1.28.2009

American Evangelicalism and Schleiermacher's God Consciousness Part 2


THE FEELING OF ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE

German Romanticism found reality in feeling, immediate experience, and spiritual illumination; a certain subjectivism and emphasis on the self-conscious of the ego. Schleiermacher lived amongst many who refused to believe in anything beyond the autonomous self. He believed that many of his Romantic friends had abandoned religion because the rationalists had wrongly reduced the essence of knowledge to propositions and dogmas.[1] As Olson observes,
Schleiermacher believed that religious experience is primary; theology is secondary and must constantly be reformed in relation to the changing aspects of Christian communities. For him, ‘Every doctrinal form is bound to a particular time and no claim can be made for its permanent validity. It is the task of theology in every present age, by critical reflection, to express anew the implications of the living religious consciousness.

For Schleiermacher, “religious forms should not in themselves hinder any man from developing a religion suitable to his own nature and his own religious sense.”[2] Creeds and confessions, dogmas, propositional statements, belong to the religious experience of the community at the time of their origination. In this scenario, revelation doesn't just take a back-seat to feeling, but is, in fact, entirely derived from what is experienced when one achieves what Schleiermacher calls the feeling of absolute dependence. According to Schleiermacher, the Bible is not the inspired and infallible word of God, it is simply the religious experience of the early church.[3] Schleiermacher wrote, “In our exposition, all doctrines properly so called must be extracted from the Christian religious self-consciousness, the inward experience of Christian people.”[4] Religion then is the “feeling of absolute dependence.”[5]

Schleiermacher's use of feeling, however, has not always found uniformity in his writings.[6] What does Schleiermacher mean by feeling? Niebuhr views Schleiermacher’s feeling as a unity of the self. Niebuhr states, "Feeling of this order indicates more than the sheer “happened-ness” of the self; it symbolizes the life unity within which the reciprocal moments of suffering and doing transpire. It is not a mystical or a-cosmic state of mind but the consciousness of the unity of the self that is given within experience rather than derived from it."[7] Schleiermacher believed, therefore, that feeling is the immediate consciousness of life, and results from an interaction between the individual and the immediate environment.[8]
Schleiermacher spoke generally of three forms or grades of the self-consciousness.[9] The first is the confused animal grade, a lower grade that when animal life predominates and the spiritual life is in the background. Schleiermacher viewed this as a form when the antithesis cannot arise, it is a state of unresolved confusion and likened to children before they speak.[10] The second grade is sensible self-consciousness. There is a “gradual accumulation of perception” a developing of the self-consciousness from relations to nature and to man.[11] This is the realm of the sensible, a setting up as individuals, a self-regarding perception of social and moral feelings as self-regarding, and a movement towards dependence. The third grade is absolute dependence. Schleiermacher describes the feeling of absolute dependence as clear self-consciousness. He wrote,
In this sense it can indeed be said that God is given to us in feeling in an original way; and if we speak of an original revelation of God to man or in man, the meaning will always be just this, that along with the absolute dependence which characterizes not only man but all temporal existence, there is given to man also the immediate self consciousness of it, which becomes a consciousness of God. In whatever measure this actually takes place during the course of a personality through time, in just that measure do we see ascribe piety to the individual.

The self-consciousness of God is determined upon the piety [feeling] of man. Here we notice the essence of Christianity, as a “modification of universal human piety, the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, of being in relation to God”[12] This is known as the “God-consciousness.”[13] As mentioned above, the ego is now in relation, the sentiment (self-consciousness) enables the revelation of God in man; complete immanence through sentiment. The Christian, therefore, having a feeling of absolute dependence is in a consciousness of God.
The greatest state of blessedness is to strengthen the God-consciousness. Since Christian doctrines are said to be “accounts of the Christian religious affections set forth in speech, “ every doctrine must be a correlate to the God-consciousness of the Christian community.[15] Thus, the self-conscious feeling of absolute dependence is in relation to the surrounding community.
Although Schleiermacher is often characterized as wholly subjectivizing every experience, and in a certain sense this characterization is true, however, it must be remembered that for Schleiermacher the self is in relationship.

Schleiermacher emphasized that religious self-consciousness is developed through fellowship or communion.The function of the church was to be a “self-renewing circulation of the religious self-consciousness.” [16] Thus, for Schleiermacher the self-consciousness in relation to the world acts as a medium by which God is in man strengthening the God-consciousness.

All this sounding familiar? Let me refresh you with Osteen at his best, "I'm hoping to help you look inside yourself and discover the priceless seeds of greatness that God has placed within you."
More to come...


[1] Elwell, Dictionary, 1064.
[2] In his diary, Schleiermacher wrote, “Dogmas arise only when religious sense is amputated, and there usually remains behind only the cat mortuum [of religion].” Cited from Brandt, Schleiermacher, 112.
[3]
[4] Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Religion (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1928), 265.
[5] His response to the Romantics was his On Religion: Speeches to Cultured Despisers. (New York: Harper Brothers, 1958), 71
[6] Some have noticed the differences between the first and second editions of his Discourses. The former seemed to purport that religion is primarily feeling, the latter including both feeling and intuition as the essence of religion.
[7] Richard Niebur, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1964), 122-3.
[8] Brandt, Schleiermacher, 179.
[9] His Platonic influence is evidenced sharply in his breakdown of the grades of being.
[10] Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, 19.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Grenz, Theology, 45.
[13] The inward unity of the God-consciousness is developed the highest in Christianity, but also has a place in many developed religion.
[14] Schleiermacher, Christian Religion, 76.
[15] Keith Clements, Fiedrich Scheleirmacher: Pioneer of Modern Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), 37.
[16] Schleiermacher, Christian Religion, 27.

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