Chapter 1: Philosophy and Religion
1. The Nature of philosophy: Philosophy is an attempt to justify one’s world view. A world view functions to justify a way of life, its basic values and ideals and the institutions and practices that attempt to realize them A world view typically consists in:
(1) Beliefs about what constitutes a justification of an action or policy, an attitude, or a belief, that is, about what is rational;
(2) Beliefs about the world in general and how we can know it, showing how one can justify the world view and the way of life it is supposed to justify (metaphysics and epistemology);
(3) Beliefs about the world entering into the justification. In the end, these beliefs concern the Self and its World. One’s world is a stage on which one acts out a rationally defensible life. So they include:
(a) beliefs about human nature, for instance, about freedom of will, or an immortal soul, and human psychology, for instance, what motivates action, what people are capable of, and what makes people happy or satisfied with life,
(b) beliefs about the world, in particular, cosmology (which deals with the overall structure and nature of the world), cosmogony (which deals with the origin of the world), fundamental natural law, and, if one is assumed, the nature of the supernatural realm standing above natural law.
The central topics in philosophy generally involve ideals that can never be perfectly realized. Our justification for any particular set of practices is likely to argue that some rationally commendable ideal such as happiness, wisdom, justice, or beauty is best pursued by following those practices. A religious person might seek faith, holiness, enlightenment, or piety. A way of life can be specified only by describing the ideals aimed at within it, the practices and institutions by which it is hoped to accomplish or approximate to those ideals, and the beliefs supporting the rationality of all this in its associated world view. If we are to understand a way of life, it is as important to understand what people following it aim at and fall short of as it is to understand what they actually do.
Are ideals real things that somehow drive events in the world, so that justice or wisdom, say, rules the world? Or are they only pictures people have of how things ought to be? Is there a person in control of the world who shares our ideals, God, who perfectly realizes at least some of them, so that God is perfectly good and just, knows all things, is blessed and all powerful? Or does nothing other than ourselves, and perhaps other natural beings who are imperfect like ourselves, care about our ideals? Surely anything perfectly realizing ideals such as justice or power would have to stand above the laws of nature, for if it did not, as a natural thing subject to malfunction, poor design and decay, it would sometimes face circumstances in which it would fail to act in the ideal manner, and its power would be limited in innumerable ways.
Rationality itself is an ideal, and commitment to it involves commitment to other ideals, such as knowledge and rational autonomy. So, is rationality rational? A ‘no’ to this question would result in a radical philosophical stance—one might suggest holding to a world view, perhaps relying on faith, that could not be justified. A ‘yes’ raises typically philosophical issues about circularity—“so rationality is rational. So what? Of course it is rational to be rational. I want to know if I ought to do it, and why!”
Such issues will concern us, for philosophical and religious ideals sometimes clash. One possible religious ideal is faith, reliance on the divine instead of one’s own resources. It would seem that a philosopher should take rational autonomy, a kind of self-direction, relying on one’s own intellectual resources, as her ideal. But faith is often extended to matters of belief, so that the religion considers that a person must believe a certain divine revelation no matter what our own investigations and reasoning might say about it. Surely one could not be a good philosopher and adhere to such an ideal of faith at the same time. It is conceivable, though, that philosophical research might lead us to conclude that it is best (that is, most rational) not to rely on our own intellectual resources, but to adopt a religious faith, and that would perhaps reconcile the conflict between the two ideals.
2. The Nature of Religion: One’s religion is surely a part of one’s way of life, and it may well dominate the whole way of life. But how do we separate out this part from the rest? We might look at particular religious beliefs and practices, religious institutions, religious writings, religious art, and try to identify religion by these more or less external indicators, so that religion is whatever involves prayer, priests, sacrifices, sacred texts, icons, and so on. But this relies on external indicators without telling us what makes them religious in the first place. For instance, when the Beatles song “Let it be” appeared there was some discussion whether it was religious. Some people argued it was, since it refers to “Mother Mary” and speaks, it seems, of a certain peace and acceptance that we might gain through prayer to her—“Mother Mary come to me, let it be.” Moreover, it has some of the musical qualities of a hymn. But others suggested that it was actually an ironic imitation of a religious song, and “Mother Mary” was the name of a drug. The message might be that some people treat this drug as though it provided religious solace. Perhaps the song could even be taken to be critical of religion, implying that religion itself was like a drug, “the opium of the masses,” as Marx put it. The general tone, and the central references to religious aims and a religious figure, can be explained under all these interpretations, and so they are not enough to establish that it is a religious song. We have to go deeper, and ask what motivation lies behind it. What is the song trying to say, and what attitude is it expressing? If the song expresses approval of reliance on divine help, and accepting what evil may come trusting in a divine being to preserve us, then it is religious, and it doesn’t matter whether it is sung by a choir in a chapel or a rock band in a concert hall. If it is intended ironically, it is not a religious song, and it doesn’t matter if someone, unconscious of its irony, sings it in church.
