Courage, Caution and Heaven's Gate

The criteria of “forced, live, and momentous options,” as William James utilized them in his pragmatic defense of religious belief, cannot, I argue, both support religious pluralism and acknowledge lessons about failure of epistemic responsibility in Heaven’s Gate-followers. But I attempt to re-vitalize the pragmatic argument, showing it capable of walking this narrow line. I proceed (1) by developing the distinction and relationship between a commitment to a particular religious system or community, and a commitment to the generic “religious hypothesis” itself; and (2) by explicating and expanding upon the “experimental” status—and associated pragmatic criteria for success or failure—that James already recognized for commitments to particular religious communities. I thus show how the “pragmatic argument” takes on heightened significance—and renewed promise—in light of problems associated with New Age and so-called “cult” religiosity.
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