Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Modernity's Attractiveness

When we look around the world, we see that somethings are apparently self-evident. There is suffering in the world. There is misery in the world. One might even say that it is self-evident that there is evil in the world. Another thing that is seemingly self-evident is that there need not be suffering, misery, or even evil in the world. That there needs to be a way out of this miry pit; a way of salvation.

Beginning in the 18th century, there was a change in the history of Salvation. A new way out of suffering, misery and evil was made evident by the philosophers and theologians. This way out is the way of Reason. "Because misfortune and suffering arise very largely from ignorance, it was believed reason could cast its light in the darkness of superstition and deceit and bring humanity its long-anticipated enlightenment and happiness." (Modern Christian Thought, Livingston, pg. 7) But before we get into how reason brings happiness, we need to address the superstition and deceit that is spoke of by Livingston.

The philosophers and somewhat shockingly, the theologians held that religion has failed us. Religion promised us light and happiness yet it did not deliver. Religion, according to some of the thinkers in the 18th century,  pushed humanity further into the pit of misery of suffering by suppressing thought and praising ignorance. Religion was supposed to make humanity behave better and live better lives. According to thinkers like Voltaire, religion failed to make us better because it was too other-worldly and focused not on the natural but the supernatural.

Who would not want to exchange a better life later on for a better life here-and-now? This is the attractiveness of the Enlightenment. Marquis de Condorcet, a 18th century philosopher, held that the persistence of superstition and error was due to the propagation of Christianity. In his The Progress of the Human Mind, he argued that there needs to be a new eschatological hope. "For writers like Condorcet, hope for posterity became a kin d of eschatological substitute for the tradition Christian hope in the Kingdom of God." (Livingston, pg. 10) Who would not want to be known forever? Would not going down in the annals of history be better than living forever? Or would they be the same?

 By either getting rid of Religion or injecting Reason into Religion, the Enlightenment wanted to change the telos (goal, purpose) of human. The goal of life would no longer be to blindly worship a Diety, but to "examine, weigh, sift, and compare the facts again and again until it could discern the true from the false, the contingent and particular from the necessary and universal.(Livingston, pg. 7)  In short, the new purpose in life was to no longer seek the True God, but only to seek the Truth.

By seeking the Truth, we can then distill out a behavior that would get rid of the suffering and misery in the world. "A this-worldly hope in the future in place of an other-worldly expectation 0in an earthly city in which there will be no more 'mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things will have passed away.'" (Livingston, pg. 10) For this utopia to happen, Religion needs to take a backseat to Reason, according to the Enlightenment philosophers. When this falling away happens, the end (purpose)_of human life" will fall "exclusively within the present world nad its ideal transformation." (Livingston, pg. 10)

Who would not want to live in this world? Who would not want to live in a world free of deceit, superstition, suffering and mystery? Who would not want to live in a world where everything can be known? Who would not want to become the master of their own life? This is the attractiveness of Modernity.

In the next post, we will examine how this transformation is to come about.

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