§ 1. The linguistic veto
At the very outset we are faced with serious philosophical objections to our whole enterprise—almost, we might say, with a ban or veto. This ban is pronounced by thinkers who regard philosophy as primarily a study of language. Since their movement is perhaps the most original of the present century and has great influence in this country, a prohibition of this kind cannot simply be ignored. No brief discussion can do it justice, but we must try to look at it in outline and consider how far we are entitled to go on at all.
It is not easy to put the linguistic objections succinctly and yet convincingly, partly because the doctrine is always undergoing modifications—a sure sign that it is very much alive. If philosophy is concerned only with words, and we are proposing to talk about God and freedom and immortality, then naturally we must be going very far wrong. But not many thinkers would press their preference for linguistic methods quite so far as this; and there are more precise objections to the type of statements we are bound to make in a theological enquiry. These objections lead to one conclusion likely to prove fatal to any philosophy of religion. We may put it bluntly by saying that on this view the assertion ‘God exists’ is nonsense: strictly speaking it cannot be either true or false. Since to contradict nonsense is also nonsense, the same condemnation applies to the assertion ‘God does not exist’. To the uninitiated this use of the word ‘nonsense’ may appear impolite; but the apparent rudeness is purely technical. We may eliminate it by writing the word with a hyphen. To say that God exists is non-sense: that is, it is to make a statement which cannot be verified by sense-perception and so must be without sense or significance.
It should not be thought that all linguistic philosophers would necessarily adopt this conclusion. Nevertheless this kind of view has played a great part in the new philosophy, and it constitutes precisely the ban or veto with which we are here concerned. The classical exposition of it is to be found in Professor Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic. He would now present his doctrine less harshly than he did in his eager and enthusiastic youth—he has made a good many qualifications in his second edition. But he still believes that his point of view is substantially correct; and so do a great many other people.
§ 2. Ordinary language
There are two main strands in linguistic philosophy. The first uses ordinary language as a check or standard for philosophical assertions. The difference between a check and a standard is not always kept clear, but it is very important. We may agree that as a check ordinary language is salutary and yet maintain that as a standard it is impossible.
Since so much thinking, and especially philosophical thinking, is expressed in language, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the study of language will be a help to philosophy. We might become more free from provincialism in our thinking if we had a, good knowledge of languages remote from our own, such as Chinese, or even if we could compare widely different types of linguistic expression. This is a topic which has lately begun to arouse interest among philologists. British philosophers, as a rule, confine themselves to standard English.
It has always been the practice of thinkers to use their own language as a means for stimulating or checking philosophical reflexion. To Socrates, for example, the process is far from unfamiliar. There can be no better way of debunking vague metaphysical statements and bringing a woolly thinker back to earth; and this kind of check has always been a favourite device of Oxford tutors. What is new about the modern movement is that it is more systematic. It owes its popularity partly to the influence of Professor G. E. Moore.
The appeal to ordinary usage is specially attractive to common-sense philosophers—to those who prefer to call a spade a spade rather than an idea in the mind of God. The language of common intercourse is practical rather than speculative. Naturally enough, it is steeped in common sense and does not trouble much about the ultimate status of the every-day things among which we live: it is content to take them at their face value. How far this makes it a safe guide for philosophers is a matter of dispute. Those who regard common-sense philosophy as superficial will not be likely to change their minds merely because it comes before them in a linguistic guise.
The common-sense advocates of the linguistic method often tell us that philosophers as a class are notoriously apt to be misled by words. They sometimes seem to forget that they too are philosophers. The mere fact that a philosopher disagrees with us does not prove that he is misled by words: it is possible that he may be right. Even if he is wrong, we have first to show that he is wrong and then to show that his error arises because he is deceived by language. On the whole, philosophers are much less likely to be misled by words than are those who think less and talk more. You have only to listen, say, to an average political conversation to find this out. Yet philosophers, like other men, may at times be misled by words, and this can be shown when their arguments are based on linguistic usage. Thus it has been argued that we must have infallible knowledge because we never say that we knew something but were mistaken. This argument can be seen to be fallacious once we recognize that the word ‘know’, like the word ‘cure’, is an ‘achievement verb’—to borrow a coinage from Professor Ryle. As he says, the fact that doctors cannot cure unsuccessfully does not mean that they are infallible doctors. His treatment of ‘achievement verbs’ is an admirable example of the philosophical advantages to be gained from the study of linguistic usage—at least when you are dealing with philosophers who base their arguments on language. Nevertheless a too exclusive concern with language may have its own pitfalls if it leads us to lose sight of what is being talked about—rather like a dog that glues its nose to the end of the walking-stick with which we are trying to point.
