The Theological Origins of Modernity

The Theological Origins of Modernity

The Theological Origins of Modernity

The Theological Origins of Modernity

Synopsis

Exposing the religious roots of our ostensibly godless age, Michael Allen Gillespie reveals in this landmark study that modernity is much less secular than conventional wisdom suggests. Taking as his starting point the collapse of the medieval world, Gillespie argues that from the very beginning moderns sought not to eliminate religion but to support a new view of religion and its place in human life. He goes on to explore the ideas of such figures as William of Ockham, Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, and Hobbes, showing that modernity is best understood as a series of attempts to formulate a new and coherent metaphysics or theology.

"Bringing the history of political thought up to date and situating it against the backdrop of contemporary events, Gillespie's analyses provide us a way to begin to have conversations with the Islamic world about what is perhaps the central question within each of the three monotheistic religions: if God is omnipotent, then what is the place of human freedom?"- Joshua Mitchell, Georgetown University

Excerpt

Ours is a visual age, and in the last twenty years two images have shaped our understanding of the times in which we live. The first was the fall of the Berlin Wall and the second the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. These structures were not mere artifacts; they were also symbols deeply embedded in the public psyche. The first was the symbol of totalitarianism and the Cold War confrontation between a free and an enslaved world; the second the symbol of a liberal world unified by the forces of globalization. The fall of the Berlin Wall gave rise to a belief in a liberal future of peace and prosperity that revived a faith in human progress that the catastrophic events of the first part of the twentieth century had almost extinguished. The collapse of the Twin Towers, by contrast, kindled the fear of a rampant new fanaticism that threatened our lives and civilization in an especially insidious way. When the Wall came down, the future seemed to stretch out before us like a broad highway leading to a modern world united by commerce, the free exchange of ideas, and the proliferation of liberal government. This was to be the age of globalization, but a globalization that was conceived as the spread of Western values and institutions to the rest of the world. Science and technology would establish a realm of peace and prosperity in which human freedom could be finally and fully realized. With the destruction of the World Trade Center, globalization suddenly appeared in a new light, not as a one-way street to modernity but as a complex and confusing intersection of paved roads, dark alleys, and mountain pathways. As a result, we ceased to look forward to a new golden age and glanced instead over our shoulders and sideways into the out-of-the-way places we imagined to be filled with dark figures waiting to attack us.

The attack on the World Trade Center thus called the modern project into question, and it did so in a new and unsettling way. The perpetrators seemed to be opposed to modernity not because it had failed to live . . .

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