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Chapter Eight | Being and Truth

To be, or not to be: that is the question.

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, i.

I propose at this point to interrupt the steady course of my exposition in order to examine an approach to religious belief which has received widespread attention during the last few years and which, if it was adopted, would undermine not only traditional theism but also any attempt to construct a systematic and reasoned metaphysic. This is the approach which was introduced by Dr Leslie Dewart in 1967 in his moderately sized book The Future of Belief and was elaborated two years later in a massive work entitled The Foundations of Belief The former book was described by Dr Harvey Cox, in words which the publishers quoted in their banner, as a mature, highly erudite and utterly radical book which could be epoch-making. The fact that it urged, in the name of Catholic Christianity, nothing less than the abandonment of nineteen centuries of Christian thought makes the question of its truth or falsehood of some importance. In the preface to the second work Dr Dewart wrote as follows:

In The Future of Belief I addressed myself to the question: can the Christian faith be deemed truly to develop and unequivocally to evolve… even if it is assumed that this faith is supernatural and that its object is revealed? The question to which I address myself here, however, is more fundamental yet: can the Christian faith be said truly to develop and unequivocally to evolve, on the assumption that this faith is true and that its object is real?… My earlier publication was synecdochically devoted, in effect, to the future of Christian belief, whereas the present one is elliptically concerned with the foundations of religious belief.1

Nevertheless, the former work contains enough about religion in general to make its discussion not irrelevant to the special concerns of a Gifford Lecturer.

Dr Dewart begins by defining his subject as ‘the problem of integrating Christian theistic belief with the everyday experience of contemporary man,’2 and I agree with him that this is among the most fundamental theoretical problems which challenge Christianity in the present age. He rightly sees this as much more than a problem in public relations. Nevertheless, he is entirely uncritical in his acceptance of ‘contemporary experience’ as the norm which is to be applied; it is ‘the mode of consciousness which mankind, if not as a whole at least in respect of our own civilisation constituting man's cultural vanguard, has reached as a result of its historical and evolutionary development,’ and to demand any renunciation of this mode of consciousness would be to show ‘an unrealistic and misguided lack of appreciation of the nature of man—if not also of that of the Christian faith’.3 This involves much more than aggiornamento on the part of the Church: ‘it is the contemporary experience as a whole that is incongruous with Christian belief as a whole.’4 And it must be stressed, as the basic assumption of Dewart's discussion, that there is no question of altering or criticising ‘contemporary experience’; that is the norm by which the Church and the Faith must themselves be judged. To dispute this would be to fly in the face of historical necessity. We must be quite clear about this at the start.

When enquiry is made as to how this condition of incongruity has arisen, a simple answer is given; it is because the Church has hung on to Hellenistic categories of thought and these are not the categories of thought of the present day. When we go on to ask what must take their place, the answer is that we must adopt an existentialist-phenomenological outlook, and Dewart expounds this in detail. The three points of his programme are thus contemporaneanism, dehellenisation and phenomenological existentialism.

