It is common nowadays to speak of religion and rationality as though they are mutually exclusive, as though never the twain will, or can, meet.
This premise should not be accepted as a foregone conclusion. It needs to be carefully examined. Upon doing so, we will see that it is in gross error.
The basic premises of religionists and atheists, the latter of whom claim that they are rationalists and hold sole claim to rationality, are equally non-rational. To say that we can reasonably posit the existence of a Being that is Ineffable, wholly non-corporeal, without qualities of any kind and so vastly beyond our comprehension that we cannot begin to fathom It, is a wholly irrational position. Such a position may be taken on an experiential claim, on the basis of hope that such a Being exists or on blind faith, but it is not a rational statement.
The position of the atheists is equally irrational. To say that we can, with any degree of certainty whatsoever, posit that there does not exist a Being that is Ineffable, wholly-incorporeal, without any qualities of any kind and so vastly beyond our comprehension that we cannot begin to fathom It, is a wholly irrational position as well. The only difference between this position and the former is that this position is one that smacks of hubris.
Having demonstrated that the starting points of both the religionists and the atheists are equally without rational basis, we can proceed to examining whether or not rationality can play any part in a religious take on the world.
The afflatus of this treatment of the subject is a new restaurant, the owner and founder of which, Ya'akov Avni (brother of the actor Aki Avni) insists that it not be called a soup kitchen, which opened in the most disadvantaged area of the city of Tzfat, the notorious South (where the author of this essay chooses to make her home).
The restaurant provides full-course meals to come whoever may, no questions asked, for the price of two NIS (about 47 cents American). Great pains have been, and are, taken to provide not only nutritious meals, but to having created a pleasant ambiance in the restaurant, having the meals served by a staff of dedicated volunteers with respect and a smile and giving those who patronize the restaurant the feeling that they are coming to dine (thus the nominal charge) and not having favors dished out to them by a charity.
One can find equally rational and pseudo-scientific reasons for feeding the poor, making them feel wanted and cared for and not. So, it is not therein that the rationality resides.
Having made the leap of faith and deciding to feed the poor and give them a feeling of honor and dignity, the rationality comes in in the planning and implementation of the programme.
It takes a great deal of rational, systematic and methodical thinking to plan such a project, implement it and keep it going.
One has, first and foremost, to rationally and correctly assess the socio-economic situation in which people are found. One must then determine correctly and rationally the needs of real people in real situations. Next, one has to rationally and correctly assess one's own abilities to help them. One has to be able to formulate a plan or programme of assistance in one's mind. Having done so, one has then to arrange for subsidization of the food costs and costs of operation. One has to systematically go about finding an umbrella organization that will assist the program if need be and find donors. One has to go about finding suppliers of the food, buying the necessary equipment, furnishings, arranging the permits from the city, paying the bills, finding the fitting staff for the operation and do on.
Rationality comes into religion in the application of its principles.
Rationality can not be said to be the basis either for a religious position or lack of it, as we demonstrated at the outset of the essay. It must reside in how we carry out the articles of our faith and what we believe to be right.
To date, because many Human societies are so very cruel and do not provide for Human needs rationally or with compassion, people have turned to religion for all the wrong reasons. People turn to God in desperation: for the love they do not get from others, for the security that society does not provide them with, for the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams that society does not allow or has dashed and so on. They come in desperation and, as an inevitable result, their religious practice is pathological.
A society that will foster healthy religion must be created. We cannot dismiss the possibilities of what religion can be and can offer in healthy societies based on the reasons that people turn to religion in sick societies.
I have witnessed in the secular Kibbutz Movement, on wealthy kibbutzim the residents of which have all of their socio-economic needs provided for, that a feeling of superficiality and meaningless begins to creep into the hearts and minds of a good percentage of the members. They begin to feel that, though they have everything they need and want materially, something profound is yet missing. Some of those who feel that way, and they are a goodly number, turn to religion.
They turn to religion not in desperation, not in fear, not in loneliness and not in insecurity or need. They turn to religion for a final fulfillment.
The religion that they consider is based on their traditional religion, but they are not afraid to experiment with new forms of ceremony or discard those which do not seem meaningful to them. They feel free to innovate, to question and to improvise. This to my mind is all very healthy and I believe that were we all living in a communalistic society, as are the members of the Kibbutz Movement, this seminal spiritual/moral enterprising would arise spontaneously and would prove to be fecund, producing new expressions of ancient religions and new religions that would provide the deepest fulfillment of the Human experience.
Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel