Hegel 1795 (Berne)
The Positivity of the Christian Religion

[PART II. Materials for a Continuation of Part I]

[§ 1. “Is Judaea, then, the Teutons’ Fatherland?”]

Every nation has its own imagery, its gods, angels, devils, or saints who live on in the nation’s traditions, whose stories and deeds the nurse tells to her charges and so wins them over by impressing their imagination. In this way these tales are given permanence. In addition to these creatures of the imagination, there also live in the memory of most nations, especially free nations, the ancient heroes of their country’s history, i.e., the founders or liberators of their states scarcely less than the men of valor in the days before the nation was united into a state under civil laws. These heroes do not live solely in their nation’s imagination; their history, the recollection of their deeds, is linked with public festivals, national games, with many of the state’s domestic institutions or foreign affairs, with well-known houses and districts, with public memorials and temples. Every nation which has its own religion and polity, or which has made wholly its own any part of the religion and culture it has acquired from other peoples, has had its own national imagery of this kind. consider, for example, the Egyptians, the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans. The ancient Germans too, the Gauls, the Scandinavians, had their Valhalla (the home of their gods) as well as their heroes who lived in their songs, whose deeds inspired them in battle or filled their souls with great resolves on festal occasions, and they had their sacred groves where these deities drew nearer to them.

Christianity has emptied Valhalla, felled the sacred groves, extirpated the national imagery as a shameful superstition, as a devilish poison, and given us instead the imagery of a nation whose climate, laws, culture, and interests are strange to us and whose history has no connection whatever with our own. A David or a Solomon lives in our popular imagination, but our country’s own heroes slumber in learned history books, and, for the scholars who write them, Alexander or Caesar is as interesting as the story of Charlemagne or Frederick Barbarossa. Except perhaps for Luther in the eyes of Protestants, what heroes could we have had, we who were never a nation? Who could be our Theseus, who founded a state and was its legislator? Where are our Harmodius and Aristogiton to whom we could sing scolia as the liberators of our land? The wars which have engulfed millions of Germans m-ere wars waged by princes out of ambition or for their own independence; the people were only tools, and even if they fought with rage and exasperation, they still could only ask at the end: “Why?” or “What have we gained?” The Reformation, and the bloody vindication of the right to make reforms in religion, is one of the few events in which a part of the nation took an interest, an interest which did not evaporate, like the interest in the Crusades, as the imagination cooled, but which was animated by a sense of an abiding right, the right in matters of religious opinion to follow one’s own self-rought or self-acquired conviction. But apart from the usual annual readings of the Augsburg Confession in some Protestant churches (readings usually wearisome to every hearer) and apart from the dull sermon which follows these, what is the festival which celebrates the memory of this event? It looks as If the authorities in church and state were content that the memory of how our forefathers had a sense of this right, how thousands could stake their lives to vindicate it, should slumber in our hearts and not be retained in any living fashion.

Anyone who did not know the history of the city, the culture, and the laws of Athens could almost have learned them from the festivals if he had lived a year within its gates.

Thus we are without any religious imagery which is home grown or linked with our history, and we are without any political imagery whatever; all that we have is the remains of an imagery of our own, lurking amid the common people under the name of superstition. As a belief in ghosts it retains the memory of a hill where knights once did their mischief or a house where monks and nuns walked or where a supposedly faithless trustee or neighbor has still failed to find rest in the grave. As a product of fancy, drawing nothing from history, it befools weak or evil men with the possibility of witchcraft. These are sad and indigent remains of an attempted independence and an attempted possession, and the general attitude to them is that it is the duty of all enlightened people to extirpate them altogether. As a result of this temper in the upper classes, quite apart from the coarseness and intractability of the available material, it has become totally impossible to ennoble these remnants of mythology and thereby refine the imagination and sensibility of the common people. The delightful jeux d’esprit of Hölty, Bürger, and Musäus in this department are altogether lost on the masses because they are too backward in the rest of their culture to be capable of enjoying them. Similarly, the imagery of our more educated classes has an entirely different orbit from that of the common people, and the latter do not understand in the least the characters and scenes of those authors and artists who cater for the former. On the other hand, the Athenian citizen whose poverty deprived him of the chance to vote in the public assembly, or who even had to sell himself as a slave, still knew as well as Pericles and Alcibiades who Agamemnon and Oedipus were when Sophocles or Euripides brought them on the stage as noble types of beautiful and sublime manhood or when Phidias or Apelles exhibited them as pure models of physical beauty.

