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Shadows of Divine Things

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This site is devoted to theological and philosophical investigations of the spiritual meanings of life, current events, music, spiritual growth, nature, and learning to be attuned to listening to the 'language of God.' The name of this blog comes from one of Jonathan Edwards's journals which he called 'Shadows of Divine Things,' and later renamed 'Images of Divine Things.' As a Christian I am continously on a spiritual journey to grow more into the image of Christ, to understand what it means to be crucified with Christ. To seek the truths of the Christian Faith is of upmost importance, and to know that any truths that are found outside of Christianity are present there because they ultimately point to God. I have an M.A. in theology and apologetics and I completed one year of graduate studies in Philosophy at Marquette University.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Duty, Means, and Ends: The Kantian Kingdom of God, Part Three

The Kantian Kingdom of God

The recognition of all duties as divine commands is, for Kant, the coming of the kingdom of God. Stephen Palmquist comments on Kant’s ‘coming of the kingdom of God’ by declaring, “God’s gracious gift of his kingdom on earth is manifested in us as the recognition of the centrality of our moral nature in our religious life.”[15] As was noted earlier, Kant believed that humans know the good which they ought to do. However, even though humans know the good which they ought to do they find it impossible to perform this good. While the impossibility to do this good does not thwart the moral obligation of every person to strive to do the good, it certainly raises several interesting question.

If it is impossible for humans to do the good, yet it is necessary that humans continue to strive to do the good and are morally obligated in this effort, does this not seemed to be a wasted effort? In other words, it seems odd that humans ought to do what Kant declares is impossible. Regarding this ‘problem’, Kant does not lack an explanation as to how this impossibility is overcome. In fact, his answer to this apparent problem plays an important role in the coming of God’s kingdom.

Enveloped in his answer to the incapacity of mankind to achieve the highest moral good, Kant has delineated a notion of hope. Of course, as we have seen, humanity is essentially in pursuit of a social goal, namely the highest moral good, which is a social good for Kant. Thus, for an individual to attempt to pursue this goal in isolation is not only wrongheaded but is also contrary to the purpose for which Kant thinks this goal is intended, namely to direct the duty of mankind toward itself as a species. As a social unit, people are no longer means but ends, since that which is unified never progresses by rule or effort of the one but of the many. Sidney Axinn describes this idea of Kant like this,

"The human species is seen as pursuing an essentially social goal. To be absorbed in one’s individual moral perfection is to miss the idea of the highest moral good. This idea, the conception of a universal republic based on laws of virtue, “is an idea completely distinguished from all moral laws (which concern what we know to lie in our own power), since it involves working toward a whole regarding which we do not whether, as such, it lies in our power or not” (p. 89). Therefore, Kant insists that this duty is distinguished from all others in several ways. As he has already said, it is the human duty of species toward itself. It is also a duty to work toward something which we know we ought to work toward but for whose success we must rely on powers outside our own. Therefore, hope plays a significant role.[16]"

Thus, as Axinn pointed out, unity of the species is necessary but does not get mankind to the ultimate highest moral good. An outside force or aid is needed. Kant, in Religion, calls this outside aid the highest moral Being, or God. Hope, in one sense, is the aid or help of this highest Being in order for mankind, as a species, to bring about the kingdom of God. This is characterized by Kant as such:

"For the species of rational beings is objectively, in the idea of reason, destined for a social goal, namely, the promotion of the highest as a social good. But because the highest good cannot be achieved merely by the exertions of the single individual toward his own moral perfection, but requires rather a union of such individuals into a whole toward the same goal—into a system of well-disposed men, in which and through whose unity alone the highest moral good can come to pass—the idea of such a whole, as a universal republic based on laws of virtue, is an idea completely distinguished from all moral laws (which concern what we know to lie in our own power); since it involves working toward a whole regarding which we do not know whether, as such, it lies in our power or not. Hence this duty is distinguished from all others both in kind and in principle. We can already foresee that this duty will require the presupposition of another idea, namely, that of a higher moral Being through whose universal dispensation the forces of separate individuals, insufficient in themselves, are united for a common end.[17]"

