The Enlightenment – An overview
The Enlightenment came about in the 18th century and freed Western civilisation from the stranglehold of religious fundamentalism. It enabled all the progress we now take for granted.
Prior to this time there was a type of extreme fundamentalism that was akin to ISIS. It was illegal to oppose Christian religious belief. Europe was a theocracy. The word of god was the only rule. Heretics, or those the Church/establishment deemed to be heretic could be tortured to death to save their souls. All methods of torture were devised and deployed including the most barbaric that can be imagined.
To even publish the Bible in English was an offence punishable by death. The Church wanted the power and that resided with the clergy. It was not right for ordinary people to have access to the teachings; they could misinterpret the meaning.
It was a regular event to have blasphemers, witches and heretics publicly burnt to death. Science and rationalism were not permitted.
What is obvious is that all this was much more to do with power than religion.
In the 1620s there was a scientific revolution which brought about a wave of rationalism and doubt. The theological certainties of flat earth, earth at the centre of creation and even man in god’s image were brought into question.
In the 18th Century philosophers such as Kant developed the philosophy of rationalism. This grew among the intellectual classes and led to a movement to create a society based on reason. This led to the separation of religion from politics and the formation of a secular culture.
Secular politics was based on tolerance and reason.
The philosopher Locke the radical idea that government should be through the consent of the people and not the imposition of religious dogma.
This led to a flourishing of the Arts and Science which created the greatest impetus of social development in the history of the world. The West flourished.
The enlightenment led to the ethos of the French Revolution – Equality, Liberty and Fraternity.
It separated the state from religion.
It led to the American revolution and the enshrined doctrine of freedom, religious freedom and individuality.
It has enabled the West to create democracy, pluralism, tolerance, freedom, science, liberalisation, the arts and a diverse and vital culture.
If we had not had an enlightenment and reformation we would still be in medieval costume burning Catholics, Muslims and anyone who was different in our public squares.
Long Live the Enlightenment! Something worth fighting for!