Now I wish to make it plain that I am just as concerned as Dewart is with the problem of integrating Christian theistic belief with the everyday experience of contemporary man, though I would prefer to describe it as the problem of integrating the everyday experience of contemporary man with Christian theistic belief. And in saying this I do not wish to suggest that the forms in which Christian belief has been expressed in the past, in the realms alike of thought, of liturgy and of social action, need no development and adjustment if it is to be relevant to the situation of contemporary man. I believe that the task is in fact much more difficult and needs to be more radical (in the proper sense of that word) than Dewart himself recognises. For to Dewart there is only one adjustment that needs to be made, namely the adjustment of the Christian religion to the contemporary world, the latter being taken as exempt from criticism. As I see the matter there are three, not just two, things that need to be brought together, namely the Christian religion itself, its traditional forms of expression and the contemporary world; and the last two of these need to be criticised in the light of the first. This raises problems that are difficult enough in all conscience, and I do not claim to have cut-and-dried answers to them. Not the least of these is the problem of the relation of the Christian religion itself—the revealed thing given by God in Christ to the Church—to the expression of it in a given cultural setting and cultural epoch. It is perhaps fortunate that that problem falls outside the scope of Gifford Lectures. It does, however, seem to me to be clear that it is one of the duties of any religion claiming a basis in the transcendent order of reality—a duty which, alas, religious bodies have often failed adequately to perform—to criticise and assess the assumptions, aims and methods of contemporary society. What shocks me most about most of our so-called radical thinkers is their sheer social conformity, though it is the last thing of which they conceive themselves to be guilty. Ready though they are to condemn the Church for its social conformity in the past—about which we can in any case do nothing—they swallow hook, line and sinker the outlooks of their contemporaries. Some of Harvey Cox's most perceptive critics—not necessarily Christian critics at that5—have seen that his glorification of ‘technopolis’ is basically the adornment with a Christian label of the American way of life. Dewart is more subtle, but his outlook is much the same. If we enquire how it is that such an obviously intelligent and committed Catholic has fallen into this kind of relativism, we shall see that it is at least partly due to the philosophical doctrine which he has adopted, according to which truth is itself a historically conditioned concept. This stands out very clearly in what might otherwise have been an extremely valuable discussion of Marxism. He pertinently observes that atheism as a cultural phenomenon is indigenous to Christian societies, and we might expect that he would explain this, when it was not due to less respectable causes, as at least partly due to the failure of Christians to live in accordance with their professed beliefs. On the contrary, he sees it as resulting from the fact (for such he holds it to be) that for Christianity it is not either belief or disbelief that really matters but a conditional attitude to both. ‘I recall it’, he writes, ‘in confirmation of the conditional nature of Christian belief and its relativity to disbelief.… In the Judaeo-Christian tradition… the steady purification of the concept of God has increasingly facilitated the emergence of that peculiar disbelief which, being born of the same religious experience as belief, can fairly be called—in contradistinction to the atheism born of inconsiderateness, unreflectiveness, inexperience, or sheer obstinacy in refusing to admit the possibility of God—religious atheism.’6 Both Christianity and Marxism, Dewart tells us, share a relative atheism, but that of Marxism is relative to its humanism while that of Christianity is relative to its theism. Dewart sees, indeed, some problems in his view of the nature of Christian theism:

From the relative nature of Christian theism follows its aptitude for development, readjustment and cultural polymorphism. It is not given once for all. It is, therefore, dynamic, evolving and self-transforming. But how could Christian theism be all these things and nevertheless true?7

The answer which he gives to this question is, as we shall see, that truth itself is changing and relative.

