One of the common threads running through the polite theological discourse on Everything is the assumption that religion exists as a prop--a way for people to be told what to do and think.

There's more to being religious than that! It is possible to have a sincere religious belief without being in search of a mental prop. In fact, the many of the most intensely religious people have also been (in the broad sense) iconoclastic. It is possible, and desireable, for a believer to break new ground and think independently.

In Christianity, the ultimate independence of the believer is expressed through the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, God who manifests within each person. Even the most institutionalized churches teach that the Spirit inspires actions and ideas independently of their religious structure, and these churches have always had members who faithfully followed what they believed to be a divine inspiration that was personal, not mediated through their religious authorities.

This sense of personal inspiration hasn't prevented visionaries from remaining faithful to their religious tradition. Christian history is filled with people who have broken new ground without breaking out of their church.

So religion, particularly Christian religion, isn't merely a prop. Sure, there are people who use religion as a substitute for thought. These people are often the most vocal believers because they have to shout in order to drown out their own brains--but they don't represent the majority and they manifest only the most shallow form of religious belief.

A corollary to this argument against religion is that people should just "figure things out for themselves". This translates to the astonishing claim that, unlike every other subject in the world, when it comes to spirituality you should completely ignore the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of those who have gone before and basically reinvent the wheel. I guess the logical extension of this would be that once you have figured something valuable out on your own you should refrain from writing it down or telling other people about it, lest you be guilty of "telling them what to think".

The only other area I can think of where similar advice is given is in writing - would-be writers are often told to ignore the advice and instruction of seasoned professionals and just write from the gut. The result is, well, crappy writing. Similarly, someone who tries to build his faith from the ground up without any external input is likely to overlook issues and fallacies that have already been dealt with by others. The result - bad theology.

As writer Clay Shirky pointed out in a different context, "... learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That's not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: "Don't go in that swamp. There are alligators in there."

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