Why did Voltaire and the philosophes consider organized religion to be their greatest enemy?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Enlightenment thinkers were grounded in the idea of rationality and human reason as being the origin of human greatness.  Their fundamental complaint against religion was the idea that organized religion sought to collectivize individuals, removing their ability to exercise judgment and reason in the face of totalizing force.  In a larger sense, Voltaire and other Enlightenment thinkers who placed a primacy of individual action and freedom felt that religion and the subservience to God took away from this critically decision making element of human consciousness.  In asserting the value and overall reasonable nature of the individual, the role of religion and the force of organized divinity was devalued by Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Philosophes were a group of Enlightenment thinkers during the middle 1700s.  They felt that organized religion was their greatest enemy because they believed that it stood in the way of progress.

The Philosophes believed in a few major ideas.  Among these were

  • Progress.  They believed that humans could improve themselves and that part of improving themselves consisted of putting old superstitions behind them.  They felt that religion stood in the way of science and new ideas that were needed to improve humanity.
  • Tolerance.  They believed that organized religion led to intolerance and that intolerance led to crimes against humanity.

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