Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone By Kant

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 12/14/2014

Along the same lines of his Critique project, Kant talks about religion and the limits of reason. Kant says that in order to act freely, we must have some power to ratify or reject our desires. Maxims allow us to accept or reject a given desire, and hence allow us to act freely. Because a maxim is good, only duty inspires it, human nature can only be good (in accordance with duty) or evil (in accordance with everyday desires). In order to be morally responsible you must not only have an intention to do something, you must also have a maxim or principle that puts the final stamp of approval on your intentions. The moral law is part of what makes us rational creatures. But we certainly can demote the moral law, and the tendency to do this is what makes us essentially evil. He argues that when we make decisions, we often put our inclinations first, combine them with our sense of duty, or ignore duty altogether. In his eyes, each of these tendencies qualifies human beings as morally evil.
That, through the moral law, man is called to a good course of life; that, through unquenchable respect for this law lying in him, he finds in himself justification for confidence in this good spirit and for hope that, however it may come about, he will be able to satisfy this spirit; finally, that, comparing the last-named expectation with the stern command of the law, he must continually test himself as though summoned to account before a judge – reason, heart, and conscience all teach this and urge its fulfilment.
Here we then have a complete religion which can be proposed to all human beings comprehensibly and convincingly through their own reason
Kant offers an illuminating metaphor of two concentric circles—the inner one representing the core of the one religion of pure moral reason and the outer one representing many revealed historical religions, all of which should include and build on that core. Existing religious traditions are important if they provide the opportunity for moral reflection.
A religion, accordingly, can be natural, and at the same time revealed, when it is so constituted that men could and ought to have discovered it of themselves merely through the use of their reason, although they would not have come upon it so early, or over so wide an area, as is required. Hence a revelation thereof at a given time and in a given place might well be wise and very advantageous to the human race, in that, when once the religion thus introduced is here, and has been made known publicly, everyone can henceforth by himself and with his own reason convince himself of its truth. In this event the religion is objectively a natural religion, though subjectively one that has been revealed.
Kant criticizes certain aspects of organized religion as a whole. He starts by denying the certainty of revelation and the the limitations time, place and language of this revelation.
Pure religious faith alone can found a universal church; for only [such] rational faith can be believed in and shared by everyone, whereas an historical faith, grounded solely on facts, can extend its influence no further than tidings of it can reach, subject to circumstances of time and place and dependent upon the capacity [of men] to judge the credibility of such tidings.
Every faith which, as an historical faith, bases itself upon books, needs for its security a learned public for whom it can be controlled, as it were, by writers who lived in those times, who are not suspected of a special agreement with the first disseminators of the faith, and with whom our present-day scholarship is connected by a continuous tradition. The pure faith of reason, in contrast, stands in need of no such documentary authentication, but proves itself.
People demand divine revelation, and hence also an historical certification of its authority through the tracing back of its origin. Now human skill and wisdom cannot ascend so far as heaven in order itself to inspect the credentials validating the mission of the first Teacher. It must be content with evidence that can be elicited, apart from the content, as to the way in which such a faith has been introduced – that is, with human reports which must be searched out little by little from very ancient times, and from languages now dead, for evaluation as to their historical credibility.
For how are the unlearned, who can read it only in translation, to be certain of its meaning? Hence the expositor, in addition to being familiar with the original tongue, must also be a master of extended historical knowledge and criticism, in order that from the conditions, customs, and opinions (the popular faith) of the times in question he may be able to derive the means wherewith to enlighten the understanding of the ecclesiastical commonwealth.
Now even though the announcement of such an historical event, as well as the faith in rules of conduct based upon it, cannot be said to have been vouchsafed solely or primarily to the learned or the wise of the world, these latter are yet not excluded from it; consequently there arise so many doubts, in part touching its truth, and in part touching the sense in which its exposition is to be taken, that to adopt such a belief as this, subjected as it is to so many controversies (however sincerely intentioned), as the supreme condition of a universal faith alone leading to salvation, is the most absurd course of action that can be conceived of.
