The Meaning of Faith: An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion Open Access

Shepherd, Aaron Lawrence Breiter Pratt (2017)

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The Meaning of Faith:

An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion

By Aaron Lawrence Breiter Pratt Shepherd

Just over a decade ago, a popular literary movement known as "The New Atheism" challenged the place of religion in contemporary Anglo-American society. In this dissertation, I take the New Atheism to be articulating what social science has been documenting for the past forty years: namely, that religious affiliation and praxis are increasingly taken to be either unnecessary or detrimental to life and culture in America. I provide a novel interpretation and engagement with the New Atheism based on what I call the New Atheism's "Three Challenges": the truth challenge (the claims of religion are untrue, and that religious knowledge is untenable), the consequences challenge (religion results in violence and other bad consequences), and the meaning challenge (religious categories are not necessary for meaning-making, nor is religion itself necessary for a meaningful life). My essay aims to clarify what is at stake in these challenges for religion in America today, as well as to offer what I take to be philosophically robust rejoinders to each challenge. A tertiary concern of the essay is assessing the degree to which contemporary approaches in philosophy of religion are or are not well-suited to address and respond to these challenges. To achieve this aim, the essay will operate at both a philosophical and metaphilosophical level, articulating rejoinders to the challenges by taking and assessing different philosophical approaches--from analytic, to empirical, modern, postmodern, and pragmatist philosophies of religion. I will show that some of these approaches are methodologically hamstrung in their ability to respond to the challenges--particularly the meaning challenge--and advocate for others that adequately capture the enduring significance and meaning of religion for the 21st century.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The New Atheism Movement 1
The Three Challenges of the New Atheism 4
What's "New" About the New Atheism? 6
The Three Challenges: A Critical Exposition 15
The Truth Challenge 16
The Consequences Challenge 28
The Meaning Challenge 38
The Three Challenges and The "God Debate" 44
The Truth Challenge Revisited 48
The Consequences Challenge Revisited 55
The Meaning Challenge Revisited 61
Conclusion 62
Chapter 2: Contemporary Philosophy of Religion vs. The Threefold Challenge 64
The Mythology Behind the Consequences Challenge 69
The Truth Challenge and Analytic Philosophy of Religion 75
Ayer on Religion 78
Wittgensteinian Philosophy of Religion 83
Plantinga's Realism and Reformed Epistemology 93
Conclusion on Analytic Philosophy of Religion 102
Empirical Philosophy of Religion 105
"Explaining" Religion--Naturally 107
Conclusion on Empirical Philosophy of Religion and the Three Challenges 114
Gestures in the Right Direction for Addressing the Meaning Challenge 120
Conclusion 128
Chapter 3: The Modern Genealogy of Contemporary Challenges 130
Essentialism and Skepticism in Modern Philosophy of Religion 133
The Social Dimension in Modern Philosophy of Religion 140
Kant's Philosophy of Religion 145
Post-Kantian Philosophy of Religion: Schleiermacher and Hegel 161
Conclusion 178
Chapter 4: A Postmodern Approach to the Truth and Meaning Challenges 184
Postmodernism in Contemporary Continental Philosophy of Religion 188
Derridean Deconstruction 190
Vattimo's Nihilistic Secularization 195
Marion: Theologizing an Impossible God 201
Caputo's Radical Theology and Postmodern Philosophy of Religion 210
Conclusion 224
Chapter 5: The Meaning Challenge: A Review 227
Interlude: A Metaphilosophical Review of the Meaning Challenge 230
Pragmatist Philosophy of Religion: Past and Present 243
Conclusion 248
Chapter 6: Integration and Pragmatist Philosophy of Religion 250
Conceptual Elements of Religious Integration 257
The Unseen Order 257
The Problem of Salvation 262
Acts of Grace 269
Religious Interpretation 276
"More-Than-Pragmatist" Philosophy of Religion 290
Conclusion 294
Bibliography 299

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