However valuable the study of ordinary language may be as at once a stimulus and a check, it should never be set up as a standard—as a final court of appeal—in philosophy. If we were to do this, we should show that we were blind both to the character of philosophy and to the character of language. In philosophy there can be no authorities: we are all free to think fresh thoughts for ourselves. As to language, it is a living and growing organism which is for ever being adjusted to the new thoughts men are trying to express. Every poet and every philosopher has to take liberties with language: it is impossible for either of them to write in cliches. We should be careful to avoid even the appearance of suggesting that language can be kept in a deep freeze; and it seems a pity to revive Victorian primness by telling our philosophical opponents that their language is not ‘respectable’.
The study of ordinary language offers no obstacle to our present investigation: it rather provides fresh opportunities. As a result of its long history our speech is rich in expressions which originate in all sorts of past thinking: in the hands of an ingenious person it can provide support for almost any doctrine, but it can prove none. We need not trouble ourselves too much if it is used to attack religious beliefs: it could equally well be used to support them. It is shot through with philosophical and theological expressions and full of immortal longings. Even those who dislike what is sometimes called ‘mind-talk’—talk which distinguishes the mind from the body-must recognize that this is much older than the English language and is found even among the most primitive peoples.
§ 3. Ideal language
Our real difficulties begin when we come to the second strand in linguistic philosophy. This is concerned, not with ordinary language, but with an ideal language, sometimes described as a disinfected language. It is a language that no one talks, and perhaps that no one could talk. As Mr. Bertrand Russell tells us himself, ‘a logically perfect language, if it could be constructed, would not only be intolerably prolix, but, as regards its vocabulary, would be very largely private to one speaker’. Here too we can say that such a language may be salutary as a stimulus or check to philosophical reflexion; but it should not be elevated into a standard to which all philosophical assertions ought to conform.
A highly complex and continually evolving doctrine of this type cannot possibly be described in a few paragraphs, and there is a danger of giving a totally false impression of it. The precise relation between this strand and the previous one is hard to determine, but there is at least a connexion in so far as ordinary language is sometimes translated into a more ideal language: there have been, for example, elaborate discussions on the logically ideal way of saying ‘Scott is the author of Waverley’. The two different methods of treating language are both commonly described as ‘analysis’. It is natural enough to pass from studying ordinary language to considering how it might be improved; but perhaps it is possible to construct an ideal language entirely by itself. The construction of an ideal language is also connected with the development of modern mathematical logic, which is one of the most influential contributions to philosophy during the present century. Here again it is not easy to say precisely what the connexion is, but we may not go too far wrong if we regard the ideal language as primarily, if not exclusively, a language for mathematics and perhaps for physics.
The best introduction to this subject is probably a collection of Mr. Bertrand Russell's lectures published under the title The Philosophy of Logical Atomism. In this short book we can see the doctrine in process of being formed, and we are less likely to get lost in a mass of technical details which may obscure a general framework that is often now taken for granted. We can also see that the doctrine is associated in Mr. Russell's mind with the two fundamental principles of David Hume—namely, ‘that all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences, and that the mind never perceives any real connexion among distinct existences’. Here once more it is hard to see whether there is any closer logical link between Hume's principles and an ideal language. Whatever the connexion may be, it will not greatly recommend the ideal language to those who find themselves unable to accept Hume's philosophy.
Enough has been said to show at least that the ideal of a logically perfect language comes forward as only one part of a vast system. It cannot be discussed adequately apart from the system as a whole. Yet we may think that an ideal language will be too circumscribed for our purposes if its primary use is to talk about mathematics or even about science. We may also think that if its aim is to become a fixed or frozen language, there is a risk of its being false to the nature of language itself.
§ 4. Analytic and synthetic propositions
In all this we are concerned only with the ban or veto imposed by an ideal language on the kind of assertions likely to be made in a philosophy of religion. Before we can understand this, we must deal with some technical terms, especially with the difference between analytic and synthetic propositions. This distinction was first made by Immanuel Kant, and we had better begin with his account of it. A brief summary will necessarily be oversimplified.
According to Kant an analytic proposition is one which can be made by analysing the subject-concept (in accordance with the law of contradiction). Example: ‘Bodies are extended’. The predicate ‘extended’ is contained in the concept of ‘body’; that is, in the concept of the subject or—more briefly—in the subject-concept.
