In high-school education, Philosophy of Religion in general, and the traditional arguments for God are becoming a well (perhaps over-?)trodden path. The danger of this is that if it is taught badly, or even indifferently, students can be left at the end of a unit feeling like they haven’t changed their minds about anything and feeling that they must agree with a certain understanding of causation, say, to maintain their original beliefs. Philosophy then becomes a sort of stroll or tour to apparent complexity but remains uncritical and impotent. Perhaps this is unavoidable before university (though I certainly it is not) and I am sure I have just condemned myself in saying the above.
I’m certainly not claiming that there is a clear and obvious ‘right’ answer in a lot of the areas we discuss, only that there are plenty of ideas that, under closer inspection, show themselves to be problematic.
ANYWAY, the reason I was prompted to think of this was that in his Thinkers Guide to God, Peter Vardy makes a claim that breaks from this ‘tour’ of different but equally valid offerings. He quite plainly accuses John Hick of misunderstanding non-realism, claiming that this leads him to err in his judgement of ontological arguments (87).
In doing so he is making a claim about what the religious believer means by ‘God exists’ in a way that reminds the reader of Swiss theologian Karl Barth’s interpretation of Anselm’s famous argument. Noting Malcom’s reliance on Wittgenstein, Vardy suggest that we must look at religious experience to progress in discussions about God’s existence. For the believer, God’s existence is certainly thought to be necessary, where the non-believer do not presume this in the same way. Vardy is claiming that such an argument offers no proof that the YHWH of Christianity, Islam and Judaism exists and in doing so he is in the company of both Hume and Kant.
Every so often I read (or start reading) a book that makes me read more by the same author. It”s not always because I agree with the writer, in fact recently it more often goes the other way… Julian Young’s The Death of God and the Meaning of Life was my most recent book like this… In fact it might be a very good addition to an IB philosophy reading list…
Both in this book, and his Schopenhauer, Young provides a seriously clear and useful definition that would be of use to any IB student reading Nietzsche for paper 2 or for anyone that would like to write something ‘a bit off the beaten track’ in their core theme question. I always encourage my paper 2 Nietzsche students to mention Schopenhauer in their answers and this book and that chapter explain very clearly why.
There’s an excellent section on what ‘will’ is and why it matters which may seem familiar to students of Freud. Best, perhaps is the description of Schopenhauer’s case for pessimism. I’ll return to both these books later but for now here is Young quoting Schopenhauer making a case for the creulty of nature. This point could also find a home in a philosophy of religion essay…
*Young, Julian Schopenhauer (New York: Routledge, 2005) 84.
One of the philosophers I would love to talk about more in IB Philosophy is Emmanuel Levinas. I always feel a bit like I’ve ‘sold short’ my students when we get to revising and haven’t talked about this profound thinker who sees a potentially exciting and all-changing link between phenomenology and ethics.
The above is on Issuu and you can read the entire introduction…
This is a wonderful clip for thinking about religion and ethics. For those not familiar with The West Wing the bald gentleman plays Toby Ziegler, a senior aide to the President. In this episode, President Bartlett is face with a decision on whether to pardon a criminal due to be executed.
Non-religious people tend to think that religious people suppose they have some sort of ‘monopoly’ on truth when it comes to ethics, but this clip shows the ‘uncomfortableness‘ of religious ethics.
A long long time ago Plato recorded Socrates posing a difficulty for all those who believe right and wrong are what the god(s) say they are. This was the position held by the young and ‘upright’ Euthyphro.
In series three of ‘Game of Thrones’ there is a subtle but clever illustration of a criticism of the idea of God that was made by German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach . Feuerbach thought that theology was essentially anthropology, that is to say that when people speak of ‘God’ they are in fact speaking of some reflection or perhaps amplified ‘projection’ of what the know of humankind. He says:
God is man, man is God.
The idea is that the infinite Geist of Hegel is not something that originates outside of us but something that is grounded in our wishes, desires and understandings of ourselves.
In Game of Thrones this idea is particularly clear during the wedding ceremony of Edmure Tully and Roslin Fray (above). The icon at the front of the ceremony is the seven pointed star and the wording of the wedding vows include:
In sight of the seven.. say the words “Father, Smith, Warrior, Mother Maiden, Crone and Stranger, I am hers and she is mine…
It’s almost as though the whole concept of The Seven and even the concept of ‘everythingness’ has its origins in the experience of living in the seven kingdoms.
Was just having a wee read at this blog… if I were to write an internal assessment, I might very well choose something like this… obviously the possibilities are endless but you could write an excellent answer on whether religion has been (is?) good or bad for the world (whether it is a monster)?
If you were really keen to grapple with the picture, rather than just go your own way, I would be tempted to place Karl Barth’s thoughts on what he calls ‘Lordless Powers’ in Church Dogmatics IV against the sentiments that lie behind JFK’s often quoted:
Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.
John F. Kennedy, speech at The American University, Washington, D.C., June 10, 1963
God is like a shamrock — small, green and split three ways.
Does the Trinity make any sense to you?
Oh, no. No, it makes no sense to anyone. That’s why you have to believe it. That’s why you have to have faith. If it made sense, it wouldn’t have to be a religion, would it?
so I know I sometimes see one thing I like in another thing I like…. this may be nothing more than that but it does seem to capture some of the spirit of what we’ve been reading…
the dawn of a new age… can you imagine a time where truth ran free… we are all short of glory…
Into the night, Desperate and broken,The sound of a fight….We were the victims of ourselves…. We stole our new lives, Through blindness… The age of man is over, A darkness comes….These lessons that we’ve learned here, Have only just begun….