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Discuss critically the use of symbol as a means of expressing ideas about God

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Introduction

Discuss critically the use of symbol as a means of expressing ideas about God Religious truths can be revealed in different ways such as through symbolic language, images, and statements. God is believed to be much greater than we can possibly imagine, as defined by philosopher Anselm (1033-1109) 'That which nothing greater can be conceived'. It can be difficult to use our own language as a way of describing God and his attributes. The complexity of talking about God is shown in the quote, 'God can be thought about more truly than he can be talked about, and he is more truly than he can be thought about' (De Trinitate - 'On the Trinity'). In my discussion I will put forward different approaches of Aquinas, Ramsey, Maimonides and other philosophers to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of symbolic language about God Religious language is either analogical or equivocal. Thomas Aquinas and Ian Ramsey believed the analogical approach and thought there were similarities between the words we use in ordinary language and the words we use to describe God. Aquinas recognised that words do not have the same meaning when applied to God being infinite, but are univocal to a certain extent. As there is a true correspondence. E.g. God is 'good', we can understand what this means from our understanding of good although it might not be as great. ...read more.

Middle

Therefore God must be spaceless and timeless. Another issue is if God created space and time, God has to be very different from anything in the universe which is God made e.g. God does not have a body (since bodies occupy space and time passes whist bodies exist). In the Christian Old Testament God is sometimes shown metaphorically as having a body and Maimonides rejected all religious language that portrayed God in any anthromorphic sense. This objection to showing God in any sense like a human being is shared in Islam where there is refusal to show God in any art at all. In Maimonides book 'The Guide to the Perplexed' he came to the conclusion that human language is so rooted in temporality that it cannot be used to apply to God. This then lead to the belief that we should not talk about God in any positive ways as our language simply doesn't have the capacity to be just but we can define what God is not and from this we can understand slightly what God is like. As the language we use to talk about God can sometimes feel very limited the use of metaphors might be another approach to consider. Hebrew and Christian scriptures contain lots of metaphors to describe what God is like. E.g. 'God as a father'. Metaphors are used to express theological truths from which there is no literal equivalent. ...read more.

Conclusion

Religious language is mostly poetic and ordinary language. Poetic language describes both emotion and fact. Symbolic language therefore conveys facts about God. Poetry can add feeling to a scientific statement for example, 'It was boiling hot' rather than 'it was hot' this gives us more information and also we understand the experience better. Critics of poetic, symbolic language are that its only verifiable to a certain extent. As poetic language is subjective and therefore different people may disagree with some of the views. In conclusion it is clear that a lot of care is needed with the language we use about God. Most world religions recognise the limits we have with any attempt to define what God is. Maimonides maybe right to some extent with the view we should only talk about God in negative terms as we don't have the language and ability to talk about him justly. However I believe we should talk about Gods positive attributes as for us to talk about God in negative terms we must have some underlying thoughts of what he is. E.g. God is not evil' we must therefore have some inclination that God is good and if only in a limited way we can understand this it is knowable to us in some measure and I believe this is better than simply saying what God is not. I do believe that Gods attributes are above and beyond our understandings and is thus only partially comprehensible to us. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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