The Re-Enchantment of the Soul

Three centuries later, we are still children of the Enlightenment, that period of immense intellectual energy that liberated mankind from medievalism, feudalism, and ignorance. Enlightenment thinkers opened the mind to the scientific method and scientific inquiry. They also restored the ancient ideal of the republic and made individual freedom the hallmark of democracy. The Enlightenment period also liberated the individual from the social and cultural tyranny of the priesthood and the oppressive orthodoxy of the cathedral.

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries was a time of disenchantment with orthodox religion, doctrinal learning, and medieval social and religious structures.

This disenchantment was indiscriminate. It replaced magic, myth, and mystery with scientific proof. The prospect of a life hereafter with its angels gave way to the immediacies of wealth accumulation and near-term pleasures. The faith of our fathers became quaint. The hard cash of the money changer took its place. If it can't be touched, traded, and hoarded, it isn't worth consideration.

The wonders of science, from Copernicus to Einstein, dazzled us then and still. We listen to radio waves from the farthest reaches of the big bang, some 13.8 billion years away. We can synthesize biology, incinerate whole cities in a heartbeat, create DNA, generate and regenerate tissue, grow organs from stem cells, clone sheep and soon humans. What wonders. And, in the age of technology, we put immense computing and communications power in the hands of everyday people. What isn't known isn't worth knowing.

But what about the soul, the ultimate human mystery that cannot be measured, felt, isolated, operate upon, or quantified? It is left to fevered theologians in obscure seminaries to concern themselves with safeguarding the soul, much as early astronomers ground lenses in obscurity before daring to peer at distant stars. Space- and time-spanning scientists concern themselves with the soul only long enough to deny its existence.

Because if the soul exists, it does not require quantification; it requires nourishment. And no technician alive has a clue how to go about that. The human soul yields not to scientific examination, nor does it warm to the most astonishing blackboard equation, nor does it shed a tear for a new household detergent, or leap with joy at the invention of a new weapon of mass destruction. Instead, all the wonders of the scientific age push the soul into further desolation.

The wrong question is being asked. It is not, can faith exist with science? It is rather, can enchantment be restored in the age of enlightenment? Walt Disney discovered the loss of enchantment decades ago and built an industry upon that discovery. Breathes there a man with soul so dead who did not shed a tear when Bambi's magnificent father died? The victim, it must be said, of an early weapon of mass destruction. Hopefully, generations of children missed the not too subtle metaphor in that.

As an escape from enchantment, much of our literature and entertainment dwells on relationships, usually disastrous, or substitutes monsters, comic book figures, vampires, and zombies for the magic and mystery that transforms the human spirit. The political media has long since dispelled the chance for heroes in public life and swept away even the moderately respected politician with the tide. Fading generations retain admiration for John Kennedy or even, depending on one's ideology, Ronald Reagan, but that was before their many character flaws were open to inspection and magnification.

It is too much to argue that the culmination of three centuries of enlightenment have brought us to the death of enchantment and the exile of the soul. Arianna Huffington has challenged us to Thrive, to find greater meaning in our lives than wealth and the pleasures of consumption can ever provide. She rightly prescribes greater attention to our families, our friendships, our communities, and our faiths. This is a prescription for moving beyond the fascinations of the laboratories, the code-writing cubicles, the pits of the money-changers, and the greed and transient ambitions of the board rooms. It is a call for the restoration of the soul -- if it is not too late.

Science and technology have become the enemies of nature. That is more dangerous than can possibly be imagined. It is the path toward destruction of what makes us who we are, creatures with a soul... if we can keep it. It may in fact be impossible to thrive in the human community without recapturing a decent respect for nature and the imperative to preserve it. We lost much of enchantment when we set out to conquer and then destroy our natural surroundings.

There is no enchantment in consumption, acquisition, or materialism. What if a man gain the whole world and lose his soul. The next great challenge of the human spirit is the re-enchantment of the human soul.