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Faith as an Attitude towards Knowledge (1+2)

 

From: Christ in der Gegenwart, 31+32/2010
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    There is often asserted that faith was a private matter. But this is a mistake. There is a close relationship between faith and knowledge, without which knowledge in itself, the interpretation of knowledge and the communicative relations between people would be impossible. Faith implies the claim to truth; a truth that is verifiable and transcends the subjectiveness and the mere functioning of society.

 

The Distance from the Spoken Word

All questions of the relationship to religion and to churches are dependent upon it whether the faith in God is based on truth. If those should be right who claim that there is no God (or "no longer" exists), one can do without faith. And if it is true that the rise of modern science leaves no longer room for faith, the historical judgment on religions has been passed. They may then still have their cultural importance, because they maintain mental conventions and provide social orientation in the borderline situations of birth and death as well as in the transition to independence and life-long commitment. They might also continue to be indispensable as social agencies of outstanding merit. In essence, however, they were empty and meaningless.

Moreover, if the object of faith cannot be regarded as true, the contribution of the religions to individual and social life is based on a continuing life-lie. All who participate in religious worship and assume that the word that is spoken here was factually relevant would be disgraced. No one could any longer believe in what is contained in the handed down texts. In particular, the Christian message that is founded on veracity and existential consequence would be destroyed in itself.

This is no trivial statement, because there are many social fields of action where an acknowledged difference between the spoken word and the assumed meaning exists. Quite a few social events have their meaning in the maintainance of the tradition and in the effective self-presentation of people and institutions. You do not take part in them because they are interesting or instructive but because they are seen as necessary or helpful. Then you endure speeches and you think that they support the stability of a useful institution, without setting much store by the spoken words.

Parents and teachers, for example, must have this ability if they want to take an interest in the expectations and disappointments of the younger generation. They have to show their enthusiasm for those things which thrill children and young people. Later, the children have to show this attitude at the anniversaries of their elderly parents. It is not seldom that both sides eagerly praise and emotionally thank each other, because they know that it should be so, and it is good to give mutually an example in gratitude.

One should add that particularly parents and teachers are all the more convincing the more they allow to be infected by the joy of the youngsters. But if that fails, they will not want to lessen intentionally the motivation which is needed for the festival, the game, and disciplined seriousness. Because they can expect that illusions will have effects which are favourable for the parties beyond the current occasion.

In this way, the method of which the sociologists are very proud is long since practised. The social practices are not only considered with regard to the intellectual content of the speech acts taking place in them but primarily regarding the consequences which they have for the continued existence of society. This alienation of the intended meaning is adopted by the empirical research when it enumerates what churches do in order to secure the social system, without asking whether it is also true what is preached from the pulpit, recited in the prayers, and affirmed in the creeds. What matters is that the faithful continue to pay their taxes, and that the employees of church institutions behave loyally. Whether they really believe in what they pretend to believe is admittedly also an interesting question, but it needs not have to do with the actual behaviour.

That the attachment to forms and consequences is nevertheless not blind to the beliefs is evident by the disappointment of the faithful in the church's dealing with the abuse of minors. The loss of credibility strikes at the heart of the institution of faith. And if this is not a matter of indifference to us, we have to ask what faith really means under the terms of the so-called knowledge society.

 

The Essential Truth Claim

Philosophers, sociologists, journalists and a fortiori politicians have for a long time given their opinion on religions as if they were gradually dispensable authorities for the self-education of people. It was admitted that they teach useful virtues. It was therefore not of importance whether it was true what the priests preached. What only mattered was that they were capable of disciplining their followers and guiding them to a behaviour which had beneficial social consequences. It was not the question of whether and what the priests believed but simply that they by their teachings would not come into conflict with the assumed general interests of society.

This view fit well in the phase models of historical development, which can be found already in classical antiquity and which since the Renaissance were adapted to the functional contribution of religion. Since the 18 century, we know the scheme of the "religious", "metaphysical" and "enlightened" (which was later also called "positive") sequence of epoques. All these models have a tendency to be indifferent to the contents of theology. They assess the probable contribution to the gratification of political interests and acknowledge the service to the heavenly powers only as far as its effect on earthly interests is concerned.

It is possible to think in this way. From Hesiod and Polybius up to Comte, Nietzsche, Darwin this has led to assessments which must not be forgotten in the debate about the cultural evolution of man. Even a sociology of religion that bolsters the believers up by presenting them figures about their actual power confines itself to this external view. Nevertheless, the indifference to the beliefs is a provocation of every believer.

