Karen Armstrong and the Meaning of Belief

We lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery, and dogma in a way that would be very surprising to our [recent] ancestors.  In particular, the meaning of “belief” changed, so that a credulous acceptance of creedal doctrines became the prerequisite of faith, so much so today we often speak of religious people as “believers,” as though accepting orthodox dogma “on faith” were their most important activity.

       This rationalized interpretation of religion has resulted in two distinctively modern phenomena: fundamentalism and atheism.  The defensive piety popularly known as fundamentalism erupted in almost every major faith during the twentieth century.  In their desire to produce a wholly rational, scientific faith that abolished mythos in favor of logos, Christian fundamentalists have interpreted scripture with a literalism unparalleled in the history of religion.

                                      Karen Armstrong, The Case for God (2009)

In Apes, Ants, and Ancestors, I accept that most of us have past the point of no return.  A modern myth must shrink down into a corner of religion, however small, that can be couched in the language of a hypothesis seeking to be a theory in order to elicit the emotion of belief.  Yes, belief is an emotion.  I am a psychiatrist and I shall demonstrate that belief is an emotion with an evolved function.  It is my hope that if it could be shown that it just might be possible to believe in God in the modern sense, that the old sense of belief as faith and mythos  might come flooding back.

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