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Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief

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Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief

Beitragvon soynadie am Sa 18. Nov 2017, 09:05

Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief. Religion from an Atheist's Point of View ... dpSrc=srch

Contemporary debate about religion seems to be going nowhere. Atheists persist with their arguments, many plausible and some unanswerable, but these make no impact on religious believers. Defenders of religion find atheists equally unwilling to cede ground. The Meaning of Belief offers a way out of this stalemate.

An atheist himself, Tim Crane writes that there is a fundamental flaw with most atheists’ basic approach: religion is not what they think it is. Atheists tend to treat religion as a kind of primitive cosmology, as the sort of explanation of the universe that science offers. They conclude that religious believers are irrational, superstitious, and bigoted. But this view of religion is almost entirely inaccurate. Crane offers an alternative account based on two ideas. The first is the idea of a religious impulse: the sense people have of something transcending the world of ordinary experience, even if it cannot be explicitly articulated. The second is the idea of identification: the fact that religion involves belonging to a specific social group and participating in practices that reinforce the bonds of belonging. Once these ideas are properly understood, the inadequacy of atheists’ conventional conception of religion emerges.

The Meaning of Belief does not assess the truth or falsehood of religion. Rather, it looks at the meaning of religious belief and offers a way of understanding it that both makes sense of current debate and also suggests what more intellectually responsible and practically effective attitudes atheists might take to the phenomenon of religion.


This worldview should rather be seen as a combination of two fundamental attitudes. One is what I call the “religious impulse”: a sense of the transcendent, of there being “more to it all than just this.”

The other is an attitude toward other people that I call “identification”: belonging to a historical tradition, and making sense of the world through ritual and custom as an expression of this tradition. (This includes the moral element in religious belief too.)

It is massively improbable that religion will ever be removed from human societies as they actually are. So atheists have to find a more realistic and feasible way to relate to religion

We should try to understand religion because without such an understanding we lack an adequate sense of a fundamental part of human civilization and its history, and we therefore lack a proper understanding of ourselves.

This book is written from an atheist point of view, but it differs from some recent atheist writings on religion in two ways. First, it is not about the truth of religious belief but about its meaning:

Religious belief is not simply a cosmology or simply a morality, and it is not simply a cosmology plus morality.

Rather than looking for a strict definition, we should seek “an understanding of religions by following the way they developed historically”—in Émile Durkheim’s words.

the origin of the concept of the religious, as something opposed to the secular, is a matter of controversy and still somewhat obscure.

has four essential elements: first, religion is systematic; second, it is practical; third, it is an attempt to find meaning; and fourth, it appeals to the transcendent.

First, the systematic. Being genuinely religious is not simply having a vague sense of the spiritual, significant as this psychological phenomenon may be.

this belief has to be fitted into a system of beliefs or metaphors or stories—about God and the sacred, for example, and about how to live one’s life

Second, religion is practical. It involves not just believing in certain propositions or doctrines, or knowing
certain stories, but also it involves acting in a certain way.

These things, and the attempts I have just mentioned, are attempts to find meaning in life; religion, as I see it, attempts to find the meaning of life as a whole, what Armstrong has called the “investment of everything with ultimate meaning.”

It is common, as we shall see, to describe the religious commitment to the transcendent as a commitment to the “supernatural”

belief in the supernatural cannot be sufficient for religious belief since it will not distinguish religion from magic

This conception of nature is a product of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and it would surely not have been acknowledged before that time.

The transcendent is something beyond or outside our experience. Religion is the systematic, practical attempt to align oneself with the transcendent, and God (under various names and guises) is the principal way in which the transcendent has been conceived.

The religious impulse is the need to live one’s life in harmony with the transcendent (for example, the will of God). And “identification” is my term for the fact that religions are social institutions; the fact that, as Durkheim says, one does not just believe in a religion, one belongs to it.

the New Atheists have a “fundamentalist” or “literalist” conception of religious belief. As the anthropologist Pascal Boyer observes, If people tell you “Religion is faith in a doctrine that teaches us how to save our souls by obeying a wise and eternal creator of the universe,” these people probably have not travelled or read widely enough.

the features that philosophers identify as essential to belief—accessibility to consciousness, the connection to action, and the aim at truth—all apply equally to religious belief.

My own atheism is a consequence of my denial of the transcendent. I believe the world around us that we experience, together with the invisible world described by science, is all there is. Nothing transcends it.

