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This page is written from the viewpoint of "Wittgenstein's logic of language", but it should not be taken to represent Wittgenstein's own views about the philosophy of religion (see the Introduction to this topic).

Philosophy of Religion - Page 3 of 4

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Further notes about Foundational Beliefs and Religious Belief

At first my response to Albert Schweitzer was ..... We classify something as "dogma" in order to designate it as something that has to be accepted unjustified. That is as it were the rule of this game, as in "language-game" -- and, I said, Schweitzer is simply refusing to play this game.

And so, at first I found Schweitzer's view of religion unacceptable. But then I came to adopt it. It is a very different view of religion from Wittgenstein's view. Wittgenstein described dogmatic religion as a form of life, requiring no justification. [Philosophy cannot give anything a foundation (cf. PI § 124).]

Form of life. But while religion can be looked at that way, it hardly follows from this that I myself -- or any other individual -- ought to uncritically accept the dogma of the community that he has been born into, as if dogmatic belief as such [dogma qua dogma] were not subject to criticism -- if one chose to criticize it. It is one thing to say that the foundations of our lives do not themselves have foundations, quite another to say that religious foundations ought not to be held to the same standard as non-religious foundations.

Wittgenstein was looking at religion as an anthropologist (CV p. 37) -- whereas each of us as individuals has in his life to take a position toward religion (William James). Question: should we are willing to accept dogma in one area of belief but not in others: should we be willing to accept dogma in religion if we are not also willing to accept it in logic, history and in natural science? I think that if by 'religion' we mean dogma, then philosophy rejects religion in that sense of the word.

We don't justify our first principles (which is why they are called "first") in the sense of give them a foundation, if by 'foundational beliefs' we mean the groundless grounds of belief: propositions that serve as grounds for other propositions but are themselves affirmed (held) without grounds. But that doesn't mean that we accept them uncritically. We do look at our first principles philosophically. On which principle? The Socratic principle of applying reason (philosophical criticism) to all things.

I will translate Schweitzer's 'reason' as 'criticism' in the Socratic sense, although that is less than Schweitzer meant by it, because Schweitzer meant not only justification (the giving of reasons for and against) but also judgment.

"How do I know? If this means, "Have I reasons?" the answer is: my reasons will soon give out. And then I shall act, without reasons." (PI § 211)

If I have exhausted the justifications [i.e. reasons] I have reached bedrock ... (ibid. 217)

Here 'bedrock' is another name for 'the foundations'. Schweitzer also called judgments about foundational beliefs a "use of reason".

Is Wittgenstein was "trying to undermine reason" (LC p. 64)? Not to undermine, but he is willing to set it aside, I'd say. "The point is that if there were evidence, this ... wouldn't be at all religious belief" (ibid. p. 56), he said, and he might have said the same about foundational beliefs -- i.e. that we believe without evidence. The trouble is that dogmatic religion turns all beliefs into "foundational beliefs", all the articles of the creed, that is. The religious standard is to believe without evidence -- but people only use that standard within their religion; outside their religion, and even also in judging the world's other religions, they do demand evidence [grounds] for belief. Here they use reason; there they don't. And that way of thinking -- and sometimes not thinking (silencing thought) -- should philosophy object to this way of life?

"Philosophy is description. It does not pass judgment." I would say that this was a strange view of philosophy, where the standard has traditionally been that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Apology 37e-38a).

The Limit of Reason - is its foundation

The various Christian churches each has its own Confession of Faith (like the "Apostles Creed"). The Church as authority: it decides what the will of God is. In Christianity: the "Amen" comes before Jesus speaks, but the Church decides the meaning of his words. [Note 19]

Why should anyone respect an irrational ideology, which is what the religion of the Churches is? Why should anyone respect religion as such? Note that 'respect' and 'tolerance' are different concepts: one can tolerate what one doesn't respect ("judge well of").

I have always been a disciple of Socrates in this, that the first question to ask -- [after "What do you mean?" (Plato, Republic 339a-b | CV (1998 rev. ed.) [MS 105 46 c: 1929])] -- is, "How do you know?" (Xenophon, Memorabilia iv, 6, 1), and that "If someone knows anything, he can explain what he knows to others" (an explanation that is subject to refutation by reason or by experience). In other words, I have always believed in thoroughgoing reason (This is why A. Schweitzer's view of religion came as a revelation to me).

"But reasons come to an end when you reach the foundation." Quite right: foundations do not themselves have foundations, and so, yes, foundations are the limit of reason. But that is no reason to abandon reason, e.g. by claiming that no particular foundation can be called into question (Why shouldn't one's life be founded on belief in a book?)