At this point Dewart plunges into a discussion of the development of Christian dogma. ‘The fact of which we have recently become aware’, he writes, ‘is not that Christian doctrine has begun to develop in recent times, but that it has always existed in a process of development. It is only the awareness of this fact that is new.’8 His explanation of this is simply that human awareness in general has become aware of its own historicity and evolutionary nature, and the Church is sharing in this contemporary experience, though lamentably lagging behind because of its attachments to the past. It is here that he introduces his phenomenological existentialism, with its new doctrine of the nature of knowledge. From early Greece to early modern times human thought—and this means especially Christian thought—was dominated by the belief that ‘the psychism of the animal consists in the intentional appropriation (“intussusception”) of beings other than itself (cognition), and in the correlative intentional self-disposition of itself towards beings other than itself (appetition).’9 The difference between man and the lower animals was held to be that man grasps an intelligible object immaterially instead of a merely sensible object materially. In contrast, what Dewart describes as ‘contemporary thought’ (which appears to exclude not only modern scholastics but linguistic empiricists and indeed everyone except existentialists and phenomenologists) sees the difference between man and animals as transcending the order of mere knowledge altogether. For man, what is primary is consciousness; this, ‘though it objectifies the self in the same manner as it objectifies the non-self, gives us an awareness of a being which does not merely happen to be a self; rather, what is typical of it is that it produces this experience: myself, that is my self's be-ing.’10 I shall not attempt here to discuss the validity of Dewart's epistemology as such; that has been done both sympathetically and critically by Dr Elmar Kremer in The Ecumenist.11 I am, however, concerned with its consequences. One of these is that truth is purely relative to man's state of development, another is that it is conditioned by his cultural and social context. ‘Truth’, we are told, ‘is not the adequacy of our representative operations, but the adequacy of our conscious existence.’12 ‘The nature of truth does not merely permit truth to develop, but indeed requires that it do so. For truth itself consists in a certain intensive development of man's original relation to reality given by the fact that, being a reality, he participates in being.… Hence the only valid ‘criterion’ of truth is that it create the possibility of more truth.’13 Dewart is emphatic that this involves something more than the translation of truth into new linguistic and conceptual forms or the acquisition of a deeper insight into truth already possessed or the apprehension of more truth. It is truth itself that changes, that is historically and socially conditioned, so that what is true at one time and in one context will not be true at another. It is in this sense that Dewart holds that Christian dogma can develop, and it is for this reason that he demands the dehellenisation of dogma. For what was wrong with the traditional ‘hellenised’ Christian dogma was not merely that it was conceived and expressed in forms that are obsolete and unevocative to present-day people; it was that its notion of truth was perverted.

I do not want to pick a quarrel with existentialism as such or with any particular type of it; it may have much to teach us. I do, however, wish very seriously to question Dewart's notion of truth, and this for several reasons.

In the first place, this view of truth is inherently self-destructive. As Dr Armand Maurer wrote in The Ecumenist:

The doctrine of the historicity of truth espoused by [Dewart's] book faces the further difficulty that, if it is true, it must have come into existence as a part of man's process of self-awareness and self-making, and hence it is relative to his situation in a certain moment of history. Like all truths, it must be historically relative, not timeless and supracultural. And yet the doctrine says more than this; it pretends to be a philosophical truth valid for all times and cultures. In short, total historisation is not tenable, for the doctrine of historicity cannot be formulated without denying itself.14

Thus Dewart's view of truth makes all discussion futile, for if it is true no reasons can be advanced or rebutted in favour of it or of anything else. It is conceivable that we need to develop a new approach to philosophical problems which will be more dynamic than traditional scholasticism and will give a more central place to the notion of personality; indeed I think that this is so. But if once we start to tamper with the idea of truth itself, philosophising, like every other intellectual activity, is reduced to mere parrot-talk.

Secondly, I find it very difficult to think that existentialism of Dewart's type is really the philosophy for the present age. Certainly, not many English-speaking philosophers would think so. I am as ready as anyone to maintain that philosophy has more to do than simply to clarify,15 but the imprecision and impressionism of the more philosophical parts of Dewart's book almost send me screaming into the arms of the linguistic analysts. It is difficult to imagine scientists, technologists or educated non-specialists making very much of it. Dewart's own view of truth makes it impossible, as we have seen, to give reasons for supposing that his philosophy is true, and one would be inviting him to violate his own principles if one asked him to give reasons why it should be congenial to contemporary man. One might, however, have expected him to make the alleged congeniality apparent; as Wittgenstein might have said, to show what cannot be proved. This he simply fails to do.

It is important to notice that Dewart does not blame traditional Christian thought, as Karl Barth might have blamed it, for expressing itself in philosophical terms, but for expressing itself in terms of the wrong philosophy. It was the great fault of Hellenism, Scholasticism or Thomism (the three terms are, surprisingly, used as more or less equivalent, and Thomism is accused of holding a good many views that St Thomas certainly did not hold) that it adopted a Parmenidean doctrine of the identity of being and intelligibility. Dewart's own position (for which, as I have said, no grounds are or, on his own principles, could be urged) is expressed as follows:

