What Norms or Values Define Excellent Philosophy of Religion?

Philosophy of religion is the branch of philosophy that explores the variety of religious phenomena including the idea or the concept of God and its relationship to reason or common sense. Though “philosophizing about religion” cannot be easily explained, I believe that the primary goal of philosophy of religion is to look closely at existing religious worldviews and traditions, rigorously investigating the traditional arguments for God’s existence, the problem of evil, religion and science, and justifications for the existence of religious pluralism, to name a few. Philosophy of religion is, of course, one of the most comprehensive areas of philosophy, for it includes studies in logic, epistemology, ethics, science, etc. It is also intellectually challenging and rewarding at the same time. The basic questions of philosophy—like where are we coming from? Or where are we going?—are investigated through the question of origins or afterlife in philosophy of religion. It is worth mentioning that the new book by Dan Brown, Origin, deals with these questions in a mystical-fictional-scientific way. Therefore, philosophy of religion again might become relevant even in the popular belletristic releases.

As we are all aware, philosophy of religion explains religious phenomena without personal engagement, based on rational arguments and some logical evidence. The basic strength of the analytical philosophy of religion is to provide sound argumentation as antidote for esoteric postmodern trends in thinking about language and reality. However, most of the analytical research in philosophy of religion looks more like a mathematical logic than philosophical treatises. The symbolic logic in the analytical tradition seems to be detached from the basic philosophical questions of origins, meaning, and destiny. Philosophy of religion, therefore, can be done in a rigid and detached way without asking the question of meaning or purpose of human existence which would be worth living. This “logical” and “objective” approach is viewed as a safeguard against the one-sided, biased and narrow-minded position of value-laden theology or religious studies (another assumed strength of the philosophy of religion). Nevertheless, it distances itself from the existential and axiological questions raised by humanity in every generation. I will try to tackle only one of these questions.

How does the very knowledge of divine realities and logical investigation of God contribute to the question: what sort of life is worth living? In other words, how does a religious phenomenon impact a person or a student existentially on the level of the life lived, not just what type of reality correspond to the religious phenomenon (something like Wittgensteinian transcendence of realism and non-realism)? Let me unpack this.

Philosophy of religion belongs to the realm of study called humanities. After all, it is a philosophy. Most of the humanities in contemporary higher education do not deal with the question of meaning or purpose. Unfortunately, as they have become instrumental in obtaining knowledge for the specific professions, ancient and deep questions of humanum have been lost. Students are rarely confronted with the fundamental questions of life and their impact on student’s daily living. Though philosophy as the most general discipline of humanities sits in judgment of all phenomena, as its definition implies, it still can be taught without reference to meaning and purpose of life worth living.

It is a challenge to teach philosophy of religion as a relevant discipline that raises questions of meaning or purpose especially of the issues of whether life is worth living and/or what sort of life is worth living. Humanities, in general, avoid discussing these issues. Intelligibility of the religious phenomena has been questioned recently by Wittgenstein and others. This is, of course, an assumed weakness of philosophy of religion. However, I believe that the basic challenge is to find the way to teach students why this life is worth living or what kind of life is worth living in spite of the irresolvable and complex issue of the problem of evil or (non)existence of God. We can find the perfect fine-tuning argument in cosmology or irreducible complexity in biology, but, at the end of the day, why and how will this knowledge contribute to my personal life in order to have a permanent value of life worth living? Can philosophy of religion become value-laden? Maybe looking at only Christian perspective of philosophy of religion is insufficient. Perhaps we should adopt a comparative approach and explore other religious traditions more deeply to find the ultimate permanent value of this very life as worth living.

My suggestion is to look first at this issue from the perspective of inquiry. Every human being desires to know and strives to have its life examined as the Greek tradition taught us. A holistic approach to human life includes this inquiry. We are intelligent and curious beings. The very fact that philosophy of religion raises critical questions of origins, destiny, purposes, and meaning contributes to this holistic inquiry as part of life worth living/life properly lived. Whatever is the result of the investigation of religious phenomena within the study of the philosophy of religion — what contributes to a life worth living — is the very ability and desire to ask questions and explore the unknown phenomena.

A life worth living is the life of expected flourishing that is the result of a search for a life a bit more than the ordinary. Asking questions, therefore, with openness towards life a bit more than the ordinary leads to a life worth living. These questions and potential answers transcend the instrumental approach to the study of human ideals like goodness, beauty, and truth. The value of human being as intrinsically given or defined by the transcendence we are searching for can be found only in the phenomenological search for a life a bit more than the ordinary or a sort of life worth living. I also believe that whatever is the result of the study of the philosophy of religion with its goal to “define” the Ultimate Reality (whether it makes sense or not), this craving for the unknown and desire to experience a bit more than ordinary, might provide the space for transcendence and recognition of the sacredness of human life. In my own experience the combination of openness to transcendence in the religious consciousness with rational inquiry of religious phenomena contributed to the discovery of a life worth living/life properly lived.

Philosophy of religion, therefore, if it is taught from the perspective of the quest for a sort of life worth living can stimulate students to search for the meaning and purpose of their lives and probably even open themselves to transcendence and that universal space of the ultimate meaning that contributes to a life worth living.

Aleksandar S. Santrac, DPhil, PhD, is Professor of Ethics & Philosophy and Chair of the Religion Department at Washington Adventist University, Extraordinary Professor of Dogmatics and Dogma History at North-West University, South Africa and Visiting Researcher in bioethics at Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. This article originally appeared on the Philosophy of Religion website and is part of their “Philosophers of Religion on Philosophy of Religion” series. It is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Eric Patnoudes on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8496

It’s been my experience that not all people are interested in forming a PHILOSOPHY of their religion. By definition, “religion” has limiting parameters that don’t easily allow for the openness necessary to go “beyond the ordinary”. The standard object of “religion” is to shrink the boundaries of thought, rather than expand them.