[Are reference points chosen arbitrarily in philosophy (just try not using the concepts 'object' and 'space')?]

[About foundations, I think we might also say that "the limit of reason is who says what is, and what is not, madness".]

Nothing one does can be defended absolutely and finally. But only by reference to something else that is not questioned. (CV p. 16; cf. p. 83, OC § 235)

"Reason itself undermines reason." Because at the foundation of everything reasonable there is something "unreasonable" -- i.e. non-reasonable = not justifiable by reason alone] -- namely, bedrock (PI § 217). But is the limit of reason itself reason to abandon reason in favor of unreason?

And beyond the limits?

I don't think it would be correct to call bedrock "mysticism", because that word usually implies seeing beyond [or insight into] what cannot be seen beyond, namely, the bedrock. That is rather the view that at the beginning of the story the god said: "Let there be darkness ...", which is the God in the Garden story who punishes mankind for growing up (and as he punishes the serpent for giving knowledge of good and evil, likewise Zeus punishes Prometheus for giving man "fire", i.e. discourse of reason).

That is to say that if we are going to call reason into question, then we should also call "mysticism" -- religious revelation -- into question. It may be true that "man lives in the midst of a mystery". But if he cannot answer his "eternal questions", he certainly cannot circumvent his ignorance by a "leap of faith" across a "broad ugly ditch" into religious revelation ("knowledge which has been given man by God himself", the Catholic Church says).

"Man lives in the midst of a mystery." I wonder if I ought to use the word 'mystery' -- i.e. does it make anything clearer? Its grammar may be quite fluid, but that in itself is no reason to abandon a word. It is like saying: here we have reached the limits: here wonder begins.

Religion without Morality

She is the goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. She stands on the tips of her toes, always ready to turn and run away. If she casts a glance, the one on whom it falls will be rich.

"How can you understand the fancies of Gods? They're just there.... If you ask, you will get no answer." (R.K. Narayan, The Financial Expert (1953), paraphrased from memory)

It appears to me, although I don't know this, that the popular Hindu Gods are like the Greek gods [We write 'god' with lower case because the living no longer worship them, but I do not think we ought to make this distinction], the subject of Plato's criticism: in the myths, the gods do not know right from wrong. In these religions, there is magic and power, "spirituality", but is there good and evil? Is there a religion that separates morality from spirituality, so that someone can be spiritual without being moral? I don't know. The idea interests me.

By the word 'morality' here I mean: good and evil independent of what any God may command. Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of what any God may say or do. And so man can "play god to God" (Alexander Pope), i.e. judge the gods.

[On the other hand, if 'good' is defined to mean 'whatever the god commands', then "to do good" might mean no more than "to be spiritual" -- i.e. to perform rituals, offer prayers, regardless of how one treated other human beings.

[What I should say here is spirituality or religion "without charity", because that is the moral value -- i.e. responsibility to care for the poor and disadvantaged -- I have in mind. What place is there for charity in a religion where your condition in this life is determined by how you lived your previous lives -- where the poor and disadvantaged [the lower castes, caste being a condition of birth that cannot change] deserve to be poor and disadvantaged?]

Reincarnation and Heaven, Purgatory and Hell seem intended to let the punishment fit the crime: the evil done in this life will be punished and the good will be rewarded. But what determines what is good and what is evil? The behavior of the gods? the commandments of Gods? With respect to past lives, however, reincarnation resembles predestination (I cannot imagine a way to regard these ideologies as anything other than evil): you are being punished for what you did in a past life, a life of which you have no knowledge and over which you have no control.

According to Catholic Christianity, God must be obeyed -- not only because God is all-powerful (and therefore can demand anything whatever of us) but -- because God is "all good and [therefore?] deserving of all our love". According to the Church there is no real distinction to be made here: God wills the good because God is good [goodness itself] (Goodness is a divine attribute, just like Powerfulness). According to the Church, any difficulties that we may have with religiously offensive Biblical texts are "psychological" (Michael Prior, The Bible and Colonialism (1997), p. 278) -- "the view that it is the misuse of the Bible, rather than the text of the Bible itself which is the problem. The blame is shifted from the non-problematic biblical text to the perverse predisposition of the biblical interpreter. This "solution" evades the problem" (Prior, "A Land Flowing with Milk, Honey and People" (Lattey Lecture, 1997)) -- although anyone can see that the "difficulties" are with the morality of the texts. [It requires Orwellian thinking to maintain that commandments that are evil if issued by man are good if issued by God.] But other of the world's religions [religious institutions] may make no claim about whether the Gods are good: the Gods simply are; like the weather.

