Removing the Husk
of Imposed History and Statutory Law
from the Moral Seed of the Christian Religion
by Philip McPherson Rudisill
2002 (slight editing on 5/26/2013)
In Religion Within The Bounds Of Reason Alone Kant identifies a moral core to the Christian faith and asserts that because of that core and because the faith contains a principle for dispensing with the morally extraneous statutes and history associated with it, this faith can count as a moral, world religion. In this essay I want to examine Kants thinking with regard to this dispensing with history and statutes in light of the New Testament record. As a preface I will present a brief (and somewhat interpretative) summary of Kants thought leading to this work on religion and then also of that work itself.
Kants Critical And Moral Thinking Preceding His Work On Religion
Critique of Pure Reason and the Provision of the Object of Experience. Kant is prompted to revolutionary thinking by the challenge of David Hume who has not only destroyed the foundations of belief in human freedom (necessary for any religion), but even the foundations of science itself. Kant takes up the challenge and begins with a validation of science. Hume has relegated the metaphysical principles underlying experience, most notably that of causation, to a dust bin of reflective, mental associations. When our perceptions follow a certain sequence several times we abbreviate the observed relationship by calling the first perception of the sequence the cause, and the second the effect, and which effectively removes all necessity from the sequence and making it entirely subjective. There was, however, one obstacle to this otherwise thorough devastation of metaphysics and science which Hume could not overcome, i.e., by his own system he could not explain how he could know that his table did not change size as he viewed it from different distances, for with every observation the appearance was precisely that.* And if all human knowledge were merely a reflection of what had been perceived, Humes fundamental thesis, then he could not have known that the table did not physically change size.
[* David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 118. This is clear to anyone with open eyes. A more interesting case, perhaps, is the "split" that takes place in any solitary finger as it approaches one's nose (given that one has two functioning and open eyes).]
Kants solution was to provide what Hume (along with every person) was forced to assume but was unable to admit to given his intention to destroy metaphysics. In much the same way that we must dream up a circle and then also thrust it out into space in order to rationalize the otherwise inane movements of a mime artist (tracing out a circle there) and then see that circle in that space via a pure envisagement (reine Anschauung), we must also dream up an object of experience (speaking transcendentally or knowledge-enablingly), the so-called thing on its own, and then also thrust it into space and time in order thereby to recognize that what we actually see are specters/appearances (Erscheinungen) of that thing which actually and physically exist only on our retinas and other sense organs. Due to this capacity of our categorically organized and connecting minds we are intrigued by the suspicion or hint of a correlation between size of object and distance, and accordingly conduct experiments and discern that while the size of the sighted object in hand does change with distance (as does the sight of the hand itself), the feelings associated with the object do not change. This in turn leads to the recognition and differentiation of the thing on its own and the mere appearance or specter of that thing in our eye.* ** The experiment to which this intrigue leads and whereby we come then to learn (as did Hume as a child) that the eye presents a distortion of reality is a envisagement like that with the circle in the air except that this envisagement has an empirical content. It is a so-called second look, a careful take (Wahr-nehmung)*** for the purpose of making sure, and which was provoked by the uncertain hint of correlation. It is called a perception and means that while Humes system was based on human perception, these perceptions could only first arise as a product of the categorical mind in pursuit of the thing on its own and merely prompted by empirical data.
[* Kant showed that some human knowledge is both synthetic and a priori. A consistent understanding can be devised to account for things physically getting smaller at a distance. You might have some unconscious, divine-like influence on all things around you. The only problem would arise when tiny people at a distance would occasionally claim that they were not small at all but that you were. But this could be explained by dismissing these people as lunatics or occasional mockers. Since, therefore, it is possible to view things differently and as variable in size, this means that the view we have with Hume that things are fixed in size is synthetic, and yet since it could not have arisen through experience (as Hume rightly noted in his de facto, metaphysical deduction of this view of things), it is also a priori (independent of any experience).]
[** This provision of an object for the sake of a possible experience is discussed at length by this author in Circles in the Air: Pantomimics and the Transcendental Object = X appearing in Kant Studien, 1996 vol. 2, Walter de Gruyter, New York. The sense of this essay is that the circle which is drawn pantomimicly in mid air is seen there by means of a pure envisagement (and in which case the more usually rendered intuition for Anschauung hardly seems appropriate). It is the envisagement which delineates the face seen in a cloud or in the moon. This face, just like the rainbow that Kant mentions (CPR.#8.I.Par5, B63), exists only in the eye and not as a thing on its own. If we could not make this distinction by first conceiving quite gratis of a thing on its own, then in the same way that the rainbow comes into and goes out of existence, we would assume that all objects could do likewise, and so while the rainbow could be considered as interesting and even pretty, it would never be thought as curious. As a result of such thinking we would never come to experience how we can overlook something in a quick, first search (which is then proven by suddenly finding that something with a second, more careful search), for we would have no reason to think that the object looked for were even in existence during the first search and did not rather come into existence just before the second. Indeed without the concept of the thing on its own we would not even be able to imagine a time different from the subjectively conditioned time of our envisagement such that we could have the internal experience of ourselves being unaware of what is going on around us (in preoccupation or in sleep); nor ever realize that objects dont double as they approach our nose (speaking as a person with two eyes).]
