The Appeal of Rationalism to Thinking Mind

Nihar Ranjan Acharya

‘Rationalism’  is not speculation – it is utterly practical.  It is not a philosophy – it is very      down-to-earth.  It wants to transform people, not just to stuff their minds with futile, impotent ideas.  All ideas of religions as such are impotent.  They pretend much, but when you go deep into them, you will always find them empty of all reality.  They promise, but they never deliver.  They create beautiful mansions in the air.  They are artists in creating dreams.    And those who become enchanted with those dreams are very unrealistic, because their lives will be wasted.  And by the time they become aware that they have been chasing dreams, it will be too late.  They never come face to face with reality.  And it is only reality that liberates. 

Rationalism is not an “ism” as such.  It is a practical methodology. If you understand its ways, it is going to transmute you from lower animal to higher asking animal.  It is not interested in giving you great ideas.  Its basic emphasis is how to give you a little more awareness.  As you know, an ounce of awareness is far more valuable than the whole Himalayas of philosophy.  An inch of becoming more conscious is far better than travelling thousands of miles in your dreams. Rationalism is more scientific than philosophic – scientific in the sense that the criterion of truth has to be a practical result. 

A rationalist carries all symptoms of a good citizen.  He is one who contributes his best for the well-being of the family, society and the country of which he is an integral part.  He has responsibilities towards his family and the nation.  He is not concerned about his well-being only, but also about the larger good of the society and the country.  Through love, truthfulness, selfless service and hard work, a rationalist hammered out a rich, beautiful and glowing personality, the like of which can be found only in centuries.  A rationalist never promotes blind faith in so-called miracles and other supernatural phenomena and thereby strictly denies the dependency on god men, magicians, tantriks, and other power brokers; curtails freedom of thought and action; subdues intelligence and quest for inquiry; inhibits mental development especially in children and emerging youths.  A rationalist knows that blind faith could destroy people’s health, as happened in Mumbai when gullible people began drinking the dirty sea water; it could destroy people’s wealth, as when precious milk went down the drain in the belief that idols were drinking it; it could even destroy lives, when the gullible sacrifice children’s lives on the advice of so-called god men and tantriks.  If one must believe in miracles, it is best to believe in the miracle of life, in the miracle of the human body, and strive to find ways to bring down child mortality check female infanticide and keep humans away from deadly diseases.  And it is best to believe in the miracle of the universe, and strive to explore the secrets that lie strewn in the great expanse of the universe. 

Several biologists tell us today that we do not know much about the science of the human being in depth.  We are only scratching the surface of this great science, whereas this is the science that Rationalism teaches us.  It is a science; a science of man in depth, dealing with man’s all round growth and all the blessings that follow from that growth.  Hence, it can be studied, controlled, communicated, checked and verified.  That is how the rationalism developed this profound science of man in depth, so that a human being can grow beyond the limitations placed by the so-called religion and so-called religious people. 

Knowledge is to know what you do not know.  And you will never know unless you ask questions.  This is rationalism which teaches us to ask questions so that on the process we will arrive at the truth.  He who does not ask questions is a fool of a lifetime.  I believe that rationalists are the most evolved ‘asking animals’ on this planet.  And being the most evolved species, a rationalist should go for the meaning of any word used in any context, even for the implied meaning of word instead of catching the word alone.   

Throughout history, from the time of Socrates to our modern age brainy individuals have sought answers to the fundamental questions of life.  Rational human beings who are brave and bold are basically investigating, inquiring and science loving individuals.  Socrates of Athens and Bruno of Italy had to die as they tried and asked awkward questions. Socrates was trying to awaken his fellow Athenians who were under the grip of ignorance.  Bruno was trying to open and widen the path of science and in the process the wrong doings of the then Papal Administration exposed. Throughout the ages, rationalists are the brave individuals who reformed various things by asking questions. Rationalists counter superstition, aim to promote an open and just society, endorse scientific method and recognize the importance of human emotions and imaginations.  

Being a rationalist, if I say that the so-called creator ‘god’ is nothing but our creation like a conjurer’s illusion; and like an amnesic conjurer who has forgotten his own sleight of hand, we take the illusion for reality.  When religion says god is omnipotent, there I would like to put a question – could god build a wall so high that he could not jump over it?  If he were omnipotent, he could build such an unjumpable wall.  But by the same token of his omnipotence, he could jump over it.  What the debaters did not see was that both the walls, and its Athletic Builder, were equally figments of their imagination – as was the debate.  The moral problems of god’s existence centre around the question: if a benevolent and all-powerful god exists, why does he allow bad things to happen to good people?  The answer often provided is that it’s all part of a divine plan which we can’t see and therefore can’t understand.  This makes god sound like a Big Brother who works strictly on a need-to-know basis while manipulating our minds and actions.  Here, Periyar’s slogan needs to be addressed: Forget God; Think of Humanity. 

Science has triumphed over so many things and human being can be invisible, thereby diminishing god’s kingdom.  A recent breakthrough has kindled hopes of fusing fact with fiction in times to come.  Scientists at the University of Berkeley in California, USA announced that they were very close to developing materials that could render people invisible.  The team led by Xiang Zhang has come out with a material that can control the direction of travel of visible light.  It can bend itself around objects, thus hiding them from view.  A cloak made from such material could render anything from people to large objects like ships and tanks invisible.  The startling find has caught the fancy of the old and young alike. 

We see objects because they scatter the light that strikes them, reflecting some of it back to the eye.  But the wonder material, also know as ‘meta-material’, curves light waves completely around the object like a river flowing around a rock.  An observer looking at the cloaked object would then see light from behind it – making it seem to disappear.  The object would not even cast a shadow. 

So, the technology is promising and breakthrough is breathtaking, but what about its applications?  Apart from the very obvious military applications what, if any, real-life applications of an invisibility cloak one could think of.  Perhaps an invisibility cloak on all the dirt and muck around us would make our lives so beautiful.  The slum just facing our posh colony or the stinking potholes on the roads, the idols that are dominating, neglecting human lives could be easily taken care of.  Poverty, pollution, corruption, illiteracy, the concept of god – all gone the moment we drape an invisibility cloak around them. 

Today, we have a society where, in spite of all the gadgets of civilizations, there are so many human problems and, above all, the threat of nuclear war and civil violence.  The hand that rocks a cradle and the hand that throws a bomb and kills a whole family – in both you can see the same hand; but it is rationalism which teaches us how to change this hand to that hand?  I often quote Bertrand Russell in this connection.  He was an agnostic, not a man of religion, but seeing the post-war situation, he says in his book entitled Impact of Science on Society: ‘Unless man increases in wisdom as much as knowledge, increase of knowledge will be increase of sorrow.’  A rationalist should adopt this teaching of Russell and practice being more loving.  To practice being more loving, create a love account.  Each day, make a few deposits in this very reserve by doing something small to add joy to the life of someone around you.  The means to gain happiness is to throw out for oneself like a spider in all directions an adhesive web of love, and to catch in all that comes. 

I would love to end with Periyar’s words: Rationalist that I am, I have no attachment what so ever to god, religion, literature or language.  I shall talk only of that which is acceptable to intelligence, that which does well to the people and that which enlightens them.