On religion

Feuerbach’s splendid book brings God back down to earth while simultaneously agitating absolutists of the religious and rationalist variety.

On the one hand, I agree with the view of religion that it is not falsifiable because of the non-existence of observable religious facts (although religious memory, folklore, and fables do gesture at such physical demonstrations and manifestations of divinity as the Son, parted seas, loaves, transubstantiation, and other miracles). It is likely a category mistake to treat religion, which is fundamentally belief, as a false idea. On the other hand, this statement. . .

Or experiential, as many people claim to experience a relationship with the transcendent. It’s subjective, of course, not something that can be reproduced and tested scientifically, but one of the reasons we have religions is because rather a lot of people claim to have had this experience and they then form community with others who appear to have had a similar experience

. . . unwittingly brings something purported to be transcendent back into the realm of human experience, which should make it observable for no other reason than that it is shared experience. If it is shared, it is not subjective, much like the measles. Like the measles, if multiple people experience it, an objective basis for it should be discoverable. Hence, I find an appeal to an experience of the transcendent throws the claims of religion back into the terrain of a false idea (a terrain where religion is on weak ground and where rationalist thought misconstrues religion).

If one treats religion as belief as opposed to a rational concept, then the element of voluntas comes to the fore. The only religious defense of religion that escapes the dead end of rational explanation (such as that supplied by “experience”) is the wilful self-assertion of the belief in the Transcendent, the First Mover, the divine overseer, etc. This is the Beginning and the End. What is found in the middle — Love, Salvation, Angels, etc. — is framed by wilful acts that inaugurate and terminate the purely religious defense of religion (which can also include an appeal to Authority as the First and Last Word).

A secular analysis of religion, such as that supplied by Durkheim, does give an account of the objective basis of religion as the expression of the transcendent force of the social (transcendent meaning a force that exerts itself on individuals from outside them). But this analysis only suggests that religion, as a form of knowledge, doesn’t really understand its own conditions of possibility; and this analysis illuminates the false choice of voluntas or ratio that frames most debates over the reality of religion.

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