The Vanity of Enlightenment

When we believe that our particular tribe holds the greatest and fullest truth, the temptation is to pride ourselves on it: becoming self-righteous and arrogant. In a word, bigotry.

I first became aware of this a couple of decades ago when as an evangelical Christian I left a stoic Baptist church to attend a legalistic, charismatic denomination. After a couple of bewildering years in that church I extricated myself and returned sober to mainstream Christianity—only to realize that what I’d experienced in that cult was merely evangelicalism on steroids. The problematic base doctrines were still the same: no women in leadership, male headship (the husband has the final say), “eternal conscious torment hell” for the unsaved, and the exclusion of LGBTQ Christians.

A couple more years of church-hopping followed and my husband and I unwittingly landed in a conservative denomination that allows (and affirms!) the ordaining of women as pastors. Scandalous, I know. 😉 This challenged and changed my beliefs regarding gender roles, and we’ve been attending this church for more than a decade now. Labels don’t leave much room for nuance, but today you might call me progressive, or a left-leaning conservative.

Having journeyed this far throughout Christendom (dissecting/comparing the gamut of Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism, Annihilation, and Universalism along the way), I’ve now had ample time to experience many levels of dogma from opposing angles. And what I’ve found is that both sides (left-wing, right-wing, and everything between) are saturated with pride and self-righteousness.

Now that’s not to say the majority are this way, only that these are the loudest voices. There are innumerable kind-hearted, humble people throughout, in every single denomination, and on each end of the pole; they just don’t get much attention or recognition.

Perceived esoteric knowledge is enchanting.

That feeling of having arrived, of having figured it all out. And this feeling doesn’t require religion either. Agnostics, atheists, scientists, humanists, holistic health proponents, natural food proponents, vegans, you name it, can all step into the same snare. One doesn’t need beliefs in the supernatural to pride themselves on being woke:

“Look everyone, we’ve found the true meaning of life—there are no more illusions and our eyes are wide open. We’ve found the one true path to health, happiness, and fulfillment. We are the ones who walk in the light and everyone else walks in the dark. We are superior.”

This philosophical phenomenon surrounds me yet it’s also within me: the longing to arrive, to be in the know. At every turn in theology/ideology I encounter it. But does this mean there is no absolute truth to be found, that all is relative? On the contrary: Some of us have found more truth than others, each of us knows a truth that the other doesn’t know, and vice versa, to varying degrees. There are real truths and real falsehoods, there is wealth and poverty. A revelation/awakening/conversion can be life-changing in positive ways and produce much good fruit. And Jesus did say that good or bad fruit is a measurement of truth. (For a bad tree does not bear good fruit.)

So no matter where we are on life’s journey, we must remain aware of the vanity of enlightenment so that we can resist it at every turn—mortifying pride wherever it rears. Because no matter how confident we feel in our beliefs, how certain, we must acknowledge the possibility of being mistaken in various areas. To remember that we can be completely right in one regard but wholly wrong in another.

Let’s endeavor to stay humble (1 Peter 5:6) and to keep our eyes open, so that our hearts will remain fertile for growth our entire lives through.

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Bekah Ferguson

Hello and welcome. :) I’m the author of the contemporary romance novels, When the Fog Cleared and A White Rose, and many short stories (sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, coming-of-age). I live in Ontario, Canada, with my husband and three children. As a progressive Christian writer, I take great interest in nuance - catching it by the tail as it darts in and out between extremes. Nuance isn’t black and white, so you can’t hit people over the head with it. It’s subtle and illusive; a jewel worth finding. “Tell all the truth but tell it slant ... / The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.” ~ Emily Dickinson (1263) You can follow me on Facebook & Twitter.

3 thoughts on “The Vanity of Enlightenment”

  1. Absolutely loved this post. Such truth! I wish we could all just take a step outside our bias, just to get perspective. It’s hard, but not impossible!

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