Thursday, 10 December 2009

No relief from belief

A propos of my discussion the other week of performative versus propositional views of faith: Troy Jollimore has written an excellent review of (and riposte to) Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. Here he is summing up Armstrong's sleight-of-hand claim that religion isn't really about 'belief':

Pointing out that sacred texts are not meant to be read literally, then, is not enough. Armstrong’s more radical strategy is to de-emphasize the role of belief in religious life altogether: Practice, she writes, is more important than belief, and we misunderstand references to “belief” in the Bible, the Quran and elsewhere if we interpret them in accordance with our modern understanding of belief. (The correct sense, she writes, has more to do with “ ‘trust,’ ‘loyalty,’ ‘engagement,’ and ‘commitment.’ ”) Critics who focus on the absurdity or implausibility of so many religious beliefs, then, or on the fact that religion encourages people to accept these beliefs uncritically and to hold them in the face of any countervailing evidence, are missing the point: It isn’t believing certain things but rather living a certain sort of life that makes a person religious.

Jollimore's response:

One might well worry, though, that it is not as easy as Armstrong assumes to separate belief from action or practice. Indeed all intentional voluntary action presupposes some set of beliefs. Armstrong may perhaps make a plausible claim in asserting that faith, as understood by mainstream religious traditions before the advent of modernity, involved more than “mere” belief in the modern sense; but if the problem with religious life is that it encourages false, absurd, unjustified beliefs, showing that it does other things as well is not sufficient. What must be shown is that religion does not involve belief, and not merely that it involves other things in addition to belief. So long as religious worldviews differ in certain important ways from that held by the nonreligious, one can still complain that that worldview is poorly founded and, to a large degree, implausible.


If you want to read the whole review, which includes a nice distinction between apophaticism and subjectivism, you can find it here. Via Ophelia, Russell and Jerry, each of whom adds interesting comments of their own.

1 comment:

Minnie said...

Essentially, belief and practice are indivisible when it comes to religion? I'd go along with that. But, as ever with your posts, will need to reflect. Thank you for that.