Each year people from every walk of life, regardless of religion or political affiliation, gather for a National Day of Prayer that’s held on the first Thursday in May. Hoping to capitalize on the attention given to the National Day of Prayer, the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition of America “are joining forces to combat the National Day of Prayer by promoting the National Day of Reason.”
The history of prayer for our nation goes back to at least 1775 when the Continental Congress asked the colonies to pray for wisdom in forming a new nation. The day was officially recognized in 1952 when President Harry Truman signed into law a proclamation for an annual day of prayer.
Now the atheists want in on the action. They are claiming that we can solve our problems with reason alone. The reason-alone approach has been tried before with bloody results. The Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century rejected the Christian religion and declared reason to be supreme. “Europe disintegrated because the goddess of Reason, whom the French revolutionaries placed, in the shape of a Parisian streetwalker, upon the altar of Notre Dame,”1 became France’s new authority. Outfitted in the attire of a Roman goddess, she was “carried shoulder‑high into the cathedral by men dressed in Roman costumes.”2
To make the transition from the old religion of Christianity to the new religion of reason-worship the church of Notre Dame was reconsecrated to the “Cult of Reason.”
In the France of 1793, Reason was not only a god that failed, she was a goddess who cut her own throat. The fanaticism of reason that gripped the French revolutionaries convinced them that they could create a republic of reason out of thin air — or more correctly, out of hot air. The men who came up with the idea of celebrating the Festival of Reason were all quite intelligent men—rational actors in the most pronounced sense of this word. They were determined not only to think for themselves and control their own lives, but to build a society that would meet their ideals.3
Belief in reason over religion is beginning to look like the modern materialist’s new savior. Sam Harris tries to make this point in his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. Al Gore argues in a similar way in The Assault on Reason. If people were only reasonable, they and others argue, all would be right with the world.
Harris and the other reason-alone advocates don’t not tell us whose version of reason we are to follow. Is it the reason of the French Revolutionaries who hadn’t met a head they didn’t want to lop off or the reason of the Stalinists who believed the Gulag was a good place for someone to “get his mind right”? Maybe we should follow the reasoning of Aristotle who believed in the reasonableness and “natural order” for the institution of slavery because there are some people who are “slaves by nature.”
One last thing. The reason-only crowd contend that the Constitution is a “secular document” that does not mention anything about religion. It should be pointed out that the word “reason” does not appear in the body of the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment does use the word “unreasonable searches and seizures.” While the word “reason” is not found, a reference to Jesus Christ is. Just above George Washington’s signature, the following is found:
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names.
- Richard Hertz, Chance and Symbol (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), 100. [↩]
- Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (1976) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, 5 vols. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1984), 5:122. [↩]
- Lee Harris, The Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam’s Threat to the West (New York: Basic Books, 2007), 67. [↩]