There seems to be two types of people (at least) - those who seek security that only dogma with strict boundaries can provide; and those who keep asking questions, and are prone to redefine the answers as one grows. As far as Adventism goes, I constantly run into these two types - those who return to their middle school Bible classes for definitions; and those who might be seen as going out the church door. I don’t see a lot Adventists doing “philosophy” of religion - maybe they’re on the top floor of some building at Andrews.


The article can be a springboard to analyze and seek the relevance of what Jesus said…

“The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).” Jn 10:10 Amplified

The late Francis Schaeffer addressed the issue of quality living in his book “How Should We Then Live”

In a sermon that I presented a few months ago, the title was “Unchurch-Life enrichment Center”. I countered the typical usual, superficial, irrelevant church experience of shallow, ambiguous teaching and the programming of pew warmers to accept and parrot obscure religious lingo, theological clichés and unexplained bible verses.
Notice Paul’s concern about this:

" For one who speaks in an [unknown] tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands or catches his meaning, because in the [Holy] Spirit he utters secret truths and hidden things [not obvious to the understanding].

3 But [on the other hand], the one who prophesies [who [b]interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired preaching and teaching] speaks to men for their upbuilding and constructive spiritual progress and encouragement and consolation.

4 He who speaks in a [strange] tongue edifies and improves himself, but he who prophesies interpreting the divine will and purpose and teaching with inspiration] edifies and improves the church and promotes growth [in Christian wisdom, piety, holiness, and happiness].

5 Now I wish that you might all speak in [unknown] tongues, but more especially [I want you] to prophesy (to be inspired to preach and interpret the divine will and purpose). He who prophesies [who is inspired to preach and teach] is greater (more useful and more important) than he who speaks in [unknown] tongues, unless he should interpret [what he says], so that the church may be edified and receive good [from it]. 1 Cor 14:2-5

If it is not seared, the conscience critiques thoughts, words & actions with shame, regret, guilt trips and haunting memories. One can vainly attempt to adjust their thoughts to minimize these negative hits on conscience or one can use biblical approaches/processes to enter into a Spirit led life by thought replacement therapy (1 Cor 10:13) which results in a new mind. Rom 12:2, Eph 4:23

Since 90% of churchgoers have never read the whole bible, even the new testament for that matter, they repeat their perverted, depraved, carnal habits.

One has to spend more than 2 to 3% of their weekly 7000 waking minutes to be transformed into Spiritual, born again followers of Jesus that results in a really fulfilling life.

Those that persist in worldly approaches in living are slaves/victims of their habits driven by cranial synapses & boutons.

I agree with this completely. If the majority of those who seek and attempt to refine their understanding of God and the world are truly heading out the door (I know I did) then perhaps it’s an indication that the SDA church as a cultural and corporate entity is not engaging in these thoughtful questions and providing coherent answers.


I believe OPENNESS is a one-word definition of excellent philosophy of religion.

Our pioneers declared that the SDA movement had no creed. That’s openness. They cautioned that our beliefs were present truth. That’s openness.

Today that same movement is being subjected to coerced belief, the heart and soul of the dark side of religion.


I would suggest a third group. They are the questioners that stay in church and support their local church family. But they don’t get hurt or angry and leave (unless attacked frequently). They are the people who ask questions in SS yet are respectful of other ideas; they love the rigid and the liberal and have them as friends. On their own they can study and pray and receive enlightenment. They can even attend other denominations for more spiritual growth without leaving their own. (I worked at a Presbyterian church and attended it years ago while attending my own church.) We have something to offer and things to learn. We are learners who do not look down on those average members too busy to be religionists but encourage them to know Christ personally. We do not push our own beliefs that are not exactly in tune with what most Adventists call truth. They remember none of us can claim all truth but we can know Him who is Truth.

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To navigate the waters you suggest as a third option, you would be entering that final stage of the popular “seven stages of faith”, provide by the field of psychology. One of two things would happen - you would either be crushed by the weight of the halo that would grow above your head; or find yourself walking with Enoch in some other realm.

It would seem that to do “philosophy of religion” you would need to be above the fray; and as you state, “without personal engagement”. Without that personal aspect it would be hard to find the time, or the inclination to do it to any substantial degree - and, as they say, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”… That’s why I suggested that such an endeavour might belong in a university program. Here, on ground level, “the walls that bind us” have a way of interfering in a truly altruistic pursuit of religious knowledge - but only a psychologist would know how that works.

This works for me very well in my church with no problems. I used to be a SS teacher but gave it up to spend part of the year in a warm climate with my husband at the LLUC where there are many opportunities to learn.I worked at Mecca for 20 years and majored in theology years ago.
My husband not being an SDA member helps me from becoming a judge of other’s thoughts and actions. He is Christian and loves the sermons here but has no interest in deep Bible study or joining anything. He sees it like a union I think. I am far from being an Enoch!

Without getting too verbose, I’ll just sum it up by saying the SDA church has a problem being inclusive - especially under the present administration. That aside, of course there are individuals who have gone beyond the look-step idea of community, but they are also out of step as far as the administration and the emotional response of the church goes. Philosophy, as a whole, is suspect, and few are able get interested in it, or benefit from it. While the denomination always promotes education, it doesn’t always value the educated.

There is an interesting website where a number of different ideologies can be explored. It used to be able to be accessed on a cable channel in my part of the world, but is still available online.


Thank you for engaging.

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Thank you. I will check this out.

I suggest you read the above three times and ponder whether fifty lifetimes would be sufficient to “rigorously investigate” just the topics named above.

Is it not clear that we have bitten off more than we can chew here?