Religion is best defined for philosophical purposes as that part of one’s world view and way of life that responds to a certain problem, the problem of cosmic evil. The core belief in the religious world view seems to be that things are all right, despite appearances to the contrary. There is some justification for evil, and the world is at root a place friendly to human beings. Some people are just quite sure that things are all right, and William James calls these the “once-born.” Others worry that things are not all right at all, that there are irredeemable and senseless evils, absurd evils, that the universe doesn’t care, that there is no purpose to life, that human beings have no standing in the world and are here by accident, or that human beings are evil and estranged from the divine—and then they discover that they were wrong, and are converted. These are the “twice-born.” The religious part of our world view, then, if there is one, tells us that things are all right, or at least can be all right if we take the right actions, and explains why they falsely appear not to be—it saves us from a kind of despair.
This definition identifies the central function of religion. Now whatever we identify as its central function, we will have to recognize other, possibly very important, functions also served by religion. If it turns out that the performance of one function somehow leads to and controls the performance of the other functions internal to religion, then that one will be the central function. Of course, one may use religion for any number of functions that are external, that is, not in themselves religious, and these functions should play no role at all in our definition.
It should be noted that the definition proposed of religion here does not make a religion merely a belief system, although it does suppose that a belief system lies behind the practices and institutions of a religion. It takes more than mere belief to avoid despair in the face of evil. Even the most intellectual will make a practice of study, so that they are continuously reminded of their saving beliefs, particularly when they are most inclined to despair. Scholarship is one way to keep the important things in focus, then, but it is, of course, far from the only, or even the most usual, way. And it is to be noted that a religion is a continuing cultural entity, so that it requires institutions of training, education, and fellowship to maintain it in existence. Maintaining it in existence, of course, will be part of the solution to the problem of evil it addresses.
2.1 What is a particular religion? Even if the central function of religion is to deal with the problem of cosmic evil, one still cannot specify a particular religion simply by laying out its solution to the problem of cosmic evil. It is perfectly possible that two different religions should have the same solution. What would make them different religions, in that case? When we imagine such a case, we find ourselves thinking of two historically disconnected entities. A religion seems to be something like a nation. Two nations may have precisely the same form of government, and be otherwise very similar, but be different nations because they are located in different places, and have different histories. If we look at the institutions of one nation at different times, and ask where the later institutions came from, the answer is that they are continuations of the earlier institutions, just as the state of a coffee cup is explained from its earlier states and what has happened to it in the time between. (It was green, and nothing has happened to it, so it’s still green. It was red, and has been sitting a long time in strong sunlight, and so now it has faded to pink.) So the institutions and beliefs of Christianity at a given time are explained by its beliefs and institutions at earlier times and what has happened between. We could imagine a religion with the same solution to the problem of cosmic evil arising in a different time and place, the institutions and beliefs of which cannot be explained by reference to the institutions and beliefs found in the history of Christianity, and if this happened, we’d have a second religion like Christianity, the same kind of religion, but it would not be Christianity. So a given religion is a connected historical entity, the later phases of which are explained by its earlier phases. If we say that a religion is part of a way of life, with a connected world view, that deals with the problem of cosmic evil, then we should take a “way of life” here to be a particular historical entity, not a sort of historical entity.
