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THE primary question in theology must be, What is the source of our knowledge of God? It was an old-fashioned custom to make a division between natural and revealed religion. Natural religion is that knowledge about God which men are able to attain by reason or other mental gifts with which God has endowed them. Revealed religion is that particular and higher knowledge of God given to man in the Jewish and Christian revelations. There are many nowadays who would dispute the reality of this distinction. They would argue that the revelation of Christianity, however wonderful it might be, differed not so much in character but only in degree from other revelations; that, in fact, all religions are revealed or at any rate contain an element of revelation, that God has spoken 'in sundry times and in divers manners' to all nations upon earth. There are others again who would deny the reality or indeed the possibility of any revelation. That was maintained as a definite thesis by the Deists of the eighteenth century. The tendency also of pantheistic religions is to deny that there can be any revelation in a true sense. But for any one who believes in Christianity the distinction must be real, for the revelation through Jesus Christ is for him unique, not only in degree but in character. The distinction is also convenient, for the records of religious knowledge can be investigated apart from any direct reference to the Christian revelation. We must ask where men have found, or have fancied that they have found, evidence of the existence of God and a knowledge of his being, his nature, and his work.
Our investigation of the sources of natural religion means, on the one hand, comparative religion, a study of the different forms of religion which have actually existed, and, on the other hand, an introspective analysis of our own religious consciousness, so as to discover what is the nature of religion, and what is the method by which men have been or are able to attain knowledge. It is by the interaction of these two methods of study, by the interpretation of the religious phenomena of the world in the light of our own individual consciousness, that the philosophy of religion has been built up.
Man is essentially religious. Whether or no there are races of men at the present day so undeveloped as to be entirely without religion, may be a matter of controversy. It is now generally believed that there are not. At any rate the great imass of the human race is religious, and this is the natural and inevitable result of the strange and enigmatic position in which man finds himself. He is a being endowed with reason and consciousness. For a brief period he lives in a world about the origin of which he knows nothing. Within the space of a few years this world will for him quite certainly cease to be. He is endowed with visions, hopes, and aspirations, with feelings, fancies, and desires. He is exposed to varied fortunes. He endures joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. He finds himself surrounded on all sides by other beings like himself. Whence did he come? Whither does he go? Why is he placed in the world? How did the world come to be what it is? All these questions he inevitably asks, so soon as he begins to be conscious of himself. At first dimly groping, gradually, as he thinks with increasing knowledge, he makes his way in the world. He attempts to interpret the life he is living, to find some guide to direct his conduct, and thus he builds up for himself a religious system. The religious beliefs that men have thus acquired vary immensely in character. They range from the lowest forms of magic and fetishism to the loftiest philosophical doctrines of the greatest thinkers. Here we have a phenomenon of stupendous importance. What significance can we attach to it ?
The study of religious phenomena, generally called comparative religion,has assumed great importance in the present day. This has arisen from various causes. Our greatly extended knowledge of the world has brought home to us the immense variety of religious belief. In the Middle Ages the knowledge of religions other than Christianity was almost non-existent. Now we are able to study the religious phenomena of the whole world as they are depicted at the present time, and the historical record of all the great religions of the more civilized peoples. Also the inductive methods pursued and found so fruitful by science in the study of the external world have been applied to the religious and other phenomena of the human mind. When a man educated in scientific methods desires to know about anything, his first business will be to collect all the facts and classify them. This is what is being done in relation to the religious phenomena of the world. And these investigations are further stimulated by the influence of those theories which are usually described by the somewhat misleading term 'evolutionary', and aim at tracing the development of all human thoughts and ideas on naturalistic lines. A law of progress which may present an analogy with the discoveries of science is sought. The different stages of religious belief are mapped out, the development of the higher from the lower is traced, and it is contended that the higher and more philosophical forms have been derived from the! lower by a process of evolution which is often looked on asj purely mechanical. Therefore even the highest forms of religion are deprived of authority.
In this connexion as we shall find elsewhere this word 'evolution' is made to carry a great deal more than it will bear. Any claim to have discovered an adequate law of the development of religion is at present entirely invalid, but even if such a law had been discovered, it does not follow, as some have imagined, that religion itself has been explained or that it has been deprived of objective value and truth. Let us take the analogy of our knowledge of the natural world. It has advanced by slow and devious ways from very obscure and rudimentary beginnings to its present position. Each generation has considered that the knowledge which it possessed constituted a more or less correct presentation of the outer world. Subsequent generations discover how inadequate or even erroneous this is, and none of us can doubt that the knowledge of future generations will correct that of the present day. There is an evolution in natural philosophy, the interpretation of nature, just as much as in religion, the interpretation of life. But we do not doubt natural science for all that, we believe that there is in it a gradually closer approximation to truth. So also, if religion has advanced by equally strange and devious ways, and if later generations have learnt to look upon the beliefs of their forefathers as erroneous, it does not follow therefore that religion is without value; rather we may say that if religion be the attempt to explain life as a whole, the human intellect may in it approach nearer and nearer to ultimate truth, just as we believe that it does in regard to physical science. The fact of development, so far from weakening our belief in the ultimate value of religion, shows us that we are dealing not with a chaotic and unmeaning mass of facts, but with a rational product of the human mind.
It is probable that the possibility of advance in religious thought is more obscure than in other sides of human life because of the persistency with which older forms of belief live on side by side with higher forms, often intermingling with them. It is only occasionally that we can trace out a clear line of development, and in later times the influence of Christianity has left few spheres of thought untouched, so that a purely natural development is hard to discover. But in this as in other lines of intellectual progress, Greek thought presents us with a clear and typical illustration. Here, from the popular religion as represented in Homer to the philosophic thought of Plato, we can see signs of a clear and definite advance. Poets and philosophers shared in the work. Commercial activity and changed conditions of life enlarged the sphere of human experience. Plato himself never obtained the clear vision of one personal God, but he reached the threshold of it. His philosophy is religious in its conception and purpose. He summed up all the best thought of his time, he provided answers to its most difficult questions, he represented the culmination of a rapid development of thought. But however great his attainments he shows us the failure and limitations of religious philosophy. He failed to create a religion. The later religious developments of Greece were on other lines. Stoicism seems to have represented some influence of Eastern thought, and when Hellenism reached its culminating religious development in Plotinus it was in a world which for two centuries had been hearing the Christian message. The chief result of Greek speculation to the world only came when it had been merged with Jewish and Christian thought, and became part of a creed and life, as well as a system of philosophy.
