In large part, the definition of ‘rationalism’ varies from source to source. Though, the fairest definition can be drawn from Pope Leo XIII in his 1888 encyclical ‘On the Nature of True Liberty’, where he held rationalism to be belief in “the supremacy of human reason.” A close corollary of this view is that reality itself is “confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that appear, and in the manner in which they appear: it (reason) has neither the right nor the power to overstep these limits” (my emphasis). Further, if human reason is supreme, anything which cannot be entirely understood through our reasoning faculties must be dismissed.
On first instance (at least for myself), rationalism is an alluring concept. It is true that humans are rational creatures who should live according to both reason and reality; not on a blind faith, misguided prejudice, or baseless hope.
To clarify the matter, the problem with rationalism is not that it holds a proper regard for human reason. Rather, the problem is that rationalism unduly extols human reason, holding it to necessarily and limitlessly result in the discovery of more advanced truths–when this is clearly not the case.
Consider. The French Revolution, which inaugurated the current liberal era, justified its endeavours (or some would say crimes) in the name of human reason. To labour this point and to prove whom they served, the revolutionaries installed a ‘Goddess of Reason’ in the Notre Dame Cathedral:
The early proponents of rationalism, beyond a shadow of doubt, have fulfilled the objectives they once set out to achieve. Liberalism is our state ideology; secularism is ubiquitous; the population is literate; people generally only trust in and live for phenomena.
Those key metrics being fulfilled, however, they have not led to the intellectual and open-minded society once vouched for. In fact, people are more docile, superstitious, averse to independent thinking and most strikingly, servile to arbitrary authority than ever before.
As of 2021, this hideous submission to untruths has reached its peak in common responses to the coronavirus vaccines. In objective terms, it is becoming clear that:
- The coronavirus vaccines do not reduce adverse health outcomes caused by the virus, be it transmission or death.
- The vaccines are visiting serious injuries and death on previously healthy recipients.
- Higher national levels of vaccination are correlated with a rise in cases and new ‘strains’.
Notwithstanding the above, it is still being fervently urged that we “get the jab”–and many have acquiesced, 10 million Australians so far. In the words of David Solway from Lifesite News, such people
Are not governed by reason but by a species of magical thinking, a kind of voodoo conviction. Despite whatever inner tremors they feel or doubts they may have struggled to suppress, they insist on the soundness of the vaccines and rush to the inoculation booths. These confections are like magical elixirs, bunches of dill or lavender laid at the door to keep out demonic beings, or talismans affixed to the lintel to ward off the angel of contagion.
Our society, continues Solway, is increasingly beholden to “proclaimed opinions that are ephemeral or manifestly not sensible,” with faith now being placed in “shamans and medical men.”
By now, 232 years after the French Revolution, it is clear that unaided human reason is not going to usher in a promised new age of enlightenment, curiosity, and human learning. Instead, having rejected the possibility of objective truth and the source of it–God, because His infinite mysteries could not be fully grasped by the finite bounds of human reason–rationalism is moving our society ever closer towards a “bottomless pit” (Apoc 9:2).
Such would appear to be the end point for a society predicated on rationalism. This being so, much more than unaided human reason shall be necessary to reconstitute an orderly, functional, and intelligent society.