There’s a fascinating debate about the nature of belief going on between Norm and Peter, prompted by something Richard wrote, and with a useful contribution from Chris. In brief, it all hinges on whether religious belief is best described as performative or propositional in nature, and the original spark seems to have been Karen Armstrong’s latest book.
Regular readers will know that this is a subject of continuing interest to this blog (see here, for example). I’m planning to make a proper contribution to the discussion at some point, but in the meantime here’s something I came across recently that might be of relevance:
The guest a couple of weeks ago on Radio 4’s The Choice (a programme that is occasionally worth tuning into, despite Michael Buerk’s irritatingly doomladen tones) was Paul Moore, the man who blew the whistle on HBOS. I was intrigued to hear that Moore’s actions were inspired, in part, by his newly-revived Catholic faith. Looking him up on the internet, I came across an article in the Catholic Herald which included this snippet:
Paul Moore's upbringing was deeply Catholic. He was a boarder from the age of eight at Ampleforth in Yorkshire. But when he left he lost his faith. He pursued a career in the City of London, where, he said, he led a life dominated by a futile quest for money and material pleasures. "I was very miserable and I was working very hard but I couldn't find any peace or any joy and so I was looking for a way to feel happier and more peaceful." He began to rediscover his faith and in 2002 he moved to the Yorkshire village of Wass to take a job with HBOS at the bank's office in Leeds. Wass is just down the road from Ampleforth. "When we moved back up to my alma mater I said to myself: 'I'm going to try to have faith, to pretend that I've got faith.' And as I pretended to have faith, I got faith."
Now, some secularist commentators might be tempted to scoff at this apparent confirmation that religious faith is little more than wishful thinking. But not me. Instead, Moore’s words struck me as an accurate description of how faith tends to work. Personally, I wouldn’t have used the word ‘pretend’, but I find the idea of belief deepening through external practice – working, as it were ‘from the outside in’ – true to my own experience, and to a socially-situated / embodied / materialist view of the world (the ideas of Wittgenstein, Bakhtin and even Cardinal Newman come to mind – but they’ll have to wait for another time).
But more on all of this another time.