Back to Religion

Rudolf Eucken was appointed Professor of Philosophy at the University of Basel 1871; in 1874, he succeeded Kuno Fischer at Jena. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1908 for his search for truth. Eicken was born in the Kingdom of Hanover in 1846 and died in the nation of Germany 1926. The quote below is from his 1912 book Back to Religion.


Modernity has abandoned religion’s mode of conceiving life and the world sub specie aeternitatis, has left eternity colorless and empty, in its uncurbed desire to plunge full into the current of the time, to uplift conditions here, and from this world to derive all its forces. In all this a special importance has attached to the idea of development. Instead of thinking their position to be fixed and unshakable by the appointment of a higher power, be it God or fate, men have come to think of our life as still in flux, and its condition as susceptible of measureless improvement; above all the immaturity and all the losses of the present has arisen the confident hope of a better and ever better future.

Such a conviction has led men to devote endeavor entirely to the living present and carefully to adjust effort to the existing stage of evolution. That contributes great freshness and mobility to life; all rigidity is dispelled, all magnitudes become fluid, infinite increase multiplies the abundant forms.

Without in any wise attacking or disparaging all this, one’s own experience of life yet makes it more and more clear that this trend has its dangers and limitations. To yield to the tendency of the times seemed at first to bring clear gain, for a group of persistent convictions still maintained themselves and supplied to the movement a counterbalancing repose.

More and more, however, the movement drew into itself these survivals; more and more exclusively it mastered all life. It constantly became more swift, more hurried, more agitated; the changes followed faster and faster, one moment crowded on another, and the present was reduced to a passing instant. But in this process it has become apparent that this passionate forward striving leaves no room for true life.

And, further, all courage must needs perish, so soon as we are forced to the conviction that everything which we today revere as true, good, beautiful, is subject to change and may tomorrow become unstable, that what is today acclaimed “modern” may tomorrow be cast aside as obsolete. He who unreflectingly lives merely for the moment may in all seriousness look upon that moment as the acme of the whole; but he who looks a little farther cannot doubt that it will be no better with us than with those who went before us, and that the saying still holds which according to Indian doctrines the spirits of the dead cry to the living: “We were what you are; you shall be what we are.” In fine, if life is all strung on the thin thread of successive moments, each crowding back its predecessor, so that when the moment vanishes all action at once sinks again into the abyss of nothingness, then, in spite of all the exciting activity of the moment, life becomes a mere shadow.

eucken-rudolf-1846-1926.jpgIf only we were quite sure that all our pains and care and haste were bringing about progress for the whole of human life! But that, again, we are not. True, we are constantly advancing in exact science, as we are in the technical mastery of our environment; we are compelling the elements into our service; we are freeing our existence from pain and enriching it with pleasure. But are we by all that winning a closer connection with the depths of reality? Are we growing in spiritual power as in ethical sentiment? Are we becoming greater and nobler men? As life gains in pleasure, do our inner contentment and true happiness increase in due proportion?

In truth, we are growing only in our relations to the world outside, not in the essence of our being; and hence the question is not to be evaded, whether the unspeakable toil of modern civilization is worth while. We work and work, and know not to what end; for in giving up eternity we have also lost every inner bond of the ages and all power of comprehensive view. Without a guiding star we drift on the waves of the time.

Back to Religion by Rudolf  Eucken 1846-1926 Publication date 1912  p. 11-15

Can We Still Be Christians? by Rudolf Eucken 1914

Eucken, R. (1910). The problem of human life as viewed by the great thinkers from Plato to the present time. New York: C. Scribner’s sons.

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