Shakespeare delineated his characters so truly that, quite apart from the fact that many of them are familiar historical figures, they have been deeply impressed on the English people and have formed for them a group of imaginative pictures that are wholly their own. The result is that the people can understand and freely enjoy the Shakespeare gallery, i.e., that part of the Academy exhibitions in which the greatest masters compete.

In the sphere of imaginative ideas which would be common to both the educated and the vulgar among us, i.e., the story of our religion, there are certain obstacles to that poetic adaptation which might be a means of refining our people. Apart from anything else, there is the disadvantage, so far as the vulgar are concerned, that they cling too rigidly to the material in question as to a matter of faith, while so far as the educated are concerned, the trouble is that, however fine the poet’s treatment of the subject, the very names bring with them the idea of something Gothic or Old Frankish, and, because of the compulsion by which they have been proclaimed to our reason from our youth onward, they carry a sense of uneasiness running counter to that enjoyment of beauty which arises from the free play of our mental powers. Even if in some heads the imagination has made itself free and has come to asp’ re solely to the beautiful and good, still if we look closely at its ideals or its susceptibility to these we can see that they have been cut up for it out of the catechism.

As the taste for ancient literature spread, and with it the taste for fine art, the more educated part of our people adopted the Greek mythology into their imagination. Their susceptibility to it proves that its ideas were more self-subsistent, more independent of the

intellect, which otherwise could not have refrained from disturbing their free enjoyment. Others, trying to give the Germans an imagery of their own once more, an imagery that was home-grown, cried: “Is Achaea, then, the Teutons’ fatherland?” But this imagery is not that of Germans today. The project of restoring to a nation an imagery once lost was always doomed to failure; and on the whole it was bound to be even less fortunate than Julian’s attempt to inculcate the mythology of his forefathers into his contemporaries in its old strength and universality. The outcome of that attempt was to all appearance far more promising because at that date much of the old mythology was still left in men’s hearts and because the Emperor had plenty of means at his command for giving it pre-eminence. The old German imagery has nothing in our day to connect or adapt itself to; it stands as cut off from the whole circle of our ideas, opinions, and beliefs, and is as strange to us as the imagery of Ossian or of India. And what the poet cried to his people in relation to Greek mythology could be said both to him and his nation with just as much right in relation to the Jewish; they could be asked: Is Judaea, then, the Teutons’ fatherland?

In proportion as the imagination loves freedom, it requires that the religious imagery of a people shall be permanent, i.e., shall be less linked with specific dates than with certain familiar places. For the vulgar, familiarity with the place is generally one proof more, or the most certain proof, that the story told of it is true. This is why the mythology of the Greeks was a living reality in their hearts, and why the Catholics have such a strong faith in their saints and miracle workers. To the Catholics, the miracles worked in their own country are much more real and important than far greater ones worked elsewhere or even than those worked by Christ himself. Nearly every country has its patron saint who worked special miracles and receives exceptional honor there. Moreover, every nation believes, on the strength of the special notice devoted to it by its protecting deity, that it is pre-eminently distinguished and honored, and this precedence over other nations Increases its dependence on him, as is the case with the Jews. This is how an imaginative picture of this kind becomes domiciled in a nation’s heart.

What in our Holy Scriptures is properly history, like the greater part of the Old Testament, and is not something, like the New Testament, which it is strictly our duty to believe, is precisely what may become a content of the popular Imagination; but it is so alien to our customs, to our polity, to the culture attained by our mental and physical powers that -,s,e can hardly make contact with it at any point except at the occasional references to universal human nature which it contains. For anyone who begins to be enlightened, i.e., to demand universality for the laws of his intellect and his experience, and this means for people whose numbers are continually increasing, it is in the main unpalatable, and it is useful for only two types of reader: the first consists of those who with saintly simplicity take the whole thing for gospel in the sense of being convinced that the recorded events would have been open to everyone’s experience; the second never stumbles on this question about truth or falsehood for the intellect, but thinks only on the subjective aspect of this material, on its truth for the imagination. (See Herder’s works, for example.)

