Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion

B. Preliminary Questions.

Before we can proceed to the treatment of our subject itself, it appears to be indispensable to solve several preliminary questions, or rather to institute an investigation into these with the view of showing that the possibility of any such treatment of the subject, and of a rational knowledge of religion, is made dependent on the result of this investigation. It appears to be absolutely necessary to examine and to answer these questions, for this reason, that they have very specially engaged the interest of thinking men in our day, both in a philosophical and in a popular connection, and because they have to do with the principles upon which prevalent opinions regarding the religious content, or substantial element of religion, as also regarding the knowledge of it, are based.

If we omit such examination, it will at least be necessary to prove that this omission is not accidental, and that we possess the right to do this, since the essential element of any such examination is included in the science of philosophy itself, and all those questions can only find their solution there.

Here, therefore, we have only to look the hindrances in the face which the culture and opinion of the time, as hitherto considered, put in the way of our exercising the right to get an intellectual grasp of religion.

1. In the first place, it is not religion in general that we have before us, but positive religion, regarding which it is acknowledged that it is the gift of God, which rests on higher than human authority, and therefore appears to be outside the sphere of human reason, and to be elevated above it. The first hindrance in this connection is, that we should be called upon, before proceeding further, to verify the competence and capability of reason to deal with the truth and doctrine of a religion which is supposed to be withdrawn from the sphere of human reason. Rational or philosophical knowledge comes, however, and must of necessity come, into relation with positive religion. It has been said indeed, and is said still, that positive religion is “for itself,” or stands on its own basis. We do not question its doctrines; we respect them, and hold them in honour; on the other side stands reason, thought, which seeks to grasp its object intellectually, and these two are supposed not to come into relation; reason is not to interfere with these doctrines. Formerly, it was imagined that the freedom of philosophical investigation could be guarded in this way. It was then said, that it was a thing by itself, which was not to do any harm to positive religion, and its result, moreover, also was subordinated to the teaching of positive religion. We do not wish, however, to place the present investigation on this footing. It is a false idea that these two, faith and free philosophical investigation, can subsist quietly side by side. There is no foundation for maintaining that faith in the content or essential element of positive religion can continue to exist, if reason has convinced itself of the opposite. The Church has, therefore, consistently and justly refused to allow that reason might stand in opposition to faith, and yet be placed under subjection to it. The human spirit in its inmost nature is not something so divided up that two contradictory elements might subsist together in it. If discord has arisen between intellectual insight and religion, and is not overcome in knowledge, it leads to despair, which comes in the place of reconciliation. This despair is reconciliation carried out in a one-sided manner. The one side is cast away, the other alone held fast; but a man cannot win true peace in this way. The one alternative is, for the divided spirit to reject the demands of the intellect and try to return to simple religious feeling. To this, however, the spirit can only attain by doing violence to itself, for the independence of consciousness demands satisfaction, and will not be thrust aside by force; and to renounce independent thought, is not within the power of the healthy mind. Religious feeling becomes yearning hypocrisy, and retains the moment of non-satisfaction. The other alternative is a one-sided attitude of indifference toward religion, which is either left unquestioned and let alone, or is ultimately attacked and opposed. That is the course followed by shallow spirits.

This, then, is the first preliminary question in virtue of which the right of reason to occupy itself with the doctrines of religion has to be proved.

2. In the sphere above referred to, it is only maintained that reason cannot apprehend the truth of the nature of God: the possibility of apprehending other truths is not denied to it; it is only the highest truth which is said to be beyond its knowledge. According to another position, however, it is entirely denied to reason to know truth at all. It is asserted that philosophical knowledge, when it deals with Spirit in its true essence, in and for itself, with life, with the infinite, only produces mistakes, and that reason must renounce all claim to grasp anything of the infinite in an affirmative manner the infinite is destroyed by thought, is brought down to the level of the finite. This result, in regard to reason, this negation of reason, is even said to be a result of rational knowledge itself. Thus it would be necessary first to examine reason itself in order to ascertain whether the capability of knowing God, and consequently the possibility of a philosophy of religion, is inherent in it.

