Can rationalism be a religion? I do not know, but I think it can be.
Here I do not want to dissect what rationalism is all about, how it stacks up against empiricism etc.; that, I leave it to hardcore philosophers. Here, I want to advance the thesis that rationalism too can descend into being a religion, engendering a belief, and horror of horrors, endangering the system or at least the methodology. But, there is an effective antidote.
It is not unusual to situate rationalism as the anti-thesis of religion, the latter based on belief. But, I found that my brand of rationalism depends on a series of beliefs!
I believe not in rationalism per se, but in the idea of reasoning. I believe that if posed a problem, reasoning is the best way to try to find a solution. Note the severe hedging in my take – I do not claim that reasoning will lead one to a solution.
I claim that if a solution could be found at all, it is bound to be through a process driven by reason. My belief is a negative one, other avenues of analysis (if any could be identified) are bound to be not so fruitful.
Ironically, I believe in this without having any reason to believe in it. Unreason creeps into my rationalism further through my belief in evolution through natural selection, which is not yet “proven”, if you take the word of Creationists / Intelligent Design-ers. I do not see any other utility for the faculty of reasoning and hence cannot answer the question why reasoning has persisted in the species Homo sapiens. (The cue here is Noam Chomsky’s take that rationalism is hardwired into our brain.)
If reasoning was just taking a free ride on the evolution omnibus, I believe it would have been disembarked by natural selection. Yes, I know, we still carry the appendix in our body. But, I take that as the exception that proves the rule!
So, you can see ideas more akin religion are creeping in my brand of rationalism. I did not believe in rationalism but believed in what it can do. Indeed, I even nearly asserted that rationalism shows the best path to solution, if one existed at all. When pushed to defend rationalism, I throw my belief in evolution through natural selection and what does not accord with that, I throw out as exceptions.
So, you are to free call my rationalism a naïve one. Yes, but true to my rationalist persona, of whatever stripe, I still am a rationalist because I believe in one more thing. If anyone can undermine the intermediate steps, each dependent on a belief, I believe I will get off this naïve rationalist bus! This is the antidote to rationalism becoming a religion, again taking recourse to a belief!
This is where my rationalism differs from religion. No religionist will ever open himself or herself to the possibility of religion becoming reason-based.