The Irrationalism of Rationalism

SecularHumanistby Tim Jones6/27/15
What Secular Humanism has Wrought: Throwing the Baby out With the Bath Water  •  Society has evolved to the point where it’s creating problems in order to solve them. We’ve become the society of perpetual discontent and planned obsolescence. The internal contradictions of modernity and its unintended consequences have led to numerous problems, from massive waste to new medical complications to addiction and hedonism where truth is defined by what feels good and where pleasure and having fun have become society’s primary values.

The hedonistic society and the pursuit of pleasure and entertainment has distorted the individual that in turn has led to extreme selfishness, pathological narcissism along with all kinds of self-destructive behavior. As a result, therapeutic and healing industries emerged where behavior is modified through the “science” of psychology and pharmacology to maintain baseline normality. Self-help books line the shelves of book stores and an alphabet soup of recovery groups are offered up to the public to get people back on track who have deviated from modern cultural norms.[pullquote]Consumerism has become the unifying worldview that transcends all political ideologies and religious beliefs that keeps the peace for the most part between all of the competing visions.[/pullquote]
 
The The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is thicker than an auto shop repair manual. And the self, what once was the soul, is now treated like a leaky oil pan that with a little tweaking can be fixed and be like new again, or so goes modern conventional thinking. With truth and morality essentially customized by the individual, it is no wonder that confusion over personal identity and conflict in politics have become societal norms.
 
The Amish seem to best represent what the world might look like had scientism and rationalism from the Enlightenment that ushered in the modern world not taken hold of the Western societies in a way that destroyed any sense of shared values or common worldview. From an article in Mennonite World Review, “Retiring scholar’s mission: solving Amish riddle”, the author identifies how they’ve been able to hold on to their sense of faith and community that is entirely rooted in the Bible without surrendering to modernity and individualism even as their population continues to grow:
 
The Amish negotiate with modernity, Kraybill said. They adapt. They compromise. They tinker with new technologies to make them their own. They “Amishize” things.

But the Amish are not undisciplined accommodators. They accept technologies that don’t threaten their core values. What outsiders perceive as a lack of freedom, the Amish see as liberation from technology’s demands and stresses.

When Kraybill uses the term “negotiate,” he means the Amish will do one of the following with technology: accept it, reject it, or modify it. This process of negotiation enables their growth. How else could a people who reject cars, electricity, computers in the home, and tractors in the field not only survive but thrive in a technological society?

The contemporary vision to possess the temporal has displaced the pre-modern struggle of living for the eternal where power and intelligence are now defined by how much money a person has, identity is defined as “to be is to buy,” and happiness has become an entitlement. Consumerism has become the unifying worldview that transcends all political ideologies and religious beliefs that keeps the peace for the most part between all of the competing visions. Spiritual teleology has been replaced by material teleology, i.e., modern purpose has become the pursuit of things and the ‘good life’ regardless of political ideology or religion (although a big exception could be made for radical Islam). And eschatology no longer entails a vision looking beyond the end of life, but rather a devolution into a repetitive act of ‘buy, discard, repeat.’
 
Ted McAllister writes in Revolt Against Modernity:
“Ontological reduction entails a loss of faith, and without faith humans have no purpose except those that humans provide. The emptiness created by this ontological reduction produces anxiety, which people relieve in a variety of ways — usually by seeking endless diversions.” (page 174)
 
Everything has become mechanized, including the self, reflecting a mechanized and soulless world. T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is a poem he wrote in 1922 following World War I. The much-predicted cataclysm by Dostoyevsky and others is an allegory — not just of the hollowing out, fragmentation and physical destruction of modern times, but of the soul as well. WWI was the first war in history to utilize weapons and tools designed for death and destruction that were the products of the industrial revolution. The world witnessed during World War II the refinement of the new technologies for the purpose of state-sponsored extermination at Auschwitz and Dachau, and for the military objectives of the warring countries, that again led to astronomical numbers of deaths and casualties — over 60 million according to Wikipedia. 
 