2.2 Is a religion separable from its culture? Some have suggested that a religion is an expression of its culture’s world view. This is not enough to define religion, of course, since we need to know what part of its culture’s world view it expresses, but it does raise some questions. Does one have to adopt an entire culture to adopt a religion? Can one become a Buddhist, and not be Chinese or Indian? American Zen Buddhists often collect Japanese art in their homes, eat Japanese food, go about barefoot or in slippers in the house, and so forth. But surely this is because one who adopts a religion is likely to avail themselves of the art of that religion, and most such art will be from its culture of origin, and anyone interested in a foreign religion will probably be interested in the foreign culture as well. One can, it may seem, adopt a religion without its culture of origin, if one accepts the doctrinal side of the religion, their story about how it’s all right and why it doesn’t look like it and what we can do about that, and its essential historic practices, the practices needed to pursue the central religious goal, omitting those practices that are more peripheral and culture-bound. So an American Zen Buddhist will adhere to Buddhist ethics, the ethics taught by the founder, and meditate in the traditional fashion, and attach himself to a Buddhist priest in the proper lineage, but he might not celebrate the same holidays in the same way that a Japanese Buddhist would, and he might wear his shoes in the house, or sit in a different posture in meditation. If we are to practice a religion, work needs to be done, we need to conform ourselves to some religious ideal, and we will adopt traditional institutions and practices from that religion that help us do this work. But we might still develop new institutions and practices within our own culture, as American Buddhists have. The same religion can be attached to different institutions and practices in different cultures as long as those differences don’t affect the main point, and historical continuity is present. Indeed, Buddhism, Christianity and many other religions view themselves as potentially universal, adaptable to any culture that is not downright evil. Note, by the way, that it is arguable that there is much in Western culture that is incompatible with Christianity, so merely pointing out that Buddhism advances ideals which are not generally recognized or followed in the West, or compatible with common Western customs, is not enough to establish that one cannot be a Western Buddhist. These ideals are incompatible with culture in the East, where Buddhism is native, as well.
Still, some religions make a lot of one cultural element or another, and they will be less exportable to other cultures. An extreme example is Hinduism, which may view adherence to the Caste system as essential to religious practice, which means, of course, that it cannot be exported, except as superstition, to a European culture. Many, more liberal Indians argue that the Caste system is a mistake, and is not a necessary part of the Hindu religion, for it seems to them that their religion will eventually have to be given up entirely otherwise. Some philosophers have argued that Christianity, in a similar way, is male chauvinist—after all, God is supposed to be a male, priests and such are traditionally male, the letters of St. Paul assert that a woman should be obedient to her husband and cover her hair in church, and so on. Others argue that these elements of Christianity are accidental, not essential to the religion, and even contrary to its central ideals, so that Christianity in its highest development should be non-sexist—it should eventually outgrow its sexism, as Hinduism might eventually outgrow its caste system. Again, consider the relation of Christianity to homosexuality. More conservative Christians argue that there is no room at all for homosexuality within the religion, and liberals often go the other way. The conservative often tries to establish that the ethical ideal would enforce the traditional prohibitions, so that, for instance, it is argued that it is a violation of ethics for a woman to ‘display herself’ or for anyone to engage in homosexual sex. Liberals argue that these customs are not rooted in the ethical ideal, and may even be contrary to it (if they involve the oppression of women, for instance).
Religion is often part of one’s cultural, national or personal identity, and so people often think it would be disloyal to their culture, nation, or parents not to follow their religion. If that is a person’s chief motivation, and she does not think that all other cultures are debased and evil, then she may be quite tolerant of other people following different religions, since, after all, they have duties of loyalty to their parents and culture. The religions of minority and oppressed peoples, such as Judaism, often become focused on this function, and so they prescribe all sorts of peculiar customs and behavior designed to set their adherents aside from other people and keep them in mind of their own identity. Groups that find themselves at odds with the culture at large will often follow a religion that expresses this opposition. So people who dislike modern developments, and wish to hold on to older ways of life, often express this in terms of religious conservatism or fundamentalism, which becomes part of their identity. (Here one might consider the Amish, and Islamic fundamentalism, which is directed against Western modernization and Western forms of government and culture which would supplant the traditional Islamic forms.) For those who see their religion as part of their identity, the prospect of losing the religion is like the prospect of death, and they generally emphasize faith and loyalty as a foundation of belief, and avoid rational justifications, which give too much leverage to opponents. This role of religion, however, might be argued to be accidental to it, since some religions seem to be universal, that is, adaptable to different cultures, and to aim at forming an ideal human type that is not culturally defined. If it seems that Judaism, say, would cease to be Judaism if dissociated from its culture, well, then, perhaps Judaism is something more than a religion. To explore this we would have to imagine how Judaism might evolve a new cultural background, and ask ourselves if it could happen in such a way that we would regard the outcome as a later form of Judaism. Might the specifically religious ideals, practices and the like, remain the same within a new cultural context?
