Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion/Introduction
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Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion
It has appeared to me to be necessary to make religion by itself the object of philosophical consideration, and to add on this study of it, in the form of a special part, to philosophy as a whole. By way of introduction I shall, however, first of all (A) give some account of the severance or division of consciousness, which awakens the need our science has to satisfy, and describe the relation of this science to philosophy and religion, as also to the prevalent principles of the religious consciousness. Then, after I have (B) touched upon some preliminary questions which follow from those relations, I shall give (C) the division of the subject.
To begin with, it is necessary to recollect generally what object we have before us in the Philosophy of Religion, and what is our ordinary idea of religion. We know that in religion we withdraw ourselves from what is temporal, and that religion is for our consciousness that region in which all the enigmas of the world are solved, all the contradictions of deeper-reaching thought have their meaning unveiled, and where the voice of the heart’s pain is silenced—the region of eternal truth, of eternal rest, of eternal peace. Speaking generally, it is through thought, concrete thought, or, to put it more definitely, it is by reason of his being Spirit, that man is man; and from man as Spirit proceed all the many developments of the sciences and arts, the interests of political life, and all those conditions which have reference to man’s freedom and will. But all these manifold forms of human relations, activities, and pleasures, and all the ways in which these are intertwined; all that has worth and dignity for man, all wherein he seeks his happiness, his glory, and his pride, finds its ultimate centre in religion, in the thought, the consciousness, and the feeling of God. Thus God is the beginning of all things, and the end of all things. As all things proceed from this point, so all return back to it again. He is the centre which gives life and quickening to all things, and which animates and preserves in existence all the various forms of being. In religion man places himself in a relation to this centre, in which all other relations concentrate themselves, and in so doing he rises up to the highest level of consciousness and to the region which is free from relation to what is other than itself, to something which is absolutely self-sufficient, the unconditioned, what is free, and is its own object and end.
Religion, as something which is occupied with this final object and end, is therefore absolutely free, and is its own end; for all other aims converge in this ultimate end, and in presence of it they vanish and cease to have value of their own. No other aim can hold its ground against this, and here alone all find their fulfilment. In the region where the spirit occupies itself with this end, it unburdens itself of all finiteness, and wins for itself final satisfaction and deliverance; for here the spirit relates itself no longer to something that is other than itself, and that is limited, but to the unlimited and infinite, and this is an infinite relation, a relation of freedom, and no longer of dependence. Here its consciousness is absolutely free, and is indeed true consciousness, because it is consciousness of absolute truth. In its character as feeling, this condition of freedom is the sense of satisfaction which we call blessedness, while as activity it has nothing further to do than to manifest the honour of God and to reveal His glory, and in this attitude it is no longer with himself that man is concerned—with his own interests or his empty pride—but with the absolute end. All the various peoples feel that it is in the religious consciousness they possess truth, and they have always regarded religion as constituting their true dignity and the Sabbath of their life. Whatever awakens in us doubt and fear, all sorrow, all care, all the limited interests of finite life, we leave behind on the shores of time; and as from the highest peak of a mountain, far away from all definite view of what is earthly, we look down calmly upon all the limitations of the landscape and of the world, so with the spiritual eye man, lifted out of the hard realities of this actual world, contemplates it as something having only the semblance of existence, which seen from this pure region bathed in the beams of the spiritual sun, merely reflects back its shades of colour, its varied tints and lights, softened away into eternal rest. In this region of spirit flow the streams of forgetfulness from which Psyche drinks, and in which she drowns all sorrow, while the dark things of this life are softened away into a dream-like vision, and become transfigured until they are a mere framework for the brightness of the Eternal.
This image of the Absolute may have a more or less present vitality and certainty for the religious and devout mind, and be a present source of pleasure; or it may be represented as something longed and hoped for, far off, and in the future. Still it always remains a certainty, and its rays stream as something divine into this present temporal life, giving the consciousness of the active presence of truth, even amidst the anxieties which torment the soul here in this region of time. Faith recognises it as the truth, as the substance of actual existing things; and what thus forms the essence of religious contemplation, is the vital force in the present world, makes itself actively felt in the life of the individual, and governs his entire conduct. Such is the general perception, sensation, consciousness, or however we may designate it, of religion. To consider, to examine, and to comprehend its nature is the object of the present lectures.
