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Philosophy and Religion/Theology

With the consideration of philosophy and Religion/Theology, we have come to a point of confronting philosophy with the disciplines that are most often confused with it. Many people who have not got a close contact with philosophy most often ask whether there is any difference between philosophy on one hand, and religious studies and theology on the other. Our having Religion and Theology together here is not to suggest that they are one and the same. Far from it, they are separate, though related disciplines in their central concerns. To be clear and certain, religious studies deal with the knowledge, understanding and explanation of the nature of various religions or systems of beliefs and their doctrines, ideologies or dogmas. Various organized and formal religions, as well as non-organized religions like animism, paganism, etc., are the concerns of religious studies discipline.

Religion as a discipline is about studies of organizations or associations of men and women with common body of beliefs and doctrines like when we talk about Christianity, Islam, Buddism, Judism, to mention but a few. It is about the studies of the modes and patterns of the belief of such religions regarding also the modes of worships as well as the nature of their beliefs in the supernatural being which is always the hallmark of religion. But Theology on the other hand deals with the nature of the central doctrine of religion, the supernatural being and its relationship with the universe believed to be a Creation of such Supernatural being. Theology is also about the revealed knowledge concerning the existence of the Supernatural Being or deity, and about its relationship with man as its creature. We therefore have both religion and theology together here because of their common ultimate object which is the belief and faith in the created world by the Almighty Supernatural being known in various religions as God, Ala, Brahman, etc. In the final analysis, while the study of religions is about the patterns of the religions, their organizations or groups, the manner or mode of their beliefs (belief systems), religious cultures and traditions; theology deals with such questions as who created the world?, the knowledge of the Creator, His purpose for man and the creator’s prescriptions (moral rules) for human happiness and ultimate salvation. Having said this much in trying to understand what we intend by religion and theology as academic disciplines, we can now turn our attention to understanding their relationship with philosophy.

Philosophy shares a common concern with religion and or theology in seeking the ultimate knowledge of the world regarding the nature of the world, its origin and purpose, but while religion and theology rely on revealed knowledge founded on faith, philosophy seeks its explanation under the light of reason, and whatever is not given to reason regarding the universe is unphilosophical. Emphasizing this fundamental difference between philosophy and religion, E.A. Ruch puts it thus:

“…philosophy shares with religion a common concern with fundamental and ultimate causes and with the totality of the universe and of our role in it. But where religion relies for its information on faith in a revealed truth, the philosopher works exclusively with the natural light of human reason and intuition.” (1984:61)

Philosophy therefore differs from religion and theology principally in its method of investigation of the ultimate causes of natural phenomena. The philosophical method as we have observed earlier is rational and with the aid of reason it questions everything including the existence and essence of God. Philosophy has to obtain its truth and knowledge of things through the rigorous process of reasoning that involves clarification of concepts and analysis of facts and beliefs about everything it inquires upon. Philosophy has no ready-made body of truths (doctrines and dogmas) to draw from when it is in need of answers to philosophical questions. Philosophy has to discover its truths rationally, while religion and theology have doctrines, dogmas or ideologies, often contained in holy scriptures as revealed Sacred truths to be accepted without questioning.

Before concluding this subsection, it is perhaps worthwhile to observe that philosophy, however, has its own theology known as natural or rational theology.

Natural theology, or what is also called rational theology is the branch of philosophy that inquires into the existence and nature of the universe, and the nature of being, both contingent beings and the necessary being, through the natural process of human reasoning. Given the nature of the contingent beings as being caused by another, reason can as in the case of Aristotle’s metaphysics, lead to a possible existence of a necessary philosophical God. Yet, in such a case the question remains as to the nature of such necessary being and what its or His relationship with Contingent being is. Philosophy has not been able to answer adequately to such questions, but religion and theology claim to have answers valid to the faithful.