Monday, July 21, 2008

Religion vs. Belief

At Salon, Steve Paulson interviews James Carse, author of "The Religious Case Against Belief". He offers a lot to contemplate. A few snips.....

A belief system is meant to be a comprehensive network of ideas about what one thinks is absolutely real and true. Within that system, everything is adequately explained and perfectly reasonable. You know exactly how far to go with your beliefs and when to stop your thinking. A belief system is defined by an absolute authority. The authority can be a text or an institution or a person. So it's very important to understand a belief system as independent of religion.

Belief systems have virtually no longevity. Think of Marxism. As a serious political policy, it lasted only about 70 or 80 years. Nazism only went 12 years. And they were intense, complete, comprehensive, passionately held beliefs. But they ran out very quickly. The reason the great religions don't run out as quickly is that they're able to maintain within themselves a deeper sense of the mystery, of the unknowable, of the unsayable, that keeps the religion alive and guarantees its vitality.

There have been a lot of fantasies about putting all the religions together. Mahatma Gandhi was famous for saying that all religions are, at their core, the same. But I have spent my life studying these traditions. I am a historian of religion. And the more I studied them, the more I saw that they were absolutely different.

If God is defined as some sort of transcendent reality, do you think God exists?
[Laughs] Frankly, no.

When you look at belief systems from a religious perspective, what's exposed is how limited they are, how deeply authoritarian they are, how rationalistic and comprehensive they claim to be, but at the same time how little staying power they have with the human imagination. It's a deeper and much more incisive critique.

Today, the world is really being ravaged by conflicts between believers......
So it's very important to understand how different belief systems work and what's inherently wrong with them.

"the vast literature on Jesus is not about anything; that, in fact, it says nothing."

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