We must first of all, however, definitely understand, in reference to the end we have in view, that it is not the concern of philosophy to produce religion in any individual. Its existence is, on the contrary, presupposed as forming what is fundamental in every one. So far as man’s essential nature is concerned, nothing new is to be introduced into him. To try to do this would be as absurd as to give a dog printed writings to chew, under the idea that in this way you could put mind into it. He who has not extended his spiritual interests beyond the hurry and bustle of this finite world, nor succeeded in lifting himself above this life through aspiration, through the anticipation, through the feeling of the Eternal, and who has not gazed upon the pure ether of the soul, does not possess in himself that element which it is our object here to comprehend.
It may happen that religion is awakened in the heart by means of philosophical knowledge, but it is not necessarily so. It is not the purpose of philosophy to edify, and quite as little is it necessary for it to make good its claims by showing in any particular case that it must produce religious feeling in the individual. Philosophy, it is true, has to develop the necessity of religion in and for itself, and to grasp the thought that Spirit must of necessity advance from the other modes of its will in conceiving and feeling to this absolute mode; but it is the universal destiny of Spirit which is thus accomplished. It is another matter to raise up the individual subject to this height. The self-will, the perversity, or the indolence of individuals may interfere with the necessity of their universal spiritual nature; individuals may deviate from it, and attempt to get for themselves a standpoint of their own, and hold to it. This possibility of letting oneself drift, through inertness, to the standpoint of untruth, or of lingering there consciously and purposely, is involved in the freedom of the subject, while planets, plants, animals, cannot deviate from the necessity of their nature—from their truth—and become what they ought to be. But in human freedom what is and what ought to be are separate. This freedom brings with it the power of free choice, and it is possible for it to sever itself from its necessity, from its laws, and to work in opposition to its true destiny. Therefore, although philosophical knowledge should clearly perceive the necessity of the religious standpoint, and though the will should learn in the sphere of reality the nullity of its separation, all this does not hinder the will from being able to persist in its obstinacy, and to stand aloof from its necessity and truth.
There is a common and shallow manner of arguing against cognition or philosophical knowledge, as when, for instance, it is said that such and such a man has a knowledge of God, and yet remains far from religion, and has not become godly. It is not, however, the aim of knowledge to lead to this, nor is it meant to do so. What knowledge must do is to know religion as something which already exists. It is neither its intention nor its duty to induce this or that person, any particular empirical subject, to be religious if he has not been so before, if he has nothing of religion in himself, and does not wish to have.
But the fact is, no man is so utterly ruined, so lost, and so bad, nor can we regard any one as being so wretched that he has no religion whatever in him, even if it were only that he has the fear of it, or some yearning after it, or a feeling of hatred towards it. For even in this last case he is inwardly occupied with it, and cannot free himself from it. As man, religion is essential to him, and is not a feeling foreign to his nature. Yet the essential question is the relation of religion to his general theory of the universe, and it is with this that philosophical knowledge connects itself, and upon which it essentially works. In this relation we have the source of the division which arises in opposition to the primary absolute tendency of the spirit toward religion, and here, too, all the manifold forms of consciousness, and their most widely differing connections with the main interest of religion, have sprung up. Before the Philosophy of Religion can sum itself up in its own peculiar conception, it must work itself through all those ramifications of the interests of the time which have at present concentrated themselves in the widely-extended sphere of religion. At first the movement of the principles of the time has its place outside of philosophical study, but this movement pushes on to the point at which it comes into contact, strife, and antagonism with philosophy. We shall consider this opposition and its solution when we have examined the opposition as it still maintains itself outside of philosophy, and have seen it develop until it reaches that completed state where it involves philosophical knowledge in itself.