Christianity as the Universal Religion
I have evidenced my great respect for Christianity in many ways ... Its best and most lasting eulogy is its harmony, which I demonstrated in [Kt8], with the purest moral belief of religion. For it is by this, and not by historical scholarship, that Christianity, so often debased, has always been restored; and only by this can it again be restored when, in the future, it continues to meet a similar fate. [Kt65:9]
1. Kant’s Copernican Perspective on Religion
One of the best ways to guard against the common tendency to commit a long string of interpretive errors, by reading into Kant’s writings a largely (if not entirely) negative attitude towards empirical religions, is to recall the metaphor Kant himself introduces at the outset of constructing his System. In the second edition Preface to Kt1, Kant appeals to Copernicus’ revolution in astronomy as an example for philosophers to follow. As we saw in KSP1:III.1, Kant describes his Copernican revolution in philosophy primarily in terms of systemt, yet its influence spreads throughout his entire System of Perspectives. In theoretical philosophy, let us recall, the Copernican Perspective enables us to accept the revolutionary notion that the character of our knowledge depends on the subject when the subject-object relation is viewed from the transcendental perspective, even though the common-sense notion that the object determines the character of our knowledge remains valid, whenever we adopt the empirical perspective. That is, the Copernican character of Kant’s fundamental philosophical Perspective is what gives him the ability to accept the appearance of things as a legitimate way of viewing the world, while nevertheless explaining the deep (properly philosophical) structure of those appearances in terms that seem, paradoxically, to uphold exactly the opposite view.
Those who fail to grasp this essential aspect of Kant’s thought are likely to find it difficult to comprehend how Kant’s ‘transcendental idealism’ can also be an ‘empirical realism’. The difficulty resolves itself, however, once we recognize that each label refers properly to a discrete perspective adopted by the human mind. What is often not appreciated is that Kant’s Copernican Perspective operates throughout his System, not only in systemt. As we come now to the task of assessing the implications of the second experiment in Kt8—that of testing the applicability of systemr to one historical religion, Christianity [cf. VII.1]—we must therefore keep Kant’s established (Copernican) strategy at the forefront of our minds. What Kant says about ‘pure rational religion’ determines a distinct Transcendental Perspective on religion. Just as in systemt, many of the arguments and conclusions in systemr cannot simply be carried over to the Empirical Perspective, as applying directly to historical religions as such. The purpose of a ‘transcendentally ideal’ system of religion is not to deny the validity of an ‘empirically real’ interpretation of the living faith of ordinary believers, but to legitimate it, philosophically.
Fortunately, we need not look far in the text of Kt8 to find evidence of how Kant applies this Copernican Perspective to religion. One of the most significant passages, we have already cited in VI.3 and VII.1: Kant compares the ideal relationship between rational (i.e., transcendental) and historical (i.e., empirical) religion to ‘concentric circles’ in Kt8:12(11) [see Fig. VII.1]. His reason for doing so is to emphasize that empirical religion should conform to the transcendental conditions for religion. Thus, Kant normally reserves the term ‘religion’ for those historical traditions that do successfully live up to the transcendental conditions. In order to distinguish the pure religious ‘core’ from the historical tradition(s) as such, he refers to the latter as ‘faith(s)’. In so doing, he does not intend to deny the validity of historical traditions, nor even to downplay their significance, but merely to distinguish between the properly philosophical and nonphilosophical Perspectives on religion. The ‘Copernican’ aspect of the metaphor consists in Kant’s reversal of the order most religious people would assign to the two circles: instead of viewing historical faith as the core and moral action as the secondary element, Kant views the latter as the core and locates the former on the periphery.
In the first edition Preface to Kt8, Kant offers us a different, but equally instructive, explanation of his Copernican Perspective on religion. He begins by rehearsing some of the key conclusions of his practical writings:
So far as morality is based on the conception of man as a free agent who ... binds himself through his reason to unconditional laws, it stands in need neither of the idea of another Being over him [i.e., God] ..., nor of an incentive other than the law itself [i.e., happiness] ... Hence for its own sake morality does not need religion at all ...; by virtue of practical reason it is self-sufficient. [Kt8:3(3)]
The strict reductionist interpretation of Kant’s views on religion stops here, declaring once and for all that Kant’s aim is to eliminate empirical religion [see VI.1]. Yet this overlooks the fact that Kant begins the second paragraph of the same Preface with an important (Copernican) qualification:
But although for its own sake [i.e., in the first three stages of systemp] morality needs no representation of an end which must precede the determining of the will, it is quite possible that it [morality] is necessarily related to such an end [e.g., God and/or happiness], taken not as the ground but as the [sum of] inevitable consequences of maxims adopted as conformable to that end. [4(4)]
Here Kant is reminding us that, even in systemp, two ‘ends’ (viz., God and a form of immortality that guarantees a proper degree of happiness) had to be postulated in order to answer ‘the question, What is to result from this right conduct of ours?’ [5(4)]. He then goes on to argue that such ends are not just ‘quite possible’, but are indeed necessary, if we wish to conceive of the highest good as realizable [see KSP1:VIII.3.B].
This position is ‘Copernican’ in the sense that, like the aforementioned concentric circles metaphor, it reverses the order of priority most people (whether philosophers or not) would assign to religion and morality. Whereas nearly everyone would be inclined to say our understanding of morality arises out of our religious tradition, Kant insists that, for the purposes of transcendental philosophy, ‘this idea [viz., God] arises out of morality and is not its basis’ [Kt8:5 (5)]. Kant’s reason for arguing in this way becomes clear in the third paragraph, which must be blatantly overlooked by anyone who wishes to adopt the reductionist interpretation of Kt8: ‘Morality thus leads ineluctably to religion, through which it extends itself to the idea of a powerful moral Lawgiver, outside of mankind’ [6(5-6), e.a.]. In a long footnote attached to this sentence, Kant removes all doubt about the transcendental character of his inquiry in Kt8 by clarifying that the proposition ‘There is a God ... is a synthetic a priori proposition’ and then asking the standard question of all transcendental philosophy: ‘But how is such a proposition a priori possible?’ After a lengthy summary of ‘[t]he key to the solution of this problem’, Kant concludes by reiterating the same point [8n(7n)]: ‘That is, morality leads inevitably to religion.’
In the remainder of the first edition Preface Kant contrasts the Perspective of the ‘philosophical theologian’ with that of the ‘biblical theologian’, arguing that only the latter should be subject to government censorship (as the current king of Prussia had recently instated [see note VI.28]). Philosophical theology, by contrast, ‘must have complete freedom to expand as far as its science reaches’ [Kt8:9(8)]. At first, this topic seems to bear little relation to the topic of the first half of the Preface. But a clear recognition of the Copernican character of Kant’s approach reveals a close connection after all. The biblical theologian is a person whose proper tools are revelation and faith, whereas the philosopher must use reason and argument, even when dealing with the same religious and theological issues (or biblical texts) as the former. This distinction is directly parallel to that between the Empirical and Transcendental Perspectives. Kant, of course, is writing primarily to his fellow philosophers, so the views he has just expressed in the first part of the Preface represent what is required for those who adopt the Transcendental Perspective. Far from denying the validity of the opposing view, this philosophical Perspective is meant to provide the rational foundation for the ordinary (Empirical) way of looking at the same issues.
This explains why Kant adopts such an accommodating attitude towards the biblical theologian. He is not merely trying to please the king’s censors, as some have assumed; he is seriously proposing that, as long as biblical theologians do not ‘rashly [declare] war on reason’ [Kt8:10(9)], but use reason while staying within their own ‘province’ (just as philosophers might use a scriptural text without adopting the Bible’s own Perspective), the conflict between this Perspective and the philosophical is normal and healthy. (The nature of this conflict is the main topic of Kt65 [see note VII.3, above].) In a 1793 letter Kant confirms that Kt8 was written as an aid to the biblical theologian [AA11:415 (Zw67:205)]: ‘By assessing his doctrines from the point of view [i.e., Perspective] of rational grounds, he shall be armed against any future attack.’ Thus, Kant encourages biblical theologians to ‘be at one with the philosopher’ or else ‘to refute him’, provided they do not carelessly ‘mix the two’ Perspectives, because ‘the sciences derive pure benefit from separation’ [Kt8:10(10)].
Recognizing the Copernican emphasis of Kt8’s two Prefaces helps us appreciate more fully how systemr presents a balanced religious standpoint that has essentially affirmative implications for Christianity. We saw in VI.2 and VII.1 that systemr takes into account all three standpoints in the System: it upholds the importance of theoretical knowledge (theology), but puts strict limitations on its interpretation, so that practical reason (morality) always has priority in determining the meaning of religious doctrines and practices; yet both of these standpoints are subordinate, as far as religious experience is concerned, to the judicial standpoint [see note I.17]. As we shall see in Part Four, the latter alone can provide the basis for a devout person’s personal relationship with the Being towards whom obedience to the moral law is directed and with regard to whom all doctrines are symbolically interpreted. This triadic relationship [cf. De73: 244-5] can be elucidated by depicting the distinction between the three aspects of systemr in terms of the clothing metaphor implied by the title of Kt8 [VI.2; s.e. Fig.VI.2], as shown in Figure VIII.1.
Our examination of systemr in Chapter VII focused mainly on the bare elements of pure religion; given its emphasis on religion’s moral core, we can now refer to this ‘first experiment’ as systemr-m. In opposition to this aspect of
Figure VIII.1: Three Aspects of the Religious ‘Person’
religion is the biblical theologian’s focus on the theoretical/doctrinal ‘garments’ of religion; given its emphasis on a revealed scripture, we can refer to it as systemr-s. This aspect will be the focus of our attention in Chapter IX. Here in Chapter VIII, our examination of Kant’s second experiment focuses on his assessment of Christianity as the historical religion that best synthesizes the naked body of religion with a set of revealed ‘garments’; we can therefore refer to this aspect of Kant’s Critical religion as systemr-C.
By depicting systemr-C as having a primarily synthetic character in relation to systemr-m and systemr-s, this map highlights both the general nonreductionist method of Kt8 [see VI.1-4] and its specific aim of authenticating the validity of Christianity as the universal religion of mankind. Although Wood is correct to say Kant ‘thought that theology, along with morality, becomes corrupted when it bases itself on empirical principles, and that when men draw their God from nature or experience rather than from pure [practical] reason they are more likely to serve him by empty ceremonies than by rational and morally upright conduct’ [Wo78:82], this must therefore be taken to imply not that the judicial standpoint is abandoned in Kt8, but rather that it is set on the proper foundation of the primacy of practical reason (just as was systemj in Kt7).
Kant’s foremost concern in Kt8, aside from establishing the elements of pure rational religion, is to determine the extent to which ‘Christianity, as found in the Bible, is composed of ... the canon of religion’, so that this ‘ecclesiastical faith’ can provide an appropriate ‘vehicle’ for ‘pure religious faith’ [Kt65:36-7; s.a. Kt8:123n(113n),135n(126n)]. That is, even though Christianity presents to the believer (subjectively) a set of divine commandments that are therefore to be regarded as duties, it can nevertheless act as a vehicle for true (universal) religion, as long as these commandments can also be viewed objectively (i.e., from the philosopher’s Copernican Perspective) as capable of being justified rationally as duties in and of themselves. In such a case, Kant views natural religion and revealed religion not as contradicting, but as complementing each other. This he confirms in Kt35:(83-4):
Natural religion employs that knowledge of God of which man’s reason is capable and it is bound up with morality; supernatural religion contains much that is calculated to make up for man’s deficiencies.... [S]upernatural religion is not opposed to natural religion, but completes it. Natural religion is true but incomplete.
Kant believes his critique of religion can analyze the nature of religion without contradicting ‘the literal meaning of the popular faith’ precisely because, ‘earlier by far than this faith, the predisposition to the moral religion lay hidden in human reason’ [Kt8:111(102)]. And for this same reason (viz., the inner hiddenness of pure religion), revelation can serve an important role by bringing to fruition the essential ‘kernel’ of pure religious faith within each person [see Wo70:193-4]. Thus Kant explains in Kt65:8-9 that in Kt8 he views ‘revelation [as] useful in making up the theoretical deficiency which our pure rational belief admits it has (in the questions, for example, of the origin of evil, the conversion from evil to good, man’s assurance that he has become good, etc.) and helps ... to satisfy a rational need.’ In VII.2-3 we have already seen how the deficiencies of natural religion give rise to the need for revelation. The four ‘gaps’ left by systemr (in all three of its manifestations) are listed in Table VII.2. In this Chapter we shall come to see how Kant portrays the Christian religion (or systemr-C) as filling these gaps with a revealed content (or systemr-s) that adequately meets the needs of natural religion (or systemr-m) without contradicting any of its fundamental precepts.
The outward manifestation of religion in its imperfect, historical form is just as necessary for the realization of universal religion as empirical judgments are for the realization of the categories in theoretical knowledge, or as virtuous actions are for the realization of the moral law in practical activity. Religious activity is real from the empirical perspective, but ideal from the transcendental perspective: ‘the idea of the objective unity of the religion of reason ... is an idea of reason which we cannot represent through any intuition adequate to it, but which, as a practical regulative principle, does have objective reality’ [Kt8:123n(114n)]. Thus, even though ‘ecclesiastical faith ... naturally precedes pure religious faith’ [106(97)], ‘this order ought to be reversed’ when considered philosophically [106n(97n)]. This reversal is Kant’s Copernican Perspective on religion; yet it does not deny the derivative validity of the ‘natural’ order (i.e., the legitimacy of religion’s empirical manifestation, which can be regarded as primary when viewed from the Empirical Perspective).
The perspectival character of Kant’s understanding of religion is further evident in his claim that ‘there is only one (true) religion; but there can be faiths of several kinds.’ This is because ‘ecclesiastical faith ... appeals to [the] senses, whereas religion is hidden within and has to do with moral dispositions’ [Kt8:108(99)]. On this basis he suggests: ‘If we take what is universal in religion and so is common to all religions [i.e., if we adopt a truly religious disposition] ..., then there is no reason why every individual should not follow the religion of his forefathers’ [Kt35:(110)]. This raises the question whether every accidental vehicle of religion is equally suited to promote the universal essence of all religion. Kant clearly recognizes that there are important differences; indeed, this is what gives rise to the need for a philosophy of religion.
Because of its accidental character, each faith must ‘be able to cease; whereby is indicated merely the inner stability of the pure moral faith’ [Kt8: 135n(126n); s.a. 174(163)]. Nevertheless, ‘it remains true once for all that a statutory ecclesiastical faith is associated with pure religious faith as its vehicle’ [106(97)]. Wood expresses Kant’s position here with admirable clarity: ‘Kant does not intend that ecclesiastical faith ... shall be abolished by progress. Rather, it is to come to an understanding of itself as a vehicle for pure religious faith, so better to serve the pure faith which is its essence’ [Wo70:196; s.a. Kt65:29]. Along these lines Kant distinguishes between ‘merely statutory’ and ‘purely moral laws’: ‘the concept of the Deity really arises solely from consciousness of [the latter] ..., through which the will of God is primordially engraved in our hearts’; nevertheless, ‘divine statutory laws’ can ‘comprise the means to its furtherance and spread’ [Kt8:104(95); s.a. Kt65:49].
Kant’s discussion in Kt65 of the conflict between the philosophy faculty and the ‘higher’ faculties of theology, law, and medicine [see note VII.3] makes it very clear that both the empirical and transcendental elements in religion are necessary for the realization of universal religion. Kant does not expect clergy to give up their belief in the authority of Scripture any more than he expects lawyers to ignore the ‘law of the land’, or physicians to transgress ‘medical regulations’ . All he asks is that, when these ‘businessmen’ of the higher faculties  appeal to reason to justify their positions, they recognize the change in Perspective that is involved, and allow philosophers to criticize their views. Thus he says in Kt65:23:
So the biblical theologian ... draws his teachings not from reason but from the Bible; the professor of law gets his, not from natural law, but from the law of the land; and the professor of medicine does not draw his method of therapy as practiced on the public from the physiology of the human body but from medical regulations. As soon as one of these faculties presumes to mix with its teachings something it treats as derived from reason [i.e., as pure], it ... encroaches on the territory of the philosophy faculty, which mercilessly strips from it all the shining plumes that were protected by the government and deals with it on a footing of equality and freedom. The higher faculties must, therefore, take great care not to enter into misalliance with the lower faculty, but must keep it at a respectful distance, so that the dignity of their statutes will not be damaged by the free play of reason.
In this way reason functions as a corrective to revelation, ‘making it consistent with itself and with every perspective from which it can be regarded’ [Kt1:668]. Nevertheless, philosophers have no business publicizing their criticisms to laymen, but only to theologians, whose responsibility it is to interpret revelation in such a way that it is as consistent as possible with reason. Clerics then take their lead from theologians. If a conflict between philosophers and theologians should remain unresolved, the duty of clerics is to side with the theologians’ interpretation of revelation. ‘To refuse to obey an external and supreme will on the grounds that it allegedly does not conform with reason would be absurd’ [Kt65:25], for this would be to confuse the Copernican Perspective of the philosopher with what might be called the Divine Perspective of the theologian. Kant’s hope, however, is that the natural conflict between the Perspectives of the philosopher and the theologian will be of lasting benefit for both empirical and transcendental religion. As Gregor explains in Gm79: xxviii: ‘Genuine peace among the faculties can come only if the ecclesiastical faith and the law of the land are purified to the point where they are completely consistent with a priori principles of reason and can be regarded as applications of them.’
In IV.4 we saw that it is a mistake to regard Kant as a deist [s.e. note IV.24]. Equally mistaken is the claim that Kant merely ‘reduced Christianity to a symbolic expression of man’s sense of moral duty’ [Ho75:29, e.a.; cf. VI.4]. Admittedly, he does argue that from the Copernican Perspective Christianity must be viewed as a vehicle for expressing an inner religious disposition; but he never treats this as a defect, especially since it is not the only valid way of regarding it. As we have seen, Kant held that it is at the very least possible to regard Christianity as both subjectively revealed and objectively natural. He says in Kt6:488 that his critique of religion ‘is not ... derived from mere reason but is based also on the teachings of history and revelation and considers only the consistency of pure practical reason with these (that is, shows that there is no contradiction between them).’ That Kant’s personal opinion was that revelation is more than just possible is reflected by the fact that he ‘so often and so insistently call[s] himself a Christian’ [Go71:194]. One passage wherein he implicitly refers to his own Christian belief also says much about the importance of a Critical attitude towards such belief: ‘I have always ... recommended to other believers a conscientious sincerity in not professing or obtruding on others, as articles of faith, more than they themselves are sure of’ [Kt65:9, e.a.]. Likewise, he says in Kt31:337 that in itself ‘Christianity has something worthy of love about it’, but not when it is ‘armed with dictatorial authority instead of its gentle spirit’ . The traditional interpretation of Kant, whereby he is portrayed as viewing Christianity merely negatively, as the religion ‘which least overstepped the bounds of reason’ [Go71:194], is therefore quite untenable; its longevity is due primarily to the failure of interpreters to be as broad-minded as Kant himself. Kant’s own Critical view is that Christianity ‘effected a thoroughgoing revolution in doctrines of faith’ [Kt8:127(118)], so that of all the ‘different varieties of belief in divine revelation ... Christianity, as far as we know, is the most adequate’ [Kt65:36].
The remainder of this chapter will be devoted to a thoroughgoing explanation of just how Kant sets out to demonstrate the adequacy of the Christian religion. In VIII.2-3 we shall work our way once again through the four Books of Kt8, this time paying special attention to Kant’s second experiment. Books One and Two correspond, as we shall see, to the Old and New Testament, respectively. Books Three and Four likewise correspond to early church history and traditional forms of Christian worship. After examining a variety of themes in these four areas, I shall conclude in VIII.4 with a summary showing how Christianity constitutes a system that closely corresponds to systemr-m. Having attained a balanced understanding of Kant’s view of Christianity (as systemr-C), we shall then be prepared to take a step back and offer in Chapter IX an assessment of Kant’s position from the Perspective of the biblical theologian, and in so doing, to propose a systemr-s.