If reality is not assumed to be constituted by intelligibility—or by any (possible or actual) relation to mind—reality can no longer be identified with that-which-is (which is the usual meaning of being, ens). To be sure, reality will still be as a matter of fact intelligible. But its intelligibility will now be a matter of fact, not of necessity. Being is intelligible, but not as such. Things can be understood, and can be conceived as being, because if they in fact exist they will also have a history—and this history makes them relatable to mind. Essences, therefore, what things are, are always created, whether created by another or self-created (in the case of consciousness).16

I think most readers will feel that something more than Dewart's affirmation is needed before they accept the doctrine that being is intelligible by sheer accident, but his own philosophy will preclude him from offering any reasons for his belief. It is, however, not surprising that he goes on to assert that God should not be conceived as a being.

He makes it plain that this last assertion is not to be understood as meaning that God is not a being as other beings are, that God is above being or is super-being, in the sense in which the pseudo-Areopagite, for example, might have said this. (After all, the pseudo-Areopagite was steeped in Hellenism!) ‘What it means’, he writes, ‘is literally what it says, that God is not a being at all.… Unless we retain the Greek philosophical outlook, the ordinary facts of Christian experience are sufficient to establish that we do experience God, but that we do not experience him as being. This proposition should be obvious and commonplace to the philosophically unprejudiced Christian believer. In fact, since it is a matter of simple observation it should be one of the starting-points of a Christian philosophical enquiry that would rise to the empirical level of methodology to which philosophy has been developed in our time.’17 In other words, nothing is real except as we experience it, and it is obvious that we experience God. I find it very difficult to think that so simple an apologetic as this is going to impress a world that, as Dewart assures us, has at last ‘come of age’.

There is a great deal in this first book of Dr Dewart's that is penetrating and enlightening and that does not need his very questionable philosophy for its expression. With the reflections which he goes on to make about the present condition and future prospects of the Roman Catholic Church we are not concerned here. The real weakness of the book, in my opinion, derives from the unmitigated phenomenological existentialism which he accepts as providing the ultimate ground of Christian theism. I do not think it is capable of doing the job which he lays upon it and I do not think that it has any particular appeal to either the scientific experts or to people in general in the technological age in which we live. It is, after all, a commonplace among historians of science that the hellenistic outlook was one of the determining factors in the development of modern science and that it is more than a coincidence that science came to birth in the European setting and not in that of India or China, highly civilised as those societies were. A. N. Whitehead in a famous passage described ‘the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles’ as ‘the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement’ and asserted that ‘it must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher.’18 It is perhaps interesting to notice that Dr John Macquarrie, who shares with Dewart and myself an admiration for Fr Karl Rahner and who has explored as thoroughly as any recent theological writer the resources of existentialism as a medium of Christian understanding, has come to stress the necessity that the existentialist and phenomenological standpoint should be balanced by, and integrated with, a genuinely ontological element.

Dewart's second work, The Foundations of Belief, claims, as I have said, to carry his thesis from a Christian setting to that of religion in general. While immensely longer, it does not seem to add anything much to the main themes of the earlier book, though it does to some extent clarify them. We are told afresh that we must get rid of the idea that truth consists in the correspondence of thought with being, and we are explicitly told that God must be thought of not as being but as reality. This process is again described as ‘dehellenisation’, and it must be stressed that in Dewart's usage both ‘true’ and ‘real’ have very different meanings from those which ‘hellenisation’ had given them, though precisely what these new meanings are it is not altogether easy to discover.

To begin at the end, it is argued in Appendix 2 that neither the Neo-Thomism exemplified by Maritain and Gilson nor the ‘transcendental Thomism’ of Maréchal, Marc, Lotz, Karl Rahner, Coreth and Lonergan will serve Dewart's purpose. First they are not really Thomism (though Dewart would readily forgive them for that) and secondly they cling to the discarded notion of truth. It is unfortunate that Dewart was apparently unable to refer to a long criticism by Bernard Lonergan of his earlier work,19 for Lonergan is as anxious as he to dehellenise dogma, though not to understand dehellenisation in the same way. This article disposes once and for all of the impression that was apparently prevalent at one time in some circles that Lonergan is fundamentally in agreement with Dewart.

