Enlightenment As Epicureanism

But the key point at issue is the great gulf separating [the gods] from us, together with the apparent randomness of the world and the non-intervention of outside divine forces. Much of the claim to be new, ‘modern’, and indeed ‘scientific’, at the time and ever since, has thus been simply the attempted justification of a much older worldview by appeal to new scientific discoveries and technological achievements. We glimpse all this, to repeat, after the event, seeing how things in fact turned out and the way in which this idea of a ‘modern age’ has subsequently taken hold on the Western imagination. I do not envisage a conspiracy in which people were saying, ‘Now, how can we re-launch Epicureanism without saying that’s what we’re doing?’ My case is more about long-term effects than explicit intentions, though the intentions, not least in their social, political, and ethical dimensions, were often at least implicit. What matters is the way in which the newness of certain scientific discoveries was used rhetorically to press the claim to the newness of the worldview. At the time [the 18th century], many leaders of the movement knew perfectly well that they were rekindling ancient fires. Those who today invoke ‘the modern world’ either ignore this or choose to forget it.

N.T. Wright, History and Eschatology, 21-22.

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