Religion Essay

1571 words - 6 pages

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 Recha to others, specifically to the Templar and Recha. Revealing Nathan’s secret not only puts emotional tension on both the Templar and Recha, but also puts Nathan’s life in jeopardy because any person who was found guilty of “forcibly ripp[ing] a poor Christian child from the bonds of baptism” (85), as the Patriarch explains it, is condemned to death by fire. There is no apparent desire of Daja’s to explain the reasoning of her scheme other than her request to the Templar to take her to Europe if he takes Recha there with him (81). By including Daja as a character in the play, it helps convey the author’s message because she represents the fact that not all Christians are perfect, similar to other followers of various religions; thus, making Christianity no more superior than the others.
The Patriarch is also portrayed negatively to help further convey Lessing’s view of Christianity. Contrary to what many people today associate the head of any religion to be, a kind and faithful leader, the Patriarch is depicted as being an oppressor. One such example of the Patriarch’s tyranny is illustrated in Act I, Scene 5 in which he sends the Friar to request the Templar to escort a group of men in the killing of Saladin. In...

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