What is the theological approach to religion

Belief and doubt

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Definitions of the doubt

3. Schleiermacher's doubts about faith
3.1 The concept of faith
3.2 Instructions against doubt of faith
3.2.1 "Objective" doubts: "Deity of Christ" and "inspiration of Scripture"
3.2.2 “Subjective” doubts: “Doctrine of the choice of grace” and “Doctrine of
the last things "

4. Tillich's doubts about faith
4.1 The concept of faith
4.2 Ontological, spiritual and moral doubts
4.3 A "belief without specific content"

5. Doubt of Faith and Psychoanalysis
5.1 Faith and Mental Health
5.1.1 Psychological consequences of irreligiousness
5.1.2 Religious doubts and psychological well-being
5.1.3 A long-term study of religion and doubt

6. Summary

7. Bibliography

1 Introduction

In the Middle Ages, there was a very uniform picture of faith in Europe. Although there are different religious orders within the Catholic Church, which interpret the contents of the faith quite differently, the faith itself is hardly questioned.[1] At the beginning of the modern age a new picture of faith is emerging. The Reformation and the Enlightenment are just two of the different events that have deeply unsettled people's faith. Doubters are now booming. Although these will be excommunicated by the Catholic Church for a long time, the voices of the doubters and the critics have become unmistakable and lead to deeper uncertainty among believers, because the Church has nothing to oppose these voices.[2]

Friedrich Schleiermacher is a Protestant theologian who tries to do something against this development. So he wrote in his book "The practical theology according to the principles of the Protestant Church"[3] a detailed program of how to deal with those in doubt in terms of pastoral care. In 1850 Schleiermacher addressed a problem that has continued to this day. Therefore Paul Tillich deals with "The Courage to Be"[4] a hundred years later also with this topic.

Anyone who wants to work as a religious educator or theologian today should therefore deal with the problem of religious doubts and be familiar with various ways of dealing with them. In Schleiermacher's argumentation, for example, it becomes clear that he regards doubts as an unpleasant souvenir of faith and that these therefore tend to have negative effects on a religious person. For Tillich, however, doubts - despite all the danger - are downright the origin and core content of faith and therefore tend to be assessed positively. These theological assumptions give rise to different views on how to deal with those who doubt. It is interesting to put the contradicting thoughts of Schleiermacher and Tillich in context with current psychological investigations on the subject in order to determine how most sensibly one can deal with religious doubts.

2. Definitions of the doubt

There are very different approaches to defining doubt. Three approaches can be distinguished from one another in the field of theology. The systematic-theological approach, the religious-philosophical approach and the practical-theological approach. Reference is made to the latter here below. Doubts are therefore understood as a natural counterpart to knowledge. The act of doubting is clearly demarcated from agnosticism and skepticism. "Doubt (is) an act of freedom that emphasizes the distinction between ecclesiastically institutionalized religion and the diverse interpretive practice of subjective piety."[5] Furthermore, in the practical-theological approach, a distinction is made between “doubts about faith” and “doubts about the content of faith”. "The struggle of faith is (.) Given priority over the content of faith, since it expresses the profound struggle for the truth."[6]

In order to understand and examine the concept of doubt it is also necessary to ask for a definition of belief. Since the approaches here are, however, even more diverse than with the concept of doubt, the conceptual classification of faith takes place in direct connection with the respective theologian.

3. Schleiermacher's doubts about faith

3.1 The concept of faith

Before Schleiermacher can speak of doubts about faith, his understanding of faith must first be recorded. Schleiermacher differentiates religion from terms such as “knowledge” and “doing” by characterizing them as “immediate self-awareness”.[7] This self-confidence arises from the dichotomy of experienced freedom and dependence. Since humans can never be completely free, Schleiermacher speaks of a “feeling of absolute dependence”. Interestingly, Schleiermacher also sees the origin of all being in this “absolute dependency”, so that a life without religion would not be possible at all. He therefore also writes that “all godlessness of self-consciousness (must) be declared to be delusional and illusory”.[8]

Schleiermacher defines faith as a “certainty” that “accompanies the state of higher self-consciousness”.[9] This “certainty” is given when religious statements of faith are perceived as true by the believer because the beliefs actually experienced coincide with their “feeling” of religion. However, this “ideal” cannot be fully achieved in any religion.

3.2 Instructions against doubt of faith

Schleiermacher formulates from his understanding of religion in "Practical Theology" what the clergyman can do about a troubled religious one feeling to calm down and suggests the following - almost therapeutic - approach.[10]

First, the clergyman should "establish a correct idea of ​​the value of the object in question (.)", Calmly and factually, in order to check how much the parishioner doubts. If, for example, the clergyman has to answer questions from an educated person, then "the matter is not so difficult, because they always have some historical knowledge, and it can be shown to them that there have always been fluctuations on these points (.), So that the decision on the matter is not of so great importance. "[11] In the case of doubting "uneducated members of the community", however, the clergyman "has to catch up on what catechesis should actually have done."

Schleiermacher distinguishes a total of four areas of faith that are particularly often questioned. These are the “divinity of Christ”, the “inspiration of Scripture”, the “doctrine of the choice of grace” and the “doctrine of the last things”. When asked about the “divinity of Christ” and the “inspiration of Scripture”, an “objective interest” for the church is in the foreground, behind the doubts about the “choice of grace” and the “doctrine of the last things” hide a “ subjective interest about the spiritual personality ”.

The declared aim of the church work and thus also of the treatment of religious doubts should be to "make the personality of the other (.) Free and increase it."[12]


[1] Gössmann, E., Faith. Middle Ages, TRE 13, pp. 308-318.

[2] Slcenczka, R., Faith. Reformation. Modern times, TRE 13, pp. 318 - 335.

[3] Schleiermacher, Friedrich, The practical theology according to the principles of the Protestant Church (1850), Berlin 1983, pp. 428-466.

[4] Tillich, Paul, Der Mut zum Sein, in: Rathmann, August (ed.), Schriften zur Zeit, Stuttgart ^ 3 1958.

[5] Bieler, A., Doubt. Practically Theological, TRE 36, p. 773.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Schleiermacher, Friedrich, The Christian Faith According to the Principles of the Protestant Church in Context, Vol. 1, Berlin 2003, §4.

[8] Fischer, H., Schleiermacher, in: TRE 30, p. 168.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Schleiermacher, The Practical Theology, Berlin 1983, pp. 447ff.

[11] Ibid. P. 448.

[12] Schleiermacher, The Practical Theology, Berlin 1983, p. 453.

End of the reading sample from 16 pages