Monday, July 27, 2015

Chapter 3


Chapter 3 continues a discussion by Pannenberg of his philosophy of religion by specifically considering the reality of the divine (God and the Gods) in the experience of the religions. He is still not ready to discuss Christian teaching. He is still preparing the ground, so to speak. He continues to offer his apologetic in convincing the reader that discussion of Christian teaching remains a credible endeavor. He will now wrestle with the challenge presented by the plurality of the religions in light of the quest for truth. He will present criteria for how one could make a reasonable judgment regarding the truth or falsity of a particular religion.

Section 1 deals with the concept of religion and the role it has in theological reflection. The breakdown of the inspiration and authority of the Bible in the 16-1700s led to increased focus upon the nature of religion. The work of W. C. Smith, The Meaning and End of Religion (1964) is helpful to Pannenberg at this point. Pannenberg will want to continue the discussion of Kant, Hume, and Schleiermacher in separating the knowledge of God from the actual practice of religion. This separation raises the anthropological aspect of religion. One can then explore whether one can establish a justifiable human need for religion. He continues to find Schleiermacher helpful here in his emphasis upon the importance of a rudimentary awareness of the divine is an expression of religion and does not arise from knowledge of God. He discusses Barth (CD I.2, 17.1), who protests against the entire procedure because it must abandon the reality of God. For Pannenberg, however, Barth is quite wrong to advance the primacy of divine reality and revelation directly, for it will have the character of mere assertion and fanaticism. In contrast to Barth, who offers his respect to Schleiermacher by arguing against him, Pannenberg will offer his respect by valuing what Schleiermacher attempted to do and chart his course by amending him. The problem Pannenberg addresses is that for the secular age, all talk of God is purely subjective. One of the efforts of the philosophy of the 1800s, reflected in Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Otto Pfleiderer (The Philosophy of Religion on the Basis of its History, 1878) was to show that based on a general concept of religion, Christianity demonstrates its truth. Others appealed to the experience of faith or conversion and showed its universality by relating it to the moral problems of life. Out of this experience came the emphasis upon the historical figure of Jesus and his message. Ernst Troeltsch (The Absoluteness of Christianity and the History of Religions, 1902) showed that the goal of the history of the plurality of religion might reflect something they share in common; yet, it would be the result of a long history that remains open. He also thought of religion as the reflection of an infinite power that elevates us. Pannenberg will want to distinguish between the anthropological basis of religion on the one hand from the actual practice of the plurality of religions on the other.

Thus, in section 2, Pannenberg will discuss the anthropological and theological nature of religion. He finds the essence of religion as present in the actual practice of religion in all its multiplicity. He likes the notion of religion is a family likeness, rather than a definition (A. Jeffner, The Study of Religious Language, 1972). Further, religious experience as referring to the totality of human commitment (I. T. Ramsey, Religions Language, 1957) is helpful. He interacts with Falk Wagner, whose work has not yet found a translator from German. The point is that religion, consistent with Schleiermacher, religion represents the ultimate dimension of a human life, a total commitment, or a comprehensive and intensive evaluation. Yet, this function of religion does have the ability to produce the effect, namely, the reality of the divine, for one could refer to the ultimate without considering the divine realm. He prefers Schleiermacher to R. Otto (The Idea of the Holy, 1917) because rather than contrasting secular and religious, Schleiermacher offers religion as a deeper and more conscious understanding of one reality. The core insight here is that the finite carves out a place for itself within the infinite and is therefore always in a relationship with the infinite. Religious awareness is simply aware of the connection, while secular awareness is not. Secular awareness of the finite allows the treatment of finite things as merely objects to control and use. He will connect this idea with the third meditation of Descartes, where the intuition of the infinite precedes all other contents of consciousness. With this basis, Pannenberg admits that we are still not at the point of awareness of the divine. He agrees with G. van der Leeuw (Religion in Essence and Manifestation, 1930) that this awareness involves that of power and will. Studying religion rightly means doing so in such a way that deity is preeminent, awe-inspiring, absolutely valid, and inviolable. Religion is not just a set of human feelings, actions, and experiences, we find in William James (Varieties of Religious Experience, 1925). We ought not to follow W. C. Smith in speaking only of faith, which focuses on the individual rather than the communal element of religion. His point is that religion is a universal factor, the common denominator being humanity. The common structure of human experience and human nature forms the point of reference for the multiplicity of religion. His definition of God as the reality that determines all things is one that presupposes divine power to connect all things with each other in unbroken unity. He grants that the logical categories of whole and part, the notion of reality as a whole, are difficult to comprehend. Yet, the question of totality forces upon us in a provisional way the unity sought in religion. Plato thought of the Good as that which unites the multiplicity of things. He admits the difficulty in our secular and scientific setting of still affirming the way in which God is the determining reality of all things. W. Dupre (Religion in Primitive Cultures, 1975) said that even primitive religion provided a basis for the unity of culture. One can think of individual gods as concretions of a force field of absolute and omnipresent transcendence. Even in ancient religion, the one of the world has a divine basis. For Pannenberg, the reality of God is always present only in models that he views as subjective anticipations of the totality of reality. Such models are historical, and thus subject to confirmation or refutation in the still open course of history. Such anticipation has the character of a hypothesis. Self-revelation of divine reality is an important notion, for totality is inaccessible in any other way. The reality of God makes itself known only in the same way that that human beings experience reality as a whole, meaning in a historical way. He points to Durkheim, T. Luckman (The Invisible Religion 1967), W. T. Blackstone (The Problem of Religious Knowledge, 1963), F. Ferre (Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion, 1968), Paul Tillich, and Schleiermacher, as recognizing religion as the organization of human life in which the prevailing experience of reality as a whole finds expression and provides a basis for the order of society.  The uniqueness of biblical religion is that changing forms of history become the sphere of divine self-revelation, allowing this religion to survive the experience of historical change. He notes that among the Greeks, the emergence of philosophy perceived the unity of the divine. He finds it significant that in polytheism the gods had various tasks, while in the Bible El and later Yahweh take up multiple tasks. By the time of Isaiah 40ff, this religion could move to a monotheistic character. The history of the conflicts between the gods was the path to the development of the unity of the divine reality. He thinks that the question of the extent to which this or that religion can provide a basis for a universal unity in the experience of reality is a criterion of its relevance, saving power, and truth. The extent to which a religion can assimilate and integrate with other religions is a sign of its power. Seeking to maintain the “purity” of a religion may actually be a sign of weakness. The same was true as Christianity interacted with Greek philosophy. The unity of religion is in their goal and not in their origin. Since various religions viewed the divine as determining the totality of reality, it becomes possible to expect the progressive religious integration of humanity. The unity of the divine reality may well be the true object of the struggle of religious history. All of this suggests that we must include the knowledge of God in the concept of religion.

