Friday, 27 August 2010

Tom Wright and the Enlightenment

This morning, the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 carried this:

Dr Tom Wright: ‘The long failure of the enlightenment project’

The retiring Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, has called for a renewed focus on social mobility in the light of “the long failure of the enlightenment project”.

Speaking to James Naughtie, he said that in an “increasingly religious age” we needed to find new ways of dealing with the way “human beings mess things up”.

Andrew Brown has written Bishop Tom vs the Enlightenment

Tom Wright says that the breakdown of the welfare state shows that the enlightenment project has failed. Is he right?

He starts this way:

Oh lord, I thank thee that I am not as other columnists are, for they will assuredly pick up from his Today show interview Tom Wright’s description of the newspaper columnists as the Pharisees of our age and his complaint that the media has ignored at least fifteen speeches that he made in the House of Lords without one mention of s-e-x in them.

It is a little more interesting, though, to look at what he thought about the wider world. You can pick a lot of holes in the detail of his argument, but there is a very important truth hidden in there…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 5:59pm BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

It may or may not be "an increasingly religious age." It certainly is not, however, an increasingly Christian one.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 6:16pm BST

Before Tom Wright starts whining about the failure of the press to report his speeches in the House of Lords he might look through his newspaper and see if he can find any reports of any other speeches in the House. Precious few. What wisdom or eloquence does he think singles out his contributions? Such pride. Such vanity.
Then, there's the enlightenment project. I suggest he should visit a pre-enlightenment dentist, have his health entirely looked after by a pre-enlightenment doctor, travel only by pre-enlightnment transport, have his home comforts provided solely by pre-enlightenment means, be tried for his faults in pre-enlightenment courts, suffer pre-enlightenment punishments, relate to his neighbours and the rest of society in a pre-enlightenment class structure (he won't be living in a palace then), and eat only the diet that pre-enlightnment farming can provide for him. The thing about the enlightenment is that wherever it can be tested, it's right.

Posted by: junius on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 8:04pm BST

The real question for Tom Wright is whether intelligent conservative Christians can do better than merely feed off endless fears of malaise and social decline.

I'd like to hear him being positive about the good things that have been happening in modern European society - such as the new-found respect for minorities who previously suffered at the hands of unfettered religious bullies, for example.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 9:04pm BST

Of course, the Enlightenment was a response to the long failure of the Christendom project... I do not see a renewal in religiosity as a cure for the world's woes. By their fruits...

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 10:12pm BST

Whilst sympathetic with the idea that “enlightenment” in itself is not enough (what is?), I think we need a bit of precision and realism here.

Which bits of the “enlightenment project” are supposed to have failed how? and if the enlightenment is simply regarded as a form of designer godlessness, spare a thought for those good Christians who contributed, out of deep Christian conviction, to its formulation and progress as well as its failures...

Posted by: Alan Wilson on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 10:13pm BST

It's like something out of the Life of Brian: "But apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Friday, 27 August 2010 at 11:49pm BST

Well, I wish Blessed Tom a happy time in Scotland.

I found his CV illuminating ...... what do you think?
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CBsQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ntwrightpage.com%2FNTW_WebCV.htm&rct=j&q=bishop%20tom%20wright%20cv&ei=VU14TIS2Mc7P4gaF28W3Bg&usg=AFQjCNGkMeeuCBWFbhncaCzxBsJiW3Rb-w&sig2=dqvTMbCmronI8RPEDk06Mg&cad=rja

I didn't tiny the URL, as it was seemed so apt.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 12:57am BST

Well, it's clear that Enlightenment completely missed Tom Wright, so it's natural he wouldn't believe in it.

Rather like those people who don't believe in evolution because it passed them by.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 4:32am BST

Andrew Brown is wright as always.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 8:43am BST

The culture of large parts of the world is not informed by the Enlightenment - where corruption is considered the right of the powerful, where women are oppressed,covered up, and un-enfranchised, where slavery and child-labour are accepted practices, where freedom of expression and freedom of religion are forbidden, where political positions are inherited as of right, and we could go on and on - is that the world Tom Wright wants back?

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 8:50am BST

Constitutional democracy, what a failure that's been! Send us Christian princes once again! Bring back the Holy Roman Empire! Bring back Pope and Caesar! Bring back trial by ordeal!

Posted by: Counterlight on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 1:37pm BST

Well, limiting Tom to Pre-Enlightenment means of travel would save us naughty colonials in the U.S. from getting quite so many of the good bishop's finger-jabbing scoldings.

