2001).

Exposing the religious dogmas, the desire to clear the mind of non-reflexive preconditions resulted in the creation of new prejudices. “Cleaning” Reason, so necessary for the approval of a new mentality, was not merely removing the mind of ideology-mythological identification and symbolic substitutions, but was also a form of confusing public and individual consciousness, which during the pre-revolutionary period has been able to raise the expectations of sudden change.

The ideal of freedom in the broadest sense of the word acquired from the philosophers of the XVIII century truly revolutionary scope and severity. Although a direct appeal to the overthrow of government in the theories of educators were not, but they introduced into the popular consciousness the idea that people are free to reorganize the society, and hence remove barriers that prevent them from doing so. This, in my view, was revolutionary impact of the philosophical ideals of education in the public consciousness.


Spencer Lloyd , Krauze Andrzej , Appignanesi Richard, Introducing the Enlightenment, Totem Books, 1997.

Wood Allen W. (ed.), Basic Writings of Kant (Modern Library Classics), Modern Library; Modern Library edition, 2001.

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