Tag Archives: meaning and mystery

Meaning and Mystery: What it means to believe in God–David M. Holley

A book that is getting many good reviews from both academics and religious publications is David Holly, Meaning and Mystery. Holly approaches the question of the belief in God from a post-secular and post liberal perspective, God is part of our lives in a non-foundational way and the criteria for believe is whether God is part of our narrative. He takes from Charles Taylor the idea that we all create narratives or social imaginaries to make meaning of our lives. He also takes from all the new studies on evangelicals that people adopt Evangelical beliefs because it fits into their personal narratives. Hence, belief in God is non-foundational and based on our personal histories. God cannot be proved or disproved. Neither philosophy or science play a role in the belief in God. Someone who does not have God in their life cannot communicate with someone who does since they have different life stories. He does invoke Pascal and cheer for belief in ways that don’t fit with Charles Taylor, but many points of his are good. He seems to be working on a sequel on how the question of falsification is dealt with in a personal narrative approach.

Here is a review from a religious publication.

ONE of the myths of post-modernism is that we have entered the age of no meta-narratives.
Non¬sense. We are in the age of many meta-narratives. David Holley doesn’t even bother with the modern/post-modern question. He simply argues that it is these “life-orienting” meta-narratives that determine belief in God, or otherwise. This is the thesis expounded clearly and credibly in the first chapter, so that there is a certain inevitability about his attack on the “God of the Philosophers” who is the end point of a logical or empirical argument rather than an idea central to a life-orienting narrative that is accepted because it makes sense of experience, and is a plausible and practical guide for action.

Holley maintains that atheism is as dependent as theism on such life-orienting narratives.. Of course, such narratives require a degree of receptivity on our part if they are to be life-orienting, and it is in the nature of human freedom that they should be capable of being resisted.

Holley effectively exposes the worst excesses of rationalism and scientism that characterize many contemporary despisers of religion. Here he owes a significant debt to Alexander MacIntyre when it comes to seeing the very idea of virtues and values as incompatible with a purely naturalistic version of reality.
This leaves the way clear for him to demonstrate how narratives that include God are more likely to offer meaning to our lives than those that do not.
The final chapter deals with how we relate to religious and non-religious views other than our own. Holley contends that trying to evaluate various world-views from a standpoint outside any of them is impossible. We can address them only from within the life-orienting narrative we have adopted, and that way we can accommodate doubt and uncertainty without compromising the narrative that works for us.

From a scientific study of religion review interview:

What’s the central concern of the book, and why is it important?
DH: While the question of God’s existence is typically dealt with as a theoretical issue, I claim that it makes most sense to treat it as a practical question. Each of us needs what I call a life-orienting story, a narrative that relates a picture of what is ultimately real to individual experience in a way that makes a particular way of living intelligible and attractive. Some narratives of this kind include God and some explicitly exclude God. Reflective judgment about God occurs in the context of considering alternative narratives that might provide orientation for a way of living. In that context the issue is not only whether the understanding provided by a narrative coheres with what we take to be the facts, but whether or not it has the power to engage a person in a way of life she finds worthy.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this topic?
DH: I am struck by the way religious claims and religious ways of life seem virtually unintelligible to some people. In the introduction to the book I cite one author who questions whether anyone actually believes in God because he thinks of the belief as a hypothesis that lacks any evidential support. Both believers and unbelievers are tempted to construe the issue in this way, and as a result the discussion gets sidetracked from the kind of belief intelligent religious people hold and the considerations that actually persuade them.

What sort of reaction do you hope it will get?
DH: I would like to persuade people that standard ways of thinking about God’s existence do not get to the heart of the matter. I’d like to reconfigure the discussion between believers and nonbelievers away from arguments about an isolated proposition to consideration of alternative narratives that might structure a way of life. I expect that some people will misunderstand my book, imagining that I am advocating some kind of disregard of rational evidence. Instead, I am trying to show what kind of reflection is appropriate for cases where we inevitably end up believing some practical narrative (naturalistic or theistic) that cannot be established on purely empirical grounds.