1988 U. Ill. L. Rev. 713 (1988)
How Sincere Do You Have to Be to Be Religious

handle is hein.journals/unilllr1988 and id is 723 raw text is: HOW SINCERE DO YOU HAVE TO BE
TO BE RELIGIOUS?t
John T Noonan, Jr.*
William James' pathbreaking book, The Varieties of Religious Expe-
rience: A Study in Human Nature, explores the very modem idea that
religion is essentially any person's total reaction upon life-that is, it
consists in that curious sense of the whole residual cosmos as an
everlasting presence, intimate or alien, terrible or amusing, lovable or
odious, which in some degree everyone possesses.' After examining this
notion, James concludes that it will not do. His decisive counter exam-
ples are these: Voltaire, age seventy-three, writing, I can look upon the
world as a farce even when it becomes as tragic as it sometimes does;2
and Renan in his old age declaring that we must arrange ourselves so
that we have gotten something whether God exists and cares for us or
does not. We are to invest in virtue hoping for a heavenly reward but we
must be ready for disappointment and not appear ridiculous by having
counted too certainly on the celestial payoff.' James conceded that each
of these passages did portray the writer's total view of the cosmos but the
mockery of Voltaire and the sly cynicism of Renan were too much for
James to stomach as religion. The ordinary use of language would be
strained if these sentiments were recognized as religion.' And why does
ordinary language and its American defender revolt? Because these atti-
tudes are fundamentally unserious; or I would add, the irony or flippancy
are marks of insincerity. Total response to the cosmos to be religious in a
Jamesian sense must be serious, that is, it must be sincere.5
Sincerity became the issue in United States v. Ballard,6 the first case
t This article was presented at the University of Illinois College of Law, February 25, 1988, as
the second 1987-88 lecture of the David C. Baum Memorial Lectures on Civil Liberties and Civil
Rights.
,  Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A.B. 1947, Harvard,
Ph.D. 1951, Catholic University; LLB. 1954, Harvard.
I. W. JAMES, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, in 15 THE
WORKS OF WILLIAM JAMES 36-37 (1985).
2. Id. at 37.
3. Id. at 38.
4. Id. at 37.
5. Id. at 39 (religious attitude must have something solemn, serious, and tender).
6. 322 U.S. 78 (1944). The Court had recognized the first amendment as germane to federal
action in litigation involving the Mormons, but had consistently found the federal action at issue not
to violate it. See, e.g., Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879); Cannon v. United States, 116
U.S. 55 (1885); Late Corp. of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints v. United States, 136
U.S. 1 (1890).

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