What Is Religious Belief?

Sunday, December 5, 2021
First Aired: 
Sunday, May 5, 2019

What Is It

Many people profess to believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing, benevolent God. Yet psychological data shows that people often think and reason about God in ways contrary to their professed religious beliefs. So are these so-called religious beliefs genuinely held? Or are “believers” just playing an elaborate game of pretense? Is there a difference between ordinary factual belief and religious belief? And what role do people's religious creedences play in shaping their social identities? Josh and Ken get real with Neil van Leeuwen from Georgia State University, author of Religion as Make-Believe (forthcoming).

 

Comments (12)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 15, 2019 -- 10:35 AM

Just a few musings on the

Just a few musings on the matter of belief, generally. Belief is a bit like the opinion side of the old philosophical dualism, opinion and knowledge. (It might also be paired with 'appearance', in appearance and reality.) John Dewey had two short descriptions of belief: 1. "Hug some special belief and one fears knowledge" and, 2. "Beliefs are personal affairs; personal affairs are adventures; and, adventures are, if you please, shady."
Neuman's Corollaries are, 1. Belief is what someone said that someone said, in some other place and time. It may remain relevant, but I would not count on that. 2. Faith is for skydivers, bungee jumpers and kindred souls possessing only a dubious reverence for life; or those who feel they need it, just to get past another day (and are worse off than they thought).

Dewey, James, Rorty and other pragmatists were atheists before it was fashionable to be so. Religion, to them, was not one of the things which hang together (see: Sellars). Still, it has been around a long time and has led to both good and bad acts behaviors, creeds and decisions(the ABCDs of human existence). Blaise Pascal made his wager and I must seriously doubt that his sitting on the fence got him any points---but I could be wrong. This is not something in the realm of 'know-ability'--- many faiths stress the unknow-ability of God and that such is merely an ineffable fact of life. We pragmatists find such unknow-ability disturbing, if not downright absurd. But, yes---we could be wrong...

fjwilson's picture

fjwilson

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 -- 9:27 PM

proselytize, which it would

Regarding whether belief is voluntary: Many religious people obviously think it is because they proselytize, which it would not be rational to do unless they believed that their targets could voluntarily change their beliefs. They are the experts regarding religion, so I guess it must be voluntary.

Some of the comments in the broadcast seemed to not recognize the difference between coerced behavior and belief. One may be coerced into going to church, espousing belief, etc., but, since no one but oneself knows what one actually believes, one is free to believe whatever one believes.

detail's picture

detail

Tuesday, May 14, 2019 -- 7:46 AM

At least a religious belief

At least a religious belief is a claim that something does exist , hidden from our direct proof. What should be interesting is, if this belief itself can fit into a doxastic logic formulation. Doxastic logic is the abstract logic formulation of belief. Which of Raymond Smullyan's categorizations of believer is a believer in religion ?
The modest reasoner , the stable reasoner ,the timid ? We should use abstract logic to formulate this , aristotle told us that logic is directly connected to metaphysical questions as dialectics , in the book of topos. In todays philosophy this viewpoint is lesser emphasized as i could wish for.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, October 8, 2021 -- 6:21 AM

Inquiries into religious

Inquiries into religious belief are as perennial as crab grass. Even so, people either embrace it or they don't. Some who do are not as pious as they pretend to be. Others, who do not, may actually display compassion and humility more honestly and openly than their pious brothers and sisters. Some Humanists, for example. Religious belief is neither reason, nor excuse. It is a manner of looking at life and death. We can dissect, examine and parse to heart's content. Inquiry eventually uncovers something new.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Friday, October 22, 2021 -- 7:08 PM

Religion may be a crutch, but

Religion may be a crutch, but we all need crutches at some point, if not all points. Atheist belief is rife with religious credence if defined well – which I don’t think this show did. I look forward to reading Neil’s book to clarify.

Most of the discussion seemed to revolve around the difference between factual belief and religious credence, with Neil’s ill-conceived juxtaposition of religious belief with make-believe. No devout believer will listen any further than that, despite the merits of the view. Those merits stake claim to inviolate philosophical and religious turf. Turf long since ceded by weak philosophers of religion.