The comparative and historical study of religion, so far from explaining it away or necessarily casting a doubt on the truth of Christianity, suggests that here, as elsewhere, we have that possibility of rational and orderly development in human thought which implies a real basis of truth to which it is approaching. At any rate we have a phenomenon worthy of careful and thoughtful study. In what way does it supply a source for our theological knowledge? An attempt has been made on the supposition (which is sufficiently true for our purpose) that all men are religious, to found an argument for the existence of God. This argument has been called the consensus gentium. It was argued that because mankind believes universally or almost universally in God in some form or other, therefore that belief may be considered true. I doubt if such an argument thus boldly stated is of much weight. Any deduction which we make must be much less definite. Perhaps we can go so far as to say that the widespread belief in some form of spiritual being, in moral responsibility, in a future life, and a divine judgement may rightly incline our minds to consider favourably such beliefs.
A study of religion will show I think in the first place the universal character of the need for religion amongst mankind.Religion appears to be as universal among men as the ethical sense, as political instincts, as the philosophical impulse, as the aesthetic perception. All these characteristics are natural to man, yet in some natures or races or people they are developed very weakly; sometimes they are almost non-existent. It is the same with religion. There may be individuals or races in which it is only imperfectly developed, but normally it is a characteristic of human nature. This need might be further proved by the fact that in countries where the old established faith has for any reason broken down or been discredited, there are inevitably outbreaks of new and strange forms of religious activity. So it was for example in the Roman Empire when the traditional religions had broken down and a crop of Eastern superstitions prepared the way for Christianity. So it is in modern society where any decay of religious belief speedily leads to an outbreak of superstition.
The second point that we may learn from a study of comparative religion is the importance of religion. Religion has been in the world a great influence for good or evil, and it is a matter of profound importance to a country, to a nation, or an individual whether they have a good or a bad religion. No doubt here as so often the influence is not entirely onesided. A people makes its religion, as a religion makes a people. But in no case can the importance be doubted. A study of the comparative influence of Christianity and Mohammedanism would reveal this. Almost invariably in the East a Mohammedan conquest means the destruction of civilization and the substitution of decay for progress. The traveller in Palestine and Asia Minor as he passes through the country will find squalid villages occupying the sites of what once were flourishing cities. When a country is freed from Mohammedan rule and becomes once more Christian the change in its life is profound. Disloyalty to Christianity in the modern nations of Europe is already beginning to bear fruit in the decay of modern life. I think experience will show that a civilization which will develop the highest qualities of mankind is only possible under Christian influence.
Then thirdly we learn the autonomy of religion. Religion is a separate and independent activity of human nature. It has ' the closest connexion with ethics, with science, art, politics, philosophy, but it is different from any of them. In the primitive stages of human development this distinction is not always apparent. Religion often seems to respond to all these different human needs, or at any rate to be confused with them. It supplies a nation with its cosmology, and its moral and political theory; it gives it its science and philosophy. As life develops and becomes more complex these different elements of human activity separate themselves off, and religion too reveals its own autonomy. As the Baron von Hiigel puts it:
'Religion, in proportion as it gains a fuller consciousness of its own specific character, retains indeed relations with ethics and politics, science, philosophy and art, and even increases or refines such relations, yet in and through all such relations, it increasingly differentiates itself from all those other modes and ranges of life and apprehension.'
And then fourthly religion always implies dependence on some power or powers outside humanity. It is based on a belief in the existence of some such power, and embraces all human activities and life in relation to and in dependence on that power. For example, there is a close connexion between ethics and religion, but religion when it studies or teaches conduct always does so in connexion with belief in a god or some other superior power and the sanctions that that belief gives. So also religion is closely concerned with the social life of mankind, and with man's intellectual questionings, whether of the world outside him, or of his own purpose and destiny, but all these when they come within the purview of religion are considered in relation to an external power on which man is dependent.
There are I think four things that we may learn from the study of religion in the world, that it is universal, important, autonomous, and implies dependence on some spiritual power outside humanity.
A mere study, however, of comparative religion will not in itself advance us far on the road to discover what is true; and we turn to the other possible source of religious knowledge, the study of religion as an explanation of human experience, the analysis of religious thought and knowledge in our own mind. This is what is usually known as the philosophy of religion.
First of all the interpretation of nature.Probably the earliest question in the dawn of human intelligence to which man desires an answer is the cause of the natural phenomena around him, and it has long been the conviction of most theologians that 'the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity'. It is, however, widely believed now that the great discoveries of natural science, which have characterized the last three centuries, have weakened or destroyed this argument. An opinion has become prevalent – not indeed a new one, for it goes back to the earliest period of Greek philosophy – which would interpret the universe as purely mechanical. Men's minds have been bewildered by the great increase of knowledge. The vision of the unity of nature, and the marvellous additions to our knowledge of the way in which nature works, have prevented men from seeing the limitations of the scientific interpretation of the world. It is necessary, therefore, to understand what these limitations are, for science is by itself incapable of giving any answer to the questions with which religion is concerned. Science discovers the way in which things happen. It does not answer or attempt to answer, in fact it cannot answer, the question which religion asks: What is the cause and purpose of the world? Rightly understood the discoveries of science do not touch on the sphere of religion. No doubt religion has inherited and has been associated with the antiquated science of previous generations, and there is always a danger that if we are too anxious to reconcile religion and science we may hamper future genera tions by associating religion with the science of to-day, which as time goes on will undoubtedly be found to be most imperfect. But religion itself as it is concerned with the things that transcend our senses is not touched by these changes. The spheres of religion and science are different, and religion should assert its right in its own world, as it should allow to science perfect freedom within its domain.
A large part of the confusion which has prevailed has arisen from the different meanings associated with the words cause and law. These in their normal use are metaphysical conceptions which have no place in pure science. Science cannot discover the cause or law of anything. It only discovers the way in which things happen. It discovers that if A and B occur, C occurs. It further discovers that by combining A and B we can produce C. In no sense except in the purely scientific one of being an invariable antecedent is it true to say that A and B cause C, in the sense that we cause C when we produce it by artificially combining A and B. The idea of 'cause' in this sense is something quite apart from scientific investigation, something brought in by analogy with human action, and for the sake of clear thought it should be eliminated from any philosophical account of what science has accomplished. So again to say that there is a 'law' that A and B produce C may be most misleading. We may indeed, for the sake of convenience, use the term 'law of nature' to describe the generalization by which we sum up the invariable successions which meet us in nature, but we must recognize that the term when used in science only means a generalization. The ordinary connotation of the term seems to imply some external constraining influence, so that it appears not only to describe phenomena but also to explain them. When we speak of a law of gravitation or laws of motion, all we mean is that material bodies move towards one another in a way which can be calculated, but the use of the misleading expression 'law of gravitation' inevitably suggests the quite erroneous idea that we have discovered some external power which explains these movements.
