PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 101 4th April 2005
I. 'The Necessity of Eschatology' by Richard Schain
II. 'Rethinking Religion' by Dick Stoute
III. 'Religion, Truth and Justice' by Harry Davies
A few years ago, browsing through the first edition of Batsford Chess Openings (Kasparov and Keene Eds 1982), I came across a line of play under 'Queen's Pawn Openings, Miscellaneous' credited to a certain player named Wojtyla, playing Black in a match against Zartobliwy in Cracow 1946 (BCO P.51, n.15). It seems that amongst his many talents, Pope John Paul II was an excellent chess player.
Pope John Paul also had considerable knowledge of, and immense respect for the discipline of philosophy. For confirmation see his Encyclical 'Fides et Ratio' addressed to philosophers (Philosophy of A-Z 'encyclical').
In both East and West, we may trace a journey which has led
humanity down the centuries to meet and engage truth more
and more deeply. It is a journey which has unfolded - as it
must - within the horizon of personal self-consciousness:
the more human beings know reality and the world, the more
they know themselves in their uniqueness, with the question
of the meaning of things and of their very existence
becoming ever more pressing. This is why all that is the
object of our knowledge becomes a part of our life. The
admonition Know yourself was carved on the temple portal at
Delphi, as testimony to a basic truth to be adopted as a
minimal norm by those who seek to set themselves apart from
the rest of creation as 'human beings', that is as those who
'know themselves' (Fides et Ratio 1998 Introduction, 'Know
I would like to thank everyone who responded to the articles on the theme of 'Tough Truths for Jews, Christians and Muslims' in the last issue of Philosophy Pathways. In my Glass House Philosopher notebook II, pages 56 and 57 I have reproduced responses by Edgar Drew, Fr Marco Porta, Fr Seamus Mulholland, Bradley Harris, Tom Albertsson, D.R. Khashaba, Marcus Sheffield and Joseph Allan, together with my replies.
In this issue there are two further responses by Dick Stoute and Harry Davies, along with the latest article by Richard Schain, which deals with the concept of eschatology in religion and metaphysics.
It cannot be wrong to ponder ultimate questions, even if you are one who has deep faith. The late Pope would surely not have disagreed with that sentiment.
Philosophy of A-Z
Glass House Philosopher
I. 'THE NECESSITY OF ESCHATOLOGY' BY RICHARD SCHAIN
Eschatology - The striving of humans toward eternity
The preoccupations of philosophers are rarely shared by non-philosophers. The nature of truth, of reality, of knowledge; the distinction between appearance and essence, self and the universe, being and nothingness - all these traditional problems with which philosophers have wrestled through the centuries are of little interest to most individuals, whether little or highly educated. This is perhaps one reason why metaphysics, which historically has been a significant part of philosophy in western culture, has been replaced by phenomenology, commonly regarded as 'scientific' philosophy. The direction was set by Kant who insisted metaphysics must be scientific. One can hardly say that this has resulted in any increase of interest in philosophy among the general population. It has led, however, to a certain Selbsthass among philosophers, causing Leszek Kolakowski to say in his entertaining essay Metaphysical Horror (2001) that 'for well over a hundred years, a large part of academic philosophy has been devoted to the business of explaining that philosophy is either impossible or useless or both.'
Nevertheless, there is another point of view. It is that metaphysics is indispensable to the human condition. To return again to Kant, he asserts in his Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics that, in spite of the difficulties (notably posed by his own major opus on the subject), it is as little to be expected that human beings will give up metaphysics as they will give up breathing! Western history has borne out the correctness of Kant's prediction. It is worth quoting at length from the prologue of Mauricio Beuchot to La Metafisica como Necesidad (1994), a scholarly monograph by Kuri Camacho (my translation):
...we confront a negation greater than metaphysics has
ever known. Throughout history, many have decreed its
death: the skeptics, the Epicureans, the nominalists, the
empiricists, the epigones of Kant, the positivists, and now
one sees, not a frank discarding of metaphysics as announced
by Carnap, but what was espoused [its disparagement] by the
later Heidegger, and in a certain manner, the later
Wittgenstein. But metaphysics always has returned to have
It is revealing that Beuchot uses the term fueros or 'privileges' to describe the place of metaphysics. The term refers to special rights, notably those enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Church in Hispanic societies. There can be little doubt that metaphysics found a congenial home in the dogmas of institutionalized religions and this association continues to the present day. With the exception of minor islands such as New England transcendentalism - long disappeared except in history books - the metaphysical aspirations of European-descent peoples have been met through theistic religions. Christianity has always been jealous of its fueros in the area of metaphysics. In earlier centuries, one would face the stake by expressing metaphysical ideas outside the established churches; today one merely has to accept the role of an eccentric, ignored by the doctors of the churches and the universities alike.
