Schleiermacher: “The contemplation of the pious is the immediate consciousness of the universal existence of all finite things, in and through the Infinite, and of all temporal things in and through the Eternal. Religion is to seek this and find it in all that lives and moves, in all growth and change, in all doing and suffering. It is to have life and to know life in immediate feeling.”
By the late-eighteenth century, Christianity had already become a house divided. On one side were those who believed that Christian distinctiveness was a doctrinal matter, while others insisted it was a matter of morals. Christians hold particular doctrines that identify them as Catholic or Protestant, Baptist or Methodist, liberal or conservative. But Christians should also behave in a way that is obedient to the great ethical precepts found in the Bible, such as loving the neighbor and following Jesus.
While both sides acknowledged the importance of doctrines and morals, each promoted one as more important than the other. Salvation is a matter of thinking right (doctrines) and doing good (morals), but either the mind or the will has priority. The “cultured despisers” to whom Schleiermacher directed his Speeches were members of both camps, and each tended to regard the other as missing the mark.
These house divisions in Christianity were reflected in the larger culture as well. Science and philosophy – disciplines of the mind – were having great success in classifying reality into separate domains of human knowledge. But so too, government and business – disciplines of the will – were beginning to regulate human behavior into the various zones of public life. Western culture at large, then, gave religion two choices on where to stand: mind or will, doctrines or morals, thought or behavior, thinking right or doing good.
Schleiermacher saw a problem in this – a big and potentially fatal problem for Christianity and the culture as a whole. Whether we are thinking about something or striving for something, the “something” is always separate and apart from us. While the mind frames and arranges its objects, and the will fixes and pursues its outcomes, the immediacy of experience itself is left behind.
Is experience essentially what we think or what we do? Neither one, says Schleiermacher. Rather it is the “feeling and intuition” of being alive in this moment. The farther we step into mind or will, the more we remove ourselves from the heart where the true pulse of the present is found.
To understand what Schleiermacher means by “feeling” we might place it visually at the bottom of a “V” shape. From feeling we can move up into emotion, which generates motion in behavior; or we can move up into attitude, which establishes the position from whence we take our perspective on reality. Both emotion and attitude are derived from feeling but stretch it out, so to speak, either into action or thought. Still farther out are the outcomes of behavior and objects of thought – the morals and doctrines of religion’s cultured despisers.
Deep within ourselves – if we will only open our attention to it – is the feeling of experience, at the point where our life is grounded in present reality. Because the immediacy of experience lies beneath and is prior to the operations of mind and will, its ground is properly regarded as ineffable (beyond words) and spontaneous (without purpose). Yet it is precisely there that we are one with all, and all is one.
To arrive at this still-point (though in fact we never left, nor can we leave) it becomes necessary at times to drop our thoughts and surrender the urgency to act. In quiet contemplation we can enter that internal space where doctrines and morals can be appreciated as but secondary extensions of a primary and eternal life. Otherwise, if we are too tied up in the beliefs and goals that make our lives meaningful, we can end up dying on the inside, strangled in our own web. When being right or doing good are taken as the keys to salvation, the forces of orthodoxy and righteousness can actually become demonic.
We forget that our true healing as human beings comes when mind and will are reconciled in the heart, when we can stop grasping and chasing after meaning and simply dwell in the real presence of mystery.
So what can we say about faith, in light of Schleiermacher’s model of the heart, mind, and will? First of all, faith must not be confused with doctrines and thinking right, nor is it about morals and doing good. It’s not what you believe or even how you live. It isn’t about the meaning of life or how to get to heaven.
Instead, faith is about being well – grounded, present, centered and whole. Right now.