It is sometimes supposed that all belief is 'reducible' to propositional belief, belief-that. Thus, my believing you might be thought a matter of believing, perhaps, that what you say is true; and your belief in free markets or in God, a matter of your believing that free-market economies are desirable or that God exists.However, this does not mean that there are no religious truths to be known, for a religion is an outlook, a view of the world, from which certain religious truths do follow: what it does mean is that the justification of religious knowledge ultimately rests on the faith that the religious person has, and this faith is more than just some piece of knowledge.
It is doubtful, however, that non-propositional believings can, in every case, be reduced in this way. Debate on this point has tended to focus on an apparent distinction between belief-that and belief-in, and the application of this distinction to belief in God ... Some philosophers have followed Aquinas (see Summa Theologiae) in supposing that to believe in God is simply to believe that certain truths hold: that God exists, that he is benevolent, etc. Others ... argue that belief-in is a distinctive attitude, one that includes essentially an element of trust. More commonly, belief-in has been taken to involve a combination of propositional belief together with some further attitude.
H.H. Price (1969) defends the claim that there are different sorts of belief-in, some, but not all, reducible to beliefs-that. If you believe in God, you believe that God exists, that God is good, etc. But, according to Price, your belief involves, in addition, a certain complex pro-attitude towards the object ...; you possess, in addition, an attitude of commitment and trust towards God. ...
Belief-in may be, in general, less susceptible to alteration in the face of unfavourable evidence than belief-that. A believer who encounters evidence against God's existence may remain unshaken in his belief, in part because the evidence does not bear on his pro-attitude. So long as this is united with his belief that God exists, the belief may survive epistemic buffeting – and reasonably so – in a way that ordinary propositional belief-that would not.John Heil, in A Companion to Epistemology, 1992.
ideology n. ... 2. Philosophy, sociology. the set of beliefs by which a group or society orders reality so as to render it intelligible. ...It is therefore not like something seen, but like the place from which we see things. And we cannot avoid taking such a life position, just as we cannot see things without seeing them from some place.Collins English Dictionary, 1991.
An ideology is something like what Edward de Bono (British writer, 1933 - ) calls a 'myth' (– clearly not in the sense of legends):
A myth is a fixed way of looking at the world which cannot be destroyed because, looked at through the myth, all evidence supports that myth.Except that de Bono seems to be considering only the delusional, self-justifying aspects of ideologies, and not to see that we also all depend on having some ideology, to "order reality so as to render it intelligible."
Our inability here is similar to that which Archimedes (287-212 B.C.) expressed when he said: "Give me a firm spot on which to stand, and I will move the earth [– by using a lever.]" For as regards life positions, too, there is no 'firm spot' from which we could mount a conclusive argument.
If there is no such 'firm spot', does it follow then that there is never any point in discussing or comparing different religions or life-positions? One might often get that impression, for instance when one hears a typical argument between a religious believer and a non-believer, each trying to convince the other that his or her position is wrong, (or between an American and a communist, or between someone who believes in UFOs and someone who does not.) Disagreements in many important areas, such as art and morality, often have the same air of pointlessness.
But it seems to me that there are reasons why these most basic matters can and should be discussed, (and why religion should be a topic in the ThoK-course.)
Also try to give examples, perhaps from your own recent experience, of how discussions of a religion that is not yours, or of an outlook that you do not share, has enabled you to understand someone else better, or clarified your own views and opinions.
The fact that religious and ideological differences are liable to become conflicts, that they have often led to persecution and war, is something that we must not avoid facing up to. Especially when we hold to a religion or ideology that has been (or is) so involved – and there are few that are not 'guilty'. Many people may find it difficult to take a critical approach to something that is so fundamtental to who they are – almost like being told that one's father is a thief. But I will suggest here two reasons why difference can become conflict.
The Christian ideal of loving one's neighbour and loving one's enemy, non-violence, serving the poor and suffering, redemption and salvation through the descent of God to earth, sharing together in a community of faith, has been coupled with inquisitions to root out those whose faith deviates or to impose the faith on those who do not choose it, averting the gaze from (when not blessing) the monstrous crimes of those in power, conquest in the name of bringing the doctrine to the benighted, following in the wake of colonial influence, opulent and satisfied status as an official and dominant ceremonial religion in the West. This is not the whole story about the Christian ideal as it actually operates in the world, but it is part of that story. ...The problem pointed to at the end of this passage is that when we discuss religions or world views, or even just plans, we may not be able to compare like with like, since we cannot help belonging to a religion or having a world view or favouring a plan ourselves, and this one we will look at differently from the way we look at other ones.
The temptation is to say simply that ... Christianity's underside is not true Christianity but institutionalist hypocrisy ... But this reply will not do. That is how those ideals operate, over and over again, in this world, on this planet, when we are the ones who do the operating. That is what they come to, what we make them come to.
It is not all they come to, however. ... The content of an ideal is not exhausted by how we actually manage to work it; it also includes its realization by better people than we are. ...