Science then working by its own methods of observation and experiment has succeeded in attaining considerable knowledge of the way in which things work in the world. The greater the knowledge that it attains the more wonderful does the structure of the universe appear to us. But when it has done that it has reached the limits of what it can accomplish. It will not have touched on any of the problems of religion. The origin, the cause, the purpose of this universe it cannot fathom. The world will still present all the features that have seemed to many to imply a rational ordered whole, showing clear and unmistakable signs of a purposeful origin; it may still be held to show that marvellous adjustment of parts, which has seemed to many to imply the existence of an all-powerful reason; it will still contain all these characteristics which have aroused men's wonder and admiration and have stirred too their deepest religious emotions. From the point of view of religion, science has only made the world more wonderful; it presents the same problems as in the past, but in a more impressive manner.
Quite early in human experience men learn to distinguish between themselves and the world outside them, and in themselves between their soul or mind and their body. And while they feel that the body seems somehow to be part of the world, they look upon their soul or mind as something apart from it, and they feel somehow that this soul of theirs, which appears to have an existence separate from the things around it, bears witness to the existence of an order of being apart from and different from the world. We need not pursue here the steps by which this knowledge seems to have grown up, or the form that it has taken; now we rather ask what our position at the present day is in relation to these questions. A science has grown up for the purpose of studying in a scientific manner the phenomena of the human mind, bearing the name of psychology. Here there are a series of phenomena which we can study in two spheres, introspectively in the working of our own mind, and objectively in the working of minds around us. Scientific psychology would maintain that the same methods must be used in investigating the phenomena of mind that have already been used in relation to material objects, and it would hold that the same principles are found to prevail. The phenomena are complicated, it is true, but are capable of exact observation. Here as elsewhere in nature it is maintained that the law of uniformity prevails. The same antecedents are followed by the same consequents. Here, as in other branches of scientific investigations, we can make generalizations, or, as we call them, laws. We can within certain limits predict what will happen and by the use of knowledge gained we can produce results that we desire. We can trace what appears to be an upward movement from automatic action to instinct, and from instinct to conscious reason. We know that there is a close and intimate connexion between the phenomena of the mind and of the body; they act and react on one another; the world of thought and ideas is so intimately connected with the physical constitution of the brain, that an injury to the brain hampers and perhaps destroys the work of the mind. Is it then really true that there is any mind apart from body? Are not we merely dealing with certain functions of a physical brain? Is not mind simply a development of matter?
There has always been a certain plausibility about such a theory, but philosophy has always ultimately repudiated it, and the advance made by physiology and scientific psychology has not really done anything to change the problems which continue to perplex the human reason. It is true of course that we now know that the brain is the organ of thought, and scientific investigation has enabled us to study it with some accuracy; but because the brain is the instrument of mind, and mind cannot act in relation to the material universe without the brain, it does not follow that the brain is the mind, any more than that an elaborately constructed motor can work without the spiritual control of the driver. A little reflexion will show us that this scientific investigation has not really explained the problem of mind.
We may put the problem in various ways. How can a physical fact become a mental state? When I think, there is a change, you say, in the molecules of the brain. Granted. But a change of molecules is not a thought, how can it become one? We are in fact dealing with two entirely different phenomena, closely connected it is true in their working, but quite distinct in their nature. The thoughts, the ideas, the emotions of the human mind belong to a different order of phenomena from the physical changes in the structure of the brain, and no philosophy starting from a position which seems materialist has ever explained how the one order becomes the other.
Or again we may put the problem in another way. How do I explain my consciousness of the world? How can I, who am clearly in one sense a part of the world, yet be, as I seem to be, out of the world, feel myself as something apart from it, know it, act as a conscious cause in it? I am conscious of myself apart from the world, and this 'I' has a continuous and autonomous existence. I receive impressions from outside of me, remember them, and compare them with one another. Whatever I may be, I have a continuity of existence as a receptacle of all those impressions and ideas which go to make up the world which appears to be outside myself.
Such are the facts which as it appears the scientific study of the human mind cannot explain. These facts suggest the existence of a human mind which makes use of the body, which is conditioned by the body. It is questions such as these that men have sought to answer by their religious beliefs, and that
still seem to demand a solution very different from any which a purely scientific investigation can give.
But we must pass now to another part of our experience. We discover ourselves to be moral beings.Not only do we know things, not only do we desire things, not only do we do things, but we also feel that there are certain things which we ought to do, or will, or desire. We not only say that a thing is, we say that certain things ought to be. We have what we call a moral life, and this shows itself not only in the fact that we make moral judgements, as they are called, but also that we have a conscience and feelings of remorse and contrition, and a sense of sin. So St. Paul describes it, 'their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.'
It will be remembered that when we spoke of the study of religion, we referred to modern scientific and objective methods of research. The same method is now followed with regard to moral questions. The moral facts of the world are collected, arranged, classified. Many different theories have been suggested explaining the derivation of moral ideas. It has been suggested that our morality is ultimately based on utilitarian principles. The older utilitarian philosophers had only the lifetime of each individual in which to explain the growth, out of human needs, of a moral principle which often compelled men to do what was neither pleasant nor useful, and they found their task sufficiently hard. Now the application of principles of heredity and the idea of 'evolution' has been held to lighten their task. The laws of growth are investigated, and it is suggested that, if we can show how the moral facts of the world have grown, we can explain them. Against this it must be maintained that a description of the methods and circumstances of growth is no explanation of a fact. It is quite true that there has been an advance and a growth in moral judgements, that, just as our scientific knowledge has become better, just as religion becomes more elevated, so morality also develops. This is undoubtedly true, although the laws of advance are very complicated, and here, more than anywhere else, progress is intermittent. Moral degeneration is as real a fact in history as moral progress. But grant all this scientific inquiry and its results, yet it does not touch the real question. It never explains why men are moral, and why they have a conscience, and why they are burdened with the sense of sin and feelings of remorse. It is no explanation to say that these characteristics have been evolved, for that only drives us further back to the question of how it came to be that men are such that they should evolve in this way. It is no explanation to say that it is society that makes us moral; human society has developed as it has because man is moral, just as its growth has been conditioned by the fact that men are religious. Religion seeks to give an explanation of why things are what they are, and the problem of morality is one of those which has to be solved.
