1. At the close of my last lecture I intimated that the stage was now set for attempting the formal definition of religion. I deemed it expedient however to postpone my definition until today since it was apparent to me that baldly stated it would seem to some to be much too narrow and to others to be much too broad; and I was anxious to be in a position to rally at once to my own defence which I could hardly have done satisfactorily in a lecture's dying moments.
Part Two (Second Course): On Godhood
Lecture XII: Religion and Theism
Reminding you that I am using ‘definition’ in the sense in which definition formulates what the term connotes in the careful and considered linguistic usage of competent persons and reminding you also that it is religion in its basic form as an experience not religion as the objectification of that experience in historic institutions that we are concerned with I suggest that religion may be defined as ‘a state of mind comprising belief in the reality of a supernatural being or beings endued with transcendent power and worth together with the complex emotive attitude of worship intrinsically appropriate thereto’.
So far as I can see it makes no difference whether one chooses to put ‘belief’ first or ‘emotion’ first in the definition; for the character of the belief that is intrinsic to religion implies the emotive attitude and the character of the emotive attitude that is intrinsic to religion implies the belief. If I have myself preferred to put ‘belief’ first that is merely because it is the belief element that is directly relevant to the question at the origin of our whole enquiry; the question ‘Is religion true?’
But as I have admitted the definition is likely to seem too narrow to some too broad to others; some will feel that there are items in it which are not indispensable to what one means by ‘religion’ others that there are items not in it which are indispensable to what one means by ‘religion’. Let me deal first with the charge that our definition is too narrow.
2. This charge is most likely to be based I think on our requirement that the religious ‘object’ be a supernatural being or beings. To insist upon this it will be said is arbitrarily to disqualify from admission to the fold certain ‘religions’ whose claim to be so called seems really unexceptionable. Does it not disqualify Buddhism for example a religion of an antiquity greater by half a millenium than that of Christianity itself a religion which today numbers among its professed disciples some hundreds of millions of human souls?
The answer to this question seems to me to depend entirely upon what is being meant by ‘Buddhism’. Everyone is agreed that there are striking differences between the Buddhism of its founder Gautama—what may be called the ‘pure milk of the gospel’—and the Buddhism of those popular versions of the original doctrine which emerged within a comparatively few years of the Buddha's death and rapidly spread through a great part of the Eastern hemisphere; versions in which the ‘pure milk’ is to say the least of it diluted. The most notable difference is with respect to supernatural objects of worship. It is commonly (though not universally) accepted that the original Buddhism gave no recognition to such beings. In the popular versions of Buddhism on the other hand the Buddhism which every traveller in the Orient will constantly encounter they play a very conspicuous part. ‘Buddhism as we know it’ Professor John Baillie has remarked ‘so far from being godless seems to be only too well off with deities.’1
Now it is this later Buddhism replete with all the trappings of the supernatural that is the spiritual faith of so many millions and that by the vast range of its appeal can stake a good claim to be one of the great historical religions of the world. And obviously no definition of religion can come anywhere near to being satisfactory which does not find room for it. Equally obviously however our own definition does find room for it. It is only the original Buddhism which (on the assumption that this discountenances supernatural objects of worship) our definition would exclude. And why should we not exclude it? The very fact that it has at no time succeeded in attracting the allegiance of more than a tiny minority even among those who profess themselves Buddhists suggests strongly that the religious consciousness itself finds it wanting. Nor can it be argued with any force that the undeniable continuity of later Buddhism with original Buddhism in virtue of which the common name ‘Buddhism’ is given to both entails that if we call the one ‘religion’ we cannot with propriety withhold that name from the other. For continuity in some respects is compatible with discontinuity in others. If we take the orthodox view of the content of the Buddha's teaching the continuity of later with original Buddhism would seem to be only in respect of ethics psychology and (in a sense) metaphysics and there is discontinuity in so fundamental a respect as the recognition of supernatural objects of worship. In so far as that is the case there is I suggest ample ground for refusing to attach the same descriptive label to both of them.
In short I cannot see that the case of Buddhism offers any real difficulty for our definition of religion. It may well be that as certain scholars maintain even the original Buddhism finds some place for worship of supernatural beings. If so then it as well as later Buddhism will be accommodated within our definition. But if the other view is the correct one and the original Buddhism was rather a philosophy of life dominated by a singularly noble and austere ethic there really seems no good reason why it should be called anything else.
