The Enlightenment was essentially the Renaissance without God – an attempt to redefine life and the world by man’s own means and answers. Western civilization still feels the effects of the Enlightenment – removal of God from public life, subjection of the individual to the State (Hobbes), establishment of subjective morality (Rousseau), rewriting history to suit the desires of those in power (Voltaire), etc.
Interestingly, there was a response to the thinking of the Enlightenment in its own time, and it came from a surprising place. Yes, there were pastors who preached against it, but sermons are soon forgotten. Yes, there were politicians who spoke against it, but campaigns die out. The response came from poets. The Romantic poets – Wordsworth, Burns, Byron, Keats, Shelley, etc. They called men back to the truth, goodness, and beauty of life found in nature, God, love, and the mundane.
There is an important reality to be observed here. The written word is powerful, the pen mightier than the sword. It is true that we still feel the effects of the Enlightenment, but we also still read the Romantics. We read the other great writers who answered Enlightenment thought – Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, Sayers, etc.
But, who will provide the continued refrain? The Romantics weren’t exactly “Christian” yet they provided a fitting answer. Where will the next round of answers come from?
I am concerned that more believers are encouraged to produce great works of literature (note: great works). That means we must get beyond the shamelessly peddled slop in the typical evangelical bookshop and work toward producing tomes to be proud of, that will be read for generations to come.
The answer to false cultural ideas should come from the Church, but the lasting answers come in story form. Right now, we seem unable to provide it. Left Behind, anyone? But, this is not a side problem. Christians producing lousy literature is a serious problem and Christian classical educators must continue working to remedy it – teaching classic literature as an art to pursue, not simply museum pieces to admire.