Maintaining Religion in the Age of Reason

Sistene Chapel Michael Angelo painting

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Sistene Chapel Michael Angelo painting hand of GodDuring the last decade we have seen in America a growing divide between the religious and the scientific community. We have seen books written by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the like with titles that speak of God as a delusion and a scourge on humanity. We have religious conservatives consistently battling to put their belief of creation into the science classroom to combat what they see as a competing theory of why we are here on the earth. This is fueled in part by the rise of radical believers using violent means in the name of God. Be it radical Christians killing doctors who perform abortions, or Islamic terrorists flying planes into buildings, these events all serve to force the public to take a stand on issues of morality in regards to religion. Those who are opposed to religion are more likely to come out with the evidence to show why religion is bad, and those who still believe must defend their beliefs, thus strengthening their own resolve and reinforcing those beliefs in the process.

Let me state from the outset that I think that all sides are equal in that they want was is best for humankind. Although there is anger and fear of their nemesis in the realm of idea of the purpose and origins of life it is a very small and obviously evil minority that seeks to enforce their ideas through violence or other hateful means. For the purposes of my writing I am speaking about those who are using their powers of verbal and written persuasion in this cultural battle, yet avoiding violence and terror in their quest to convince others of their correctness.

The purveyors of the idea that science, reason and rational thought should rule all our decisions in public life are naïve as to the human condition. Everybody has beliefs that they cannot rationally support, even those who think they do. The rationalist rejects religious traditions and beliefs as superstition and delusion on the basis that they cannot be proved by objectively verifiable means. They however are less able to discern their own unverifiable beliefs, because for whatever reason, they think they came to all their conclusions logically or rationally. However if you were to take a closer look, you would see that many of their beliefs in why the world works the way it does are based on emotional decisions, not objective evidence. Why because there is just so much that we don’t know, you have to accept some ideas on faith. Many of the highest level scientific theories are just ideas that fit with what we currently know. If evidence were to show that they were based on faulty assumptions, they would need to be discarded.

Religion excels at using artistic means to deliver a message of goodness and hope. Art such as paintings and poetry use metaphoric representations to explain life and meaning, and cannot be considered literally true. A poem that has the line: “The lilies of the field speak peace to the soul” cannot be considered literally true in that lilies don’t speak as a human, yet the line of the poem still conveys a truth or understanding of the world around us, albeit poetically. Much of religion is the same, as it uses metaphors to communicate the intangible of our deepest thoughts and desires. Where religion loses, is when it tends to literalism, for literalism in religion denies the artistry of the human soul.

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