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MANN TALK: Is Rationalism the Death of Hope?

Posted by kinchendavid on October 7, 2006

By Perry Mann

Hinton, WV – Tom Schaefer, a columnist for the Wichita Eagle, has a column in the 9-16-06 Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail titled “Can we with faith still hear God?” Among many sentences and paragraphs, the substance and arguments of which I take issue, one is this: “Where rationalism goes astray is in contending that all problems can be solved by the advancement of knowledge and scientific discovery. Eventually, rationalism must find solutions to poverty, injustice, sickness, even death. Otherwise, there is no hope.”

I submit there is more hope of a good life for more people today then there was during the Age of Faith. The Age of Faith was grounded on hope of a hereafter because there was no hope in the here now for that vast number of people who supported by hard labor the royalist few, who lived in luxury. Castles are not built by honest labor.

I submit that knowledge and scientific discovery have brought—with a significant downside to every advance—no end of rewards to humankind: they have reduced poverty, advanced justice, alleviated sickness, and pushed death farther off than at any time in mankind’s history. And above all have oriented the devotees of science to an understanding of their place on earth and in the universe and instructed them with reason how to live the good life here and now.

Schaefer: “Such a view [the view of rationalists] runs counter to faith, which asserts that this world is transient, and that God is guiding history to its ultimate fulfillment beyond this earth. (People of faith to deny such a belief are no different from rationalists. Why believe in transcendence if only the transitory matters?)”

Schaefer is saying what every tent preacher has been preaching for millenniums and TV evangelists are preaching with sweat and passionate persuasion today: Life on earth is transitory and is the preparation only for transcendence or for a life in heaven for an eternity—if one conforms to ecclesiastical-evolved beliefs and performs rituals that are cleric-devised prerequisites to entering Paradise .

Schaefer presumes the premises that there is a God, that there is a heaven and that one can leave this life on earth and ascend to a life in heaven for eternity. The trouble is that he has no evidence that will stand up to a probing rationalistic inquiry. How does one go about proving that there is a God, a heaven and an after life? He can’t, so he hopes that there is a God, a heaven and an after life. Faith is an implausible hypothesis irrationally held. It is hope with no basis in reason or experience to support it.

Schaefer: “If reason is the sole arbiter of what is good, then why is there such deep, intractable conflict among so many reasonable people?”

No rationalist argues that reason is the sole arbiter of what is good. I wish to know more about “intractable conflict among so many reasonable people.” I have a reasonable side and I belong to a group of reasonable people, a group in which there is a consensus of belief. This group’s consensus is in contrast to the thousands of faith-based cults, denominations, and religions, any one of which looks upon the members of any other cult, denomination and religion as being heretics, and in the world of Islam, as being infidels. And there is no peace among them. They either fight verbally or actually as is the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and other sites and global places of the world. They believe the improbable without question and they fight with a passion to kill that is beyond belief.

Schaefer: “What secularization has shown us is that life is meaningless if it is disconnected from the One who creates and sustains us and all living things.”

How can one disconnect himself from the One who created him? How can one disconnect himself from his father and mother and, for that matter, from his sisters and brothers and all mankind, all of whom have a common ancestor? No one can disconnect himself from nature or all that nature has created. To try to do so is to die alive or to die and return to the earth whence one came and then to live again in whatever his remains have sustained.

Secularization does not make life meaningless. Life is as full for a secularist as it is for a religionist. A rationalist does not need the belief in a transcendent end to find meaning in a life that ends in death and a return to the earth—there to be the decayed substance that sustains and nurtures the life to come. There is meaning and hope in nature, love, children, knowledge, adventure, challenge, death and the end to it all and the return to earth, the mother, for an eternal rest.

Schaefer: “Rationalism also goes astray in failing to recognize basic human nature: We are not free to do what we please. Instead, we deceive ourselves, we rationalize to serve our own ends, at the expense of others.”

One would have to be an idiot not to recognize that one is not free to do as he pleases. If one doesn’t recognize that fact and acts as if he is free to do as he pleases with no regard for his fellowman and to the laws of nature—he will certainly soon know that he is not so free, for one cannot ignore the welfare or rights of his fellowman and nature’s law with impunity. Not everyone who is a rationalist lives at the expense of others just as not everyone who is a religionist lives at the expense of others. Conscience, the creation of nature through evolution, cringes at the concept of living at the expense of others. And freedom is, perhaps, an illusion.

Schaefer: “… can those of us who still have faith still hear God?” One hears God, if there is a God, whether he is one of faith or one of non-faith. God or Nature wrote his or her messages in the mind and on the hearts of humankind over a period of four billion years. If one listens he or she can hear those messages that were long in being hammer out on the anvil of natural selection. One does not have to be a religionist to hear the message that God or Nature has spoken to humankind. Whether one has heard the message and taken it to heart is in the conduct of the one who has listened.

Rationalism may be the death of the hope of a transcendent life but it is not the death of the hope of learning the rules governing the good life and succeeding in abiding by them. To succeed here in that is heaven enough.

* * *

Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a regular columnist for the Nicholas Chronicle in Summersville and Huntington News Network. Born in Charleston, WV, in 1921, he lives in Hinton.

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