2. Kant’s Assessment of Biblical Religion
A. The Creation Story and the Fall of Adam
As in all Kantian systems, the first stage in systemr-C adopts the transcendental perspective [see VII.2.A]. In carrying out his second experiment, Kant applies the rational elements obtained in this first stage explicitly to the biblical account of the creation and fall, as told in the first three chapters of Genesis [see Kt8:39-44(34-9)]. His aim is to arrive at a rational explanation of the ‘pure’ meaning of the essential points raised in the biblical text, so that the extent of their compatibility with systemr-m can be properly assessed. His treatment of the biblical account suggests (as we shall see) the following basic correspondences with the elements of stage one: the creation of Adam and Eve in the image of God corresponds to Kant’s theory of the good predisposition; their original habitation in the Garden of Eden symbolizes the original innocence of every human being; their fall into sin through the influence of an external source of temptation, the serpent, illustrates the propensity of every human being to adopt evil maxims (i.e., maxims that give priority to incentives that are external to systemp), due to the mysterious intervention of radical evil; and their consequent expulsion from Eden corresponds to the concluding element in stage one, the adoption of an evil heart. Recognizing these parallels makes it all the more important to understand that Kant is not attempting to explain away the biblical account (in the manner of eliminative reductionism [see VI.1]), nor even to pass judgment on its historical status. On the contrary, he goes out of his way to draw attention to the many correlations between systemr-m and the biblical narrative, stressing that here, as throughout systemr-m, his account ‘agrees well with ... the Scriptures’ [41(36)]. For as we saw in VIII.1, the explication of such symbolic correlations is one of Kt8’s two main purposes.
The most important issues in Book One relating to Kant’s second experiment all revolve around the relationship between radical evil and the biblical account of the origin of sin. What has misled many interpreters of Kt8 is that Kant consistently guards against the belief that a merely historical account can provide a sufficient explanation of any stage in the development of pure religion. Nowhere is this more evident than in his treatment of the ‘origin’ of good and evil. Kant argues that ‘it is ... a contradiction to seek the temporal origin of man’s character’ [Kt8:40(35)], because that character has its ‘origin in reason’ [39(34)]. The transcendental perspective must be adopted in order to discern the true origin of good and evil in the human disposition; no account of actual events in time will suffice, though such empirical accounts may well serve as symbols, pointing to their transcendental basis. Thus, for example, Kant says the claim ‘Man is created good’ [cf. Genesis 1:31] means ‘the original [pre]disposition in man is good’, not that ‘he is already actually good’ [44(40)]. The biblical account of the original goodness of human nature is to be interpreted, then, as a symbolic representation of the universal goodness of the human predisposition, as demonstrated by rational arguments completely independent of any revelation [see VII.2.A]. Kant is not dogmatically claiming that the biblical account is historically untrue; rather, he merely insists that the question of its historicity is irrelevant to the determination of how appropriately the narrative describes the rational origin of goodness in human nature, as established in stage one of systemr-m. Because the first three chapters of Genesis clearly regard human nature as originally good, while at the same time avoiding the inference that this godly ‘image’ makes us actually good, Kant’s assessment of their symbolic religious value is essentially positive.
In examining the origin of evil Kant likewise treats the doctrine of original sin ‘not as a revealed dogma, but as an implication of our own experience’; interpreted in terms of the rational need to posit radical evil as the mysterious source of our propensity to evil, this traditional doctrine serves as ‘the foundation of [Kant’s] whole theory of the nature and function of religion in human life’ [We26:92-3]. Goldmann makes a similar point: ‘The doctrine of radical evil is not a foreign body in Kant’s philosophy. It is not only justified but even necessary for the coherence of the system. It is certainly not a concession to the Christian religion.’ If any concession is involved, Christians (or anyone who believes in original sin) are the ones who may need to make a concession to the requirements of pure rational religion. For the only way to confirm the validity of this doctrine without merely presupposing it as divine revelation (i.e., without adopting the Perspective of the biblical theologian) is to demonstrate the role it plays in pure rational religion. Kant readily allows that theologians, as such, can legitimately base their doctrines on the Empirical Perspective of the Scriptures, provided they recognize that when they begin to discuss the pure meaning of such biblical accounts, they are adopting the philosopher’s Transcendental Perspective [Kt8:40n(35-6n)]. Once this is acknowledged, Kant’s (secondary) aim in this first stage of systemr-C becomes evident: to show how the first few chapters of Genesis, properly interpreted, can serve as an adequate vehicle for symbolizing the transcendental elements of universal religion.
Adam and Eve’s blissful pre-fall state corresponds in Kant’s mind to the good predisposition in systemr-m; but at the fall, he tells us, ‘this happiness vanished like a dream’ [Kt8:19(15)]. Kant’s metaphor here implies that the fall can be regarded as a fall into consciousness, for he then adds that the post-fall age is ‘as old as history’, presumably because the writing or even telling of history presupposes consciousness. As we saw in Chapter II, Kant had made extensive use of the metaphor of ‘dreaming’ in Kt18 to pave the way for his own attempt to replace traditional (dreamlike) metaphysics with his own Critical (awakened, or enlightened) alternative. Now he uses the same metaphor in a way that suggests the good predisposition ceases to function actively at the moment a person ‘wakes up’ morally, which happens as soon as the first conscious moral choice is made. Whether Kant would regard this as a plausible account of the how the first person ‘awoke’ from the state of primeval moral ‘sleep’ is unclear from the text, and (in view of his attitude towards seeking temporal origins) irrelevant. What is clear is that he regards the biblical account of the first beginnings of human (moral) history as a profound symbol of how each of us develops as an individual. For example, he says ‘the rational origin of [every] evil ... action must be regarded as though the individual had fallen into it directly from a state of innocence’ [41(36)]. The story of the fall can therefore be regarded as an appropriate symbolic description of what happens every time a person transgresses the moral law.
In Kt8:42-3(38) Kant further suggests that when considering our own moral history, ‘the explanation of evil in terms of its beginning in time’ must always go back to ‘the causes of each deliberate transgression in a previous period of our lives, far back to that period wherein the use of reason had not yet developed, and thus back to a propensity to evil (as a natural ground) which is therefore called innate...’. Kant is here referring to our early childhood, when each person inevitably (by virtue of a natural propensity) makes an unconscious evil choice and thereby attains a level of consciousness adequate for moral responsibility. He then stresses his oft-repeated claim that the fall into evil is a moral act for which each individual is ‘to be held responsible’. The biblical account (set as it is in the Garden of Eden) aptly symbolizes the initial (noumenal) act whereby we choose to adopt self-love as our supreme maxim; but that it can also symbolize the ‘contingent’ (phenomenal) act whereby we first choose to do something evil is a possibility Kant leaves open. Resolving this issue, however, is not of much significance to the success of Kant’s second experiment. What is significant is to recognize that the biblical account, while not determining the course of Kant’s argument in constructing systemr-m (inasmuch as the arguments presented in VII.2.A did not rely in any way on anything drawn from the Bible), nevertheless turns out to be a profoundly symbolic expression of essentially the same point: that human nature as we know it is a corruption of an originally good state.
Kant’s account of evil in Book One [s.e. Kt8:32-9(27-34)] rejects the classical view of evil as ‘a mere absence ... of goodness’ [22-3n(18n); s.a. We26:94]; it is this to be sure, but it is also a ‘positive’ force in its own right, capable of taking over and corrupting a person’s good predisposition. ‘Between a good and an evil disposition ... there is therefore no middle ground’ [Kt8:23n (18n)]. Accordingly, Kant notes with approval the tendency in Christianity to distinguish between moral good and evil ‘not as heaven from earth but as heaven from hell; he commends it as ‘philosophically correct in meaning’, since there are no ‘gradual steps’ between a good and an evil disposition [60n(53n)]. Kant’s account of these religious symbols is examined more fully in AVI.3.
Another aspect of Kant’s attempt to assess the validity of the biblical account in terms of systemr-m is his definition of ‘sin’. In place of traditional definitions (e.g., sin as separation from God), Kant simply regards it as moral evil viewed from the religious standpoint. Thus he defines sin as ‘the transgressing of the moral law [viewed] as a divine command’ [Kt8:42(37); s.a. 72(66)], reiterating throughout Kt8 that this involves a reversal in the proper order of our incentives, ‘whereby [our will] makes lower incentives supreme among its maxims’ [43(38)]. In this way Kant insures that the accountability for sin remains squarely on the shoulders of the person who breaks the moral law. The vulgar, temporal account of original sin that ‘describes [evil] as descending to us as an inheritance from our first parents’ is ‘inept’ [40(35)]. Once the irrationality of ‘passing the buck’ through a temporal interpretation of original sin is exposed, the rational value of the doctrine, as paving the way for some meaningful self-reflection, can be appreciated: it forces us to recognize the influence of radical evil in our own reason, and in so doing, beckons us to ‘direct our attention to the actual evil of given actions’ in order to find in ourselves the origin of the evil deeds we have committed [40(35)].
In spite of Kant’s harsh rejection of the inheritance account of original sin, his strong desire to justify the Genesis narrative through symbolic interpretation leads him to make room even for this otherwise ‘inept’ view. For in the concluding paragraph of Book One, after reminding us of the ‘inscrutable’ nature of ‘the propensity to evil’ [Kt8:43-4(38-9)], Kant points out that ‘the Bible expresses [this inconceivability] in the historical narrative’ by locating the first origin of evil ‘not in man, but in a spirit of an originally loftier destiny.’ Since our evil disposition is rooted not in our natural inclinations, but in our own rational choice—i.e., since ‘the human mind has no immediate inclination to wickedness, but is only indirectly [i.e., mediately] wicked’ [Kt35:(220); s.a. We26:109]—it is permissible in Kant’s opinion to trace the origin of evil back to a pre-existing spiritual source, such as that suggested by the biblical account of Satan. For Kant this conjecture ‘has purely negative significance’, as Webb points out, inasmuch as ‘it in no way enlarges our knowledge of supersensible reality’ [We26:185]. Its chief advantage is that it ‘completely avoids the confusion of the Evil Principle with mere natural inclination’ , as is required by Kant’s definition of sin. The presence in us of inclinations is not something worthy of blame (any more than we can be accused of error simply because objects appear to us in space and time!); for the moral failings that result from choices we make on the basis of inclinations, however, we must bear full responsibility [see Wa72:145].
Once again Kant has confirmed the meaningfulness and symbolic value of the biblical narrative. Although a literal interpretation of the inheritance view of original sin is too morally debilitating to countenance (taking away, as it does, our freedom and therefore our ultimate responsibility for the evil choices we make), the depth of Kant’s appreciation of the symbolic meaning of the text is seen in his view that, as Webb puts it, ‘the propensity to evil is no less deeply rooted in our nature than if we had inherited it’ [We26:113]. In other words, Kant is not even asking us to give up the inheritance interpretation, but rather to change the perspective from which we view it: instead of viewing the doctrine of original sin from the empirical perspective, as a literal account of the temporal origin of evil, we are to view it from the transcendental perspective, as a symbolic expression of a profoundly rational religious truth. The Genesis narrative therefore qualifies as the first stage in systemr-C; it not only provides us with a strikingly vivid description of the first stage of systemr-m, by depicting humanity ‘as having fallen into evil only through seduction, and hence as being not basically corrupt’ [Kt8:44(39)], but it also points the reader forward to the hope [cf. Gen. 3:15] ‘of a return to the good from which he has strayed.’
B. The Gospel Story and the Nature of Jesus
The second stage in systemr-m adopts, as usual in Kant’s System of Perspectives, the logical perspective. Just as the logical perspective in systemt establishes a conceptual framework through which knowledge can be gained in spite of the transcendental limitations of space and time, so also in systemr-m this second stage establishes the basic religious concepts [see VII.2.B] that enable us to respond effectively to the transcendental limitations imposed on us by evil in stage one. In other words, just as the categories ‘save’ the possibility of empirical knowledge from the limiting conditions of sensibility, so also the ‘gospel’ of faith in the archetype of perfect humanity saves the possibility of pleasing God from the limiting conditions of radical evil. In the Christian tradition, the New Testament accounts of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the ‘last Adam’ furnish an effective conceptual structure whereby human persons can counteract the problem of sin that has plagued mankind ever since the ‘first Adam’ [see Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22,45]. Kant’s examination of the compatibility between the Christian Gospel and stage two of systemr-m occurs mainly in Book Two of Kt8, though the General Observation appended to Book One provides a number of helpful preparatory suggestions.
In the first of Kt8’s four General Observations Kant focuses mainly on the nature of ‘the original predisposition to good’ and how it can be restored to its rightful place as the governor of the human disposition, despite the fact that this place is inevitably usurped by evil at the very outset of every person’s moral development. After declaring that ‘Man is created good’ (a point at which systemr-m confirms the view of human nature expressed in Genesis 1:26-31) and granting ‘that some supernatural cooperation may be necessary’ in order for a person actually to become good, Kant stresses that ‘man must first make himself worthy to receive’ such divine aid [Kt8:44(40)]. In so doing, we do not make ourselves good, but ‘only render ourselves susceptible of higher, and for us inscrutable, assistance’ [45(40-1)]. His use of the biblical metaphor of a fruit-bearing tree [cf. Matt. 3:10; 7:17-19; 12:38] suggests that the problem of how the human ‘tree’ (disposition) becomes evil even though it was originally predetermined to be good, and the subsequent problem of how that evil ‘tree’ becomes good again, are the two key issues in the first half of systemr-m. As I argued in VII.2, systemr-m as such cannot solve these problems, but merely acknowledges their existence as rational ‘gaps’ needing to be filled by the symbols presented in some particular religious tradition [see Table VII.2].
By exposing the ‘naked body’ of religion, systemr-m highlights the need for some historical revelation to provide ‘clothing’ that can make religion ‘decent’. Whereas Kant’s doctrine of radical evil draws attention to the first mystery that must be explained by any true empirical religion, his doctrine of the ‘archetype’ highlights the second mystery. Expanding on Kant’s own ‘clothing’ metaphor [see VI.2], we could say that if the incomprehensibility of radical evil gives rise to religion’s need for a set of comfortable ‘undergarments’ to explain evil’s origin, then the incomprehensibility of the archetype (including its relation to the originally good predisposition) gives rise to its need for a suitable pair of ‘trousers’ to explain how evil can be overcome. Taken together, these two elements constitute the necessary conditions for the possibility of religion: just as knowledge would be ‘blind’ without concepts and ‘empty’ without intuitions [Kt1:75], so also religion would be ineffectual without a capacity in human nature to receive divine aid (i.e., the archetype) and pointless without the threat posed to human nature by radical evil.
In Book Two itself, Kant develops at great length the connection between the archetype and several Christian doctrines relating to Jesus’ vicarious atonement. Although Kant never uses the names ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ in Kt8, the nature of Jesus as the Christ is undoubtedly his main concern in assessing how well Christianity ‘fits’ with stage two of systemr-m. There are several other important issues, to be sure; but they all revolve around the question of what role Jesus ought to play in a Christian’s religious self-understanding. In order to highlight the applicability of Kant’s arguments to the Christian view of Jesus, I shall henceforth freely interpolate his name into my account of Kant’s position. This should not be taken to imply that Kant was referring exclusively to Jesus in such passages—though sometimes he certainly is—but only that Jesus is one (and, in light of Kant’s intent to focus on Christianity, usually the most prominent) religious figure to whom his comments apply. He discusses the relevant issues more systematically in Section One, so I shall begin here with a brief account of Section Two, where Kant examines ‘the Christian portion’ of the Bible [Kt8:78(73)].
Section Two of Book Two is mainly a descriptive synopsis of the biblical narrative, with special emphasis on the conflict between Satan and Jesus. After a brief account of how Satan, as ‘a being of a higher order—a spirit’, acquired ‘dominion over spiritual natures’ and thereby set up a ‘kingdom of evil’ [Kt8: 78-9(73-4)], Kant explains how the ‘Jewish theocracy’, with its civil constitution prescribing ‘partly ethical’ and ‘partly ... burdensome’ observances, ‘did no substantial injury to the realm of darkness’. Into this context came ‘a person whose wisdom was purer even than that of previous philosophers, as pure as though it had descended from heaven’ [80(74)]. Proclaiming himself as innocent with respect to Adam’s original ‘bargain with the evil principle’, Jesus refused to bargain even when Satan ‘offered to make [him] deputy-governor of his entire kingdom’ [80-1(74-5)]. In response to Jesus’ attempt to stir up ‘a public revolution (in religion) through the overthrow of a ceremonial faith, which crowded out the moral disposition’ [81n(76n)], Satan imposed all manner of sufferings upon him, resulting eventually in his death. Jesus’ willingness to ‘give up his life’, however, was itself ‘a manifestation of the good principle, that is, of humanity in its moral perfection, and an example for everyone to follow’ [81-2(76-7)]. Outwardly, the revolution failed; ‘the moral outcome of the combat’ between Jesus and Satan, therefore, was ‘really not the conquering of the evil principle ... but merely the breaking of its power to hold, against their will, those who have so long been its subjects’ [82-3(77)]. Yet in the long run, Jesus’ obedience opens up a new, ‘moral dominion’ to all those who wish to follow him in forsaking the rule of the evil principle.
Kant’s purpose in devoting a whole section to ‘this vivid mode of representation’ [Kt8:83(78)] is not to ridicule those who believe it is true, nor to eliminate its significance by reducing it to its moral core, as Collins claims [Co67:176-7]. Rather, it is to confirm its suitability to serve as a symbolic vehicle for true religion: ‘for practical purposes, its spirit and rational meaning have been valid and binding for the whole world and for all time’. In other words, provided the believer draws from the Bible a conviction ‘that there exists absolutely no salvation ... apart from the sincerest adoption of genuinely moral principles into his disposition’ [83(78)], a belief in Christian doctrine can be fully supported by Kant as a manifestation of universal religion. When believers recognize how ‘Scripture ... harmonizes with the most holy teachings of reason’ [83(78)], they will avoid the tendency to use Jesus as an excuse for moral laziness, seeing instead the need to join with Jesus to become ‘sons of God’ [John 1:12; q.i. 82 (77)]. For a more systematic account of how Christian doctrine must be interpreted in order to foster this goal, let us turn now to examine Section One.
One of the most fundamental characteristics of Jesus in Christian doctrine, his perfection, seems at first to be ruled out by Kant’s theory of the universal human propensity to evil. We saw in VII.2.A, however, that Kant explicitly allows for the possibility that anthropological research might turn up an exception to the rule of human beings having an evil propensity. His reason for specifying this limitation on our empirical knowledge of evil may well be to make room for the Christian belief in Jesus’ sinlessness [see 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5]. The conjecture that Kant views Jesus as a man without any propensity to evil draws some support from his qualified defense of the virgin birth: ‘To conceive the possibility of a person free from innate propensity to evil by having him born of a virgin mother is an idea of reason accommodating itself to an instinct which is hard to explain, yet which cannot be disowned, and is moral, too.’ The reason it is ‘hard to explain’, presumably, is that in order to be a genuine moral example, Jesus must have suffered the effects of radical evil just as everyone does; how this could be the case without his actually succumbing to the evil propensity and thus starting out with an evil disposition is not an issue Kant addresses [but see note VIII.16]. In any case, Subsection B of Section One is largely devoted to a discussion of what it could mean for a human being to be an incarnation of God. The bottom line, as required by systemr-m, is that ‘each man ought really to furnish an example of this idea [i.e., the archetype] in his own person’ [Kt8:63(56)], so whatever Christians believe about the nature of Jesus, it must not prevent them from being Christ-like (i.e., aiming at perfection) themselves.