This is true not only from the perspective of religious people; if they really believe, they need the conviction that it is true, what they believe. This must be valid also from the perspective of a philosophy that has to be critical of all truth claims circulating in society. And since a religious community cannot appear in public with the claim that its teachings concern only its followers (without the slightest significance for others), it is impossible to ignore the truth value of religious beliefs.

 

Faith is Neither Subjective nor Private

If a believer e.g. claims that his responsibility towards God forbids him to let a man die in a self-determined way, then the philosopher has not only the duty to consider whether the argument is acceptable; he must also ask, what the appeal to God under the terms of the present time actually involves. You would take the churches in their claim to their members and to society not serious if you relieved them of the discourse about the truth-ability of their beliefs.

The political and ethical respect for fellow citizens dictates that we take them seriously, both in their decisions and in their justifications. And if they in their statements as citizens or as neighbours refer to their conscience or their faith, then it cannot be indifferent to their fellow citizens and residents, whether the things that are said are possible and appropriate at all. Apart from security interests of a state, one will not want to speak of a political obligation to examine the contents of religious teachings, but there is no reason to ward them off in principle. The contents of faith can anytime be the subject of public debate.

As is well known, the public does not spare any topic. Its interest may arise from a scientific study of the historical, sociological, psychological or political conditions of the religious phenomenon, but can also be triggered by a theological or philosophical discussion of the central doctrines.

Here too, there is no prerequisite for public attention, which can at any time be caused by incidental and accidental events. But if faith was an entirely private matter, the discussion would be limited to the occurring case. Then we could talk about a religious attitude, as we make hobbies or lifestyles the subject of discussion. Just as one can wonder what gives a girl of seventeen the idea to start alone in her one-mast boat a circumnavigation of the globe, one might wonder about the fact that an enlightened man in the 21 century prays to a God of whom a story written down two thousand five hundred years ago claims that he had created in six days the whole world. You just have to think of the diversity of the subjective preferences and you will have no trouble to rate the religious beliefs among the cosmos of curiosities that attract people's interest.

But the religious confession is not a private matter! The belief is not subjective, even though some theologians are positive that the contrary is true. The believer who sticks with his church, pays taxes and agrees that a decision on political issues is based on the proportional representation of the denominations cannot accept that his faith is regarded as a hobby. There is an interindividual claim in faith. Obvious occasions and reasons are expounded in its creed, which are not confined to affirming one's own certainty. They are supposed to reach also other people, and they hope to convince those others. One educates the children in one's own faith and wants at least a sympathetic ear with those whose salvation is of great concern to us.

It is therefore unreasonable to ascribe to the faithful the subjectivity of a snob, of an allergy sufferer, or of traditionalists who premeditatedly make themselves immune against arguments, and who owing to their sensitivity deviate from the standards of objectivity of knowledge - either on purpose or due to inability. One does not believe in the way as one has a preference for a soft-boiled egg or a vacation in the mountains. And one has for one's faith not only biographical reasons, which tell us how we have been brought up. Whatever made somebody personally believe must have at least an exemplary meaning, so that one may say, "It was admittedly essentially my mother who taught me to believe, but her example has a lasting effect." Then I recognize in it a universal human behaviour that I see as obliging for me. Moreover, this is only clear for me since I understand myself as a human being. In this exemplary relationship to humankind, every faith is primordially beyond subjectivity.

If it would be different, the believer would not need to care what his faith means as regards content - and thus also to others. He would not need to argue for his creed, would have to regard the idea of a religious upbringing as absurd as the command to missionize, and would be relieved of any obligation to defend his faith.

Consequently, faith is neither subjective nor private. It belongs admittedly to the personal decision-making authority of the individual, and with regard to this personal autonomy it needs to be secured by the Basic Law. So it has to be protected from unequal treatment, from restriction of the freedom that is expressed in it, or from persecution. But in its validity claim it is public. It wants to prove itself not only before God but also before men. So it cannot be indifferent in the question what its proclamation means in modern society. It must, also in the interests of its effectiveness, be its concern that public attention is given to its teachings. But this includes the possibility of a critical examination.

 

Faith is not Superstition

It belongs to the average belief in science that it was science which is restricting faith. At first glance, everything actually seems to support this view. Without modern physics, people would probably still have to reckon origin and nature of the cosmic processes among the questions of faith. The same is likely to be the case in dealing with striking natural phenomena, with sudden illness or extraordinary human achievements. Rainbows, northern lights and thunderstorms would still be experienced as a direct manifestation of God, and natural disasters might still be regarded as divine retribution. However, there would be no chance to praise the "pill" as a gift of God. For we would not have the "pill" as an extremely knowledge-rich product of the pharmaceutical industry.