So far as I can judge the answer here made to the charge that my definition of religion is too narrow to include Buddhism is equally applicable mutatis mutandis to other cases of historic religions (e.g. Jainism and Confucianism) which contain no obvious reference to the supernatural.
3. Let us turn then to the opposite ground of complaint i.e. that our definition is too broad omitting certain items that are essential to anything that can properly be called ‘religion’.
Two such omissions seem likely to be charged against me. On one of them I have already said something at an earlier stage of the argument but it may be well to add a few words to the somewhat cursory justification then submitted. I refer to ritual which many people find it difficult not to regard as an integral part of any genuine religion.
I have excluded ritual from my definition very deliberately because in my view it is though a normal ultimately a dispensable manifestation of religion. I do not doubt for a moment that carefully selected formalised action-patterns and speech-forms gestures and posturings rhythms of colour and line and sound and whatever else may be included within the wide ambit of the term ‘ritual’ are for many minds of inestimable aid in evoking heightening and giving outlet to the emotions intrinsic to religious worship. But I cannot doubt either that to some minds differently constituted and with perhaps a different theological orientation these auxilia imaginationis can seem superfluous—nay even a positive barrier which partially inhibits that pure communing of spirit with spirit at which their worship aims. Historically of course religions differ enormously from one to another in the amount of sensuous symbolism they include and in the degree of importance they attach to it. I can see no inconsistency of principle in the concept of a religion which disavows it altogether. The attitude of worship we have agreed is indispensable to religion. But may there not be a worship of silent awe-struck adoration where the worshipper's whole spiritual being mind and heart and soul is utterly concentrated upon the Divine object and where the intrusion of sensory stimuli of whatever kind seems well-nigh intolerable? Quakerism though not Quakerism alone comes very near to it. Rudolf Otto has described the Quaker worship of ‘silent waiting upon God’ as ‘the most spiritual form of divine service that has ever been practised.’2 And whether or not we can wholly acquiesce in this judgment few of us I think would have much confidence in the spiritual discernment of anyone who was prepared to exclude Quakerism from the family of genuine religions.
It may be objected in the second place on what I cannot but feel to be much stronger grounds that my definition while duly recognising that transcendence is a character that is intrinsic to the object of religious worship has nothing to say of Divine immanence. Does it not belong to the essence of religion that God (if for convenience and without committing ourselves to anything we may use this term for the object of religious worship) is conceived not merely as transcending the world of men but also as somehow operative within it? For the religious man must we not say God is a living presence sustaining and vitalising through the workings of His Holy Spirit the hearts of those that put their trust in Him? And must not something to indicate this aspect be included in any satisfactory definition of what the term ‘religion’ means?
I have in point of fact felt a good deal tempted to include in my definition something to this effect. But in the end I have judged that to do so would be a mistake. For while I do not doubt that the personal religion of most people—whether they be devotees of very primitive religions or of advanced religions like Christianity—does involve belief in some kind of Divine immanence it seems to me not really possible to ignore the claims of Deism to be accounted a type of religion. Yet the distinctive characteristic of Deism as I understand it is precisely its rejection of the concept of God as immanent in His creation. For Deism God is a spiritual being of transcendent power and worth and wisdom and the Creator of the universe. But having created it the Deistic God seeks to modify ad hoc neither the orderly processes of Nature (which after all are obeying laws which He deliberately instituted) nor the wills and purposes of men (whom after all He has deliberately made as beings endowed with the power of self-direction).
It is easy to scoff at the Deistic conception of a God reigning in lonely splendour aloof from His creation; and certainly no one could claim that such is the nature of the God that is worshipped according to the Christian faith. But the crucial point for us here is not that but just whether a Being so conceived is a possible object of worship. If He is not then certainly a definition of religion is unsatisfactory if it leaves room for Deism as one of its possible varieties and our definition will require adjustment accordingly. I am bound to say however that I am unable to discover convincing reasons why the God of Deism should not be capable of evoking the attitude of worship and it seems to me that as a matter of plain historic fact such a Being has sometimes been worshipped. Moreover I find it hard to credit that even those who personally have an unshakable belief in the immanence of God would wish to go further in disparagement of Deism than to say that it is an inferior brand of religion. They would be reluctant to say I think that it is not a brand of religion at all.
These being so far as I can see the main though doubtless not the only sins of omission and commission likely to be charged against my definition of religion I am venturing to leave that definition as it stands. Whatever its shortcomings I hope and believe that it departs in no vital respect from what the generic term ‘religion’ means in the careful and considered linguistic usage of competent persons at the present day.
