sad reflection on the Enlightenment


Report: “The government (of Malaysia) maintained that views held by “deviant” groups endangered national security. According to the Jakim Web site, 56 deviant teachings were identified and prohibited to Muslims as of year’s end.” 

Of the many ironies that sprinkle humanity’s history one is that the spirit of religious Enlightenment carries within it seeds of its own destruction. That spirit allows one to criticize religious doctrines,  welcomes religious tolerance and grants freedom to worship the way one chooses.

In modern nations which adopt this as a guiding principle, the time-honored religion of the land subjects itself to reasoned analysis and exposure of all that is irrational, absurd, and intolerable in its religious system which is thus made vulnerable, in addition to missionary intrusions from the outside.

Sooner or later, with the spread of knowledge, information, and education, belief in the traditional religion of the people will gradually diminish and eventually disappear while powerful missionary activities will swallow the more disgruntled members of the local religion.On the other hand, nations which firmly close their doors to other religions, and ruthlessly persecute those who try to impose an alien faith (convert) or question the framework of the national religion shield the state religion from transformation, corruption and disappearance. From this perspective, a hundred years from now Christianity would have disappeared from Europe, but Islam would be strong and sturdy in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran, and other theocracies. Even Hinduism, because India is an enlightened democracy, is exposed to external lethal religious viruses.

What one could expect from globalized information spread is that Islam would become less harsh in its treatment of women and persecution of Muslim dissenters, but would still be safe and sturdy, even become more open and civilized within its walls, while propagating itself freely in nations where the light of freedom shines.

We think of martyrs as individuals who die for the principles they strongly believe in and will never give up. But cultures and civilizations can also become martyrs. Enlightened societies have exposed themselves to external onslaughts with the potential for destroying the very framework that allowed them in to begin with.

So what can we do? Nothing, or very little, really, except to sadly reflect on this irony in history, and to hope that the guardians of enlightenment will be vigilant and will succeed in not allowing the agents of darkness to infect  all societies.

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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