this issue
previous article in this issuenext article in this issue

Document Details :

Title: Are Human Beings Religious by Nature?
Subtitle: Schleiermacher's Generic View of Religion and the Contemporary Pluralistic, Secular Culture
Author(s): STOKER, Wessel
Journal: Bijdragen
Volume: 61    Issue: 1   Date: 2000   
Pages: 51-75
DOI: 10.2143/BIJ.61.1.565660

Abstract :
This article rejects the claim that human beings are religious by nature. This rejection is controversial. It is always said by catholic (Rahner; Oberhammer) and protestant philosophers and theologians (Schleiermacher, Tillich, Cantwell Smith) that human beings are religious by nature. Schleiermacher holds that the feeling of absolute dependence does not define religion, but it is the defining characteristic that makes a certain phenomenon a religiousone. This defining characteristic is borrowed from christian faith in the one God the creator. I raise two questions: 1. how does Schleiermacher judge (adherents of) non-monotheistic religions in which the feeling of absolute dependence is vague 2. how does he judge non-believers who reject religion? As far as the first question is concerned Schleiermacher broadens his conception of religion in such a way that (adherents of) non-monotheistic religions are included. In fact he says that such people should become religious in the sense of having a pure feeling of absolute dependence. Factually, they have not. That is why in my opinion the feeling of absolute dependence is too limited to serve as a general denominator for religions.
With regard to the second question Schleiermacher calls the relatedness of the sensible consciousness to the higher self-consciousness, the feeling of absolute dependence, the consummating point of the self-consciousness. In other words: unbelief is a disturbance in the development of the person. If one holds that view, those who are indifferent to religion cannot be equal partners in public discussion. The generic view of religion does not do justice to the unbeliever. He or she is considered as a prodigal son or daughter.
Can these two objections of the generic conception of religion be met? Wilfred Cantwell Smith and Paul Tillich can meet the first one. They enlarge the defining characteristic of religion and consider it as faith or ultimate concern. My second objection can hardly be met. Tillich and John Smith tried by means of the conception of ‘quasi-religion’. I have my reservations and agree, that in Tillich and in John Smith secular worldviews are reduced to a form of wrong religiosity or are labelled as nihilism. A generic view of religion is of little or no use for public debate in the contemporary secular culture.
With Schleiermacher I hold that religion is an irreducible given and not merely a coincidence. In the interest of a peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society one needs to seek a generic element to which all people can agree. That generic element is worldview. I mean worldview as an anthropological category. It expresses the integrating and unifying character of our experience. All people have such a worldview as human beings. What worldview – marxism, humanism or a fragmented general worldview – they actually have is a contingent matter. When I substitute the claim that worldview is generic for the generic conception of religion, I do not mean that it is a matter of indifference as to whether one has a religious or a secular worldview. That is why, finally, something needs to be said about further justification of religion. Following Schleiermacher this does not consist of proofs of God or of historical arguments. It concerns the explication of the rationality of faith experience. For a peaceful coexistence between people with different worldviews, mutual dialogue is indispensable.