To this end, Kant provides a two-paragraph sketch of the minimum rational requirements for a properly religious interpretation of Jesus’ nature—or for that matter, of any person who is set up as a religious ideal. First, he argues that even if ‘a truly godly-minded man’ gives us the best possible ‘example of a man well-pleasing to God’ [Kt8:63(57)], ‘we should have no cause for supposing him other than a man naturally begotten.’ While admitting that a person such as Jesus ‘might be a man supernaturally begotten’ (thus leaving open a theoretical space for the traditional Christian doctrine), Kant opines that such an hypothesis ‘can in no way benefit us practically’ because the archetype within us is already of ‘supernatural origin’ [64(57)]. Here, despite appearances to the contrary, Kant is not dogmatically denying the divinity of Jesus; rather, he is emphasizing that we must not lose sight of Jesus’ humanity, because if we elevate him ‘above all the frailties of human nature’, then ‘such a divine person could no longer be held up as an example’ [64(57)]. By making ‘all transgression on his part utterly impossible’, this would certainly ‘hinder the adoption of the idea of such a person [i.e., the archetype] for our imitation.’
Kant’s point in this paragraph is not to encourage us to accept or reject any religious doctrine, but rather to encourage those who do accept it to interpret it in such a way that it does not conflict with the minimum requirements of true religion, as laid out in systemr-m. That Kant’s position here is not dogmatic, but hermeneutic, is clearly seen in the last part of the paragraph: after warning against the dangers of emphasizing Jesus’ divinity to the exclusion of his humanity, he adds that the doctrine of divine self-emptying [see Phil. 2:5-8] is a ‘thought [that] must attune our hearts to admiration, love, and gratitude’ [Kt8: 64(58)]. Moreover, in the lengthy footnote appended to the last sentence, he points out that John 3:16 (‘For God so loved the world ...’) has a legitimately religious, symbolic interpretation that helps ‘us comprehend the degree of God’s love for the human race’, noting that we ‘cannot dispense’ with such analogies, even though an overly literal, anthropomorphic interpretation ‘has ... most injurious consequences’ for moral religion [65n(58n)].
Any doubt that Kant is willing to countenance the possibility that Jesus really is the Son of God should be dispelled by the last paragraph in Subsection B. Whereas the foregoing paragraph warned against an overemphasis on Jesus’ divinity that would eclipse his humanity, Kant now acknowledges that there is, in fact, a legitimate moral interpretation of the former doctrine. Even though Jesus must be regarded (from the theoretical standpoint) as ‘completely human’, he ‘might ... truthfully speak of himself’, from the hypothetical perspective, as if he were an incarnation of perfect, divine goodness. ‘In speaking thus he would be alluding only to his disposition’ [Kt8:66(59)]. Any theological defense of the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity must therefore be a hypothetical claim that points away from the theoretical standpoint to the practical standpoint. Far from denying the possibility of Jesus’ divinity, Kant is attempting to provide an interpretation of this doctrine that renders it morally admissible. If Jesus is (theoretically) an ordinary man who (practically) has God’s own disposition within him, then he can still serve as an example for our own moral self-improvement; for we (as potential sons of God) have just as much access to the archetype as did Jesus (who himself had to learn obedience and be made perfect in order to become the savior [Heb. 5:8-11]). As Kant later explains, ‘in the appearance of the God-Man [on earth], it is not that in him which strikes the senses and can be known through experience, but rather the archetype, lying in our reason, that we attribute to him ... which is really the object of saving faith’. Thus Kant explicitly acknowledges the transcendent origin of the archetype as a form of divine assistance (i.e., grace): alluding to Philippians 3:9 [s.a. Rom. 10:3], he points out that our attainment of a ‘pure moral disposition ... will ever remain a righteousness not our own’.
These explanations of how God’s grace must be interpreted from a practical standpoint are not, of course, sufficient to establish the actual divinity of Jesus—only faith in a divine revelation could do that. But they are misinterpreted when taken as discounting the significance of Jesus’ historical character altogether, as when Ward [Wa72:151] interprets Kant as maintaining: ‘Whether Jesus ever existed or not is beside the point; he is the “archetype of the pure moral disposition”, which all men must imitate in themselves.’ This typical way of misreading the text results from a lack of attention to the principle of perspective. ‘The archetype lies in the understanding’ [Kt35:(109-10)] and must therefore be viewed from the logical perspective of systemr-m; but ‘the Example set before us in the Gospels’ is presented from the empirical perspective. Kant can say that ‘experience provides not a single example of honesty, of righteousness, or of virtue’ [(109)], because these are ‘universal principles’ when regarded from the logical perspective of stage two; yet in the next breath he can affirm: ‘There are, indeed, examples of righteousness, of virtue, and even of holiness’ [(110)], insofar as these are viewed from the empirical perspective. The same is true for the archetype: ‘Our archetype is not a pattern [i.e., an empirical example] which we must reproduce, but a rule [i.e., a logical concept] to which we should conform’ [(98)]. Empirical individuals ‘can only be judged good or bad by reference to universal principles’ [(109)], so the fact that Kant explains the adequacy of Jesus’ example in terms of his realization of the archetype is not meant to render his historical existence irrelevant, but to authenticate his life as worthy of imitation—so much so that his disposition can be regarded as divine.
What Kant is aiming to do here is to show that our knowledge of Jesus’ humanity leaves open a space for faith in his divinity. In Kt8:119(109-10) he explicitly states that rational faith ‘in the Son of God’ within us (i.e., in the archetype) and empirical ‘faith in the God-Man’ as an historical person (i.e., in Jesus) do not ‘so differ that to begin with one, or the other, would be to enter upon opposing paths’: they both represent ‘the archetype now as found in God and proceeding from Him, and now, as found in us, but in both instances as the gauge for our course of life.’ This confirms Norburn’s conjecture in No73:431 that Kant’s philosophy of religion ‘may serve even today as a vindication of Belief and as a necessary preface to Christology.’ More will be said on Kant’s Christology in IX.4. For now it is enough to point out that, insofar as Kant intends his theory of the archetype to be a philosophical foundation for a sympathetic biblical theologian’s Christology, Galbraith is simply expecting too much when she complains that ‘what Kant calls the Son of God ... does not really amount to christology in the normal sense at all.’
Once Kant has confirmed that the Christian doctrine of Jesus’ double nature can serve as a legitimate symbolic vehicle for expressing the rational meaning of the archetype of perfect humanity, he turns his attention in Subsection C to three ‘difficulties’ that threaten to obstruct its ‘realization in us’ [Kt8: 66(60)]. Without some way of solving these problems, Kant’s surprisingly accommodating view, that religious conversion requires divine assistance through the agency of the archetype, would end up not being much of a ‘gospel’ after all. These difficulties, as shown in the detailed discussion in AVI.2-3, correspond directly to three traditional Christian doctrines: sanctification, assurance of salvation at the final judgment, and atonement for sin (i.e., justification). Sanctification is the process whereby believers grow more and more ‘perfect’ or ‘holy’ [Matt. 5:48; q.i. 66(60)]; believing God judges our disposition encourages proponents of Critical religion to face various life challenges boldly, in an effort to make progress towards a realization of goodness. Assurance is the confidence believers have that they cannot become ‘unsaved’, because their eternal destiny is determined; the Kantian Christian, aware of the dangers of self-deception and overconfidence [see e.g., Matt. 25:31-46], treats this as a rational hope based on an awareness of the real moral progress they have made. And atonement explains how God can forgive a person’s pre-conversion sins; Kant claims the just punishment for the ‘old man’s’ sins falls on the inner archetype of the ‘new man’ (embodied by Jesus) and is experienced as the pain of conscience during conversion, a form of vicarious suffering.
Kant’s solutions to these three difficulties relating to the ‘realization’ of the gospel (i.e., of Jesus’ archetypal nature in each person) may not amount to a defense of the traditional Christian doctrines [see Table AVI.2]. But taken together, they do provide an impressive confirmation of how these doctrines, as found in systemr-C, are compatible with systemr-m. Sanctification is now conceivable in spite of the paradoxical fact that the perfection it aims at can never be fully reached. Assurance of a favorable outcome at the final judgment can now be upheld as a form of moral/spiritual confidence, without risking an overly literal interpretation that would weaken a person’s moral resolve. And atonement (as a consequence of God’s forgiveness) can now be accepted without requiring it to contravene the standards of divine justice. This is not to say that Kant proves the Christian gospel is true. That is not his purpose. Rather, he accomplishes the negative task of making a hermeneutic space wherein the Christian ‘symbols of faith’ (Glaubensymbols) [cf. 69n(63n)] can be accepted as legitimate regulative solutions to the universal human problems of imperfection, insecurity, and insufficiency, yet without contradicting the minimum requirements of rational religion.
3. Kant’s Assessment of Christian Tradition
A. The Universal Church and its Scripture
Stage three in each of the systems in Kant’s System of Perspectives adopts the empirical perspective, and systemr-C is no exception. In the first two Critiques this stage is where empirical knowledge and moral action, respectively, are first established. Likewise, as we saw in VII.3.A, Book Three of Kt8 is where Kant first introduces the social elements that make religion an empirically real phenomenon. The main focus of his second experiment in Book Three is on the historical development of church tradition, with special attention given to the nature and proper function of its scriptures. Like Book Two, Book Three is divided into two parts, with the first constructing one of the stages in systemr-m and the second providing a corresponding ‘historical account’ [124(115)], based on Christianity. Kant’s views on the essential nature of the church have already been covered extensively in VII.3.A, so our main focus here will be on his view of Scripture. Let us begin, though, with an overview of his account of the history of Christianity, as given in Book Three’s second division.
Kant begins ‘Division Two’ by alluding to Christianity’s status as the universal religion of mankind. He states that ‘the church universal commences to fashion itself into an ethical state of God’ at that point in time when ‘ecclesiastical faith ... publicly recognizes its dependence upon the qualifying conditions of [‘pure religious faith’]’ [Kt8:124(115)]. He then explicitly names Christianity as the ecclesiastical faith whose ‘succession of different types of belief’ constitutes the ‘universal historical account’ of the true church. Because his goal is to establish the essential unity of this diverse tradition, he insists on excluding its accidental Jewish roots from the history of those who uphold the ideal of the ‘universal church’; for the Jewish faith, he claims, lacks the ‘unity of principle’ characteristic of Christianity [124-5(115-6)].
Having made this highly debatable claim, Kant proceeds to examine in detail three aspects of ‘the Jewish faith’ that make it ‘not a religion at all but merely a union of a number of people ... under purely political laws, and not ... a church’ [Kt8:125(116)]. ‘First, all its commands ... relate merely to external acts’, while ‘making absolutely no claims upon ... conscience’ [125-6(116)]. Even ‘the Ten Commandments’, though ‘valid as ethical commands ... are directed to absolutely nothing but outer observance.’ Second, it ‘involves no belief in a future life’—a belief Kant thinks ‘automatically obtrudes itself upon everyone’ who is in touch with ‘the universal moral predisposition’ that lies at the foundation of all true religion [126(117)]. And third, it adopts an exclusiveness, based on a sense of racial superiority, that renders the very idea of a ‘universal church’ inapplicable. Kant admits that individual Jews might develop ‘some sort of religious faith’ as an adjunct to their basic ‘statutory belief’; but such an inner moral conversion is strictly optional when serving a God who ‘attaches prime importance to mechanical worship.’
The accuracy of Kant’s caricature of Judaism, somewhat unfairly called ‘venomous’ by Crichlow [Cr96:93], is open to considerable doubt, since some passages from the Old Testament do encourage an inwardly-focused moral disposition [see e.g., Jer. 31:33]. This, together with the fact that the New Testament contains some passages that appear to recommend nonmoral, statutory observances as inherently pleasing to God, suggests that Kant must intend his comments on Judaism and Christianity to be taken more in terms of ideal types or tendencies (the ‘inner spirit’ of each) than as a rigorous interpretation of their respective Scriptures. That he uses ‘Judaism’ as a ‘straw man’ is clear in several passages, as when he ironically puts the following challenge to Christians into the mouth of his Jewish contemporary, Mendelssohn [see note VIII.28]: ‘First wholly remove Judaism itself out of your own religion ...; we can then take your proposal [that Christianity is superior] under advisement’ [Kt8:166n(154n); s.a. Kt65:48]. Nevertheless, some Jewish scholars do openly acknowledge the accuracy of Kant’s interpretation of Judaism. Weiler, for example, insists ‘Kant was right on mark’ in portraying Jewish religion as regarding the authority of religious statutes as superior to that of any moral criteria. Later he clarifies that this does not mean there is no emphasis on the inner life in Judaism, but only that a person’s primary focus must be on the external: too much attention to ‘a religious mood’ or ‘a devotional spirit’ is discouraged [We88:292-3].
By ‘completely forsaking’ this statute-based form of worship, Christianity ‘effected a thoroughgoing revolution in doctrines of faith’, thus ‘introducing a purely moral religion’ that ‘was to comprise a religion valid for the world and not [just] for one single people’ [Kt8:127(118)]. The attempts of many Christians ‘to join Judaism and Christianity with a connecting strand’ are justifiable only as a means of converting Jews ‘without offending [their] prejudices.’ Kant himself softens his stand slightly by admitting that in Jesus’ day ‘Judaism ... was already interfused ... with a religious faith’, thanks to the influence of ‘foreign (Greek) wisdom’ [127-8(118)]. Into this context Jesus came, declaring ‘that moral faith ... is the only saving faith.’ In both his actions and his words, he gave ‘an example conforming to the archetype of a humanity alone pleasing to God’ [128(119-20)]. After dying a ‘meritorious death’, he left behind ‘the memory of his merit, teaching, and example’, which were eventually recorded in the ‘holy book’ that became the basis of a new ‘historical faith’ (Christianity) [128-9(119-20)]. Kant describes what happened in this highly cautious way (i.e., without assuming the truth of any Christian dogmas) because his whole book (including the second experiment) must remain ‘within the bounds of bare reason’ [128n(119n)]. This should not be taken to imply that he is thereby rejecting the ‘miracles and mysteries’ that ‘find a place’ in the Bible; for he adopts this mode of expression only because verifying such matters is the task of historical ‘scholarship’, not philosophy.
Because Christianity, regarded ‘as an historical faith, bases itself upon books’, it requires ‘a learned public’ in order to be disseminated—a vehicle not required by pure religious faith as such [Kt8:129(120)], but by the realities of the human situation [103(94),135n(126n)]. The first generation of Christians, however, did not have access to such learning, and the Roman historians of the time did not pay attention to the movement until its second generation [129-30(121-2); s.a. 167(155)], so we are unable to assess how authentically the first Christians put Jesus’ moral religion into practice. What we can assess is whether ‘Christendom, from the time that it became a learned public itself’, has realized its true nature as ‘a moral religion’. With this in mind, Kant uses a one-sentence paragraph (spanning more than a page!) to catalog the various ills that have beset the history of Christianity (‘fanaticism’, ‘superstition’, credal divisions, state-run churches, church-run states, religious wars, and ‘bloodthirsty hatred against ... colleagues in one and the same universal Christendom so-called’) and to diagnose the disease: ‘the root ... lies hidden in the basic principle of a despotically commanding ecclesiastical faith’ that opposes ‘Christianity’s first intention’ of founding ‘a universal world-religion’ based on ‘pure religious faith’ [130-1(121-2)].
In spite of this dismal and rather one-sided picture of church history (showing, incidentally, that many of Kant’s references to ‘Judaism’ and ‘Christianity’ must be taken as ideal types rather than as historical descriptions, since in the latter respect Christians fare no better than Jews), Kant turns now to an optimistic expression of hope in ‘the present [age]’ (i.e., the Enlightenment). By freeing reason from the arbitrary fetters of ‘the expositors’, ‘true reverers of religion’ are now sowing ‘in Christendom’, claims Kant, ‘the seed of the true religious faith’ [Kt8:131-2(122)]. To support this claim, he sets out two basic principles of exegesis, intended for use by anyone who wishes to interpret Scripture in such a way as to bring the Christian church closer to the ideal of a universal religion. We shall examine these two hermeneutic principles later in this section.
Kant devotes the remainder of his discussion of the universal history of religion to some reflections on how ‘guidance by Providence’ in the future will bring ‘the kingdom of heaven ... ever nearer’ [Kt8:134(124)]. Since this topic of the coming of the ‘kingdom of God on earth’ is closely related, both here [134(125)] and in Division One, not only to religion but also (and perhaps more significantly) to political history, I shall defer a detailed discussion to KSP4. At this point it is enough to note that Kant believes the apocalyptic prophecy concerning ‘the end of the world ... may be interpreted as a symbolical representation intended merely to enliven hope and courage’, since Jesus himself focused on the ‘soul-elevating moral aspect’ of the ‘tribulations and sacrifices’ associated with membership in the coming kingdom, without claiming to possess knowledge concerning details of the end [134-5(125)]. As such, the prophecies in the book of Revelation are ‘a beautiful ideal of the moral world-epoch’, towards the realization of which we ought continually to labor; when interpreted rationally, in terms of ‘the introduction of true universal religion’, the elements of the Apocalypse ‘can take on ... their right symbolic meaning’ [136(126)]. That such symbolic interpretations are not intended to lower the status of the Christian faith, but to raise morality to the level of universal religion [see VI.4], is evidenced not only by how readily Kant quotes Scripture with approval throughout Kt8, but also by the fact that he concludes Division Two by reminding his readers (with no apparent jest) of ‘the necessity ... really to consider ourselves always as chosen citizens’ in the kingdom of God [136(126)].
Keeping in mind this surprisingly affirmative conclusion of Division Two, as interpreted in light of Kant’s Copernican Perspective on religion [see VIII.1], can help us appreciate the fact that Kant’s theory of the church in Division One of Book Three—his ideal of the universal People of God progressively realizing the kingdom of God on earth—is not intended to do away with the real, empirical church, as is often supposed. Without the latter, pure religion would be ‘bare’ (i.e., ‘naked’ [bloss]), as the very title of Kt8 implies [see VI.2]. Along these lines, Kant elsewhere explicitly compares ‘a church without a religion’ to ‘garments without a man in them’, and ‘religion without a church’ to ‘a man without garments’, warning that the latter ‘is not well protected’. Rather than rejecting the Christian church, Kant is challenging it to develop and grow by patterning itself more effectively on the pure kernel of religious truth—a lifeline that is already available in the teachings of Jesus (‘the Founder of the true church’ [Kt8:179n(167n)]). All the trappings are allowed to remain, as long as they are viewed from the proper perspective, as rationally subordinate to pure religious truth. Kant says it is ‘our duty’ to subordinate historical faith to pure religious faith in this way [182(170)], for ‘the moral believer is ever open to historical faith so far as he finds it furthering the vitality of his pure religious disposition.’
We can now see that one of the most important implications of Kant’s doctrine of the church is that it encourages respect for Christianity even though church history is marred with all manner of evils. For, as we saw above, Kant regards these evils as arising not out of Christianity as such, but out of an unbalanced interpretation of Christianity by those who gave theoretical assent priority over practical assent. The lesson to be learned from the history of the Crusades, excommunications of ‘heretics’, witch-burnings, etc., is that the church will be a channel for covert evil as long as the theoretical standpoint (dogma) is valued more highly than the practical standpoint (morality). For the doctrinal differences that give rise to much destructive conflict ‘cannot be avoided so long as we seek religion without and not within us’ [Kt8:167(155)]. And this, Kant insists, is precisely the lesson taught by Christianity itself: ‘Christianity’s first intention was really no other than to introduce a pure religious faith, over which no conflict of opinions can prevail’ [131(122)].
Only when this perspectival shift inherent in Kant’s Copernican Perspective is kept firmly in mind can we properly understand the implications of what he says in Division One concerning the role of the church and its Scripture. We can now see, for instance, that the contrast between the visible and invisible church is parallel to the contrast between ecclesiastical and religious faith [see VIII.1]. Thus Kant says in Kt8:102-3(94): ‘Pure religious faith alone can found a universal church ... Yet, by reason of a peculiar weakness of human nature, pure faith can never be relied on as much as it deserves, that is, a church cannot be established on it alone.’ The ‘weakness’ he is here alluding to is one that he himself experienced. For he points out that ‘a community of the faithful’ will ‘not automatically arise’ merely on the basis of the agreement between the ‘free adherents’ of pure religion, ‘because in such a religion none of those who has seen the light believes himself to require, for his religious sentiments, fellowship with others’ [158(146)]. The weakness of pure religion is that an overemphasis on it, to the exclusion of ‘statutory ordinances’, will actually hinder the continued growth of universal religion. The purpose of the visible church, as an arena for ecclesiastical faith designed primarily to promote pure religion, is to guard against such a tendency. Kant here appears to be criticizing, or at least pointing out the dangers of, his personal tendency to avoid an outward expression of his own pure religious faith. But his further stipulation, that a visible church becomes detrimental to pure religion when it is ‘merely statutory’ [158(146), e.a.], probably accounts for his preference not to attend church himself.
