Since the university actually cancelled everything after noon today, thanks to the latest blast of winter, I’ve had plenty of time to do two things: grade student essays and actually think a bit seriously about what they are writing about. It’s so easy to become robotic with these things. The assignment has them reflecting on the relationship between Religion/Experience and “Atheism/Rationalism” on the other.

Writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, and other “Brights” of the New Atheism movement (as they seem to like to call themselves) seek to oppose Reason and Logic, represented by scientific thinking, with Experience, which they claim is more properly the appeal of religion. The onus is on the religious person to “prove” by reason, logic, and scientific demonstration the existence and validity of their religious experience.

The problem, though, is that Experience is hardly the “opposite” of Reason and Logic, and the last time I checked, science depends on experience to verify proofs and validate theories and hypotheses. Similarly, our western religions, in particular, have depended on reason and logic to articulate religious experience for over 2,000 years. Religious faiths have developed elaborate systems of tightly integrated logic in the forms of theologies, legal systems, and even highly sophisticated worldviews as equally fundamental to their faiths as revelation. (Modern fundamentalism is a nearly perfect case in point here.) To attempt a diametric opposition between Experience and Reason/Logic is disingenuous.

A better “opposite” to rationality is passion. In their extreme forms, rationality makes no room for passion, and passion rejects rationality. It is also in their extreme forms that both the New Atheists and the “Defenders of (the) Faith” use as their weapons in the discourse against each other; one side points to the atrocities in the name of God, while the other side points to eugenics and modern “scientific warfare.” The reality is that neither is sufficient by itself, a point that I don’t often see emphasized. Living passionately at the expense of rationality will result in our destruction; living rationally at the expense of passion will result in the same.

Just think of attempting to regulate your sex life totally on one of these and not on the other. Not good at all.