I recently finished reading Leo Damrosch’s Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Restless Genius (First Mariner Books, 2005), continuing my quest to understand the Enlightenment and its influence on theology, especially Biblical studies and text. It goes without saying that Rousseau was a complex person, filled with numerous contradictions. One of the most disturbing of these contradictions is the fact that this man who would write a celebrated book on education (Emile), celebrating the natural goodness of human beings, and become a sort of “Dr. Spock” of the 18th century, lived for over 30 years with a common law wife (Therese) with whom he had five children, all of whom were unceremoniously dumped on the doorstep of the orphanage immediately after their birth. Here is Damrosch’s description:
About a year after their liason began, Therese revealed that she was pregnant, and a child was born at the end of 1746 or early 1747; no record was kept of the date, and even the sex is uncertain. The infant was immediately consigned to the charitable Hospital des Enfants-Trouves, or foundling home, as were four more infants in subsequent years. This action seems staggering today, in light of what Rousseau was and what he became, as well as in light of his own abandonment as a child…. For a long time he successfully kept what he had done secret from everyone except a few friends, but by the time it came out, he had become famous as the author of a book on bringing up children, and he had a lot of explaining to do (p. 191).
Sadly, this anecdote reveals the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of many of the men of the Enlightment era. Rousseau rejected the Bible’s teaching of original sin and blamed all human evil (“mistakes”) on environmental factors. His suppression of the truth allowed him to rest at ease with the sinful deeds that flowed from his own sinful heart.
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