A synthetic proposition is one which cannot be made by analysing the subject-concept. Example: ‘Bodies are heavy’. The predicate ‘heavy’ is not contained in the concept of ‘body’.
It should be observed that the subject-concept must be sharply distinguished from the subject itself, which is usually a thing or class of things, and not a concept at all. Those who fail to grasp this distinction—and they are many—have only themselves to blame if they find Kant talking nonsense.
There are difficulties in speaking as if all propositions were of the subject-predicate form. This is not Kant's meaning, and hypothetical propositions, for example, can be either analytic or synthetic. If we suppose that the necessary adjustments can be made, Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic is exhaustive. It is manifestly exhaustive so far as subject-predicate propositions are concerned.
Because in a synthetic proposition the predicate is not contained in the subject-concept, it is necessary to go beyond the subject-concept to some ‘third term’ if subject and predicate are to be combined or synthetized in one proposition. In most synthetic propositions, such as the example given above, Kant takes the third term to be sense-perception or sense-experience. Hence most synthetic propositions are empirical: they are verified or justified only by experience. But Kant thinks there are some synthetic propositions which are true and yet cannot be verified by experience: in other words they are a priori. An example would be ‘All bodies change only in accordance with causal law’. This seems to be synthetic, for there is no reference to causal law in the concept of ‘body’ (nor even in the concept of ‘changing body’). Kant thinks it the main business of philosophy to examine such synthetic a priori propositions and to ask whether they are possible—that is, whether they can be justified. He holds that some of them can be justified—it would be incorrect to say ‘verified’—by reference, not to experience, but to what he calls ‘the conditions of the possibility of experience’.
Now in all this there are difficulties into which it is impossible to enter here, and Professor Ayer—if we may go back to him as our best guide—seeks to provide more satisfactory definitions. According to him a proposition is analytic when its validity depends solely on the definitions of the symbols it contains. A proposition is synthetic when its validity is determined by the facts of experience.
It will be noted that he dislikes the word ‘concept’ and prefers to talk of ‘symbols’, but otherwise his definition of analytic propositions is at least akin to that of Kant. Synthetic propositions, however, are defined by what Kant would regard as an accident—they are defined in such a way that they must be empirical. The possibility of synthetic a priori propositions is excluded by definition and without argument. Indeed the possibility that any synthetic proposition could be a necessary proposition is excluded by definition; for according to Professor Ayer empirical propositions can never be more than probable. In the second edition he seems to recognize that some necessary propositions at least do not look as if they were analytic; and he meets this objection by extending his definition of the word ‘analytic’ so as to cover all necessary propositions of this type. But I may be wrong about this, and the subject is too technical for discussion here.
What is clear is that he and Kant use the word ‘synthetic’, and I think also the word ‘analytic’, in different senses so that even if one says that a proposition is synthetic and the other says that it is not synthetic, they may not be contradicting one another. Professor Ayer's terminology may be the better of the two—most philosophers of to-day think that it is. I am here concerned only with one limited point. Kant's definitions admittedly require to be modified in order to cover propositions that are not of the subject-predicate form; but if we suppose, as I do, that this modification could be made, then Kant's distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions is exhaustive: all propositions must be either the one or the other even if in some cases it may be difficult to say which. This is not necessarily true of the distinction as formulated by Professor Ayer.
§ 5. The principle of verification
We can now come face to face with the ban which has been troubling us. It is to be found in what is known as ‘the principle of verification’. According to this principle a statement is literally meaningful if and only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable. Such a requirement is, I take it, enjoined in the name of a logically ideal language.
It should be clearly recognized that this principle has been debated and discussed, interpreted and re-interpreted, by many acute thinkers, and not least by Professor Ayer himself. To take it simply may be to distort it. Nevertheless it is often taken very simply by his more enthusiastic disciples and used as a kind of flail for the smashing of philosophies they dislike. Here it can be treated only in the most elementary way.
The principle restricts us to making only two kinds of statement: we are forbidden to make any others under pain of talking nonsense. If we make synthetic statements, they must be matter of fact sentences, like those of science and common-sense, which can be verified or falsified by ordinary sense-perception. If we make analytic statements, these will be mere tautologies which cannot be confuted by experience because they say nothing about the empirical world. Yet it is quite certain that if we talk about religion we shall want to make statements which look like neither the one nor the other. We seem to be stuck at the very beginning. All metaphysical and ethical assertions are ruled out as meaningless. We are forbidden to say that God exists or does not exist. We are even forbidden to affirm that stealing is wrong or is not wrong. In the latter case we are not stating anything but merely expressing feelings, which can have no place in philosophy; and the same will be true of any judgements of value—presumably even those which attempt to distinguish between religion and superstition.
