“Christianity is not about religion; it’s about a relationship.” If you have run in Christian circles for the past ten years, or even if you have just run into a Christian in the past ten years, you’ve heard this little apothegm. I have grown very weary of hearing it, but I’ve always wondered where it came from and what philosophical thought it is promoting. After all, most pithy sayings are oversimplified attempts at summing up some great philosopher’s thought.
While I would love to set forth some philosophical tome, I realize this is a blog, which means if I don’t say what I want to say in three minutes, I’ve lost you. So, here it goes:
Immanuel Kant, a philosopher of the mid-to-late 1700s, tried to place Christianity in the realm of morality. God is beyond scientific, sense-based experience said Kant; God is to be found in morality. So, in a sense, Christianity is about being a good, ethical person. (Sound familiar?)
G.W.F. Hegel, a philosopher of the late 1700s and early 1800s, is famous for his influence on Karl Marx, which, for most Americans, gives Hegel a bad name. He actually did much more than influence Marx, but just as an aside, Marx fundamentally changed some of Hegel’s teachings to fit his own framework (shifting Hegelian thought from ideas to materials). But back to Hegel, he devised more than the famous dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Hegel’s ideas on “Geist” and “truth as a process” are, in my estimation, worth pondering. While his idea that God comes to greater self-knowledge through history might be oddly contrived, his influence in other areas is tremendous. For example, if you think about how the educational system is set up, it operates on a Hegelian model–thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Research this issue, understand the views on both sides, then offer a nuanced third alternative. All of this is in an effort to make “progress” and discover “new knowledge.” (Sound familiar?)
Finally, you have Friedrich Schleiermacher, a favorite of Christians across the board–arguably. Rather than mankind finding God in morality (Kant), or God finding himself in history (Hegel), we all, as humankind, have this God-consciousness (Schleiermacher). We have this feeling, this sense, this awareness, that we are utterly dependent on God. Or, in more condensed vernacular, “we have this God-shaped hole in our heart.” How do solve the problem? In Schleiermacher’s view, experience is supreme; theology is all about experience–experiencing a relationship with God. (Hmm?)
What I see is this: 1. Many of us are living like Kantians–trying to be good, moral people. 2. Many of us are becoming Hegelians–trying to make progress and find new knowledge as we synthesize other people’s views. 3. Many of us are being told, or telling people, that life is about experience–and if you’re a Christian, life is about the experience of living in a relationship with God.
So…If you think you have a new idea, think again. Then, read some history. I say this to myself first, and then, to you.