Monday, July 26, 2010

The Gods We Stand by

I am rereading William James's Varieties of Religious Experience for my fall class Interpreting Religious Experience, and ran across this passage in his lecture on the "Value of Saintliness."

The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another.

Spoken as a true pragmatist. This assertion of content that the popularity, "use," persistence of worship, etc., of any particular deity depends upon social circumstances of obligations and responsibilities between self and neighbor that make a society work reflects a pragmatic point of method: that religious issues of god, saintliness, etc., can be or can be best approached through social questions and standards. Together, they form a thesis that the divine, holy, and particularly the status of saintliness represent a distilled, idealized form of individual and social values.

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