Hurrah for Disempowerment

Heinz Schlaffer takes on some more theist misrepresentation – the familiar old ‘we are a beleaguered minority’ schtick. Would that it were true.

What? Belief is being ostracised? But it’s en vogue! Whether or not God exists can’t be decided intellectually; but it can be observed that he’s back in fashion among intellectuals…Literary historians like George Steiner and Roberto Calasso read the fictions of the poets as factual proof of the existence of saints…In the institutions of liberal culture, religious statements are being treated as a novel charm, and increasingly gaining the power of conformity.

This is what I keep saying (and tiresome people who disagree with me say Nuh uh). Religious, or ‘spiritual’, statements are being treated as fun new items on the menu, and are gaining the power of conformity. This is not a good trend.

Because such simplifications dominate intellectual discourse today, it’s necessary to recall the historic reasons and the ongoing achievements of the Enlightenment critique of religion – reasons and achievements which may be forgotten and rendered banal today but have not been opposed or nullified. It is still generally taught that scientific discoveries since the 16th century have demonstrated numerous “truths” of Christian teachings to be errors, for instance that the earth is the centre of the cosmos…For as long as it was possible, the church tried to repress the new appearance of the visible realm. When it was forced to give up its fight, it returned to the invisible, to those “truths” that are less easily subjected to verification.

That’s where the fluffy nonsense about non-overlapping magisteria comes from – from the fact that the church lost that particular fight, so has fallen back on the kind of whimsical speculation that can’t be falsified. Okay, they can do that, but intellectuals shouldn’t label that a ‘magisterium’ when it’s just mental invention. Intellectuals shouldn’t take it seriously.

“How far we are from this gloomy world,” the new belief-seekers and belief-finders will say of this historic review and glance at the current situation. They are right, because it was only after Christianity had been disempowered by the Enlightenment that it became civilised, friendly and modest enough that its adherents could find joy in it and its opponents no longer had to fear it. It isn’t Christianity that forms the basis of modern Europe but rather the disempowerment of Christianity, the Enlightenment.

And what a good thing it does, and let’s hope it can survive the current upsurge of the other thing.

It isn’t Christianity that forms the basis of modern Europe but rather the disempowerment of Christianity, the Enlightenment. We don’t have the popes, monks and priests to thank for democracy, equality in the law and individual freedom, tolerance and the right to criticise, but Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu. The world in which we live is the enlightened world in which even those who oppose it would like to live.

If it had been up to the popes, priests and monks, we still wouldn’t have individual freedom and the right to criticise. We’d have bags of solidarity and community, and no freedom or rights. You can keep that world.

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