When I was still a Christian, I would often bristle whenever someone tried to analyze my faith from a scientific point of view. The tools of the scientist, I argued, could not reliably detect the things of the spirit because they are only discernible by those with the right organs of perception (see 1 Cor. 2:6-16).
You must have “ears to hear,” Jesus would often say, and in a manner befitting both evangelicals and fundamentalists (I contend the differences between the two groups are mostly cosmetic), I took that quite literally to mean that people with dead interiors cannot even come in contact with the things of God because they don’t have the right stuff to do it.
It seemed an affront to my most cherished beliefs to dissect the Christian faith with the same academic detachment with which one studies chemistry or physics or even psychology and sociology. I would often compare it to a man wanting to do a lab analysis of the spittle that Jesus used to heal a man’s eyesight as if a chemical breakdown of the substances would have yielded any insight into an event that can only be called a miracle.
As you can imagine, I see things differently now that I am outside the Christian faith. Now that I no longer privilege that belief system above all the other religions of the world, I see the value in applying the tools of the social sciences in order to better understand what functions religion serves in the world. I’ve come to appreciate the insights these interpretive grids can give to help us better understand how to relate to people who are still on the inside of these insular ideological enclaves.
Incidentally, you don’t have to jettison the spiritual significance of your religious tradition in order to appreciate the value of putting it alongside similar systems of belief so that you can glean some perspective about the ways our belief structures work.
With that in mind, I’d like to take a minute to explore the sociology of belief and consider…