(*To be clear: by ‘religious beliefs’ here I refer, roughly, to the attitudes that religious people commonly avow, calling them ‘religious beliefs’.)
I think I agree with most of your claims; notably, with the negative ones. I surely agree that typical instances of religious beliefs are NOT beliefs-that: I argued along these lines in my last post. And I agree that, insofar as it is true that they’re not beliefs-that, religious beliefs are NOT irrational: it’s precisely because I take religious people to be as rational and sensible as anyone else that I don’t think they really believe that God exists (indeed, my position on this developed also as a reaction against positions – such as those of so-called ‘Brights’ – which charge religious people with an irrational view of the world, based on bad science, etc…).
On the other hand, I have some doubts concerning the positive parts of your claims. Once we have agreed on what religious beliefs are not, it remains to be explained what they are. Here is, I think, where our views differ; and I wonder whether they are alternative or they might be complementary.
My view is that religious (so-called) beliefs are actually not beliefs, but imaginings: lacking such crucial features of belief as sensitivity to evidence and holistic coherence, they display many typical features of imaginings, instead (notably, subjection to the will). Religious people do not really believe that, say, the God of the Christian Bible exists; they imagine that God exists, and take this imagining as a serious hypothesis ‘in the light of which’ to live their lives. So, I don’t question that ‘religious beliefs’ are propositional attitudes; I just argue that they are instances of propositional imagination, rather than of belief-that.
What about your view? I’m not sure what precisely the attitude of belief-in that you describe amounts to (whether it is better understood as a cognitive or as a conative one, for example); and, what its content precisely consists in. Here are three more specific questions.
1) Referring to Stump (2010), you talk of something that is ‘essentially non-propositional and irreducible to knowledge-that’. Does this mean – in the case, for example, of a belief in the God of Christian Bible – that the content of such belief does not include any of the propositions which describe God in the Bible, but is an entirely non-propositional (/non-conceptual) representation of that God? If so, I’d be curious to hear something more on what kind of representation you think is at stake here. How, for example, would a non-propositional representation of the Christian God differ from one of the Muslim God, or of Hindu Brahman? (This connects to the question on religious diversity that philosophyandpsychology’s made to your original post.)
2) A second question concerns the relation between the non-propositional representations of God you describe and the peculiar kinds of evidence that in your view would justify beliefs in the God they represent. How can we establish whether the evidence provided by my ‘theistic seemings’ – my inner experience of God as a person – really justifies my belief in the non-propositional representation I form of God, rather than brutally causing that representation like a drug might do? (Or vice versa, to echo again philosophyandpsychology’s question, should we count an experience triggered by a drug as reliable evidence?)
3) Finally, if it is true that Christian people’s beliefs in God are not understood at best as attitudes towards the propositions that describe God in the Bible, it seems nonetheless plausible that Christians people have also some kind of attitude towards such propositions (e.g., towards the proposition that GOD CREATED HUMANKIND IN HIS IMAGE - Genesis 1:27). Is your view that, beyond believing in God, Christian people also believe that God exists and that he/she created humankind in his image? Or would you agree with me that many Christian people do not really believe that, but assume that as a serious hypothesis.
An answer to this latter question would help also to address Jon Robson’s question of whether it might ever be rational to believe in God without believing that he/she exists. I’m quite keen to think that it can be rational, provided that one is at least willing to suppose that God exists and to take this hypothesis seriously in his life. After all, to assume/hypothesize that P might well be rational even in the absence of enough evidence to believe that P.
It'd be great to know your views on these points!