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Salvation without belief


In the Christian tradition, it is rather natural to assume that a person can receive salvation only if she believes that certain crucial and relevant propositions are true. Louis Pojman has, however, attacked this assumption. He has formulated what I call the ‘ethics’ argument against the claim that belief is necessary for salvation. After explicating this argument, I complain that it is based on an unnecessarily controversial premise and that it proves too little. I then construct a parallel argument to the same conclusion that avoids the concerns I raise against Pojman. This new argument depends principally on two intuitive ideas: that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’ and that belief is not subject to direct voluntary control.

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1. Such as, that God exists, that the death of Christ atones for human sin, that Christ was raised from the dead, etc. No doubt, there can be dispute about which propositions to include in such a list. Since such a dispute is irrelevant to my arguments here, I will simply assume that the list can be compiled by explicating, for example, the Apostle's Creed.

2. Louis, PojmanFaith without belief’, Faith and Philosophy, 4 (1986), 157176. Like Pojman, I leave the relevant concept of belief unanalysed and intuitive. For a useful characterization of the concept I think we both have in mind, see William Alston ‘Belief, acceptance, and religious faith’, in Jeff Jordan and Daniel Howard-Snyder (eds) Faith, Freedom, and Rationality (Lanham MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996).

3. I have reduced this argument from a summary paragraph appearing in Pojman ‘Faith without belief’, 172.

4. Pojman employs as a premise the claim that our epistemic duties ‘include a duty to acquire beliefs through impartial investigation of the evidence’ (Ibid., 172). Though this seems a much more temperate claim than the one propounded by Clifford, it comes, essentially, to the same thing. The concept of duty is distinctively moral. Furthermore, the expectation is that belief acquisition through impartial evidence-gathering will be a matter of proper proportioning.

6. Of course, there are consequentialists who, in the interest of positive social results, are willing to countenance condemnation without blame. But the honest among such theorists are prepared to confess revisionism. The ordinary concept of condemnation implies that the condemned person is properly subject to moral blame. Indeed, it is the gripping power of this implication that leaves most people repulsed by consistently utilitarian accounts of punishment.

7. As Pamela Hieronymi and Glen Pettigrove have pointed out to me.

8. Very special thanks are due to Rico Vitz for co-operative work on a related project and for countless conversations on these issues. Others who have read drafts and offered comments include Pamela Hieronymi, Glen Pettigrove, and the members of the Center for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Notre Dame during 2005–2006. Finally, thanks to David Robb for the question that provoked my initial reflections on these issues.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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