An article found on The New Atlantis entitled The Invention of the War Machine describes how science and technology came together to create the first modern war and its immediate successor:
 
“…several trends that were already underway when the war (WWI) began — including industrialization, the commercialization of research laboratories, the professionalization of science, and the belief that science ought to serve some public purpose — came together as never before to meet the urgent demands of the belligerent nations. The American economy became, for the first time, a modern war machine — a science-and-technology-centric industrial model that would come into full force during World War II.”
 
Stalin’s mass collectivization of Russian farmers was supposed to be the rational implementation of Marxist ideology in creating total state command control of agriculture in the name of “public purpose.” The results were tens of millions of deaths. An outstanding book that came out recently, Bloodlands, goes into great detail about both Stalin’s extermination of his own citizens through his collectivization program and Hitler’s own “rational” program of state extermination of Jews and other civilians both before and during the war.
 
What Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche suggested was that with the age of reason and science and the ensuing secularization of society and individualized morality came the death of God. “Nietzsche argued that Christian theism as a belief system had been a moral foundation of the Western world, and that the rejection and collapse of this foundation as a result of modern thinking would naturally cause a rise in nihilism or the lack of values.” (History of Atheism, Wikipedia)
 
And with the death of God, people would know the how to manipulate nature for its own purposes but not the why since there was no longer a shared worldview rooted in universally accepted standards of morality predicated by God. Without God, morality just becomes personal opinion. It was T.S. Eliot who said “If you will not have God, you should pay your respects to Hitler or Stalin.”
 
And McAllister also writes in Revolt Against Modernity:
“When a society relegates morals to the inner sanctum of private choice it has no means of sustaining itself. No society can long last without a purpose to give it meaning and a series of beliefs about proper public ends … Without the support of sanctioned beliefs most people cannot withstand the freedom, they fall easy prey to dictators who provide them what they lack.” (page 65) 
 
Following WWI the world was shocked and stunned at the carnage and destruction it produced, causing many to rethink the secular humanist values that led to such an event. The baby had been thrown out with the bathwater, to use an old cliche, in attempting to create a new world order based on the illusion that humans were now the masters of the world built on the foundations of “enlightened” reason where the myth of progress would rid the world of its pain, suffering and evil. The only conclusion one could can come to looking back at the 20th century when modernity came into its own is that the rational turned out to be not so rational after all.
 

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9 Responses to The Irrationalism of Rationalism

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Geez, Tim. I was stunned when I read this, and I read a lot. You made sense. You tackled the fundamental issues of our time. Your ideas were clear. Your reasoning…well…reasonable. Your thinking bold (not a lot of namby-pamby in this one, folks). Well done. Everyone should read this.

    Mr. Kung has also taken on the general subject in his recent article.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    As T’Pring demonstrated in the Star Trek episode “Amok Time”, pure reason without a moral basis can lead to monstrous results. It depends on the assumptions upon which reason operates.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here are some interesting statistics from this article, Americans Are Most Likely to Base Truth on Feelings:

    Not surprisingly, born again Christians were more likely than non-born again individuals to accept moral absolutes. Among adults, 32% of those who were born again said they believe in moral absolutes, compared to just half as many (15%) among the non-born again contingent. Among teenagers, there was still a 2-to-1 ratio evident, but the numbers were much less impressive: only 9% of born again teens believe in moral absolutes versus 4% of the non-born again teens.”

    Just 32% of born-again Christian believe in moral absolutes? Talk about the rot deep inside the church. Also, “only 9% of born again teens believe in moral absolutes versus 4% of the non-born again teens.” Yikes.

    Here’s also a good article by Dennis Prager: Differences Between Left and Right, Part II: Battling Society vs. Battling Yourself.

    If it is difficult for many conservatives and Christians to wrap themselves around this changing viewpoint, it might be because many share it to a large degree.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s are a couple good quotes from that article which I think is relevant to what Tim is saying:

    These figures were cited by George Barna, whose firm conducted the research, as a major reason underlying the data he released in a controversial recent public presentation about the moral views and behaviors of Christians. In that forum Barna noted that substantial numbers of Christians believe that activities such as abortion, gay sex, sexual fantasies, cohabitation, drunkenness and viewing pornography are morally acceptable. “Without some firm and compelling basis for suggesting that such acts are inappropriate, people are left with philosophies such as ‘if it feels good, do it,’ ‘everyone else is doing it’ or ‘as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it’s permissible.’ In fact, the alarmingly fast decline of moral foundations among our young people has culminated in a one-word worldview: ‘whatever.’ The result is a mentality that esteems pluralism, relativism, tolerance, and diversity without critical reflection of the implications of particular views and actions.”

