May 25, 2007
Taking its place among other influential movements in the eighteenth century was the Rationalist movement. The Rationalists, as their title suggests, placed all emphasis and importance on reason. Everything had to be justified by reason if it was to be at all valid. They held reason as supreme and despised authoritative pronouncements. Among their accomplishments are the notions of a Natural Religion, as opposed to the Positive ones (Catholicism, Protestantism, etc), and Deism. A Natural religion is, supposedly, completely compatible with your reason and, indeed, springs from it and it alone. A major influence on the rationalists was all of the religious wars of the previous century, against which they reacted. Out of all this rationality emerge such figures as Locke and Hume. It was Hume who awoke Kant out of his “dogmatic slumber” and opened his mind to the real (?) world. The enormously influential Kant developed the idea of the ‘phenomenon’ and the mysterious ‘noumenon’. The phenomenon are whatever we perceive through our senses and the noumenon are what the perceived things really are in themselves. What Kant did is establish a wide gulf between the two. Our reason is not able, said Kant, to make the jump from the phenomenon to the noumenon. If one accept this ‘phenomenon – noumenon’ gap, the question of whether theology is possible or not is one that soon comes to mind. How can you have a rational theology, or a rational metaphysics, while not knowing things as they really are? Kant attempted to bridge the chasm with his categorical imperative and his notion of the moral. Building from there, he arrived at Freedom, God, Immortality, etc. The theological intellectuals of the nineteenth century had different approaches to Kant’s difficulty and how to solve it.
Schleiermacher, who was profoundly influenced by Kant, bursts on to the scene in the wake of all this confusion with a definite mission in mind. He was going to rescue theology from the ill repute it has been labeled with by the intellectuals. In order to accomplish this, Schleiermacher first sets out to discover what religion is. He decides that it is a sense and taste for the infinite. Religion originates from a feeling, or intuition, (as opposed to a way of acting or thinking). “How then are you to name this third, which is the series of feeling? What life will it form? The religious as I think, and as you will not be able to deny, when you have considered it more closely.” Where Kant stopped with his moral consciousness, Schleiermacher continues with his religious consciousness. This feeling is one of infinite, and therefore divine, proportions. Put another way, this feeling is the properly ordered relation or balance, within a person, between the infinite (the Whole) and the finite (the self). From this feeling, or experience, comes our notion of the Divine, and of religion. Knowledge and action come after this. All dogmas and moral systems are not what religion is at all (this is what is being despised by the cultured people and so they are not really despising religion as they thought they were). They are merely the necessary by-products of religion and it is all important not to confuse the two . Universal revelation has no place in Schleiermacher’s theology. “I ask, therefore, that you turn from everything usually reckoned religion, and fix your regard on the inward emotions and dispositions, as all utterances and acts of inspired men direct.”
Another qualification that comes from holding this view of religion is that it absolutely cannot be taught. “Instruction in religion, meaning that piety itself is teachable, is absurd and unmeaning.” This feeling must just come about of its own accord in a person and probably would if it were not for a world which cultivates, and focuses so much on, the finite instead of the infinite. Schleiermacher’s idea of religion is extremely individualistic. “The usual conception of God as one single being outside of the world and behind the world is not the beginning and the end of religion. It is only one manner of expressing God, seldom entirely pure and always inadequate.” We find established religions because of similarities in people. Culture, traditions, geographical settings, and a myriad of other things all influence people in the joining together to form a church in order to similarly express their religious experiences and beliefs. Positive religions, therefore, are natural and good. People who are in the same positive religion simply are individuals who share a common focal point that expresses their religion. (Schleiermacher thinks that Christianity is the best of these expressions because of its concept of mediation between God and man; Christ and the Incarnation.)
Thus Schleiermacher tries to reconcile theology with post-Kantian thinkers by taking the self as the focal point and origin of religion and proceeding from there, not completely unlike Kant’s categorical imperative, but taking it a step further from the moral to the religious. By rooting what religion essentially is in the interior regions of the person (feeling, emotion, etc.), Schleiermacher can save theology from the shaky ground it was left to stand on by Kant. Although a product of the Rationalist movement, Schleiermacher rejects the idea of a Natural religion as against what religion really is. Schleiermacher was a true romantic and a pietist. His concepts of religion are based on feeling and emotion as opposed to pure reason. A human being, to the romantics, is not solely reason, but also emotion. Another characteristic of Romanticism is a concentration on the individual. Schleiermacher quite obviously falls under that description as well. At times in his argumentation it seems that you could say that there could be as many religions as there are individuals.