2.3 Religion is not ethics. A religion almost always advances an ethical vision as part of the resolution of the problem of cosmic evil. If the world is fundamentally good, then the world would surely demand that we be ethical, and unethical people would put themselves at odds with the world. Indeed, in a good world, unethical people would be justly punished for their transgressions of moral law, and the appearance that one can benefit from unethical behavior is one of the reasons we sometimes find ourselves doubting if any religious picture of the world can possibly be true. Some view ethics as the center of religion, and take it that following their religion is the best, or only, way to live an authentically ethical life. This, I should say, is a religious reason to be ethical only to the extent that leading an ethical life is essential to salvation, that is, to reconciling one’s imperfect self to the perfectly good world. If one does take this view, it may lead to a certain tolerance for other religions, as long as the ethical principles supported by those religions seem to be adequate.
There is a tendency for those who view ethics as the center of religion to drift toward a naturalistic religion. This is because there seems to be a justification for adherence to the ethical ideal quite independent of belief in a supernatural realm. Kant even argues from an independent justification of the ethical ideal to the necessity of belief in the supernatural, so that the belief in ethics, not the belief in God, comes first. Thus the differing supernatural metaphysics, and the cultural complexes, found in the various religions come to be seen as non-essential and false, and are treated as metaphor and myth, suitable for the instruction of those who are not up to understanding the philosophical justification for adherence to the ethical ideal. This would mean that all religions have the same fundamental aim, the realization of an ethical ideal.
Many religious people are quite suspicious of this approach, for they think ethics does not by itself sufficiently address the central concern of religion, and that it may actually substitute something else for religion. I would agree—the supernatural elements of belief in religions such as Christianity are, I think, essential within that religion if it is to serve the central, defining function of a religion, to address the problem of cosmic evil, in the way it does. If these beliefs are removed, whatever is left is not enough to do what religion is meant to do, even if the ethical views are left alone. I do not think that all religions postulate a supernatural realm—some accomplish the central religious function without doing this—but those that do postulate such a realm have almost all selected a way of accomplishing that function which requires the supernatural. As for all religions having the same underlying aim, while it may be true that they all aim at the fulfillment of an ethical ideal, this is not enough to make the case, for they have other aims, and more fundamental aims, which seem to be at variance with one another. Perhaps they all have the same underlying aim of resolving the problem of cosmic evil. This is what makes them all religions. But part of what makes a particular religion the religion it is and not another religion is its particular solution to this problem, which may differ from another religion’s solution, and may entail different subsidiary aims for its adherents. A Buddhist does not try to reconcile himself with the God against whom he has sinned, and a Christian does not try to accept that there is no Self.
2.4 Nor is religion superstition. Most religions involve belief in the supernatural, generally a God who is above natural laws and perfectly good, who guarantees that good wins out in the world, by designing natural laws to bring this about, or by producing miraculous exceptions to natural law to straighten out difficulties. Superstition is belief in the supernatural, but without a coherent overarching world view or cultural complex attached, and without a clear connection between the supernatural and the solution to the problem of cosmic evil. Sometimes the word ‘superstition’ is used to mean irrational supernatural beliefs. That is not my use here, though I would agree that supernatural beliefs in my sense of the term are usually irrational. Often we view as superstition religions alien to our own, but that may be mere prejudice. We don’t know much about the highly coherent world views associated with them, or understand or appreciate their solutions to the problem of cosmic evil. Our prejudices are confirmed by people who adopt lower forms of these alien religions, exoteric, popular forms, or take beliefs from these religions piecemeal, losing the higher meanings they gain from their religious context. So a lot of people believe in reincarnation in the United States, identifying their belief as Hindu, and drawing some solace from it. Nonetheless, most of them have very little notion what it really means to be a practicing Hindu, what the other beliefs in the religion are, what justifications have been advanced by Hindu philosophers for it, what work one has to do to be saved under the Hindu view of things, and so on. Such people have a superstitious belief. This means that a belief in the supernatural which is not religious (or part of a religion) is perfectly possible, though it may be that such superstitious belief typically functions as rather low grade religion, providing some sense of meaning and solace in the face of evil. It may also be that such superstitious belief often (but surely not always) originate as fragments broken off from religions.
