If you’re interested in this kind of thing, pushing back on some of the foggy theological thinking out there, you may find this response to an essay a friend sent me either a  clearing of the air or a thicker cloud of mist.  You decide.

Reburying the Persistent God Images

A (very) Brief Rejoinder to Schleiermacher, Jung and the Rebirth of the God Image in Our Time by Donald R. Ferrell of the C.G. Jung Institute of NY

Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834), whose name can be loosely translated “Fog-maker,” left us, as most theologians do, a rather thick layer of dew, mist and mysticism.  I may have first read him in college Religion courses or in seminary Theology classes, but truthfully, I haven’t the foggiest (I do notice he’s mentioned a total of one time in my old faded History of Philosophy text).

Seriously, though, this “father of modern liberal theology” was a chaplain for a few years in Berlin, so, as a former chaplain myself,  I’ll give him high marks (pun there) for that. He served as a pastor in a Reformed church in northern Poland for only two years before becoming a professor of theology at the University of Halle in Germany (you can tell I’m a competent reader of Wikipedia).

I said this would be “very brief” so let’s get to it.  FDE. aka, Mr. Fogmaker was interested in many things philosophers think about including knowledge, ethics and where he left his pipe and umbrella.  As a rather heretically-headed Christian, he studied religion intently and may have helped bring religious thinking into the modern world (how’s that working?).  His most famous book, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, first published in 1799, presents perhaps the central core of his religious thought (and apparently he converted some of those despisers).  

Since I haven’t read him for many foggy moons, take as gospel this snippet from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“[For] Schleiermacher religion is founded neither on theoretical knowledge nor on morality. According to On Religion, it is instead based on an intuition or feeling of the universe: ‘Religion’s essence is neither thinking nor acting, but intuition and feeling. It wishes to intuit the universe’ (OR Second Speech: 22).”

Now, as I might say myself, the SEP goes on:  “The term ‘intuition’ here is both revealing and problematic.” (I’m boldly calling attention with BOLDness)

And on. . .“As Kant had defined it, “intuition is that through which [a mode of knowledge] is in immediate relation to [objects]” (Critique of Pure Reason, A19). So part of what Schleiermacher means to convey here is evidently some sort of immediate cognitive relation to some sort of object, namely, the universe as a single whole. On the other hand, the term “intuition” also imported certain implications that Schleiermacher in fact wanted to avoid. In particular, Kantian pure or empirical intuition required the addition of concepts in order to constitute any sort of real insight (“intuitions without concepts are blind”—Critique of Pure Reason, A51), whereas Schleiermacher had in mind a sort of insight that is unmediated by concepts. In the later editions of On Religion he therefore retreated from speaking of “intuition” in connection with religion (instead reserving this term for science), and instead spoke simply of “feeling”. In accordance with this change, The Christian Faith went on to define religion more specifically as a feeling of absolute dependence, or what Schleiermacher also described in his open letters to Lücke as the immediate consciousness of “an immediate existence-relationship.”

By the way, I haven’t read Kant since college and would probably understand him as much now as I did then (and I was a Philosophy major).  Anyway, moving along …

Again, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Turning more briefly to some additional features of Schleiermacher’s philosophy of religion in On Religion: He recognizes a potentially endless multiplicity of valid religions, and strongly advocates religious toleration. However, he also arranges the various types of religion in a hierarchy, with animism at the bottom, polytheism in the middle, and monotheistic or otherwise monistic religions at the top. This hierarchy is understandable given his fundamental neo-Spinozism.

More internally problematic, however, is a further elaboration of this hierarchy that he introduces: he identifies Christianity as the highest among the monotheistic or monistic religions, and in particular as higher than Judaism. His rationale for this is that Christianity introduces “the idea that everything finite requires higher mediation in order to be connected with the divine” (i.e., the higher mediation of Christ) (OR Fifth Speech: 120). But this looks contrived. It is left unclear why “higher mediation” is supposed to be a good thing. Moreover, even if one were to grant that it is, why do other monotheistic religions such as Judaism not share in this putative advantage as well, namely, in the form of their prophets? And if the answer is that this is because prophets are not themselves divine, then why is the mediator’s divinity supposed to be such a great advantage?