3. It follows from this that the knowledge of God is not to be placed in the reason which seeks to comprehend its object, but that the consciousness of God springs only out of feeling; and that the relation of man to God lies within the sphere of feeling only, and is not to be brought over into thought. If God be excluded from the region of rational intelligence or insight, of necessary, substantial subjectivity, nothing indeed is left but to assign to Him the region of accidental subjectivity, that of feeling, and in this case it may well be a subject of wonder that objectivity is ascribed to God at all. In this respect, materialistic views, or by whatever other name you choose to designate them, empirical, historical, naturalistic, have been at least more consistent, in that they have taken Spirit and Thought for something — material, and imagine they have traced the matter back to sensations, even taking God to be a product of feeling, and denying to Him objectivity. The result has, in this case, been atheism. God would thus be an historical product of weakness, of fear, of joy, or of interested hopes, cupidity, and lust of power. What has its root only in my feelings, is only for me; it is mine, but not its own; it has no independent existence in and for itself. Therefore it appears to be necessary, before going further, to show that God is not rooted in feeling merely, is not merely my God. For this reason the older metaphysic has always demonstrated first of all that a God is, and not merely that there is a feeling of God, and thus the Philosophy of Religion too finds the demand made upon it to demonstrate God.

It might seem as if the other sciences had the advantage over philosophy, inasmuch as their material is already acknowledged, and they are exempted from the necessity of proving the existence of this material. To arithmetic the fact of numbers, to geometry that of space, to medicine that of human bodies and diseases, is granted from the very beginning, and it is not required of them to prove, for example, that space, bodies, diseases, exist. Philosophy, however, seems to labour under the disadvantage of being obliged, before beginning, to guarantee an existence to its objects; if it be granted without challenge that there is a world, yet no sooner does philosophy go on to assume the reality of the immaterial in general, of a Thought and Spirit free from what is material, and still more the reality of God, than it is at once taken to task. The object with which philosophy occupies itself is not, however, of such a character as to be something merely hypothetical, and it is not to be regarded as such. Were it so, philosophy, and especially the Philosophy of Religion, would have in the first place to verify its object for itself. It would have to direct its efforts toward showing it to be necessary that before it exist it prove that it is; it would have before its existence to prove its existence.

These, then, are the preliminary questions which it seems would have to be solved beforehand, as in their solution the very possibility of a Philosophy of Religion would lie. For, if such points of view be valid, then any Philosophy of Religion is absolutely impossible, since in order to prove its possibility these obstacles must in the first place be removed. So it appears at first sight. We nevertheless leave them on one side; and for what reason we do so will, so far as the principal points are concerned, be briefly explained, in order that this difficulty may be met.

The first demand is that reason, the faculty of knowledge, should be examined to begin with, before we advance to knowledge. Knowledge is thus conceived of as if it were to be got at by means of an instrument, with which the truth is to be laid hold of. When looked at more closely, however, the demand that this instrument should first be known is a clumsy one. Criticism of the faculty of knowledge is a position of the Kantian philosophy, and one which is general in the present time, and in the theology of the day. It was believed to be a great discovery, but as so often happens in the world, this belief proved to be self-deception. For it is commonly the case that when people have a notion which they consider to be a very clever one, it is in connection with it that they show themselves most foolish, and their satisfaction consists in having found a splendid outlet for their folly and ignorance. Indeed they are inexhaustible in finding such outlets when it is a question of keeping a good conscience in the face of their indolence, and of getting quit of the whole affair.

Reason is to be examined, but how? It is to be rationally examined, to be known; this is, however, only possible by means of rational thought; it is impossible in any other way, and consequently a demand is made which cancels itself. If we are not to begin philosophical speculation without having attained rationally to a knowledge of reason, no beginning can be made at all, for in getting to know anything in the philosophical sense, we comprehend it rationally; we are, it seems, to give up attempting this, since the very thing we have to do is first of all to know reason. This is just the demand which was made by that Gascon who would not go into the water until he could swim. It is impossible to make any preliminary examination of rational activity without being rational.

