Practical guide for Planet Friendly, 21st Century beings

Religious Philosophy; an Oxymoron?


Today, I Googled the definition of ‘philosophy’ which yielded the strangest results, from a philosophical perspective. Among them, three definitions stood out above all the rest.

They are as follows :

doctrine: a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school

the rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics

The term philosophy derives from a combination of the Greek words philos meaning love and sophia meaning wisdom.

I then decided to look up the definition of religion, which yielded the following results;

a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny.

generally a belief in a deity and practice of worship, action, and/or thought related to that deity. Loosely, any specific system of code of ethics, values, and belief.

It struck me as being very strange, or odd, that the terms ‘doctrine’, ‘rational investigation’ and ‘love of wisdom’ could all be used together to define a common word like philosophy?

When we think of philosophy, we think of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Sartre and many others throughout history burning the midnight oil, postulating the meaning of life and existence, as it pertained to our universe and our place in it. They pondered the role that our ‘animal senses’ play in our view of the universe, as sentient beings, and whether or not we actually even ‘exist’ in the first place or whether we were simply ‘viewing’ a sort of vision projected by our minds which was being interpreted as our ‘existence‘? They pondered a lot, postulated and conjectured about everything they saw, felt, smelled and heard. They also pondered good and evil and human morality. Still, the main point to all of it was to keep the discussion and exploration an open ended and boundless (without borders) theoretical system. To keep the discussion open, as it were, until a final answer emerged.

Then came ‘religion‘.

Religion took bits and pieces of all the open ended philosophies, of all the great thinkers throught history, put them in a box, closed the lid and called it a doctrine (name of their choosing). They constructed tenets and moral guidelines, claiming absolute knowledge, without proof, of the existence of the ultimate deity and after life destination and how we were to conduct ourselves in order to reach this specific after-life to the exclusion of all unbelievers. They enforced their doctrine by force, intimidation and fear mongering. They basically came along one day and ordered an end to the discussion.

While Philosophers spoke of postulations and possibilities, the religions spoke of absolutes and consequences.

At some point the two, now separate, teachings had become divergent to the point of becoming polar opposites, from a literal standpoint, but yet somehow still maintain the same definition in our languages?

If someone is being ‘philosophical’ on an issue is he thinking of all the rules he must obey or is he expanding his possibilities?

Is Transcendentalism or Existentialism the same thing as Judaism or Christianity?

The latter two profess Answers, Gods, Consequences and Rules and are therefore considered ‘doctrines‘ by philosophers but philosophies by ‘believers‘.

At some point the issue needs to be clarified and definitions decided upon, lest the two be linked together forever as an eternal oxymoron leading to confusion and deception.

The box is either ‘open’ (philosophy) or it is ‘closed’ (doctrine). The two practices, in literal terms, cannot exist in the same placeholder as the same thing.

Or can they?


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

i have got a few questions:

first, did you know that religion is not a purely “english” word, and thus we should look at the roots to determine what it actually was supposed to mean when it first made its appearance in english?

religare is latin. it means “to tie”, generally meaning to trust. well just so you know philosophers trust all sorts of things religion didnt originally have to mean doctrinal rigid rules. this is merely how the word has changed to be known today.

second, how much philosophy have you read?

if you do any more than a precursory glimpse into the study, you will find nearly every philosopher from ancient times til present discuss God and faith and religion, etc.

in fact, as far as western philosophy goes, almost every philsopher until postmodernism, were “christians” who were trying to make sense of their religion in the world that they lived. yes that includes greats like anselm, descartes, kant, etc.


Comment by PB and J

First of all, thank you peter for your excellent comment. You make some good points. Allow me to respond.
I DO realize that ‘religion’ is NOT just an English word which, is why I specified ‘languages’ as opposed to ‘english’. Around the world though, it still ‘means’ doctrine although it may not be ‘defined’ as such and this is the reason for the oxymoron argument.

I have read quite a bit of philosophy and you are correct in saying that these philosophers DID speak of god and faith and religion but in an entirely different context, except for the purely religious philosophers of course, like Saint Thomas Aquinas.
They were ‘searching’ for a GOD and an ultimate deity which ‘may’ rule over everything but they spoke of GOD as a placeholder for our universe or an ultimate consciousness as opposed to a human type being whose ‘prophets’ came to earth to teach us and show us the way under penalty of eternal damnation.

These are ‘religious’ teachings NOT ‘philosophy’. There is nothing philosophical about ‘do it my way, do not question, bend to my will or face the consequences. That really should be the ‘new’ definition of religion: ‘a doctrine of cause, effect and ultimate consequence.’

To reinforce my assertion about religion and philosophy let me remind you of the fact that Descartes’ writings, whom you mentioned, when he died as a devout catholic, were put immediately on the church’s list of forbidden writings. Galileo, as a great thinker, of his or any other time, was tried for heresy because he ‘saw’ the ‘truth’ of our solar system and was put under house arrest for owning a telescope.

Society was a lot different before the 19th century as people (everyone, including free thinkers) HAD TO join the religious establishment they were brought up in, as the church ruled the land and they WOULD be imprisoned, tortured or killed if they dared commit heresy against their religion by thinking freely and speaking/writing of their opinions. It was not allowed then and it’s not even allowed today except that the church has no power over anyone albeit the devout’s souls as they allow.

I’ll finish by quoting the late Pope John Paul II in a conversation with Stephen Hawking to illustrate the difference between ‘religion’ and ‘philosophy/science’;
“It’s OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.”

Stephen Hawking basically smiled to himself and said ‘too late’ and the good news is that, thanks to the good ole 20th century and the advances of philosophy/science BEYOND religion (anyone’s), he was able to leave Rome unscathed and without a single threat of loss of life or liberty.

Comment by dfryer


thanks for visiting my page, and responding. i think that you make some great pts and i agree with you mostly. however, i think that we must remember many philosophers did not have a rigid perspective about doctrinal rules, but did at the same time question many topics of “religion” in a vast majority of their work as a “philosopher”. a great example would be soren kierkegaard. but there are many others.

and personally, i would call myself an amateur philosopher, and yet, the book i am writing (the draft is the page you visited) deals with the existence of God, but also how we are to relate to Him and ourselves and others and the world around us. by many this would be called “religion”, but i think really its more philosophical. anyway, just my perspective.


Comment by PB and J

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