Pride, Prejudice and Rational Religion

That is because a religion is more than a philosophy. A religion is a life. It includes everything, and because it includes everything it must include that which is beyond the rational as well as that which is rational. It includes terribly “irrational” things like grief and sorrow and joy and ecstasy. It includes “irrational” things like love and sacrifice and mysterious occurrences and unexplainable events.

This is what religion is, and the person who demands that it be totally rational is as obtuse, shallow and snobbish as Caroline Bingley–who wants a ball to be “rational”.

However, in admitting that there are dimensions to religion that are beyond our rational methods of knowing does not mean that religion itself is irrational. The “irrational” elements of religion are part of a larger system of understanding the cosmos which is completely rational.

What we must dispose of first of all is the idea that some religious people have that because there are aspects of religion which are beyond normal rational understanding that we must therefore be anti-rational or totally irrational. This is to fall off one side of the horse only to re-mount and fall off the other.

Instead we must explain how religion is rational and how the seemingly “irrational” aspects of religion fit into the larger, rational picture.

Religion is mankind’s attempt to understand and explore and experience the inexplicable. It is part of universal human experience to encounter forces and aspects of reality that are beyond rational understanding. It is part of universal human experience to ask questions about the meaning of life, the possibility of life after death, the existence of other intelligent beings in the universe and the origin and destiny of all things. Man is a religious being. He asks these questions.

Religion is the rational and ordered attempt to answer these questions as much as they can be answered. The process that human beings go through, first in asking the questions and then attempting to answer them is just as rational as the scientific method. The scientist observes reality, asks questions about it, researches the answers that others before him have discovered, sets out to explore further and obtain experiences and knowledge that answers the questions. He tests the answers he has discovered and abandons those that prove false and continues to seek a better and fuller answer.

This rational process is also the process of religious discovery. The difference is that the subject matter is not one of science, but of the soul. As the subject matter is very different, the method and process of discovery and experimentation will also be very different. We accept that this is so in any other discipline. So, for example, the same process of observation, questioning, research, discovery, experimentation and testing would be used in literary criticism, but the method and tools used would be very different than they would be for experimental sciences. Likewise, with religious discovery, the rational process is the same, but the method and tools will be different.

The discipline of theology, like the discipline of philosophy is very rational, ordered and intelligible. One only has to read a smidgen of St Thomas Aquinas to realize that theology–which is one aspect of religion–is as rational as anyone could possibly desire.

The problem remains for the atheist that he believes the whole basic premise of religion i.e. that God exists–is irrational. He may disagree with the philosophical arguments for God, and he may come up with his own counter arguments, but what he cannot do is say that the arguments for the existence of God are irrational for they are not.

What the atheist must do then, is to give an account not only for all that is rational in the world; that is easy, but to give an account for all that is irrational. He must explain miracles and mass murder, laughter and dancing and poetry and art. He must explain the Sistine Chapel and Mother Teresa and Auschwitz and UFOs and Mont St Michele and ghosts and all the other maddeningly irrational and absurd experiences of the human drama.

What we have then in religion is a human worldview that is as rational as any other. The difference is that it is a rational world view which encompasses and explains and has a place for all that is irrational in human experience. This is the problem with the rational atheist–he has no explanation for the irrational. He must rule it out altogether. The rationalist atheist has only what is rational, whereas the rational theist has a rational explanation for the irrational.

One can put it this way: the religious man has room for the irrational–the atheist does not. Therefore, which philosophy is more likely to be true–the one which accounts for the breadth of human experience and widens out to include all things, or the one which narrows down human experience to that which is merely rational?

To narrow human life down to what is rational would be less tedious, but it would be far less like life.


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