Saturday, April 01, 2017


Let Us Not Feign Agreement

Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and Judaism, tr. Allan Arkush (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1983), pp. 137-138:
At bottom, a union of faiths, should it ever come about, could have but the most unfortunate consequences for reason and liberty of conscience. For supposing that people do come to terms with one another about the formula of faith to be introduced and established, that they devise symbols to which none of the religious parties now dominant in Europe could find any reason to object. What would thereby be accomplished? Shall we say that all of you would think just alike concerning religious truths? Whoever has but the slightest conception of the nature of the human mind cannot allow himself to be persuaded of this. The agreement, therefore, could lie only in the words, in the formula. It is for this purpose that the unifiers of faiths want to join forces; they wish to squeeze, here and there, something out of the concepts; to enlarge, here and there, the meshes of words, to render them so uncertain and broad that the concepts, regardless of their inner difference, may be forced into them just barely. In reality, everyone would then attach to the same words a different meaning of his own; and you would pride yourselves on having united men's faiths, on having brought the flock under a single shepherd? Oh, if this universal hypocrisy shall have any purpose whatsoever, I fear it would be intended as a first step again to confine within narrow bounds the now liberated spirit of man. The shy deer would then be sure enough to let itself be captured and bridled. Begin only by binding the faith to symbols, the opinion to words, as modestly and pliantly as you please; only establish, for once and for all, the articles: then woe to the unfortunate, who comes a day later, and who finds something to criticize even in these modest, purified words! He is a disturber of the peace. To the stake with him!

Brothers, if you care for true piety, let us not feign agreement where diversity is evidently the plan and purpose of Providence. None of us thinks and feels exactly like his fellow man; why then do we wish to deceive each other with delusive words?

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