Traditional philosophy of religion recognizes 3 positions with respect to religion: religious, atheist, and agnostic. I shall argue that nobody is in truth religious. Rather, an individual is either agnostic or anti-religious.
What is, then, a true believer, if there is such a thing? To answer this we have to consider the way in which the religious individual appraises the concept of God. I argue that prior to satisfying and addressing the following difficulties, one can at best be considered agnostic.
In considering religion
- We have to define what we mean by “God”.
- Based on the given definition, we have to demonstrate that such an entity exists and that there are clues that point to its existence.
- Because there are numerous religious denominations, (i.e., Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, as well as an endless variety of denominations within the same religious tradition) we have to show which of the purported gods the real one is.
- We further have to show a compelling reason why one should worship such a divinity, granted that one satisfactorily addresses 1, 2, and 3.
1) We need to clarify whether we mean, for example, “God” as a personal being or as an abstract entity that has no knowledge of the world and does not interact with humans, or other interpretations.
2) We need to provide arguments that will prove the existence of the defined god.
3) After having defined “God” and provided arguments for his existence, it is necessary to specify to which particular god we are referring. Certainly we cannot say that all religious traditions are fundamentally speaking of the same entity. Every religious tradition in human history has had very specific ideas of the several gods, and these ideas are often in disagreement with other traditions. In fact, even within the same religious tradition there exist opposite views on various important aspects that define god and his relationship with humans.
4) So-called religious people—and very often even non-believers—overlook this point. The question of whether a god exists, it seems to me, is not the end of all. Granted one could satisfy 1, 2, and 3, which I think impossible, it would not follow that one should worship a god. This point is in my opinion at the core of philosophy of religion. It is intimately connected with the notion of free will. More explicitly, it questions the notion that the relationship between God and humans is based upon love and free choice.
Points 1, 2, and 3 do not grant 4. An objection is this: if we establish 1, 2, and 3, then we might find that God wants us to worship him, or at least religious texts confirm this. Yet, we want to push it further and ask this: even if 1, 2, and 3, are satisfied and consequently seem to grant 4, and supported by religious texts, why should one worship because is asked to do so? What I mean here is best illustrated by Bakunin’s famous statement “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”
To elaborate more this delicate point, let us illustrate what the relationship between a god and humans entails. Every successful relationship, everybody would agree, must be based on reciprocity. That is to say, if I decide to be friends with another person, that person has the right to either be my friend or not. Compulsory friendship cannot be acceptable because it is not based upon love. Worshipping is by definition not friendship. It is a relationship based on the assumption that there is a superior party, a god, and an inferior party, man.