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Chapter 1: Faith

In Action I argued that the moral life is a rational life: that the development of moral experience runs pari passu with the development of reason, where ‘reason’ means not the mere intellect (Kant's Verstand) but the full development of self-consciousness, a synthesis of what are called ‘intellect’ and ‘will’, something more like Hegel's Vernunft. I argued further that the supreme development of the moral consciousness implies an absolute devotion which chimes in with religion. But, if so, then what the rationality of the moral consciousness requires is a religion which reason can accept. What religion is this? Is there, to use Kant's phrase, a ‘religion within the bounds of reason alone’ which can be accepted not only by reason but by the believer with his whole soul? If so, what is it? The question is hard, especially because certain developments in Christian theology, in the last century or so, may seem to give good grounds for the question asked by the Superior of the Novice in Melmoth the Wanderer: ‘My deluded child, when had reason anything to do with religion?’1 The question expects the answer ‘never’, but I still think it is worth asking whether, as chiming in with our experience of duty, there is not a religion that can be accepted by the reason which has developed up to the consciousness of duty, and, if so, what that religion is.

There are many today, however, who would regard this question as not worth asking at all. Religion has become for them an almost meaningless word. They neither worship nor pray, and apparently are quite content to live as if churches did not exist. If religion does not interest them, however, we may well ask what does. To all appearance the answer is: sport and gambling.

Something has gone wrong when the seriousness of human life, as distinct from animal life, is trivialized in this way. Religion is one essential feature in the life of mind, and it is not surprising if those who ignore it become disorientated and déracinés.

Since the time of the Romantics, modern Europe has often looked back to the Middle Ages with a nostaligia for that epoch when life was coherent because people knew where they were going and how to guide their lives. This unity of purpose and conviction made possible the great achievements of the time, Gothic cathedrals, the Summae of Thomas Aquinas, the works of Dante, achievements which we may envy, whatever their background of squalor and superstition. This was a civilization with theology as its kernel. Its products were products of faith, not only religious faith, but a belief that the fabric of civilization was worth not only preserving but weaving further.

What a contrast with the world of today! Our world is often compared, and rightly, with the dying years of the Roman Empire. We have lost faith in our civilization to such an extent that men need ‘incentives’ before they will work. Economic security is a watchword, but lip service does not produce the reality; the reality recedes because there are insufficient ‘incentives’ for cooperative effort. Our modern art witnesses to the ‘failure of nerve’ characteristic of a dying culture. What dominates in our architecture is great rectangular blocks of offices or flats, repeated with monotonous regularity, whatever the environment. Painting and music may be the expression of scepticism or bewilderment or anger, but hardly of any faith.

In a sceptical age dogmatisms flourish too, and we have plenty of them, whether Roman, or Barthian, or Marxist, or naturalistic. Their very multiplicity witnesses to the fact that there is no kernel left in our civilization; it is dying, if not dead.

And yet man needs a faith if he is not simply to descend to an animal level. During the six years war this nation was fused into a unity by the genius of Winston Churchill. If the ‘spirit of Dunkirk’ or the heroism that endured the bombing of cities is to be recaptured, then a new faith is needed to rouse the imagination of the people and to provide stimulus and principles for action. It will not be enough to repeat familiar dogmatisms; doubts about them are too deep-seated, and in any case they are too well-founded in scientific and historical criticism. We have to ask afresh the questions that most modern philosophy eschews: What is man? What sort of a world does he live in? What is his chief end?

The questions are old; the answers may be old too; but, if so, they need to be re-stated in a form which takes account of the processes which have led to their negation. The civilization which succeeded the Greco-Roman had Christian theology as its kernel. Science has claims to be regarded as the kernel of the seventeenth century and later. But its inadequacy is now patent. It cannot tell us how or to what end we should use the tools which it has put into our hands.

Once a civilization dies it cannot be revived. The gates of the future are open. The task before us today is to lay proper foundations for what lies beyond them, or, in other words, to formulate the faiths on which a new civilization can be built. This task is an ambitious one, but it is the task to which philosophers and theologians today are called.

To the first two of the questions to which I have just referred I offered answers in Action: (i) Man is not simply a member of a biological species; whatever his natural origin, he is capable of a moral and spiritual life and is not as he ought to be unless he actualizes that capacity. Hegel once put the point well when he said: ‘Just because man knows that he is an animal, he ceases to be an animal and attains knowledge of himself as spirit.’2 (ii) The world in which man lives is one capable of being known, one in which morality, as distinct from jungle law, is possible, and one in which beauty is discoverable. The natural world of fact has supra-natural significance.