Religion is needed for human happiness and flourishing. Everyone does it, atheists as well. Yeah, atheists!-time to pay the make-believe piper. Instead of factual belief, the show should have centered on the difference between make-believe and religious credence. This is where Neil and Ken quibbled but didn’t dig deeper. Here is a possible difference.

We engage in make-believe knowing that we will return to reality, and there will be little to no repercussions in our “real” lives. We engage in religious credence while entrenched in our real lives. As Neil said, there is no Lazy Christianity or Islam or other faith/practice. Our devotion may wax and wane, by lack of will, but always from our religious credence lazy boy. The cushioning is too forgiving ever to leave. Rarely even do we bother to complain. Atheists and theists alike are too comfortable in their credences to change the channel.

This is not to say make-believe can’t affect our “real” lives and identities. It can. One can watch Game of Thrones, take out their crossbow and shoot their father dead on the john. But when make-believe affects our lives like this (no patricide required – it is generally very subtle and small), at that point “belief in” has become “belief that.” Identity can come along for the ride or not. When fiction breeds fact, I argue that make-believe has transmuted into religious credence.

I would say more. I would call out atheists as hypocrites, priests as shallow, and readers as unwitted. I’ll save that until after I have read Neil’s book. But I can say this. The religiously devout would be foolish to discard this model of religious credence. It is a philosophical quake that could right the storm and brings several prodigal children back to the fold. Many of the newer churches in my community already preach this gospel incorporating contemporary fiction (like capitalism is suitable for everyone!) into their sermons – with powerful and profitable effect. Those churches grow. Those that push their ancient credence as fact are, in the Western world, failing.

Contemporary Judaism is no font of do-gooders. The belief there is central to many inhuman actions, albeit generationally justifiable. As a force for action in Israel, religious credence is more vital than in Europe or the US.

Ann Taves’ book “Revelatory Events” looks a worthy read, timely, and prescient. We need to be sensitive to the winds of change and revelation in modern religious practice. This is where we will see the zeitgeist change that is already reflected from natural if human originated causes.

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Dwells's picture

Dwells

Thursday, October 28, 2021 -- 6:11 PM

"We engage in make-believe

"We engage in make-believe knowing that we will return to reality, and there will be little to no repercussions in our “real” lives. We engage in religious credence while entrenched in our real lives." Tim, I think that real life = group membership with a shared opinion that keeps us from being all alone outsiders. For if we forsake the group and its beliefs, we also forsake the group benefits. In high school and church that meant closeness to the pretty ones.

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Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Thursday, October 28, 2021 -- 7:53 PM

This is a good point.

This is a good point.

Real-life, to humans, is largely social. In-group out-group and group-think is a part of religious belief. Even hermits live in relation to the group.

High School closeness, or lack of it, gives me the heebie-jeebies; The "pretty ones" is visceral, haunting and true to my experience if not for others.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, October 23, 2021 -- 3:29 PM

A better question may be: why

A better question may be: why do the religious believe? If the best answer is: because they WANT to, we have at least one of Davidson's 'propositional attitudes?. Or two.: want;desire. details lie in the distinctions. And depths. I get by. And will stand by.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 -- 4:45 PM

Why is there air? An early

Why is there air? An early Cosbyism. John Dewey had the temerity to write a book, purporting to explain How We Think. Epistemology at its' most elemental. His assessment of belief stands cogent in my mind. That there has been no more succinct or lucid explanation, is proof enough for me: beliefs=personal affairs=adventures=shady is about as tersely poignant as it gets. Dovetails nicely with Davidson's notion about propositional attitudes. Which is, in his parlance, what beliefs consist in. This is not so hard.

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Dwells's picture

Dwells

Thursday, October 28, 2021 -- 3:56 PM

Belief, if done hard enough,

Belief, if done hard enough, is faith. Faith, if done hard enough, is truth. Someone mentioned proselytizing. If done hard enough and enough people subscribe to it, belief is fact. Voodoo? Science? Religion? All the same to me.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, October 28, 2021 -- 4:08 PM

You said it. More directly;

You said it. More directly; more concisely than I. Are we right? Was Dewey? Davidson? I think so.

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Dwells's picture

Dwells

Thursday, October 28, 2021 -- 5:50 PM

Beliefs are useful. That's

Beliefs are useful. That's why we make them. But we always seem to outgrow them, well, some of us anyway.

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