Sunday, March 12, 2006



If philosophy begins in wonder as Plato tells us, we may say that religion begins in awe. These two sentiments are natural for a creature that finds itself tossed into a world that presses on it on all hands with puzzling apparitions and happenings, often frightful and as often beneficent and comforting. If these two sentiments always kept company and went hand in hand, as they should, wonder would issue in the salubrious quest of understanding, while awe would preserve the wholesome awareness of the unsounded depths beneath and beyond the apparent and ephemeral presentations of the world.

Unfortunately, however, the human mind seems to have an inbuilt proclivity to prefer the simple to the complex. Thus while a section of humans (perhaps always a minority) are moved to follow the promptings of wonder to the exclusion of any attention to the call of the sense of awe, another section (perhaps the vast majority) are overwhelmed by the sense of awe impelling them to embrace unquestioningly any promise of shelter and security. This, as I see it, is the source of the unnatural opposition of reason and faith, resulting in the damaging predicament in which humanity today finds itself, where we are faced with the choice between, on the one hand, adhering to reason in a world of worthless superficialities, and, on the other hand, nominally holding to spirituality and values in a dungeon of superstitious beliefs that perforce turn the spirituality and the values into illusionary shadows.

For a wholesome attitude to life we have to unite the wonder and the awe, to reach a philosophy that acknowledges no arbiter for its declarations but reason and at the same time clearly realizes that against the deceptive appearances and valuations of the world there is a reality for which we have the assurance of our own power of creative understanding and power of selfless love and power of responsive appreciation of beauty. These powers are the outflow of a perfection that the world outside us, in itself and by itself, cannot yield.

Faith and reason have often been represented as incompatible. Frequently also there have been attempts to reconcile them. To resolve the issue we have to be clear as to what we understand by reason and what we understand by faith. Unfortunately, in most of the heated debates revolving around this question, these two basic notions remain hazy and nebulous. We need a clear-headed conception of reason and of faith in which these, far from being incompatible or needing a compromised reconciliation, are seen to be two inseparable dimensions of one and the same condition or reality, which I choose to designate as creative intelligence.

From this point of view the antithesis is not between faith and reason but between faith (properly understood) and superstition and simultaneously between reason and superstition, for faith and reason, properly understood, always go together. Yet unfortunately, much that goes by the name of reason (uncritically equated with science) is at root superstitious; and much that goes by the name of faith (uncritically equated with dogmatic religion) is through and through superstitious. When we purify and clarify our notions, we find that these are two inseparable dimensions of intelligent life.

Faith is an attitude, an orientation, of the whole person to the Whole; an attitude and an orientation that are necessary if life is not to be a vacuous existence, if the person is not to be reduced to a moving zombie. But we are intellectual creatures, and our intellect demands that that orientation be translated into intellectual terms. And then, if we are to preserve our integrity, that intellectual translation must be probed in the fire of reason; must be consumed by that fire and then arise, phoenix-like from the ashes, in literature and art, in myths and metaphysical systems, which claim no actuality.

Rather than debating the apparently antithetical claims of faith and reason, it would be more fruitful to consider the polarity of mysticism and reason. The polarity of mysticism and reason is a vital, dynamic unity; neither pole has its full dunamis in the absence of the other. When separated, reason is empty and lifeless, mysticism nebulous and out of touch with the world. In unison they produce insight and lucidity, the lucidity of a harmonious, coherent vision of reality.

The trouble with humankind is that we are not whole humans; we are fragmented, and one of the reasons for our fragmentation is that our religion is mindless and our philosophy soulless. To regain the wholeness of humanity we need to philosophize our religion and to spiritualize our philosophy.

The French philosophes of the eighteenth century meant to render a much-needed service to humanity when they sought to demolish all dogma and all supersition and establish in their place the reign of reason. It is a sad comment on the state of human culture and human civilization that more than two centuries after their noble efforts victory in the battle is far from being in sight. The failure is partly to be blamed on the Enlightenment thinkers themselves. In their enthusiasm they achieved an overkill. Their followers, equating reason with science, believed that a scientific attitude and a scientific orientation were all that was needed to give direction and meaning to human life. In place of the old established religions of divine revelation we were given the new established religion of scientific dictation. Kant's judicious discrimination between the realm of objective scientific knowledge and the realm of intuition into moral principles and values and metaphysical realities was too much of a weight for an age blown high by the swift wind of dazzling scientific and technological achievements.

Thus while the denudement of religious experience of its theological trappings should have left us with the kernel of pure philosophical insight, scientifically-modeled thinking in its multifarious metamorphoses – empiricism, positivism, phenomenalism, behaviourism –, throwing away the baby with the bath-water, left us with an objectively given world which cannot host value or meaning. There is no wonder then that we should end with Wittgenstein's loss of nerve; for Wittgenstein, having, in deference to his analytic mentors and in defiance to the promptings of his better self, denied himself the living waters of the inward reality, had to confess that the world as objectively given is absurd and insipid.

The German Idealists who came in the wake of Kant, trying to salvage the philosophical kernel, instead of developing the Kantian position, sneaked around it, seeking to restore to pure reason jurisdiction over the objective world. Instead of acknowledging that their majestic systems were mgnificent myths giving imaginative expression to our inner reality, every one of them insisted that his system was the rationally deducible, definitive statement of ultimate truth, a final revelation of ultimate reality! Would that they had read their Plato with understanding!

So we find ourselves at this juncture once again in need of asserting that we must have and can have spirituality without dogma; we must have and can have rationality without drying up the founts of our inner reality.


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