The Transcendence of the Immanent
The Distinction Between Natural and Revealed Religion.
A great change has come over men’s habit of thought concerning the distinction between Natural and Revealed Religion since Lord Gifford founded this Lectureship on Natural Theology. The distinction was originally drawn by Christian theologians, not by scientists or philosophers. What was believed on the authority of the Bible and the Church was revealed; natural theology was such thought about God as could be conducted without reference to Church or Bible. But the Bible is, amongst other things, a record of religious experience; and as such it falls within the sphere of natural theology, which may claim, and if it is thoroughly scientific must claim, to take all such experience as part of its data. Recognition of this leads to the conclusion that the distinction between Natural and Revealed Theology is not really concerned with the subject-matter discussed, but with the method of discussion. So far as a doctrine is accepted on authority only, such acceptance lies beyond the sphere of Natural Theology; but the fact that a doctrine is so accepted by some people cannot hinder Natural Theology from examining it by its own methods.
This does not mean that to accept religious doctrine on authority alone is unreasonable; it may be the most reasonable course available. And all that has made religion a power in the world has first been accepted on authority. The tendency to regard the distinction of Natural and Revealed as concerned with subject-matter and not only with method of treatment, has suggested that Revealed Religion is essentially non-rational, and has excluded from scientific Philosophy of Religion all that makes Religion worthy of philosophic consideration: thus it appeared that Religion must be either insecure or uninteresting.
The change here, as in most departments of modern thought, is due to the adoption in this field of the historical method—which is indeed the only characteristic or distinctively modern feature of contemporary thought. The chief influences at work in giving a new direction to enquiry are Psychology, Anthropology and the Comparative Study of Religions. But the new method of approach inevitably finds itself embarrassed by the fact that actual human religion is authoritative through and through, not indeed in the sense that it can only be received on the authority of other persons but that it presents itself as entitled to homage. The worshipper can no more treat his God with detached criticism than the scientist can enquire whether Truth is worth finding. It is hard to combine the attitude of worship with the intellectual integrity of scientific investigation.
The Tension Between Philosophy and Religion
The first lecture led to a closer association between Natural Theology and the actual religions of men. But closer intercourse may be an occasion of greater friction no less than of greater friendliness. In spite of the present cordiality between philosophy and religion, at any rate in Great Britain, close intercourse between them is bound to result at least in tension. Throughout the nineteenth century there was an anxiety (or in some quarters hope) that science was supplanting religion; there were those who said confidently “Science does not deny God; she does better, she makes Him unnecessary”.
Philosophy and Religion both claim a universal sphere, and supremacy throughout it. Here at once is material for tension if not for conflict. It is not only, or chiefly, in relation to miracles that difficulty arises; it concerns our whole mental attitude towards life and the world. The primary assurances of Religion are the ultimate questions of Philosophy. The divergence of view is specially evident in relation to three religious convictions: (1) that Spirit is the true source of initiation of processes; (2) that all existence finds its source in a Supreme Reality of which the nature is Spirit; (3) that between that Spirit and ourselves there can be, and to some extent already is, true fellowship.
Religious faith, when confronted with the problem of evil, does not prompt men to a dispassionate survey of the facts which may lead to a general view that does justice to them all; rather it inspires a passionate search for an explanation which may bring vindication of faith without denying the actuality of the evil. It finds its most searching trial in Psychology, which may suggest not only that it is incompatible with other elements in experience, but that it is in itself a fraud—a mere project of automatic processes in ourselves.
Religion starts from the Supreme Spirit and explains the world by reference to Him. Philosophy starts from the detailed experience of men, and seeks to build up its understanding of that experience by reference to that experience alone. It is worthy of notice that Christ taught men to trace the activity of God especially in the normal and calculable processes of nature, not chiefly in the astonishing and unpredictable. Much actual trouble would have been avoided if men had followed His guidance. Yet that would not remove the tension which is due to the essential character of Religion and Philosophy; but it never need be more than tension if adherents of each will remember the true character of their own pursuit. Anyhow, the heart of Religion is not an opinion about God, such as Philosophy might reach as its conclusion; it is a personal relationship with God.
The Cartesian “Faux-Pas”
Perhaps the most disastrous moment in the History of Europe was the period of leisure when René Descartes, having no claims to meet, remained for a whole day “shut up in a stove”. In that period he made his celebrated attempt to doubt all things: and found that he could doubt all else, but not that he was doubting; that remained certain; hence the declaration Cogito, ergo sum—I think, therefore I am. From this pivotal assurance of his own existence he sought to build up again this fabric of knowledge. This retreat upon individual self-consciousness as the one secure starting-point is the philosophical counterpart of Luther’s Hier steh’ ich, ich kann nichts anders—Here I stand, I can naught else—in the sphere of religion. Both represent the collapse of the old tradition and the need for a new start. But that could only be from the self-consciousness of the individual. This would not involve self-assertion, but it would involve self-centredness. A man would submit to the authority of conscience, but it must be his own conscience, or to the Voice of God as he heard it, but only as he heard it.
