There are many different views on how people speak of God. Some agnostic thinkers believe that God is something we can neither no or speak of and any attempt to do this is meaningless. Theists, however, have always tried to communicate their understanding of God through language, for example, Islam has 99 different names for Allah whose description includes ‘The Gracious’, ‘The Merciful’ etc. Jews describe God as the ‘creator’, ‘the king of the universe’ etc. Every religion uses language to express and understand supernatural ideas and many philosophers have come up with different concepts in an attempt to understand religious language; this includes analogies, symbols, myths, via-negativa and language games etc. this essay will describe how the various different concepts can be used to understand religious language.
Aquinas claims that one way in which religious can be understood is through analogies. He starts with why using univocal language (language that means the same thing even in different situations e.g. black) and equivocal language (language meaning different things in different situations e.g. Gay) are inadequate in explaining God. One of the reasons you cannot use univocal language is because God is too different from us; if we use a univocal concept like good we know that God is infinitely good whereas humans are finitely good. Aquinas claims that creatures can have the same characteristics as God but it will never be in the same way that God has them. The reason you cannot use equivocal language to understand religious language is because if one word has many different meanings and we apply these words to God we are not describing God at all. Aquinas decided that the only way to understand religious language is to use analogies as they show that although God is not exactly the same as humans there is a link for example there is a link between what we believe is good and how God is good. He came up with 2 different types of analogy: the analogy of attribution and the analogy of proportionality. The analogy of attribution is when there is a causal relationship between 2 things being described for example a seaside town may be called healthy because it causes the people who live there to be healthy (all that ‘fresh’ air). When we talk about God being good by analogy of attribution it means that God is the cause of all good things. Aquinas claimed that words can relate to objects which are different in proportion e.g. we can talk about ‘love’ and 'faith’ when we speak of God but we need to realise that they are on an infinitely vaster scale than our own. This is when he derived the analogy of proportionality. This can actually be seen in the Bible when Moses only saw the back of God’s head because His beauty is too much to comprehend.
An alternative way which religious language can be understood is by using myths, it shows how positive truth claims about God can be made and it’s usually in the form of stories. The definition of myths is unclear sometimes it means something that is not true but in theological terms it is used to describe stories, it can contain important truths by using metaphors. Myths can carry difficulties when the writer does not distinguish if it is meant to be interpreted literally or metaphorically. Creation stories are interpreted literally by some and metaphorically by others. Interpreting them metaphorically can be an issue because mythological imagery can be culturally determined. The reason that it is good to use in regards to understanding religious language is because it gives people a way of understanding abstract ideas and remembering them. Non-literalists can see the creation story in Genesis as a myth that portrays God’s power. Bultman who was a demythologised believed that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a spiritual matter and if it was to be taken literally the real meaning was in danger of being