Philosophy’s Prejudice Towards Religion
ABSTRACT: Religion acquired a bad press in philosophical modernity after a rivalry developed between philosophy and theology, originating in philosophy’s adopting the role of our culture’s superjudge in all of morality and knowledge, and in faith’s coming to be seen as belief, that is, as assent to propositional content. Religion, no longer trust in the face of mystery, became a belief system. Reason as judge of propositional belief set up religion’s decline. But spirituality is on the rise, and favors trust over reason. Philosophy could make space for the spiritual by acknowledging a difference between belief as propositional assent and religious faith as trust, a distinction lost with the mixing of Greek philosophy and Christian faith. Artistic or religious truth disappeared as authentic forms of knowing. But Michael Polanyi reintroduced knowledge as more than can be thought. Also postmodern and feminist thought urge us to abandon autonomous reason as sole limit to knowledge. We have space again for philosophy to look at openness to the spiritual. If spirituality confronts us with the mystery of the existential boundary conditions, religion may be a form of relating to the mystery that confronts us from beyond the bounds of reason. That mystery demands our attention if we are to be fully in touch with perennial issues of human meaning.
At least philosophically speaking, religion has acquired a bad press in modernity. It may be explicitly rejected, simply not be talked about, or perhaps be discussed as an area of investigation. But religious adherents who explicitly involve their religion in doing philosophy are both rare and seldom respected. Much of this goes back to a history of rivalry. The rationally emancipated philosopher grew to regard the authoritarian faith of irrational religion as overcome. Conceived as a rival of philosophy, in providing some coherent account of things religion lost respect. Kai Nielsen is a well-known representative of this line in his thought.
I doubt whether philosophy would have dismissed religion if a rivalry between philosophy and theology had not developed. There certainly was no need for it to develop. Philosophy, as a rationally coherent account of how things, generally speaking, hang together, would not need to see a rival in stories and rituals in which people tell of and nurture their trust in our origin and destiny, search for healing in our pain and sickness, hope to be comforted in death and disaster, and find wisdom in the face of evil. Philosophy, as an endeavor in which rational argument brings us to broad conclusions intended to contribute to our power and control in the world, need not be in conflict with religion in which prophetic wisdom attempts to comfort and direct us in relation to realities over which we will never have much rational power or control. Philosophy develops the broadest possible framework of conceptual understanding....