A study of the Hume-Gibbon attack on Christianity is ultimately an account of a unique eighteenth-century phenomenon—philosophic history. Its consummation is found in the work of Hume and Gibbon. Hume’s philosophical critique—skeptically boring away at the metaphysical foundations of Christianity and morally accusing its practitioners of excess—finds its complement in Gibbon’s historical critique. Gibbon put his extraordinary erudition to work in an exposé that deliberately drew attention to all of Christianity’s shortcomings adumbrated in rich historical detail. It was Hume principally who developed and refined the outlook characteristic of philosophic history defined by its thoroughgoing naturalism, its skepticism of theology and metaphysics, and its pessimism of human nature. Gibbon absorbed all the elements of this philosophic perspective and, with elegance and irony, applied them iconoclastically to the particularities of fifteen hundred years of history. His intent was to explain the decline of one civilization—the pagan classical—and the rise of another—Christianity, a task complicated by his affinity for the former and his ambivalence toward the latter. Gibbon linked the rise of Christianity to the political decline of Rome, and thus much of the Decline and Fall is devoted to exploring the political significance of religion and the religious dimensions of politics.
KeywordsPolitical Significance Philosophical Critique Metaphysical Foundation Religious Dimension Philosophic Skepticism
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