Religious Folks Who Reject Philosophy, Inadvertently, Reject Their Own Belief Systems
I’ve seen it so many times: an ardent church-goer who encounters philosophy and comes away with the impression that the age-old discipline is just “mind games and tricks”. Adding insult to injury this critic may go on to suggest that philosophy is simply a “matter of opinion”, failing to distinguish between epistemological relativism and a discipline that counts relativism itself as one theory worthy of (at least some) rational consideration.
To be sure, there are serious critiques of philosophy to be made and it deserves honest critiquing. Most theologians respect philosophy, understanding the way their own religious beliefs are founded on philosophical assumptions (from morality to God’s existence). In fact, I’d venture to guess that some theologians respect philosophy more than some atheist academics!
The religious folks I’m targeting in this article are not informed theologians or philosophers of religion, but rather people who follow a religion (usually a monotheistic one) who may or may not be highly educated. The common thread is that some of these latter folks don’t seem to understand philosophy, or how it interacts with religion, but are nevertheless content to reject philosophy and trivialize it.
Religious Beliefs are Just One Philosophy Of Many
My argument here applies only to the extent that the religious folks I’m targeting take the philosophy underpinning their religion seriously. Of course religion is more than philosophy in that it engenders a sense of community and purpose. I’m not talking about that part of religion. I’m talking about the claims religion makes — like Jesus/Muhammed/Zoroaster being somehow connected to God, or God existing, or God having a particular nature, or morality being dependent on God, or homosexuality being wrong, or the Bible/Qur’an/Avesta being a rough (or direct) translation of God’s word.
All of these claims are philosophical in nature and, therefore, subject to rational evaluation. To the extent that philosophy is just mind games and tricks, religious claims like this are simply one huge mind game that has been codified and is believed by a significant number of people. Religious claims are subordinate to philosophy in this regard: they together make up just one philosophical system. Philosophy, in contrast, is a method and arguably a way of life in which one analyzes deep issues in accordance with reason. The analysis of the religious claims that some build their entire lives upon are merely one area of consideration for philosophers.
Again, I am not targeting all believers but rather the weak reasoning of a particular type of believer (as outlined above). Maybe philosophy is just mind games and tricks, or just a matter of opinion — but then, by deductive reasoning, so are the philosophical claims underlying religion. There’s nothing wrong with believing these claims if you’re a religious person, in my view, based on faith or intuition. But then, don’t trivialize philosophy or any other belief system, and be honest that you’re just playing a huge mind game with yourself, too, and that your entire worldview is “just a matter of opinion”.