Does religion obstruct rational discussion?

Reply to an Event Invitation from the University of the Philippines’ Philosophy Community in its founding anniversary with the theme Catch-22


Henceforth, I am clarifying my initial positions and why I think mine would complement the argument that religion does not obstruct rational discussion.

First, my concept of religion is secular. In fact all religions are secular. The conditions under which religion becomes possible are those ‘of the world’. All religions have the tendency to claim that they secure ontological warranty from a certain dimension of transcendence, hence, otherworldly, but that only matters as an ‘effect’ of a more immanent kind of operation. It is what religion denies, and it is an efficient form of denial, one that sustains the otherworldly claim of religion. This may also be explained in terms of Badiou’s axiomatic concept of decision, something to the effect of claiming that the ‘world’ becomes a world after some radical form of decision is made, namely, a decision to invent on the side of the void. As soon as a decision is forced, the void becomes no more, and everything becomes ‘is’.

In Nietzsche this is described as the necessity of forgetfulness which builds on the usefulness of necessary fiction such as the origin of Man. This is what religion goes through, except that it denies this radical form of operation that is essential to its creation in the first place. We can also marshal the theory of quantum mechanics to explain this–reality emerges as soon as it is observed. Something real emerges when an efficient form of observation disturbs reality’s taken for granted structures. The inverse of this would be something like–there is no reality to begin with in the absence of a human observer. Let it be noted here that observation is not passive. In quantum mechanics all observations are efficient as well as active in the extent to which it directs reality to behave in a unilateral direction dictated by the human gaze. Kierkegaard would not hesitate to describe this as a leap of faith, a radical decision on the part of the human to proceed from herself in the absence of a pre-subjective reality to begin with. It is also in this sense that reality is subjective, what Zizek would rather condense into a parallax conception of reality, the so-called subject-in-the-Real. In short, there is no reality other than that which the subject donates to an absent meaning, or denotes from an empty structure of existence.

From axioms to quantum theory, to the existential theology of Kierkegaard and to Zizek’s parallax, it becomes understandable now that religion underlies all structures of human decision. But it is a religion that is immanent, subjective and radically finite. Any decision that makes a claim on the side of the Real when there is no ‘real’ to begin with is religious in the ontological sense. This therefore makes us–we humans capable of enfolding a radical outside devoid of meaning into a workable sense of reality–religious. We must also take note that the very decision to enfold a nonsense into a sense that works, a theory, a hypothesis, even a belief (as it too makes a claim on the side of the Real) is rational, but rational only insofar as we have taken it upon ourselves that human history ought to begin with reason (the Greeks called it the Logos). Nonetheless, as I hope I have made it clear, this rationality is nothing rational (to paraphrase Heidegger’s famous saying that technology is nothing technological). What lies at the root of this decision is in fact opposite to reason precisely because one decides on the side of the Real with no reference to begin with other than one’s very decision, a nihilism, so to speak. We can also understand now what provokes Nietzsche to declare that God is dead. Indeed, God is dead as soon as reason’s core is exposed to be ontologically irrational. It is reason that made God possible through the historical forcing of the indiscernible from the Greek Logos, to Aristotle’s uncaused cause, to Plotinus’s One, to Christianity’s God, and to Capitalism’s rule of Money. Wherever reason lays its hands on it is always with certainty that its consequences are irrational (perhaps, another way to put it).

Even science is a religion of sort, but only to an ontological degree in terms of forcing a decision on the side of the Real. Of course scientific discoveries are not religious in the commonsense realism of the term but the condition of possibility for these discoveries to be made has to depend on a point of origin that must be forced, or what we have previously mentioned, something like the ‘forcing of the indiscernible’. This is demonstrable in terms of set-theory (which Badiou extended in his work Being and Event). No wonder why Badiou, the atheist that he is, elects Saint Paul as his hero. Saint Paul as the arch-atheist, the truth of the matter, by having demonstrated that reality could be forced to ex-ist (the vector is towards the outside, the external that makes ‘whatness’ possible, ist).

Even the political is also religious. Especially the political as it involves a radical forcing of the indiscernible, forcing reality to behave according to a prescription, a formula, an agenda. The same principle is at work in the practice of art: as Heidegger would say, art brings forth truth but only to the extent that truth lies in the bringing-forth not in the end result. In other words truth is an act, not a result. Finally, as Badiou would have it, this goes for our everyday existence in which our decisions are almost certainly defined by our ‘more than rational’ comportment (erotic or the activity of everyday jouissance, love, in short) towards the Real. Every day we exceed the Real. What else can this explain other than the fact the Real is not independent of our decisions.

Having said all these, I wonder now how religion becomes an obstruction to rational discussion. If we take the Church to be the representative of religion, I have only to repeat my previous claim by way of expressing it that the Church is an instance of the political. Have we any doubt that the Church is strictly a political if not an economic body?

It is clear where I stand, as I hope I have clearly illustrated: Religion is nothing religious. It is its very non-religious nature that allows reason to proliferate. What is reason, then, for me? It is nothing less than a decision to justify human existence against the background of an empty meaning. The Church, as a political decision, is only one instance of that justification, right or wrong.

For these, I have reasons to agree with the argument that religion does not obstruct rational discussion. I hope you can see my point here. You are hoping to find an affirmative speaker relative to the proposition “Does religion obstruct rational discussion?” I am afraid that speaker is not me. My atheism, if anything, is not directed against religion in the commonsense realism of the term, but rather towards the objective void called the Real.


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