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(Philosophy of Religion)

The idea of history presupposes development. In the political sphere the human race exhibits development in the progress of society through unions and amalgamations to the tribe and the nation; in art and science from rudeness to culture; similarly in respect to religion. From its original home in the household it spreads out into widely extended religious communions. But religious progress is not necessarily parallel with the other forms. For while certain species of religion are incompatible with a low form of civilization or culture, yet the development of piety to the highest perfection is possible while other spiritual functions remain far behind. Nor does it follow that, because two communities or peoples have passed through the same number of stages of religious development, their religion will be of the same character. Religions differ in kind as well as in their stage of development, as may be seen in the case of widely separated communities on the lowest stage. These distinctions have not received much attention in the past because the critical study of the history of religion 127has had regard to the individual rather than to the community.

This twofold distinction--kinds and stages--will serve to indicate the relation of Christianity to other communions or modes of faith. The admission that Christianity may occupy a stage of development similar to that of other religions is not prejudicial to its pre-eminence or finality, but it is incompatible with the view that Christianity stands related to other religions as the true to the false. Were other religions mere errors or absolutely false, how could Christianity contain so much in common with them and how could any man make the transition to it from the others? For error never exists in and for itself; it is a perversion of the truth and can be understood only through its connection with the truth. (See Rom. 1:21 ff.; Acts 17:27-30.)

The lowest stage of religious development is occupied by idolatry or fetichism, from which monolatry is not generically distinct. In this, worship is paid to a god whose interest and influence are confined to a limited sphere, because the worshipers are at that stage of mental development in which the sense of totality has not yet been awakened. The addition of several idols or fetiches is contingent on the discovery of the incapacity of the first to meet all needs but in no wise indicates higher religious aspiration. The religious subject has not yet passed beyond that confused animalistic condition in which the distinction 128 between the higher and the lower consciousness has not appeared; and accordingly the feeling of absolute dependence is reflected from an individual object sensuously apprehended.

The union of several objects of worship in such a way that a plurality of idols represents one essence inhering in a manifold, introduces the next stage, when idolatry passes over into polytheism proper. Here the local relations of the different deities entirely recede and the gods form an articulated, coherent, manifold exhausting the whole sphere of deity. This corresponds to a sense for plurality, multiplicity, of being, in which a One-All is presupposed and sought for. The self-consciousness is now able to make the clear distinction between subject and object--the religious feeling is accordingly reflected from various affections of the sensuous self-consciousness, so that it is impossible as yet to refer the feeling of absolute dependence to a unity rising above all sensuous apprehension. Polytheism is an intermediate stage partaking of the nature of the other two.

As the conception of the inherence of this plurality of beings in one Being rises more and more into consciousness and the higher self -consciousness be comes fully distinguished from the lower sensuous consciousness, monotheism appears. It is based on the unity of a Supreme. The self-consciousness has now been extended so as to take in the whole world of which we are a part; the world is apprehended as a unity; the religious feeling is capable of connection 129with every sensuous affection; hence the feeling of absolute dependence can be referred to the Supreme Being. This is the highest stage of religious development.

So soon as religion has in some place been developed up to the stage of faith in one God, it can be foreseen that all mankind is destined to attain to it; for this faith contains within itself the impulse to unlimited expansion and the power to appeal to the receptivity of all men. From this two conclusions follow: it is impossible to conceive the original condition of mankind as mere brutality, and it is impossible for any man to pass from a higher to a lower stage of religion. There is also no historical instance of either case.

On this highest stage history shows only three great communions: the Jewish, the Christian, and the Mohammedan--the first in process of extinction, the other two struggling for the mastery of the human race. Judaism, by its limitation of Jehovah’s love to the stock of Abraham, is akin to fetichism. This appeared in that tendency to idol-worship which was not eradicated till after the exile. Mohammedanism betrays by its passionate character and the strongly sensuous content of its religious ideas its affinity to polytheism. Christianity has neither of these defects; from it there can be no relapse to either of the others.

NOTE.--Since pantheism has never appeared as the confession of a historical religious communion, it does not come into consideration 130here, except with reference to the question whether a pantheism which has arisen from speculative thought be compatible with religion, supposing, of course, that the so-called pantheism is not a disguised negation of theism. If, in pantheism, God denotes the unity of the world, the question may be answered in the affirmative, since God and the world would then be distinguished, at least as to function. A man who reckons himself one with the world may at the same time feel himself, with this all, dependent on that which is the unity thereto.

