1 The account of value in the last chapter was a necessary preliminary to the problem now to be raised. Have we any valid grounds for saying that God is good, or that the universe is good? Indeed is there anything anywhere that is good outside the limits of man's consciousness? To answer such questions, one must know the condition under which goodness may appear. We have stated that condition in the last chapter. It is the existence of conscious minds with impulses capable of fulfilment and satisfaction. The question now before us is whether that condition exists apart from human experience.
The point of chief interest here is whether it exists in the power, if such there be, that governs the universe. But let us creep up on that momentous question by asking whether it exists anywhere in the universe outside our own minds. To that question there is a clear, even if limited, answer: it obviously exists in some animal minds. A dog that is starving or has lost its master in a crowd is unmistakably frustrated and suffering, even though the thought of what would bring its search to rest is less explicit than our own. If the dog finds food or is reunited with its master, its driving impulse gains fulfilment, and to deny that it is achieving its own humble good would be churlishly unreasonable. But animals are near to us; they are our biological cousins. What of the rest of nature? Our planet is a speck of Stardust in a universe that stretches out in every direction for millions of light years. Life like ours is possible only within narrow zones of temperature; and at a rough computation, writes Sir James Jeans:
‘these zones within which life is possible, all added together, constitute less than a thousand million millionth part of the whole of space.’ The universe ‘appears to be indifferent to life like our own.… Perhaps indeed we ought to say it appears to be actively hostile to life like our own. For the most part, empty space is so cold that all life in it would be frozen; most of the matter in space is so hot as to make life on it impossible; space is traversed and astronomical bodies continually bombarded, by radiation of a variety of kinds, much of which is probably inimical to, or even destructive of, life.’1
So far as we know, the crew of our small space-ship is alone in the universe, and if life and mind appear on other celestial bodies, they are probably so different from our own that we should not know where to begin in establishing communication with them. We can only say of these hypothetical beings that if they do have values it is because they have needs and wants that find fulfilment in certain experiences, though both the wants and their fulfilment may be unimaginably different from our own.
GOD AND THE ABSOLUTE
2 What has concerned religious thinkers in the past, however, is not whether other specks of Stardust support minds but whether the universe itself is governed by a being with values more or less like our own. In the religious tradition of the West, two very different notions have been entertained of the ultimate nature of things and, in consequence, of the ultimate government of the world. One belongs to the strand of thought that runs through Spinoza, Hegel, Green, Royce, Bradley, and Bosanquet, and identifies God with an absolute mind embracing all things in an intelligible whole. The other is the specifically Christian strand of thought which conceives God as a Person distinct from the world, though its creator and sustainer. It will be clear from what has been said that the present work belongs in the first of these traditions rather than the second, whatever departures may have been made from it at particular points. We have argued that ultimate reality is an all-inclusive system, whose parts are necessarily related. It is this whole to which one is driven back in the end, even if, in the manner of Rashdall, Brightman, and other theologians, one holds to a finite Deity limited in power but not in goodness. For God, so conceived, remains one person among others in an infinite universe, and is not himself the ultimate reality. Many questions would still force themselves upon us regarding his origin, his relations to the space and time of science, and the authority to be attached to his thought and will. In trying to answer such questions, we should be carried back inevitably to the Absolute of which he is one component. Without suggesting that these questions lack interest or importance, we shall make no attempt here to deal with them. For us the ultimate reality in the universe is to be found in no part of it, however great, but only in the whole. It is the universe itself, not indeed as a scattered litter of items but as the one comprehensive and necessary order that a full understanding would find in it. Hence if we are asked whether in our view God is good, we shall perhaps be excused if we translate it into the question whether ultimate reality is good. In short, is the Absolute good?
We have already confessed to a doubt whether this all-inclusive system can be described with self-evidence as a mind or consciousness. In any case, if we now ask whether this Absolute has a scale of values to which ours may and should approximate, or a will for us which we should try to discover and obey, it is difficult to give any clear meaning to the question. For if we put it in terms of the theory stated in the last chapter, it becomes: may we ascribe to the Absolute a set of needs, wants, or desires in whose fulfilment and satisfaction its goods consist? The answer seems to be clear enough: an absolute being is not one that can need or seek fulfilment; and hence its experience could not be good in our sense.
THE ABSOLUTE AS FULFILMENT
3 This is not the conclusion of Bradley and Bosanquet. They hold, and I follow them in holding, that the universe is a system which, as apprehended in thought, would provide a final satisfaction of man's theoretical impulse, since then the question Why? could at no point be raised again. This question is raised at all only on the assumption that there is an answer to it. That the system which would satisfy the theoretic impulse is also the system which constitutes the nature of things is the assumption of thought at every level of its inquiry, and I conceive that rationalists have been justified in accepting this assumption, not as a demonstration that the world is rational, but as a working hypothesis dictated by the nature of the quest.
But such writers as Green, Bradley, and Bosanquet have gone far beyond this. They have assumed that just as the Absolute, conceived as an intellectual structure, is that which would satisfy the theoretic impulse, so on the side of value it is that which would satisfy completely such interests as the moral and the aesthetic. But the cases are not comparable. The search for truth is the search for an order that we do not make, but find. The attempt to embody the moral ideal or to create ideal beauty is the endeavour to realise something that we do not find, but make. The poet, the artist, the musician do not assume that the beauty of the poem or picture or melody they are creating is already there in nature, and that in creating it they are only following the lines of an existent structure. It would not occur to the moral reformer to say that what he was attempting to reform was a world already perfect. Indeed that assumption, instead of encouraging and justifying his endeavour, would make it pointless. Thus while it is the natural assumption of the cognitive quest that its ideal is already realised, the natural assumption of the other major quests is that it is not realised, and that such realisation as may be achieved must be the work of our own hands.
I cannot agree, therefore, with the school of thinkers from whom I have perhaps learned most, the humane and distinguished group that includes Green, the Cairds, Bradley and Bosanquet, Royce and Joachim, that the Absolute in which our theoretical questions are presumed to have their answer is one in which the other values we strive for must also be realised. It may be insisted that the two cases are parallel after all, for is not truth itself a value, and if so, must not this and the other values be treated alike? The answer is No; truth is not in strictness a value; there is no intrinsic goodness in the truth that 2 + 2 = 4. The goodness lies in the knowledge of truth, and this, like other values, is an achievement of our own. It would be absurd to maintain that we bring into being the truth or the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 as we bring into being the happiness of a comforted child or the beauty of a well played melody. Admitting, then, that knowledge, like other forms of fulfilment, is intrinsically good, we must add that it has a character which other fulfilments lack: as the knowledge of something, it has an object and correlative in the world beyond itself. In this it is unique among the forms of value.
4 Bradley at times seems to hold the view of goodness here accepted. ‘Good, in the proper sense,’ he writes, ‘implies the fulfilment of desire’;2 ‘desire is not an external means, but is contained and involved in goodness, or at least follows from it necessarily’.3 Does such desire exist in the Absolute? No, he replies, for in desire there is a divorce between idea and existence, between the thought of something desired and its realisation in fact; and in the Absolute all such rifts are closed. Hence neither desire nor good, as we think of them, exists in the Absolute. Yet Bradley at other times speaks as if our desires and goods did exist in it. Indeed he says that there is nothing in it except the experiences of finite beings. ‘Outside of finite experience there is neither a natural world nor any other world at all.’4 ‘The Absolute… has no assets beyond appearances.’5 But if nothing exists in the Absolute but finite minds, and the desires of such minds are admitted to be unfulfilled, how can they also, in that Absolute, be fulfilled completely? Bradley never makes clear how this feat is accomplished. He can only say that if you could put together an enormous number of striving, discontented finite minds and see them in their true relations to each other, you would behold a thorough transmutation; they would ‘somehow’ all be fulfilled and satisfied.