If the prohibition merely urged us to be cautious in making statements other than those that are permitted, it would be all to the good. It is certainly the business of philosophy, not merely to make statements, but to consider what kind of statements they are and how they can be justified—although unless we first of all made philosophical statements, the second task would never arise. But all kinds of philosophical statements have to be examined on their merits and not simply condemned out of hand, as Professor Ayer would himself now agree. A blank prohibition is not tolerable. As I have already said, I see no reason to suppose that the distinction between analytic and synthetic propositions as formulated by him must necessarily be exhaustive.
A doubt of this kind is reinforced when we observe that in Professor Ayer's own book there are many statements which do not look as if they were either analytic or synthetic in his sense. Even the principle of verification itself is not obviously either one or the other, although it has been taken as both.
It is common nowadays to dismiss such a criticism as crude and elementary, but I have not had the good fortune to come across any short and convincing refutation. In a very clear article published in Mind of January, 1953, Mr. J. L. Evans seems to give the answer that the principle of verification is itself either not a statement or at least not a statement of the same logical type as the statements for which it lays down the criteria of meaningfulness. As he puts it, we do not expect a weighing machine to weigh itself. But for our purposes this is quite enough. It admits that there can be statements of a special logical type to which the prescribed criteria of meaningfulness do not apply. The admission stands even if we prefer to use some word for them other than ‘statement’; and they certainly have meaning even if they are not ‘meaningful’ in a technical sense. If it is legitimate for any one to make statements—or pseudo-statements—of this type, then everybody must be allowed to do the same.
What is it that Professor Ayer is doing when he makes such statements? He tells us in the second edition that the principle of verification is not, as some people had imagined, an empirical generalization: he wishes it to be regarded as a definition, but not as an arbitrary one. He believes that his definition of the word ‘meaning’ is accurate when we consider the meaning of scientific hypotheses or common-sense statements, and up to a point he may well be right. But this is a rather narrow, not to say shaky, foundation for a doctrine so aggressive, and he now admits frankly that there may be other senses of the word ‘meaning’ and other definitions that are appropriate. This surely gives us all the freedom we need desire.
The nature of a definition raises notoriously difficult questions, which cannot be discussed here, but it almost looks, on this view, as if definitions are neither analytic nor synthetic; and this would mean that there is a gap in his classification—a gap which perhaps might even be extended. If I may describe Professor Ayer's procedure in my own language, he seems to be doing what good philosophers have always done—namely, trying to formulate principles. In his case the principles are principles of meaningful discourse: he is attempting to determine the conditions under which alone scientific discourse can be meaningful. If this is legitimate, there seems no reason why we should not be within our rights in trying to determine the principles of morality or art or religion—or, at the very least, of ethical, aesthetic, and theological discourse—even if these principles should turn out to be neither analytic nor verifiable by experience. His disjunction may even be a trifle too tidy to accommodate laws of nature or such a limited principle as the rectilinear propagation of light. We have to recognize at least that philosophical principles constitute a special type of statements, even if we think Kant's language unsatisfactory in describing them as synthetic a priori propositions; and on reflexion it may seem a trifle eccentric to condemn the philosophical principles of others as meaningless because they have the same characteristics (or the same absence of characteristics) as the principle in virtue of which they are condemned.
Needless to say, it would be absurd to pretend that the principles likely to be considered in a philosophy of religion will meet with the approval of Logical Positivists, if this term may be used, perhaps rather loosely, for the line of thought we have been examining. But every philosopher expects to meet with disapproval from those of a different school. All he has a right to ask is that his philosophy, so to speak, should not be strangled in its cradle.
§ 6. Theological statements
So far we have been defending only our freedom to formulate philosophical principles, and here we stand on ground that is tolerably firm. Theological assertions such as ‘God exists’ do not look like philosophical principles: they look much more like ordinary empirical statements. Yet few will maintain that the existence of God can be verified by sense-perception, and so the positivistic ban descends with devastating force. We are forbidden even to raise the question whether God exists or does not exist; for the question itself is said to be without meaning. This is a more complete rejection of religious belief than the agnostic allows himself, or even the atheist, since these admit that the existence of God may at least be reasonably questioned or denied.
