Does the Via Negative solve the problem of religious language?

Essay by 0xym0r0nCollege, UndergraduateA, September 2014

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'Does the Via Negativa solve the problem of religious language?' Assess this view.

When using human language in a religious context we come across many problems, including that of anthropomorphising God, and using words of our limited experience to attempt to define a Transcendent and ineffable being. Many scholars have assessed whether the Via Negativa has solved this issue, and whether or not it should be an attempt used by Christians, as we know, the Church has not adopted this policy, which may be due to the arguments of Aquinas and Hick, compared with the arguments of Pseudo-Dionysius and Maimonides.

Supporting this view is the idea of the Via Negativa allowing God to remain Transcendent. As we are only saying what God is not we do not limit him within our own human experiences, God can remain infinite and unshackled, this is seen in the views of Pseudo-Dionysius who believes in the ineffability of God and that we can never talk about God in a positive or literal way as the truth of God's existence and perfection is way beyond our subordinate human faculties.

However the flaw in this argument was highlighted by Hick who said how the Holy Scriptures claim to explain the nature of God and thus God would not be Transcendent, he would be Imminent in our lives and ever-present. This argument is visible in Churches everywhere, priests and clergy discuss the mercy, forgiveness, and love that is God as seen in the scriptures, yet according to Pseudo-Dionysius this would all be invalid, which would anger and upset many practising Christians. Thus Hick counters (rather successfully) this view and discredits the usefulness of the Via Negativa in relation to religious language.

Maimonides presents the view that the Via Negativa does indeed solve the problem. He uses an...