I cannot accept this conclusion. Indeed, if taken seriously, it would undermine the moral life. We are told that if we could see things as they really are, we should recognise that all our desires were already realised and the world already perfect. Of course there are items of experience that would seem rather less than perfectly good: animals are casually torn to pieces by others to make a dinner; innocent children are afflicted with excruciating and deadly diseases; and there are the nightmare snakepits of Buchenwald and Belsen. We do not ordinarily call these good, but our sense of values must be confused. Bradley writes: ‘we may even say that every feature in the universe is thus absolutely good.’6 But if such things as these are absolutely good, why talk any longer about good and evil at all, or struggle to replace one by the other?
If anyone protests, Bradley is able to point out that something very like this view has been traditional in Western religion. ‘For religion all is the perfect expression of a supreme will, and all things therefore are good.’7 ‘As a function of the perfect universe… you are perfect already.’8 Evil then cannot be real, and yet we must fight against it as if it were. In dealing with evil, the maxim of the religious man, says Bradley, is: ‘Because it is not really there, have more courage to attack it.’9 Evil must be assumed for moral purposes to be a formidable reality, though for faith it is assumed to have been overcome. ‘The moral duty not to be moral is, in short, the duty to be religious.’10 Religion is condemned to a perpetual oscillation between the two sides of the contradiction, for it cannot abandon the moral struggle, nor can it abandon the conviction that, under God, ‘all's right with the world’.
It is only philosophy, Bradley thinks, that can deal with the paradox, and the philosopher sees that where there is a contradiction one side or the other must go. The side that Bradley sacrifices is the side that for most minds is the more indubitable reality. He chooses to brand as unreal not the Absolute, in which all desires are extinguished in an ineffable blaze of fulfilment, but the moral enterprise itself. Good as we know it is appearance only; evil as we know it is appearance only; desire, with which good is bound up, is appearance only; the whole struggle between good and evil is nothing but an unreal seeming. It is hard to see that this is any great advance over the religious attitude that Bradley has just condemned. The religious man believes that he is committed to a life-and-death battle with evil and at the same time that the victory is somehow won. This is rejected as incoherent. What we are offered instead is the suggestion that the battle never really happened. It is all an illusion of finite mind.
But this way of thinking is itself based on an illusion. It proceeds on the assumption that the cognitive and the other impulses of human nature are to be dealt with in the same way, that just as the theoretic impulse is justified in postulating a world which, as intelligible, would fulfil and satisfy the desire to know, so the aesthetic and moral impulses are justified in assuming that the world is perfectly beautiful and perfectly good. Now in assuming that the world is intelligible, even though much of it is puzzling to us, there is no contradiction and scarcely even a paradox. It is wholly in accord with our logical sense to say that the law of contradiction really reigns in the world in spite of much that seems to us incoherent. The assumption that truth is a consistent whole belongs as essentially to the quest for knowledge as the recognition that our actual knowledge falls short of this. The corresponding assumption, we must repeat, is not involved, either overtly or implicitly, in the quest of non-cognitive values. ‘It fortifies my soul to know/That though I perish, truth is so.’ No doubt. But if Clough and other striving souls were to perish, would any virtue or beauty, anything good or evil, be left in the universe? That depends, we have said, on whether outside our tiny celestial stockade there exist ‘in the distant places of creation’ other minds with needs and desires. We know of none. And the Bradleyan Absolute is not well calculated to relieve our loneliness.
For consider; our desires exist in it, since all phenomena exist in it; but those desires are fulfilled, and desire that is fulfilled is no longer desire; so our desires do not exist in it. To be sure, they must do so, for there is nowhere else for them to exist, and to exist outside the Absolute would be too gross a contradiction. But since they are self-contradictory themselves (for thought and existence, the what and the that, cannot be sundered in reality), they are unrealities that cannot be included in the Absolute. What is included instead is what they would achieve if perfectly fulfilled. But if our desires as such are not included, it is false to say that the Absolute is all-inclusive. Furthermore, the Absolute is not in time, and desires with no possible future fulfilment are not desires as we know them. The list of contradictions and paradoxes could easily be extended.
