But my hunch is that enlightenment is a perfect ideal, which like objectivity or rationality, we never fully achieve but which we inch incrementally toward.
In more traditional Asian cultures, enlightenment sometimes takes on a supernatural quality. An enlightened person is more than just human and may be omniscient, able to see thru walls, or able to appear in multiple places simultaneously. As an agnostic I don’t believe any of that, and I’m not convinced that the Buddha made any such claims about enlightenment.
The term enlightenment means awakening or insight. Specifically, it’s a perfect understanding of the Four Noble Truths (basically, that suffering is caused by clinging to impermanent things, and that there’s a way to end suffering) and knowledge of karma and one’s past lives such that the cycle of rebirth ends.
As I wrote previously, I’m skeptical of rebirth. But I agree with most of the teachings about the Four Noble Truths, and karma once misconceptions about it are stripped away. And although I doubt that perfect insight is possible, I do think there are people who achieve a very high level of insight.
Perhaps the point is not to expect perfection, as this only creates a cycle of clinging that makes things worse. Instead, the point is to do your best and not get all uptight about your failures. As the Dude from The Big Lebowski says, “Like, take it easy, man.”