Wittgenstein, Religious “Passion,” and Fundamentalism


  • Bob Plant

Dr. Bob Plant, Department of Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland UK, AB24 3UB, 01224 272798, r.plant@abdn.ac.uk.


Notwithstanding his own spiritual inadequacies, Wittgenstein has a profound respect for those capable of living a genuinely religious life; namely, those whose “passionate,” “loving” faith demands unconditional existential commitment. In contrast, he disapproves of those who see religious belief as hypothetical, reasonable, or dependent on empirical evidence. Drawing primarily on Culture and Value, “Lectures on Religious Belief,” and On Certainty, in this essay I defend two claims: (1) that there is an unresolved tension between Wittgenstein's later descriptive-therapeutic approach and the implicit normativity of his conception of genuine/passionate religious belief; and (2) that the demarcation between the latter and its pseudo-religious counterpart is itself problematic. To illustrate these claims I argue that apocalyptic Christian fundamentalism presents a significant challenge to Wittgenstein's taxonomy. Despite these shortcomings, however, I conclude by suggesting that his characterization of religious belief as a “passion” or “love” remains valuable.