By reducing the initial certainty to thought which is thought of nothing, he involved himself in the necessity of holding that the mind knows only its own ideas. But some of these are clear and distinct, and the veracity of God (whose existence is supposed to be established by the Ontological Argument) guarantees that these give real knowledge of the extended world. So Descartes at last has three real entities—the mind, God, the extended world—God being the link between the other two. On the Continent the rationalist elements in Descartes were worked out, on the assumption that clear and distinct ideas give knowledge of reality. This led through Spinoza and Leibnitz to the ludicrous dogmatism of Wolf. In England another stream was set flowing which applied to the Cartesian scheme an empirical criticism, so that Locke denied the objective reality of secondary qualities, Berkeley also of primary qualities, and Hume of the mind itself—so that there was nothing left but ideas or impressions caused by nothing and held by nothing. Here Kant took up the tale and sought to unite the English and Continental lines of thought; but even for him that task was impossible so long as Descartes’ statement of the problem held the field.
We are now escaping from the Cartesian entanglement. But this does not imply a return to mediaeval habits of thought. As we try to reconstruct a view of the world more consonant with actual experience and with common sense, we carry with us the emphasis on intellectual integrity which is the great merit of the Cartesian period.
Mathematics, Logic and History
Descartes’ adoption of the isolated individual consciousness as his starting-point made logical certainty the only justifiable form of assurance. It is of great importance to distinguish between assurance which is logically well grounded and assurance which is not. But the most important of mental disciplines is not that which distinguishes certainty from probability, but that which leads to discrimination between the degrees of justification attaching to unproved assurances. Descartes could not help with this. But he did effect a welcome simplification. He swept aside the intricacies of Scholastic Logic, and substituted principles which provide a complete programme for the scientific era. In effect those principles recognised in mathematics a supremacy which that science had often been allowed to exercise without this formal recognition.
The connexion between traditional Logic and Mathematics is very close. The syllogism turns upon the Universal; and if its conclusion is applicable to experience, the Universal must be understood as the essence of a Real Kind. But the Real Kind with its changeless Essence does not exist. What does exist is the evolutionary Species. Logicians have not yet recognised the importance of Evolution in its bearing on their science regarded as a study of the grounds of Knowledge. The developing race has the advantage of being at once a Universal and a particular. Here the sharp distinction commonly drawn between sense and thought breaks down, and with it must go much of traditional Logic.
But there is still need of a discipline which may produce accurate and valid thought. This must in our day be concerned with process, whereas the traditional Logic was concerned with unchanging Forms and Kinds. The modern view of the world supplies nothing more abstract or generalised than mathematics, with which a science of pure thought can concern itself. The study of all existing things must consist partly in a study of their history. The understanding and consequent evaluation of thought is to be reached by a study of the history of thought. Logic will come to be used in such phrases as “the logic of the situation”. It is not a special and independent science, but the science or art of dealing appropriately with the subject-matter of the various subjects of study; for thought itself is an extension of the organic process of adjustment to environment.
The World as Apprehended
The Cartesian epoch put in the forefront of all philosophy the question, How is knowledge possible? Science, which could not wait for an answer to this before setting out on its actual quest of Knowledge, tended to drift away from philosophy. This was increased when science led its votaries to a belief in the late appearance of mind in the story of evolution, while philosophers made it the presupposition of all existence. But the scientific view has established itself. The world which we apprehend is apprehended as having been extant before any one apprehended it: apprehension takes place within the world, not the world within apprehension.
When further we study the history of organic life, and the appearance of consciousness in connexion with it, we must agree with Whitehead that “consciousness presupposes experience, not experience consciousness”. Consciousness arises within the process of which it is conscious; it is of process, and itself is process. There is here no problem for the unsophisticated mind. We all progressively apprehend processes every day without bewilderment. But our conceptual thinking lags behind; for it the datum is not the passing present, but the past, which, as past, is fixed and no longer actual process. The place of conceptual thinking in our complete apprehension of the world is that of critical analysis in our appreciation of a work of art; it is an interim process which heightens appreciation when we return direct to apprehension.
Consciousness is generally assumed to arise concomitantly with the power of locomotion; we attribute it to the animal, but not to the plant. Similarly self-consciousness arises with the passage from instinct to intelligence as Bergson describes them, that is, from adaptation of the organism to its environment to adaptation of the environment to the organism.
But the earliest form of consciousness or self-consciousness is not cognition. It is emotional; it is sympathy and antipathy. The self does not infer the existence of other selves by observing the conduct of their bodies; it comes into consciousness as one term in relation to another self—the mother. The child is not immediately conscious of himself and inferentially of his mother; he is conscious of himself and his mother together as related terms in a single apprehension.
Mind “emerges” as an episode in the process which it apprehends. But this implies a character in that process. That the world should give rise to minds which know the world involves a good deal concerning the nature of the world. If Mind is part of Nature, Nature must be grounded in Mind. The more we identify ourselves with the natural order, the more we shall be compelled to assert the reality of a supernatural Creator; but for the full justification of this proposition we must wait until the whole position is more completely stated.
Truth and Beauty
Hitherto we have considered the special activity of Mind and the general character of the World Process. From this point onwards we shall be concerned with the interaction of Mind and the environment which the World Process supplies for it. In this interplay Value and the apprehension of it reside. It has been customary to speak of three “absolute Values”—Truth, Beauty and Goodness; these three terms denote three forms of excellence—Intellectual, Aesthetic and Ethical. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Truth and Beauty are not, strictly speaking, absolute Values; it is true that they have their Value in themselves, and are not to be judged by criteria other than their own; but they are not absolute, for there are circumstances in which it is better not to know the Truth, and there are instances of Beauty which in some circumstances had better not be apprehended. But Goodness is truly absolute; it could never be better that a man should be a worse man than he is.
