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Why Reason Cannot Rule

If the events of recent months and years have demonstrated anything, it is that the Enlightenment ideals of reason and human rationality cannot hold sway over the destructive momentum of sectarianism and irrationality. But that always was a Hobson’s choice. There’s another human capacity than reason. 

reason 1Indeed, if it’s true, as philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein states, “against the tendency toward sectarian thinking we have no defense but the relentless application of reason,” then there is no hope for the human race.

Belief and reason are actually two sides of the same coin–the irrationality and rationality of thought. Reason is obviously preferable to unreason, but “the relentless application of reason” is a wholly inadequate response to the growing crisis facing humankind.

There is a sad irony in the similarity between the religionist’s belief in faith and the secularist’s faith in reason. Of course no less a philosopher than Spinoza saw reason as “our only hope and redemption,” in his “project of radical rationality.”

But the philosophical bulwark of reason, running from Spinoza through Locke and Jefferson, has been broken. If reasonable people are not to be caught in decades of crossfire between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, then we will have to respond with more than mere reason, and much more than mere Christianity.

Part of the dilemma is that few thinking people make the distinction between belief and faith, and between religion and religiosity. They assume faith means conviction without evidence, even conviction in the face of opposing evidence.

But there is another meaning to the word faith—the realization, with ongoing and reasonable doubt, that life is more than the material, and the market. That understanding is getting harder and harder to sustain to be sure, but it’s the cornerstone of the religious mind, which has nothing to do with belief systems.

Organized religions represent the codification, and therefore the diminution (even destruction), of the insight that inspired them. That said, there is no conflict between faith in the deeper sense of the word, and reason; there is simply a natural tension between the scientific mind and the religious mind.

The scientific and religious minds represent different approaches and emphases in the human brain and mind. In a healthy individual, they go together, though the religious mind has priority.

As Einstein said, “science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration towards truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion.” He added, in a surprising statement, “I assert that the cosmic religious experience is the strongest and noblest force behind scientific research.”enlightenment-and-the-self

The scientific mind makes the unobservable fathomable; the religious mind makes the unfathomable observable. Insight belongs exclusively to neither the scientific mind nor to the religious mind, but inclusively to both. Science without insight is a stale enterprise of accreting knowledge; religiosity without insight is a stale enterprise of encrusting belief.

Both belief and reason, organized religion and science are products of thought. And the lack of insight into thought is the source of division, fragmentation and disorder. Therefore it’s the awakening of insight, not the application of reason, that is the way ahead for the individual and humankind.

Insight does not serve simply epistemological functions—it is not just a handmaiden of knowledge. Rather, insight flows from and serves a higher purpose and meaning than knowledge.

Awakening the human brain’s capacity for insight to its fullest even goes beyond creativity in all its forms. Insight unites the mind and heart in the timeless liberation of seeing. Indeed, igniting insight within one allows one to be a participant with the ongoing movement of creation.

Does that mean insight flows from the same ineffable source that gives rise to all energy and matter, and which continues to animate and reconfigure the evolving universe? Does awakening insight fully in the brain illuminate, in silent understanding, that selfsame source to the human mind and heart? I feel so. Observing the mind into stillness, rather than futilely attempting to bring order through reason, is the mark of an awakening person and an intelligent life.

The flash of insight is irreducibly holistic and pre-verbal. But that pertains to insights, not insight per se. One can have an insight into anything, and people frequently do, every day. But mystical experiencing is the state of insight, an awareness of the underlying actuality of life, the universe and the sacred.

The religious mind does not deny, in Einstein’s words, that “the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational,” nor does it deny the primacy of reason and evidence to discover, formulate and convey natural laws. Nor does it presuppose a supernatural realm that both supersedes and is separate from the natural world.

But the religious mind does see, and heed the limits of reason, conceptualization, knowledge and thought. It realizes that only a silent mind can perceive and receive insight into the ineffable, inseparable intelligence imbuing and underlying the cosmos.

Martin LeFevre

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