"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Noam Chomsky: 'On Religion'

"I think irrational belief is a dangerous phenomenon," observes noted scholar and activist, Noam Chomsky, "and I try to avoid irrational belief."

"On the other hand," he notes, "I certainly recognize that (religion) is a major phenomenon for people in general and you can understand why it would be. . . . It does, apparently, provide personal sustenance, but also bonds of association and solidarity and a means for expressing elements of one's personality that are often very valuable elements. To many people it does that."

"In my view," he concedes, "there's nothing wrong with that. My view could be wrong, of course, but my position is that we should not succumb to irrational belief."

While Chomsky's views are laudable, particularly his view that one should perhaps "avoid irrational belief," he fails  - as so many others do, and will - to distinguish between the inner religious experience upon which most of the worlds religions and wisdom traditions are founded and fuelled, and the narrow outer religious forms that dogmas, doctrines and/or or mass 'belief' systems forge.

Failing to differentiate between the two - one 'experiential, which while largely subjective is nonetheless amenable to rational inquiry, and the other which is wholly subjective and therefore beyond the purview of rational inquiry - is a bias commonly held by even the best scholars (like Chomsky, himself) who are steeped in Western empirical methodology, a methodology that does not admit that it has its own built-in biases when it comes to examining phenomena that are in any way 'tainted' by subjectivity.

The higher states of consciousness afforded by experiential religious insight and practice are, as Allan Wallace points out (below), "the retinal blindspot of Western science." Yet, as a result of the scientific bias which lumps experiential inner religious phenomena with outer religious dogma, even as noted and fair-minded a scholar as Chomsky appears to make the common logical misstep of assuming that all aspects of religion - experiential and doctrinal - are necessarily "irrational" and thus vulnerable to emergent fanaticism in challenging times.

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