[But] In comparing two ideals, we have to judge the first's actual situation against the second's, and the first's ''ideal situation'' against the other's. It would be unfair to judge another actuality against your ideal – that is, to judge how another ideal actually works out against how your ideal ideally does.Robert Nozick, The Examined Life, 1989.
Write a similar paragraph about another ideal, or ideology, such as capitalism, or communism, or nationalism (– which are the ones Nozick writes about in his book.)
|1.||all individuals have a deep-seated attachment to their family, their friends, their home, and so on||individuals have a faith or life-position: what they believe in is part of who they are, their identity|
|2.||individuals who share a background form communities, for the purpose of joint action||individuals of the same faith or life-position form communities, for the purpose of fellowship|
|3.||hence: states, countries||hence: congregations, denominations|
|4.||a nation is 'invented', to justify some political end: it appeals to the community's deep-seated attachments||a religion is 'invented', to justify some political end: each individual who has a certain faith belongs to it|
|5.||hence: tribes, factions, nations||hence: sects, cults, churches|
|6.||a nation acquires symbols, like the flag or a leader; it has a mythical origin and unity that set it apart||a religion is represented by symbols, like the cross, a shrine, certain rituals; it has a creation myth that sets it apart|
|7.||the superiority of, or supposed threat to, one's nation justifies action against 'the others', even war, to achieve the political end||the superiority of, or supposed threat to, one's religion is exploited for political ends, to justify action against 'non-believers'|
|8.||nationalism: people are prepared to kill, to lay down their lives for their country!||religion: people are prepared to kill, to lay down their lives for their faith!|
|note: nationalism is so effective because it appeals to (= exploits!) each individual's most personal attachments||note: religion is so useful a justification because it appeals to (= exploits!) each individual's most deeply held values|
( Example: the conflict in Northern Ireland, supposedly between Protestants and Catholics. 'The troubles' continued, despite appeals for peace from the leaders of both churches, until it was dealt with as a struggle for power between two political groups, Unionists and Republicans: the former had thought that they would benefit more from continuing as a province of the UK, the latter that they would do better as part of Ireland.)
The obvious problem with this is that there are often great differences in the beliefs and values of individuals who profess to belong to the same religion, or to have the same world view, and it is difficult to establish what is typical: is it the 'average' position, or that of the greatest number, or that of the leaders of the faith, or the 'original' one, or whatever every adherent would agree with (– which might amount to very little)? For each religion there would seem to be 'liberals' and 'fundamentalists' and 'literalists'.
It is important to remember this when we learn about and talk about different religions. While the Religious Conference, for instance, does give an introduction to the world's main religions, we must bear in mind that the individuals who came to represent the different faiths may not be holding and expressing views that are typical.
Try to give concrete examples.
(Humanism is here included as being 'almost a religion': most non-religious people are humanist in their outlook and values, but some of them in addition feel the need to join some organisation, like the British Humanist Association.)
|what we are in the world|
|about this world|
|the nature of the god(s)|
|about the other world|
|our relation to the god(s)|
|the role of observances|
|a main moral principle|
However, one way in which a religion is more than a system of knowledge is that it requires, apparently, means of expression and communication other than language.
In groups of four or five, one of whom needs to act as the 'group secretary' and write things down, follow the procedure suggested on the right to produce an outline for an essay or seminar on the following topic.
''Religions seem to require particular means of expression and communication, such as symbols, art and ritual. Using examples, discuss how these are used and for what purpose.''
|A way of organizing the process of writing an essay or preparing a seminar which was described before is to divide it into four phases, with different purposes and rules, although in one's actual work these phases will usually not be sharply separated:
However, religious people themselves often do not view their faith in that way; and in Western, or Christian, and specifically Catholic, philosophy and theology much effort has gone into discussing what evidence we can have for or against religious faith, or specific religious beliefs.
The basic assumption is that theistic belief is justified only if it is or can be shown to be probable with respect to some body of evidence or propositions – perhaps those that are self-evident or about one's own mental life, as Locke thought. But is this assumption true? The idea is that theistic belief is very much like a scientific hypothesis: it is acceptable if and only if there is an appropriate balance of propositional evidence in favour of it. But why believe a thing like that? Perhaps the theory of relativity or the theory of evolution is like that: such a theory has been devised to explain phenomena and gets all its warrant from its success in doing so. But other beliefs – e.g. memory beliefs, belief in other minds – are not like that; they aren't hypotheses at all, and are not accepted because of their explanatory powers. They are instead the propositions from which one starts in attempting to give evidence for a hypothesis. Now why assume that theistic belief, belief in God, is in this regard more like a scientific hypothesis than like, say, a memory belief? ... No one has succeeded in showing that, say, belief in other minds or the belief that there has been a past, is probable with respect to what is certain for us. ...Here are a few ideas from the discussions that have taken place in Christian theology, and more generally Western philosophy, on the evidence for and against religious faith, or specific religious beliefs:
... I believe that there has been a past and that there are other people; even if these beliefs are not probable with respect to what is certain for me (and even if I came to know this) I couldn't give them up. Whether or not I accept such beliefs isn't really up to me at all: I can no more refrain from believing these things than I can refrain from conforming to the law of gravity ... Perhaps theistic belief is properly basic, i.e. such that one is perfectly justified in accepting it without accepting it on the evidential basis of other propositions one believes.Alvin Plantinga, in A Companion to Epistemology, 1992.
