Wednesday, June 16, 2010

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Modern Enlightenment

Power Line quotes William Voegeli on the capabilities of government, expanding into the modern Religion of Enlightenment...

...the 21st century is posing a crisis for "the religion of Enlightenment," the 18th century faith that human reason, unleashed from all constraints and unburdened by ancient superstitions and doubts, would lead mankind to ever greater levels of health, prosperity, security and harmony. The Enlightenment religion won so many converts because it delivered so much of what it promised. We really do enjoy lives that are vastly more comfortable and congenial than humans throughout nearly the entirety of history experienced or even imagined.

Inevitably, the progress we grow accustomed to we eventually believe we are entitled to. We treat every oil spill, mine explosion or plane crash as an outrage, an inexcusable breach of the promise that technology, planning and robust, efficient government would make life perpetually safer and nicer. Such transgressions against the religion of Enlightenment elicit a fundamentalist reaction: Human reason hasn't failed us. Rather, we have failed it, and must redouble our commitment to better technology, smarter planning, and organizations that are shrewdly designed and expertly managed.

Unlike some religions, Enlightenment fundamentalism readily lends itself to hating the sin and hating the sinner. A personal-injury attorney in Russell Banks' novel The Sweet Hereafter voiced these hatreds perfectly. Arriving in a small town to find clients and file lawsuits after a school bus skidded into a river, the lawyer says, "I knew at once that it wasn't an 'accident' at all. There are no accidents. I don't even know what the word means, and I never trust anyone who says he does. I knew that somebody somewhere had made a decision to cut a corner."

I have often spoken of the Religion of Science, the modern belief that we know it all, and in so knowing and not having found a direct explanation that says "G-d" we therefore know that there is no god. So modern science education intimates, until one discusses quantum mechanics, entropy and biochemical evolution, and the start of the Big Bang. But modern science-lite education doesn't go there, and presents the student with the basic 'we know' approach - leaving out room for what we don't.

From the explanation above I begin to understand that this approach started farther back than I thought.


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