Such an Absolutist as Bradley would have a ready reply. He would say that contradictions were inevitable in the attempt of ordinary thought to construe its world; indeed Bradley devotes most of Appearance and Reality to riddling with contradiction the world we actually live in and the very bricks and mortar with which the intellect constructs it. The ramshackle incoherence of this structure is evidence, he would say, that we must look beyond its world of shadows to the coherent Absolute that lives behind it. But even to talk about this final coherence must be incoherent, at least for Bradley, since coherence is a relation, and he has declared all relations to be unreal. It is difficult to see any reply that would not be open to Sidgwick's criticism that ‘he had never been able to make out’ how the Absolutists ‘managed to distinguish the contradictions which they took to be evidence of error from those which they regarded as intimations of higher truth’.11
5 What concerns us here is the moral implications of an Absolute in which there are no needs, impulses, or desires. In the absence of such things, the root of value is cut, and there could be neither good nor evil. The good and evil of our finite life would disappear in it, the good because it is not the good that would satisfy in the end, the evil because in the Absolute there would be no frustration. Good and evil would thus be transcended in a transformation that is spoken of sometimes as ‘total’, sometimes—because good is somehow closer to reality than evil—as one of degree. But there is no way of measuring how completely any particular good or evil is transcended in the Absolute; we can only be sure that what we now regard as such is not what it seems. This view shakes the foundation of both morals and religion; it leads us back toward the moral and religious nihilism of Mansel and Kierkegaard, of Brunner and Barth. We argued many pages ago that if there exists the discontinuity they alleged between divine and human standards of good and evil, no moral judgement could be trusted. A similar conclusion seems inevitable if their Deity of the ‘wholly other’ is replaced by a Bradleyan Absolute.
Bradley, to be sure, is less contemptuous of morality than Kierkegaard; he would take no satisfaction in contemplating murder as a divine command; and he finds in what we call goodness and beauty a nearer approach to the Absolute than in evil and ugliness. But we never know how near that approach is; and in any case, by abolishing impulse and desire in his Absolute, Bradley has abolished with them what we have found to be essential conditions of value. Furthermore, if there is no intrinsic goodness, there is no moral goodness either, for moral goodness is a bent of the will toward producing intrinsic goodness. And in the Absolute there is not only no intrinsic goodness in our sense, but no bents, no will, and no production, for these all belong to the unreal world of time. If reverence is based on moral goodness, we cannot worship a being to whom it would be contradictory to ascribe such goodness. A non-moral Absolute is no substitute for the God of religion.
6 Those who have attempted to retain in the Absolute some traces at least of what we call morality have struggled gallantly with the problem of evil. They have pointed out that there are things that even omnipotence cannot do, such as making a stone so big that it cannot lift it, or making a world in which courage is a virtue although there is nothing to fear. It cannot do what is logically impossible. But advocates of a morally perfect Absolute have still maintained that this is the best of possible worlds. Royce, for example, admitting of course that sin is evil, holds that any morality worth the name must know the temptation to sin if it is to win its most significant triumph; and when he turns to non-moral evil, he takes the same line. What of the evil that has nothing to do with man's will, and has neither the aesthetic value of tragedy nor any lesson to teach, but, so far as we can see, is mere pointless misery, loss, and pain? What about cities wiped out by earthquakes? What about Shelley and Schubert, their genius snuffed out at thirty? What about the incalculable toll of animal pain collected by nature in its ordinary course? What about the horror of hereditary disease, which so often, as Royce concedes, carries mental and moral degeneracy with it? In the face of these things, can we call the Absolute good?
