Irrational rationale happens in the human heart. We love and want to be loved. We fear and want to avoid the object of our fears. Unlike animals, we are able build a civilization upon faith. That is, we are capable of thinking long term and of recording our history, and so we are able to learn from past failures in order to improve. Our ability to understand abstract concepts enables us to act effectively without concrete data.
Yet no matter how high we rise, all our systems are bound by certain truths. The integrity of our civilization is dependent upon its members' broad understanding of these truths and their willingness to act in accordance with their nature. We rationalize irrationally when we lose confidence in our understanding of nature and become too afraid to take a leap of faith.
Ultimately, all failures in human history have been a result of an inability or unwillingness to span the gap between rational thought (the mind) and irrational thought (the heart). Historically, religions have been the guiding light to meet this need. When they promote faith over fear, they effectively become a source of liberal education.
However, fear of God's wrath can be a lever for clergy (et al.) whose irrational rationale leads them to adopt tyrannical methods of spreading their doctrine. Whether or not a person, church, or religion is right in their interpretation of a holy text is for the individual and his community to decide amongst themselves. If a congregation does not accept an elder's opinion, it is the responsibility of the elder to clarify or abandon that view. It is not right for him to call down the wrath of God upon his opponents when he might be mistaken.
In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin offers phenomenal into the difference between "religion" and "faith." Though most people use them interchangeably, they are on different levels. Religion belongs to the mental, rational realm. It is the collection of texts, artifacts, practices, symbols, etc. of a given people (chosen or adopted). It is a teacher and reminder of faith.
Faith belongs to the ethereal, emotional realm. It is the set of principles or natural laws that transcend individual religions—an undercurrent that has the power to unite all peoples. Despite its irrational nature, it does possess a nature which can be understood. It can be argued that faith is a spectrum from fear to faith. Furthermore, that fear is a lack of understanding of the significant events in life. Faith is the discipline to rationalize the irrational heart through a continued quest for truth.
This is vastly different from the current political notion (at least in America) that we are somehow being open to all religions by seeking to remove symbols of Christianity from our national heritage. It is especially laughable to consider the irrational thought that a level-headed Muslim would be offended by the Ten Commandments, when the Commandments are the perhaps most explicit expression of natural principles that exist in any religion.
Anyone who thinks this, might do well to examine their thought process. Do we think anyone would be offended by the expression, "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15)? And of the Muslims, do our prejudices suppose they hate the Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13)?
Our hearts are our greatest blessing, which gives us the ability to love, to forgive, to believe, to envision, and to overcome great obstacles. Our ability to sometimes have irrational thoughts allows us to bend our understanding of the world around us—to see around the next corner, as it were. Without it, we could not build a civilization, but when it gets out of hand, it can tear a rift between the concrete prison of the real world and the abstract world of vision.
And I don't know which is worse: to be trapped in the prison with no hope, or to be trapped in the dreamworld with no means to enjoy it.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3