For example: ''And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.'' (Exodus 3:2.)
Instead, in The Critique of Practical Reason, 1788, Kant deduces the existence of God from the fact that we are capable of objectively moral action, which requires a moral world order, which is clearly not to be found in the natural world and therefore further requires there to be an omnipotent moral being to guarantee it.
Miracles are one of the ways in which God can reveal Himself (– see: revelation.) Explaining an event as a miracle is not a very strong explanation, so the following criterion has been suggested: we should, for the time being, accept that an event is a miracle if any other explanation would be even less likely.
Rather than trying to prove that there is no God, which would require a kind of argument he dismisses, Nietzsche argues against religion on the basis of psychological evidence: when we have understood fully why people believe in God, how certain groups benefit from religion, and so on, then the question whether there is a God has disappeared.|
''What the occasion is for our cheerfulness. – The most important recent event – that 'God is dead,' that the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable – has begun to cast its shadow over Europe'' (The Gay Science, 1882.)
The problem is that if God is omniscient and omnipotent (i.e. all-knowing and all-powerful) and if everything happens of necessity, then man does not have free will and therefore cannot commit sin.
The question of how man could have free will despite God's foreknowledge of our actions was much discussed in the middle ages, by scholastic philosophers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Leibniz (see: theodicy) too held that God's absolute foreknowledge of the course of man's inclinations does not involve predestination and can be reconciled with human freedom.
The German philosopher/theologian Leibniz (1646-1716,) the last 'universal genius' – he was also a physicist and discovered the infinitesimal calculus (at the same time as Newton) –, put forward three answers to this problem:
Pangloss taught metaphysico-theologo-cosmologo-nigology. He proved incontestably that there is no effect without a cause, and that in this best of all possible worlds, his lordship's country seat was the most beautiful of mansions and her ladyship the best of all possible ladyships.And talking to other survivors of the earthquake in Lisbon, in which ''thirty thousand men, women and children were crushed to death under the ruins,''
''It is proved,'' he used to say, ''that things cannot be other than they are, for since everything is made for a purpose, it follows that everything is made for the best purpose. Observe: our noses were made to carry spectacles, so we have spectacles. Legs were clearly indented for breeches, and we wear them. ... And since pigs were made for eating, we eat pork all the year round. It follows that those who maintain that all is right talk nonsense; they ought to say that all is for the best.''
On the voyage Pangloss explained to him how all was designed for the best. James did not share this view.
''Men,'' he said, ''must have somewhat altered the course of nature; for they were not born wolves, yet they have become wolves. God did not give them twenty-four-pounders or bayonets, yet they have made themselves bayonets and guns to destroy each other. ...''
''More examples of the indispensable!'' remarked the ... doctor. ''Private misfortunes contribute to the general good, so that the more private misfortunes there are, the more we find that all is well.''
Pangloss consoled them with the assurance that things could not be otherwise:Dr. Pangloss comes to a bad end, being taken away by the inquisition, when he is found guilty, despite his protests, of not believing in original sin and denying the Fall of Man (– see: predestination):
''For all this,'' he said, ''is a manifestation of the rightness of things, since if there is a volcano at Lisbon it could not be anywhere else. For it is impossible for things not to be where they are, because everything is for the best.''
''Your Excellency must excuse me,'' said Pangloss; ''Free Will is consistent with Absolute Necessity, for it was ordained that we should be free.''
While many believers accept that their faith cannot be proved to be true – otherwise, would it really be faith? –, there have always been attempts to prove the existence of God in such a way that a non-believer would have to accept that there is a God. (Note that such a proof would still only lead to belief that God exists, not to a belief in God – see above.)
One such argument, put forward by Anselm of Canterbury in the 13th century, goes like this (– he uses as his definition of God that He is "that greater than which nothing can be conceived," but I will just use "the most perfect being"):
premise i.: We define God as the most perfect being.Now, it is quite clear that there is something strange going on here, because the argument moves from something in our minds, the definition of God, to something in the world: that God actually exists. So there are two standard refutations, attacking the two premises of the argument (– note that the argument is valid, so if we did accept the premises, we would have to accept the conclusion):
premise ii.: Amongst the perfections of the most perfect being must be existence, because something that does not exist would be lacking in perfection.
conclusion: Hence God must exist.
What remains of the ontological argument is that for a believer – at least a certain kind of believer: other religious traditions may have quite different conceptions of God – the concept of "that greater than which nothing can be conceived" is something one can meditate on in prayer.
Picture of Kant from: Microsoft Encarta 96.
Picture of Nietzsche from: Microsoft Bookshelf 1993.