(1) In a recent thread on Leiterreports concerning the philosophical incompetence of Stanley Fish (someone on whom I've published (with Silcox) an article in The British Journal of Aesthetics). Blinn Combs made a really interesting point against my attempt to argue that the contents of religious beliefs (including second order beliefs about the nature and role of religious beliefs themselves) are not determined by a vote of people who claim to be believers, but rather in terms of deference to experts, which can be non-circularly specified (that is, specified without presupposing the truth of religious doctrine) in terms of knowledge of the various languages and relevant history. The point I'd been trying ot make is that most experts in this sense who profess religious belief are not fundamentalists/bigots and realize that there is no sense in which religious texts can be claimed to be inerrant. I don't think his response to my point works (I responded in the thread), but in making his argument Combs says something really interesting:
What's really interesting to me about this is that Combs' account of the role mysticism plays for intellectuals it is so similar to J.L. Austin's theory of the role sense data played among early analytic philosophers (in my wretched historical ignorance, for all I know, Hegel made the same critique) in Sense and Sensibilia. One realizes at some point during the Cartesian quest for certainty that there is not much to be had, so what one does is move inward, saying that we can't be certain about the fact that there is a table in front of us, but we can be certain that we are experiencing table sense data (again, for all I know, this is strongly analogous to Heidegger's critique of Husserlian "bracketing".).
However, once you render beliefs about something immune from all criticism in this way, you are taking the concepts about it out of the "space of reasons" and Wittgensteinian private language arguments show that your talk lacks content (the theoretical term for this from recent logic-oriented technical philosophy is "bullshit"). In the case of the thing Combs so accurately describes, "God" becomes Wittgenstein's notorious invisible, weightless beetle in the box that would disappear were the box to be opened.
(2) As becomes very clear in different ways from Lee Braver and Graham Priest's work, the Wittgensteinian critique of private languages, as well as the related Sellarsian critique of the "myth of the given," bear a very strong resemblance to the "affection problem" faced by transcendental idealism. The affection problem is the problem of being forced to say things about the noumenal realm (such as that it exists, or that it causes phenomena) in the statement of transcendental idealism that are strictly speaking prohibited from being sayable by transcendental idealism. Ironically (given the animosity of the latter for the former), Hegel and Schopenhauer had the most insightful things to say about what one might do when you honestly face this problem.
As Priest is aware, in the context of religious epistemology, the view that gets critiqued is negative theology, which treats God as the noumenon/content that we cannot talk about, but which nonetheless still talks about God.
But in thinking about these things, I realized that at least the cartoon version of Plantinga's new epistemology is simply the neo-Kantian reverse of intellectual's negative theology, instead of God being the unknowable noumena, he is somehow presupposed by the conceptual scheme that is organizing the phenomena of the believer. But the same thing is happening that Combs asserts with the intellectual mystic, being presupposed by the scheme is the way to protect religious belief from rational criticism. I don't know if this is Plantinga's actual view (I read the stuff fifteen years ago), but I have a distressing number of otherwise smart fundamentalist students who use Plantinga's views in this very way.
And I think one should respond to the Plantingian position with the Hegelian, Austininian, Wittgensteinian, Sellarsian point that the strategy is only successful to the extent that it robs the beliefs in question of meaningful content.
(3) The core error of post-modern negative theology and Plantinganianism (again, possibly to be distinguished from what Plantinga actually says) is accepting the hyper-Protestant idea that religious faith as a kind of belief (this ties to the Cartesian equation of knowledge with propositional certainty), as opposed to the activity of being faithful.
In no way is my love and devotion for my wife representable by a set of beliefs about her (nor by a set of statements listing my behaviors for that matter). Why should love for, and devotion to, incarnations such as Jesus, Krishna, or the Buddha or prophets like Muhammad be different?
Note that this is not Phillips style neo-Wittgensteinian, because I don't think that the cognitive content of religious beliefs is really spelled out in terms of such affective stances and behaviors. I don't want to "leave everything as it is." I'm very happy to put forward views that entail that most religious people, including Saint Paul, have lots of false first and second order religious beliefs.
(4) Psychologically, I find it harder to critique "first-order" religious beliefs for some reason. Maybe because one should sympathize with the fear (fear of being removed from one's community, fear of death, fear of being gay) that leads people to morally and metaphysically problematic first-order religious beliefs and practices. Maybe also because of the danger of becoming a condescending moral scold in a manner inconsistent with Christian love.
One of the stranger things that Saint Paul said (that Heidegger rightfully found philosophically interesting, perhaps in part because it involves informative circularity) is that one of the tests for being a Christian is the ability to recognize Antichrists as Antichrists. In this very respect Christopher Hitchens is a much better Christians than either the vast hoard of people who send money to the likes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Fallwell, or the minority of academics (for some reason over-represented in Philosophy Departments) who defend a version of Christianity that creates such monstrosities.
The point isn't that people who succumb to human lizards like Robertson are going to hell, but rather that while succumbing to the conservative "Christian" resentment that Nietzsche persuasively argues is absolutely foreign to Christ but all too typical of Christianity we remove ourselves from being in a state of grace.
Again, this is not a matter of belief (though failure results in false moral beliefs), but a matter of being faithful, being open to grace in the way taught by Jesus and the prophets, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or aetheist (everyone should read and learn from Hitchens' excellent God is not Great). Islam and some branches of Hinduism are interesting here; the five pillars of Islam mostly concern practical behavior, as does the practice of yoga. Ideally, these are to open the faithful's heart in a way that leads to grace and community with all. This has nothing to do with belief, but is really more akin to a technology of the self (see discussion of Sloterdijk's new book HERE).
Of course, all faith traditions have their Pat Robertsons! But I'm responsible to and for those in mine.