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"Religious Language is meaningless." Discuss.

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Introduction

"Religious Language is meaningless." Discuss. Logical positivism was a philosophical theory that was brought about in the 1920s by members of the Vienna Circle. It was developed on the basis of traditional empirical thought and the progress of modern logic. Logical positivism limited knowledge to two categories. The first being Analytic Statements, for example, "triangles have three sides" - statements that are trivial but true by definition and practice, and therefore meaningful. These statements are non cognitive. This means that they give us no new information about reality. The second being Synthetic Statements, for example, "all cows eat grass" - statements that bring together factual nouns and predicates. These statements are cognitive. This means that they are knowledge filled. They can be proven with observation and theory and are therefore also meaningful. Another way of describing this theory is through the Verification Principle. There are strong and weak statements. Strong statements, such as "Mary has red hair" - to prove it, all one would have to do is look at Mary. It is a straightforward verification. Weak statements are harder to verify: "Columbus discovered America". To verify this, one would have to look at historical documents and such like. However, according to logical positivists, because religious statements do not fit into either category (analytic or synthetic), they cannot be verified and are therefore meaningless. Anthony Flew developed this and brought about the Principle of Falsification. He was a leading atheist in the 20th century. However, he recently turned to religion. Flew associated falsification with the claim that religious statements cannot be proven by empirical evidence. To explain this theory, he came up with a parable. ...read more.

Middle

Although religious statements are impossible to verify, it is ridiculous to say that they are meaningless. For example, statements about love, one cannot verify the statement "I love you", but that does not mean that it is meaningless. In 1951, Ludwig Wittgenstein moved from seeing language as a mirror of the world to seeing it as an expression of life. He believed that language was about use. He said, "The meaning of any statement is given in the way in which it is used." People used language in different ways and for different purposes: commanding, philosophising, investigating, theorising and story telling. The idea of language games came to Wittgenstein whilst watching a football match. He realized that there were different language games just as there are different ball games (for example: football and rugby). A particular form of language reflected a form of life. We can apply this insight to the language game of life. Religious language could now claim to be meaningful within the religious form of life. He argued that language relates to a whole set of beliefs, practices and beliefs. Words can mean different things in different contexts. For example, it would be inappropriate for the statement "the Blood of Christ" to be seen from a scientific perspective. Religious statements can be true to the people who believe in it, despite scientific and historic evidence. In a religious game, statements can be meaningful as long as one does not use them outside the game. One must "follow the rules of the game". Wittgenstein makes a good point that a person would have to use or observe different games so to completely understand their languages. ...read more.

Conclusion

To a believer, the cross would signify salvation from sin, sacrifice, victory over death, God's love for the world, Christian hope of eternal life and the defeat of Satan. Paul Tillich 1886-1965 used the example of a national flag as a symbol, which expresses nationalism, patriotism and national identity. It is more than just a sign, such as a traffic light or a road sign, which merely provides useful information. Symbols express the believer's emotions about what that symbol suggests. Symbols simply transcend facts and therefore should not be interpreted literally. This would lead only to misunderstanding. Symbols are subtle modes of communication, which belong to high-level discourse. Although they do not belong to religious language, they are of much value to discourse that deals with issues that are beyond the factual. Symbols are a very useful way to communicate truths that go beyond the objective world. However, their interpretations can pose difficulties. For example, they can become the focus of worship and they can be so trivial that their original meanings can be lost. To conclude, believers would agree that it is difficult to talk about God. The meaning of the word "God" applies to a being beyond human understanding. Believers recognize that any discussion of God is limited, but they would argue that religious language does not have meaning or purpose. Although logical positivists and some other theologians have tried to argue that religious statements are meaningless, in my research for this essay, I have found that most of these arguments have more weaknesses than strengths. It is impossible to prove with empirical evidence that God exists, however, it is ridiculous to say that religious statements do not mean anything as they obviously mean so much to many people. It leaves us with more questions than answers. Caroline Field ...read more.

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