[*** I am indebted to Werner Pluhar for pointing out this understanding in dissection of Wahrnehmung into Wahr and nehmung, which represent "true" of "careful" and "taking"]
Nature versus Freedom. The form of the categorical mind provides a necessity such that humans are able to recognize an object of experience and to derive its appearance or specter in the eye from that such that Hume could tell that his eyes played tricks on him.* But since this necessity must be universally applied for even the first experience to arise, it also excludes the possibility of the freedom of will which is required for civil law and religion (for freedom is anathema to the necessitation of nature). And this is a problem for Kant. The solution arises by realizing with Kant that the object of experience is in fact an empirical thing on its own, i.e., it is the thing on its own for us, i.e., it is as close as we can come to it empirically. We begin experience in search of the thing on its own which we simply dream up to give expression to the categorical mind in the a priori conception of a nature in general. But all we ever end up with is the empirical thing on its own, i.e., our own specters of the eye and the other sense organs mentally combined into perceivable objects, like Humes constant size table. And since we have no reason to think that we humans possess all possible sensations and since we conceive of the thing on its own as being independent of any given of our particular modes of sensation and thus of all modes of sensation, it follows that the thing on its own remains totally unknown to humans, and we are dealing merely with a specter. This means in turn that while science can determine its object of experience totally and without limitation within the realm of sense, we are still nonetheless able to think about this thing on its own without limitation, that it is free, for example and if we should choose to do so; but with this proviso: we are not permitted to think it in contradiction to the conclusions of science. If science necessitates a certain fact, we cannot deny that fact. So, for example, if science can totally explain how a person naturally came to commit some murder, thinking (rightly) of that person as simply another object of experience, it is impossible to deny the fact; but it is nonetheless possible still to assert that the person did not have to commit that act. Thus the libertarian speaking retrospectively of a scientific fact says no more than: what the person did, he did not have to do, and so he did it voluntarily and so is responsible for that act and so has reason for a good or bad conscience. In this dual way then it is possible to think two totally diverse causalities with one and the same effect. The effect is the fact, but the two causalities are in the thinking of that fact, first the murderer, let us say, standing before us knife in hand which is the empirically necessitated object of science and fully explicable and predictable; and second that same person in an intelligible way as a rational being able to contemplate a course of action in terms of a so-called law of right conduct. In a word: in the case of a wrongful act science will combine the persons upbringing, temperament and perceived situation and opportunity and (under a rubric of self interest) will derive the act from those factors; while the libertarian will insist that the person had reasoned out the consequences of the act and by committing it anyway proves it a voluntary act in his or her own eyes. One act and two diverse, but noncontradictory, causalities: nature and freedom. And so the thing on its own, while conceptually necessary in order to have the object of experience, paradoxically ends up untouched by the pronouncements and purview of science in its pursuit of that very experience.**
[* See CPR.#8.III.fn, B69, where we read: if I ascribe extension to all external objects on their own without considering a determined relationship of these objects to the subject and limiting my judgment to that, it is only then that illusion arises, and so where the illusion would be to ignore the make-up of the eye and to take what is seen and what is felt as independent things on their own with the result that the correlation of the different senses would become thoroughly contingent, and we would have no reason to think that objects did not get smaller at a distance.]
[**CPR.#3.Par9.Sent3, B45, where we read: what we term external objects are nothing more than depictions of our sensitivity, the form of which is space, but the true correlate, i.e., the thing itself on its own, is not recognized in that way at all, nor can be, but about which in experience also no questions are ever raised.]
Groundwork To The Metaphysic of Morals (GMM) and Conceiving of Freedom Positively. Having established the compatibility of nature and freedom (but not yet the fact of freedom), Kant turns to uncover what is metaphysically needed in order to conceive of a free being. He takes the notion of duty and finds that it is an action to be undertaken immediately and simply by virtue of the command. The command is not arbitrary, but is in fact the very law that all persons would devise on their own if they were to ask: if I were (like a god) and were going to fashion a world for free beings, and if I were then also going to live in that world as a one among many equals, what sort of world would I devise? the answer: one calling for unconditioned respect for all members of that world. That is then the moral law, the one law that all people would agree to.* In fact the reason we humans possess dignity is not so much that we are subject to that law as rather we are the originators of it and so are only obeying a law which we ourselves have each promulgated on our own.
[* I would agree to a world where I alone were important, or also a world where all people (including me) were important. The reader would agree to a world where he or she alone were important or also a world where all people (including the reader) were important. It is clear then that the only world that all people could agree on is one where all people are important.]
Kant has not proven we are free, but merely what sort of concept we would need in mind to express our presupposition of freedom.* There is a problem here: how can human beings, who know themselves only in and through their sensitive nature, ever have any reason to imagine that they are free of the universally binding laws of nature? Even though we can conceive of a realm of free beings, what is it about a human that could be free? Kant finds the answer in the following way: humans are able to imagine their thoughts and especially their reasoning and ideas as being sensitive manifestations (using words and symbols) of intelligible beings (our souls, we say) which are independent of space and time (and which can communicate even with themselves only via these sensitive words and symbols). Such beings, conceived now in this way as original and transcendental things on their own, would be subject to the laws that are proclaimed by their own understanding and rational nature. We prescribe laws to nature that serve as prompts to experiments leading to the discovery of specific laws as mentioned above. This means we are actually lawgivers in general and can just as easily issue laws to a realm of free people. Therefore, the very moral law that we each individually devise ourselves is what we would unfailingly comply with if we were not enticed to dereliction by our sensitive desires; and in this way we come to understand the possibility of a categorical imperative like duty, namely a commanded action which would be undertaken automatically in the intelligible realm but which only ought to arise in the sensitive world of our experience, for it does not have to and, due to sensitive obstacles, may not. Kant has thus given us the conditions for our universal presupposition of freedom, but has not yet proven that we are free.
