May 5th, 2001
Descartes, the philosopher who is regarded as one of the architects of rationalism, was a devout Christian. He spent all of his life trying to define and apply the rational process.
To define rationalism he had to abandon and destroy every preconception of thought and was somewhat successful at this.
He was however unsuccessful in applying the rational process universally to all matters of thought (all reality: concrete, abstract, spiritual, etc.). For example, he intended to use the rational process to demonstrate the Trinity of God. He intended to find "certainty", or "truth" (as many of us also try) using rational thinking.
He failed to understand the limitations of rationality, because he failed to recognize reality in its various dimensions: physical, logical, mathematical, metaphysical, spiritual.
Although we may not agree on any particular classification of "reality", we should agree that we cannot apply pure rationality to all matters. For example we have very few tools to understand metaphysics and we know that we need faith on spiritual matters.
Even this simple concept seems to be difficult for today's man, as saturated and obsessed with rational thinking, as Descartes was.
When we come to politics, we repeat shallow idioms such as "separation between Church and State" and we seem to have no universal tools for finding certainty in all political matters. No unifying process. (You may argue we are not finding any certainty at all!)
In my opinion, politicians should not disregard spiritual matters, and religious people should make use of rational thoughts. Politics must understand (not intervene in) all aspects of social affairs. However, the tools used for understanding each aspect need to be appropriate.
For example, talking about "life issues", we can identify metaphysical questions (e.g.: essence of life, meaning of life), scientific questions (e.g.: is this individual alive? Is this individual human?), moral questions (e.g.: individual dignity, origin of life), logical questions (e.g.: rights, responsibilities, legal implications).
Today's politicians tend to use only the rational process (when they can and want) and mostly disregard the moral and ethical questions (when these are inconvenient).
A political leader must have the courage to face every question, must be prepared in every discipline and must use the appropriate thought process for each aspect of social affairs.
This may be the essence of statesmanship.