According to one dictionary, philosophy is the study of the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc. And a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature and meaning of existence, truth, good and evil etc.
Personally, I prefer to boil down this definition to just philosophy is the study of the nature of existence and truth. It follows thus a philosopher is someone who studies and develops ideas about the nature of existence and truth.
The inclusion of meaning assumes that existence has meaning to begins with. Here, I beg to differ (or perhaps go along with existentialists like Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre) and point out that nowhere does it say life has implicit meaning, that only we have assumed it to have meaning, and a universal one at that. It is for this reason I believe that Western philosophy tends to think Eastern Philosophy, particularly Buddhism is nihilistic in outlook.
Thus, Western philosophy has a tendency to belittle relativism and relativistic meaning. They are happy to say things like the only constant is change and not blink an eyelid at the relativity and even the contradiction in the statement or proposition. One must also see the nature of language (move towards a philosophy of language) in order to understand the nature of knowledge (epistemology), the nature of existence (ontology) and the nature of reality (metaphysics).
And so I must therefore question the nature of religion as well. I have never known a religion to be personal, for one person and that person alone. If it were then its god must be non-universal. In short, religion is a social act. If it were a non-social act then we need not talk of church and religion in the first place. But the fact that we do have church and the concept of a religion we must assume religion to be above all else a relativistic social construct. And if so then the talk of good and evil must also be relativistic as well. Philosophy, therefore, must reject religion, or at least study religion as part of the nature of human existence, not to assume it is part of or above philosophy as such. There is what I will suggest here as not so much a philosophy of religion but a religion of philosophy, and that it has infiltrated Western philosophical tradition so thoroughly that it had almost escaped notice.
For me, a metaphor is what creates the illusion of something like God. They are concepts and nothing more. So they can be as light or as heavy as you can imagine. In the same way we can imagine that when we die we go to some place better. But do we? Is there some place to go? I ended the poem with but nothing will free you / from death and / to nowhere will you go to suggest perhaps the reason why we do imagine a heaven is precisely because the idea of nowhere to go is rather lonely. Atheists must overcome loneliness as they do not have something to comfort them as Christians do. It reminds of the line from Kafka’s novel, The Trial:
“It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (St John, Ch. 1, v. 1)
Perhaps this is the genius of the writer of these words. God is language. End of story.
But if we take Saussure to his word then words are just a system of difference. We can conclude that God is what everything else it is not. The word God must be empty, must be a container holding meaning only inasmuch as it is a concept, never to fully have presence, eternally is God marked with absence.
As a person who looks at language for a living and have come to believe all of what we know and believe comes from a combination of experience, thought and language.
Not matter where we look cultures have religion. We, as human being, like to make religion, as much as we like to make language or literature. We are different to other animals in our ability to do so in such a way.
So I cannot be “against” religion, or language or literature. It is inherent in us to make religion, language, literature and the such.
What I do have believe, though, is that we also have the same capacity to “see through” the need for religion, language, literature, etc. For whatever reason we have religion, language, literature, etc, we have to learn to deal with it as reasoned but critical beings in a physical universe.
I cannot say that I have ever had direct knowledge of God. I have had notions of God pitched to me for as long as I can remember, but I have never had direct contact from him (if it is a him).
Christians may say I am not “chosen”. But I would rather think of it as maybe there isn’t God.
Buddhism has gods and whatnot in their “pantheon”, but they are imports from other religions and systems such as Hinduism, Taoism and Esoteric Buddhism. I, for the most part, ignore them but accept somehow gods were created to represent the teaching, as manifestations of these ideas, and that the concepts and ideas (the teachings) are more important than the gods. To me, this seems to be the healthier attitude to have than to believe (more often than not, blindly) in God or gods.
The Buddha was born a prince. His mother died soon after giving birth to him. So there is no claim of divinity of any kind. He was an ordinary man with ordinary problems just like you and me. And therefore he is not a god. Nor should he be worshipped as such.
Buddhist iconography was something which arose after his death. And temples are not places of worship. Both of these are created to help us understand his teaching, the dharma, which is we alone can liberate ourselves from unhappiness through attention to the nature of one’s body and mind.
This then means that Buddhism is not about faith but practice. The practice espoused was to look after the mind as much as we look after our body. This Buddhists do through meditation. Meditation does not have any special powers as such but only allows one to focus the mind to see clearly what the mind and body are. Some kind of basic understanding is necessary of course, but essentially it is that everything is impermanent, without self and suffering. Nothing including Buddhism lasts forever. That includes the self which many people cling on to. The self is an illusion. And that is perhaps the greatest of all roots of our suffering. Understand that this is what existence is then we can proceed to find the happiness which does not diminish.