How is one to reconcile the apparently contradictory observations that the metaphysical questions are of no interest to most persons with the evident persistence of metaphysics in religion as still a fundamental ingredient of society? I submit that the metaphysical questions enumerated in the opening paragraph above are not the questions that concern individuals outside of academia, where the admonition of Kant to make metaphysics scientific has never been forgotten. To succinctly jargonize the matter, it is eschatology, not ontology or epistemology that interests the thoughtful individual. The non-philosopher has only a vague interest in the abstractions of universal ideas, what he really wants is to apprehend the meaning of his own life. This inevitably becomes a matter of eschatology.
The essential problem of philosophy for the thinking individual, homo sapiens, has to do with the meaning of his own life. All the other metaphysical questions are significant only to professionals of philosophy who are concerned with its history and certain of its ideas from the past that have become revered traditions. But concern with the meaning of one's own life - not human life as an abstraction - is an intuitive concern for every reflective person, testifying to the depth of his mind. Every reflective person wants his life to be significant; his problem is how this is to be accomplished. This is the principal task of the conscious mind. I use the term mind in the sense of Geist in German, inclusive of mind, spirit, self, intellect - not merely as a describer of adaptive activity. Without a sense of the metaphysics of mind, one cannot deal with this issue other than in a spiritless and uninteresting manner.
The Xenophontine Socrates is said in the Memorabilia to have summed up his approach to life as follows: 'I am growing in goodness and I am making better friends. And that I may say, is my constant thought.' We are told by Plato in Phaedo and The Republic that Socrates dwelled on eschatology in the form of myth-making. How could it be otherwise since what would be the point of growing in goodness if it did not possess some ultimate meaning? The later rejection of eschatology probably weakened Greek philosophy and paved the way for the spread of Christianity in the Mediterranean world. The opinions of the founding father of the schools of Athens should have been taken more seriously by them and by later European philosophers. Perhaps Plato, with his fertile imagination, introduced too many irrelevancies into philosophy.
If western philosophy gradually lost interest in eschatology, this was not true of western religion. The foundation of Christianity is the idea that aligning oneself with Christian belief is aligning oneself with God; the consequence is the winning of eternal life. The details of this alignment and the nature of the eternal life has been interpreted differently throughout the history of Christian churches, but the basic eschatology is the same - believe and you will find salvation. The success of Christianity is based on the appeal of its eschatological doctrines. Believers find meaning in their lives. A similar story can be told about the successes of Islam.
It is hard to question the evidence that the need for an ultimate meaning in one's life, i.e the necessity for eschatology, is why religion still exists in an age of science. Science does not provide meaning. However, a rational person cannot believe anything, no matter how seductive the belief, without the ability to be able to incorporate it into one's rationally organized experience of the world. The dictum that what is impossible for man is possible for God has lost its persuasive power in the age of science. We are fated to think, as D.R. Khashaba puts it in his stirring writing Let Us Philosophize (1998), and one form of thought is the emergence of an intellectual conscience. This is what Kant must have meant by his appeal for a 'scientific' metaphysics. For him, wissenschaftlich meant rational, coherent, capable of fitting into knowledge as a whole. Every age seems to create its own eschatology, reflecting its own mental evolution. Simple minds have always needed a simple eschatology. Christianity, in spite of the prodigious labors of some of its theologians to convert dogmas into symbols, rests fundamentally on a simple, almost embarrassingly naive belief structure. There is an absolute requirement for faith and little demand is made on the intellectual conscience. On the basis of the experience of his descent from generations of Lutheran pastors, Nietzsche concluded that faith is cowardice.