The pursuit of knowledge derives its impulse, like any other pursuit, from desire. This should ideally be no other than desire for truth or knowledge; but in fact that is inadequate to direct the pursuit, for it will not help us to determine what part of truth to pursue, and it is impracticable to pursue it all at once. Desire is concerned with generalities, and from this fact the scientific concern for Laws and Types arises. But akin to desire, and actually prior to it in experience, is affection, which is always for individuals; and out of its concern for the individual Art arises.
What mind apprehends, even when it apprehends mistakenly, is reality; but the true apprehension of reality is gained at the end, not at the beginning, of the mental process. Mind finds reality to be such as to vindicate its own proper activity. In that mutuality of Mind and its environment is the essence of truth; and this correspondence of Mind with Reality is the essence of Value or Good. The intrinsic good or value in the attainment of truth is the discovery or recognition by mind of itself in its object.
The same must be said concerning Beauty. It is true that there is no actual good in instances of Beauty which no one at all perceives; yet when Beauty is perceived, the percipient mind finds the good in the object. It enjoys its own apprehension; but it admires the work of art. In that perception the mind finds in the object what is akin to itself: it finds itself in its other. And the mind that it finds expressed as Truth and Beauty is such as to claim reverence.
Appendix A: Ambiguities in the Terms Beauty and Value.
In the consideration of Truth and Beauty we found that Value consists in Mind’s discovery of itself in its object. This, however, can only occur in full measure when the object not only represents or expresses, but actually is, another mind. Value or Good is therefore present in absolute form only in personal relationships. From this fact arises the uncompromising quality of obligation. This has sometimes been obscured by the recognition that different acts are regarded as obligatory in different parts of the world. That difficulty is removed when we ask what is the proper sphere of obligation. No act is universally obligatory; nor is any action, unless the motive of duty is treated as part of the action. It is always obligatory to do one’s duty, but that does not determine what duty is. The only available principle here is Dr. G. E. Moore’s “optimific” doctrine: our duty is to secure that the difference made by our action is the best possible, with the understanding that personal relationships are the sphere of the highest good.
This involves the result that some uncertainty attaches to many moral judgements including those by which we guide our own conduct. The only absolute obligation is the obligation to will the right so far as it can be ascertained, and, as a part of this, to take every possible step to ascertain it. But the moral life is an adventure not only in detail but in principle.
From birth we find ourselves living as members of a society with one weal and woe. By the constitution of our nature we are bound up with one another. This is the root of consciousness of obligation; though that quality in our consciousness is usually only brought into distinct apprehension when obligation clashes with supposed interest. Moral progress consists largely in the widening of the area in which the obligations of membership are recognised. Different codes of conduct are appropriate to the successive stages of this process, so that the content of duty varies from one civilisation to another; but this does not affect the nature of obligation itself, or the inherent logic which makes it a principle of progress.
Because duty is concerned with all varieties of persons it calls for infinitely delicate adjustments that can only be reached by sympathy. When we combine this with the recognition that what is obligatory is not a code of conduct but the conscientious will, we see that the only satisfactory form of the moral law is “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. But if man is made to live by love, then in the ground of that natural order from which he springs there must be the source of love.
Appendix B: The Moral Problem Presented by a Conflict Of Obligations
Process, Mind and Value
We take our start from the picture which Science gives us of a world undergoing modifications through the interaction of its parts, while as yet there is, apparently, no mind to observe its process; within that process mind appears, and it first appears as an aid towards making effective the reactions of the organism. This “emergence” of consciousness must be due either to non-conscious causes, or to a fresh creative act of a divine mind, or to the presence of rudimentary mind in the earlier stages of evolution. The first may be dismissed as a manifest absurdity; between the other two it is not necessary for our purpose to choose; each of them makes mind integral to the world-process itself.
Mind having appeared as an aid to the life of the organism proceeds to develop a life of its own through its capacity to form “free ideas”, or ideas which can be contemplated even though the reality to which they refer is not present. By this means mind acquires a certain emancipation from time. In any case, the “present” is not the mere meeting-point of past and future, but is so much of the process as is directly apprehensible. Mind, which arises out of flux, and is in origin an episode of the flux out of which it arises, declares its own nature by demanding permanence. It is able to hold together a whole stretch of time, and actually to apprehend the present both as the result of the past and as the cause of the future.
The relation of Process to Value is specially important. The past as fact is fixed; but the value of the past is alterable. It is even true that what was bad when it occurred may come to be rightly judged good. Thus Christians regard the Crucifixion as, in itself, the worst thing that ever happened, yet, taken in conjunction with its consequences, the best.
If we start from the physical end, we cannot account for mind; if we start from mind, can we account for physical existence? That way of putting the question is misleading. What we may reasonably ask is whether either of the two elements in the datum of actual experience is capable of accounting finally for that experience. In principle mind has this capacity. For reality comes before us as Process; mind expressed in process is purpose; and purpose is a self-explanatory principle, in the sense that when we have traced an occurrence to intelligent purpose we are satisfied. To regard the world as so explained is Theism. This involves the view that the world as created is “very good”. But inasmuch as Value is alterable, that may be true even though some goods do not now exist and some evils do. The reasonable attitude is not that which says “This is good, therefore it must be real” or “This is evil; how can it be explained?” but that which asks concerning every situation that arises how good may be won out of it, and how even what is now evil in it may be made subservient to good.
