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Nowadays, critiques of European Enlightenment ideas and projects is commonplace. The European Enlightenment clearly, for example, led to the disaster of European colonialism. And to genocide.

This critique is not new, it merely took a while for it to escape the bounds of philosophy and academia to hit the American cultural conversation.

The idea comes initially from a book titled Dialectic of the Enlightenment published in 1947 by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, two of the great Frankfort School philosophers. …

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That’s the number of dead.

We inheritors of the Protestant Reformation have a special relationship with conscience.

Our tradition has insisted upon it. And many have given their lives in its service. Both a summary of and central to that tradition is the work of Henry David Thoreau.

For example, in 1849 he wrote a poem titled “Conscience.” Here are a few lines from that poem:

. . .

I love a soul not all of wood,

Predestinated to be good,

But true to the backbone

Unto itself alone,

And false to none;

Born to its own affairs,

Its own joys and own…

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At one time in the Western world there was talk of three ingredients that make a human: body, mind, and soul. Some Westerners still talk this way, sometimes as metaphor, sometimes not.

Fact is, it’s still an open question whether or not “the mind” is what the brain does.

The fullest metaphorical consideration of the soul / mind /spirit /consciousness / conscience matrix in the Western tradition is the story of Psyche, Aphrodite, and Eros.

“Psyche” means “breath” or “animating force” in Greek, and came to designate for the ancient Greeks the term that in English we call “soul,” a word derived from Old English and etymologically tied to the word for “sea.” It appears that when Christian missionaries began talking about the psyche in Northern Europe, people there translated it as “sawol,” because they believed the dead lived on forever in the sea. …


David Breeden

Poet, Senior Minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a Humanist congregation. Amazon author's page

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