Philalethes. That is certainly the strong point of religion. If it is a fraud, it is a pious fraud; that is undeniable. But this makes priests something between deceivers and teachers of morality; they daren’t teach the real truth, as you have quite rightly explained, even if they knew it, which is not the case. A true philosophy, then, can always exist, but not a true religion; true, I mean, in the proper understanding of the word, not merely in that flowery or allegorical sense which you have described; a sense in which all religions would be true, only in various degrees. It is quite in keeping with the inextricable mixture of weal and woe, honesty and deceit, good and evil, nobility and baseness, which is the average characteristic of the world everywhere, that the most important, the most lofty, the most sacred truths can make their appearance only in combination with a lie, can even borrow strength from a lie as from something that works more powerfully on mankind; and, as revelation, must be ushered in by a lie. This might, indeed, be regarded as the cachet of the moral world. However, we won’t give up the hope that mankind will eventually reach a point of maturity and education at which it can on the one side produce, and on the other receive, the true philosophy. Simplex sigillum veri: the naked truth must be so simple and intelligible that it can be imparted to all in its true form, without any admixture of myth and fable, without disguising it in the form of religion.
Demopheles. You’ve no notion how stupid most people are. [ emphasis by me]
John asked in the open thread one of the challenging questions. The silliness of natural religion. To talk about natural religion, I will have to tell you what it is and while at it tell you also about its associate revealed theology.
Natural theology is the program for inquiring by the light of natural reason alone into whatever truths of natural reason human beings might be able to find about God.
Revealed theology on the other hand is the program for inquiring by the light of faith into what one believes by faith to be truths beyond reason that are revealed by God, that is, based on scripture.
Now that you know what we are talking about, in answer to John’s question, I would say simply that natural theology/ religion developed later as a means to give belief in god some rational or intellectual basis. It should be noted that natural theology predates the Abrahamic religions and whereas there have been theologians and pseudo philosophers who have tried to justify their belief in god, it is not possible, without a leap of faith to come from the god of philosophy to the god of scripture.
The first people who conceived of a god, I contend did not arrive at their god through dialectics. Our ancestors were practical people and whether the belief in god arose out of fear, dreams or animism or tribal leaders being deified, the thesis is not affected in any bit. They conceived of their gods for their utility.
They had gods for rain, good health, death and what not. It was what these gods would do.
And if I digress a bit, even the god of the Jews, Yahweh is conceived for its utility, a god of war, a conquering god. It is the utility of gods that primitive man was concerned with and not with dialectics. Dialectics arose because human beings could no longer, with the development of knowledge, continue to believe in such gods of revelation.
Arguments such as the Ontological argument, teleological argument or even Aristotle’s theory of motion can all be shown to be invalid. That at the very least they do not bring us any closer to knowing why god is necessary, what god is not it’s nature and that the gods they argue for cannot in any rational way be reconciled by god of scripture which it is their function to show exists or that it is reasonable for intelligent people to believe in.
For those interested in reading more on natural religion, Hume wrote a dialogue with the same title and which I wrote a review sometime back.