Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate March 2001

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The Enlightenment brings two images to mind, one positive and one negative. The positive image is of a period when people in Europe became less bigoted, more secular-minded, more modern and sensible. In other words, it was time when people finally wised up and became more like us in our time. A more negative image also exists. The Enlightenment was a movement of headstrong intellectuals who tried to reduce everything to reason, who believed that society could be quickly remade and significantly improved under the right leadership. The Enlightenment period was a movement that greatly rejected Christianity in a since that reason was more to be learned than just faith.

Christianity had provided a spiritual home for thinkers, activist, and hypocrites; a wide variety of causes and interests had linked themselves with it, causes and interest that not only differed from one another but also were actually incompatible. So why the change in thinking with reason instead of faith around 1700? Why did Christianity lose its grip on intellectual people at this time? Some reasons suggest why the periods changed in the 1700s.

One is the continuing love affair with classical iniquity. It is possible that classical learning was more widespread in the 17th and 18th centuries than ever before. Despite the religious zealotry of the reformation and the Counter Reformation, classical studies had become an advanced form of education, even the education of clergy. Classical virtue and the wisdom of the ancients were commonly admired. Of course this was not enough to turn people into skeptics: some other element or elements must have been present. One such element was the reduced prestige of the Christian churches in the 17th century, and a loss of morale within the clergy, both Catholic and Protestant.

Although the intellectual movement called "The Enlightenment"...