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Enlightenment & Religion

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Enlightenment & Religion

At its core, the Enlightenment can be found in the Humanism of the Renaissance, The Protestant Reformation, and most importantly, in the Scientific Revolution. Each of these periods in time inspired methods for discovering and sharing the truth about religion, politics, and humankind. During the Enlightenment, it was important to be skeptical; to test and find rational answers to hundreds of life's questions.


The Age of Enlightenment and Religion

The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement that occurred during the 17th & 18th centuries. Ideas concerning reason, humanity, nature, and God (religion), were central to the movement. It was believed that the goals of humanity were to seek answers, find happiness, and be free. This movement also aimed to create a separation between the church and state.

Reference works for the Age of Enlightenment became universal encyclopedias rather than technical dictionaries; this was meant to show records of all human knowledge in a comprehensive form.

The most well-known of these works is Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s "Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers". The work consisted of thirty-five volumes and over 71,000 separate entries.

Inevitably, the reasoning was applied to religion and formed Deism. Though it was never an organized movement, it faced conflict with Christianity for 2 centuries, mainly in England and France. Though Deism took a more natural approach to religion, what stemmed from it was skepticism, atheism, and materialism.

Deism is an unorthodox religious attitude that refers to what can be called "natural religion". It revolves around the belief of a creator on the basis of reason; rejecting the supernatural belief that there is a deity that interacts with humankind.

It is important to note that there were two distinct lines of Enlightenment thought; one was radical enlightenment that sought democracy, individual liberties, freedom of personal expression, and complete eradication of religious authority. The second was a more moderate variety that sought to accommodate the differences between reform and traditional systems of power and faith.

The Enlightenment and Religion in Europe

The Enlightenment rapidly took hold of most European countries. In France, the thought became associated with anti-government and anti-church radicalism, while in Germany it reached deep into the middle class, creating a spiritual and nationalistic tone without the threat of overthrowing the government or religious powers.

The French government retaliated with much hostility, attempting to censor, imprison, or even exile Enlightenment thinkers. In contrast, England and Scotland mainly ignored their thinkers.

In Italy, Enlightenment thinking led to a reduction in the Church's power, in turn creating great advances in thoughts, inventions, and scientific discoveries.

The government in Russia took a unique approach to its Enlightenment thinkers, encouraging the study of arts and sciences more heavily than before. This helped produce the first Russian university, theater, public museum, and press.

The idea of forming a society based on reasoning instead of faith helped each European country relate to one another. This included a new civil order based on natural law and science-based on observations and experiments.

Did you know?

This led to the idea of the separation of church and state, which was happily taken by American Enlightenment thinkers and applied to the country's Constitution in 1787.

Natural Law is a group of unchanging characteristics that are viewed as the base for all human conduct.


Enlightenment Thinkers and Religion

Enlightenment Thinker What was their influence?

Religion and Enlightenment - Jean Le Rond d'Alembert - StudySmarter - Getty ImagesJean Le Rond d'Alembert1717 -1783

Alembert received his name from the church steps he was abandoned on as a small child. He wrote thousands of articles for the "Encyclopédie" and he was often criticized for being far too anti-religious. During his career, he turned down work offered by both Frederick II of Prussia & Catherine II of Russia.

Religion and Enlightenment - portrait of Cesare Beccaria  - StudySmarter - Getty ImagesCesare Beccaria 1738 - 1794

Beccaria was the Italian author of the book "On Crimes and Punishments", which was published in 1764. He argued for punishments to be secular rather than based on religious interpretation of sin. Beccaria also believed in the abolishment of capital punishment and judicial torture.

Religion and Enlightenment - Jean-Jacques Rousseau - StudySmarter - Getty ImagesJean-Jacque Rousseau1712 - 1778

Rousseau also wrote for the "Encyclopédie" before falling out with Diderot and Voltaire. Rousseau often alienated other religions in his works, forcing him to flee from France as the government began cracking down on Enlightenment thinkers. His "Du Contrat Social" became extremely influential during the French Revolution (1789 - 1799) and he has been referred to as having a major influence on Romanticism.

Religion and Enlightenment - François-Marie Arouet Voltaire - StudySmarter - Getty ImagesFrançois-Marie Arouet Voltaire 1694 - 1778

Voltaire is arguably the most dominant of all the Enlightenment thinkers, with his death (to some) signaling the end of the period. He wrote often about multiple different topics and was particularly famous for his satire, which he was once imprisoned and exiled for. Voltaire is best known for his strong influence on the Enlightenment movement and his piece, "Candide".

Conflict between Religion, Reason, and Science in the Enlightenment

In the Enlightenment thinkers' rejection of fanaticism and superstition, the Catholic church frowned upon them and saw their way of thinking as a threat. However, as stated previously, Deism was not against religion or the idea of God, they simply denounced the beliefs that arose from mystery and miracle, such as the Virgin Birth, The Trinity, and The Eucharist.

Voltaire's "Candide" discusses the question that if God is purely good, then why would he create a world that could be filled with so much evil? Could a God that is said to be perfect, create something so imperfect? Reasoning and science gave Voltaire grounds to create a reconciliation between God and the imperfect world, stating that God was in fact the Creator, but it will remain unknown whether or not he will ever attempt to perfect his creations.

