Beliefs as descriptions, and beliefs as identities
Stephen Prothero has a piece up, Hinduism’s caste problem, out in the open. Prothero points out that religionists often use logical constructs to play word games which reinforce their in-group. Caste is not a problem with Hinduism per se, but is a cultural problem. The treatment of women is not a problem with Islam per se, but a cultural problem. The history of European anti-semitism was not an issue of religious conflict per se, but a detail of history.
From a philosophical perspective religion is about a god, or a deep ground of being. But that’s really not what religion is as it is lived, as opposed to thought. From the perspective of many religious professionals religion is a set of rituals. Correct belief. Proper behavior. From the perspective of lay believers religion is about communal worship. It is about doing the right thing. Being seen to do the right thing. Religion is a massive overgrown bush of a thing, fundamentally entangled with the amorphous entity we refer to as ‘culture.’ Making a distinction between religion and culture is often a matter of obfuscation or evasion. Religion is culture. In some cases, culture is religion.
This problem manifests with the irreligious as well. Atheism is at the bare bones an opinion in relation to the god hypothesis. But the reality is that many American atheists assume that atheism naturally entails a particular social and political world view. Pro-environment, pro-abortion, pro-feminist, etc. Basically, atheism entails secular humanist liberalism. As a correlation this holds, but obviously there’s no logical inference. It is rather a cultural artifact.
There is identity, our embeddedness within a social community of norms, values and opinions, which we implicitly hold to be correlates with our grand philosophical presupposition. Of course most humans are too stupid to even spell ‘philosophical,’ their adherence to the Nicene creed or Tawhid is nominal, the equivalent of being a fan of Manchester United or the Pittsburgh Steelers. They know nothing about the day to day running of a sports franchise, there’s no substance to their fanaticism. And yet it is there nonetheless.
These affinities and identities have material consequences. Too often identity and community gets stripped away from the equation, we pretend as if humans are idealized reason machines. When we ask humans the way the world is we make a pretense that they’re capable of being objective, of tearing themselves from the brambles. The reality is that we look through the bramble darkly.