Appendix C: An Illustration from Dante
Freedom and Determinism
The problem of freedom has been confused by the tradition of associating it specially with the will and with the acts that make up conduct. This has been due to its close, but by no means simple, connexion with the idea of responsibility. An extreme doctrine of free-will is even more fatal to the idea of responsibility than is Determinism. But in fact all reasonable doctrines of freedom assert, no less than Determinism, the continuity of character. What is amiss, from the ethical standpoint, in thoroughgoing Determinism is its implied insult to personality. But the popular judgement, by associating freedom with actions, has become hopelessly entangled. For this results in presenting the question as though it raised a doubt of any real causality in moral actions; but the only alternative to causality is chance—if indeed that be anything but a name for blind causality.
Stark Determinism is stark nonsense, for if everything is completely determined by everything else, the process of mutual determination can never start. Each term must be something in itself in order either to determine others or to be determined by them. There has been some excitement in theological circles over the supposed discovery of indeterminacy at the basis of the physical world. This is misplaced. The whole contrast of freedom and determinism is due to the false supposition that freedom is chiefly shown in moments of action. But Freedom is not absence of determination; it is spiritual as distinct from mechanical determination, or in other words, determination by what seems good as contrasted with irresistible compulsion.
The clue to the problem is in the freedom of Thought, which is possible though the capacity of the mind to form free ideas, to which it can give its attention even though the external environment does not at the time present any corresponding objects. Will, properly speaking, is the whole nature organised into effective unity; the character of this will, or organised personality, depends on its initial elements, on its social environment, and on its habitual direction of attention. Inasmuch as a personality is a largely self-organising system, it has real control over the habitual direction of attention and thus a real choice of the influences which shall determine it further.
But if the will—or habitual direction of attention—is wrong, it cannot change itself. It is free, because its direction is expressive of itself and is not forced upon it but it is also fettered because from itself it cannot escape. It is at this level that freedom of choice exists; and so much freedom is necessary to morality; but it is not yet spiritual freedom, which is only found when choice is transcended and the personality acts by its own necessity alone. To reach that we need, not moral effort but conversion; self-determination only becomes true freedom when it fulfils itself in self-surrender to that which is entitled to receive its submission.
The Transcendence of the Immanent
Our survey hitherto has given us ground for such a belief in a divine Immanence as would encourage a certain religiousness of outlook but no definite religious faith. We have now to follow more carefully the line of enquiry suggested by the note of authority which is present in all experience. Experience commands our judgement rather than submits to it. The growing mind, in proportion as it is emancipated from the authority of other human minds, comes under the authority of Truth itself; and it recognises in Truth a proper object of reverence quite other than is appropriate as part of the mind’s apprehension of bare fact. The sense of moral obligation towards Truth is of that quality which is only appropriate in connexion with personal claims.
The same is true concerning Beauty. The whole aesthetic experience is unintelligible unless there comes through it a revelation of spirit to spirit. There is more in Beauty than Beauty alone. There is communication from, and communion with, personal Spirit. Still more evidently are we led to this result by the claim of Goodness. The reverence which ethically sensitive persons find themselves impelled to pay to the Moral Law implies a personal righteousness expressed in that Law; for the reverence of persons can be appropriately given only to that which itself is at least personal.
If it be true that Mind is capable of initiating activity, which includes physical movements, then the physical universe is not a closed system governed only by its own laws. Further any account of the World Process as a whole must account for the occurrence of Mind as an element within it. And whatever is to account for the universe as a whole must be such as itself to require no further explanation.
Only Mind itself—of entities known to us—satisfies these conditions. But the hypothesis that the process of nature in all its range is to be accounted for by intelligent purpose is Theism. We still have to ask, however, if the Divine Mind has its whole being in the World Process or is something over and above this. Here we part company with Dr. Whitehead, with whom we have been in general agreement hitherto. If God and World are correlated terms, so that each explains the other, then the totality God plus World is unexplained.
Personality is always transcendent in relation to Process; it acts within it, yet stands apart from it; and this is alone adequate to the need. Personality expresses its own constancy in the infinitely delicate adjustments by which it pursues one purpose in varying conditions. As immanent it is a principle of variety; as transcendent it is (in proportion as it is perfectly integrated) unchanging. It is the transcendent personality of God which gives their quality as awe-inspiring to the Values in which He is immanent and through which He is known.
Appendix D: Some Quotations from Dr. Whitehead
The Immanence of the Transcendent
The Immanence of the Transcendent
The argument of the former series of lectures led to the conclusion that there is at work within and throughout the cosmic process a spirit which also transcends it. Moreover, there was discovered ground for the conviction that this spirit is good, as fulfilling all ideals, both intellectual, aesthetic and ethical, that claim the homage of our minds, and in relation to each of these it was found that the Spirit apprehended in and through them, it transcendent as well as immanent.
But these terms require further consideration. It appears that what is immanent is always a principle, never a person; and that what is transcendent is always a person. The principle is not actual apart from the occasions which illustrate it; personality is. Further, personality discloses its continuous identity, not in unvarying constancy of action but in infinitely delicate adjustments whereby a constant purpose may be fulfilled in varying circumstances. What a true doctrine of transcendence will assert is not a reservoir of normally unutilised energy but a volitional as contrasted with a mechanical direction of the energy utilised.
It has been commonly suggested that immanent Deity may be conceived not only as a constant principle of action but as a principle of constant action, while transcendent Deity possesses reserves of power which may be exercised by way of miracle. But personality, whether human or Divine, is, in so far as it is immanent, a principle of variability. There is in the world an immanent Reason—a Logos. If this is impersonal it may be only a principle of logical coherence.
