The Great God Divide

Several bloggers have commented on the Enlightenment recently. I found the following quote in The Great God Divide: European Secularism and American Religiosity:

"To [presider’s] question about different modernities, I think of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s book of a year or two ago, “Three Roads to Modernity,” a fine piece of historical writing, in which she made a rather sharp distinction between the English and Scottish enlightenments, on the one hand, and the French enlightenment on the other.

The British enlightenments, the English and Scottish enlightenments, as she presents them—this makes a great deal of sense to me—were in some sense in continuity with the Christian history of the West, although they grew out of contentions within the Christian history of the West, and gave birth in 1688 and 1776 to new political forms and experiences that were not self-consciously over against that which came before but understood themselves as refinements—perfections, if you will—attempts at perfecting what had come before.

Seventeen eighty-nine, as Dr. Himmelfarb presents it, a product of the French enlightenment that was quite different, that consciously understood itself to be over against the Ancien regime in all of its forms, but particularly its religious form and particularly the enormous role of the church in state affairs." ~ George Weigel, Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center; author, The Cube and the Cathedral: Europe, America, and Politics without God.
I thought that the quote was apropos to those recent comments. I find it interesting the transcriber writes "enlightenment" rather than "Enlightenment." This probably reflects the transcriber's being unaware that enlightenment is a noun describing a general, albeit too infrequent, process, whereas Enlightenment refers to the historical episode.

I am quite intrigued by the question of how, despite this common intellectual legacy, England and Scotland – together with most of the Commonwealth, and Europe, particularly Scandinavia – have continued the Enlightenment shift toward secularism, whereas the US has spawned the epidemic of Conservative Religious Wrong.


enlightenment, religion

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