The Greeks had their religious sagas almost exclusively for the purpose of having gods to whom they could devote their gratitude, build altars, and offer sacrifices. Our sacred history, on the other hand, is supposed to have many uses; we are supposed to learn and derive from it all sorts of moral truths. But a sound moral judgment which approaches it on purpose to learn from it is often compelled first to read the morality into most of the stories before it can find morality in them, and in many instances it encounters difficulty in squaring them with its principles. The chief utility of these stories to a pious man, and the chief effect of them he can detect in himself, is edification, i.e., the awakening of obscure feelings of saintliness (because he is now occupied with ideas about God). The confusedness of these feelings gives up any claim to a gain in moral insight, though generally it brings with it an intensification of the so-called holy passions such as a misconceived holy zeal for God’s glory, a pious pride and conceit, and a lethargical submission to God.

[§ 2. How Christianity Conquered Paganism]

One of the pleasantest feelings enjoyed by Christians arises from comparing their good fortune and knowledge with the misfortune and darkness of the heathen, and one of the commonplaces the spiritual shepherds are most fond of using to lead their sheep to the pastures of self-satisfaction and proud humility is to put this good fortune vividly before their eyes, a process in which the blind heathen generally come off very badly. Special commiseration is given to them on the score of their comfortless religion, since it does not promise forgiveness of sins and, in particular, leaves them without faith In a Providence governing their destinies to wise and beneficent ends. But we can soon be aware that our sympathy is superfluous, since in the Greeks we do not encounter the needs which our practical reason has today when we have learned how to saddle it with plenty of them.

The supplanting of paganism by Christianity is one of those remarkable revolutions whose causes the thoughtful historian must labor to discover. Great revolutions which strike the eye at a glance must have been preceded by a still and secret revolution in the spirit of the age, a revolution not visible to every eye, especially imperceptible to contemporaries, and as hard to discern as to describe in words. It is lack of acquaintance with this spiritual revolution which makes the resulting changes astonishing. The supersession of a native and immemorial religion by a foreign one is a revolution which occurs in the spiritual realm itself, and it is thus of a kind whose causes must be found all the more directly in the spirit of the times.

How could a religion have been supplanted after it had been established in states for centuries and intimately connected -with their constitutions? What can have caused the cessation of a belief in gods to whom cities and empires ascribed their origin, to whom the people made daily offerings, whose blessings were invoked on every enterprise, under whose banners alone the armies had conquered, who had been thanked for victories, who received joyful songs and earnest prayers, whose temples and altars, wealth and statues, were the pride of the people and the glory of the arts, and whose worship and festivals were but occasions for universal joy? How could the faith in the gods have been reft from the web of human life with which it had been interwoven by a thousand threads? A habit of body can be opposed by other physical capacities operating together with the will; the habitual exercise of one psychical capacity (fixity of will excepted) can be opposed by other psychical capacities. But how strong must the counterweight have been to overcome the power of a psychical habit which was not isolated, as our religion frequently is today, but was intertwined in every direction with all men’s capacities and most intimately interwoven even with the most spontaneously active of them?

“Acquaintance with Christianity had the negative effect of drawing people’s attention to the poverty and comfortlessness of their religion, of giving their minds an insight into the foolish and ridiculous elements in their fabulous mythology and making them dissatisfied with it. The positive effect was their adoption of Christianity, the religion which was so well adapted to all the needs of the human mind and heart, which answered so satisfactorily all the questions of human reason, and which into the bargain had its divine origin authenticated by miracles.” This is the usual answer to the questions in the last paragraph. The expressions used by those who give this answer: “intellectual enlightenment,” “fresh insight,” etc., are so familiar to us that we think great things of them and suppose that they have explained everything. We make so light of this intellectual operation and look on its effects as so natural simply because it is so very easy for us to make any child understand how silly is the belief that up in heaven a troop of gods, like those the heathen believed in, walk about, cat, drink, indulge in horseplay, and do other things that any decent person would be ashamed to do on earth.

