What is the character and general structures of the universe in which we live? Is there a permanent element in the constitution of this universe? How are we related to it? What place do we occupy in it, and what is the kind of conduct that benefits the place we occupy? These questions are common to religion, philosophy, and higher poetry.
The Nature of both
But the kind of knowledge that poetic inspiration brings is essentially individual in its character; it is figurative, vague, and indefinite. Religion, in its more advanced forms, rises higher than poetry. It moves from individual to society. In its attitude towards the ultimate reality it is opposed to the limitations of man; it enlarges his claims and holds out the prospect of nothing less than a direct vision of Reality. Is it then possible to apply the purely rational method of philosophy to religion?
The philosophical spirit
The spirit of philosophy is one of free inquiry. It suspects all authority. Its function is to trace the uncritical assumptions of human thought to their hiding places, and in this pursuit it may finally end in denial or a frank admission of the incapacity of pure reason to reach the ultimate reality.
Religion: The free bird
The essence of religion, on the other hand, is faith, and faith, like the bird, sees its ‘trackless way’ unattended by intellect which, in the great mystic poet of Islam, ‘ only way lays the living heart of man and robs it of the invisible lies within.’
Yet it cannot be denied that faith is mere feeling. It has something like a cognitive content, and the existence of rival parties- scholastics and mystics- in the history shows that idea is a vital element in religion. Apart from this, religion on its doctrinal side, as defined by professor Whitehead, is ‘ a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended’. Now, since the transformation and guidance of man’s inner and outer life is the essential aim of religion, it is obvious that the general truths that it embodies must not remain unsettled.
Religion : more ambitious than philosophy.
Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science. Science may ignore a rational metaphysics; indeed, indeed it has ignored it so far. Religion can hardly afford to ignore the search for a reconciliation of the oppositions of experience and justification of the environment in which humanity fund itself. That is why Professor Whitehead has acutely remarked that ‘ the ages of faith are the ages of rationalism’.
But to rationalize faith is not to admit the superiority of philosophy over religion. Philosophy, no doubt, has jurisdiction to judge religion, but what is to be judged is such a nature that it will not submit to the jurisdiction of philosophy except on its on terms. While sitting in judgment of religion, philosophy cannot give religion an inferior place among its data. Religion is not a departmental affair; it is neither mere thought, nor mere feeling; it is an expression of the whole man.
The need to recognize each other
Thus, in the evaluation of religion, philosophy must recognize the central position of religion and has no other alternative but to admit it as something focal in the process of reflective synthesis. Nor is there any reason to suppose that thought and intuition are essentially opposed to each other. They spring up from the same root and complement each other.
Religion and Philosophy: Compare and contrast
The one grasp Reality piecemeal, the other grasps it in its wholeness. The one fixes its gaze on the eternal the other on the temporal aspect of Reality. The one is present enjoyment of the whole of Reality; the other aims at traversing the whole by slowly specifying and closing up the various regions of the whole for exclusive observation. Both are in need of each other for mutual rejuvenation. Both seek vision of the same reality, which reveals itself to them in accordance to the function of life. In fact, intuition, as Bergson rightly says, is only a higher kind of intellect.
(Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)