In Narayan's The Vendor of Sweets (1967) (viii, p. 115) the aged disciple of a dead stone carver describes a statue of Gayatri, the deity of Radiance, a goddess of five faces and ten arms, and the statue is very rich in symbolism (symbolisms), with the meaning of each of her faces explained and the meaning of the objects she holds in her hands. The symbolism is much richer than found in Christian statues.

[It strikes me that the Hindu gods, with so many faces and hands holding different things, are akin to stained-glass windows: an education to those who study them; they teach a particular religious view of the world.]

Yet I think to say: certainly there is piety there, if by 'piety' is meant 'worship of God', but what of filial piety, correct -- i.e. ethical -- behavior towards others? Where is the spirit of Christ which answers the question "Who is my neighbor? Who is the one I must love as I love myself and in the same breath as I love God?" [That is the spirit of Christ, "the one thing needful": correct conduct towards God and equally correct conduct towards men. Christianity demands both piety and justice; piety: to love God with one's whole heart; justice (justness): to love one's neighbor as oneself. (Gorgias 507b)] Maybe it is there -- maybe the allusions to Gandhi show that it is there -- but it does not seem explicit to me in the ways of life of the characters of Narayan's tales [of which I have read all, and maybe this is because Narayan is not a preacher but a describer of how human beings are, and very few of us are saintly, or even wish to be saints]. If a high ideal is there, it seems to lie in the shadows, although most times it does not seem to be there at all.

Schweitzer cites countless examples where Hindu scripture teaches filial piety (Indian Thought and its Development, 1935), and yet there is no place on earth where the poor are more wretched than in India. And there is no place on earth where helping the poor is given more mere mouth honor than in Christendom. And so what is your point -- for does a tree yield only one kind of fruit, or is only some fit for harvest, the rest only to rot on the ground? [Religion and the danger of caricature of religion.]

Seeing in the isolated text what one wants to see there

["... one thing is needful" (Luke 10.42). But is not Mary the one who loves God, Martha the one who loves her neighbor, in the Gospel story? Mary worships, while Martha does all the work? (false emphasis) That is not the point of this story, any more than "the poor will always be with you" ("the poor you will have with you always") is the point of Mark 14.7, although many choose to make it so.]

[Michael Prior (Revisiting the Pastoral Epistles (2001)) makes a distinction between exegesis and eisegesis ("a reading into" the text), and I have seen the latter done with Luke 22.36 with the claim that the Lord tells his followers to arm themselves. But that text cannot be read apart from ibid. 22.49-51, for the latter show that the text's point is that Jesus was not unable to defend himself with violence -- if that had been his will. (The Lord chose to go "like a lamb to the slaughter"; he did not have to go that way.) But it was not.]

[Any meaning -- particularly the meaning the reader wants to find there -- can be assigned to Jesus' words in the Gospel, but I think it is only in individual verses be assessed within the context of the whole gospel of Christ that is the spirit of Christ is to be found. (I myself also "pick and choose like that", as Wittgenstein reproached Drury with doing (Recollections p. 170), but my choices are made within the context of the whole, although as to the whole, there is no Jesus as such to be found there, but only various pictures of who he was. As is also the case with Socrates. The historical figures are unknowable to us: the Gospels are already religion and Plato and Xenophon were "literary gents".)]

In Hinduism, as in Christianity, there is much: Do this to win God's favor, and do that to avoid God's wrath, which to me looks like superstition. But I don't know. Wittgenstein thought superstition "results from fear and is a sort of false science" (CV p. 72), and fear might be of many things, e.g. fear of punishment, fear of natural disasters. Maybe someone will say, "Yes, on the surface there is superstition, but there is something deeper underneath." But who sees this depth -- the religious believer? How will human longing, yearning, desire, find expression? But the appeal to magic seems childish, to belong to the childhood of man.

Why is there religion? Is this like asking why there is anything at all, the world rather than nothing? "It is there -- like our life." Human beings have thoughts and questions as well as instincts, that they seem to need (and want) to express. And now there are many ways of looking at this, because propositions about the "deeper meaning" of rituals are not verifiable hypotheses.

What do we mean by 'superstition'?

I think we could say that by 'superstition' we mean: failure to understand the deeper meaning of a ritual, e.g. (Here I have specific examples of superstition in mind).

