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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Final Paper

Final Paper – Religion (Kant)
Camden Smith
CoPhilosophy - Final Paper
Dr. Phil Oliver
29 November 2014 – 3 December 2014

As a kid growing up, my family didn’t attend church that regularly. It wasn’t that we didn’t believe in a God or religion, it was just that we had multiple bad experiences with churches in Tennessee after moving here from Pennsylvania when I was very young. Churches here were much more pushy and strict, as they tried to involve and interfere themselves into almost every aspect of our lives. Those experiences led us to stop attending church altogether when I was around 11 years old. This didn’t stop us from having our own little form of church at home though; worshipping and prayer were commonplace in our home. These experiences are part of the reason I no longer associate myself with Christianity. With that said; however, since I was a small child, I’ve always been told to count my blessings and say my prayers. In recent years I’ve began to question what is a blessing and why should I pray for things that more than not benefit only myself. In our society, we turn frivolous things that aren’t blessings into blessings. Obtaining a new cell phone isn’t a blessing; neither is getting a new car or the newest or most fashionable clothes, those are rewards for actions and behaviors. In most cases blessings are the things that are second nature to most of us here in the America. A blessing is good health, enough food for subsistence, and a safe place to call home. Like I previously stated, most of us here in America take these things for granted when there are millions of people in other countries who do not have these things. Even though our family didn’t attend church regularly, I was still told growing up to pray for those less fortunate than I was. I always questioned this, not the morality behind it, but the effectiveness of it even at a young age since I was told that God was immutable and impassible, which means God cannot be wrong, and cannot be affected by any external factors. I also questioned that if I prayed for something good, shouldn’t it happen anyway since “God is good?” This, in my opinion, made any prayers I could think of to be more than pointless. Based off of that thought, it was if I was just talking to myself about the things I wanted to improve in my own life and around the world. It was like a small child trying to talk to Santa Claus about his Christmas list. In my extensive research of one of my favorite philosophers that I’ve learned about this semester, Emmanuel Kant, I found that he did not speak much on prayer, but what little he did, I found to be very similar to my opinions. Before I get started on Kant’s philosophy on religion and prayer some background on Immanuel Kant. Immanuel Kant was a German Philosopher born April 22, 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia and he died at the age of 79 on February 12, 1804 also in Konigsberg, Prussia. He lived in the same place he was born in Germany, for his whole life. His father was a Scottish immigrant and his mother was an uneducated German woman. Kant first attended the Collegium Fridericianum and then enrolled at the University of Konigsberg. Kant is widely considered to be one of the central figures of modern philosophy. His main statement on prayer in his book, Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, was, “Praying, thought of as an inner formal service of God and hence as a means of grace, is a superstitious illusion (a fetishmaking); for it is no more than a stated wish directed to a Being who needs no such information regarding the inner disposition of the wisher; therefore nothing is accomplished by it, and it discharges none of the duties to which, as commands of God, we are obligated; hence God is not re­ally served. A heartfelt wish to be wellpleasing to God in our every act and abstention, or in other words, the dis­position, accompanying all our actions, to perform these as though they were being exe­cuted in the service of God, is the spirit of prayer which can, and should, be present in us "without ceasing."[1] In the first line of that quote, it appears to be Kant is saying that prayer is nothing more than glorified wishing, which is what I had been thinking for years. Upon my further research into Kant and his opinions on prayer, I found that he didn’t deny the value of prayer. The point Kant was trying to make in his statement was the value of prayer is primarily dependent on how the person stating the prayer is attempting to interpret his or her own actions. The people who interpret prayer "as an inner formal service of God and hence as a means of grace" make it into a untrue form of religion, therefore devaluing prayer to the point of being a way of detaching themselves from a sense of right and wrong. The person praying uses the prayer to avoid or replace moral responsibilities. I more than agree with Kant’s opinion here as I have seen multiple people in my life that live with extremely loose morals and no regret or regard for the religion they allegedly follow. The quote, “Those who repent on Sunday, for what they did on Saturday, also plan to do it again on Monday,” is very fitting for many of the so-called religious people that I know as they party nonstop and “sin” on Friday and Saturday, but once Sunday morning comes, they’re little saints who can do absolutely no wrong. That quote appears to me to echo Kant’s opinion on prayer, as people feels as if they have developed the opinion that prayer is an automatic fix for their transgressions or sins.

