Religion vrs Belief

That title may seem a contradiction in terms but not if one defines those words according to the philosopher James P. Carse in his new book, The Religious Case Against Belief. He simply says, in a detailed and complex way, that religion is concerned with the ultimate questions: why are we here? (not how we are here), why is there something rather than nothing?, what is death?, and many other related questions. On the other hand, belief is a thing we know, that we have answers to. For example, there is belief in the Christian God, or the Allah of Islam, or simply belief in the divinity (partial or not) for Jesus, and many other fixed beliefs. So, what Carse is saying is that we should leave ourselves open to these ultimate questions and not think we have the answer to them in a fixed belief system.

I feel I have still not quite captured the essence of the distinction Carse makes. I think I’ll post this for now and come back later. He has a great analysis of one of my favorite poems, Emily Dickinson’s I Heard a Fly Buzz When I died so I want to bring that in too. There’s never enough time to post and read!

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  1. Dragonstar’s avatar

    I know what you mean about not enough time to blog and read – and comment, too! I never seem to have enough time to visit properly.

    Thanks for your visit and kind thoughts. It helps a lot. And I’ve always liked wind-chimes.

  2. barbara’s avatar

    Hi Mardé,
    It was nice to see you on my blog.
    Sorry for being less than present with the politickin’… I’ve been looking at your videos; I don’t know enought about most issues to make a good argument .

    But, when it comes to subjects such as on Philosophy,Religion & the like, I’m very interested.

    Taking Carse’s argument a bit, in a sense we all are religious. We all ask these questions ! What we do with them afterwards defines us further. We go into the category of Belief; Believer, Non-Believers,Agnostics… A very personal matter.
    I do try and see that people are all different and believe different things.
    Quitea different viewpoint than for example my very rigid and Catholic viewpoint of my Paternal Grandmother.But, that’s another story 😉

    You take care.

  3. Mardé’s avatar

    Hi Barbara,
    By George (not Bush..haha), I think you’ve nailed it! What we do with them afterwards (or during) can be just about anything but it’s tempting, in fact often mandatory to keep from going crazy, to fix on some belief system, whether it be anything whatever at all. The other alternative of course is to forget it all and go about our daily business unconcerned, but still with that nagging uncertainty underground as it were. Yes, your Paternal Grandmother may be content and sure, at least in her surface consciousness, but I think I’d rather be conscious…. as long as possible.
    😆 :mrgreen:

  4. Minds Erased’s avatar

    Indeed, Mardé, there isn’t nearly enough time to read and post, and search for truth!

    Yes, there are these ultimate questions which we all, in our own subjective way, are trying to answer. Readers of my blog will be familiar with my general disgust with religion, simply because they’ve made it a money-making business to answer these questions for people. Sure, the self-help industry and the New-Agers have, too. But religion is mainstream, it’s tax-exempt, it’s ubiquitous. All reasons why we should suspect it in every way, shape and form. 😉

    “Belief” should not be confused with “understanding”. For example, creationism is (in my opinion, and for the sake of debate) a myth, but it is something that can be BELIEVED, through some willful suspension of reason and logic. Evolution, however, is a theory that can be UNDERSTOOD, through analysis of the evidence which supports the theory.

    I’m sorry to split hairs over these words, but I am sure Carse splits those same hairs just as finely (I’ve not read this book).

    And Mardé, I certainly concur that I’d rather be conscious for as long as possible. As my old man used to say, “Any day above ground is a good one.”

  5. Mardé’s avatar

    Boy, I’m with your old man there, Minds, “Any day above ground is a good one.”!

    But let me expand a little on what I think Carse means by religion since I have now finished the book, as of late this afternoon, and ought to be able to explain it. Religion, according to Carse, is not belief, or a belief system, it is the result of people constantly debating over the centuries the fundamental questions: what happens at death?, why is there evil?, where did it all come from?, how will it end?, why is there something rather than nothing?, and never fixing on any one belief system as the final answer to these imponderables. These debates take different forms in the different religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, for example, and many specific belief systems spew out as it were from these religions. The fact that there are so many beliefs, none of which satisfy everyone, and a continuing debate, is what keeps these religions going, I think Carse says.

    Of course, science has given us answers to some of these questions, but not in the deepest philosophical sense, not in the sense of why. The how maybe, but not the why.

    Still, Carse is not anti-science. As you have pointed out elsewhere yourself, Minds, in the case of Galileo, Carse also uses Galileo as an example of someone who employs the human mind to find answers but is never satisfied with the answers he finds, never believes he has the final answers. Galileo would have gone on, Carse says, “with a continuing attempt to reimagine the universe” if he were not stopped by the authority of the so-called true believers!

    In fact, science in the last hundred years has found more mysteries than could ever have been imagined by the scientists of the 19th century, or even Galileo, although he most likely would have been open to such possibilities. Many of these mysteries involve quantum mechanical effects at the micro level, while at the macro level many scientists are wrestling with the so-called Anthropic principle, i.e. the fact that physical constants appear to be fined tuned for life. So, yes, in addition to those fundamental questions mentioned above, there are many other mysteries which should keep us busy seeking explanations for an indefinite time in the future, and we’ll probably uncover even more mysteries in the process!

  6. Aileni Noyle’s avatar

    You seem to have covered all the bases there Mardé – from quanta to the Anthropic Principle.
    I think I would be right to say that Jung describes religion as a sense of the numinous. You can have that sense without belief.
    I was going to say I have no belief but that would be incorrect for I do believe in reincarnation – because it works for me. I certainly don’t believe in a creator god.

  7. Mardé’s avatar

    Thanks, Aileni. Yes, I forgot about the sense of the numinous, and the mystical experiences in general. I can’t really say I’ve had many of these, although I do feel at times the sense of the numinous, related to my “why is there something rather than nothing” feeling, or also generated by certain music. Interesting you believe in reincarnation. I’ve an open mind on whether there was some kind of creator god, but not one as described in the Christian bible.

  8. Simone’s avatar

    Your blog entry was very informative. Thanks for your effort. We have started a new site called FaithTube ( It contains religious videos from all around the internet. If you could visit us then it would be great.



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