On Wisdom: Modern World: Secularization

Music: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor.
By J.S. Bach. Sequenced by George Pollen.

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Nicholas Gordon

1. Religion has ever been the great motivator of wise behavior, whether through veneration of ancestors, rejoicing in the law, imitation of Christ, hope for an afterlife, or pure love of God. It supplies occasions, rituals, tastes, scents, music, and poetry that tie one to wisdom from childhood and, through one's children, make one a bridge over which wisdom may pass from one generation to the next.

2. There have been many attempts to create secular substitutes for religion, but so far none has succeeded in replacing the wine of faith with the distilled water of reason.

3. Thus in a secular society there are many who have no strong childhood ties to wisdom and little definite that they wish to teach their children.

4. Others cling to religion fanatically, like survivors to the remnants of their vessels. Fanatical religion is, however, the antithesis of wisdom, since it eschews moderation, tolerance, and rationality.

5. Thus the paradox that in a society ruled by reason alone, irrational behavior increases.

6. Since it is inborn, wisdom is present in every society, as it is in every person. The question is never whether wisdom survives, but whether it is more or less.

7. In the modern world, for wisdom to be more it must find new clothes, for it cannot long go naked in such inclement weather.

8. How to clothe it well, whether by reinvigorating old traditions or inventing new ones, is a challenge and opportunity that, in keeping with the pluralism of secular society, each family must manage in its own way.


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Previous: The Practice of Wisdom: Patience, Tolerance, and Humor

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