The philosophy of religion deals with issues that are relevant to humans across cultures and beliefs. Two main themes, religious language and concepts of God, are at the center of this branch of philosophy. What do these two themes mean? Keep reading to find out.
The meaningfulness of religious language was dealt with by many medieval philosophers, including Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas. However, in the modern age, logical positivism has become intertwined with the idea of religious language.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of the most influential figures in this area. The core of this idea is that scientific knowledge is the only true form of knowledge. It rejects metaphysical doctrines altogether.
The question then arises, how does one empirically confirm that God is loving or that he even exists? This of course was a controversial view, and there were many fights between philosophers, especially as some like Antony Flew made the case that religious beliefs were absurd.
Positivism eventually collapsed. This event would bring about two new branches of thought regarding religious language in the philosophy of religion: realism and non-realism. Non-realism had much in common with Wittgenstein’s views. Realism relates to religion in this context, not the literal meaning of realism.
It means to hold to a belief that religious figures such as Allah exist, and have that belief be independent of the person who holds it. Non-realism asserts that religious claims are not about entities that objectively exist. In the eyes of a non-realist, religious language refers to humans and their experience. Religion itself is a human construct.
Concepts of God
The question of if God exists, and if so, of his nature, has been a major theme of study for philosophers of religion. Abrahamic religions are theistic, which means that there is an ultimate reality, i.e., God.
That ultimate reality is an idea that has appeared in every major religion. This is the concept that beyond the physical world that humans can see and touch, there is a transcendent reality underlying it all.
The philosophy of religion reflects on how religions understand that ultimate reality. There is a marked difference in how all of the religions, especially East versus West, conceptualize that reality.
Western religions, especially the Abrahamic ones, have an idea of a personal and perfect God. This being has many attributes like being omnipotent, all-knowing, and immutable. In these religions, God creates all and he sustains all.
To contrast, the Eastern religions like Taoism and Buddhism see God as an absolute state of being. There’s no personal God, rather an undifferentiated reality. Since God is not personal, he (or she) cannot have any attributes like that of the God of Western religion. Variously, this form of God is referred to as Brahman, Nirvana, or the Tao in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism respectively.
As would be expected, since there is such a difference in these understandings, the important issues like evil, suffering, or what happens after death is markedly distinct from the beliefs held in Western religions.