The question is not so much whether religion is true or false, but how it shapes our lives, and what might possibly take its place if we were to get rid of it the way an Aztec priest rips the beating heart out of a virgin.Which brings me again back to the point where all of this religion-not-belief talk fails me. How can de Waal sit in church and be moved by the experience of communal worship if he doesn't believe what people are saying?
Here is Sam Harris, writing about the power of Islam:
I think everything about the call to prayer is glorious—apart from the fact that, judging by the contents of the Koran, the God we are being asked to supplicate is evil and almost surely fictional. Nevertheless, if this same mode of worship were directed at the beauty of the cosmos and the mystery of consciousness, few things would please me more than a minaret at dawn.Like Harris, I can't imagine worshiping a god I don't believe in and don't want to believe in, but I don't like his suggestions for alternative rituals, either. Prayers directed toward the beauty of the cosmos strike me as silly. I don't really know why. Perhaps such prayers (invocations? songs?) lack the patina of age and tradition. But they feel false to me. Made up. Too much like a let's pretend exercise; religion is nice, so let's try to think of something that will give us the same good feelings without compromising our intellectual integrity.
But religion has, or seems to have, another purpose: the worship of god and the seeking of his blessing. It makes demands on its followers, including intellectual demands; that is part of the point. It asks you to see the world differently. You can't -- or I can't, anyway -- just invent a religion that suits all your needs but makes no inconvenient demands and then take it seriously.