Monday, March 27, 2023

Rethinking the Enlightenment: Faith in the Age of Reason by Joseph T. Stuart

The Enlightenment is a fascinating example of the relationship between religion and culture. As common ways of life, Christian culture and Enlightenment culture both conflicted and overlapped with each other—or diverged altogether. Christians interacted with the Enlightenment thought conflict, engagement, and retreat. Each of these strategies possessed different emphases, strengths, and weaknesses.
I got interested in this after hearing the author on Catholic Answers Focus. I'd never heard of the Catholic Enlightenment or how many ways the Christian culture intentionally overlapped with the secular Enlightenment. The author did a great job of explaining the Enlightenment's origins and main players before going into the three Christian responses that led to the Conflictual Enlightenment, the Catholic Enlightenment, and the Practical Enlightenment.

Focusing on key people and events, he is able to tell this complex story so clearly that I was able to keep track of it the entire time. I grew very fond of some of the people involved. In fact, Pope Benedict XIV is now a new favorite of mine. And Edmund Burke — what a clear-headed thinker! I'd already read about some of these people, such as Susannah, Charles, and John Wesley. However, Stuart had more in-depth information than I'd seen. I really enjoyed seeing how they fit into the historical jigsaw puzzle, often bumping into others who I'd never have thought of connecting.

I also was fascinated by his examination of why the French didn't experience a religious revival as they eventually did in the English-speaking world. Comparing their situation to the American experience, which was that of Practical Enlightenment, was really eye opening. In fact, Practical Enlightenment is so key to the American psyche that, as I was reading, I felt right at home. That's still how we think, for the most part. Or has been until fairly recently, anyway.

This is just an excellent piece of history, explanation, and story telling. We are left with the message that our times are not lost or hopeless. We can regain what is being lost. It was done before and we can do it again.

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