Atheism and agnosticism are genuinely distinct positions. Neither of them, however, offers any positive
substantial doctrines about what the world is like or how we should live.

Humanists are those atheists who feel the need for a distinctive moral outlook and more—perhaps rituals, meetings, or a sense of community.

unless we are going to stretch the meaning of the word beyond all usefulness, we should insist that a religion involves a commitment to the transcendent,

It is a significant fact, though, that many atheists feel the need to belong to a movement, and that they feel the need for rituals to mark the important moments in life: birth, marriage, and death.

Since I count myself as an atheist who is not a humanist, I’m taking it for granted that atheism is not the same thing as humanism.

Atheism, a mere factual, negative thesis, entails no specific view about the nature of morality. Humanism, insofar as it elevates the human as the source of all morality, is a further thesis.

Instead I will attempt to enter the debate between New Atheists and believers. It will be obvious to all readers that apart from its bad temper, the most striking feature of this debate is its stagnation.

We don’t really have a debate at all, in fact; just people talking past each other or shouting at each other.

. My principal objection is that the New Atheists have an inadequate conception of religion, and this is largely why they are ignored by those they criticize: most religious believers simply do not recognize themselves in the picture of religion painted by the New Atheists.

William James, “Were one asked to characterise the life of religion in the broadest and most general terms, one might say that it consists in the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”1 This belief is what I will call the religious impulse.

The order physics talks about is order as contrasted with randomness or chaos; but the order that is the focus of the religious impulse is a normative order, the order of how things ought to be.

Normality is just a matter of regularity, whereas normativity is a matter of conforming to some kind of standard or ideal.

A widespread expression of the religious impulse is the familiar thought that this can’t be all there is; there must be something more to the world.

Days follow one another, a generation comes and a generation goes. If this were all there is, then the world
would be meaningless. The religious impulse involves the view that the world is not meaningless.

I am a pessimistic atheist. I think the religious impulse is intelligible, but I agree with Thomas Nagel when he says that “the universe revealed by chemistry and physics, however beautiful and aweinspiring, is meaningless,

The second way in which the idea of counterintuitive beliefs is a simplification is that it assumes a standard of what is “intuitive” that derives from the beliefs of contemporary scientific, secular culture.

What needs to be addressed when looking at religion as a psychological or social phenomenon is not what seems “counterintuitive” to the contemporary scientific mind but how the participants themselves regard their own religious belief.

We should distinguish then between what Nagel calls the religious temperament and what I call the religious impulse. The religious temperament a collection of different psychological traits; the religious impulse is the complex content of a specific belief.

The various religions have understood the transcendent in different ways, but I think a common element in all of them is the idea that God or the divine (or whatever transcends) is not entirely intelligible to us.

the cosmological content of the religious impulse is quite different from Richard Dawkins’s God Hypothesis

The unseen order need not involve any idea of something superhuman or any claim about intelligence.

the God Hypothesis says nothing about how to live, which is an essential part of the idea I took from James— our greatest good consists in living in harmony with this order. And third, Dawkins’s hypothesis contains no suggestion that God might be beyond our understanding;

the question is whether religious belief should be thought of as something comparable to this kind of hypothesis at all.

something that is arguably the most central aspect of religious cosmology: its claim to meaning. The religious impulse gives the believer’s life meaning.

the idea that there is a transcendent order that extends beyond what we can experience is an existence claim that is not, I would say, scientific. Nor is the idea that our supreme good is to live in harmony with this order.

the styles of thinking involved in science and religion are so different that it undermines the idea that there is a straightforward conflict between them. This is why it is also not unreasonable for a scientist well informed about the state of scientific knowledge also to endorse the religious impulse.

Another difference between science and religion is that while religious belief is widespread, scientific
knowledge is not. In fact, a rather small proportion of the world’s seven billion people are actually interested in the details of contemporary scientific theories.

Taken as scientific or protoscientific hypotheses, religious claims fare pretty badly: they are ad hoc, they are arbitrary, they rarely make predictions, and when they do they almost never come true.

Religious belief tolerates a high degree of mystery and ignorance in its understanding of the world, to an extent that would be inexplicable if it were a hypothesis forming endeavor.

This is the heart of the difference between science and religion. Religion is an attempt to make sense of the world, but it does not try to do this in the way science does.

