I haven’t yet subscribed to Freddie deBoer’s Substack site, but I get emails when he posts, and you can read this one for free. And you should (click on screenshot):
First deBoer attacks “belief in belief” (a term I believe was coined by Dan Dennett): the “little people” argument adduced by nonbelievers who claim that religion is good because it’s a form of social glue, and also because it fills the need to believe in something: the “god-shaped hole” that we supposedly all have. He said this in an earlier post on Jon Haidt:
. . . belief in belief is belief in delusion – worse, in other people’s delusion. It is one thing to argue that religion is true or is not true. It is another to say “it isn’t, incidentally, but go on pretending, it’s good for you.” In the inherent condescension of that attitude I see something worse than Christopher Hitchens ever unleashed against the faithful. Whatever Christianity is, it is not worship of the God-shaped hole. Whatever Judaism is, it is not the worship of the God-shaped hole. Whatever Islam is, it is not the worship of the God-shaped hole. And in fact if you take the precepts of those religions at all seriously, you can see praying to the God-shaped hole for what it is: idolatry.
Now, however, deBoer sees the rise of another form of religion, one that has occasionally been adduced by Andrew Sullivan:
There’s a new wrinkle to all of this: nowadays I frequently encounter people online who not only say that postmodern religion (post-belief religion) is good, I regularly hear that there has never been another kind. That is, I am told that, according to an extremely tendentious and evidence-light perspective, pretty much nobody ever believed any of the supernatural claims in religious stories – not the burning bush, not water into wine, no splitting of the moon, no siddhis, none of the supernatural events common to Mahayana Buddhism. In this telling nobody, or almost nobody, has ever believed in transcendent extra-material deities or their magical works in the world of man. Do these people think Jesus’s apostles never really believed that he died and rose again – not metaphorically, but actually, in the physical and literal realm – but went out to spread his gospel anyway? Unclear! Haidt cited St. Augustine and Pascal as two people who spoke to his idea about the god-shaped hole. Neither of them professed any belief in belief as such, any belief in belief with no actual divine referent.
This is projection on a whole other level, to me. People find that they can’t summon belief in the supernatural, but they want what people who can summon that belief have.
This “projection” is of course pure bushwa, on the level of Andrew Sullivan instructing me that no Christian really ever took Genesis as literal truth—a claim that you could make only if you’re either completely ignorant of the history of Christianity or deliberately dissimulating.
If you think that Church Fathers like Aquinas, Augustine the Hippo (that’s a joke, folks) or Tertullian saw the Bible as pure metaphor, you don’t know your theology. (Yes, they saw the Bible as metaphorical in some bits, but also as literal truth as a whole.) I lay this out in Faith Versus Fact.
deBoer takes apart this idea of Relgion as Metaphorical Comfort:
If you want to say that belief in the supernatural elements of religion has always been complicated; if you want to say that at least some doubt in the existence of God is common to lived religious practice; if you want to say that it’s all more complicated than I’ve laid it out here – fine. But I continue to find belief-in-belief to be a dead end. I cannot for the life of me understand why you’d engage in religious practice without any belief in the actual transcendent claims on which religion is based rather than simply participating in moral philosophy. It is admittedly difficult to craft a transcendently/objectively true moral philosophy without some conception of a deity that determines right and wrong, but people have been working on it for a couple thousand years. I also understand the desire for the community and fraternity that religion can engender, but surely these are possible without religion, and our Bowling Alone present (the death of communal life in contemporary times) is a bigger and separate issue. The basic question remains: why bother with the bric a brac if you know that the crucifix you pray towards reflects only a deluded carpenter who tried and tried and finally got Rome’s attention? There are many pretty buildings in the world. You can eat your own bread and drink your own wine. You can burn your own incense. It’s all available to you.
The only way that such belief is justifiable is if you admit that you don’t accept any of the truth claims of the religion but simply like seeing the candles, hearing the choir, and smelling the incense—and think that it’s good for society to have such rituals. To me, the real believers that enable the incense-sniffers are a drag on society, though, and we always have books, soccer, and wine for entertainment. Why is smelling the incense when you lack all belief better than smelling the bouquet of a fine old Bordeaux?