Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I was thumbing a book titled The Ideas That Made the Modern World. As I looked over the introduction, a summation of the Enlightenment caught my eye:

Thus science shatters the systems of theology and metaphysics. But it is not just the victory of scientific knowledge as such, but the scientific method and mindset, which routes the old and obfuscatory orthodoxies. Indeed it is also a question of attitude that is the key here, as indicated by Immanuel Kant in his celebrated essay, What Is Enlightenment? "Enlightenment," he wrote, "is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! 'Have courage to use your own understanding!' that is the motto of enlightenment."

When freethinking is absent, one must be dependent upon others for an understanding of reality concerning social, religious, or political issues. This sense of autonomy and responsibility created the fruits of the Enlightenment -- political revolutions, explosions in science and technology, and miraculous advances in medicine.

This concept made me think of when a well meaning minister told of how a church member was depended upon her too much. She would call her at the worst times in need of emotional comfort. The church member seemed to struggle with a nervous condition -- on the edge of paranoia or anxiety disorder. One evening, the church member called at an inopportune time; the minister was extremely drowsy from taking medication in addition to simply being sleepy from a long day. The minister even tried to warn the church member that she wasn't really in the condition to talk, but she didn't want to disappoint. After all, this person was depending on her.

The minister stated that though she tried her best to stay awake on the phone, she woke up to:

Minister! Minister! What do you mean they're going to get me in the morning?!

The minister never received another call from that member again.

Holding the minister to such a high standard was unfair, in my opinion. But, the member couldn't resolve her own problems herself. While we all find ourselves needing help and guidance from others, she seemed to be in a situation where medication could be in order. But, she will not pursue such an avenue because she has been trained to think that God and the clergy can fix all these problems in her life. She is depended on the establishment that runs her religious faith because free thought is highly discouraged by overt and subtle methods in many churches.

She can't think for herself. She's on a leash so tight that she can't even pursue adequate help.

But that's what the Enlightenment did -- it cut the leash of dependency with the razor of free thought.
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