Religion Essay

Religion Essay

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William Hazlitt, a British writer during the early 1800’s once said, “Prejudice is the child of ignorance.” During the eighteenth-century, the time period in which Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote his play, Nathan the Wise, there was much religious prejudice displayed throughout Europe, specifically against the Jewish and Muslim populations. For instance, Ronald Schechter notes, “eighteenth-century writers typically portrayed Jews as greedy moneylenders, [and] depicted Muslims as violent despots and servants of the despots” (4). Many people perceived Christianity as the only true religion; however, Lessing challenges these notions of Christian superiority throughout his play. One way he does this is by not portraying the Christian characters as any better or worse than the characters of different religions; in fact, the Patriarch is characterized as a despot, similar to how eighteenth-century writers portrayed Muslims. Furthermore, he tries to illustrate that not one religion be it Christianity, Islam, or Judaism is greater than the others, but rather all religions are ultimately equal in the eyes of God. From factors such as characters’ portrayal, the play’s audience is able to grasp Lessing’s overall view of Christianity, which is also his main message throughout—“Christians do not have a monopoly on religious truths” (Schechter 10).
In Lessing’s play there are four Christian characters and two of the four, Daja and the Patriarch, are portrayed negatively. Daja, a Christian servant of Nathan and his stepdaughter Recha, is characterized as “one of those fanatics who imagine they know the universal and only true path to God” (111). Although she tries to be a devout Christian, she betrays Nathan by revealing his secret regarding ...


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...sides” (118). Although this is only a stage direction and not an actual line from the play, it nonetheless has a major impact on the play. The fact that all characters, representing each of the three religions, come together in the end exemplifies what the author is trying to portray throughout. As Ronald Schechter notes in the introduction, “The play does not end with the various characters tolerating each other. It ends with them embracing each other […]” (20). Having the play conclude this way conveys Lessing’s thoughts on religion. Lessing does not think of Christianity as any better or worse than Judaism or Islam, rather “practitioners of different religions can please God equally” (Schechter 16). And until that higher, experienced judge comes down to rule which religion is better than the others, all religions should be thought as equal in the eyes of God.

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