‘Can our chance be by any possibility his rationality; our chaos his order, our farce his tragedy, our horror his spirituality? Yes, even this may come home to us if we remember that he at least, in his absoluteness, does not find these things as foreign facts, forced upon him from without. He endures them, as we do; he condemns them as we must; but he knows them, as we in our finitude cannot. And so, if knowing them he wills these horrors for himself, must he not know wherefore?… He who solves all problems, shall he not solve this one also?’12
In view of the extent and intensity of the admitted evils, this is a singularly lame conclusion. It throws the issue back into the lap of faith. But faith is no solution; it has often proved mistaken; the question is whether it is a faith to which we have any rational right; and Royce has not, I fear, shown that it is. The right to a faith that the world is rational, in the sense that it is an intelligible system, we grant him as a working postulate of his inquiry. But the rationality of the world in the further and very different sense that the world is perfectly good is not to be thrown in as if it were an obvious corollary; it is anything but obvious; it must be argued for separately and on the evidence. And the evidence, as Royce agrees, includes evils of vast extent, of extreme intensity, and such that the reflective human eye can see no purpose served by them or any compensating circumstances, either in the short run or in the long. We are to have faith nevertheless that these evils are necessary parts of a world that is perfectly good.
Now one who talks this language is caught in a vice, and caught equally whether he starts from the Absolute or from the particular facts. If he starts from the Absolute and the assurance that he lives in a perfect world, the natural result, we have suggested, is quietism; why struggle to improve a world that is perfect already? If he starts from the facts of evil, the result is much the same. He relies at the outset on a moral judgement that seems to him as certain as anything can be, a judgement that the world is grossly imperfect. Since that view is religiously unacceptable, however, he replaces it with the conclusion that what seems unmitigatedly evil is really good. But then his judgement that it is evil must be a mistake. And if the clearest and most certain of his value judgements is unreliable, no such judgement can any longer be depended on. But this is to solve the problem by denying its existence. For if the most certain of value judgements cannot be relied on, we cannot be sure that there is any real evil to explain, or that there is any good either; the distinction between the two is lost in a dense and paralysing fog.
7 This kind of either-or approach has seemed too uncompromising to some defenders of a moral Absolute. Granting that there is much apparent evil in the world, they would say that it is neither so widespread nor so intense as to veto the conviction that the universe is on our side, that its standards are in the main ours, and that we are safe from at least the worst extremes of evil. This belief sprouts out in an unlikely place, Bosanquet's Logic.
‘The writer is aware of a strong prejudice in his own mind,’ he writes, ‘that a disastrous earthquake in London is an exceedingly improbable occurrence… such a degree of inconstancy as to tempt an enormous heavily built city to be erected, and then to turn and rend it, would seem malicious on the part of Nature.’13
Bosanquet referred to this belief indeed as ‘a psychological curiosity,’ but it is clear that he regarded it as more than this, for he refused to withdraw it under criticism or to accept the belief ‘that the world-creasingly system is wholly indifferent to the interests of civilisation’. He clearly thought ‘the world-system’ could absorb existing evils without forfeiting its goodness. But it is clear also that his faith was not of the type to which evidence is of no concern and which would continue to believe in a beneficent Deity no matter what evils piled up. The destruction of London would obviously give him pause. He wrote his words before the two world wars; would their multiple destruction of cities, their genocide, their pouring down the drain of youth, talent, and goodness—would these things have made any difference to Bosanquet's serene confidence that ‘the world-system’ embodied goodness? He could not fall back on uncaused human conduct to exculpate his Absolute, for quite rightly he did not believe in this kind of freedom. His own words suggest that he might have thought it reasonable under pressure to reverse his field and declare this epidemic evil to be ‘malicious on the part of Nature’.
Would this be any more reasonable than on the former evidence to pronounce nature benevolent? I cannot think so. Both ascriptions seem to me equally projections on the universe of values that are not there. As soon as one studies the source of value in human experience, its inextricable entanglements with human nature, human needs, human desires, and human fulfilments, such invocations of the universe as the sponsor of one's values seem both uncritical philosophically and factually premature. The first point we have laboured enough. The second deserves a further word, and that word must be drawn from science. If the universe may be said to have a scale of values in any degree like our own, it must be concerned to maximise intrinsic goodness and to minimise intrinsic evil. Does the universe as revealed to us by modern science exhibit either concern? I cannot see that it does. It has, to be sure, generated value on one planet. But as if to cut off any inference to its benevolence, it has also provided the second law of thermodynamics, the law of increasing entropy, which tells us that energy at higher levels inevitably sinks to lower, so that our sun will end as a dark, cold cinder, and all life like our own be rendered impossible. An Absolute interested in the maximising of intrinsic goodness would presumably provide generous lodgements for it, but we have no evidence that life, mind or value exists anywhere except in one spot, and we do know that throughout the greater part of the visible universe they seem to be excluded. The reply may be made, and often has been, that the mere expansion of the known universe has no relevance to the place of values in that universe. But this is untrue. Values as we know them are dependent on minds, and minds as we know them dependent on bodies, and bodies in turn dependent on conditions of light, heat, and air. If these conditions are withheld through all but an intiny fraction of the known universe, the suggestion that that universe is bent on the production and conservation of value becomes progressively improbable.