Posted by: JPM on Saturday, 28 August 2010 at 10:57pm BST

I've come across this bizarre obsession over the Enlightenment among evangelicals before, with preachers trying to convince their confused congregation that the Enlightenment is the gravest issue facing the church today! The only way to comprehend this obsession is by seeing the Enlightenment and evangelicalism as twin children of their times, having so much in common, yet become estranged.

Posted by: Gareth Hughes on Sunday, 29 August 2010 at 12:25am BST

I am fed up of arrogant bishops and theologians assuring us that the Enlightenment has shown itself to be a dead end. Do they even think before they indulge in this chic reactionary rhetoric? Do they seriously think that Science is a dead-end, or a heresy as they sometimes fatuously suggest? Do they seriously think that Democracy is a dead-end? Do they think that modern art and literature have nothing to offer and that we should spend our time dreaming in a medieval Cathedral? Have they learnt anything from Marx or Freud? Do they think that Kant and Hegel are just teutonic bunkum? Do they think that the faith in humanity and the hope of progress so generously espoused by Vatican II and Paul VI are a sell-out to human arrogance over against G-d? Do they get a kick out of Jansenist masochism and especially out of looking down their nose at the rest of us in the name of their supposed higher wisdom? Enough is enough. Go back to LEARNING something from the modern world and stop waving your useless magic wand against it in the style of King Canute.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Sunday, 29 August 2010 at 10:35am BST

I cannot understand why anyone should take Tom Wright seriously. Almost everything he says/writes about anything is stupid. It's so exaggerated and so badly expressed. Almost all his interventions in the public sphere (one must be fair - not absolutely all) make Christianity look silly. I'm sure he won't shut up when he goes to St Andrews.

Posted by: john on Sunday, 29 August 2010 at 4:49pm BST

I am not of Tom Wright's bent but most of the above comments I find simplistic: for my money, the question being asked is the same that was put by the science fiction writer and CND supporter, John Brunner: ""the central question of our time: will we, or will we not, survive the consequences of our own ingenuity?" (Foundation. No. 1, March 1972, p. 12).

Posted by: Achilles on Wednesday, 1 September 2010 at 4:36am BST

Sometimes, Achilles, simplistic is all you can give, when what you've got to respond to is something so puerile and self-serving that it simply can't be approached with complex thinking.

Spirit of Vatican II hit it dead on - it's nothing more than chic reactionary rhetoric. "Will we survive the consequences of our ingenuity?" That was a blank insight 38 years ago, having been asked in B Sci-fi from the '50's - "What has Man wrought?!" No wonder young people find little insight and no relevance in the religion, when we dignify people like Wright with the title "theologian!" It's absurd comedy.

Posted by: MarkBrunson on Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 5:50am BST

Brunner wasn't someone who was at all fond of religion, and he also excoriated all the pseudo-science and spiritual mumbo-jumbo of his day (Erich von Däniken, Lobsang Rampa, etc.) Yet in his work he frequently addressed that same blank (but, alas, as yet unanswered) question, and considered what might be called wisdom, rather than the relative utility borne of the systematic analysis of collections of observable facts derived from all those separate sciences that he otherwise defended, to be more beneficial in the struggle to continue to treat human beings as people, and not things.

I already *clearly* stated I do not subscribe to Tom Wright's solutions but I can respect the putting of the question and taking it seriously more than I can the facile posturing that seems to suggest the man consider giving up his modern medicine because he feels the Enlightenment has gone astray, as another poster suggested in response. Are you going to pillory, say, Horkheimer next? Take a look at http://tinyurl.com/3x5cza6, reference to pp.12-14. There you go, a Marxist, a product of reason dissecting reason, and its origins, in Western society, and finding the trajectory of the Enlightenment wanting.

Let us face it, this has hardly anything to do with philosophy, or morals, or ethics, or truth or science, or religion or spirituality - you simply dislike Tom Wright, he is just not to your taste, he doesn't match your shade of wallpaper or the type of bottled beer you buy; it's really a question of aesthetics for most of you, in your insular lifestyle niches and pseudo-individualisation (something that Horkheimer's friend, Adorno, nailed), operating a defensive, self-interested, instrumental reason. Es ist einfach zum Kotzen.

Posted by: Achilles on Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 3:43pm BST

A lot of attacks on individual rights and the Enlightenment have come from the various schismatic and sheep-stealing bodies in Anglicanism. It really does seem in many cases to be code for "keeping the gays down." Maybe that's why +Wright's use of the concept makes people in ECUSA bristle.

Posted by: Bill Dilworth on Thursday, 2 September 2010 at 4:27pm BST
Post a comment









Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.