[* Essentially Kant would have people surprised to hear anyone questioning the fact of their freedom, and not being surprised when their freedom is taken for granted. GMM.III, Freedom Must Be Presupposed As A Property Of The Will Of All Rational Beings, B99.]
Critique of Practical Reason and Provision of Freedom. We find three sorts of rational imperatives for practical application: rules of skill (i.e., do this because it is an efficient means to some desired construction), counsels of prudence (i.e., look out for your personal well being), and commands of morality (i.e., act on unconditional, categorical imperatives). Unlike the first two with their hypothetical necessity which follows self evidentially from rationality, the last alone needs a justification, for anyone following any rule absolutely and without qualification would have to be considered a lunatic.* And yet the way we come to recognize our own freedom is through the respect which we in fact have for the absolute, moral law in spite of, and disregarding, this charge of lunacy. I shall elaborate.
[* For example: walk through every open door, e.g., regardless of whether there are any stairs or walkway on the other side!]
Even though a person seeking to live according to a categorical imperative should be considered by science as insane,* fixated with a mere idea just as was Lockes glass man,** yet science makes an exception with such people and does not considered them insane at all, but rather objects of respect and emulation. This morally kindled insistence upon the sanity of the moral agent is illustrated in Kants gallows example touching all people including scientists. Here Kant would have us face a choice between 1. being hanged for refusing to tell a lie which would result in the death of an innocent man hated by the king, or 2. continuing to live unmolested by telling that lie. The fact that all people can pause to consider how they might respond, even if not certain of their strength in opting for the first (the moral) choice, is proof enough of the freedom of the human being. For this pause makes no more sense to a rational, non-free being than pausing to decide between roasting ones hand in a fire and eating a delicious dessert, and means that the moral rule is compulsory for the human, and that in turn means that every human is truly and transcendentally free. Therefore, we realize we are free because we have respect for the moral law, the very law each person fashions individually (as indicated above). This recognition of freedom is especially noted in the internal rationalizations people devise for their own derelictions of duty--e.g., the thief who justifies himself through a maxim of never stealing from those with less than he or she has, which, absent freedom and our indigenous respect for the moral law, is utterly inane.
[* Cfm. Shakespeares Richard III, Conscience is but a word that cowards use, devised at first to keep the strong in awe, Richard III, Act 5, Scene 3.]
[** John Locke, Concerning Human Understanding, Book II, xi, No. 13 Difference between idiots and madmen.]
The Highest Good, the Eternal Soul and God. Morally we are in a precarious position, however. Since it is only the innate respect we have for the moral law that leads us even to consider a moral act, and since each person is naturally and obviously engaged in a zero-sum game with an immediate trade off between happiness and moral deeds (where all considerations of personal happiness are excluded in the determination of duty), and since we have no reason to expect from nature any more than a world of occasional good deeds and of occasional happiness which is only contingently associated with those deeds, we can foresee a distinct disincentive to morality. As a result and in an effort to justify moral actions in light of the inevitable trade off, we are prompted by pure practical reason to formulate a reconciliation of happiness and virtue via a unifying goal or aim for the moral disposition. This aim or purpose is called the Highest Good and consists of two components: 1. we are actually in pursuit of utter, moral perfection in our moral strivings (and not merely doing good deeds), and 2. we expect a happiness commensurate to our virtue. This promise of happiness effectively removes the zero-sum aspect of the play between morality and happiness.
Now a conclusion arises from each of these two components. Since virtue refers to the disposition (as the determination to do good acts), and since the practically necessary presumption is that we are to become perfect in that disposition, i.e., actually come to love the moral law,* it follows that the idea of the Highest Good contains a practical goal of moral perfection, i.e., utter virtue, even if we are not actually called upon to demonstrate such a virtuous disposition. And since it is simply impossible to anticipate any close approximation to this goal in our spectral life on earth, we are forced to appeal to the concept of our intelligible selves (as we did above to justify the moral interest that we take in the moral law) and believe that we exist independently of this spectral world and so will continue to exist despite death such that this goal of moral perfection is an actual, practical goal and that we can see ourselves and others as pursuing it through history and into the immeasurable future. This postulation is necessarily contained in the concept of the purpose of the moral act whereby alone that purpose, i.e., the Highest Good, can be a practical, i.e., attainable, goal.
[* It is not acceptable to have the Highest Good reach only to an improvement in moral disposition and not to utter perfection. For if it is admitted that a degree of improvement is possible (which every person must admit to), then since moral perfection is also simply another degree from a lessor degree (in an infinite progression), it must be admitted that moral perfection, and not just simply improvement, is the meaning and intention of the Highest Good.]
Now likewise, since the promise of the Highest Good is for individual happiness in proportion to virtue actually achieved, and since such proportionate happiness cannot be expected in nature, the practicality of the Highest Good also calls for the postulation of God as the means of this anticipated apportionment of happiness. In a word: I am also driven by the practicality of the Highest Good (in providing a unique purpose to the moral law) to believe in God.
