It’s easy to chastise religious ritual as irrational, and perhaps maybe it is. In India, for example, many of the faithful who pull the Juggernaut’s chariots are crushed by the massive wheels of the vehicle. In the Philippines, there are undercurrents of “progressive” atheism that dismiss the Nazareno feast as panata pinned by false hopes. Yet Enlightenment, brought about by the radical changes of the French Revolution, also brought with it something unreasonable: the guillotine.
There are as many reasons not to believe in God as there are reasons to believe in Him. Religion has sinned against humankind in harsher ways that man has sinned against whatever gods he believes in. Yet when the arguments against God result in petty, pseudo-intellectual arguments that rely more on wit than reason, one can’t help but be more averse towards the argument than the premise.
Relativism postulates that what is reasonable to one may not be irrational to the other: that’s precisely the reason why culture and the psychological predispositions of people are so varied and diverse. Recognition and respect, like culture and psyche, are inextricable. Some of us see value in things that others may not understand, or take too much time to understand. People prostrate themselves in front of a juggernaut for things one may see as superstitious and perhaps even stupid. But for them, people who claim the supremacy of reason over religion may lead empty lives, since the meaning of life is found in understanding the meaning of God. It is that relativity that forms reasons. Not one, but myriad.
A caustic, sweeping rejection of religion defeats reason, in my view. It rejects the individual beliefs of people, and the importance of religion to people. It adds unnecessary layers of value-judgments that religion is for ignorance and reason is for knowledge, and religion encumbers while reason frees. There’s a certain freedom enjoyed by religious people that we non-religious types do not enjoy or comprehend, and vice versa. Worse, the caustic and sweeping rejection of religion imputes and explicates that religion is not a social fact, and that society begins only with the rejection of religion. It isn’t: religion is as social as the shoes on my feet, and as social as the interactions we make on Twitter.
Some of the greatest stories of the social universe are made possible by religion. The fabric of storytelling, for example, was woven with the threads of animist beliefs. Some of the greatest discoveries of science were made by the most pious, religious people in history. The world was circumnavigated not only by the understanding of compasses and astrolabes, but the unwavering faith of the navigators in God’s hand to guide them through the storms. It may have become vogue to reject God in the spirit of best-selling authors, but we would have not have come into terms with the way we live if not for the “irrational” and “non-scientific” beliefs that preceded that rejection.
The truth remains that religion should never be the beginning and end of salvation here on earth, and the most reasonable religious people understand and acknowledge the core belief of their staunchest critics: that we are the masters of our own destiny, regardless of our prayers and litanies. Yet to catcall religion and to reject it as the product of weaker minds is to disregard the project of viewing the world as constituted by so many different meanings; those who reject it without the slightest hint of appreciation and wonder are themselves reined in by the terror of their own reason.