How Enlightened was The Enlightenment? Week 4: Religion
1. Overview: towards toleration
- the power of the (Catholic) church: education, censorship,
- Galileo vs church on rotation of the earth, mountains on the moon etc.
- 1770: Buffon vs church on age of the earth
- historical background: 16th & 17th century wars of religion(internal and external) à church blamed for conflict, and seen as hypocritical
- political vs religious loyalty à separating politics and religion à tolerance
- did the change go too far? Paganism? Disenchantment? (Peter Gay, Keith Thomas) – see also on Hegel below…
2. Religion and Reason
- ‘reason’ à attacks on the ‘irrational’, superstition, ‘animism’ – miracles, and revelation?
- nature, God’s order – ‘natural law’ (Newton) a dominant idea
- progress/perfectibility vs. sinfulness
- religion and the individual’s sense of reason, (being in control of one’s own mind)
- conclusion: philosophes attacked the irrational, & the power and corruption of the church
- if miracles (e.g.) are fundamental, then rejecting them is seen as atheism by believers
- Voltaire and others were ‘deist’ (see below)
4. A near-contemporary critic of secularization – Hegel (1770 – 1831)
- we need to have a relation to the absolute/spiritual, to avoid solipsism & mere utilitarianism in our relations to each other
5. Sceptics and critics amongst enlightenment thinkers
David Hume: we cannot know anything about the original cause – God is beyond human reason (but cannot contradict reason)
Edward Gibbon: religion and social order (functional view vs ‘truth’)
Fontenelle et al: ‘primitive’ religion (to explain the unknown) vs. ‘progress’
Montesquieu: natural laws can be discovered and explain everything (à sociology)
6. Deism, Voltaire and others (Bayle, Rousseau)
- Deism: God must be ‘totally reasonable’ (O’Hara) – precondition for laws of nature – unhappiness etc from social order not from God
- against dogmatism and clericalism (priests looked after their own interests)
- Voltaire (i) for tolerance, as in
7. Natural philosophers and religion:
- William Paley’s argument by design (the watchmaker argument, 1802), also Linnaeus (classifications of animals and plants)
- Joseph Priestley; Unitarian (Lunar Society: to educate citizens).
8. Other views:
- Leibniz: God as creator is an innate idea; we live in the best of possible worlds; the world exists in the mind of God
- Rousseau: for piety (because from feelings: ‘I sense Him in me’), & a simple civic religion (but not Christianity)
- Spinoza: Everything is part of one substance, ‘God’ or ‘nature.’ (Pantheistic?) We cannot understand God’s will. (Mystical?) Cursed for his views.
9. Religion in other countries:
- French thinkers more inclined to move away from religion
- America: many leaders of the revolution (Jefferson, Franklin, Paine) were deist
10. Conclusion: there was ‘multi-various religious debate and innovation’ (Outram) – toleration was perhaps the most important legacy of the age.
See also: Living with the Gods by Neil MacGregor (Allen lane 2018)