Kicking off the first blog post of the academic year with such a controversial topic – religion. Not long ago we had a seminar on Christianity and Philosophy, and the question ‘Is religion and philosophy the same thing? If not, then what are the basic differences?’ was asked and it came up with a very interesting debate.
The first idea we came up with was that yes, they were the same – they are both a set of ideals or beliefs that one attempts to base a life around. However, this seemed to be a too general description. If this was true, then it would also have to include the political system as a philosophy (and while some political ideas are philosophical in nature, most are not) and it would also have to include the many other ‘groups’ that follow rules, or suggestions as the case may be, and we would have no need for names for all of them, if they all just came under ‘Philosophy’.
Our next idea was that they are similar, but not the same. Philosophy is the study of life, origins, happiness and the afterlife using reality and the experiences and experiments of everyday life, whereas religion was the explanation of life, origins, happiness and the afterlife using the teachings of a God, or at least his messengers, without exploring further.
However, this explanation led to the very finite decision that religion is, was and always will be unable to evolve. In certain cases this would certainly seem true (for example, it remains against homosexuality, for certain aspects of the patriarchy and the ideas of heaven and hell) but as we have seen throughout history this is not always the case (for example, the bible condones slavery, child marriages and the stoning of none-virgin brides-to-be, all of which have since been cast aside)
This discussion then led to a definition of ‘Philosophy is questions that may never be answered, where religion is answers that may never be questioned.’
Of course this debate didn’t take into the account other religions, such as but not limited to Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. Some are vastly similar to Christianity, with the worship of a deity that gives them answers to life’s mysteries, whereas, for example, Buddhism, does not follow a deity, but a set of teachings that instead of explaining life teach how best to navigate it and limit ones suffering, which would lend itself more toward Philosophy than it does religion.
So then a definition of ‘Religion is the following of an all-powerful deity, whereas Philosophy is the following and expansion of the pre-existing teachings of men’ and this was the closest we could get to an answer that we all agreed upon (which, coincidently, filed Buddhism under Philosophy as opposed to religion)