The Secular Coalition is bragging about its success in convincing Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee to sign this year’s Day Of Reason Declaration.
Something about the idea of a Declaration of a Day of Reason, however, strikes me as not very well-reasoned.
For one thing, the declaration states that we need more reason because, “the application of reason, more than any other means, has proven offer hope for human survival…” The fact is, though, that the world is not at all suffering from a dearth of human capability for survival. The Earth’s human population is not going down. Actually, human survival has become so prevalent that it’s created an ecological crisis in the biosphere. So, a person applying logical reason would conclude that, if reason is causally associated with improved human survival, what we need is less reason, not more of it.
The Declaration also states that “it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to promote the development and application of reason”. Let’s accept this point, for the sake of argument. What has not been established is that governmental declarations in favor of particular ideas are effective means for the development and application of those ideas. We don’t have any reason to believe that declarations about reason will increase the amount of reasonable thinking among citizens. In fact, the long history of governmental declarations of days of awareness shows that these declarations do not have a measurable effect on the way that people in general think, feel or act.
What government declarations do achieve is the creation of a feeling of satisfaction among members of the organizations who agitate for the declarations. The declarations make activists feel that they have been listened to, and emotionally validated. As one of these declarations, the Declaration of a Day of Reason is itself motivated by emotion, not reason.
If reason is so powerful and positive, as the Secular Coalition claims, why didn’t the group use reasonable means to promote its message of reason? Why didn’t the Secular Coalition hold a debate, or issue a position paper?
The Secular Coalition seems to hold reason as an abstract ideal, while simultaneously pursuing non-rational goals, using non-rational means. Given that the Secular Coalition doesn’t actual hold to behavior shaped by the dictates of reason, and can’t even communicate a declaration about reason in a reasoned manner, it seems unfair for the Coalition to claim to stand as a representative of reason in American society, and to condemn the unreasonable behavior of others.
Getting the Declaration of the Day of Reason really isn’t much of a victory. Rather than celebrating, the Secular Coalition would do well to step back and apply some reason, thinking through an approach that has a greater likelihood of creating change, rather than just creating a feel-good event.