My post earlier today on end times theology and the doctrine of the trinity was meant as a playful jeu d'esprit. [I know, I know. In a world inundated with twittering and Facebook hookups, theology hardly qualifies as playful, but keep in mind that I am a seventy-five year old philosopher. We have a pretty low standard of humor in that profession.] As the day wears
on, however, I find myself more and more oppressed by my awareness of the resurgence of superstition around the world.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. Ever since the eighteenth century, a broad spectrum of thinkers have attacked the accumulated superstition of past ages, arguing instead for the supremacy of reason, of science, of simple common sense. Marx celebrated capitalism as the most revolutionary force the world had ever seen, confidently predicting that its expansion would dissolve national, racial, ethnic, and religious parochialisms. This same fundamentally optimistic point of view was shared by so varied an assortment of thinkers as Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Sigmund Freud.
As I grew up, the rationalist vision of a secular world became so deeply embedded in my mind that I could no more imagine its demise than I could imagine a world in which the laws of physics ceased to operate. And for a long while, it seemed that Marx and company were right. Certainly in the rest of the capitalist world, church attendance declined, science was in the ascendant, and superstition was confined to fairy tales and benighted backwaters.
But here we are in a world gone mad with anti-rationalism. I am not speaking of armed conflict, or even of unspeakable holocausts -- both of which have been as much abetted as opposed by the forces of reason. It is the pervasive corrosion of simple rationality that I find especially depressing. I have in mind the prevalance of the denial of the manifest truths of evolutionary biology, the embrace of religiosity in every corner of the public world, the self-denial of the evidence of the senses. Militant Christianity, militant Islam, militant Judaism, militant Hinduism -- there is no end to the varieties of unreason that have taken hold of large portions of the world's population.
When I was young, I thought that I could rely upon the forces of modernization to sap the strength from every form of parochial irrationality. But in my dotage [as I am coming to think of it], I am forced to acknowledge that perhaps the triumph of reason was merely a passing phase in the historical unfolding of unreason. How the shade of Hegel must be weeping.