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Enlightenment and Dimmed Enlightenment

Enlightenment and Dimmed Enlightenment

What in the Western world is understood by the moniker, “enlightened person”? Someone in who’s life reason and nature occupy central positions; someone who has renounced, or left behind, faith and the supernatural; someone who considers himself or herself to be an adept of the Enlightenment.

During the Enlightenment in Europe, reason superseded faith, and power and influence of the church receded. The Enlightenment is a period in which an almost messianic belief developed in uninterrupted progress, thanks to the march of science and technology. Only that is considered to be “true,” that has been made experimentally plausible. The conviction that reason will succeed the Almighty gained ground, and religion was laid to rest just as superstition had been earlier.

The secularist—adhering to no faith and critical of every aspect of religious conviction—gained prominence. Nothing is sacred to him, nothing unassailable, nothing is accepted a priori without reasonable evidence, thus nothing is a priori entitled to respect or veneration.

The secularist occupies in our society a prominent position, in particular among those who consider themselves to be educated and to be thinkers. It is politically and scientifically correct to be a secularist—the term has become almost synonymous with intellectual.

If this characteristic of enlightened man is correct, then men of faith who adhere to a religious conviction, who cultivate ties with coreligionists, and who honor religious traditions find themselves in twilight, at best. Because of a shortage of light, of illumination of the mind, fantasies are mistaken for reality.

According to their enlightened fellow citizens, men of faith position themselves beyond the pale of the intellectually sophisticated world. They do not think. They are, as Bartstra,1 a Dutch philosopher, noted, “a product of institutionalized imprinting of irrational thoughts and absurd ideas.” Or worse, they are deserters. To cite another Dutch philosopher, de Boer,2 “By embracing religious faith, one abandons the camp of thinking men. It is desertion.” Faith and reason are viewed as opposites—reason is the source of light, faith is a dimmer of that light.

The famous Dutch playwright from the early part of the 20th century, Herman Heyermans,3 expressed this latter viewpoint dramatically in his play Ghetto. The principal character is Sachel, an elderly, blind Jew, who is “betrayed” by his only son, Raphael. Raphael falls in love with Rose and wants to marry her. His father had another woman in mind for him—he is furious and feels that his authority as the father has been impinged. To make things worse, Rose is not a Jew, which invokes intense sorrow in Sachel. He tries to change Raphael’s mind, but fails. At last, he curses his son and drives Rose to suicide.

Heyermans portrays Sachel as a latter day Shylock and, in fact, still a degree worse. He is not content with a pound of flesh from his opponent, he requires—figuratively speaking—his heart. Sachel is portrayed as an intellectual fossil; short-sighted, heartless, a victim of his faith. In this milieu, Raphael is the only one who rises above that. He represents future mankind, modern men who have chosen definitively for personal freedom, and who have undone themselves from parental settings and the “God of our fathers.”

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