Religious belief is the belief in the reality of the mythological, supernatural, or spiritual aspects of a religion. Religious belief is distinct from religious practice or religious behaviours with some believers not practicing religion and some practitioners not believing religion. Religious beliefs, being derived from ideas that are exclusive to religion, often relate to the existence, characteristics and worship of a deity or deities, divine intervention in the universe and human life, or the deontological explanations for the values and practices centered on the teachings of a spiritual leader or group. In contrast to other belief systems, religious beliefs are usually codified.
- 1 Forms of religious belief
- 2 Approaches to the beliefs of others
- 3 Reasons for adherence to religious belief
- 4 Reasons for rejection of religious belief
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
Forms of religious belief
While it is popularly conceived that religions each have identifiable and exclusive sets of beliefs or creeds, surveys of religious belief have often found that the official doctrine and descriptions of the beliefs offered by religious authorities do not always comport with the privately held beliefs of those who identify as members of a particular religion. A broad classification of the kinds of religious belief is documented below
Some believe that religion cannot be separated from other aspects of life, or believe that certain cultures did not or do not separate their religious activities from other activities in the same way that some people in modern Western cultures do.
Some anthropologists report cultures in which gods are involved in every aspect of life - if a cow goes dry, a god has caused this, and must be propitiated, when the sun rises in the morning, a god has caused this, and must be thanked. Even in modern Western cultures, many people see supernatural forces behind every event, as described by Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World.
People with this worldview often consider the influence of Western culture to be inimical. Others with this world view resist the influence of science, and believe that science, or "so-called science", should be guided by religion. Still others with this worldview believe that all political decisions and laws should be guided by religion. This last belief is written into the constitution of many Islamic nations, and is shared by some fundamentalist Christians.
In addition, beliefs about the supernatural or metaphysical may not presuppose a difference between any such thing as nature and non-nature, nor between science and what the most educated people believe. In the view of some historians, the pre-Socratic Athenians saw science, political tradition, culture and religion as not easily distinguishable, but all part of the same body of knowledge and wisdom available to a community.
First used in the context of Early Christianity, orthodoxy is a term that refers to a religious belief that closely follows the edicts, apologies, and hermeneutics of a prevailing religious authority. In the case of Early Christianity, this authority was the communion of bishops, and is often referred to by the term [Magisterium]. The term orthodox was applied almost as an epithet to a group of Jewish believers who held to pre-Enlightenment understanding of Judaism and now known as Orthodox Judaism. The Eastern Orthodox Church of Christianity, as well as the Catholic Church, consider themselves to be the true heir to the Early Christian belief and practice. The antonym of orthodox is heterodox and those adhering to orthodoxy often accuse the heterodox of apostasy, schism, or heresy.
First self-applied as a term to the conservative doctrine outlined by anti-modernist Protestants in the United States of America, fundamentalism as a religious belief is associated with a strict adherence to an interpretation of scriptures that are generally associated with theologically conservative positions or traditional understandings of the text and are distrustful of innovative readings, new revelation, or alternate interpretations. Religious fundamentalism has been identified in the media as being associated with fanatical or zealous political movements around the world that have used a strict adherence to a particular religious doctrine as a means to establish political identity and enforce societal norms.
The Renaissance and later the Enlightenment in Europe were associated with varying degrees of religious tolerance and intolerance towards new religious ideas. The Philosophes took particular exception to many of the more fantastical claims of religions and directly challenged religious authority and the prevailing beliefs associated with the established churches. In response to the liberalizing political and social movements, some religious groups attempted to integrate Enlightenment ideals of rationality, equality, and individual liberty into their belief systems, especially into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Reform Judaism and Liberal Christianity are two examples of such religious associations.
In Buddhism, practice and progress along the spiritual path happens when one follows the system of Buddhist practice. Any religion which follows (parts of) the fundamentals of this system has, according to the teachings of Buddha, good aspects to the extent it accords with this system. Any religion which goes against (parts of) the fundamentals of this system, includes bad aspects too. Any religion which does not teach certain parts of this system, is not because of this a 'bad' religion; it just lacks those teachings and is to that extent incomplete.
A question by the monk Subhadda to the Buddha:
"O Gotama, there are Samanas (wandering monks) and Brahmanas (religious leaders) who are leaders of their sects, who are well-esteemed by many people, such as Purana Kassapa, Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambala, Pakudha Kaccayana, Sancaya Belatthaputta and Nigantha Nataputta. Do all of them have knowledge and understanding as they themselves have declared? Or do all of them have no knowledge and understanding?"
The reply by Buddha was:
"Subhadda, in whatever teaching is not found the Noble Eightfold Path, neither in it is there found a Samana of the first stage, nor a Samana of the second stage, nor a Samana of the third stage, nor a Samana of the fourth stage."