By 'superstition' we mean: not seeing that a ritual has a deeper meaning, and that the deeper meaning is the important one. So that the same act [by two different people], e.g. lighting a candle in church for a special intention or burning incense for one's ancestors, could be an act of superstition or not be an act of superstition, depending on whether the person understood the deeper meaning [the "religious meaning"] of their act.

In the case of making offerings to the Goddess of Wealth, could we say that the deeper meaning is our longing to take control of our own fate through magic, rather than through an uncertain or unfavorable causal nexus? But we could hardly say of someone that he was praying to the goddess in that spirit, with that awareness: he would not be "praying" if he said [believed] that this was the meaning of his prayer.

Human beings desire to have control over their lives, destiny [not to be subject to accidents, contingencies, unforeseens], their fate, what happens to them on a larger [the largest] scale. Could we say that this is the deeper meaning of the goddess Lakshmi, who is a symbol, a metaphor, for the uncertain, and often apparent "capriciousness" (i.e. accidental character) of our fortunes? That would be to invent a myth to explain a myth. But if I as a Hindu accepted this second myth, then what would remain of my religious (in contrast to say my literary) relationship to the Goddess?

If we looked at the Goddess this way (i.e. as only a symbol), would we then have to say that anyone who tried to actually manipulate the Goddess through rituals was behaving in a superstitious way? But it still might be religious to make an offering to the Goddess, as if to say "There are more things in heaven and hell ...", an offering as an expression of wonder. (Need it be possible in all cases to separate religion from superstition? What if we had only one word for both? On the other hand, why shouldn't some practices be regarded as nothing more than superstition?)

What is the difference between superstition and instinct? (The conceptual-grammatical difference.) Both belong to the childhood of mankind. But we do not apply 'superstition' to animals [animal behavior]. Superstition -- what is this other than belief in magic (but not as a theory, not reflectively, but instinctually -- as a matter of instinct)? So by 'superstition' we mean: belief in magic?

What do we mean by 'symbolism'?

Is the deeper meaning of religious ritual what we call 'symbolism'? The concept 'symbolism' (the grammar of the word 'symbolism') is too vague by far. Does every ritual have a deeper (as opposed to a surface: "On the surface ..., but underneath there is ...") meaning?

Is the symbolic meaning something essential to the object (or ritual) that serves as the symbol? or is the meaning something we add to the object that serves as a symbol? Well of course we define the meaning at all levels (an object in itself has no meaning at all). And whether we say that a ritual has a deeper meaning and what that deeper meaning is -- this is determined by us, by our choices (which, for logic of language reasons, should be, but may not be, within the limits of the new resembling the old, for new applications of a word must more or less resemble the accustomed usage of the word).

The "meaning" of a symbol is not the thing [that serves as a symbol] itself. For example, the "deeper meaning" -- the symbolic meaning -- of the Liberty Cap worn by the French revolutionaries was not the cloth of the cap itself: The cloth cap was also a symbol of revolution in the name of freedom, brotherhood, equality.

What is a Christian symbol [symbolism]? The crucifix doubtless. On the surface it is the wooden cross from the narrative, but it is also a symbol of salvation through the forgiveness of sins. -- Indeed, it may be a symbol of many things (and from many points of view).

The same cross which is a symbol of benevolence to some may be a symbol of malevolence to others (and of course the two sides are unlikely to understand one another). A symbol of love to one, a symbol of cruel aggression to another, something comforting, something disturbing. Even among Christians: the cross may be both a symbol of love and mercy or a symbol of judgment and damnation.

So "symbolic meaning" may be even more varied, variable, than linguistic meaning. (If a symbol is compared to a concept, then it will be to a very fluid concept, not to a game played according to strict rules).

Reason and Imagination and Religious belief

Does 'reason' contrast with 'imagination'? Can you say "Here I do not use reason" (LC p. 59) = "Here I use imagination"? Not normally my own, of course, but someone else's imagination -- i.e. what I imagine was not necessarily invented by me, as it would not be in the case of Catholic Christianity. "Here I use reason: in this group of cases, I use reason" -- "In this group of cases, I use imagination." (We don't normally use the word 'imagination' this way. What word would do we use -- 'religious belief'?)

"Here I do not use reason." Why would anyone say this? Well, even where God "as a working-hypothesis" in physics (Bonhoeffer) has died, God as a working-hypothesis in metaphysics (Is there any afterlife? Is there providence? If good and evil belong to reality and not merely to man's way of looking at things, then is there forgiveness for wrong-doing? and so on) has not nor ever will for some people (although not for all: among the young the spirit of the age is atheistic).