2.5 Belief in the supernatural is not essential to religion. What explains the fact that most religions involve supernatural beliefs is their central function of dealing with the problem of cosmic evil. The most obvious way to do that is to postulate a supernatural being who is perfectly good, and controls the natural world in such a way as to insure that everything is for the good. If the postulation of the supernatural does not seem to perform this job (or perhaps does not seem to do it very well) we regard it as superstition instead of religion. It isn’t serious enough to be religion. If religion serves some function that is not related to this job, such as fostering an ethical life-style for its own sake, then we tend to sense something missing—this does not address our deepest religious concerns—unless, of course, this function is joined to the central religious function of addressing the problem of cosmic evil. But the problem can be addressed without postulating a supernatural realm, and some religions, Buddhism, Jainism and Confucianism, for instance, are not supernatural religions. To support this view, one would have to show that our religious concerns are addressed by such religions, so that Buddhism, for instance, does not turn out to be nothing more than a form of therapeutic psychology, or of ethics. We shall do this below.
2.6 Nor is religion essentially political. Nearly all religion supports the political ideals and ethical customs of its culture, and Marxism has argued that this is the central, defining function of religion. A religion advances a world-view (perhaps, but not necessarily, one addressing the cosmic problem of evil) that provides support to the social organization behind a given economic and political system. On the Marxist view a religion could not be successfully exported to another culture at a different economic/political level of development. A political ideal is often implicit in a religious world view for something of the same reason that an ethical ideal is. If the world is good, then it is just, and God is just, and only just government will be consistent with God’s wishes. Perhaps government of the right sort is essential to making the world right, and so religious sanctions will be brought to bear in the way Marxists suggest. One can see the political element in religion in particular in the Ancient polytheisms, and in modern Islam.
The work of a religion in supporting political and ethical customs of its culture is very important, of course, and it is arguable that the support received by a religion from political and economic powers is due to its performance of this function. Nonetheless, there are religions that dissent from the politics and ethics of their cultures, and survive, sometimes under persecution, because they appeal to a big enough minority within their culture to keep them alive. Indeed, to many it makes some sense to claim that religions such as these are rather more purely religious, less undermined and compromised by non-religious concerns, than religions that receive the full support of the state and the economic order. Wealth and power are often seen by religiously oriented people as corrupting true religion. Moreover, there are ways of supporting the political and economic order, and an ethical life, that do not involve religion, ways that have become evident in contemporary life in the West as secularism has become established there. Alongside religion we now have nationalism, patriotism, and political and economic ideology. So despite the fact that religion often seems to survive and make its living through its service to the economic and political, or ethical and cultural, order of its society, these are not in themselves the central functions that make them religions. But if one follows out the central function characteristic of religion as such, most of the time it will seem reasonable enough that keeping one’s society in working order is part of the answer to the problem of evil in the world, as long as the religion reserves its right to criticize its society when it falls short of an ideal adaptation to the elimination of evil and the accomplishment of the good.