Things were supposed to be different in the new age of science. In the first part of the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte worked out his celebrated 'law of three stages' in which the human mind first turns to theology (fiction), then to metaphysics (abstraction), and finally to science (positivism). It has not worked out that way. The majority of the western world has not gotten past stage one. This is because, as I believe, there have been no meaningful eschatologies evolved for stages two and three. Science explains how things work but not their meaning. The absurdity of life looms as the inevitable consequence of a mind without an eschatology.
It is not quite accurate to say that there have been no competitors at all to religion in the domain of eschatology. If eternity is not held out as a possibility, then aligning one's Geist with movements extending it in time or space is perhaps not an unreasonable alternative. Thus one may align himself with societal movements - nationalism, socialism, communism, racial or ethnic identifications, even humanity as a whole, any plausible movement that allows one to feel his life has a meaning beyond the limitations of his own being. Hitler and his followers were willing to forego Christian salvation for the sake of a thousand year Aryan Reich in which the social compact was not extended to non-Aryans. It was notorious that committed communist ideologues did not feel the need for religion. However, in time, most societal ideologies break down and are no longer significant substitutes for metaphysical meaning.
The weakest substitute for a vital eschatology is the biological one in which the solution to the problem of the meaning of life is found through procreation papered over by handing down ancestral traditions. This is patently absurd, for how can meaning in life be achieved by merely propagating it? One cannot foist one's own metaphysical responsibilities onto his or her children. They then do the same. This basically reduces one to an animal state where the instinct for procreation reigns supreme. A very limited intellectual perspective is required for the biological answer to be completely effective.
Every age requires the formulation of eschatological concepts reflecting its intellectual development. Eschatology is not dogma, but the individual's intuition of the eternality of his existence. Physics is not a reproduction of reality according to Niels Bohr (quoted by Kolakowski), but rather a schematization of experience, performed with the aid of artificially constructed instruments. So it is with eschatology except that the experience is of the life of the mind rather than that derived from technology. It is the subjective self instead of the object world that is the teacher. The conception is similar to that expressed by Socrates in Phaedo when he says that no man of sense should expect the story he had just related about the journey of the soul be exactly as he had told it. But Socrates thought one may venture to believe that something of the kind is true.
No contemporary man of sense should imagine that the picture of reality obtained through scientific study could be completely or even mainly true. It is a useful scheme for mastering nature and surviving a threatening world but it can hardly reflect the full reality of homo sapiens. The accumulated intuitions of mankind indicate a reality transcending physical nature. However, concepts that purport to reflect the human condition must conform to reality in all its forms to the extent they are known. Metaphysics cannot exclude the physical world from its purview. Descartes, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bergson, and Teilhard de Chardin knew that and their philosophies were enriched. That they may have gone astray at times with their science is beside the point.
An individual searching for eternity cannot afford to ignore the discoveries of modern physics about the nature of time. In general, the deductions of Kant about the mind forming perceptual schemata (the a priori forms) have been shown to be remarkably prescient. Beyond Kant's simple schemata, Einsteinian relativity radically altered the concept of time in the twentieth century. That development can only be compared to the Copernican revolution on notions about the universe and man's place in it. No longer can time be considered as an absolute stretching back into the past and forward into the future at any moment called 'now.' Time is relative, a function of the state of the various objects existing in the universe. This must affect concepts of eschatology that are predicated on an 'end' of time. But time does not end because it does not have a beginning, there are only different points on an infinite continuum representing the 'nows' of all possible observers. The physicist Bryant Greene points out that it is better to imagine time as a block of ice than as a flowing river (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004).
This is a concept difficult to encompass by the mind just as it is difficult to imagine bending of a pluridimensional space. The human mind is constructed to visualize reality in a certain way as was discovered by Kant. Just as individuals had to learn to change their intuitive perceptions that the earth is flat or that the sun rotates around it, so one has to learn that linear time is a construct of the mind only schematically representing reality. The emerging problem is to rethink the notion of the 'now.' What is its significance if, as Einstein has said, the now has no place in the conception of time of modern physics. This bears greatly on eschatology as indicating the meaning of one's life.