How is it possible to live by two opposing principles at the same time -- reason and unreason, or, rather, natural reason and mysticism (belief about what cannot [why "cannot"?] be known)? Well, but they are not in opposition, if each is confined to its proper place. And a distinction is maintained between religious belief -- and superstition. Superstition is not merely unreason but "unreasonable" (Wittgenstein: "believing for foolish reasons" (LC p. 59)). How can someone both be reasonable and unreasonable, as e.g. the civil engineer who uses reason (maths and science) to keep bridges from falling down but keeps an iron nail with a ribbon wrapped around it to protect him from the evil eye (mal occhio). Am I right to call that superstition -- isn't it a defining example of 'superstition'?

The priest is invited to bless the bridge that the civil engineer has built, and the engineer may pray as well. But neither says that they bridge will fall down if they do not. Would it be superstition if they said that it would? Praying can be religious or it can be superstitious.

If someone says that medical reports of patients' testimony about "after death experiences" are proof of an afterlife, the reply of reason is : Can it only be explained one way? (LC p. 60-61) Believing in "material proofs for the existence of the spiritual" (Dostoyevsky), for if the body is dead then what is it that remains after death if not the non-body ("spirit", "ghost") -- is that superstition, if "superstition is a sort of false science" (CV p. 72)? We don't call an uncritical use of reason superstition. But is: If reasons are given, then it is not 'superstition' a rule of grammar? (The afterlife is not a material question.)

Is belief in miracles (miracle: "an intervention by a God") superstition? Is belief in Jesus Christ superstition? Context seems to decide this question.

Symbolisms and Dogma

I think that somehow (I don't know how), the philosophy of religion too much emphasizes religious belief, which is, so it seems, on Wittgenstein's account, only belief in a world of pictures -- i.e. it is only the practice of directing your life by pictures, symbolisms (CV p. 64). As if you wanted to know "what the Christian religion is", you had only to look at the Apostles Creed to know.

I will use Hayakawa teacher's metaphor here ("The map is not the territory"): it is as if what you wanted to know about was the "map" that Christians use, although of course you know that there is no physical territory corresponding to it. [If a territory's existence isn't even in principle verifiable, then the territory, by definition (normal grammar), does not exist: religions would be "maps of imaginary worlds".] But, given that there is no question of verification (beliefs-in are not hypotheses), why is this map of "what Christians believe" of interest to you? You are equating the map with the religion. Christians follow this map [cf. cultural anthropology's "cultural map" of social rules that guide you through the society you live in] -- but how do they follow it? Is it a mere intellectual exercise (like a crossword puzzle)?

"Here is a map." -- "A map of what?" -- "Well, it isn't actually a map of anything." Then the question is: if they do not use the "map" in the way that a map of a physical territory is used, then what use(s) do Christians make of it? And then: is the map metaphor of any use here? There is nothing forcing anyone to employ any particular metaphor, or indeed any metaphor at all. "Is there any basis for comparison here? In exactly what way is B like [similar to] A?" Why should I say that Christians [religious people] even have a map if at the same time I say that it is a fake map? ("The map is not of this world.")

But, on the other hand, we can't say that "dogma doesn't matter; it's beside the point", because that would not be a true account of how Christians practice their religion, for "the [imaginary] map, the [unverifiable] picture, the dogma" is always before their eyes.

Suppose someone celebrated only one day of the year, Christmas Eve ("You come down from the stars, And you come to a grotto, to the cold and ice. I see you shiver there, without clothing and a fire"). Suppose that for that person the symbolism of this evening into the following day is profound (as it was for Dostoyevsky). We lose so much of our humanity if all we can see in religion is dogmatic belief in a creed.

Wittgenstein told Drury: "The symbolisms of Christianity are wonderful beyond words" (cf. Recollections p. 102). But religious believers do not look at their religion as if it were a work of art (aesthetically).

Freedom and Religious Symbols

In uncritical discussion, the forms of expression 'freedom of speech' and 'freedom of expression' are treated as identical in meaning -- but is there only one idea here by any other name, or is there more than one idea here? Suppose we said: "reasoned criticism such as may be found in a philosophy text is not the same thing as the use of images of religious symbols to make a comment without words. Although both may give offense, they offend in different ways."

Again, if someone asserts that the words 'speech' and 'expression' are synonymous because America's constitutional Bill of Rights only uses the word 'speech', note that: just as there may be a distinction without a difference (as e.g. the common expression "ethical and moral", there being no difference in meaning between the words 'ethical' and 'moral'), there may also be a difference without a distinction made by using different words. Using a single word does not make the cases we have to consider any more alike in the way that is philosophically important in this context, I think, namely the distinction between reason and unreason: ideas put into words vs. ideas not put into words.

