Saturday, May 19, 2012

The end of the Religion of Reason?

The Religion of Reason was going to collapse, but not from the critiques laying siege to it from the outside. No, it's very foundations where crumbling and would eventually cause it to collapse. Even though it collapsed, it was not left in ruins. It would be re-built and look strikingly similar to what it was. However, in the 18th century, there were a few reasons for it's breakdown.

  1. The first problem with the Religion of Reason was that it was abstract. The Religion was "devoid....(of an) aesthetic sense which, even though unarticulated, is required of any religious faith that expects a wide appeal." (Modern Christian Thought, Livingston, pg. 40) In short, it had no beauty nor room for it. Everything in the Religion of Reason could be stripped down to logical premises that lead to a conclusion. Reason is stark, and a religion founded upon such starkness appears to be dark and uninspiring. This lack of beauty led to the second problem. 
  2.  With this first problem, the Religion of Reason was devoid feeling. Due to the focus on Reason, feelings had to be done away with. For feelings led to biases, errors, and prejudices. In short, feelings are antithetical to Reason. At the same time, feelings are part of a holistic life, and most were not comfortable without such an unfeeling and unmoving religious focus. 
  3. The Religion of Reason was a religion of the philosophers. One had to be an intellectual and read the right philosophies to understand it. This made the adherents a small group of educated men that seemed out of touch with the populace. There was no room for non-experts or laity. This then discouraged the masses from latching on.
  4. The Religion of Reason lacked unity.  If everything was dependent on the autonomous thinker, then there could be no sense of unity. Livingston states that it "did not contribute to fraternité, to a sense of a common bond of faith and worship." (pg. 40) There was no need to gather together, to fellowship, to feel apart of a brotherhood in the Religion of Reason. Whether correct or not, most people feel that this sense of belonging to a group bigger than yourself is a cornerstone of religion.
According to the Genevan thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau, "Religious faith is sterile and prefunctory unless it is grounded in personal experience." (pg. 41) This is how the Religion of Reason came off to people. The Religion of Reason was grounded in abstract thought, not practical life, thus causing people to distrust it. This leads to a founding of a 'new' religious attitude, that of experience. Experience, not Reason, will be taken to be the key for religious understanding.

This is what we will examine in our next post.

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