Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason

by Immanuel Kant
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Christian Themes

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Kant defines God the Father as the author of the categorical imperative and understands Jesus Christ as its teacher on earth. Thus Jesus is the founder of the one true church, not because of his redemptive sacrifice on the cross, but because of his sermons, parables, and exemplary life as the perfect exponent of the moral law. This interpretation is expounded mainly in two sections of part 4 that consider Christianity first as a natural or pretheoretical religion, then as a learned or revealed religion.

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Christianity as a Kantian natural religion is tantamount to belief in divinely sanctioned morality. It is spread and maintained by teachers rather than priests and informed by conscience rather than dogma. Its goal is unanimity of moral sentiment and universalizability of the derived maxims of moral action. Kant cites Matthew 5:20-48 to argue that the only people who please God are the morally pure. He uses Matthew 7:13-21 to show that those who act immorally cannot redeem themselves by doing good works for the church. For Kant, duty to the church is unimportant compared with duty to God.

At the more sophisticated stage of revealed religion, Christianity is characterized by theological principles interpreted through historical events such as the life of Jesus, the writing of the New Testament, and the growth of the church. Intellectuals working within the church create a learned faith that can appeal to all people. Faith is not an end in itself. Adherence to simple faith is not sufficient for salvation. The end for Kant is...

(The entire section contains 390 words.)

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