Acton Institute Powerblog

Kant and Christian Theology

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Today at Ethika Politika, I explore the relevance of the work of Immanuel Kant for conservative Christians:

Immanuel Kant does not always receive the fairest treatment among self-styled conservative theologians.

I have read works in which his whole philosophy is caricatured and dismissed in a single paragraph — hardly charitable treatment of one of the most brilliant minds of the modern era. The motivation tends to be that Kant’s philosophy creates problems for some traditional Christian convictions, such as the possibility of recognizing supernatural revelation or obtaining knowledge of God or the importance of historicity to the Christian religion. Rather than engage his philosophy justly, giving it credit where due and honestly struggling with such problems, many take the easy road of rejecting it off hand.

Doing so, however, runs the risk of overlooking areas of concordance in which conservative theologians and Kantian philosophers may have something to offer one another. Oddly, the second century Christian saint and apologist Athenagoras defended the doctrine of the resurrection on — we may anachronistically say — Kantian grounds that may serve to demonstrate the value of such dialogue between ancient theology and modern philosophy, Kant in particular.

What I focus on is how St. Athenagoras employs in defense of the doctrine of the resurrection what would be identified today with Kant’s “categorical imperative” (never treat another person as a means to an end but always as an end in him/herself). It may sound a bit bizarre, but interestingly he not only affirms the principle, but seems to do so on similar bases: rational beings qua rational beings are intrinsically valuable and are made to live on “in perpetual existence.”

A few years ago, the Journal of Markets & Morality included an interesting controversy titled “The Influence of Kant on Christian Theology: A Debate About Human Dignity and Christian Personalism,” which can be found online for free here. I would encourage those who find the convergence between Kant and ancient Christian theology in my Ethika Politika article to also read through that debate.

Read my full article at Ethika Politika here.

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Dylan Pahman Dylan O’Brien Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also a fellow of the Sophia Institute: International Advanced Research Forum for Eastern Christian Life and Culture.