Rationalism cannot save us.


“Embracing what is,” a four-part series:
As seen on TV: The new, improved hubris
Belief: The unforgivable sin
• Rationalism cannot save us.
Hell has an exit.

———— ♦ ————

Rationalists insist that love doesn’t matter. Neither does hope. Neither does joy.

“Rational” and “rationality” refer to the activity of reason. Well and good.

“Rationalist” and “rationalism” refer instead to the dogma that one’s affect ought not be allowed to inform or influence one’s thinking. This is a problem.

David Hume said, “Reason is the slave of the passions,” and I agree. One’s affect does affect one’s thinking.

It’s not right; it’s not wrong. Rather, it’s inevitable.

Why feelings count first

Earlier I said, “We are all continuously connecting the dots.” This activity does not occur in a vacuum. We each see the world through rose-colored — or other-colored — glasses.

One’s affect controls one’s choice of which dots to connect and which to ignore; it may even control which ones one can see.[10] It determines how one will choose to connect them. It determines what makes up one’s reality; and, obviously, how one feels toward those whose realities differ from one’s own.

One’s affect thus controls one’s thinking. The memories most easily accessed are those of past times when one has felt the same way. One’s affect determines what data one will admit as being pertinent to an immediate question, and what data one will reject as irrelevant. It selects data that will justify itself.

Rationality can only act on the data one has chosen to admit. The conclusions one draws will inevitably, in return, justify that affect that chose them.

One inevitably regards any course of action one desires, as thus justified also.

One will rationalize any conclusion one desires, and any course of action one desires.

Appeals to reason cannot persuade belief.

Since the “facts” one believes are chosen by the affect, it follows that appeals to reason cannot persuade a change of belief.

Reason is powerless to answer affective questions.  Rationalistic attacks on belief are thus destined to fail.

Steve Siebold says, “[P]eople don’t believe in the Bible because it’s believable; they believe it because they want to believe it.”[11]  Why do they want to believe it?  What is the basis of this desire (an affect)?  What emotional needs are being met by belief?  These people won’t let go of belief (in the Bible or anything else) unless one offers them credibly better means to meet those same needs.

If the Bible is one’s basis for hope, what is a better basis for hope?  One cannot begin to answer that without taking hold of emotions.

Siebold says, “All superstitions are eventually disproved by science and tucked away as remnants of past ignorance.”  Two problems:  First, on a global scale, I don’t see that happening.  Second, I don’t know what he means by “superstition.”  The two most common superstitions I’m aware of say opposite things.  One says the poor are rightly resentful.  The other says the poor are rightly resented.  Reason cannot refute either one.

Their refutation comes instead in choosing to replace entitlement with courage, and greed with compassion, respectively.  These are affective, not rational, acts.

At this writing, I have been homeless for just on four years.  Every day, I must decide whether to regard my circumstances with hope or with despair.  On this depends my whole course in life.  Which shall I choose?  Either way, it’s not a rational decision; a choice  not of the mind, but of the soul.

The roots of dogmatism

In the course of my work on this essay, it has become impossible for me to discern any difference between rationalism and dogmatism. I will henceforth use the two terms interchangeably.  My quarrel here is not with atheism per se, but dogmatism of any kind.   Atheism need not be rationalist nor dogmatic.  Jeffrey Tayler even cites Reza Aslan to the effect that only one in eight atheists are dogmatic.[12]  Other atheists view them as “an embarrassment.”[13]  The question then becomes, why is anyone dogmatic?

The rationalistic impulse appears to begin with a dis-acceptance of what is — an antipathy toward fact — a desire to get control of those things which are uncontrollable; to obtain absolute certainty, that will guarantee desired outcomes and assure that one will never be disappointed.

The Baal cult sought to control the weather.  Literally.

Deuteronomy 28 promises the nation that if they adhere to an elaborate, well-defined system of taboos, they will enjoy only success in every endeavor.

Later systems sought to eliminate the uncertainties involved with one’s affect.  Feelings can be as unpredictable as children.  They can mislead.  They can bring disappointment, as in the case of unrequited love.

Refuge was sought in the well-ordered and predictable world of logic and ideas.  “Faith” came to be mis-defined as cognitive assent to a set of axioms that had no practical pertinence to daily life.  But ignoring one’s affect completely, certainty was to be found here.

So, it seems to me, Siebold and Tayler may yearn for the sort of heaven the Enlightenment seemed to promise:  all events will occur according to the well-known laws of logic; all known objects obey the laws of classical mechanics, and thus if humanity can only acquire adequate data, the future will become completely certain.  “God” — Reason — “will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4, cf. Revelation 7:17 and Isaiah 25:8).

Problem #1: This yearning is itself an affect.

Problem #2: It can only happen if everyone connects the dots the exact same way.

Problem #3: Reason cannot wipe away the tears of an unwanted child.[14]

The roots of spirituality

All along, a different impulse has constantly been giving rise to religions and irreligions of a different kind.  This impulse is the desire to love.

It finds itself expressed in what is called “spirituality.”  It has also been called “pietist,” “empiricist” and “experimental.”  This sort of faith accepts that the events of life from day to day deserve to inform one’s thinking, as also do one’s feelings.  It is a religion of the heart.

As opposed to rationalists’ efforts to banish affects as forever impossible to control, students of spirituality learn more and more to manage one’s affects, much as one manages one’s children.  This is impossible under rationalism.  One cannot dialogue with those whom one denies any seat at the table.

War in heaven

Judeo-Christian history records a constant warring of rationalism, “head” religion, against “heart religion.”  Some of this pertains to the fact that rationalism readily serves the lust for personal power, the desire to exercise coercion.   Some of it pertains to the rationalists’ inevitable alienation, to be discussed below. “Heart” religion is wholly void of such motivations.

Thus adherents of the Documentary Hypothesis adduce a centuries-long conflict between the rationalist “Aaronids” and the pietist “Levites.”  This was succeeded by a similar conflict between the rationalist Sadducees and the pietist Pharisees.  Within Pharisaism, the rationalist Beit Shammai persecuted the pietist Beit Hillel.

Rationalists similarly anathematized Origen, ostracized Osiander, excommunicated Wesley and banished Grundtvig.  Within the Lutheran tradition, the rationalist “orthodox” continue vehemently to condemn the “pietists” to this day.

The state of being wholly out of touch with one’s emotions is referred to as alienation.  Ironically, “alienation” constitutes a specific affect in itself.

Jeffrey Tayler’s alienation is quite clear.  Actually, his feelings are out of control.

Alienated people posit an alienated God.

This accounts for Christopher Hitchens’ God-concept.

It also accounts for the book of Numbers.

And Srebrenica.

And the Taliban.

Alienated people posit an alienated God.

Hell has an exit.

Serenity comes in embracing what is.

[10]Rose-colored glasses:  “Seeing red” is a real phenomenon.  One sees the world through one’s own aura, the colors of which correspond to one’s affect; whether one is aware of it or not.  As a result, colors of objects in one’s environment appear more or less vivid as they correspond (or not) to the current auric colors.  We use this unawares in, for example, choosing the clothes to wear on a given day: an outfit that may be too quiet or too loud today may be just right tomorrow.  Certainly in cognition, like effects make some facts more prominent and others perhaps invisible in a given situation.
[11]”Don’t Just Question the 10 Commandments; Question the Entire Bible”
[12]”Religion’s sinister fairy tale: Extremists, the religious right, Reza Aslan and the fight for reason”
[13]“Noam Chomsky on the ‘New Atheism.'”  Atheist Keith Preston’s critique of the “New Atheism” matches, point for point, much of my critique of Tayler.
[14]Related: “Son.”

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