There are a few facts Rabbi Wein may wish to note, but he does bring up many valid points. The Enlightenment did not rid the world of evil or evil men any more then religion ever did. While it is true that the 20th century produced more dead then any single past events except perhaps the spread of Islam, this was due to technology, not that man being more evil or less evil. Machine guns and bombs in the hands of the Crusaders would have left just as many millions dead.
Proper use of reason as a tool (not an end in itself) must call into question some parts of the Torah, Bible, and all holy books. G-d gave us the ability to think, why not do it? The Torah, Koran, and Bible all support slavery and polygamy, but we have decided by the use of reason to end such evil practices at least in the West.
So we must be on guard against irrational fundamentalist religion on the one hand while not living under the delusion that progress in itself is the cure for every problem. We still need reason combined with tradition and lessons from the past. As a Jew Rabbi Wein should well know the results of violent fundamentalist religion. Lewis L.
An ugly reality only the most enlightened refuse to concede
By Rabbi Berel Wein
This past century, the bloodiest in all of human history, should have lain to rest two of the most cherished theories about mankind postulated by the Enlightenment and Secular Humanism.
One was the idea that all moral questions, all issues of right and wrong, good and evil, were subject to being correctly decided on the basis of man's reason alone, without the necessity (better put, without the interference) of divine revelation or organized religion. Man, and man alone, would be the final and autonomous arbiter of morality.
This idea brought with it, as a necessary corollary, the firm belief that man left to his own reasoning devices would invariably choose to do what is right, what promotes life and fairness and the common good.
This second idea of man's innate choice of goodness was aided and abetted by an arrogant belief that an educated person was more likely to do good than an illiterate one - that a Ph.D. graduate would be less likely to kill, harm, maim and destroy than a poor, hardscrabble, backwards farmer.
But none of these theories have proven true. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot,
Milosevic and the entire slew of other murderers of the 20th century have all
given the lie to these fantasies about human morality and rectitude.
Our society hungers for a return to self, to a system of eternal values, to a disciplined life-style and to the true liberty of faith, which will free us from the ills of mindless conformity.
Balak and Bilaam, the two main characters in one of the Torah reading of this
week are powerful, respected, intelligent people. Bilaam even possesses the gift
of divine intuition and prophecy.
They exhibit all of the immoral traits of the dark side of human behavior - greed, corruption, jealousy, foul speech and causeless hatred. But their worst trait is arrogance - they know better, they are better, they deserve better. And the People of Israel, and through it, the G0d of Israel and His divine Torah, apparently stands in their way. So, denying God and destroying the People of Israel will somehow improve the world.
We have seen the genocidal plan of Balak and Bilaam take on the flesh of reality in this past century as well. We now know how dangerous such people are. But many, and especially, inexplicably many Jews, are loath to relinquish the good old theories of the Enlightenment. And that is a truly sad and dangerous error. Jewry needs a healthy dose of realism and should forsake many of the utopian, naive and dangerous beliefs and theories that have characterized our journey in the modern world over the past two centuries.
We should never forget that Balak and Bilaam are unfortunately real. But so is our faith and tradition.
JWR contributor Rabbi Berel Wein is one of Jewry's foremost historians and founder of the Destiny Foundation. He has authored over 650 tapes, books and videos which you can purchase at RabbiWein.com.
Jewish World Review July 11, 2003
© 2002, Rabbi Berel Wein
Religion and History
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