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WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? THE NATURE AND SIGNIFICANCE OF THEISTIC BELIEF

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Abstract

Theism is often supposed to be distinguished from atheism by the heavy weight of metaphysical belief that it carries. This paper argues that this is not as illuminating a way of distinguishing the theist's from the atheist's outlook as is often supposed. The key divergence consists not so much in matters of theoretical belief or philosophical argument as in practical differences in affective response and in the adoption of certain models for living. Two characteristically religious virtues, humility and hope, and two distinctively religious responses, awe and thanksgiving, are discussed in order to illustrate this. The paper's conclusion, while not denying a cognitive core to theism, argues that warranted assent to the metaphysical truth of God's existence cannot be a precondition for theistic hermeneusis and praxis.1

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