As we previous stated, there were criteria for religion in the Enlightenment era. One was that it conforms to our experience and the other that it conforms to reason. It is this second criteria that we will examine now. I will briefly outline the Religion of Reason and then, through Livingstone, point to it's supposed failure.
The Religion of Reason dethroned the traditional Judeo-Christian God and replaced it with Reason. Revelation was not enough to establish knowledge of God and man anymore. Everything that was revealed in the Scriptures and Tradition had to pass the test and fire of Reason. Christian Wolff, a German philosopher, held that there was a particular necessity to belief in a god, yet "Particular revealed doctrines, however, were fair game for dismissal if they were found to be unreasonable." (Modern Christian Thought, Livingston, pg. 29)
These particular doctrines that were rejected included original sin, predestination, vicarious atonement and the eternity of punishment. These doctrines had to be dismissed to get at the "spiritual kernel of the Old and New Testaments." (pg. 29) According to Wolff and the followers of the Religion of Reason, certain doctrines of the Church would not and did not hold up to critical analysis. If it did not seem logically or physically plausible, then it did not and could not have happened. Thus, we cannot base any doctrine on these false stories and events.
H.S. Reimarus took this farther and introduced a tension between the 'Jesus of History' and the 'Christ of Faith'. The implication of this tension is that there was a Jesus that is historically situated, but he is not the Christ of Faith. The Christ of faith is an invention of the disciples, which was "wholly foreign to Jesus' own intentions." (pg. 31) Reimarus stated that "When Jesus calls himself God's Son, he means to imply only that he is the Christ or Messiah particularly loved by God, and thus he does not introduce to the Jews any new doctrine or mystery." (pg 30-31) This means that Jesus was not calling himself God or Divine but just taking on the titles of the Jewish Prophets, and setting himself up as a great moral teacher. However, "the failure of that Messianic mission" to establish a powerful kingdom in Jerusalem, "and Jesus's inglorious death on the Cross shattered the disciples' expectations. Faced with a crisis, the apostles concocted the account of Jesus as the expected Jewish suffering savior who came to redeem humanity from sin and who would be raised on the third day." (pg. 31) What Reimarus is arguing is that the rational understanding of Jesus failed, so the disciples invented an irrational falsehood to save face. Thus, the Church of Jesus was to be only a church of moral reasonableness, instead of a Church of redemptive grace and supernatural salvation.
Remairus' insight backed up the Religion of Morality in this way. Jesus revealed natural and reasonable moral truth and nothing more. The Church, according to the Rational Religionists should have stayed natural and not had anything to do with the supernatural.
G.E Lessing continued this by stating that "The teachings (of Jesus and Scripture) are not authoritative because they are found in a sacred book: the book is sacred because it speaks an inward truth that existed long before the Bible." (pg. 34-35) He backs this up by analogy. "Is the situation such that 'I should hold a geometrical theorem to be true not because it can be demonstrated but because it can be found in Euclid?' No, of course not." (pg. 34) From this we can establish that truth is not truth based on authority or writing, but because they can be demonstrated. Following from this, we can say that truth comes not from the Revelation of the Holy Spirit but from Revelation of the natural order by the Rational mind.
From the thoughts of Remairus and Lessing we can say that the Church should not hold to anything due to special revelation or divine command. Instead, the Church should be based on the observable order of Nature and it's working out in experience.
In our next post, we will discuss then what the followers of the Religion of Reason thought Christianity should be.