Friday, 24 January 2014

How Rational Are We?

The Biblical phrase, "Know the truth, and the truth will set you free!" (John 3:24), is a powerful statement against fundamentalism of both secular and religious versions and idolatry. However, inquiry into truth has been opposed in the name of religion. Philosophy has been targeted. New thought has been suspect. Scientists have been persecuted. It means those who claim to represent religion must be questioned and not allowed to abuse the name of religion. Voltaire’s remark "The truths of religion are never so well understood as by those who have lost the power of reasoning." (Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary, 1764) captures the essence of fanaticism. I wonder why we seldom ask ourselves what will be our answer to the question what use we made of reasoning faculty if we reject scientific attitude and philosoiphical orientation in life and seek refuge in authority of faith in domains where one is required to use reason. It has been insightfully remarked that faith can move mountains of absurdity if it ignores the light of reason. One also wonders how we can claim to possess better religion if we can’t argue this position with detractors. And it is only in the court of Reason that all sects or schools or communities must prove their credentials. We can’t say to those who don’t share our belief system that we believe. We are required to argue the case. Or else can’t claim that ours is a better school.
I wonder why we are, generally speaking, averse to use of reason. I am not advocating use of reason in matters transcendental but that are in its purview. Failure to be self critical or use reason has led to disasters in the name of religion. As the physicist Steven Weinberg has observed in Facing Up : Science and Its Cultural Adversaries, "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."
Regarding our failure to be self critical or use reason or refusal to see ourselves in the mirror of objective truth or history, let me quote at length from a scholar whose hearts beats for Muslims and has the courage to show the mirror to his community. Addressing fellow Muslims it is observed:
Before looking around to point fingers at the cause of your problems, first look at the mirror. I do not mean that you should ignore the imperialistic ambitions of other nations and their open or clandestine interferences with the politics, economy and culture of your people. But, you cannot change your condition unless you change yourself. You cannot glorify the invasions, aggressions, massacres, and imperialistic policy of corrupt Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman caliphs in your history and at the same time morally be critical of others for doing the same. Had God given you the same superiority, perhaps you would inflict the earth with more corruption and destruction than your current powerful enemies. You cannot kick them out from your home unless you reform yourself and your home. You cannot demand mercy from others if you do not have mercy on yourself.
We must acknowledge the truth so that the truth will set us free from self-righteousness.
Go check the list of patents issued last year. Check and see how many of them belong to a group, nation, religion you identify with. It should tell you a lot you a lot about your position in a world where information and technological progress is so crucial. Go check the list of prosperous countries. Check see how many of them belong to a group, nation, religion you identify with. Centuries ago, you were a role model for civilization, justice, democracy, and freedom; once you were a pioneer in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and philosophy. Now look around and look at the mirror; who are you? You followed the religious fatwa of a sheikh ul-islam (highest cleric within the Ottoman Empire) who prohibited the use of printing machine from 1455 to 1727 for 272 years, for 100,000 precious days, in a vast land stretching from North Africa to Iran, from today's Turkey to Arabian Peninsula. While Europe indulged in learning God's signs in nature, shared the knowledge via printing machines, and was rewarded by God with renaissance, reform, technology, and prosperity; you devolved and sunk further in your ignorance. While Europeans engaged in philosophical arguments, you recited the holy book no better than a parrot, the book that highlighted the importance of learning, questioning, discovery, and pursuit of knowledge. ... While Europe sought for a better system to save themselves from the tyranny of kings and church, you recited handwritten poems to praise your corrupt kings and idols. No wonder why, your land, your name, your face, your religion is now associated with backwardness, ignorance, oppression, violence, and poverty.
The God of Islam is also called Al-Haqq (The Real). Reality and Truth  are closely related notions. Islamic declaration of Shahdah has been translated as “There is no truth but Truth” and as the Truth is transcendent we are required to be humble, to be critical of claims of truth and move on. Enquiry can’t be stopped. Islam has linked salvation with right use of reason or intelligence. It is an open question how far we have attempted to rightly use reason.

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