18 May 2009

If animals had a religion

Schleiermacher emphasized the function of "feeling" in religion and Hegel emphasized "thought", giving rise to ... tension between them. Hegel said that even dogs have feeling, but man has thought. This was based on an unintentional misunderstanding of what Schleiermacher meant by "feeling", one that we often find repeated even today. Yet it expresses the truth that man cannot be without thought. He must think even if he is a most pious Christian without any theological education. Even in religion we give names to special objects; we distinguish acts of the divine; we relate symbols to each other and explain their meanings. There is language in every religion, and where there is language there are universals or concepts that one must use even at the most primitive level of thought. It is interesting that this conflict between Hegel and Schleiermacher was anticipated already in the third century by Clement of Alexandria who said that if animals had a religion, it would be mute, without words.
  ... if the system is taken as a final answer, it becomes even worse than a prison. If we understand the system, however, as an attempt to bring theological concepts to a consistent form of expression in which there are no contradictions, then we cannot avoid it. Even if you think in fragments, as some philosophers and theologians (and some great ones) have done, then each fragment implicitly contains a system... So a system cannot be avoided unless you choose to make nonsensical or self-contradictory statements. Of course, this is sometimes done.
  The system has the danger not only of becoming a prison, but also of moving within itself. It may separate itself from reality and become something which is, so to speak, above the reality it is supposed to describe.

Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought (1968: xxxvi-xxxvii)