Beyond Belief and ... Reason ...

by Audrey Manning

E-mail: [email protected]


Rene Descartes, the French Mathematician and Philosopher coined the words "I think, therefore, I exist!" And in those words can be found the underlying cause for all the conflict and suffering on earth. The phrase, "I think, therefore I exist", carries with it an implicit understanding that humans are the masters of all they survey. Humans think; humans exist. Other forms of life do not think and are inferior by default. The stage is set for humans to spend their time on earth trying to live up to being master. Descartes' idea carries with it an awesome burden.

          Descartes postulated a mind that was separate from, but interacted with, the physical world. According to Descartes, we can accept certain a priori truths. Descartes philosophy starts with the fixed point of innate truths. The existence of God is an a priori truth.

          Descartes was an original thinker and, as a thinker, tried to make rational sense of the world around him. In spite of his brilliance, he did not move very far from the concept that humans are superior to other living creatures. He accepted without question that humans can know 'truth'. Are rational thinkers of the Twenty-first century any different than Descartes?

          It may be easy to believe that humans are superior creatures. Humans have walked in space, landed on the moon and sent space vehicles to Mars. The mechanical functioning of the human body is well understood. Yet, in the area of human relationships there has been no movement over thousands of years and any slight steps forward are followed by one step back. Science and philosophy ask us to be rational, religion admonishes us to love one another; we remain outside this reason and love.

          In spite of all the supposed accomplishments, conflict between races, between religions and between thinkers continues to abound. The cause of conflict is the overwhelming desire to be in control. From the very young to the very old, the need to control is paramount. Whence does this basic desire originate?

          Whatever its origins, some individuals, and generally not recognized thinkers, perceive a need for change, away from the existing power and control model of interactions. In order to change a way of thinking that has been ingrained in the human psyche since time began; the control factor has to be examined in the light of new ways of knowing. Early humans competed for food and the best land in a time when life was a constant struggle against the forces of nature. Competition continues to be a way of life! Is it reasonable to continue to compete in a time when there is enough for everyone and there exists only a management challenge? In this age of plenty, why?

          Rationalists do not believe that babies are born in 'original sin'. Yet, across the board, that black and white, good and evil model educates children, as though the concept of sin is absolute truth. If we believe that a baby is a blank canvas at birth, why do we immediately begin to instill into that child a sense of good and evil? Rationalists are no different from religionists in this regard. Rationalists believe they possess the truth of reason but rarely question the foundation upon which child raising is implemented.

Religion is the foundation upon which societies are based. Religion provides a first justification for thinking that 'my way is the right way'. Rene Descartes, for all his belief in reason, could not step away from his belief in the existence of God. All institutions within a particular society are developed around the tenets of a particular religion. Religion ensures that no matter that some people in the society are freethinkers, they continue to be imprisoned by the underlying beliefs of the society.

If rationalists are serious about wishing to change the world for the better, the judgmental bedrock, religious but also rational, upon which society has been constructed will be examined. Over thousands of years, there has not been much movement towards awareness of what truly drives human actions and the actions of society. The place to begin is with all religions and organizations, even rationalists, that believe in absolute truth.

Rationalists say that reason is paramount, religious people believe in the heart and in revelations. Both ideas are good, but what is the result of those beliefs? Instead of both points of view being used to solve human problems, they are used by each group to gain power over the others. 2500 years ago, Tchouang-Seu, said that if you take any two groups, both say exactly the same thing, that they are right, and that the others are wrong.

In fact, if we look carefully, are we not, each and every one of us, thinking exactly this? Are we not, within ourselves, thinking that we are right, and that it is the others who are wrong? Or, if we are not thinking we are right, are we giving up our own judgment and putting ourselves under the power of someone else? How can we insist on change when these age-old behaviors remain the same? All change in human history has had the same results, the very same things happen, just under another name, another justification.

Society encourages education but education does not guarantee that persons who are well educated possess the necessary courage or desire to address publicly the religious underpinnings of human societies.  They are less likely to accept that the concept of good and evil, of light and dark forces, was born out of a desire to control based on fear of the unknown. That fear continues to claim the hearts and minds of people. Controlling others ensures that all are controlled. Lack of freedom for me means lack of freedom for you!

