We arrive at the pivot point in human societal structuring, the Enlightenment Project and the French Revolution. At the end of this essay, sources for further study are proposed. David Hume (1711-1776) has the advantage of stating his thoughts concisely while still widely read today. Peter Gay, a historian on the Enlightenment, says, “Hume, more decisively than many of his brethren in the Enlightenment, stands at the threshold of modernity and exhibits its risks and its possibilities. Without melodrama but with sober eloquence one would expect from an accomplished classicist, Hume makes plain that since God is silent, man is his own master: he must live in a disenchanted world, submit everything to criticism, and make his own way.” The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, I, p 419
Is God silent? Is Man his own master? Reductio of ratio. Where does justice, charity, hope fit into this thinking? Justice and prudence is ordered to the common good. The drama of life is being a good woman, wife, mother, and blogger. None of this drama is found in Hume. Justice is needed to define what is good. The world of Socrates is foreign to this line of thinking.
With the telos of man clipped the Enlightenment thinkers do not know what humans are, why they exist, and what their finals ends are. Hume writes, “Life of a man no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” Pg 3 and continuing, “When I shall be dead the principles of which I am composed the atoms, will still perform their part in the universe and will be equally useful in the grand fabric, as when they composed this individual creature” pg 4 Suicide.
Hume is not angry towards religion nor makes a show of rejecting. He just does not take religion seriously at all. In Hume’s world, Jesus and religion have been considered, rejected, and finally ignored.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) in politics, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in science, and Fredrick Nietzsche (1844-1900) in philosophy are the protagonists, respectively, of the Communist Manifesto, a doubling down on the atomists view of nature espoused by the pre-Socratics, and the love of self above all things in philosophy. All three men and their respective adherents have one thing in common, the absence of God. For Marx, what has God done for man? It is time for man to rule and create his own utopia. Darwin, with his bulldog Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) will champion the same in the sciences. It is evolution, genetics, survival of the fittest who rules the created universe. Aristotle’s classifications of nature’s forms are finis. Nietzsche’s insistence that since God is dead, we have killed Him, a new man, an ubermenschmust emerge. These ideas usher in not a promised utopia but the bloodiest century ever known to man.
Warfare, genocide, slavery, abortion, rejection of the fundamental cell of society marriage and the family are the results our ancestors could never grasp. 2500 years of human striving towards a just society seems but ashes. Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas worked out over time are disastrous.
Consider the word freedom. I could propose to a general audience that freedom is a good thing. I could post this on social media and there would be hardly any disagreement. That would seem like a good thing. But on closer reflection, I would find some agree that it is a good only in so far as it allows the person to do what they want, a hallmark of individualism. It is the defiance of the Accuser, non serviam. As they will not serve the One, they become slaves to their own passions.
A much smaller group would say freedom is a good because it allows for love. Love properly understood is the sincere desire for the others good, rooted in virtue, with the final result of happiness. Happiness, as Aristotle would propose is the goal for which all man longs. Christians would elevate this idea and say man was created for blessed eternal happiness. A profound union between God and man made possible by the gratuitous gift of salvation from His Son through the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Our goal, today, is the same as it was from the dawn of man. It is to train our hearts to know the truth when we hear it, and then to engage our will to act on that truth. We cannot do this on our own as Pelagius or Marx would suggest. We are not automatons immutably fixed by our DNA as Darwinism or the Pre-Socratics will propose. God is most assuredly not dead as so many can testify.
Man needs the grace of the Holy Spirit so that we can know the truth without despair but with hope and to act with courage. There are immutable laws of nature just as there are immutable nature’s laws. We are not free to determine what is good and evil any more than we are able to dispense with the law of gravity. To propose this idea in our generation will require courage born from an experiential relationship with our Saving God. Theoretical knowledge does not suffice. Claiming Christ’s promise that those who hear his voice will know the truth and be set free suffices.
not in any particular order, inspite of clear direction to do so:-)
Warren Carroll, anything written by him. I have read most of his books; he is amiably readable and insightful.
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
Servais Pinckaers, O.P. The Sources of Christian Ethics
Terence Irwin, AristotleNicomachean Ethics 2nd edition
Thomas Aquinas Compendium Theologiae Augustine Institute 2013
Edward Gratsch S.T.D Aquinas’ Summa
Catholicism & Ethics, A Medical & Moral Handbook C.R. Publications
Thomas Kuhn The Structure of Scientific Revolution
Thomas Nagel Mind & Cosmos
Rodney Stark How the West Won, The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity(His book The Rise of Christianityis timeless.)
Peter Kreeft Back to Virtue
Mortimer J. Adler Ten Philosophical Mistakes
Hilaire Belloc How the Reformation Happened
Christopher Dawson The Historic Reality of Christian Culture & Dynamics of World History
Donald De Marco & Benjamin Wiker Architects of the Culture of Death