What is Philosophy and Religion for?

In the Atheist-Theist debate all this this arguing about god fails to see the larger question, one that gets lost in the furore. What is a philosophy for? What does it do for us? How do we use it?

A further question could also be added, What is the Truth or wisdom we seek?

As Truth or Bedrock

For some Truth is no longer about seeking facts but about seeking reassurance and security in a changing world. People can’t accept the notion there is no bedrock like all powerful God, so there has to be.

To the big questions in life the reasoning come forth;

  • I can’t the bear possibility of no answer; therefore, there has to be an answer.
  • I can’t bear the possibility the answer is unintelligible; therefore, the answer has to be understandable.
  • I can’t accept the answer if it’s upsetting; therefore the answers have to be reassuring.

So, the answers grasped for have to fit into this unspoken criteria. I.e. The world is obligated to make sense. To fit expectation and fulfil needs because it can’t handle the idea of it not doing that.

The argument for an anthropomorphic God only comes from within the western framework, originating in the pre-Socratic philosophers, through Plato, and Aristotle, into other theologians like Aquinas, Anslem, and into the modern era. Some see Ultimate Truth (or Truth with a capital T) as in the Matrix film. There is this code behind reality, a Metaphysical, ontological foundation or bedrock, not the ephemeral phantoms of our senses.

‘This desperation for meaning seems like a man in the desert, dying of thirst, trying to squeeze water from a rag.’

It makes Truth a Hypostasis, an essence of our existence, like a foundation to a pyramid below or behind reality. Or it makes truth a Hyperstasis(?!), the pinnacle of the pyramid, a creator god above reality like the Architect in the film, the creator of the matrix.

The western religious, scientific, and philosophical aim was to eliminate uncertainty find this essence, or Atomos, an uncuttable, unchanging basis for existence

Another belief is their language and ideas (such as Scripture, philosophy, maths etc.) point towards this code beyond the changing reality. In philosophy, this is Realism; language can and does give us knowledge of the truth beyond the contingent changing reality.

As Skilful Living Truth

‘If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.’

Francis Bacon, The Oxford Francis Bacon IV: The Advancement of Learning

In Buddhism, there is the Parable of the Man shot with a poisoned Arrow. A man has been shot, the poor man is dying, even as he dies he’s asking who shot him. What’s his caste? Was it a bow or a crossbow? The lesson is we’re suffering, and going to die, are these the most important issues of our life?

I see the many atheists in accord with Buddhism; many consider themselves agnostic, meaning such questions about god are unknown or unnecessary, many non-believers have come to the same conclusions as Buddhists.

Many atheists and Buddhists see the truth arising from philosophy and religion not as an essence of existence but as a way to live better and happier lives. Truth is lived, not found. Existentialist thinkers, like Sartre, make the point, ‘Existence precedes essence’.

The quote from Robert Herbert in Dune sums it up.

‘She said the mystery of life isn’t a problem to solve, but a reality to experience. So I quoted the First Law of Mentat at her: ‘A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it.’

Buddhism has no grand metaphysical system to explain how life came about or why the cosmos is the way it is, I call this Spiritual Minimalism. It’s the West, and it’s obsession with such questions, that found itself chasing its tail. It’s also the reason why Buddhists don’t show up in these debates. Metaphysical questions like God are unimportant.

Another point is the fact that reality doesn’t fit our ideas; we alter our ideas to reality. There is no reason to think the cosmos obeys our ideas or beliefs. As such, the mystery of life will always remain, we find meaning in facing the unknown, the uncertainty.

In Buddhism, beyond language, there is the Ultimate Truth of an interconnected, ever-changing reality devoid of fixed existence; this is Sunyata or Emptiness.

It’s a philosophy that accepts the vicissitudes of life without the need to cling to anything. A technology, that aides us in living skilfully, without indulging in speculative metaphysics.

Buddhism is more pragmatic, teaching us that we would do better to accept uncertainty. When you realise some questions can’t be answered, or lead to more suffering the wise thing to do is stop trying to find them.

The Buddhist outlook strikes a balance between Externalism and Nihilism, as pointed out by Nagarjuna. It doesn’t lead to nihilism or lack of meaning, nor to the naïve idea we can grasp this cosmos, and squeeze it to find a fixed, truth, a bedrock to stand upon.

What I like about Buddhism; is it focuses on what matters, this reality. The fact is we suffer and one day leave this life behind. The critical question to ask is not is there an afterlife, but how to live the best life one has?


The two traditions of East and West, show a difference of opinion on what we are looking for, what we need, what we value in our lives. Buddhism, like Stoicism, doesn’t need to know why we exist and what the origin of the cosmos is. We don’t need such knowledge to pay our bills, feed our kids, or do our jobs.

To cite a Metaphor, Theists like scientists, and philosophers seek an island in a sea of uncertainty. To set their house of a firm foundation, a bedrock of certainty, of objective truths. Where as Mysticism like Buddhism see existence the Allegory of Neurath’s bootstrap. A ship that’s falling apart, and is being repaired by it’s crew, on an ocean. The meaning of the allegory is; the crew is ourselves, the ship is our ideas, knowledge and the sea is the uncertainty of existence.

The Myth of the Hypostasis; is the real religion of the west.

The cosmos can’t be reduced and abstracted to fit inside our analytical, conscious mind; our language and ideas will always be inadequate. (The Map is Not the Territory). It’s different from the western attitude that sees the truth in words, i.e. The logos.

What do we do instead? We are so desperate for answers our search is coloured with our neediness. It confuses conviction for knowledge, passion for insight. We would rather have a self-aggrandising story than an unsettling truth.

All this shows a real difference between what people consider truth and how find it and use it. It points out there is more than one paradigm to living a good life, the aims of religion and philosophy are not the same worldwide.

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