Immediately after establishing the nature and status of the church in Division One [see VII.3.A], Kant concentrates on the topic of Scripture: Subsection V argues that historical faith ‘is best Founded on a Holy Scripture’ [Kt8:102 (94)], while Subsection VI establishes the proper priorities for interpreting Scripture within a church. In the former section Kant first explains why the human condition makes historical faith necessary as a vehicle for pure religious faith. He then argues that in order for the former to convey the latter ‘everywhere’ (i.e., universally) and ‘unchanged’—these being the first and fourth requirements for a true church—a tradition alone (i.e., a set of rituals and other ‘public observances’) will not suffice: a scripture is also needed [106-7(97-8)]. The great ‘respect’ aroused by ‘a holy book’, due in part to the body of scholarly ‘expositors’ that inevitably forms around it, makes it virtually impossible ‘to destroy a faith grounded in a scripture’, whereas faiths without a scripture have ‘promptly met [their] downfall when the state was overthrown.’ Clearly alluding to the Bible, Kant concludes that, because this particular scripture ‘contains ... the purest moral doctrine of religion in its completeness’ [107(98)], and because the extraordinary circumstances whereby it has ‘fallen into men’s hands’ point to ‘none other than a gracious Providence’ as its ‘source’ [107n(98n)], it ‘can command an esteem like that accorded to revelation.’
To interpret this positive assessment of Scripture merely as a ploy to gain approval from the censors would be totally unfounded; for in other contexts, both public and private, Kant openly attests to his high regard for the Bible. Thus in Kt35:(74) he tells his students (c.1775-1781): ‘The Gospels do not suffer even the least imperfection: they are stringent and pure and demand unrelentingly compliance with the [moral] law.’ In a late essay (1794) he explicitly approves of the failure of one person’s ‘rash’ attempt at a ‘public propounding of religion without the bible’ [Kt55:321(87)]. Earlier, in a letter to Lavater (1775), he privately confesses: ‘I respect the reports of the evangelists and apostles, and I put my humble trust in that means of reconciliation with God of which they have given us historical tidings’ [AA10:169(Zw67:80-1)]. When he goes on to warn that ‘what those men give us are only their reports’, his purpose is not to detract from the Bible’s significance, but to enhance it by encouraging a proper (Critical) attention to the standpoint we adopt when reading it: ‘considered as history, our New Testament writings can never be so esteemed as to make us dare to have unlimited trust in every word of them, and especially if this were to weaken our attentiveness to the one necessary thing, namely, the moral faith of the Gospels’ [170(81)]. In a follow-up letter Kant clarifies the importance of adopting the practical (moral) standpoint: ‘no book, whatever its authority might be ... can substitute for the religion of conscience.... For although statutes may bring about the performance of rituals, they cannot beget inner convictions. Because of this presupposition, I seek in the Gospels not the ground of my faith but its fortification’ [171(82)]. That Kant regards this standpoint as involving not a denial but a confirmation of the Bible’s authority becomes clear in a 1789 letter to Jung-Stilling [23.494(131)]: ‘it is quite right of you to seek in the Gospels the final satisfaction of your striving for a secure foundation of wisdom and hope, since [the Bible] is an everlasting guide to true wisdom, one that not only agrees with the speculations of a perfected reason but sheds new light on the whole field surveyed by that reason, illuminating what still remains opaque to it.’ Such passages confirm Despland’s claim [De73:222] that Kant views ‘historical revelation [as] an educator of reason.’ Kant further clarifies this function in yet another letter, wherein he tells Fichte that ‘the revelation of [nonmoral statutes] was given as an accommodation to our weakness, to provide a visible cloak for’ the moral ‘articles of faith prescribed by reason’ [AA11:308(Zw67:187)].
This practically-focused, perspectivally-determined view of Scripture goes hand in hand with Kant’s Copernican Perspective on religion. This Perspective requires Kant to reverse the common person’s assumptions concerning the sources of religious life, as when he declares in Kt65:37 that ‘the only way we can find eternal life in any Scripture whatsoever is by putting it there.’ Kant believes this reversal of emphasis comes directly from Christianity; indeed, he sees it as the essence of Jesus’ revolutionary message. As long as ‘Christianity’ (or the name of any other religion) is taken to refer merely to an historical tradition (an ecclesiastical faith), its message thereby sows the seeds of its own destruction; in making a convert its adherents only produce ‘twice as much a son of hell’ as they themselves already are [Matt. 23:15]. But if the message itself is given priority, as Kant believes was Jesus’ original intention, then the destruction of any given ecclesiastical form will not deter the progress of true, universal religion. For universal religion is the ideal of a perfect instantiation in the empirical world of the pure religious standpoint all people can adopt.
The title of Subsection VI of Book Three’s first division encapsulates the essence of Kant’s biblical hermeneutics: ‘Ecclesiastical Faith Has Pure Religious Faith as its Highest Interpreter’ [Kt8:109(100)]. Kant presents three possible candidates for the highest principle of biblical interpretation, each corresponding to one of the basic Critical standpoints: historical scholarship (theoretical), moral symbolism (practical), and personal feeling (judicial). He rejects the latter in a single paragraph at the end of the subsection; but it is important to understand why. We cannot regard ‘an inner feeling’ as an alternative to ‘rational religion and Scriptural learning’ in determining ‘the true meaning of Scripture as well as its divine origin’ [113(104)]; nevertheless,
we certainly cannot deny ... that the very impulse to good actions ..., which the man who reads Scripture ... must feel, cannot but convince him of its divine nature ... [Yet this] moral feeling ... is private to every individual ...; therefore one cannot urge it as a touchstone for the genuineness of a revelation, for it teaches absolutely nothing, but is merely the way in which the subject is affected as regards pleasure or displeasure—and on this basis can be established no knowledge whatsoever. [113-4(104-5); s.a. Kt65:32-3]
Kant is not denying that feeling plays an important role in helping us appreciate the ‘divine nature’ of Scripture; he is merely pointing out that theological conclusions cannot rely on feeling, since it is a private matter.
A ‘philosophical’ interpretation of Scripture is ‘a thoroughgoing interpretation of it in a sense agreeing with the universal practical rules of pure reason’. Even if it is ‘forced’, such morally-based interpretation ‘must be preferred to a literal interpretation which either contains nothing at all [helpful] to morality or else actually works counter to moral incentives’ [Kt8:110(100-1); s.a. 43n (39n); Kt65:42]. The only alternative for the truly religious person would be ‘to charge [Scripture] with error’ [41; s.a. 63-4,66]. Moreover, ‘absolutely no general agreement can be reached [in disputes ‘over credal opinions on matters of faith’] without appeal to pure reason as the expositor [of Scripture]’ [Kt8: 130(121)]—a point we shall consider further in VIII.4. In defending such an approach Kant points out that ‘this has always been done’ down through history [110(101)], and that Jesus himself intended his teaching to be taken in this way [159-62(147-51)].
Kant further defends this subordination of the historical to the religious (perhaps even less popular today than it was two centuries ago) in Kt65:42:
... faith merely in the sense of theoretical assent ... is no part of [pure] religion because it neither makes nor gives proof of a better man ... Yet these same propositions can be considered essential requirements for expounding a certain ecclesiastical faith.... However, the teacher should warn [the people] not to ascribe holiness to dogma itself but to pass over, without delay, to the religious faith it has introduced. [s.a. 46,65]
From the truly religious standpoint, ‘Scriptural scholarship ... settles no more than that there is nothing in the origin of Scripture to render impossible its acceptance as direct divine revelation’—i.e., nothing immoral [Kt8:112-3(103)]. If it is not subordinated to religious faith, the resulting ‘historical faith must finally become mere faith in Scriptural scholars and their insight’ [114(105); s.a. Kt65:61]. But this is inadequate for universal religion because ‘historical ecclesiastical doctrines ... at best have in their favor only a probability discoverable by scholars’ [Kt8:133(123)]. For those in the Judeo-Christian tradition, it leads to the unlikely implication that ‘the salvation of mankind’ hangs upon the contingent fact of ‘there be[ing] scholars who are familiar with the Hebrew language’ [167(155)]. Even more significant is that an exclusive emphasis on the theoretical standpoint leaves the divine origin of the Bible totally unverifiable: ‘No historical account can verify the divine origin of such a writing. The proof can be derived only from its tested power to establish religion in the human heart’ [Kt65:64; s.a. 23,46].
Let us conclude our discussion of Kant’s views on Scripture by examining the two hermeneutic principles proposed in Division Two of Book Three:
The first is the principle of a reasonable modesty in pronouncements regarding all that goes by the name of revelation. For no one can deny the possibility that a scripture ... may ... be regarded as a genuinely divine revelation.... [O]ne can hardly expect a new revelation ... Hence the most intelligent and most reasonable thing to do is from now on to use the book already at hand [the Bible] as the basis for ecclesiastical instruction and not to lessen its value through useless or mischievous attacks, yet meanwhile not forcing belief in it, as requisite to salvation, upon any man. The second principle is this: ... the sacred narrative ... ought to have absolutely no [determining] influence on the adoption of moral maxims, and ... must at all times be taught and expounded in the interest of morality ... [Kt8:132-3(122-3)]
The bulk of Kant’s treatment of the first principle is directed against the supposedly liberating tendencies of the Enlightenment, by maintaining that belief in some sort of vehicle for religious faith, some divine revelation, is healthy and should be preserved. The ironic tendency of liberals (usually biblical scholars!) to deny the authority of Scripture with ‘useless or mischievous attacks’ is not conducive to maintaining a strong religious faith. But he also criticizes the extreme conservative, who forces belief in scriptural dogmas, as equally destructive. For such an approach takes away the moral freedom of its adherents by imposing as laws of coercion what are meant to be laws of virtue.
The second principle restates two ideas Kant has already introduced: that morality is independent from religion [Kt8:3(3)] and that ‘the highest principle of all Scriptural exegesis’ is to treat ‘the moral improvement of men’ as ‘the real end of all religion of reason’. He expounds these ideas in numerous passages:
For the final purpose even of reading these holy scriptures, or of investigating their content, is to make men better; the historical element, which contributes nothing to this end, is ... in itself quite indifferent, and we can do with it what we like. [Kt8:111(102); s.a. Kt65:40,47]
Only a moral interpretation ... is really an authentic one—that is, one given by the God within us ... .
[Therefore] we must regard the credentials of the Bible as drawn from the pure springs of universal religion dwelling in every ordinary man ... .
Its authenticity ... can be better established by the effect its reading can produce in the hearts of men than by proofs based on critical examination of the teachings and tales it contains. 
The God Who speaks through our own (morally practical) reason is an infallible interpreter of His words in the Scriptures, Whom everyone can understand. And it is quite impossible for there to be any other accredited interpreter of His words ... .
As we have seen, Kant is not intending to do away with the ‘Scriptural scholarship’ that ‘deals with the historical aspect of [a] religion’ [Kt8:114(105)], but to put the historical (biblical) scholar in a proper, ‘subordinated’ place in relation to the ‘Scriptural interpreter’ (i.e., a preacher or other church member), whose task is to determine the rational (moral) meaning of the text [112(103)].
The foregoing, perspectival interpretation of Kant’s views on the universal church and its Scripture reveals Kant to be far more sympathetic to Christianity than is often recognized. He obviously regards himself as a reformer rather than a destroyer of Christian tradition, very much in line with his attitude towards metaphysics in general [cf. I.1-2 and AIX.1]. Like the best reformers, Kant does not mince his words when referring to those aspects of the tradition he regards as essentially idolatrous. But the reason behind his iconoclasm is to produce a truer tradition—i.e., a systemr-C that can convey the genuine moral core of religion more directly to its members. This goal will become even more evident as we proceed now to the final part of our overview of Kant’s second experiment.
B. Serving God: Clergy vs. Conscience
Like his theoretical and practical systems, Kant’s religious system does not end at this point, even though stage three fully realizes the constituent elements of the object of inquiry (in this case, an empirical manifestation of a God’s kingdom); instead, he always adds a fourth stage, wherein certain regulative elements are put forward from the hypothetical perspective, as guideposts for wise application. Book Four of Kt8, like Books Two and Three, is also divided into two main parts, the first adopting a more rational outlook to examine ‘the service of God in religion in general’ [153(142)] and the second probing the false expressions of such service typically manifested in the Christian tradition. As with systemt, I interpreted stage four of systemr-m as consisting of two alternate endings [cf. VII.3.B and KSP1:VII.3.B], depending on whether one adopts the hypothetical or the speculative perspective (i.e., depending on whether priority is given to practical or theoretical reason, respectively). In systemr-m the first ending is taken mainly from Part One of Book Four, while the second is taken mainly from Part Two. Although some repetition of the content of our earlier discussion is therefore inevitable, my focus here shall be on those aspects of both parts that relate primarily to systemr-C.
After introducing some basic distinctions in Part One, Kant devotes two subsections to Christianity, viewing it first from the rational/moral standpoint of ‘natural religion’, then from the historical/theoretical standpoint of ‘learned religion’. In Section One, he points out that, considered as a natural religion (i.e., as an instantiation of pure religious faith), Christianity is an ideal structure consisting of ‘a body of servants ..., but not officials’ [Kt8:157(145)]. As free and equal members of ‘an invisible church’ that comprises ‘all right-thinking people’, these servants will ‘not automatically’ form themselves into a visible church; yet as we have seen, ‘a factual basis [ein Factum]’ must be established if the invisible church is to become a reality in the world [158(146), alt.]. This happened, Kant hypothesizes (‘Let us suppose ...’), when Jesus preached the principles of the ‘universal religion of reason’ and added to them ‘certain statutes which provided forms and observances designed to serve as a means of bringing into existence a church founded upon those principles.’ In so doing, he became ‘the founder of the first true church’ [159(147)]—i.e., the first visible church with dogmas and rituals designed primarily to be an expression of the invisible church (see below). To support this quasi-conservative claim, Kant carries out his most extensive effort at biblical interpretation, surveying the entire Gospel of Matthew for evidence of parallels between Jesus’ teaching and the pure religion of reason [159-62(147-50)]. Having amassed an impressive display of parallels, Kant concludes that this (i.e., Christianity, as introduced by Jesus) ‘is a complete religion’ [162(150)].
Once Jesus had given universal religion this factual basis, subsequent generations inevitably entrusted his message ‘to the guardianship of the learned’ [Kt8:162(151)]. At this point, as Kant explains in Section Two, ‘the Christian religion’ becomes ‘the Christian faith’ [163(151)]. Ideally, these two forms of Christianity (the invisible/rational and the visible/historical) ought to be complementary. The integrity of the former can be preserved, however, only if the beliefs associated with the latter are ‘not made a duty’; for when ‘unconditional belief in revealed propositions (in themselves hidden from reason)’ is made the basis of Christian faith, the freedom associated with all true (moral) religion is lost, being transformed into servitude (‘servilis’) to ‘the small body of textual scholars (the clerics)’ [164(152); s.a. 171(159)]. The genuine ‘ministerium’ characterizing each member of the true church (i.e., the ministry performed by dutiful servants of God, who receive ‘orders directly from the supreme legislator’ [152(140)]) is thereby replaced by a false ‘imperium’ belonging to the elite church ‘officiales’ (i.e., a ‘domination’ exercised by ‘commanding high officials’) [165(153); s.a. 152-3(140-1)]. After some reflections on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, mainly reiterating themes from the previous treatment of the same subject in Division Two of Book Three, Kant concludes this second section with a reminder [167(155)] that ‘changes of faith’ (such as those arising from scholarly disputes) ‘cannot be avoided so long as we seek religion without and not within us.’
Having acknowledged in Part One of Book Four the necessity of religion’s ‘factual basis’ in history and scholarship, Kant casts his Critical eye on false forms of religious service in Part Two. The ‘statutes’ and ‘ordinances’ taught by biblical scholars and enforced by the clergy ought to be regarded as ‘good’ but ‘arbitrary and contingent’ appearances pointing us towards the reality of the moral law. When they are instead viewed as ‘essential to the service of God’, and so also as ‘the highest condition of the divine approval’, the inevitable result is ‘pseudo-service’ and ‘religious illusion’ [Kt8:168(156)]. As we saw in VII.3.B, this ‘practical illusion’ involves the mistaken belief that ‘possessing a means to some end’ is sufficient, and can ‘take the place’ of ‘the possession of the end’. The first two of the four subsections constituting Part Two are devoted to establishing basic principles for distinguishing reality from illusion in our religious life. Since these sections relate mainly to Kant’s first experiment and are dealt with elsewhere [VI.2-3 and VII.3.B], I shall here pass directly to the third and fourth subsections, where Christianity as such is more clearly the focus of Kant’s attention.
Subsection 3 presents a stinging critique of ‘clericalism’ as a false form of religious government. Kant first points out that the specific historical and statutory differences that inevitably exist between different traditions are far less significant than the basic perspectival difference between those who give priority to historical faith (following the principle of religious illusion presented in Subsection 1) and those who give priority to good life-conduct (following the moral principle presented in Subsection 2). By taking their scripture and tradition too literally, as conveying dogmatic knowledge, the former fall victim to all manner of illusions; the latter avoid this by interpreting their ‘historical faith’ as ‘the symbolic representation, and the means of promotion, of a pure religious faith’ [Kt8:176(164)]. The root cause of all such illusion is the devotees’ ‘intention’ to use compliance with nonmoral statutes as a way ‘to manage to their own advantage the invisible Power which presides over the destiny of men’, thus ‘bringing about a supernatural effect through wholly natural [i.e., nonmoral] means’ [176-7(164-5)]. Through intellectual assent to dogmas and/or active participation in ceremonies and rituals, such a person believes ‘that he works on God and uses Him as a means to bring about a result in the world’ [177-8(165-6)]. Kant does not object to the devotee who uses nonmoral observances ‘as a means to the furthering of the moral disposition’, believing that in so doing ‘he is merely making himself capable of receiving’ God’s assistance; what he rejects is the idea that formulas, confessions, and ‘churchly observances’ can ‘conjure up divine assistance’, or ‘produce it through natural acts’ [178(166)].
Clericalism, as Kant sees it, is the tendency of church leaders to encourage members to fall into religious illusion—a tendency exacerbated by the common belief that compliance with statutory regulations is easier than obeying the moral law [Kt8:179n(167n)]. In hopes of divesting this illusion of its power, Kant repeatedly stresses that ‘moral service’ alone is ‘free’, because the ‘divine commands’ are thereby transmitted through the conscience of each individual, so that ‘nothing is here forced upon him’; statutory divine commands are ‘for a conscientious man a far heavier yoke’, because (taken literally) they burden the conscience with requirements that cannot be internally verified [179(167)]. This, Kant claims, is what Jesus meant when he said his ‘yoke is easy’ and his ‘burden is light’ [Matt. 11:30]: a person’s duties, though in one sense ‘the hardest’ of all responsibilities, are free of external burdens (‘yokes’), for they are ‘imposed on him by himself and through his own reason’ [179n(167n)]. While admitting that churches vary greatly in how heavily they burden their members with statutory ‘yokes’, Kant reminds us that the basic question of ‘worth or worthlessness rests on the nature of the principle which is supremely binding.’ Regardless of the church’s external political structure, if ‘submission to precepts as a compulsory service’ is given higher priority than ‘free homage ... to the moral law’ [180(168)], ‘then, however few the imposed observances, ... the masses are ruled and robbed of their moral freedom by subservience to a church (not to religion).’ In such cases, ‘a clergy rules which believes that it can actually dispense with reason and even ... with Scriptural learning, because it has authority’ [180(168)].
