James Wood, an avowed atheist and one of the best literary critics currently working, in a recent lecture tackles the New Atheism's simplistic explaination of religious belief. Instead he encourages fiction as a better vehicle to explore the nuanced way belief and unbelief actually work in the lives of real people. Good stuff.
Part of the weakness of current theological warfare is that it is premised on stable, lifelong belief – each side congealed into its rival (but weirdly symmetrical) creeds. Likewise, in contemporary politics, the worst crime you can apparently commit is to change your mind. Yet people's beliefs are often not stable, and are fluctuating. We are all flip-floppers. Our "ideas" may be rather as Woolf imagined consciousness, a flicker of different and self-annulling impressions and convictions...
An essay or work of polemic finds it hard to describe the texture of such fluctuation, whereas the novelist understands that to tell a story is to novelise an idea, to dramatise it. There is no need to make a tidy solution of belief; to the novelist, a messy error might be much more interesting.
I would agree to a certain extant. In fact I may even go furthur, and suggest that great fiction helps explain the complexity of human nature and offers much wisdom in understanding our world and the people in it, more so than traditional non-fiction narratives. What say you?