When the Cart of Religion is Placed before the Horse of Reason
Sadek J. Sulaiman
When the cart is placed before the horse, the horse cannot go anywhere, while the cart stays in place and rots. If and when belatedly the horse is moved to its right place, in front of the cart, it by then is much too weakened by a prolonged catharsis, and the cart is much too entrenched for any meaningful movement to take place. In such a situation, it is best to decouple the two, nourish the horse and let it pick up its strength, unimpeded by the cart. The cart, once repaired, can be tacked back appropriately to the recovered horse.
But the horse must at first be liberated in order to recover, and the cart must at first be repaired in order to become fit for journeying again. No amount of admiration of the fine qualities of the horse will enable the horse to move along while chained to the rear of a decrepit cart. And no amount of appreciation of the cart thus impaired will render it a vehicle fit for making progress on the road.
In a progressive society reason leads religion, like the horse leads the cart. In the world of religious orthodoxy, their roles are reversed. As a result of this anomaly both reason and religion get stuck, unable to evolve.
Religion, as in the traditional religious systems, is an agent of the past. According to its edict, the best of wisdom was imparted to humanity in some remote previous years. In those infantile phases of human development, people were taught what supposedly was all that they needed to know then, and for posterity to boot. Humanity was told thenceforth to follow the religious edict, rather than think freely and innovatively on its own; if it did the latter, it would go astray and risk eternal damnation.
The religious edict was not just about broad moral principles and values; it prescribed minute details of everyday living as well, all presented as abiding truths for all time and place. Today, where religion is allowed to dictate, the past thus pops back to dominate, and reason and the present are rendered subordinate or redundant. Reason thus recoils, and the present waits helplessly on the past.
Beyond that, notwithstanding modern knowledge, religion continues to misinform and mislead on how the universe was created, how the first of our species was produced from clay, how the heavens were formed, and what beliefs and actions in this life would buy us the pleasures of paradise after death. And to prove the veracity and supremacy of its assertions, religion backs up its epistemology with claims of celestial authority and miraculous feats. Reason, again, is stalled.
When religious dogma is thus infused in the mind of a youngster, reason there and then is crippled in the bud. Reason does recover later on as appropriate education and critical thought are brought to bear, but in far too many cases she continues to be awed by religion. She frets, questions, argues, pleads, protests, but rarely dares to rebel. Hapless and helpless, she continues to follow, however reticently. Afraid to contradict or ignore the dogma that got implanted in her own domain, the mind, in those early, innocent years, she abdicates her role. Like the horse tied behind the decrepit cart, ignored and scorned, she atrophies in place. Many a brilliant mind is thus wasted for life.
A society that neglects reason stifles its own potential for growth. Reason is aligned with knowledge, and together they synthesize into wisdom that makes life a better and more rewarding experience, for individuals as well as nations. There can be nothing in our past that we could not improve upon in the present, and nothing in our present that a future generation could not make better. This is the immutable law of progress. Going against it will not nullify the law; to the contrary, it will activate the law in reverse. It will render those standing in the path of progress regress themselves.
A society to evolve must follow reason; everything within that society,
including religion, will then evolve for the better. Each new
generation will then excel beyond its predecessor. Unfortunately, though, that is not how I see things going these days. I see the cart of
religion, decrepit itself, destroying the horse of reason. I see the
rationalists of our day dazed by the glare of unreason. I see the
secularists of our times mesmerized by the eccentric appeal of
religion. And I see the rest of us desolate and overwhelmed.
Muscat: September 11, 2004
(Sadek J. Sulaiman is a former ambassador in Washington DC)