Rationalism received a classical expression over two thousand years ago in that great epic of rationalism which anticipated in such a remarkable manner the leading ideas of modern scientific rationalism. To Lucretius, as to the modern rationalist, religion was the enemy, and the one power that was capable of freeing mankind from the terrors of superstition and the fear of the unknown was the scientific knowledge of nature.
When human life lay shamefully prostrate, crushed down to the ground by the weight of religion, which showed its head from the skies lowering over mortals with hideous aspect, a man of Greece first dared to raise his eyes and stand against it. Neither the fame of the gods nor thunderbolts nor the threatening roar of heaven could daunt him; they only fired his spirit with the desire to be the first to burst the closed bars of the gates of nature. And so the living force of his mind was victorious and he passed beyond the flaming ramparts of the world and traversed in spirit the boundless universe, whence he returned a victor to tell us what can and what cannot be, and how to every power is set a fixed limit which it may not transgress. And so religion, in turn, is cast down and trodden under foot and its defeat raises us to heaven.
Lucretius (ca 99 B.C. - ca 55 B.C.)
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