Extreme as this view may seem, it is only an attempt to carry out logically the doctrine, already present in Kant, that the sense and significance of propositions must depend ultimately on some sort of reference to sense-perception. In one respect Kant goes further than Professor Ayer; for he holds that this is true of analytic propositions as well as of synthetic ones. On the other hand, Kant maintains that when we reflect on our experience of the sensible world, we are forced, not merely psychologically but logically, to entertain concepts of the world as a whole and of what may lie beyond it. For these concepts, and in particular for the concept of God, we can find no corresponding object in our sensuous experience, and so far they are admittedly without sense or significance. Nevertheless, according to Kant, we are able, and even compelled, to think of God, although we are unable to know Him; and we can understand how this thought must inevitably arise from reflexion on our experience. We can even understand how a God so conceived must be beyond our finite comprehension, and in abandoning the claim to knowledge, we can make room for faith.
We shall have plenty of opportunity to consider this type of doctrine when we come to examine arguments for the existence of God. It is manifestly not wholly out of accord with religious belief, for which, at its best, the nature and existence of God is a mystery not to be comprehended by our finite human understanding. There is no good reason why we should refuse to examine such doctrines on the ground that they cannot significantly be formulated in an ideal language constructed for a totally different purpose. Here too, as I feel sure Professor Ayer would agree, every serious argument has to be considered on its own merits. It might be possible to find an appropriate definition of ‘meaning’ which would allow even theological statements to become meaningful.
When the principle of verification is used to dispose of all theological statements and arguments at a single blow, this method of attack appears to many to be quite unanswerable. Yet there is a risk that a purely linguistic approach may conceal from us what we are doing and so may make an argument seem far more shattering than it really is. It is no new thing to find men who are prepared to believe only in what they can see and touch or in what can be proved by scientific method. God cannot be seen or touched, nor can His existence be demonstrated by the methods of science, as is recognized by all religious thinkers except the most naive. Hence if we choose to confine our beliefs within the limits of common-sense statements and scientific hypotheses, we can have no room for belief in God. This is so obvious that no intelligent person would question it for a moment. Yet a personal decision of this kind would not be regarded as a serious argument for refusing to examine the possibility that religious beliefs—not to mention aesthetic and moral judgements—may have grounds other than sense-perception or scientific discovery. It is not easy to see why it becomes a more serious argument simply because it appears in a linguistic dress—simply because we lay down such principles for our ideal language that in it only common-sense statements and scientific hypotheses can be meaningfully formulated. We cannot get rid of colours by excluding colour-words from our language, although we may perhaps impair our powers of vision.
It seems not unreasonable to reject the positivistic ban even on theological statements, or at least to construe it as a road-sign marked ‘Slow’ rather than ‘Halt’. In theological assertions there is a genuine difficulty which is brought out by such a warning. Many of them look as if they were empirical statements; and yet it may be hard to see where we could find evidence for them that would be conclusive or even relevant. It may also be hard, once we have abandoned the most crudely anthropomorphic interpretation, to find in them a deeper significance which we can make intelligible to ourselves and others.
§ 7. The linguistic method
It would be ludicrous to deny that linguistic methods have a legitimate place in philosophical thinking: they have already added a new chapter to the history of philosophy. Even in moral philosophy, where they might seem less promising, they can be put to good use, as is shown, for example, by Mr. Hare in his book The Language of Morals. There is no reason why they should not also contribute to the philosophy of religion, whether by the examination of ordinary religious language or by the construction of an ideal one—so long as it is remembered that the ideal character of a language depends on what it is trying to say. They need not necessarily lead to pedestrian or sceptical conclusions, although these are generally preferred at present by most of those who favour this school of thought.
Although all this may be admitted, it does not follow that the linguistic method is the only method in philosophy or even the best one. It may escape some of the old difficulties, but it is likely to fall into new ones; and many of the old difficulties merely re-appear in a linguistic form. It may help us to avoid the illusion that we are making statements about the world when we are really making statements about language; but this is a danger against which the best philosophers have always been on their guard, even if they expressed themselves in other terms. In unskilful hands linguistic analysis may become devastatingly tedious, and each philosopher must decide for himself what is the best method for his own purposes.
If any one wishes to maintain that the linguistic method alone is legitimate, this is a further ban which must be decisively rejected.
