Zach Beauvais

The Enlightenment was centuries ago. Why do you think people still cling to outmoded ways of explaining the world, such as religion?

by | Apr 22, 2010 | Formspring

I don’t see history as linearly-progressive. I believe we learn much from our past, and value history. Our story is an accumulation of our thoughts, our lives and our predecessors’ ways of living: and it contains many, many truths. We don’t always learn from the past, and often forget what used to be known. There have been many darker periods in our stories when we acted foolishly despite the “progress” of generations. So, I do not see any thought as “outmoded,” especially in the context of its time. That’s not to say I don’t think some things should change (we SHOULD learn from our past), and so learn to treat women as equals—a lesson we still have not learned—to be careful with our resources, and to test practices to see which ring true (i.e. homeopathic remedies).

Nor do I see the Enlightenment period as anything that was a total disregard of religious thought. I am not an expert, and most of my historical interest lies further back (I love reading/learning about Anglo-Saxon England, for example), so I’m probably not very well qualified to answer your question. But that period is full of beautiful writing and interesting ways of thinking (such as existentialism). Some even embraced traditional stories and truths (Søren Kierkegaard, for example). So, different ways of thinking took a precedent over past, but no total divorce occurred.

I have a difficult time with the tone of this question, I must confess. It feels superior, as if we (or he/she for having asked it) is so much better than our predecessors. We’ve conquered religion! We don’t need to “cling to outmoded ways”.

It sounds hubristic.

We live in a world where we are slowly destroying our own climate through greed and disregard. We, in the past 100 years, have amassed more than enough destructive power to obliterate the surface of our planet. We fight open-ended wars with remote-controlled devices and fill our minds with thoughts of fear, and death, and destruction. We are less egalitarian than many civilisations from our past: looking back at the Saxons, who—even owning slaves—seem somehow less politically crippled than we seem to be now. We watch gladiatorial displays in which losers are humiliated and scorned and winners enthroned, for a short time, in our media and consciousnesses. We grow enough food to feed the planet and more, yet people starve, and the difference between the world’s richest and poorest seems bigger than at any time in our story. And, for the first time in decades, we are leaving our children with fewer years to live than ourselves.

I’m afraid I don’t see this current reality as superior to all that’s past, and I don’t rush to disregard something because it is not currently fashionable.

I hope that we do learn, and that we learn to dismantle the structures of religion which allow terrible things to happen behind sacredly-closed doors. And I hope power people wield through controlling thoughts and feelings as with religious dogma lessens.

But I do cling to many ways of thinking. I don’t think the world would be better without faith. Without the embodiment of Love, nor the teachings of selfless giving I learned as a kid.

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