3. Comments on the Definition of Religion: There are two things especially to be noted about the definition I have proposed. The first is that it is a “theoretical definition” (sometimes called a “real definition”), not a “definition of usage.” There are a number of sorts of definition that can be given for a term. The easiest to understand is a “stipulative definition,” which simply states how one will use a word. A stipulative definition cannot be objected to, except insofar as one might object to an inconsistent use of the word. After all, one can use words any way she wants to as long as she explains herself. A definition of usage explains how people actually use the word, and so it must be in agreement with ordinary usage. That means one cannot simply stipulate it, but has to look at how the word is in fact used. One can give such a definition of usage in various ways. The two most common are an ostensive definition, in which you point out a clear example of the thing (dictionaries sometimes include pictures of the thing defined), and an analytic definition, in which you supply a synonymous phrase with the same or approximately the same meaning as the word defined. So a “bachelor” is “an unmarried male who is marriageable.” A theoretical definition is an attempt to say what the thing defined really is, what it is about it that as a matter of fact makes it belong to the sort being defined. This is the sort of definition given by a scientist. For instance, water is H2O. This is what the stuff in the glass really is, and its being H2O is what makes it water. Notice that one could use the word “water” perfectly correctly, and be able to point out water or otherwise define its normal usage, without knowing this about it. One might also know the use of a word perfectly without being able to give, or even recognize, a correct analytic definition of it. Knowing a theoretical definition is scientific knowledge, and the definition has a theoretical function, and is generally part of a larger explanatory theory. From this definition, one hopes to explain why it is that water has the various characteristic properties it has, for instance, why it is liquid at room temperature, why it dissolves things, and so forth, and the definition enables us to do this only if we accept the theories of modern chemistry. A chemist can predict a compound’s properties from its chemical formula, since that formula tells him how it is put together, and theoretical definitions often are made in terms of the real structure of a thing.
The definition here developed for religion is a theoretical definition. You don’t have to know it to be able to tell when you’re dealing with religion (to tell when “religion” is the right word to use), but you need it to understand why religion has the various properties it does, particularly those properties that enable us to identify it as religion. So in giving my definition I am proposing a theory, which identifies some elements of religion as more fundamental elements, from which other things follow and can be explained. Religion is something human beings have invented, of course, and so the theories applicable to it will be theories about how it fits into human life, and above all, about what purpose human beings have for it. It is like defining “toaster oven.” A theoretical definition of the term would have to identify the purpose of the thing, why human beings made it, and once we knew that we might be able to explain why it is put together the way it is, why it is found chiefly in kitchens, and so forth.
One might agree with me on the usage of the term “religion,” so that we are talking about the same thing, but disagree on the theoretical definition, particularly, if we have some fundamental disagreements on the workings of human society. Sometimes our theories lead us to revise our usage. So, for instance, when people first saw what a whale really is (a warm-blooded mammal) and what fish really are (cold-blooded egg-layers), they stopped calling whales “fish.” (Melville, speaking in the character of a down-to-earth, 19th-century whaler in the beginning of Moby Dick, makes a big point of insisting that whales are fish, whatever the fancy-pants university professors might say.) Our theoretical commitments might lead us to stop calling Buddhism a religion, if we think supernatural belief is at the center of religion. Just as whales are in some (more or less superficial) ways similar to fish, so Buddhism, perhaps, is in some (more or less superficial) ways similar to religions, but it is a mistake to call it a religion, for Buddhism and real religion such as Christianity are more fundamentally different than we had thought when we used the world “religion” for both of them. Notice that we might argue that people are inclined to call Buddhism a religion when they don’t know a lot about it, since it is superficially like religions (as whales are like fish), but as we learn more about it we come to recognize that it is, at a deeper level, not at all like a religion (as whales are unlike fish at a deeper level).
This theoretical definition of religion is made within the discipline of philosophy. A certain style of explanation is typical of philosophy, and other fields, such as anthropology and psychology, have other styles of explanation. If one is seeking a theoretical definition of religion in terms of its function in human life, one might focus on a political function, a psychological function, a cultural function, and so on, and this will lead one to different definitions, simply because one is trying to explain different things with the definition. An anthropologist, for instance, might not be interested in the political uses of religion, but focus on the way in which it realizes and defines a culture, instead. A psychologist might have little interest in culture, but great interest in the way it meets psychological needs or expresses certain neuroses or character traits. A philosopher is interested above all in why religious people should accept the metaphysical (sometimes supernatural) beliefs that they accept, and how those beliefs justify their way of life, and so they approach the task of definition by identifying a problem that is solved by adopting these beliefs. An anthropologist, or a Marxist political philosopher, might regard beliefs as secondary, and wish primarily to explain the customs and practices of the religion, or the societal roles served by the religion. This is not an entirely intellectual problem, for it has extremely important emotional and practical elements, but religious doctrine is the key to its solution, and a philosopher wants to understand what these beliefs are supposed to accomplish, not only intellectually, but emotionally and practically as well. A philosopher tends to think that the explanation of human customs and behavior should identify why human beings think they have good reasons for those customs and that behavior. As a result, a philosopher takes religious persons’ own explanations and the belief system they bring forward in making these explanation more at face value than an anthropologist or psychologist would. They also take the aims of the individual more at face value than a Marxist would, for Marxists are inclined to see the needs of the community in which the individual was raised behind all her aims. The philosopher’s approach is less dismissive of religious beliefs and practices than those of an anthropologist or a Marxist, since she is not trying to “explain away” what they believe as mere window dressing for deeper, perhaps unconscious, motives. On the other hand, a philosopher tends to see religious thought as a branch of philosophical thought, and takes very seriously the task of determining which religion, if any, is true by looking at evidence and arguments.