To the third question, What is man's chief end?, the Scottish Shorter Catechism (1648) provides an answer, namely ‘to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’. No better may have been provided, but humanists and atheists will disagree. What, however, do they substitute? So far as I can see, either ‘to be, and to make others, as happy as possible’, or, ‘to reduce suffering as far as possible’. The qualification ‘as far as possible’ is a recognition that to make happiness or the reduction of suffering a paramount aim in this life is to embark on an enterprise as hopeless as that of Sisyphus. Nevertheless, for those who think more of man's origin and his finitude than of his spiritual destiny, there may be no alternative.

To speak of ‘spiritual destiny’, however, is to reach at least the outskirts of religion, and to the problem of faith and reason it is now necessary to turn.

To associate reason with religion is not necessarily to expect to have a religion within the bounds of reason alone; on the contrary, there can be no religion without faith, or otherwise religion would collapse into philosophy or science. Faith, however, need not be a defiance of evidence, or simply irrational. It is lack of faith that can sometimes be unreasonable. For example, scientific inquiry would be unreasonable if it were not accompanied by faith in the possibility of success, by faith in the intelligibility of nature.

Man as mind or spirit is not satisfied by living on the animal plane, by getting what the animals get; he craves beauty, goodness, and truth (however often this may be forgotten or unrealized today). These are abstract nouns and they have all the appearance of Professor Maclagan's ‘values’.3 But to avoid using them would involve too much circumlocution. The point is that in our imaginative, intellectual, and moral life we find ourselves, once we are conscious of our transcendence of nature, under compulsion. The artist, the scientist, the moral agent, finds that he must act in certain ways if he is not to be false to his calling or his higher self. And it is convenient to describe this compulsion on action by calling it a quest for beauty, truth, and goodness. This quest does not invariably succeed; but sometimes it does, and this is man's discovery of the real world, not the natural order but the spiritual order.

Man's quest for beauty, truth, and goodness is not the chasing of a will-o'-the-wisp but a response to objectivity, and so, as I have said, a quest which sometimes is successful. This will be denied. Beauty, it will be said, is only in the eye of the beholder, goodness merely characterizes actions which we approve or which happen to please us or which are socially useful, truth is just what happens to work and so to subserve our subjective needs. For example, the view from the Knock of Crieff is in my eyes one of great magnificence and beauty; but in the eighteenth century it would have usually been regarded as grim, barbarous, and ugly. Thus beauty is only a matter of personal taste. This is superficial. It does not explain, for example, the continued existence of artistic criticism. What a man finds beautiful will depend on his upbringing and education; toil is the price at which the gods sell their blessings to men. To say that ‘this is beautiful’ just means ‘I like it’ ignores the seriousness with which beauty has been sought, the uplift, inspiration, and refreshment which are experienced when it is found. ‘It takes us out of ourselves’ as we say. Nothing could be less subjective. It also fails to explain why masterpieces are recognized as such, century after century, by those with the knowledge to appreciate them. Ask an artist or a scientist why he works as he does at his picture or his problem in the laboratory. The answer will seldom be ‘because it amuses me’, for that would put the work on the level of a hobby. The artist must get his picture exactly right; the scientist must find the inescapable answer to his problem. The claim of beauty and of truth is as absolute as that of goodness. Subjectivist views of truth have seldom presented any appeal to scientists or historians or philosophers.

What is being argued is not that beauty, goodness, and truth are simply there to be apprehended by a sort of sense-perception. On the contrary, their discovery is the end of a sort of spiritual quest; the subject and the object coalesce. The quest is a response to reality, possible only because the heart of reality is also the heart of man's spirit.

It may be said that to find beauty, goodness, and truth in the world is to take too optimistic a view. Nature is red in tooth and claw. Villains are commoner than saints. If truth can be found, error is commoner. A candid view of the world would see in it a riot of ugliness, evil, and falsehood. This may be true. But it is saner to give full force to the experience of beauty, heroism, truth, for these occur. In the vast universe man appears, a tiny spot, insignificant, if size or vastness be our criterion. And yet it is for the mind and spirit of man that all this vastness exists. Not by the earth do we judge, or by what fertilizes it, or by the root or the stem or the leaf of the rose, but by the flower. The universe has in it the possibility of glory, a possibility made actual by man when he rises to the heights of his potential spirituality, and, in the energy of his spirit, actualizes the latent potentialities of the object and so enjoys beauty, goodness, and truth.