Without science, people would certainly have no possibility to regard the Creation story as an epochal work of art, which condenses a natural process of billions of years into a brief narrative and is able to give people the awareness of a special responsibility. The first book of Mose, the Genesis had then to be taken literally and would, in view of the long experience with Scripture, give reason to see one's own freedom as restricted.

If faith had to be equated with superstition, science could for good reasons boast of having withdrawn its base. But faith is precisely not to be confused with superstition. Strictly speaking, it has nothing whatsoever to do with it; although it cannot be denied that the religions in their development, which goes far back into the past, have taken up some elements of superstition. But they can get rid of them, without abandoning those contents which are the central object of their faith.

Faith is neither bound to specific cause-effect relations nor related at all to certain physical processes in the world. Its element is opinion; whatsoever shall become the object of their knowledge presents itself as opinion to human beings. It is a statement of the first order that faith is not opposed to knowledge. Both require each other and are, in their complementary performance, aware that human beings long since live in a knowledge society.

And that's not all: Knowledge is not only the first and primary but the only benchmark of faith. One would have to do without opinion and knowledge at all, if one wanted to divest faith of its entitlement. But such a relinquishment is probably impossible for man as long as he has consciousness. Fortunately, there is no reason at all to ban opinion and knowledge. For the fact that inaccurate opinions are incessantly presented says nothing about the value of opinion as such. Without it, one could neither communicate with others nor agree with oneself. The road to knowledge and truth runs only through it.

It is more likely that here knowledge incurs criticism. For it is a constant annoyance that nobody is so much mistaken as the one who lays claim to knowledge. It is here not necessary to use a specific concept of knowledge. What is meant here are views on facts and circumstances which have been formulated as deliberate communication, and for which reasons can be offered from everyday experience, our own observation, authenticated statements, or logical conclusions.

This includes of course also the methodologically secured knowledge of science, as well as the philosophical concept of a system of knowledge that imagines to be in possession of the whole truth. But of prime importance is that already the elementary forms of everyday knowledge comprise a self-confidence and a confidence in the world for which we have no better term than that of faith. If you want it, you may also speak of a fundamental conviction. This corresponds to the English 'belief', which can always also be translated as faith.

 

The Deep Base of Knowledge

In all these cases of knowledge it is not possible at all for human beings to act only as its neutral bearer. The information-theoretical scheme of "sender" and "receiver", which is to illustrate the acquisition and passing on of knowledge, only requires antennas on both sides. In reality, however, there is a feedback on each side. This means that man has a relationship to knowledge and through this knowledge a relation to himself. He is occupied and hogged by his knowledge; it touches him emotionally and intellectually.

One does not say too much when one maintains that the ability to know is deeply rooted in the organic nature of man. Stimuli are incessantly received, translated into physiologically active emotions, transferred in a group and role-specific sense, charged individual-psychologically, and semantically (i.e. with linguistic and emblematic meaning) related to facts, the observation of which can be logically examined. The evolutionary roots of knowledge do not exclude the participation of social and spiritual interests and carry ultimately also the existential nature of knowledge. Even if we believe that knowledge would be found in books, libraries, or electronic memories, it exists - as knowledge - only in the minds of individuals. This explains its proximity to the issues of our personal consciousness, which guide and decide our life.

As a rule, man was at pains to gain his knowledge. This or that knowledge has certainly simply fallen to him, whereas other knowledge imposed itself upon him. In almost all cases, however, it is important for his self-esteem, for coping with the current situation, for future situations which he can imagine, for his life story which he remembers, or generally for his life for which he prepares himself and which is full of expectations and fears.

All this does not yet tell us how man uses his knowledge. He may regard it as unquestionably and taken for granted; he may want to expand it methodically; he can occasionally use it with the awareness of his superiority but also give advice and help. We must also not forget that knowledge can also make us perplexed - because somebody thinks that he knows either too much or too little. Then he has reason to deal hesitantly and tentatively with his knowledge. And if he is burdened by the knowledge of a crime or is unable to cope with opposition, he may even despair of it.

 

Knowledge Includes Trust

So diverse and contrasting knowledge might be, it does not alter the fact that man believes in knowledge, whenever he by means of his knowlegde establishes his position by seeking, asking, telling, arguing or doubting. None of the facts he is aware of he can regard as knowledge, if he is not convinced that it grasps the facts to which it is related. With the knowledge that somebody has (or fancies to have) in each case the confidence is connected that it contains an information about the circumstances in which he lives.

Knowledge has, spoken terminologically, a "propositional" constitution. It relates (in the manner of a finding) to something of which others, too, are able to become aware, and not only the one who knows it already. This structural orientation towards something specific, in front of other people who are adressed thus as my own kind, contains an immemorial trust in something common, which we do not only simply believe but which connects us with others and which carries already all people through the possible common knowledge. It is that knowledge which opens the world to which everything belongs.

Every knowledge expresses a relation to something that is known and appears in this relationship as a fact of which also others can become aware. Thus, every knowledge does primordially not only aim at its subject but at the same time also at the awareness of others, of whom all those who know expect that they, too, are able to grasp the facts as the object of their knowledge.

This social dimension of knowledge is too easily overlooked. Knowledge is never characterized only by the demonstrative relationship to the known object but simultaneously by the communicative performance, which means the expectation that others want to know the facts in the same way as you. Every knowledge has therefore the structure of a more or less explicit communication

This is true even for cases in which someone says nothing at all and keeps his knowledge to himself. He then is silent about what in the form of a communication exists in his consciousness. He is in the position to communicate it, and only insofar as he is able to tell it he has the knowledge, even if he retains it for himself - for whatsoever reasons. This characteristic of knowledge I call "sociomorph". But already Kant had a still better term, when he described all knowledge, yes, already all thinking as "communicable" (Immanuel Kant," Letter to Jakob Sigismund Beck from 1 July 1794"; Academy Edition Vol 13, p. 545). Today, there are theorists who believe that the original communicability of knowledge already involves an elementary way of responsibility of the communicating individuals.

In this sociality and communicability, which not even allows the radical skeptic the chance to express his doubts about the external world without objection, the knower is not only confident that he knows something, but also that he himself knows it, and that it can be understood by others. And this not least because everyone in his/her knowledge refers to a world that is common to all and means something to all. - And thus the result of the outlined analysis can be formulated: Faith is an attitude towards knowledge.

 

Faith is an Attitude towards Knowledge

As far as we have knowledge we have also faith, which is associated with the hope of the factual meaning, the personal worth and the effectiveness of knowledge. And since, at least among the critics of the faith, there is no one who is not convinced that he knows something, no one can deny that he needs faith.

Consequently, every person who knows something believes, and he believes without exception that this knowledge means something to him. In this faith he relies on his knowledge, and in it he simultaneously trusts in himself - at least as far as he is able to show his knowledge (seeking, questioning, arguing) to its best advantage. This, however, he is only able to do, as long as he believes that he can be understood by others. He relies thus on a minimum of social commitment. He has the hope that his knowledge means something also to others - first and foremost as knowledge of facts that can be recognized also by others. In addition, the communicated knowledge can be seen as self-expression, in which an individual gives information about himself by speaking about things and events.

In all occuring cases, knowledge offers this possibility of communicating with oneself and one's equals, a communication that is based on facts. The trinity of self, community and world belongs to the structure of knowledge, which is found in all people. Only the way in which they express their trust in knowledge varies with the cultures and individuals who try to associate with each other through their knowledge but also to distinguish from each other. But the basic elements of every knowledge are given in all cases: confidence in the world that has been made the subject of knowledge, in the mutual intelligibility within the human community and in the knower himself.

In these three dimensions, which first of all open up in knowledge, knowledge gets validity. It comes from the participation in things, from the need for communication, and from the desire for self-affirmation of knowledge. The interest in the world which confronts us in cognition, in the community to which we belong, and in the self that we want to develop and maintain, is the driving force wherefrom the objective view of things originates for which we are always looking. And in all three fields of knowledge [Motivkomplexen] a strong belief in the obligatory nature of knowledge is effective.

The equally childlike as reasonable expectation that all things will fit together in life is strengthened by the mere fact of knowledge. If, as it is the case with knowledge, all things can be brought into conceptual relation with each other, the desire for unity in diversity has a logical reference point. Self-confidence and confidence in the world get thus a rational character, which cannot be shaken by objections from the arsenal of knowledge. For how can you invalidate knowledge by knowledge?

 

The Certainty in Knowledge

In the inevitable diversity of knowledge, which constantly breaks its own borders, there are three guarantors of its inner coherence that strengthen the confidence in knowledge: first, the unity of the knower with himself, second, his connection with his kind based on facts [sachhaltig], and third, the conceptual link with his world. These are the fundamental elements of our certainty in knowledge. They substantiate the conviction of the sustainability of knowledge, which cannot be weakened by any argument. For, as I said, every objection must be based on knowledge.

