Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield has done us a great service by writing an excellent piece on modernity. Key snip:
He is aware that the humanist philosophers in Poggio’s time had reason not to risk gaining a reputation for atheism, and he recounts at some length the later (1600) trial and burning of Giordano Bruno for his open heresy. But this motive would be the same in the time of Lucretius, or in any time. Almost every society punishes atheism, even to some extent our tolerant society today: Try running for president as an atheist. Every society rests on belief, almost always on a religious belief that God supports and protects it. At the same time, a philosopher is one who questions the authority of belief, especially the highest. Philosophy always tends toward skepticism, and even if it finds in favor of religion, it does so on philosophical grounds. Skepticism is normal for philosophers, and so too is dissimulation to conceal skepticism and confuse the authorities. A recent book on Lucretius and the Renaissance by the historian Alison Brown shows greater understanding of the once-common practice of evasion by philosophers, and remarks on Lucretius’ “discreet (and often unnamed) influence” in that time. The appreciation and the discretion had the same cause: Both were offensive to prevailing belief.