We are human in being with and for one another, I cannot be human by or for myself. I distrust this “I alone” of the mystic; is it not a spiritual gluttony? Is there not an affinity in it to its very opposite on whose negation it thrives—a sensual empiricism? The palate is my own, I never taste what you taste. Sensation is bound up with the principle of singularity, “infima species.” The mystic standpoint seems to overcome this, but does it render an adequate account of itself?
The historian, on the other hand, observes us and our religions externally, in masses, as thing-in-itself.
But human reality is between “I alone” and “mass-object.” We are in-betweens, bridges, passages to each other, neither self-contained nor bridges into an absolute void. The Absolute is not merely the negation of everything else.
On that score I sympathize with the minister and his ideal of a concrete particularity; with the church as the community, the con-unity of the faithful.
Our own little philosophy club also is such a concrete and mediating particularity. It speaks well for him that he does not confine his activity to his church, but also represents it to us. There he enjoys being the mouth for many ears, whereas here each of us both hears and speaks for himself; here we mutually test and risk our faith in our argument, there we flock together like birds of the same feather.
But the world is no philosophy club, some would say; a harmless and unimportant debating society is a luxury of the leisure class and merely relaxes you and turns your mind away from the pressing problems of life. The important thing is, that you decide and commit yourself to a cause: “Jesus Christ or nihilism,” “science or illusion and barbarism,” “communism or exploitation by capitalists,” “freedom and individual enterprise or slavery . . .” We could go on indefinitely.
The historian could entertain us for hours on end, telling tales of conflicts which, at one historical moment, appeared to be of supreme importance to the participants. His account of the changes and ironical reversals of the history of the Christian dogma, for example, was quite instructive: it shows what happens to the “Jesus Christ or nihilism” idea. The meaning of an idea refuses to stay fixed. To maintain the opposite is a stubborn falsehood, an incredible challenge flung against the teeth of historical truth and reality. ….
If we approach religion from a merely historical point of view we are—I am quoting Hegel—like clerks in a bank registering other people’s wealth. We cannot study the history of religion in the hope of becoming religious ourselves. What we become is not religious, but learned in the history of some religions.
If, on the other hand, we want to be religious without knowledge of religions, we violate one of the cardinal religious virtues, which is the “communion of the saints.” Not even Jesus or Buddha, let alone Confucius, is thinkable without their intimate knowledge of their respective Jewish, Hindu, or Chinese traditions. And even our lonely mystic has told us about the books that prompt him to his religious ecstasies. There is nothing in heaven and earth which is not immediate, and mediated, at the same time.
Religion is an existential act of apprehension, and its “object” is altogether absent and non-evident outside of this your own individual act of committing yourself; but this act cannot take place and would be impossible, unless it is mediated by the living tradition and continuity of the universe itself, which allows such acts to take place.
Discourses on religion by Gustav Emil Muller 1951 He writes in favor of Christianity.