The necessity of these two postulates may be expressed so: I must have the Highest Good (of utter virtue and commensurate happiness) as a goal in all my moral actions, or else I must give up my morality (and become hateful in my own eyes!), or otherwise I must give up rationality and admit of less common sense and sanity than Don Quixote, for at least he thought the windmills were giants.* If a person claimed rationality and rejected the Highest Good and continued occasionally to engage in moral acts, it would be the same as Quixote charging the windmills without thinking they were disguised giants, but rather because he vowed allegiance to an absolute rule requiring him to charge windmills. Thus while morally inclined people are not morally obligated to pursue the Highest Good as the ultimate aim of their moral deeds, any respect and compulsion they exhibit for the moral law in the absence of such a pursuit is, as a matter of prudence and given the fact of the zero-sum trade off, a reason to seek psychiatric help as though they were mentally ill.
[* Or as Kant puts it in CPR.Method.II.2-Par14.Sent3, B839: without God . . . moral laws are to be considered as idle brainstorms. And then shortly after that (Par17.Sent3, B841) we read, Without a God, therefore, and without a world which is not yet seen by us but is still wished for, the splendid ideas of morality are indeed objects of approbation and marvel, but are not incentives to purpose and exercise because these ideas do not fulfill the entire purpose which is natural to every rational being, and which are necessary and determined through the same pure reason a priori. And finally (CPR.Method.II.3-Par16.Sent5, B856) . . . I will inevitably believe in the existence of God and a future life and am certain that nothing can shake this belief; for in that case my moral principles would be toppled and these I cannot abandon without becoming despicable in my own eyes.]
The God and eternal life postulated necessarily in the Highest Good by the moral compulsion lead us now to a consideration of our relationship to this God in Kants rational treatment of religion.
Kants Modus Operandi and Transition to Religion. I conceive of Kant to be in pursuit of what is absolutely unanimous among rational beings.* In the Critique of Pure Reason he has all humans agreeing that the size of things about us is not a function of distance from the viewer; in the Groundwork to the Metaphysic of Morals we agree universally on the composition of the moral law; and in the Critique of Practical Reason we universally acknowledge respect for this law and the highest good justifying this law. Now Kant is asking us to conceive of, i.e., invent, a religion (dealing with eternal life, God and the human condition) that all, impartial rational beings would agree with in this same way.** With this goal in mind we turn now to survey Religion Within The Bounds Of Reason Alone.
[* What Kant has in mind is not some voluntary agreement as in a political commonwealth but rather a necessary appeal to one and the same principle by each individual acting independently and on his or her own.]
[** Religion.4.I.(3&4), B233, i.e., Religion Within The Bounds Of Reason Alone, Book 4, Section I, paragraphs 3 and 4, beginning on page 233 of the B edition of this work.]
Religion Within The Bounds Of Reason Alone
Book 1.* In order to explain the human moral condition and at the same time to provide some even limited hope for success in the moral pursuit on the part of humans, Kant will have us entertain two conceptions simultaneously: firstly human beings must be conceived of as good in their original make-up, preeminently in their respect for the moral law; secondly we are to understand that humans naturally exercise their freedom to their common, moral detriment. The latter is socially induced when two or three interact in a group, even if all are well intended.** Essentially we find the moral law oppressive to us, but cannot renounce it without appearing despicable in our own sight. The result is that we bolster the moral law with prudent maxims (principles of action) and justify moral action also as a means for obtaining some reward or avoiding some punishment. Eventually this prudent maxim develops into our supreme maxim and we act consistently with the moral imperative, when at all, solely for the sake of reward and punishment. This means, of course, that we are willing to act otherwise if we think the reward will be greater, and it is that marketable willingness alone which is evil. We buttress this attitude in each other by putting the determination and measure of good and evil in the action and its consequence rather than in the maxim originating the action, and thereby, if the actions accord with the moral law, even if undertaken purely for reasons of prudence and self interest, we are able to count ourselves as morally proper. This implicit agreement to take the act for the maxim (reflected in our speech with each other) is a pervasive, radical and social evil. The story of Adam and Eve can easily be understood in this way except that, since they are depicted as innocent, then instead of a mutual seduction into evil as is the case with us, the original seduction is presented as coming from a non-human being of evil.*** The hopeful element in this section of the book is the fact that even though it is natural that we descend into evil, nonetheless, since we are made up for good, our descent is freely undertaken, and so it is not necessary that we be evil and so it is possible for us to change.
[* This section is condensed from the first of the four books of Religion entitled Concerning The Indwelling Of The Evil Principle Next To The Good Or About The Radical Evil In Human Nature.]
[** Kant speaks as though the case were as follows: we are made for good, but when we get into interaction we inadvertently push each other and, prompted by our good make up for self defense, respond into action. As a result we see that we have some degree of success in using force. We reason our way into realizing that we have the capacity for forcing others to our will in one way or another. And since that is prudent, we do just that. And so two individuals, each made for good, begin a descent into evil by their mere interaction. And further: while the good is contained in the individual, the evil is contained in the group, but since the human is not fully human unless exposed within a group, we can speak of the humans as being innately evil, i.e., naturally prone to that result via the exercise of their common freedoms.]
