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Spirituality in Modern Philosophy

Spirituality in Modern Philosophy

The Crisis of Reason and Religion
During the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, many of the structures that had previously dominated European life were rapidly being eroded by the pressures resulting from the mercantilism that took hold during the previous century. With trade and colonialism came an often distorted awareness of other ways of life that inspired many to question what had been considered absolute truths of morality, religion, law, and social life. The amassing of wealth outside the ranks of the nobility and the amassing of political power in the royal houses that came to control empires whose colonies stretched across the globe led to the marginalization of religion as a source of social cohesion and authority.
The responses to these changes by some religious leaders provoked the intellectuals of the French Enlightenment to anticlericalism and even to direct attacks on Christianity. Although the Enlightenment took different forms in French, English, and German speaking areas, common currents included reformist and revolutionary ideas in politics, questioning and rejecting the authority of tradition, and advocacy of individual reliance on reason. These currents added force to the already developing trends toward skepticism about traditional beliefs about the Bible that had been initiated by humanists since the time of Erasmus (1467-1536). Many of the intellectuals of Hegel’s generation began to suspect that religious doctrines, practices and institutions were not only incapable of directing the course of intellectual and social change, but that religion had become irrelevant to the problems of modern life.1
The philosophical challenges to religious belief (as opposed to political challenges to clerical institutions) were met by two basic responses: some rejected traditional religious claims while others sought to defend religious belief. The rejection of religion, or more specifically, of Christianity, first took the form of Deism, and later agnosticism and atheism. This was, however, the position of only a tiny minority.2
Those who sought to defend religious beliefs divide into those who gave philosophical defenses and those who abandoned philosophical accounts of religious tenets and defended their faith without any appeal to reason. Those who sought to formulate philosophical defenses of religious belief may be divided according to the strategies they employed. First, there were those who sought to defend the traditional teachings with traditional arguments to which various refinements, embellishments, and modifications were made.
Attacks on the ontological and cosmological arguments led many to seek refuge in versions of the argument from design. David Hume’s (1711-1776) attacks on the design argument made the need for another strategy acute. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) took the bold step of admitting that the existence of God could not be demonstrated through theoretical reason, nor could other key religious doctrines, particularly the immortality of the soul and free will. But Kant was neither an agnostic nor a fideist, and held that pure reason could still be used to defend religious belief—not pure theoretical reason, but practical reason. Hegel saw this strategy as one that would limit the concept of God to that of a moral judge to be feared but neither loved nor revered.3
It was the perception of the failure of natural theology to provide convincing answers to doubts that had been raised about the claims of the rationality of religious belief that led to the development of the philosophy of religion by the end of the eighteenth century.4 Kant’s abandonment of any attempt to find a theoretical justification for religious beliefs left many unsatisfied, such as F. H. Jacobi (1743-1819), who argued for the theoretical rationality of religious belief based on faith.
According to Jacobi, intuitive certainty of faith could provide sufficient epistemological foundations for both practical and theoretical reasoning to justify religious beliefs. Jacobi was not a fideist in that he did not claim that religion did not require any rational justification or that a justification by faith would suffice in lieu of a philosophical justification. Jacobi held that without basing beliefs on intuitive certainty, no beliefs would be rational. Since reason permits reliance on intuitive certainties to avoid skepticism about the external world and one’s own existence, Jacobi held that certain intuitions could justify religious beliefs.
By this time Romanticism was emerging as a celebration of the emotions in reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, and Jacobi’s strategy was taken up eagerly by Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who took the step of defining religion in terms of feelings instead of doctrines.

Religious Toleration and Pluralism
The philosophical challenge of the Enlightenment to European Christianity, however, was not limited to the charge that the rational grounding provided by traditional proofs of doctrine fails. There were also various challenges to the philosophical justification of the authority of the dominant religious institutions. These challenges were often expressed as advocacy for religious tolerance, which was opposed by Catholic and Protestant conservatives.
Three major sources of Enlightenment calls for tolerance are to be found in the works of Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), and John Locke (1632-1704). While Locke was the most important of the three for the development of the liberal tradition, Spinoza5 and Bayle6 posed what seemed to the established churches as the greatest threats, and it was they who argued for the most sweeping forms of tolerance.7
The stress on the organic nature of social developments was a hallmark of the shift from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, although the labels are somewhat artificial and we should not imagine that the two tendencies can always be neatly divided in art or philosophy. Romanticism grew out of the Enlightenment as the critical point of view advocated in the Enlightenment was turned back on itself.
The Enlightenment criticism of Christianity was augmented by a Romantic criticism of religious skepticism. Christianity is not to be replaced by a Cult of Reason, as was briefly attempted by some in France in 1793.8 Intellectuals of the late Enlightenment tended to glamorize or romanticize alternatives to the predominant forms of Christian culture, especially ancient Greece and the Orient. This tendency was fed by the nascent fields of Oriental studies, and by descriptions of travels by diplomats, missionaries, and others who accompanied the European mercantile and military forces that went to various corners of Africa and Asia.
As early as the sixteenth century, European art and architecture display Oriental motifs. During the Enlightenment, pagodas, sham ruins, and temples are built by European nobles to ornament their gardens. A noteworthy example is the palace of Schwetzingen built as a summer residence for Karl Theodor, Elector of the Palatinate (1724-1799), whose garden (Schlossgarten) included temples to the Roman gods Apollo, Minerva, a sham ruin of a temple to Mercury, and a decorative mosque, adorned with inscriptions of wise sayings in flawed Arabic and their German translations. Hegel taught that art is an expression of the spirit of a culture, and the gardens of Hegel’s own era gave expression to a fascination with the idea that wisdom was to be found in the religions and cultures of the world, in their emergence, development, and ruin.

