Of making many books...

There Is No End

Theological incorrectness: why religious people believe what they shouldn't

Why do people, if asked, say they believe one thing, yet in practice act as if they believed something quite different? In this new work, Sloan gives several examples:

  • Football fans pray to God to help their team win, although God does not favour any team.
  • Calvinists officially believe that everything is the work of God, and human will has no effect on the world, but in practice they act as if hard work brought material benefits.
  • Buddhists officially believe that the Buddha died 2500 years ago, but pray to him as if he is still around.
  • Many Christians believe officially that all things are the work of God, yet ascribe events without apparent causes to "luck", especially if the events are unfortunate.
Sloan calls this theological incorrectness.

Sloan examines several historical approaches to religion to examine this question, finding that no approach gives a satisfactory explanation. He then turns to what he calls 'neomodernism' [I have created a Wikipedia page for this] and in particular to cognitive science. So Sloan is not discussing whether God exists, or other theological questions, but why people engage in religious behaviour.

Sloan uses 'theological correctness' as a means of understanding religion as an element of human culture. He argues that religion cannot be studied on its own (sui generis), but must draw on ethnology and psychology. This he argues, enables us better to compare different religions and to understand them better.

The book reads like a doctoral thesis, somewhat edited for general publication, but still showing a tendency to pedantry. There are also a few errors in the Buddhist chapter (Theravada Buddhists do not hold that the Buddha disappeared at death, but that his current status cannot be known).

Although one could point out that the use of the social sciences to explain religion is not new, and dates back at least to Feuerbach and his colleagues, Sloan makes an original contribution. We can expect further work, perhaps at greater length.