Religion, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K113-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

3. Philosophy and religious doctrines and practices

In addition to the issues raised by the traditional conception of God, there are others raised by doctrines common to the Western monotheisms. These include the view that the existence of a human being does not end with the death of the body but continues in an afterlife (see Soul, nature and immortality of the; Reincarnation; Resurrection). Although there is wide variation in beliefs about the nature of the afterlife, typically the afterlife is taken to include heaven and hell. For some groups of Christians, it also includes limbo and purgatory. All these doctrines raise an array of philosophical questions (see Heaven; Hell; Limbo; Purgatory).

There is equally great variation in views on what it takes for a human being to be accepted into heaven (see Salvation). Christians generally suppose that faith is a necessary, if not a sufficient, requirement (see Justification, religious). But they also suppose that faith is efficacious in this way because of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ (see Incarnation and Christology; Trinity). Christians take sin to be an obstacle to union with God and life in heaven and they suppose that Christ’s atonement is the solution to this problem (see Sin; Atonement). Because of Christ’s atonement, divine forgiveness and mercy are available to human beings who are willing to accept it (see Forgiveness and mercy). Most Christians have supposed that this willingness is itself a gift of God (see Grace), but some have supposed that human beings unassisted by grace are able to will or even to do what is good (see Pelagianism). How to interpret these doctrines, or whether they can even be given a consistent interpretation, has been the subject of philosophical discussion.

Here, as in other areas in the philosophy of religion, the literature has been dominated by reflection on Christian themes. This is no doubt due in part to the way in which Judeo-Christian concepts of sin, atonement, death and the nature of the human person have influenced and been influenced by Western philosophy generally. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the anthropological and broadly salvific concepts and doctrines of the nontheistic religions remain relatively underexplored by contemporary Anglo-American philosophers of religion.

Turning now to religious practice, we find that the religious life is characterized not only by religious belief and experience but by many other things as well (see Phenomenology of religion). For many believers, ritual and prayer structure religious life (see Ritual; Prayer). Christians also suppose that sacraments are important, although Protestants and Catholics differ on the nature and number of the sacraments (see Sacraments). For Christians, the heart of the religious life, made possible by the atonement and the believer’s acceptance of grace, consists in the theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity (see Theological virtues).

Many religious believers suppose that they know that these and other things are essential to the religious life because God has revealed them (see Revelation). This revelation includes or is incorporated in a book, the Qur’an for Muslims, the Hebrew Bible for Jews and the Old and New Testaments for Christians. How the texts in this book are to be understood and the way in which religious texts are to be interpreted raise a host of philosophical issues (see Hermeneutics, biblical).

Certain thinkers who are not themselves philosophers are nonetheless important for the philosophy of religion and so are also included in this encyclopedia. These include, for example, John Calvin and Martin Luther, whose views on such issues as justification and atonement significantly influenced the understanding of these notions, and Jacques Maritain and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose influence on contemporary philosophical theology has been significant.

Citing this article:
Stump, Eleonore and Mike Rea. Philosophy and religious doctrines and practices. Religion, philosophy of, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K113-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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