We get to David Hume. He is brutal to religion, although only after death. His Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, published just after the American Revolution, seems to make the point that faith is not a rational choice, and he doesn’t mean this in a good way. Also, miracles don’t happen.
Come to think of it, it’s here – in the 1700’s – when we get smart people talking to one another, or past one another, in ways that sound suspiciously modern. Skeptics and Evangelicals, rationalists and people lost in emotion, sarcasm and self-satisfaction – it’s all very relatable. Like we half expect Voltaire to look like Conan O’Brien.
And then we lose it, powering back into the early 18th century, the 17th. What many of us forget is that the men we most associate with the Enlightenment and early Modernity – Renee Descartes, John Locke, Isaac Newton, Galileo – everyone and anyone, just about, before Hume – they are all defenders of the Christian faith and true believers.
Newton wrote more passionately about the Spirit than he did about physics. Locke literally wrote a book on The Reasonableness of Christianity.
A word about Descartes. Mind-Body. Hearts & Minds. Two different things. Are they? People on one side of The God Project Dot Net shouting, I just don’t get it! . . . equally human people on the other side screaming, Oh, man, I’m feeling it! – Christopher Hitchens arguing there’s no evidence for the historical Jesus, Evangelicals hearing voices from the Holy Spirit – we’ll go out on a pew here and say it: Descartes defines this whole Project Dot Net. In time, I hope, I’ll understand what I just said.
We get to the Reformation, the horrific religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries that do so much to turn so many against churches. Epistemologically speaking, the Reformers are Aristotelians, where we might call Catholics Neo-Platonists. What I mean is, all that God squad of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli – they saw It as separate and unequal to us, something we might try but fail to get through our senses. God is not us.
Centuries earlier, meanwhile, Aquinas sets the Catholic tone by describing a reality in which the supernatural is in some sense a part of the natural world: it’s like a higher floor in the same elevator bank, one that requires a secret code to enter, sure, but it’s definitely there. We can talk about the supernatural by analogy to the natural. Calvin – and Barth, much later – would say: Nein! We can not presume to know the mind of God. We can only submit.
And then, luckily, Anselm proves the existence of God. (It’s “that than which nothing greater can be thought” – FYI). And we have the early Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, Muhammad, the Rabbis, the Church Fathers, Jesus, the Second Temple, the Hebrew Bible, pre-history, dinosaurs, cosmic cataclysm, Big Bang, the beginning of time, and then . . . ?