Um, wow. I thought I had heard it all.
I'm coming almost a year late to this discussion, I realize, but Darrel's remarks brought to mind something that the anthropologist Roy A. Rappaport (1926-1997) once wrote. It took me a bit to find it again, but I did. Rappaport, for those not familiar with his work, was one of foremost authorities in his field on ritual. I have and highly recommend two books of his - Ecology, Meaning, and Religion and Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. In the latter work, in chapter 4, in a section titled "Acceptance, belief, and conformity," Rappaport writes:
Acceptance, in contrast, is not a private state, but a public act, visible both to witnesses and to performers themselves. People may accept because they believe, but acceptance not only is not itself belief; it doesn't even imply belief. Ritual performance often possesses perlocutionary force, and the private processes of individuals may often be persuaded by their ritual participation to come into conformity with their public acts, but this is not always the case. Belief is a cogent reason, but far from the only reason, for acceptance. Conversely, belief can provide grounds for refusals to accept. Reformers and heretics, for the very reason that they deeply believe in certain postulates concerning the divine, may refuse to participate in the rituals of religious institutions they take to have fallen into error or corruption. ...
This is not to say that the private processes may not be important in the dynamics of ritual. In a later chapter we shall take up belief and religious experience. It is simply to recognize that the private states of others are in their nature unknowable and even one's own attitudes may not always be easy to ascertain, for we are inclined to be ambivalent about matters of importance, like the conventions to which we are subordinate, and private states are likely to be volatile. "Common belief" cannot in itself provide a sufficiently firm ground upon which to establish public orders, even in very simple societies. We cannot know if a belief is common, for one thing, and whereas belief is vexed by ambivalence and clouded by ambiguity acceptance is not. Liturgical orders are public, and participation in them constitutes a public acceptance of a public order, regardless of the private state of belief. Acceptance is not only public but clear. One either participates in a liturgy or one does not; the choice is binary and as such it is formally free of ambiguity. While ritual participation may not transform the private state of the performer from one of "disbelief" to "belief," our argument is that in it the ambiguity, ambivalence and volatility of the private processes are subordinated to a simple and unambiguous public act, sensible both to the performers themselves and to witnesses as well. Liturgical performance is, thus, a fundamental social act, for the acceptance intrinsic to it forms a basis for public orders which unknowable and volatile belief or conviction cannot.
As much as I like and respect Rappaport, I think there are certain aspects of religion that didn't fully resonate with him personally (and I believe he even admitted as much, somewhere). Try as he would to not let it - the good objective scholar and all that - I think this fact affected his work to some degree. But despite that, and looking past the "anthro" mindset and terminology, I think there is something valid in what he says above. I don't know, of course, whether Darrel was thinking in precisely these terms or not, but he could have been.
Also, on the topic of the creeds, my blog post of earlier today, "Rethinking the First Article of the Creed," may be of interest.
Edited by tenpenny, 18 April 2011 - 10:51 AM.