If it is personal it must be a principle of perpetual adjustment according to “sufficient reason”. But behind, or above, the successive movements of conduct in which personality is immanent there is the personality itself, transcendent and, in proportion to its completeness of integration, unchangeable. God immanent is a principle or energy of adjustment, and therefore of variation; God transcendent is the eternally self-identical—the I AM.
But if the immanent principle of the universe is personal, we must not only see the whole universe as the expression and utterance of His activity, but must expect to find in its course special characteristic and revealing acts, which are no more truly His than the rest, but do more fully express Him than the rest. If God is personal, Revelation is probable.
Revelation and Its Mode
We have found reason to assert without mitigation the full personality of that ultimate Reality in which the whole universe is grounded. This is another way of asserting the doctrine of Creation. The essence of that doctrine is not that God inaugurated the existence of the world at a particular moment of time, but that it owes its existence—not only its beginning—to His volitional act.
This carries with it the possibility of unusual action where there is sufficient occasion, and such unusual action will be in the specialised sense of the word a Revelation. But we must not draw any sharp distinction between the works of God so as to regard some of these as constituting His self-revelation and the others as offering no such revelation. Either all occurrences are in some degree revelation of God or else there is no such revelation at all.
But if all existence is a revelation of God, as it must be if He is the ground of its existence, and if the God thus revealed is personal, then there is more ground in reason for expecting particular revelations than for denying them. What is the mode of such revelations? Not the dictation or suggestion of infallible oracles to the minds of individuals, but the coincidence of divinely guided events and minds divinely illuminated to interpret those events. Revelation so conceived is the full actuality of the relationship between Nature, Man and God.
Here we have at its fullest development that living intercourse of mind and world process which is the true life of thought, for here the mind, which arises within and out of the process, apprehends the process for what it truly is—the self-expression of that creator-mind in the kinship of which created minds are fashioned. The essence of revelation is the intercourse of mind and event, not the communication of doctrine distilled from that intercourse. From all this it follows that there is no such thing as revealed truth. There are truths of Revelation, that is to say, propositions which express the results of correct thinking concerning revelation; but they are not themselves directly revealed.
The event in which the fullness of Revelation is given must be the life of a person; for the revelation consists in the unveiling of a person to persons. And the marks of a true revelation are these: a union of holiness and power, before which our spirits bow in awe, and which authenticates itself by continuous development to some focal point wherein all preparatory revelation finds fulfilment and from which illumination radiates into every department of life and being.
Appendix E: A Reply to Professor Pringle-Pattison
Spiritual Authority and Religious Experience
The supposed conflict between Authority and Experience in religion is really a tension between two indispensable elements. For the individual. Authority, whether as tribal custom or as alleged revelation, is prior to Experience; in the race as a whole Experience is prior to Authority.
The authoritative quality of tradition is at its maximum where the tradition is taken to be, or to contain, a specific Revelation. This authority may stimulate an experience responsive to itself, or give to an already existing experience deeper intensity. But a particular mind may be more sensitive to other claims, and may then regard tradition with its authority as a barrier hindering the free movement of the Spirit.
Where several influences of diverse origins are at work, the current orthodoxy is commonly felt to be a restraining rather than a stimulating factor; and orthodoxy itself is constantly re-fashioned so that its permanent essence may be synthesised with an ever growing range of experience.
While in the individual this experience very largely depends on belief, and this again on tradition, it is none the less true that in the totality of religious history tradition and belief depend on experience. It is experience which gives rise to religion itself in all its aspects and also carries it forward to fresh apprehensions; and this experience in its fullest developments is always Revelation.
It is clear that Revelation, for those who accept it as such, carries over-whelming authority. But it is easy to seek this wrongly through confusing the revelation with its medium. The essence of spirituality is freedom; spirit is controlled, not by force or physical causation, but by the Good in one or other of its forms. This control only becomes operative through appreciation on the part of the spirit subject to it. Consequently the essential principle of spiritual authority is the evocation by good of appreciation of itself. Holiness, therefore, not omnipotence, is the spring of the spiritual authority of God.
Because Revelation comes in spiritual experience, that is the apprehension by divinely illuminated minds of divinely guided events, it follows that, in the reception of it, “private judgement” plays an essential part. In whatever degree reliance on infallible direction comes in, spirituality goes out. Yet this judgement is exercised in response to what claims authority. It is impossible to have knowledge of God as we have knowledge of things, because God is not a thing. We know persons only in the communion of sympathetic intercourse; and God is personal.
But besides this He is Creator, so that the communion of man with God is that of creature with Creator; it is worship and obedience or else it does not exist.
Finitude and Evil
The problem of evil only exists for those who believe that the world is created and governed by God. If there is nothing but a series of happenings guided by no purpose, there is no reason to expect it to conform to our ideals; the fact that Evil perplexes even atheists is evidence of the deep tendency of men to believe in God.
It is to be observed that while Evil can never make Moral Good contributory to itself, Good has this power in respect of Evil. Moreover, much that seems evil—such as accidents causing great sorrow—are found to be incidental to what is certainly good. The crucial part of the problem is that which concerns moral evil or sin.