    And…

    “When a majority of Christian adults, including three out of four born again Baby Busters, as well as three out of four born again teens proudly cast their vote for moral relativism, the Church is in trouble. Continuing to preach more sermons, teach more Sunday school classes and enroll more people in Bible study groups won’t solve the problem since most of these people don’t accept the basis of the principles being taught in those venues.

    What this means, perhaps participants of StubbornThings excepted, is that those “Christians” you meet out there, online, on Facebook, or wherever — the ones who so dislike Obama and a lot of stuff that is happening — are most likely part of the problem. When three out of four born-again Christians are moral relativists (they do not believe in moral absolutes), that’s a problem.

    “Whatever” is the watchword. I even caught my own nephew saying “It’s all good” which is the same thing. It was in reference to a trivial thing, but see how this idea is so easily implanted? It’s not all good. Some things are definitely not good.

    I’ve often snarked about how I am one of the true defenders of the faith even though I don’t call myself a Christian. I have explained some of those reasons in the past. And one large reason is that most Christians are marginal Christians, at best. To associate with them is to accomplish what exactly?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That last part isn’t necessarily so remarkable. Elizabeth once described me as an agnostic who was also a Christian conservative (and that, obviously, was before I veered back to deism).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Well, there’s a lot to talk about in what you just said. Agnostic about Christianity in general? Me too. Agnostic about the idea of ultimate truths? Not me, and I doubt that describes you either.

        What Dennis Prager says in his article is highly relevant:

        Conservatives believe that the way to a better world is almost always through moral improvement of the individual — by each person doing battle with his own moral defects . . . The Left, on the other hand, believes that the way to a better world is almost always through doing battle with society’s moral defects (real and/or as perceived by the Left). Thus, in America, the Left defines the good person as the one who fights the sexism, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia and other evils that the Left believes permeate American society.

        We can quibble about whether or not we think Jesus is part of the Trinity. And perhaps we should. But I can’t think of a more basic and major cultural dividing line than what Prager just described. This relates directly to that other article I linked to which, in short, could be summed up in another Dennis Prager phrase: “The Left substitutes feelings for standards.”

        And we can see why the Left is inherently collectivist. There are no moral absolutes. Everything is a function of what others believe. It’s highly situational and flexible. (And having “flexible morality” has never been a particularly nice thing to say about someone.)

        These two different mindsets are diametrically opposed and cannot be reconciled. This is not just a split between “liberal” and “conservative.” This is a split between morality, tempered by reason and wisdom, with a view that man is capable of making good moral choices, and ought to vs. the hell of a relativistic Orwellian society where the human being himself is but a pawn, incapable of making moral choices (for when everything is relative, little is left but opinion), and thus his life is not what he defines it as but what others (aka “consensus”) define it as. As soon as you give up absolutes, you give up the right to say “You ought not to do that to me.”

        If Jews can’t get on board with this, shame on them. If Catholics can’t get on board with this, they have then relinquished any legitimate hold they think they have regarding being the sanctioned Church. And if Protestants or any normal American can’t get on board with this, then they have no choice but to be trapped in this cultural wash that will drag them to places they never planned to go.

  5. Rosalys says:

    “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
    Matthew 7:21-23

    This is why I don’t get upset every time the headlines scream, “The Number of Americans Calling Themselves Christians Has Gone Down 10%!!!!! Again!!!!” It is only the number of those who call themselves Christian. Anyone can call themselves anything. You can call yourself a ham sandwich – it doesn’t make you a ham sandwich. Bruce can mutilate his body and call himself Caitlyn – it doesn’t make him a woman. You can call yourself a Christian, but the Lord knows His own.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Personally, I think Bruce is closer to being a ham sandwich than a woman. 😀

    • Timothy Lane says:

      These days, if Jenner thought he was a ham sandwich, liberals would proclaim him edible. Of course, ultimately they plan to consume us all.

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