or in other words:
The Magnifying Glass of Humean Inquiry viz-a-viz The Hammer of Kantian Discovery
or Why Sin is Kant's Scapegoat and Jesus his Stoolpigeon
In both David Hume’s Dialogues and Natural History of Religion and Immanuel Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, a high level of importance is conferred to the relationship between morality and religion. The characters in the Dialogues of Hume provide an interesting platform on which an analysis of the two enlightenment thinkers' systems of Moral Religion can be evaluated. The characters are: Demea, who offers a mystical view of religion based on a priori reasoning; Cleanthes, whose view on religion is based on a posteriori empirical reason; and Philo, a religious critic that uses his skepticism to remove ‘vulgar superstitions’ in order to shed light on ‘true religion’.
In the Blue Corner David 'the Skeptic' Hume an' in the Red Corner Manny 'the Assuming and Insufferable' Kant...
Although each character expresses certain aspects of Hume’s personality and thought, it becomes evident—especially after moving on to the Natural History—that he can be more easily affiliated with Cleanthes and Philo then with Demea and Philo. Hume’s thought as empirical skepticism is a much better fit then as skeptical mysticism, although all three viewpoints definitely play a role in his over-all message. Kant, on the other hand, transcends the boundaries of a priori and a posteriori—transcendentalism, oooooohh—and can be thought of as empirical mysticism or if you prefer, mystical rationalism. There is a possibility that Kant might have taken offense to being labeled as a ‘mystic’, but having developed a noumenal realm of consciousness beyond what can be experienced as an appearance or phenomenon, he crossed the boundary of experience into a priori-land.
Hume and Kant have essentially the same understanding of
‘true religion’, that is: if religion is operating properly, its job is to regulate the heart of humanity and establish and esteem honesty and virtue, and these duties should not extend beyond what is established naturally, and they shall be taken as divine commands. This is in contrast to revealed duties such as ritual sacrafice, which is not really offering anything to G-d, only doing injury to the sacraficers. “Thus our mercenary devotion deceives ourselves, and imagines it deceives the Deity” (Hume, D, 187). Although their understandings of religion are quite similar, Kant is embedded within the pre-conceived notion of achieving Christianity as the true moral religion (making his discovery a foregone conclusion), while Hume is free to be as skeptical as is needed about religion in general so that he might elucidate more on the nature of true moral religion. He delves much deeper into the possibilities of religion than Kant, as is evidenced here.
the original cause of all things is entirely indifferent to all these principles, and has no more regard to good above ill than to heat above cold, or to drought above moisture, or to light above heavy. (Hume, 113-4)
To say that Kant would be disinclined to hear Philo consider a morally ambivalent Deity would be a tiny understatement. Kant’s Religion aimed to discover if Christianity—specifically Protestant Christianity—could be the rational religion that true morality demanded. The central tenets of this idea were the moral truth of the possibility of dominion of the ‘good principle’ over humanity and the historical Christ: Jesus as the moral human par excellence; the embodiment of the ‘good principle’; the pre-ordained Son of man; and his relationship to G-d as “the judge of the world (really He who will take as His own under his dominion those who belong to the kingdom of the good principle and will separate them out)” (Kant, 142). Of course, this is drastically incompatible with Philo’s skeptical notion of an apathetic G-d.
There is no reason to assume that Philo’s claim is Hume’s sentiment. The dialogue form, or trialogue if you will, allows Hume to address the morality issue from three different perspectives, each one playing off of the other, and in terms of skepticism, he can be critical of a certain philosophical position with one character, and then skeptical of that criticism from yet another. This allows for a broad and encompassing view of philosophical thought—bordering on a study of dogmatics—as well as Hume’s freedom to be critical of anything he wishes. He always has another voice to appeal to.
Manny's gonna put your mind to rest: he's gonna be 'the sledgehammer!'
Kant, however, uses the same sledgehammer to hit the nail over and over and again, whether it’s a six-inch wood nail, or a thumbtack. If Kant wishes to express criticism about something he obviously is skeptical of, he remains perfectly objective, and does not take a condescending or patronizing tone at all, not at all. Unless you consider describing something in one sentence as “the one and true religion” and then in the next sentence calling the very same thing “a delusion of religion,” if you do not consider that to be patronizing or blatant condescension, then it is a fact that Kant is not condescending or patronizing (164). With no other tool to use besides his most precious sledgehammer, there is no way for Kant to pull a nail out that he may have driven too far, not that that would be something Kant would do, his reason is much too strong for that. If it happens to be true that you don’t agree with where his logic from the outset will go (a foregone) his conclusion, then reading Kant will be like drinking lemonade| without sugar| or water (unless of course you like being told that you are a bad person and that there is no way for you to ever achieve true goodness)|. Maybe it’s even more like eating a lemon| rind.
Kant’s take on morality can be explained by using five things (in themselves?): a person (consciousness and body); temptation (illusion, desire, maya); that person’s karma (all the things that person does, his actions and the guilt afterwards); one invisible rainbow with a pot of gold (white fluffy clouds, freedom from pain, all you can eat taco bar)(pick your pleasure) at one end and boiling oil (or fire and brimstone) at the other, and an also invisible leprechaun (or green alien with purple space helmet).