All of this leads to his discussion in section 3 of the question of the truth of religion and the history of religion. His view, for example, excludes the possibility that a dead religion could be true, for it no longer has confessors that demonstrate its power. Atheists like Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud take the claims of the religions seriously and offer non-religious explanations for the fact of religious belief and experience. The idea of God becomes a product of humanity and becomes secondary and dispensable. Schleiermacher opened the door to this line of thought as he described religion without reference to God, in contrast to Hegel, who viewed God as central to the concept of religion. The issue here is that if religion is constitutive to the structure of human nature, then one can have no fully rounded and complete human life without it. He is willing to challenge the secularity of culture at this point. He points to religion as a universal occurrence within the origins of humanity and as likely important for the development of speech. He agrees with Peter Berger and T. Luckmann that religion can provide legitimacy for a social order, but only because its significance transcendence that order. Religion seeks to discover the totality of reality and therefore a meaning order to individual and social life. Religion provides the ultimate frame of reference for humanity. For religion, the legitimacy of the social order is a secondary role to the primacy of the divine. He thinks that the secular society that has cut itself from its religious roots puts itself at risk by resorting to compulsion, the standard element of political rule. Secular individuals will still not find their fulfilment in the social and political order. Philosophy and science cannot provide that meaning. He thinks that the secular West will need to embrace its religious roots or continue its decline. Individuals who seek their identity directly through their social life will overtax the capacities of secular institutions. Religion provides people a way for enduring the countless shortcomings of everyday life. He thinks of the notion of a theonomous culture in Paul Tillich as a worthy objective. The ecumenical movement means that Christianity will not relapse into old forms of intolerance. He refers to the importance of play, song, and dance in children as they develop language. Myth provides this context for language. Language would provide a significant change in behavior. He thinks language and religious consciousness have a connection. He relies upon the works of Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, G. H. Mead, and Henri Bergson to say that religion is a reflection of a basic anthropological truth of openness to the world. The center of humanity is outside itself, its drives and instincts. Human nature is open and in the process of self-realization. He finds this consistent with the Bible and its decreasing importance of myth and increasing importance of history. This emphasis would develop into an increasing importance to the future as the horizon for the fulfillment of humanity. The essence of humanity is in its destiny or future. Theologically, he is affirming that the image of God is not something lost to humanity through sin. Rather, the image of God is a destiny of humanity that humanity will actualize in the course of its history. He will refer to the symbiotic development of the child and the development of trust in the psychological theory of Erik H. Erickson as significant for his anthropological notion of openness to the world. He will take trust further, of course, in suggesting the limits of trust in human sources to face suffering, distress and worldly insecurity. Of course, religion can be a source of idolatry rather than lifting oneself toward the infinite. Religion can become a neurotic distortion that focuses on the consolations of the world to come rather than accomplish what they need to do in this life. He points to Tillich again and his notion of courage, for identifying oneself with an ultimate concern requires courage. Humanity may well be incurably religious. We have already seen the importance of the reflections of Descartes and Schleiermacher as well, all of which point to religion being a constitutive feature of humanity. Discussion of any religious belief is a waste of time without this basic truth. If secularity is successful in its attempt to make religion purely subjective, it will be the loss of the plausibility of the truth claims of religion. Belief in one God implies that God is the power that initiates and fulfills our existence. It also implies that we must think of God as the Origin and creator of the world. With such a belief, we have pushed through the barrier of human existence. Experience in the world either confirm or deny that God is the all-determining reality. Such experience remains hypothetical and anticipatory, for such experience remains open, historical, and partial.  He refers to the interesting persistence of belief in Marduk, even after Assyria defeated Babylon and the contrasting failure of Aton to gain adherents in Egypt. He points to the exile of Judah and the rise of a new birth of faith in Yahweh and its persistent even after defeat. Jeremiah had already shown how Yahweh might well show supremacy by judging Judah. The point is that the gods of the religions must show in our experience of the world that they are the powers that they claim to be. His proposition is direct. One can make the decision as to whether the gods in whom the adherents of religion believe prove to be gods is one we take up in the process of experience of the world and the struggle to interpret it. He suggests that we will do this by making three more observations. First, he wants us to note the importance of the adherents in confirming or not confirming assertions regarding deity. Second, the competitive pressure of truth claims contributes to the confirmation on non-conformation of belief in a deity. Third, changes in the world of experience also place pressure on the nature and working of the deity that faith by the adherents should resolve. If the issue is the truth of divine reality in the deities of the religions, then one can read the history of religion as the manifestation of divine reality and the process of criticism of inadequate human views of this reality. The manifestation of divine reality is revelation. The concept of revelation has become a description of the result of the self-demonstration of God in the process of historical experience.

