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A WAR WITH NO END: Reason Vs Religion!

Religion versus reason. Religionists versus secularists. Faith versus skepticism! Take your pick! Can such a contest be sustained? And if that's so then what's the purpose and what's the best way to pursue it?

A debate by definition is political in nature. And, it will suffer in clarity if the participants don't offer, in advance, their stands. In a contest such as the one going on these days, it'll also be fruitful if the purpose(s), if there are any, were stated so readers may judge the adequacy of the strategy followed to achieve it.

But, here, we're not talking about a "debate," rather a controversy or more precisely a confrontation. For debate presumes there's a shared something or other between the debaters. This something can be values, framework, worldview, method, etc. Also, a motive for the debate. A purpose. Where the debaters line themselves up as pro or against. I don't see where the disputants meet these criteria. Rather, they're poles apart. Each throwing whatever s/he got at the other side across the barricade! An informative exchange? Not if each side keeps beating on his/her own drum and hum a different tune.

Even if all the premises of a debate have been met and all cautions were taken, an exchange across an empty void is bound to lead to a confrontation. And, a confrontation within religion is bound to be a truly the classical "dialogue of the deaf," since each side, sees him/herself as a holder to a truth which the other doesn't recognize as such, is, of course, committed to stick to his/her guns, so to speak, to the end. The irony both maybe right and both wrong at the same time! How this could be?

A faith can be characterized by many things and in different ways: A doctrine, a set of tenets and principles, etc., and, by definition, is a dogma. A dogma as the dictionary defines it: "Something held as an established opinion; esp: a definite authoritative tenet." [Or], "A doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed." Only by accepting the premises of faith, that's, believe, without question, can the disparate and sometimes contradictory pronouncements be seen as forming a coherent body of something or other. Based in revelation and rooted in history, faith, as such, never accepted the political notion of compromise, that's to pay attention to popular whims or to subject its dictates to a publicity contest. It claims to be an anchor, the brakes, so to speak, in a world swirling around at the speed of sound (the word) and now the Internet.

Reason! That beautiful fruit of the human struggle to survive and prosper, is, all the good things short of dogma. Actually in real fact one could argue reason is the opposite of dogma, of course, not to the true or strict believers! As it's defined by the dictionary, among other things: "The power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking esp. in orderly rational ways." Notice it contains all the juices that make the world tick: comprehending, inferring, thinking, but above all, in orderly rational ways. Has anyone ever heard of when the dogma met with orderly rational ways? If there's any among the audience, let him/her speak their mind.

If religionists are, the dogmatics and rationalist the secular; and, the twain shall never meet! The twain diverges and parts company, minds you, not in matters of their personal faiths, but rather in and on the role of religion in public life. The dogmatists insist that faith is everything and God is the only thing. Secularists counter the argument that humans are everything and life is the only thing. Thus religionists insist that their faith is wholistic and total and, therefore, should extend its hegemony -dominate- over everything it encounters including humans and their culture. On the other side secularists contend, that life is much bigger than to be contained by one category, even if we accept the origination of the category, though within human imagination, was beyond human creation; the world is too complex to be comprehended by a priori notions of metaphysical speculations. And so on and so forth.

The result religionists insist in chaining humans to the only truths they know, while secularists want to let human imagination roam free without any obstacles or preconceived notions. The one wants religion to dominate the state; the other wants religion to step aside of public domain and turn to where it belongs, private; and be, as any other human endeavor, only one among the streams which feed the big river of life: Culture.

In light of these facts, it's evident that any confrontation within religion is futile and doomed to failure. Religion is what it is for those who accepted to live under its umbrella. It has the right to define itself whichever way it deems adequate as long as it doesn't use the state to enforce its dictates.

In the same vein, secularists have the right to demand from religion to take off its hands from suffocating them to death, to give up this life for the sake of the otherworldly one! It boils down to the unavoidable scenario: The boundaries, between public and private lives, have to be redrawn. A new compact, a new covenant, if you will: The state is for all, religion for those who follows it. No coercion, no interference.

If that's the case the debate has to be redirected. Instead of sparring whether the Prophet did this or that; or, Omar was right on so and so or Ali was wrong on such and such; or, this Hadith was authenticated while the other one was not -leave these byzantine questions for the bookworms of al-Azhar and the other lovers of the "yellow books"! The exchange should be about how to disengage religion from its hegemonic role over culture in general. How to divorce the state from religion and let each goes its own way and gets a life on its own? The gist of the whole matter is again: How to implement the project of modernity without emptying it of its contents? Etcetera, etcetera, etc. Have a good one.

Ghoma


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