4. Varieties of Religion: Diagnoses of the problem of cosmic evil, conceptions of salvation from evil, religious practices, and metaphysical pictures are all mutually adapted to one another within any particular religion. Religions that have been invented to date seem to fall roughly under the following sorts, corresponding to the various solutions to the problem of evil that have so far been proposed. Most actual religions actually merge a number of these sorts, even when they seem to contradict one another. The religions are briefly characterized here, then described in more detail below. This is not intended as a logically exhaustive classification. I doubt such a classification could be given, for no one can anticipate what new solutions to the central religious problem of cosmic evil might be pursued in future religions. On the other hand, there may be some reason to think that all the more plausible solutions have already been hit upon, so that we find here the most important and interesting types of religion, that is those types that have some chance of being true, or consistent with reason. AssumptionProblem of Evil: DiagnosisSalvation arises from Typical practices
I: The World is run by persons, Many spirits with contrary Recognizing one’s place in the Pleading, bargaining, etc. with
and everything that happens interests and goals are in world (one does have rights) the spirits. Magic. Soul travel.
is due to the actions of conflict with one another. and succeeding in the spirit Shamans. Gaining information
persons, i.e. spirits. Everything happens for environment. Correcting about the actions and intentions
somebody’s good. psychological difficulties and of the Spirits.
Preliterate Religions interpersonal relations.
Sometimes an afterlife in spirit world.
II: The spirit World is organized As in I, but there are also As in I, plus, Maintaining the best Communal—as in I between
In the way that a state is. problems rooted in the State (justice). Satisfying the ruling state and ruler-god, ruler-god and her
. the power relations within Gods and doing one’s duty by them, viceroy. Fertility cult. Prophecy
the state. leading to the success of the State, in support of justice.
and the status of a good citizen. Personal—ethical, no pride,
Ancient Mediterranean Polytheism; Ancient Judaism. duties as a citizen, state cult.
III: High God = World As in I and II. As in I, II. Personal salvation—recog- Meditation, ethical practices.
or soul of world. nizing that the good of the others Teaching and doctrine.
counts as much as one’s own good,
Ancient Stoicism. regarding oneself as citizen of world.
Love of all beings in the world.
III-a: II and III with a naturalistic As in II and III, but chief source As in II and III. Organize state as is Training in virtue, using the
impersonal view of world. of evil is lack of social virtues, natural, personal salvation a matter of arts, etiquette, getting family
of sincerity, in ruling class. taking right place in world and state. relations right. The social is
Get Emperor and nobles right, rest the key to personal, and one
Chinese traditions, Confucianism and Taoism. will follow. gets external behavior right,
and then works on sincerity.
Metaphysical Assumption Problem of Evil: Diagnosis Salvation Practices
IV: High God=Self Evil is an illusion due to the Personal Salvation, recognition Meditation, ethical practices etc.
illusion of the reality of the Of true self, of world as illusory. geared to recognition of true self
Hinduism, Ancient Neo- individual self, leading to Merging with the high God. and the illusory nature of the world.
platonism, Neo-Confucianism Views like those in I–III. Teaching and doctrine
IV-a: Self = the Divine. Evil an illusion due to lack of Turn to positive thinking, recognizing Faith-healing. Positive Thinking.
Idealism or Spiritualism. faith or a positive attitude. One one’s divinity, spirituality, etc., recog-
What you really are is spirit, makes oneself ill through the nizing that there is no real evil. Optimism.
Not your body, and the illusion. Sin of sin, morbid Recognizing that evils are trivial, or
natural physical world is a thought and the like are the disguised blessings.
creation of one’s mind. problem.