4. In the light of our definition then let us now proceed to consider the meaning of the question to which in some sense of it everyone wants the answer the question ‘Is religion true?’
It is quite clear I think what this question ought to mean. Religion in its generic nature entails as we have seen belief in the reality of at least one supernatural being of transcendent power and value. The question ‘Is religion true?’ ought to mean therefore ‘Is it the case that there exists at least one supernatural being of transcendent power and value?’
Now that is I think a tolerably important question even as it stands. It has to be admitted at once however that as it stands it represents most inadequately what the ordinary enquirer really wants to know when he asks whether religion is true. Suppose it to be answered in the affirmative—that there does exist at least one such being. The answer says nothing at all about a great deal that is almost certainly in the enquirer's mind when he asks the question. It leaves wholly undecided such fundamental questions as whether there is a plurality of Gods or only one God; whether if there is only one God He is finite or infinite—that is to say whether He is a Being subject to limitation from without or a Being that is self-complete and in some sense the ground of all that is; whether this Being is to be conceived as personal or as impersonal or perhaps as supra-personal; whether again (the question upon which we touched a few minutes ago) He is or is not immanent in the world affecting the course of events natural and spiritual here and now; and doubtless other important questions besides. In short an affirmative answer to the question ‘Is religion true?’ in its strict meaning will be perfectly compatible with either the truth or the falsity of many propositions that almost certainly will seem to the enquirer of the utmost importance for answering the question as he understands it. He is not getting an answer to what he really wants to know. Of course if the answer to the question in its strict meaning should be a straight negative the further questions that are implicit in the questioner's mind will be answered; though the answers may not be very much to his liking. The negative answer unlike the affirmative leaves undecided none of the questions listed above. Or rather to speak more accurately it renders these questions meaningless.
Now if the answer to the question ‘Is religion true?’ in its strict ‘generic’ meaning cannot tell the ordinary enquirer more than a fraction of what he wants to know when he puts the question—unless the answer happens to be a straight negative—it looks very much as though we had been wrong in our claim at the beginning of this course that the question of the truth of religion as such or in its generic nature was one of the very highest significance. The plain fact would seem to be that at least among most educated persons in the community to which we belong and perhaps in the civilised world as a whole what the man who asks ‘Is religion true?’ is really concerned about is whether Theism is true. He wants to know (if we may venture roughly to summarise the chief tenets characteristic of Theism) whether there are or are not good reasons for believing in the reality of a Single Infinite and Eternal Spirit Perfect in Power Wisdom and Goodness Who is the source of all that is Who is the Moral Governor of the World and Who is yet a living presence in the hearts of men. But between the truth of religion as such and the truth of Theism as thus formulated it at least looks as though the gap were one that could not easily be spanned.
But is the gap really as wide as it at first sight appears to be? That is just what I am going to call in question. If it were as wide as it appears to be it would be difficult to censure too sharply the slovenly language of those who ask ‘Is religion true?’ when what they really mean is ‘Is Theism true?’ But I am by no means sure that their implicit identification of religion with theism is merely or even mainly a matter of linguistic ineptitude. Underlying this identification in their minds and giving meaning to it there is present I think a certain assumption; the assumption namely that theism is not just one species of religion among others but rather the proper culmination of the development that is intrinsic to religion as such. It is dimly felt that is to say that the theistic conception of the object of religious worship only brings out explicitly what is already implied in the generic religious notion of a supernatural being of transcendent power and value. Given the presence of that assumption we can readily understand how the question of the truth of religion should be taken as virtually equivalent to the question of the truth of theism. If the beliefs characteristic of theism are just what the beliefs intrinsic to the generic religious attitude become when fully and clearly thought out then in so far as the beliefs of religion in its generic sense are true so also will be the beliefs of theism.
I am of the opinion that some such assumption must be deemed to be operative if we are to explain the otherwise very surprising prevalence of the practice of identifying the question ‘Is religion true?’ with the question ‘Is theism true?’ But the important thing of course is whether there are good reasons for supposing the assumption to be sound. I think that there are good reasons. I believe that the identification of religion with theism in the manner indicated has solid foundations both of an empirical and of a logical order. I shall say something first of its empirical justification.
