Goethe on religion





cross nature
Goethe studying in Frankfurt (1769-1772)
A sketch of Goethe studying in Frankfurt in the years circa 1769 to 1772 (see: Goethe timeline), before and after which he had begun delving into the religion question.
In hmolscience, Goethe on religion refers to the collective views of German polyintellect Johann Goethe, a Haught disbeliever (#19), on religion, God, and its residual theory, e.g. soul, spirit, life, afterlife, among others.

Synopsis
The following is a work-in-progress synopsis, with bolded years discerned by Alexander Rustow (1954), showing the change in faith, creed, and or religious belief state of Goethe: [12]

1755 | age 6 | Faith questioner
1758 | age 9 | Chemical / Natural history worshiper
1770 | age 21 | Christianity debunker
1782 | age 33 | Decided non-Christian | Stoic deism religion
1790 | age 41 | Un-Christian / Anti-Christian / Crucifix-loathing
1809 | age 60 | Bergmanian / Physiochemical moralist
1810 | age 61 | Decried the Bible as the most dangerous book ever
1815 | age 66 | God-denier | Universalistic panentheist (Ѻ) | Cosmic animating force philosopher
1831 | age 81 | Skeptical / Faithless

(add discussion)

Agnostic | Deist | Atheist
Theists frequently like to claim Goethe for their side and say he was a god believer (theist). Google Books, however, indicate a 9-to-1 ratio for the phrase “Goethe was an atheist” compared to “Goethe believed in God”. [10] Goethe prayed to “sulphur” as a child (age 9); his law degree (age 21), was on a debunking of Christianity; his 1774 (age 25) poem “Prometheus”, states the following:

“I know of no poorer thing under the sun, than you gods! And you would starve if children and beggars were not fools full of hope.”

Goethe seems, therefore to have been an Spinozan atheist of the "Being = God" variety; who held the view that only fools believe in God or gods.

Early years
Born into a Lutheran family, Goethe's early faith was shaken by news of such events as the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the Seven Years' War. [4]

Goethe had questioned the traditional concept of God at an early age

At age 9, as described in his Dichtung und Wahrheit, in poetic language, he built his own altar to nature out of his father’s natural history collection, surmounting it with sulfur, and lit a candle, when making his devotions. It has been argued that his readings of the works of Benedict Spinoza later confirmed these feelings. [5]

Daimonic principle
In circa 1770, Goethe stated, as discussed in retrospect, in book 20 of his Poetry and Truth (1811-1814), how in his pre-1775 youth years he was searching for a universal rule to explain the happenings of existence:

“I perceived something in nature (whether living or lifeless, animate or inanimate) that manifested itself only in contradictions and therefore could not be expressed in any concept, much less any word. It was not divine, for it seemed irrational; not human, for it had no intelligence; not diabolical, for it was beneficent; and not angelic, for it often betrayed malice. It was like chance, for it laced continuity, and like providence, for it suggested context. Everything that limits us seemed penetrable by it, and it appeared to dispose at will over the elements necessary to our existence, to contract time and expand space. It seemed only to accept the impossible and scornfully to reject the possible.”

This statement has since come to be known as Goethe’s daimonic principle.

Scene from the 2011 film Young Goethe in Love, wherein he is told that his Christianity-dismantling law degree dissertation failed.
Dissertation | Christianity = Political institution
In 1770, Goethe, age 21, at the University of Strasbourg, completing a dissertation (rejected on the grounds that it was unorthodox) on “The Legislature, On the Power of the Magistrate to Determine Religion and Culture”, in which he contended, among other things, that “Jesus Christ is not the author of Christianity, but rather 'tis a subject composed by a number of wise men and that Christian religion is merely a rational, political institution.” The dissertation was rejected being that it was attack on orthodoxy—as a result, he only achieved the “licentiate” to practice law. Following dissertation rejection, to show contempt for university authorities he offered a series of 56 theses for disputation, e.g. “natural law is what nature has taught all creatures” (thesis 1), “should the woman who kills her newly born child suffer the death penalty? (thesis 55), a moral issue reoccurs in Faust, etc., all themed on his distaste for learned authority, and casting for a new way of looking at the relationship between humans to nature, society, and tradition. [8]

In 1782, he described himself as"not anti-Christian, nor un-Christian, but most decidedly non-Christian."

In 1790, in his Venetian Epigram 66, Goethe listed four things that he loathed: "tobacco smoke, bugs, garlic, and †." [4]

In his collected works of poems, Goethe famously stated the following famous synopsis:

“He who possesses science and art,
Possesses religion as well;
He who possesses neither of these,
Had better have religion.”

It does seem to be the case that Goethe had some type of belief in the existence of God—some have summarized this to be similar to the embodiment of nature (pantheistic) type of god held in the mind of Benedict Spinoza, one of Goethe’s intellectual mentors.

