Since the beginning of human history, religion had been the most defining element of society. It literally sat at the pinnacle of all civilizations and defined a people, their culture, architecture and way of thinking. However, about 300 years ago, there was a huge paradigm shift. The Age of Enlightenment. Science and religion were at loggerheads, and God was replaced with “self” as the focal point of society.
The Age of Enlightenment is the very definition of modernism. A movement that – right at its conception – matrixed traditional beliefs with modern ideas. This new way of life influenced literature, visual art, architecture, dance, and music.
Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding what was holding back progress and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Thus, even in art, Modernism fostered a period of experimentation after questioning the status quo. Modernists did not believe in uniform values; they cared little for social norms and instead were occupied with a lack of identity, lack of faith, and cynicism.
Roger Griffin writes, a “sense of sublime order and purpose to the contemporary world, thereby counteracting the (perceived) erosion of an overarching ‘nomos’, or ‘sacred canopy’, under the fragmenting and secularizing impact of modernity.” Therefore, phenomena apparently unrelated to each other such as “Expressionism, Futurism, vitalism, Theosophy, psychoanalysis, nudism, eugenics, utopian town planning and architecture, modern dance, Bolshevism, organic nationalism–and even the cult of self-sacrifice eventually became the norm.
This also gave rise to new concepts such as Individualism, Symbolism and Absurdity. It was more about what an individual thought about a certain idea – for instance, polygamy – not necessarily about what society thought. Every petty yardstick in society was challenged and seen as a social construct. Perhaps, even what was thought to be common knowledge, though no one exactly knew the origin; God, gender, rights, right and wrong, to mention but a few.
It started as Christian Science, a religion that sought to fill the portholes when science and religion combined path. However, the patch didn’t last. Religious fundamentalists believe in the superiority of their religious teachings, and in a strict division between righteous people and evildoers. This belief system regulates religious thoughts, but also all conceptions regarding the self, others, and the world.
The core of every religion is its belief systems. Existing religions now needed a modern touch or a simple abandonment. “Traditional” religion became formalism; excessive adherence to prescribed forms from authorities. The modern man thought that was questionable. This gave rise to liberalism. Liberalism took the more “flexible” approach; a world of logic, physical matter and no eternal consequences for one’s willful actions.
The “modern” man, saw religion as the use of forms of worship without regard to inner significance, basing their ethics on the form of the moral law without regard to intention or consequences. Modernism arose mainly from the application of modern critical methods to the study of the Bible and the history of dogma and resulted in less emphasis on historic dogma and creeds and in greater stress on the humanistic aspects of religion.
For the first time in history, people were not looking to God for definitive answers; they grew skeptical of their religion and religious faith. Modernism basically showed a society that was rebelling against tradition, while realism simply showed how society dealt with the normalities of life. Realism talked about the traditions of characters, how they lived, and what they dealt with.
In modernist literature, man is assured that his own sense of morality trumps. Modernist fiction spoke of the inner self and consciousness. Instead of progress, the modernist writer saw a decline in civilization. Modernism was a break with the past and the concurrent search for new forms of expression. This is because society is heading to a place with no structure, no universal basics, no fundamentals, no yardstick and no acknowledgement of a Godhead.
Modernity self-defined a generation based on its own technological innovation, governance, and socio-economics. To participate in modernity was to conceive of one’s society as engaging in organizational and knowledge advances that make one’s immediate predecessors appear antiquated or, at least, surpassed. David Hume, one of the greatest philosophers of all time, gives sound reasons to be philosophically agnostic about just about everything while allowing oneself a sense of relative certainty about key things at the psychological level.
Where is society heading? Is it a good or bad thing? Or it has nothing to do with morality? What are your thoughts on this?