God and Man's Freedom
The relation of God to man raises more difficult problems than his relation to nature.
I HAVE said that the relation between God and the world is much more simple than his relation to man. The world referred us back to him as the ground of its possibility: and on the other hand in his nature as self-conscious there is an outgoing necessity to which the religious consciousness testifies in its own way when it declares that the final reality the ultimate energy is limitless and all-powerful Love. But the relation of God to man raises new questions. For as we have seen more than once during this course that relation must be such as to leave the privacy the freedom the responsibility of man's personality untouched. And it would appear at first that such non-interference necessarily implies that man is shut up within himself and isolated. Participation in anything that is common or universal seems to be impossible to spiritually responsible beings. If we admit both the testimony of morality to the responsibility of the individual and that of religion to his oneness with God we do so we are told at the expense of the intelligence. To believe both these opposite conceptions we must turn reason out of doors.
Opposing elements may both be real.
Facts refuse to be either separated or reduced into pure sameness.
I should like to show however that this very common attitude which forces us to a choice between these two alternatives is an unexamined and untrue prejudice. The assertion of man's unity with others or of divine immanence in him does not necessarily violate the independence of man. The differences between one self-conscious individual and another between man and man as well as between man and the Absolute are real: the activities of every subject are its own: no one thing ever ceases to be itself so long as it is at all nor does it perform the function of another. I am not concerned to deny or to lessen their differences. But I do deny the implied assumption namely that the assertion of difference and distinctions is tantamount to the denial of unity and that we are shut up to the choice between abstract unity and abstract difference.1 The efforts of the philosophers to prove that all is appearance save the universal substance in the background or on the other hand to show that particulars are the only realia have fortunately proved unsuccessful. The Universe refuses to be reduced either to blank sameness or to a collection (even if a collection!) of unrelated facts and incidents. In the face of such a refusal it may be well to ask whether the Universe may not realize and reveal itself in the particulars and whether divine immanence in every element of finite being may not make the latter all the more real.
Examples of unity in difference in science and in the arts.
How the unity of the whole gives value and meaning to the parts.
I find no evidence to support the “either—or” attitude. Physics will attribute the fact it would explain neither to the operation of the world-forces apart from the particular object nor to the latter apart from the Universe. The flower needs the help of all the world if it is to bloom; but not all the world can make it bloom if the plant has no co-operating life of its own. If we observe the manifestations of the spirit of man—his knowledge or his art or his personal character or his social world—we shall find on all hands what look like universals immanent in particulars unities existing in and by virtue of differences and differences deriving their very nature from the unities. A piece of music is not an aggregate of sounds; nor is a picture a collection of colours; nor is a geometrical demonstration a succession of statements and nothing more. The demonstration is the exhibition of the truth of one hypothesis and of only one; the work of art is the embodiment of one conception and the expression of one mood. Hence one artist cannot take up another's work nor even always complete his own if the mood has passed. There are poems like some of those of Coleridge which will remain fragments to the end of time
“The Campanile is still to finish.”
The elements or parts of a poem or proof or of any other product of the intelligence of man derive their value and their significance from the unity which dwells in them and which all alike serve to express. The particular note makes its joyous or pathetic appeal because it is part of and belongs to a great musical movement. Take it out of the movement and you deprive it of its beauty: it becomes a meaningless shout. Put a different note in its place and you may ruin the movement. The particular curve or arch or turret lends its beauty to and it also borrows its beauty from the edifice as a whole. Tear the porter scene in Macbeth out of its context and it sinks into poor comedy; leave it in its context where it represents the idle common world in contact with the terror and the tension of the scene of murder and it both retains and gives tragic value.
I do not see how it can be denied that in all these instances the unity of the whole is immanent in all the parts; or that the unity is as real as the particulars in which it is expressed; or that when sundered from one another they are aught but unreal abstractions. Nor do I see how the topic of exclusion the “either—or” attitude of mind can do justice to such facts.
Can man's nature as self-conscious separate him from all else?
But it will be replied in all these instances culled from the various arts the particulars or elements make no claim to independence that is in the least analogous to that of self-conscious individuals. The mutual exclusiveness and isolation are but faint shadows of the exclusiveness and isolation of persons. That is true. Nothing is so shut up within itself and barred and bolted against invasion from without as the self-conscious individual. But it is not the whole truth. If the subjective differences are deeper and more decisive the unity of rational beings that is of self-conscious persons is also fuller and more significant. The elements that are common to them all and constitutive of them mean more and are more numerous. Moreover both their differences and independence on the one hand and their unity and community on the other grow with their own growth. Once more I do not deny or minimize the privacy or the independence or the exclusiveness of rational selves: but our concern for the moment is their unity—the universals that express themselves in the separate lives.
Society prior to the individual.
I must first insist on a truth which I trust is fast becoming a commonplace of ethical doctrine. It is that man's ethical powers are rooted in the social community into which he is born and within which he is brought up. He is anteceded I should even say “anticipated” by it in a spiritual sense just as the materials of his physical health and growth are prior to him. They are there ready for him to assimilate and appropriate and convert into living forces within his spiritual structure. Aristotle insisted on this truth but not even yet is it definitely and clearly recognized that apart from the contribution made to the individual by the social whole he is quite meaningless impotent and indeed unreal.
The elements which are common to a society unite it.
Now all these social elements from amongst which the individual selects and appropriates those which he can assimilate are common elements; that is to say they are forces within the lives of the members of the social world. They weld the individuals into a single unity by endowing them all with the same qualities. They give to the life of the society its main features and direction. It is owing to them that a community is controlled by the same impulse and at times swept by the same passion. Their common elements are in truth the controlling powers although they are both impotent and meaningless except as entering into the characters of the individual members. The individual is their living unity. They are in and through him and he is in and through them. The interpenetration of whole and part unity and differences universal and particulars is beyond dispute and of essential significance to both.
Narrow limits of individual originality.
So full is this interpenetration that we can attribute nothing whatsoever original or creative to the individual. He brings with him into his social as into his physical world nothing but a power of appropriating that is of converting the social forces which play around him or at least some of them into personal forces into opinions convictions volitions. The language he speaks is his country's; the thoughts which he expresses are its traditions; the habits he forms are its customs; he is its product almost as the fruit is of a tree.
His beliefs and habits being traditional are more truly his society's than his own.
During the first part of the individual's life nay during the whole of the life of the plain man that is of the man who has not made the beliefs he entertains and the principles he has adopted into objects of his reflective and reconstructive thought these constitutive elements of mind and character belong more to the community than they do to the individual himself. His appropriation of them being uncritical his life being ruled by hearsay it is also incomplete. He follows their guidance and is the instrument of the social fabric rather than his own master and guide. Most of the mental operations of the plain man are his own only in the superficial sense in which we say that a machine makes a particular article. He is in truth the means through which his society operates. His thoughts are merely its traditions accepted assimilated understood to some extent; but never tested never brought before the bar of the individual's own judgment and justified there. His religion for instance is apt to be very much a matter of hearsay and its profounder truths to be on that account facile opinions and nothing more. Even his moral judgments which of all things should be the most independent and intensely personal have the same character. It has never even occurred to him to criticize the moral code of this society of which he is a member; but he goes with it the whole way without a moment's hesitation when he approves actions as right condemns them as wrong or tolerates them as indifferent. The methods that he employs in his trade or profession—the way in which the carpenter handles his tools or the farmer tills his land and gathers in the harvest—all these things have been accepted as matters of course and have never been objects of free choice. In a word human life in so far as it is subject to traditional ways is not free.
Freedom must be gained and is gained little by little.
Perhaps I ought to dwell for a moment on this matter. We usually speak of human freedom as a thing to be either affirmed or denied in its entirety and fulness. The alternatives we consider are fixed and final: man we say is either free or not free. But this is not true. There are no fixed elements in human character. Man has to acquire or “win” his freedom just as he has to acquire knowledge or goodness; and there are degrees or stages of freedom as there are degrees of knowledge and virtue. In so far as man is not master of his own thoughts in the sense of having convinced himself by rational methods of their validity he is not free. He is in their service: they are not in his. He is the instrument by means of which the society of which he is a member continues to exist; and he carries onward its moral customs its religious beliefs and its methods of industry commerce and of every other form of activity. But an instrument is not a free agent. As a rule we do not in the least realize how limited our freedom is or the extent to which we are the instruments of social purposes and exponents of social views and nothing more. The range of our creative activities is very small. The new contributions we make to our social inheritance are very limited. When the end of life comes we discover that after all we are leaving our world very much where we found it. If we have made a contribution it is confined to some single aspect: we have discovered a scientific truth or invented an engine or introduced some fresh element into the commercial and industrial methods of the day or possibly given our times reasons for reconsidering some of their ethical or religious opinions; and we have done this single service by devoting our lives to it. The vast remainder we found in our world accepted uncritically and left unchanged. It is a social possession rather than our own.
