One of the dominant factors in our society’s identity crisis is the exclusion of religion from public institutions. Religion was excluded because of a philosophical error in the way we describe the nature of reason. Due to a number of cultural developments from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, Western ideas of reason and truth have been narrowed to what has become known as scientific objectivism.
Following a fascination with the pristine clarity of mathematical certainty and geometrical purity—which promised to transcend the murkiness of shifting historical circumstances and the emotionally unstable quality of religious truth—academics and, later, popular culture identified the rational with the scientific method. On this view, only that which can be demonstrated experimentally is ‘rational.’ Religion, tradition, love, and ultimate questions concerning our humanity cannot be analyzed under a microscope and were therefore pushed to the fringes so that the supposedly more practical rational or scientific disciplines, viewed as ‘neutral,’ could take center stage.
A sharp line was drawn between faith and reason. The reduction of reason to scientific objectivity and the individualistic understanding of the human self as an island of autonomous consciousness and will created a contrast between the world of facts that we can know through experimentation and the mere subjective opinions of religion and metaphysics. Religious truth is what we merely believe, whereas scientific truth is what we see and touch.
Society’s public institutions then were separated into the secular public realm of administration, law, and education on the one hand, and private religious practices and symbols on the other. Since the language of purpose and meaning is inevitably religious in character, this reductive view of reason has hitherto excluded religious discourse from rational discussion along with most other concerns about universal goals for human existence.