We see thus more clearly whereof the belief in knowledge consists, which is, strictly speaking, a belief within knowledge, namely, the confidence in the connection between I, We and World, a connection that confronts us as a fact which is conceptually accessible and is the base of every knowledge. Everything that we recognize (or even only believe to recognize) is grasped as a unity in the way of a whole. It is preserved in knowledge. But since it becomes accessible to us only on condition of communication, it is of importance to the community in which we communicate about it. Faith within knowledge is founded on it, too. Finally, it has a special weight in the fact that every individual generally experiences his own importance only in communicative participation.

In knowledge we rely on both the internal consistency and the outer comprehensibility of the world in which we, by the mere fact that we believe to understand it, play a significant role for our conception of ourselves. In addition, we face this world as a community of people who come to an understanding of it.

As a conviction that cannot be weakend by any achievement of knowledge, faith within knowledge puts thus trust in the unity that emerges anew time and again in knowledge. By putting trust in the reconstructible connection between I, We and World, faith relies on the relation of the parts with the whole of knowledge. In doing so faith is rational; and in this rationality, faith is borne by the expectation that it finds the elements of a world where the self, the community and the recognized objects themselves are parts of a whole, to which everything belongs.

This faith, which inevitably accompanies knowledge, can be called 'epistemic belief'. This expression takes up the Greek term for knowledge (episteme), which already Plato could not separate from the belief (doxa). An epistemic belief is an affective involvement in knowledge, which is formed in the medium of knowledge; or more precisely, an intellectually grounded but also emotionally underpinned interest in the performance of knowledge. In the hoped-for clarity and security of dealing with things and events we want to build a relationship to our equals, and find thus our best possible effectiveness.

This quest remains linked up with knowledge, but it comes from the organic, social and psychological depths of our self and can therefore be experienced as a feeling. It is a rational feeling which seeks unity in the distinction that lies in every achievement of knowledge, and nevertheless is to be overcome in every act of knowledge. You select, separate and demarcate when you know something, but you seek just thus to associate with your equals, by referring (in anticipation of their understanding) to something that the knowers jointly bear in mind.

 

From Self-Confidence and Condidence in the World to Faith in God

How do you get from faith as an epistemological belief, which inevitably belongs to the dynamism of knowledge, to the faith in God? Answer: by unfolding whereto the claim that resides in knowledge is aimed at, and which needs are connected with it.

The outlined analysis has made it clear that the scope of trust in knowledge can not be limited to individual cognitive achievements. You may admittedly only in certain situations become aware of what the knowledge of you own life story means to you, how important the knowledge of the attending physician can be in an emergency, or how liberating it is to find the right word in an awkward situation. But the confidence in knowledge is of a fundamental kind. It covers the entire triangle of I, We and World and relies on the success of knowledge at all. You can therefore not call it anything other than metaphysical (even if the term seems very suspicious).

Since there is no denying that man's relation to himself and the world is essentially based on knowledge, you cannot reduce the expectations that are directed towards knowledge. They refer to the whole of the experienced world, which we cannot explain otherwise than by the interaction of natural forces, which have made possible us and our knowledge. This explanation is the achievement of a metaphysics that derives from the success of knowledge and the action connected with it the assumed functional interconnection of existence.

It seems to be only a small step from the metaphysical linkage of faith with knowledge to the religious understanding of this faith. The confidence in the rational interrelation of the world, the existence of which is assumed in knowledge, one might say, needed practically only to be replaced by an explicit acknowledgement of the reason of the whole. In this sense, religious faith raises the always concomitant conviction of the validity of knowledge to the level of explicit certainty.

The particularity of this certainty is that it does not simply rely on the consistency in the interaction of I, We, and World, but on the other hand acknowledges in it the expression of a world-embracing order, an order with which man feels connected.

From this perspective, the religious faith makes the functional prerequisite of I, We, and World - whose existence is assumed in knowledge - the reason affirmed, of which the individual knows that s/he has a personal obligation towards it. It is not enough for faith to acquiesce in the interaction of man and world as given. It rather wants to acknowledge on its own initiative this reason. It believes that it has in it a reason that is consistent with its own reasons. In religious faith man makes, as he does it in the relationship to himself and his equals, a personal relationship with the world and seeks to identify his vis-à-vis in the reason of the whole.