In an earlier essay in Philosophy Pathways and in my book In Love with Eternity, I put forth the metaphor of a pointillist canvas of eternity referring to the concept of an Eschaton. I do not expect this metaphor to satisfy everyone (perhaps no one) but I think individuals should strive to create their own eschatology instead of depending on external authority figures to provide it readymade. These traditional schemata may temporarily rouse the mind but should only be used as points of departure. An individual is maintained in a mentally infantile state by relying on others for the most important things. Intellectual individuality is the hallmark of homo sapiens, however much certain leaders of religion may preach otherwise. History should be used not abused. In this regard, it is worth remembering Nietzsche's view that the will to individual power permeates societal institutions of every type.
The 'pointillist canvas of eternity' refers to a notion I have that every individual existence can be imagined as a brush stroke in a vast canvas called eternity. Past existences have not disappeared, they exist as a metaphysical stroke on the canvas. What takes form in life - and I mean all life, not just human life - determines the quality of the stroke. The unique human consciousness of 'now' indicates awareness of the coming-into-being of an individual life. This 'now,' however, may be a peculiar human thought that is irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. If I ask myself to what end this cosmic canvas, I have no answer. The hubris of my conscious mind does not extend that far. If I were a mythmaker, I might rise to the occasion, but I know my limits. I do know that a profound sense of peace is felt when the specter of transitoriness in existence is expunged and one can feel a meaning to his life, albeit this meaning is hidden from him. To those who think philosophy should be science and mysticism is treason to it, I say like the American patriot Patrick Henry who stood up for his convictions, 'If this be treason, then make the most of it.'
But I suggest that the conception of a timeless canvas of eternity on which is etched the phenomenon of individual existences is in accord with the most reasonable view of the nature of reality and is not an imaginary idea that violates one's intellectual integrity. It is founded on an understanding of one's existence within a rational reality. As much as the need for meaning, homo sapiens has a need for rationality in his conceptions. Beliefs must fit into a total experience of reality. On this is founded Kantian critique. One may despair of rationality amidst the bizarre beliefs that motivate people; still, it is an ideal to be sought after.
The most important thing of all, Nietzsche said, is that we think well of ourselves. How can one think well of himself, however, when he learns that he is a speck of sand in the limitless expanse of the cosmos, destined to exist no more than a nanosecond in the infinity of time? It is this sense of insignificance, not the fear of death that underlies the Angst of Kierkegaard, the Sorge of Heidegger, the absurdite of Camus and the horror metaphysicus of Kolakowski. How can a thinking being not be depressed by the thought of the transitoriness of his being? It is impossible for a serious person to ultimately be content with his meaningless miniscule movements within society. There must be something more in order that cynicism and ennui not be the final victor in human life. But if an individual is capable of angst, then he is capable of discovering more in life than what a technology-burdened society has taught him.
A human being wants to make something meaningful of his own life. The thought that his individual development has no significance in the scheme of things is what drives him to sacrifice himself on the altars of dubious causes. The brilliant Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, whose horizons of thought went beyond most individuals, said that his own development was the most he could accomplish in his lifetime and that he could not really know, much less provide, what was needed by other individuals. This is heresy in a culture dominated (albeit hypocritically) by values of the social good. But Pessoa more than most is a vibrant part of the canvas of eternity. It was to be expected that his life within society was beset with difficulties. The truly developed individual usually dies young.
There are those who say they find their meaning in life from a consciousness of God. They have been vouchsafed direct access to the source of all meaning from a church, from Holy Scriptures or directly from deity itself. They claim to be the fortunate recipients of divine Grace. Those who have not received this Grace can only be envious or skeptical. That God should make himself known to some and not to others seems to be the ultimate absurdity. Beyond that, God says different things to different people. The religions of the east know nothing of him at all. Perhaps, however, a divine providence moves in mysterious ways and it may be that those who are the recipients of Grace are given it because they are incapable of finding meaning on their own. They are the ones who, unlike the choice made by Lessing, want to be given truth rather than to search for it.
My intuition that I have my place in the panorama of eternity strengthens me to build my life as I think it should be built and not chase after the evanescent gratifications that exist in all societies. This is a confession of faith, but it is a faith based on a rational conception of reality. Writing this essay develops my self. The purpose of philosophy, as I conceive it, is to give direction to the spirit and not to construct spiritless theories of knowledge. Eschatology takes precedence over epistemology. What is unanalyzable should not be analyzed.
(c) Richard Schain 2005
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II. 'RETHINKING RELIGION' BY DICK STOUTE
It is always sad to see Western religions at the center of conflict. All these religions claim to abhor conflict and demonstrate this by teaching peace and forgiveness. Yet they also promote the complete opposite when they preach blame and retribution (or if you prefer justice and punishment). These obviously opposing philosophies must produce conflict; yet they somehow coexist in all these religions.
Wherever there is a philosophy of judgment and blame there must be conflict. It would only be possible to avoid conflict if everyone knew all the facts concerning a controversy and everyone agreed on what was right and what was wrong. This is not possible, as we do not have the facilities to deal with the quantity of information that would have to be processed to know "all the facts," about even a simple event. A quick comparison, between the quantity of information that is presented to us for processing, and our ability to process information, indicates that we must summarize, we must categorize, we must leap to conclusions. This immediately indicates that all arguments can be challenged, all conclusions are tentative, all relationships induced, except for a small number of simple situations that fit into the rigid structure of formal logic (Dilman, I. Induction and Deduction).
Because each of us selects a different set of information from the abundance available and then interprets this differently, each of us live in our own unique virtual world. Each of us has a different opinion and each is likely to judge differently. Whenever the topic is controversial these judgments naturally lead to divisions that create different sects. As these form and tensions between them inflate there is a tendency to apply the blame and retribution side of religion. Doing this escalates these tensions and a closed loop, or "circularity," is formed which locks its participants into a judge and blame paradigm.
This paradigm makes "judge and punish" a way of life. Children, wives, siblings, friends, politicians, auditors, employees, business partners, and criminals are all judged and punished without second thought. Any society practicing this philosophy naturally spends a lot of time and effort judging and punishing. Every statement is evaluated to see if it is a judgment or a punishment. In this environment, many statements, not intended to judge or punish, are misinterpreted and this lead to strained relationships. Societies living in this paradigm are easily stimulated to conflict and sometimes war.
If we are to solve the problem of conflict between people and religions we have to find some means expanding the "peace and forgiveness" philosophy while undermining the "judge and punish" approach. Perhaps if we examine ourselves, rather than religious doctrine, we could find the key to this problem. This could possibly lead to a different approach to religion.
We all have two modes of behavior: (a) when threatened we easily adopt an aggressive/ defensive posture. Like a warrior we divide the world into two camps; those who are for us are our friends, those who are against us are our enemies. There is a clear divide and everyone on our side opposes the enemy. If they don't, they are the enemy.
On the other hand, when we are not feeling threatened, we can adopt behavior (b). We can understand both sides of the conflict, empathize with both of them, be generous, and assist in solving their problems. We can be forgiving and humane because our dreams, or plans, or life, or livelihood are not threatened by that conflict.
Generally speaking the philosophy of the Old Testament supports (a) behavior and that of the New Testament supports (b).
Although these two testaments are part of the same Bible, they have completely different philosophical approaches. The Old Testament deals with violent conflict. It seems to assume that man has "fallen" from grace and is a mean, brutish creature that has to be forced to follow the law. It prescribes harsh punishments to achieve this. It is a religion of force. It assumes that violent communal force (punishment) is essential. It uses fear of punishment as the motivation for complying with its laws. Its thesis is; man must be forced to obey laws for the society to function. It is a war religion that finds application in modern politics (a war) and business (another war) and is eagerly adopted by the religious right.
But this approach perpetuates war. The normal daily process of living provides many opportunities for conflicts to arise. When someone considers that they have been unreasonably punished they also judge and punish. This leads to compensating acts, as someone who thinks they have been punished will seek to punish in return. An "every man for himself" approach evolves and everyone lives on the edge of the law, amassing as much resources as they possibly can to prepare themselves for the inevitable future battles.
