« Prev I. The Church Next »



An ecclesiastical communion is to be distinguished from all other associations of men, such as the family, the state, the school, in that it is based upon piety, religion (Frömmigkeit). Religion is an immediate, or original, experience of the self-consciousness in the form of feeling. It is immediate, in that it is not derived from any other experience or exercise of the mind, but is inseparable from self-consciousness; and it is feeling, in that it is subjective experience and not objective idea, and in this respect it is identical with the self-consciousness, (a) Religion is not an act of knowledge nor the result of a process of knowing. If it were the former, its source would lie in human activity. If it were the latter, its content would be doctrine, dependent upon prior processes of the intellect, and subject to all the uncertainties which pertain 120to scientific investigation. The measure of knowledge would be the measure of piety; religion would be a mere acquirement or possession and no essential element of human nature, (b) Neither does religion consist in action. This would make it identical with morality. But actions which are bad in moral content as well as those which are good, proceed from religion. The only respect in which an action partakes of a religious character is in the motive which prompts it, and this, in the last analysis, is feeling. This conclusion is confirmed by the universal admission that there are states of feeling such as regret, contrition, assurance, joy in God, which are in themselves of a pious (or religious) nature apart from all expected results in knowledge or action. To make religion consist in the end attained would be to identify it with successful results, (c) Nor, again, is religion a condition compounded of knowledge, action, and feeling, for of such a fourth state of consciousness we are not aware in experience. While feeling is connected with both knowledge and action, it is not dependent upon them for its religious character, but imparts this to them.

Religion, then, as consisting in feeling, denotes a state of our being, and hence in religion man is not primarily active but receptive. It must be so, for though in all consciousness there is a double element, namely, the self-consciousness, or ego, and a determination of the self-consciousness, or experience, it is impossible that the latter should be produced by the former; because the ego is ever self-identical, but experience 121is variable. Nor could we ever have a separate consciousness of the ever-identical self, because such a consciousness would be destitute of all determinateness or of quality; and consequently consciousness of self is dependent upon experience. But this is just to say that all consciousness, our objective self-consciousness included, is dependent upon a prior influence exerted upon our receptivity. We are compelled therefore to seek the common source of our being and experience in an Other.

Now, as we actually find ourselves in this world, we experience a double relation, a relation of freedom and a relation of dependence, expressing respectively spontaneity and receptivity in the same subject. As a part of that divided and articulated whole which we call the world we stand toward it in a position of reciprocal activity. We affect it and are affected by it. And therefore our feeling in relation to the world is of relative freedom and relative dependence. But yet, while it is impossible for us to have, as a part of the world, a feeling of absolute freedom toward it, we do have in and with the world, even in the experience of freedom toward it, a feeling of absolute dependence; and since we have no self-consciousness independently of our place in the world-whole, the consciousness of absolute dependence for ourselves involves the absolute dependence of the whole world, The ground of our being and of the being of the world is in a source beyond our being and the being of the world. This feeling of absolute dependence is religion. 122 In religion we feel ourselves absolutely dependent upon God. This feeling, as has been already pointed out, is immediate. That is to say, in religion we find ourselves in immediate relation with God.

But though the term God is here used, it is not to be understood that religion avails itself of any idea of God previously obtained by information or theophany. For such an idea of God would be intellectual and sensuous and would spring from a source outside the religious experience, and therefore no place can be assigned to it in a body of Christian doctrine. In saying we are in immediate relation with God, the latter term is used only to designate the Whence of our spontaneous and receptive life, of which we be come aware in our feeling of absolute dependence. This Whence, co-posited in our consciousness, is the truly original meaning of the term God. We do not indeed reason from this feeling to the objective existence of God, but God is immediately given in the feeling of absolute dependence. Feeling, self-consciousness, properly interpreted, involves the God-consciousness. We do not hereby dispute a supposed original knowledge of the existence of God obtained in some other way, but we only assert that with such knowledge we have nothing to do in Christian doctrine.

