Reasonable Faith In Todayâ€™s World Rebecca Newberger Goldstein wrote in the July 29, 2006 editorial section of the New York Times about the 350th anniversary of Baruch Spinozaâ€™s excommunication from the Jewish community of Amsterdam. Her article suggests that religious belief breeds intolerance, while reason and science promote tolerance. Like many atheists and contemporary rationalists, Goldstein recommends a return to something like Spinozaâ€™s idea of â€œuniversal reasonâ€ and a secular rationalist politics as opposed to politics grounded in religion. While we all agree that a greater portion of reason and tolerance would be a good thing in todayâ€™s world, the re-thinking needed to get us there must go deeper than a return to some form of 18th century reason. In fact, the re-thinking must go far enough to embrace religious faith, rather than reject it from the outset through a narrow definition of reason, if we are going to create genuine cultural understanding that could bring Muslims, Jews, Christians, scientists, and politicians into a constructive dialogue. What is needed is a new set of ideas that break out of the modern framework and build a real bridge for cultural understanding across current divides. The major frontiers we face are cultural and spiritual, and until we deal directly with human culture and spiritual life, all our advances in technology, economics, politics, and science are at risk. Dramatic changes in global politics, economics, technologies, and our scientific picture of the world, combine with the global resurgence of religious faith to demand a deep re-thinking of our ideas of reason, history, faith, and politics. Both East and West suffer at this time from threadbare concepts created centuries ago, in contexts long vanished, and left on autopilot. The breakneck pace of global change and social integration now make that old cultural â€œsoftware,â€ not just out of date, but destructive. Something new must be created. Let me illustrate this very briefly with a quick history of what happened in modern culture in the West. Bluntly put, the universal reason, science, and universal political order (peace) posited by rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, and Kant simply never materialized. Universal reason was supposed to provide an objective method for resolving all genuine difference of opinion, and from this method, a universal science was to emerge and to serve as the basis for a universal society free of intolerance, violence, and inhumanity. Kant eulogized the coming â€œuniversal peace,â€ and Hegel thought he saw its commencement in, of all places, 19th century Germany! However, the project did not survive even its first generation of advocates. Spinoza immediately rejected the Cartesean framework for such universal rationality and each great rationalist from Descartes to Hegel in turn created his own, competing variant. Thomas Kuhn has shown from the history of science that scientific method did not provide a universal method for resolving disputes, even in science itself, much less in society. Modern history further underscores the failure of the project with an almost unbroken series of ever more brutal and devastating wars over the past four hundred years. If anything, the rationalist project has increased violence, and its technology has vastly expanded the capacity to harm and kill. So, after over four hundred years of rationalist effort, no system of ideas, method, or universal peace have emerged. Add to this failure the critique of rationalism by romanticism. Romantic thinkers rejected reason as the basis of universal human understanding and community, and replaced reason with deep feeling and imagination. More recently, in the 20th century, romanticism gave way to the bleaker vision of existentialism, with its celebration of teeth-gritting choices as the basis of humanism. Post modernism trumps all these versions of modernism with a critique that purports to show that reason, feeling, and existential choice are all masks for power and dominance. For the post modernist, reason, feeling, and authenticity are each flawed and incapable of being universalized. With the zest presumably displayed by fundamentalists looking for sin, postmodernists are relentless in un-masking the various forms of power hiding under the banners of reason, feeling, and choice. All that can be universalized on the postmodernist view is the structure of power, dominance and submission, victims and their oppressors. Postmodernists are todayâ€™s ruthless puritans. If one doubts that postmodernism can have practical effects, simply watch the â€œdebateâ€ on cable television, watch political spokespeople repeat â€œtalking pointsâ€ without variation and as if deaf to any counterpoint, or read the work of writers and journalists. In the world of todayâ€™s politics and media in the West, there is neither a commitment to truth, feeling, or authenticity, but rather a commitment to narrative and to making oneâ€™s own narrative dominant. Western culture today is an incoherent set of ideas and reflexes, which we use selectively, as they serve our purposes. We appeal to a concept of universal reason, when we feel threatened by conservatives or by religious intolerance. We use bits of romanticism when we fear that science or economics are going too far in controlling our lives. Existentialism occupies less space in our daily lives, except as a trope of drama on television, the cinema, or theatre. Increasingly, postmodernism dominates. Narrative is everything and people enjoy freedom to adopt any narrative they choose and to seek to make their narrative dominant as an exercise of freedom and power. This is why alternative narratives (like pseudo science of extraterrestrials, and pseudo histories like the Da Vince Code) develop great followings without any historical or rational basis. The urgent need, and the exciting possibility is that we might think outside the modern and postmodern â€œboxâ€ and forge a new culture and synthesis that re-integrates understandings of science and religion, art and politics, technology and humanism, economics and culture, East and West. The philosophical ideas that originally divided these fields from each other are no longer valid. And in todayâ€™s world, it is dangerous and destructive to continue to play with these ideas as â€œnarratives,â€ or to set these ideas in conflict with each other. The outlines for creating such a synthesis is discussed in the recent book Renewing American Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness. This book outlines a rational basis for a new cultural synthesis that grows out of the genetic codeâ€”â€œlife liberty and the pursuit of happinessâ€--of American culture. The book also offers 39 Propositions as a framework for action by a new generation of young leaders and thinkers. Watching the Middle East go up in flames, as world leaders fumble for any response, raise fears of a coming global conflict. As James Billington, Librarian of Congress, wrote in the Introduction to Renewing American Culture, â€œwe must renew our culture, if we are to avoid a clash of civilizations.â€ The need could not be more urgent.