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For what reasons have some philosophers argued that religious language is meaningless?

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Introduction

For what reasons have some philosophers argued that religious language is meaningless? (10) For centuries Christians have made assertions about God, for example, that "He is loving" or "He is a Father" and about Christ, for example "Jesus Lives in me" or "Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father" and have been convinced that they have been saying something, which is true. Inevitably there have been those outside the faith community who have questioned the truth of such statements, but for a time in the 20th century there appeared to be a far greater challenge to believers and that was the issue of not whether such statements were true but whether they were even meaningful. In a debate about the 'meaningless of religious language', it is essential to clarify that one cannot speak of 'religious language' as if it is homogeneous and therefore make a usual mistake of assuming it to be all of the same kind. Biblical claim that ' Jesus was crucified on the orders of Pontius Pilate' is no stranger than saying that "Nelson Mandela was imprisoned by South African Government." Equally Jesus' teaching "You shall not commit adultery" is also a religious statement, but it doesn't seem to loose it's meaning. Further more, some of the apparent problems with religious language are on closer inspection do not seem to be insurmountable. ...read more.

Middle

Religious language at times uses a word or phrase and then claims that in its religious context it means something totally different from it's normal/day to day usage. For example, 'In the after-life we will have a body, but it wont be a body like anything we have now,' however can this mean anything to us?. Danto gives an example of someone saying that the Hindu God Brahman is discovered to wear an 'infinite hat'. However it is then pointed out that Brahman doesn't have a hat? Therefore does it mean anything that He wears a hat? Hence, it seems reasonable for a philosopher to claim some religious language to be meaningless. However, despite the accusations of religious language being meaningless, theists seem to find it the opposite, which in result may suggest that non of these arguments matter as long as the believer knows what he is talking about. To what extent can these problems be resolved by seeing religious language as either analogous or as a language game (10) Many critics of religious language, base their arguments on the claim that it is 'univocal,' meaning that a word has the same meaning in two given statements. To discredit this argument, others would suggest that religious language should be seen as 'equivocal,' meaning that a word has two different meanings in two given statements making a statement unclear and ambiguous, eg: "There is a bat at home in my attic." ...read more.

Conclusion

As Hick points out "There is a recognisable likeness in structure of attitudes or patterns of behaviour that causes us to use the same word for both animals and people. Nevertheless human faithfulness differs from canine to all the wide extent that a person differs from a dog." However, although there is a clear gap between humans and animals, the gap between man and God is infinite. Therefore how can one attempt to make that jump on a proportionate basis. Whereas for my dog I have knowledge of my dog, I have empirical data to substantiate may claim of it's fidelity, with God I have no such data nor am I sure of what data I could possibly have that would substantiate such a claim. Nonetheless seeing religious language as analogical helps to defend it from some of the charges of meaninglessness, as it attempts to answer the criticism that because words used about God do not mean exactly the same as when used in 'normal' language that they are meaningless. Analogy helps to clarify the relationship between words when they are used both for God and man, it is not "an instrument for exploring and mapping the divine nature; it is an account of the way terms are used of the Deity whose existence is, at this point, being presupposed." ...read more.

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