Religious Life and Religious Theory
I HAVE been trying to make plain the function of hypotheses not only in science but in the ordinary affairs of the everyday life of plain men.
The misunderstanding of the nature of hypotheses.
The significance of the change that would come were the Churches to adopt the attitude of natural science.
Two considerations combine to induce me to dwell a little longer on this topic even at the cost of some repetition. The first is the fact that the nature of hypotheses and the part they play are very often misunderstood. Their use is supposed to be confined to the natural sciences and so far from being recognized in other fields as fundamental principles which give systematic coherence to the facts they are there supposed to be irresponsible guesses and nothing more. The second consideration arises from the greatness of the change that would follow were the Protestant Churches and their leaders to assume the attitude of the sciences and treat the articles of the creeds not as dogmas but as the most probable explanation the most sane account which they can form of the relation of man to the Universe and of the final meaning of his life. The hypothesis of a God whose wisdom and power and goodness are perfect would then be tried and tested both theoretically and practically and I believe become thereby ever the more convincing. The creed would be not merely a record of an old belief to be accepted on authority but a challenge to the sceptic and the irreligious. The Church instead of being a place where the deliverances of ancient religious authorities are expounded and illustrated by reference to the contents of one book and the history of one nation—as if no other books were inspired and all nations save one were God-abandoned—the Church would be the place where the validity of spiritual convictions are discussed on their merits and the application of spiritual principles extended; where enquiring youths would repair when life brings them sorrow disappointment or failure and the injustice of man makes them doubt whether there be a God or if there be whether he is good and has power and stands as the help of man. Recourse to their certified spiritual guides knowing that full and sympathetic justice will be done to all their difficulties ought to be as natural to them as their recourse to the physical laboratory or the workshop of the mechanician when an engine breaks down.
The Church has to win the confidence of men.
But the Church has a long way to travel before it creates a faith and a trust such as we accord to the natural sciences; and mankind on its part is far from meting the same measure to the faith or life-hypotheses of the religious man as it willingly accords to the man of science. Let me exemplify this charge.
Difference of measure meted to religious faith and a scientific hypothesis.
Facts to be understood and valued must be looked at in their context and followed out into their consequences.
Not all the physicists in the world could account for and measure all the forces spent as the rumbling gravel-grinding cart is dragged past one's window. Not all the physicists in the world can indicate precisely and measure exactly the forces that go to change the colour and shape of a cloud from that of a camel to an island lake. Nor could they measure and indicate the paths of the forces that twirl the falling leaf round and round as it falls to the earth. And the chemist would be quite at a loss to give an exhaustive account of the changes which take place as that fallen leaf gradually rots and turns into soil. But no one for a moment doubts either the physicist or the chemist when they aver the presence and operation in these changes of unerring laws. And yet they have never proved the presence and operation of such laws except under the simplified and artificial conditions of their laboratories. We distinguish readily between what is not proved and what is dis-proved when we are dealing with natural phenomena but in matters of religion we take no such care. A single disaster loss or sorrow especially if it be our own makes us doubt the existence or the goodness or the power of God. We do not place a personal bereavement or pain in its context nor wait for final issues. No more do we lift our eyes so as to apprehend the vastness and worth of the scene of which it is an item. It is not for us at such times to exclaim like Lorenzo
“Look! how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings
Still quiring to the young-ey'd cherubins.”
The evidence of the cosmic order the marvel of the beauty of colour and sound and their spendthrift plentifulness above all the stable splendour of the world of right and wrong where spiritual forces play the guidance that must have led mankind from the crude depths of a cruel and cunning animal life to the love of the good for its own sake: all this in the presence of a personal calamity is overlooked or forgotten and we are asked to yield ourselves to a faith that is unrivalled in its stupidity namely to attribute the order of the Universe and all that is implied therein to Chance!
We must learn to mete the same measure I repeat to the religious as we do to the scientific spirit; but our religious leaders and the churches must win our trust by adopting the same frank and adventurous methods as have gained the confidence of mankind for the natural sciences.
Knowing and doing.
But magnify the significance of hypotheses as we may it will be held that religious faith is more
than a hypothesis. The theoretical comprehension of a religious truth is not a religious life. However close the connexion between the true and the good we cannot simply identify them; and however intimate the relation between knowing and doing between having an idea and carrying it out still they are not the same. Even if we admit the Socratic doctrine that it is impossible to know the good and not do it; even if we insist that ideas have hands and feet that experience ripens into practice that convictions naturally turn into character and that ideas are simply volitions arrested in mid-flight still the distinction remains. Truth at the best is but the recognition of that which is. It produces nothing. It changes nothing. Reason the faculty of knowing observes and lets the world remain as it finds it. According to Hume1
it cannot even furnish motives and it has no preferences of any kind. And even those philosophers who like Kant consider that Reason has a practical as well as a theoretical function and that its activities are a condition of morality as well as of knowledge distinguish between these two spheres of its operations.
