Kant and the Question of Religious Freedom

English: Statue of Immanuel Kant in Kaliningra...

English: Statue of Immanuel Kant in Kaliningrad, Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Where does Kant stand on the question of religious freedom? Give specific examples from his essay as you discuss this point.

Kant uses the clergyman has an extensive example for public and private use of freedom. He points out that in his capacity as a clergyman, he is required to lecture to his congregation according to what his church tells him to. However as a scholar, the clergyman should communicate to the public all his well-intentioned thoughts on the imperfections of the church that he serves. Kant imagines that the clergyman will say: “our church teaches this or that; these are the arguments that it employs” (60). Using the rules, the clergyman then points out all the practical uses of his lecture “to which he himself may not subscribe with complete conviction” (60). Kant justifies this hypocritical act by stating that “it is not entirely possible that truth may lie concealed within them [the rules], and, at least in any case there is nothing in them that this in contradiction to what is intrinsic to religion” (60). However, Kant does point out that if the clergyman “believed he found such a contradiction in them, he could not in conscience conduct his office; he would have to resign” (60-61). Therefore, for Kant, the line between what we would call hypocritical actions and actions according to public and private uses of freedom is very thin. Kant appears to stand on the side of religious freedom, depending on the definition of freedom. He requires that the clergyman resigns if he finds himself contradicting himself, but he does give the clergyman the right to criticize the church in his capacity as a scholar, a right that many clergyman in the modern world seem to lack.

Kant, Immanuel. “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784). Trans. James Schmidt. 58-64.

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