[*** Concerning this story Kant maintained (Religion.1.IV, i.e., Book I, Section IV) that the actual evil arose when one or both of the two decided to avoid the fruit of the forbidden tree by assuming that it would not taste good any way, and thus supplanting the moral maxim by a prudent one. It was then only incidental that later, when it was discovered that the fruit might taste good after all and there would be no bad effects, since the maxim had been demoted from the absolute (dont eat) down to the prudent (dont eat what doesnt taste good), there was no reason not to try the fruit, and the visible evil arose, ensuing from the precedingly evil disposition.]
Book 2.* Then there is the summons to make this change, a summons stemming from a conception Kant calls the "Son of God", a product of our own rationally influenced imagination, and which represents to us a person who is totally natural as we are but who never falls into the very natural trap of morally confusing the maxim and the act and who maintains his moral integrity even in the face of great, personal hardships to the extent of being imprudent for the sake of this integrity. By means of this conception we come to understand our own evil, that it is subtle and reciprocal, and this constitutes a call to end our evil order of prudence above moral, and to become good people. (There may even be an historical example of such a being, e.g., Jesus, but it is this our own, moral conception that first enables us to recognize any Son of God in experience.**) Kant has the Christian faith illustratively depicting our existence as a struggle between good and evil powers, each seeking to possess the human soul.
[* This is from the second book of Religion, entitled the The Struggle Of The Good Principle With The Evil For The Control Of The Human.]
[** Religion.2.I.B, B76.]
The Difficulties. Kant then deals with three difficulties that can inhibit a commitment to the good principle (the moral over the prudent). First of all how can something which is so naturally prone to evil and so steeped in evil ever think itself to be something good? We can do this once we make a commitment to the good principle by giving the moral maxim precedence over the prudent. Even though we are evil by natural use of our freedom in society (despite our make up for good), the fact of our commitment to the good principle means that all our future actions (from that moment) will ensue from the moral law (at least by present intention) and for that reason will be good. Since this ensuing occurs in time and since time is of no account in the moral (intelligible) realm, we can be counted immediately as good people in a moral court, much as a planted seed considered from an intelligible perspective (in the realm of ends) can be already counted a tree.
The second difficulty is how a person could ever know that he or she had changed for the better, for the ultimate disposition for taking any maxim, good or evil, is hidden in the heart and not subject to inspection.* The answer lies in experience, for only by means of experiencing ones self doing good (or evil) can one become confident (though never certain) of the fundamental, underlying disposition, be it good or evil.
[* Religion.2.I.B.(2.1), B78.]
The last one is by far the most difficult: how can a person, though now good, escape the punishment required by moral justice for his former, evil disposition? The good any person can do at this present moment is what he or she also must do anyway, and so is not available to offset the earlier evil. Since the maxim is what can be evil about a person, and the evil actions themselves, limited as they are only by opportunity and occasion and which ensue from that maxim, are conceptually infinite, the evil person must be considered as infinitely evil. And yet the now goodly disposed person is infinitely good by like reasoning and should not be subjected to punishment. The solution arises in the commitment itself, for by making the vow to the good principle unconditionally, i.e., regardless of the difficulties to be encountered, and since difficulties can be expected by refusing to heed the now dethroned prudent maxim, these ills are deemed to be infinite. The unlimited pain acceptable by means of the commitment can, therefore, be seen as moral compensation for the earlier, implicitly intended evil, and in this way the new, well-disposed person can be deemed free of moral condemnation.*
[* The actual, future fact of this pain is immaterial and not necessary, for the willingness itself warrants the approbation. Also: an innocent man can be said to atone for the sins of another (à la Jesus) only in camaraderie.]
Book 3.* Armed with this moral insight about our evil and our possibilities Kant now turns us to the practical hope for escape from this radical evil that besets our race. Since it is only theoretically possible to become pleasing to God (as the moral judge) by remaining in a so-called ethical state of nature, where it is everyone for him or herself under the continuing evil barrage stemming from the socially induced perversion of prudence above morals, and since a person, though well intended, nevertheless cooperates naturally and willingly in society for the mutually induced descent into evil, and since the pursuit of the Highest Good entails the maximization of happiness and moral worth of all persons, and not just the specific individual alone,** it follows that humans have a duty not only to improve themselves as commanded immediately by the moral law, but a fellowship duty, as it were, as members of the human race to form commonwealths where moral action is not merely (internally) commanded, but where a love of the moral law is publicly, mutually and voluntarily promoted. Our only practical hope for personal and societal rescue, therefore, lies in joining a band of like minded people to pursue moral perfection jointly and reciprocally.
[* This section is taken from the 3rd book of Religion concerning the The Victory Of The Good Principle Over The Evil And The Establishment Of A Kingdom Of God Upon Earth.]
[** CPrR.Dialectic.(1.7), A199.]
But we cannot simply come together as group of like minded people and agree to organize for the universal good, as though we were a mutually benevolent society, for the laws distinguishing this (ethical) commonwealth from a state of nature have to be understood as not subject to human manipulation (as in a political commonwealth), and this makes the former possible only via an edict of God.* The God postulated in CPrP is now available for use by the church, which is how an ethical commonwealth must appear when clothed in human garb, i.e., goodly disposed people in concert under the command of God.
[* It seems that Kant means that people cannot join together in a commonwealth and agree to obey the moral law or even to promote compliance, for we cannot agree to do what we are obligated to do individually and internally anyway. And furthermore, without the legislation of God, such rules would be thought as dependent upon our common accord and that we could change them anytime we wanted to in order to start promoting evil behavior.]
Book 4.* Concerning this church Kant observes that while it may have non-moral rules for its governance and conduct, it must contain a principle that these cannot vie in importance with the love of the moral law in pleasing God, and can be justified only in a moral sense of facilitating this love as a means. To accentuate this point: these non-moral elements must be seen as dispensable. Otherwise we mirror our original bent to evil (taking the act and its consequence in the place of the maxim as the measure of right and wrong) and we treat what might be a means to moral perfection as a suitable representation of actual moral perfection such that God is thought to be pleased even with derelictions of duty, e.g., participating in a church service and taking that to be pleasing to God in place of a morally upright life. By considering such rules as anything more than merely expedient and temporal the church would risk losing the status of universal religion and sink as a cult into superstitions.
[* This section is drawn from the fourth and final book of Religion entitled Concerning Active And Mock Service Under The Rule Of The Good Principle, or Religion And Clericalism.]
Kant has some comments on the guides to the conscience which are very apropos the current world situation. We begin with a moral God, of course, for this is the only source of a meaningful conception of God.* The true believer who is willing to die rather than deny his faith in a reported command of God (even if accompanied by miracles) may still not justify an immoral act by reference to that report since it is impossible to know whether the command was recorded correctly and whether the report is now being interpreted correctly. To continue such a justification despite this uncertainty is tantamount to asking God for excommunication to the worst of hells if a single word of that report is incorrect in any way by transmission or interpretation. And only a lunatic could ask that. The clear conscience requires that we have thoroughly considered such contingencies.
[* The reasoning was skipped for the sake of brevity. Kant demonstrates in CPR that it is no more possible to prove the existence of God than it is to prove his non-existence. And so any belief would have to be practical (moral) only.]
Universal Accord. We can return now to the notion of the universality of accord. A moral religion is one that all people will concur with.* Having seen the human plight and heard the counsels of pure reason for moral improvement Kant will have us all agreeing on the form of a religion, that is to say: 1. it must look upon the moral law as Gods command to each person, and identify worship of this God with a love of compliance with this law; and 2. while this God may wish to aid us in our moral quest, we cannot expect any such aid until we are first willing to do all we can on our own.** An analysis of this conception, as was just indicated above, reveals that no non-moral rule and no history or revelation can be deemed necessary for pleasing God (for there will always be disputes on these two matters and thus lack of unanimity).***
[** This second element gives rise to an antinomy (Religion.3.I.7.(3-8): God must act first because human beings are morally incompetent and yet God will not act until people make themselves morally worthy. Kants solution calls the former theoretically necessary and beyond question, whereas the latter is practically necessary and so rules the day. We must therefore assume first that God demands our best before he will act on our behalf, yet while we are seeking to do our best we must think God is enabling that. This is expressed very aptly by the Wesleyan dictum: act as though everything depended upon you and pray as though everything depended upon God.]
[*** Religion.3.I.5.(4.1), B148; Religion.4.II.3.(8), B278.]
The Christian Religion as a Moral Religion
A Moral Religion. Kant declares the Christian religion to be a moral religion in the sense just described.* As such it must promote a love of the moral law above all else and require no more (and no less) than ones very best effort toward such love in order to be pleasing to God. Furthermore the first of these moral elements need not be pristine within the religion as long as it contains a principle indicating that all else about the religion is dispensable.** Kants image of the Christian religion is that of the seed (public proclamation) of a tree (the moral religion) which is still surrounded by husk (laws and history imposed by the culture and/or ecclesiastical establishment). I will seek now to demonstrate the principle of dispensability contained in the Christian faith and which I think Kant is alluding to, and will preface that with what Kant considers to be the unconditional, public proclamation of the moral religion.
[* Religion.1.Remarks.(8.4), B61.]
[** Religion.2.I.7.(10), B181.]
Christian Constitution. Kant finds a very clear and concise statement by Jesus, the founder of the Christian faith, which embodies and exemplifies the moral character of this faith for Kant and which can constitute its public establishment. It is Jesus proclamation that it is not those saying Lord, Lord who will enter the heavenly kingdom but rather those doing the will of his father in heaven.* Kants interpretation of Jesus here is consistent with his interpretation of other passages in the gospel accounts.** With doing Kant understands Jesus to mean a striving (doing ones best) and with will of his heavenly father a love of the moral law. In a word: our striving to love the moral law (which is virtue rightly understood) is all that can delight God unconditionally.*** Since I will be entering somewhat into the idiom of the Christian faith I shall occasionally utilize the Golden Rule as a vernacular for Kants moral law.****
[* Religion.3.I.5.(4), B 148; Matthew 7:21.]
[** Religion.4.I.1, B236.]
[*** Religion.4.II.3.(6.1), B275.]
[**** Matthew 7:12.]
With Kant now having established that the pure moral religion has been publicly proclaimed, although still encrusted with the husk of its cultural context (of the time of its revelation), we will follow the development of the history of this religion as reported in the canonical scriptures of the Christians, and look with Kant for evidence of the dispensing of this husk of statutory law and of a necessary belief in a particular history.