Here in the Philosophy of Religion it is more especially God, reason in fact, that is the object; for God is essentially rational, rationality, which as Spirit is in and for itself. Now in speculating philosophically upon reason, we investigate knowledge, only we do it in such a way as to imply that we do not suppose we would want to complete this investigation beforehand outside of the object; on the contrary, the knowledge of reason is precisely the object with which we are concerned. It is of the very essence of Spirit to be for Spirit. That is just what Spirit is, and this consequently implies that finite spirit has been posited, and the relation of finite spirit, of finite reason to the divine, originates of itself within the Philosophy of Religion itself, and must be treated of there, and indeed in the very place where it first originates. It is this which constitutes the difference between a science and conjectures about a science; the latter are accidental; in so far, however, as they are thoughts, which relate to the matter itself, they must be included in its treatment, and they are in this case no longer mere chance bubbles of thought.

Spirit in making itself an object gives itself essentially the form of Appearance or Manifestation, as something which comes in a higher manner to the finite spirit; and it is essentially owing to this that the finite spirit arrives at a positive religion. Spirit becomes for itself or actual in the form of mental representation or idea in the form of the Other, and for that other for which it is, religion is produced as something positive. Thus, too, there is inherent in religion that characteristic of reason in virtue of which it involves knowledge, in virtue of which it is activity of comprehension and of thought. This standpoint of knowledge is included in religion, and so, too, is the standpoint of feeling. Feeling is the subjective element; that which belongs to me as this individual, and because of which it is to myself that I appeal. The standpoint of feeling, too, in so far as God gives Himself this ultimate individualisation of This One, of one who feels, has its place in the development of the conception of religion, because this feeling has in it a spiritual relation, has spirituality in it. The determination, too, that God is, is a determination which is essentially included in the consideration of religion.

Religion, however, speaking generally, is the ultimate and the highest sphere of human consciousness, whether it be opinion, will, idea, ordinary knowledge, or philosophical knowledge. It is the absolute result — it is the region into which man passes over, as into the domain of absolute truth.

By reason of this universal character of religion, consciousness must, when in this sphere, have already raised itself above all that is finite — above finite existence, conditions, ends, interests, as well as above finite thoughts, finite relations of all kinds. To be actually within the sphere of religion, it is necessary to have laid these aside.

Yet although even for the ordinary consciousness religion is the act of rising-up above the finite, it usually happens when philosophy in general, and especially the philosophy which deals with God, with religion, is attacked, that in support of this polemical attitude, finite thoughts, relations belonging to limitation, categories and forms of the finite are brought forward to the disregard of this fundamental characteristic. Such forms of the finite are made points of departure from which to oppose philosophy, especially the highest philosophy, the Philosophy of Religion.

We shall only touch briefly upon this. Immediacy of knowledge — the fact of consciousness — is, for example, such a finite form; such finite categories are the antitheses of finite and infinite, subject and object. But these antitheses, finite or infinite, subject or object, are abstract forms, which are out of place in such an absolutely rich, concrete content as religion is. In Spirit, soul — that which has to do with religion — quite other qualities are present than finiteness, &c.; and on such qualities is based all that is essential in religion. These forms must indeed be employed, since they are moments of the essential relation which lies at the foundation of religion, but it is of primary importance that their nature should have been examined into and recognised long before. This logical knowledge, which comes first, must lie behind us when we have to deal with religion scientifically; such categories must have long ago been done with. But the usual thing is to employ these as weapons against the Notion, the Idea; against rational knowledge. Those categories are used entirely without criticism, in a quite artless way, just as if Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” did not exist, which at least attacked these forms, and after its own fashion reached the result that it is only phenomena which can be known by means of these categories. In religion it is not, however, with phenomena that we have to do, it is with an absolute content. But those who employ this argumentative kind of reasoning seem to think the Kantian philosophers have existed only to afford opportunity for the more unblushing use of those categories.

