Saturday, February 4, 2012


"The French Enlightenment ended up concluding that all standards and all judgments are essentially arbitrary "
"The values of the New Testament have turned out to be more profound than those of the French Revolution"
"The Enlightenment, with its rejection of tradition and authority, has had more influence on intellectual fashion"
"The legacy of the permissive society – broken families, mental illness and entrenched welfare dependency – suggests that the old social taboos might have had some point"
"In Australia as elsewhere, one of the great totems of liberation from authority has been abortion on demand. Spurred by film of 12 week old unborn babies being dismembered, some women's activists have started to question the abortion culture. Abortion may not be the precise moral equivalent of infanticide..."
"Since 1996, contrary to political correctness, the Australian Parliament has overturned right-to-kill laws and (almost) banned gay marriage".
" Perhaps a political constituency may even be starting to emerge to ban abortions after 20 weeks..."
"An intellectual justification for traditional moral values is easy enough to rediscover. What’s much harder, in the absence of religious faith, is the motivation to adhere to them"
-Tony Abbott

Even the late Kenneth Clarke, in his magisterial defence of the catholic church, which he misleadingly called ‘Civilisation’, admitted that ‘The Enlightenment’ pushed European civilisation some way up the hill. As a consequence of its philosophy, we were no longer supposed to burn witches, or imprison and torture members of minority groups or those with opinions contrary to the establishment.
At a time when Popes and Kings used their direct line to god to justify their perpetration of almost unbelievable atrocities, and their retention of unquestioned political power, the philosophers of the Enlightenment fought for toleration and justice. Lord Clark summed the situation up by saying “When you ask the question does it work?…instead of, is it god’s will ? you get a new set of answers” These philosophers and scientists revealed the christian religion to be the work of a handful of well-meaning Jews, replete with the mistakes and inconsistencies one would expect from an ignorant, pre scientific people. Luther showed that the church interpreted and re-interpreted holy writ for its own convenience and profit. The authority of the church was not stripped by societies reaction to its paedophile heirachy, but by its adherence to an unfeeling and inhumane set of values anchored in patent nonsense. As we witness the squirming, uncomfortable attempts by the religious authorities to reconcile scientific facts with revealed truth it is easy to understand why the link between political power and the church was broken by the Enlightenment. Lord Clark also recognised that practical changes in society, such as those which lead to an increase in material welfare, or efficiency, may come about even under a reprehensible, totalitarian regime. After all, we all know what it takes to make the trains run on time.
Nobody would venture to suggest that the evolved, liberal, democratic society of the West today, is perfect. We may, however, agree with Churchill, that it is the worst system, except for all the others. As a direct consequence of the Enlightenment, we enjoy a freedom which would have been almost unthinkable in any earlier age.
We have been able to combine social cohesiveness with the exercise of individual freedom, and have achieved the ideal sought in the Roman dictum “We submit that we may be free”
If you want to get an idea of what it was like to live in pre-Enlightenment catholic Europe, with a pervasive and cruel religion imposed by a corrupt and venal establishment, you can do no better than to consider the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A pre-Enlightenment leader observing Afghanis being murdered as a punishment for breaching some arcane religious teaching, would probably conclude that the punishment was necessary and appropriate and a quite reasonable response by the state, as well as being scripturally sound. Some echoes of this view have, of course existed until quite recently, even in the West. Until the time that the Italian state claimed the rump of the papal possessions, the catholic church ran an extremely efficient secret police, and citizens were encouraged to report on any of their neighbours who had failed to attend mass, or who had uttered unpious statements. The union of the Fascists and the catholic church in Spain existed to repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment.
So if this movement can be counted as one of the shining achievements of humanity, and its values and concerns have been celebrated as the basis of our society, what sort of person would set himself to criticise its ideals ?
The sort of person for whom a deep seated, unquestioning religious commitment is the paramount fact of his existence. The sort of person who thinks that the fact that the Archangel Gabriel smote the Samsonites, or some such thing, gives him the right to impose his personal religious values on other people. The sort of person who lauds a comforting attachment to the familiar, but fails to notice that the familiar has often been sexism, violence, corruption, arbitrary rule and institutionalised racism. The sort of person who decries the number of abortions in Australia, and the number of unwanted teenage pregnancies, but who vehemently opposes the United Nations suggestion that all children, regardless of upbringing, are entitled to some form of sex education, and who grows apoplectic at the idea of condom vending machines in high schools. The sort of person who thinks that forcing terminally ill people to suffer appalling and prolonged agonies is good for them . The sort of person who thinks that discriminating against homosexual people is not only necessary and desirable, but is to be celebrated . The sort of person who expresses admiration for an anti women, anti gay, anti freedom pontiff who would not recognise compassion if he tripped over it. I was amused to note by the way, that the present infallible incumbent of the vatican, recently commented that imprisoning Galileo for suggesting that the earth revolved about the sun, and not the other way around, was “rational and just”
The sort of person in short, who would be better off with a career in the church, rather than in politics. Some time ago, Mr Abbott was at pains to draw a distinction between the Enlightenment, as it was practised in Scotland and England, and the Enlightenment as it operated in France. He forgot to mention that Britain was the only major European country not to experience the Inquisition. Perhaps this might have had something to do with the historical reaction to a system which could punish non-attendance at Mass by cutting off your nose and ears ! (Don't get any ideas Tony)
I suppose to be consistent in our admiration for the Enlightenment, we should follow Voltaire’s supposed dictum, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, however another of Voltaire’s sayings seems more appropriate in this case “Ecrasez l’infame ! “

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