Religion and conviction


What attracts people to religion is whether or not the story lights them up. The power of a story to inspire is decided not by its facticity, but by the story itself—by its meaning. It is meaning, not historical accuracy, that makes a story attractive. Despite what evangelists say when you first meet them, people do not compare religions side by side and then pick the one with the “most evidence.” They do not say,

Well, given what we know about popular literary genres at the time, I’d say that the Text A is 20% accurate and Text B is 10% accurate. So I’m gonna join religion A and just go ahead and declare that it’s 100% accurate.
Hear ye! I hereby declare that Text A is an inerrant collection of passages written by Universe Father. I declare that this text was written by Universe Father and that everything described therein actually happened as described.
  • Humans were originally created by Universe Father by sculpting them out of clay and then blowing on them.
  • A snake named Snake actually tricked a woman named Woman to eat powerful fruit with a man named Man. This fruit was forbidden by Yahveh because it bestows moral intelligence. In consequence, Yahveh made all earth animals suffer thereafter.
  • Yahveh actually appeared to Moses and talked to him and also wrote tribe management instructions on stone with his chisel-like finger.
  • Yahveh actually sat on a throne atop a box of magical items inside a tent.
I am certain these things are not metaphors. All the writings in Text A are true.

I meant for this to sound ridiculous but I just realized that religion for many Americans is seen precisely as an act of (1) declaring 100% allegiance to an individuated cult and then (2) declaring committed belief in the 100% accuracy of a text. Being faithful these days actually means promising not to question a certain text. Moreover, the act of belief has replaced the act of sacrifice:

Hey! I love this group so much that I’m going to believe in your text and love it by never doubting it. That’s what love is—believing and never doubting!

Identifying yourself with a religion has come to mean believing that certain sentences are 100% accurate.