Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Enlightenment: The Decline of the Church


German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) declared the Enlightenment creed in 1784: Sapere aude! "Dare to Know!" The Enlightenment was a period of intense intellectual fervor and advancement that we can date from 1650 to 1800. During this period, philosophers, intellectuals, scientists, and laymen began to question and challenge the authority of the Church and State in a frenzied pursuit of knowledge and understanding of the world. The roots of the Enlightenment begin with the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, when scientists such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton made discoveries that shook the very foundation of Church dogma, creating a bitter, antagonistic relationship between religion and science that continues to this day. The Age of Exploration introduced Europeans to new cultures, new religions, and new ideas that opened the doors to innovative and novel ways of thinking. Also, the explorers brought back with them new plants and animals that added fuel to the scientific curiosity sweeping across Europe. These two factors led to the declining influence of the Church and to the rise of either religious reform or the abandonment of religion altogether. The Enlightenment saw the rise of Deism as an alternative to organized religions, differing from the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) in that it viewed God as a sort of "cosmic watchmaker" who created the universe and set it in autonomous motion and never again tampered with it. They fulminated against the dogma and doctrines of organized religion and believed god's revelation to mankind existed in man's communion with nature, not through the hearsay of prophets and the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, the founding fathers of the United States were Deists, not Christians.

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