According to Novalis, religious feeling is distinguished from the metaphysical suppositions of philosophy by the presence, in religion, of an intermediary object or personage between man and his god. “Nothing is more indispensable for true religious feeling than in intermediary which connects us to the godhead,” Novalis writes in Miscellaneous Observations.
Novalis is quick to point-out that the use of intermediaries is different from idolatry. We are only guilty of idolatry, he says, if we “regard this mediator as in fact God himself.”
Any “true religion” accepts the need for an intermediary. A set of myths or beliefs which comes with no intermediary, such as a hodge-podge of your run-of-the-mill superstitions, is actually “irreligion,” claims Novalis. Equally qualifying as irreligion, due to the fact that they have no intermediaries, would be the faith in some uncommunicative Divine Providence overseeing the destiny of the peoples of the world, as well as the belief in a sort of watchmaker-type of Creator who has set the Universe in motion and then walked on.
The absence of an intermediary precludes the possibility of communication between God and man since, according to Novalis, “the human being is absolutely incapable of establishing an immediate relation” with divinity without one.
In his choice of intermediary, a person must be left free to choose as he wishes, as “the least compulsion in this matter damages his religion.” It doesn’t really matter what particular object he chooses, for “every object can be a temple for the religious person.” What matters is the nature of the relationship established.
Novalis contends that educated people will be inclined toward similar intermediaries, whereas the intermediaries chosen by the uneducated will “usually be determined by chance.” It is when, over time, certain intermediaries become diffused more generally over the population, that “national religions” arise.
I came away with the impression that Novalis was attempting to justify his own nation’s use of a certain intermediary, namely Jesus the Christ– especially after reading Novalis contend that the more humanity develops, “the more the quantity of the intermediary is diminished,” and the more “the quality is refined.” Thus, religion evolves upward from “fetishes, stars, animals” to “heroes, idols, gods” and ultimately– you guessed it!– to “one God-man.”
P.S. Novalis wrote the Miscellaneous Observations in the 1790s. He may have been the first person to state that, for the common herd (“Philistines”)… “their so-called religion merely works as an opiate.” … Herr Marx wrote his similar comment decades later.
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