Dewart states explicitly that ‘the concept of consciousness is not only more adequate than the concept of knowledge: it is also more comprehensive’.20 He repudiates both ‘the epistemological position that truth is the adequation of the mind to things and… the metaphysical position that being is intelligible as such’.21 Dewart is willing to admit that ‘when knowledge is true it is perfectly possible truly to describe the relation of the mind to being as one of conformity’,22 but he is also convinced that this is not what makes it true. (In any case, the phrase ‘when knowledge is true’ leaves us wondering what ‘untrue knowledge’ would be like!) ‘Truth and falsity’, we are told, ‘thus pertain neither to subject as such nor to object as such. They pertain to the relation in which we render ourselves present to ourselves and to the world. In a word, they belong to consciousness.’23 And again:

Truth is, thus, the meaningfulness of the facts. We might even say that truth is the meaning of the facts, provided this were not construed as if the meaning were in the facts. Truth is the mind's ‘making out’ the meaning of the facts; it is making the facts to have meaning. Truth is not the meaning found within the facts; truth is the meaning which is put upon the facts because they are understood.

Although the reality of the relation of truth is not given in any manner [italicisation mine] by the reality of the object of knowledge, nevertheless, the relation of truth is the relation of consciousness [not intelligence, my comment] to its object, being.24

Now what Dewart calls ‘knowledge’ is, no doubt, very important, though I should, I think, disagree with him as to how it is to be obtained, but I cannot see how we can afford to dispense with knowledge in the common or garden sense of the correspondence of thought with thing. Dewart's book, of over five hundred pages, contains, I suppose, several thousand sentences in the indicative mood, all of which he presumably wishes the reader to accept; does he hold that the thoughts which they express correspond with reality or not? If they do not correspond with reality, does he (a) wish and (b) expect us to accept them or not? I raised this point (though I was not the only critic who raised it) in connection with Dewart's earlier book. He nowhere attempts to answer it, and he has apparently not even understood it. For he complains25 that I ascribed to him the claim to possess an understanding of the nature of truth which is final, conclusive and irreformable. The precise opposite is the case. What I criticised him for was holding a view of truth which made it impossible for him on his own principles to assert consistently that anything that he said conformed to reality. There is, in fact, much in both books which I should be very glad to accept; what I cannot see is why, on his own principles, he should expect me to accept it. He modestly remarks: ‘If my understanding of the nature of truth is at all correct, it will be superseded, it will be improved upon. Its very truth will contribute to its supersession; and it will be superseded precisely because it enjoyed a measure of truth.’26 The question which I want to put to him here is: are these sentences true, and if so in what sense of truth? And this question is provoked by every statement in his book. Fr F. C. Copleston has dealt as mildly as possible with Dewart's view of the nature of truth,27 but he has felt obliged to remark: ‘Statements such as “truth is the orientation of the mind towards that condition which it does not have, namely truth”28 are somewhat odd. And I cannot help feeling that some painstaking logical analysis would help to clarify the situation and facilitate discussion.’

The importance of this for our present purpose is that there is an evident and close connection between Dewart's doctrine of truth and his doctrine of God.

