The religion of rationality
Let's face it, religion today has a bad name. What protestantism was to Catholicism, individual morality now is to organized religion. And yet the more one looks at our society the clearer one fundamentally ingrained religious tendencies appear. While this certainly doesn't imply people are out recreating pseudo synagogues, cathedrals and catechisms, it does mean many of the principals that lead to religious belief and organization somehow get represented in people for whom religion has become a hiss and a byword.
Like many avante garde modern moralities, adherents of politically correct morality could probably best be described as a religious sect. However in place of formal organization, the fear of such has lead to what could best be described as a guerilla organization. Coincidentally this seems to mimic the success tribalism is having dealing with large world powers - it decentralizes responsibility preventing any sort of consequential accounting. Modern "religion" seems to be re-inventing moral dogmatism under other auspices, couching itself in sacrosanct positions that empower it to define new heresies. Fundamentally, has anything except the structure really changed?
John Ralston Saul, perhaps expressed similar ideas in his 1992 book Voltaire's Bastards. However his concern is that our modern faith in reason has left us blind to issues surrounding it's use.
One thing is clear: despite successive redefinitions by philosophers, the popular understanding and expectations have remained virtually unchanged. This stability seems to withstand even the real effects of reason when it is applied: to withstand them so effectively that it is difficult to imagine a more stubbornly optimistic concept, except perhaps that of life after death.
What is John Ralston Saul talking about here? Religion? The endless circularity that occurs in philosophy? The ineffectiveness of idealism? Actually, it seems to be about a miscalculation concerning the dogmatic nature of reason.
The original easy conviction that reason was a moral force was gradually converted into a desperate, protective assumption. The twentieth century, which has seen the final victory of pure reason in power, has also seen unprecedented unleashings of violence and of power deformed. It is hard, for example, to avoid noticing that the murder of six million Jews was a perfectly rational act. And yet our civilization has been constructed precisely in order to avoid such conclusions. We carefully - rationally in fact - assign blame for our crimes to the irrational impulse. In this why we merely shut our eyes to the central and fundamental misunderstanding: reason is no more than structure. And structure is most easily controlled by those who feel themselves to be free of the cumbersome weight represented by common sense and humanism. Structure suits best those whose talents lei in manipulation and who have a taste for power in its purer forms.
While many find religion easy to critique because of disappointment in moral absoluteness, I wonder if the world of reason in to which they escape is fundamentally different in anything other than degree? While science certainly leads to true and false answers, believing that life can apply black and white rationality may be quite a leap of faith. Despite it's limitations, is it possible that aspects of religious morality may be functionally equivalent to more progressive attempts at delineating the same?