These make absolute claims upon him only because, as spirit, he is capable of recognizing them and accepting them. And, in doing so, he finds at last, if he has asked the question, an understanding of this experience as a justification for a belief in God. Whether an argument on these lines could ever bring to a faith in God anyone brought up without any such faith, I do not know. It might perplex him if he tried to explain, if he felt them, the absolute claims of duty or truth. But these claims seem to me to become intelligible to a believer in God, and to give to such a believer who seeks reasons for his belief a harmony between the religion he was taught in youth and the scientific, or artistic, or philosophical, or moral experience which he has had as an adult. What better explanation is there?

Beauty, goodness, and truth are all forms of perfection, and it is worth asking how we come by this notion. No type of empiricism can provide a satisfactory answer.4 For example, it is suggested that we see that x is a better man than y, and y than z, and then by extrapolation reach the notion of perfection—id quo melius cogitari nequit (that than which nothing better can be thought). But this cannot be accepted. If I find that x is taller than y and y than z, I do not produce by extrapolation the notion of perfect height. I assess the relative heights of the three men by using a standard, a foot rule or the like. But the comparison in terms of moral goodness already implies the standard of goodness itself, i.e. the standard of perfection. We cannot describe two things as unequal unless we first know what equality is; and equality—a perfection—we have never encountered. If it is then suggested that we do just encounter perfection, e.g. in the ‘Mona Lisa’, or the ‘St Matthew Passion’, and thus derive the concept of perfection from experience, the suggestion must be met with a denial. Nothing in this world is perfect, for everything is finite and therefore limited. The ‘Mona Lisa’ and the ‘St Matthew Passion’ may be beautiful but they are not beauty.

The craving for beauty, truth, and goodness is at once a response to reality and a discovery of it. It is also an activity of man as spirit, not nature. Consciousness of man as spirit is a consciousness of a clash between what I am and what I potentially am, a clash within the self between finite and infinite. This is where the transition to religious faith occurs. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. The quest for the ideal is not motivated by Platonic forms or by ‘values’, for these cannot impose obligations on us. Devotion to these ideals is like the worship of God whose nature they partially express, and is intelligible only as the response of self-transcendence to the spiritual reality present in man implicitly from the start. ‘Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.’ Countless thousands who have climbed the heights of moral experience could never have reached them, let alone dwelt on them, without faith in that divine power of goodness, both outside and inside themselves, which is part of what we mean by God.5

The artist's devotion to his art, the scientist's to truth, are just as categorical as the call of duty. Kant speaks of reverence for the moral law, and it is equally in place to speak of reverence for beauty and truth. But these abstractions cannot be worshipped, and worship has been characteristic of mankind, except when humility has been at a discount. Devotion to beauty, truth, and goodness is intelligible as the worship of God and the development of the spiritual life.

This argument will not appeal to humanists. They believe that ‘this world is all we have and all we need; that we should try to lead full and happy lives ourselves and, as part of them, help to make it easier for other people to do the same’.6 This can be interpreted in two ways: on the one hand, it may be regarded as a programme for a community of animals; on the other hand, ‘this world’ may mean the world of the spiritual life, and a full life will be one in which religion and the worship of God play a part. It is the former interpretation which seems to accord with most humanist writing. It forgets or has not yet learnt that man cannot be happy without devotion to spiritual ends.

This is the plight of many adolescents today. Not only have they no religion, they have no art either, but make a cult of ugliness. To encounter some of them in groups is to be reminded of savages. Taught to be human, all too human, they live for the pleasure of the hour. So they are not happy but only noisy, and, underneath, bewildered, disorientated. If man is to live a human and not an animal life, he cannot live on bread alone. This means that in one sense the happy life which the humanist desiderates is impossible, as I have argued above. He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. Human life is a serious business, and, to anyone who reflects, it is a tragedy which only religion can overcome. Henley's ‘unconquerable soul’ is bluster. Shelley knew better, or at least did not shrink from the truth:

He has outsoared the shadow of our night;

Envy and calumny, and hate and pain,

And that unrest which men miscall delight,

Can touch him not, and torture not again.