Criticism (philosophy) versus Persuasion (art)

The use of symbols and images in religion in the context of freedom of ... the concept 'freedom of expression' is not equivalent to the concept 'freedom of speech' -- i.e. that is a distinction I choose to make here -- because disrespectful images (art) are not equivalent to words of criticism (philosophical discourse), despite our placing them in the same category giving them a common-name. Both words and images may be used to affect someone's view of things, e.g. that what appears holy is not.

Art as religious intolerance, as an attack on freedom of religion and conscience. Dostoyevsky: ridicule is the most powerful force on earth. The objective of disrespectful treatment of religious symbols is to take something loved and make it despised, something beautiful and make it ugly. Is it intolerance if a government (or a mob) does this but freedom of expression if an artist does this? (A ridiculed image is even more defenseless than a ridiculed human being, because it cannot even protest its innocence. The cross of our Lord, for instance.)

Religious Tolerance

What do we mean by 'religious tolerance'? Treating the symbols of the various religions with respect is characteristic of tolerance, of the tolerance that was learned after centuries of European bloodshed: Religious tolerance is a secular value and freedom of religion is a secular right. Tolerance is a gift we received from the Enlightenment (and from the Greek advocates of freedom of conscience). And those who, for religious or for irreligious reasons, are disrespectful of religious symbols are either ignorant of what preceded the Enlightenment -- or wish to return to those bloody days.

Blasphemy must be legal. Public blasphemy is not, however, moral. Freedom will not survive without self-restraint (in contrast to eternal restraint, which is a quite different question). To "know thyself" is to recognize limits.

For indulgence breedeth a child, the presumption that spurns control,
When riches too great are poured upon men of unbalanced soul. (Solon, quoted in Aristotle's Athenian Constitution 12.2, tr. Kenyon)

Freedom of Expression and Responsibility

Freedom of expression as advocated by publishers and gallery and theater managers and by artists themselves has only rights and no responsibilities. The artist has rights but no responsibility, as e.g. Brecht's play Galileo is a work of art regardless of the fact that it is a falsification of history, and elevation of ideology over reality, from beginning to end. Free speech in philosophy, on the other hand, has responsibility to the truth thoroughgoingly.

Are freedom of speech and freedom of expression inherently good? Is their goodness in being means to ends or in being ends themselves? Is freedom in all things good in itself -- because as the Greeks thought life without freedom is not worth living? On the other hand, freedom of expression does not allow someone to use a prayer shawl to shine his shoes or throw a cross onto a dunghill -- or does it? Such an act might well be art, art that says, "Look at this" or "Think about this", and needs no justification for its call? And further, does ars gratia artis need to be justified? I don't know. And I wouldn't want to be forced to decide.

Who would I trust to set the limits of what can and cannot be said or expressed? Would I trust even myself to do that?

This is a case of where "Silence not, lest you be silenced" is a forceful thought. Clearly the thinking of a philosophy student, like me, who once depended on access to the books of philosophers, might have been very different if I had studied where free speech is not tolerated; my self-education might well have taken a very different course.

The safest principle is that anyone should be free to express anything, including anti-Christian, anti-Islamic, anti-Judaic, etc. things. I would defend that principle before all others. With respect to objecting to disrespect, we can always ask: is it my own or someone else's imagination -- or both -- I don't want soiled? It is wisest, I think, to shake one's head at artists whose works display intolerance -- i.e. disrespect for the religious beliefs of others -- and forbear.

Religion and the Enlightenment

The early stage of any Established Religion is the stage of extreme control, its religious-political authorities commanding outward conformity even though they cannot, of course, command inward acceptance: on the one hand, everyone in the village agrees that their religion forbids theft; but on the other hand, there are security-bars on all the village's street-facing windows. In a village like that, God is mocked. In a village like that, the Enlightenment's gifts of freedom of conscience and tolerance would be the friend, not the enemy, of religion.

Caricature and Religion

The question is who defines Islam -- i.e. who says this is Islam and this is not (cf. PI § 79). Who defines Christianity, who defines Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and so on.

I wouldn't allow anyone to define my religion for me. I think "there is no Christian religion, but there are many (many) Christian religions", and a Muslim could say the same: These "authorities" speak for themselves; they do not speak for me; or, about what I write: This not Islam, but a caricature of it written by an outsider setting up a lifeless scarecrow (straw-man) and knocking it down.

[The earlier version of this page confused politics with religion, power with piety, sociology with essence.]

