Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts?
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts.
So it’s fairly simple to cut right through the mess,
And to stop the muscle that makes us confess.
And we are so fragile,
And our cracking bones make noise,
And we are just,
Breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.
~ “Breakable” by Ingrid Michaelson
Ingrid poses a good question. Have you ever thought about how easily we can be broken? Physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally? You know, there is a lot of literature about the resilience of the human spirit, and there’s even more literature about people with merit and virtue, but I wonder sometimes if we haven’t disneyfied life and diminished it into a shadow of what it was meant to be.
“But Rachel, whatever can you mean by that?”
Let me tell you. You lead an indescribably comfortable life from a physical standpoint, while blindly careening in almost every other aspect. I’m covering 18th century literature in two different classes, and this means I get to revisit the Enlightenment, as well as read essentially the same works for two classes and constantly be confused over what I’m doing for each class.
Anyway, the “enlightenment” asserted that reason should guide your morals, and that it was foolish to be led by passion. Originally, God-fearing people thought they should figure out a little more of the world around them with the understanding that it was created perfectly by God, and thus should have perfect design to be discovered. I agreed with them at this point, and found their sentiments sensible, and even supportive of a life of knowing and discovering God.
“I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
~Isaac Newton after discovering the theory of gravitation, determined that white light is composed of colored rays, and invented calculus (Longman Anthology of World Literature, Volume D, p. 3).
Beautiful, right? But then those seemingly innocuous elementary principles of the Enlightenment were applied broadly. I feel like this is probably where people started thinking that Solomon was way cooler than those other Israelite kings for asking for wisdom, but that’s purely speculation. What isn’t speculation is that baby scientists (who weren’t even called that yet and belonged to monarch-sponsored “academies” of learning) soon put reason as king, and made it to rule supreme. Reason dictated that religion was a fanciful projection used to satisfy basic human needs and desires, and soon conquered the social realm in addition to science.
Reason described everything that could be seen and understood by man. However, that was the fatal flaw; God himself cannot be seen in human form since Christ, and even if He could, He is far beyond our understanding. Yet reason of enlightenment could not accept God because He was not in human form, and thus reason refused to acknowledge Him. But why on earth would we impair ourselves so severely to only believe that which we can fully understand?
That’s when the enlightenment lost me. It is utterly foolish to have such hubris as to place ourselves as wise, when there is much we do not understand. I am so thankful for scientists like Isaac Newton who had the attitude of science as discovering small bits and pieces of perfection and truth so deep and vast beyond ourselves that we know it was not of human contrivance. The funny thing is, God actually makes sense rationally too. It’s called apologetics, and some people I know are quite good at it.
Did you know that people used to value the soul before the enlightenment? It’s funny, but medieval people understood the heart of a man, even if some of their ideas about how things worked were a little conjectural. They saw light in the eyes of others. They communed spiritually with the world around them. They lived passionately, if in a kind of veiled understanding. I think we humans are just terrible at moderation, and we need to find the balance in the continuum between all passion and all reason.
God gave us reason, but He also gave us passion. It’s not foolish to use what God has given you. It’s not foolish to believe in a being greater than yourself who created this glorious world. Just because you can’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s real. If that were actually the case, I’m pretty sure I’d stick to the idea that calculus doesn’t exist, and there’s no such thing as physics since I often don’t understand it. But since the man who invented calculus said that even he has a lot more to learn, I think I do too.