“We don’t realize how fundamentally all of our worldviews are shaped by the Enlightenment. Throughout the vast majority of human history, it was unthinkable to discount the spiritual, boil reality down to our material experience, or approach history apart from the narrative of human storytelling.”
If you’ve ever said something vaguely to directly pro-Enlightenment, I’m sure you’ve received a response like this. It’s a very popular type of balance. I could sum it up in less words by saying: “Let’s take all the ways people have viewed the world and average them out.” And it’s very unpopular to criticize what appears to be such a thoughtful line of reasoning.
I understand the desire to keep the baby safe as the bath water is poured away. Nothing we have today – ideologically or materially – would have been possible at the arrival of homo sapiens on the scene; we have gradually accumulated ideas and knowledge about the world, sometimes moving backward but generally moving forward. We owe much to those who came before us.
However, if a previous view of the world was incorrect, it is more virtuous to discard it than to cling to it out of obligation or reverence. Imagine if we still honored flat earth theory in the way that we honor various other pre-Enlightenment ideologies. It would be backwards and harmful – and ridiculous.
I will be among the first to admit that there are many things wrong with our world today, and some things about the past were indeed better (although, I would submit, less than we typically, nostalgically imagine). It can be beneficial to look back to a time when, for example, people seemed to invest more time in relationships.
Yet I cannot make a case for something simply because people have thought that way before. Every case needs to be made in its own right. If the Enlightenment led us to a better understanding of the world, let us not apologize for leaving the incorrect, childish things behind us.