Essence of Christianity: Part II, The False or Theological Essence of Religion

Chapter XIX. The Essential Standpoint of Religion

THE essential standpoint of religion is the practical or subjective. The end of religion is the welfare, the salvation, the ultimate felicity of man; the relation of man to God is nothing else than his relation to his own spiritual good; God is the realised salvation of the soul, or the unlimited power of effecting the salvation, the bliss of man. The Christian religion is specially distinguished from other religions in this, – that no other has given equal prominence to the salvation of man. But this salvation is not temporal earthly prosperity and well-being. On the contrary, the most genuine Christians have declared that earthly good draws man away from God, whereas adversity, suffering, afflictions lead him back to God, and hence are alone suited to Christians. Why? Because in trouble man is only practically or subjectively disposed; in trouble he has resource only to the one thing needful; in trouble God is felt to be a want of man. Pleasure, joy, expands man; trouble, suffering, contracts and concentrates him; in suffering man denies the reality of the world; the things that charm the imagination of the artist and the intellect of the thinker lose their attraction for him, their power over him; he is absorbed in himself, in his own soul. The soul thus self-absorbed, self-concentrated, seeking satisfaction in itself alone, denying the world, idealistic in relation to the world, to Nature in general, but realistic in relation to man, caring only for its inherent need of salvation, – this soul is God. God, as the object of religion, – and only as such is he God, – God in the sense of a nomen proprium, not of a vague, metaphysical entity, is essentially an object only of religion, not of philosophy, – of feeling, not of the intellect, – of the heart's necessity, not of the mind's freedom: in short, an object which is the reflex not of the theoretical but of the practical tendency in man.

Religion annexes to its doctrines a curse and a blessing, damnation and salvation. Blessed is he that believeth, cursed is he that believeth not. Thus it appeals not to reason, but to feeling, to the desire of happiness, to the passions of hope and fear. It does not take the theoretic point of view; otherwise it must have been free to enunciate its doctrines without attaching to them practical consequences, without to a certain extent compelling belief in them; for when the case stands thus: I am lost if I do not believe, – the conscience is under a subtle kind of constraint; the fear of hell urges me to believe. Even supposing my belief to be in its origin free, fear inevitably intermingles itself; my conscience is always under constraint; doubt, the principle of theoretic freedom, appears to me a crime. And as in religion the highest idea, the highest existence is God, so the highest crime is doubt in God, or the doubt that God exists. But that which I do not trust myself to doubt, which I cannot doubt without feeling disturbed in my soul, without incurring guilt; that is no matter of theory, but a matter of conscience, no being of the intellect, but of the heart.

Now as the sole standpoint of religion is the practical or subjective standpoint, as therefore to religion the whole, the essential man is that part of his nature which is practical, which forms resolutions, which acts in accordance with conscious aims, whether physical or moral, and which considers the world not in itself, but only in relation to those aims or wants: the consequence is that everything which lies behind the practical consciousness, but which is the essential object of theory – theory in its most original and general sense, namely, that of objective contemplation and experience, of the intellect, of science [Here and in other parts of this work, theory is taken in the sense in which it is the source of true adjective activity, – the science which gives birth to art, – for man can do only so much as he knows “tantum potest quantum scit.”] – is regarded by religion as lying outside man and Nature, in a special, personal being. All good, but especially such as takes possession of man apart from his volition, such as does not correspond with any resolution or purpose, such as transcends the limits of the practical consciousness, comes from God; all wickedness, evil, but especially such as overtakes him against his will in the midst of his best moral resolutions, or hurries him alone with terrible violence, comes from the devil. The scientific knowledge of the essence of religion includes the knowledge of the devil, of Satan, of demons. These things cannot be omitted without a violent mutilation of religion. Grace and its works are the antitheses of the devil and his works. As the involuntary, sensual impulses which flash out from the depths of the nature, and, in general, all those phenomena of moral and physical evil which are inexplicable to religion, appear to it as the work of the Evil Being; so the involuntary movements of inspiration and ecstasy appear to it as the work of the Good Being, God, of the Holy Spirit or of grace. Hence the arbitrariness of grace – the complaint of the pious that grace at one time visits and blesses them, at another forsakes and rejects them. The life, the agency of grace, is the life, the agency of emotion. Emotion is the Paraclete of Christians. The moments which are forsaken by divine grace are the moments destitute of emotion and inspiration.

In relation to the inner life, grace may be defined as religious genius; in relation to the outer life as religious chance. Man is good or wicked by no means through himself, his own power, his will; but through that complete synthesis of hidden and evident determinations of things which, because they rest on no evident necessity, we ascribe to the power of “chance.” Divine grace is the power of chance beclouded with additional mystery. Here we have again the confirmation of that which we have seen to be the essential law of religion. Religion denies, repudiates chance, making everything dependent on God, explaining, everything by means of him; but this denial is only apparent; it merely gives chance the name of the divine sovereignty. For the divine will, which, on incomprehensible grounds, for incomprehensible reasons, that is, speaking plainly, out of groundless, absolute arbitrariness, out of divine caprice, as it were, determines or predestines some to evil and misery, others to good and happiness, has not a single positive characteristic to distinguish it from the power of chance. The mystery of the election of grace is thus the mystery of chance. I say the mystery of chance; for in reality chance is a mystery, although slurred over and ignored by our speculative religious philosophy, which, as in its occupation with the illusory mysteries of the Absolute Being, i.e., of a theology, it has overlooked the true mysteries of thought and life, so also in the mystery of divine grace or freedom of election, has forgotten the profane mystery of chance.

[Doubtless, this unveiling of the mystery of predestination will be pronounced atrocious, impious, diabolical. I have nothing to allege against this; I would rather be a devil in alliance with truth, than an angel in alliance with falsehood.]

But to return. The devil is the negative, the evil, that springs from the nature, but not from the will; God is the positive, the good, which comes from the nature, but not from the conscious action of the will; the devil is involuntary, inexplicable wickedness; God involuntary, inexplicable goodness. The source of both is the same, the quality only is different or opposite. For this reason, the belief in a devil was, until the most recent times, intimately connected with the belief in God, so that the denial of the devil was held to be virtually as atheistic as the denial of God. Nor without reason; for when men once begin to derive the phenomena of evil from natural causes, they at the same time begin to derive the phenomena of good, of the divine, from the nature of things, and come at length either to abolish the idea of God altogether, or at least to believe in another God than the God of religion. In this case it most commonly happens that they make the Deity an idle inactive being, whose existence is equivalent to non-existence, since he no longer actively interposes in life, but is merely placed at the summit of things, at the beginning of the world, as the First Cause. God created the world: this is all that is here retained of God. The past tense is necessary; for since that epoch the world pursues its course like a machine. The addition: He still creates, he is creating at this moment, is only the result of external reflection; the past tense adequately expresses the religious idea in this stage; for the spirit of religion is gone when the operation of God is reduced to a fecit or creavit. It is otherwise when the genuine religious consciousness says: The fecit is still today a tacit. This, though here also it is a product of reflection, has nevertheless a legitimate meaning, because by the religious spirit God is really thought of as active.

Religion is abolished where the idea of the world, of so-called second causes, intrudes itself between God and man. Here a foreign element, the principle of intellectual culture, has insinuated itself, peace is broken, the harmony of religion, which lies only in the immediate connection of man with God, is destroyed. Second causes are a capitulation of the unbelieving intellect with the still believing heart. It is true that, according to religion also, God works on man by means of other things and beings. But God alone is the cause, he alone is the active and efficient being. What a fellow-creature does is in the view of religion done not by him, but by God. The other is only an appearance, a medium, a vehicle, not a cause. But the “second cause” is a miserable anomaly, neither an independent nor a dependent being: God, it is true, gives the first impulse, but then ensues the spontaneous activity of the second cause.

[A kindred doctrine is that of the Concursus Dei, according to which, God not only gives the first impulse, but also co-operates in the agency of the second cause. For the rest, this doctrine is only a particular form of the contradictory dualism between God and Nature, which runs through the history of Christianity. On the subject of this remark, as of the whole paragraph, see Strauss: Die Christliche Glaubenslehre, B. ii. 75, 76.]

