Romanticism And Idealism

Kant's view of God was Deistic. That is, God is the supremely wise and powerful creator, but does not act providentially within the natural order, and is not a possible object of human experience. He seems a remote and intellectual absentee God, though Kant finds it necessary to postulate his existence as a support to scientific investigation and moral commitment. Reacting to this austere doctrine, Schleiermacher (1768-1834) argued that religion is based on feeling, not intellect or moral practice. He defined religion, in the Speeches on Religion (1799), as 'a sense and taste for the infinite'; 'To be one with the infinite in the midst of the finite and to be eternal in a moment, that is the immortality of religion' (Schleiermacher 1988:140). He was often accused of pantheism, because he often spoke of faith as lying in 'intuition of the universe'. In his later work, The Christian Faith (1821), he redefined religion as 'the feeling of absolute dependence', making it clear that the universe was absolutely dependent on a timeless, simple, immutable reality beyond itself.

Schleiermacher denied speculative force to reflection about the Divine attributes, holding that 'they are only meant to explain the feeling of absolute dependence' (Schleiermacher 1989:198). He holds that 'everything for which there is a causality in God happens and becomes real' (ibid.: 21), so that, in willing himself, God wills the world. Moreover, God 'thinks of nothing else save what he actually produces' (ibid.: 225). The influence of Spinoza is clear; this universe, all that is, is co-incident with all that can be; and it necessarily flows from God in one timeless causality.

Critics point out that it is unlikely that these doctrines really explain or derive solely from a feeling or human experience. They seem much too intellectual and detailed for that. It is more likely that the 'feeling' is being described, ironically, in terms of a Rationalist form of classical theism. Schleiermacher's stress on religious experience as a source of doctrine has been influential in Protestant theology, especially on the work of Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) and Paul Tillich (1886-1965). Otto coined the term 'numinous' to refer to a core experience underlying all religion. In The Idea of the Holy (1917), Otto expounded numinous feeling as 'mysterium tremendum et fascinans', a non-rational feeling of mystery, dread and fascination. This is later rationalized and moralized to produce intellectual concepts such as that of God as moral cause of nature. According to such views, God is an immediate object of a unique sort of feeling, intuition or experience. It does not seem very likely that such human experiences could justifiably ground belief that there exists an omnipotent creator of the whole universe. Yet basic human feelings or attitudes (including so-called 'mystical experience') may be an important element in the development of ideas of God, which the Rationalism of Kant and of the later Scholastic philosophers ignored.

In addition to the Romantic reaction of Schleiermacher against Kantian

Rationalism, Kant's view of the phenomenal world as in some sense a construction of mind led to the development of philosophical Idealism, by Schleiermacher's contemporary, Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel rejected the appeal to feeling, insisting that Reason is competent to discern the nature of reality. In fact, he took the view that the whole of physical reality is a product of Absolute Reason or Spirit (Geist). His reaction to Kant was to abolish the noumenal realm, which was supposed to be beyond the grasp of theoretical knowledge, and hold that the temporal universe is the self-realization of Absolute Spirit, first objectifying itself in matter and then coming to know itself and thus being reconciled to itself in and through finite minds. Absolute Spirit is thus Trinitarian in form, moving from existence 'in itself, to an objectified and alienated existence 'for itself, and finally achieving a state in which it exists 'in and for itself'. 'There are three moments to be distinguished: Essential Being; explicit Self-existence, which is the express otherness of essential Being, and for which that Being is object; and Self-existence or Self-knowledge in that other' (Hegel 1931:767). Time and history have an important part to play, and indeed are essential to the realization of Spirit. Time is 'the necessity compelling Spirit to...make manifest what is inherent' (ibid.: 800). Hegel himself saw this as a deeply Christian philosophy, for which Pure Spirit incarnates in time and then reconciles all time to itself in an eternal consummation. He saw the Christian dogmas of Incarnation, Atonement and the Trinity as pictorial expressions of deeper and more universal philosophical truths. Accepting Spinoza's interpretation of the infinite as all-inclusive, he included temporality and development in the Divine Being in a way impossible for Thomas Aquinas. Although Hegel's system is obscure and ambiguous, most interpreters see the process of history as completed in a timeless realized existence of Spirit, which therefore remains above, though inclusive of, all temporal processes. 'The essential Being is inherently and from the start reconciled with itself (ibid.: 780). God is not actually a developing reality. Rather, temporal development manifests what is timelessly true of Being's own self-knowing and realizing unity.

Hegel's concept of a temporally self-realizing Spirit has been influential in most subsequent German theology, which can hardly be understood without it. Important to his methodology is the idea of dialectic, according to which ideas pass over into their opposites in the historical process, and then swing back on a higher level, which includes (sublates) the other two. The 'dialectical theology' of Karl Barth (1886-1968) exemplifies such a methodology, swinging from the idea of God as the 'Wholly Other' to the contrasting idea of the humanity of God. Barth, of course, replaces 'Reason' by 'Revelation', which Hegel would never have done (see below). For both, however, the truth lies beyond the grasp of concepts of understanding, which always divide up reality in partial and more or less abstract ways. Reason grasps that truth only by undergoing the dialectical process of Understanding or conceptual thought. So although Hegel holds that 'the Real is the Rational and the

Rational is the Real', it is important to see that he did not think the rational can be stated in precise unambiguous concepts. It must be grasped by a higher, though fully rational, mental faculty, beyond the opposition of concepts.

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