Assess the significance of the role that the Enlightenment attributed to God Essay

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Truth In The Darkness
Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, as ...
Assessing the role of God in Enlightenment thought is not an easy task, the main reason being that the majority of the great Enlightenment thinkers did not actually address (or attack: the two verbs at this time being synonymous) the issue of God specifically (the notable exceptions being the atheists d'Holbach and Jacques-André ;Naigeon). What the philosophes did address and attack was organized religion, usually Catholicism (although Christianity as a whole was fiercely criticized). In order therefore, to discover their
Theory Of Music In Ancient Chinese Philosophy
Abstract JiKang’s Naturalistic Theory and Criticism of Art In China, from the ancient times, a synthesis of all forms of art that includes poetry, song, and dance has been called ...
perception of God, it will be necessary to examine their arguments concerning religion.

However, even this is not as simple as it appears. The Enlightenment was a very broad movement which included thinkers of differing beliefs and ideas and therefore, there was no uniform consensus on the subject - some (such as d'Holbach) were atheist, others deeply religious (notably Rousseau), whilst the majority were deists of one kind or another (deism was a movement that ran parallel to the Enlightenment

Truth in the Darkness
Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
although it had originated prior to it). Clearly though, the majority of the philosophes were religious, which is significant - the Enlightenment did not attack God nor did it attack religion (as Nicolson puts it, "it was not faith that they attacked, but superstition: not religion but priesthood.") yet this was supposedly a movement that advocated rationalism, reason and knowledge, ideas which are not, to my mind, compatible with religion. It would seem therefore that the Enlightenment's stance on religion
Heart Of Darkness Essay
Joseph Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, as ...
was social rather than theological. This then would explain the crusade that was waged against Christianity (the famous écrasez l'infâme). To the philosophes, Christianity was a social institution which was the antithesis of everything that they stood for. As Porter writes, for Diderot, Voltaire et al. "emancipation of mankind from religious tyranny had to be the first blow in a general politics of emancipation."

The changing perspective of religion was undoubtedly influenced by the changing philosophical and scientific atmosphere

Heart of Darkness
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, as he ...
of the Eighteenth century. The decline of Cartesian philosophy and its views of the universe and society, to be replaced by Newton had a tremendous impact on the Enlightenment (as did the work of other great English thinkers, especially Bacon, Hobbes and Locke). It seems in hindsight that conflict with Christianity was inevitable, as scientific knowledge increased, yet the sheer ferocity of the attack that followed merely reinforces the idea that the conflict was more than simply science against faith.
Heart of Darkness
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
It is easy to see why Newton appealed to the philosophes - the idea that nature could be explained through science but (on a metaphysical note) that even science could not discover all causes and affects and Newton's own (deist) belief that God personally intervened to regulate nature - all could be incorporated into a rationalist faith. The impact of Newtonianism is apparent. For Voltaire, (who has been described as a Newtonian deist) "the whole philosophy of Newton leads of
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
necessity to the knowledge of a supreme Being, who created everything ..."

The influence of English thought on the Enlightenment was not confined to science. The deist movement, which was a significant component of Enlightenment thought, had originated in England in the Seventeenth century, around the time of the Civil War and had a vigorous following, its chief propagandists being Hobbes, Locke, Paine, Toland, Tindal and Collins. As with their French contemporaries, they used reason and rationalism against the

Heart Of Darkness
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
Church, writing books which criticized all aspects of Christianity. The interesting thing to note is the chronology - was the social and political atmosphere of the Civil War and its aftermath a direct cause of English deism, or would it have occurred anyway? The notion that true religion was simply obeying God's moral law (and nothing else) and that everybody had a right to worship as they saw fit, would not be out of place in the Enlightenment yet it
Conrad's Novel "Heart Of Darkness"
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, as he ...
began in England (as Gay correctly points out when, "in the 1760s Voltaire mounted his ... campaign to écrasez l'infâme he invented nothing. He bought out into the open a battle that had been fought underground for more than half a century). Deism's significance, therefore, was that it was a social and intellectual reaction (in this example, against organized religion), mirroring social and intellectual reactions in other areas of human life, e.g. politics. Thus the situation in England was now
Heart Of Darkness(A)
Heart of DarknessConrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
being repeated in Enlightenment France (it should be remembered that the philosophes wrote on all aspects of life including the arts and sciences) and indeed many of the Enlightenment thinkers had read the works of Toland. Collins et al. and been subsequently influenced.

Of all the Enlightenment polemicists who assailed Christianity, Voltaire is probably the best known. His hatred of the atrocities committed in the name of religion (The Crusades, The Inquisition, St.Bartholomew's Eve Massacre, Wars of Religion) added to

Heart Of Darkness
Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in the novel, ...
his experience of religion in England, led him to argue for religious tolerance for all faiths, even Jews and atheists. Like other Enlightenment figures Voltaire recognized the function that religion played in society, that of regulating people's behaviour, i.e. encouraging justice and morality within society (which was the basis for Voltaire's observation that if God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent Him). This seems to be a contradictory position - the philosophes appeared to be attacking Christianity but
Joseph Conrad-
Joseph Conrad- Conrad's novel, Heart of Darkness, relies on the historical period of imperialism in order to describe its protagonist, Charlie Marlow, and his struggle. Marlow's catharsis in ...
also arguing that it was a necessary part of society. This is presumably an elitist attitude though - ordinary people who didn't know any better could have Christianity whilst the more enlightened could have their rational and benevolent deism.

The attack on Christianity was genuine enough though - Hume applied his scepticism to the belief that God's existence could be proved

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