This feeling of absolute dependence constitutes the highest of the three stages of human consciousness: the first, the animalistic, prevailing in infancy and dreams, in which the antithesis of subject and object 123has not yet arisen because the mental functions are in a confused condition; the second, the sensuous, in which the antithesis is distinct; the third, the religious consciousness, in which the antithesis between self and not-self disappears and all is comprehended as identical with the subject. There is no other condition of consciousness parallel to this absolute feeling, for in all knowledge and action the antithesis of subject and object remains. But this highest stage never occurs in separation from the second. For being entirely simple (unvarying), self-identical in nature, and present in all activities, it could never possess the clearness and definiteness necessary to experience; and also, if it constituted by itself at any time the whole of our experience (which is the same as saying that thought and action might be unconnected with self-consciousness), the coherency of our being would be destroyed. It could not arise in the animalistic stage, because self-consciousness has not then arisen. But when the human soul breaks loose from the confusedness of that lower stage and recognizes the antitheses which present themselves in experience; and yet along with its sense of partial freedom and partial dependence recognizes also its absolute dependence, so that every potency of the sensuous consciousness is related to that higher consciousness, then we have the self-consciousness at the point of perfection. The more fully every element of the determinate self -consciousness is shot through with the feeling of absolute dependence, the more fully religious the man 124 is. The second and third stages always coexist. In other words, the feeling of absolute dependence is always conjoined with sensuous experiences, and the degree of a man’s piety depends upon the extent to which his sensuous experience is pervaded by the pious feeling. Or, to state it again differently, the measure of piety is the extent to which a man feels himself absolutely dependent, even in the midst of his relations to objects toward which he is relatively free, and the extent to which he can unite them all with him as absolutely dependent. Of course the ideal life, the blessedness of finite beings, would consist in an evenness of condition in which the religious feeling maintains itself in unbroken perfection, but in actual life sensuous experience introduces influences favorable and unfavorable to the feeling of absolute dependence, producing joy or grief, elevation or repression of the religious life, so that in consequence it comes to be expressed in a series, more or less interrupted, of pious impulses, instead of being constant and unvarying.

This feeling of absolute dependence, the God-consciousness, being the highest stage of the immediate self-consciousness, is an essential element of human nature. (The absence of this feeling in the case of any man or association of men could not prove that it is only contingently related to human nature, unless it could be shown that it is of no higher worth than sensuous feeling, or that there are other feelings be sides of equal value with it.) Now, every essential 125element of human nature forms a basis of communion. For, on the one hand, the race-consciousness within us produces an impulse to overstep the boundaries of our own personality and combine with others, and therein it finds its satisfaction; and, on the other hand, this impulse to communicate to others our inner experience is rendered possible of fulfilment by the constant connection of the religious feeling with sensuous experience (above noted). Word, act, tone, facial expression become channels for communicating to others and (through the race-consciousness) of stimulating in them our own experience. The issue is, the formation of an association or communion based upon that experience and composed of those who are capable of appropriating it. Thus religion produces religious communions. These will vary in character, on the one hand, according to likeness or unlikeness of disposition in different people (that is to say, according to the region of the self-consciousness with which the God-consciousness can most easily be united), and, on the other hand, according to the external circum stances (e.g., household or territorial relations) which shape their lives. Thus the religious feeling produces, in connection with these relative mutual attractions and repulsions, churches varying in character according to the influences just described. And as individuals or families vary in respect to the power of communicating the religious impulse, one being related to it actively, and another, or others, rather receptively, so arises priesthood.


NOTE.--If the religious nature is essentially social and expresses itself in the formation of churches, then it is confusing to speak of “natural religion”; because there is no natural church in existence in which the elements of such “natural religion” may be sought. It were better to speak of the religious disposition or religiosity (§§ 3-6).

« Prev I. The Church Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |