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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Historical Christianity is a supplement to natural religion. According to this view, "Natural religion is excellent and legitimate as far as it goes but...it 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
- 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.
In our next post, we will look at the supposed failure of the religion of Reason.