In 1815, Goethe, in a poem, expressly stated the recognition of the sign of the cross, to which he had been tempted by the tiny cross on the neckchain of his beloved, is repellent to him and a denial of his own god, a renegade act like the temptation of Solomon by the women of the harem to honor the animal-headed Egyptian deities. [12]

In 1827, Goethe, in a letter to to his friend German composer Carl Zelter, the same letter that he famously comments how people have treated his Elective Affinities like the “garment of Nessus”, to exemplify, comments in ending: [6]

“With the kindest greetings, let me exhort and cheer you on to persevere in that activity, to cultivate which—in the midst of peace—we are encouraged and compelled by the hostile pressure of the world. If we help ourselves, God will help us.”

In 1831, a year before his end, Goethe commented the following: [7]

“I have found no confession of faith to which I could ally myself without reservation.”

Interesting, indeed.
Subject of Elective Affinities
The central aim of Goethe's Elective Affinities, according to his 1830 statements, was to show that the laws of god, the 6th commandment in particular, are incompatible with the laws of physical chemistry.

Elective Affinities | Ten commandments
In 1809, Goethe penned his physical chemistry-based novella Elective Affinities, which implicitly usurps God-based religion; or as Heinrich Heine put it: "it overturns everything holy."

In 1830, Goethe, in a letter to his friend, composer Carl Zelter, stated the following about the novella: [9]

“Following on what went before, let me tell you in fun, that in my Elective Affinities, I took care to round off the inward, true catharsis, with as much purity and finish as possible, but I do not therefore imagine that any handsome fellow could thereby be purged from the lust of looking after the wife of another. The sixth commandment, which seemed to the Elohim-Jehovab to be so necessary, even in the wilderness, that he engraved it on granite tables with his own finger,—this it will still be necessary to uphold in our blotting-paper catechisms.”

Hence, the "double mental adultery" that takes place in the novel explained through the language of a "double elective affinity reaction" (double displacement reaction) in physical chemistry (affinity chemistry) terms.

God | Gretchen question
See main: Gretchen question
On the question of whether Goethe believed in the existence of god, several citations seem to point to Goethe’s Faust and his so-called Gretchenfrage, meaning “crutch question” or Gretchen question, the incident in the story when the figure Margarete, called Gretchen, asks the main character Heinrich Faust the about his attitude to religion and if he believe in god; specifically: [1]

“Now tell me how you feel about religion? You are cordially good man, But I think you do not think much of it?”

Gretchen and Faust
Faust and Gretchen in the garden during which time she asks the so-called "Gretchen question", namely: what is your opinion on religion and do you believe in God? (Painting James Tissot, 1861) (Ѻ) The riddled poetic answer to which Faust gives, supposedly, being indicative of his own views, to some extent.
Margaret, called Gretchen, is a very young girl who is being courted by the older, respectable scientist. After they have already met several times and even kissed, but not yet slept together, Gretchen makes her question to Faust. [2] She asks him directly how he stood with God and religion, to which he answers: [3]

“Leave that, child! Truly, my love is tender;
For love, blood and life would I surrender,
For Faith and Church, I grant to each his own.

My darling, who shall dare
‘I believe in God!’ to say?
Ask priest or sage the answer to declare,
And it will seem a mocking play,
A sarcasm on the asker.

Hear me not falsely, sweetest countenance!
Who dare express Him?
And who profess Him,
Saying, I believe in Him?
Who, feeling, seeing,
Deny His being,
Saying: I believe Him not!

This, according to Adolf Just, is an “evasive, entirely obscure answer”, of Faust, which does “not satisfy the reader either.” [3]

In 1937, Max Planck, aged 79, in his “Religion and Natural Science” lecture, opens to the Gretchen question, as a sort of ice breaker, as follows: [13]

“ ‘Tell me: how do you stand on religion?’ — If Goethe’s Faust contains at all a simple phrase that captivates even a sophisticated listener and arouses a hidden tension within him, it must be this worried question of an innocent girl, in fear for her newly-found happiness, to her lover whom she recognizes as a higher authority.”

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Bible
Goethe, at least since the 1930s, has had the following quote attributed to him: (Ѻ)

“The Bible grows more beautiful as we grow in our understanding of It.”

If indeed he did say this, and when, one cannot fault thinkers before the translation of the Rosetta stone (c.1820s), for making faulty statements about the Bible, being that after Egyptian hieroglyphics were deciphered, it was found that the entire Bible is but a monotheistic re-dress of Anunian theology, centered around the Osiris resurrection theory.