The human intellect [he announces] has developed itself to the point where it has found it necessary to redefine itself, its consciousness and the object of its consciousness. Does it not seem prima facie likely that man should also redefine the object of belief? In the light of this hypothesis, the question I have asked is legitimate. It means: does the interpretation of religious experience, on the assumption of the philosophical foundations of contemporary Hellenic-Western thought, not require us to reconceptualise the reality which has been traditionally conceived as the Supreme Being, God?…

The task to which philosophy is called today is, therefore, not the dismantling and re-construction, but the transcending of… every metaphysics, and even the transcending of its ghost, which still haunts phenomenological ontologies themselves.…

It should be possible to understand philosophically that which, at first ‘physically’, and later metaphysically, has been traditionally called God, not only while avoiding the pre-critical inadequacies of metaphysics (which phenomenological ontologists have already done), but also transcending the ontological reduction of reality; I mean the unwarranted reduction of reality to that reality, being, which is given in empirically given being as such.29

Being and reality are thus to be distinguished; later on we are told that, while all being is reality, not all reality is being. And, very significantly, God is the kind of reality which is not being; he does not ‘exist’, he is ‘present’. Here is Dewart's statement of the matter:

A reformulation of the problem of God which sprang from an adequate critique of meta-physics would have to reject also the pre-metaphysical assumption of metaphysics, namely, that God is being or else nothing at all. It is illegitimate to ask ‘whether God exists’ (or ‘whether there is an objective, and not merely a subjective, reality which corresponds to our religious experience’), because we cannot reasonably assume that religious experience is adequately conceptualised a priori, that is, in terms of a God who may or may not exist (or of a reality which may be either objective or subjective). The question of God must be so put as to allow the possibility of conceiving God a posteriori. That is, a philosophical enquiry into God of the critical calibre which has become possible for philosophy today, should not merely refrain from asking whether an actually existing reality corresponds to the concept of God, as if the real problem were not the mystery of the nature of a reality (usually called God) about whose actual reality there can be scarcely any reasonable doubt, but as if it were simply whether there is an extramental substance to an idea which almost anybody is reasonably clear about.30

This is, we must observe, very different from the Thomist ‘agnosticism’ which holds that, while we can know of God quia est, we cannot know quid sit. But to return to Dewart:

Contemporary Christian philosophy must also refrain from assuming any concept of God—though, on the other hand, it must remember that the concept of God has a history, and that it emerged in history as an evolving interpretation of religious experience. Thus, the question of the foundations of belief in God today is for philosophy: should ontology be ‘rehabilitated’, or should it be transcended? Granted that the concept of being must be ‘dismantled’, do we proceed to reconstruct, re-fashion and re-new—and even rehabilitate—the traditional belief in some sort of Supreme Being, or do we not rather proceed to redevelop the traditional belief into belief in a reality beyond being itself?31

Two conditions, we are told, are necessary for the investigation, though the answer which is expected to the question seems to be predetermined: first, ‘the reality to which religious experience relates must be empirically accessible’ and ‘somehow empirically signifiable’; secondly, ‘if the critique of metaphysics is valid, a transcendent being is a contradiction in terms and, therefore, metaphysical theism is invalid.’32

All is not lost, however, to Professor Flew and his colleagues:

This does not imply that the reality to which religious experience relates is not a transcendent reality, if the common assumption of atheism and metaphysical theism—that there is no empirical reality other than being—is questioned. For the reality which answers to religious experience may be transcendent, even if it is not being. In other words, the possibility to be explored is that the reality of God may be transcendent precisely because it transcends being.33

