Philosophy of Religion

Since philosophy is a necessary activity of the human mind and religion an actual phenomenon of the human spirit, a philosophy of religion becomes an inescapable discipline. However much it may be emphasized with Bonaventura* that the heart makes the theologian, sooner or later head and heart must seek accord. It will not do for the religious man to be with himself at war. Besides, religion is more than a private monopoly of a privileged few; it is both a historical and universal phenomenon and as such must needs become the subject of inquiry and questioning. Philosophy, as man's reflection upon the existence of the world and the significance of human experiences, arose and could only do so in the context of a certain advanced state of civilized life. It is, therefore, the fruit of society's maturer age, not of its youthful springtime. Religion, on the other hand, is as old as man, so that there is cogency in the remark of Max Müller* that the true history of mankind is the history of religion. It is essentially a reality of human experience. Since, therefore, philosophy has been regarded historically as a reflection on experience in order to apprehend and understand its ultimate meaning, a philosophy of religion has been generally defined as a reflection on religious experience in an effort to discover its final ground.

In remote times there was no clear-cut distinction between religion, ethics, art, and other aspects of man's psychical life. It was when these began to assert their autonomy that many of the problems proper to a philosophy of religion emerged. A philosophy of religion arose consequently when religion came to be taken out of the domain of pure feelings or practical experience and became the object of reflective thought.

In Greek thought, however, the idea of a philosophy of religion did not arise, since hardly any distinction between religion and philosophy was recognized. In Judaism there was religion but little philosophy, although the great prophets did give meaning to the facts which underpinned their faith. It was within post-apostolic Christianity that the philosophical reflection on religious faith began. Yet here the result was not a philosophy of religion in the modern sense, since “religion” itself as a general fact of human experience was not the subject- matter of investigation. What first appeared was more properly a religious philosophy or a philosophical theology-the reflection upon a particular historical religion and that supremely from the perspective of an apologetic.

In Christianity the speculative movement was hastened by influence from without. The various Gnostic systems, for example, challenged the reflective Christian to consider the ultimate ground, meaning, and value of his faith. Thus the Greek Apologists, and the Alexandrian theologians, unashamedly used Greek philosophical concepts in the defense and propagation of the Gospel. The Middle Ages found the Schoolmen philosophizing in support of a foregone conclusion, the dogmas of the church. In the seventh century the English Deists began a search for the principles common to all religions and laid the foundation for a philosophy of religion in distinction from a religious philosophy. Kant* sought religion within the bounds of pure reason; and Schleiermacher* within pure feelings. Hegel* was the first to write a philosophy of religion in the modern sense. He saw all forms of religion as manifestations of the absolute religion in the process of becoming. He stressed that religion per se, and as a universal phenomenon, must be taken as the subject-matter of philosophical reflection.

The term “philosophy of religion” appeared in Germany for the first time at the close of the eighteenth century and occurs as a title in J.C.G. Schaumann's volume, Philosophie der Religion (1793), and J. Berger's Geschichte der Religionsphilosophie (1800). After Hegel, philosophies of religion separated into broad movements, speculative idealist, personal idealist, pragmatist, existentialist, empiricist, phenomenologist.

Consonant with the present dominant approach to the subject of philosophy which is concerned with the analysis of concepts and which operates on the basis of an empirical epistemology, contemporary philosophies of religion have been interested in the problem of theological language and with the empiricist challenge. In Roman Catholic circles, starting with the presupposition that reason is prior to faith, a philosophy of religion has often been equated with natural theology. With the Barthian school, in which reason is excluded as vitiated and depraved, and experience is regarded as an unsatisfactory basis for religious faith, a philosophy of religion is anathema. Christianity, it is here insisted, is not one of the religions, nor a particular manifestation of man's religious apriority. It is not some universal truth, nor some universal religious experience, but a definite fact which as such is opposed to every universal, be it religion or philosophy. But insofar as the Gospel becomes a fact of experience, it becomes at the same time a view on existence and a judgment about the world, and must at least meet challenges to these claims, and be prepared for inquiry into the nature, function, value, and truth of its religious experience, and the adequacy of its theistic faith as an expression of the nature of ultimate reality.

A. Galloway, The Philosophy of Religion (1914); F. von Hügel, Essays and Addresses (1921); R. Otto, The Philosophy of Religion (1931); E. Brunner, The Philosophy of Religion (1937); E.S. Burtt, Types of Religious Philosophy (1938); J. Baillie, Our Knowledge of God (1939); E.L. Mascall, He Who Is (1943); I. Ramsey, Religious Language (1957); H.A. Wolfson, Religious Philosophy (1961); H.D. Lewis, Philosophy of Religion (1965); H.D. McDonald, I and He (1966); J. Collins, The Emergence of a Philosophy of Religion (1967); H.P. Owen, Our Knowledge of God (1969); S.M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy of Religion (1970); D.Z. Philipps, Faith and Philosophical Enquiry (1970).