Mr. Balfour on Tradition and Reason.
Mr. Balfour in his Foundations of Belief quite justly accentuates the part played by tradition in securing the unity and the continued existence of society. The less reflective a community is the more conservative and repetitive it is. The higher the level of civilization the greater the progress it makes from age to age. There is nothing more static than contented and uncritical ignorance. In this respect our social life is quite safe—such is the extent of our ignorance and our traditional servitude. Besides even those who do outgrow the traditions and customs of their times do so by the help of their times. They must assimilate its wisdom before they can surpass it. Where Mr. Balfour errs is in representing tradition and reason as essentially in opposition and conflict whereas their conflict is just an accident of their growth. For tradition is the product of reason. There never was a tradition which was not at an earlier stage a bold original idea whose propounder was probably enough persecuted. And the employment of reason upon a tradition generally deepens its meaning and transfigures rather than supplants it. But one wonders what reason means for Mr. Balfour. He seems to have identified its operations with those which are described in the Formal Logic which every teacher condemns and none discards.
The intensity of the unity which binds men together.
All these considerations point in the same direction. They indicate the significance of the common elements to which society owes its unity in the lives of individual men and illustrate the operation of universal forces in men's theoretical and practical ways. No one can measure the debt of a man to the society into which he is born. The range of the elements of the common life their comprehensiveness—which is such as to leave out only a minimum of petty personal peculiarities—is hardly more arresting than the intensity with which they unite. Rational beings enter into possess live in and for and by means of one another to a degree that is nowhere rivalled. We matter more to one another than outward circumstances except perhaps when a man is reduced into an animal by the urgency of his physical needs and can for instance think of nothing except of his hunger or thirst or physical pain. We share in more things and these are as a rule the most vital. Moreover we share in spiritual matters without breaking them up or partitioning them. I may own a field similar in size and shape and soil to my neighbour; but his field is not mine nor is mine his. But both of us may acquire knowledge of the same truths obey the same principles of conduct entertain the same religious beliefs. Truth always is universal in character and so indeed is goodness. In physical matters the unity is never quite complete: an element of exclusiveness survives and though goodwill and generosity may overcome it they cannot delete it. Property in material things necessarily has this exclusive characteristic. What is mine is not yours and what is yours is not mine. But in spiritual matters the privacy of ownership goes along with the opposite quality so that to say “I in you and ye in me” is not merely the exaggerated utterance of religious emotion but the daily experience of mankind. It is a truth illustrated constantly on every happy hearth and in every other harmonious human society.
The union of man with God.
But our critic may reply that while the unity and mutual interpenetration of men in society is plain and indisputable man's oneness with his God is another matter. I agree but it differs through being deeper and more comprehensive. A man's religion is a man's life—the chief the dominant and all-pervasive element of it. It is that to which he is unreservedly devoted. In this case his very self is involved—given utterly away to the object of its devotion.
Self-sacrifice and self-realization are parts of the same act.
But it is recovered at the same instant. In fact the giving of the self and the receiving of it back endowed with the priceless consciousness of being at peace with God forgiven united with him in love constitute one single movement. The self returns to itself as if completing a circle. It is a grave error to break up the act as if self-sacrifice came first and the recovery of the self the reward of the act of devotion lagged behind and followed afterwards. The dedication is not possible without the simultaneous consciousness of a purified strengthened “saved” self: nor these without the dedication. To give ourselves to God is to have God with us and in us.
To find God is to find him in everything.
Here then we have precisely that for which we have been seeking namely the coincidence nay the inseparableness of the independence and individuality of man and his unity with his God. This truth will be denied by no one who has felt the personal uplift
which comes from adopting some great cause as a life object. In fact man does not gain possession of himself in any complete sense until he gives himself. His infinitude escapes him until he discovers a worthy id of life. And this is as much as to say that he cannot do without a God. Till he finds him his life is a thing of shreds and patches. Once he does find him he will find him everywhere. Even an unworthy God has this omnipresence. The worshipper of Mammon is never really out of the service of his deity. Everything is valued by him from the point of view of material wealth. Consideration of material wealth will direct the course of his life fill his thoughts make and rule his home and thoroughly cramp his soul. But worthier Gods have the same character. They are present and operative throughout every detail of the religious man's life. The good man in the midst of his deepest sorrows and most painful sufferings—if he does not lose courage and let go his hold—recognizes the will of his God and wills that “His will be done.” “If I ascend up into heaven thou art there: if I make my bed in hell behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me.”2
The categories of exclusion break down utterly. So far from being weakened the individuality of man is immeasurably strengthened by his consciousness of his oneness with his God. His victory is assured; for God being with him the whole scheme of things is with him. Both freedom and the consciousness of freedom grow as the individual comprehends more fully and makes a wiser use of the scheme of things and unites himself with its tendencies.