8 This classic problem whether God is good, here translated into the question whether the Absolute is good, is so crucial that it may be well to put our views on it in a more formal and summary way. When a reflective person says that the world or the universe or the Absolute is good, what does he mean? Presumably one of three things.
IS THE ABSOLUTE MORALLY GOOD?
9(1) The most obvious and probable meaning is that the Absolute is morally good, that it is actively concerned about the welfare and happiness of conscious beings. Whether this is true may be considered from either (a) the theoretical or (b) the empirical point of view.
(a) The theoretical question is whether it makes sense to say that the universe can feel ‘active concern’ about anything. Feeling, as we know it, is always connected intimately with the nervous system, and though Fechner and others have suggested that the galaxies may be the cells in a world brain, the analogy is not close enough to provide a base for serious argument. And that the Absolute, in the sense of the ordered totality of things, should love or hate others or have moral relations with them is precluded by the fact that there are no others. These attitudes and actions would have to be directed on beings that are parts of itself; and that the universe as a whole should love or hate a part of itself, or should deal generously or unjustly with it, is hardly intelligible.
(b) On the empirical question whether the universe presents a scene arranged by perfect moral goodness, perhaps enough has been said already. One would expect of such a being (i) that moral goodness among men would be recognised in some way in which wickedness was not, either by outward signs or by the happiness of the agent; (ii) that if evil existed, it should not be pointless or fruitless; and (iii) that the intrinsic goods of the world or at least the capacity to achieve them should be justly distributed.
As for (i), it appears to be true that moral goodness tends to happiness and vice to unhappiness, though, as Sidgwick showed, the pairs exhibit no firm correlations; the only way to establish them would be to invoke a new world to redress the balance of the old, and that would be turning from evidence to faith and hope. So far as knowledge goes, the heroes who die for others in line of duty gain nothing proportional to their sacrifice. And there are wicked persons who notoriously flourish like the green bay tree. (ii) As for gratuitous evil, we have seen that it exists in many forms and in prodigal abundance. This too is sometimes denied by those who hold
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell'd in a fruitless fire,
but this, as the poet recognised, is less a conclusion from evidence than a passionate leap of faith. The evidence that the shrivelling fire is fruitful for the moth is not forthcoming. (iii) Nor is there evidence of a concern for justice in the distribution of goods, or of the opportunity or capacity for them. Does the power that orders the universe exemplify justice in allotting to some Pacific and African peoples a brief life of starvation and disease, and to other peoples a life of longevity and plenty? One may grant that nature was generous to Beethoven in spite of his deafness and to Milton in spite of his blindness, but can one doubt that among the millions of youth that have been led to the slaughter in this tormented century there may have been Miltons who remained mute and Beethovens who wrote no score because a tide in the affairs of men happened to be running against them? And for that matter, what had the young Beethoven or Milton done, or the local thalidomide or mongoloid infant left undone, that the first should be endowed with imperial genius and the second with hopeless disfigurement? Justice does not appear to be nature's first law.
IS THE ABSOLUTE INTRINSICALLY GOOD?
10(2) Sometimes when it is said that God, meaning again the Absolute, is good, what is meant is that the experience presumed to constitute the Absolute is of transcendent intrinsic value. So far as this is based on the notion that the Absolute must realise all human capacities and desires, we have seen that the conclusion rests on a false analogy. But the claim is sometimes based on another ground. If the universe is, as we have held it to be, a perfect system on the intellectual side, how could it be less than perfect on the side of goodness?
I do not see the force of this consideration. Let us suppose that, being hungry, I need and desire a square meal but fail to get it. This is a very simple but also typical case of evil, consisting of frustrated need and desire. Now one who holds that the world is an intelligible system will hold that the frustration is caused, and since causation involves necessity, that it is also necessitated. Given the rest of the universe, this even had to occur as it did. And what is alleged is that if this evil event were included it would disrupt the necessary system. But why? The frustration occurred; it is an event and as truly as any other event it has its explanation; why should it form an unassimilable cyst in the explanatory system? One can only suspect a confusion between two meanings of ‘perfect’. Perfect intelligibility implies a system that is at once all-inclusive and fully integrated, in the sense that there is nothing in it that is contingent or arbitrary. A conscious state that is perfectly good is one in which impulse and desire are wholly fulfilled and satisfied. Is there any straight line from an experience that is perfect in the first sense to one that is perfect in the second? I do not see that there is. It is to be remarked, furthermore, that a distinguished succession of idealist thinkers has held that the world is rational, and since they applied this same term ‘rational’ to conduct that was morally right, they led others, and sometimes themselves, to believe that the two senses were somehow equivalent, that a universe which is rational in the sense of being articulated logically must also be rational in the sense of being flawless morally. But the two senses are clearly different, nor does either seem to be derivable from the other.
A NEUTRAL WORLD
11(3) Sometimes when it is said that God or the Absolute or the world is good, what is apparently meant is that the world is, or contains, more good than evil. This may well be true. The ordinary life of most men and presumably most animals affords a constantly renewed fulfilment of at least those impulses and desires that are necessary to maintaining life, so that the tone of most lives is one of mild satisfaction, punctuated by occasional extremes of exhilaration or distress. But considering how minute a fragment of the world we know, and how minute a fragment of that fragment we know directly, any pretence to exactness or certainty in our estimates would be absurd. About all we can say is that the scene does not suggest the support by absolute power of either good or evil. What it does suggest far more strongly is that the universe is indifferent to good and evil alike.
If the rationalist pursues this line of thought, where does it leave him with regard to the governance of the world? It leaves him in very different positions on the intellectual side and on the moral. His endeavour on the intellectual side is to construe the world in such a way as to find to his reiterated question Why? an intelligible answer. We have found nothing to veto his hope, and much to encourage it. When we turn on the other hand to the place of values in the universe, we have found two independent lines of thought converging to one conclusion, namely that the universe is indifferent to man's ideals. One such line runs through an analysis of the nature and conditions of intrinsic goodness, which shows such goodness to be dependent on a striving mind. The other line runs through the actual distribution of good and evil, and shows that there is no way, short of a faith that defies the evidence, by which the inequity of the apportionment can be reconciled with the moral government of the world. The two lines meet upon one tragic result. The moral life, the realm of value, the kingdom of ends has its throne in the human mind.
12 I say ‘tragic’ because the conclusion destroys so much that has supplied a trellis for human hope. It requires a revision of the very meaning of religion as accepted in the West. For Christianity is not merely the pursuit of the good life. It is that, to be sure, but it is far more. It has in fact been the pursuit of the good life in the confidence that the power which governed the universe was also involved in one's own battles, that an invisible, heavenly host was marching at one's side. The moral struggle, the struggle so make the world over, even to make oneself over, is infinitely demanding, and one knows well enough what the result will be if one must fight alone. It will be defeat and death, not improbably with a humiliating loss of faculty and perhaps in desolating pain. Millions of men and women have been enabled to face these horrors with equanimity by the assurance that they were not alone. Did they not have it on high authority that the hairs on their head were numbered, that everlasting arms were beneath them, and that even in the valley of the shadow of death they need fear no evil?
Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of his hand, outstretched caressingly?
