Religion without God in
by Shlomo Biderman
Speaking of the religious activity of the believer, Wittgenstein described him as
"using a picture." If we adopt Wittgenstein's metaphor we shall probably have no
difficulty in identifying, in most cases, the main subject of such pictures. By
this I mean, of course, the concept of God. The existence of God in monotheistic
western religions is regarded as inseparable from the very existence of those
religions. It should, therefore, be of no surprise that common definitions of
religion -- treading in the wake of the monotheistic trend, emphasize right from
the beginning the belief in the existence of God as a necessary ingredient of
There is no doubt that the monotheistic picture indeed represents a large number
of religions. But one should not jump to the conclusion that the religious museum
solely represents pictures of the monotheistic trend. On the contrary, one can
find in the museum a great variety of religious pictures, in part of which God
figures in the center of the picture, in others He figures only in the margins,
and in some He does not figure at all.
The most prominent religious picture in which God does not figure at all is, of
course, the Buddhist religion. This religion can be
characterized not only as non-theistic but more so as atheistic; that is
to say, not only does the Buddhist religion discard the notion of God as a
religious term, but it vehemently rejects any use of this notion as meaningless.
Buddhism is, therefore, a religion without God.
Monotheistic religions very often describe God as revealing himself in the world.
God's revelation usually takes place in the succession of historical events that
began at the moment of the creation of the world and continued throughout
history. God's subsequent revelations in history have sometimes been direct, and
sometimes by means of intermediaries, the prophets, sages and saints. In the
context of God's revelation Scriptures play an especially important role. In the
first place they give out invaluable information concerning God's revelation in
history. Furthermore, they describe the exact nature of those revelations. The
Scriptures are therefore conceived as directly springing from God who bestows
upon them authority as well as infallibility.
It is thus plausible to assume that any atheistic religion which denies
the existence of God would therefore try to the best of its ability to undermine
the authority of Scriptures as well. And indeed Buddhist and Jainist
philosophies in India have both attacked the intelligibility of the concept of
God as well as the notion of s'abda - the World of Scriptures through which God
is revealed. It is, therefore, strange to find out a religion which is totally in
accord with the Buddhist religion in its refutation of
God's existence but which,--at the same time, revers the Scriptures
fullheartedly. This religion is represented by--the Mimamsa school of Hinduism.
In what follows I shall dwell upon some interesting points of that religion.
First, a few words concerning the historical background of Mimamsa. The Mimamsa
school is considered to be one of the most ancient of Hindu philosophical
schools. The oldest text of it known to us today is the mimamsa sutra which,
according to Indian tradition, was written by the somewhat mysterious Jaimini. It
was in all probability composed in the third or second centuries B.C. However,
there is room to suppose that the actual beginnings of the Mimamsa school can be
dated even earlier; the mimamsa sutra is thus a systematic summary of some
religious conceptions that existed in India up to the time of Ja'imini. Several
commentaries were written on the mimamsa sutra, and the most important one known
to us today is that of Sabara. According to most scholars this commentary was
written in the first or second centuries A.D., that is, about five hundred years
after Jaimini's lifetime.
As its name, 'Inquiry,' indicates, Mimamsa considers the interpretation of
Scriptures to be its primary function. The Scriptures are the only source for
knowing religious duties (dharma). They present religious duties within a set of
laws, injunctions and prohibitions, to which the believer must strictly adhere
to. Thus, the religious verses that can be found in the Scriptures have a single
objective: to instruct man in the permitted paths of action and to block off
those paths that are forbidden him. It follows that religious duty is not
dependent either on some abstract articles of faith or on the existence of some
mental state. In other words, religion obliges the believer only as a set of
commands, that is, only insofar as religion impinges on his actions. Religion is
not therefore intended to provide man with historical, cosmological,
psychological or moral precepts; it certainly does not claim to preach a
spiritual method of release by which man can attain the absolute Being. The sole
legitimate aim of religion is to oblige man to perform certain activities and to
refrain from others.
Dharma, then is expressed by the set of laws and injunctions which are presented
to the believer in the Scriptures. Obviously, the infallibility of these
Scriptures, is a necessary condition for accepting the religious imperatives as
authoritative and binding. In other words, in order that the religious commands
would be regarded as obligatory, the validity of Scriptures should be
acknowledged beyond any reasonable doubt. In fact, the validity of Scriptures is
accepted by the Mimamsa as axiomatic. Scriptures are authoritative, that is,
everlasting, unchangeable and infallible; they do not stem from any external
source, either divine or human.
- L. Wittgenstein, "Lectures on Religious Belief,"
in: Lecture and
Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, (ed. by C.
Barrett), Oxford, 1970.
2 For a summary of Buddhist attitude towards God, revelation and Scriptures see
K. N. Jayatilleke, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, London, 1963,
Chapter IV. See also K. N. Jayatilleke, The Message of the Buddha,
London, 1975, Chapter IV.
- in Religious atheism? Apostel, Pinxten, et al.