“Why religion without belief can still make perfect sense”

Philosophy professor Philip Goff writes for Psyche on the perspectives of practicing agnosticism and religious fictionalism:

It is common to assume that religion is all about belief. Religious people are ‘believers’. Muslims believe that God revealed the Quran to Muhammad; Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead; Buddhists believe in cyclical rebirth and the non-existence of the self.

But there is more to a religion than a cold set of doctrines. Religions involve spiritual practices, traditions that bind a community together across space and time, and rituals that mark the seasons and the big moments of life: birth, coming of age, marriage, death. This is not to deny that there are specific metaphysical views associated with each religion, nor that there is a place for assessing how plausible those views are. But it is myopic to obsess about the ‘belief-y’ aspects of religion at the expense of all the other aspects of the lived religious life.

Some people become religious because they become convinced on intellectual grounds that the specific doctrines of a particular faith are highly likely to be true. That’s all well and good. But I want to suggest that there are fruitful ways of engaging with religion that don’t involve belief. Perhaps the best way to do this is to sketch some possibilities.

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