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The Problem of (Some) Religions In Philosophy From a Functional Standpoint

Updated: Jun 28

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Navigating Faith and Reason: The Role of Philosophy in Religion


In some Islamic circles, the concept of "haram" restricts the study of philosophy because it encourages you to be a free thinker, operating on his or her own logical accord. Similarly, some Jewish circles still reject the works of Baruch Spinoza, a philosopher who challenged the traditional view of God. These examples raise a fascinating question:


What is the point of the philosophy of religion from a religious standpoint, when much of philosophy involves skepticism and free thinking? If, as a religious person, you're expected to accept established doctrines and doubt is discouraged, what purpose does philosophical inquiry serve within a religious framework?



Faith vs. Inquiry: The Conflict Between Religion and Philosophy


Religion often provides a framework for understanding the world, offering comfort, purpose, and a sense of community. To quote Mr. John Duran:


A quote on religion.

However, its core strength – unwavering faith – can sometimes clash with the inquisitive nature of philosophy. Herein lies the "functional paradox" of religion:


Different religions/religious sects discourage questioning established doctrines. This stems from the fundamental belief in their own absolute truth.


Imagine a vast football field representing all possible beliefs. In some religions, a large section is deemed "off-limits" – questioning their core tenets is seen as disrespectful or even blasphemous. This restriction, like a single, centrally located goal, limits the playing field for philosophical inquiry.


Let's explore this analogy further:


  • Confined Play: A child raised in a strictly religious household might be told, "This religion is the only true path." This might restrict their ability to explore other beliefs and philosophies, just like being confined to one side of the field with only one goal. Peer pressure works that way in general, as it is meant to confine.

  • Limited Debate: The core tenet of a religion being the absolute truth discourages open debate. Discussions become one-sided affairs, lacking the back-and-forth necessary for philosophical exploration. An opposing idea might be seen in a reduced value due to the strawman's fallacy.

This uncanny impact on idea exchange can lead to a crisis of faith, as could be experienced as members of religion, by either faith or ethnicity. Logic and reason might demand exploration beyond the established boundaries, which can lead to questioning or even abandoning the religion altogether. As such, under certain societal contexts, the social risks of philosophizing are higher.


This highlights the internal tension between unquestioning faith and the human desire for understanding other viewpoints towards reality.


It's important to note:


  • Not all religions fall into this restrictive category. Many encourage thoughtful engagement with their doctrines and even embrace the role of philosophy in enriching faith. As such, some may even go and claim that religion needs philosophy for faith to be affirmed.

  • The key takeaway is that the relationship between religion and philosophy is complex. While some religions might struggle with the questioning nature of philosophy, others find it a valuable tool for deepening their faith.

A Philosophical Critique of Religion


Religion offers solace, meaning, and a sense of belonging. However, a core tenet – unwavering faith – can create a fundamental tension with philosophy, which thrives on questioning and critical analysis. That is similar to science, which is based on these values as well. This tension highlights a paradox within religion:


  • The Claim of Absolute Truth: Different religions may place themselves as the sole repository of absolute truth. This creates a barrier to philosophical inquiry. Just like a king who demands unquestioning loyalty, such religions restrict the field of exploration, leaving little room for doubt or alternative perspectives. This is a paradox given that several religions may claim having absolute truth, which means that we need to include other faiths in our thinking in order to understand which one is right, if at all. Either way, when they contradict one another, at least one of them could be wrong, and it can by any of them in theory.

This claim of absolute truth creates several problems:


  • Stifling Doubt: Philosophy begins with the acknowledgement of ignorance – the Socratic principle of "knowing nothing." This allows for exploration and the pursuit of knowledge. Religion, however, often discourages doubt, hindering this process. How can one claim absolute certainty about God or religion when admitting ignorance is considered a flaw?

  • Fallacies of Time and Dominance: Religious traditions can be seen as an endorsement of truth. But from a philosophical standpoint, even extinct religions could hold some truth. The longevity of a religion or its number of followers doesn't guarantee its factuality. This could have something to do with the ad-populum fallacy and with the time-lapse fallacy when combined in this specific arguement.

  • The Coincidence of Birth: Many people inherit their religion by circumstance of birth. Imagine a world map painted in different religious colors. Where you land on this map does not depend on you. This raises the question of whether faith is truly a personal choice, or simply a product of geography and history. The Abrahamic dominance in the world is a result of colonialism and in part, religious missionaries. It's not necessarily due to the Abrahamic religions being correct. The same applies to capitalism as well, whose morality should be questioned in the name of helping others.

This paradox doesn't negate the value of religion. It provides meaning and comfort for many. However, it highlights the potential conflict between blind faith and the human desire for a better understanding of reality.


It's important to note that:


  • Many religions embrace philosophical inquiry. They see it as a tool for deepening their faith, not undermining it. As such, not all religions are anti-intellectualist in nature.

  • This critique focuses on the tension between absolute truth claims and philosophical inquiry. It doesn't deny the possibility of religious experiences or the positive role religion can play in people's lives.

Faith and Reason in Dialogue


The tension between religion and philosophy exposes a potential problem within certain religious sects. Functional inflexibility arises when a religion prioritizes absolute truth claims over open inquiry, as a way to maintain social harmony. This can lead to:


  • Suppression of Dissent:  Individuals who question established doctrines risk condemnation or even ostracization, as exemplified by the historical treatment of figures like Solomon Maimon and Baruch Spinoza. This stifles intellectual exploration and undermines the very essence of philosophy.

  • The Threat of Eternal Punishment:  Some religions use the threat of hell or other forms of eternal punishment to enforce conformity. This creates a manipulative effect, discouraging critical thinking and independent exploration of religious ideas. However, it has been proven that the use of coercion is a poor way to organize and lead people due to various reasons


The Path Forward


Despite this tension, a more harmonious relationship between religion and philosophy is possible.


Here are some potential avenues:


  • Open Dialogue: Religions can encourage thoughtful engagement with their doctrines, fostering a space for respectful questioning and debate. .

  • Philosophy as a Tool: Philosophy can be used to analyze and strengthen religious beliefs, leading to a more nuanced and intellectually rich faith.

  • Tolerance: It should be preferrable to let people themselves because there are some things that can't be changed by us. Letting go is therefore a tool that can be used to keep discussions from derailing into petty conflicts over ideas, instead of exchanging them peacefully.


Conclusion


A healthy balance between unwavering faith and the pursuit of knowledge can enrich both religion and philosophy. Religious belief can provide a foundation for meaning and purpose, while philosophical inquiry can deepen understanding and challenge assumptions. In this way, both disciplines can contribute to a more fulfilling human experience.

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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