Believing in Belief

Based on years of attending and observing the congregations of Evangelical churches, Anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann suggests that belief in God constitues a less significant role in religious organizations than many may realize.  Luhrmann references Durkheim’s definition of religion as “a way for social groups to experience themselves as groups” (Durkheim).  Durkheim felt that religious groups brought individuals together, subsequently creating the feeling of being part of something bigger than oneself, which was often interpreted as supernatural.


 Lurhmann offers an interesting first hand account regarding the importance of belief that she witnessed at a prayer meeting, “‘One devout woman said in a prayer group one evening: ‘I don’t believe it, but I’m sticking to it'” (Luhrmann).  In our modern context; many feel that if we are unsure about God’s existence, it is better to live as if He exists.  Although Lurhmann does not exclusively claim that her experience in Evangelical churches was representative of many philosophical definitions of belief, she does say that based on her observations, within belief lies the genuine desire for the ultimate human goal, true happiness.  “Things will be good, even if they don’t seem good now. That’s what draws people to church. It is understandably hard for secular observers to sidestep the problem of belief. But it is worth appreciating that in belief is the reach for joy, and the reason many people go to church in the first place” (Luhrmann).  As Luhrmann points out, belief should be seen as a question individuals are contemplating, rather than a unilateral conviction.  Rather than fixating one element of religion as a whole, we should focus on the greater concept of religion as a complex way in which humans have created meaning throughout history, and continue to do so every day.