But men pass not only judgements of truth, not only moral judgements, they also regard things as beautiful or the reverse.We are here touching on a branch of thought which has often been neglected, but a little consideration will I think convince us that it is a real field of inquiry. When we say that a thing is beautiful we express a judgement quite different from that which we make when we say that a thing is true; it is certainly also different from what we mean when we say that an action is right; and these different judgements correspond to very different experiences. Moreover we clearly imply when we think of 'beauty' that there is some objective standard by which we can judge, although here, even more than in the case of morals, the influence of individual taste seems to obscure our judgement. But both the collective consciousness of mankind and individual attempts at self-improvement imply the assumption that there is an objective standard of beauty, and that it is beneficial to attain to it. And if there are good reasons for looking upon the conception of the beautiful as something which corresponds to an objective reality, it is certainly true that the sense of the beautiful has had much to do in many minds with the growth of religion. Nor have religious thinkers failed to see the religious power of the sense of beauty.
'Suppose,' writes Plato, 'it were permitted to one to behold the beautiful itself, clear and pure and unalloyed, not tainted by human flesh, or colours or any of the manifold varieties of mortal existence, but the divine beauty as it really is in its simplicity, do you think that it would be an ignoble life that one should gaze thereon, and ever contemplate that beauty and hold communion therewith? Do you not really believe that in this communion only will it be possible for a man, beholding the beautiful with the organ by which it can be seen, to beget not images of virtue but realities, for that which he embraces is not an image but the truth, and having begotten and nourished true virtue to become the friend of God and attain to immortality if ever mortal has attained?'
These are I think the four fundamental facts of human experience which religion and theology seek to explain, the problem of nature, the problem of mind, the problem of morality, and the problem of beauty.
We have now discussed certain great facts of experience to which religion and philosophy in different ways have attempted to give an answer. But when we attempt to give such an answer, we are at once confronted with the questions: What knowledge can man attain about such things? Has he the equipment to enable him to approach these questions at all?
In old days men had no doubt at all about the competency of their reason. They constructed deductive arguments to prove the existence of God, and again similar arguments to prove his non-existence. They argued about these matters which transcend experience as about a proposition of Euclid. But gradually philosophers began to criticize man's capacity for attaining knowledge of such things. The work was mainly done by the critical philosophers of the eighteenth century. Berkeley showed that we had no real knowledge of the existence of matter. Hume showed that we had no real knowledge of mind in itself. We have an intellectual equipment which is quite competent to deal with the things of experience, with everything with which we are brought into contact through our sensations, with what we can feel and see and hear. But is it able to take us any further?
The classical exposition of this critical point of view is that of the German philosopher Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason.
'I maintain,' he says, 'that all attempts of reason to establish a theology by the aid of speculation alone are fruitless, that the principles of reason as applied to nature do not conduct us to any theological truths. ... All synthetical principles of the understanding are valid only as immanent in experience; while the cognition of a Supreme Being necessitates their being employed transcendentally, and of this the understanding is quite incapable.'
Again he says:
'All transcendental procedure in reference to speculative theology is without result. If any one prefers doubting the conclusiveness of the proofs of our Analytics to losing the permanence of the validity of these old and time-honoured arguments, he at least cannot decline answering the question – how he can pass the limits of all possible experience by the help of mere ideas.'
The point of this criticism is to establish the limits within which the ordinary processes of deductive reasoning are valid. It was the custom of the older dogmatists to prove the existence of God by a process of deductive reasoning such as we are acquainted with and recognize the validity of in mathematics. Kant denies the validity of these arguments, for they must ultimately depend upon ideas which have no support in experience. This criticism may be considered sound, but it must be recognized that it applies just as much to denials as affirmations. The same argument which demonstrates the inability of human reason to affirm the existence of a Supreme Being, must be held sufficient to prove also its inability to demonstrate a denial. If you cannot by demonstrative reason prove the existence of God, neither can you prove his non-existence. And the argument has a further extension. It applies to our reasoning about all that transcends experience. If we cannot prove the existence of God, we cannot prove the existence of matter; we only know of it as a deduction from our sensations. And there is the same inability to demonstrate the reality of those logical constructions which philosophers put forward as an explanation of things.
Now on this basis there was built up by Dean Mansel in certain famous Bampton Lectures a system of what we may call a Christian agnosticism.He applied these arguments of Kant to all negative criticism of Christianity. Christianity was a revelation, declaring to mankind the reality of God and the truth about his nature. The arguments in support of this revelation were, he held, sound and good. The scriptures in which it was contained were adequate evidence. That revelation then must be accepted and all arguments against its truth on philosophic and a priori grounds are invalid.
A good instance would be the doctrine of the Trinity. The common-place criticism of it is obvious. How can Three be One, and One Three? It is quite contrary to human reason. But on the principles laid down by Kant such criticism is unintelligent. It is applying argument based on experience to that which transcends experience. Another criticism which might be made is, How can there be an infinite personality? Within the limits of experience of course there cannot. Experience is finite, and all personalities that we know are finite, but that does not prevent the possibility of those attributes which we associate with personality existing outside human experience in those conditions of infinity which we associate with the idea of God. As we advance further in our argument we shall find the same difficulties raised concerning human free will. How, it is argued, can man have free will, and God be all powerful and all knowing? And the answer must be that from the point of view of human intelligence that is impossible, but that to limit the power of God by our understanding is to misuse our reasoning powers. To fix then the limits of human reason is of great importance.
On the basis then of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason Mansel built up with great ability but with somewhat excessive dogmatism his system of Christian agnosticism, accepting the Christian revelation and limiting the critical power of human reason. It was in direct continuity with his speculations that Herbert Spencer, denying the truth of the Christian revelation, built up his system of non-Christian agnosticism, and this mental attitude has prevailed widely in modern thought. It is perhaps true that there is a tendency now to revolt against these somewhat narrow limitations imposed upon the human reason.
But we have not reached the end of Kant's argument. While maintaining that it is not possible by means of the pure reason to prove the existence of God, he restored the idea of God as a postulate of the practical reason. He argued from the existence of the moral facts of the world, and the imperative demands of conscience. No rational explanation could be given of these facts (so he held) unless you believe in God and Immortality. Now I would suggest to you that that same method can be employed not only in relation to morality but in relation to all the other problems that we have considered. It is not possible to prove as the older dogmatists attempted to do that there must be a God as a necessary condition of thought or as the creator of the world; but what you can hold is that the idea of God is the most satisfactory explanation that can be given of human experience as a whole. The method that I would suggest to you is something as follows. The mind constructs an hypothesis to explain the facts of life. It cannot prove what must be. What it does is to construct a system which can give a provisional explanation of experience. That is what the religious sense of man has always done. It has formulated certain ideas which give the most satisfactory answer possible at the time to the questions asked. As experience grows our knowledge expands and develops. The ideas based on a limited experience are found to be inadequate or even false. They make way for wider and more complete generalizations. We are not satisfied with any theories which fail to explain the whole of human nature.
