Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ignorance and Reason in Religion and Politics

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.  So it was for a man who reportedly walked away from a missionary who told him he would go to hell if he didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his savior, but that those who did not know about Jesus would not be condemned.

Religion is based on ignorance, but not ignorance in a pejorative sense.  Religion defines truths not yet illuminated by actual knowledge and reason in order to give believers a sense of spiritual security in faith.  The Enlightenment of the 18th century transformed both politics and religion in the West with advances in knowledge and reason that dispelled much ignorance and gave birth to the libertarian ideals of democracy, human rights and the secular rule of law.

The Enlightenment liberated progressive religions, but it also created reactionary fundamentalist religions that rejected new knowledge and reason as a threat to the truth of their ancient holy scriptures.  Fundamentalists use deductive logic with their holy scriptures as the sole source of God’s truth.  Progressives use deductive logic in mystical matters, but they give precedence to advances in knowledge and reason when in conflict with ancient religious truths.

The recent election of Donald Trump was made possible by evangelical Christians who must have been blissfully ignorant of the teachings of Jesus.  It is supremely ironic that so many white Christians abandoned the altruistic teachings of Jesus and reason to support a man who is the antithesis of Christian morality.  The Christian religion can be ridiculous when it rejects knowledge and reason and ignores the moral stewardship of democracy.

Christianity is not the only religion that can be ridiculous.  While Christians in America have substituted self-centered gospels for the altruistic gospel of Jesus and use religious freedom to discriminate against those they consider sinners, Muslims in Islamic nations continue to deny the fundamental freedoms of religion and speech with apostasy and blasphemy laws, and discriminate against women and non-Muslims under the dictates of ancient Islamic law (shari’a). 

Religion continues to be a powerful force in America and throughout the world.  The inexorable effects of globalization have increased religious diversity, and competitive religions have resisted a politics of reconciliation.  Religions must become less exclusivist and competitive and more tolerant and cooperative to coexist and promote peace in a globalized world.

The challenge for religions today is to balance individual rights with providing for the common good in politics.  Ancient religions provided for the common good with authoritarian laws that denied individual rights.  In a world of increasing religious diversity and libertarian values, religions must define their religious rules as voluntary moral standards of legitimacy rather than obligatory standards of law that preclude individual freedom.

Ignorance is not bliss when it denies knowledge and reason.  Jesus taught love over law and the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors as we love ourselves.  It is a common word of faith for Jews Christians and Muslims alike that can dispel the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge, reason and love for others.

Notes and commentary on related topics:

"Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." is from Thomas Gray's poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College (1742).  See

On the greatest commandment as a common word of faith, see

On love over law: a principle at the heart of legitimacy, see

On Jesus meets Muhammad: Is there a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims today? see

On God and country: conflicting concepts of sovereignty, see

On Jesus: a prophet, God’s only son, or the Logos, see

On balancing individual rights with providing for the common good, see

On how religious fundamentalism and secularism shape politics and human rights, see

On legitimacy as a context and paradigm to resolve religious conflict, see

On the future of religion: in decline and growing, see

On religious fundamentalism and a politics of reconciliation, see

On religion and a politics of reconciliation based on shared values, see

On irreconcilable differences and the demise of democracy, see

On religion and reason redux: religion is ridiculous and corrupts our politics, see

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