My friend, Javier Rivera, has posted a video about the relationship between religion and philosophy. Specifically, he talks about the duty of philosophers to ask, “What is religion?” Javier points out the dominant tendency in philosophers to fixate on their own discipline, asking again and again, “What is philosophy?” but a similar kind of (philosophical) attention is rarely devoted to religion. What we need, Javier argues, is a philosophical interest and engagement with religion. Something that (a) religion cannot provide for itself and (b) philosophy’s excessive interest in itself hinders.
Javier says that religion cannot be fairly (critically?) treated from a religious standpoint. He uses the metaphor of family members and how familial relations prevent us from adopting certain attitudes: You cannot speak about your mother critically, Javier points out, especially in public and in front of strangers. He generalizes this point and says: You cannot criticize something you love. The implication here is that philosophers are either not loving or they have been trained to sidestep their loving attitude.
But what would we tell the philosopher who is completely uninterested in religion? Why would we want to convince him to take religion as the subject-matter of her philosophical investigations. You might not want to criticize your mother in public, but when it comes to a stranger’s mother, you might not even be interested in thinking about her. It is, of course, possible to fake interest in order to get a career going. You can call yourself a philosopher of religion and ask for research grants, but there would be something missing from such a purely professional attitude. We can call what is missing “genuine interest,” or “genuine involvement,” and I think it wouldn’t be a big mistake to call it love.
Let me show all my cards at this point. I believe you can only truly criticize what you love. Not only that, but the duty to criticize–to be truthful, to shed illusions, to help the beloved grow–comes with love. I am dissociating criticism from other, superficially-similar types of “attack,” and I have in mind a critical attitude that arises out of care. Criticism is a part of our full engagement with what we love. At the age of 21, I left Islam and I did so consciously. I did not wish to criticize it. I could not criticize it, since I was unable to care for it. I simply wanted nothing to do with the religion. That decision was based on a naive–and I should add unloving–attitude toward the past and the future. You cannot drop-and-leave your religious upbringing the way you do with a backpack. Am I better positioned now to re-engage with the past and the future? I’m not sure.
One last note on Javier’s metaphor. Metaphors limit our treatment of the subject-matter. Thinking about religion in terms of a Mother is overly limiting, because it places us in the position of children. We are not only children. We are not always children, even in relation with the mother. What if you think of religion in terms of a child, putting yourself in the position of a responsible adult, a doubtful adult, a hesitant adult, but an adult nevertheless. Think of St. Christopher carrying Jesus-as-child on his shoulders. That is the duty. That is the spirit I want injected into my criticism–mindful, responsible, and loving. We cannot wait for professional philosophers to do our criticisms for us. We cannot regard their unloving attitude as a strength and our love as a weakness. The duty is ours, philosophically or otherwise.
Update: Javier has responded to my post with a follow-up video on his channel. I include the second video here, too, because I found it excellent! His replies to comments shows his open heart, his commitment to truth and to advancing the argument cooperatively. Importantly, I believe he managed to synthesize our positions–despite the apparent inconsistency between us–into a unified vision. I am grateful to Javier and our on-going exchanges and I’d encourage you to see the second video. (Only one very minor note to keep in mind as you watch the video: In it, Javier refers to this blog post as Patreon-only content, which it isn’t. Although Patreon-only content, all videos, are listed on this website and accessible through my Patreon page.)