An Analysis of F. Schleiermacher & S. Kierkegaard on Religion
Religion is a heated topic in society today. Debates about religious freedom, political correctness as it relates to religion, and the role of religion in morality are common topics in the media and in the literature. A difference in opinion about the linkages between religion and morality was present in the 20th century and continues today. Schleiermacher argues that religion is separate from morality, that it is an experience that can be conceived of by everyone, even in the absence of the concept of God (Gunton, 1997). In contrast, Kierkegaard argues that ethics, or morality, is intimately tied to religion and that one cannot truly exist without the other (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987).
Schleiermacher argues that religion is an immediate or original experience of self-consciousness in the form of a feeling and that consequently it can be conceived of without the concept of God (Cross, 1911). This description of religion is very different from what is it is generally understood to be. In most cases, religion is associated with institutions in which religion is practiced. For example, religion will be associated with a catholic or protestant Church, or with the individuals who practice this religion. Furthermore, religion is often thought to be a set of behaviours or beliefs. In this sense, religious people are people who ‘go to Church’ or ‘believe in Jesus Christ’ and consequently attempt to follow the moral code laid out by the Bible. Schleiermacher rejects these common notions of religion as dogmas and not as religion. Schleiermacher’s goal is to argue that religion is something much more primal, or to use his own words “immediate” (Cross, 1911). In Schleiermacher’s eyes, religion cannot come from the act of knowledge or from the process of ‘knowing.’ For Schleiermacher, the separation of religion from knowledge, from God even is essential because if he cannot argue in favour of this distinction, then the source of religion would come from human activities and therefore would be subject to the uncertainties of scientific investigation (Cross, 1911). If religion were subject to scientific investigation, then Schleiermacher could not argue that it is something that all humans experience, and this is essential to his work. Schleiermacher wants to argue that religion is an experience, and therefore something that cannot be acquired, possessed, and does not consist of action. This distinction is also important for Schleiermacher because it allows him to distinguish religion from morality. However, Schleiermacher still argues that moral conduct is designated by religion, but still separate from it (Cross, 1911). Schleiermacher argument for religion as an experience goes like this. First, he explains that consciousness has a double element; consciousness consists of self-consciousness or the ego and of determination of self-consciousness or our experience. Schleiermacher next point is that the only way for humans to become conscious of themselves is through our experiences. So, it follows that consciousness or self-consciousness is dependent upon experience of the world through our senses, Schleiermacher calls this a receptive state of being. Therefore, humans seek a common source of being and experience in an Other, this other is taken to be religion (Cross, 1911). Next, Schleiermacher argues that our experience of the world is one of absolute freedom and absolute dependence. Humans realize that they are completely dependent on the world around them for survival, pleasure, and all things in life. In this sense, our self-consciousness is dependent on our realization of our dependence on the world. Schleiermacher argues that this sense or experience of complete dependence on the world is religion (Cross, 1911). If religion is taken as such, it cannot then be derived from any other experience or exercise. That is, religion is a subjective experience and not an objective idea. Religion is the feeling produced with the realization into our consciousness that we are intimately connected to things larger than ourselves; for example, the feeling of being connected to nature, to mankind, to the world are all powerful sensations which Schleiermacher calls religion. Therefore, Schleiermacher argues that religion is identical with self-consciousness (Cross, 1911). In this way, dogmas or principles of ‘religion’ laid down by the Bible, God, or the Church are not part of religion, but derived from it. Schleiermacher interprets the concept of God as separate from religion. He argues that it is possible to conceive of religion without God (Cross, 1911). If religion is a feeling of connection with the world, then this argument holds true as many of us have felt this connection to the world that Schleiermacher is describing.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Schleiermacher’s work on morality was an attempt to solve issues that he saw in moral systems presented by other philosophers of his time. Schleiermacher thought that the other moral systems presented lacked a necessary basis for the regulation of thought or action in regards to moral action (Gunton, 1997). So, Schleiermacher created a moral system to try and solve these issues. Schleiermacher defined ethics as the theory of the description of human reason or the scientific dealing of the consequences produced by human logic in the world of nature and man (Gunton, 1997). Furthermore, Schleiermacher’s moral system argued that every moral decision or effect must consist of all four of the following characteristics (Gunton, 1997). The individual and universal, which functions as the rights of individual and community as well as organ and symbol of the reason which is the product of individual with relation to community and represents rules and nature. Schleiermacher approached morality systematically and religion as an experience. Overall, he presents an organized framework for understanding these concepts with a neutral or positive tone, Soren Kierkegaard takes different approach.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Soren Kierkegaard argues that religion and ethics are intimately connected and that divine commands from God transcends ethics. Furthermore, he argues that God does not create human morality, but that it is up to individuals to create their own moral codes and values (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). However, a divine command from God will take preference over all moral and social responsibilities. To prove his point, Kierkegaard uses the biblical example of Abraham sacrificing his son to God. Kierkegaard argues that this act was ethical because Abraham was following a divine command from God, even though the act of sacrifice meant his son had to die and this would normally be considered wrong per moral codes and social obligations (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). Kierkegaard sense of ethics and religion comes from his interpretation of life experience, broken down into three stages. The first stage is aesthetic; it is childlike in nature. The individual who is in this stage will live life in many ways, but all with the same underlying characteristics. This characteristic is that it is in a sense driven by pleasure. One who is living a life in the aesthetic stage might pursue intellectual enjoyment, sensuous desire, or an unreflective lifestyle as some examples. Kierkegaard argues that this sort of life style will inevitably lead to despair as at some point in the individual’s life they will look back and see that their life held no true meaning (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). The next stage in life is the ethical stage. In this stage the individual will begin to take on true direction in their life. They will become aware of their personal responsibility for good and evil. Therefore, actions begin to have consistency and coherence that is lacked in the aesthetic stage. This leads to the individual assessing actions with absolute responsibility. With this responsibility and recognition of good and evil will come repentance to God. Kierkegaard argues that an individual cannot be ethically serious without also being religious (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). Religion is the third stage of life per Kierkegaard. The religious phase involves a commitment and relationship to the Christian God. This stage represents the highest stage of human existence and begins with the individual awareness of sinfulness that begins in stage two (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
Though Kierkegaard and Schleiermacher present contrasting views on the connections between morality and religion, both present valid and thought provoking arguments. Schleiermacher argues that religion is an experience of feeling connected to something larger than ourselves (Cross, 1911). He relates it to our experiences of connection with nature and the rest of mankind. Since this feeling of connection to the world around us is something that everyone can conceive of, religion is possible to understand without a notion of God per Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher’s argument on religion as an experience is hard to refute, and yet it seems in harsh competition with common interpretations of religion. In contemporary society, most individuals would relate most to Kierkegaard’s interpretation of life stages (Kierkegaard, Hong, & Hong, 1987). Often, as humans go through life we move from a state in which our actions are largely dictated by our desires to a state in which we can contemplate the consequences of our actions. However, Kierkegaard’s linkage between morality and religion can be dangerous in a world where atheism is on the rise. Many people find it difficult to be moral without religion. In the modern world, it may not be a question of whether morality and religion are linked, but the real challenge will be developing a moral system that people from different religious and cultural backgrounds can related to, so that we may all function together in society.
Cross, G. (1911). The Theology of Schleiermacher. New York: The University of Chicago.
Gunton, C. E. (1997). The Cambridge companion to Christian doctrine. Cambridge University Press.
Kierkegaard, S., Hong, H. V., & Hong, E. H. (1987). Either/Or Part II. Princeton: Princeton University Press.