No, not bullshit religious. I mean God-fearing born-again Christian. Orthodox Jew. Pray-five-times-a-day Muslim.
Seems like a contradiction. After all, religious people believe in Truth. God “actually” exists. The Bible “really is” the Word of God. Pragmatists think that Truth is a useless concept, because we wouldn’t know it if we saw it. All human knowledge is relative to an audience and a range of truth-candidates. Descriptions aren’t true or false, but more or less useful for certain purposes.
But wait. Just as “that car is approaching you and it’s not slowing down” is a useful statement to believe to avoid getting killed in a car crash, so “Jesus Christ died to save us” might be a useful statement to believe to avoid going to Hell. Neither description requires you to believe something about Reality. Maybe you’re in the Matrix, so that car isn’t “really” there. It’s still useful to avoid that car:
Neo: I thought it wasn’t real.
Morpheus: Your mind makes it real.
Neo: If you’re killed in the Matrix, you die here?
Morpheus: The body cannot live without the mind.
Analogously, maybe “God” is the Master Control Program. Or an alien from another dimension. Or the little brother of the “real” God, and our universe is the little God’s model train set. Or maybe God really is GOD, but Hell just lasts a million years instead of all eternity. The point is we don’t have to make a claim about Reality to be religious, we just have to have a reason to believe that religious descriptions of the universe are more useful than naturalistic descriptions.
This is where things get interesting. What counts as a reason? Scientists would say that empirical evidence from controlled experiments is what counts (plus evidence from astronomy, the fossil record, and mathematical models). These things count as “real” reasons, and other forms of evidence and reasoning that contradict scientific claims, or can’t be verified or falsified using scientific methods, are “irrational”.
To the pragmatists, this is just chest-thumping. The language games of Western science and rationality are really useful for building bridges and treating illnesses, but don’t have some privileged access to Reality.
Back to religion. Religion has its own kind of evidence: revelation. Many religions claim that God makes himself evident to us through revelation — either through really intense, bad-ass revelations, like sending the angel Gabriel down to reveal the Qur’an to Mohammed or appearing to Moses as a burning bush, or more subtle, ordinary ways, like giving a person a sense that they are being cared for and watched over by a higher power. Many people say they’ve had these sorts of experiences, where they feel like they are communing with God.
Many atheists tend to mock these sorts of claims and experiences. But I don’t see how a pragmatist can without adopting a non-pragmatist epistemology. The atheistic pragmatist just acknowledges that the religious person has different assumptions.
The one argument I can think of against the possibility of a religious pragmatist is that pragmatism is what you get once you give up on the idea of a God’s-eye point of view. Because there is no God, there is no God’s-eye point of view, so instead of trying to set up theoretical physics as a replacement divinity we should just acknowledge the fallibility and limitedness of any human perspective. But if you believe in a God, then you believe in a God’s-eye view, and it is possible for God to bestow this view upon us and free us from time and chance. I’ll leave the rebuttal to Jean Paul Sartre:
“If a voice speaks to me, it is still I myself who must decide whether the voice is or is not that of an angel…No signs are vouchsafed in this world. The Catholics will reply, “Oh, but they are!” Very well; still, it is I myself, in every case, who have to interpret the signs.”
Apparently not even the existence of God can help us achieve Cartesian certainty.
So can a pragmatist be legitimately religious? I say yes. Such a person would believe in an afterlife, and miracles, and a sacred text, in the same way that I believe in life on Earth, the laws of physics, and the University of Chicago, but without the certainty and dogmatism that a non-pragmatist theist would embrace.