Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Essence of the Religion of Reason

Based on our last post, what then is the essence of Religion? What should the Church look like? Livingston outlines four views of what a Religion of Reason should look like. Before we get into the different views, some more ground work must be done. The apostles of religion thought that religion should be a simple matter and should be reduced down to key understandings. Everything that complicated religion should be done away with. With these apostles, "There was a general desire, even among the supernaturalists, to reduce religion and Christianity to a very few doctrines and even fewer practices." (pg. 36) With this premise, "Sacraments and rituals often were regarded as useless, even dangerous distractions" (pg. 36) as they only over-complicated religion and what it required of humanity. The only ritual or sacrament that was worth practicing was morality. In effect there was a view that "religion was solely a matter between the individual and God and therefore a highly individualistic affair." (pg. 36) Due to this, "the Church was thought of as a voluntary association." (Pg. 36)

According to these thinkers that established the Religion of Reason, we did not outside authority or guidance. We only needed ourselves and God and an attitude of 'Jesus and me' developed. My autonomous reason and morality can guide me, so why do I need anything else? This lead to the first of the four views outlined by Livingston.

  1. Christianity is a corruption of true religion and needs to be opposed. This view draws on Remairus, Lessing and Voltaire by holding that doctrines are often obscure and unreasonable, thus they get in the way of what religion should be. The perversion of the supernatural distracts us from the natural, so the sickness of Christianity should be gotten rid of in favor of a more natural religious understanding.
  2. Christianity is the religion of Nature. This second view plays off the the thought of Toland, Tindal and Kant. "The essence of Christianity is none other than that of the religion of reason, but couched in the more or less imperfect form of an historical tradition." (pg. 36) This view holds that Christian doctrine obscured what nature reveals by adding un-neccesarry and illogical dogma into the mix. Hence it follows that we can get rid of Tradition in all of its forms, as everyone that is reasonable has access to the truth. Tradition then is made superfluous and not needed.
  3. Historical Christianity is a supplement to natural religion. According to this view, "Natural religion is excellent and legitimate as far as it goes needs the supplementation of certain supernatural doctrines which are only found in special revelation in Scripture." (pg. 36) These supplements are only valid if they are not contrary to Reason and Experience. Nature can only point us so far, and after we reach the limits of nature, special revelation can take us the rest of the way. (This is reminiscent of the Natural Theology of Emil Brunner) Even though Special Revelation adds to general revelation, it still is subject to general revelation. If Special Revelation does not conform to general revelation, then it is what is specially reveled is not Revelation
  4. Christianity is one historic stage in the quest for a perfect religion. This view holds that Christianity is a stepping stone towards true religion and thus is not the true religion. The "Christ or Christianity is not seen as the historic republication of the original religion of nature or as the full and complete revelation of divine truth." (Pg. 36) Christ and Christianity are incomplete, and as history continues to enfold, truth will be added to the truth of Christianity making it complete. Christianity, in Lessing's view, is necessarily incomplete due to the fact that it is historically conditioned. True religion, for Lessing, is found in the 'Eternal Gospel' which "will transcend the inadequate, historically conditioned and obscure truths" (pg. 35) found in Scripture.
Underscoring all four of these views is the understanding that Christianity is no more than a morality brought to  light by Reason. This view, in its various manifestations, although it failed philosophically, is still present in the Church today.

In our next post, we will look at the supposed failure of the religion of Reason. 

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