Compared with this conviction that the power that governs all things cares, the prospect offered by rationalism is bleak. It admits that the world is governed by logic; it finds insufficient evidence that it is governed by love. The nature of things is not patterned to the heart's desire, though that desire has written itself large across every heaven that men have lived under. Religion and the philosophies animated by religion, holding that the heart has its reasons that reason does not know, have constructed a fabric in which the work of reason and that of feeling are intricately entangled with each other. We have seen already in our reflections on myth in religion how natural this entanglement is. We have also seen something of the long process by which an advancing reason has separated the strands of objective thought and anthropomorphic feeling. The understanding of how desire fashions belief was better understood after the explorations of Strauss and Feuerbach, of Freud and Frazer: and the shock of disillusionment was made more tolerable by the imaginative sympathy with which sceptics like Renan and Santayana could deal with the faith they had lost. The work of these men was iconoclastic, but in spite of defects of temper and insight it was in the main true.
13 We have admitted that this truth carries tragedy with it. But there are gains in it also. There is a notable gain in honesty. Pascal's reasons of the heart would not cut an impressive figure in astronomy or the stock market, and it is not clear why they should be thought reliable in speculative thought. There is more sober guidance in Bishop Butler's ‘Things are what they are, and will be what they will be; why should we seek to deceive ourselves?’ And it is surely self-deception to hold that because a view of the world is desirable, it must be true, or that feelings—even the noblest of feelings—are valid evidence as to the nature of things. Furthermore, if the religious view of the West is the product in part of noble feeling, that feeling has been mixed at times with others that are far from noble. The religion of the West has reflected the nationalism, the bigotry, and the cruelty of the worshippers as well as their idealism. It was under supposed divine sanction that witches were sent to the stake, Jews and Moslems massacred, thoughtful men broken on the wheels of the inquisition for the crime of such thought, French Protestants hunted down by Catholics on St Bartholomew's night, and the Catholic More and Campion martyred by Protestants in Britain. The religion of Aquinas and still more the religion of Luther, though they represented the world as governed by a God of love, made it also a nightmare in which the majority of men were denied even the grim blessing of extinction, and were kept alive for indefinite and terrible torture. When the charge is laid against rationalism that it wipes the smile from the face of the universe, the footnote should be added that it wipes away also an implacable frown that terrified souls as stout as Dr Johnson's. To anyone who has reviewed these by-products of Western religion, the remark of Julian Huxley is at least intelligible: ‘For my own part, the sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormous.’14
This supernaturalism is in decline. If we have given it fuller consideration in this work than most philosophers would consider necessary, it is because of the immense importance it has held, and still holds, in the life of the West. It has been taught as such infallible truth, it has been bound up so intimately with the inculcation of the highest ideals, that its loss seems to many like the end of morality itself. Nevertheless it is becoming clearer to reflective persons that a religion of this kind is neither intellectually tenable nor required as a moral sanction. Theologians themselves feel increasing embarrassment over it. More of them perhaps than would care to say so publicly have sympathised with the Bishop of Woolwich in the misgivings of his Honest to God, and those theologians who have read Professor Wisdom's essay on ‘Gods’ or followed the struggles of the analytic philosophers over the requirements of meaningfulness may doubt whether some of the central dogmas of traditional theology have any clear significance.
A like change has been taking place in the relation conceived to hold between religion and morality. Much of the reluctance to abandon a supernaturalist theology has sprung from the conviction that it is a necessary support for morals; and, as Mill said, ‘It is a most painful position to a conscientious and cultivated mind, to be drawn in contrary directions by the two noblest of all objects of pursuit, truth, and the general good’.15 But with the decline of supernaturalism, the dependence of morals on theology is coming to be seen as the reverse of the truth, in that it bases the more certain upon the less. Men are far more confident of the wrong of stealing or killing than they are even of such central dogmas as the incarnation, the atonement, or the Trinity, so that if dogma is necessarily linked to morals, it would be more likely to involve morality in its own uncertainty than to give it additional strength. Non-sectarian moralists, though deeply divided on many issues, are now generally agreed that moral obligation is independent of theological belief and is equally binding on atheist and devotee.