Who’d a thunk it? A guy from the 18th century using common sense philosophy in attempting a synthesis of the then new rational Enlightenment thought and the validity of religious belief and practice. Normally, one would think, oh, right! Too long ago, obscure, not applicable to today, obtuse philosophical mumbo jumbo. But, no.
Here’s the deal. Mendelssohn was a Jew in the newly Jewish-tolerant (well-somewhat) Prussia that arose out of Enlightenment thought. He still had to be a bit careful not to piss off the ruling Christians too much, but he did have more leeway to engage in conversation and debate over religion and the idea of reason being able to apprehend the mind of God. The biggest heresy back then was to take God out of the picture altogether; atheism was still a reputation-killing position to take, although some rational folks like Baruch Spinoza still did it or flirted with it. But Mendelssohn didn’t have that problem. He was a faithful and observant Jew who thought that Judaism was actually more in line with reason than Christianity; and if you read this great translation of excerpts from his writings, you’ll see what he’s talking about.
Although I don’t buy the idea that a proof of God’s existence is arguable by reason and logic, Mendelssohn takes a really convincing stab at it. But the thing I like best about him is the clarity of his thought processes and the direct style of his writing. Very refreshing compared to later modern philosophical obtuseness. He’ll just about convince you that reason can indeed look the Divine in the eye and know its essence.
I’d like to thank Michah Gottlieb in particular for pulling together these particular excerpts of Mendelssohn’s writings. They really flowed well together (many are letters as part of debate correspondence with Christians).
If you have any interest in philosophy, not just from a historical perspective, I recommend including Mendelssohn on your reading list. Quite refreshing.
If you’re interested in seeing the index and/or buying the book, you can find it on Amazon, here.