In support of this prohibition it is sometimes maintained that science is concerned only with facts about the world while philosophy is concerned only with facts about how words and sentences are used. This is an inadequate way of distinguishing between science and philosophy. It is hard to see how ‘a fact about’ differs from ‘a true proposition about’; but if we are really talking about facts, there is only one kind of fact, and linguistic facts are as much part of the world as any others. All study of facts must be an empirical study, but the philosophy of language is much more than an empirical study of actual usage; and Professor Ayer himself warns us against the danger of supposing that analytic propositions are merely empirical statements about the way in which certain symbols are in fact used. Even if we set aside this obvious criticism, it is purely arbitrary to say that philosophy must be only talk about talking. Philosophers have always exercised the right to talk about science, art, morality, religion, and many other things besides language, nor is there any good reason why they should abandon this right—so long at least as they confine themselves to the search for principles. To say that what they are doing is not philosophy is to make a complete break with ordinary usage.
It is always unreasonable for any philosopher to tell others that they must speak his language. This has often been done in the past, sometimes by thinkers who imagined that the language they spoke was ordinary English. Every language is made for a definite purpose: it embodies various presuppositions and is adjusted to a particular method. Once you attempt to speak the language of another you are lost. This is not merely because you may know his language imperfectly—you may have, so to speak, only a reading, not a speaking, knowledge and so be at a disadvantage, as you are in a foreign tongue. The chief danger is that the language may already commit you to the kind of propositions you wish to deny. The same sort of trouble arises when we seek to translate the language of one philosopher into that of another. It can hardly be done without distortion; and one impediment to our understanding of past philosophers—I am not speaking of foreigners—is that when translated into modern idiom, they may be made to say many things which they would have indignantly repudiated. This is also true of discussions between contemporaries who belong to different schools, and I only hope I have not fallen myself into mistranslations of the linguistic doctrine. One great difficulty about modern philosophy is that so many different languages are used, and it is hard to get more than a stammering acquaintance with all but a very few. But if any one insists that you should adopt his language, he is really asking you to follow his methods and think his thoughts. This you may be very unwilling to do. You may prefer to have methods and thoughts of your own.
One reason why some thinkers may prefer the linguistic method is that in talking about words they know they are at least talking about something, whereas in talking about God, they suspect they may be talking about nothing at all. This is carrying further the subjectivism from which, at least in matters of religion, so many of us suffer to-day. But religious experience is also something real. If we start from religious experience, we shall be in no worse a position than those who start from religious language. We certainly cannot begin by adopting an ideal language so designed that it is unable to say anything about God at all.
At any rate I propose to talk about religion rather than about religious language. To some readers this may possibly be a relief. Perhaps we shall be better able to talk about religious language if we have first tried to understand something of religion itself. On the other hand, we are likely to be more careful in what we say about religion, if we remember that the hounds of linguistic propriety may be hard at our heels.
§ 8. The language of religion and theology
Even if we decline to be bound by linguistic prohibitions, which—it is only fair to say—have been considerably watered down in recent years, this is no reason for being blind to obvious linguistic facts. Among these one of the most remarkable is the extraordinary gulf between the language of religion and that of theology. Religious men are apt to speak like poets, while theologians speak more like philosophers; and the emotional or emotive flavour of religious utterances is absent from the colder assertions of theology. According to the theologians, ‘The Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance’. The religious man expresses himself more warmly and simply in such an utterance as ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’.
This linguistic difference, like others, depends on the use to which language is being put. Religious speech is the expression of worship, whereas theology uses language in order to reflect, sometimes on the religious life, but more especially on the character of the God to whom worship is addressed. As reflective, theology must be dry and intellectual; and there is a danger that it will both fossilize and distort the living faith of which it professes to be the theoretical exposition. No theology can be adequate to the religious experience on which it reflects.
Although this difference is sharp, theological terms may acquire an emotional significance from their association with religion and may even become elements in religious language itself. It is possible to use a mixed language or to pass from one to the other, as in the writings of St, Paul. Traces of such a combination are still to be found in the Meditations of Descartes; and a writer like Martin Buber may even choose to expound his theology in the language of religion or poetry; but on the whole it is better to keep the two ways of speaking distinct.
As our present concern is with reflexion on religion, we have to use the colder language of philosophy or theology, although to religious men this may seem like offering them a stone when they ask for bread. At the best we can hope to provide only a kind of dusty blue-print and not a living picture, although there is no need to be either pedantic or inhuman. If the language of religion is to be employed at all, it will be in order to remind us of what we are talking about—not in order to exhort or edify or persuade.