The Enlightenment is an essential stage in the development of the Western -- i.e. European -- world-view, whereas it has yet to be a stage in the Islamic world -- (Islam as an Established Religion needn't ever reach the stage of the Enlightenment, of course, but there is the example of how the Church of England has developed) -- because now the state = religious authorities say: "The will of God, the truth, has been revealed to mankind (i.e. to the authorities) by God himself, and therefore everyone is obligated to acknowledge it and obey". And, regardless of which religion is the Established Religion, that is a stage in human development -- i.e. the stage of human childhood (Kant) -- which the tolerance taught by the Enlightenment should bring humanity beyond. With all Establishment, the danger is rule by the most backward, closed-minded, and self-righteous representatives of a religion.

The Catholic Church has learned tolerance and respect towards other religions, but that lesson took it millennia to learn. And it was not until (pace Thomas Aquinas) the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) that the Church questioned its presuming to get between God and the conscience of the individual human being, which is akin to the lesson of the Enlightenment (which was a rekindling of ancient, open-minded, philosophic Athens).

The Relation between Art and Philosophy

In February 2006, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published several drawings of Islam's prophet Mohammed; the origin of these drawings "was the regret, expressed by the author of a children's book about the life of Mohammed, at not finding an artist to illustrate the work -- owing to fear of threats". The response to this publication among some Moslems (not among the poor, the uneducated who felt that everything that gave meaning and dignity to their lives was under attack, but among the politicians who use religion for their ends) provoked a response from me, because, in my view, philosophy itself was under attack (philosophy itself, i.e. everything that gives meaning and dignity to my life).

The only reason I can see that one might object to the Jyllands-Posten drawings is on the grounds that: no one anywhere should ever be free to depict Mohammed in any way. Obviously that restriction [imposition] cannot be acceptable to free people anywhere.

External and Internal Restraint

I originally wrote this page thinking of artists who are free to express whatever thoughts and feelings they wish [Occasion: a play deeply offensive to many Sikhs was being staged in Birmingham, England (December 2004)], where restraint would be voluntary (i.e. internal, a decision of the artist alone). -- But I must now add that I completely oppose any external restraint on free expression, and I would say that: where such restraint exists, the artist is morally free to express anything, even if only as a protest against his lack of freedom.

Whatever is prohibited -- any society's mustn't-be-questioned-s ["But what did that mean, "Question everything?" Surely not everything"] -- is allowed to the artist. Speech that does not give offense is not free, and there cannot be a value higher than free speech [Free enquiry: the artist can say through images: Think about this! (That is the relation between art and philosophy)]; because free speech has the same value as the truth, because the truth cannot be discovered without it.

About being satirized on stage, Socrates said:

I am chaffed in the theatre as in a wine-party [symposium]. (Plutarch, De educat[ione] puerorum 10c, quoted by B. Roger's in the introduction to his translation of Aristophanes' The Clouds, Loeb Classical Library, 1924, p. 263)

And those words seem also to express the view one should take towards art one finds offensive.

But if you believe it to be wrong, then don't you do it. If your conscience doesn't allow you to say or express something, then don't you say or express it. But that must be the end of it. Those whose aim it is to silence artists and thinkers in order to "protect" other people from distasteful images or dangerous ideas -- or who do not wish to have their own sensibilities (and dogmas) offended -- are, I think, those who killed Socrates and silenced Galileo. [What is "a misologist and stranger to the Muses" (Rep. 3.411d)?]

My conclusion: philosophers are not offended by free speech and neither should they be offended by images (free expression). Indeed, they should encourage both. (That does not mean that anyone should be obligated to hear or look at any particular work or words.)

The title "... and the Enlightenment" above also refers to my own enlightenment (or, at least, developing thought) -- because I did not think this way about freedom of expression when I first wrote this page; but my mind has been changed by writing and then thinking (which included the recognition of additional facts) about what I had written. Wittgenstein to Drury: "It is only the attempt to write down your ideas that enables them to develop (Recollections p. 109). To develop -- and to be revised. Philosophy -- the critical application of natural reason to first and last questions -- is impossible without such freedom, as is aesthetics (art criticism).

One effect of free speech

[A] strict and, to many orthodox Muslims, austere interpretation of Islam dominates Saudi Arabia .... [Khaled al] Ghannami [age 37], a sociologist who himself [once] believed in the fundamentalist school of thought .... said he renounced radical Islam four years ago with the arrival of satellite television channel al-Jazeera, which hosted liberal clerics who had a moderating influence on him .... "These clerics [on Jazeera] had a more enlightening and reasonable vision for life. Their vision is not suicidal like the ones we have," he said. (Reuters news agency report, 29 Oct 2003, on Saudi school textbook reforms.)

