Charles Murray on Taking Religion Seriously

Charles Murray has an advice book: The Curmudgeon's Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don'ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.  It sets down the kind of advice he gave to young staffers at work. The Wall Street Journal piece flagged above is his teaser for the book. (It appeared on March 30, 2014.)

Charles's five points are:

  1. Consider Marrying Young [in your 20s instead of in your 30s]
  2. Learn How to Recognize Your Soul Mate
  3. Eventually Stop Fretting About Fame and Fortune
  4. Take Religion Seriously
  5. Watch 'Groundhog Day' Repeatedly

I like all of his advice in this essay. Here, in this post, let me focus on the 4th point: taking religion seriously. 

After letting off the hook anyone who is already seriously engaged with religion, Charles defines his audience for this section:

Now that we're alone, here's where a lot of you stand when it comes to religion: It isn't for you. You don't mind if other people are devout, but you don't get it. Smart people don't believe that stuff anymore.

After an account of how he finally came to take religion seriously (though he is still an agnostic). Charles describes what it means to take religion seriously:  

Taking religion seriously means work. If you're waiting for a road-to-Damascus experience, you're kidding yourself. Getting inside the wisdom of the great religions doesn't happen by sitting on beaches, watching sunsets and waiting for enlightenment. It can easily require as much intellectual effort as a law degree.

Even dabbling at the edges has demonstrated to me the depths of Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism. I assume that I would find similar depths in Islam and Hinduism as well. I certainly have developed a far greater appreciation for Christianity, the tradition with which I'm most familiar. The Sunday school stories I learned as a child bear no resemblance to Christianity taken seriously. You've got to grapple with the real thing.

To begin becoming more reflective, he recommends reading both religious literature and modern cosmology: "The universe isn't only stranger than we knew; it is stranger and vastly more unlikely than we could have imagined, and we aren't even close to discovering its last mysteries." As an even bigger step toward taking religion seriously: 

Find ways to put yourself around people who are profoundly religious. You will encounter individuals whose intelligence, judgment and critical faculties are as impressive as those of your smartest atheist friends—and who also possess a disquieting confidence in an underlying reality behind the many religious dogmas.

In "Five Books That Have Changed My Life" I give a thumbnail sketch of my experience being a Mormon for the first 40 years of my life. I am glad I am not a Mormon now. But I gained a great deal from having been a Mormon. I do take religion seriously. I know how deep religious feelings, religious motivations, and religious insights can be. I hope the every-other-week religion posts I have been putting up since soon after I began blogging are of some help to others—especially those who, like me, are nonsupernaturalists—in getting some inkling of the depths of religion.