Life, in the process of evolution, is found to develop minds which become subjects of value-judgements. The presence of imagination in man gives to the life of desire an unlimited expansion, because it enables the mind to present to itself the objects of desire when they are not present to the senses. So far as Evil is a product of exaggerated or misdirected desire, the condition of its occurrence is identical with that which makes possible all the higher ranges of human life. But this does not take us far. The root trouble is in the character which determines for a man what shall appear good to him; for this will both attract his attention and control his conduct. Why are men such that what appears to them good is other than the real good?
The human mind is a focus of appreciation. It has knowledge of good and evil. The winning of that knowledge is called the Fall of Man, because acts, which before he won it were merely instinctive reactions to environment, became through that knowledge sins against the light. Again, because they are done against the light they are done with a new degree of self-assertion. And, once again, because imagination is so potent to stimulate desire, there is an additional impulse to those acts. Man in so far as he is evil is worse than any animal; and in every man there is the bias or tendency to evil.
The human mind is finite; its range is very limited. It naturally attaches more importance to values that are actual to itself; each cares more about what seems to be good for him than about goods which he does not expect to enjoy. So a man becomes not only the subject of his own value-judgements, which he can never cease to be, but also the centre and criterion of his own system of values, which he is quite unfit to be. It was not necessary that this should be so, and therefore it is not true to say that God predestined man to sin; but that it should be so was “too probable not to happen”, and therefore sin must be regarded as falling within the divine purpose.
We are in part mutually determining and determined. Consequently the self-centredness of each makes others more self-centred. So the force of selfishness accumulates to the devastation of the world. And this self-centredness corrupts personality as a whole. The trouble is not fundamentally that of unruly desires as yet uncontrolled by righteous spirit; it is spirit itself which is corrupt.
Yet selfhood itself is not evil, but self-centredness. This is a spatial metaphor and therefore misleading. In a life not wholly integrated there are several centres; as integration advances these are reduced in number; but for the most devout who still falls short of perfection, there are still two: God and Self.
Enlightened self-interest may carry a man fat; but only by truly disinterested love does man enter into completeness of fellowship with God.
Divine Grace and Human Freedom
Belief in Predestination affords the clearest illustration of the principle that an article of faith has quite different effects when it becomes matter of experience from what is expected by observers. It is commonly supposed that this belief must lead to moral and spiritual torpor; history shows on the contrary that it induces activity of peculiar energy.
The divine control is exercised at various levels from the purely physical to the purely spiritual. But our special concern is with spiritual control or control of the will. This cannot be by any system of rewards and punishments. Are we to say that God only becomes sovereign over the spiritual world by the self-initiated movement of the finite will towards submission to him? That would make His sovereignty very precarious; and such self-initiation of volition is very hard to understand. Then does all depend on the action of God in making to the soul the appeal which for it is irresistible? If so, why does He not at once make the appropriate appeal to every soul?
The will chooses freely; in other words it is determined by its own apparent good, and itself, by its actual constitution in each self, determines what shall be its apparent good. Hence it has, or rather is, the freedom which is perfect bondage. It is free, for the origin of its actions is itself; it is bound, for from itself there is no escape. Partial escape is indeed possible in the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness, just because that pursuit is not self-initiated but is a response to a call from without. For the need of the self is to escape from self-centredness and this it can never do by its own effort.
The escape, when effected, always involves, at first or at last, the sharp break which is called conversion or the new birth. We see how radical this must be when we consider the implications of spiritual pride, where the self finds a self-centred satisfaction in its own state of deliverance from self-centredness.
The true aim of the soul is not its own salvation; to make that its chief aim is to ensure its perdition, for it is to fix the soul on itself as centre. The true aim of the soul is to glorify God; in pursuing that aim it will attain to salvation unawares.
The self is not wholly contaminated; every part of it is tainted, but as a rule no part is utterly corrupt. So response is possible to a divine claim; but it is not a complete response. Advance which comes as continuous progress is an expansion of the circle of which the self is still the centre.
This may theoretically be so expanded as to include all mankind, even all spiritual beings. But self is still the centre, and if God Himself be included in the circle, He is peripheral and not central. He is, for me, my God, not God whose I am.
What is quite certain is that the self cannot by its own effort lift itself off its own self as centre and re-systematise itself about God as centre. The one hope of bringing human selves into right relationship to God is that God should declare His love in an act, or acts, of sheer self-sacrifice, thereby winning their freely offered love. Then all is of God; the only thing of my very own to which I can contribute to my own redemption is the sin from which I need to be redeemed. We are clay in the hands of the Potter and our welfare is to know it.
The Commonwealth of Value
The bewilderment of our epoch is due to the fact that the period hither to called Modern, as distinct from Ancient or Mediaeval, is manifestly coming to its end. Its fundamental characteristic has been re-action against the mediaeval unification, the attempt to account for experience in mechanical terms, and above all the assertion of the independence of the individual consciousness. All this has worked out in a departmentalism now run to chaos.
But we cannot go back to mediaevalism, or abandon the positive principles of the Renaissance and the Reformation. Individualism and Nationalism, the autonomy of art and science in their own sphere, are principles capable of disproportionate assertion but intrinsically sound.
We most easily begin with the moral problem of the individual. His duty is to do the greatest good that he can; but how is he to find out what that is? Above all, how is he to estimate the comparative values of two goods between which he has to choose—as, for example, whether he shall produce an artistic masterpiece or abandon art in order to do works of “social service”. We have found reason to hold that the Good of personal relationships is the highest form of Good; ethics alone would carry us no further.
