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Friday, August 24, 2012

Philosophy? Religion? Philosophical Religion? Religious Philosophy?


Philosophy? Religion? Philosophical Religion? Religious Philosophy?

Recently, I had a fascinating discussion with a friend of mine.  Somehow, we got onto the topic of Philosophy and Religion as “Paths” or major guiding factors in one’s life.  The conversation ran the spectrum from the ancient religions and philosophers right up to the more modern day schools of thought and modern religions (new religions and institutionalized religions).

Can Philosophy NOT be a part of Religion? Can Religion NOT be a part of Philosophy? Where is the line between Religion and Philosophy? When does it cease to be one thing and become the other? Is that good or bad?  Are there characteristics that one has that the other doesn’t and vise-versa? Interesting questions and we didn’t settle on any answers.  :-)

A few words that we came up with that to describe Religion and Philosophy follow:
Religion – devotion, service, ardor, faith, ineffable, Mystery, values, ethics/civics, ecstatic, aesthetics
Philosophy – logic, values, reality, theory, intellectual, intellectual understanding, reason, reasoned thought aesthetics, ethics

Now, just to muddy the waters, here are some dictionary definitions for Religion and Philosophy:

Definition of RELIGION
1  a : the state of a religious religion
> b (1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2  : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3  archaic : scrupulous conformity : conscientiousness
4  : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

And a second definition from the Cambridge Dictionary -
-          And from the Cambridge Dictionary:
-          * the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship
-          the Christian religion
-          * informal an activity which someone is extremely enthusiastic about and does regularly


Definition of PHILOSOPHY
1  a (1) : all learning exclusive of technical precepts and practical arts (2) : the sciences and liberal arts exclusive of medicine, law, and theology philosophy
> (3) : the 4-year college course of a major seminary b (1) archaic : physical science (2) : ethics c : a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology
2  a : pursuit of wisdom b : a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means c : an analysis of the grounds of and concepts expressing fundamental beliefs
3  a : a system of philosophical concepts b : a theory underlying or regarding a sphere of activity or thought philosophy
of war>
4  a : the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group b : calmness of temper and judgment befitting a philosopher

And a second definition from the Cambridge Dictionary –
Philosophy:
• the use of reason in understanding such things as the nature of reality and existence, the use and limits of knowledge and the principles that govern and influence moral judgment
René Descartes is regarded as the founder of modern philosophy.
See also: PhD
the philosophy of sth
a group of theories and ideas related to the understanding of a particular subject
the philosophy of education/religion/science
• a particular system of beliefs, values and principles
the Ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism
• informal - someone's outlook on life and their way of dealing with it
Live now, pay later - that's my philosophy of life!



I see Philosophy being in the realm of Thought and Intellect – looking for answers and explanations that are “logical and rational” and, to a certain extent, impersonal.
I see Religion being in the realm of the heart and Wonder/Mystery – looking for answers and explanations that are both personal and universal yet ineffable.

Modern Paganism and related paths seem to run the entire length of the spectrum from Religion to Philosophy but usually (in my experience) fall somewhere in between the two with characteristics of both. 

However, there are 2 components that I see in Religious Paths that I do not see in Philosophical Schools: service and devotion.  

So, a question to you - if a Path is exclusively “Intellectual” (no service/devotion or sense of wonder/Mystery), is it a Philosophy or can it also be a Religion?

What do you think?

This just in -
Religion seeks to experience Mystery.
Philosophy seeks to explain Mystery.

Hmmmmm.

4 comments:

  1. I just "unmoderated" my comments. Be nice. :-)

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  2. Often many pagans will shy away from the word religion when it comes to describing their path because of the dogma/doctrine connected with the main stream faiths. But in truth if one goes by definition it is a religion if one uses said path as mainstay of spirituality. Philosophically, it would also be included since it includes all the theories mindset of education we include upon said path. So for me, I think it falls within both realms

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  3. Well, most of my friends know more about both philosophy and religion than I do, despite my Doctor of Philosophy (we did study ethics and epistemology, but precious little logic...or maybe I just wasn't paying attention.)

    I think one difference is that a founding assumption of philosophy is that understanding is gained through the pursuit of logically reasoned paths of thought, perhaps bolstered with the use of the scientific method, while religion may have as its founding assumption "there is a Divine, and we are in relationship with it". If you believe logical analysis to be the best way to understand reality--for which there are indeed good arguments--then it's hard to get to a logical basis for believing in or serving a deity.

    However, if you believe that there are kinds of knowledge that are not subject to logical analysis, then you might take the kind of mystical experience that James talks about, that of experiencing the mysterium tremendum, as a foundation for believing and serving the Divine. The Dalai Lama talks about the need to use rigorous logic to understand reality, but Buddhism allows for the subject of logic to be internal experience as well as that which can be observed.

    I think philosophy is more concerned with figuring out what's true, and religion is more concerned with deepening perceived connection with a perceived Divine. Both may be concerned with how to live an ethical life, I suppose, which may include service to other people or to ideals.

    Personally, I don't really care what's true, and I don't think we can know what's true, because I think it's hubris to suggest that our little primate brains are equipped to perceive and analyze all the possible data relevant to the question. If the basis for knowing truth is analyzing data, and we don't have access to all the relevant data, then the best we have are complex theories that account for what we can perceive and have access to, and can therefore make reasonable hypotheses about what else may be out there. Okay, that's probably good enough for primates, but I'm not willing to say that means it's true.

    However, if the basis for knowing what's true is more than that which is accessible to the scientific method, we still don't know what's true or how to define it except in terms of "unverified personal gnosis". And we take that or leave it.

    Anyway, I'd like to hear what those of you who have been reading philosophy while training in religion for all these years think about all this, because I don't really know enough about philosophy to say much.

    raven

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  4. raven, thank you for a beautifully written response!

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