As a religious tradition, Hinduism has experienced many attempts at systemization. In medieval times, Shankara advocated for the Advaita system of philosophy. In recent times, Tamala Krishna Gosvami has researched the systemization of Krishna theology as expounded by Srila Prabhupada. (See Krishnology)
A term signifying derogation that is used by the religious and non-religious alike, superstition is the deprecated belief in supernatural causation. Those who deny the existence of the supernatural generally attribute all beliefs associated with it to be superstitious while a typical religious critique of superstition holds that it either encompasses beliefs in non-existent supernatural activity or that the supernatural activity is inappropriately feared or held in improper regard (see idolatry). Occultism, animism, paganism, and other folk religions were strongly condemned by Christian Churches as mean forms of superstition, though such condemnation did not necessarily eliminate the beliefs among the common people and many such religious beliefs persist to today.
Approaches to the beliefs of others
Adherents of particular religions deal with the differing doctrines and practices espoused by other religions in a variety ways. All strains of thought appear in different segments of all major world religions.
People with pluralist beliefs make no distinction between faith systems, viewing each one as valid within a particular culture. Examples include:
- Extracts from the Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji (Sikh Holy Scriptures), "There is only the One Supreme Lord God; there is no other at all" (Pannaa 45). "By His Power the Vedas and the Puranas exist, and the Holy Scriptures of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religions. By His Power all deliberations exist." (Pannaa 464). "Some call Him, 'Ram, Ram', and some call Him, 'Khudaa-i'. Some serve Him as 'Gusain', others as 'Allaah'. ||1|| He is the Cause of causes, the Generous Lord. He showers His Grace and Mercy upon us amen." (Pannaa 885).
People with syncretistic views blend the views of a variety of different religions or traditional beliefs into a unique fusion which suits their particular experience and context (see eclecticism). Unitarian Universalism is an example of a syncretistic faith.
People with exclusivist beliefs typically explain other religions as either in error, or as corruptions or counterfeits of the true faith. This approach is a fairly consistent feature among smaller new religious movements that often rely on doctrine that claims a unique revelation by the founder or leaders, and consider it a matter of faith that the religion has a monopoly on truth. All three major Abrahamic monotheistic religions have passages in their holy scriptures that attest to the primacy of the scriptural testimony and indeed monotheism itself is often couched as an innovation characterized specifically by its explicit rejection of earlier polytheistic faiths.
Some exclusivist faiths incorporate a specific element of proselytization. This is a strongly held belief in the Christian tradition which follows the doctrine of the Great Commission, and is less emphasized by the Islamic faith where the Quranic edict "There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256) is often quoted as a justification for toleration of alternative beliefs, while the Jewish tradition is one that does not actively seek out converts.
Exclusivism correlates with conservative, fundamentalist, and orthodox approaches of many religions while pluralistic and syncretist approaches either explicitly downplay or reject the exclusivist tendencies of the religion.
People with inclusivist beliefs recognize some truth in all faith systems, highlighting agreements and minimizing differences. The attitude is sometimes associated with Interfaith dialogue or the Christian Ecumenical movement, though in principle such attempts at pluralism are not necessarily inclusivist and many actors in such interactions (for example, the Roman Catholic Church) still hold to exclusivist dogma while participating in inter-religious organizations.
Explicitly inclusivist religions include many that are associated with the New Age movement as well as modern reinterpretations of Hinduism and Buddhism. The Bahá'í Faith considers it doctrine that there is truth in all faith systems.
Reasons for adherence to religious belief
Typical reasons for adherence to religion include the following:
- "Moral framework": Belief in God is seen by some to be necessary for moral behavior.
- "Majesty and tradition": Many people consider religious practices to be serene, beautiful, and conducive to religious experiences, which in turn support religious beliefs.
- "Community and culture": Organized religions promote a sense of community among their followers, and the moral and cultural common ground of these communities makes them attractive to people with the same values. Indeed, while religious beliefs and practices are usually connected, some individuals with substantially secular beliefs still participate in religious practices for cultural reasons.
- "Spiritual and psychological benefits": Each religion asserts that it is a means by which its adherents may come into closer contact with God, Truth, and Spiritual Power. They all promise to free adherents from spiritual bondage, and bring them into spiritual freedom. It naturally follows that a religion which frees its adherents from deception, sin, and spiritual death will have significant mental health benefits. Abraham Maslow's research after World War II showed that Holocaust survivors tended to be those who held strong religious beliefs (not necessarily temple attendance, etc.), suggesting it helped people cope in extreme circumstances. Humanistic psychology went on to investigate how religious or spiritual identity may have correlations with longer lifespan and better health. The study found that humans may particularly need religious ideas to serve various emotional needs such as the need to feel loved, the need to belong to homogeneous groups, the need for understandable explanations and the need for a guarantee of ultimate justice. Other factors may involve sense of purpose, sense of identity, sense of contact with the divine. See also Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, detailing his experience with the importance of religion in surviving the Holocaust. Critics assert that the very fact that religion was the primary selector for research subjects may have introduced a bias, and that the fact that all subjects were holocaust survivors may also have had an effect. According to Larson et al. (2000), "[m]ore longitudinal research with better multidimensional measures will help further clarify the roles of these [religious] factors and whether they are beneficial or harmful."
