This book, like its predecessor, Action, is based on Gifford Lectures delivered in the University of Aberdeen. In dealing with moral philosophy in the first series of lectures, I was on my own ground. I had had a training in the subject under the best of teachers, R. G. Collingwood, and it was the topic of my professorial chair. In this book I trespass on the ground of theologians and historians: in their disciplines I am an amateur, but in Scotland there is no law of trespass and I hope to escape prosecution. Nevertheless, I am conscious of the temerity of my enterprise, and I may well be told that I have read the wrong books and failed to read the right ones. Still, perhaps my errors may encourage some ecclesiastical historian to demolish them, just as Lessing hoped for a refutation of Reimarus (a hope still largely unfulfilled). At the end of my second course of lectures in Aberdeen an eminent theologian paid me a great compliment: ‘It was a good statement of a bad case.’ In this book I have amplified the statement, but I cannot hope to have made the case any better.
My quest for what it is reasonable to believe began nearly fifty years ago. The answer has varied from time to time under the influence of friends and of books of varying kinds. In this book I have set forth in an historical order an account of the books which, at different times and in various ways, have most influenced my thinking. This is not the order in which I have studied them, and in these chapters I may not always have made plain what I have accepted from them and what I have rejected. I hope, however, that, at the end, my position may have become clear, and, in any case, inferences may be correctly drawn from my selection of passages to quote or to summarize. The method which I have adopted has inevitably involved some repetition, since the same point crops up again and again in the literature; but I have tried to keep repetition to a minimum.
My first chapter attempts to show that it is reasonable to have a religious belief. My final chapter indicates some of the theological and philosophical implications of the belief, which, after the historical survey in the intervening chapters, I have come to find reasonable.
Just as, in Action, I wrote rather for the general reader interested in moral problems than for professional philosophers, so here I have written primarily for other laymen who may share my interest in the New Testament and the beginnings of Christianity. Some of my summaries may be news to them. Although my conclusions are far from orthodoxy, I sometimes wonder if many devout Church members really believe more than I do.
To theologians I must admit, in the words of Kant in Das Ende aller Dinge, that Ich bin mir … meines Unvermögens, hierin einen neuen und glücklichen Versuch zu machen, bewusst. (To the laity: ‘I am well aware of my inability to make a new and successful attempt at this subject.’)
I am deeply indebted to two friends—Professor H. J. Paton, FBA, and Rev. Professor Matthew Black, FBA—who read my typescript. Their criticisms and suggestions have saved me from many errors and helped me to improve some of my arguments. They are not to be taken as agreeing with anything that I say, and all error, imperfection, and inadequacy in this book is to be laid to my charge alone.
I also acknowledge with gratitude the work done by my friends Miss J. S. M. Allan and Mrs A. H. M. Marshall, who between them typed the first draft in 1967.
An author's chief debt is usually to his wife. That my debt is owed to her in a special way for the time during which this book has been prepared for the press, my friends will understand.
T. M. KNOX