It is for reflection that the tragic aspect of life exists, and yet it is reflection too which perseveres towards beauty, goodness, and truth, and finds in that pursuit the happiness which outsoars the evils that Shelley lists. This perserverance would be unintelligible if the mind or spirit of man did not find itself in the world; it is as if the world were on the side of these ideals. It is this mystery for which religious faith alone can supply a reasonable explanation.

Humanism, it is often said, is parasitic on the religion which it rejects. If suffering is to be alleviated simply because it is suffering, then there is no difference in principle between exempting a wrongdoer from punishment and releasing into the open air a bird trapped and frightened indoors. Equality as an ideal is senseless unless it is given a religious foundation, namely that inequalities are insignificant in comparison with the equidistance of all men from God.7 Humanitarian zeal, not based on respect for man as spirit, readily becomes dictatorial; what begins as nineteenth-century liberalism sinks into its opposite, belief in regimentation by the State. By abandoning the religion which made its ideals intelligible, humanism has cut the ground from below its own feet. To concentrate on the purely human is to take the route which leads to the beehive and the anthill. This is something which the humanist may regret. Sometimes he may see that he has had too lofty a view of human nature by believing that men were naturally good and that all that was necessary was to remove hindrances in the way of their happiness. But if this leads to a rigidly planned economy, the humanist can feel no remorse, because that implies a sense of sin, an alienation from a central source of goodness and truth.8 No doubt a psychologist is then produced who will explain remorse away as the fruit of delusions, and the mind of the victim will then be swept and garnished, ready for the reception of worse devils.

Humanists will not deny the progress that physical science has made in the last three or four centuries, but they seem to ignore the advance of the religious consciousness in the same period. Heretics are no longer burnt at the stake, nor are witches drowned; slavery has been abolished. Are Christians today not entitled to hold that these changes represent a deepening of the religious consciousness, a deeper insight into what Jesus taught men about God?

Professor A. G. N. Flew will not mind being numbered with the humanists, and his well-known views merit attention at this point. He tells us that ‘a thorough and systematic apologetic must start from the beginning, and hence must be capable of displaying … what it is proposed that the term God should mean, how its supposed object could be identified as a subject of conversation, and what job … its sponsors want to introduce the word to do’. Professor Flew is sure that this is an impossible enterprise; the concept of God, he says, is ‘botched up’ and for it ‘no legitimate or explanatory work’ can be found.9

In thus talking about the ‘concept’ of God, Professor Flew may be sinning in good company, for Kant apparently put the concept of God on a level with the concept of a hundred dollars. But in discussing the ‘word’ God, Professor Flew is as far from understanding religion as the man was from understanding a string quartet when he described it as the noise made by scraping horses’ tails on catgut.

It is God and not the word ‘God’ or the ‘concept’ of God with which religion is concerned, and if Professor Flew had penetrated so far within the religious consciousness, his criticisms might have been more relevant. In reply to him, we could tell him, for example, that God is worshipped. Men have worshipped all sorts of things and this is why their conception (not concept) of God has altered. The word ‘God’, which interests Professor Flew, means at least the object of worship. The lexicographical question, however, is easier to answer than such a question as: How can God be infinite and yet the object of man's worship? Here no help can be expected from Professor Flew, because the question can be answered, if at all, only from within religious experience and not from outside.

Asked about the ‘concept’ of God, the religious man will ignore the word ‘concept’ and may say that God is spirit and that they who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. If Professor Flew pulls this to pieces, as doubtless he can, it is because he has so revolted against his religious upbringing as to forget that the language of religion is inescapably metaphorical, or as to be no longer able to glimpse the truth behind the metaphor.

There is a further point. Man craves forgiveness for his misdeeds. To offend a friend, or to fail him, disrupts the relationship, and it produces an agony which persists until the friendship is restored by forgiveness. If I am right in associating the absoluteness of moral claims with religion, then moral failure separates the sinner from God; if he repents, he has been taught to seek forgiveness, and he believes that a contrite heart will not be despised. If this sounds too like ‘Dieu me pardonnera, c'est son métier’, it at least provides an intelligible answer to Professor Flew's enquiry as to the ‘job’ which the sponsors of the word ‘God’ want the word to do.

