Religion is More than Belief

snowroad

Religion, spirituality, and belief have often been lumped together over the years, even though they have some inherent incongruities.

I recently made a comparison between religion and spirituality. As a quick follow up, it’s worth mentioning that my declaration about religion being based on belief in a supreme being was necessarily narrow in order for the very valid contrasts to be simple to understand.

I stand by the statement. That is the basis of it, at least with respect to the spiritual kind of religion (as opposed to one who has a religion about some secular thing like exercising). But that’s not all there is to it. Its main value may not be in its propositional content. Religion (in loosest terms) is not necessarily a set of scientific, objective claims about the universe. It’s not just beliefs. It’s a set of practices and rituals that have stood the test of time.

Things that have endured for a long time are, by probability, likely to endure – otherwise they would have died out already. It is hard to see The OdysseyThe BibleThe Iliad and similar works being forgotten, whereas last year’s bestseller is unlikely to be remembered in 100 years, let alone 1000. Time may refine things by getting rid of the bad parts & keeping the parts that humans have found valuable. Because religion has stood the test of time, we must acknowledge that with respect to probability, it must be valuable to humans in some essential way. In other words, it’s probable that if there were no human value, it would not have withstood the test of time.

Taken further, we could assume that when there is something in nature we don’t understand, odds are it makes sense in some deeper way that is beyond our understanding. So there is a logic to natural things that is superior to our own. What Mother Nature does is rigorous until proven otherwise; what humans and science do is flawed until proven otherwise.

Religion is more about trust, or faith than about the objective, predictive claims that science deals in. The belief in religion is ‘epiphenomenal’, i.e. follows from practice, not the other way around. It’s about practice such as going to church, fasting, celebrating holidays such as Easter, various dietary restrictions, collective prayer, and so on.

If something like religion (or wine, or cities, or biological organisms, etc.) has been around for a long time, you may think of it as antifragile – otherwise it would have died out. If religion has endured for this long, it probably encodes a bunch of practices that – even if we can’t see the point of some of them – are likely to be right for humanity in some way. At least instrumentally, and maybe more.

 

 

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4 Responses to “Religion is More than Belief”


  1. 1 Todd Smith November 7, 2016 at 4:48 am

    i’m with you here. the intelligentsia like to condescend on religion (opiate of the masses etc etc); but gimme a break. there is a (higher) place where we don’t judge. if it works for somebody, who is anyone else to judge and call it false. for “the masses” there is no distinction between the belief and the associated dogma and ritual. i’ve come to think of the dogma/ ritual as sort of an external layer, like an epidermis, a wrapper around the guts, which is the belief itself. the analogy holds, i.e. we’re all the same inside regardless of the color of our skin. the differences in the attributes of the wrapper are absolutely superficial

  2. 2 Todd Smith November 7, 2016 at 4:49 am

    this is a relatively recent evolution in my thinking btw

  3. 3 David Stewart November 7, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Reading some stuff now that further suggests that the actions (ritual) may be a constitutive part of belief.

  4. 4 David Stewart November 7, 2016 at 10:36 am

    …as in a necessary function to help enable belief, or faith.


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