The phrase “Age of Reason,” often used as a synonym for the Enlightenment, is a little misleading. It implies that reason had been hitherto ignored or marginalized. As we saw in an earlier chapter, the Middle Ages can quite legitimately be thought of as an “Age of Reason” in its own terms. It is important to appreciate that the Enlightenment developed the notion of the autonomy of reason in a way that went far beyond the ideas of rationality found in classical Greek philosophy or the thought of the Middle Ages. A defining charac- teristic of the Enlightenment is its emphasis on the ability of human reason to penetrate the mysteries of the world (4.1.2). Humanity is able to think for itself, without the need for any assistance from God. Unaided human reason is able to make sense of the world – including those aspects of that world traditionally reserved for theologians.
Although such criticisms would apply to any religious system that accepted the notion of divine revelation – including Judaism and Islam – Christianity was the historically dominant religion in those parts of the world in which the Enlightenment gained hold. Unsurprisingly, most Enlightenment critics of religion in general chose to direct those criticisms against many aspects of traditional Christian belief and practice.
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