But anyone who has made the simple observation that the heathen too had intellects, and that in everything great, beautiful, noble, and free they are so far our superiors that we can hardly make them our examples but must rather look up to them as a different species at whose achievements we can only marvel; anyone who knows that religion, particularly an Imaginative religion, cannot be torn from the heart, especially from the whole life and heart of a people, by cold syllogisms constructed in the study. anyone who knows that in the expansion of Christianity use was made of anything and everything rather than reason and intellect, anyone who, before explaining the vogue of Christianity by miracles, knows to raise the prior question: What must have been the character of the age which made possible the occurrence of miracles at that time, especially those miracles which [sacred] history records?; anyone who knows all this will find unsatisfactory the usual answers to the question about the supersession of paganism.

Free Rome subjected to her sway a number of states which had lost their freedom, some (those in Asia) earlier, others (those further west) later; a few which had remained free she destroyed altogether, because they refused to bow to the yoke. All that was left to the conqueror of the world was the honor of being the last to lose her freedom. Greek and Roman religion was a religion for free peoples only, and, with the loss of freedom, its significance and strength, its fitness to men’s needs, were also bound to perish. What can divisions of artillery do if they have no ammunition left? They must seek other weapons. What is the use of a net to a fisherman if the stream has run dry?

As free men the Greeks and Romans obeyed laws laid down by themselves, obeyed men whom they had themselves appointed to office, waged wars on which they had themselves decided, gave him their property, exhausted their passions, and sacrificed their lives by thousands for an end which was their own. They neither learned nor taught [a moral system] but evinced by their actions the moral maxims which they could call their very own. In public as in private and domestic life, every individual was a free man, one who lived by his own laws. The idea (Idee) of his country or of his state was the invisible and higher reality for which he strove, which impelled him to effort; it was the final end of his world or in his eyes the final end of the world, an end which he found manifested in the realities of his daily life or which he himself co-operated in manifesting and maintaining. Confronted by this idea, his own individuality vanished; it was only this idea’s maintenance, life, and persistence that he asked for, and these were things which he himself could make realities. It could never or hardly ever have struck him to ask or beg for persistence or eternal life for his own individuality. Only in moments of inactivity or lethargy could he feel the growing strength of a purely self-regarding wish. Cato turned to Plato’s Phaedo only when his world, his republic, hitherto the highest order of things in his eyes, had been destroyed; at that point only did he take flight to a higher order still.

The Greek and Roman gods held sway in the realm of nature and over everything which could bring grief or happiness to men. Strong passions were their work, just as it was they who bestowed great gifts of wisdom, eloquence, and counsel. They were asked to advise whether an undertaking would turn out well or ill; they were implored for their blessings and thanked for gifts of every kind. If a man clashed with these lords of nature and their power, he could set over against them his freedom and his own self. His will was free and obeyed its own laws; he knew no divine commands, or, if he called the moral law a divine command, the command was nowhere given in words but ruled him invisibly (Antigone). This implied that he recognized everyone’s right to have a will of his own, be it good or bad. Good men acknowledged in their own case the duty of being good, yet at the same time they respected other people’s freedom not to be so. thus they did not set up and impose on others any moral system, whether one that was divine or one manufactured or abstracted [from experience] by themselves.

Fortunate campaigns, increase of wealth, and acquaintance with luxury and more and more of life’s comforts created in Athens and Rome an aristocracy of wealth and military glory. The aristocrats then acquired a dominion and an influence over the masses and corrupted them by their deeds and still more by the use they made of their riches. The masses then readily and willingly ceded power and preponderance in the state to the aristocrats, conscious as they were that they had given them their power and could take it away again at the first fit of bad temper. But gradually the masses ceased to deserve a reproof so often brought against them on the score of their ingratitude to their leaders; when they could choose between [subjection] and this wrong [of ingratitude], they ceased to prefer the latter and [were now ready] to curse in an individual those virtues which had saved their country from ruin.” Soon the preponderance freely granted to the rulers was upheld by force, and the fact that this could happen already presupposes the loss of that type of feeling and consciousness which, under the name of “virtue, “ Montesquieu” makes the principle of a republican regime and which is readiness to sacrifice one’s life for an ideal (Idee), an ideal realized for republicans in their country.

