Terrain Pt II

The rational atheist draws power from reason, the mystic from faith. Reason brings man closer to reality and helps him manipulate the world around him. Faith strengthens the mind, it gives life direction, meaning, purpose and the will to go on. Irrespective of whether the beliefs of the mystic are real or accurate, the faith they possess has a real effect on their lives, just as the knowledge of the rational man gives him power to manipulate their reality.

The conflict between the two is fought at the surface level, at the dispute of the existence or non-existence of a deity, but what underlies it is a struggle to assert the power center that each of them clings to. The mystic is afraid that if they are to surrender the texts, they will also have to give away their faith. The rational man on the other hand does not wish logic and evidence to lose their primacy in the face of the the mystical, for it is from there that they draw their power.

When the two types collide, they focus only the surface level arguments, not on centers of power. In ignoring the root, the atheist does not consider that those he is arguing with do not arrive at their position through a rational analysis, but through a deep need that faith fulfills in their life. In the same way, the mystic ignores the lack of need for faith in their adversary, as well as the power that reason gives them, choosing to focus merely on the details of their texts.

If the atheist really wanted to turn the mystic rational, they would focus on alleviating the need that faith serves in their lives with the power of reason. They would have to replace the guidance of religion with a rational philosophy that serves as a moral framework, as a beacon in the distance that gives them direction, and as a fire in their hearts that drives them to keep going. In reverse, if the mystic wanted to turn the atheist, they would need to take them to that black abyss that lies at the very end of rational thought, to push them over the edge and keep them afloat with the invisible wings of their faith.

It is easy to deny the existence of a deity, but it is a life’s work to truly confront the abyss you’ve created and begin to transcend it with rational purpose. Nietzsche, having pronounced God dead, was almost driven insane trying to find the way to go on, to figure out a philosophy that would have the same potency as the one he now rejected. He found the solution in the Overman, in continued self overcoming. His new philosophy was his daybreak.

Tolstoy, also an atheist from an early age, went the other way and reasoned his way back to faith. No rational construct could give his life real meaning or purpose, of feeling that his life’s achievements would contribute towards something permanent and would not simply turn to dust years after his passing. At one point he was so depressed he contemplated suicide. In the end, he found the purpose and direction he was seeking in Christian faith, and he drew from it the strength to keep living.

It is easy to call someone ignorant because they do not share your beliefs, because they cannot follow through an argument rationally. It is much harder to pierce past that surface level clash and see that real center of power that they are trying to defend, to see that that person is merely defending the ground they stand on – the ground upon which they build their everyday life, the ground that gives their life structure, meaning and order. They cannot concede their surface level argument without conceding that ground, and that is something they will not do lest something stronger is offered in its place.

Most argument aren’t rational, they’re just clashes of opposing power centers. It’s pointless to engage a person in such arguments when your “win” is going to do them harm, when forcing them to change their stance is going to upset the structure of their life and their beliefs. Sometimes temporary harm is a way to clear space for something better, but in those cases what they will gain has to be explicit, it has to be about the new power rather than the old loss, and this can only be done with a deep understanding of what truly matters to them, which, more than likely, is not something that the details of the argument are really about.

Published January 2013