Disclaimer #6:  I also haven’t read Jung seriously since seminary, though I’ve dreamed about him a few times, or it may have been my German Lutheran grandmother whose name was Young (Jung?).

Ok, now, finally, and even more briefly, let me respond to several aspects of Ferrell’s argument for rebirthing God images.  

First, I still have no idea what that means.  But let’s continue.

-I find the continued use of what I would call “word-leaping”—reaching backward for ancient and traditional terms to re-define or superimpose modern meanings on them—frankly I find that unhelpful.  Why not drop those and just use our own made up words?  

-He speaks of “locating the divine with the universe and within the a priori depths of self-consciousness.”  Other than puzzlement over how anyone has a priori knowledge or consciousness which can’t (and maybe couldn’t) be proved, my primary question is:  Why?  Why “the divine”?  Why have to locate or name any aspect of the universe, or the universe itself, except as “Universe”?  

-He speaks of “re-visioning” religious experience, but isn’t that simply digging back into chosen elements of indigenous or Pagan belief systems and worldviews?  Pulling out those older concepts is fine, if we admit it.  But just using the word-leaps “god,” “divine,” “sacred,” etc still doesn’t convey anything to get a handle on.  I find no more mental velcro (tangible content) in using those in a “modern” sense than in the ancient senses, as I understand them.

-He quotes Jung: “God is a psychological function of man.”  That’s hard to disagree with.  We are god-creators, makers of images, projecting ourselves onto the universe—hopelessly anthropomorphic as we are.  Yet, as I see it, “God” (an actual being of some kind) does not exist outside our minds, our “psychological functions.”  Therefore, birth new language for our imagination, if we need to, but it doesn’t change much.    

-Ferrell calls for the “birth of a new God image.”  I understand, but have to ask again: Why?  And What?  What is that image and who imagines that?  Any God “image” would either end up looking like Universe/Nature including Humanity, or would look just like Humanity, again, as of old.  Re-inventing historic religions seems rather pointless.

With the Fog-maker and Ferrell, I’m left pretty much where I always seem to end up, spinning the same old question:  Why is Nature, the natural cosmos, the universe that includes infinitesmallly tiny beings called “humans,” why is it not enough?  Theology will always fail the tests of Nature since theological constructs are just that—constructing psychological or “spiritual” frameworks that can never be more than super-natural—nonsensically “outside of Nature.”  No matter the words we use, if we keep using them to leap beyond the limits of verifiable experience (if you experience something that I cannot and use words to tell me about it, I cannot use the words you use to explain, describe or define my experience).  

Does this leave us in silence?  Maybe more than we want to be or choose to be.  Perhaps more honest.  Cultured or not, we might despise religion but probably not the universe.    

-Ferrell asserts there is a “reciprocal interdependence between humanity and divinity.”  He goes on to say: “We know this radical interconnectedness more definitely through contemporary science.”  Now he’s speaking language I can relate to.  But he continues by speaking of “Absolute Interdependence” and that leads him (somehow) back to believing in his understanding of God, presenting us, intuitively we presume, with a “New Face of God.”  

See the word-leaps?  “Divinity.”  “Face.”  Face?  Why not leave it at Radical Interdependence of all things?  Science presents this.  Theology distracts, re-defines and once again projects US onto the universal screen—surprise, we’re the stars again!

Last, and most briefly, I was not surprised to find the quote from Deuteronomy at the conclusion.  The entire argument circles back to the most expected when discussing “god things.”  He says, “one can almost hear the divine voice” and what does that voice have for us?  The same message, torah, gospel, veda, qur’an offered by science:  Here we are.  Choose life.   

Let’s allow sleeping gods to lie, that is, let the gods of our own making repose and decompose, liberating us to be reborn ourselves.  We don’t need to give birth to new gods who look like us or look like Nature or anything in the natural universe.  Gods may dwell in our dreams but we can leave them there.

Chris Highland


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