Tag Archives: Religious belief

Believers more childish than childlike

Professor of New Testament Craig Keener writes very long and very detailed scholarly books about Jesus. He also presents himself as having converted from atheism to Christianity. Do a web search on Keener and atheist and you’ll find many sites likewise presenting him as a poster-boy for how atheism stood no chance against the intellectual inquiries of Keener into the Christian faith. But then you read Keener’s own testimony about his “atheism” and conversion and you learn he became an atheist at the ripe age of nine and converted to Christianity at the mature age of fifteen. A lost soul in search of a home?

Keener addresses the “problem of evil” for believers in God in Where was God when tragedy happened?—Exodus 1:22. He begins by reciting the most common of religious mantras: goodness and justice will always win in the end. Every child is taught this to be true in order to protect them from the traumatic reality of the real world.

Keener’s conclusion is the saddest of all, the fantasies of childhood have never left the adult:

God does not always prevent tragedy—but he does ensure his plan for the future of his people and for ultimate justice.

Indeed, Exodus resounds with the recognition that God, while not always stopping human wickedness, does not look the other way:

Adult view: God looks at the suffering of people having their children murdered now but can think only of his “long-term plan” so watches them suffer and die. Don’t worry, you Jews dying in Auschwitz; some of those responsible will be hanged at Nuremberg! Comforting — except that God won’t even tell them that much!

Consider how God would return against the next generation of Egyptians what Pharaoh had done. Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the first plague would turn the Nile to blood (7:20).

Lovely. “Next generation” who were not responsible for the suffering he had just witnessed get to be punished, not to mention the killing of entire species of Nile-dwelling creatures. A professor of New Testament seriously writes that this is the beginning of “God’s justice”!

Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); the last plague would strike Egypt’s firstborn children (12:29).

Of course. Kill the sons, whether infants or mature adults, of the generation who bore no responsibility for the earlier crime against humanity. Kill the innocent, even adult first-born. Rob the innocent parents of their firstborn children.

And a mature adult who writes serious books about the historical Jesus teaches fellow-believers that this is God’s justice.

Pharaoh drowned Israel’s babies in the Nile (1:22); God would drown Egypt’s army in a sea of reeds (14:28).

Only a child could imagine this as “justice”.

Though long-delayed, justice would come. As we often say in the African-American church, “God doesn’t always come when you want Him to, but He’s always right on time.”

“Always comes right on time” — like, a generation after the cruel deaths and pain inflicted on an entire race, so late that he finds he has only innocents left to kill. “Always comes right on time”.

Thus are the teachings of a serious adult professor of New Testament and author of academic works.

A soul having found a home remains protected from the realities of life by means of the perpetuation of childish fantasies.

 

 

Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief: 1

Neil Van Leeuwen
Neil Van Leeuwen

I’m looking here at a thesis on the nature of religious belief, <em>Religious Credence is Not Factual Belief</em>, by Neil Van Leeuwen that was published in the journal Cognition last year. The author has also made his article publicly available on academia.edu. A commenter brought the article to my attention in the context of disagreements over the relationship between religious beliefs and Islamic terrorist attacks. One reason I am attracted to Van Leeuwen’s ideas is that they appear to be consistent with anthropologist Scott Atran’s views of the nature of religious belief that I have discussed previously.

First point to notice (and it is critical to the entire argument) is that Van Leeuwen chooses to speak of “religious credence” as opposed to “religious belief”.

Many philosophers and cognitive scientists have a habit of using the word “belief” as though it refers to one simple sort of cognitive attitude. . . . But, I will argue, if we examine the matter carefully, we will soon find empirical reasons to think this habit is a source of confusion. 

We tend to focus on differences in the content of “beliefs” (evolution, creationism; death is final, immortal soul) but in doing so we may be talking about distinctly different attitudes that fall under this one word. He draws the analogy of jade. In popular usage there may be only one kind of jade, but to chemists there are two distinct entities:

jade (2)

The general “taken for granted” assumption is that the only difference between a scientific and a religious belief is the content and that it is the different contents that guide behaviour.

Here is an adaptation of a diagram Van Leeuwen uses to portray the general understanding that there is only one kind of “belief” that is set against other cognitive attitudes. Belief (of any kind) by its very nature stands opposed to other forms of cognitive attitudes:

model1

Van Leeuwen argues against this understanding of belief and believes that on closer inspection that religious “belief” has characteristics in common with other attitudes like imagining, hypothesising, acceptance in a context and conditional assumptions. Factual beliefs, he says, do not share these characteristics. To keep the distinction clear he uses “credence” when speaking of the cognitive attitude associated with religion:

model2

So what are the characteristics that set religious credence apart from factual belief in Van Leeuwen’s view? And what is the relationship between factual beliefs and religious credence? Do they really have more than their content to distinguish them? read more »