Dispensing with Laws. As Kant himself observes with the seed analogy we must keep in mind that the proclamation of the gospel, while (and indeed perhaps because) revolutionary, was presented within the context of a theocratic, Jewish state encumbered not only with ancient, statutory rules thought necessary to make the individual and the nation acceptable to God, but also with an official history. Kant sees Jesus seeking to move the members of the cult of this Jewish state into a world and moral religion,* with his words and actions designed to appeal to that mind set where the pleasing of God was deemed subject to what Kant considered to be sorcery.** In his appeal Jesus explicitly (though not absolutely) avoided non-Jews*** and sought to present himself as an embodiment of a moral interpretation of the traditions of his people. Accordingly he complied with the rules of the cult, excepting only to the extent they conflicted with the moral imperative. As a consequence, and after he had vanished, his followers, all Jews, considered his spirit (which they intended to emulate) to mean compliance with the statutory rules of the old cult except to the extent they might challenge the moral law.**** For the earliest Christian church, therefore, salvation for the entire world meant for the world first to become Jewish. And yet even though the old, statutory law was retained, since it was in fact subjugated to the Golden Rule, this constitutes a first step in dispensing with this element of the husk.
[* Religion.4.I.1.(6), B245.]
[** Religion.4.II.5.(6.1), B275.]
[*** Mark 7:24-29.]
[**** Religion.4.I.2.(9), B254.]
An erstwhile and very fierce opponent of the church, Paul of Tarsus, was converted to the new faith and sought to promote it with the same intensity with which he had earlier sought to destroy it. He considered himself called by God to bring the message of world salvation to the non-Jews or gentiles. He reasoned that since all rules of the old cult were recognized by the Jewish church leadership to be subject to the Golden Rule, it followed that God were not delighted by any of these rules at all. Consequently, and with regard to rules, he identified the spirit of Jesus as solely a reflection of the Golden Rule alone,* which is also Kants thinking in his analysis of the Lord, Lord statement as indicated above.
[* Romans 13:8-10.]
A dispute then arose among the Christian Jewish, church leadership concerning Pauls thesis, to wit: even if it is necessary for a Jew (even though a Christian) to remain under the Jewish law, does it follow that gentiles who are not now under that law must subjugate themselves to it in order to count as followers of Jesus? After a debate the authoritative and ecumenical Council of Jerusalem unanimously ruled that a gentile was not subject to the law of the Jews.* Paul then even expanded this liberation to mean also freedom of conscience regarding the secular authorities, something that Kant apparently recognized when he notes that the gentiles were relieved of allegiance to any law whatsoever.**
[* Acts 15. The Council did promulgate three or four rules, e.g., a taboo on any infusion of blood. Paul effectively negates any compulsion of these in 1 Cor.10:23-30, and derived them as expedient conclusions of an implementation of the Golden Rule, i.e., one loves ones fellow Christians and therefore does not want to offend them and so therefore does not do in their presence what is offensive to them. According to Acts 15:19-21 these taboos seem to have been imposed in order to facilitate the evangelization of Jews who lived outside of the Palestinian region, and if so, then were deemed also by the Council as merely expedient.]
[Religion.3.II.(5.3), B 190. In Romans 13:1-10 Paul admonishes the Christian to obey the government, but not solely because of its authority and power but also for the sake of conscience. This attitude might be pictured today in this way: a Christian will not slow down in a marked school zone because of fear of the police, but rather will think of these notices as information about conduct compliant with the Golden Rule under the circumstances, and so will comply for the sake of the children alone. Thus it may be to this principle of Paul that Gandhi, King and Bonhoeffer must turn for the genesis of their civil disobedience for the sake of the moral right in the face of what are thought to be immoral laws.]
The principle established by this Council and then extended by Paul is that the believer and the disbeliever in statutory law may cooperate in different congregations within a single, universal church, and the rule of their coexistence consists in neither of the two doing in sight of the other what is offensive to that other.* As a current example: a Gentile Christian who enjoyed blood sausages (a German delicacy, I am told) would not knowingly offer any to a Jewish Christian** who kept a rule against the intake of blood. Here then we have a second step in the dispensing with the husk, in this case the statutory law of the Jews.
[* Romans 14.]
[** Here I am using Gentile and Jewish merely as technical terms to denote two sorts of Christians, the former dedicated to the Golden Rule alone, and the latter adding to this dedication other rules and statutes such as the prohibition against the consumption or infusion of blood products.]
Dispensing with History. Now we turn our attention toward the final step regarding the husk, the elimination of a required belief in any particular history. The principle utilized by the Council of Jerusalem to liberate the conscience of the Gentile Christian was that advocated by Paul (and recognized by Kant): nothing can delight God except virtue, i.e., striving to love and honor the Golden Rule above all else. But this same principle can also liberate the conscience of the Gentile Christian from any required belief in a particular history or revelation, e.g., the bodily resurrection. And there is scriptural evidence supporting such an understanding, i.e., where Paul recognized the supremacy of this principle of dispensability in his confrontation with the Gentile Christians in Corinth. For while he occasionally instructs this church to cast out certain people for their moral failures* (seen in terms of Pauls peculiar but honest understanding of empirical good and bad for application of the Golden Rule), when he intervenes in an argument about the resurrection, and while he supports belief in the resurrection, he does not require the non-believer to be excommunicated.** If this belief in resurrection were equal in importance to the moral law (as earlier many Jewish Christians thought) then Paul would have had to cast out these disbelievers in the history along with the morally deficient. Apparently then the believers and disbelievers in any specific history would get along in the same worship and cooperation as the believers and disbelievers in rules and laws beyond the Golden Rule, i.e., they would not argue about what divides them, but would focus on what unites them. This can then represent the final step in dispensing of the husk, for we have here a principle, derived from the edict of the Council of Jerusalem as apparently interpreted by Paul, whereby the historical husk may also be dispensed with.