Religion of itself, unadulterated by foreign elements, knows nothing of the existence of second causes; on the contrary, they are a stone of stumbling to it; for the realm of second causes, the sensible world, Nature, is precisely what separates man from God, although God as a real God, i.e., an external being is supposed himself to become in the other world a sensible existence.

[“Dum sumus in hoc corpora, peregrinamur ab eo qui summe est.” Bernard. Epist. 18 (ed. Basle, 1552). “As long as we live, we are in the midst of death.” – Luther (Th. i. P. 331). The idea of the future life is therefore nothing else than the idea of true, perfected religion, freed from the limits and obstructions of this life, – the future life, as has been already said, nothing but the true opinion and disposition, the open heart, of religion. Here we believe – there we behold; i.e., there there is nothing besides God, and thus nothing between God and the soul; but only for this reason, that there ought to be nothing between them, because the immediate union of God and the soul is the true opinion and desire of religion. “We have as yet so to do with God as with one hidden from us, and it is not possible that in this life we should hold communion with him face to face. All creatures are now nothing else than vain masks, under which God conceals himself, and by which hi deals with us.” – Luther (Th. xi. P. 70). “If thou were only free from the images of created things, thou mightest have God without intermission.” – Tauler (L C. P. 313).]

Hence religion believes that one day this wall of separation will fall away. One day there will be no Nature, no matter, no body, at least none such as to separate man from God: then there will be only God and the pious soul. Religion derives the idea of the existence of second causes, that is, of things which are interposed between God and man, only from the physical, natural, and hence the irreligious or at least non-religious theory of the universe: a theory which it nevertheless immediately subverts by making the operations of Nature operations of God. But this religious idea is in contradiction with the natural sense and understanding, which concedes a real, spontaneous activity to natural things. And this contradiction of the physical view with the religious theory, religion resolves by converting the undeniable activity of things into an activity of God. Thus, on this view, the positive idea is God; the negative, the world.

On the contrary, where second causes, having been set in motion, are, so to speak, emancipated, the converse occurs; Nature is the positive, God a negative idea. The world is independent in its existence, its persistence; only as to its commencement is it dependent. God is here only a hypothetical Being,, an inference, arising from the necessity of a limited understanding, to which the existence of a world viewed by it as a machine is inexplicable without a self-moving principle; – he is no longer an original, absolutely necessary Being. God exists not for his own sake, but for the sake of the world, – merely that he may, as a First Cause, explain the existence of the world. The narrow rationalising man takes objection to the original self-subsistence of the world, because he looks at it only from the subjective, practical point of view, only in its commoner aspect, only as a piece of mechanism, not in its majesty and glory, not as the Cosmos. He conceives the world as having been launched into existence by an original impetus, as, according to mathematical theory, is the case with matter once set in motion and thenceforth going on for ever: that is, he postulates a mechanical origin. A machine must have a beginning; this is involved in its very idea; for it has not the source of motion in itself.

All religious speculative cosmogony is tautology, as is apparent from this example. In cosmogony man declares or realises the idea he has of the world; he merely repeats what he has already said in another form. Thus here, if the world is a machine, it is self-evident that it did not make itself, that, on the contrary, it was created, i.e., had a mechanical origin. Herein, it is true, the religious consciousness agrees with the mechanical theory, that to it also the world is a mere fabric, a product of Will. But they agree only for an instant, only in the moment of creation; that moment past, the harmony ceases. The holder of the mechanical theory needs God only as the creator of the world; once made, the world turns its back on the Creator, and rejoices in its godless self-subsistence. But religion creates the world only to maintain it in the perpetual consciousness of its nothingness, its dependence on God. To the mechanical theorist, the creation is the last thin thread which yet ties him to religion; the religion to which the nothingness of the world is a present truth (for all power and activity is to it the power and activity of God), is with him only a surviving reminiscence of youth; hence he removes the creation of the world, the act of religion, the non-existence of the world (for in the beginning, before the creation, there was no world, only God), into the far distance, into the past, while the self-subsistence of the world, which absorbs all his senses and endeavours, acts on him with the force of the present. The mechanical theorist interrupts and cuts short the activity of God by the activity of the world. With him God has indeed still an historical right, but this is in contradiction with the right he awards to Nature; hence he limits as much as possible the right yet remaining, to God, in order to gain wider and freer play for his natural causes, and thereby for his understanding.

