An Atheist’s View of Rationalism & Religion

I often quote Goethe re our irrational investment in reason, “They call it reason, using Light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”  John Gray, a noted atheist in the link below takes modern man, atheist and theists as well to task for their “child like faith in reason.”  Gray’s argument is essentially that we obsessively cling to a world view that we are predisposed to believe in, one that supports our biases and prejudices, and interpret everything to support this self-serving worldview. To justify this mindset, we use reason to “prove” it.

Here are just a few highlights of his arguments.

Believing in the power of human reason requires a greater leap of faith than believing in God….They would alter their beliefs in accordance with facts, but clinging to beliefs in the face of contrary evidence is one of the most powerful and enduring human traits….If history teaches us anything it’s that hatred and cruelty are permanent human flaws, which find expression whatever beliefs people may profess.

What Gray’s essay reveals is that faith cannot lie in reason but, as Goethe recognized, must look beyond the grasp of simple, self-serving human rationality.  This is frightening because our ego is intrinsically a rational structure and is an essential dimension of our faith, regardless of how noble and valid the teachings of this faith tradition might be. This requires a critical, i.e. self-reflective stance toward our faith, if we are going to be able to ferret out some of the instances in which ego is in control.

Of course, I have in mind the tragedy that the Christian faith has facilitated in the political climate of my country by helping elect and continue to support Donald Trump.  The evangelical Christians in particular have insisted that “the Lord has raised him up” to lead our country, justifying his horrible short-comings with such lame excuses as, “He is just a baby Christian” or “Who am I to judge?”  But what they are failing to consider is how he is exploited them, preying on their gullibility, and made a mockery of their faith, leaving Jesus up there in heaven shaking his head!  But now, having pledged their troth to Trump, they cannot back down…just as Trump cannot back down from ridiculous positions…for to do so would be to admit that they made a mistake. They remain ensconced in their rational faith, disregarding the wisdom of Paul Tillich who warned, “A religion bound by the confines of reason is a mutilated religion.”

But being a Christian means recognizing that we have had a lifetime of making mistakes and that we continue to do so!  It means that occasionally we have to recognize, in the immortal words of Texas Governor Rick Perry, “Oops,” I made a mistake.  But anyone tyrannized by the ego cannot admit making a mistake.  And everyon3 around them suffers.

Here is a link to the essay by John Gray:  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28341562

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2 thoughts on “An Atheist’s View of Rationalism & Religion”

  1. I just spent the better half of the day arguing about the flawed morality of the religious who went on crusades to eradicate the enemy in the name of God. Faith itself needs to be answerable to someone or something – or else everything done in the name of faith is okay and we can just declare every enemy of the state to be an enemy of God and lay waste to the hundreds of thousands who don’t happen to believe as we do.

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