Saturday, January 22, 2005

Nathan, the Wise

Atheists, the Marxist kind or the others, tell us they built their philosophy on the Enlightenment. They tell us, they are the rational ones, and we, the religious people are the non-rational.
They tell us, that religion is responsible for war and warmongering. The left-wingers tell us that behind Hitler’s philosophy were Christianity.
It seems to me, that they are twisting history just as right-wingers do.
Fact is: Hitler many times denounced Christianity as weak and not fit for German nationalism. Many hundreds of priests and pastors were incarcerated in concentration camps. And many died there together with communists, socialists, peace-activists and other political prisoners.
The philosophical foundation of Nazism was Nietzsche, just as it is the foundation for Social Darwinism.
The non-religious streams of the Enlightenment have brought us Marx and Nietzsche. But there were religious streams as well. And they brought us for instance Mendelssohn and Lessing, German born, all of them.
Neither religion nor atheism per se is responsible for wars and oppression, but philosophies from either can be used to inflict unending pain and misery on other people.

There were hateful anti-Semitic writers in Germany, preparing the way for Hitler, but there were others as well, who had a deep respect for Judaism and the Jewish people. One of them was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Born in 1729, he was the son of a Lutheran minister and he became a very good friend of Moses Mendelssohn, working on joint writings and projects. In 1779, two years before his death, Lessing finished his last work, the theater-play “Nathan, the Wise”. It is said, that the character of Nathan was based on his friend Mendelssohn.
I loved this play, when I had to read it as a kid in school. And I still believe, it is the best thing German literature has ever come up with.
It culminates in a very old parable, the parable of the ring, but Lessing has changed it just a tiny bit, and in doing this, he put a new enlightened interpretation into it:

Nathan, the wise, is an old Jewish merchant living at the times of the crusades in Jerusalem, whose family, his wife and seven sons had been killed by Christians many years ago. After that, he had wandered around in total despair, hopelessness and burning hatred, until he found a tiny orphan baby, a Christian girl.
He took her in and raised her as his own daughter, never even telling her otherwise.
One day, when he comes home from a business journey, he finds out, that his house had caught fire, but a knight templar had rescued his foster-daughter. Nathan tries to contact this young crusader to thank him, but is rejected by him. The young man is full of bitterness, he is the only one left of his order in muslimic Jerusalem, since the Sultan had all the other crusaders killed, but spared the life of this one, because he resembled so much the beloved younger brother of the Sultan, who had disappeared a long time ago. Nathan makes another attempt of talking to the Knight Templar and finally wins his trust.
In the meantime, the Sultan is in financial trouble and asks for Nathan to come to his palest and give him a loan. While there, Nathan is asked by the Sultan, what in his opinion is the right religion. Nathan answers him with the parable of the ring.
In the end the young knight templar finds out through a piece of jewelry, that the daughter of Nathan, the Jew, is in reality his, the Christian crusader’s, sister, and the Sultan finds out, that the young Christian is actually his brother’s son.
In this way Lessing, of course, implies the close relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

And this is the parable of the ring:
Many years ago, there was a man who owned a beautiful and very precious ring. Embedded in it was a stone with magic powers. It could make the bearer, who was confident in it is power, become beloved by God and every man around him. So the owner of the ring commanded, that it would stay in the family forever and always be given on towards the most beloved son of the next generation. But then, in one generation, the father had three sons, he loved all alike. Whenever, he was alone with one of them, he felt, that he loved this one best and promised him the ring. So, he had promised the ring to all three of his sons, when he finally knew, that his end was near. Not wanting to disappoint any of them, he had a jeweler make two exact copies of the ring, so close to the original, that even the father couldn’t tell the difference and he gave one ring to each of his sons.
After the father’s death, each of the sons claimed to be the father’s most beloved, the owner of the true ring and the leader of the family. They went to court hating each other, each taking an oath of what the father had said to him. Not wanting to blame the father, each one accused his brothers of fraud.
The judge responded, that the bearer of the real ring should be discerned by the powers it is magic stone gave him of being loved by the others. But, the judge decided, since each brother only loved himself, the real ring must have been lost, and all three of the rings were imitations to hide the loss.
“And”, the judge added, “if you don’t want my advice instead of my decision, then go now!
My advice however is this:
You take the thing totally as it is. If each of you has his ring from his father. So should each of you believe that his ring, is the real one.
Possibly the father no longer wanted to allow the tyranny of the one ring in his house, and sure is, that he loved you all and loved you all alike, by not lowering down two of you, to elevate one.
So go, and let each one of you imitate his love, that was free of prejudice!
So compete with one another every day, to let the powers of the stone come to light,
In gentleness of character, congeniality of heart and deepest devotion to God.
And when in your children’s children, the powers of the stone will show,
Then, in a thousand thousand years, I invite you back here to this chair.
And then, a wiser man than I will sit on it and will decide.
Now go!”
So said the humble judge.