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The Absence of Reason

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Message Charles Sullivan
Former vice president Al Gore has published a new book called, “The Assault on Reason.” I have not read the book, but the title, like Gore’s documentary film title about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth”, is compelling. I have never been a supporter of Gore’s Plutocratic politics, but the titles he has chosen for some of his projects are excellent.

The reason I find the title of Gore’s latest book so compelling is that I have had extensive encounters with the assault on reason. Like many of you, I encounter it daily and am often exasperated by it. Were the results of these encounters not so tragic, they might be seen as comical.

I earn a modest living by working in a small wood shop specializing in architectural radial millwork. The owner, like most of the employees, considers himself a devout Christian. He is convinced that he is doing the will of his God. My coworkers are good people, but they are sadly misinformed about the world in general, and things political in particular. They have subscribed to the mythos that the United States can do no wrong, and that the actions of the government in the Middle East, and elsewhere, are not only justified, but sanctified by god. That is the thinking behind manifest destiny.

How so many intelligent people could arrive at such an erroneous conclusion is not as mystifying as it might appear. It is the result of an assault on reason that is sweeping the nation and actively promoting ignorance and superstition in place of rational and ethical thought.

The prevailing view among my coworkers is that science and reason are shams because they undermine Christian orthodoxy, and thus contradict their belief system. For them, this makes science and reason not only anti-Christian, but the enemy of faith. By exposing the fallacy behind religious dogma, science and reason diminish the power of the religious hierarchy to exercise control over the lives of the faithful multitudes. Increasingly, however, critical self examination is being censored by the authoritarians in control of the government.

The religious right has used Christian orthodoxy to infiltrate our public schools and to obliterate the separation of church and state. The halls of congress are teeming with born again Christians with activist agendas, as are the courts. Politicized Christians are abolishing science and reason and replacing them with religious dogma and superstition. Once again history is repeating itself because we have failed to grasp its lessons.

Some of my co-workers believe that the earth is little more than two thousand years old, despite convincing evidence to the contrary. There are trees in North America with annual growth rings that go thousands of years beyond that. The earth, according to the best empirical data, is thought to be about 4.5 billion years old. I share that belief—based upon extensive, scientifically tested, peer reviewed evidence. I am willing to change my mind about this if more compelling evidence comes to light. Only the fossil record is written in stone.

The acquisition of knowledge is an incremental evolutionary process that is formed layer upon layer, through generations of human encounters with nature. That process must always be open to change and critical self examination. Otherwise, it serves no useful purpose, other than to concentrate power and privilege and to control the population for nefarious purposes.

Knowledge is liberation. Dogma is enslavement.

One must examine the evidence, listen to the arguments, and give them due consideration; and follow where the evidence leads, even if it contradicts what one wants to believe. That is the difference between religious dogma and sound science derived from reasoned thought. This, I believe, is the point of Mr. Gore’s book.

The religious right’s coordinated assault on reason has paved the way for the onslaught of the new dark ages. It laid the ground work for America to become what she is today, with still more horrible things to come—unless we awaken and rise up in powerful, unified opposition.

Centuries ago Ptolemy subscribed to the belief that the earth was at the center of the universe. During the age of Ptolemy the religious orthodoxy believed that man was a ‘special’ creation—a direct descendant from god—that existed on a plain above the so called ‘lower’ animals. This was the view held by the all powerful church, and it was about as malleable as a piece of granite. Religious doctrine was also civil law, which accrued power and privilege to the religious hierarchy.

Those who opposed official church doctrine based upon incontrovertible evidence to the contrary—men like Galileo and Copernicus, were treated as heretics and severely punished. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for contradicting widely accepted religious doctrine.

Ultimately, however, the heretics proved to be right and the church wrong. Thus humankind progressed in its understanding of the cosmos by the persistent efforts of a small number of dissidents and truth seekers. It has always been so.

The inability or refusal to reason, to seek truth and understanding, inevitably leads to intolerance and intellectual torpidity. We see the tragic consequences of this all around us. Ignorance and superstition are replacing knowledge and reason as the dominant cultural paradigm. Since reason and logic have no effect on the adherents of dogma, encountering it is akin to running into a brick wall many feet thick. There is no getting through to the other side.

Occasionally, conversation at the shop centers on politics and the moral justification for the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The justification for the invasion: the Iraqis attacked us when they flew those air liners into the Word Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. I have pointed out that the Iraqis were not involved in those actions, but there is good evidence that the government was.

The men with whom I had this discussion were utterly stunned, even flabbergasted by this assertion. It was as if I had renounced their god and was, like Bruno, to be burned at the stake as a blasphemer. I offered to cite the evidence and even provide source materials for them to peruse. Neither of them was willing to examine the evidence. Neither would hear any of it. Both men were visibly agitated at the thought that such evidence may actually exist, and that it could be so easily produced. They were afraid to confront the facts, or to be confronted by them. Their entire belief system was at risk.

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Charles Sullivan is a photographer, social activist and free lance writer residing in the hinterland of West Virgina.
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