I have suggested that our experience of beauty, truth, and goodness is a reasonable ground for making the venture of faith in a God whose nature is, or is expressed through, these characteristics. Professor Flew says that ‘no philosopher needs to be ashamed of wanting his beliefs to be true and to be known to be true’.10 This is to ask for the impossible. A belief known to be true is no longer a belief, but knowledge. ‘Believing where we cannot prove’ is a more sensible statement than Professor Flew's.

Aristotle, starting from thinking, came, in that great passage from the Metaphysics with which Hegel ended his system of philosophy, to the existence of God: ‘Thought thinks itself by participation in the object of thought; for it becomes an object of thought in coming into contact with and thinking its objects, so that thought and the object of thought are the same. … The actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality. … God is a living being, eternal and best … for this is God.’ This is the argument from finite to infinite: thinking in man is the spark of the divine. But how is this to be understood if God, the infinite, is not also regarded as creator, the creator who has made man in his image, that is to say, possessed of spiritual potentiality? It is true that faith in God as creator invites such questions as: Who made God? What was he doing before he created the world? To the second of these questions one of the Fathers replied: He was making a Hell to contain those who ask silly questions. Reason can never take us all the way. To the question: Why anything? there is no answer. It is reasonable to try to explain or make sense of our experience, but unreasonable to ask why there is any experience or reality at all. The point comes when we have to end with Sir Thomas Browne who loved to pursue his ‘reason to an O Altitudo!’.11 But this is not the end of reason; it is only the end of argument; and it is reasonable to see that argument must have an end.12

Those who will not make this venture of faith may perhaps have reflected too litle on the hold that religion has had on mankind. No doubt religion has been responsible for great evils, and some religions are worse than others and no better than superstition. To maintain, however, that all religion is an illusion with no future is to condemn the man in the street (who is neither scientist nor philosopher) to be caught in the clutches of either superstition or total scepticism. Both of these are irrational. If beliefs and theories are rejected because they are false, then some knowledge of truth is implied: if because they are unconvincing, then knowledge of what would convince is implied. In both cases complete scepticism is a self-contradiction.

The strongest argument against associating reason with religion may be the continued existence (and perhaps success) of the Roman Catholic Church, despite its promulgation, during the last century or so, of doctrines de fide which are indefensible by reason unaided. In 1870 Lord Clarendon wrote, referring to Papal infallibility: ‘This monstrous assault on the reason of mankind is the only chance of mankind being roused to resistance against being insolently thrust back into the darkest periods of Church despotism.’13 This affront to the reason of mankind, however, would seem to have strengthened the Roman Church rather than have weakened it. And in any case that Church has never disparaged reason, as Luther and Barth, for example, have done.

It may be said that so far from man being made in the image of God, man has made God in his image, and this is the irrationality of anthropomorphism. It is true that when man comes to try to describe the God in whom he believes through his experience of absolutes which call for his reverence, he must use the only vocabulary he has. Man's spiritual life at its highest is always conscious of its finitude and a beyond. But the beyond cannot be less than the highest reach of man's spiritual endeavour. Therefore man must ascribe to God the perfection of such spiritual achievements as he may have attained, and in addition he must ascribe personality to God, even if this be only an attempt by metaphor to ascribe to God at least the highest category that man ascribes to himself.

In a television programme (January 12, 1967) pupils in a secondary school voiced their views in the class hour devoted to religious instruction. A girl said quite bluntly: ‘Man invented God, and the need for this invention has gone.’ A boy added: ‘We have to have this hour of instruction. We are told this and that about God. But there is no argument. God is man's invention.’ Perhaps they had a perplexed and bewildered teacher. If man invented God, and the invention seems to have been very widespread in cultures that had little or no connection with one another, it is reasonable to ask why man invented him. I do not know how these children would have answered the question. If man lived on a natural plane alone, he could hardly raise questions about the source or meaning or destiny of his life. If he invented God, it was because he had raised these questions, and so had risen above the natural, happy, idle life of the animals to an intellectual level; and once there is an elevation to that level, there is the possibility of reflecting on it and so of elevation to the level of spirit. This is the self-transcendence to which I have alluded so often (in Action). To reflect on an achievement is already to have gone beyond it, transcended it.

