In The Religious Case Against Belief, James P. Carse presents his arguments that there is a distinction to be made between religion and belief. For him, religion is about higher ignorance – “knowing that you don’t know” – and having a sense of wonder, awe, questioning, and striving towards continually deepening your knowledge. Belief, on the other hand, requires willful ignorance – choosing not to know something that can potentially be known or at least explored.
In the first half of the book, Carse discusses the characteristics of belief in great depth. In the second half, he presents an attempt at a definition of religion, and finally discusses what he means by a “religious case against belief”. Essentially this is the idea that while belief systems have developed around religion, they are not inherent to religion itself, and that we need to return to the sense of wonder that is true religion.
Many of his arguments made sense to me, and there were some gems of insight through-out the book. However, it was often difficult for me to follow his flow of thought and the discussion sometimes got quite abstract and esoteric. It did not always hold my interest and I almost did not finish the book. (It probably did not help that I started reading it when I had a fever, but I think I would have struggled a bit even if that weren’t the case – and I didn’t have a fever the whole time I was reading it.) This is the kind of book that reminds me why I studied a technical subject in college rather than the humanities – I think very logically and don’t do so well with books where the flow of a text is unclear and there is too much heady musing about concepts with nothing much concrete behind them.