The result then of this inquiry into the methods of the human mind in dealing with religion will be this. We cannot accept those theories which attempt to prove by demonstration the belief in God. So in the same way we cannot accept that class of argument which attempts to give a real existence to merely logical conceptions. An instance of this would be, in the older philosophy, Plato's doctrine of ideas. This is a fact of great importance for us because it has played such a large part in the history of Christian theology. We cannot accept now any doctrine which would have us hold that the general idea of a thing has an objective existence, for it is based on the hypothesis that an idea found in the mind must exist in reality. The modern idealist who tries to explain the world as a logical construction by objectifying his mental conceptions seems to me to be exposed to just the same criticism, and this applies in particular to all philosophies of the absolute. The absolute I suppose is the logical conception of the totality of existence, and as a logical conception to assist thought it has its value. But to objectify it and explain the universe by this conception – whether you identify it with God as some do, or make it transcend God as Bradley for example does – seems to me to be open to Kant's criticism just as much as theological ideas, nor does a logical conception apart from mind seem to me a real thing. The only explanation that I can give of the absolute is reality as conceived in the mind of God.
In contrast to these methods of explaining reality – the a priori proof of the existence of God, and the objectifying of logical conceptions – I would suggest a third way. The human mind demands an answer to all the various questions which concern life and experience. That theory which most adequately explains life as a whole will be the one which will ultimately carry conviction. Kant as we have seen demands the existence of God as a postulate of the practical reason. That is, the moral facts of the world can only be rationally explained on the hypothesis of the existence of God. If that hypothesis helps further to explain the existence and purpose of the world, and the human mind, if it gives a rational and satisfying account of the ideal conception of beauty, then the reasons for believing in it become increasingly urgent.
So far we have been considering purely intellectual questions. But it is I think evident to most of us that intellect is not the chief force in creating religion. Religion concerns itself with the whole life of mankind, not only with his reason and intellect, but with his feelings, his desires, his emotions, his passions. Most men in fact are not obviously intellectual, and this is the chief reason for the gulf that there so often is between theologians and the great body of religious people. The great mass of men do not trouble themselves with intellectual questions at all. Not indeed that such questions do not matter. The unconscious influence of intellectual things in the world is great, and no religion is able to keep its hold on men when their intellects are unconvinced. Men are uneasy if they have not a satisfactory guide or system of life. It is not possible for a religion to hold the allegiance of men unless their intellect is satisfied, although they will not know that that is the reason for their dissatisfaction.
But that is not all. Life itself is for men much more than any theory about it. It is their feelings, their desires, their emotions and passions that play the larger part. What is the end and meaning and purpose of this strange human life with its high aspirations and ideals, with its limited power and opportunities, with its yearnings for beauty and goodness and truth, with its capacity for love, and yet also with its degradation, with its failure to attain its ideal, with all its malice and hatred and jealousy, with a capacity for happiness which it always seems to be marring? These represent human life as men know it, and a religion which satisfies must understand these needs. That is why the elaborate constructions of great intellects have often failed to appeal to the popular mind. They have had to make way for more spontaneous growths, which are less consistent perhaps but are truer to the breadth of human nature.
Those who remind us that religion does not exclusively deal with the intellect are right. It was indeed almost necessary that the revolt of Schleiermacherearly in the nineteenth century against intellectualism should take place. 'Religion,' he tells us, 'resigns at once all claims to science or morality.' 'Knowledge whatever be its value is always to be distinguished from religion.' 'Piety and morality can be considered apart, and so far they are different. The one is based on feeling, the other on action.' The eighteenth century had treated religion almost entirely from the intellectual point of view. It had tried to make it a form of rationalism. Kant had to a certain extent abandoned intellectualism, but on the basis of his philosophy religion would become a severe and stern moral system. Schleiermacher as against both narrow developments vindicated the separate sphere of religion and the independent claims of piety. He is right in his positive construction, he is wrong so far as he is negative and limiting. Rather we would say that religion sweeps all human experience into itself when it attempts to interpret human life.
'Man,' says Paulsen, 'is not mere understanding, he is above everything else a willing and feeling being. And religion is deeply rooted in this side of his nature. Feelings of humility, reverence, yearnings after perfection, with which his heart is inspired by the contemplation of nature and history, determine his attitude to reality more immediately and profoundly than the concepts and formulae of science. Out of these feelings arises the trust that the world is not a meaningless play of blind forces, but the revelation of a great and good being whom he may acknowledge as akin to his own innermost essence.'
Religion must adequately satisfy human feeling. Love, hope, reverence, aspiration, enthusiasm – they all demand their satisfaction in religion. But it has also other problems to deal with. Life for most people means the 'changes and chances of this mortal life'. In all these man requires guidance, consolation, and support. He has to choose his path of life, he will be exposed to varying chances of good and bad fortune, he knows that he will have difficulties to surmount. Such is what life means for most people, and it bids them desire the guidance that religion or a philosophy or some other rule of life may be able to give them.
And then there is a further set of problems connected with the complex phenomena of human society. Here of course there is scope for scientific investigation. We can investigate the laws and conditions which have governed its development, the history of the rise and fall of nations, the varying ways in which men have combined together, but when all this is done we have not approached one step nearer to the great fundamental question. Is there any meaning in this strange succession on the earth of nations and peoples? Where scientific investigation finds development, law, evolution or whatever name it likes to employ to designate the succession of phenomena which it tabulates and records, a religious and philosophic mind inevitably asks, Is there any purpose or plan in this succession? Philosophers have produced their schemes of human progress; and a religious system, if it is to fulfil at all adequately its functions, must tell us what purpose runs . through this long succession of the ages, and how we can harmonize the history of the world with the claims of truth and goodness.
We may at this stage in our investigation sum up the results of our analysis of human experience as presenting to us the problems to which religion must respond and the material with which theology deals.
1. There are first of all intellectual problems, the problems of nature, the problems of mind, the problems of morality, the problems of beauty.
2. There is secondly the response that religion must make to all the feelings, aspirations, and emotions which characterize human nature.
3. There are thirdly the profound problems which confront each individual, 'the changes and chances of this mortal life'.
