Religious Language

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AO1- Different types of religious language AO2 - Arguments for and against the meaningfulness of religious language
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Religious Language
1 AO1 - Different Types of Religious Language
1.1 Aquinas and Analogy
1.1.1 Aquinas described two types of religious language - attribution and proportion
1.1.1.1 Attribution - you can work out the nature of God through the creation
1.1.1.1.1 God is the creator and source of all things so we can understand God through things in the world
1.1.1.1.2 Eg) you can examine the health of a bull through it's urine - it would be better to check health directly from the bull but this is not possibe
1.1.1.2 Proportion - this refers to the nature of what something is
1.1.1.2.1 If you say a car is 'good' then it measures up to the idea of what makes a good car i.e fast, expensive, handles well
1.1.1.2.2 In the case of God, if you say God is 'good' then we accept that this goodness is beyond our own as God is omnipotent/omnibenevolent
1.1.1.2.3 Therefore, we can look at the world to see what God is like because we were created in his image and likeness - we just have to think proportionally about God as he is the creator
1.2 Ian Ramsey - Models and Qualifiers
1.2.1 Ramsey suggested that words and titles that applied to God function as 'models'
1.2.1.1 The 'model' tells us something about God but not everything
1.2.1.1.1 The model then needs to be qualified
1.2.1.2 If we say that "God is good", the model is the word goodness
1.2.1.2.1 However, as we are dealing with God, the model world requires adaptation, thus the term "qualifier"
1.2.1.2.1.1 We can then qualify the word by adding the term 'infinitely"
1.2.1.2.1.1.1 In this way, we can develop a greater insight into the nature of God's goodness
1.3 Via Negativa
1.3.1 This is a form of theology known as the 'Way of Negation' of the 'Negative Way'
1.3.2 God is not an object in the universe so it is not possible to describe God through words
1.3.3 If we did use words to describe God we would limit him
1.3.4 Therefore, it is better to talk about God by saying what God is not
1.3.5 As Basil the Great advocates, "Our intellect is weak but our tongue is even weaker"
1.3.6 The language has also been used by people who have religious experiences to describe the ineffable nature of their experiences
1.4 Paul Tillich & Symbols
1.4.1 Paul Tillich was a theologian who said we could speak meaningfully about God through the use of symbols
1.4.2 He made a distinction between signs and symbols; signs are information giving whereas symbols are powerful and participate in what they symbolize
1.4.3 Tillich outlines four main functions that symbols perform: 1) They point to something beyond themselves 2) They participate in that that to which they point 3) Symbols open up levels of reality that otherwise are closed to us and 4) They also open up the levels and dimensions of the soul that correspond to those levels of reality
1.4.4 Example - the cross for Christians is a hugely powerful symbol
1.5 Metaphor
1.5.1 A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable to eg, "God is my rock"
1.5.2 Metaphors can be used to refer to God without describing God
1.5.3 They can be helpful ways of talking about God which do not actually describe what God is
1.5.4 Gerry Hughes maintains that it is preferable to use metaphorical language about God as it is less likely to mislead
1.6 Myth
1.6.1 A myth communicates a particular world view - the set of values and beliefs a person or group have about the world
1.6.2 For Christians today, myths communicate the different definitions of God through stories
1.6.2.1 The Genesis story shows that God is a creator
1.6.3 They are retellable and easier to communicate than direct language about God
1.6.4 In the case of religious myths, the myth may point to and reveal something about God, in like manner to a symbol
1.7 Religious Art
1.7.1 Art provides a way in which humans can understand difficult concepts of God in visual ways - the picture can make ideas such as God's omniscience or transcendence easier to understand
1.7.2 There are many examples of religious art in which people gain a better understanding of God, for example Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam"
1.7.2.1 God is shown as a wise and powerful figure (age and physique)
1.7.2.1.1 His right arm is outstretched to impact the spark of life from his own finger into that of Adam (creator)
1.7.3 We also have the 16th Century Russian Icon known as "The All-seeing eye of God"
1.7.3.1 God's eye (vision) covers the entirety of the icon much as it does the entirety of the universe (omniscience)
2 AO2: Arguments for and against the meaningfulness of religious language
2.1 The verification Principle
2.1.1 Developed by a group of Logical Positivists known as the Vienna circle
2.1.2 Only accepted two forms of language as verifiable - analytic and synthetic statements
2.1.3 Two forms of verification principle known as strong and week verification
2.1.3.1 Strong verification claimed statements are only meaningful if we can experience or observe them
2.1.3.2 Weak verification developed because strong verification discounted many statements e.g history
2.1.3.2.1 Weak verification said we can verify a statement either in principle or using probability
2.1.3.3 A.J Ayer classified the weak verification principle as direct and indirect
2.1.3.3.1 A.J.Ayer: " A proposition is...verifiable in the strong sense of the term, if, and only if, its truth could be conclusively established...But it is verifiable in the weak sense if it is possible for experience to render it probable"
2.1.4 Language that talks about God therefore is factually meaningless
2.2 Falsification Principle
2.2.1 Falsification means to prove something false
2.2.2 Difficult to verify something 100% easier to falsify ( All swans are white / one black swan)
2.2.3 A statement is meaningless if there is no possible falsification criteria (nothing to count against it)
2.2.4 Anthony Flew said religious language dies by a thousand qualifications because Christians qualify statements instead of accepting evidence against it
2.2.4.1 Religious people shift the goal posts
2.2.4.2 Flew's parable of the Gardener - God talk is meaningless because of the constant qualification even in light of the evidence presented
2.3 Response to the Falsification/Verification Principle - R.M Hare and Bliks
2.3.1 R.M Hare came up with the challenge known as 'bliks'
2.3.2 A 'blik' is a view about the world that may not be based upon reason or fact and that cannot be verified or falsified
2.3.3 Although it can't be verified or falsified , doesn't mean it isn't meaningful
2.3.4 He uses the parable of the paranoid student to make his point. The student thinks that the dons of the university are out to kill him
2.4 Basil Mitchell - Resistance Fighter
2.4.1 Mitchell disagreed with the theory of 'bliks' and suggested another way
2.4.2 He said religious language was based upon facts but they were not easily verified or falsified
2.4.3 He uses the parable of the Resistance fighter - religious people have a prior faith commitment to God and therefore accept statements about God without reservation
2.4.3.1 Mitchell's fighter accepts evidence against his belief in the leader but also grounds his opinion in facts he has observed
2.5 John Hick
2.5.1 At the end of time (eschaton, hence eschatological) all parts of religious belief that require faith will be made clear by God
2.5.2 He uses the parable of the Celestial City - Now during the journey these two travellers are faced with the same facts ad none of these facts can verify which of their views about the journey is right
2.5.3 If you find yourself in Heaven or even Hell then the religious language of Christianity will have been verified
2.6 Ludwig Wittgenstein and Language Games
2.6.1 Ludwig Wittgenstein originally supported Logical Positivism but came to reject verification
2.6.1.1 He said words have meaning for people who are in a particular group or society
2.6.2 Language has its own set of rule like a game
2.6.3 If you are not in the game you will not understand the language
2.6.4 Religious language may seem meaningless but actually it is not because it has meaning to people in the know
2.7 R.B. Braithwaite - language as moral assertion
2.7.1 Braithwaite suggested that religious language has meaning and can be verified because it results in a change in behaviour
2.7.2 Braithwaite argued that because religious statements such as 'God is the almighty father' result in action, they have meaning
2.7.3 For example, a Christian does not need to present Jesus' death certificate for a statement like "Jesus is the resurrection and the life" to have meaning
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