Religious ground motive

A religious ground motive (RGM) is a concept in the reformational philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd.[1] In his book Roots of Western Culture[2][3] Dooyeweerd identified four great frameworks or value-systems that have determined human interpretations of reality with formative power[4][5][6] over Western culture. Three of these are dualistic and may be described in the terms of Hegelian dialectic as antitheses of opposite poles of reference that are eventually resolved by synthesis, only for the synthesis to draw out, inexorably, a new opposing pole and so a new antithesis.

Other RGMs may readily be added to Dooyeweerd's list, and this endeavour may be sanctioned by Dooyeweerd's own passing reference to a Zoroastrian RGM.[7]

The Form/Matter RGM of the GreeksEdit

The Form/Matter framework for ontology was articulated by Greek philosophers, particularly Aristotle. However, Dooyeweerd identifies its roots in the ancient religious beliefs about a river of life[8] and the rule of μοιρα fate, which came to be set against the later culture religion of the rule of the Olympian gods,[9] in a logical[10] antithesis.[11] Nietzsche argues, similarly, that Greek philosophy from the time of Homer through to Plato and Aristotle demonstrates a tension between valarization of a Dionysian natural orgiastic devotion to the life force, celebrated in the annual Baccanal at Delphi, and the model of the city and its justice as achieved by calm thought in accord with an Apollonian devotion represented by the Temple of Athena. Perhaps the best articulation of this tension of values can be seen in the tragic drama where the Furies are constrained and given a place below the Temple's altar where they can no longer unleash themselves in the historic form of a blood revenge.

The Creation - Fall - Redemption RGMEdit

Dooyeweerd's next RGM is not dualistic but ternary,[12] described as Creation - Fall - Redemption: three moments of radical cosmic change. This RGM is argued to be authentically Judeo-Christian because it does not identify any parts or aspects of experienced reality that might be absolutised[13] in place of God; rather, it shows the significance of the biblical metanarrative for a correct understanding of reality.[14] Significantly, it is an understanding that can only be derived from special revelation.[15] For much of the history of Christianity this RGM has not taken its legitimate prominence because of the way that Christianity was accommodated to Greek pagan philosophy[16] in the writings of some of the Church Fathers such as[17] Justin and Athenagoras. This facilitated a transition from the Form/Matter RGM to the Nature/Grace RGM. Dooyeweerd believed that the Protestant Reformation represented a re-discovery of the Creation - Fall - Redemption RGM and that he, with others such as Abraham Kuyper,[18] was helping to restore it to its rightful place in Christian thinking,[19] as the foundation for a Protestant Christian worldview and Christian philosophy.

The Nature/Grace RGM of the Latin Middle AgesEdit

According to Dooyeweerd, the authentic Creation - Fall - Redemption RGM of the New Testament writers largely failed to win its place in the development of Christian philosophy. Instead, a synthesis of the Form/Matter RGM took place, giving rise to a concept of natural earthly reality, and the Christian theological understanding of redemption was taken as the antithesis to this in the form of the concept of Grace. Thus arose the Nature/Grace antithesis, which was initially oriented with Grace as superior to Nature. The Nature/Grace RGM was powerfully developed in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and so persisted through the Renaissance of the 12th century, the Renaissance, and indeed through the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation.

The Nature/Freedom RGM of the EnlightenmentEdit

Eventually, with the decline in the Church's political dominance and the implicit dismissal of the earthly realm by the polarisation of the Nature/Grace RGM, this antithesis was secularised, leading to its replacement by a humanistic Nature/Freedom RGM. This may be understood by considering how Enlightenment thought may be aligned with each of two poles. One was the elevation of Nature, the deterministic universe of the natural philosophers; the other was the quest for absolute freedom, the ideal of Romanticism. Dooyeweerd saw how many modernist philosophers struggled to account for both sides of this dualistic RGM, retaining human freedom while construing the Universe as a kind of machine, but without finding a lasting solution.

The Nature/Grace RGM is the last in Dooyeweerd's survey, but he then moves on, in the final section of Roots of Western Culture, to a critique of Historicism. This worldview, abandoning absolutes and proposing a relativistic interpretation of culture, appears as an elevation of the Freedom motif above the Nature motif, and is in turn contested by the rise of modern sociology with its implicit bid for dominance on behalf of Nature. This brings the survey up to Dooyeweerd's time of writing, where he is ready to propose his new framework for Reformational philosophy founded on the Creation - Fall - Redemption RGM.


