This is in response to New York Times columnist David Brooks’ editorial in last week’s edition. (“Today’s age of reason,” March 9-15, 2017 Moab Sun News)
Mr. Brooks seems to indicate that the Enlightenment is the high watermark of civilization. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, the Enlightenment is associated with a materialistic view of human beings, an optimism about their progress through education and science and generally a utilitarian approach to society and ethics. Utilitarian thinking is a philosophy that expounds if it makes you happy, it is right. In this instance happiness is measured in economic terms.
It is obvious that education, in its current state, is far from enlightening students. Oh, students get the idea of being anti-authority, anti-God, anti-legal systems and anti-just about everything else, which by Brooks’ definition makes them enlightened, but a reality based on skepticism alone makes them ill-equipped to face the world around them and even worse makes them subject to indoctrination by “enlightened” true believers.
Science offers no moral or ethical contributions to the development of individuals or societies. Science is a tool; it is a method of thinking. The results of using advances in science are usually determined by the anti-authoritarian, skeptical, “enlightened” class.
Regarding the development of mankind, we have a pretty poor record. For 10,000 years man alone, for all the efforts of the most high minded philosophers, shamans, priests, kings and religious leaders is still being ravaged by the Four Horsemen: Lying rulers, war, starvation and pestilence. It was this way before the Enlightenment and continues to this day. Think not? Think about the United Nations, the great experiment in peacekeeping, and then count the number of wars from the War to End All Wars through today. Perhaps the Dark Ages were not as dark as we think, nor has the Enlightenment brought much light.
If one thinks about it, it would be rational to believe that both philosophies, the philosophy of the Enlightenment and Utilitarianism, are lacking when describing the human condition.
Isn’t it possible that Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Castro and Sanger, just to name a few, all considered themselves to be rational thinkers and “enlightened?” After all, does anyone think of himself or herself as being irrational?
Mr. Brooks refers to the Constitution of the United States as espousing that it provides a system of checks and balances to pit interest against interest. That is true regarding the mechanics of the document, but what he left out is that the purpose of the document was to provide for a common defense, ensure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare (not to be confused with a welfare state) and ensure the blessings of liberty … By the way, for an “enlightened,” humanist skeptic, from whence do these blessings of liberty come?
According to James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, “We have staked the whole future of American Civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity … to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, echoed Madison when he wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift from God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.”
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality or religion…” — John Adams
Adams and Jefferson were, at times, bitter political enemies, but they stood on common ground regarding from whence our blessings of liberty originated.
It was Abraham Lincoln, whom Brooks referred to as a classic Enlightenment man, who said, “In regard for this Great Book (the Bible), I have this to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the Good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book.”
Mr. Brooks goes on to decry anti-Enlightenment thinking as being backward, subject to establishing dictatorships, and worst of all supporting the horrid Donald Trump. By the way, has there been anything less rational than the response of the humanist progressives to the election of Donald Trump?
Looking at the actions of the children of the Enlightenment who have skewed its meaning into an Orwellian horror show, it may be time to return to the faith of our Fathers and live as children of the one God who has created us all brothers and sisters, whether we like it or not.
James Hofmann lives in Moab. He is a retired educator, corporate trainer, program developer operations manager and engages in a variety of volunteer pursuits.