Against rationality

Against rationality

Ever since my first (admittedly surface-level) reading of Kant’s Critique of pure reason, I have been of the opinion that belief in any given religion belongs to the area of faith rather than reason. What I mean to say with this is that one should not even attempt to prove God through deductive reasoning, or reasoning in general, because reason is a method unbefitting of faith. Faith in God (or Gods) is therefore inherently a-rational, though this is not necessarily a bad position. Rather, one might say that faith in God, while being given no reasonable proof, is the most supreme form of faith.

As I continued my studies, I have reread the first critique with a teacher, and have become evermore convinced that faith must be a-rational. Recently, my studies have even made me question the position of rationality in decision-making in general. This shall be the topic of this post.

Take the contentious area of ethics for instance. Taking rationalist positions on ethics, such as consequentialism, may lead to extremely immoral-feeling situations, as I have written about many times before. Rationality and reason can be used to justify extremely immoral acts, all the while being seemingly justified or even convinced that one is doing the right thing. With meta ethics, I reach a similar position. Though I have not yet full explored my personal position in this area (as a matter of fact, I have not even finished my course), I tend to lean either towards an unapologetically radical subjectivism or, when exploring objective morality, meta ethical error theory.

This ethical concern about rationality is nothing new however. In fact, I was inspired to write this post in response to a class on Al-Ghazali Incoherence of the philosophers. Al-Ghazali seems to encourage the masses not to rationally deliberate ethics, but simply to follow scripture on these matters. While this approach might be criticized for being too-static or prone to interpretation, I find the approach in general to be quite appealing. However, I am currently not able to accept that scripture is God’s direct, unfiltered word. At the very least, the Bible, Quran and Torah are written in fallible human language. Even if God gave a prophet pure ethical truth through an unfiltered metaphysical connection, the prophets still communicate God’s message trough fallible means. At worst, the so-called prophets use the story of God to justify their views.

In either scenario, we still need a certain subset of rational people, be they those who communicate God’s message, those who translate or interpret it, or those who invent it. This last position in particular is one that I have grown increasingly interested in. It is the idea that religion is a human invention, crafted maliciously over centuries to guide people to a good life. Those who crafted scripted knew what was right for the masses, though also knew they would never be able to see that truth for themselves. The masses are after all occupied with herding and farming, a mythos, a story, was though of as the solution. I think this approach becomes problematic when the heads of these religions belief in the stories as their followers do. A religion in this crafted sense needs to be open to new prophets, new absolute truths, and most importantly, needs to realize (at least internally) that their story is just that, a story, a very well crafted one.

Even if we assert that prophets communicate God’s message rather than their own inventions, it still stands to reason that God might communicate new messages. Even if there is something like an objective good, then the good for us might change. If God said when humanity was still in the cradle of Africa: “repopulate as much as you are able” because that was good for our survival, then He might now say: “repopulate as much as is needed to replace yourself”, because that is now the best thing for our survival. The prophet’s trough which God communicates must still bear the skills of rationality, they must know rhetoric, proper writing, they must be charismatic and intelligent, aspects which do not exactly resonate with the message “don’t think for yourself and listen to the holy book”.

One day, I plan to write on the seeming divide in humanity, between those who ought to lead and learn and those who work and listen. The topic is a contentious one however, and I would not wish to present myself as superior for belonging to either group. Therefore, if you have thought on this matter, one religion being crafted, on the objectivity or semi-objectivity of morality or particularly on the leader/follower divide I just mentioned, my email is open