4. Then there is the problem of society, how it happens that men come to live together in society with one another in the way that they do.
5. And then there is the problem of human history. Is there in the succession of events in the world a purpose which is being worked out ? And what is that purpose?
All these problems will in different ways confront us in our investigation.
We have now considered two lines of approach to the study of theology. The one is comparative religion. That is the knowledge that may be acquired by a survey of the religious phenomena of the world as they are presented to us, and the deductions that may be made from it. The second is the metaphysical basis of religion, and consists of a review of the problems to which theology has to give an answer, the methods by which it works and the logical basis of its conclusions. There remains a third line of investigation, that which is called the psychology of religion– the study of religion as a department of the human mind. This is a branch of inquiry which is naturally of great importance at the present time because it represents the inductive method of study. In former generations the mental training was deductive, or philological, or historical, and it will be found that the study of religion was mainly looked at from one of these points of view. Religious truth was attained either by close deductive reasoning, or the study of texts and documents, or ecclesiastical history. Those interests still remain, but as important and to many perhaps more important is the inductive method, an examination of the actual facts of religion as they are presented in the human mind.
Now when a man with scientific training wishes to study any subject the first thing he will do is to collect and observe as wide a range as possible of facts. It is interesting to notice that this is what Professor William James, whose early training was that of a chemist, has actually done.In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience he collects a mass of instances of religious phenomena, he classifies them, and considers what results he can arrive at. The following are his conclusions.
'Summing up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life, as we have found them, it includes the following beliefs:
1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance.
2. That union in harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end.
3. That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof – be that spirit "God" or "Law" – is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world. Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics: –
4. A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and heroism.
5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.'
He further writes:
'I think it may be asserted that there are religious experiences of a specific nature, not deducible by analogy or psychological reasoning from our other roots of experience, which point with reasonable probability to the continuity of our consciousness with a wider spiritual environment from which the ordinary prudential man is shut off. The believer finds that the tenderer parts of his personal life are continuous with a source of the same quality which is operative in the universe outside of him.' 'In a word, the believer is continuous in his own consciousness at any rate with a wider self from which saving experience flows in. Those who have such experiences distinctly enough and often enough to live in the light of them, remain quite unmoved by criticism, from whatever quarter it may come, be it academic and scientific, or be it merely the voice of logical common sense. They have had their vision and they know – that is enough – that we inhabit an invisible spiritual environment from which help comes, our whole being mysteriously one with a larger soul whose instrument we are.'
I do not know whether it can be claimed that for these conclusions thus stated there can be found logical proof. The importance of this method of investigation is that it starts from and analyses real human experience. It attempts to do scientifically what every man does for himself unconsciously. It knows the subjective reality of the phenomena and attempts to find an objective basis. There may not be here sufficient grounds for the conclusion, but it must be pointed out that a series of investigations into other experiences of the human mind have arrived at results which harmonize with those that have been formulated by William James, and it may be claimed I think reasonably that the concurrence of these two methods of investigation gives strong grounds for thinking the conclusion justified.
Religion is at any rate a real and remarkable phenomenon of the human mind and has certain characteristics, some of which it is important to analyse.
The first is the growth and development of religion, the phenomenon of conversion whether of individuals or race. If the history of religion is studied, whether it is Christian or non-Christian, it will be noticed what a great difference there is between the development of religion and that of other mental phenomena such, for example, as science or philosophy. Science deliberately approaches certain phenomena, and by methods which experience gradually makes more efficient attempts to explain them, and has thus gradually built up a body of truth. Philosophy, pondering over the various problems which meet it, analyses our conceptions and erects its system. Some one sits down and writes a book in which he thinks out a problem and teaches it. That leads to others following his example, and a school of philosophy is created. But no one has ever produced a religion by deliberately sitting down to do so. If any one makes the attempt he fails. Religion, whether it be an ethnic religion or the work of a personal founder, seems always to spring forth fully grown and armed. It appears to rise in the human mind suddenly, spontaneously, unconsciously. Suddenly at some particular period in some particular place there breaks out a great wave of religious life. It is the same with an individual. A great conviction seizes a man. He may very likely go through a process which is called conversion. Truth seems to present itself to him. A particular form of belief has gripped him. How does that arise?
It is probably one of the most important psychological advances of modern times to have drawn our attention to the sub-conscious action of the human mind. Only a small part of the furniture of the mind can be actually present to our consciousness at any one time. We know this as a matter of experience. We know that if after devoting our mind ineffectually to some problem we lay it aside, it often happens that when we return to it the solution will present itself easily and rapidly and the tangled skeins of our previous thinking will be found to have straightened themselves out. We know in our own experience how a time comes, especially when we are struck by some strong emotion or interest, when there wells forth from the unconsciousness of the mind a rush of ideas, thoughts, images which have lain dormant or hidden. It is probable that in all the constructive work of the human mind sub-consciousness plays a large part. The thoughts, ideas, experiences, emotions of life are all harmonized there, the gradual impressions of years are accumulated, and then when some great influence stirs our consciousness they come forth with a sudden burst and modify our whole life. It happens equally in individuals and nations. If we ask why it is that the phenomenon of conversion arises, we answer that it comes from the sudden upheaval of the impressions which have been lying hidden in the mind. The conscious mind has had its own range of thought with which it has been pre-occupied, it has had nothing to give to religion, or the emotions, or the passions; they have been hidden under the discipline and system of life. But a time comes when forces that have been latent assert themselves.
This will explain also the great movements of popular feeling. Patriotism for example is latent in most men. In ordinary times it is hidden under the motives of self interest. From time to time there pass over the country, aroused by some particular incident or incidents, waves of patriotic feeling which have come from the liberation of this force.So it is in religion. A period of material prosperity and exclusive devotion to worldly things obscures the religious instinct. Suddenly, after a period of national misfortune, or from the growth of deeper and purer minds, or from the influence of a great religious teacher, latent aspirations are roused and the balance of life is restored. Religion in a new aspect springs up, stimulating accumulated impressions. A desire has been created, influenced by new thoughts and conditions, and finds its gratification in the new teaching.
That the working of the sub-conscious mind explains some of the phenomena of religion is probably true. It has been suggested that something more than that is true, and that in the sub-consciousness may be found the influence of the spiritual environment in which man lives. It is not necessary to deny the possibility of this, but there is no evidence which will justify us in supposing that it is true. It does not appear that there are any reasons for thinking that in this way there should be any communication between the human mind and any other spiritual world.