Here the plot has really thickened. This reality which is both empirical and transcendent but is other than being is not to be understood, as a follower of the pseudo-Areopagite might understand God, as ‘above being’ in the sense of transcending his creation. Dewart prefaces his account of ‘the meta-metaphysical concept of God’ with an investigation of the notion of a reality which is non-being. This is extremely obscure, even if we keep in mind Dewart's peculiar notion of truth, and the obscurity is, if anything, increased by the Appendix in which he tries to clarify it. He starts from the, not entirely unquestionable, assertion that ‘by reality in today's ordinary language we usually mean that which transcends consciousness, that which is other than oneself’.34 Reality, we are told, is ‘whatever the self can have real relations towards’, whether it is being or not.35 The common assumption that being and reality are identical is blamed on our Indo-European language systems; Hellenism is apparently raising its ugly head again, though we are not told this, perhaps because the Indian languages are not obviously Hellenistic. The trouble is, of course, with the subject-predicate form of sentence and the double function (copulative and existential) of the verb ‘to be’. Chinese is alleged to follow a quite different pattern both in language and in thought. I am not competent to criticise this exposition, but some of Dewart's statements surprise me. In Chinese it is apparently significant that verbal sentences do not always have a verb in our sense of the term, but do they always in Latin or even in English (‘Caution! Wild Bull!’)? ‘The verb does not necessarily have a subject, and its function is always that of attributing an act.’36 ‘The existential sentence in Chinese is usually composed of an impersonal verb, yu, and an object’, so that ‘it would be correct to assert that in Chinese one does not say “Something is” but “Has something”. But it must be kept in mind that the “has” is impersonal, that there is nothing which “has” it.’37 But do not the French say Il y a and the Germans Es gibt? However, all that Chinese is introduced to do is to show that ‘it is perfectly possible to conceive a reality which is relative to being but is other than being’;38 it is admitted to have its own weaknesses.

Passing now to the question of God, Dewart refuses to see any theistic implication in the contingency of the world. To draw any consequences from the world's existence would be to import an a priori principle and to violate the principle of empiricism. ‘What is a fact may be asserted universally without the implication that it is more than a matter of fact.’39 Nevertheless, ‘man becomes self-problematic because he finds it difficult to reconcile his self-consciousness as being with his being an absolutely contingent fact.’40 Thus, ‘our experience of being reveals that which transcends being, though it reveals it in relation to being.’41 This transcendent reality is God, but we must not ascribe existence to him; that would imply that he was a being. ‘Presence’ is the word to use. ‘Religious experience, then, does not reveal a transcendent being: what it reveals is that being exists in the presence of a reality which transcends it.’42 Once again we are faced with great difficulty in understanding what Dewart is asserting. God does not exist, but he is (or can be) present in our consciousness and he cannot be present anywhere else. ‘It is not only true… that God must be a reality which transcends man's transcendence: it is also true, in a way, that God has no reality outside human experience.’43 Is this really coherent? And is there any reason to suppose that it is true? Not perhaps in the old-fashioned sense of ‘true’; but that is not Dewart's sense of ‘true’ in any case. Some things are at least clear. For Dewart, God is not the creator of the universe. And all this talk that God is not a being that exists but a reality that is present is not intended to exclude the attribution to the exalted Deity of words that are also applied to his lowly creatures. It is intended to indicate that God is not the creator of the universe or the ground of its existence; he is found only in the minds of men, and presumably only some men at that.

This has serious implications for man himself. ‘The death of man's “natural” (i.e. biological) life is truly final; it is the total and irrevocable termination of existence.’44 ‘The best index of man's dignity is that only he ceases to exist by dying.’45 Does this mean, we might ask, that after death man enjoys some other form of life, some other ‘reality’ than ‘existence’? Not at all. ‘One of the best indications that reality is not convertible with being is man's spontaneous refusal to believe that the end of his existence, death, is the end of his reality. This makes a great deal of sense. What does not make sense is to interpret this datum in the self-contradictory terms of the “immortality of the soul” or of a “life after death”.’46 In plain terms, man is inherently and (unless instructed by Dr Dewart) inescapably deluded about his own destiny. If this is the case, we must no doubt make the best of it, but we have been given very little ground for believing it except Dewart's own conviction about the stage that has now been reached in the growing-up of man and the evolution of truth.