The theoretic and the practical attitude distinguished by their purpose.
That these views contain truth is certain but that they are the truth is another matter. It is possible to assume a purely theoretical attitude towards religion; and no one can for a moment fail to distinguish between it and the practical attitude. We may seek to know the history and to understand religious phenomena without having any further interest in them. We may treat religious beliefs and forms of worship simply as objects of curiosity and value them with as little purpose of making use of them as the antiquarian has of making use of an old vase.
But practice involves theory.
All the same it is an error to consider that the activities of reason are sometimes purely theoretical and sometimes purely practical or that theory and practice fall into different and exclusive provinces. They are much more closely connected. In the first place man never acts at all as man i.e. as a rational being except as a being who knows. His knowledge or what stands for knowledge guides him even when he is not aware of it; it even guides his habits. Directly or indirectly in all human conduct theory guides practice. Even the simplest and least introspective of men carries out purposes; and purposes are ideas. And if man is a machine as the Determinists used to tell us he is a machine that thinks first and acts afterwards.
And even the theorist has a practical purpose.
In the second place just as practice implies the theoretic activity of the intellect so on the other hand the theoretic use of the intelligence implies the operation of the powers deemed practical. There is purpose volition effort and a resulting change involved in every theoretic enterprise simple or complex. In fact the difference between theory and practice lies not in the powers or activities that enter into them but in the result that is desired. The purpose of the theoretic investigator is different from that of the reformer or inventor or manufacturer. His mind will desires feelings his self is engaged in producing a different result and carrying out a different end. To attribute theory to the mere intelligence and practice to other “faculties” is once more to repeat the insistent error of the psychologist.
Not less misleading is it to maintain that in matters of theory we deal with facts and not with values and that in matters of practice we deal with values rather than with facts. The investigator engages in laborious research with no other purpose than that of discovering a truth but he may set high value on attaining it. The solution of an intellectual difficulty the discovery of the true theory or true history of a fact or event is the practical result that he desires and he may deem his life well spent in seeking it. In short his enquiry bears every mark of a practical activity. He is in his own way seeking what has value and is pursuing the good in the form in which it appeals to him. Not only does it engage all his powers but it forms his life fashions his character; and it is only the crudest ignorance that forgets these reactions upon character. And it remains crude ignorance even although otherwise respectable people will persist in distinguishing the thinker and the moralist and those who are engaged in the arts of life from the practical man.
Truth is always practical.
But the results of the theoretic life of man are never all subjective—even if the solutions he offers are erroneous he has probably helped to true knowledge; and if he discovers a new truth and adds to human knowledge he has brought into the world new latent energy of the most masterful kind. For it is seldom if ever that truth is powerless. Knowing for the sake of knowing art for art's sake the doing of the right because it is right all alike employ the whole man; all alike are practical and like their objects—the true the beautiful and the good—these activities imply one another. All human life is at once theoretical and practical. It is the fundamental characteristic of rational beings that they act from purposes; and purposes are at once thoughts and volitions and are charged with value as well as meaning. The true and the good are inseparable. Each has its own place and function and either or neither may be the higher for each includes the other.
But you may ask if theory and practice are so closely related how would you distinguish between the theory of religion and religion itself? For the distinction is undeniable. I answer as already hinted: their purposes differ. In the first case knowledge is the end or purpose sought: in the second case religion itself as a way of life is the aim and object of desire. Above all religion is a mere means in the first case: it is an end in the second.
The uses of a thing reveal its nature.
It has been maintained that the nature of things is revealed by the purposes to which they can be put that is by their worth to man. But this depends upon how far the nature of man as a rational being is a key to the nature of the world in which and by which he lives and of which according to natural science he is a product. Hence the final appeal as to the nature of a thing is not to its worth estimated in terms of its use not to its relation to man but to its relation to the system of reality to which both it and man belong. All the same it is becoming more and more clear that in interpreting the natural world its most complex and it is believed its highest and most comprehensive and marvellous product namely an animal that thinks and distinguishes between right and wrong cannot be left out of account as has been done by science in the past. Nay more man's meaning which is ultimately spiritual may best convey the final meaning of his world. In any case the purposes to which man has put the forces of the physical world—purposes which are themselves his interpretation of what he wants and of the means of satisfying his wants—have been his chief instruments of discovering their meaning. What electricity is is best revealed by what it does; and it does most when it is handled by the man of science. Every purpose which a thing satisfies every use to which it is put brings out some new reaction on its part and exposes a new feature.
