Reclaiming the Irrational from the Religious

Medium_bebergal Peter Bebergal makes his case over at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies:

The rational, and quite reasonable, skepticism regarding religious belief is also in its way discouraging. As we try to imagine a human culture that is devoid of religion, we are also envisioning a human culture that is devoid of something essential to the preservation of the very culture we hope to prolong. That essential something is the irrational.

As a skeptic and rationalist myself, I am often embarrassed to have to admit that I spend considerable time cultivating those irrational aspects of myself, aspects that might look on the outside very much like religion. But this cultivation has revealed to me that what we call religion these days is just as responsible for putting the kibosh on the irrational as is the rationalists and empiricists in our midst. Both rationalists and the religious see religion as what Tim Dean in his recent post featured here calls “prescriptive,” unable to ask “why” as deeply as science. Faith trumps why, the religious might say, and whatever I cannot glean from holy texts I will chalk up to God and all his works as a mystery to behold. (Sadly and disappointingly the final episode of Battlestar Galactica opted for this very solution. It seems fiction is often more likely to find a God in the machine than even the most evangelical religious believers.)

The kind of religion that Dean finds problematic is not irrational at all, however. For the believer, the human personhood of the embryo is wholly rational, resting on the immutable, divine law. This kind of spiritual belief is only one small aspect of the religious imagination, a broad palette that at its root is not rational, and should not be critiqued with the same tools we use to judge those who believe in creationism and saddle-wearing triceratops. We cannot lump convictions about personhood with mythological cosmogonies.

Truth is, I blame religion for this confusion.