With this class of thinkers the creation holds the same position as miracles, which also they can and actually do acquiesce in, because miracles exist, at least according, to religious opinion. But not to say that he explains miracles naturally, that is, mechanically, he can only digest them when he relegates them to the past; for the present he begs to be excused from believing in them, and explains everything to himself charmingly on natural principles. When a belief has departed from the reason, the intelligence, when it is no longer held spontaneously, but merely because it is a common belief, or because on some ground or other it must be held; in short, when a belief is inwardly a past one; then externally also the object of the belief is referred to the past. Unbelief thus gets breathing space, but at the same time concedes to belief at least an historical validity. The past is here the fortunate means of compromise between belief and unbelief: I certainly believe in miracles, but, nota bene, in no miracles which happen now – only in those which once happened, which, thank God! are already plus quam perfecter. So also with the creation. The creation is an immediate act of God, a miracle, for there was once nothing but God. In the idea of the creation man transcends the world, he rises into abstraction from it; he conceives it as non-existent in the moment of creation; thus he dispels from his sight what stands between himself and God, the sensible world; he places himself in immediate contact with God. But the mechanical thinker shrinks from this immediate contact with God; hence he at once makes the proesens, if indeed he soars so high, into a perfectum; he interposes millenniums between his natural or materialistic view and the thought of an immediate operation of God.

To the religious spirit, on the contrary, God alone is the cause of all positive effects, God alone the ultimate and also the sole ground wherewith it answers, or rather repels, all questions which theory puts forward; for the affirmative of religion is virtually a negative; its answer amounts to nothing,, since it solves the most various questions always with the same answer, making all the operations of Nature immediate operations of God, of a designing, personal, extra-natural or supra-natural Being. God is the idea which supplies the lack of theory. The idea of God is the explanation of the inexplicable, – which explains nothing because it is supposed to explain everything, without distinction; he is the night of theory, a night, however, in which everything is clear to religious feeling because in it the measure of darkness, the discriminating light of the understanding is extinct; he is the ignorance which solves all doubt by repressing it, which knows everything because it knows nothing definite, because all things which impress the intellect disappear before religion, lose their individuality, in the eyes of divine power are nothing. Darkness is the mother of religion.

The essential act of religion, that in which religion puts into action what we have designated as its essence, is prayer. Prayer is all-powerful. What the pious soul entreats for in prayer. God fulfils. But he prays not for spiritual gifts [It is only unbelief in the efficacy of prayer which has subtly limited prayer to spiritual matters] alone, which lie in some sort in the power of man; he prays also for things which lie out of him, which are in the power of Nature, a power which it is the very object of prayer to overcome; in prayer he lays hold on a supernatural means, in order to attain ends in themselves natural. God is to him not the causa remota but the cause proximo, the immediate, efficient cause of all natural effects. All so-called secondary forces and second causes are nothing to him when he prays; if they were anything to him, the might, the fervour of prayer would be annihilated. But in fact they give no existence for him; otherwise he would assuredly seek to attain his end only by some intermediate process. But he desires immediate help. He has recourse to prayer in the certainty that he can do more, infinitely more, by prayer, than by all the efforts of reason and all the agencies of Nature, – in the conviction that prayer possesses superhuman and supernatural powers.

[According to the notion of barbarians, therefore, prayer is a coercive power, a chasm. But this conception is an unchristian one (although even among many Christians the idea is accepted that prayer constrains God); for in Christianity God is essentially feeling satisfied in itself, Almighty goodness, which denies nothing to (religious) feeling. The idea of coercion presupposes an unfeeling God.]