But if the Theistic position be accepted, it is apparent that the Divine Will is the source of world order, and also the determinant for every finite mind of its special place within that order and of the appropriate contribution of each such mind to the life of the whole Consequently, the solution of the outstanding problems of Ethics is to be sought in terms neither of Utilitarianism, nor of Intuitionism, but of Vocation.
Inasmuch as some Goods only become actual as good when appreciated—Beauty being conspicuous among these—there are some that wait for appreciation as the condition of their actualisation. The Divine Mind, which cannot experience error or sin within itself, is also disabled by its very infinity from experiencing the appreciation won by courage and toil. The Harmony, which is characteristic of the world order as divinely planned, requires all the varieties of finite minds, each fulfilling its own vocation.
This Harmony of Minds and Values is the condition of eternal life. Mere everlastingness of the isolated finite mind would be intolerable. But for the self in fellowship everlasting existence is desirable and for the ideal perfection of the fellowship is necessary. As this condition is approached, the everlasting is transformed into the eternal, by perpetual approximation even if the process be never completed. But the Harmony or Commonwealth finds its centre and ground in God, who claims for the fullness of His own joy in His creation the special excellence that resides in each finite spirit as it both achieves and appreciates the values that are proper to it alone.
The Meaning of History
History, as we now understand it, is a comparatively recent achievement of the human mind. There have been chroniclers, and real historians of contemporary events like Thucydides. But the effort to treat a great stretch of past time as Thucydides treated his own life-time seems to begin with Gibbon. The acceptance of evolution as a biological, and then as a cosmological, hypothesis, led to the use of the historical method in every branch of enquiry. This has created a frame of mind for which the passing event is alone indubitably real, while the very existence of any eternal object is matter for debate. But exclusive concern for the temporal makes it as meaningless as does the exclusive concern for the eternal which is characteristic of Oriental philosophies; for the successive, as such, cannot display meaning.
There are three main ways in which the relation of History to Eternity has been conceived. First there is the Platonic doctrine that Time is the moving image of Eternity; secondly, there is the view that eternity is the sum-total of the temporal; the third view is that the eternal is in itself constant and is the initiating cause of the temporal, and that into it the temporal in some way returns. There is also a fourth view which seeks to combine these three in such a way as to let each correct the deficiencies of the others.
The Platonic view makes History meaningless. Though the Eternal is the ground of the Temporal, it remains unaffected by it. God eternally abides, and History occurs because of Him but makes no difference to Him. The ethical struggle is thus reduced to insignificance. For Christianity such a view is completely unacceptable.
This difficulty is avoided by the second view, for which the Eternal is the sum of the Temporal. History and the moral struggle are thus invested with a capital importance. But this view is confronted with an uncertainty about the course of History and consequently about the character of the Eternal. And if, to avoid this, it be held that God so controls History as to guide it to the end that justifies it, once again it is become purely episodic, and God is wholly aloof from it except as its controller.
The third view, which is the naïve religious view, frankly accepts this. It does not start with either term and then effect a transition to the other; it starts with both as postulates. Thus it preserves alike the supremacy of the Eternal and the importance of the Temporal. But it leaves the connexion between them external, and supplies no reason why the Eternal ever called into being the Temporal.
In framing the fourth and synthetic theory we must first agree with the first view that History does not make a difference to the Eternal in the sense of changing it; that would indeed be a contradictory notion. But we go on to agree with the second view that History makes a great difference to the Eternal in the sense that if there were no History, or a different History, it would argue a different Eternal. The Eternal is the ground of the Historical, and not vice versa; but the relation is necessary, not contingent—essential, not incidental.
The end of History is not predictable from the beginning; and the beginning can only be understood in the light of the end. Consequently our apprehension of the Meaning of History is very meagre. But we apprehend these two points. It can only have meaning at all if Eternal Life is a reality; and the meaning then is one which we do not so much discover as actually make.
Moral and Religious Conditions of Eternal Life
The possibility, at least, of eternal life is indispensable to every higher interest of man. Yet in our time there is an unparalleled absence of concern with the whole subject. This is due to the fact that in this, as in our whole outlook, we have come to the end of the Modern or Reformation period; all existing presentations of the theme are unsatisfactory. There is need to re-think the whole topic.
The hope of eternal life properly springs from faith in God. To invert this order of priority is disastrous. The chief aim of religion is to transfer the centre of interest and concern from self to God. If assurance of immortality comes before assurance of God, it may hinder that process. Except as implied in the righteousness and love of God, immortality is not a religious interest at all; it is therefore positively undesirable that there should be experimental proof of man’s survival of death.
The relation of Immortality to Ethics is similar. The ethical utility of Heaven and Hell, conceived as reward and punishment, is that of a preparatory discipline from which we must escape if our actions or characters are to be truly moral. And the utility of Hell, so conceived, is very early exhausted, even if not from the outset over-weighed by disadvantages. For fear is the most self-centred of all emotions. The hope of Heaven may have a high value as implied in an independently established morality, but only in that subordination.
The authentic Christian doctrine has three special characteristics, (a) It is a doctrine, not of Immortality, but of Resurrection; (b) it regards this as a gift of God, not a property of the soul; (c) it is not so much a doctrine of rewards and punishments as the proclamation of the inherent joy of love and the inherent misery of selfishness. The stress in the New Testament is upon the quality of the life to come and the conditions of inheriting it; and the quality of that life is determined by the doctrine of God.