In section 4, Pannenberg will conclude his exploration into the reality of God and the gods in the experience of the religions by discussing the religious relation to God. Christian theology has the responsibility to make plain the nature of that relationship in the Christian community. Van der Leeuw will be important in this section. The statements that a religion makes regarding deity are the primary issues as we consider their truth. Worship of God begins with awareness of God and thinking about God. True worship means we do not evade God in our worship or exploit God for selfish purposes. He finds Hegel helpful here. Knowledge of our distance from God helps us in the worshipping community to overcome our sense of separation and bring reconciliation. He finds this approach superior to the phenomenology of religion, which tends to make generalizations that might lead us astray. The philosophical notion of the Absolute, while short of deity approximates the reality that religious ideas of the divine intend. This philosophical notion can help us evaluate the nature and existence of deity as defined in the controversies among the religions, even if provisionally. It suggests, for example, in the inappropriateness of anthropomorphism in terms of our notions of the Absolute. Seeking to master the conditions of life in this world, a power meets us in worldly forces. Our corruption does not nullify the experience of such power through creation. The human drive is toward worshipful dedication to the divine power that shows itself to us. Yet, this drive is also toward mastery of our dealings with the world. As such, it falls under the judgment of unbelief that Barth made famous. Religion arises out of our anxiety, remembering that he included the religious expression of Christianity under this judgment. Religion can be arbitrary and willful in relation the divine mystery. Paul in Romans 1:20ff does offer a Jewish polemic against pagan idolatry. Yet, Paul is not the only reference to religion. He refers us to Acts 14:16-17 and 17:22-31. Further, the Old Testament is record of Yahweh taking on the characteristics of El and Baal. Religious history, then, has an ambivalent relationship to the Absolute. Pannenberg will disagree with Paul and suggest that religions have done quite in distinguishing between deity and worldly reality. The worshipping community generally thinks of the power of the divine as being in finite images, but not confined to them. The Jewish polemic that Paul adopts confuses religion with magic and myth. The prohibition against images in the Old Testament is against this magical attempt to control deity. Misusing the relation to God to gain control over God with a view to self-security is always a perversion of faith. Such magical perversion is always a temptation to the religious community. Acts of dedication and devotion can become means of gaining control of divine power. Another form of this perversion is to mark off the secular from the sacred and live one’s life as if the sacred operated only in certain times and places. It can also lead to radical secularization of the world as a world without God. The ambiguity of the religious relation is that the self might actually be the main concern of religion rather than the relation to deity. Myth places the acts of the divine within ritual acts and in the inconceivable time of a primal age as well as provide for the basis of the present world order. He likes the work of Malinowski at this point, as well as Eliade. The biblical tradition of faith arises out of the nomadic roots of the God of the Patriarchs and the tribal federation. Rather than suppressing the emerging of the new, it looks forward to the new thing God will do. The saving acts of God are part of the divine choice and covenant, making it possible to think of the future course of history remained at stake. The prophets assumed this possibility. Yet, Jerusalem and the cultivation of worship still reflect myth in Israel. The cosmic significance of the crucifixion may also have this mythical background. In any case, the eschatological language of the prophets opened the future for new acts of God. In the exilic and post-exilic period in particular, God acted in judgment upon Israel and the rise and fall of empires. The future has normative significance as it held forth the possibility of the future rule of God rather than the basic primal myth. Institutions could become outdated in virtue of salvation history. Loss of the old and the arrival of the new were real possibilities incorporated into the faith of Israel and therefore into Christian faith.

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