Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Religion and Philosophy

Many of my students write their philosophy papers on topics of religion. In doing so they argue from a particular religious point of view, usually Christianity or Roman Catholicism. When trying to persuade another person of the same religion no problems may arise but if a writer wishes to convince a person of another religion or no religion, then trouble brews.

How can you convince an atheist that what the Bible or Koran says is correct if that atheist does not accept that God exists in the first place? If is just as difficult to convince a Sikh, Jain or Zoroastrian that Christianity is the only acceptable religion when they feel identical about their religion. As a philosophical argument, an appeal to a specific religion or religious book simply does not work. You only end up convincing those who already accept your own beliefs or religion. Avoid such arguments.

This is not to say that religious arguments or appeals to God or specific religious books have no place in a theology class but in a class in philosophy such arguments are not convincing. "Because the Bible tells me so," can not be a convincing argument. Always make sure that your ideas are backed up by fact independent of your beliefs.

Imagine the following conversation:
Christian: You should go to church on Sundays and worship Jesus.
Jain: You should not eat meat nor kill any other living thing.
Christian: But the Bible allows me to eat meat except pork or cloven hoofs.
Jain: But I do not accept your Bible. To me it is just a book of stories.
Christian: But it was written by God!
Jain: Which god? Are there not many?
Christian: No, only one?
Jain: How do you know that?
Christian: Because my Bible tells me.
Jain: How convenient. My religion tells me not to hurt any living thing. We follow the teachings of Vardhamana.
Christian: Not Jesus?
Jain: Who?
Christian: Jesus! The Son of God.
Jain: God? Which god. Are there not many?
Christian: Arghhhh. You are impossible.
Jain: I'm sorry you feel that way. Maybe you should cut down of the meat and you will feel less anger.
Christian: Maybe you should go to Church on Sunday.
Jain: Maybe you will be a Jain in your next life.

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