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Role of belief in religion

John Gray's A Point of View, which was broadcast last Sunday, dealt with question of belief as a foundation for religion. Gray is not himself religious but he has no sympathy with the 'modern atheists' who want to do away with religion in the name of scientific rationality. Religion, according to Gray, is mostly not concerned with acceptance of creeds but is a 'repository of myth'.

In other words, religions tell stories. This is a view I sympathise with - in fact, it is at the core of my book Religion, Language, Narrative and the Search for Meaning. For many people, religion matters to them in much the same way as does drama or literature. In ancient Greece going to the theatre was a form of religious experience. And the forms of Christian worship that are flourishing most vigorously today are those that involve a lot of singing and clapping and mininal intellectual content.

In a review of my earlier book, Totality Beliefs and the Religious Imagination, Edward Tabash disagreed with my view that religion would always exist.

With enough time and a sufficiently pervasive rationalist educational outreach encouraging people to ground their beliefs in rational thought, science, philosophy, and the empirical method, the general public--or at least very large numbers of people--could be moved to question and doubt all religious dogma.

This is the idea that Gray is criticising, and I think he is right to do so. But the fact remains that once Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine and his successors, the question of correct belief became central to it. And that is still largely true today. Biblical literalists reject Darwin's ideas and insist on the factual accuracy of Genesis. For such people, myths are taken to be literally true. And while Gray is right to say that other religions may not share this emphasis on the role of right belief, Christianity is the dominant religion in the world today.


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