Religious Education by Immanuel Kant 1803 tr 1908

From The Educational Theory of Immanuel Kant; tr. and ed. with an introduction by Edward Franklin Buchner 1908

Religious Education P. 104ff

When we come to consider the religious education of children, the first question is, whether it is possible to inculcate religious ideas upon young children. This is a point in pedagogy over which there has been much dispute. The concepts of religion always presuppose a theology.

Now, would it be possible to teach a theology to young people who, far from having a knowledge of the world, do not know even themselves? Would youth, which does not yet know what duty is, be capable of comprehending an immediate duty to God?

This much is certain, that if it were possible so to arrange that children should witness no act of adoration towards the Supreme Being, and that they should not even hear the name of God, the proper order of proceeding would be to lead their attention first to final causes and to that which is fitting for man, to exercise their judgment, to instruct them in the order and beauty of the works of nature then to add an extended knowledge of the structure of the universe, and, finally, to reveal to them the idea of a Supreme Being, a Lawgiver.

But, since this is not possible in the present state of society, the result would be, if one desired not to teach them anything about God until later, and yet they heard His name mentioned and saw demonstrations of devotion to Him, that this would produce in them either indifference or perverted ideas, as, for example, fear of divine power.

Now, since it is necessary to prevent this idea from nestling in the fantasy of children, the inculcation of religious concepts must be attempted very early. But this should not be an affair of memory, imitation, and pure mimicry; but the way which one selects must always be in harmony with nature.

Children will comprehend, even without having the abstract concepts of duty, of obligations, of good or evil conduct, that there is a law of duty; that it is not the agreeable, the useful, and the like which determine it, but something universal which does not adjust itself according to the fancies of men. But the teacher himself must develop this concept.

At first everything should be attributed to nature, and then nature itself attributed to God; how, for example, in the first place, everything was arranged for the conservation of the species and their equilibrium, but also remotely for man that he be able to make himself happy.

The best means for first making clear the idea of God is to employ the analogy of a father under whose care we are placed; from this the transition to the idea of the unity of man, as in a family, can happily be made.

But, then, what is religion?

Religion is the law in us, in so far as it is imprinted upon us by a legislator and a judge; it is morality applied to the knowledge of God. If religion is not united with morality, it becomes nothing more than an endeavor to gain divine favor.

The singing of praises, prayers, and church-going should only serve to give man new strength and new courage for improvement, or be the expression of a heart inspired by the idea of duty. These things are only preparations for good works, but not good works themselves, and one cannot please the Supreme Being otherwise than by becoming a better person.

With the child it is necessary to commence with the law which he has in himself.

Man is contemptible in his own eyes when he is vicious. This contempt springs from his own nature, and not from the fact that God has forbidden evil; for the legislator is not necessarily the author of the law. Thus a prince can forbid thievery without being regarded on this account as the author of the prohibition of theft. From this man learns to understand that his good conduct alone makes him worthy of blessedness. The divine law must appear at the same time as a natural law, for it is not arbitrary. Religion, therefore, is a part of all morality.

But one must not begin with theology. That religion which is founded merely upon theology can never contain anything moral. There will arise from it only fear, on the one hand, and selfish purposes and sentiments, on the other, which will produce nothing more than a superstitious cult. Morality must precede, theology follow, and then we have religion

The law in us is called conscience. Conscience is, properly speaking, the application of our actions to this law. The reproaches of conscience will be without effect if it be not considered as the representative of God, who has His lofty seat above us, but who has also established a tribunal in us. On the other hand, if religion is not joined with a moral conscientiousness, it is without effect. Religion without moral conscientiousness is a superstitious worship.

People imagine that they serve God when, for example, they praise Him and extol His power and His wisdom, without thinking how they can fulfill the divine laws; yes, without even knowing and searching out His power and His wisdom, etc.

These praises are an opiate for the conscience of such people and a pillow on which they hope to sleep tranquilly.

Children cannot comprehend all religious concepts, but a few, notwithstanding, must be imparted to them; only these should be more negative than positive. To make children repeat formulas is of no use, and produces only a false concept of piety.

True reverence consists in acting according to God’s will, and it is this that children must be taught. Care must be taken with children, as with one’s self, that the name of God be not so often misused. Merely to use it in congratulation, even with pious intentions, is a profanation.

The thought of God should fill man with reverence every time he speaks His name, and he should therefore seldom use it, and never frivolously.

The child must learn to feel respect for God as the master of his life and of the whole world; further, as the protector of man; and, finally, as his judge. It is said that Newton always stopped and meditated a moment whenever he spoke the name of God.

By a unified elucidation of the concepts of God and of duty the child learns all the better to respect the care which God takes for His creatures, and is thus restrained from the inclination for destruction and cruelty which expresses itself so much in the torture of small animals. At the same time, youth should be taught to discover the good in evil; for example, animals of prey and insects are models of cleanliness and industry; wicked men make us think of the law; birds which seek worms are protectors of the garden, etc.

One should also give children some concepts of the Supreme Being, so that whenever they see others pray, etc., they may know to whom they are praying and why they do it. But these concepts should be very few in number, and, as already said, only negative. One should, however, begin to inculcate these in the earliest years, but at the same time guard against children estimating men according to their religious practices; for, in spite of its varieties, there is, after all, everywhere unity of religion.

The educational theory of Immanuel Kant; tr. and ed. with an introduction by Edward Franklin Buchner

Read on if you want more Kant.

Here is Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation of 1770

Dissertation on the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World

Click the link below if you want to read it.

Kant’s Inaugural Dissertation of 1770

As the analysis of a substantial composite terminates only in a part which is not a whole, that is, in a simple part, so synthesis terminates only in a whole which is not a part, that is, the world. ….




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