5. The empirical justification lies in the historical evidence of close correlation between theism and intellectual culture. By and large it would appear to be true that the only religions that have shown any power of sustained appeal to communities enjoying a high level of intellectual culture have been theistic religions. This may seem at first glance a somewhat rash statement; and of course anything like a rigorous demonstration of its truth would require a volume. Nevertheless I am not at all sure but that on reflection the statement may appear more open to objection on the score of platitude than on the score of over-boldness.
The easiest way to test the truth of the statement is I think to ask one's self the simple question ‘What sizeable community can one in fact name in which the general level of intellectual culture is high and the religion practised (if any is practised) is not dominantly theistic?’
It is perfectly true of course that many communities not at all high in the intellectual scale have also embraced some form of theistic religion. But that is no argument against the generalisation we are proposing which is that all enlightened communities but not necessarily only enlightened communities tend to adopt theism. It is very evident that there are other determinants of theism besides the pressure of intellectual criticism upon the content of belief. A particular theistic religion might make a strong appeal to a people because it happens to contain features emotively congenial to that people and not in the least because of any superior theoretic value in the theistic theology. Indeed I suppose it would be generally agreed that this is the rule rather than the exception and that the intellectual consistency of a religion's theology has comparatively little to do with the hold of that religion upon the affections of the great mass of its devotees even in relatively civilised communities let alone in those primitive communities that have been converted to some form of theism by missionary enterprise. But all this is entirely compatible with the principle that given a tolerably high level of intellectual culture the tendency is to be dissatisfied with a religion until it assumes the theistic form.
Let us look for a little then at the question we asked ourselves ‘What sizeable community can one name in which the general level of intellectual culture is high and the religion practised (if any is practised) is not dominantly theistic?’
It is no doubt rather an invidious proceeding to institute comparisons between the nations of the world in respect of their degree of intellectual culture. Its offensiveness is at least mitigated however by the fact that bearing in mind that we are concerned with the cultural level of communities in general irrespective of particular sections which may rise notably above (or fall notably below) the general level there would really seem to be very little difference of opinion about the broad divisions that fall to be made. There would I take it be virtual unanimity about including in the upper reaches most European countries the U.S.A. and the white populations of Australasia Canada South Africa and Latin America: in all of which it need scarcely be said religion is overwhelmingly theistic in character. And if we steadily bear in mind that a sprinkling of brilliant invididuals or even groups does not suffice to constitute an intellectually enlightened community we should surely be hard put to it to extend the list much further. We might be tempted at first to add such great countries as India and China; rather sentimentally perhaps on account of the great antiquity of their civilisations more relevantly because we are all well aware that these countries include today among their nationals not only a great many highly educated men and women but also not a few sages and savants who would be outstanding in any intellectual company in the world. But that the temptation should be resisted is evident as soon as we remember that the intellectual leaders of these nations are the very foremost to deplore the ignorance and illiteracy of the great mass of their fellow-nationals and would never dream of claiming high cultural status for their countries in general.
Indeed so far as contemporary civilisations are concerned there seems to me only one nation which could stake a serious claim to be added to our list; viz. Japan. But the case of Japan must be admitted to constitute a prima facie difficulty for our thesis. For while modern Japan would certainly be reckoned by most people to be a highly educated community its national religion—Shintoism—is emphatically not theistic. Nor does there seem to be the slightest evidence of serious movements for religious reform in that direction. It looks as though we might have to admit here a disturbing exception to our general principle that intellectual culture in its application to religion tends to beget theism.
Nevertheless I do not think that our thesis is really placed in jeopardy by the non-theistic religion of educated Japan and I shall try to explain why.
In the first place it must be understood that our principle does not claim more than that intellectual culture tends to beget theism. Like other tendencies this tendency can be offset by contrary tendencies. And we are of course obliged to recognise with everyone else that in the complex web of historical process there are powerful agencies constantly at work opposing the critical application of the intellect to a nation's traditional religion. The inhibiting agencies vary greatly in force in different countries: but even in countries like our own with a very high degree of religious freedom countries where legal penalties for unorthodoxy are almost inconceivable their effect is far from negligible. We need not elaborate but merely indicate what is after all a commonplace. The inhibitions in question are both external and internal. Thus there are in every religious community social sanctions against unorthodoxy of a more or less formidable kind. The ordinary man deeply resents any challenge to his religion and the religious pioneer will need as a rule considerable strength of character and conviction to bear with equanimity the manifest disapproval of the great bulk of his affronted fellow-citizens. The internal obstacles to the free play of intellectual criticism are hardly less strong. For where the early conditioning of belief is as zealous and as ubiquitous as is normally the case in a religious community habits of thought are generated that are as difficult to break as habits of action. To dissociate one's self even in one's private thinking from the traditional religious beliefs embedded in childhood and consolidated in youth is for many persons an even harder task (though of course for different reasons) than dissociating one's self in public pronouncements. Examples abound of men of distinguished intellectual attainments who seem virtually stone-blind to damaging implications for their religious views of ideas in related fields of experience which they wholeheartedly accept within these fields. The enormous power of the early conditioning of belief to incapacitate a man from ‘thinking straight’ on matters affecting such belief we are all of us very ready to acknowledge where that early conditioning is secular in character. We could hardly escape acknowledging it in view of the recent history of Europe. I think there is a rather marked reluctance to acknowledge it where the early conditioning happens to be religious.