In contrast to this, the New Testament uses a different philosophy. It assumes that the community can avoid conflict if everyone adopts a "love thy neighbor," approach. It assumes that man is basically good, but is tempted by the Devil to adopt aggressive behavior (a simple way of characterizing the fear response). When the "love thy neighbor" approach is successful, and conflict is avoided, the community becomes harmonious and achieves a high quality of life. Because community members are inclined to look after each other, individual wealth is not emphasized. This mode of living is also self-perpetuating, but is very vulnerable to attack from more "warlike" communities. It can be attacked in many ways. Even something as simple as a rich person "buying up" its resources can trigger violent responses and once violence starts it is very likely to perpetuate itself.
Modern Western communities use these two approaches without conscious thought. When threatened they immediately adopt (a) behavior, as George Bush did with his famous, "If you are not for me, you are against me," statement after the September 11th attack. On the other had, when threats subside a more humane character appears.
This very short analysis suggests that Western Religions can make progress towards humane behavior if they can find a way of encouraging (b) type behavior. They have used many techniques to achieve this, but are "losing the battle," perhaps because they accept that there is a battle and participate in it.
Maybe they should try a more scientific approach and explain to their congregations that aggressive behavior is a fear response. Fear induces aggression. Anyone who understands this will want to demonstrate that they are not frightened. This automatically encourages and supports type (b) behavior. When a population understands that someone who is aggressive is demonstrating that they are frightened a different response to aggressive behavior will emerge. Instead of responding aggressively they will say to themselves, "that man is frightened" and seek to understand why he is frightened. A social dynamic is created that supports (b) type behavior and helps protect it from the attacks that naturally emanate from societies or individuals perpetuating (a) type behavior. Instead of feeling that they must protect their "rights" with a violent response to a threat they can become skilled at calming those who are aggressive.
Of course it will also be necessary to protect these communities, as there will be many who don't understand the message and will sustain violent behavior. This is not a problem as our justice system is ready to do this. All that is required is to remove the "punish" module and replace it with a "teach" module. The system of justice must become an educational system rather than a "correctional" system. The idea of punishment has to be removed and replaced with the idea of education. Instead of assuming that lawbreakers are "evil," and need to be punished, we assume that they simply don't understand how to live in society. The system then helps them to understand themselves better. The thrust of the education would be to help people to understand why they are violent and what they can do to get "Beyond Good and Evil" as Nietzsche put it. This would convert the underlying philosophy of this system from (a) to (b) and would help support (b) type activity.
This relatively intellectual argument would have to be marketed in a way that captures the imagination of a society that is not particularly interested in intellectual arguments. To do this a connection between fear and the Devil can be made. Violet behavior is driven by fear, but it would not be inconsistent to argue that it is driven by the Devil. The Bible has many references that can be used to make this association. Characterizing violent behavior as Devil driven can achieve a very powerful stigmatization, but religious leaders have to be aware that it will also stigmatize the religious right. Would that be good or bad?
The last question is a test. Anyone asking, "Would that be good or bad?" is in judgmental mode as this question is the product of a judgmental attitude. If we are to adopt type (b) behavior, we have to think differently. One possibility is to become goal oriented and ask questions such as, "Would that help achieve our goal?" If our current goal is to avoid violent confrontation, stigmatizing violent behavior as devil driven would certainly help, but it is only one of the things we can do to transition from the judge and blame paradigm of the Old Testament to something new.
We don't know what the new paradigm will be like, so we can't define a goal that would take us there. If we think our goal is "peace" we are still in our war paradigm and still thinking of things in terms of war and peace, good and evil. We must get beyond this. Suppose we define our goal as "learning." We know that as we learn we progress to a more humane society so this goal incorporates peace, but it is much broader. Someone pursuing learning as a goal can view conflict as contributing to his knowledge. This contrasts with someone pursuing the goal of peace, who must object to conflict. The learner is not committed to or restricted from the use of force. This removes the straight jacket that seekers of "peace" place on themselves and gives this learner the flexibility to accept that there are situations where force may be necessary (as in forcing people to send their children to school.) This is one of the subtleties of the new paradigm.
