Religious Language

  • Created by: amyquince
  • Created on: 03-06-19 20:13

God is beyond description

- Human language is not enough to describe God

- Via negativa

- All words used to describe God are equivocal

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Apophatic Way (Via Negativa)

- The only way to speak about God and religious ideas isthrough negative terms, what God is not

- Pseudo-Dionysius believed that God was beyond assertion

- P-D influenced by Plato

- Trying to make positive statements about God would be to risk an anthropomorphic idea of God.

- Moses Maimondes argued for the Via Negativa - only positive thing that can be said about God is that he exists

- MM uses the example of the ship saying it is not a mineral, not a cat etc by the 10th statement we will have knowledge of what a ship is.

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- The tendancy to describe something in human terms

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Strengths of Apophatic Way

- Any language that is usedof God is pictured in a human way, therefore reducing God to a human level. The Via Negatva prevent anthropomorphisising God.

- The Aphophatic way is a more respectful approach

- This approah fits with how religious experiences are perceived by those who experience them, prticularly in mysticism. As William James said: religious experiences are ineffable and cannot be described in ordinary language.

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Weaknesses of Apophatic Way

- Even if it doesgive some knowledge of God, it is very limited in what can be known. It is not clear from MM example.

- It is not a true reflection of how religious believers speak or think about God.

- Means that the believer has no way of communicating with the non-believer about God.

- W.R Inge argued that denying any description of God leads to the potential loss of connection between God and the world.

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Cataphatic Way (Via Positiva)

- Argues that positive statements can be made about God

- Aquinas theory of analogy is an example of Via Positiva and sits between univocal and equivocal theories of language. 

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Aquinas on Analogy

The analogy of attribution- the words that we apply to human beings are related to how words are applied to God because there is a casual relationship between the two qualities. Eg: if the bulls urine is healthy then the bull that produces it mut be healthy, if the urine is good the bull is good. likewise, by examining human love we may see a pale reflection of God's divine attributes

The analogy of proper proportion - the extent of which a being can be said to have certain properties is in proportion to the type of being we are describing. Eg; a 10 year old footballer may be good in comparison with the other in their class however will not be as good in comparison with a professional footballer. when we say humans are good we are speaking of a finite being but when we say God is good we are speaking of an infinite being. 

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John Hick on analogy

- Develops Aquinas' example of analogy of proper proportion by using theexample term 'faithfullness' 

- Just as we see a dogs faithfulness as smaller and more limited than human faithfulness, so too our faithfulness is vastly smaller compared to God's faithfulness.

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Strengths of Cataphatic Way

- Theory is not univocal so avoid anthropomorphisising God and is not equivocal so avoids the agnosticism (the idea that God's existence cannot be known) that comes with this approach.

- This method of analogy which invties us to describe God in visual terms is not much different to the method Jesus used in describing the Kingdom of God.

- Aquinas may be right to argue that if language cannot be used at all of God then we are unable to have theological and philosophical discussions.

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Weaknesses of Cataphatic Way

- The analogy offers picturing which means we may not all be picturing the same thing when it comes to God - 'God is my shepherd' may be imagined and understood differently by people.

- In order to understand the word that is being applied to God we have to translate the word into univocal language first.

- It is not always easy to determine how far the meaning is stretched. 

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Signs and Symbols

- For Tillich, there is a difference between signs and symbols

- A sign is a red traffic light or another road sign points to something

- A symbol participates in that to which it points. eg: a flag does not merely acts as a sign but also a symbol for a country.

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Tillich on symbolic language and art

- We cannot speak literally of God, it must be symbollic

- The symbollic words we ascribe to God cannot be random or invented

- Symbols may have limited life span eg: swastika

- A symbol opens up a level of reality that would otherwise be closed to us.

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Strengths of symbolic language

- Using a symbollic approach to religious language maintains the transcendence and mystery of God that analogical language does not.

- Symbols are able to communicate on a deeper level than ordinary language

- Symbolic language can be changed which means that it will always remain relevant to the time. 

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Weaknesses of symbolic language

- Tillichs claim that symbolis language is cognitive is open to challenge - J.H Randall accepts but some philosophers don't

- if everything participates in 'being itself', it is difficult to see how he can argue that symbols participate in a new way.

- The fact that symbollic objects and symbollic language are culturally dependant and can change with time may mean that our ideas of God will change over time or be misinterpreted.

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Ramsey's view of models and qualifiers

- In ordinary life we may use a model to help us understand something, so too our religious language is a model to help us understand God. 

- These models also have qualifiers with them; these words allow us to understand how to use the model and what conditions may apply

- Eg: 'heavenly father' describes God, but 'father' is not good enough.

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