In CULTURE AND THE DEATH OF GOD, Terry Eagleton sums up one particular critique of the Enlightenment, a critique which claimed that “Most Enlightenment thinkers…failed to break decisively with a religious world-view, lambaste it though they might.” As Eagleton details that critique:
“Some [Enlightenment thinkers] ridiculed the biblical doctrine of Creation, yet believed that the universe revealed a beautifully articulated design which testified to the presence of a Supreme Being. It is indeed true that some Enlightenment figures turned from God to Nature, only to discover there signs of an intelligence that turned them back to God again. Critics of religion…dismissed Eden as mythical, but looked back wistfully to a golden age of Roman virtue. Some adhered to an all-powerful, self-founding, self-determining power, but its name was Reason rather than God. They renounced the sovereignty of church and Scripture, but betrayed a naïve trust in the authority of Nature and Reason. They dismantled Heaven but looked forward to a perfect human nature; spoke up for tolerance but found the sight of a priest hard to stomach; scoffed at miracles but believed in the perfectibility of the human race, and substituted a devotion to humanity for the love of God. They also replaced divine grace with civic virtue. For all their brave talk of hanging the last king in the entrails of the last priest, ‘there is more of Christian philosophy in the writings of the Philosophes,’ [Carl] Becker remarks, ‘than has yet been dreamt of in our history.’”
It is and has long been a staple of Enlightenment-bashing, especially from the Christian Right, to insist that it set up Reason, Man, and Science in place of God while attempting to smuggle Christian morality in under the guise of "humanism". While acknowledging the partial truth of this critique, Eagleton suggests that it “underplays the boldness and originality of the Enlightenment project…” He quotes Isaiah Berlin on the Enlightenment’s “intellectual power, honesty, lucidity, courage, and disinterested love of truth…”
In any case, what is unquestionably true (and is the primary subject of Eagleton’s CULTURE AND THE DEATH OF GOD) is that no culture can wholly overthrow or disavow its past; every revolution—intellectual, theological, social or political—will carry accumulated baggage, good and bad, with it. We are some three centuries into the “Enlightenment project” (assuming we have not abandoned it altogether), and if we have not yet managed either to efface (assuming we wanted to) or to disentangle ourselves from the previous fifteen centuries of Christendom, no one should be surprised.
History, as someone has surely said, is a long game.