Thinking Anglicans

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…

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Bill Dilworth
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It may or may not be “an increasingly religious age.” It certainly is not, however, an increasingly Christian one.

junius
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junius

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… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest

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.

Tobias Haller
Guest

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…

Alan Wilson
Guest

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…

Bill Dilworth
Guest

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?”

Martin Reynolds
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Martin Reynolds
MarkBrunson
Guest

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.

Göran Koch-Swahne
Guest

Andrew Brown is wright as always.

Sara MacVane
Guest
Sara MacVane

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?

Counterlight
Guest
Counterlight

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!

JPM
Guest
JPM

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.

Gareth Hughes
Guest

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.

Spirit of Vatican II
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Spirit of Vatican II

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… Read more »

john
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john

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.

Achilles
Guest
Achilles

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).

MarkBrunson
Guest

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… Read more »

Achilles
Guest
Achilles

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… Read more »

Bill Dilworth
Guest

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.