Quotes
The following are other related quotes:

“All unsuccessful attempts at conversion leave him who has been selected for a proselyte stubborn .and obdurate; and this was especially the case with me when Lavater (Ѻ) at last came out with the hard dilemma.—'Either Christian or atheist!' Upon this I declared that if he would not leave me my own Christianity as I had hitherto cherished it I could readily decide for atheism, particularly as I saw that nobody knew precisely what either meant.”
— Johann Goethe (c.1790), Truth and Fiction (Book XIV) (pg. 240) (Ѻ)

Spinoza does not prove the existence of god. Being is god. If others denounce him as an atheist for this, I wish to exalt him.”
— Johann Goethe (c.1810), response to a book that labeled Spinoza as an atheist [11]

Christianity is the fairytale of Christ.”
— Johann Goethe (c.1810) [11]

“The most dangerous of all books, so far as the history of the world is concerned, is indubitably the Bible, because no other book has brought so much good and so much evil to the human race.”
— Johann Goethe (1810), conversation (Ѻ) with a bigoted Roman Catholic doctor, in the presence of the pious Louis Bonaparte, ex-king of Holland, as recorded by Falk, Nov 10

"When man had ceased to utter his lament, / A god then let me tell my tale of sorrow."
— Johann Goethe (1823), motto of the Marienbad Elegy (Ѻ)

“If god created this world, he should review his plan.”
— Johann Goethe (c.1820) (Ѻ)

God himself could not alter the course of nature.”
Johann Goethe (c.1820), cited by Oliver Heaviside (1903) amid ‘what is entropy debate?’ with Max Planck in respect to the perceived idea that entropy increase means that ‘nature has a choice’ [14]

See also
Bible vs. physical science conflicts
Goethe on the soul

References
1. (a) Faust (verse: 3417) (GermanEnglish) – SoftScience.at.
(b) Barbour, Julian. (2000). The End of Time: the Next Revolution in Physics (pg. 338). Oxford University Press.
2. Gretchenferage (GermanEnglish) – Wikipedia.
3. Just, Adolf. (1996). Return to Paradise: Paradise Regained (pg. 268). Health Research Books.
4. Goethe genealogy (see bottom) – The Esoteric Redux, Blogspot.com.
5. (a) Friedenthal, Richard, Riedenthal-Haas, Marth. (2010). Goethe: His Life & Times (pg. 280). Transaction Publishers.
(b) Cox, Catharine, M. (1926). Early Mental Traits of Three Hundred Geniuses (Genetic Studies of Genius Series) (pg. 694). Stanford University Press.
6. Goethe, Johann and Zelter, Carl F. (1892). Goethe’s Letters to Zelter: with Extracts from those of Zelter to Goethe (Nessus, pg. 307; God, pg. 308). G. Bell and Sons.
7. (a) Goethe, Johann. (1831). “Letter to Sulpiz Boisseree”, 22 March 1831; quoted in Peter Boerner, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1832/1982: A Biographical Essay. Bonn: Inter Nationes, 1981 p. 82.
(b) Goethe genealogy (see bottom) – The Esoteric Redux, Blogspot.com.
8. Fink, Karl J. (2009). Goethe’s History of Science (pg. 9; physical sciences, pgs. 75-76). Cambridge University Press.
9. (a) Lewisohn, Ludwig. (1949). Goethe: the Story of a Man: Being the Life of Johann Wolfgang Goethe as Told in his Own Words and the Words of his Contemporaries, Volume 2 (pgs. 165-66, 174). Farrar Straus and Co.
(b) Die Wahlverwandtschaften – GoetheZeitPortal.de.
(c) Goethe, Johann and Zelter, Carl F. (1892). Goethe’s Letters to Zelter: with Extracts from those of Zelter to Goethe (sixth commandment, pg. 386). G. Bell and Sons.
10. Thims, Libb. (2014). “You can be Smart and Believe in God” (#22), Nov 7.
11. Haught, James A. (1996). 2000 Years of Disbelief: Famous People with the Courage to Doubt (§: Johann Goethe, pgs. 105-07). Prometheus.
12. (b) Rustow, Alexander. (1954). Freedom and Domination: A Historical Critique of Civilization (Ortsbestimmung der Gegenwart, Volumes 1-3) (editors: Dankwart Rustow, Salvator Attanasio) “Freedom vs Unfreedom” (pg. 325). Princeton University Press, 2014.
(c) Alexander Rustow – Wikipedia.
13. Planck, Max. (1937). “Religion and Natural Science”, lecture, May; in: Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers (translator: Frank Gaynor) (§6:151-50; pg. 125). Philosophical Library, 1949.
14. Heaviside, Oliver. (1903). “Article”, The Electrician, 50: 735, Feb 20.

Further reading
● Naumann, Walter. (1952). “Goethe’s Religion” (abs), Journal of the History of Ideas, 13(2):188-99.

External links
Religion and politics (Goethe) – Wikipedia.
Goethe and religion (2009) – Goethetc.Blogspot.com.

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