Sunday, September 9, 2012

It's Not About You

[Schleiermacher] arrived at the independence of religion from metaphysics, from the operation of pure reason in general. Religion was experience, the experience of the infinite and of the dependence of men upon it… the contents in which religion expresses itself become no more than forms of piety which in the end are purely secondary… the place of faith is taken over by piety, or in other words, in place of an objective partner who comes to meet me, who binds and yet frees me, we find the identity of the subject who sees the eternal. This all becomes particularly clear in Schleiermacher’s verdict of Jesus Christ, whom he portrays as the man with the highest and purest sensitivity to God… consciousness never spills over in the direction of being, or vice versa; consciousness takes the place of being.

Faith and the Future, 55-6

Reflection – ‘It’s all about me.’ This is the simplified version of the above passage. It’s all about me and how I feel and how religion engenders in me certain attitudes of mind and heart which help me to be a better person… this is Schleiermacher’s view of it, and while many of you may never have heard the name, clearly his influence has been profound.

Religion as a form of therapy, of self-improvement, of elevated consciousness, but never, ever, ever, as a true statement about how the universe really is, what God really is, what our actual metaphysical situation is. This is still very strong in our world today. It’s not a far leap from this to religion being a servant of politics, a ‘force for social order’, a dispenser of government-approved (of course!) charity, a vague and not-terribly specific benediction on the powers that be.

Religion at the service of… something. My own peace of mind or social peace; self-actualization or soup kitchens. Religion, however, cannot be subordinated to other ends and goods.

Our religion simply is, in our Catholic understanding, true. God really is, in reality, what and who we say Him to be; Jesus really is and really did what we say; the path of life forged by Christ in the world really is made known to us in the way of life of a Catholic Christian—sacrament, creed, commandment, community.

All of this may indeed bring us to peace and certainly has fostered social charity and justice wherever it has been practiced… but that’s not the point. The point is, it is true. As I said two days ago, God really wants us to know the truth about things, and so has told us the truth of things, so we can build our lives on the truth about the universe, God, and ourselves. This is our Catholic faith, anyhow.

Schleiermacher’s view of faith reduces it, inevitably, to a private phenomenon, and this is where it gets a bit ominous. If religion is just some nice way to make us feel a certain way, and the contents are essentially irrelevant to those interior feelings, then religion becomes wholly interiorized, wholly private. It becomes arrogant at best to share one’s religious beliefs with anyone, and certainly unwelcome to bring any religious content into a public discussion.

This too is a common reality today. And it is toxic—why exactly should religious speech be beyond the pale of acceptable discourse? Why should, as happened recently in Canada, a religious t-shirt be banned from a public school while other students could wear atheist or other-messaged shirts? When religious faith becomes identified as a uniquely private matter, free speech is weakened, and when free speech is weakened, a free society is illusory at best.

Now Schleiermacher’s philosophy of religion is not wholly responsible for this. Neo-Marxism and Comtian scientism have a big role to play in our world today. But his view of religion does support this relentless driving of faith-language and religious expression into the realm of the private, behind the closed doors of churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and homes. And so we must clarify that we believe that what we believe is true, that it is universally true, and that our obligation to express, explain, and promote that truth is essential to our freedom of religion, today and always.

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