The Parliament Blog

Archive for the ‘belief’ tag

Where Do “Sacred” Values Live in the Brain?

by Arri Eisen
from Religion Dispatches

What role does science play in what we believe and in how we understand belief? I teach a college course called “Science & the Nature of Evidence,” in which that question is considered at length. Few of my students (few of any of us, perhaps) have thought about it, and they love the chance to take it on.

It matters what we believe and why we believe it. Not just in terms of religious identification, not just for deciding what and how we do things in our day-to-day lives, but also in relation to politics. Take such monumental policy decisions as those regarding health care, or the military. Do we go with what we feel is right and wrong, or—as is the more commonly understood basis for such policy decisions—do we do what will be best for the most people? How about suicide bombers? Why are they willing to lose their lives for their beliefs? Now, we can begin to better understand the mechanisms of such decisions by combining expertise in religion, philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, economics, and even genetics.

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February 2nd, 2012 at 10:41 am

Jews and the Need For God: Modern Lessons from Moses Maimonides

From State of Formation

Judaism is an action-oriented religion. We have, according to the Talmud, 613 Commandments — not just a top-10 list. In rabbinic courts, your actions can be praised or punished. Faith is a means to achieve just ends, prayer as a way of connecting to the Source of Creation so that we can better play our part in its ongoing unfolding.

But what if you can achieve those same just, creative, Jewish ends without faith as a means or a motivation? Do you need God if you observe the 613 Commandments (or reinterpret and reapply them as so many modern Jews do)? Do you need God if you consider prayer an act of introspection — one that changes the way you understand your actions, much as your believing counterparts do? Do you need God if you love the Torah as a national treasure of the Jewish people — but one written and conceived of by our ancestors rather than the Divine?

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Knowing God vs. Knowing About God

From The Washington Post

Is knowledge of religion important? Why?

The Pew poll of religious knowledge, in which atheists/agnostics scored ever-so-slightly higher than Jews and Mormons demonstrates at least four significant facts about what we know and why we know it. Appreciating these facts would go a long way toward ending the ugly fighting between theists and atheists. Of course they would need to want to stop their mutual mistreatment and disrespect for that to happen, but that is a different matter altogether.

First, Knowing God is different than Knowing about God and knowing about religion should not be confused with following a particular faith. That atheists and agnostics (why they are lumped together is a question for another time) scored highest is actually not that surprising. In fact, one might assume that knowing about religion plays a similar role in the lives of atheists/agnostics as does having religious experience does in the lives of believers – each is a source of personal identity.

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