The uses of religion reveal something of its nature even when it is treated as means.
The full and true nature of Religion revealed only when it is itself an End.
It is so also with religion. All the uses to which religion is put exhibit something of its character. And the uses have been and still are many. Men have punctually performed religious rites worshipped their God obeyed his behests acted in accordance with what they considered his will for the most different reasons. It has been their means of escaping torture after death or of securing happiness hereafter or of attaining social esteem or power or even of prospering in their business. All these uses reveal something of the nature and value of religion: but the revelation is incomplete so long as religion is used as a means to something else. It shows something of its character in every context or reaction but its full or true or real nature is shown only when it is in itself an end. However effective religion may be as means to a priest's power or as a weapon for political rule or for turning aside the flames of hell they do not show what it is intrinsically. On the contrary the most conscientious use of religion for purposes beyond itself we would hesitate to regard as true religion or even as religion at all. True religion is an end in and for itself and never mere means. It is of itself an object of desire and any consequences it may bring borrow from it all their value but in themselves are not regarded. Though heaven and earth pass away though there be no future life devotion to the Best the religious life retains its value. Its value is in itself. It is a form of the good indeed the completest form of the good that is absolute. “Let me but be reconciled with my God” says the repentant sinner. “Let me be my Father's” says the saint “reserving nothing devoted lost and found in His services for ever more; what else can be?”
This devotedness or devoutness is the characteristic feature of true religion. It is such an intense living for an object that it is a living in the object and through the object. Religion is thus essentially a way of life. It is practical through and through. An inactive religion is an impossibility and sham. It does not exist at all until it is as we say “applied.” It is energy spiritual energy for which to exist at all is to be active.
No religion can be inactive. It is always a way of living.
A man's religion on this view is that man's way of living. It is the object aimed at more or less consistently amidst the endless variety of life's detailed interests. It is what ultimately decides his method of handling his circumstances. It determines the result which he wishes to extract from his dealing with the world and his fellow-men. It occupies his thoughts—when they are free—awakes and sways and satisfies his emotions informs and inspires his will and produces or incarnates itself in his character. A man's religion is his most real self.
Religion the source and standard of all values.
We have said that all human life is practical even that which we call theoretical. It is always purposive always aims at ends conceived as good. All the objects for which man strives are regarded by him as kinds of good—the truth which the theorist seeks the beauty which the artist would produce the material wealth which the economic man would make or gain. And it follows so far as I can see that any one of such objects if it is the dominant object of desire may be a man's God and that the pursuit of it is his religion. The moment an object becomes the source and standard of all values for him and is nearer and dearer to him than his separate self so that life without it is just failure it becomes his religion.
Two characteristics of religion thus become plain. In the first place as I have already tried to insist it is the pursuit not merely of a good but of the Supreme Good the Best the Perfect (as I believe) and to that alone we give the name “God.” In the second place it is the loss or at least the total immersion of the self in this pursuit. It is not merely a way of life but it is the active principle the life itself. It is that which breaks out into behaviour. It follows from the first of these two characteristics of religion that incomplete forms of good are only conditionally good; and that they must receive their highest value from that which endows all things with worth. Hence truth beauty happiness (I am not sure but that I can say “moral goodness”) are but elements within the Best; and they attain their highest only when the spirit of religion expresses itself through them. I do not mean that the theme of every poem or the object of every artist should be a religious one; but I do mean that he is not at his best unless he can stand by his poem or his picture or his business and say “This is the best way in my power of serving the Best.” And from this point of view very humble lives and very simple acts attain a marvellous dignity and beauty. “I have served the most High for I have wiped the tears of the sorrowing.” The divine life can throb in very humble hearts.
Religion implies moral behaviour.
