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Philo's Veneration for True Religion

Philo's Veneration for True Religion

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Published by Justin Vacula

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Published by: Justin Vacula on May 02, 2011
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Vacula 1Justin VaculaM/C PhilosophyDr. ReitsmaMay 2, 2011Philo's Veneration for True Religion and Abhorrence of Vulgar SuperstitionIn David Hume's
 Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
, the character of Philo, throughout thetext, levies powerful objections to belief in a god and responds with various rebuttals to theistic claimsseemingly taking the role of the philosophical skeptic who doubts the existence of any gods. Towardthe end of the text, Philo appears to take a cognitive shift and says that he has “so little respect for thissuspension of judgment about the existence of God” because be believes that “proofs do appear on thewhole face of nature” although he seemed to have been suspending or withholding belief in Godthroughout the text (Bennett 55). To Philo, 'true religion' is belief in a God without making specificclaims about such god and 'true religion' is not common superstition, absurdity and impiety, anddegenerate morality. I think that some of Philo's views concerning morality and commonly practicedreligion are attractive, but I don't find his reasons displayed toward the end of the text (the “enormousdisplay of planning” in nature) (54) convincing enough to warrant belief in any sort of god and I don'tfeel the need to evoke the terms 'God' or 'true religion' because Philo's conclusion, minus any sort of  belief in the supernatural, can be accounted for in non-theistic humanistic terms.Throughout the text and more noticeably in the final part of the text, Philo mentions his disdaintoward 'common superstition' that many religious people embody that is not a part of 'true religion.'One aspect of 'common superstition,' Philo notes, is seeing divine agency in everything, “The mostcareless, the most stupid, thinker sees everywhere a purpose, an intention, a design” (54). 'Commonsuperstition,' Philo reasons, can't be good for society because “history is so full of accounts of its pernicious effects on public affairs” while those embracing true religion, Philo notes, are silent, “No
Vacula 2 period of time can be happier or more prosperous than those in which the religious spirit is never honoured or heard of” (57).Philo regards absurdity and impiety as characteristics that are not present in 'true religion.' Philosays that he his “veneration for true religion is matched by [his] abhorrence of common superstitions”and that he gets “a special pleasure out of pushing superstitions – sometimes into absurdity, sometimesinto impiety. All bigots hate impiety more than they do absurdity, but … they are often equally guilty of  both” (57). Philo does not consider communing with God in order to gain favor as a characteristic of 'true religion,' “Pleas for God's favour are generally understood to be either frivolous observances, or rapturous ecstasies, or a bigoted credulity, and therefore not to reflect or to encourage moralseriousness” (58). Instead of adhering to what Philo has previously called 'vulgar superstition,' heapparently embraces a “philosophical and rational kind” of religion (58) and says that “worship thatgoes beyond expressing one's knowledge that God exists – is indeed absurd, superstitious, and evenimpious” (61).Philo believes that morality can be accounted for without appealing to a divine entity and isopposed to moral degeneracy that has no place in 'true religion.' Philo believes that “the smallest grainof natural honesty and benevolence has more effect on men's conduct than the most grandly inflatedviews suggested by theological theories and systems” (58). “The chief restraints on mankind,” Philosays, “are the solemnity and importance of the occasion, a concern for one's reputation, and reflectionon the general interests of society” (60). This appraisal of reasons for moral behavior is in stark contrastto what proponents of 'vulgar superstition' may endorse when they might say that a holy book andGod's commands are required for moral action and without such, one has no good reason to behavemorally. Philo notes that “philosophers, who cultivate reason and reflection, have less need of suchreligious motives to keep them under the restraint of morals” (58).Philo believes that theists who are not either fanatical or superstitious can still be plagued by
Vacula 3religion, “greatly weakening men's attachment to the natural motives of justice and humanity” (59). If religion becomes the focus of morality, instead of other concerns, Philo reasons, religionists' attentionwould be diverted away from morality and raise up “a new and frivolous sort of supposed merit, andthe preposterous way in which it distributes praise and blame” (59). Philo notes that “we needn't go back in ancient times, or wander to remote places, to find instances of this degeneracy of religiondivorced from morality” (58-59).Philo notes that 'true religion' does not have the pernicious consequences that the 'commonreligion' has and that the 'true religion' is rational and on solid philosophical ground much unlike'vulgar superstitions.' Those who assent to the belief that the cause of the universe probably bearsresemblance to some intelligence that is like a human's, Philo believes, will find solace in this thoughtand “will naturally feel somewhat unnerved by the greatness of the object, that is, by the thought of thecause of the universe” (62). Philo believes that God revealed the truth of divine intelligence in natureand that the realization of this is “the first and most essential step toward being a sound, believingChristian” (62).Philo believes that the foundation of true religion, how one comes to know that a divineintelligence exists, is found through examination of nature; he states that “a scientist today must indeed be stubbornly obstinate if he can doubt that there is a supreme intellect” (55). This can be met withvarious objections, some of which that Philo raised earlier in the text, that may perhaps be defeaters toacquiring knowledge of God through looking at the complexity of nature. The fact that something innature seems to be intricate and indicative of some sort of crafter does not entail that it indeed was.Even if such complexity can't be explained, one is not warranted in believing that an intelligent beingmust have designed it; lack of explanation does not entail that one is justified in believing that anintelligent being had to have designed it – this is an argument from ignorance.Philo notes that 'true religion' can be rational and grounded on philosophy. This sounds

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