Great ingenuity and massive learning are required in order to prove the impossible. The curious thing is that they are not lacking, whether it is a matter of extracting the date of the end of the world from Daniel and Revelation, or proving that God is a human invention. I quote only one example of the latter from a book published in 1953 on the Origins of Christianity by Mr A. Robertson, who appears to be a Marxist. There is no doubt about his learning. His first chapter is headed: How man made God. Even if this question were satisfactorily answered, it would prove nothing about religion today. The argument from origins is always hazardous. Development proceeds by negating the starting-point. Mr Robertson begins with magicians and rulers, and then argues that it was from them that man constructed the idea of God. How and why? The leap from finite to infinite is unexplained. It is also unintelligible, unless man as thinker had the idea of the infinite implicit in his very thinking itself. No doubt the idea of God has changed. Men have worshipped strange gods. The Christian idea is not that of the Jews, though it was first learnt from them. Even the Christian idea varies. A book entitled Honest to God, reviving some ideas expounded sixty years ago by Rev. Dr R. J. Campbell, has made a sensation and become a best-seller. The real point is that, so far from inventing anything, man has been conscious in diverse ways, in beauty, goodness, and truth, of something transcending himself and his world, something which, when he is humble enough, he must worship.

Reverence or worship has been a human characteristic for long past, and men have worshipped very odd things. But to say that man invented God is to repudiate worship and reverence altogether. It is to deny all absolute claims, whether of beauty, goodness, or truth, and to sink to an animal level, a level of lower animals, for even dogs seem to have an inkling sometimes of what worship is. If God is thought to be an old gentleman living in the sky, then indeed the girl was right to say that this was an invention or a myth. But if she had been asked whether she reverenced or worshipped anything, her answer might have brought her nearer religion and started the argument which the boy desired. But the argument might be about the nature of God, rather than about his existence. Of the existence there is no proof; we cannot get beyond belief. But the belief is reasonable for those who are conscious of the spiritual realm to which man belongs and in which he sometimes lives, and who therefore are worshippers of what in that realm is supreme and perfect.

In his lecture on Kant's Moral Theology (British Academy, 1963) Professor W. H. Walsh argues that Kant's endeavour to make the moral consciousness point beyond itself is ‘finally and irretrievably shattered. Social scientists show that the feeling of moral obligation is part of an attitude which is socially fostered and serves a vital social purpose. Kant looked on the moral law as an object of awe; social scientists strip it of its mystery by explaining its function in the social whole.’ For more than one reason this seems to me to be very superficial. First, it takes us back to utilitarian ethics, about which I wrote more than enough in my book on Action. Secondly, of course, morality is socially useful, but it does not follow at all that its utility is our reason for trying to abide by it, unless we are utilitarians. A belief may be very useful, but, if we believe it, we believe it because we think it is true, unless we are pragmatists. Thirdly, even if the methods of the social sciences differ from those used in the physical science, they still must have their limitations if their use of the word ‘science’ is to be taken seriously. In so far as they do not rest on observation alone, they are employed by those who inevitably bring with them to the subject-matter their own presuppositions, and then inevitably find what they are looking for. A true account of social life would interpret the mundane by reference to the highest achievements of the spirit of man. But the tendency of social science is to take things as they are, to deal with facts, and not to consider what they could be in process of becoming; to concentrate on what are supposed to be facts (though they are often but answers to questionnaires), and to ignore the spirit which eludes scientific observation and cannot be confined within scientific categories. The point is made by Hegel, though in a different connection, when he is considering the supposed conflict between science and religion: ‘Science takes things as they are; its understanding of them is based on empirical grounds; it seeks for causes and effects, but those that it finds are finite too. Knowledge of this kind never leaves and never wants to leave the sphere of the finite. Thus it does not need God; it lies outside religion and has nothing to do with it. Religion is concerned with the infinite, and with the finite only in so far as that shines in the light of the infinite.’14 Lastly, as I have urged, reverence is not only for the moral law, but for beauty and truth also. Reverence for these may be explained away too, but, whatever may be said about beauty, the social scientist who explained away our reverence for truth would be betraying his claim to be a scientist.

Insensitivity to art is possible, but those who suffer from it are deprived of one essential element in the intellectual or spiritual life of man. Lack of religious experience is a similar deprivation. The worship of God needs faith, but it is an experience which the worshipper today finds correspondent with that of generations before him.

The experience has not always been the same. Man's conception of God has changed. If there are passages in the Psalms and the Prophets which speak to us today with an authentic voice, there are others which we can only repudiate. God is not like that.