It is entirely out of place, it is indeed preposterous, to bring forward these categories such as immediacy, fact of consciousness, in opposition to philosophy, and to meet philosophy with the reply that the finite is different from the infinite, and the object from the subject, as if there were any one, any philosopher whatever, who did not know this, or had still to learn such trivialities. Yet people are not ashamed to parade triumphantly cleverness of this sort, as if they had made a new discovery.

We shall here remark only that such characteristics as finite and infinite, subject and object — and this is what always constitutes the foundation of that very knowing and overwise talk — are undoubtedly different, but are at the same time inseparable too. We have an example of this in physics, in the north and south pole of the magnet. It is often said “those characteristics are as different as heaven and earth.” That is quite correct; they are absolutely different, but as is already suggested by the figure just mentioned, they are in separable. Earth cannot be shown without heaven, and vice versa.

It is difficult to enter into discussion with those who wage war on the Philosophy of Religion and think they have triumphed over it, for they tell us so bluntly that immediacy, after all, “is something quite different from mediation.” At the same time they show an incredible ignorance, and a complete want of acquaintance with the forms and categories by means of which they make their attacks and pronounce a final judgment upon philosophy. They make their affirmations quite artlessly, without having thought over these subjects, or having made any thorough observation of external nature and of the inner experience of their consciousness — of their minds — and of the manner in which these qualities present themselves there. Reality is not for them something present, but is something strange and unknown. The hostile language which they direct against philosophy is therefore mere scholastic pedantry — the chatter of the schools — which entangles itself in empty, unsubstantial categories, while in philosophy we are not in the so-called “school,” but are in the world of reality; and in the wealth of its qualities we do not find a yoke under which we are in bondage, but have in them free movement. And then, those who attack and disparage philosophy are, owing to their finite style of thinking incapable of even grasping a philosophical proposition; and though they may perhaps repeat its words, they have given it a wrong meaning, for they have not grasped its infiniteness, but have introduced their finite conditions into it. Thus philosophy is indefatigable, so to speak, and im poses upon itself the great labour of carefully investigating what its opponents have to say. Indeed that is its necessary course, being in accordance with its conception, and it can only satisfy the inward impulse of its notion or conception by getting a knowledge both of itself and of what is opposed to it (verum index sui et falsi), but it ought to be able to expect as a recompense that the opposition should now, by way of a reciprocal service, relinquish its hostility, and calmly comprehend its essential nature. But that is certainly not the result in this case, and the magnanimity which desires to recognise in a friendly way the adversary, and which heaps coals of fire on his head, does not help philosophy in the least; for the adversary will not keep quiet, but persists in his attacks. When we perceive, however, that the antithesis vanishes like a phantom, and dissolves into mist, we shall at the same time only render to ourselves and to philosophical thought what is due, and shall not seek merely to carry our point as against the other. And indeed to convince that “other,” to exert this personal influence upon him, is impossible, since he remains wedded to his limited categories.

The thinking spirit must have got beyond all these forms of Reflection; it must know their nature, the true relation involved in them, the infinite relation, that is to say, that in which their finiteness is done away with. Then it will become apparent, too, that immediate knowledge, like mediated knowledge, is entirely one-sided. What is true is their unity, an immediate knowledge which is likewise mediated, something mediated which is likewise simple in itself, which is immediate reference to itself. Inasmuch as the one-sidedness is done away with by means of such combination, it is a condition of infiniteness. Here is union, in which the difference of those characteristics is done away with, [Aufgehoben] while they at the same time being preserved ideally have the higher destiny of serving as the pulse of vitality, the impulse, movement, unrest of the spiritual, as of the natural life.

Since it is with religion, with what is supreme and ultimate, that we are to be occupied in the following dissertation, we ought now to be in a position to assume that the futility of those relations has long ago been overcome. But at the same time, since we do not begin at the very beginning of the science, but are considering religion per se, regard must be also had when dealing with it to such relations of understanding as are wont to come principally under consideration in connection with it.

With this reference to the following dissertation itself, we shall now proceed to give the general survey, the synopsis or division of our science.

C. Division of the Subject

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