[* 1 Corinthians 5.]
[** 1 Corinthians 15, especially verses 12 & 58.]
To be able to dispense with a history and even with rules does not mean in Kants view that a church necessarily must do so.* With regard to the history Kant justifies the recitation of doubted statements in clear conscience, i.e., if these are pronounced ritualistically and if a moral understanding of them is possible and can be intended.** Accordingly while both believer and disbeliever in an historical creed may recite it in unison, and while only one will believe it literally, both can believe it morally. I have selected what I think are four important, historical creeds of the Christian faith which I would like now to interpret in a purely moral way.
[* Religion.2.Remarks.(1), B117.]
[** In Religion.4.II.3.(6.4), B275.]
1. Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is to mean to both the believer and the disbeliever in the history: I hereby commit to seeking to incarnate within me the same spirit that belonged to Jesus in the story of his life (as Kants Son of God), i.e., I am determined to seek moral perfection with all my strength.
2. Accepting the death of Jesus as atonement for personal sins is to mean: I understand that any omniscient, moral judge accepts this commitment as the moral equivalent of a good person, and therefore I am not dismayed about the evil that I have done or was willing to do in the past, for morally I am new born.*
[* See the third difficulty discussed above in Book II.]
3. Accepting the bodily Resurrection of Jesus shall mean: it is my conviction that by virtue of this my commitment sincerely to seek moral perfection I will be successful, even though I am inadequate, and that this success, given my continuing commitment, is guaranteed.*
[* Kant calls this optimism the hope of the Christian. See CPrR.Dialectic.1.V(5.1fn), p. 229.]
4. Accepting the holy catholic church shall mean: it is my belief that the only hope of the world lies in the cooperation of all people of a like, good spirit, and therefore, consistent with my expressed commitment to love the moral law, I join this congregation to work with its members to my utmost for the fashioning of an environment conducive for doing good naturally.*
[* All rituals must likewise be directed to moral improvement, e.g., infant baptism becomes a commitment by the church to create an environment in which the dedicated child is to be raised, and thereby spiritually or theoretically guaranteeing salvation, at least to the extent that the child need only continue in spirit of the promised environment. This condition can be contrasted with that of a child who is reared without any such parental and church commitment, i.e., in the ethical state of nature, and whose moral future is as yet problematical. In other words this baptismal ritual is undertaken in pursuit of the Highest Good.]
Summary. It is easy to see why Kant thought so highly of the Christian faith despite his many complaints about it.* The pure moral religion was proclaimed by Jesus (albeit in a context of Jewish legalism) and steps leading to its full liberation from historical idiosyncrasies have been taken and will most certainly continue. Presently a large portion of the universal, Christian church has been liberated from much of the statutory confines historically imposed by a hierarchy and there is movement for this to continue, especially today concerning the statutory restrictions against practicing homosexuals in the church. The principle of dispensing with the husk of a required belief in a history and adherence to extra-moral laws has been established and the way is clear for the Christian church to claim universal status as embodying a religion which would meet with the unbiased approval of every person on the globe, and thereby satisfy Kants requirements.
[* Religion.3.II.(7.7), B915.]
As a final note we might consider why it is that most of the Christian world today is highly "Jewish" in mentality, i.e., why most Christians still hold to statutory law, e.g., against homosexual behavior. Paul not only liberated the conscience of his gentile charges, but he also issued pragmatic rules of conduct suitable (in his opinion) for the discipline and orientation of converts to the faith in the face of the heady dogma of liberation from law. That he never intended to make law is clear from 1 Cor.10:23 - 11:1, and so all these rules of his must be considered as merely expedient for his time. Nevertheless given the great importance placed on the scriptures as the source of divine revelation, when these rules as part and parcel of Pauls writings were incorporated into the canon of the Christians, they came to be seen as divine commands and thus as inviolable. As a result the present day church is in fact Jewish in attitude and outlook, holding to rules beyond the Golden Rule. But the ferment regarding the homosexual question is ample evidence that the principle of dispensing with the husk, in this case with scripture as law, is alive and well as Kant also knew.
Postscript to Christian Readers
We Christians are not to be perturbed by the liberty from statute law and from sacred history that Kant ascribes to the (invisible) church of the Christ. We ought to welcome all who would seek to be like Jesus (representing Kants Son of God and the moral master) to join with us in a common quest. Morally we are all of one and the same stamp, and God is delighted in our common virtue of sincere striving for moral perfection alone. If some of our fellow coworkers for good do not believe in the bodily resurrection, still, by being among us who do believe, and quite apart from joining us in good deeds, there is a real hope that their eyes will open to see the truth of this resurrection story--perhaps by observing that they are beginning to enjoy complying with the moral law as my Wesleyan brothers and sisters proclaim so enthusiastically.* In this way they can also finally come to share the ecstasy of those who are confident of the truth of this miracle. In the last analysis and in the words of John Wesley to those who disagreed with him: if your heart (love of the Golden Rule) is like mine, then give me your hand!**
[* While I am far from perfect (morally), I am not as far as once I was; and I am on the way.]
[** Sermon A Catholic Spirit based on 2 Kings 10:15]