Monday, December 10, 2012
The Enlightenment and its influence on the U.S. Installment 5
German Philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, (1729-1786), who opened the way for Jews to enter Modern Europe had this to say. The universal Religion of reason should lead to a respect for other ways of approaching God. Of course, it would be including Judaism, which the churches of Europe had persecuted for centuries.
Jews were less influenced by Mendelssohn than they were by another German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804). Kant has described the Enlightenment as mans exodus from his self imposed reliance on external authority.
He felt the only way to God led through the independent realm of moral conscience. He called this practical reason. He dismissed many of the trappings of Religion such as the dogmatic authority of the churches. He dismissed prayer and ritual. These things all prevented people from relying on their own powers.
It encouraged them to depend upon church doctrine. He was not opposed to the idea of God. However, he argued that the traditional arguments for the existence of God were useless. This was primarily because our minds could only understand things that exist in space or time.
He believed that man’s mind was not competent to consider realities that are beyond this category. He allowed that man had a natural tendency to go beyond these limits. He believed we would seek a principle of unity. He felt that would give us a vision of reality as a believable whole.
This was the idea of God. It was not possible to prove the existence of God logically. It wasn’t possible to disprove it either. The idea of God was essential to us. It represented the ideal limit that allowed us to achieve a comprehensive idea of the world.
Therefore for Kant, God was merely a convenience. Kant argued against the idea of a wise and omnipotent creator. He felt this could undermine scientific research. He thought it would lead to a lazy reliance on a god who fills in the gaps of our knowledge. It could also be a source of unnecessary mystification.
He believed this would lead to bitter disputes such as those that have scarred the history of the churches. Kant was not an atheist. His contemporaries described him as a devout man. He was believed to be profoundly aware of mans capacity for evil.
This made the idea of God critical to him. Kant argued that in order for man to lead a moral life men, and women, needed a Governor. One who would reward virtue with happiness. I must agree with this in the majority of cases. However there are some of us are moral enough to govern ourselves.
In his perspective, God was simply tacked on to the ethical system as an afterthought. The center of religion was no longer the mystery of God, but man himself. God has become a strategy that enables us to function more efficiently and morally. He is no longer the center for all being.
It would not be long before some would take his ideal one step further. They would find it necessary to dispense with God altogether. Kant had been one of the first people in the west to doubt the validity of church traditions. He believed that they in fact proved nothing. They would never appear quite so convincing again. That was liberating to many Christians. They firmly believed that God had closed one path to faith only to open another. Life Today The Real Story "2005"