The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism

The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism

by Peter Gay

The eighteenth-century Enlightenment marks the beginning of the modern age, when the scientific method and belief in reason and progress came to hold sway over the Western world.In the twentieth century, however, the Enlightenment has often been judged harshly for its apparently simplistic optimism. Now a master historian goes back to the sources to give a fully rounded account of its true accomplishments.

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It's not a new book, and in certain circles considered something of a standard text on the subject.

Gay weaves the background of the philosophes of the 1700s to their roots in classical Rome and Greece and acknowledges the preparation of the intellectual ground by the scholars of the Middle Ages. Magical Thinking can lead you to ignore the science and believe vaccinations cause autism. Magical Thinking can make you ignore the science and believe genetically modified foods are killing us. Magical Thinking makes us believe tens of thousands of evolutionary biologists are simply agents of the devil. Magical Thinking allows you to believe the unbelievable. The Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century were the first to go to open warfare with Magical Thinking. The founders of the United States were men of the Enlightenment nowhere in the US Constitution will you find the words God or Jesus. Peter Gay makes learning fun.

Not written for a general audience, this work by Peter Gay is an excellent study on Enlightenment thinkers and their relationships with religion.

To provide context in time he discusses the fall of classical paganism and the eclipse of reason in the Christian period. He works through the rise of reason that had already started to occur with the Renaissance and on which the Enlightenment was built, indicating that the courage of the Enlightenment's revolution was not as visceral as it is sometimes portrayed; in effect, the Enlightenment philosophes were both surfing and fanning a wave whose relentless motion had already started, with the Church playing Canute before them. To provide context in place he works through the sometimes startlingly bitter conflict in which the philosophes saw themselves as being engaged, a conflict for no less than the hearts and minds of all Western civilisation. Here Gay is in my opinion almost too scrupulous, since he makes clear that the philosophes fought a tiger whose teeth were already falling out and thereby diminishes their courage, while at the same time impugning their fairness. Gay is fair, in my opinion sometimes too fair, and he gives the Christian adversaries of the Enlightenment much credit for reasonableness and for greater intellectual sophistication than the philosophes alleged.

At age 90 - and still with us - we hope Peter Gay remains another sixty to seventy years so we might garner another half dozen books from him. So impressed is this reader I intend to read all of Gay's twenty-some odd productions, including those half-dozen on Freud (despite my dismissal of Freud).

Gay provides an interesting dialectical model: the philosophes opposed ancient paganism to medieval Christianity in order to create an autonomous "modern paganism" (vol.

The book is very erudite and I was constantly looking up words and people or schools of thought on my Kindle, the author does presume the reader is very familiar with the philosophers of the Enlightenment and who they read.

Gay taught at Columbia from 1947 until 1969.