Religious language is the lexis used to describe or discuss views in relation to religion. Religious language has many different forms and expresses multiple meanings encompassing a variety of situations such as worship, practice, dogma and doctrine. This however means religious language is subjective and raises debate over whether it is meaningless or not.
A collection of philosophers, the logical positivists, formulated the verification principle, which was developed by A. J. Ayer in order to combat the idea that religious language is meaningful. He thought that “God talk” was nonsense because it could not be verified analytically or synthetically. They believed that there were only 2 types of statements which are meaningful; tautologies (true by definition) and statements that can be verified by some kind of test. Following this theory, religious language is deemed meaningless because they believed it was metaphysical and there is no way to even test ...view middle of the document...
We cannot empirically prove that religious language is meaningful but we also cannot prove that the verification principle is, therefore it fails its own principle.
Anthony Flew also agreed that religious language was meaningless and claimed that “religious language dies the death of a thousand qualifications” but he didn’t agree with the ideas put forward by the verification principle. He felt that religion is full of assertions and followers that do not allow anything to counter their beliefs, like science does. Religion is too slow to raise their hand and admit they are wrong and therefore religious language is empty. He believed that if a statement is meaningful it must be capable of being falsified and there must be some decisive test that’d count against it. Phrases like “God has got a plan” are meaningless as there is no test that can falsify it. He used John Wisdom’s the Parable of the Gardener to strengthen his argument, saying that the person that believed in the “invisible” gardener was like a religious person that would not accept falsification.
Richard Swinburne developed a counter argument to both the verification and falsification principles, referencing the ‘Toys in the Cupboard’ story. He says that just because something cannot be verified or falsified, doesn’t mean it is meaningless because we understand it. Therefore, if religious language means something to other people and evokes a reaction it must be meaningful. Similar to this R. M. Hare retells an incident where a university student was convinced his lecturers wanted to kill him. This cannot be verified because the lecturers would be likely to deny it, however, this has a direct effect of the student’s life and created fear, therefore Hare believed it cannot be meaningless. He referred to this as a Blik, which is a world view – a particular way of seeing the world.
Religious language is symbolic and represents something different to everyone else. To say it is meaningless is subjective and can only be one person’s view, in the same way that saying it is meaningful is another someone else’s belief. In my opinion religious language cannot be meaningless because it effects many people’s lives in different ways and cannot be universally ruled as meaningless.