Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths

By Gerald R. McDermott | Go to book overview

5
TRICKLE-DOWN REVELATION
AND RELIGIOUS ENTROPY

The Nature and History of Religion

The scientific study of religion originated not in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as scholars have often presumed,1 but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The seeds were sown even earlier. During the Middle Ages "the religions" had been understood as the religious orders of the Roman Catholic church. But with German cardinal and philosopher Nicholas of Cusa ( 1401-64) and Italian humanist Marsilio Ficino ( 1433-99), philosophers began to think in terms of religion as a generic entity underlying all religious differences. Then in the seventeenth century the Cambridge Platonists spoke of a general human ability to find true religion by means of a priori ideas. Religious variations arose, they conjectured, when these innate ideas interacted with material conditions such as geography, custom, and habit.2

Deists appealed similarly to a priori ideas as a foundation for their "natural religion" but were far more exercised about the role of "sinister priestcraft" in concealing the truths of true religion. They accused the clergy of monopolizing the original monotheism dictated by nature and transforming it into polytheistic mysteries for the masses. The result was a "twofold philosophy" in which monotheistic truths were preserved in a secret language of hieroglyphs and symbols, accessible only to deceitful priests and the educated elite, while the rest of the

____________________
1
For example, see Jordan, Comparative Religion; Sharpe, Comparative Religion; and Küng, On Being a Christian, 89.
2
Harrison, "Religion" and the Religions, 11; on a priori ideas among the Cambridge Platonists, see, for example, Cudworth, True Intellectual System, 246-53, 625; and Harrison, "Religion" and the Religions, 27-46.

-87-

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Jonathan Edwards Confronts the Gods: Christian Theology, Enlightenment Religion, and Non-Christian Faiths
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction - A Strange, New Edwards 3
  • 1 - Deists and the Scandal of Particularity 17
  • 2 - Edwards S War Against Enlightenment Religion 34
  • II - Strategies of Response 53
  • 3 - Our Noblest Faculty 55
  • 4 - Signatures of Divine Majesty 71
  • 5 - Trickle-Down Revelation and Religious Entropy 87
  • 6 - Parables in All Nations Typology and the Religions 110
  • 7 - A Possibility of Reconciliation 130
  • III - Strategies Applied 147
  • 8 - Judaism 149
  • 9 - Islam 166
  • 10 - Greece and Rome 176
  • 11 - American Indians 194
  • 12 - The Chinese Philosophers 207
  • Conclusion - Confounding the Enfightemnent 217
  • Selected Bibliography 229
  • Index 241
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