These inhibiting agencies I have said are always present though in varying degrees. Where there is reason to suppose that they are present in some country in surpassing strength we should naturally expect in that country an advance much slower than usual and perhaps no advance at all towards the theism that is on our hypothesis the logical terminus ad quent of the religious consciousness when it functions in co-operation with an enlightened intelligence. What we have to note now is that in the case of Japan the inhibiting agencies are rendered almost uniquely strong by the inclusion of a special factor. For in Japanese Shintoism (or to be quite precise in Japanese State Shintoism) we have the phenomenon of a traditional religion that is linked up in the most intimate way with national patriotism; a religion in which reverence for the gods is inseparably united with love for one's native land. Inevitably the effect will be to intensify vastly the popular indignation against any radical expression of religious heresy. Moreover it is only to be expected that national statesmanship will exploit such a situation to the full. Even in time of peace it will be much to the advantage of the rulers to foster the traditional religious spirit so that the call for service to the nation will carry with it the profound emotional force of a call to religious duty. In times of national danger (real or supposed) or in times when territorial aggrandisement is a matter of settled national policy and plans for aggressive war are in process of incubation the ‘playing up’ of the identity of religion and patriotism will be more vigorous than ever. What hope is there in such circumstances of even the bolder spirits venturing upon pronouncements critical of the traditional religion since these pronouncements will also appear as subversive of the state and even (on account of the unique place of the Emperor in Shintoism) as an expression of lèsemajesté?
But now the plain fact of the matter is that since the time that Japan did become an ‘educated’ nation (and that is after all fairly recent—only in the 1880's was compulsory elementary education introduced) its circumstances have been almost without intermission precisely those that we have just described. In consequence the sanctions operating against overt criticism of traditional religion in Japan have been so powerful that it would be totally unrealistic to expect over that period anything in the nature of a movement of religious reform in the direction of theism or indeed in any direction other than that of a still closer identification of religion and nationalism.
And there is yet another factor inimical to criticism of religion in educated Japan that is worth a passing mention. I have followed custom rather than personal judgment in speaking of Japan as an ‘educated’ nation. This is no place to debate the question of what criteria are proper for the description of a person or a community as ‘educated’; but it is permissible to point out that what ‘education’ has meant for the Japanese is something far removed from that conception of a ‘liberal education’ which has been the guiding ideal (however defectively implemented) in countries like our own. We in Britain would hesitate to call a man really educated (and certainly we should not describe him as intellectually cultured) if he were virtually devoid of knowledge concerning the diversity of views that have been proposed by eminent world-thinkers upon the more fundamental problems of human life and destiny; or again if he had not had instilled into him the desirability of the habit of impartial appraisal of competing theories by the free exercise of his own reason. The spirit of Japanese education is utterly different. It is true that in science in commerce in economics in technology the student is exhorted to learn all that the West can teach him and that he has no lack of freedom there to think for himself and to pioneer new tracts of country. But free-thinking in such matters as morals politics sociology or philosophy is quite another story. The heavily censored Japanese educational programme not to speak of the ‘Ministry of Thought Guidance’ ensures that in these realms there will be no encouragement to the youth of the nation to develop dangerous ideas of their own. There it is authority backed by an age-old tradition not the individual reason that is the ultimate court of appeal.
This consideration ought I think to dispose of any last lingering doubts about the compatibility of the continued prevalence of non-theistic Shintoism in educated Japan with our principle that intellectual culture tends to beget theism. For it now appears that the Japanese community despite the undoubted thoroughness and excellence of its education in many respects is nevertheless in large measure debarred from precisely those elements in the culture of the intellect which provide the substance and the impetus for critical reflection upon one's traditional religious beliefs.
