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Enlightenment Attitudes To Religion Essay

1850 words - 7 pages

A discussion of the Enlightenment's attitudes towards religion is necessarily a complex one and cannot be answered without reference to historical influences on the social situation in Europe, and contemporary political and scientific developments. Absolute rejection of the existence of a God on the part of Enlightenment intellectuals was rare, while the concept of man as innately reasonable lead to a rethinking of established religious doctrine and the role of the Church within society. Many intellectuals, who found that the doctrines of orthodox religion offended their reason, turned to 'natural' religions founded on the belief of a Deity as evidenced by nature, which the rational man could observe and study for himself.The central feature of the Enlightenment is its questioning of social tradition and established order found within society, its heritage, principles and values. The Enlightenment placed as its foundational principles, firstly, the belief in the capacity of human reason to gain knowledge independent of any revealed truth (i.e. religion), secondly, the autonomy of the individual and thirdly, the belief in the human capacity and indeed its obligation to shape the future of society. None of these points are incompatible with established religion, indeed much of Enlightenment thought was directed at harmonising revealed truth (i.e. scripture) with rational knowledge. They are incompatible, however, with the idea that the only source of truth and knowledge comes through divinely inspired scripture . The Enlightenment was opposed therefore to the idea of Religion having exclusive access to truth. Many Enlightenment thinkers saw the two streams of knowledge, both religious and secular as being separate and independent from each other. This belief ushered in the new age of secularism .The conception of the separation of the Church and the Secular was in many ways conceived in the earlier development of Absolutist monarchies. The establishment of Absolutist governments changed the way people viewed their societies, shifting the perception of the construction of society from an organic one to a political one. As a result the perception of the foundational structure of society shifted from that of a 'natural' hierarchical order to that of a voluntary construction. Absolutism gave birth to the notion of human sovereignty. As the Reformation had asserted the value of freedom of conscience and individual religious liberty, so Absolutism paradoxically promoted individual freedom by virtue of the fact that power was no longer divinely ordained. Together they led to the birth of subjectivity whereby individuals came to conceive of themselves as having a mental life of their own independent of Church and State .The scientific revolution also impacted on the Enlightenment's attitudes towards religion. Copernicus's heliocentric model of the universe was by the eighteenth century accepted in scientific circles as established and demonstratable fact,...

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