He says that much of existing organized religion does not help people improve their moral standing. Professions of faith, and even consistent participation in religious services cannot transform the morally corrupt into the morally upright. Kant Also thinks that like all formally organized religions encourages "religious delusion." Those suffering from religious delusions think that simply believing in a religious doctrine makes them better in God's eyes. Kant thinks it deluded to believe that God is pleased when we profess faith in Jesus, for example. Kant says there are three kinds of religious delusions, all of which we should avoid. We should not believe in miracles, since we do not have direct, empirical evidence of miracles occurring today or in the days of old. Kant also speaks against religious mysteries, since their existence also cannot be proven through reason.He also denounces clericalism as promoting such misguided pseudo-service, which mistake participation in these practices for true moral conduct.
Between a shaman of the Tunguses and the European prelate who rules over both church and state, or (if, instead of the heads and leaders, we only want to look at the faithful and their ways of representation) between the wholly sensuousp Wogulite, who in the morning lays the paw of a bear skin over his head with the short prayer, "Strike me not dead!" and the sublimated Puritan and Independent in Connecticut, there certainly is a tremendous  distance in the style of faith, but not in the principle; for, as regards the latter, they all equally belong to one and the same class, namely of those who place their service of God in something (faith in certain statutory articles, or the observance of certain arbitrary practices) which cannot by itself constitute a better human being. Only those whose intention is to find this service solely in the disposition to good life-conduct distinguish themselves from those others by crossing over into an entirely different principle, one exalted far above the other, namely the principle whereby they profess themselves members of a (invisible) church which encompasses all right-thinking people within itself and alone, in virtue of its essential composition, can be the true church universal.
We should not believe that religious rituals or professions of faith will make us more righteous in God's eyes. Kant claims that as long as we are earnest in trying to become morally upright, as long as we act in true devotion to duty, God will take care of the rest. Religious practices can be either good expressions of devotion, if they bind us together in moral community or bad expressions of mere pseudo-service, if designed to ingratiate us with God. Kant wants to clarify that good religious groups are those that value the moral improvement of their members over the observance of ritual and dogma.
Whatever, over and above good life-conduct, man fancies that he can do to become well-pleasing to God is mere religious delusion. 
People are fooling themselves if they think they really understand God. Professing to know what God is and what he wants does absolutely nothing for our own moral improvement.
But, if this very faith (in a divine Trinity) were to be regarded not just as the representation of a practical idea, but as a faith that ought to represent what God is in himself, it would be a mystery surpassing all human concepts, hence unsuited to a revelation humanly comprehensible, and could only be declared in this respect as mystery. Faith in it as an extension of theoretical cognition of the divine nature would only be the profession of a creed of ecclesiastical faith totally unintelligible to human beings or, if they think that they understand it, the profession of an anthropomorphic creed, and not the least would thereby be accomplished for moral improvement.
Kant goes on to explain that all religious faiths involve something holy that people can comprehend, this holy quality is usually embodied in a moral ruler of the world, a deity who has the final word on all moral questions and concerns. Some faiths articulate the relationship between the moral ruler and humanity better than others. For Kant, true religions believe in a God who is as a morally holy lawgiver, a benevolent ruler, and a just judge and administrator of his laws. He speaks against a concept of God a World-Ruler who transforms this duty into a command to us, a figure who demands reverence to him which makes us act as slaves for him because this turns religion from morality through reason to idolatry.
there is something which so exalts the soul, and so leads it to the very Deity, who is worthy of adoration only because of His holiness and as Legislator for virtue, that man, even when he is still far from allowing to this concept the power of influencing his maxims, is yet not unwillingly sustained by it because he feels himself to a certain extent ennobled by this idea already, even while the concept of a World-Ruler who transforms this duty into a command to us, still lies far from him. But to commence with this latter concept would incur the danger of dashing man’s courage (which goes to constitute the essence of virtue) and transforming godliness into a fawning slavish subjection to a despotically commanding might. 
In that which concerns the moral disposition everything depends upon the highest concept under which one subsumes one’s duties. When reverence for God is put first, with virtue therefore subordinated to it, this object [of reverence] becomes an idol, that is, He is thought of as a Being whom we may hope to please not through morally upright conduct on earth but through adoration and ingratiation; and religion is then idolatry. But godliness is not a surrogate for virtue, whereby we may dispense with the latter; rather is it virtue’s consummation, enabling us to be crowned with the hope of the ultimate achievement of all our good ends.
Kant says to escape all those dogmas, interpretation is necessary to make sense of religious scriptures, and that existing religious practices and religious scriptures do not always interpret correctly. Kant says that clever people of considerable moral fortitude should be responsible for interpreting a given religious tradition. Individuals whose primary loyalty is to reason are in the best position to ensure that religious practices improve people's morals. Kant thinks that such interpreters are needed because some aspects of religious doctrine actually run contrary to moral principles. (Read Kierkegaard Fear and Trembling to see the opposing point of view).

