Religion or Reason

Von kjg
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Since the Pope spoke at Regensburg University a few months ago, there has been more discussion about whether the Christian faith makes sense. Even in the days of catholic scholasticism, there were attempts to establish that belief is reasonable. But between then and now, came the epoch of enlightenment. We can hardly ignore its critical definition of “reason”. Perhaps others than just the theologians Joseph Ratzinger and Robert Spaemann disapprove of Kant for setting limits to rationality. But should we be thoughtlessly led by this disapproval to scrap the division between reason and belief?

Reason describes the frame of what can be perceived Here and Now. While belief deals with what is Beyond, Supernatural, or simply cannot be perceived in the same way as real objects. Thoughtless talk that belief and the hope of redemption in paradise – provided it is the right belief – certainly contain the truth about God and His empire, serve not only to give people some sense of purpose. Perverted into fundamentalist radicalism, it can easily become very dangerous. The challenges of globalization have, once more, opened up the dangers inherent in fundamentalist religions. I see the combination of political and reasonable interests with religious expectations as currently the greatest threat to world peace.

The only therapy for this fatal belief is the spirit of enlightenment. Our religions must be re-routed from an imagined or existing experience of God to the function of religion for human spirituality. One of the reasons for religions is that people need to transcend the weaknesses of this earthly existence. So there is a natural aspect to religion. And this natural aspect alone is what is actually important for us humans. Enlightenment claims to understand this natural basis of religion, not its supernatural goals. In their need for religion and transcendence, all religious cults agree. But when it comes to the provision of the desired transcendence, they sometimes quarrel bitterly.

A sensible explanation of religion is not based on an abstract theory of what is humane and human, but on the empirical fact of man as he exists. Feelings, emotions and rationality are not contradictory. They counterbalance each other. The question: “What is the origin of religion?” has a rational answer and an answer based on belief. Rationality replies: “human needs”. It is not our task today to expound on the existence of God, but to seek enlightenment on human needs in the Here and Now. But, such worldly religion is also what causes the conflict between enlightenment and religion.

While radical enlightenment always gives nature as the origin of religion, the religious denominations give the supernatural as their source. Enlightenment should not try to be better than religion in explaining the supernatural. We don’t prove or disprove the supernatural; but rather try to find out about the natural existence of man. If Ratzinger and Spaemann – both of them hold honorary doctor titles from the Opus-Dei-University of Pamplona/Spain and are therefore committed to an ultra-rightist view of the Christian belief – claim that we need a “purified enlightenment” instead of Kant’s “pure enlightenment”, then they should let us know what exactly they want to use for purifying earthly enlightenment. Rational enlightenment, however, warns against vainly hoping to gain through holy grace what fallible earthly enlightenment withholds from us.

We regard it as an achievement of Kant’s critical enlightenment to see that needing to believe in a god for moral reasons says nothing about the existence of this god. Acceptance that we need to act as if a god has made our moral laws is not improved by “And this God exists”. So, we need not bother about the existence of God. This insight from Immanuel Kant is bitter for any belief based in the existence of God. It goes without saying that there is a desire to cancel this message.

Kant’s proof that God is morally necessary, says nothing about the actual existence of a possible God. It just makes a statement about what must be thought. This contains the following consideration: When we humans manage to define moral laws just as good as a god would have made, then a real god has nothing more to do. Man alone can, in his earthly responsibility, fulfill his earthly tasks. Within this area of earthly enlightenment, Kant includes even the religions! Man is then doing the work of God, just as Goethe – imitating the process of genesis – said in his poem Wiederfinden (Retrieval): „Allah braucht nicht mehr zu schaffen / Wir erschaffen seine Welt.“ (No need for Allah to create/we create his world).

KJG (Translated by EG)

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