The possibility of man’s survival of physical death is grounded in the essential quality of mind as a capacity for “free ideas”. The mind increasingly organises itself and its own world apart from the processes which, for the most part, control the body as whose function the mind first came into being. As mind increasingly takes control of the organism, so it becomes increasingly independent of the organism as physiologically conceived. Man is not by nature immortal, but capable of immortality.
Here we confront a dilemma. Man’s freedom seems to involve the possibility of a final repudiation of God which is for him perdition; but then God’s love has failed, “which must not be”. But since God is love, and love controls men through their freedom, the opposition of these two considerations is not absolute in principle. Yet a “universalism” accepted on such grounds must be true also to the principle of “abiding consequences”. Thus we may avoid the demoralising influence both of the shallow optimism which says “Never mind, it will all come right in the end”, and of the terrorism which stereotypes self-centredness by undue excitation of fear.
The Sacramental Universe
The modern scientific view affords an apprehension of the world as existing in a series of strata, such that the lower is necessary to the actuality of the higher but only finds its fullness of being when used by the higher as its means of self-actualisation. Such a scheme can be regarded from either end of the series; but whichever view-point is adopted, care must be taken to avoid obliterating what is evident from the other. We must not assume that, because the actions and re-actions studied in physics and chemistry are real, therefore those studied in biology, aesthetics, ethics, or theology, are either unreal or only complicated forms of the other group; nor that, because the actuality of the spiritual is assumed, the equal actuality of the physical is doubtful. Spirit arises within and as part of an organism which is also material and expresses its spirituality not by ignoring matter but by controlling it.
In any organism the distinctive principle of unity is the highest and latest evolved. Man is both a chemical compound, a biological organism, a living mind and a spirit. But the distinctive principle which also gives unity to the whole is spirit. So too in the universe itself, if it is a single system at all, its “highest principle of unity” must be sought in spirit. When we combine this conviction with what has already been said concerning the relation of History to Eternity, we find that we are trying to conceive this relation in a new way. It is not simply the relation of ground and consequence, nor of cause and effect, nor of thought and expression, nor of purpose and instrument, nor of end and means. It finds its closest parallel in a certain element of religious tradition, so that we may best describe this conception of the relation of the eternal to history, of spirit to matter, as sacramental.
Alike from the physical and from the spiritual side there is pressure to keep matter and spirit apart from one another in our thought. Physicists rightly object to the introduction of teleology into the subject-matter of their enquiry when regarded as such. Religious people fear to contaminate the spiritual if it is too closely associated with the material. But unless it is recognised that spirit is most of all itself in exercising control over matter, the vaunted exaltation of spirit has its counterpart in bodily immorality. It is in the sacramental view of the universe, both of its material and of its spiritual elements, that there is given hope of making human both politics and economics and of making actual both faith and love. And to such a view our whole enquiry has been leading us. For my consciousness is not something within my organism, taking note of the relations of that organism to its environment; my consciousness is itself the relation of that organism which I am to its environment.
If our whole course of argument is reliable, we reach a conviction of the independence and the supremacy of mind or spirit; we do not reach a conviction of the non-existence of matter. On the contrary, it is from an assertion of the reality of matter that we reach our conviction of the supremacy of spirit. In our final view, matter exists in full reality but at a secondary level. It is created by spirit—the Divine Spirit—to be the vehicle of spirit; and the sphere of spirit’s self-realisation is the activity of controlling it.
The Hunger of Natural Religion
Our survey has led us to a conception of the world as grounded in the creative purpose of the living God who “fulfils Himself” in the fulfilment of that purpose. For such a view the difficulty created by the problem of evil is especially acute. That problem, at the level of human experience, we found to be due to the extremely restricted range of minds which control their respective organisms by reference to their own apparent good. From the self-centredness so arising, and the interaction of many self-centred minds in many generations, the familiar complexity of evil arises, and even the best in man’s experience is, in part, vitiated.
This corruption has its seat in the highest part of man’s nature, the “principle of unity” in his organism. The source of evil is also the only source in man of his highest hope; consequently he can never grow, or lift himself, out of this entanglement of sin. Man may, indeed, by the exercise of “free ideas” conceive a world better than that which he knows; then lie must work upon the actual in the light of his ideal according to the capacity of the actual to respond. But he is himself a product of the actuality which he would transform, and if he forgets this is likely to become, through his reforming efforts, more deeply self-centred than those whom he is seeking to transform.
The apparent hopelessness of the practical problem is vitally relevant to the theoretical enquiry. For if in practice evil must remain unconquered, then in theory theism is refuted.
Evil as suffering is the occasion of fortitude, and natural admiration declares that a world with both of these is better, because nobler, than a world with neither. Evil as sin is self-centredness; where love by its own sacrifice has converted self-centredness into love, there is excellence, alike in the process and in the result, so great as to justify the self-centredness and all the welter of evil flowing from it. Thus evil may be justified. But nothing meets the theoretical need of our position, except a demonstration that evil not only can be but actually is justified. Evil is actual, and only an actual justification is relevant. And this man cannot supply. He cannot meet his own deepest need, or find for himself release from his profoundest trouble. What he needs is not progress but redemption.
We pass here beyond the frontiers of Natural Religion or Natural Theology. From these a man may learn that worship is the fulfilment of his being exactly because its essence is that the worshipper is drawn out of himself and wholly given to the Object of worship. But Natural Religion knows no object worthy of such worship, and Natural Theology cannot supply one. Thus Natural Religion ends in a hunger for what would transform it into something other than itself—a specific Revelation.