Even as we love our babies, fueled by our notion of sin, our favorite words to them are, "No! No! Don't do that! That's bad!" From the very moment of birth, children are imbued with a sense of anxiety, never knowing what to do to be accepted by parents and the group.  Freedom does not exist!

          Children who realize that they are not free live in a state of flux! This flux presents a dichotomy! Children resent the lack of freedom but some are willing to give up any possibility of being free simply to be accepted. In this condition, children are attracted by the merest possibility of being accepted by a group, by anyone. The stage is set for perpetuating a conflict-ridden society.

          Religion ensures that humans remain separated from each other. Could it possibly be that in our modern world it is religion and religion alone, which drives a wedge between people? Everyone's belief is absolute truth. Is it any wonder that rationalists brought up in a world created and organized by a religious worldview will maintain the same power and control values as the religionists? When we believe that our truth is the only truth, no matter what our belief orientation, we spend our lives trying to sway others to our way of thinking.

          When we believe that we have to succeed at education or sports or art in order to be a productive member of society and to feel our existence, we have bought into the myth. That myth has been carefully cultivated down through the ages. When we believe that others are better than we are, if they are born into privilege, if they hold high office or if they hold academic degrees, we preserve a standard that is guaranteed to foster competition and separation. This way of thinking pits us against our fellow humans. It is an iniquitous cycle!

There can be no genuine human relationships if people are in constant competition with each other to be the brightest and the best. With no genuine human relationships, it is easy to devalue people and turn a blind eye to atrocities committed against them. More devastating, it is easy to turn a blind eye to ordinary daily events that devalue people.

          Motivating children to succeed in a competitive climate impairs their health and well being. Giving them guidance and allowing them to make their own choices could, at the very least, gives them a chance to be free within the limits of the present society. Those who are free may contribute freely in harmony and love!

          There is no real understanding of how a free society would work. There has never been a truly free society. Presently, there are global societies that are regarded as free. Yet, in those societies, people still live in fear and trepidation that other humans will harm them. Such societies are not free! If fear prevails there is no freedom.       

Rationalists can be the key to change! Unless rationalists accept the challenge to cross the thin line that binds us to the religious worldview of the ages nothing will change. Rationalists, and even religious people, can be a catalyst for change but only if they use their reason and their heart not to impose another Truth but to help persons to make their own choices, to be more free. This is the truth that will set us all free! As it is now, the way in which we continue to educate children, along religious, or even judgmental lines, guarantees that the cycle of war and destruction will never end. The more things change the more they remain the same!   




                   by Audrey Manning (2001)


Float off to where the air is cool and feel

The cares dissolve as readily as mist.

Good thoughts B a self approval seal

Dare not put motives to a litmus test.


To think that other fellows do not >know=

To stand in awe of what they do not >see=

Enables my self confidence to flow

Come join me to be >saved=, my fervent plea.


To our beliefs we soberly stay true.

Oblivious to the logs, our trade we ply

Failing to issue numerous credits due,

Confined to chains of dogma we deny.


Subjective views to us alone belong

No >higher good= will praise our selfish song.


About the Author 

Audrey Manning is a philosopher and community activist who lives in the tiny rural town of Lumsden , Newfoundland , Canada . Her life has been devoted to empowering rural residents to engage in capacity building around all areas of personal, social and economic development.

          Audrey conducts seminars on the health of people and communities and is considered an expert on innovation. Her public speaking and leadership abilities have won her recognition from her peers and the provincial government. She also writes a weekly column (in a local journal) which is eagerly anticipated that allows her to spread her original ideas and views. Audrey Manning's innovative ideas have been practically applied at the Barbour Living Heritage Village in Newtown and in the surrounding communities in the district of Bonavista North, Newfoundland .

          Audrey, together with a French physicist, is presently exploring the possibility of setting up a global interdisciplinary research center devoted to the study of original ideas that lie outside the recognition of mainstream society. Youth will have an interactive active role in the Center.


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