Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) one of the key philosophers and architects of the Enlightenment wrote an article in 1784 entitled appropriately “What is the Enlightenment?”. Drinking deeply from the ideas of Swiss Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), he made the bold claim that the Enlightenment proposes that man naturally tends toward goodness and freedom. He wrote:
Men will of their own accord gradually work their way out of barbarism so long as artificial measures are not deliberately adopted to keep them in it.
If only that were true! Indeed, there is no question in my mind that most of us want to have good intentions. Everyone knows that we ought to be good and kind, and do the right thing, etc. But it is in the execution of that good, the attempt for that rightness, where the problem comes to the surface. As a matter of fact, it is when we work hardest for “liberty” and “goodness” that we often unleash the greatest amount of evil and chaos.
Just a few short years after the publication of Kant’s article, a radical attempt to implement Enlightened Thought was afoot in France. We know it today as the French Revolution. But did it lead to a decrease in “barbarism” and an increase in freedom? No, it led to what historians call the “Reign of Terror”, and eventually to the military dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.
What ought we to learn from this? As humans we have a sense of “the ideal” that we just cannot shake—a sense of the great and good beings we ought to be and the great and good society we ought to inhabit. But when we seek to actualize this ideal through the power of our Reason, we get ourselves in the deepest trouble. This should tell us something—we were made for an ideal that we cannot, by our own power, attain.
Something to think about from “The Kingdom Perspective”.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel —because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
~Genesis 11:1-9 NIV