These three communions in the monotheistic stage represent three kinds or species, because their development is on different lines. The fundamental, as contrasted with a merely empirical, distinction between them is not to be found in a different quality of the feeling of absolute dependence (which is absolutely simple and therefore admits of no modifications), but in the different ways in which the religious feeling stands related to the sensuous experiences with which it must be united in order to constitute a moment of experience, an activity of life. Considering now the whole of life as made up of action and passion in their reciprocal operation, the relation of these to each other as means and end gives two general types of piety. When passion is a means to action, when it becomes only the occasion of some activity, springing from the God-consciousness, i.e., where the union of the God-consciousness with the receptive experiences which we receive from contact with the world becomes a means of promoting personal activity in the kingdom of God, the type of piety is teleological. Here it is the dominant attitude to an ethical task that constitutes 131the ground type of the religious state of mind. When action is a means to passion, i.e., when the union of the God-consciousness with active states of the individual becomes a means to the harmonious effect of contact with the world upon our receptive (i.e., feeling) nature, the type of piety is aesthetic. In teleological types of religion the sensuous is subordinated to the ethical; in the aesthetic types the ethical is subordinated to the sensuous. The former tends to the expansion, the latter to the contraction, of our self-consciousness. Christian and Hellenic piety are, respectively, the best examples of these.

Confining our attention now to those religions which represent the highest stage we discover the grand distinction between the three monotheistic religions. In Christianity everything is comprehended under the conception of the kingdom of God; in it all joy and pain and all impulses springing from passive conditions partake of a religious character only in so far as they promote activity in this kingdom. In Juda ism, although the expectation of divine punishments and rewards indicates on one side the prominence of the sensuous element, yet the prevailing form of its God-consciousness is that of a Governing Will and hence passive states are ultimately subordinate to the active. But Mohammedanism is fatalistic and subjects the ethical to the natural in that it seeks as its end, even in its activities, the ease which results from a favorable relation to the divine decrees. Hence, while Christianity is wholly teleological and Judaism 132 less perfectly so, Mohammedanism is unmistakably of the aesthetic type.

Every religious community is a unit in two respects. (Compare the twofold distinction of stages and kinds, as above.) Externally, it possesses historical continuity from a definite point of beginning; internally, it puts its own characteristic stamp upon everything it possesses, even if other communions possess the same in some form. Thus as Mohammedanism arose with the Prophet, and Judaism with Moses, so Christianity began with Christ and possesses unbroken continuity to the present. Also the whole inward character of each is peculiarly its own. Christianity is not an offshoot of Judaism or a supplement to it. The sphere of religious experience in the case of these two religions is fundamentally different. In the case of the Christian religion faith in Christ must modify all pious feelings, must impart a new character to all the previously existent religious impulses, even to the God-consciousness in all the relations in which it is already present. Else Christ would be only an individual object capable of making certain impressions upon us, but no proper object of faith.

NOTE.--Positive and revealed religion: “Natural religion,” like “natural right,” can only denote that which by a process of mental abstraction is seen to comprehend the elements common to all cases, and, like “natural right,” has never been and never can be the basis of a communion. Such natural religion would not be so much religion as doctrine. If “positive” is taken to refer to the individualizing of this common possession, for example in Judaism in the form of commandment, in Christianity 133in the form of doctrine; then it can be shown that either commandment or doctrine has actual, acknowledged validity only within a definite communion, and must therefore rest ultimately upon the original religious fact (e.g., in Christianity, the person of Christ) which gave rise to this religious communion. The term “positive” must refer properly to the sum-total of pious life-energies within a communion which as a coherent historical phenomenon has issued from this original fact.

Though the terms “revealed” and “revelation” have been subjected to much confusion of thought, it may be said that they always imply the fact of a divine communication and announcement which gave rise to a union of individuals. Only, this original fact constitutive of a basis of communion cannot be regarded as operative on man regarded merely as a knowing being, for in that case the revelation would be originally and essentially doctrine. But no super natural energy is necessary to the production of a combination of sentences which can be understood from their connection with one another. Doctrines therefore can be considered of supernatural origin only as parts of a larger whole, as descriptions of the life-energies of a thinking Being who, as a personal existence, works in an original way upon our self-consciousness by his advent into our sphere of life and by the total impression of his person. This is the original fact upon which the Christian communion is founded. Revelation is only to be assumed where not a single activity but a whole Existence is deter mined by such a divine communication, and what is then announced of such, that is to be considered as 134revealed. There is revelation, therefore, in all religious communions. None can claim that its own possession of divine communication is full and perfect truth and all others are false, because an announcement of God, if it is to be operative upon us, cannot be of him as he is in himself, but only of him in his relation to us. All original formations of piety, however imperfect they may be, rest upon revelation (§§ 7-10).

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