Religion and epistemology

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K080-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 04, 2022, from

4. De facto and de jure

Suppose we try to set evidentialism in a broader perspective. Ever since the Enlightenment, there have been two kinds of critical question about religious belief. On the one hand, there are those who argue that religious beliefs are false or at any rate improbable: it is at best unlikely that (say) there is such a person as God, or that, if there is, Jesus Christ is his divine Son. (Here typical arguments would include the anti-theistic arguments mentioned above.) Since this question is about the truth or factual character of Christian belief, we may call it the de facto question. On the other hand, there is the question of the propriety, or reasonability, or justification, or rationality, or to combine those last two, the rational justification of Christian belief. Christian belief may be true and it may be false; but even if it happens to be true, so these critics say, there are serious questions as to whether it is rational or rationally justifiable to accept it. Call this the de jure question. The claim that belief in God is unjustified (that is, irresponsible) because there is insufficient evidence for it, is an example of a de jure criticism; as we have seen, however, this claim has very little to be said for it. This claim has been the dominant de jure criticism of religious belief; but the nineteenth century saw the rise of another kind of de jure criticism, one associated with those three great ‘masters of suspicion’, Nietzsche, Freud and Marx.

Freud and Marx insisted that Christian belief is irrational. (Of course it was not only Christian belief that drew their fire). Nietzsche’s complaint could also be examined here: that religion originates in slave morality, in the ressentiment of the oppressed (see Nietzsche, F. §§8–9). As Nietzsche puts it, Christianity both arises from and fosters a sort of weak, snivelling, cowardly, servile and generally disgusting sort of character, which is at the same time envious, self-righteous and full of hate disguised as loving kindness. In what follows, we shall ignore Nietzsche, considering the objection Freud and Marx bring against religious belief, with the emphasis upon Freud.

Citing this article:
Plantinga, Alvin. De facto and de jure. Religion and epistemology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K080-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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