Reasons for rejection of religious belief
Typical reasons for rejection of religion include the following:
- "Irrational and unbelievable creeds": The fundamental doctrines of some religions are considered by some to be illogical, contrary to experience, or unsupported by sufficient evidence, and are rejected for those reasons. Even some believers may have difficulty accepting particular religious assertions or doctrines. Some people believe the body of evidence available to humans to be insufficient to justify certain religious beliefs. They may thus disagree with religious interpretations of ethics and human purpose, or various creation myths. This reason has perhaps been aggravated by the protestations of some fundamentalist Christians.
- "Cause of division, hatred, and war": Some religions include beliefs that certain groups of people are inferior or sinful and deserve contempt, persecution, or even death, and that non-believers will be punished for their unbelief in an after-life. For example, some atheists believe that, because of this, religion is incompatible with world peace, freedom, civil rights, equality, and good government. On the other hand, most religions perceive atheism as a threat and will vigorously and violently defend themselves against religious sterilization, making the attempt to remove public religious practices a source of strife.
- "Immoral doctrines": Some people may be unable to accept the values that a specific religion promotes (e.g., Islamic attitudes towards women) and will therefore not join that religion. They may also be unable to accept the fact that those who do not believe will go to hell or be damned, especially if said nonbelievers are close to the person. More recently, charges of speciesism against religions, both East and West, have posed a curiously re-discovered intellectually challenge: does one reject speciesist religions or merely the speciesist interpretations by speciesist affiliates who do not fully comprehend the breadth and depth of religious teachings? In other words, are religious teachings that describe the moral fallibility of human life more true because speciesism, a newly recognized sin, is evident even among religious affiliates?
- "Mental Health versus Mysticism and Self-Sacrifice" The maintenance of his life and the achievement of self-esteem require of man the fullest exercise of his reason—but morality, men are taught, rests on and requires faith. Faith is the commitment of one’s consciousness to beliefs for which one has no sensory evidence or rational proof. When a man rejects reason as his standard of judgment, only one alternative standard remains to him: his feelings. A mystic is a man who treats his feelings as tools of cognition. Faith is the equation of feeling with knowledge. To practice the “virtue” of faith, one must be willing to suspend one’s sight and one’s judgment; one must be willing to live with the unintelligible, with that which cannot be conceptualized or integrated into the rest of one’s knowledge, and to induce a trance like illusion of understanding. One must be willing to repress one’s critical faculty and hold it as one’s guilt; one must be willing to drown any questions that rise in protest—to strangle any trust of reason convulsively seeking to assert its proper function as the protector of one’s life and cognitive integrity. Man’s need of self-esteem entails the need for a sense of control over reality—but no control is possible in a universe which, by one’s own concession, contains the supernatural, the miraculous and the causeless, a universe in which one is at the mercy of ghosts and demons, in which one must deal, not with the unknown, but with the unknowable; no control is possible if man proposes, but a ghost disposes; no control is possible if the universe is a haunted house. His life and self-esteem require that the object and concern of man’s consciousness be reality and this earth—but morality, men are taught, consists of scorning this earth and the world available to sensory perception, and of contemplating, instead, a “different” and “higher” reality, a realm inaccessible to reason and incommunicable in language, but attainable by revelation, by special dialectical processes, by that superior state of intellectual lucidity known to Zen-Buddhists as “No-Mind,” or by death. His life and self-esteem require that man take pride in his power to think, pride in his power to live—but morality, men are taught, holds pride, and specifically intellectual pride, as the gravest of sins. Virtue begins, men are taught, with humility: with the recognition of the helplessness, the smallness, the impotence of one’s mind. His life and self-esteem require of man loyalty to his values, loyalty to his mind and its judgments, loyalty to his life—but the essence of morality, men are taught, consists of self-sacrifice: the sacrifice of one’s mind to some higher authority, and the sacrifice of one’s values to whoever may claim to require it. A sacrifice, it is necessary to remember, means the surrender of a higher value in favor of a lower value or of a nonvalue. If one gives up that which one does not value in order to obtain that which one does value—or if one gives up a lesser value in order to obtain a greater one—this is not a sacrifice, but a gain. Remember further that all of a man’s values exist in a hierarchy; he values some things more than others; and, to the extent that he is rational, the hierarchical order of his values is rational: that is, he values things in proportion to their importance in serving his life and well-being. That which is inimical to his life and well-being, that which is inimical to his nature and needs as a living being, he disvalues. Conversely, one of the characteristics of mental illness is a distorted value structure; the neurotic does not value things according to their objective merit, in relation to his nature and needs; he frequently values the very things that will lead him to self-destruction. Judged by objective standards, he is engaged in a chronic process of self-sacrifice. But if sacrifice is a virtue, it is not the neurotic but the rational man who must be “cured.” He must learn to do violence to his own rational judgment—to reverse the order of his value hierarchy—to surrender that which his mind has chosen as the good—to turn against and invalidate his own consciousness.
- Ethics of Belief Classic WK Clifford essay that belief by its nature is unethical, with counterpoint by William James