That moral freedom implies an eternal self. Spiritual pluralism.
The Eternal Republic.
In their anxiety to maintain man's freedom certain philosophers have been led to conclude to a community of finite spirits co-eternal with the infinite. To assign an origin to a self-conscious being in the sense of finding the conditions of his existence in something or somebody anterior to himself is they maintain to deprive him of his freedom. He becomes the agent and instrument of these prior conditions; and his actions are in strictness not his own. In fact they maintain that he has no self and is not a self. He is just a product and link in the chain of endless natural causation. The individual in order to be free must be new; and either arise from nothing or be brought into being by itself. But both of these alternatives are unreasonable. There remains a third however namely that he shall have co-existed eternally with God as a member of a society of spirits which never had a beginning or of an Eternal Republic of which God is President or at least the first among equals. And being spirits they must express themselves in objects even as we conceive God to do and make manifest their presence in the Universe and their operative part in the scheme of things. Such are the conclusions of the Pluralist. He is driven to this conclusion no less by ethical than by theological and philosophical considerations. He cannot entertain the conception of a solitary monadic God a God aloof from or without a world a subject without any object. God expresses and eternally realizes himself in the world process; that process is his working the revelation of his nature his nature being so to work. On the other hand neither can the Pluralist entertain the idea of selves which are the outcome of previous conditions and nevertheless free. And the conception of an Eternal Republic of spirits seems to meet both requirements. It makes God a member of a community of spirits instead of being solitary and it secures man's freedom—the condition of a moral life.
Man is a child of nature and has had his antecedents.
Now this view contains truths that it is well to accentuate. I sympathize fully with the refusal of the Pluralists to compromise man's freedom or in any way to betray the apparent creativeness that is involved in moral responsibility. But their refusal is made on grounds which are not tenable. They give a wrong account of those powers of origination which we must attribute to a will which is free. These spring from the nature of mind not from the absence of antecedent conditions. Mind may be as much a natural product as the acorns of the oak-tree. All the evidence we can get of any individual mind points in that direction. There is no doubt that the child at his birth brings with him as a part of his disposition all manner of conditions that were anterior to his arrival. He is a mixture even at his birth and the meeting-place of many forces—not a bare “mind” or self. Selfhood has to be acquired. The evidence already ample to common experience is supported by modern science which is every day exposing more fully the continuity of man with his antecedents and his affinity and ultimate oneness with the world into which he has come. We may still be unable to give a convincing account of the nature of the relation between mind and body or nature and spirit and may be driven one day towards and the next away from Pampsychism; but the existence of the relation that is of some kind of continuity is not a matter of doubt even to the parallelists who would fain neither affirm nor deny the unity. In a word man must be regarded as a natural product. What we have still to do is to determine more clearly the character of a natural world which could have man as its product. Man's freedom cannot be maintained if in order to be free he must have no antecedents. He is new only in the same sense as the bud or the flower is new which is on the tree to-day and was not there yesterday. In that sense the whole scheme of things is new at every succeeding instant. Man's freedom must be accounted for in some other way than that of denying his origin and making him eternal.
The true condition of freedom.