The picture of the state as a product of his own energies disappeared from the citizen’s soul. The care and oversight of the whole rested on the soul of one man or a few. Each individual had his own allotted place, a place more or less restricted and different from his neighbor’s. The administration of the state machine was intrusted to a small number of citizens, and these served only as single cogs deriving their worth solely from their connection with others. Each man’s allotted part in the congeries which formed the whole was so inconsiderable in relation to the whole that the individual did not need to realize this relation or to keep it in view. Usefulness to the state was the great end which the state set before its subjects, and the end they set before themselves in their political life was gain, self-maintenance, and perhaps vanity. All activity and every purpose now had a bearing on something individual; activity was no longer for the sake of a whole or an ideal. Either everyone worked for himself or else he was compelled to work for some other individual. Freedom to obey self-given laws, to follow self-chosen leaders in peacetime and self-chosen generals in war, to carry out plans In whose formulation one had had one’s share-all this vanished. All political freedom vanished also, the citizen’s right gave him only a right to the security of that property which now filled his entire world. Death, the phenomenon which demolished the whole structure of his purposes and the activity of his entire life, must have become something terrifying, since nothing survived him. But the republican’s whole soul was in the republic; the republic survived him, and there hovered before his mind the thought of its immortality.

But since all his aims and all his activities were directed on something individual, since he no longer found as their object any universal ideal for which he might live or die, he also found no refuge in his gods. They too were individual and incomplete beings and could not satisfy the demands of a universal ideal. Greeks and Romans were satisfied with gods so poorly equipped, with gods possessed of human weaknesses, only because they had the eternal and the self-subsistent within their own hearts. They could tolerate the mockery of their gods on the stage because to mock them could never be to mock holiness. A slave in Plautus dared to say: si summus Jupiter hoc facit, ego homuncio idem non facerem?- an inference that his audience must have found singular and droll because they were quite unfamiliar with the principle of finding in the god what man’s duty was; a Christian, on the other hand, would have been bound to find the slave’s reasoning correct. In this situation, faith in something stable or absolute was impossible, obedience to another’s will and another’s legislation was habitual. Without a country of his own, the citizen lived in a polity with which no joy could be associated, and all he felt was its pressure. He had a worship to whose celebration and festivals he could no longer bring a cheerful heart, because cheerfulness had flown away out of his life. A slave, besides being often more than a match for his lord in natural capacity and education, could no longer descry in him the freedom and independence in which his superiority might otherwise have consisted. In this situation men were offered a religion which either was already adapted to the needs of the age (since it had arisen in a people characterized by a similar degeneracy and a similar though differently colored emptiness and deficiency) or else was one out of which men could form what their needs demanded and what they could then adhere to.

Reason could never give up finding practical principles, the absolute and self-subsistent reality, somewhere or other; but these were no longer to be met with in man’s will. They now showed themselves in the deity proffered by the Christian religion, a deity beyond the reach of our powers and our will but not of our supplications and prayers. Thus the realization of a moral ideal could now no longer be willed but only wished for, since what we wish for we cannot achieve of ourselves but expect to acquire without our cooperation. The first disseminators of the Christian religion hoped for a revolution to be brought about by these means, i.e., to be accomplished by a Divine Being while men looked on passively. When this hope finally evaporated, men were content to await this universal revolution at the end of the world. Once the realization of an ideal was placed beyond the boundaries of human powers, and once men felt themselves incapable of achieving much more, it did not matter how boundlessly enlarged the object of their hopes became, this made that object capable of incorporating everything with which an enthusiastic oriental imagination could adorn it, and what was thus incorporated was not a fantasy but something expected to be actual.