The next problem that I would touch on is that of religious certainty. Why do people believe such different and antagonistic creeds with such a consensus of certitude? At the time of the Reformation Catholic and Protestant were both alike prepared to die for their faith. It is a natural feeling that earnestness of conviction must be a proof not merely of sincerity but of truth. But here there are two sets of people both equally certain, both prepared to show the reality of their belief by dying for it, but disagreeing in quite a fundamental way. One or other must, therefore, be wrong, and is it not probable that both may be wrong and that we may reasonably hold that all such beliefs are delusions?
I think that an answer to this question may be given by distinguishing between the form and matter of religion. The subject-matter of our belief represents the opinions that we hold and are conditioned by our experience. The form of religion is the conviction that we are in harmony with the spiritual basis of life.
Let us put to ourselves first the question: Are there any reasons for thinking that normally through any 'spiritual' medium, apart from our experience, direct information comes from a 'spiritual' world? Putting aside for the present any conception of a revealed religion, is there any reason for 36 Christian Theology thinking that there is some source, apart from the experience which we have already analysed, from which we may acquire religious knowledge? Is there in fact anything in the religious knowledge of the world which could not have been built up by the human mind working on the material supplied to us ? It may be pointed out that Christianity teaches us that 'God is a spirit' and that the Holy Spirit has always been teaching men. But that does not necessarily answer our question, because the teaching may have been through the normal powers of man. The question we are asking is whether any real knowledge or inspiration has come to man through any source other than the normal operations of the human mind, and our answer must be as far as we can judge, No. The content of the religious knowledge of each individual or race seems in all cases to have been derived from sources which may be described as natural. We have no reason for thinking that there comes to the individual inspiration for his spiritual life which is not derived from experience. In that sense religion is a natural product of the human mind. If that be so the varieties of religious belief are naturally accounted for. The experience of individuals and nations has been various, their interpretation of life will vary. A universal natural religion might arise from a universal experience.
The variety is the natural result of an imperfect experience, but is there then no ground for the feeling of certitude? I think that some further investigation may convince us that this feeling of certainty arises from the intimate relation of the human mind to the spiritual environment in which we live; but to establish this we must study somewhat more closely two further points, the verification of religious knowledge, and faith.
Let us turn for a moment to the scientific world and ask what is the reason why we have considerable confidence in the truth (within its sphere) of scientific knowledge. It is sometimes said that science is built up on the basis of observation and experiment. That is true theoretically, but in actual fact in the science which we know, a third element, that of hypothesis, plays a large part. Much of the fabric of science is simply the best explanation that can be found to explain a large body of facts, and so far from there being any certitude we are continually seeing accepted theories making way for newer and as we believe truer generalizations as our knowledge of facts increases and as our observations become more accurate. It is quite true that a large number of the commonly accepted facts of science have gained a right to exist, which makes them seem certain. But in no case do they represent more than an approximation to the truth. It is true again that we are able to experiment and to make the conclusions of science of practical use in life, but here in nearly all cases there is little certainty. Take medical science. How completely the theories about disease have changed even within our own memory and how changed has often been the method of treatment! Yet we find that supreme confidence has prevailed in the past with regard to theories and remedies which we now look upon as barbarous. Why then have we such complete confidence in the remedies and opinions of our own day?
What is really going on in science is a continual process of verification and correction. The verification of our scientific attainments is given us in such a book as the Nautical Almanack, where the investigator is able to find the various phenomena of the heavens correctly described for the years to come, and as time advances these prognostications are proved to be correct. On the other hand, very often when a scientific discovery has been made, further experiment and attempted verification show that it is not completely accurate and the original discovery has to be modified.
Now this is exactly the same process as is always going on in religion. There is the verification by experience and the correction by experience. Just as we are able to be confident within certain limits of truth in scientific matters, because it enables us to do things, so we have a similar confidence in religion because we can verify it in our life, because it responds to our spiritual experience, because it gives an adequate and intelligent account of morality; objectively also because we find it of great advantage to the state and to human society, and because we have noticed the disastrous result of no religion or of an inferior religion. I do not think that any one who at the present day surveys the Christian and Mahommedan world would doubt that the latter when tested by its influence on life has clear elements of inferiority. Or to take an instance of correction. I suppose that the time has come when almost any one who has been brought up in Calvinism would feel that it did not entirely satisfy his religious experience and that the creed which had been the basis of his life needed modification. This then is the verification and correction of religion which goes on. The process is the same as in science. Although the facts of religion are more difficult to observe and the experience is more difficult to interpret, the method is to a large extent similar.
It is here that we find the element of truth in the scheme of philosophy called pragmatism.This philosophy is really built up on religious and philosophical agnosticism. It frankly accepts the idea that we can have no certain knowledge of things beyond experience, but judges belief by its value for life. It is based entirely on value judgements. That which is most conducive to moral and religious well-being is true, although we cannot have any hope of attaining anything which we can call absolute truth. We believe in God not because we have proof that he exists but because the belief is valuable for life.
Such a system is I believe radically unsound and dangerous. Because we cannot attain perfect truth here, it does not follow that we cannot, by intellectual and rational methods, get some approach to truth; and that approach to truth attained because it is truth will be of real value. It would be fatal to human effort and progress if we ever gave up the quest of truth. If we accepted beliefs because they seemed to be beneficial and not because we had reason to think they were true, we should very soon begin to bolster up existing superstitions because they are of value to society. There is always a tendency for any community to look upon its existing beliefs as so necessary and valuable that they ought to be accepted.
Pragmatism then, because it takes away the obligation to try and find out what is true, seems to me dangerous, but it has just this element of truth in it, that we must be continually testing our philosophical and religious beliefs by experience. If we find that in practice they do not work, then we have to go back, to reconsider and rejudge them. Just as our belief in the conclusions of science is tested and strengthened by experiment and by application of them to life, so our belief in religion is strengthened and tested by experience in many forms. 'By their fruits ye shall know them.'
The next point that I shall touch on is faith. What do we mean by faith? If we ask what makes a man believe with intensity we are told that it is faith. When we find this intensity growing stronger we call it an increase of faith. When we attempt to define what we mean by it, we find it somewhat difficult, for faith is one of those primal facts of life which in a sense defy analysis. Yet we can learn something about it. We find that faith plays a large part in life. We rule our own life not by experience, nor by knowledge, but by faith in our career. Every enterprise we undertake has a measure of faith in it. Unless we have faith we cannot accomplish anything worth doing. Unless men had had faith in the possibilities of science, they would not have been willing to work for long and tedious years to attain scientific knowledge. No one would be prepared to make great sacrifices for moral principles or lofty ideals, unless he had faith in the reality implied by those ideals and principles. All patriotism implies an intense faith because it means that a man is so convinced of the reality of good in the world and of the greatness of his country as identified with good that he is willing to give up his own life for its sake. Just in the same way religious faith means that a man has such a firm and certain belief in the truth of his religion that he is willing to die for it. Faith then is a principle which permeates the whole of life and makes all the higher deeds of mankind possible.