So we’ve got a person, we’ll call him Manny; Manny is a thinking being and the thoughts he can have are based on appearances or phenomena. Those thoughts about phenomena are also appearances or each one is an experience of a phenomenon and therefore phenomenal. Manny is a good Christian, protestant of course (like Kant), and because of that, he is forever guilty for having succumbed to temptation, and each thought he has is because he was tempted to have it. Now comes the fun part—there is an invisible leprechaun that exists as a part of Manny, but this part of him can never be experienced or be an appearance, hence Larry the Leprechaun is non-phenomenal or a noumenon. Larry is inaccessible to human knowledge, but he does have access to an invisible rainbow that also is inaccessible to any thinking being on this planet. Every time Manny acts upon his temptation, either to do good or evil, or somewhere in between, Larry the Leprechaun adjusts where he is standing on the rainbow, moving ever so slightly towards the pot of gold if Manny was tempted to do good, and maybe not quite so slightly towards the pot of boiling oil, if Manny was tempted to do evil.
Commandant Kant enters to yell at Manny. “You are evil and there ain’t no way no how for you ever to be truly good. So you go get yourself to church, young man. Meet other people that know they are also inherently evil and form a bond with them by together taking the Christ, Jesus, into your hearts and letting him be an example to you of a goodness you will never be able to achieve.” Manny is confused, how can somebody be an example of something that can’t be done: Let this be a lesson to you; lift this million pound rock. All Manny can do is his best.
“See if together, after accepting your fate and loving Jesus with all your being, even the part of you that can’t ever be known or experienced, you might just muster enough goodness to make it to a state of non-evil, perhaps even achieve mediocrity, and if you do your best you could be above average!” Now, Manny was a little frightened about being evil, but, he thought, if he were good enough, that pot of gold at the end of the—Mr. Kant seemed to have forgotten something, “And don’t even think about doing it for the reward; knowing you are inherently evil and working your hardest to achieve even the smallest good is it’s own reward, so don’t even be tempted to think about a reward, you greedy little less-than-Christ.” Manny’s heart sunk, and who knows what Larry the Leprechaun did, oh yah, that’s right, nobody knows.
Now, don't you feel better???
Hume doesn't seem to, and neither do I.
Hume expresses a rather radical view on Christianity in the finesse of a footnote to the Natural History. To remain as hands off as he possibly can with this criticism of western monotheism, he uses a passage from Andrew Ramsay. And because of the nature of his trialogue, it is hard to be sure where his sentiments lay in relation to the note, considering the rant he has against superstitious religions, and vulgar religions. Ramsay gives an historical account of Judaeo-Christianity from the perspective of a Chinese or Indian philosopher. The account begins with a description of Eden and then A&E eat the apple, and to punish their curiosity and desire for life, G-d banishes them out of paradise and condemns them to misery and eternal pain. Then G-d abandons all the nations to darkness and idolatry except for one particular nation, which forever fails to live up to his bidding. Then like 4000 years goes by, and all of a sudden, God takes a fancy towards nations other than just the Jews, so he begets a son and sends him down to do his bidding, which meant being tortured and dying on a crucifix to pardon the sins of the masses. Only a handful of nations at the time Ramsay wrote this have even heard of these gospels, which were invisible to the rest of the world who are then damned without exception. With very few exceptions, the bulk of Christians remained as morally corrupt as the rest of humanity and will continue this way, damned like pagans, voiding the redemption for which Jesus died. So the vast majority of Humanity, by this Deity, is bound for hellfire, as either Christians whose hearts remain unconverted, or as those people uninfluenced by the gospels and unconvertible. Yet this Christian G-d is all powerful and in one instant could change the corruptness of each and every human heart and offer them eternal pleasure. But don’t worry, there is a purpose to the suffering, it is His Plan.
But on the other hand, man, the bible is a very wise book, inspired by beautiful mystical union, just like the Koran, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or many other religious texts. And Jesus is an amazing being, and he led an amazing life and espoused an amazing teaching. Sure, those things are true, but should he be used to justify the murderous rampage that was the Crusades? Or the relentless conquering and forced conversions of Africans, human beings, only to turn them into cattle? What of the Spanish Inquisition? I’m pretty sure a few innocent people died in the name of Jesus then too, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. To me, friend, Christianity died when Jesus left the building and the religion in the hands of power hungry men whose every action was justified by the invoking of the name of the Christ. But, sir, surely you don’t think that Christianity is the only religion guilty of religious warfare? That may be true, but it, Islam and Judaism, to my knowledge, are the only ones that are still around making humanity guilty from birth. I suppose you have got a point there, man. But don’t ya just gotta have faith? Can’t ya just have faith that we came from somewhere perfect, and that’s where we are headed, man? How, friend, can I have faith when the world is so suffering and miserable, and this is by providence? Should providence not have interfered and made a few more callow leaders virtuous? And as Hume says by Philo, not being able to know G-d’s providential ways is enough to save but not establish the divine attributes. And was it with the loving attributes of Jesus that they did massacre? What is left to be misunderstood about Christianity?