Similarly, so long as the Jewish state found spirit and strength enough in itself for the maintenance of its independence, the Jews seldom, or, as many hold, never, had recourse to the expectation of a Messiah. Not until they were subjugated by foreign nations, not until they had a sense of their impotence and weakness, do we find them burrowing in their sacred books for a consolation of that kind. Then when they were offered a Messiah who did not fulfil their political expectations, they thought it worth toiling insure that their state should still remain a state;* they very soon discarded their ineffective messianic hopes and took up arms. After doing everything the most enthusiastic courage could achieve, they endured the most appalling of human calamities and were buried with their polity under the ruins of their city. In history and the judgment of nations they would stand alongside the Carthaginians and Saguntines, and above the Greeks and Romans, whose cities outlived their politics, if the sense of what a nation may do for its independence were not too foreign to us, and if we had not the Impertinence to order a nation not to manage its affairs in its own way but to follow our opinions and live and die for them, though we do not lift a finger to uphold them ourselves. The scattered remnant of the Jews have not abandoned the idea of the Jewish state, but they have reverted not to the banners of their own courage but only to the standards of an ineffective messianic hope.

The adherents of paganism also sensed this lack of ideals for conduct; Lucian and Longinus sensed that there should be such ideals in human affairs, and their sad experience in this matter was poured out in bitter lamentations. Others again, like Porphyry and Iamblichus, attempted to equip their gods with the wealth which human beings no longer possessed and then to conjure some of it back in the form of a gift. Apart from some earlier attempts, it has been reserved in the main for our epoch to vindicate at least in theory the human ownership of the treasures formerly squandered on heaven; but what age will have the strength to validate this right in practice and make itself its possessor?

Men thus corrupt, men who must have despised themselves from the moral point of view, even though in other respects they prided themselves on being God’s favorites, were bound to create the doctrine of the corruption of human nature and adopt it gladly. For one thing, it corresponded with experience; for another, it satisfied their pride by exculpating them and giving them in the very sense of calamity a reason for pride; it brought disgrace into honor, since it sanctified and perpetuated every incapacity by turning into a sin any possible belief in human potentialities. The scope of the dominion exercised by the pagan gods, who hitherto had haunted nature only, was extended, like that of the Christian God, over the free world of mind. The right of legislation was ceded to God exclusively, but, not content with this, men looked to him for every good impulse, every better purpose and decision. These were regarded as his work, not in the sense in which the Stoics ascribed every good thing to the deity because they thought of their souls as sparks of the divine or as generated by God, but as the work of a being outside us in whom we have no part, a being foreign to us with whom we have nothing in common. Again, even our ability to submit passively to God’s operation was supposed to be weakened by the unceasing machinations and cunning of an evil spirit who made constant inroads into the other’s domain in the realms of both nature and mind. While the Manichacans seemed to allow the evil principle an undivided dominion in the realm of nature, orthodox theology took this doctrine as a dishonor to God’s majesty and vindicated God’s mastery of most of nature, though at the same time it compensated the evil principle for this loss by allowing it some power in the realm of freedom.

With an upright heart and a well-meaning zeal the helpless human race fled to the altar where it found and worshiped what was self-subsistent and moral. But as Christianity penetrated into the upper and more corrupt classes, as great differences arose within its own organization between the distinguished and the inferior, as despotism poisoned more and more of the sources of life and reality, the age revealed its hopeless triviality in the turn taken by its conceptions of God’s divinity and its disputes about these. And it displayed its indigence all the more nakedly by surrounding it with a nimbus of sanctity and lauding it to the skies as the supreme honor of mankind.

The ideal of perfection was the sole abiding-place left to the holy, but morality now disappeared from this ideal, or at any rate it was cast into oblivion. The sight of morality, the true divinity, would have reflected a warming ray into men’s hearts, but instead, of this the mirror now revealed nothing save the picture of its own” age, the picture of nature fashioned to a purpose bestowed on it at discretion by human pride and passion; I say “nature” because every interest of knowledge and faith was now concentrated on the’ metaphysical or transcendental side of the idea of God .40 We see humanity less occupied with dynamical categories, which theoretical reason is capable of stretching to cover the infinite, than with applying to its infinite object numerical categories, reflective categories like difference, etc., and mere ideas drawn from sense-perception, such as origin, creation, and engendering, and with deriving the characteristics of that object from events in its nature. These definitions and subtleties, unlike those in other sciences, were not confined to the theologians’ study, their public was the whole of Christendom. All classes, all ages, both sexes, took an equal share in them, and differences of opinion about them roused the most deadly hatred, the bloodiest persecutions, and often a complete disruption of all moral ties and the most sacred relationships. Such a perversion of nature could only entail a most frightful revenge.

