Let’s return to an issue that we dealt with back in April, when I asked you all a question about belief. The question dealt with what it means that we may believe differently about different things. You can read answers at this link.
A couple of weeks ago, Keven Willey, the Morning News‘ editorial page editor, passed along this essay from Stanford anthropologist T. M. Luhrmann, author of “When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God.” As you will see from this link as well, Luhrmann gets into several lines of thought about belief and how we arrive at it religious convictions.
What I would like you to comment upon is this part of her New York Times essay:
“The role of belief in religion is greatly overstated, as anthropologists have long known. In 1912, Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern social science, argued that religion arose as a way for social groups to experience themselves as groups. He thought that when people experienced themselves in social groups, they felt bigger than themselves, better, more alive — and that they identified that aliveness as something supernatural. Religious ideas arose to make some sense of this experience of being part of something greater. Durkheim thought that belief was more like a flag than a philosophical position: You don’t go to church because you believe in God; rather you believe in God because you go to church.”
Applying that thinking to religion in general, not just churches, here is the question for the week: Is belief overrated?
AMY MARTIN, Director Emeritus of Earth Rhythms and Writer/editor Moonlady News Newsletter
The lullaby of belief is what lets you place your head on the pillow and go to sleep at night. It helps us make sense of the world.
For some, beliefs are theories that shape their ontology, unfolding and modifying as layers of awareness and knowledge accrue. To other, beliefs are bricks, used to build, establish and define. There are beliefs of the individual, formed from their own introspection, and beliefs forged from social contract that foster bonding.
Yet within the axiom of belief, if you put 150 Christians in a room, you’ll find 150 different beliefs on Christianity, 150 interpretations of the Nicene Creed. When people work out their details of their beliefs, often in that quiet amorphous time between wake and sleep, what emerges can diverge greatly from the church party line. Yet they feel comfortable enough to stay, finding those shared elements that are beyond belief.
As the comedic actor Peter Ustinov wisely observed: “Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.”
Like most “spiritual not religious,” I am a member of the Church of the I Don’t Know. After many long nights of the soul, I have become comfortable with ambiguity. In humility I submit to the divine the knowledge that not me, not anyone, will never have all the answers, instead seeing all religions and belief structures as the penultimate solution to the mystery of our existence.
There have been nights when sleep eluded me, when doubts dogged the gap between wake and sleep and I have begged for the comfort of belief. I have thought of those I love and crumbled inside from the pain of mortality, stood beneath the pale urban midnight sky and even in the starless city felt taunted my powerlessness. Knowing I could no longer escape, I submitted to the sacred night, the repository of doubt, and let go. Humble before the mystery, I found faith in the absence of belief.