Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers

"On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers --Schleiermacher"
"God's sole revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ."
--Karl Barth

Writing what many have considered until well into the 20th century, the modern view of Protestant Christianity, Friedrich Schleiermacher's On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers is the seminal writing on many of the now well accepted tenets of Protestant Christiandom.

In sympathy of the Enlightenment ideals of the French Revolution, and with interest in the ideas of English philosopher, Kant, who believed that force creates everything — force, not God, is the creator of nature.

Schleimacher rejected Kant's conception of the “summum bonum [highest good]” as requiring an apportioning of happiness to moral desert, he rejected Kant's connected doctrine of the “postulates” of an afterlife of the soul and God, and developed an anti-Kantian theory of the thorough-going causal determination [cause and effect] of human action, emphasizing the compatibility of this with moral responsibility.

This "neo-Spinozistic" position, Baruch Spinoza's views on God, the world, the human being, and knowledge, serve to ground a moral philosophy centered on the control of the passions leading to virtue and happiness. ( And he was Decartes-like in his view that God creates the world by some arbitrary and senseless act of free will).

For Schleiermacher, God could not have done otherwise; there are no possible alternatives to the actual world, and absolutely no contingency, or spontaneity within that world. Everything is absolutely and necessarily determined. These precepts would subsequently be fundamental to Schleiermacher's most important work in the philosophy of religion, On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (1799). In simple terms, he argued that we enjoy the simple feeling or intuition of God.

In 1806 Schleiermacher published the short book, Christmas Eve, a literary work which explores the meaning of Christian love by depicting a German family's celebration of Christmas Eve (in keeping with On Religion's ideal of (Christian) religion as family centered, rather than state-centered.

Schleiermacher divides his ethics into a Doctrine of Goods, a Doctrine of Virtue, and a Doctrine of Duties, treating them in this sequence in order to reflect what he takes to be the greater fundamentality of goods over virtues and of virtues over duties.

Finally he develops and promotes a hierarchy of religions: However, he also arranges the various types of religion in a hierarchy, with animism at the bottom, polytheism in the middle, and monotheistic, or otherwise monoistic religions (monoism is the opposite of dualism) at the top. This hierarchy makes reasonably good sense given his fundamental neo-Spinozism.

More problematic, however, is a further discussion of this hierarchy which he introduces: he identifies Christianity as the highest among the monotheistic or monoistic religions, and in particular as higher than Judaism. His rationale for this is that Christianity introduces “the idea that everything finite requires higher mediation in order to be connected with the divine” (i.e. the higher mediation of Christ).

But this looks contrived. Even if one granted that “higher mediation” was a good thing, do not other monotheistic religions, such as Judaism, share this supposed advantage as well, namely in the form of their prophets? And if the answer is No, because prophets are not themselves divine, then why is the mediator's divinity supposed to be such a great advantage?

In contrast to Schleimacher,
the 20th century Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, held in his famous commentary, Epistle to the Romans published in 1919, that there exists discontinuity between the Christian message, and the world. He rejected the typical liberal points of contact between God and humanity in feeling, or consciousness, or rationality, as well as Roman Catholic tendencies to trust in the Church revealed, or spirituality.

Further, Barth dogmatically argued, on the sinfulness of humanity; God's absolute surpassing of all, and the human inability to know God except through revelation by faith. His objective was to lead theology away from the influence of modern religious philosophy back to the principles of the Reformation, and the prophetic teachings of the Bible.
Modern Christian fundamentalism owes a debt to these ideas.

Barth regarded the Bible, however, not as the actual revelation of God, but as only the record of that revelation. For Barth, God's sole revelation of himself is in Jesus Christ. God is the "wholly other," totally unlike mankind, who are utterly dependent on an encounter with the divine for any understanding of ultimate reality.

Barth saw the task of the church as that of proclaiming the "good word" of God and as serving as the "place of encounter" between God and mankind. Barth regarded all human activity as being under the judgment of that encounter.

Barth's views were increasingly subjected to criticism in the decades following World War II. Some argue that he was too negative in his estimate of mankind and its reasoning powers, and too narrow in limiting revelation to the biblical tradition, thus excluding the non-Christian religions.

He gives such radical priority to God's activity that some critics find human activity and freedom devalued. Barth sees revelation, and salvation as given by God, and true, quite apart from the subjective responses of human beings.

So what does this all mean to the simple mind? Firstly, it comes as an abnegation of the Jewish ancestor of Christianity herself. It is a divorcing, a cutting of that root. In that, these particular Christian theologians see fit to rank believers of faith and cultures around the world; in that, there comes a denial of the dignity of the human person, and the possibility of being. Here free will is devalued.

A modern theological trend which troubles indeed; it is non-ecumenical in nature. As presented in this discussion, the simple mind sees no easy reconciliation between persons.

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