The purpose which the Christians ascribed to this Infinite Being was poles apart from the world’s moral goal and purpose, it was whittled down not simply to the propagation of Christianity but to ends adopted by a single sect or by individuals, particularly priests, and suggested by the ‘Individual’s passions, by vainglory, pride, ambition, envy, hatred, and the like. At this early date, however, there was still no question of that keystone of our eudaemonism, its picturesque and comforting theory of Providence. The situation of the Christians was for the most part too unhappy for them to expect much happiness on earth, and the general conception of a church lay too deep in their souls for any individual to expect or demand much for himself. And yet their demands were all the stronger as soon as they linked their interest with the church’s. They despised the mundane joys and earthly blessings they had to forgo and found ample compensation in heaven. The idea of the church took the place of a motherland and a free polity, and the difference between these two was that, in the idea of the church, freedom could have no place, and, while the state was complete on earth, the church was most intimately connected with heaven. Heaven stood so close to the cycle of Christian feelings that the renunciation of all joys and goods could seem no sacrifice at all, and only to those spectators of martyrdom who did not know this sense of heaven’s nearness was it bound to appear extraordinary.

Thus the despot’ sm of the Roman emperors had chased the human spirit from the earth and spread a misery which compelled men to seek and expect happiness in heaven; robbed of freedom, their spirit, their eternal and absolute element, was forced to take flight to the deity. [The doctrine of] God’s objectivity is a counterpart to the corruption and slavery of man, and it is strictly only a revelation, only a manifestation of the spirit of th e age. This spirit was revealed by its conception of God as objective when men began to know such a surprising amount about God, when so many secrets about his nature, comprised in so many formulas, were no longer secrets whispered from ear to ear but were proclaimed on the housetops and known to children by heart. The spirit of the age was revealed in its objective conception of God when he was no longer regarded as like ourselves, though infinitely greater, but was put into another world in whose confines we had no part, to which we contributed nothing by our activity, but into which, at best, we could beg or conjure our way. It was revealed again when man himself became a non-ego and his God another non-ego. Its clearest revelation was in the mass of miracles which it engendered and which took the place of the individual’s reason when decisions were made and convictions adopted. But its most dreadful revelation was when on this God’s behalf men fought, murdered, defamed, burned at the stake, stole, lied, and betrayed. In a period like this, God must have ceased altogether to be something subjective and have entirely become an object, and the perversion of the maxims of morality is then easily and logically justified in theory.

Christians know through God’s self-revelation that he is the supreme Lord, Lord of heaven and the whole earth, of nature, both organic and inorganic, Lord too of the world of mind and spirit. To refuse this king the veneration which he has himself ordained is inevitably an ingratitude and a crime. This is the system of all the churches, differences about who is to judge and punish this crime are only secondary. One church administers this judicial office itself. The other condemns in accordance with the system but does not lift a finger to execute judgment on earth. It is assured that God himself will execute it, and the zeal to help him by warnings, by various petty bribes, or by an oppression that only stops short of death, seems to be gradually cooling off. sympathy, or a sense of impotence, is taking the place of hatred, and this is preferable even if its basis be a pride self-persuaded that it possesses the truth. A free man could share neither the zeal nor the sympathy; as a free man, living among others equally free, he would grant no one a right to try to change and improve him or to interfere with his moral principles, nor would he presume to dispute the right of others to be what they are and what they wish, whether good or bad. Piety and sin are two concepts which in our sense of the words the Greeks lacked; for us the former is a disposition which acts from respect for God as lawgiver, and the latter is an action in contravention of a divine command. “A gion and anagion, pietas and impietas, express holy human feelings together with the dispositions and actions which correspond or are at variance with these. They were also called divine commands by the ancients, but the commands were not regarded as positive or authoritarian. If anyone had been able to hit upon the question, “How would you prove the divine origin of a command or a prohibition"? he could not have called on any historical fact for his answer, but only on the feelings of his own heart and the agreement of all good men.