As Pascal Boyer points out, we should not assume that religion had its origin in the desire for the kind of explanation that science provides. Of all the kinds of things that we count as explanations, modern scientific explanation is only one.

Hypotheses, then, are not central to religious belief—what is central is the commitment to the meaningfulness of the world.

Faith is not simply belief, in the sense introduced in Chapter 1. It is rather a kind of commitment to a worldview, through thick and thin;

faith is not certainty but something more like a committed struggle to understand in the face of the palpable mystery of the world—

What the cosmology plus morality picture leaves out, then, is something that seems absolutely central to the religions I am considering here: religious practice.

But what exactly is religious practice, and how is it connected with what I am calling the religious impulse? To answer this question, we first need to reflect on two obvious and often overlooked features of such practices: the fact that believers generally don’t invent religious practices themselves; and the fact that they participate in practices together with other people.

Identification with a group is what connects the two features of religious practice: its repetitiousness and its social character.

For Durkheim, this is what distinguishes religion from magic. Magical belief can manifest itself in rites and involves appeal to the supernatural. But “magic does not bind its followers to one another and unite them in a single group living the same life. A church of magic does not exist.”

Genuinely religious practice must involve membership or belonging. Membership is made possible either by some initiation rite or by being born into the relevant group.

In its broadest outlines, the phenomenon of identification is a quite general human phenomenon, not restricted to religious believers. But the ways it manifests itself in religious and national identification are in some aspects similar and in some aspects different.

in identifying with your faith or church, you typically see it as part of what constitutes your identity. This is what it means to belong.

Roger Scruton’s words, being a member of a religious faith is a matter of standing in “a network of relations that are neither contractual nor negotiated.”

What such rationalist philosophy has difficulty in finding a place for is the centrality of those convictions,
attachments, and commitments we have that cannot be derived from, or justified in terms of, any kind of
principle of justice or fairness, or anything like a rational contract.

In this way, belonging to a religion is less like belonging to a political party and more like belonging to a family.

human society is religious through and through, both in terms of what human habits and structures it involves and in terms of what traces religious ideas have left in even the most secular societies.

How might science be able to give meaning to scientists’ lives if they do not belong to a community of
scientists? This seems to me a very good question, and the answer to it is not obvious.

My answer is that the link between the religious impulse and identification is made by the idea of the sacred. The idea that the sacred is what characterizes religion is again familiar from Durkheim’s work.

Durkheim observed that the distinction between sacred things and nonsacred (“profane”) things is central to all religions, and he defined a religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things.”

But if something is a church, then that thing itself (as opposed to some of its parts) cannot also be profane. And there is nothing that is neither sacred nor profane.

There is no parallel to desecration in the case of magical objects. And it is no part of genuine religious belief that the sacred text has magical powers.

The internal meaning of these objects is always to indicate something about the transcendent unseen order, and their significance lies in the fact that they are part of the everyday world but point beyond it to something non everyday that gives significance to everything.

Indeed, the need for objects to point beyond the everyday is one of the most familiar and intelligible needs that religious practices and ceremonies attempt to answer.

The second role of sacred things, which I call its external role, is to unify the members of a religion. Religions are united in their membership by its common commitment to the same catalogue of sacred things.

Again the contrast with magic is striking. Magic “does not bind its followers to one another and unite them in a single group living the same life,”

The sacred, then, is what connects the two elements of religious belief that are the core themes of this book—the religious impulse and identification.

The idea that religion is the principal cause of the world’s violence and suffering is a common theme in New Atheist writing. But it seems to me that this claim is a large exaggeration and does not survive either a careful scrutiny of the facts or a proper understanding of what makes a conflict religious.

The second is that religious institutions have been in some way uniquely responsible for the worst horrors and evils of the human race. The first idea is obviously true, and the second obviously false.

the nonreligious regimes of Stalin, Mao, and Adolf Hitler are clearly responsible for some of the worst atrocities in civilization. The second idea is simply unsustainable.

Yet Stalinism, Nazism, and Maoism appeal to no supernatural agencies. So New Atheists can’t hold both that the essence of religion is its belief in the supernatural and that its essence is merely cultic, dogmatic groupthink (even assuming this is a good description of Stalinism and Nazism—which it surely isn’t).

Not all rituals are religious rituals; not everything that religion’s critics might call a “shrine” is really a shrine. Nothing in Nazism, Stalinism, or Maoism corresponds to what in actual religions is considered sacred.

