Nobody is so irrational as your rationalist. Mankind’s greatest problem, indeed, is the Enlightenment. This is because rationalists so often refuse to heed the lessons of the science in which they say they so exclusively believe. We share almost 99% of our genes with chimpanzees. For evolutionary reasons, our most rational thoughts are deeply rooted in the irrational. We so easily become the apes that we very nearly are. The monsters that dwell within us do not understand the language of scientific method and abstract logic and the philosophies of Ryle and Rawls. Only myths and rituals and religious belief systems can even try to penetrate into the dark, primitive forests of the mind and attempt to address them. But everywhere, since the Enlightenment, cultural constructions patiently assembled during the ages to protect mankind from itself have been swept away in the name of reason and progress. It was no accident that the French Revolution, so fervently welcomed by intellectuals of the Enlightenment as a triumph of reason in 1789, turned into the irrational Terror of 1794.
It is our infatuation with the beasts that lie snoring in our hearts that explains mankind’s fascination with hell, for hell is the imaginative expression of our intimacy with them. If God himself came to earth to spread love and forgiveness, you may be sure that the very Church he founded would institute an Inquisition to ensure that horror and cruelty and injustice were not forgotten. When people stop believing in imaginary hells it becomes necessary to create real ones, whole kingdoms of evil like the Nazi concentration camps or Stalin’s gulag.
But now the monster of unreason, with his train of demons from hell cavorting in the depths of the mind, is on the brink of his greatest victory. You would have thought that when the great majority of scientists are warning us most solemnly that the globe itself will turn into a fiery hell if we don’t quit fossil fuels a.s.a.p. – and it really is the great majority: the Royal Society, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, The Met Office, the Hadley Centre, NASA, the Tyndall Centre, UEA and pretty well every official scientific body in the world support the IPCC’s 2007 forecast of a temperature rise of anything between 2 and 6 degrees – you would have thought that a society that proclaims itself to be enlightened and rational, rigorous in its science and humane in its behaviour, no longer led astray by the myths of religion but guided now solely by reason – Dawkins’ postbag is full with letters from grateful escapees who have fled mad nuns and abusing priests – you would have thought that so reasonable a society would have paid very, very close attention to these grave warnings, just in case, the admonitions being so dire, so many scientists were only a quarter right. But no. How else can we explain such blindness and stupidity? Global Warming? Oh that. But it can’t be that people just can’t be bothered by so serious an issue. Even our society isn’t that irrational. There must be something else going on underneath. Even now we could, with a most enormous effort, at least halt climate change. But no. Mankind is hell bent on creating hells. Even in Eden Adam and Eve couldn’t bear happiness. If we ourselves can’t enter the unimagineably terrible world of the future, at least let our children inherit it. O lux! O sapientia!