Many will urge that this eclecticism is impermissible when the New Testament is under consideration, but this contention is unreasonable. There are too many contradictions there.

It is reasonable to grant all that is said about the evil done in the name of God and religion, and yet, while forsaking many orthodox doctrines, to refuse to abandon religion altogether, and to continue to worship in spirit and in truth. It may be unreasonable to do otherwise.

The faith for which I have argued in this chapter does not go beyond deism or natural religion. God as love and heavenly father is something taught by Jesus, something which reason may accept, but which by itself it cannot propound or prove.

I have argued that truth, goodness, and beauty seem to make absolute claims on us, and that our experience of these claims makes reasonable a faith in God. It might be said that we have experience too of love and fatherliness, and that this might be a rational ground for believing in God as a loving heavenly father. But duty is an absolute demand on all of us (unless we are utilitarians), and truth and beauty make absolute demands on scientists and artists. It does not seem to me that love and fatherliness make demands of the same kind. Experience of them makes it reasonable to accept a conception of God as heavenly father, but does not afford a ground for propounding or proving it.

The Christian religion is the religion of our civilization, the one in which we have been brought up, and the question is: What in it is it reasonable to believe? Alone of the great religions, Christianity appeals to historical events as its basis. The Apostles’ Creed anchors the faith to history. To question the truth of the New Testament is therefore to question the truth of Christianity. The question was raised in an acute form in the eighteenth century; it has been treated in a variety of ways since then; sometimes it has been side-tracked; but the question: What think ye of Christ?, where the operative word is ‘think’, challenges us today with undiminished force.

Scientific attacks on the credibility of miracles seem to me to be less serious for the Christian than the historical probing to which I have referred. The world of which science gives an account is not the real world of our experience, but an abstraction. Neither beauty nor the ‘unremembered acts of kindness and of love’ are within the scope of scientific instruments; and it is an error to dismiss a priori the possibility of miracle.15 No doubt the Church has made unwise claims in the past about matters within the competence of science; but it need not make such claims; its concern is not with nature, the domain of science, butwith the supra-natural. Hence, it need not clash with science at all, even if science clashes with it. Historical claims, however, the Church must make, and therefore it stands at the bar of history and cannot evade historical investigation. A denial of this assertion will come before us in due course.

Jane Austen once described herself as a ‘partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian’, and as an amateur in this field I merit a similar description. However, I am not attempting to write a history of New Testament criticism and interpretation during the last two centuries; for the century from 1861 this has been admirably done by Bishop Stephen Neill.16 What I am attempting is a review, over the last two centuries, of some important ways which I regard as crucial, in which the historical problem has been raised and answered, and some endeavours to evade it, and I shall close by giving some indication of how the matter seems to me to stand today. This will provide my answer to the question what religious belief, within the bounds of reason, is compatible with my account of morality, or in general, my answer to the question: What is it reasonable to believe?

  • 1. London, 1820, i, p. 249.
  • 2. Werke,1 X, i, p. 104.
  • 3. Vide Action, pp. 226–7.
  • 4. Professor J. N. Wright has pointed out to me that I may have learnt this line of argument first from the Third Meditation of Descartes.
  • 5. This sentence is an adaptation of one by Sir Arthur Bryant in Illustrated London News, January 29, 1955.
  • 6. H. J. Blackham, Chairman of the British Humanist Association, in a Sunday newspaper, November 1966. I have lost the precise reference.
  • 7. This is drawn from E. Voegelin: Plato (Baton Rouge, 1966), p. 234.
  • 8. Vide L. Hyde: The Prospects of Humanism (London, 1931), p. 195.
  • 9. Mind, 1967, p. 295.
  • 10. God and Philosophy (London, 1966), p. 181. My italics.
  • 11. Religio Medici, § 9.
  • 12. This coheres with Professor Flew's remarks on explanation (God and Philosophy (edn cit., pp. 82–3). But he stops short of O Altitudo!
  • 13. N. Blakiston: The Roman Question (London, 1962), pp. 398–9.
  • 14. Paraphrased from Phil. d. Rel., ed. Lasson, Leipzig, 1930, i, pp. 20–1.
  • 15. On miracle, see below, Ch. 7.
  • 16. The Interpretation of the New Testament 1861–1961. I have used the paperback, corrected edition, Oxford, 1966.
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