, Volume 16, Issue 1-2, pp 225-240

Reflections on Israel Scheffler's Philosophy of Religion

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Abstract

The burden of this piece is to draw together into a coherent whole the somewhat diverse strands of Israel Scheffler's thought on the philosophy of religion. Extrapolating from personal discussions with Professor Scheffler, various of his books, articles, and other unpublished materials authored and kindly provided by him, I contend that he adumbrates a post-empiricist rendering of religious belief which masterfully avoids some philosophical problems, while unwittingly giving rise to others. Committed to the view that the methodology of science – in one or other of its more acceptable guises – provides the most reliable measure of the content and structure of reality. Scheffler is bound conceptually to redefine Jewish belief in such a way that the traditional conflict between religion and science never emerges. Consistent with this end, he is concerned to divest traditional Judaism of its metaphysical garb, so that what remains are simply the matters of living to which religion ought properly on his view address itself. The Bible is thus reconceptualized as a piece of rich literature, of no real difference in logical kind to any other piece of rich literature, except that it defines uniquely, along with the Torah and other relevant Jewish literature, the history of the particular community whose perception of human values and meaningfulness forms the core of what it is to be Jewish.

While I have no quibble whatsoever with Scheffler that the Bible and other religious teachings provides a profound reservoir for cognitive insight into the matters of quality living and appropriate social interaction, I argue that the divorce of religious values from the metaphysics of religion is in the end misguided. My problem with Scheffler's philosophy of religion is not so much with what he has found to be central to religion, as what he has failed to find in religion. By jettisoning its metaphysical basis, he has jettisoned what is inevitably fundamental to Judaism – namely, a resolute belief in God. This being so, an atheist could more readily adopt Scheffler's version of Judaism than could the theist – an outocme which should be problematic for both the theist and the atheist.