Kant appends to this subsection some further reflections on the doctrines appropriate to the true church. Rooting the doctrine of salvation in an historical faith may be useful in converting the simple-minded, but ‘the learned or wise of the world’ are bound to find difficulties that render such a faith unsuitable to serve ‘as the supreme condition of a universal faith alone leading to salvation’; this doctrine should instead be rooted in the ‘practical knowledge’ that is ‘engraved upon [each person’s] heart’ and effectively ‘guides us to a pure religious faith’ [Kt8:181-2(169-70)]. Only when we ‘start off with this knowledge’, letting ‘the historical faith which harmonizes with it follow’, ‘does historical faith possess a pure moral worth, because here it is free and not coerced through any threat’ [182(170)]. Kant then makes the same basic point by distinguishing between the ‘doctrine of godliness’ (obeying statutes out of a fear and/or love of God) and the ‘doctrine of virtue’ (doing one’s duty out of respect for the moral law). These two doctrines ‘stand in necessary connection with one another’ in such a way that one must be a means that leads to the other. Because the former assumes an idea of God that ‘cannot subsist of itself in speculative reason’, whereas the latter ‘derives from the soul of man’, Kant argues that in catechisms and sermons alike ‘the doctrine of godliness’ should be presented ‘as a means of strengthening ... the virtuous disposition’ [182-3(170-1)]. Treating the former as an end in itself leads to a weakening of moral courage and ‘transform[s] godliness into a fawning slavish subjection to a despotically commanding might’, thus reducing worship to a form of ‘idolatry’; ‘godliness’ then serves as a mere ‘surrogate for virtue’ instead of as ‘virtue’s consummation’.
Subsection 4 concludes Part Two of Book Four with a defense of what is arguably the most indispensable tenet relating to the practical implications of Kant’s second experiment: that conscience (as opposed to clergy) is the most reliable guide in matters of faith [Kt8:185(173)]. Kant defines conscience as ‘the moral faculty of judgment, passing judgment upon itself’—a regulative function reminiscent of reason’s regulation of theoretical judgment in stage four of systemt [see KSP1:VII.3.B], except that ‘reason here judges itself’ [186 (174)]. Whereas ‘[t]he understanding’, operating in stages two and three of systemp, ‘judges whether an action is really right or wrong’, conscience operates in stage four of systemr-m (step ten) by postulating certainty of an action’s moral status. Kant cites the ‘inquisitor’ who ‘pass[es] judgment upon a so-called heretic’ and ‘condemns him to death’ as an example of the danger of making an ‘unconscientious’ decision based on an ‘historical and visionary faith’ [186-7(174-5)]. In any such case where conscience suggests even the possibility that a choice based on a presumed revealed knowledge of God’s will could be mistaken (i.e., contrary to the moral law), Kant believes a conscientious person should abstain from acting.
With this in mind, Kant asks ‘whether spiritual rulers or teachers ... should impose [their idea of ‘revealed law’] upon the people as an article of faith’ [Kt8:187(175)]. Since ‘the absolute possibility of an error’ is always present whenever a statement is based on one’s ‘interpretation’ of Scripture, or even on ‘previous classical exegesis’, adherence to such a confession should be left to each person’s conscience. When ‘the clergyman’ uses spiritual authority to require ‘the confession of firm belief’ before God in a theoretical statement ‘of which he himself can never be wholly convinced’, the resulting hypocrisy belies an ‘insincerity’ (or ‘untruthfulness’) that is nothing short of ‘damnable’. Kant’s cautious attitude towards church confessions is based not on an irreverent disregard for theological truth, but on an honest recognition of our theoretical uncertainty on such matters. For the way of salvation ‘may be so mysterious that God can reveal it to us at best in a symbolic representation in which only what is practical is comprehensible to us’ [171(159)]. To withhold the freedom of conscience from church members on the principle that they ‘are essentially unfit for freedom ... is to usurp the prerogatives of Divinity itself, which created men for freedom’ [188n(176-7n)]. Kant firmly rejects the rationale often used by those who think such ‘dishonesty in religious confessions’ is ‘expedient’ (e.g., Pascal’s ‘wager’, that everything is gained if it turns out to be right, while nothing is lost if it turns out to be wrong), condemning it as a hypocritical ‘violation of conscience’ that is very likely to backfire [188-9(176-7)].
Although Book Four’s second part includes only a few explicit references to Christianity, Kant’s second experiment is clearly at the forefront of his mind throughout his discussion (especially in Subsections 3 and 4). For the struggle between clergy and conscience for jurisdiction over the freedom of the human soul is the issue that Christianity must confront if it is to succeed in realizing its destiny of becoming the vehicle through which universal religion is propagated to the entire human race. Further evidence that the Christian form of this struggle is Kant’s main concern comes in the General Observation to Book Four, where he assesses the religious value of four rituals: two of the four (baptism and communion) are unique to the Christian tradition. (Kant’s views on these rituals are examined in AVII.4 and AVIII.) We can therefore conclude our portrayal of systemr-C by stressing that for Kant the essence of genuine Christian service lies in a conscientious commitment to identify and carry out one’s personal duty, and that the cleric’s true task is to foster a church environment wherein all members can freely explore whatever beliefs and actions are most likely to promote this moral end. A visible church that understands its purpose in these terms will be wholly consistent with systemr-m.
4. The Harmony between Systemr-C and Systemr-m
In the passage quoted at the beginning of this chapter, Kant claims that Kt8 demonstrates a lasting ‘harmony’ between ‘Christianity’ and ‘the purest moral belief in religion’ [Kt65:9]. We have now seen in detail just how far Kant goes in this direction, thanks to his application of the Copernican Perspective to religion. The high degree of harmony between Kant’s two experiments suggests a possibility we have not yet considered: since Christianity is chosen by Kant ‘as the medium for the elucidation of our idea of revealed religion’ [Kt8:156 (144)], could there be a direct correspondence between the architectonic form of systemr-m and that of the historical Christian faith, regarded as systemr-C? Kant’s concentric circles metaphor certainly suggests such a similarity of form. As we saw in VII.2-4, systemr-m takes the same twelvefold form as systemt and systemp [cf. Fig. VII.6, above, and KSP1’s Figs. VII.4 and VIII.1]. Although my exposition of Kant’s second experiment has not appealed directly to this twelvefold pattern, we can easily review its content with exactly such harmonic correlations in mind. This will confirm the suggestion made in VIII.1 [s.e. Fig. VIII.1] that Kant completes his second experiment by constructing ‘systemr-C’ (the Christian religious system). Constructing the remaining component in the triad, systemr-s (a philosophically enlightened system of biblical theology), will then be the task of Chapter IX.
Systemr-C has two versions, one illusory and one genuine, with the differences becoming apparent, as usual, only in stage four, depending on whether the speculative perspective or the hypothetical perspective is adopted. The following analytic summary of systemr-C includes both options and should be read with reference to Figures VIII.2-3, though for the purpose of contrast with Figures VII.7-8, these figures show only the illusory (‘pseudo-service’) version of stage four. This should not be construed to mean that Christian religion is necessarily illusory; this would be quite contrary to Kant’s intention.
Stage four. The speculative perspective (++) of systemr-C aims to establish how salvation is possible, but inadvertently bases its assurance on a false way of serving God (x). Such pseudo-service tends to happen whenever revealed faith (-)—i.e., belief in the Bible as interpreted by theologians and clerics—is given priority over good life-conduct. This tends to cloud the believer’s
conscience, causing nonmoral, church-prescribed actions to be regarded as the highest demonstration of one’s unconditional devotion to God (+), in the hope that salvation will be given despite a lack of good life-conduct. Such devotional activities can be a legitimate part of genuine service to God, but only if they indirectly encourage moral action by strengthening a person’s good disposition. Direct service of God involves living freely under the dictates of one’s own
Schematic Analysis of the Illusory Version of Systemr-C*
The Circle of Christian Religion as Speculative
conscience, viewing moral commands from the hypothetical perspective, as divine commands. Only the latter version of stage four harmonizes well with systemr-m; but in the real world both versions typically coexist in the body of religious believers known as the Christian church.
Stage three. Systemr-C’s empirical perspective (-+) requires a church to be established as the historical context for learning and practicing how to serve God. Historically, this goal was first realized when the Roman Emperor, Constantine, converted to Christianity (x). Before that, individuals were called Christians (+) not on the basis of their membership in a state, but only if they had received the Holy Spirit as a personal guide. The first persons to have this experience were Jesus’ original followers (-), who gathered together after his death and resurrection in order to support each other in the task of sharing the news of how they had been given new life (stage two) that saved them from their former state of corruption (stage one).
Stage two. The logical perspective (+-) in systemr-C defines the basic requirement for an individual’s membership in the church. Each member must have received the gift of new life (x) through faith in the saving power of Jesus’ resurrection. This conversion must be based on a new hope of becoming good (+), as exemplified in Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die. Although human reason is not capable of understanding Jesus’ true nature, it does require us to believe Jesus was human (so that he can still be an example for us to follow), and permits us also to believe that he shared God’s own disposition (-), as an expression of God’s grace.
Stage one. The transcendental perspective (--) explains why Jesus had to come (and human beings had to be saved) in the first place. Salvation is required because, just as in the story of the flood, each person’s heart had become corrupted. This unfortunate process began when Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, which happened as a consequence of their decision to eat the forbidden fruit (+). They made this decision because of the influence of Satan, disguised as a serpent. Before that, they had been given freedom to eat any of the good fruit in the garden (-), where they had been placed by God immediately after they were created in a state of original goodness.
With this summary in mind, let us now return to the point raised near the end of VIII.3.A, that Kant’s interpretation of religion has both liberal and conservative aspects. I shall conclude this chapter by examining this dual emphasis in more detail, beginning with Kant’s own response to liberal theologians of his day, as expressed in Kt65:44-5:
I hear biblical theologians cry out in unison against the very idea of a philosophical interpretation of Scripture. Philosophical exegesis, they say, aims primarily at a natural religion, not [at] Christianity. I reply that Christianity is the Idea of a religion, which must as such be based on reason and to this extent natural. But ... in so far as the Bible ... promotes moral precepts ..., we can consider it the vehicle of religion and accept it, from this standpoint, as supernatural revelation. Now only a religion that makes it a principle not to admit supernatural revelation can be called naturalistic. So Christianity is not a naturalistic religion ...
In saying this, Kant is implicitly criticizing the liberals of his day, who over-liberalized Christianity by reducing it to a natural religion (i.e., to an ‘ecclesiastical faith without the Bible’ ); by contrast, Kant’s philosophical interpretation of the Bible tries to conserve its status as divine revelation by bringing out its symbolic meanings. This is because, given Kant’s Copernican Perspective on religion, a text can be regarded as divine revelation only to the extent that we determine to read it as divine revelation—that is, to see in it the empirical unfolding of the pure religion that is in us a priori.
Kant therefore calls ‘the Biblical theologian’ to ‘be at one with the philosopher’: each should respect the other as working towards a common goal, though the two Perspectives should not be carelessly mixed [Kt8:10(10)]. Thus Kant defends philosophical interpretation again in Kt8:83-4(78):
An attempt such as the present ... to discover in Scripture that sense which harmonizes with the most holy teachings of reason is not only allowable but must be deemed a duty. And we can remind ourselves of what the wise Teacher said to His disciples regarding someone who went his own way, by which, however, he was bound eventually to arrive at the same goal: ‘Forbid him not; for he that is not against us is for us’ [cf. Mark 9:39-49].
By calling the teachings of reason ‘most holy’ and the Teacher who first promoted them ‘wise’, Kant is not being disrespectful, but is merely drawing attention to the common objective of wisdom and holiness, of reason and religion, which is to live a life well-pleasing to God. Kant’s hope is that the theologian will recognize this common goal, and hence ‘feel honored’ by the philosopher’s corroboration [Kt65:45].
What is rarely acknowledged in treatments of Kant’s philosophy of religion is that he never intended to criticize or impose strenuous limitations upon the truly devout and sincerely religious person. In light of its synthetic, empirical role in Kant’s overall System of Perspectives, we can now see that systemr (in both its pure and its historical aspects) should ultimately serve as an encouragement to such a person, since its main purpose is to analyze just what takes place in the experience of a truly religious individual. The criticism is rather directed against those whom Kant believes do impose severe limitations on common religious persons, and who, in so doing, actually deter their progress. His target is not Christ but the Pharisees, not St. Francis but St. Thomas, not the layman but the cleric, not the theology student but the theologian who seeks to indoctrinate. If we characterize those who force religious people into an unhealthy mold by discouraging them from thinking for themselves as either ‘conserving conservatives’ or ‘liberalizing liberals’, then Kant’s alternative is both a ‘liberalizing conservatism’ and a ‘conserving liberalism’—a revolution directly analogous to the replacement of empirical idealism and transcendental realism with empirical realism and transcendental idealism in systemt [see KSP1, notes VI.12,15].
Kant’s conservatism is liberalizing because it frees conservative Christians from the tendency to enclose God in a box defined by some theoretical formula; yet it does so without requiring that the doctrines that constitute orthodox Christianity be abandoned or even modified. Only one’s way of looking at them (i.e., one’s perspective) needs to change. Likewise, his liberalism is conserving in the sense that it preserves for the liberal theologian a living faith in spite of the liberal’s tendency to deny its reality by over-dependence on the methods of historical/critical scholarship; yet, again, it does so without requiring that the methods on which liberal Christianity depends be abandoned or even modified. Once again, Kant requires only a change of perspective.
The prime targets of Kant’s criticism of what could be called ‘conserving conservatism’ are the clergy who tend to ‘complain about irreligion, which they themselves have caused’ [Kt65:80]. They cause it by dogmatically insisting on the necessity and sufficiency of the ecclesiastical shell of faith, which inevitably crushes the pearl of pure religion in the laity. What Kant says in Kt32:359 about certain Europeans who took slaves could well be taken as expressing the hypocrisy towards which all conserving conservatism tends: ‘while they drink injustice like water, they regard themselves as the elect in point of orthodoxy.’ Kant’s regulative use of theoretical dogmas offers to the conservative liberation from the unhealthy situation caused by erroneous speculative certainty, yet without requiring that any cherished beliefs be abandoned (so long as they are regarded only as beliefs). Summarizing this balanced alternative, he says:
In general, if we limited our judgment to regulative principles, which content themselves with their own possible application to the moral life, instead of aiming at constitutive principles of a knowledge of supersensible objects, insight into which, after all, is forever impossible to us, human wisdom would be better off in a great many ways, and there would be no breeding of a presumptive knowledge of that about which, in the last analysis, we know nothing at all—a groundless sophistry that glitters indeed for a time but only, as in the end becomes apparent, to the detriment of morality. [Kt8:71n(65n)]
This would liberate the conservative from the religion-killing tendency to insist on one and only one answer to every theoretical question, yet without requiring the abandonment of any orthodox beliefs. Webb’s account of Kant’s suggestion as to how best to avoid hypocrisy in our treatment of a doctrine that precludes theoretical certainty is that ‘we should neither profess our faith in it, nor reject it as certainly false’ [We26:159]. This may have been Kant’s personal habit, but his official stance does not deny the legitimacy of professing faith (as long as it does not obtrude on others [Kt65:9]), but only of claiming knowledge. To ‘refrain from judging dogmatically’ [Kt35:(85)] simply means our acceptance or rejection of such doctrines is a matter of faith. The liberalizing conservatism of Kt8 can in this way be regarded as another example of Kant’s Critical attempt ‘to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith’ [Kt1:xxx].
The prime targets of Kant’s criticism of what could be called ‘liberalizing liberalism’ are the biblical scholars who, as a result of viewing Scripture from the theoretical standpoint, tend to reject the whole notion of divine revelation. The danger is not so much in treating the Bible as a product of human creativity, but in letting undue attention to its human origins obscure its pure religious message. The biblical theologian who does this ‘mistakes the husk of religion for religion itself’ [Kt65:45]. When this happens, liberals may be tempted to liberate themselves from morality as well, especially if they formerly depended on Scripture alone, without considering its relation to the moral law, as the motivation for conserving a moral outlook. By contrast, a careful distinction between the Perspectives of the philosopher and the theologian [see 23-4] can actually enable a person to be both a liberal scholar and a conservative Christian at the same time without compromising one’s integrity. Thus Kant explains in Kt38:38 how
a clergyman is obliged to make his sermon ... conform to the symbol of the church ... But as a scholar he has complete freedom, even the calling, to communicate to the public all his carefully tested and well-meaning thoughts on that which is erroneous in the symbol ... In doing this there is nothing that could be laid as a burden on his conscience.... He thus extracts all practical uses for his congregation from statutes to which he himself would not subscribe with full conviction but to the enunciation of which he can very well pledge himself because it is not impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and, in any case, there is at least nothing in them contradictory to inner religion.
The theologian’s suspicion that the philosopher is ‘philosophizing away all the teachings that must be considered real revelation and so taken literally’ [Kt65: 38] is unfounded, once it is recognized that theoretical knowledge (according to systemt) is never able to settle anything about such matters, except whether or not they are self-contradictory.
While it is true that, as Gregor says, Kant upholds in Kt65 ‘the right of the philosophy faculty to freedom of expression ..., at the expense of the clergy and the biblical theologian’ [Gm79:xxi], this should not be taken as a denial of their legitimacy; his intention is to put pastors and theologians in their proper place by divesting them of inappropriately utilized power, whose speculative source is unattainable by human beings in the first place. A good example of such an inappropriately speculative source of power is the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible. Conserving conservatives regard this in the most literal possible way, as a theoretical safeguard against error of any kind appearing in the text; since God wrote the Bible, using human authors only as agents, even the possibility of error must be denied. Liberalizing liberals, by contrast, simply discard such a notion as a superstitious illusion; regarding the Bible as a collection of works written solely by human authors, they insist the text must be treated no differently than any other historical documents. As we saw in VIII.3.A, Kant’s position falls midway between these two: he liberates conservatives from the fruitless habit of defending the Bible against factual errors or inconsistencies that have no bearing whatsoever on the text’s genuinely religious message; yet he conserves the unique, God-breathed quality of the text’s spiritual meaning, making it (when properly interpreted) infallible for guidance in matters of morality and spiritual growth.
This interpretation of Kant’s intentions once again confirms the inadequacy of the strict reductionist’s view of the supposedly exclusive character of Kant’s attitude towards moral religion [see VI.1-4]. Ward, for example, claims to be expounding Kant’s view when he says in Wa72:150-1: ‘In so far as they make historical or factual assertions ..., religious doctrines are either superfluous, absurd or even inimical to true morality, since they may lead men to value theoretical beliefs above moral efforts.’ Similarly, Webb says ‘the historic process itself’ has ‘no philosophical significance’ for Kant [We26:149]. While Kant is indeed deeply concerned to prevent theoretical beliefs from overshadowing practical ones, we have seen that he also values history and revealed doctrine as a (philosophically necessary) vehicle for pure religion: naked religion must be clothed if it is to succeed in being universal. Ward describes Kant’s position more accurately, therefore, when he makes the more general statement that for Kant ‘human history is itself the Divine sacrifice, since it is the incarnation of practical reason in phenomenal nature’ [Wa72:168]. What Ward fails to see is that this attitude is also apparent in Kant’s open-mindedness towards (or at least, toleration of) ecclesiastical faith in general. Thus Kant urges that
we ought not to mock at religious doctrines, which are only indirectly contrary to morality [i.e., insofar as they advocate the primacy of theoretical reason]; we ought to respect them; for let the religion [i.e., its ecclesiastical vehicle] be what it may, it is still worthy of our respect as a human discipline. Our conduct should tend not to schism but to unity in religion. [Kt35:(112)]
Kant’s philosophy of religion, then, can be viewed as an Enlightened apologetic for the Christian religion, directed both to unenlightened believers who too readily accepted the tutelage of church authorities over their own inner religion and to his unbelieving co-workers in the Enlightenment who mistakenly took this movement as one that leads people away from religion. One of his central concerns is to discover ‘how to set about teaching [Christianity] so that it will really be present in the hearts of man’ [Kt65:53]; and his verdict is that a person is justified in being religious not in spite of, but because of the principles laid down by the Critical philosophy. In particular, Kant’s doctrine of the primacy of practical reason requires that ‘the inner light’ of true religion not be hidden ‘under a bushel’ of merely ecclesiastical faith [Kt8:201(189); see Matt. 5:15]. (We shall examine in X.4 to what extent Kant himself lived out this religious impulse.) Perhaps we can blame, with Webb, ‘the dryness of the presentation’ in Kt8 for the failure of most interpreters to grasp ‘the depth and earnestness of [Kant’s] moral sentiment, inspired by which he teaches us that there is no getting around God, as it were, whether by knowledge or by ceremonial.’ Whatever reason others have had for neglecting Kant’s true aim, we must now recognize that he is highly Critical of those who regard Enlightenment as a means of smothering the religious impulse in the depths of the human heart. Rather, the torch of Enlightenment should kindle a fire in one’s heart as well as a light in one’s mind [see Kt8:179(167)]. Thus we can agree wholeheartedly with Paton when he says:
No doubt the moral and religious thought of different ages (including our own) tends to be cluttered up with a lot of extraneous and accidental nonsense; but it is the mark of a great thinker to set aside the nonsense, to get at the core of truth underneath ... This is what Kant attempted to do [Pa67:197].
