Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, March 25th, 2019

The Age of Enlightenment

“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” Atifete Jahjaga.
Human societies passed a highly tortuous history throughout the centuries. People suffered severely in the ups and downs of historical phenomena. They had to grin and bear the religious exploitations of the churches, the chains of slavery, the flogging of their masters, the cruelty of the kings and emperors, etc. No one dared breathe a word against the status quo however their rights were violated and their human dignity was trampled upon.
Gradually, such barbaric attitudes went beyond the tolerance of the lower class and the spark of salvation flashed their minds. The spark was so perilous for the exploiters that would change all their dreams into ashes. The desires of the subdued slaves and docile yes-men for freedom and their intentions to say “no” to subjugation would shake the dictators up. But for the exploited part of the society, it was light at the end of the tunnel.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, people in Europe were beginning to open their minds to new possibilities and started to question the Catholic Church and the “divine right of kings”. Monarchs were all-powerful, as was the Church. Anyone who spoke out against either was arrested, tortured or even executed. This harsh treatment brought the people together in their quest for truth, the real truth, not the biblical truth that the Church swore by. It was a time when curiosity and experimentation took off.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Swiss born French politician and philosopher, for example, began to question the idea of the divine right of Kings. He wrote that the King does not, in fact, receive his power from God, but rather from the general will of the people. This, of course, implies that “the people” can also take away that power! The Enlightenment thinkers also discussed other ideas that are the founding principles of any democracy – the idea of the importance of the individual who can reason for himself, the idea of equality under the law, and the idea of natural rights. The Enlightenment was a period of profound optimism, a sense that with science and reason – and the consequent shedding of old superstitions – human beings and human society would improve.
You can probably tell already that the Enlightenment was anti-clerical; it was, for the most part, opposed to traditional Catholicism. Instead, the Enlightenment thinkers developed a way of understanding the universe called Deism – the idea, more or less, is that there is a God, but that this God is not the figure of the Old and New Testaments, actively involved in human affairs. He is more like a watchmaker who, once he makes the watch and winds it, has nothing more to do with it.
"For Kant, Enlightenment was mankind's final coming of age, the emancipation of the human consciousness from an immature state of ignorance.” According to historian Roy Porter, the thesis of the liberation of the human mind from the dogmatic state of ignorance that he argues was prevalent at the time is the epitome of what the age of enlightenment was trying to capture. According to Bertrand Russell, however, the enlightenment was a phase in a progressive development, which began in antiquity, and that reason and challenges to the established order were constant ideals throughout that time.
Russell argues that the enlightenment was ultimately born out of the Protestant reaction against the Catholic counter-reformation, when the philosophical views of the past two centuries crystallized into a coherent world view. He argues that many of the philosophical views, such as affinity for democracy against monarchy, originated among Protestants in the early 16th century to justify their desire to break away from the Pope and the Catholic Church. Though many of these philosophical ideals were picked up by Catholics, Russell argues, by the 18th century the Enlightenment was the principal manifestation of the schism that began with Martin Luther.
The American Enlightenment is generally discussed in terms of America's political evolution, the thinking that led to the fomenting of a revolution against Great Britain and the creation of a modern republic. Many figures associated with Enlightenment thought have been regarded as influences on American thinking between 1760 and 1800. Among those commonly mentioned include John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Baron Montesquieu, Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Denis Diderot and others.
Enlightened Founding Fathers, especially Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington, fought for and eventually attained religious freedom for minority denominations. According to the founding fathers, the United States should be a country where peoples of all faiths could live in peace and mutual benefit. James Madison summed up this ideal in 1792 saying, "Conscience is the most sacred of all property."
Many historians find that the origin of this famous phrase derives from Locke's position that "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions."
Roger Williams’ most important contribution to American thought is generally regarded as is advocating of the separation of church and state. In his writings he carefully detailed the roles of the church and the state and how they occupied separate realms. Churches functioned within the state but were no more an integral part of the state than were corporation organized to conduct business. Whatever happened within the structure of a church should have nothing to do with the business of the state. Conversely, the state should have no right to interfere with the business of the church, or with the practices of individuals in their relationship to the divine. He believed strongly that people of all faiths – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or faiths practiced by Indians – should be allowed to follow their own consciences without any outside interference whatsoever.