Kant reinterprets Christianity, He starts by the role of Jesus Christ, and humanity's proper relationship to Jesus, Jesus is not the Son of God made flesh, who dies for the sins of all of humankind but is simply the idea of a perfect moral being. A morally perfect being must be capable of falling from grace but able to resist the fall. According to Kant, we can wash out evil by modeling ourselves on this perfect moral being. Jesus should be merely an example that can inspire us to engage in moral behavior. Then he moves to the idea of original sin. Kant rejects that because of Adam and Eve, all humans are born sinful. He thinks the biblical story of Adam and Eve should be understood allegorically, not literally. Kant says we fall from grace not because of Adam and Eve, but because of our own bad behavior. We are not guilty for the sins of Adam and Eve, but guilty for using our free will to choose immoral desires and thoughts. Finally he come to the idea of salvation through faith in Jesus, his main complaint is that it isn't enough to absolve human beings of their sins.
There is absolutely no salvation for human beings except in the innermost adoption of genuine moral principles in their disposition 
From our human perspective, religion—both revealed and natural—should be regarded as "the recognition of all duties as divine commands".Kant makes a particularly provocative claim, that, ultimately, there is only one (true) religion, "the religion of morality", while there can be various "historical faiths" promoting it.  From this perspective, Judaism, Islam, and the various denominations of Christianity are all legitimate faiths, to be located in Kant’s metaphorical outer circle, including the true religion of morality, his metaphorical inner circle.  However, some faiths can be relatively more adequate expressions of the religion of moral reason than others.
Hence to start off with this knowledge, and to let the historical faith which harmonizes with it follow, is not only an act of prudence; it is also our duty to make such knowledge the supreme condition under which alone we can hope to become participants in whatever salvation a religious faith may promise. So true is this that only as warranted by the interpretation which pure religious faith gives to the historical can we hold the latter to be universally binding or are we entitled to allow its validity (for it does contain universally valid teaching); meanwhile the moral believer is ever open to historical faith so far as he finds it furthering the vitality of his pure religious disposition. Only thus does historical faith possess a pure moral worth, because here it is free and not coerced through any threat (for then it can never be honest).
Kant likes the fact that Christianity's message can be communicated to human beings. Furthermore, humans can evaluate Christianity's moral teachings without any special training. They do not need scholarly ability, special insight, or divine election to understand Christianity. Christianity is both a natural and a revealed religion, and Kant shows how the gospel of Matthew expresses Kantian ethics, with Jesus as its wise moral teacher. According to Kant, a comparison between Judaism and Christianity shows how revolutionary the Christian faith can be. In his view, Judaism has restricted its membership to an exclusive group of people, thereby thwarting any possibility of developing into a universal church whose laws would apply to all people. Also Judaism's core principles are more akin to public laws than to internal moral principles.
Christianity possesses the great advantage over Judaism of being represented as coming from the mouth of the first Teacher not as a statutory but as a moral religion, and as thus entering into the closest relation with reason so that, through reason, it was able of itself, without historical learning, to be spread at all times and among all peoples with the greatest trustworthiness. 
For Kant, faith is useless unless individuals devote themselves to their own moral improvement. He believes that the innate good in people will cause them to turn away from ecclesiastical faith and religious practices, and toward moral religion. He does not claim that people will convert to moral religion because it is simpler than traditional religions. In fact, moral religion is more demanding than ecclesiastical faith, for it requires every individual to take full responsibility for becoming a better person. In the end, if we do not discover this truth, we are responsible, for we did not search our own hearts long enough to uncover it.
There exists meanwhile a practical knowledge which, while resting solely upon reason and requiring no historical doctrine, lies as close to every man, even the most simple, as though it were engraved upon his heart–a law, which we need but name to find ourselves at once in agreement with everyone else regarding its authority, and which carries with it in everyone’s consciousness unconditioned binding force, to wit, the law of morality. What is more, this knowledge either leads, alone and of itself, to belief in God, or at least determines the concept of Him as that of a moral Legislator; hence it guides us to a pure religious faith which not only can be comprehended by every man but also is in the highest degree worthy of respect. 

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