Finally there is one further general point in connection with the empirical justification of our hypothesis which deserves a few moments’ attention. It is evident that in some of the countries whose religion is non-theistic and in which the masses are largely ignorant and illiterate there are yet pockets of the population—sometimes very large pockets—in which the intellectual culture is of a very high order. India is a conspicuous example. If our hypothesis is sound therefore ought we not to be able to detect in these ‘pockets of enlightenment’ at least a tendency in the direction of theism? More particularly so one might expect in India since Hinduism is distinguished from almost all other religions in the generous tolerance it shows for diversity within its ranks. There neither external nor internal sanctions should be strong enough to prevent the development of theistic beliefs if theism is indeed the natural development of a religion that accepts the free co-operation of the intellect.
I think that this demand upon our hypothesis is a reasonable one; and I also think that in fact it is met. The case of India is very significant. Everyone knows that the Hindu Pantheon is thronged with a multitude of gods and goddesses of the most diverse attributes some worshipped by one others by another of the many sects that Hinduism officially recognises. But polytheistic worship belongs to popular Hinduism rather than to the Hinduism of the pundit or sage. The Hindu sage does not in any strict sense believe in let alone worship any of these finite and imperfect deities of the popular religion. He tolerates the worship of them—or at any rate of the best of them—because in his view with all their shortcomings they do represent for the crude imagination of the unlettered at least something of the many faceted and many-splendoured Being that is the one true God. Better he feels that God be worshipped in these blurred and fragmentary images than that He be not worshipped at all. But he himself is under no illusions about their ultimate inadequacy as objects of worship. Moreover he conceives it his duty to guide—though never to force—the unenlightened worshipper towards worthier conceptions of Godhood and thus (as Radhakrishnan says) to ‘further his spiritual growth by lending a sympathetic and helping hand wherever he stands.’3 ‘Hinduism’ writes Radhakrishnan ‘requires every man to think steadily on life's meaning until he reaches the highest revelation. While the lower forms are tolerated in the interests of those who cannot suddenly transcend them there is all through an insistence on the larger view and the purer worship.’4 And this ‘larger view and purer worship’ there can be no doubt is theistic. We have in Hinduism I suggest a first class empirical illustration of the general principle for which we are arguing viz. that the religious consciousness that is intellectually enlightened moves naturally in the direction of theism.
6. I turn now to the logical as distinct from the empirical justification of our thesis: but let us see first just what precisely the logical justification involves.
Religion in its generic character it will be recalled we came to define as ‘belief in the reality of a supernatural being or beings of transcendent power and value together with the complex emotive attitude of worship intrinsically appropriate thereto’. Theism we made no attempt to define in any rigorous way but were content to accept as sufficient for our purpose what seemed to us to be fairly generally accepted as the common core of theistic doctrine: belief in ‘One God Perfect in Power Wisdom and Goodness an Infinite and Eternal Spirit Who is the ultimate ground of all that is Who is the Moral Governor of the world and Who is at the same time a Living Presence in the hearts of men’. The logical justification of our thesis will consist in showing how the generic beliefs of religion when their implications are reflected upon turn out to entail the more specific set of beliefs characteristic of theism.
This ‘logical nisus’ of the religious consciousness has of course been one of the determinants of religion's historical development towards theism; though not always and perhaps not often a very powerful one. There have been occasions when it has had apparently almost nothing to do with a community's adoption of theism—one recalls how the official substitution of Christianity for Paganism in the Roman world decreed by the Emperor Constantine hung upon nothing more relevant to its theological validity than the outcome of a battle! On the other hand from the standpoint of theological validity it is clearly the logical nisus that matters; for we have here the development of religion in so far forth as that is determined by no considerations whatsoever save the truth-value of its beliefs.
But in speaking thus of a ‘logical’ development towards theism we perhaps run the risk of some misunderstanding. Let me emphasise therefore that what we are here referring to is a logical development of the religious consciousness. The new doctrinal elements that we shall find emerging in that development are not the product of the ‘abstract intellect’—whatever that may be. They are the product of the intellect functioning within the framework of the religious consciousness. If this is forgotten the paramount importance that properly attaches to the logical development of religion is bound to be completely missed.