What then is this faith? There is a common type of religious teaching which puts before you faith as something opposed to reason. It is suggested that if reason finds difficulties in religion, we ought not to argue about it, but suppress it. Faith makes you believe. If your intellect raises scruples you must not listen to it, you must stifle it. Obedience to intellect is in fact wrong. Faith conflicts with reason. Such a conception of faith is I believe erroneous and most dangerous. How else can you arrive at truth except by the use of reason? And if you play tricks with your reason, you will lose the possibility of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. You will have what Plato called the lie in your soul. What I would suggest to you is this: – that faith is a belief in the spiritual reality of the universe, a belief that its purpose will not deceive us, and that it is faith that makes us believe our intellect in opposition to our senses. That is what is suggested in the Epistle to the Hebrews where we are told that by faith we believe that the world was made by God, and that things that are real are different from those that appear. There are in fact two elements in belief. There is first the subject-matter of belief. That always conies to us ultimately from reason. If our beliefs are found to be opposed to reason, they cease to satisfy us and we gradually give them up. Even if these beliefs come to us from authority (I shall have later to speak of what we mean by authority),that authority must have been accepted by our reason, and if our rational grounds for accepting that authority are weakened, we give up the beliefs that we have learnt from it. So far as to the content of our beliefs. Then there is a second element, that element which gives us the feeling of certainty and security. This arises from our contact with the spiritual reality of the universe. It is often in fact not at all easy to believe that what our reason tells us is true. There are many things that prevent us from doing so. There is self-interest. We know quite well what it is right for us to do, but it is contrary to our interests to do it; we are tempted not to do it, and unless we have real faith in the moral and spiritual principles underlying our morality, we shall not do it. There is the temptation of pleasure, the overpowering influence of the senses. Against all this faith fortifies us, and faith is the grasp of the spiritual reality of the universe.
We have now reached a point at which we may sum up our argument. We started with the investigation of William James and his conclusion that as the result of his investigation of religious experience there was direct contact between the spiritual element of the human mind and a spiritual element in our environment. We might of course have added from religious writers a large amount of testimony to the same effect. Then secondly it seemed evident that this could not be considered a source of religious knowledge, for the religious knowledge of each person was dependent on and varied with his experience.Then thirdly we noticed particularly the fact that there was a remarkable element of certainty and conviction in the way in which men held their religious beliefs, and that men with opposite beliefs were equally certain. Then fourthly we considered faith. There is in life a great principle which permeates all human action, emotional in its character, but subject to the influence of reason; and we learnt that faith might exist with very varied objects.
Now if we go back to the study of comparative religion we find that this fact of religion is something almost universal, a normal characteristic of human life, and we find that the problem which had confronted man in his religious construction was the explanation of certain fundamental facts of experience, and that these pointed to the existence of a spiritual basis of the universe. If then our rational convictions demand a belief in spiritual force, if that is an hypothesis necessary to explain the universe, if psychological investigations and religious experience point in the same direction and suggest further that there is some relation between our minds and these forces outside us, does not all this suggest an explanation of what we call faith?
Further an explanation becomes possible of the fact that intensity of faith can be combined with such very different objects of faith. Our faith is strong because we have a strong hold on the reality of our spiritual life and the purpose of the universe. The faith of different persons varies in its object of belief because their experience, in the light of which they have interpreted the world, is different. We need not believe that the aspect of truth as we know it represents absolute truth, but we know that it is true for us, as an adequate although imperfect representation of the truth which is absolute. Just as a man of science does not necessarily believe that all that he holds is true, but merely that it is the nearest approximation to truth that he can attain, and that he can advance nearer to the truth by pursuing the right methods of investigation, so in religion we believe that what is true for us is an adequate representation of the absolute truth, and that all effort at attaining religious knowledge is valuable because we and the world with us are gradually approaching nearer and nearer to the truth. 'Now we see as in a glass darkly but then face to face.'
There is one more religious phenomenon which demands investigation – mysticism.
The varieties of religious belief that prevail are often a great cause of perplexity. It is argued that there is so great a variety of religious opinions, that most beliefs must be untrue. It is obvious that the great majority of people must have made great mistakes in regard to their religious belief. Is there any reason, therefore, for thinking that I shall do better? How far under these circumstances is it worth my while to find out truth itself ? The natural result is a state of religious scepticism.
There are two stages of opinion. The first is the period of dogmatism. Men have been brought up in one particular circle of ideas. They think that these ideas are true, and will not allow any place in their minds for anything which conflicts with them, or even for anything that expands or develops them. So long as this circle of ideas satisfies them, they are contented. But a time for most people comes when they are face to face with a new circle of ideas. The old ideas cease to satisfy. A period of criticism comes in, and many people lose their religious faith. Their spiritual life becomes dwarfed and stunted. What happens with an individual may happen also with a nation. A period comes when there is a great advance of knowledge and thought. Old ideas are broken down. People feel themselves adrift, and many begin to be indifferent to or to despair of the truth.
The difficulty has arisen because to many people their own particular form of religion has appeared to be absolute truth. It becomes clear that this is not so. What is required is a theory of truth which may correspond more nearly with reality, which may avoid the difficulties of both dogmatism and scepticism. That is what the preceding argument has aimed at. There is first of all absolute truth. That is something which we cannot attain here, and to think that we can do so is one of the most fruitful causes of religious controversy. To a Christian absolute truth is the world as it is in the mind of God. Then secondly there is our own imperfect knowledge. What we have to recognize clearly is that anything that we know must be imperfect, as our experience is limited and our powers slight. But it is a knowledge that if we are seekers of truth we may continually make better. It represents a shadow of the truth. But it is always important to recognize that although it is imperfect there is an absolute truth to which it may approximate.
The best illustration that has ever been given is Plato's myth of the Cave. He represents us as men bound in a cave with our backs to the light. Opposite are shadows cast on the wall, the reflection of the real life going on outside. The light comes from the sun which is the source of all truth. The shadows on the wall are the reflections of the truth. We as human beings only see the shadow of the truth. But the important thing to remember is that though we cannot see the truth itself, what we do see is the shadow of the truth. Our knowledge may be imperfect, but it has its source in what is true.
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