But in prayer he applies immediately to God. Thus God is to him the immediate cause, the fulfilment of prayer, the power which realises prayer. But an immediate act of God is a miracle; hence miracle is essential to the religious view. Religion explains everything miraculously. That miracles do not always happen is indeed obvious, as that man does not always pray. But the consideration that miracles do not always happen lies outside the nature of religion, in the empirical or physical mode of view only. Where religion begins, there also begins miracle. Every true prayer is a miracle, an act of the wonder-working power. External miracles themselves only make visible internal miracles, that is, they are only a manifestation in time and space, and therefore as a special fact, of what in and by itself is a fundamental position of religion, namely, that God is, in general, the supernatural, immediate cause of all things. The miracle of fact is only an impassioned expression of religion, a moment of inspiration. Miracles happen only in extraordinary crises, in which there is an exaltation of the feelings: hence there are miracles of anger. No miracle is wrought in cold blood. But it is precisely in moments of passion that the latent nature reveals itself. Man does not always pray with equal warmth and power. Such prayers are therefore ineffective. Only ardent prayer reveals the nature of prayer. Man truly prays when he regards prayer as in itself a sacred power, a divine force. So it is with miracles. Miracles happen – no matter whether few or many – wherever there is, as a basis for them, a belief in the miraculous. But the belief in miracle is no theoretic or objective mode of viewing the world and Nature; miracle realises practical wants, and that in contradiction with the laws which are imperative to the reason; in miracle man subjugates Nature, as in itself a nullity, to his own ends, which he regards as a reality; miracle is the superlative expression of spiritual or religious utilitarianism; in miracle all things are at the service of necessitous man. It is clear from this, that the conception of the world which is essential to religion is that of the practical or subjective standpoint, that God – for the miracle-working power is identical with God – is a purely practical or subjective Being, serving, however, as a substitute for a theoretic view, and is thus no object of thought, of the knowing, faculty, any more than miracle, which owes its origin to the negation of thought.

If I place myself in the point of view of thought, of investigation, of theory, in which I consider things in themselves, in their mutual relations, the miracle-working being vanishes into nothing, miracle disappears; i.e., the religious miracle, which is absolutely different from the natural miracle, though they are continually interchanged, in order to stultify reason, and, under the appearance of natural science, to introduce religious miracle into the sphere of rationality and reality.

But for this very reason – namely, that religion is removed from the standpoint, from the nature of theory – the true, universal essence of Nature and humanity, which as such is hidden from religion and is only visible to the theoretic eye, is conceived as another, a miraculous and supernatural essence; the idea of the species becomes the idea of God, who again is himself an individual being, but is distinguished from human individuals in this, that he possesses their qualities according to the measure of the species. Hence, in religion man necessarily places his nature out of himself, regards his nature as a separate nature; necessarily, because the nature which is the object of theory lies outside of him, because all his conscious existence spends itself in his practical subjectivity. God is his alter ego, his other lost half; God is the complement of himself; in God he is first a perfect man. God is a need to him; something is wanting to him without his knowing what it is – God is this something wanting indispensable to him; God belongs to his nature. The world is nothing to religion, – the world, which is in truth the sum of all reality, is revealed in its glory only by theory. The joys of theory are the sweetest intellectual pleasures of life; but religion knows nothing of the joys of the thinker, of the investigator of Nature, of the artist. The idea of the universe is wanting to it, the consciousness of the really infinite, the consciousness of the species. God only is its compensation for the poverty of life, for the want of a substantial import, which the true life of rational contemplation presents in unending fullness. God is to religion the substitute for the lost world, – God is to it in the stead of pure contemplation, the life of theory.

That which we have designated as the practical or subjective view is not pure, it is tainted with egoism, for therein I have relation to a thing only for my own sake; neither is it self-sufficing, for it places me in relation to an object above my own level. On the contrary, the theoretic view is joyful, self-sufficing, happy; for here the object calls forth love and admiration; in the light of the free intelligence it is radiant as a diamond, transparent as a rock-crystal. The theoretic view is aesthetic, whereas the practical is unaesthetic. Religion therefore finds in God a compensation for the want of an aesthetic view. To the religious spirit the world is nothing in itself; the admiration, the contemplation of it is idolatry; for the world is a mere piece of mechanism. Hence in religion it is God that serves as the object of pure, untainted, i.e., theoretic or aesthetic contemplation. God is the existence to which the religious man has an objective relation; in God the object is contemplated by him for its own sake. God is an end in himself; therefore in religion he has the significance which in the theoretic view belongs to the object in general. The general being of theory is to religion a special being. It is true that in religion man, in his relation to God, has relation to his own wants as well in a higher as in the lower sense: “Give us this day our daily bread;” but God can satisfy all wants of man only because he in himself has no wants, – because he is perfect blessedness.

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