Sunday, June 10, 2007

Believing In Belief

Much of the world doesn't strongly associate religion with belief. Islam and Christianity make belief central to religiosity, so in both religions, it makes sense to ask someone about their beliefs. Yet, belief has historically played a small role in many of the rest of the world's religions.

It is fully possible to have a Shinto priest who does not believe in the gods. But it is not possible to have a Muslim Iman or a Christian priest or minister who does not believe in god. When such an iman or priest or minister exists, we say they have lost their faith. We might even accuse them of being frauds. We do not accept them as legitimate representatives of their religion. Yet, no one in Japan wonders much if a Shinto priest doesn't believe the gods exist, and no one in India accuses an agnostic yogi of being a fraud.

So, why is belief so important in Islam and Christianity?

You can look at that question very pragmatically. Bot Islam and Christianity are proselytizing religions. It is far easier to convert someone to your religion when you demand little more than belief of them, than it is when you demand a complete change in lifestyle. Hence, one reason belief might be so important to Islam and Christianity is that making belief the key to the religions helped in converting people to those religions.

Yet, that doesn't answer whether belief has any genuine religious function? Does what you believe actually have anything to do with your spirituality?

A Zen monk might say "no", but it's unlikely that a Muslim or Christian would give the same answer. Muslims and Christians typically believe in belief.


Kay said...

I quoted Sam Harris on my blog on Saturday - beliefs define your vision of the world.

We all have beliefs. Beliefs of some sort are inescapable.

However, believing in belief needs to be let go, imo.

Paul said...

Hi Kay!

I keep wondering these days just how important beliefs really are. It increasingly seems to me that they are not nearly as important as I once thought. But I haven't come close to sorting out what I believe about belief yet.

Sahar said...

In fact, i can neither comprehend nor grasp how belief is important because "it helped in converting people"! It seems our understanding of "religion" is different. I'll talk about the religion that i know; Islam. Yes, the "proper belief" in Islam is very important to a degree that without it, it will take you out of the whole religion. What is Islam except being "Aqidah" and "Shari'a"? Aqidah is belief. Shari'a is the group of rules that governs muslim (i won't say Imam but every muslim) 's relation with his God, society and universe, in other words; Shari'a is the good deeds. Based on muslims' Aqidah, Shari'a will be accomplished. You can't separate between them; two facets of the same coin. How can i ask a person to perform the daily five prayers (Shari'a) without believing in God (Islamic Aqidah)? And measure every thing in Islam according to this. No belief, and accordingly no Shari'a = no religion.

I hope i wasn't dull guest on your blog. ^ ^

decrepitoldfool said...

Have you read Stephen Bachelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs?

Kay said...

I love coincidences.

I added that book to my amazon wishlist earlier today. I've also heard good things about "Buddhism Is Not What You Think: Finding Freedom Beyond Beliefs" by Steve Hagen. :)

Paul said...

Hi Sahar!

It's good to hear from you again! You are certainly not a dull guest!

You make some very good points and I agree with much of what you say. Islam does ask people to do much more than merely profess belief. It's only when you compare Islam to religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and so forth that it becomes very clear how important belief is to Islam when compared to those other religions.

Paul said...


"Buddhism Without Beliefs"? Sounds interesting. I'll check to see if it's in my local library. Thanks!