You argue that to describe religious attitudes as imaginings would force us to see religious people as fakers, which is obviously an undesirable consequence. On the other hand, you note, if we described religious attitudes as factual beliefs, we would be forced to see most religious people as fanatics: also undesirable. In order to make room, between fakers and fanatics, for a category of ‘normal religious believers’ – we need to posit, between imagination and belief, a category of ‘religious credence’.
I have some doubts on this, though. In particular, on your conditional premise that if we recognize that most religious attitudes are imaginings, then we are forced to say that most religious people as fakers. Why should the claim that Sarah imagines that demons exist and torment people lead us to conclude that she is a faker?
I think you would reply: because Sarah does a number of things that (may reasonably be taken to) manifest her belief that demons exist and torment people. Notably, she is likely to assert that demons exist and torment people, and indeed even to assert that she believes so – as religious people typically do, publicly expressing their ‘beliefs’ with great conviction. If Sarah avows to believe something that in fact she does not believe but just imagine, then we should conclude that she is a faker, shouldn’t we?
Perhaps. But not necessarily. We could also conclude that she is mistaken about her beliefs. Or, alternatively, we could conclude that she is not talking literally – that her avowal is uttered with the intention to communicate something different from its literal meaning. Both of these conclusions would make sense of Sarah’s avowals of religious beliefs (beliefs that are in fact imaginings) without involving any insincerity/hypocrisy on her part. What I suggest is that they may be both plausible explanations of what goes on in cases of religious avowals.
Many such avowals may then be understood as expressions of imaginings, which typically take either of two forms. Sometimes, they are self-deceptive imaginings. More often, they are correctly identified as imaginings by religious people, who deliberately allow imagination to play an expanded role in their lives (this, of course, is possible insofar as such imaginings are not treated as mere fictions, but rather as serious hypotheses through which to look at - and make sense of - the world).
Now, I see that I should say much more about the origin, structure, and phenomenology of these two forms of religious imaginings in order to make my suggestion plausible. Even more importantly, I see that I have not articulated any positive argument to persuade you that religious attitudes are indeed imaginings in the first place.
All what I meant to do here, though, was to suggest that the view that they are imaginings does not necessarily lead to the undesirable consequence you say: it does not force us to say that religious people are 'fakers [who] typically experience a great deal of stress, because they are perpetually pretending'.
I just meant to give some plausibility to the idea that the same imaginative state that we invoke to explain pretence games and liars’ inventions may play the relevant explanatory role also in other ordinary cases/activities/experiences (including cases of self-deception and of sincere commitment to a given world-view). To the idea, in other words, that propositional imagination may have a larger role in our cognitive life than we often think: it does not only allow us to ‘escape’ from reality into fictional worlds, but it also crucially contributes to the construction of our representation of the real world itself.