It is with no feeling of pleasure that one passes a very adverse judgment on Dr Dewart's massive and laborious work. Its weaknesses cannot, however, be glossed over, in view of the fact that he puts it out not simply as a speculative work for academic consideration and assessment but as providing the justification for a total revolution in the Church's faith, spirituality, worship and structures. That these need a considerable aggiornamento need not be denied, but it would be disastrous, and would simply provide ammunition for the vested interests of conservatism, if it appeared that aggiornamento implied the sheer relativism and anthropocentrism of Dr Dewart's meta-metaphysics. It is indeed surprising to see how often at the present day anthropocentric philosophies of existentialist or phenomenological type set themselves forward as peculiarly congenial to a world dominated by science and technology. That there is a genuine theistic anthropocentrism (if that is the word to use) is indeed true and it reaches its highest expression in the Christian anthropocentrism which is based on the doctrine of the Incarnation. And that doctrine asserts the becoming-man of a God who is the creator of the whole universe, not one who is present only to the consciousness of man. William Temple's Gifford Lectures of 1934, Nature, Man and God, may appear old-fashioned to some, but I am sure that he was speaking to twentieth-century man in his assertion that the scientific picture of the universe was to be accepted in its broad details, while the most significant thing about it was the fact that, in the course of evolution, it had given rise to minds which, emerging in it, could nevertheless reflect upon it and investigate it, thus embracing in their scope the very process out of which they had come. Temple would not have described himself as a Thomist, but he certainly understood that mens quodammodo fit omnia. ‘I am greater than the stars’, he once said, ‘for I know that they are up there and they do not know that I am down here.’ It is an odd characteristic of thinkers of the school of Dr Dewart that, while they profess to be extremely sensitive to the outlook of a world that has been transformed by science, they show remarkably little interest in anything that science has in fact discovered. One is tempted to suggest that their retreat into human subjectivity is the result of an unconscious fear of the world in which they live.

  • 1.

    The Foundations of Belief, pp. 12f.

  • 2.

    The Future of Belief: Theism in a World Come of Age, p. 7.

  • 3.

    ibid., pp. 9, 10.

  • 4.

    ibid., p. 17.

  • 5.

    Cf. the Jewish writer Richard L. Rubinstein in The Secular City Debate.

  • 6.

    The Future…, p. 75.

  • 7.

    ibid., p. 76.

  • 8.

    ibid., p. 78.

  • 9.

    ibid., p. 80.

  • 10.

    ibid., p. 82.

  • 11.

    Vol. V (1967), pp. 25ff. Cf. Hugo Meynell, ‘Shaking the Foundations’, Month 2nd N.S. I (1970), pp. 150ff and the reply by Michael Simpson, S.J., ‘Settling the Foundations’, ibid., pp. 336ff.

  • 12.

    The Future…, p. 92.

  • 13.

    ibid., p. III.

  • 14.

    no. cit., p. 25.

  • 15.

    Cf. the symposium edited by Professor H. D. Lewis, Clarity is not Enough.

  • 16.

    The Future…, p. 174.

  • 17.

    ibid., p. 175.

  • 18.

    Science and the Modern World, ch. i.

  • 19.

    ‘The Dehellenisation of Dogma’, Theological Studies, XXVIII (1967), PP. 336ff.

  • 20.

    The Foundations…, p. 243.

  • 21.

    ibid., p. 246.

  • 22.

    ibid., p. 317.

  • 23.

    ibid., p. 270.

  • 24.

    ibid., p. 299.

  • 25.

    ibid., p. 303.

  • 26.


  • 27.

    Clergy Review, LV (1970), pp. 298ff.

  • 28.

    The Foundations…, p. 328.

  • 29.

    ibid., pp. 356, 359, 363.

  • 30.

    ibid., pp. 393f.

  • 31.

    ibid., p. 394.

  • 32.

    ibid., p. 395.

  • 33.

    ibid., pp. 395f.

  • 34.

    ibid., p. 397.

  • 35.

    ibid., p. 399.

  • 36.

    ibid., p. 415.

  • 37.

    ibid., p. 416.

  • 38.

    ibid., p. 420.

  • 39.

    ibid., p. 431.

  • 40.

    ibid., p. 433.

  • 41.

    ibid., p. 441.

  • 42.

    ibid., p. 443.

  • 43.

    ibid., p. 470.

  • 44.

    ibid., p. 376.

  • 45.

    ibid., p. 494.

  • 46.

    ibid., p. 375.