It’s easy to find people who are bright on the outside. The Enlightenment has been a go-to source for figures of towering intellect. What’s much harder to find are people who are bright on the inside. These are people who have had heart surgery of the highest order. The brightness they hold on the inside can then work its way to the outside.
When it comes to spiritual matters, what you see is seldom what you get. Appearances aren’t just deceiving; they can be damning. History is rife with examples of hypocrisy: those who claim to be full of light but who are, in fact, dark as dungeons. A recent example reminded me just how important it is to maintain that the inside is what matters most. Salvation is a matter of the heart, not a battle for the head. And I’ll explain why.
Enlightenment or Egoism?
I was recently reading Andrew Wilson’s excellent book Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West. In his discussion of the Enlightenment and the figures who changed the world with their intellectual and scientific accomplishments, something dark drifted to the surface. The enlightened all-stars weren’t all that enlightened when it came to anthropology and a basic understanding of humanity as made in God’s image. David Hume, Voltaire, and Immanuel Kant were aggressively and barbarically racist (pp. 109–113). They referred to African Americans as having “no ingenuity,” as being a “low people,” being “barbarous,” and having “no art.” Voltaire even referred to them as a “different species.” And Kant went as far as to say “not a single one was ever found who presented anything great in art or science or any other praiseworthy quality.” Their comments are crass enough to make anyone today blush with embarrassment or churn with hatred. How could people so allegedly “enlightened” think such things? Their conduct “raises questions about how ‘enlightened’ the major Enlighteners actually were” (p. 110). There was as much vain egoism for these men as there was enlightenment. They may have had bright minds, but there was darkness in their hearts, as there is for every human.
Had Hume, Voltaire, and Kant lived in today’s world, they would have been canceled before you could snap your fingers. (Wilson notes how a University of Edinburgh building named after Hume was renamed during the George Floyd protests; similarly, a Parisian statue of Voltaire was removed in 2020.) And yet the Enlightenment, for the most part, is still viewed with respect and pride, as a watershed of human accomplishment. The Enlightenment has become a celebration of the head. But has it also become an ignorance of the heart? In gushing about the Enlightenment, are we guilty of staring only at the mind and turning a blind eye to the soul?
I think we are, and it’s not limited to the Enlightenment. We still do this today. We assume that the solution for every human evil is intellectual education, not spiritual operation (Ezek. 36:26). It’s the head that needs fixing, not the heart. In fact, suggesting that the latter is the real problem can even stir up animosity.
A Dead Heart, a Broken Head
I once remarked in an open forum that I believed a rejection of God is always, at base, a matter of the heart, not the head. The vehemence that met me because of that comment still stuns me. People lashed out in defense of their intellectual qualms with Christianity. And that lashing out actually proved my point. Why were people so angry? There were lots of reasons, I’m sure, but among them must have been the fact that I was assuming something deep inside them was the problem. And that problem couldn’t be fixed with a book or a coherent argument in favor of God’s existence. It went deeper than the head.
And while there is a close relationship throughout Scripture between the head and heart, between what we think and what we believe and worship, the emphasis for redemption begins with the heart, and then trickles up to the head (Ezek. 11:19; 36:26; Jer. 31:33; Heb. 8:10).