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Philosophy of Religion

Central Institute of Theological Studies
Course # IDS 119

Philosophy and Religion Together?


             Many people have often wandered how and even if philosophy and religion can or should be connected. Philosophers are often thought to be very skeptical. So if we study the philosophy of various religious movements, it may be somewhat unfairly assumed that we are going to be attempting to diminish or tear down a religious system by the argumentative use of skeptical philosophical questions. Many religious leaders consider philosophy to be an enemy or some for of a counterpart to religion. This should not be the case or the attitude expressed in an effective philosophical process. Philosophy could actually be a good friend to religion in the sense of helping it understand itself better through the various definitive processes it might yield during certain philosophical investigations. Once we look at the two academic disciplines individually by definition we can see how very easy they do and can fit together for a case of study.

             Remember that the two (religion and philosophy) are distinctly different from each other. A religion can be defined more accurately through the use of philosophical processes, but it is still a religion by definition. Please note that it is totally inaccurate to think that philosophy in itself is a religion or can become a religion. Any philosopher will readily acknowledge that the academic discipline, the process or the very act of philosophy has absolutely no potential of becoming a religion in the definitive sense of the word.    

             First, let’s look at the two disciplines individually. Philosophy is a process that involves asking questions so that one might be able to identify, examine and define the tools or mechanics used by an arena of study, knowledge or enterprise that is being examined. Religion is an institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs and practices that offer the participant meaning, purpose and even restraint. The very word religion comes from a Latin word that can mean to place in restraint or bondage.

             From looking at these two definitions it becomes obvious that they can mesh in an academic discipline we will refer to as the philosophy of religion. The very notion of “theology” includes the excessive inquisitive approach to the existence, nature and power of a “God” or gods – depending on which arena of religion you are involved in.      

             For the sake of study, let’s narrow down the scope of religion to what most of the North American society is more likely to be familiar with. This group of religious activity would come under the category of “monotheism”. It is the most prevalent form of religion practiced in North America, even though there are several religions outside the typical framework of monotheism being practiced in North America. Monotheism would be defined as any one particular religious practice believing in, adhering to, or worshipping one particular god. This god may not be, and probably isn’t the same god as another monotheistic religious order or practice may claim to adhere to and/or worship.

           The various monotheistic religions typically deny their competitors the right to co-exist or to worship their “one” “god”. Or, they may allow their competing religion to “use” their “God” with obvious notes as to what differs in their own practices and beliefs. These variances are always stacked in their own favor and obviously make their own positions more advantageous to the adherent. For example: A Messianic sect of Christianity might accept the fact that a Baptist sect of Christianity might be serving and worshipping the same God. However, the Messianic sect would feel more closely related to God because they keep the Jewish feasts and festivals also. The Baptist sect, on the other hand, might turn the tables and say that they are better off because they don’t have to keep the Jewish feasts and festivals anymore, and thus, they can spend their time serving God in more practical and applicable ways. Thus, the definition of a cult rings true in most monotheistic religious communities: “A cult is the church down the street from yours.”             


Philosophical Investigations


            There are questions that one must philosophy religion with. They form a thread of interlinked inquisitive postures that must be examined before coming to a conclusion or definition of what a particular religion is constructed of. This format of philosophical investigation helps us determine what are the various “tools” are that assisted in the construction of a specific belief system. Below is very typical thread of questions that could possibly be used looked at the various forms of Christianity we experience in North American today in the 21st Century. This philosophical investigation is formatted on the theory of monotheism, and specifically a form of monotheism that is dependent on some form of ethical and moral value system.    


What do I believe about God?

Is He the creator?

If so, how did He create?

If so, why did He create?

Is a personal relationship possible?

Why or why not?

Should he be worshipped?

If so, why and how?

If not, how should the relationship be handled?



What do I know about God?

Can I trust traditions about God?

Can I trust the accuracy of scriptures about God?

If so, which ones should I trust?

If not, are there other reliable sources of knowledge?

Is there evidence that God continues to interact with mankind?

If so, how reliable is the evidence?

If not, what are the conclusions?

Has God established ethical standards for us to live by?

If so, what are they?

How valuable are they to me?

To what degree are they applicable to me?

If not, how should I live my life? 


Is there a separation between God and mankind?

If so, can it be bridged?

If so, how is it bridged?

What end results can I expect when it is bridged?

How important are those results to me?

If not, what then?



Coming to Conclusions


          To come to proper conclusions in the practice of religious philosophical investigations, one must be very willing to go the distance. This simply means that you must come to conclusions because no more questions can be asked from that particular branch of the investigation. The unfortunate thing is that sometime there are no more questions to be asked, and yet there has not been enough fact, information or even belief yielded to draw a concrete conclusion with. This often means that we must forgo our own preconceptions or predispositions. It becomes a matter of looking for these “tools” by ignoring the fact that we may “believe” we already know they exist or where they may be found.   

          This mindset can be difficult to operate in, especially when the philosopher knows, or believes he or she knows some segment of information about the arena of study, knowledge or enterprise under philosophical investigation.   

           Let’s see how this mindset could look when we start a philosophical discussion for the existence of God. We will form it into an actual philosophical investigation. In this case we will use the God of Judaism and Christianity. We probably should include Islam also, but many Christians are certain in their beliefs that the God of Islam (Allah) is absolutely not the same God that they serve and worship, even though any Muslim would be the first to claim that it is. Most Jews would probably agree with Christians about which God belongs to who, even though it would probably be more for politically motivated reasons than for theologically motivated ones.

           Here’s what we have to work with. Does God exist? The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) makes absolutely no claim to prove the existence. By the very nature of its text, it doesn’t feel any need to. A thorough reading will reveal no intent or even mention that God does indeed exist. It is assumed that the ready either already believes that God exists or at least is open enough to the idea to read a book (or books) about a supposed “God” that does exist.

           So, if the Hebrew Bible does not attempt to prove that God exists, why do so many people believe that God does exist? If God doesn’t exist, then we must ask how that many people can believe that God does exist when their own sacred writings do not attempt to prove that He does exist. Can the existence of God be proven through any other arena of study or knowledge?

           Some might attempt to prove God’s existence through the various sciences. But even most Jews and Christians will admit that science cannot ultimately prove the existence of God. If it could, than obviously everyone would be forced to believe in the existence of one God, simply by the presentation of the scientific facts.

          Others might say that they know God truly does exist because of their faith. Then we must define what faith is, and how a person can truly experience a faith that could prove to them beyond any shadow of a doubt that God exists. Is faith an experience for everyone? Can everyone experience that level of faith? What levels of faith are there? Is faith a blind leap into the crosshairs of utter ignorance? Some extremely rational thinking people would say so. Others on the opposite side of the spectrum would say that rational thinking and hyper-intellectualism will drive a person insane to the point where they cannot experience such a simple faith that allows one to believe that God exists.

           If some people seem to be void of a level of faith that would bring them to the undeniable conclusion that God does exist, what happens to them? Is it their fault? Is it some undeterminable or predestined fate?

           So what are the tools that define a religious practice? A God or “gods” is not one of them. It is simply an “adjective” that may or may not help define a particular religious practice. The process of philosophy boils down to how certain religions get to a place of including or even centralizing God in their faith or practice of religion. When we philosophy religion or religious practices, these are the sort of things we are looking for, and not just a list of common denominators. We want to determine how the thinking and logic is processed that brings certain religious groups into existence and sustains them.                      

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