Kant’s approach to religion not only provides a much-needed alternative to the extremes of liberalism and conservatism, but, by authenticating the status of Christianity as the true universal religion, paves the way for a balanced attitude towards evangelism. Thus Kant says in a section of Kt8 entitled ‘the Christian religion as a natural religion’: ‘This religion possesses the prime essential of the true church, namely, the qualification for universality ... To spread it ... as a world religion ..., there is needed, no doubt, a body of servants ... of the invisible church, but not officials ..., in other words, teachers but not dignitaries’ [Kt8:157(145)]. Some critics assume Kant is referring here to the spread of his own interpretation of moral religion. Thus Klinke quotes Jachmann’s report of how theologians who attended Kant’s lectures on philosophical theology went out and ‘spread the bright light of intelligent religious belief over the whole of his fatherland’ [Kl52:35]. But I doubt that spreading a philosophical system is quite what Kant had in mind.
The Critical evangelist works not by persuading unbelievers about doctrinal truths that concern only ecclesiastical faith, but by living and encouraging others to live a life of devout service to the God of pure religion. The form of ecclesiastical faith adopted by the ‘converts’ of such an evangelist must be of less concern to the evangelist than the fact that a conversion, a true change of heart, has taken place and is beginning to work itself out in the form of good life-conduct. Kant’s own opinion is that ‘of all the public religions which have ever existed, the Christian alone is moral’ [Kt8:51-2(47)], so most converts should be able to find an ecclesiastical version of Christianity that can serve as a suitable vehicle. Indeed, ‘the seed of the true religious faith ... is now being publicly sown in Christendom’ [131(122)], so this true form of Christianity ‘is directly valid for all men, the final revelation by which we must henceforth abide’ [Kt65:49]. (Moreover, it ‘has the merit of being compatible with the philosophy and all the wisdom of the ancients’ [Kt68:953].) Perhaps we would not be going too far, therefore, to conclude that Kant’s Critical religion is not only still relevant to both the scholar and the layperson, but also that it can be adopted as a reliable guidepost for the promotion of true Christianity as we enter the third millennium of the ‘Christian era’.
. Indeed, Kant explicitly says his second experiment is designed to prove ‘that reason can be found to be not only compatible with Scripture but also at one with it, so that he who follows one ... will not fail to conform to the other’ [Kt8:13(11)]. In Kant’s opinion, as Gregor explains in Gm79:xiii, ‘the experiment was successful. As he would later explain ..., this book in no way disparaged Christianity, but, on the contrary, established its credentials as divine revelation in the only way this can be established, by demonstrating its consistency with pure moral religion.’ This view is adopted by numerous other commentators [see e.g., notes I.4,12], including Willich, one of the first to publish an interpretation of Kant in English, who says the principles in Kt8 ‘are perfectly consistent with’ those of ‘the Christian Religion’ [Wi98:115]. Exploring the extent of this consistency is the main purpose of this and the following chapter.
Green erroneously [Gg93:3] portrays Kant’s second experiment as an attempt at ‘“depositivizing” Christian teachings’, where ‘positive’ refers to religion based on revealed facts . He warns that ‘Christian theologians ... ought to be particularly wary of such a project.’ Green sees ‘polemical thrusts against positive religion’  throughout Kt8: ‘Kant wants to reinterpret historic Christian faith by purging it of its positivity.’ Yet Kant’s goal is far more modest than this: to declare philosophic ignorance in response to any speculative claims to positive knowledge, thus shifting the basis of faith’s certainty from theoretical to moral grounds. He does this without dogmatically denying the possibility that such theoretical speculations could be positively (factually) true. On a potentially more accurate note, Green says Kant ‘urges that historical issues be bracketed’ . If ‘bracketed’ means ‘not denied, but put in abeyance’, then Green is quite right here.
. Kt8:6n(5-6n). By neglecting the transcendence of religion over morality, those who support a reductionist interpretation end up portraying Kant as a virtual unbeliever. For example, Kwan [Kw84:285] sees Kant as viewing ‘our own practical reason ... [as] the ultimate object of our worship.’ But such an extreme humanism would be tantamount to idolatry, neglecting as it does the very limitations of reason Kant’s Critical philosophy sets out to establish. As we shall see in XII.2, when Kant occasionally equates God with ‘Reason’, he is speaking of the latter as a power that transcends the individual and is therefore in an important sense not ‘our own’ [s.a. AIV.4].
. Barth, having taken on board the reductionist paradigm [see note VI.13], is forced to regard this part of Kant’s exposition as less than sincere: ‘It is only necessary to take quite seriously what Kant said half in mockery, in order to hear something very significant’ [Ba72:312]. Barth is referring here to the view that biblical theologians should take a stand independently of the philosopher, using revelation as ‘the point of departure’ without ‘wrapping [theology] up in the mantle of philosophy’ . What we have seen is that, stripped of the reductionist bias, Kant’s comments no longer need to be passed off as clever jesting; instead they can be taken at face value as promoting a healthy dialogue between philosophers and theologians [see IX.1], not merely the strategy of turning a cold shoulder that Barth tended to adopt towards philosophy [see AV.1].
Some interpreters, such as White, merely overlook Kant’s accommodating attitude. In discussing Kt65 [Wh90:56], for example, he refers to ‘Kant’s general attack on the possibility of a revealed theology, which if correct would be far more subversive of traditional Christianity than his more famous refutation of natural theology in [Kt1].’ But as we saw in VII.3.A, Kant is far from rejecting revealed theology—to say nothing of its very possibility! What he rejects is any philosophical attempt to moor a system of religion on revealed props. And as we shall see in Chapter IX, the fact that Kant never attempts to construct a biblical theology per se does not mean a Kantian biblical theology is a contradiction in terms.
. Green [Gg93:5], for example, makes the totally unjustified allegation that Kant ‘may have had political motives for disguising the theological implications of his argument.’ Michalson likewise affirms Troeltsch’s view that in Kt8 ‘Kant keeps one wary eye on the Prussian censor’ [Mi93:52n], and as a result, ‘some of the complexities [of interpreting Kt8] can be attributed to purely prudential considerations’. So also Walsh finds it ‘hard to take ... quite seriously’ Kant’s claim ‘that he had not thought of criticizing Christianity in writing [Kt8]’ [Wa67:322; cf. note VIII.45, below]. Along the same lines, Cassirer suggests Kant may have purposefully included ‘much vagueness and many instances of camouflage in his expression’ [Ca81:387] in order to hide his true views from the authorities. The problem with such claims is that, if this was indeed Kant’s strategy, he failed miserably, since the book was censored anyway! But even more problematic is that such double-speak would go directly against Kant’s numerous explicit calls for sincerity in religious matters [see e.g., AVI.1 and note VIII.45]. A view similar to Cassirer’s, that Kant’s private religious views were quite different from those he publicly professed, is well refuted in De73:101-7. McCarthy also agrees that Kant’s presentation of ‘a positive view of Christianity’ is not ‘a ploy to please the censor’ [Mc82:204].
The negative reaction of the king’s religious censors to Kt8 when it first appeared, resulting in Kant’s promise not to lecture or publish anything else on religion under the king’s reign [see Kt65:10], is well known. What must not be ignored is that after the king’s death, Kant explains the purpose of his book in much the same way as he had explained it in the Preface to Kt8 (thus indicating the Kt8 explanation was not merely an attempt to appease the government) [Kt65:6n]: ‘My purpose in formulating this title [i.e., that of Kt8] was to prevent a misinterpretation to the effect that the treatise deals with religion from mere reason (without revelation). That would be claiming too much, since reason’s teachings could still come from men who are supernaturally inspired. The title indicates that I intended, rather, to set forth as a coherent whole everything in the Bible ... that can also be recognized by mere reason.’ In a 1793 letter to Stäudlin [q.i. Ra63:259] Kant adds that in writing Kt8 ‘I was guided by my appreciation and true respect for the Christian religion, but also by the exigencies of a becoming candour, not to conceal anything but to represent truthfully, how a combination of religion with the purest practical Reason appears to me possible.’ In light of Kant’s distinction in Kt2:352 between Grenzen (bounds) and Schranken (limits), discussed in VI.2 [s.e. note VI.7], we can now add that the use of Grenzen in the title of Kt8 suggests Kant intends to put reason in its proper place in order to make room for revelation [cf. Kt1:xxx]!
Regardless of what Kant might say about his openness to revelation, some commentators simply refuse to take him at his word. Michalson’s doubts, for example, are based on the supposition that Kant’s epistemology simply leaves no room for divine-human communication. He argues that, although ‘Kant does not simply dismiss the possibility of a divine revelation’ [Mi79:vi], his general ‘theory of religion’, being based on ‘the phenomenal-noumenal dichotomy’ , ‘works against the possibility that a divine revelation could ever be a meaningful or recognizable part of that theory.’ With a different interpretation of Kant’s epistemology to work with (such as that proposed in KSP1), this problem evaporates: Kant’s perspectival distinctions become the very source of meaningful interpretation [see VIII.3.A] rather than an obstruction.
A small but growing rank of Kant scholars is using the perspectival method of interpreting Kant to show how his affirmative statements about Christianity can be taken quite seriously [see e.g., Fi00]. Hare follows this trend in Ha96, arguing [38; s.a. 39n] that ‘Kant is not a deist about special revelation.’ A careful and unbiased look at Kant’s writings  reveals no ‘good evidence that [Kant] rejected belief in supernatural revelation.’ As a ‘pure rationalist’, Kant believes special revelation is not objectively necessary for religious belief; yet it may be a subjectively necessary supplement to the pure moral religion, because human beings are not purely rational agents [45n]. At a 1991 conference of Christian scholars Hare presented an early version of part of Ha96. His approach, though on the right track, seemed to lack a clear appreciation of Kant’s principle of perspective, so afterwards I shared with him in some detail my approach to interpreting Kant. In early 1995 I sent him offprints of Pa92b and Pa92c. While reading Ha96 I was pleased to find Hare adopting (especially in Ch.2) many of the same positions defended in those articles. However, he seems to have reached his conclusions independently, since he never refers to my work, and still lacks some clarity in applying the principle of perspective. For a detailed review, see Pa00b.
. I affirm this in spite of the fact that Heine pokes fun at those Christians in Kant’s own day ‘who went so far in their wilful blindness as to persuade themselves that Kant was in secret alliance with them’ [He59:121]. My argument here is that the alliance, properly understood, is hardly a secret. As Green acknowledges [Gg93:1], Kt8 is ‘a work of theological apologetics that makes bold claims on behalf of the Christian religion.’ But whereas Green regards Kant’s mixture of ‘Christian orthodoxy and Enlightened modernity’ as ‘unstable’ , I shall argue that, with the aid of a perspectival interpretation, Kant can be regarded as establishing quite a stable synthesis.
McCarthy [Mc82:198] likewise observes of Kt8 that ‘[t]raditional Christian categories ... seem to guide the work.’ A Copernican (perspectival) interpretation of Kant’s two experiments makes it evident that this does not just ‘seem’ to be, but actually is a key aspect of Kant’s core strategy. Yet McCarthy warns against the view that Kant’s ‘central interest [in Kt8] was to provide a philosophical rationale for Christianity and its Christ’ [Mc86:72], calling this ‘a misrepresentation’, inasmuch as Kt8 ‘has the far more ambitious goal of scrutinizing all religion from the standpoint of moral reason’. Accordingly, McCarthy criticizes Kant for not ‘break[ing] the hold of European Christianity upon him’ , claiming that ‘Christianity and its Christ figure more prominently than they otherwise would or ought.’ He regards Kt8’s ‘Christian cultural backdrop’ and its resulting emphasis on ‘Christian doctrines, symbols and forms’ as ‘limitations of the work as philosophy of religion’ . ‘Kant’s repeated singling out of Christianity and Christ’, he insists , ‘are ... unjustified by his method of inquiry.’ Christianity is ‘the one subject matter that is constantly referred to but never systematically addressed’ . Kant’s concentric circles metaphor [see Fig. VII.1] suggests that he does intend to address it, though as we shall see, he does not do so as systematically as in the case of the first experiment. In fact, both McCarthy’s view and the view he rejects have an element of truth: Kant’s repeated appeal to Christian ideas is not merely an unjustified cultural accident, but is a conscious effort to test the reliability of his tradition in light of systemr. The ‘misrepresentation’ is to regard one extreme as Kant’s exclusive concern, as McCarthy does. My response to McCarthy’s complaint that Kant’s ‘interest in Christianity underlies his philosophical inquiry into religion’  is that Kt8 is a work of philosophical theology not a work in what we now regard as ‘philosophy of religion’ [see note I.11] and that the validity of the conclusions is always based on argument, not on tradition. The common allegation that Kant derives his theories from Christianity is therefore quite mistaken.
Crosby appears to fall into the latter trap in Cr94:134, though he earlier describes Kant’s position, quite correctly, as being ‘that the Christian religion ... happily accords with a view of morality for which he has found independent justification’ [121, e.a.]. If the justification really is independent, then the (quite real) fact that ‘scriptural teachings’ and other influences from his Christian upbringing ‘molded’ Kant’s thinking  turns out to be irrelevant. Crosby argues that ‘Kant does not take account of the possibility that seeming eternal self-evidency in a principle may be culturally induced’ . In fact, Kant does take this into account, in the very first paragraph of Kt1:1! But as he also explains, right at the outset of his Critical philosophy, the fact that we learn everything through experience (a posteriori) does not prevent some of what we learn from having an independent, a priori justification [see Pa87d]. In spite of his above-quoted acknowledgment of Kant’s position, Crosby himself does not take seriously the possibility that a culturally induced principle may also have an independent validity on purely rational grounds. Rather than making Christians more suspicious of Kant, Crosby’s able demonstration that Kant’s philosophy was influenced by many Christian ideas ought to encourage a more sympathetic reading. Nothing in Crosby’s argument proves that any of Kant’s ideas ‘follow from’  his Christian upbringing in any philosophical sense; despite their similarities, the two are logically independent.
In claiming that Kt8 has a ‘dramatic, rather than systematic, nature’ [Mc86:70] McCarthy is once again ignoring the work’s dual focus. Only the portions of the book that address the second experiment can be characterized as ‘dramatic’. This is quite appropriate, since the outer circle of Figure VII.1 represents historical faith, as opposed to rational (systematic) faith. What McCarthy misses is that the latter (i.e., the inner circle) is very systematic indeed, as we saw in Chapter VII. He thinks it is ‘highly significant’ and ‘striking’ that Kant uses ‘religious terms ... [that] are closely allied with Christianity’ . But to anyone who understands Kant’s intention to defend two Perspectives this is not striking at all. It is only to be expected, since his second experiment would be impossible without doing so. Troeltsch aptly captures the dual focus of Kt8 when he says Kt8 ‘does not ... look to an unconditional religion of reason, but rather to a transformation and approximation of the faith of the Church to the religion of reason’ [q.i. Ch92:492]. Green’s claim, that Kant’s goal is ‘to rescue Christian doctrine from the paralysis of supernaturalist orthodoxy’ [Gg93:7], is therefore correct, as long as we understand that in providing a rational interpretation of the traditional doctrines Kant is not categorically denying a supernatural component in religion.
McCarthy also complains about the ‘arbitrariness’ of ‘Kant’s evaluation and exclusive choice of Christianity’ [Mc82:200]. Kant himself initially presents his choice as arbitrary in Kt8:12(11), apparently focusing on Christianity merely because it is his own tradition. McCarthy goes on to warn against assuming too hastily that Kant intends to endorse Christianity, for Kt8 negates ‘many of the familiar trappings of Christianity’ [Mc82:203]. Indeed [Mc86:91], ‘Kant takes pains to point out Christianity’s failings.’ McCarthy thus emphasizes [Mc82:204; Mc86:72,102; s.a. 87]: ‘Christian faith is indispensable in the attainment of the triumph of the good.... But for Kant, Christianity is not the culmination of religion; it is only its historical beginning.’ This is correct, as long as we regard ‘Christianity’ as an historical faith. Like Luther, Kant does indeed strip away many of the trappings of Christianity. Only in this sense is Kant’s approach properly labeled as ‘subversive’ [Wh90:56; Cr96:99]. But his aim in taking such an approach is not to overthrow Christianity, but to promote a purer conception of the true spirit of Christianity. As Crichlow rightly observes , Kant’s subversive ‘polemic against institutions that oppress the human spirit ... is like Jesus’ attack on the religious authorities of His day and for virtually the same reasons.’ Even McCarthy admits [Mc86:89], though not with approval, that for Kant ‘Christianity is ... emphatically the only moral religion and it thus has a unique status.’
. The affinity of Kant’s first experiment with systemp explains why so many readers have thought Kt8 reduces religion to morality. It ties the core of religion to morality; but it does so not in order to eliminate other religious standpoints, but rather in order to raise morality to the only standpoint that enables us to fulfill the mandate of this moral core [see VI.4].
. The word ‘opposition’ here should be interpreted as referring to partnership in creative dialogue, not to enemies that are out to destroy each other [see IX.1 and AV.1]. Only in this sense can comments such as Cassirer’s be rendered plausible [Ca81:387]: ‘Kant stood in opposition to traditional religion ... no differently from the way he opposes traditional metaphysics.’ The comparison is valid as long as we remember that Kant opposed traditional metaphysics in order to transform it, not in order to destroy it [see I.1-2].
. See e.g., Cr96:92. As Kant argues in Kt31:337-9, Christianity is ‘worthy of love’ only when adopted freely; it cannot be forced and remain ‘lovable’. As long as its adherents bear this in mind, ‘Christianity is destined to be the universal religion of the world’ [339; q.i. Ca81:393]. Hare agrees that Kant means this quite seriously [Ha96:47]. But Despland denies any validity for Kant’s assertions regarding the uniqueness of Christianity [e.g., Kt8:124-5(115-6)] on the grounds that they contradict his affirmations elsewhere [e.g., 136-7(127),184(172)] of the value of other religious traditions [De73:331]. He points out that Kant merely claims ‘to start from some alleged revelation or other’ [Kt8:12(11)], not from the one and only true revelation. But there is no such contradiction in Kant’s usage. The word ‘alleged’ merely indicates that the second experiment is an experiment, and that Kant could just as well have chosen some other religious tradition for this purpose [cf. Co67:156-7 and Si60:xciii]. Kant’s conclusion (that Christianity qualifies as the universal religion) is therefore a confirmation of the initial allegation. Whether or not other traditions could legitimately make the same claim (to be a realization of the unique universal religion) is left as an open question.
