The Philosophy of Religion


Religion, broadly speaking, is the voluntary submission of man to the free, supernatural Being or Beings upon whom he is conscious of his dependence and in whom he recognizes the source of his perfection and happiness. This submission takes many forms on earth but, in its highest perfection, it is found in heaven, where the angels and saints love, praise, and adore God, and live in perfect conformity with His divine will.

The concept of religion is today commonly used as a taxon for sets of social practices, a category-concept that includes such paradigmatic examples as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism. This use of the term raises a number of philosophical issues, some of which are purely semantic, others more profound.

A major issue is the definition of what, in fact, is meant by religion. Most attempts at analyzing the phenomenon of religion adopt the classical view that every instance that accurately falls within the scope of a given concept will possess, or can be characterized as possessing, certain defining properties. This approach is often referred to as monothetic, and it is often contrasted with the more recent and less rigid polythetic approaches that are based on the notion that a particular concept may have a family-resemblance structure rather than a unique necessary and sufficient property.

Other issues involve the nature of religiosity itself. A significant body of research has suggested that religiosity, or religiousness, is related to a number of psychological and social outcomes, including lower rates of mental disorders and higher levels of cooperation and in-group loyalty. In fact, it is suggested that one reason for the apparent health benefits of religion is its tendency to bring people into social groups with like-minded believers with whom they can share beliefs and practice rituals.

One other important feature of religion is the idea that it provides powerful motives for the development of moral character and for the conscientious fulfillment of one’s ethical duties. Christianity does not disdain purely secular grounds for morality, such as the love of virtue and hatred of vice, self-respect, concern for public opinion, or fear of legal sanction, but it complements and enhances them by its teachings on God and Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that there are some cultures which have no religion, or no belief in an afterlife, or supernatural beings, or explicit metaphysics. Such people do exist, and some researchers suggest that this lack of religion relates to other health outcomes, such as longer life expectancy (Sosis, Ruffle, and Skali 2003). However, it is also possible that other factors are at work here. Some suggest that, for example, a more serious form of religion might require more expensive commitments of its adherents, such as food taboos and fasts, constraints on material possessions, restrictions on marriage and sex, and limits on communication with the outside world, all of which appear to have positive health effects. These factors are being investigated as a possible explanation for this discrepancy.