Religion is thus not only practical in its essence it is
practice; it is experience it is life. But that is as much as to say that whatever more it may or may not be religion must be moral; for morality is man's habitual way of evaluating objects and of seeking them. The relation of religion to the moral ideal is more direct and perhaps more intimate than to the intellectual or aesthetic ideal. “A man who is ‘religious’ and does not act morally is an impostor” says Mr. Bradley “or his religion is a false one. This does not hold good elsewhere. A philosopher may be a good philosopher and yet taking him as a whole may be immoral; and the same thing is true of an artist or even of a theologian. They may all be good and yet not good men; but no one who knows what true religion is would call a man who on the whole was immoral a religious man. For religion is not the mere knowing or contemplating of any object however high. It is not mere philosophy nor art because it is not mere seeing no mere theoretic activity.…Religion is essentially a doing and a doing which is moral. It implies a realizing and a realizing of the good self.”2
Yet morality is not religion.
Does the converse also hold good? “Are we to say then that morality is religion? Most certainly not” continues Mr. Bradley and so far as I know everyone will agree with him. If on the one hand all men are agreed that religion and morality cannot be separated; neither on the other hand can they be simply identified. What then is the relation between them? This is a question of cardinal importance which we must consider with some care.
Problem of the relation of morality and religion.
If we turn to the history of either religion or morality we shall see without much difficulty that no simple or single definition of their relation will hold. Though (as I believe to be the case) there exists a relation which is fundamental and constitutive of both its manifestations of itself have differed at different stages of man's development—like all other human relations industrial moral or political. Interested primarily as I am not in the history of past religions but in the religious consciousness as an existing fact to-day I shall only refer very briefly to the various ways in which religion and morality have been inter-related in earlier forms of civilization.
The cruder forms of religion.
At the lower levels of human life it is not easy to discern the presence of either morality or religion. Not only is there no distinction between the secular and the sacred or between the natural and spiritual—distinctions still blurred even in our own day and shifting and unreliable—but no constant Best has emerged as an object to be either realized or reverenced. There is nothing but a changing and momentary “Better.” For life itself has at this stage little effective continuity. In the cruder forms of religion desires aims have hardly to supplant each other; each of them is in itself so evanescent and so much at the beck of outward circumstance. Passions rule but there is no ruling passion far less is there a purposed future that controls the present or a past that is reflected upon and its meaning preserved. Such continuity as there is is subconscious as we say and relatively ineffective. And religion shows the same characters. It is a sentiment rather than a ruling purpose and it lacks all constancy. At this stage there are many gods and each passes out in turn and is forgotten as if he had never been. Religion is not even polytheistic as yet. Polytheism comes only when the pious savage recalls and reflects on the succession of his deities. At the earlier stage when the worshipper sought the help or tried to avert the wrath of his god that god was all in all to him for the moment. Each god in turn was the only god. In some sense and for the moment he was the Best. But that Best may have no qualities that we would call moral. He may be simply the strongest or even the most cruel. Man it may be said creates his gods as his wants dictate; and the things he wants most are often very strange. There is but one tendency at war with these measureless aberrations; it is man's tendency to turn to that which seems to have supreme value as supplying his wants. Let him but understand his true wants learn the needs of his soul and he will find that only a God who has spiritual attributes can satisfy him.
The ascent towards a consistent experience.
Emergence out of the stage at which there is no constant loyalty to any cause no recognized law natural moral or religious but only a succession of moods and passions hungry hunts and days of gorging and little foresight or restraint of the present for the sake of the future; when there are few peaceful human relations domestic or other and society our greatest leader out of ourselves and into communion with others makes but few and meagre calls—emergence out of this stage is very slow. Change probably comes under the pressure of some overwhelming danger. To meet it closer connexions between individuals and between tribes are needed and greater fidelity to their undertakings becomes customary. The social spirit of mutual regard and service is fostered; life individual and social gains depth and its purposes acquire constancy. The dim conception of a fixed law of right behaviour and of some good that is supreme appears and gradually assumes the control of conduct.
The animal's impulse to live takes in man the form of the pursuit of the best; and the pursuit of the best is religion.
Religion and morality are present and in some way active even in the lowest forms of human life. Man is never without a religion of some kind. Man's impulse to live which he shares with other animals and which is a constituent of his nature takes the form of believing in and seeking a best or of that which approves itself as the best for the time being to such an understanding of his needs as he possesses. But if religion and morality are constitutive elements of man's very being; if they are developed forms of original impulses arising from the dominant need to live; if at bottom they are necessities like the necessity of physical sustenance then irreligion and immorality are violations of the self forms of self-mutilation. On the other hand both morality and religion have in man's history illustrated by their strange and often repellent forms the complexity of his being and the difficulty of attaining the knowledge best worth having namely knowledge of the self of its true needs and of that by which they can be fulfilled.
But intimate as the relations of religion and morality are they cannot be directly identified as I shall try to show in the next lecture.