  1. ^ Dooyeweerd, Herman. "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought". dbnl. De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  2. ^ Dooyeweerd, Herman (1979). Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. Wedge Publishing Company, Toronto.
  3. ^ Dooyeweerd, Herman. "Roots of Western Culture (available online)" (PDF). reformationalpublishingproject. Reformational Publishing Project. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  4. ^ Dooyeweerd, Herman. "The spirit of community and the religious basic motive. (p. 61)". dbnl. De Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  5. ^ Friesen, J. Glenn. "fundamental driving forces of our thought and experience". Christian Nondualism. WordPress. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  6. ^ Friesen, J. Glenn (2016). Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy (Revised ed.). Calgary: Aevum Books. pp. 369–380. ISBN 9780994775108. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  7. ^ Dooyeweerd, Herman (1979). Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular and Christian Options. Wedge Publishing Company, Toronto. p. 112.
  8. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 16. "...the ground motive of the ancient nature religions and the...deification of a formless, cyclical stream of life."
  9. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 17. "The newer culture religion, on the other hand, was a religion of form, measure, and harmony. It became the official religion of the Greek city-state, which established Mount Olympus as one of history's first national religious centres."
  10. ^ Friesen WordPress, Anthithesis. "The antithesis is the choice of position that we make in our heart’s transcendent religious dimension. The choice is of an Origin either in God or in temporal reality."
  11. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 18. "Among the Olympian gods Moira...implied something of design instead of blind fate. Moira actually became a principle of order.... At this point, where both religions united in the theme of Moira, the culture religion revealed an indissoluble, dialectical coherence with the religions of nature"
  12. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 110. "The threefold ground motive of the Word [of God] is an indivisible unity. When one slights the integral character of the creation motive, the radical sense of fall and redemption becomes incomprehensible. Likewise, whoever tampers with the radical meaning of fall and redemption cannot experience the full power and scope of the creation motive."
  13. ^ Friesen WordPress, Absolutize. "We absolutize an aspect of reality when we try to elevate that aspect of meaning to the totality of meaning. This is the source of all -isms in theoretical thought."
  14. ^ Friesen WordPress, Anthithesis. "The idea of antithesis is also found in Baader. He says that our freedom as creatures can be used in two antithetical ways– for or against God. 'How a man is related to God determines how he is related to himself, to other men, to his own nature and [to] the rest of nature (Werke XV, 469).'"
  15. ^ Dooyeweerd dbnl, v.II, ch.III, p.307. "From the very beginning, however, this revelation of God in the nature of the cosmos was borne and explained by the Word-revelation. At the outset, also after the fall into sin, this Revelation by no means had a private but rather a universal character. It was directed to the whole human race. ¶The independent line of development of a 'revelatio particularis', which was no longer universal, did not start before Abraham. Presently the people of Israel was to be the provisional bearer of this special revelation. Israel, which was to bring forth the Redeemer, was separated from the other nations because of the treatening [sic] general apostasy from the Word-revelation, until the Word appeared in the flesh.1"
  16. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 113. A general reference is made to " apostolic [Greek] church father..."
  17. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, pp. 113, 117. Explicit attributions of accommodation are made to Augustine who "...laid the basis for scholasticism" and Thomas Aquinas "...the prince of scholasticism.".
  18. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979. Dooyeweerd invoked Kuyper's 1879 Antirevolutionary (political) Party (p. 68) "principle of the christian antithesis [as] a vital spiritual force" (p.3) against the lingering influences of "fascism and national socialism ...with their religious 'myths of the twentieth century.'" (p. 11) in post-World War II Holland. A "'national spirit' [Volksgeist], which ...generates a culture's language, social conventions, art, economic system, and juridical order" (p. 50) was passionately advocated "in order to alleviate our desperate needs, to repair what was laid waste, to stamp out all corruption, to set production in motion again, and especially to base governmental authority upon new confidence....." (p. 2). Kuyper's "creational principle" (p. 54) required "'purification' and further elaboration... Our spiritually uprooted nation has never needed the explication and implementation of the creational principle of sphere sovereignty as urgently as today" (p. 55).
  19. ^ Dooyeweerd 1979, p. 3. "The antithesis can only be confessed, as always, in recognition of the complete solidarity of Christian and nonchristian alike in the sin and guilt of mankind... which recently led the world to the brink of destruction."

Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought

Herman Dooyeweerd, In the Twilight of Western Thought