Action And Belief Part One: Imaginary Beliefs
Our actions shape our beliefs far more than our beliefs shape our actions. This would be unproblematic and obvious to us were it not for the reality that participation in most communities and social networks demands assent to collective standards of belief (or doctrine) and action. The fragmentation of social life that followed the industrial […]
Our actions shape our beliefs far more than our beliefs shape our actions. This would be unproblematic and obvious to us were it not for the reality that participation in most communities and social networks demands assent to collective standards of belief (or doctrine) and action.
The fragmentation of social life that followed the industrial revolution allowed a handy tool for dealing with this dichotomy – the separation of the public and private life. We can choose in public life to espouse beliefs that do not arise from our action and reflection upon them, or to take public actions that have no private support or both, in order to comply with the collective doctrine. Private deviance, as long as it remains private, becomes inconsequential for social acceptance.
Whilst modern society affords the perfect cover for this split, it did not generate the phenomena. Pre-modern societies had even greater regulatory systems for belief and action. The breakdown of orthodoxy in traditional societies gives us some fascinating case studies in how this process of splitting action and belief can arise.
Since many people are not, by nature, deeply reflective, they might not be aware of the gulf between the beliefs that have arisen from their action and the beliefs that they try to hold in order to belong socially. The latter beliefs, existing only to provide conceptual glue to doctrinal orthodoxy are what we might call imaginary or virtual beliefs.
An example could be a Christian who moves from a theologically conservative suburban church community to life in a cosmopolitan city. The patterns of urban life will, if given room, lead to subtle re-evaluations of the person’s beliefs about everyday life. However, the extent to which these will manifest as changes in the person’s theological outlook will depend upon the social context within which they can explore their faith. If they see it as socially advantageous to maintain their existing doctrinal allegiances, then they may well continue to imagine they hold such beliefs, even if they are at odds with everyday action.
The current debate concerning inclusivism and universalism represents a telling aspect of this problem. Doctrinally, evangelicals must reject universalism, but for many, their day to day experience of travel, globalisation and cosmopolitanism makes them sympathetic to the practical, cultural implications of inclusivism. The imaginary belief (evangelicalism) is at odds with the real belief (cosmopolitanism). It is interesting reading responses to this debate; often the invocation of the imaginary rejection of universalism is a means to avoid any debate about the real implication of cultural inclusivism. The threat is obvious, cultural inclusivism and cosmopolitanism represent a real (not imaginary) threat to the localist social patterns that bred the imaginary evangelicalism.
This is part one of a two part commentary. Tomorrow we will conclude by looking at virtual beliefs.
[tags] Hermeneutics [/tags]