Philosophy of Religion – Faith vs. Reason

The difference between philosophy and religion, the difference between reason and faith and how philosophy became independent from religion.

Philosophy and religion walked together in the past, but different understandings about how a person can reach the truth and how to be saved from the suffering and pain that are inherent to the human existence, provoked a divorce between philosophy and religion.

The Difference Between Philosophy and Religion

According to the dictionary, to philosophize is “to use or exercise the mind or one’s power of reason in order to make inferences, decisions, or arrive at a solution or judgments.” It means that by reflecting, thinking and speculating, a person may reach the truth or what appears to be true, excused the inherent limitations of the human perception.

Faith means to believe or to be convicted that something is true even when reason alone is not able to define the truth. In this case, the method through which one attempts to reach the truth is not through logical thinking but through belief. However, it’s necessary to ask what makes a person believe in something or judge that something is true.

In ancient times, Plato argued that every person is born with an intuition of the ideal world and the archetypes that exist in a higher realm. Humans would then spend their lives in an attempt to project this perfect world into the physical world. This ideal world, according to Plato, is atemporal and immutable. From a philosophical standpoint, it is also valid to say that faith can relate to the intuition of what would be the ideal world in the sense that people believe that something is true when a religious statement matches this perception of the perfect world.

So, a possible theory is that the main difference between philosophy and religion is the method through which one reaches the truth – either reason or intuition.

The Personification of God

Ancient philosophers understood God as the force that allows all things to manifest in a perfect harmony, without which the world would be chaotic. Stoics, Buddhists and other schools of though of the ancient world, both in the west and in the east, saw an undeniable order in the universe that could only indicate that nature had an intentionality. This led to conclusions on how a person should behave and act in order to find peace of mind or “salvation” – being in harmony with the universe’s intentions and will instead of going to the opposite direction, which would cause pain and suffering.

So, in many aspects, the ancient philosophical thinking was aligned with some religious assumptions, however, in the west, some scholars, such as French philosopher Luc Ferry (Learning to Live, Taurus 2007), argue that philosophy started to diverge from religion when Christianity placed all the cosmic order, all the harmony of nature and all the path that lead to inner peace and “salvation,” in the figure of Jesus. Christ embodied the universal force and became the path through which people could reach salvation.

So, in the western world, salvation became a matter of belief in the figure of Christ rather than the act of reaching the truth through individual reflection, moving away from philosophical thinking since from the perspective of philosophy, the universal truth embodied in a person was meaningless – salvation could not be a person but the result of an action.

Philosophy and Religion

It is said that every religion is a philosophy but not every philosophy is a religion. This is said because in essence, every religion contains values and rules that are subjected to a rigorous method of thought, which also defines philosophy. Problems and divergences arise when people start to follow a religion without knowing or understanding what are the philosophical assumptions behind the rituals, the beliefs and the symbols that are worshiped, becoming more attached to forms and shapes than their philosophical meaning – this is when religion becomes the opposite of philosophy.

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