. See note I.17. It is perhaps difficult for us theoretically-minded products of the twentieth century to believe, even at the dawn of a new millennium, that the author of so great a theoretical work as Kt1 did not intend it to occupy the primary place in his System; but this undoubtedly was Kant’s opinion [see KSP1:VIII.4]. Indeed, reason itself is defined as practical (as the autonomous power of enforcing principles), so its theoretical employment is clearly secondary. That this was not just an abstract idea for Kant, but a maxim he put to constant use, is exemplified when he asks rhetorically in Kt8:80n(75n): ‘of what use is all this theory ... when it suffices from the practical standpoint to place before us as a pattern this idea [of the virgin birth of Jesus] taken as a symbol ...?’
. See e.g., Kt8:152(140). Webb fails to take into account this perspectival aspect of Kant’s theory when he says ‘it is only because a duty is perceived by us to be such on its own account that we are justified in regarding it as commanded by God; we cannot in any other way become aware that God has commanded something’ [We26:68, e.a.]. Comments such as Ward makes in Wa72:65, that Kant ‘does not have much place for revealed religion in his scheme’, are equally misleading. Revelation is a viable option for Kant, but not one the philosophical theologian, as such, is permitted to use. It lies outside the boundary of natural religion in much the same way practical reason lies outside the boundary of theoretical reason: each requires a different standpoint for its legitimate use; but from the standpoint of universal (empirical) religion, both are valid.
. Kt8:107(98); s.a. Kt65:48,52. Concerning supposed ‘differences of ... religion’, Kant notes that ‘such differences do not exist in religion, there being only one religion valid for all men and in all ages. These can, therefore, be nothing else than accidental vehicles of religion’ [Kt32:367n]. Again, in Kt39:496(217) he advises: ‘One should ... guard against children estimating men according to their religious practices; for, in spite of its varieties, there is, after all, everywhere unity of religion.’ By this, of course, Kant does not mean all religious practices are the same; rather, he means the religious practices of every truly religious person are, when viewed objectively, all grounded in the same truly religious disposition. As he puts it in Kt65:36: ‘there is only one religion. Although there are indeed different varieties of belief in divine revelation and its statutory teachings, which cannot spring from reason—that is, different forms in which the divine will is represented sensibly so as to give it influence on our minds—there are not different religions.’
Galbraith, neglecting the perspectival basis of this distinction, passes it off without any argument as a mere product of the Enlightenment [Ga96:170]: ‘Kant’s belief that there could be a religious essence independent of its historical and cultural setting was simply mistaken.’ Yet Kant held no such belief, if ‘independent’ means absolutely nonhistorical. Kant’s position is that pure religion is independent of any particular cultural setting; some setting or other is always needed.
. In Kant’s account of religious history, for example, Judaism stands in direct opposition to Christianity [Kt8:124-7(115-8); s.a. 162(150)]. He describes the former (rather one-sidedly) as a religion that ‘attaches prime importance to mechanical worship’ and is therefore of less value to universal religion than a polytheism in which the gods ‘bestow their good pleasure only upon the man who cherishes virtue with all his heart’ [127(118)]. In general, Kant divides empirical religions ‘into those which are endeavors to win favor (mere worship) and moral religions, i.e., religions of good life-conduct’ [51(47)]; but this division is more aptly applied to individual attitudes, since most traditions can be interpreted either way [see 175-6(163-4); s.a. note VIII.11].
Kant discusses differences in religious sects in Kt65:48-53, proposing a 2LAR between four types of sectarian movements : (1) ‘separatists’ (--), based on ‘a mere separation from the church’; (2) ‘schismatics’ (+-), based on ‘a public rift regarding the form of the church’; (3) ‘sectarians’ (-+), based on ‘a union of dissenters from certain doctrines’ (i.e., concerning the content of the church); and (4) ‘syncretists’, based on a false attempt ‘to satisfy everyone by melting down the different creeds.’ His aim is to clarify that, although the empirical vehicle is secondary, ‘religion cannot be indifferent to the character of its vehicle which we adopt in our dogma’ [51, e.a.].
. For example, Kant expresses as early as 1763 his wish that, ‘when revelation gives account that an event of the world is an extraordinary divine destiny [e.g., a miracle], the temerity of philosophers were moderated in displaying their physical insights; for they do no service at all to religion’ [Kt15:120n(302n)]. See AVII.2 for more on Kant’s view of miracles.
. One of the interesting features of Kt8 is Kant’s extensive use of biblical texts, either as direct quotations or in the form of innuendoes. In Kt8:43-4n(39n) he distinguishes between historically-based ‘exegesis’ and his own approach to interpreting the Bible [s.a. 109-14(100-5)]; the latter, as we shall see in VIII.3.A, might be dubbed ‘moral eisegesis’ [Pa00a:130].
. Go71:145; s.a. De73:185-6. In the very different context of Freudian psychology, Lear appeals to something like radical evil as necessary for the process of psychological growth [Le90:203]: ‘Every individual must, at some level of his soul, feel that he has committed a crime.’ That Lear then goes on to relate this explicitly to Adam’s sin  does not mean he is grafting a Christian doctrine onto his psychology any more than radical evil does this for Kant’s philosophy. This comparison should highlight the error in Treloar’s claim that Kant’s treatment of evil in Book One of Kt8 has an ‘obvious psychological emphasis’ [Tr89:337]. Whereas Lear’s Freudian observation is genuinely psychological, Kant’s emphasis is transcendental. Only by neglecting this can Treloar claim that Kant’s ‘merely psychological approach ... really makes things too simple.’
. McCarthy [Mc86:56n] says ‘Kant nowhere seems to entertain the possibility of a higher purpose served by fall into sin.’ Perhaps not explicitly. But he does seem to allude to it here, in a way that would make his view of moral evil closely parallel to his view of God’s inscrutable purpose in allowing natural evil [see AVI.1]. Indeed, this view of the fall was later developed more explicitly by German idealists such as Schelling [e.g., Sc78:589-91; cf. Ti74:51,107-8]. Kant himself describes the biblical fall in Kt63:115 as a fall from animality into humanity. This implies that human personality had just begun to develop at that point, thus suggesting the enticing possibility that the full awakening of personality may have been completed in the person of Jesus, the ‘last Adam’ [1 Cor. 15:45]. This suggestion, and with it a clearer understanding of the role evil plays in human history, will be developed further in KSP4.
. Although Kant does not explicitly state this position, a strong case can be made to support it. When I sketched my interpretation of Book One in an email message posted to the Kant-L discussion group on 28 May 1995, a lengthy debate ensued, most notably with Hugh Chandler. Among the positions I defended over the three weeks of the debate were the following: Kant’s view of evil in Kt26 is not necessarily incompatible with that in Kt8, as is often claimed; Kt8 represents not a revision of Kant’s view of evil, but a perspectival development of the Kt26 view; both texts are consistent with the view that evil is transcendentally inevitable and yet empirically contingent; although evil is an internal phenomenon for which the person perpetrating the evil act can be blamed; and Kant is willing to consider the possibility that evil’s rational origin is somehow mysteriously external to the individual agent. Given the fact that ‘perfection’ means an overcoming of evil, rather than total innocence with respect to evil, it must include both the + and the - aspects in order to be truly ‘complete’ [cf. Heb. 5:8-11]. Nevertheless, Kant does refer uncritically to Jesus’ claim to possess ‘an original innocence’ as a result of not being ‘involved in the bargain with the evil principle’ [Kt8:80(74)].
Scharf asks [Sc93:89n]: ‘How can the element of free choice come into play once evil is governing our volition?’ Kant’s question, by contrast, would be: ‘How could it be otherwise?! For our first choice must be one of disobedience, otherwise we have not (or cannot be sure we have) made our own choice. Scharf agrees with Michalson’s claim that Kant ‘has no systematic way of integrating the moral and the temporal’ [Mi89:263; q.i. Sc93:90n]. But see note VI.13.
. Kt8:59-60(52),78-84(73-8); s.a. Wa72:146-7; We26:109-10. Despite Kant’s openness here, Despland [De73:192] claims ‘Kant’s position on radical evil ... run[s] counter to orthodox Christian doctrine, and its idea of total depravity.’ Assuming this Calvinist doctrine to be the only option for an orthodox interpretation of original sin is itself open to question. But for our purposes a more important problem with Despland’s statement is that it ignores the possibility that Kant’s aim may have been to confirm the rational truth behind the doctrine of total depravity, by arguing that reason itself leads us to conclude that we all start out with a fundamentally evil heart. The advantage of Kant’s account over many so-called orthodox interpretations of total depravity is that Kant balances it with a biblically sound confirmation of the reality in human beings of an image of God, regarded rationally as the original predisposition to good.
. This parallelism does not imply that sensibility is to be blamed for our evil nature. Kant firmly rejects this position: ‘what works against this adoption [‘of genuinely moral principles’] is not so much the sensuous nature, which so often receives the blame, as it is a certain self-incurred perversity ... which can be overcome only through the idea of moral goodness in its entire purity, together with the consciousness that this idea really belongs to our original disposition’ [Kt8:83(78)].
. See VII.2.B. In the first General Observation Kant does not yet use the term ‘archetype’; he refers instead to the original predisposition as ‘announc[ing] a divine origin’ by virtue of its ‘incomprehensibility’ [Kt8:50(45); cf. 64(57)]. In elucidating the implications of this predisposition, he alludes to several biblical parallels. His suggestion that the change from an evil to a good disposition must come about through a revolutionary ‘rebirth’, ‘a new creation’, is supported by cross-references to John 3:5 and Genesis 1:2 [Kt8:47(43)]. (He could also have referred to St. Paul’s use of such terms [e.g., 2 Cor. 5:17 and Gal. 6:15].) Likewise, Kant’s claim that the predisposition raises us ‘so far above these needs [i.e., those relating to our inclinations] ... that we count them all as nothing’ [49(44), e.a.] is a clear allusion to Paul’s use of the phrase ‘I count all things but loss’ [Phil. 3:7-8 (KJV)]. The fact that the object of Paul’s awe is ‘Jesus Christ’, whereas that of Kant’s is ‘the original moral predisposition’ should not be regarded as an anti-Christian reduction; for it is actually Kant’s attempt to provide a rational ‘space’ wherein the symbols of Pauline faith can be confirmed as philosophically justifiable.
Kant’s attraction to Pauline theology is particularly noticeable in his frequent adoption of the distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law [e.g., Kt8:30(25-6),37(33),39(34)]. Kant interprets the ‘spirit’ in terms of a willingness to obey the moral law without incentives external to the law itself, and the ‘letter’ in terms of conduct that conforms to the moral law even though the person’s internal motivations are actually grounded in a nonmoral maxim. Paraphrasing Romans 14:23, he even defines ‘sin’ in terms of anything that stems from something other than this moral ‘spirit’. On this basis Kant can conceive of the ‘empirical character’ being ‘good’ [37(32)], even though ‘the intelligible character is still evil.’ Likewise, Kant’s claim that, ‘when moral worth is in question, it is not a matter of actions which one sees but of their inner principles which one does not see’ [Kt5:407] alludes to Jesus’ reminder that ‘God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’ [1 Sam. 16:7 (NASB)].
Apparently not impressed by such allusions, McCarthy remarks [Mc86:80-1] that the ‘personification of ... atonement [in Part Two of Kt8] ... does not clarify Kant’s philosophical teaching at all; it rather confuses it.’ This charge is open to doubt, especially for the Christian reader who is fully aware of Kant’s Copernican strategy. But even if it were true, it would not have deterred Kant from using such metaphors as ‘Son of God’, for the main purpose of the archetype in systemr-m is to call attention to a need of reason that reason on its own cannot satisfy. Moreover, by personifying the archetype, Kant fulfills an important part of his task: to establish that traditional Christian terms do have a rational-symbolic meaning. Symbols are not meant to clarify our understanding, but to deepen our experience. McCarthy seems to be at least partially aware of this when he acknowledges : ‘Kant does not exclude the notion [of atonement], and even finds it serviceable, so long as practical reason interprets and controls it.... He is open to the idea of atonement, even vicarious atonement, as a supplement to an individual’s moral struggle but never as a substitute for it.... Belief in atonement may be practical, and may even be regarded as necessary to understand salvation, but to be saved one needs to do good works and does not need to think or believe atonement.’ While this may be Kant’s view [see AVI.2-4], we should not ignore the practical benefits of understanding how atonement works. A proper (faith-based) understanding can do much to bolster our hope and may thereby encourage us to persist in doing our duty.
. Instead of using his name, Kant always refers to Jesus by means of allusions and indirect descriptions, such as ‘a godly-minded teacher’ [Kt8:65(59)], ‘the Master’ [81n(76n)], or ‘[t]he Teacher of the Gospel’ [128(119)]. I interpret this as a sign of deep respect for both the man and his teachings. Orthodox Jews, of course, believe the name of God should never be spoken.
Despland emphasizes Kant’s ‘reverence’ for Jesus, viewed as ‘a liberating figure who exercises saving power over his disciples, and gives fresh power to their freedom’ [De73:199]. In support of this interpretation, he quotes from an unpublished note [AA23:108], where Kant says Jesus’ example ‘so elevates my soul that it animates it and causes the frailty of my nature to disappear.’ Davidovich likewise interprets a quote from Kt65:43(75) as saying that grace ‘is the hope that good will develop in us’ and is ‘awakened ... by the example of humanity as pleasing to God in His Son’ [Da93a:40n].
. Throughout Book Three Kant refers to this ‘dominion’ as the ‘kingdom of God’. Here religion merges with politics, so a fuller discussion of this important concept will be given in KSP4.
. Kt8:80n(74n). Kant goes on to qualify this statement by noting that, taken as a theoretical dogma, the virgin birth is a ‘confused view’, concerning which ‘a decision ... is not at all necessary from the practical standpoint’ [80n(75n)]. His approval is based only on its power as ‘a symbol’.
. Kt8:119(110). Scharf accurately portrays Kant’s view as being that Jesus can be called ‘savior’ insofar as ‘he revealed the possibility of authentic humanity’ [Sc93:79-80]. But Kant would not dogmatically claim that this excludes other, more literal interpretations of Jesus’ saving work.
. Kt8:66(59). In Kt35:(85) Kant makes this transcendent origin even more explicit: by working through the archetype, ‘God is the pattern of moral perfection’. Nevertheless, Green [Gg93:9] interprets ‘the “Son of God” in Kant’s religion [as] merely a name for the archetype of the morally perfect disposition.’ Kant himself, however, never makes such a dogmatic use of the reductionistic word ‘merely’. Rather, he intentionally leaves open a space for those who wish to raise systemr-m to the status of systemr-C by supplementing rational religion with Christian faith.
. Ga96:147. Galbraith devotes most of her fourth chapter [137-79] to an examination of Kant’s theology of Jesus. For the most part, her treatment of the issues is thorough and well-balanced. She recognizes, for example, that ‘Kant is not ruling out the possibility of divine incarnation’, but is only denying its ‘practical use’ . Citing the views of Murdoch, Reardon, and Macquarrie, she says past interpreters have generally thought Kant’s view of Jesus is inadequate for Christian theology because it shows too much favoritism to Jesus’ divine nature [139-40; s.a. 162]—a bias I have not found to be common to most interpreters of Kant’s philosophy of religion. Galbraith’s own position is much closer to the interpretation I have found to be typical: she argues that ‘Jesus’ value’ for Kant  ‘is bound to his being solely human.’ For if Jesus ‘were in some sense a God, he would not be such an important person’ . With this in mind, she compares Kant’s approach to that of John Hick in The Myth of God Incarnate . But this is all very misleading.
Kant only requires Jesus to be human, never to be solely human, as Galbraith claims. The Bible clearly teaches that all followers of Christ are ‘sons of God’, with Jesus being the firstborn ‘Son of God’—though many Christians admittedly ignore this. By connecting Jesus’ divinity to his disposition, Kant is attempting to justify this biblical teaching, thus insuring that Jesus is regarded as someone who can ‘sympathize with our weaknesses’ as ‘one who has been tempted in every way’ [Heb. 4:15]; for both in the Bible and in Kant Jesus’ dual nature is portrayed not as making him essentially different from all other human beings, but as something all human beings can participate in. That is, assigning a divine nature to Jesus poses no problem for Kant, provided we also regard all human beings as partaking (perhaps through him) in this divine nature, in the form of the predisposition to good. Galbraith shows some awareness of this point [Ga96:153], but protests  that for Kant ‘[t]he good principle does not begin with Jesus, it has been a part of human nature since the very beginning.’ What she is forgetting is that in Christian theology, Jesus too has been with humanity from the very beginning [see e.g., Jn. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:9]! So once again, Kant is merely revealing the depth of his attempt to confirm the rationality of Christian teaching.
The one difference between Jesus and other human beings that Kant seems to allow as a theoretical possibility (but not one that can be either confirmed or denied by philosophers) is that Jesus may have remained sinless throughout his earthly life [cf. Heb. 4:15 and Kt8:80(74)]. But Galbraith thinks that when Kant makes such apparent concessions, he is merely making use of ‘mythological language’ to tell ‘a story’  that ‘is not literally true.’ If that were the case, then his position would bear remarkable resemblance to that of Hick. But Kant would never make the dogmatic statement that the story has no historical truth. Rather, he consistently remains agnostic: its literal truth is not the point at issue, but rather, its symbolic value; and this can be affirmed whether or not the story has a factual basis. In this and other respects Galbraith frequently neglects the Copernican character of Kant’s argument [e.g., 149-50], which allows historical examples to have priority from the Empirical Perspective, provided their character matches the requirements of the archetype as established with priority from the philosopher’s Transcendental Perspective.
. Recognizing the true extent of Kant’s focus on such historical development in Kt8 requires us to call into question Walsh’s contention that ‘Kant sets aside the historical elements in Christianity as having no importance in themselves’ [Wa67:322; cf. notes VII.44-45]. We shall see in this section (and even more so, in KSP4) that ‘no importance’ is a gross exaggeration, unless we are careful to understand the qualification ‘in themselves’ as meaning that the genuine importance historical elements do have is tied to their ability to serve as adequate symbols of pure moral religion. The problem with a comment such as Walsh’s (coming as it does in a major encyclopedia article) is that the average reader tends to read it as an outright denial of any significance for anything historical.
Referring to Kt8:80(74-5), McCarthy notes [Mc86:82n] that ‘Kant allows for the possibility of one born without the propensity to evil and offers some unintentionally amusing speculations on how such can be understood.’ Unfortunately, McCarthy gives us no clue as to what makes Kant’s position so ‘amusing’. Perhaps he thinks Kant was writing insincerely, since he elsewhere interprets Kant as arguing that, in order to be morally useful ‘Jesus must be human and exclusively so (that is, of one nature only). A divine nature would render him “useless”’ [101; Mc82:199]. ‘A superhuman Son of God would simply be ... “useless”’ . Yet McCarthy offers no textual evidence for such an extreme interpretation. His overly dogmatic claim would be accurate only if ‘superhuman’ meant nonhuman, not if it means (as in Christian tradition) divine-and-human. For Jesus ceases to be a morally useful example only if we view his nature as exclusively divine. A dual nature is a viable option for Kant and for the Kantian Christian. As we have seen, Kant provides quite a serious suggestion as to how Jesus’ divinity might be conceived. His bottom line would be that, if we can still regard Jesus as the supreme example and can believe in the possibility of following that example, then reason has no power to prevent us from believing in Jesus’ divinity. Ignoring Kant’s openness, McCarthy claims Kant reduces Jesus to an ‘inspiring symbol of the battle of good against evil ... Jesus incarnates a humanity risen above radical evil.... Kant concedes to Jesus a practically indispensable role’ [Mc86:101; Mc82:199-200]. For Kant, nothing more should be required of a philosopher! But the fact that Kant views Jesus as a symbol does not mean he is only a symbol. In spite of his insistence elsewhere that Kant’s philosophy of religion is not reductionistic, McCarthy here (as elsewhere) interprets it as if it is, even referring at one point to Kant’s ‘reduction of Christianity and its Christ to the horizon of practical reason’ [Mc86:101; but cf. VI.4]. Jesus is a source of hope because in him ‘the good principle ... has been actualized ... to a new degree’ [Mc82:202]. Believing this is all Kant allows Jesus to be, McCarthy laments : ‘If this is moral theism, it is without an incarnate theos.’ Yet this totally misrepresents Kant’s theology; if anything, Kant allows for many incarnations of God—each one of us ought to exemplify in ourselves a divine-human union, by following in Jesus’ footsteps.
