Friday, February 18, 2011

Rational Human Beings - An Oxymoron?

I find that Father Tim Moyle's blog, "Where the Rubber Hits the Road" provides a good source for things to ponder, particularly things that have a religious bent to them.   What can be telling though are the particular nuances of the comments placed there to some of the articles. 

I find it interesting that links to my own articles that Father Tim has found worth linking at his site receive many comments there, which is an oblique way of commenting to me about what I have written, though the commenters don't usually comment at my blog site.  The same applies usually, I have noticed, to other article links that Father Tim posts.

Recently, Father Tim linked an article from the National Catholic Register about 144 dissident German theologians, who want the Church to stand on its head, and basically deny much of what it has taught about the priesthood, and human sexuality.  However, like most article links that Father Tim posts, the article itself becomes an orphan as commenters wander down a new thread, or two, that might have some relationship to the actual article, but usually doesn't.

But, a particular comment by Martin, a frequent commenter, though not in the league of Small Town Guy for word count or even comment count, caught my eye.  He was responding in this comment thread to Father Michael Smith, a parish priest who formerly taught at St. Peter's Seminary, and is known by Father Tim.  Father Michael was responding in the thread to Lady Janus, and to "Anonymous" or two Anonymi, not sure which, and finally Martin surfaced as he oft times does, with this gem:
. . . you don't have any objective evidence whatsoever in support of your religious propositions. The best you can do is some vague arm waving about subjective experiences you or others have undergone, or mumble about unbroken lines of tradition, or philosophize that no one can prove that your propositions are untrue...but in the end, you have little to nudge the rational mind anywhere nearer to your beliefs.

The bold is mine, because it was the word "rational" that got my attention.

There are interesting definitions of the word Rational available for our cogitation.  Here are relevant ones from
1. agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible: a rational plan for economic development.

2. having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense: a calm and rational negotiator.
3. being in or characterized by full possession of one's reason; sane; lucid: The patient appeared perfectly rational.
4. endowed with the faculty of reason: rational beings.
5. of, pertaining to, or constituting reasoning powers: the rational faculty.
6. proceeding or derived from reason or based on reasoning: a rational explanation.
Rational is just such a reasonable and sensible word.  It conveys so much, or so it seems.

Martin appears to be as rational as any other commenter to that or other of Father Tim's posts, though some of the commenters tend towards bloviating.  So, if I catch the drift of his comment, he is rational, and those who think, in this instance that faith matters, and for those of us particularly of the Catholic faith, the Catholic faith matters, must therefor not be rational, since they/we are unable to convince his rational mind of the merits of their/our beliefs.

Ambrose Bierce started a reference book he called "The Devil's Dictionary" back in about 1881.  In it, he redefines some common English words with a little humour, but also some tongue in cheek sensibility.  Here is how "rational" is defined in The Devil's Dictionary:
RATIONAL, adj. Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.
Now, there's a definition that I can hang my hat on.  Under this definition, Martin is rational.  Under this definition, Father Michael Smith is rational, and also Lady Janus.  Heck, I even qualify.  As for the Anonymous commenter, who did not sign his or her name, bloviating probably is more appropriate than rational.

Human beings are sentient (having the power of sense perception or sensation; conscious) usually, though consciousness is a relative term.  What we are is feeling beings, and those feelings have deep roots, and serious impact on our rationality.  They also cause us to have delusions as to the truth and rationality of things we observe, experience and reflect upon.

Frankly, we do not have to look hard around us to see that "rational human beings" is probably oxymoronic, more than rational.  For me to self define as rational, is a lot like self defining as humble.  For others to observe me as rational, says more about us both being in agreement about what I have come off as so rational about, than it is an observation of my rationality.

In other words, in my humble opinion, rational is a word that cannot be used alone, without being used as a qualifying adjective.  If you want to tell me you are a rational liberal, rational conservative, rational Catholic, rational atheist, rational witch, rational homosexual, at least then I can have a sense of the delusions that motivate you, and we can pretend to be rational together.

I am a rational married Catholic, heterosexual, conservative male, or at least me and the guy in the mirror in the bathroom think so.  I didn't ask My Dear Wife for her opinion on this last statement, in case she might dissent.

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