This week in our community group we watched a short video on the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsgAsw4XGvU
Kant was an early Enlightenment thinker. He was raised in a Christian household and saw positive benefits of Christianity, but he was concerned that as religion became less important in the world and was supplanted by reason, that humanity would lose sight of the good from religion.
I know these are loaded words and not everyone who reads them will agree, for a variety of reasons. It was no different in our small group discussion. I’d like to touch on some of the major points that were made in our discussion regarding this.
First, even the most irreligious humanist would probably agree that there must be some human benefit from religion and a belief in a higher-power, otherwise evolution would have evolved it out of us eons ago. Perhaps those benefits have only recently become moot, perhaps not, but there is some reason religion has remained with us throughout millennia.
Some would say that the demise of religion has been predicted for ever, and it’s never happened, therefore it never will. There are a few obvious flaws to that logic. Religion definitely has less of an influence in society today than it did in Kant’s day. When Kant was alive, most countries used religion to secure their power, and that’s not nearly as common today.
Another angle that came up in our discussion on Kant involved the founding of the Christian Science religion in 1875, by Mary Baker Eddy. Christian Science adherents believe that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone. The comment was made that in 1875, the prayer-for-healing success rate was equivalent to that of going to a doctor. At that time, germ theory wasn’t widely understood and even doctors didn’t know the basic health importance of the simple act of washing their hands. Today, very few people would consider facing a major illness with prayer alone. In the past 20 years this has increased exponentially. This is a never-before-in-history example.
A simpler example is found in the old addage that miracles have decreased at an inversely proportional rate compared to the number of cameras in the World. If this was true in the 1950s, just imagine the effect today of nearly every single person in America carrying around a high-quality camera in their pocket, in the form of a smart phone. Again, a never-before-in-history example.
In light of this, I wanted to keep the conversation focused on being able to recognize the good in religion, while discarding the bad. I believe we all agreed that ‘community’ is one of the best things we’ve received from religion throughout history. Community is a tribal thing, and there are some detrimental aspects to tribalism for sure, but having a community where everyone watches out for each other and where we belong is a good thing.
Kant dedicated his life to finding good, well-reasoned theories for secular morality. He is known for his ‘Categorical Imperative’ which states: "Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law." In other words, test the morality of an action as if it were generally practiced where you were the victim of it. The video likens it to the Golden Rule, though I believe there are some significant differences. Overall, his assertion was that we should strive to always treat people as an ends in themselves, never as a means to an end.
Kant believed humanity was in a constant struggle between our better selves and our passions, between our duties and our pleasures. There was a consensus in our group that the ultimate would be for us to be passionate about our duties. I know plenty of people for whom this is true.
Finally, Kant posited that our love of beauty and art is what removes us from the burdens of the World and transforms us to be ‘disinterested’ in day-to-day worries and narrow, selfish concerns. “A pretty flower is just as attractive to the tired farm-worker, as to the prince.”
It was a good discussion, and it definitely raised our awareness of living our lives intentionally, for the good.