Family resemblances, language games, Wittgenstein, and debates on religion

Balagangadhara points out inconsistent reasoning of  the western and westernized Scholars, as well as the last 400 years of humanities scholarship.

“Let me summarise the dilemma. Some properties are necessary for some traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) to be religions. If one accepts this, the threat is that other cultures appear not to have religions at all. For some reason or another (I discuss the reasons in chapters 3 through 7), other cultures are said to have religions too. However, the conditions under which other cultures are to have religion are precisely those that make it impossible for the Semitic religions to be religions. That is to say, if the Semitic religions are what religions are, other cultures do not have religions. If other cultures have religions, then the Semitic religions are not religions. The inconsistency lies in insisting that both statements are true.”

To rebut the above, many scholars have appealed to Wittgenstein’s language game: the word ‘religion’ is like a game. Can we find a constituent property of games: what makes baseball, football, cricket, tennis, etc, a game? No satisfactory answer can be given to this question. In the same way, demanding an answer to “what makes some phenomenon religion” makes the question junk. Is it really a junk question?

“One could appeal to our linguistic practices, inspired by the pronouncements of Wittgenstein. A term like ‘religion,’ one might wish to say, is akin to a term like ‘game.’ We do not know what is common to games like chess, football, solitaire and the Olympics (except that there is ‘family resemblance’), but our linguistic community teaches us the use of such and similar words. The inconsistency arises because we have assumed that all religions share some properties. If we give up this assumption, but instead ‘look’ at all these diverse religions, we see that they do not have common properties but share, instead, a family resemblance. Therefore, the alleged inconsistency vanishes. Would this answer help us?

Perhaps it could, if it were an answer. However, it is not; it merely unravels a nest of problems. Linguistic practices of our communities, which teach us the use of words, have a cultural history. This history is the history of a community that has learnt to speak this way and not that way. For the West, this cultural history happens to be the history of Christianity. Therefore, our question becomes this: why are the people influenced by this cultural history convinced that other cultures have religion too? To say that this is a “language game” and, consequently, to say this ‘why?’ question is inappropriate, is to miss a crucial point: religio comes from Latin, used by the Romans first, but appropriated later by Christianity. This point raises two historical questions: what was the nature of the Roman religio? How was this ‘language game’ appropriated (and modified) by Christians and others?”

Balagangadhara’s “The heathen in his blindess: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion.” demonstrates that Wittgenstein’s answer wouldn’t help. In fact, studying the western culture answers the question: why the West has been compelled to see religions everywhere?