Schleiermacher on Natural Religion

Schleiermacher on Natural Religion

Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (Edited by Richard Crouter; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

“In the actual realm of religion, in its particular forms, in the positive religions that you decry as merely negative, among the heroes and martyrs of a specific faith, among the enthusiasts of specific feelings, among the worshipers of a specific light and individual revelations; there I shall show them to you at all times and among all peoples. Moreover, it is only there, nowhere else, that they can be met. Just as no human being can come into existence as an individual without simultaneously, through the same act, also coming into a world, into a definite order of things, and being placed among individual objects, so also a religious person cannot attain his individuality without, through the same act, also dwelling in a determinate form of religion. Both are the effect of one and the same moment, and therefore one cannot be separated from the other. If a person’s original intuition of the universe does not have enough strength to make itself the focal point of personal religion around which everything in religion moves, then neither is its attraction strong enough to initiate the process of a unique and vigorous religious life.

Now that I have given you this account, tell me how it is with this personal development and individualization in your celebrated natural religion. Show me among its adherents an equally great multiplicity of strongly delineated characters!…Religion plays far too paltry a role in their mind. It is as if religion had no pulse of its own, no unique vascular system, no unique circulation, and thus also no temperature of its own and no assimilative power for itself and no character; it is everywhere intermingled with their ethical life and their natural sentimentality; in combination with these, or rather, meekly following them, religion moves indolently and sparingly and as a sign of its existence it is only occasionally separated out from them drop by drop. To be sure, I have encountered many a noteworthy and strong religious character whom the adherents of the positive religions, not without being astonished at the phenomenon, passed off as an adherent of natural religion. Yet upon closer inspection the adherents of natural religion no longer recognized this individual as one of their own; he had already swerved somewhat from the original purity of rational religion and had taken up something arbitrary and positive into his own religion, which the former adherents simply did not recognize because it was too very different from their own. Why do they immediately mistrust every person who brings something unique into his religion? They simple want them all to be uniform – I mean only contrasted to extreme on the one side, the sectarians – uniform in indeterminacy. Particular personal development is so unthinkable in natural religion that its most authentic devotees do not even like the religion of a person to have its own history and begin with a notable event. That is already too much for them, for moderation is their chief interest in religion, and a person who is able to say such things about himself immediately comes under the suspicion of being disposed toward a loathsome fanaticism." (Speech 5, 108-9)


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