[§ 3. How a Disinclination for Military Service helped the Success of Christianity]

With the total extinction of political freedom, all interest in the state has disappeared, because we take an interest in a thing only if we can be active on its behalf. In such a position, when the purpose of life is whittled down to gaining one’s daily bread plus a greater or lesser degree of comfort and luxury, and when interest in the state becomes a wholly self-seeking one because it is confined to the hope that its persistence will guard the achievement of our aims or else achieve them for us, then among the traits discernible in the spirit of the time there is necessarily present a disinclination for military service, because this service is the opposite of the universal wish for quiet and uniform enjoyment. It brings with it hardships and even death, the loss of the chance to enjoy anything. A man whose indolence or debauchery or ennui has left him only soldiering as a last resort if he is to earn his living and gratify his

passions, will be nothing but a coward in face of the enemy. Among the Romans we find large numbers of men who, in a situation of oppression and political inactivity, escaped military service by flight, bribery, or self-mutilation. A nation in this mood must have welcomed a religion which branded the dominant spirit of the age, i.e., moral impotence and the dishonor of being trampled underfoot, with the name of “passive obedience” and then made it an honor and the supreme virtue. This operation gave men a pleasant surprise because it transformed the contempt felt by others and their own sense of disgrace into a glory and a pride. They must have welcomed a religion which preached that to shed human blood was a sin. For this reason we now see St. Ambrose or St. Antony with their numerous flock not hastening to man the walls in defense of their city against an approaching horde of barbarians but kneeling in the churches and on the streets and imploring God to avert their terrifying misfortune. And indeed how could they have willed to die in battle? The preservation of the city could only have been important to them as a means to the preservation of their property and its enjoyment. Therefore, to have exposed themselves to the danger of death would have been to do something ridiculous, since the means, death, would have forthwith annulled the end, property and enjoyment. The sense that in defending one’s property one was dying to uphold not so much this property itself as the right to it (for to die in defense of a right is to uphold it) was foreign to an oppressed nation which was satisfied to hold its property only by grace.

[§ 4. Miracles]

There is a close connection between the need for an objective and given religion and the possibility of a belief in miracles. An event whose condition is supposed to have been its condition only on one single occasion, or a reported observation which can~ not possibly be lifted into the sphere of our experience, is absolutely unthinkable by the understanding, and decisions In matters of experience are made in a court where the understanding is the sole judge. It cannot refrain from thinking of the event’s conditions as exhaustive, even If the report of it makes no reference to data of that sort, and it thus must abstain from thinking of special and unique conditions. If proof be offered that a condition which it now envisages did not in fact condition the event In question, then It looks for others, if the improbability of every condition which ingenuity can excogitate is shown, it does not give up its claim that even if this or that condition were absent, there still must have been conditions completely determinant of the event. If it now be supposed that its fruitless quest for such conditions may be satisfied by the explanation that there is a higher Being who caused the event, then the understanding is dumb and speechless because this explanation was advanced by someone who had turned his back on it and had not addressed it.

But the imagination is readily satisfied on these lines, and to proffer this explanation is to cast one’s self onto its field. The understanding makes no objection to this and almost laughs at it, but it has no interest in depriving imagination of its playthings, since nothing further is asked of it in connection with them. It even lowers itself to relinquish or lend its general concept of causality for use by the imagination, but it is not the understanding which operates if that concept is applied in this way. The reporter of the miracle, however, is not content with the understanding’s negative attitude here; he now clamors and yells about godlessness, blasphemy, and knavery. The unbeliever remains unmoved; he sees no connection between upholding the rights of his understanding, on the one hand, and immorality and irreligion, on the other.

Now, however, the scene changes. Defenders of miracles turn to reason and hold up to it the great moral ends served by these miracles, the improvement and beatification of the human race. They turn to. the sense of reason’s impotence and kindle the flames of imagination. Reason, now helpless, can offer no resistance to these terrors and this predominance [of imagination], and in its dread it adopts the laws given to it and silences the understanding’s protest. It is with this mood that the belief in miracles stands or falls. To raise questions against miracles on the understanding’s ground is always futile, the outcome has always shown that nothing is achieved along those lines. Decisions In favor of miracles or against them have always depended on the interests of reason.


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