7. Let us then make a beginning with the identification of the worshipful being of religion with spirit. This we may I think deal with very briefly: the more so since according to some schools of thought there is no ‘pre-animistic’ stage of religion. There never was a time it is held at which the object of worship was not identified with spirit. Be this as it may it at least seems clear that once man has come to distinguish his spirit from his body and to conceive this spirit as the active directing agency within him and as that within him in virtue of which he is good or bad wise or foolish he can hardly help locating in ‘spirit’ the mysterious power and value that is felt to belong to his object of worship. For the notion of power finds its original exemplar in spirit and only from the experience of spiritual agency in ourselves can we give it any positive content. And as to the transcendent value ascribed to the worshipful being if this is to be given any concrete meaning at all it must be in terms of the highest values we know such as Wisdom and Justice and Love: and these are qualities only thinkable we may presume as attributes of a spiritual being.
The real interest lies in the logical development beyond this stage to the attributes and mode of being of the Divine Spirit or God.
The master-key to that development lies I think in the religious consciousness's refusal to tolerate any shadow of defect in the being before which it bows down in worship and adoration. A being who is conceived as his God is conceived by the worshipper to be endued with transcendent or ‘numinous’ power and value cannot at the same time be conceived as marred by what are recognised even at the human level to be imperfections. To recognise an imperfection in anything is in principle to adopt towards it an attitude of criticism. But the attitude of criticism is as remote as well can be from the adoration and awe that characterise the attitude of worship. The worshipful qua worshipful is in short without blemish—perfect.
The dynamic of what we may perhaps call the religio-logical spirit then leads gradually to the explicit recognition of that which is at first only implicitly recognised by the worshipper the worshipful being's freedom from all imperfection. And it is an easy step from the explicit recognition of God's freedom from all imperfection to the doctrine that God is infinite. For to be finite is to be limited from without and so to be conditioned in existence by something beyond one's self. But a being thus externally conditioned is to that extent deficient in power and this defect is inconsistent with the Divine Perfection. God if Perfect can be limited by nothing outside Himself. He must be self-complete self-limited; in a word Infinite.
That there is only one God follows as another simple corollary from God's Perfection. There cannot be more than one Perfect Being. For if there are more than one they must differ from one another. But in what could they differ? Presumably it would have to be in the kinds of powers and excellences they possess. But if they so differ each must lack some kind or kinds of powers or excellences possessed by another. But to lack any kind of power or excellence is to be to that extent imperfect. Hence no one of these beings can be perfect. The conception of a plurality of perfect beings is self-contradictory. If to be God is to be Perfect therefore there can be but one God.
Next a Being that is Perfect cannot be supposed to have a merely transitory existence. To be liable to death or decay is a symptom of imperfection. And indeed there is almost no quality more consistently ascribed to the worshipful being by its worshippers than the quality of ‘deathlessness’. The gods of all religions are ‘immortal’ beings endowed with everlasting life. On the other hand deeper reflection reveals that ‘everlastingness’ if interpreted as unending duration in time is not a mode of being that is adequate to a God Who is Perfect. For it is of the very essence of time as we know it to be incomplete. Every conceived time is of necessity conceived as part of a larger time which is itself part of a larger time and so on ad infinitum. Hence to conceive God as existing even everlastingly in time is incompatible with the conception of Him as a being that is self-complete. Furthermore to conceive God as existing in time is to conceive Him as conditioned in existence by something beyond Himself; and that again is inconsistent with His Perfection and self-completeness. Nor is there any escape by way of the suggestion that this time-conditioning of God's existence need not be external to Him since God may Himself be the creator of the time-order in which He exists. For if God creates time this Divine act of creation cannot itself have been an act in time. God may indeed create the time-order: but only if He Himself transcends the time-order. To say that He creates time and also exists in it is self-contradictory.
Where then do these considerations about time lead us? God's Perfection is incompatible with transitory existence in time but it is also incompatible with unending existence in time. Apparently the only solution if God exists at all is to interpret His mode of existence as time-transcending. He is beyond death and decay because His essential mode of being is not temporal at all so that no temporal predicates or implicates of them are relevant to Him.
But further the time-transcendence of God must not be interpreted in any sense of that term that would exclude time. If God's mode of being were simply outside of time time-few so that He stood in no positive relationship to the temporal order or consequently to the world of men this would be a derogation from His power inconsistent with the Perfection ex hypothesi ascribed to Him; and a derogation incidentally of a kind peculiarly fitted to make nonsense of the religious life. If God is Perfect in Power ‘all-powerful’ the time-order must be dependent upon Him and His mode of being must be so understood that it not merely transcends but also somehow includes Time.