 

Doubt in Faith

The considerations show that the step from functional metaphysics to the rational theology is no child's play. There is no automatism in the transition from confidence in knowledge to faith in a divine power; and everyone is free to suppose in the whole of his existence a sense that corresponds to it, or to dismiss it as a more or less random occurence of processes that determine each other.

You can not reproach with inconsistency or lack of interest in speculative questions the one who simply acquiesces in everything as it de facto is. He just does not care about himself and man that much. Whatever the whole thing may be, he can see in it no exclusive relation to the purpose of human existence. He can admittedly not deny the effectiveness of a god. But since it cannot be proved to him, he has to make himself at home in his agnosticism - with all the consequences which this has for his relationship to himself and to his equals. About value or meaning you then can only speak as regards the relative balancing of advantages and disadvantages. Even truth and freedom can at best be regarded as useful illusions. Utilitarianism, relativism and materialism are natural consequences of abstaining from a theological interpretation of the unity of I, We and World.

But the one who succeeds in experiencing the whole of existence as a meaning that meets his own expectations of life preserves his independence as a person not only from his kind but also as regards the whole of the world. He relies on his knowledge and dares his freedom by encountering even the hidden reality, with that confidence which he seeks to prove in all important relations of his life. In the borderline experiences of life he does not abandon the sovereignty expected from him in dealing with knowledge, and also here he confides in a consistency where nature and reason do not fall apart.

From doubting, however, the sovereign individual cannot thus protect himself. Doubts can attack him at any time, as soon as a contradiction opens between his view and the assumed rationality of the whole. In this respect, there is no difference between the belief in a divine reason and the confidence in knowledge.

Nevertheless, it provides, as already emphasized, no guarantee against error. On the contrary, only where claim is laid to knowledge, truth can be missed. The same applies to the belief in God: Those who expect nothing in the whole of existence, to whom it seems pointless to ask for a meaning, and to whom it is indifferent whether there is a connexion of all things which corresponds with us human beings need neither argue about God's existence nor can they be beset by doubts about a goodness that is effective in the whole. Only the one who, in the desire for a unity of existence that is not closed for him, proceeds from the assumption that there is a divine origin and an order that compensates everything is able to despair whenever he has the impression that it refuses to surrender to him.

Hence, the possibility that man is worried about doubts remains; it is a prerequisite for his faith. But he has the chance to behave as a 'rational being' towards the whole of existence. This happens when he, in view of the world, hopes for its unity, which he assumes in each segment of his cognition and action as soon as he sees himself as a person in which mankind becomes quintessential. With Nietzsche I call such a person a "sovereign individual", which does not give up his responsibility even in view of that reality the understanding of which clearly overtaxes his strength.

 

The Sovereignty of Faith

When I, as closing remark, take up a word of Nietzsche, then in the awareness that this sharpest critic of Jewish and Christian faith has also shown the deepest understanding of the importance of God in man's existence - regardless of the fact that he has not succeeded in getting really rid of faith. You do therefore not adulterate his words when you transfer the terms "sovereign individual" to faith.

Those who self-confident confess their faith in God have their sovereignty in the fact that they in spite of the limits of knowledge seek to exist before the whole of existence. For by confessing their faith in a divine reason, they give information on the origin of a certainty that they have despite everything. They are therefore able to preserve respect for the world and confidence in their actions, even in view of the - by knowledge increased - uncertainty about their fate. In faith also their knowledge can appear to be justified, as e.g. that which unites them with their God. Knowledge, too, gets thus a base in the whole of existence.

Here the agnostic, who appears admirably sincere, can only shrug his shoulders. He must accept things as they are. Also the atheist, who stylizes the rejection of God as proof of his courage to go on living, can only bow to the customary conduct. Both are, as far as they are able to acquire a taste for the question of the justification of their life goals, tied to the reality of the facts. In small or large matters, everything is as it is.

The one who thinks in this way has no sovereign attitude of mind towards knowledge. Only someone who confesses his faith in a divine power, which transcends and at the same time encompasses every knowledge and is ultimately seen as endowed with reason and felt as meaningful, is able to exercise this sovereignty, even though he admits that he can not command a power that is basically superior to him. Sovereign is he who, in the awareness of his limits, does what is possible for him, and who can be confident that he nevertheless does what is adequate in view of the whole. Only the concept of a god can help us to get this concept of the whole, a concept that is justified in itself and on which both human existence and its knowledge are based.

 

    {*} Volker Gerhardt, Dr. phil., professor of philosophy at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

 

Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'