Enlightenment and Happiness

by nonewsisnew


The historian Christopher Dawson wrote that the heresy in the above article is the “last of the great European heresies”.  Sadly for the news cycle, this heresy isn’t new, but a heresy of the Enlightenment, which started up around 300 years ago.

The Enlightenment prized reason above all else.  This could be seen as the result of a chain of paradigms.  Catholic theology now and in the Middle Ages saw faith and reason as two parts of a whole.  The Scholastics like Thomas Aquinas used faith and reason together to illuminate each other and guide us to God.  The Protestant Reformation (and this is a gross over generalization) thought the reasoning of the Scholastics and the Catholic Church sundered our relationship to God by overcomplicating it.  That is why even today Protestants use the detailed reasoning of Catholic theology to bash Catholic theology.  This is one example:

The response from the Enlightenment to this extreme distrust of reason was not to go back to a unity of faith and reason, but to go to the other extreme of trusting only reason.  Kant said, “Dare to reason”, and this could be seen as a response to Protestants not daring to trust their intellects.

Phenomoniologists like the Anglican Bishop George Berkeley took this reason to the extreme.  Anything that couldn’t be felt wasn’t real.  For Bishop Berkeley, this even meant matter wasn’t real.  We can only know our senses, not any externals that those senses might adhere to.  Interestingly enough, Bishop Berkeley goes on to use the lack of proof for the existence of matter as a proof of God.

However, for most people, this pivot to reason from faith simply undermined a belief in a God who wants communion with us.  Hence President Jefferson and many of the other founders of America, because they were so effected by the Enlightenment, saw God in the way a Deist does and not as a Christian does.

If God is reduced to this impersonal being, it’s easy to see how an increase in physical well-being and material goods could replace Him, like the linked to article suggests.  God is not measurable physically, so he must be a crutch to rely upon when we are physically weak so that we can perceive our world as better than it actually is.

The premiss of the article is straight up Enlightenment.  All we exist as is physically measurable.  God isn’t necessary precisely because he’s not physically measurable.  As our physical stuff becomes better, we won’t need God.

This is contrary to the Catholic conception that we exist not for matter or stuff, but for relationship with others and God.  The Catholic view of life fits well with social research on happiness, which suggests generosity with wealth, communion with others, and viewing life positively are the tickets to a happy life.  So while the article might show people think happiness is found in stuff and without communion, the core appeals of Christianity will still remain.  Christ has conquered sin and death, so we can view life positively knowing the battle is won, goods are meant to be given away so that we can “store up treasure in Heaven“, and the whole point of our existence is communion with God and neighbour. Christianity hasn’t stopped offering a path to happiness.  As the Carmelite nuns in Paris during the French Revolution said, “In the world, people like to say that the monasteries are full of victims, slowly consumed by regrets, but we protest before God that if there is true happiness on earth, we enjoy it, in the shelter of the sanctuary.”