Above, Kant points out several key factors involved in the coming of the kingdom of God. The first of these key factors is the social unity of mankind in an effort to gain the highest moral good, and the second is the assistance of a highest moral Being. Regarding the latter element, Elizabeth Cameron Galbraith comments, “This higher moral Being is ‘one who knows the heart,’ and brings about that ‘each receives whatever his actions are worth.’ This is because a perfect ethical commonwealth, or Kingdom of God, would require more moral wisdom than humankind at present possesses.”[18]

Enveloped in this need for the highest moral Being’s assistance is not only hope but grace as well. While Kant does not come right out and use the term grace, except in one specific place,[19] it is evident in his description. Moreover, Kant describes this assistance from the highest moral being as ‘saving faith.’ Along with this saving faith comes a “gradual transition of ecclesiastical faith to the universal religion of reason, and so to a (divine) ethical state on earth.”[20] Thus, the coming of the kingdom of God is this gradual transition from “ecclesiastical faith to the exclusive sovereignty of pure religious faith.”[21] So what does Kant mean by ‘saving faith?’

Kant declares,

"Saving faith involves two elements, upon which hope of salvation is conditioned, the one having reference to what man himself cannot accomplish, namely, undoing lawfully (before a divine judge) actions which he has performed, the other to what he himself can and ought to do, that is, leading a new life comfortable to his duty. The first is the faith in an atonement (reparation for his debt, redemption, reconciliation with God); the second, the faith that we can become well-pleasing to God through a good course of life in the future. Both conditions constitute but one faith and necessarily belong together.[22]"

Of course, for Kant, ecclesiastical faith starts with the belief in atonement. But this is merely the vehicle for pure religious faith. This is achieved when “the maxim of action, which is religious faith (being practical) is the condition, must take the lead, and the maxim of knowledge, or theoretical faith, must merely bring about the strengthening and consummation of the maxim of action.”[23] Though Palmquist is examining this process from a political philosophical standpoint he is, nonetheless, helpful in describing this process as such: “The ultimate end of this entire process will come about when there is no longer any distinction between the empirical manifestations of religious and political systems and the pure moral reasons to which they conform.”[24]

When this transition occurs the distinction between clergy and laity will disappear, equality will arise from true freedom (without anarchy) since each person will obey the law that is prescribed. Moreover, regard for this law will stem from a World-Ruler who is revealed through reason and this will unite all under one common government into one state.[25] In other words, once the ecclesiastical faith transitions to the universal religion of reason and a divine ethical state is established on earth as a public foothold, we have good reason, according to Kant, to declare that the kingdom of God is at hand.[26]

[15]Ibid.
[16]Sidney Axinn, The Logic of Hope: Extensions of Kant’s View of Religion (Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 1994), 99. Axinn quotes from Religion translated by Greene and Hudson (La Salle, Illinois: Open Court Publishers, 1934). Emphasis in the original.
[17]Kant, Religion, bk. 3, div. 1, sec. 2, 89.
[18]Elizabeth Cameron Galbraith, Kant and Theology: Was Kant a Closet Theologian? (San Francisco: International Scholars Publication, 1996), 61.
[19]Refer to Religion, bk. 3, div. 1, sec. 7, 109. Here Kant calls the “faith in good life conduct, as being effected through the higher agency, would be reckoned to him as grace.”
[20]Kant, Religion, bk. 3, div. 1, sec. 7, 113.
[21]Ibid., 105.
[22]Ibid., 106.
[23]Ibid., 109. (Emphasis in the original).
[24]Palmquist, 434.
[25]Kant, Religion, bk. 3, div. 1, sec. 7, 112.
[26]Ibid., 113.

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