With a "learn" goal and a target mode of behavior that is supported by well known human characteristics as well as being "new testament" we can, very effectively undermine type (a) behavior with "knowledge." This approach could form the basis for redefining religion in a way that can unite different sects. It would be appealing to intellectuals who enjoy learning and who wish to avoid the straight jacket that insists that research on spirituality must be historical. It would also bring religion closer to science and help advance knowledge of spirituality. Several questions can be researched such as, "what is the relationship between information and spirituality?" (Both are abstract, both seemingly influence material processes - are they related?). Any progress in this area would be welcome as we seem to have been going through a prolonged "dark ages" in spirituality while knowledge in other areas advances rapidly.
(c) Dick Stoute 2005
III. 'RELIGION, TRUTH AND JUSTICE' BY HARRY DAVIES
I was much taken by the articles in Philosophy Pathways 100. I would find it much easier to write politically on the issues raised but as this is a philosophical forum I will do my best to reply philosophically.
First of all some background. I am the son of a Jewish mother and brought up as a Jew. Whilst I married a girl from an orthodox family we belong to a Liberal Synagogue As a slight contradiction I am a former member of a socialist-Zionist movement and have maintained my links with the political arm of that movement in Israel.
So how do I approach the problems you have raised philosophically? I think I will take two aspects of your articles those that deal with 'truth' and 'justice'. The article entitled 'Tough Truths For Jews, Christians, and Muslims' presupposes the existence of a First Cause, a Supreme Being, and on this a superstructure of belief has been erected. The concept of moral and spiritual values arises from that superstructure, so if one is an atheist or agnostic the basis for those moral beliefs does not exist. I cannot see how the notion that religion is not always and necessarily divisive can be sustained when each religion not only possesses an inherent claim to be the true religion but most of the religious faiths have their own schisms each claiming to be the true faith. One has only to look at the vicious hostility by Orthodox Jewry in Israel that has confronted the development of Liberal Judaism there, as an example.
This exclusivity is inherent in the major religions, it is not something that can be reconciled by 'goodwill' - it is there by definition. What each faith is actually saying is, 'Look, we are the true faith, we possess the ultimate truth, but we recognise that we may share a common root with your faith and have some common beliefs, but our tolerance towards your faith is conditional upon you not attempting to argue that your religion is the "true" faith. As anything other than that position would be an inherent contradiction the seeds of division cannot be anything other than necessarily present within each faith. It cannot be a question of 'same Divinity, different route' when the concept of the 'Divinity' varies according to each specific religion. There is really no logical reason why the moral and spiritual values of pagans should be any less a 'truth' than those 'truths' possessed by religious believers. There is no logical reason why an atheist should be any less moral than say a practising Christian. In pre-Christian Athens there existed a tolerance of numerous 'Gods' and their existence did not create the division and bloodletting that arose following the development and adoption of Christianity. So I would argue that there is no logically necessary foundation for a set of beliefs or moral codes emanating from a belief in a 'Divine' source.
As far as the concept of justice is concerned I would further argue whilst each religion has its own concept of justice, a necessarily true concept of justice cannot be 'extracted' from religion. Justice does not possess properties, it cannot be identified through the senses as a separate entity. Justice means what I, as an individual, believe it to mean and any belief I possess is conditioned by my values. With each religion claiming its own definition of justice I cannot see how any religion can be a reference point for a universal concept of justice. The article by Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah contains little with which any person who possesses a sense of compassion could disagree, and indeed 'justice' for the Palestinians is a worthy goal. Indeed one could argue that if it were not for a religious concept i.e. the belief by the ancient Hebrews in a one God bestowing upon them the'right' to a land possessed by others the question of 'justice' for the Palestinians could not have arisen.
If I reject the concept of a religious truth I must also reject the right of any peoples to advance their interests at the expense of others - if that advancement was based solely on that religious belief. So therefore the 'right' of Israel to exist is harder to defend on a religious basis than that on the concept of justice that I possess and which I accept to be subjective, but which has no religious foundation. My concept of justice allows for a national people to have a national home. The creation of Israel did not necessarily have to result in a dispossession of land held by others. If a concept of 'justice' is required in this context it surely must have a firmer foundation than that which could be established by a set a religious beliefs that have no relevance to those who do not possess those beliefs?
(c) Harry Davies 2005