The Modern Prometheus: The Theft of Reason
This last January, I listened to the 1959 interview of Ayn Rand by Mike Wallace, and as it happened that but a few days later I listened to an interview by the Hoover Institute’s Uncommon Knowledge with journalist Douglas Murray, historian Tom Holland, and scientist Stephen Meyer, on the subject of whether or not God “exists”— the words of Rand and the humanism of Murray and Holland turned my thoughts over to our capacity for reason, and then to what appeared the peculiar way it is regarded by our modern intellectuals. It came to appear to me that in many, if not most, of the great conversations of our era, reason is regarded— or, revered— as the lifeblood of all philosophical endeavors, and one of the paramount traits, if not the paramount trait, of a good man— for by his use of Reason he comes to realize what is good, and, by all that weighs against the perverse, he is impelled, even if he does not naturally incline, towards doing what is right.
It is often the case, especially nowadays, that when an intellectual takes to defending Reason as the pathway to truth, there are no conclusions drawn, and no such effort made. Perhaps it is because he is afraid to bring Reason into question by coming to conclusions different from even those with whom he shares a stage. If it be not mentioned in passing— if Reason is to be held up as the promise of humanity’s salvation— then conclusions must be treated as a private matter, unless one is prepared to call his own rational and all others ridiculous.
Well, whatever may be stowed or declared, it is the case that the scholars of Reason do reason themselves into various beliefs and then act upon them, not infrequently without drawing condemnation from other scholars. The defenders of Reason will argue that few or perhaps no man has yet reasoned deeply and fully enough to come to the complete truth about things, or that still some cling to the irrational and try to rationalize it, or that others out of prejudice throw some bad logic in with their good logic, and thus all come to faulty conclusions, as one doing his math wrong. They may argue that we must stand on the shoulders of others, consulting their reason, as we cannot work all things out in our own lifetime if left alone— and that, for the present, all the truths of the World are still a mystery, being continuously unveiled by those who generation after generation lead the voyage of discovery.
But they will all search in vain; the belief that there is such a great Unveiling occurring across history is but another effect of the peculiar arrogance of the Modern world. They will search in vain for a truth not true of the World but conjured up in their own minds, a personal falsehood for each man, as long as they mean by believing in Reason, that they make use of “their own reason”— that a man possesses, in himself, a reason that is objective, impersonal, and unaffected— at once something entirely his own, and like the voice of God: a revelatory guidance emanating from the soulful depth of the universe— omniscient, and in a sense omnipresent, and even omnificent— but still, a man’s own: it comes not from God. The contradiction there is plain. Reason cannot at once be both; but if you must have it so, then you must reason yourself (and emotion too gets heavily involved here) into believing that we human beings are burgeoning gods— as indeed, some modern spiritualities have worked out. Atheists often seem to think along the same lines: a similar pattern arises in their thought, albeit materialistic. —And by the by, this can lead quite easily, for those who aren’t good at catching their bad math, to “my truth” and “your truth”.
As it appears, when we think we are consulting our own reason, we may well be consulting our own partial knowledge of things and our prejudices and natural inclinations. It must be so, or else the peoples of the world would not be all coming to different conclusions on matters of religion and others so consequential. That others and those who lived centuries before us were not rational men— that there were none or few until the Enlightenment— is a rubbish belief for the historically ignorant. If one studies and reads what our ancestors have handed down to us, they cannot in fairness call them less-evolved, irrational creatures; they must content themselves with calling them wrong. And for a proof from the modern world: if every man’s reason were impersonal, then we would not have so many Protestant denominations as we do, nor so many religious and non-religious sects moreover. These aren’t the remnants of the past: there are ever new spiritualities, new sects, and new philosophies arising.
For one to argue against my point, it must be argued that among us all, only very few truly make use of their reason. But those whom these men must be, as far as I can tell, are indeed very few, and agreements among them are also uncommon. Then again, even if there were more of them and they were more in agreement, I would not be convinced that therefore they must be more reasonable than the rest of us— because I would be prevailed upon to believe it because they say so, and they would prove it by pointing to their conclusions... as the rest of us do.
Now, let us get to the truth and be done with the matter.
It is only by consulting a Reason not our own— that is truly, and alone, the revelatory voice of guidance emanating from the soulful depth of the World— a power other than ourselves, though always near— in other words, the voice of God… that we can be led to higher ground. We may be spoken to through the law written on our hearts, through Nature, through each other, through the Church, or by direct Revelation... but, however God chooses— we must seek to listen, and learn to know when we are, listening for Him— not for the voice of an entity that does not exist: the impersonal phantom named "Reason", over whom in some mysterious sense man has yet dominion.
Man’s reason, rightly understood, is like his ability to pray, to speak, and to reflect: to reason, is to converse with God. Thus we are reasonable to the extent that we listen for God, knowingly or not— and, the other way around.
May 31st, 2023