And that gives us I think in essence what is usually meant by the theistic attribution to God of ‘Eternal’ being. Eternity is not just everlastingness in time. Nor is it a transcendence of the time order in the sense of sheer timelessness which would leave the time-order as something external to it. It is a mode of being that at once transcends and includes time. And indeed only in so far as Eternity includes as well as transcends Time can there be any significance in the symbol (it can be no more than a symbol) of ‘Everlastingness’ which is so constantly applied in religion to the Divine Being. If the ‘Eternity’ of God meant that He was ‘timeless’ there could not be even symbolic truth in speaking of the ‘everlasting God’. It would have no less if also no more truth to speak of Him as a ‘transitory’ God; for either adjective is completely irrelevant as applied to a Being that exists out of time. But if Eternity or God in His Eternal Being comprehends or encompasses the time-order then ‘everlastingness’ does become a significant symbol in as much as it directs our minds to the truth that though God is not in time Time—all Time—is in God so that there is no time in which God is not.
The question of God's relation to time leads on naturally to the question of God's relation to the world in general; His relation as we might say to all that is not-God. We may perhaps best approach this from the standpoint of God's perfection of Power His Omnipotence. If God is Omnipotent all that is in the world must be subject absolutely to His control. But it cannot be subject absolutely to His control unless it derives its very being from God. If things in the world have an independent nature of their own a nature that is not ‘God-given’ then God's power over them is conditioned by that independent nature and cannot be ‘absolute’; very much as the range of what an artificer can do with some given material is conditioned by the independent nature of the material as well as by his own capacity. Hence if God is indeed Omnipotent we have to think all that is in the world all that is not-God as ultimately deriving its being from Him. That is to say God must be as Theism declares Him to be the ultimate ground of all that is.
But again if God is the ultimate source of all that is He must presumably be the author of that Moral Law which men find written in their hearts. Once the level of ethical reflection has been reached at which moral law is clearly distinguished from man-made law and both its objectivity and its universal application to mankind have come to be acknowledged the recognition of God as the Moral Governor of the world is a natural consequence.
One last component of the theistic credo remains for logical justification—the doctrine that God is a ‘Living Presence’ in the hearts of men. It will be recalled that while fully recognising that devotees of almost all religions believe in the immanence of their god or gods I felt obliged to decide against incorporating any reference to immanence in the generic definition of religion; for Deism does not accept Divine Immanence and it did not appear to me easy to deny altogether Deism's right to the title ‘religion’. It does not follow however that the Immanence of God cannot now be introduced as a logical implication of the generic religious consciousness; as one of the items that are unfolded when we reflect carefully on all that is involved in the character of the object of religious worship. Actually I think that it can be thus unfolded; though the Divine Immanence we arrive at can only be stated in very general terms. The argument might run somewhat as follows. A Being to whom transcendent value is ascribed we are bound to envisage in so far as we give concrete meaning to the term ‘value’ at all as endued with the highest excellences we know. Among the highest excellences we know Love must certainly be included; if indeed we do not accord it a rank above all others. Now a God of Love we may infer will have solicitude for the well-being of the creatures He has brought into being; and since He is all-powerful as well as all-loving we may further infer that He will give practical expression to that solicitude vouchsafing Divine aid to man in times of trouble to the extent and in the manner that seems best to Himself and in accordance with the purpose of His creation.
An Immanence more closely defined than this so far as I can see we have no grounds for inferring simply on the basis of the generic character of the object of religious worship. On the other hand since Theism permits within its own ambit a very wide diversity of view concerning the manner and the extent of God's entrance into the lives of men no more than this would seem to be required for the purposes of our present argument. The identity of the generic religious consciousness with Theism once the implications of that consciousness are fully drawn out is thus I think sufficiently confirmed in respect of this last article of the theistic faith also.
8. I hope though it may be with undue optimism that even this inevitably brief sketch of the connection of theistic beliefs with the beliefs generic to religion may be enough to show that there is a strong case for the view that the ‘logical nisus’ of the religious consciousness presses forward to a theistic consummation and that the ordinary religious man is after all obeying a sound instinct when he tacitly identifies the question of the truth of religion with the question of the truth of Theism. May we then accept this identification as a valid one and in our future discussions replace the uncomfortably vague question ‘Is religion true?’ by the more determinate question ‘Is Theism true?’? I think the answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. But I must leave over the elucidation of this somewhat cryptic reply until next week.
From the book: