Philosophy of Religion

Ἄκουε, Ἰσραήλ· Κύριος ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν Κύριος εἷς ἐστι.
Audi Israhel Dominus Deus noster Dominus unus est.
Hear, O Israel, the
LORD our God, the LORD is One.

Deuteronomy 6:4

Ξενοφάνης... εἰς τὸν ὅλον οὐρανὸν ἀποβλέψας
τὸ Ἕν εἶναί φησι τὸν Θεόν.
Xenophanes... looking to the whole heaven,
says that the One is God.

Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, v.12, 986b21 (see "the god")

Denn, wie auf dem tobenden Meere, das, nach allen Seiten unbegränzt, heulend Wasserberge erhebt und senkt, auf einem Kahn ein Schiffer sitzt, dem schwachen Fahrzeug vertrauend; so sitzt, mitten in einer Welt voll Quaalen, ruhig der einzelne Mensch, gestrützt und vertrauend auf das principium individuationis, oder die Weise wie das Individuum die Dinge erkennt, als Erscheinung.

Just as the boatman sits in his small boat, trusting his frail craft in a stormy sea that is boundless in every direction, rising and falling with the howling, mountainous waves, so in the midst of a world full of suffering and misery the individual man calmly sits, supported by and trusting the principium individuationis, or the way in which the individual knows things as appearance.

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, §63 [Dover Publications, 1966, E.F.J. Payne translation -- modified, with "appearance," rather than "phenomenon," for Erscheinung, q.v.; pp.352-353]; Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, §63 [Reclam, 1987, p.496].

Τὸ λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί μου, ἐνδυναμοῦσθε ἐν Κυρίῳ
καὶ ἐν τῷ κράτει τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ.

De cetero, fratres, confortamini in Domino et in potentia virtutis eius.

Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and the power of his might.

ἐνδυναμοῦσθε ἐν Κυρίῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ κράτει τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ.
Be strong in the Lord and the power of his might!

Ephesians 6:10, Textus Receptus

Lā ḥawla wa-lā qūwata ʾillā bi-llāh.
There is no power and no strength save in God.

The , Ḥawqalah,
frequently found in the Thousand and One Nights.

Prospero  The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
     The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
     Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
     And like this insubstantial pageant faded
     Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
     As dreams are made on, and our little life
     Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest, William Shakespeare, Act 4, Scene 1:152-158

I have read your Manuscrit with some Attention. By the Arguments it contains against the Doctrine of a particular Providence, tho’ you allow a general Providence, you strike at the Foundation of all Religion: For without the Belief of a Providence that takes Cognizance of, guards and guides and may favour particular Persons, there is no Motive to Worship a Deity, to fear its Displeasure, or to pray for its Protection. I will not enter into any Discussion of your Principles, tho’ you seem to desire it; At present I shall only give you my Opinion that tho’ your Reasonings are subtle, and may prevail with some Readers, you will not succeed so as to change the general Sentiments of Mankind on that Subject, and the Consequence of printing this Piece will be a great deal of Odium drawn upon your self, Mischief to you and no Benefit to others.

Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790), letter to Thomas Paine (1736-1809), 13 December 1757, apparently in response to a manuscript of The Age of Reason [1794, 1795, and 1807]. Revealing statements, showing that Franklin was not himself a Deist, despite the popularity of Deism with Enlightenment intellectuals. Similar rejection of divine Providence found in Spinoza and, to be sure, in Hume. For all his famous talk of God, Einstein was nevertheless in Spinoza's camp.

ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπε· γέγραπται, οὐκ ἐπ᾽ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται
[ὁ] ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος Θεοῦ.

qui respondens dixit scriptum est non in pane solo vivet homo
sed in omni verbo quod procedit de ore Dei.

But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Matthew 4:4 -- bracketed not in the Textus Receptus [note]

Wanaḥnu ʾaqrabu ʾilayhi min ḥabli-l-warīdi.
We are nearer to him than the jugular vein.

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sūrah 50, Verse 16

ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, ἀσπάζομαι μὲν καὶ φιλῶ,
πείσομαι δὲ μᾶλλον τῷ θεῷ ἢ ὑμῖν.

Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend,
but I will obey the god rather than you.

Socrates, Plato's Apology of Socrates, 29d


Editorial Essays

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: "This was divine intervention. You know what divine intervention is?"

JOHN TRAVOLTA: "I think so. That means that God came down from Heaven and stopped the bullets."

SAMUEL L. JACKSON: "That's right. That's exactly what it means. God came down from Heaven and stopped these motherfuckin' bullets."

Pulp Fiction, 1994, Miramax Films

εἶπε Μωυσῆς πρὸς τὸν λαόν· ὑμεῖς ἡμαρτήκατε ἁμαρτίαν μεγάλην.
locutus est Moses ad populum peccastis peccatum maximum.
Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin.

Exodus 32:30

Against the rites, do not look; against the rites, do not listen;
Against the rites, do not speak; against the rites, do not act.

Confucius, Analects XII:1, translation after James Legge [1893], Arthur Waley [1938], D.C. Lau [1979], and Joanna C. Lee & Ken Smith [2010]

ʾInnahu laqawlu rasūlin karīmin.
Wamā huwa biqawli šāʿirin; qalīlam mā tuʾminūna!
Walā biqawli kāhinin; qalīlam mā taðakkarūna!

This is indeed the word of a noble messenger.
It is not the word of a poet: how little is your belief!
And it is not the word of a seer: how little you reflect!

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sura 69, Verses 40-42 [translation, Arabs, A 3,000-Year History of Peoples, Tribes and Empires, by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, p.130, translation modified]; see here.

Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις,
πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων.

Est autem fides sperandorum substantia,
rerum argumentum non parentum.

Faith is the foundation of things hoped for,
and the evidence of things not seen.

St. Paul, Hebrews 11:1 [note]

διὰ πίστεως γὰρ περιπατοῦμεν, οὐ διὰ εἴδους.
per fidem enim ambulamus et non per speciem.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

Le mot religion ne signifiait pas ce qu'il signifie pour nous; sous ce mot, nous entendons un corps de dogmes, une doctrine sur Dieu, un symbole de foi sur les mystères qui sont en nous et autour de nous; ce même mot, chez les anciens, signifiait rites, cérémonies, actes de culte extérieur. La doctrine était peu de chose; c'étaient les pratique qui étaient l'important; c'étaient elles qui étaient obligatoires et impérieuses. La religion était un lien matériel, une chaîne qui tenait l'homme esclave.

The word religion did not signify what it signifies for us; by this word we understand a body of dogmas, a doctrine concerning God, a symbol of faith concerning what is in and around us. This same word, among the ancients, signified rites, ceremonies, acts of exterior worship. The doctrine was of small account: the practices were the important part; these were obligatory, and bound man (ligare, religio). Religion was a material bond, a chain which held man a slave.

Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, La cité antique, 1865, Préface par François Hartog, Introduction par Bruno Karsenti, Champs Classiques, Flammarion, Paris, 1984, 2009, p.237; The Ancient City, A Study of the Religion, Laws, and Institutions of Greece and Rome, translated by Willard Small, 1874, Doubleday & Company, 1955, Dover Publications, 2006, p.167

εἴπατε τῷ βασιλῆϊ, χαμαὶ πέσε δαίδαλος αὐλά.
οὐκέτι Φοῖβος ἔχει καλύβαν, οὐ μάντιδα δάφνην,
οὐ παγὰν λαλέουσαν, ἀπέσβετο καὶ λάλον ὕδωρ.

Tell the king; the fair wrought house has fallen.
No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves;
The fountains are now silent; the voice is stilled.
It is finished.

Tell the king the fair wrought hall is fallen to the ground.
No longer has Phoebus a hut, nor a prophetic laurel,
nor a spring that speaks. The water of speech is quenched.

The Oracle at Delphi in answer to the Emperor Julian in 362 AD, or also cited as a statement to the Emperor Theodosius I, 393 AD, or to Julian by the Oracle at Daphne. The first translation is by Peter Hoyle, Delphi [Cassell and Company, London, 1967, p.142], who cites no source. The second translation is given by Michael Scott, Delphi, A History of the Center of the Ancient World [Princeton University Press, 2014, p.243, note].

Lā yukallifu-llāhu nafsān ʾillā wusʿahā.
Lahā mā kasabat waʿalayhā mā-ktasabat.

God does not burden a soul except it can bear --
for it what it has earned and against it what it has earned.

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sūrah 2, Verse 286

Das Leben jedes Einzelnen ist, wenn man es im Ganzen und Allgemeinen übersieht und nur die bedeutsamsten Züge heraushebt, eigentlich immer ein Trauerspiel; aber im Einzelnen durchgegangen, hat es den Charakter des Lustspiels. Denn das Treiben und die Plage des Tages, die rastlose Neckerei des Augenblicks, das Wünschen und Fürchten der Woche, die Unfälle jeder Stunde, mittelst des stets auf Schabernack bedachten Zufalls, sind lauter Komödienscenen. Aber die nie erfüllten Wünsche, das vereitelte Streben, die von Schicksal unbarmherzig zertretenen Hoffnungen, die unsäligen Irrthümer des ganzen Lebens, mit den steigenden Leiden und Tode am Schlusse, geben immer ein Trauserspiel. So muß, als ob das Schicksal zum Jammer unsers Daseyns noch den Spott fügen gewollt, unser Leben alle Wehen des Trauerspiels enthalten, und wir dabei doch nicht ein Mal die Würde tragischer Personen behaupten können, sondern, im breiten Detail des Lebens, unumgänglich läppische Lustspielcharaktere seyn.

The life of every individual, viewed as a whole and in general, and when only its most significant features are emphasized, is really a tragedy; but gone through in detail it has the character of a comedy. For the doings and worries of the day, the restless mockeries of the moment, the desires and fears of the week, the mishaps of every hour, are all brought about the chance that is always bent on some michievous trick; they are nothing but scenes from a comedy. The never-fulfilled wishes, the frustrated efforts, the hopes mercilessly blighted by fate, the unfortunate mistakes of the whole life, with increasing suffering and death at the end, always give us a tragedy. Thus, as if fate wished to add mockery to the misery of our existence, our life must contain all the woes of the tragedy, and yet we cannot even assert the dignity of tragic characters, but, in the broad detail of life, are inevitably the foolish characters of a comedy.

Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, §58, translated by E.F. J. Payne, 1958, Dover Publications, 1966, p.322; German text, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Band 1, Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart, 1987, p.455.

ἰδοὺ γέγονε καινὰ τὰ πάντα
ecce facta sunt nova [omnia].
Behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Waman yuḍlili llāhu famā lahu min hādin.
And whom God leads astray, there is for him no right guide.

ʾal-Qurʾān, Sūrah 39, Verse 23

. . . You can run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

. . . Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler,
        the gambler,
                the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down

. . . Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head's been wet with the midnight dew
I've been down on bended knee
Talkin' to the man from Galilee

. . . He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel's feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, "John, go do my will!"

. . . Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler,
        the gambler,
                the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down

. . . You can run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

. . . Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin' in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What's down in the dark will be brought to the light

[. . . You may run and hide, slip and slide
Trying to take the mote from your neighbour's eye
As sure as God made the rich and poor
You gonna reap just what you sow

[. . . You can run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

[. . . Some people go to church just to sit in the fire
Trying to make a date with the neighbour's wife
Brother let me tell you as sure as you're born
You better leave that woman alone

[. . . Because one of these days, mark my word
You think that brother is going to work
And you'll sneak up and knock on that door
That's all brother, you'll knock no more]

. . . You can run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
        Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God'll cut you down
Sooner or later God'll cut you down

. . . Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler,
        the gambler,
                the back biter
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut you down

God`s Gonna Cut You Down,
folk song; Johnny Cash (1932-2003), American V: A Hundred Highways, 2006; previous recordings, Heavenly Gospel Singers, 1937, Golden Gate Quartet, 1946, Jubalaires, 1947, Odetta (1930-2008), Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, 1956. Verses in brackets added from versions by Odetta, Elvis Presley, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and others, often under the title Run On or Sermon.

Where death is, religion must be.

Uchimura Kanzô (1861-1930), "St. Nichiren, a Buddhist Priest" [1933]

To you I'm an atheist. To God I'm the Loyal Opposition.

Woody Allen, Stardust Memories [1980]


That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment"

"Moe, a wise man once said, 'Religion's a good thing for good people and a bad thing for bad people.'"

Jonathan Kellerman, True Detectives [Ballantine Books, 2009, p.237]



Contributed Essays

Home Page

Copyright (c) 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Philosophy of Religion, Note 1

Θρησκεία is the Greek word for "religion." This is curiously unfamiliar. It does not seem to have been borrowed into Latin or modern languages. It's sense in Greek is much like religio in Latin, i.e. the authoritative Liddell & Scott defines it as, "religious worship, cult, ritual," while the verb θρησκεύω is, "perform religious observances," while the adjective θρήσκος -ον is simply "religious." [A Greek-English Lexicon, Calarendon Press, Oxford, 1843-1897, 1940, 1996, p.806]. Thus, we get the sense, as in all ancient religion, that practice comes before belief -- as in Confucian , , "ritual; rite; ceremony."

We might wonder about the origin of these words. Liddell & Scott gloss θρησκεία as derived from θρησκεύω. This not much help. However, it does give us a clue. Wikipedia glosses the suffix -σκω as a "Primitive suffix used to form present-tense stems"; and -ευω is similarly a verbal suffix (as in παιδεύω, "education," from παῖς/παιδός, "child"). Also, the adjective θρήσκος -ον does not have a first declension form, in , because it is regarded as a compound. Thus, we might want to look for a root, θρη-.

We turn the page of the Lexicon, and there it is: θρῆνος, "dirge, lament" [p.807]. This is a particular religious practice. And then this is glossed as from the verb θρέομαι, whose meaning, curiously, is "cry aloud, shriek, always of women."

The idea of women crying aloud, coupled with a lament, might remind us of the many images of mourning women in Egypt, many of whom seem to have been professional mourners. There is even characteristic dress, always with breasts bared -- like Hecuba baring her breasts (in Euripides) to the Greeks to appeal to them (vainly) not to kill the children they are killing, after the fall of Troy.

Thus, I get the drift that θρησκεία derives from quite specific religious practices, generalized into all religious practice. If we follow the matter to its source, we find a particularly vivid and striking example of religious practice, with which the Greeks either would have been familiar or customary among themselves.

Return to Top of Page

Philosophy of Religion, Note 2;
Deuteronomy 8:3

When Jesus says, "It is written," γέγραπται, it means that he is quoting the Old Testament, in this case Deuteronomy 8:3:

ἵνα ἀναγγείλῃ σοι, ὅτι οὐκ ἐπ᾽ ἄρτῳ μόνῳ ζήσεται
ὁ ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ παντὶ ῥήματι τῷ ἐκπορευομένῳ διὰ στόματος Θεοῦ ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος.

Ut ostenderet tibi, quod non in solo pane vivat homo
sed in omni verbo quod egreditur ex ore Domini...

That he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only,
but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the
LORD doth man live.

Usually, when Jesus, speaking Aramaic himself, quotes the Old Testament, the Greek translation in the New Testament matches the Greek text of the Septuagint. Thus, even as Jesus knew his Bible, the Evangelists knew their Septuagint. Here there is only one discrepency in that match.

The New Testament eliminates a redundancy, where ζήσεται ὁ ἄνθρωπος, "Man lives," is repeated in the Septuagint, translating what was said in Hebrew. Jesus, or the Evangelist, has dropped the repetition of the phrase. This is a rhetorical preference that changes the meaning of the text not at all. The , "the," in that phrase is in the Septuagint and the Alexandrian text of the New Testament, but not in the Textus Receptus, the Byzantine text. If we trust the Evangelist to get his Septuagint correct, then the Alexandrian version must be the right one.

We do see a discrepency that is already in the Septuagint, which says "God" where the Hebrew has the name of God, "YHWH". Thus, both Jerome and King James translates the Hebrew as "Lord," which is what the Septuagint usually does.

As I have seen before, St. Jerome is not always so careful. His Latin of Matthew 4:4 does not exactly match his Latin of Deuteronomy 8:3, and he does not repeat "Man lives" in Deuteronomy, even though he was looking at the Hebrew text, יִהְוֶה הָאָדָם, Yihweh hāʾādām, which has that repetition.

Return to Text

Philosophy of Religion, Note 3

The source cited by Scott is H.W. Parke and D.E.W. Wormell, The Delphic Oracle, Volume II, The Oracular Responses [Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1956, #476, p.194]. The Greek text is given by Parke and Wormell, with no translation, and in turn is attributed to Philostorgius, "from book 7 of the [Church] History (Berlin ed. p.77, 1.18)," with the passage repeated by Cedrenus (ed. Bekker), where Bekker evidently attests the dative singular βασιλεῖ of βασιλεύς instead of the non-standard (or dialect) βασιλῆϊ in Philostorgius. Otherwise, we seem to see Doricisms (παγάν for Attic πηγήν, "spring, fount, stream") in the text, which may reflect the Northwestern dialect of Delphi.

A noteworthy term in this passage is δαίδαλος, which means "cunningly or curiously wrought." It is also the name of Daedalus, Δαίδαλος, who made several "curiously wrought" things for King Minos of Crete. Daedalus, of course, eventually fled Crete on wings that he made, but his son Icarus, on similar wings, flew too high and was killed. Another term is δάφνη, the laurel, which was used in crowns for victors at the Pythian Games, and personified as the nymph Δάφνη, who escapes Apollo by becoming the laurel tree.

The original text of Philostorgius is lost but has been "reconstructed" from an epitome by Photius and some other fragments. If this means that the Greek text of the oracle is from Photius, it is an extraordinary tribute to the Patriarch; but I can't tell from the discussions I have seen so far. I now see that Delphi is not mentioned under the treatment of Philostorgius in the Bibliotheca of Photius. And an edition I have of the epitome, the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius, translated by Edward Walford [1855, Aeterna Press, 2015], does mention Delphi in Book VII but unfortunately not in the form given by Parke and Wormell. Instead, in the account of the reign of the Emperor Julian, what we get is:

After the translation of the relics of the martyr Babylas, the heathen oracles, beginning with that at Delphi, gave forth some predictions and prophecies; the good providence of God permitting them to speak, but turning to shame the reverence and respect paid to them by their worshippers. For the more diligently the heathen sought to get answers from their deities in order to find a just cause for paying to them divine honours, the more they were compelled by Divine Providence to discover their weakness and powerlessness for truth; for the answers which they uttered were shown to be false and without fulfilment. [p.44, boldface added]

Thus, far from having Delphi announce the end of its history, Philostorgius has it continue to prophecy, all allowed by God in order that the prophecies discredit themselves. This edition of Philostorgius, however, does not cite its primary source; and some attention is thus warranted to the "Berlin ed." of the Greek text referenced by Parke and Wormell.

It turns out that Photius wrote a treatment of Philostorgius that was not the one in the Bibliotheca. Quite by chance, I find Warren Treadgold clarifying matters:

Another set of Photius' notes on a book, this one on Philostorgius' Ecclesiastical History, is preserved entirely independently. It is about the length of one of the longer codices of the Bibliotheca and... it consists only of excerpts without any commentary. Though Photius reviews Philostorgius briefly in codex 40, he mentions nothing that is in the excerpts... [The Nature of the Bibliotheca of Photius, Dumbarton Oaks, 1980, p.39]

Treadgold then cites the source of the Philostorgius text as the Philostorgios Kirchengeschichte, edited by J. Bidez and F. Winkelmann (Berlin, 1972). This clears up the problem that the information about Philostorgius from the Bibliotheca doesn't amount to much, but it doesn't clear up how this other information about Philostorgius, quoted by Edward Walford, does not match the statement about Delphi quoted by Parke and Wormell, whose "Berlin ed." may or may not mean Bidez and Winkelmann.

Return to Text