A thought I’ve had on religious practices for quite some time now is, what if I dedicate myself to someone for my entire life, and then once it’s over, that’s it. What if nothing comes after, what if there’s no afterlife, whether it be Heaven, Hell, or some other form of second life? According to Kant, we can have no knowledge outside of the experience, so we have no knowledge of God, the soul, the afterlife, or anything else for that matter. Kant also says that we as humans can’t have cognition, or knowledge, of objects outside of our scope of experience.[2] Kant uses this reasoning to not only question whether or not God exists, but if the concept of God is even plausible. To expand on Kant’s idea, how do we as humans live our entire life trying to prepare for something that there’s a very good chance won’t come, or trying to serve and please a supposedly all knowing and mighty God that there’s a very good chance doesn’t exist either. Kant elaborates further that there is neither experience nor proof of a supersensible, the being beyond of the senses, claim that exists. According to Kant[3], the problem, is not that we cannot coherently think the supersensible. It is, rather, that we can think about it in too many ways. Aside from experience, reason is the standard through which ideas can be disproved. Instead, so long as the ideas of reason are internally consistent, the faculty can come up with a multitude of theses and antitheses about the supersensible. Another problem for Kant is not about meaning, but rather it is epistemic, or relation to nature. Since we have no way of knowing a possible experience of the supersensible, we lack the theoretical resources to decide between competing claims. So, instead, to cognize, for Kant, is to think an object or proposition in relation to the order of nature and the material conditions that govern whether or not it obtains what Kant calls the cognition's “Real Possibility.[4]

As I mentioned earlier, my family was criticized extensively by the churches we attended for some of our choices. One of the most scrutinized things was my parents’ decision to not have me baptized at a young age. It was unheard of in those churches at the time to not a child baptized young. My parents did not want to make my decisions for me, as they wanted me to explore my faith on my own before I committed to a faith for the long haul. This has been proven to be beneficial to me as I am currently exploring all aspects of “faith” without having to be fully committed to one. While Baptism isn’t something that limits you from doing things, it’s a ceremony of acceptance of a higher power that you feel obligated to follow. Kant has his own opinion on baptism, or ceremonies close to it with this excerpt from Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone[5], “The ceremonial initiation, taking place but once, into the church- community, that is, one’s first acceptance as a member of a church (in the Christian church through baptism) is a highly significant ceremony which lays a grave obligation either upon the initiate, if he is in a position himself to confess his faith, or upon the witnesses who pledge themselves to take care of his education in this faith. This aims at something holy  (the development of a man into a citizen in a divine state) but this act performed by others is not in itself holy or productive of holiness and receptivity for the divine grace in this individual; hence it is no means of grace, however exaggerated the esteem in which it was held in the early Greek church, where it was believed capable, in an instant, of washing away all sins–and here this illusion publicly revealed its affinity to an almost more than heathenish superstition.”[6] Kant is stating here that committing oneself to the church has very little merit other than a reassurance to ones supposed faith in their religion. He also believes the idea is unfair to both the person being baptized and the people are witnesses to the event as they are held captive by the religion of choice. The person being baptized is confessing his or her faith and the witnesses have made a promise to keep them in check to their beliefs.



Works Cited

 Edmonds, David, and Nigel Warburton. Philosophy Bites Back. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. "Religion within the Limits of Reason Alon." Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www2.pugetsound.edu/faculty/tinsley/Courses/hum115/KantReligionConcl.pdf>.

Pasternack, Lawrence. "Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University, 22 June 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#VerPosPosKanRel>.

Pasternack, Lawrence. "Supplement to Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University. Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/supplement.html>

Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy. New Haven: Yale UP, 2011. Print.

Warburton, Nigel. Philosophy: The Basics. London: Routledge, 1992. Print.




[1] Kant, Immanuel. "Religion within the Limits of Reason Alon." Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www2.pugetsound.edu/faculty/tinsley/Courses/hum115/KantReligionConcl.pdf

[2] Pasternack, Lawrence. "Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University, 22 June 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#VerPosPosKanRel>.

[3] Pasternack, Lawrence. "Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University, 22 June 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#VerPosPosKanRel>.
[4] Pasternack, Lawrence. "Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University, 22 June 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#VerPosPosKanRel>.
[5] Pasternack, Lawrence. "Kant's Philosophy of Religion." Stanford University. Stanford University, 22 June 2004. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/#VerPosPosKanRel>.

[6] Kant, Immanuel. "Religion within the Limits of Reason Alon." Web. 1 Dec. 2014. <http://www2.pugetsound.edu/faculty/tinsley/Courses/hum115/KantReligionConcl.pdf

1 comment:

  1. "the value of prayer is primarily dependent on how the person stating the prayer is attempting to interpret his or her own actions"-not about beseeching god for goodies, but imploring oneself to act righteously. Kant is with Kierkegaard, Emerson, and diverse others on this point.

    The ritual baptism of children too young to understand what they're doing should be appalling to anyone as devoted to reason as a Kantian. I recall the pressure at age 6 or so to "go forward," motivated largely by fear of hellfire. Not Kant's schtick at all, though he did wish to crack reason's door just enough to make room for faith.

    Very interesting discussion!

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