On this day in 1793, the Cult of Reason was proclaimed by the French National Convention. The idea was to get rid of the Catholic Church and replace it with the idea of perfecting humanity through the use of human reason. I applaud that goal. But this was the idea at the very being of the Reign of Terror. So all this business of being driven by reason and the search for truth and liberty didn’t work out that well.
I don’t bring this up to put down reason. I love reason. But reason is just as likely to turn into dogma as religion is. Far too many atheists think that if we just got rid of religion, then the world would be peaceful. This is even more fantastic a notion than that when we die we go to heaven where we live in paradise until the end of time.
The biggest problem with people who fetishize reason (and many people do just that) is that they think that other people aren’t being rational in their own way. I discussed this in an article earlier this year, Pascal’s Wager in Modern America. Religious people think they are being rational. I find their thinking simplistic, but I also find most atheists’ thinking simplistic.
Being “guided by reason and evidence” is a sham. People don’t do that. They are deluded. I’m not saying that the Reign of Terror was caused by the Cult of Reason. I’m just saying that they weren’t inconsistent. When people tell me they are guided only by evidence and reason, I always think of people who claim that they aren’t racists and that they treat everyone the same. Such people are either ignorant or lying. The most dangerous thing in the world is to believe that you possess the truth. Both Evangelicals because of their belief in the One True God™ and Sam Harris who believes in Reason and Evidence™ both conclude that we should torture Muslims.
Rationality is a tool that can be helpful in creating a more humane and just society. But it can also be used to create the Reign of Terror or the Third Reich. It isn’t something that automatically leads to utopia.