Esotericism and Secret Societies
The interest in the Orient and the wisdom of the ancients that found expression in garden follies was also manifested in the popularity of esotericism. The Romantics were attracted to mystical and esoteric literature, in which they saw a vitality that they found lacking in the Enlightenment. In the Württemberg of the late eighteenth century, the popular Schwäbischen Magazin published alchemical and theosophical works. Among Lutherans, Pietism was very influential, and many of the Pietists turned their attention to the German mystical tradition represented in the works of Meister Eckhart (1260-ca.1327) and Jakob Boehme. There was also much activity in secret societies, such as the Freemasons. The Masons had various inclinations. Some groups were advocates of Enlightenment political thought, while others were more interested in esotericism; and, of course, there were combinations of these interests.9
Like the Masons, the Rosicrucians formed another secret society whose members believed in the esoteric unity of all religions. The Rosicrucians first appeared with the publication of a series of manifestoes in the early seventeenth century, according to which a legendary figure, Christian Rosenkreuz, was supposed to have been initiated into esoteric science by Arabs in the fourteenth century.10
“The Rosicrucians believed in the possibility of unification with God, and they “held a doctrine of prisca theologia, the position that there is one true, trans-denominational, trans- cultural theology, an account of divine being revealed by God to man in the remote past. They believed that if this ancient wisdom could be recovered it would unify the world’s religions.”11 Rosicrucian groups were soon to be found in France and Britain as well as in German lands, where some groups had links German Freemasonry, which incorporated elements of alchemy.12
The preoccupation with mysticism and political conservatism found in some of these groups led to the establishment of yet another secret society, the Illuminati, in 1776. Most members of the Illuminati came from the ranks of the Masons, but they were particularly opposed to superstition and to the influence of the Catholic Church. The Illuminati included such notables as Herder and Goethe as members. The group was eradicated at the order of Karl Theodor in 1785, although it continued in secret for a few more years outside of Bavaria.13
1. These points have been pointed out by many others. For example, see the introduction to Lewis 2011.
2. The exaggeration of the role of Deism in the history of the Enlightenment is documented in Barnett 2003.
3. See Hodgson, Shapes of Freedom 2012, 153.
4. See Jaeschke 1990, 3; Hodgson, Hegel and Christian Theology 2005, 13.
5. See Spinoza 2007.
6. See Barnett 2003, 55.
7. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right 1991, §66. Hegel’s arguments for religious toleration both before and after the writing of the Grundlinien include toleration of non-Christian religious beliefs. See Shl72, 31, 56-58, 169.
8. Contrary to Beiser 2003, 95, Robespierre opposed the extremists who favored a Cult of Reason and forced dechristianization, and instead promoted his own Cult of the Supreme Being, which was sufficiently extreme in its anti-Christian orientation to substantiate Beiser’s main point, despite the confusion of cults. See Ozouf 1988, 21-24.
9. All of the points of this paragraph are made in Magee, Hegel and Mysticism 2008, 254-256.
10. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition 2001, 51.
11. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition 2001, 52.
12. Lamprecht 2004, 47.
13. The Order of the Illuminati was founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776 in order to promote the ideals of the Enlightenment and to combat the influence of Catholicism, particularly of the Jesuits, whose order had been suppressed in 1773. At its zenith, the group had about 2000 members, many of whom were disaffected Freemasons. The program of the Illuminati was the education of a “new man”. Those who were thus trained to staff a new moral regime were to be secretly infiltrated into positions of authority in the institutions of government. Eventually, in the Electorate of Bavaria, about ten percent of senior officials were Illuminati.
Despite its successes, the society was finally betrayed by some of its own members, who plotted for the Hapsburg’s to gain control over Bavaria and to compensate Karl Theodor with Hapsburg territories in the Netherlands. Bavarians opposed to the plot withdrew from the order and accused it of treasonous activities. Karl Theodor responded with his edict to outlaw the group. In addition to the political machinations, there was considerable dispute within the Illuminati about the significance and desirability of various aspects of esotericism. After Karl Theodor’s edict, one of the friends of Weishaupt was struck by lightning. A list of members of the Illuminati was found at his estate and turned over to the Bavarian police, which they used effectively for the suppression of the order. See Neugebauer- Wölk 2006 ; cf. Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition 2001, 57.

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