In the first place I would again urge what is constantly overlooked that man is not born free. He is born capable of becoming more and more free by his intercourse with his fellows and his experience of the world. He exhibits this capacity of becoming free when he first gives his own interpretation of a fact and assigns to it his own value. He is free in the degree in which he has realized a self that is rational and in regard to those matters on which his judgments have universal validity and are true to the nature of things. No doubt this world both within and without him partakes in his acts of judgment as in all else that he is and does whether as a physical or as a spiritual being. Apart from his world as I have frequently urged he is nothing and can do nothing. We may even say that his world breaks into self-consciousness and thinks and wills in and through him. But that constitutes rather than destroys the conditions of his freedom. That is to say he is free by the help of his world and in virtue of the rational activities which he performs; even though nature also performs them in and through him. For the world becomes an object of his experience and the content of his self as he interprets its meaning and determines its value and use. And it is this rational recoil upon the world which makes it his object and constitutes the individual freedom. What was outer becomes inner. The authority that was alien and external becomes a personal conviction and the rule of behaviour is self-imposed. Nor are the rules less original in that they are re-imposed or that he makes them out of provided material by the help of an experience that was uncritical and only half-conscious. They are derived from the objective world for man must borrow every item of his experience as well as make it; but he does borrow and in borrowing he re-constitutes. For the purpose is the individual's and so also is the estimate of relative values and therefore the approval or disapproval of actions as right or wrong. The standard of value the purpose and therefore the motive are introduced by man. They depend upon his interpretation of the needs and nature of the self and of the means of realizing it. And it is the motive the good which the individual seeks as his end which ripens unto the act and makes it an expression of spiritual freedom. The Pluralists have missed the meaning of self-consciousness and they have sought freedom in isolation from circumstances instead of by the use of them.
The theology and cosmology of the Pluralist.
In the next place the refusal of the Idealistic Pluralist to isolate God thereby making the existence of the Universe contingent on a capricious will is justified. The Pluralist finds in God's nature his need of an object. Nevertheless it does not follow that we are entitled to conclude to a multiplicity of eternal spirits whether finite or infinite nor to constitute an Eternal Republic with God as President. Neither ordinary experience nor science supports such a view. For science there is one Universe. It forms a single system in which all things have their place and function; and it implies one ultimate reality whose process of self-manifestation the Universe is. Of course the question is altered if there are contingent happenings or events which have had no antecedents. But on the other hand if it be true as James held at one time that “the negative the alogical is never wholly banished” or that there are real indeterminations real beginnings real ends real crises catastrophes and escapes then there is an end to all reasoning. We cannot say that 2 × 2 = 4 if now and then or in some places 2 × 10 = 4. That neither philosophy nor science has traced any absolute unity in the details of events and facts is true: the conception of unity remains a hypothesis. But it is a hypothesis without faith in which the attempt to know which is to discover the relation of facts to facts within a system would not take place. James's own remedy for the situation is a condemnation of it. Belief is to be made a matter of “will” a violation of the value of the rational use of evidence which would be admitted in practice by no one. The fact is however that with every advance in every form and department of knowledge and indeed of civilization the hypothesis of a single power which expresses itself in the harmonies of a Universe whose marvels ever grow with our insight is being steadily substantiated as valid. And on the other hand the conjecture of a multiplicity of minor deities or of a finite and limited God who is first amongst other finite spirits is revealed more and more as the creation of the imagination. There are no premisses—unless we admit a pluralistic that is a chaotic universe—from which any such conclusion can be drawn. All the premisses we can have are derived from our experience of the world as it now is; and our experience whether cognitive or practical and ethical rests on the assumption of a Universe which is a single rational cosmos. All the probabilities point to a Deity who is immanent and operative and ever expressing himself in the ever-changing continuity of the world-process.
Man the fullest revelation of God.
Nor can there be any doubt that the fullest revelation of the nature of the Deity is man at his best the perfect man. We can conceive nothing higher or better than a life devoted to right doing. Nothing except what is morally right finally justifies itself or has absolute worth. Hence in making God partake in the movement and in regarding him as the ultimate source of the impulse towards the best; and on the other hand in regarding man at his duty as re-enacting the will of God and realizing it anew in every good action we are affirming that unity of the divine and human which at the same time preserves the independence and freedom of finite spirits. The alternative to this view is obviously untenable. A God severed from the course of the Universe becomes an empty name as the history of theology amply proves; and on the other hand it is not possible to account for the Universe except by reference to antecedents which are adequate. And no antecedent is adequate except a God who is spirit and perfect in power and goodness. Again to sever man from the Universe is to reduce him into helpless nothingness and at the same time it is to make the moral world a human invention.
The sceptical alternative.
The sceptic would find a remedy for some of his doubts in the attempt to give his own positive theory of his world. But now that naturalism and materialism are silent no such theory is offered to us and we are flung back upon our anthropological views as our ultimate theoretical and working conceptions. But if the problem of the relation of God to man is more difficult than that of his relation to the natural world the discussion of it is also more illuminating.