ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
a practicing Anglican, and believed in the authority of the Bible as revealed Scripture. It is even more interesting to note that he was keenly interested in both astrology and alchemy. Kepler shared his enthusiasm for the former. All three were highly uncomfortable with mechanistic materialism, and disturbed by the absence of the divine in the schemas which they worked out based on scientific evidence and rational inquiry. All three were impressed by the limitations of intellect and by the need for spirituality; that there were ways of discovering truth which were not dreamt of in their (scientific) philosophy.
As Mircea Eliade argues in The Quest, the rise of natural science during the late nineteenth century had great impact on Western thought. A German school of physics arose based on mechanistic materialism. Most of its proponents were professed atheists. Nietzsche, who was ignored during most of his lifetime, had much impact after he succumbed to madness. His essays about the “death of God” impressed many people at the turn of the century. By it he meant that belief in the Christian concepts of God had lost relevance, having been disproven by natural science. Ernst Haeckel, whose cosmological thought inspired many intellectuals, also added to the materialistic thought of the day.
During the era between around 1680 and the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, rationalism nonetheless prevailed among European intellectuals of the middle and upper classes, countered by a great upsurge of experiential Protestantism on the part of the Pietists in Germany, the Evangelicals in Britain, and the “New Lights” or “Friends of Revival” in America. These latter movements included many intellectuals, learned people such as Jonathan Edwards, generally considered to have had the most brilliant mind of his day in America. On the other hand, there were also many well-read, intelligent, and creatively-minded colonials such as Benjamin Franklin who were deists. Most of the founding fathers of the United States were either religious liberals or deists. During the Enlightenment, intellectuals were of many positions, philosophically and religiously speaking.
As mentioned, Kepler and Newton were astrologers. So were many of their contemporaries among the intelligentsia. Many, such as George Washington, were members of the secret society called Freemasonry. This order originated in Scotland and France during the early seventeenth century among persons who were mystically inclined. The doctrines are fairly well known, and bear a remarkable resemblance to Gnosticism. Other eighteenth-century intellectuals were drawn to the highly complex Gnostic philosophy of Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystic who founded a movement which bears his name, and which had many adherents throughout Europe. There were also many literary figures who were keenly interested in archaic Celtic traditions, some of them fictional, such as the Ossian tales.
But during the Enlightenment, many intellectuals, chiefly of the middle and upper classes, became skeptics. Beginning with the French philosopher, Rene Descartes, there was increasing perplexity over the epistemological problem, how we can verify what we think we know. Descartes and the English philosophers John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, and the German