"All Religious Language is meaningless"

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“All Religious Language is meaningless”

Religious language poses a distinct and complicated problem for philosophers. At our disposal we only have human language and transient terms, which we use as tools to describe the world around us. How then do we use these tools, which relate to the temporary and spatial world, to describe that which is beyond the limits of space and time? Believers have strived for ways to talk meaningfully about God and many theories have been put forward to attempt at enabling us to discuss the transcendent, yet we are often at risk of anthropomorphising God with statements such as ‘God Loves me’ and even if we do not attribute human description to God there are still problems, the most prominent is whether any thing we say can actually be meaningful.

We can look at language, especially religious language, from one of two stand points; the realist and the anti-realist. The realist understands truth as verification transcendent; a statement can only be held to be true if it corresponds to an actual reality, it does not matter if the statement cannot be verified as true, as long as it corresponds to the state of affairs it is referring to. Realists are also cognitive thinkers and bivalent, they believe statements are either true or false, even if we cannot determine which, but that ultimately things either are, or they aren’t. In comparison to Realism we have anti-realists. Their understanding of what it means to be ‘true’ differs from that of a realist; instead of a statement being truth if it corresponds to an actual reality, a statement can be held as true if it is accepted within a community, this theory of coherence maintains that truth is subjective to individuals and communities, if a statement about God is understood to be true within a form of life then it should be seen as true, whether or not it corresponds with the state of affairs is irrelevant. Consequently when an anti-realists says a statement such as ‘god exists’ this means that to them and within their frame work of life and their beliefs, god exists, and thus the statement for them is meaningful. Meaning lies in interpretation and the difference between realism and anti realism is precisely this; the interpretation. If one adopts a realist stand point, especially that of a naïve realist, it may be said that language is meaningless as we can never know that what it refers to really truly exists. If we look at it from an anti-realist point of view, whether it refers to a true state of affairs is irrelevant and thus a statement is meaningful because it means something to that community and affects them accordingly.

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Meaning and verification have often been linked by philosophers trying to analyse statements about God. In the beginning of the 20th century two streams of thought arose, the verificationists and following this, the falsificationist. These theories sum up the basic problems with making religious statements meaningful. The verification principle was concerned with the distinction between sense and non sense, and how this affected meaning. For verificationists it is irrelevant whether a statement is true, the important factor lies in whether the statement is meaningful. In short the Verification principle stipulates that only assertions which could be verified through observation or ...

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