Religion’s role in violent conflict has been said to derive from the explicitly theological content of (theistic) religions; nontheological elements of religious doctrines, such as rules about how to live or worship; the element of identification, which I have argued is essential to religion; aspects of human psychology, society, and culture that are not essentially religious. With the exception of the appeal to (1), which has little to be said for it, my conclusion will be that what is called religious violence or conflict is normally some complex combination of (2), (3), and (4).

Religion plays some role in the Northern Irish conflict, but in this case only because religion is the locus of identification.

one thing that drives groups of people to kill, fight, and harass each other is the complex relationship of
identification that people have to their social groups. Identification is independent of religion, in the sense that it can exist without religion—but, as I argued in Chapter 3, it is an element in religion.

What does “ethnic” really mean in this context? Ethnicity is not about a genetic or biological feature of people—

An ethnicity is, for the most part, a shared language, a shared religion, a shared believed history of a group, or some combination of these.

The complexity of factors that move people toward religious violence, it seems to me, defies any serious attempt to characterize religion as uniquely

even when a conflict is typically—and correctly—described in religious terms, this does not by itself mean that religion is the driving force in that conflict.

While there certainly are insights contained within the Marxian and Freudian views, their largescale
visions are surely implausible and we should reject them.

that religious belief is not necessarily irrational, that there can be considerations that people take to count in its favor, and that these people need not be unreasonable in doing so.

what should we conclude about the rationality of religious belief in general? We need to recognize that a belief’s being false is not necessarily the same as its being irrational.

To show that religious belief is, as such, irrational, you would need to show that it can never be based on good reasoning or on good reasons. I don’t think this can be done.

And as a generalization about human psychology, the idea that there is a correlation between irrationality and wickedness is very implausible.

behind the New Atheists’ passion lies a certain optimism about human nature: that with religion eliminated, we will see the world aright and will become better people. A glance at recent human history shows how questionable this connection is.

any external assessment of the value of religion as a whole has to take into account its enormous positive value in many people’s lives.

the sense of belonging to a culture and having a history; the sense of the ineffable in the world; the sense that there is value in something beyond the satisfaction of one’s desires of the present moment.

But even if religious belief were in some straightforward way the source of the main problems of the world— which I doubt, for the reasons given here—it is not obvious that the best way to deal with this is to try to change people’s beliefs by telling them that they are stupid, irrational, or hopelessly ignorant.

Some New Atheists have claimed that religion is in decline worldwide, but this strikes me as wishful thinking. There is no serious prospect that the religious impulse and religious structures will disappear from human societies.

necessary task of the present time is to accept the irreducible reality of religion.”2 Religion is a deep, pervasive, and probably ineliminable aspect of human society, with some good features and some bad.

None of these ideas fits the New Atheist picture of religion as a kind of protoscientific theory, or as a protoscientific theory plus a moral code. It is because the New Atheists fail to see the heart of religion that they are unable to engage with their opponents in any intelligible way.

Looked at in this way, the New Atheists’ campaign against religion seems excessively optimistic and idealistic. Religious belief is very unlikely to be removed by scientific evidence,

Atheists are not going to eliminate religion, either through legislation or through rational argument. The
problems the world is facing are practical political problems, problems whose solutions need cooperation, coordination, and compromise.
Religions exist for people to achieve together what they cannot achieve alone. - David Sloan Wilson
Beiträge: 1219
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Re: Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief

Beitragvon nautilus am Di 21. Nov 2017, 21:45

Mir kommt schon lange vor, dass ich irgendetwas am Wesen der des Phänomens Religion nicht verstehe. Vielleicht finde ich das Buch irgendwann, dann werde ich es mir durchlesen.
Beiträge: 5858
Registriert: 02.10.2009

Re: Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief

Beitragvon Bergamotte am Fr 22. Dez 2017, 19:02

Bis zur Hälfte gelesen… also wenn da nicht noch großartig was kommt, dann hätte man die Informationen auch in einen längeren Artikel packen können und nicht gleich ein ganzes Buch schreiben müssen.
Beiträge: 348
Registriert: 27.02.2017

Re: Tim Crane: The Meaning of Belief

Beitragvon manniro am Sa 23. Dez 2017, 12:31

Das Honorar für ein Buch unterscheidet sich deutlich von dem für einen Artikel. :wink:

Am Anfang war das Wort - am Ende die Phrase.(Lec).
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Registriert: 04.04.2006

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