Photo from personal archive
One of the most intriguing issues in the making of modernity is how the Bible was deprived of its authority in matters of science, philosophy, and politics. In the early seventeenth century, Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake, the freethinker Vanini was tortured to death, and Galileo was sentenced to house arrest, because their teachings were inconsistent with the biblical text. But less than two centuries later, the Christian Scriptures were already devoid of their privileged status, and were mostly considered as, simply, one of the cultural pillars of western civilization – as a mere work of literature, comparable to other masterpieces like Homer’s poems, Dante’s Comedy, and Shakespeare’s plays.
How could this epoch-making change occur? Long story short, a “revolution of the mind” took place thanks to intellectuals like Baruch Spinoza, Lodewijk Meyer, Richard Simon, the British and German deists, and the French “philosophes”. Those thinkers proved that, far from being a divinely inspired source of knowledge, the Bible is only a man-made compilation of ancient writings – and, by the way, one characterized by a highly imaginative style and full of obscurities, discrepancies, and additions made by copyists and translators over the centuries.
As a result, today no reasonable and educated person would ever search for the laws of nature or political instructions in the biblical text. Nowadays, evidence, rational proofs, logical arguments are required. The “authority principle” seems to have disappeared with the demystification of the Sacred Scriptures. But in our little corner of the world, another resource has replaced the Bible as the unquestionable source of truth: Wikipedia, with its bunch of sister projects.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. I’ve seen freshmen who can hardly communicate in English, but can always find their way to Historypedia, Sciencepedia, Artpedia, etc. I’ve seen sophomores who use Philosopedia, instead of studying the required readings, and even try to persuade me that this Philosopedia is “more relevant” than Aristotle’s and Kant’s works! I’ve seen juniors who make reference, only and exclusively, to Wikimedia entries when writing research papers – and visit our library only to sleep on its sofas. I’ve seen seniors who take the Wikipedia webpages as a model for their senior thesis – and when I recommend some scholarly articles and books, they look at me as if I were crazy.
We, the professors, are trying to free these students from this new version of Plato’s cave, from the deceits of this Cartesian “evil genius”, from the second-hand world of this new sort of “Matrix”. But they only believe, passively and happily, in what the machines reveal to them, while showing scarce interest in the “desert of reality”. So, I am afraid that my colleagues and I will end up like some of those people who, in the Age of Enlightenment, dared challenge the Bible’s authority. Perhaps, we will end up like Spinoza – reviled, cursed, and expelled from the AUBG community for searching truth outside of the Wikimedia network – or maybe like Simon, with our writings banned, seized, and eventually destroyed for questioning the dogma of Wikipedia.
In the moments of deepest despair, I tell myself we are heading toward a new “Age of Darkness”, one in which the monopoly of truth (and power) will not be in the hands of the Church and the Old Regime state, but in the “sacred websites” of our time. However, I still hope that more and more students will forego the blue pill and choose the red pill – thus preferring the sometimes painful task of studying seriously, and doing proper research, over the blissful, illusory, superficial erudition offered by the “pedias”.
Diego Lucci is an Associate Professor of History and Philosophy at AUBG. He received Ph.D. in Philosophy from University of Naples ,Federico II, Italy, in 2004. His research interests include History of modern philosophy, the Enlightenment, philosophy of religion, the making of European identity and else.