Despite these conclusions, Voltaire still contemplated whether the implementation of religion was truly beneficial to the people.

Man has always needed a break...if God did not exist, He would have to be invented" - Voltaire


The Outcome of the Enlightenment

Since the ending of the Enlightenment, the period has been viewed as the foundation of the West's modern political and intellectual culture, bringing democratic values and the creation of liberal democracies. These consist of the rights of individuals, the natural equality of all men, the separation of powers, and the artificial character of political order; all legitimate power must be based on the approval of the people, and they have the freedom to do as they please (apart from what is forbidden by said power).

These ideas powered the French Revolution as well as the Industrial Revolution in regard to the mass production and consumption of pamphlets, books, journals, and newspapers. The consumption of reading materials of all categories was a key feature in the social aspect of the Enlightenment.

It is important to remember that modern historians of race, gender, and class do not believe that Enlightenment ideals were as universal in today's sense of the word; although they did inspire movements for women, people of color, and working classes, the original ideals applied only to white men of a particular social standing.

Religion and Enlightenment - painting of the French Revolution - StudySmarter - Wikimedia CommonsPainting of the French Revolution (1789)


Enlightenment & Religion - Key takeaways

  • The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement that occurred during the 17th & 18th centuries. Ideas concerning reason, humanity, nature, and God (religion), were central to the movement.
  • Inevitably, the reasoning was applied to religion and formed Deism. Though Deism took a more natural approach to religion, what stemmed from it was skepticism, atheism, and materialism.
  • It is important to note that there were two distinct lines of Enlightenment thought.
  • These ideas powered the French Revolution as well as the Industrial Revolution.
  • Since the ending of the Enlightenment, the period has been viewed as the foundation of the West's modern political and intellectual culture, bringing democratic values and the creation of liberal democracies.

Frequently Asked Questions about Enlightenment & Religion

The Enlightenment and religion are compatible because Enlightenment thinking does not deny God or religion, it only rejects the aspects that are based on mystery and miracle. 

The Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution changed religion with its creation of Deism. Deism is an unorthodox religious attitude that refers to what can be called "natural religion". The belief of a creator is based on reason rather than supernatural beliefs. 

The relationship between the Enlightenment and religion is the fact that the central points remain the same; there is in fact a Creator. However, they do not believe that he is a deity that interacts with humankind; an idea that made the Catholic church feel threatened. 

The Enlightenment affected religion by taking away magical, mythical, and mysterious aspects. In some cases it also created anti-church radicalism and the idea of the separation of church and state.  

The two concepts that the Enlightenment pushed over religion were  

1. Reason over superstition 

2. Science over blind faith 

Final Enlightenment & Religion Quiz

Question

When was the Enlightenment? 

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Answer

17th and 18th centuries. 

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What was the Enlightenment? 

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Answer

The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement with ideas concerning reason, humanity, nature, and God (religion). 

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The Enlightenment changed religion with its implementation of Deism. 

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True. 

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What was Deism? 

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Answer

An unorthodox religious attitude that refers to what can be called "natural religion". It revolves around the belief of a creator based on reason; rejecting the supernatural beliefs. 

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No European country was tolerant of Enlightenment thinkers. 

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Answer

False. 

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What are the two concepts that the Enlightenment pushed over religion?

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1. Reason over superstition 

2. Science over blind faith

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Reference works for the Age of Enlightenment became universal encyclopedias rather than technical dictionaries. 

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Answer

True. 

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There was only one distinct line of Enlightenment thought.

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Answer

False.

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What is Natural Law?

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Answer

A group of unchanging characteristics that are viewed as the base for all human conduct. 

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The Enlightenment idea of the separation of church and state was included in what country's Constitution in 1787?

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Answer

The United States. 

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Since the ending of the Enlightenment, the period has been viewed as the foundation of the West's modern political and intellectual culture. 

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True. 

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Which Revolutions in Europe did the Enlightenment power?

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Answer

The French Revolution & The Industrial Revolution. 

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Skepticism, Deism, and Atheism are all related, but not the same. 

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True. 

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What is Skepticism? 

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Answer

One questions religious beliefs and dogmas because they often believe that many things cannot be absolutely certain.

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What is Deism? 

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One does believe in the exitance of God or a supreme being, but does not believe in the magic, mystery, and miracles of religion. 

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What is Atheism? 

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One does not hold any beliefs toward God or religion because of rationality and reasoning

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The Enlightenment inspired _________.

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All of the above. 

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The Enlightenment fed the fire for the beginning of the American and French Revolutions. 

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True. 

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The people who were accused of being Atheist often were. 

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False.

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Religious tolerance was developing during the Enlightenment.  

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True. 

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Deism and Skepticism are often viewed as "gateways" or "paths" to Atheism. 

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True. 

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Skepticism only has one level, you can be neither radical nor moderate. 

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Answer

False.

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What subjects encouraged people to think more rationally and pull away from blind faith?

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Answer

Both. 

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The findings of universal gravitation, which helped inspire Deism, was found by _______. 

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Answer

Isaac Newton

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