. Kant may be thinking here of Mendelssohn, his Jewish friend and fellow philosophical theologian, to whom he writes in a 1783 letter [AA10:325(Zw67:108)]: ‘You have managed to unite with your religion a degree of freedom of thought that one would hardly have thought possible and of which no other religion can boast. ’ Indeed, he adds, ‘every religion should have unrestricted freedom of thought, so that ... mankind will finally be united with regard to the essential point of religion.’
. Kt8:126-7(117-8). Kant goes so far as to say that some forms of polytheism would be better than Judaism, if the many gods all agreed ‘to bestow their good pleasure only upon the man who cherishes virtue with all his heart’.
. We88:171,270-5; cf. Pa93:151-8. Sokol So86:431 says this view is explicitly defended in the Talmud (Berakot 33b): God’s purpose in giving laws ‘was merely to promulgate ... decrees, so as to demand obedience from man solely on account of the divine origin of the decree.’ Sokol argues : ‘If God is omnipotent, then He can create obligations’--both moral and amoral ones. Hence, although ‘moral obligation [lies] at the root of divine obligation, ... [the latter] is binding independently of moral obligation.’ There may be a ‘purely religious’ form of divine command as well. What Sokol does not realize is that Kant does not necessarily disagree. His claim would be that such a command cannot be immoral, and that it ought to enhance morality, if we are to have any way of assessing it rationally.
. Kant defines ‘statutes’ in Kt65:36 as ‘laws proceeding from another person’s act of choice.’
. Kt8:129(120). Thus Kant adds in a footnote that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ‘resurrection and ascension’, as ‘secret records’ of what ‘took place before the eyes only of his intimates’, cannot be included in the ‘public’ (universal rational) history of the Christian faith [128n(119n)]. This should not be interpreted as a denial of their validity. For Kant himself suggests that these events can symbolize ‘the commencement of another life and entrance into ... the society of all the good.’ His reason for passing over them is based not on their miraculous nature, but on the negative implications of an overly literal interpretation: such stories might encourage people to believe material bodies are necessary for personal existence. ‘In contrast, the hypothesis of the spirituality of rational world-beings ... is more congenial to reason’, for it enables us to avoid the notions of ‘a matter which thinks’ and of the need for ‘a certain lump of matter’ to accompany us ‘through eternity’ [128-9n(119n)]. Kant apparently has no objection to the belief that Jesus is alive now as a spiritual being; his criticism here is directed against any view that makes materiality a condition of such eternal life.
. Kt65:53. Kant may have drawn his inspiration for this metaphor from the parable wherein Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who, having invited people off the streets to his son’s wedding, throws one of them out because he is not wearing wedding clothes [Matt. 22:2-14]. For as the parable aptly illustrates, not all ‘garments’ are a suitable covering for religion’s ‘naked body’.
The basic affinity between Kant’s ‘ideal’ church and the biblical concept of a church as a family-like vehicle for the expression of God’s protection is evident in his claim [Kt8:102(93)] that the universal church is ‘best’ compared to ‘a household (family) under a common, though invisible, moral Father, whose holy Son, knowing His will and yet standing in blood relation with all members of the household, takes His place in making His will better known to them; these accordingly honor the Father in Him and so enter with one another into a voluntary, universal, and enduring union of hearts.’ Likewise, in his discussion of religious education in Kt39:494(213), Kant says: ‘The best means for first making clear the idea of God is to employ the analogy of a father under whose care we are placed; from this the transition to the idea of the unity of man, as in a family, can happily be made.’
. Kant’s disinterest in attending church is depicted by several oft-repeated anecdotes that can cloud the reader’s understanding of the doctrine of the church expounded in Kt8 [see IV.1; Kl52:38]. The trappings of the church in Kant’s day were evidently too accentuated, and its theology too firmly fixed on theoretical ‘certainties’, for him to accept it as a vehicle for his own religious experience. (Thus Hare conjectures [Ha96:48]: ‘Kant may have refused to attend because he loved the doctrines, not because he rejected them.’) How he made up for this omission will be discussed in Part Four.
All too often Kant’s interpreters allow his personal religious habits to eclipse their awareness of his systematic arguments regarding public worship. Walsh does this when he claims in Wa90:9 that ‘Kant strongly disapproved’ of ‘the use of some kind of ceremonial and the conducting of one’s religious life in public.’ Likewise, Cassirer says ‘Kant delivers the most ruthless attacks upon certain essential features of the religious life, viz. adoration of God, private prayer, and public worship. All this strikes him as wholly unreasonable’ [Ca88:80]. He even warns against the danger of ‘suppos[ing] that Kant wishes to make concessions to religion where he really has no such intention.’ But this warning is itself wholly misplaced, for as I demonstrate in VII.3.B, VIII.3.B, AVII.4 [s.e. note AVII.16], and AVIII.1-4, Kant’s text (unlike his personal habits) exhibits a qualified approval of such religious actions as potentially reasonable. Even Despland’s warning, though heading in the right direction, starts off on the wrong foot: Kant’s ‘abhorrence ... for public exercises and common demonstrations of piety ... derive[s] from an intense respect for the privacy of other consciences, of which he repeatedly stated that only God can fathom’ [De73:107]. Kant did not ‘abhor’ public worship as such, but only its misuse by those who regard it as intrinsically pleasing to God.
. Kt8:107(98). Likewise, Kant later notes that ‘a people which has a written religion (sacred books) never fuses together in one faith with a people ... possessing no such books but only rites’ [136n (127n)]. This would be his explanation for how the Jewish nation managed to remain distinct for so long without a homeland or political state as a basis.
. Kt8:110(100). A parallel discussion of the proper ‘principles of Scriptural exegesis’ appears in Kt65:38-44,65, where Kant insists they ‘must be philosophical’ . In the following paragraphs, I shall intersperse relevant references to this text with my discussion of Kt8.
. Kant refers to his own belief in the ‘divinity inspired’ status of the Bible on numerous occasions [see e.g., Kt65:44,46,62]. In Kt65:65 he insists that ‘the Bible deserves to be kept, put to moral use, and assigned to religion as its guide just as if it is a divine revelation.’ This ‘as if’ should be regarded not as a ‘nuance’, cleverly designed to reduce revelation to nothing but its ‘moral use’, but rather as a straightforward confession that the impossibility of gaining theoretical certainty on such matters requires us (believer and unbeliever alike!) to adopt the hypothetical perspective. By employing such a strategy, Kant shows in Kt65:58 how the Bible can be used to correct the unhealthy tendencies of various ecclesiastical sects. That such correction is also part of his strategy in Kt8 is clearly indicated in an early draft of the Preface [AA20:438(De73:243)], where Kant says the book will effect (in Despland’s words) ‘a reunion of reason with revelation that will do honour to the latter and will be achieved with each defending its just and particular rights.’
. See VII.3.A and Kt65:20,27. Davidovich neglects this subtle point when she argues that ‘Kant should be seen, perhaps against his will, as the forefather of liberal theology’ [Da93b:55]. On the one hand, we have seen that having a formative influence on the subsequent development of theology was in all likelihood not ‘against his will’. Bax tells us [Ba03:lii] that after publishing Kt8 ‘Kant ... was extremely anxious to establish a school of liberal theologians to carry out the work he had commenced.’ On the other hand, Kant’s influence should not be associated exclusively with liberal theology. Green quotes Hans Frei as claiming [Gg93:12] ‘that Kant’s thought was the crucial dividing point for Protestant theology in the nineteenth century. His thought was like a prism ... All paths led to Kant.’ MacKinnon [Ma90a:359] names Gore, Scott-Holland, and T.H. Green as British theologians who were influenced by Kant and ‘shared with [Forsyth an] appreciation of the manner in which experiential self-limitation was of the essence of the Incarnation.’ (The point here is thoroughly Kantian: we symbolically participate in Christ’s incarnation when we humbly accept our own self-limitations.) Forsyth ‘was indebted to Kant for his insistence that the transcendent was to be encountered in and through the personal, moral lives of individual[s]’ [356, e.a.]. This encounter will be the focus of our attention for much of Part Four. And in VIII.4 I shall argue in more detail that Kant’s position has both liberal and conservative strains.
. Kt8:112(102); s.a. Kt65:41. See Wi73:74 for an example of a biblical theologian who laments the poverty of the historical-critical method and argues, like Kant, that personal transformation is the true purpose of biblical interpretation.
Kant in general does not share the historical-critical scholar’s assumption that the best interpretation is the one that comes closest to reflecting the author’s original understanding. To justify his somewhat unusual interpretation of Plato in Kt1:370, for example, he says ‘it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject ... to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself. ’ See also Kant’s comment on Ulpian’s formulas in Kt6:236.
. After quoting from the Heidelberg Catechism, White insists Kant ‘must clearly have been familiar ... with texts such as the Heidelberg Catechism with its formative influence on the pietist movement’ [Wh90:2], so he was no doubt ‘conscious of the extent to which he was putting forward positions that were in direct conflict with the theologians of the classical Reformation.’ While this is true, it should not be used to conceal the fact that Kant’s goal was to reform rather than destroy the tradition. Otherwise he surely would have avoided using such iconoclastic terms as ‘idolatry’, as he often does, to denounce those who reverse the true meaning of religion [see Kt8:169n(157n), 176(164),185(173),199(187)].
. Kant provides a two-sided illustration of the hypothetical perspective in the first footnote in Book Four. First he explains how his definition of religion (i.e., the hypothesis that duties can be viewed as if they were divine commands) implies that on all theoretical issues religion requires no knowledge, but only ‘a problematical assumption (hypothesis)’ and ‘an assertorial faith’ [Kt8:153-4n(142n)]. In other words, the hypothetical belief that God’s existence is possible is all that is needed for religion; all other requirements can be fulfilled by moral faith. Kant then points out that his definition also prevents statutory commands as such from being regarded as ‘special duties to God’ [154n(142n)]. Just as it focuses the attention of theoretical reason away from speculation and towards faith, the hypothetical perspective in systemr-m focuses the attention of practical reason away from nonmoral ‘courtly obligations’ and towards the human duties known to all mankind.
. Kt8:152(140),176(164). These passages indicate how wrong McCarthy is to assert that for Kant ‘modern philosophers are implicitly the priests of the pure moral religion to come’ [Mc86:88]. Kant’s explicit view is that there are no priests—or, if servants are regarded as priests, that all enlightened people are priests, in virtue of possessing the moral law. McCarthy’s claim might be true if ‘philosopher’ is defined in an extremely broad way (e.g., as any enlightened person), but even then it would ignore Kant’s deep respect for the common (moral, but unenlightened) person.
. Kt8:168n(156n). For example, possessing food is a good and legitimate means to the end of satisfying hunger. But if we let the food just sit in the cupboard without eating it, its true end or purpose will eventually be ‘frustrated’ [cf. 153(141)], once the food spoils or we die of starvation. Merely possessing the means does not obviate the need to employ it in order to realize the end.
. Kt8:183-5(172-3). Such false godliness runs directly counter to the true purpose of ‘the doctrine of atonement’, which is to strengthen the ‘courage to stand on one’s own feet’ [183-4(172)]. Likewise, the Christian concept of ‘piety’ all too often encourages ‘a passive attitude’ that merely awaits help ‘from a power above’ [184n(173n)]. Kant regards such ‘self-abnegation’ as a form of false humility. True humility, by contrast, ‘should bring about not contempt for oneself but rather the resolution ... to approach ever nearer to agreement with [the moral] law’ [184-5n(172n)].
. Kt8:187(175-6). That this strongly-worded condemnation was directed, at least in part, against the king’s censor is suggested by a comment Kant makes in a 1792 letter to Fichte [AA11:309(Zw67: 187)]: ‘My unintentional non-belief is not an intentional un-belief. But you will have a hard time making this compromise attractive to a censor who, it would seem, has made the historical credo into an essential religious duty.’ Kant’s claim not to be criticizing Christianity as such [see note VIII.4] does not mean he is not criticizing specific misuses of the ideal.
Kant makes a similar point earlier, when he says a dogmatic belief in a particular revelation, and the insistence that followers declare their assent to various confessions of faith, all too often have the effect of ‘doing violence to [the believer’s] conscience’ [Kt8:171(159)]. The issues of damnation and sincerity (or ‘truthfulness’) are further developed in a pair of footnotes at the close of Part Two [189-90(178)].
. McCarthy calls attention to this aspect of Kant’s approach when he regards Goethe’s reaction to Kant’s ‘reintroduction of radical evil’ as evidence that Kant’s position is itself ‘radical’ in a ‘conservative sense’ [Mc86:103].
. See e.g., Kt65:68. Thus Kant asks: ‘is the teaching from God because it is in the Bible, or is it in the Bible because it is from God?’ He answers: ‘only the second proposition is acceptable’ [65n].
Interpreting Kant’s God as ‘a construal of unaided reason’ [Vo88:180], Vossenkuhl claims ‘Kant rejects religion that is founded on supernatural revelation.’ But as we have seen, Kant is not so explicit. Rather, he suspends belief in revelation, and he does so for an ultimately constructive purpose: rational religion should complement a belief in revealed religion. Mistaking Kant’s definition of religion for a reductionistic principle, Vossenkuhl thinks  it implies ‘divine revelation has no point.’ But we have seen this to be quite false. At the very least, Kant allows revelation to awaken reason to its own true potential. Vossenkuhl refers to texts such as Kt8:142(133) in defense of his further claim that Kant makes ‘practical reason itself ... an instance of revelation’ [Vo88:188]. What he overlooks is that this means Kant does not deny all revelation. Rather, Kant’s strategy is to explain how it works: a genuinely religious revelation must be internally legislated. So it is obviously incorrect to say  ‘I cannot know anything through revelation according to Kant’s own standards of autonomous moral knowledge.’ We surely can acquire moral knowledge by revelation, as long as it is legislated internally, not as a merely external statute. Even worse is the claim: ‘Autonomy obliges us to reject any revealed belief as heteronomous.’ Only a belief based on a supposedly objective revelation would be heteronomous. Yet another mix-up comes in Vo88: 189: ‘God (not reason) did not reveal to us, Kant claims, why good and evil exist and how evil can be transformed into good.’ Kant’s actual view is that reason (not God) fails to reveal such mysteries; it merely shows us the gap, so we know what to look for in an effective revelation.
. Kroner confirms this when he opines [Kr61:193]: ‘[Kant’s] philosophy was ... in some respects more in line with the gospel than [was] the Aristotelian speculation of Thomas Aquinas.’
. This might be inferred from Kant’s lack of church attendance [but see note VIII.34], or from various agnostic statements, as when he refers in passing to the ‘catechism, which in our youth we perceived to a hair and believed to understand thoroughly, but which, the older and the more considerate we grow, the less we understand’ [Kt55:323(91)]. Statements such as this, however, should not be taken to imply a positive rejection of the doctrine in question, but rather a recognition of the proper role of faith: ‘In religion the knowledge of God is properly based on faith alone’ [Kt35:(86)]. Thus he is able to affirm in Kt8:14(13) that ‘the matter [of Kt8] is contained, though in other words, in the most popular children’s instruction and sermons, and is easily understood.’ His criticism of creeds and catechisms is not so much that they are untrue, as that an improper emphasis on one’s certainty of their truth tends to breed insincerity [see 190n(178n)]. Even scholars must admit that there is always the ‘possibility of an error which has crept in through their interpretation or through previous classical exegeses’ [187(175)]. Thus Kant suggests that before acknowledging assent in such cases one should consider the question: ‘Do you really trust yourself to assert the truth of these dogmas in the sight of Him who knows the heart and at the risk of losing all that is valuable and holy to you?’ [189(177); cf. Kt65:25].
. Rossi points out that Kant’s view of religion is ‘by no means “typical” of ... Enlightenment thought’ [Ro93:57; s.a. Re88:1], for Kt8 appeals to ‘elements’ [Ro93:58] typically overlooked by interpreters that ‘go counter to its putatively “enlightened” flow.’ McCarthy likewise remarks that, with Rousseau, ‘Kant may be justly credited with philosophically repelling the Enlightenment assault upon Christianity’ [Mc82:192], by using their ‘fundamentally positive evaluation of religion, of Christianity in particular’ [Mc86:55]. Indeed, Kant’s ‘revalidation of the Christian church on the part of philosophy ... is self-consciously in contrast to the Enlightenment in general’ [88-9]. For example [Mc82:199], ‘Kant did not find [revelation] a threat to man’s dignity, as the Enlightenment itself often did.’ Likewise, ‘Kant in part tries to save Jesus from the Aufklärer [i.e., the Enlightenment philosophers]’ —though McCarthy thinks he fails in this attempt and was mistaken to treat Christianity so seriously [see notes VIII.5,27].
That Kant’s Critical System is primarily aimed at curbing the pretensions the Enlightenment, not at challenging the legitimacy of common, unphilosophical thinking, is ignored by those who assume he is merely furthering the Enlightenment project [e.g., Cr94:118; Mi89:260; Tr89:351]. Despland, however, provides ample evidence that this assumption is illegitimate. He reports on the work of Hermann Schmalenbach [De73:3], who ‘established that Kant’s personal religiousness is not rooted in the Enlightenment.’ Later, he states that Kant’s System is clearly ‘distinct from the thought of the Enlightenment’ , and specifies that Kant’s ‘discussion of radical evil ... amount[s] to a repudiation of his “enlightenment” past’ . Towards the end of his book [253-4], he concludes that Kant ‘sensed the enormous significance of ... the Enlightenment, but did not simply board the new wagon.’ Green affirms this view: ‘If a naive optimism about human nature is a characteristic feature of Enlightenment anthropology, Kant clearly violates its spirit’ with his doctrine of radical evil [Gg93:7]. And Loades adds that Kant’s account of grace was ‘extremely offensive to devotees of an enlightenment for whom theism was entirely redundant’ [Lo81:307].
Von Schoenborn mentions a point of historical interest that may be of some significance in explaining why and/or how Kant departed from the mainstream in this way: of the philosophers involved in promoting the Enlightenment, ‘everyone but Kant belonged’ to ‘the Masonic community’ [Vo91:106; s.a. 103].
. We26:115. As Moltmann [Mo74:38] aptly notes: ‘In practicing the iconoclasm of the Second Commandment, Christian belief and critical Enlightenment share a common cause.’ But his description of ‘Enlightenment’ as ‘the transition from particular Church beliefs to universal belief in reason’ , does not apply as unreservedly to Kant as Moltmann claims; for the limits Kant places on reason are intended to call into question his Age’s uncritical trust in reason.
. Thus Kant’s theory also provides a philosophical basis for ecumenism. It allows for ‘different church sects, but not different religious sects’ [see notes VIII.11-12] as long as the former agree on the centrality of promoting pure religion: ‘Enlightened Catholics and Protestants, while still holding to their own dogmas, could thus look upon each other as brothers in the faith, while expecting and striving toward this [common religious] end’ [Kt65:52; s.a. 61; cf. Kt8:109(100),173n(161n)]. Passages such as this cast considerable doubt on claims such as Crichlow’s [Cr96:99], that ‘most of [Kant’s] anger was aimed at Catholicism.’ Indeed, Luther had already taken care of critiquing unreformed Catholicism. Kant seems rather more intent on doing to Luther and Protestantism what Luther had already done to Erasmus and Catholicism [see AIX.1]. Or as Troeltsch puts it, ‘Kant did for philosophy what Luther did for religion’ [q.i. Ch92:481].
Kant conveys his views on the value of comparing ecclesiastical sects in Kt8:175n (163n): ‘All deserve the same respect so far as their forms are the attempts of poor mortals to render perceptible to the senses the kingdom of God on earth, but also the same blame when they take the form of the representation of this idea (in a visible church) to be the thing itself.’ This principle can be applied in the same way to the relationship between Jews and Christians [see notes VIII.12, 29,30], or to any other world religions. Green has shown how this can be done in Gr78:125-246.
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