V: No God and No Self Most suffering arises from Recognition of social and psycho- Meditation and ethical practices
grasping rooted in illusion that logical sources of suffering in illusion geared to recognition of no-self
there is a self. Residuum of of self and grasping. Elimination of and elimination of grasping.
Buddhism. suffering due to competition, these. Social cooperation, compassion Supporting social organization.
and impersonal natural law. and friendliness to eliminate natural Charity. Teaching.
Also suffering unavoidable evils as far as possible. Highest personal
due to connection to others, salvation found in awareness and mind-
dealt with as in VIII-a, fulness of reality, so no escapism or
deliberate ignorance of evil. Compassion
free of ego. (VIII-a)
VI: Transcendent creator God, Evils are due to the work of Being on right side in good fight, Following the law of God, keeping
With a second, powerful and the evil principle, and of people reward at end of time in eternal faith with God.
evil being at war with him. in league with him. Evil afterlife.
Good will win in the end principle unexplained, or due
and transform this world. to some flaw in the creator.
Metaphysical Assumption Problem of Evil: Diagnosis Salvation Practices
VI-a: As in VII, but the aim of Evils are due to good souls’ Escape from this world with the Following God’s instructions, and
the good God is to rescue exile in this world, where they assistance of the good God and eschewing the evil practices of this
immortal souls from this are exploited by the evil his messenger. Acceptance of the world. Faith in God’s ability and desire
world and resettle them principle. The souls are kept the messenger and his message to save one from this world.
elsewhere. unaware of their real home. about the soul’s real nature and
VI-b: No God, individual salva- Suffering arises from the self’s Personal salvation through recogni- Meditation and study to come to under-
tion of self through natural becoming enmeshed in a part tion of the real nature of the self and stand the truth about the self. Ethical
Means. Self is immortal portion of the world inappro- the fact it is alien to this world, and practices and austerities geared to
and by nature blissful. priate to it. This is generally withdrawal from the alien world in full emotional recognition of this truth
taken to be due to a mistake which it is trapped by its own actions. and detachment from the world.
Jainism, Yoga, Ajivika about the real nature of oneself.
VII: Transcendent God Evils are due to the bad Reconciliation of community with Following of the Law as an
and creation. behavior of people, who broke God, Faith in God. The state image of keeping faith. Devotion
faith with God, just punishment. restored—apocalypse, and to Scripture, which records the
Later Judaism Bad behavior a result of misuse personal resurrection from death covenant with God.
of free will. at end of things, eternal heaven.
VIII: Transcendent God Evil due to the disobedience Reconciliation of individual with Ritual to partake of magical
And creation as in VIII, of angels, then human beings God after failure of duty, by means identification with God’s self-
God’ son becomes man. to God’s commands. It is just of faith in God and his Son, who sacrifice. Ethical practices
Punishment for misuse of free sacrificed himself to save humans following God’s commands.
Christianity will. from their sins. Eternal afterlife and
Metaphysical Assumption Problem of Evil: Diagnosis Salvation Practices
VIII-a: As in VII, VIII, or V. Evil unavoidable even though The aim is not a life of pleasure, nor Ethical practice joined to practice
due to free actions—necessary a life of activity, though both are goods, of forgiveness and compassion.
for there to be disobedience as but a life of commitment to the good.
Christianity, Buddhism, part of maturing of a good This involves love of others, and
Later Judaism person, and/or inevitable due forgiveness of others, together with
to imperfection of creation or compassion for suffering sinners.
natural world. (exemplified in the ideal person, that is,
God or the Buddha) which,
when freed of ego involvement,
is suffering transformed to a form of
blessedness. So the Son’s sacrifice, or
that of the Boddhisattva or prophet,
is a way of attaining the goal personally
that others must imitate.
VIII-b: Transcendent God and Evil as in VIII, but insists that Doing ethical and religious duty Ethical and religious duties.
Creation. God as ruler freedom from sin and evil leads to good standing as citizen
Of human community. is possible. God forgives, in the universe, reward in afterlife.
and heals, but does not Rejects notion that God must sacrifice
Islam experience compassion or himself, or has a Son. God is
identification with the sinner. merciful, so repentance and reform is
enough. Eternal afterlife in Heaven free