Religious Objects and Symbols

There is of course no inherent meaning in the objects used as religious symbols any more than there is in the particular words and phrases used in the religion, which are in themselves mere signs -- i.e. the physical aspect of language: sounds, marks on paper.

Three levels of meaning, from a philosophical point of view. If someone wears a cross: (1) this might simply be jewelry, in which case it would have no religious-symbolic meaning, or (2) this might be a protective amulet, worn believing that it protected against danger; this I would call the level of superstition (belief in magic), or (3) this might be a reminder of their faith, a symbol to touch whenever they needed to remember the kind of life a Christian should lead; this I would call the religious or symbolic level of meaning.

Asking about religious dogmas [as if religion were an intellectual exercise] can distract us from looking at the way the religion is practiced. What does the person actually do? Consider meaning from this point of view: the meaning is the deed.

And so I ask again if it is not a mistake to identify religion with creed. I want to emphasize symbols [pictures]. And just as there may be too much attention given to religious dogma, there may also be too much attention given to language in religion ("the religious language-game", but compare Wittgenstein's account of aesthetics).

Has anyone ever chosen to "take up thy cross and follow" the way of Christ on account of symbols? On the other hand, if one reads the lives of the saints, often what one sees is that the saint (and his followers) have been drawn to Christianity by its symbols: "pictures" of Jesus' ethic of love and the kingdom of God, of God as "our Father who loves us", for example. (Are stories symbols, then? A comparison.)

[Philosophy of Religion - Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4]


Note 19:

"I only belong to Jesus" (The early free Protestants)

Not all Christians, of course, belong to [accept the authority of] churches. I remember one Christmas my father gave his mother what supposedly (and I believe) was some soil from the Holy Land enclosed in a small crucifix. I naively wondered, given the Reformation's protest against relics, what would my grandmother think of this gift? Her reply was very interesting. "I only belong to Jesus," she said, "and I am very glad to have this." My father's mother was descended from genuine "I do not need churchmen to do my thinking for me" Protestants, people who had survived centuries of religious persecution in the land of Martin Luther after the authorities tried to force them into the Reformed Church, an institution which with its doctrines [i.e. creed that all members must accept] is like the Catholic Church, for both are "communities of beliefs" rather than of human beings.

Due to the disorder of his earliest days my father was never baptized, but he is the source of my eccentric name. My mother said that when I was baptized the priest said, "But Wesley is such a Protestant name." My mother told me, "Maybe that's why your father chose it."

The persecution seems really to have been a question of political control (as were national churches, "Church of England" etc.). One of Mussolini's copybook maxims was: "Outside the State -- nothing", and the Protestants my grandmother was descended from -- because each of them interpreted the Bible for himself and each obeyed only his own conscience -- were "outside the State". Both the Reformed Church and the Catholic Church pledged loyalty to the government -- but the free thinking Protestants -- who knew what they were loyal to! They had to be brought under state control by being forced into the Reformed Church, where they could be told what to think and what to do. Their religion had to be made to serve the cause of nationalism, despite the fact that Christianity is not a national identity ideology.

In a letter to his friend F.E. Sydney, 22 July 1910, Father Arthur Stanton of St. Alban's, Holborn, a priest of the Church of England, wrote --

It is very hard we have either to settle down to the role of a Protestant Minister of the Coronation Oath type ["The allusion is to the declaration against Transubstantiation, which, as the law then stood, the Sovereign was obliged to make"], or to become a papist of the rouge dragon type -- and there is no place in religious economics for "Christians unattached". (G.W.E. Russell, Arthur Stanton: a memoir (Longmans, Green and Co., 1917), vii, p. 280 [281n1])

Schweitzer and Liberal Christianity

Liberal Christianity has the magnificent responsibility of communicating and upholding the conviction that thought and religion are not incompatible but belong together.

As we speak for liberal Christianity and expect men to arrive at religious positions by their own thinking, we have before us the image of Jesus, who insisted that one should not, in the name of religion, place on men's shoulders improper and heavy burdens [cf. Matthew 11.28 ff.]. We also hold to the words of Paul: "Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." [2 Cor. 3.17] (Albert Schweitzer. Schweizerisches Reform ["Swiss Reform"]. Volksblatt. 1947, quoted in Pilgrimage to Humanity (1961), tr. W.E. Stuermann, p. 74-75)


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