Concerning religious language

Dear you,

I wish to write a letter for you; a philosophical letter concerning language that religion uses. Don’t be afraid; it won’t be a protracted, complex and philosophical essay, but rather a few remarks on philosophy of religion. I will consider what religion consists of, how the religious language game is played and whether it can be analysed by non-religious person. I’ll base my meditation on later philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Let’s start with the analysis of the components of religion (I will use Christianity as the most familiar religion to me); of course religion assumes a faith that bases on some mystical experiences. Thus mystics is a foundation of religion; that is to say, if one hears a claim ‚Jesus rose from the dead’ it has a different meaning than for someone non-religious. In religion it refers to one’s present situation; it can bring a joy, hope or peace. It doesn’t try to make a historical claim or empirical claim. It has particular meaning in religious language game, and thus, it can be only understand by one, who plays it.

The meanings, and uses as well, of the same words and sentences are different, depending on which language game they are used in. The language of science has its own rules of using it and religion has the different ones. They can’t be in contrary to each other because they can’t be judge in accordance to the other’s language rules. Religion doesn’t make a claim, but rather expresses the mystical attitude; such a language game can only be meaningfully described and understood by practices internal to them. We can’t bring any external methods of assessment. As a language game, religion requires not proof. 

And now, My Dear, it’s a time for a final conclusion; religion and its concepts can grasped and understood only within such a form of life. Those, who criticise from the outside, without entering into that form of life, are in no position to judge. Thus atheists are simply not in a position fully to understand religious belief, and thus not in a position to criticise it.

To be clear, I don’t want to separate a reason from the faith entirely, nor give priority to one of them, but rather to emphasise that they cannot be inconsistent with each other, because there is no common criterion for them. Wittgenstein says that language is like a city that has no specified border between two houses, where the city ends, and the suburbs start (PI §18). Thus religious and philosophical or scientific can’t cancel each other out. They rather, according to the catholic teaching, complement each other (Fides et ratio §53).


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