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  • Karl Thunemann


By Mary Strachan Scriver

The first part of this post is simply snippets from Google as a short way to list the characteristics of the thought sequence that started in Europe and followed through their empires. It’s the people (almost always men) who studied these movements so were awarded the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). The idea is logic, analysis and a good memory that are the valued skills. I’m not particularly good at those things, so I need this sort of “cheater.”

I didn’t write these snippets. It’s a “cut-and-paste” document.

The Enlightenment emerged out of a European intellectual and scholarly movement known as Renaissance humanism and was also preceded by the Scientific Revolution and the work of Francis Bacon, among others.

Before the Enlightenment period, the Church ruled everything. Church and State were linked together. Anything written or told had to be approved by the Church leaders or it would be branded sinful. People were only concerned about survival not intellectual pursuits.

The ideas of the Enlightenment played a major role in inspiring the French Revolution, which began in 1789 and emphasized the rights of common men [sic] as opposed to the exclusive rights of the elites. As such, they laid the foundation for modern, rational, democratic societies.

The ideas of the Enlightenment sparked social reform movements in the 18th century and continue to fuel them today. Two of those reform movements were the women’s rights movement and the abolition movement.

This eighteenth century intellectual movement held three central concepts: the use of reason, the scientific method, and progress. Enlightenment thinkers believed they could help create better societies and better people.

The Enlightenment helped combat the excesses of the church, establish science as a source of knowledge, and defend human rights against tyranny. It also gave us modern schooling, medicine, republics, representative democracy, and much more.

[This is the foundation of the Unitarian movement though it can also include Romanticism.]

There was a countermovement that followed the Enlightenment in the late 18th and mid-19th centuries — Romanticism.

10 Key Characteristics of Romanticism in Literature · Glorification of Nature. … · Awareness and Acceptance of Emotions. · Celebration of Artistic Creativity and Imagination. … · Emphasis on Aesthetic Beauty. … · Themes of Solitude. … · Focus on Exoticism and History. … · Spiritual and Supernatural Elements. … · Vivid Sensory Descriptions.

Any list of particular characteristics of the literature of romanticism includes subjectivity and an emphasis on individualism; spontaneity; freedom from rules; solitary life rather than life in society; the beliefs that imagination is superior to reason and devotion to beauty; love of and worship of nature;

Realism was an artistic and intellectual movement of the late nineteenth century that stressed the faithful representation of reality or verisimilitude. Realism was a reaction to what were viewed as the exaggerations or flights of fancy of Romanticism. … (1865 to the turn of the century c. 1900) [End of downloaded bits.]

Modern is over. So is Post-modern. Next may come Structuralism and — in the usual reciprocal way — Deconstruction. These categories tend to be such head trips that most people just ignore them except that the young and the oppressed can find them very useful — though they often get some of it wrong. A sci-fi essay on the topic. Reflections, but. No final name for our times.

Most people talking about this puzzle are suggesting something like metamodernism or transhumanism. Some resort to Post-Post-Modernism. This is not thinking big enough. The massive jump of thought we’re experiencing includes the radical expansion of time, the infinite varieties of history (all subjective), the molecular operation of all living cells and their contiguousness, the tracing of info in rocks, the observed limits of cosmic space. It has meant deep religious change. Maybe the most accurate name is the End of Hubris.

But the devising of the algorithm, realization that the equations begin to write their own formulas we can’t understand, emergence of new phenomena from the thick data of surveillance, perception of forces of the cosmos that pass through us, and raw limits of animal consciousness in understanding what is far beyond us, have not just taken us down a peg, but into a kind of horror at how small and powerless we really are. We’re still dealing with the entire sequence of mutations that have produced us.

In a way it’s a sort of reassurance that we aren’t as powerful and important as we thought. This is an important corrective for those whose grandiose narcissism plagues us. But it is also the terrifying idea that little grains of sand make the mighty beach and all that. We are balanced between oblivion and significance. How do we move our hope from a special gated place called Salvation to an unknown, unlimited place called Participation?

Assumptions, interpretations and naming aren’t going to change whatever is out there, real or not, or maybe only in our heads and guts, but they can help draw maps and goals. It’s a fine thing to live in the moment and respond to whatever comes, but some pattern is bound to emerge from such a practice and it might not be the one you want. On the other hand, sometimes the universe insists on something that turns out to be right.

This kind of thinking wants to work with huge categories, even universals, but it won’t work with the realization of poly-culture variation around the planet resulting from ecological mosaics (despite McDonalds) and the FACT that everything is in process. The Earth does not just sit there like a billiard ball — it travels across a varied terrain (terra-rain) and some of it ends up in a memory hole (rather more nicely described as a pocket).

That’s a metaphor. All human thought is metaphorical. (Johnson and Lakoff). All human thought is the result of electrochemical codes perceived by cells and sent through the nerves to the brain where neural cells of various kinds and arrangements transform, include, and otherwise manage the information, including by converting waves, pressures and atoms into internally presented information we somehow think are color, smell, sound and other dimensions of “our” world. We sit on our quantum mechanics chairs and do not fall through them. Some of it will seem sacred. How to deal with it all is what propels this stream of ideas through the centuries.

If Unitarian Universalist has been a major faith born in the Enlightenment and expressing it ever since, now how does it react to what is beyond Enlightenment? What is it after Deconstruction? I’m still kind of hung up on it. Uh oh — I’ve missed Existentialism. Have to read more.

Mary Strachan Scriver is a retired Unitarian minister who lives in Valier, Montana.


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