1. In this lecture we are to consider the tenability of Rational Theism from the point of view not of its consistency with acknowledged facts of experience but of its own internal consistency. Theism in general proclaims that God is wholly perfect; and as is entirely natural it interprets this Divine perfection in terms of ‘the highest we know’ in human experience; applying to God accordingly such concepts as those of goodness wisdom and power in their highest conceivable manifestations. The trouble begins as soon as we set ourselves to think out just what such concepts can really mean when applied to an absolutely perfect being. If the concepts involved are to be used significantly of God at all their meanings must presumably bear some intimate relation to the meanings they have in ordinary usage. But if that relation is taken as it is by Rational Theism to be one of literal identity there is at least a strong prima facie case for the view that so understood these concepts actually contradict the very concept of Divine Perfection which it is their professed function to illustrate. There may be some sense (and I for my part believe and shall later try to show that there is) in which a Being acknowledged to be wholly perfect and therefore infinite or self-complete can at the same time be significantly described as good wise powerful just benevolent merciful and the like. But if there is it is not easy to see how it can be a literal sense. Such at any rate is to be the chief contention of today's lecture.
Part Two (Second Course): On Godhood
Lecture XV: Is Rational Theism Self-Contradictory?
It need hardly be said that there is nothing original or even unfamiliar about such speculations. There are probably few serious theologians of any persuasion in whose writings there does not sooner or later come a point at which they say in effect ‘But of course God's power wisdom and goodness cannot be properly understood in terms of these qualities as we finite beings can alone envisage them. The finite mind is incompetent to frame a concept of the infinite power and wisdom and goodness of God. We must humbly recognise that the attributes of the Creator are in the last resort a mystery to the mere creature.’ So far so good. What is not so good is that to all appearances this recognition of the mystery of the Godhead has for most theists exceedingly little effect upon their actual theology. Lip-service having been duly paid to it they seem to feel themselves absolved from any further theoretical obligations in the matter. They proceed forthwith to debate refinements of theological doctrines which seem plainly to imply the concepts in question in their literal meaning; as though it could somehow just be taken for granted that the admitted differences of meaning that these concepts must bear in their application to God are of such a kind as not to undermine the theological doctrines themselves. Yet if it once be conceded that these concepts are applicable to God only ‘with a difference’ it is surely imperative to establish that this ‘difference’ is at least not so radical that the doctrines employing these concepts completely lose their old sense:—and perhaps even gain no new one!
Whatever its professions then it seems to me hard to deny that the actual practice of orthodox or official theism identifies it with what I have called Rational theism. Let us now begin our enquiry into the internal consistency of Rational theism.
2. The simplest way of proceeding I think will be to examine two concepts that lie at the base of all the intellectual and moral qualities which theism ascribes to God; the concepts namely of Thought and Will. Wisdom justice love benevolence etc. all presuppose the activities either of thought or of will or of both. If thought and will cannot in any literal sense be predicated of a Perfect Being a fortiori we cannot predicate of God in a literal sense any one of the intellectual and moral qualities that presuppose thought and will. Let us look first then at thought. Can a Being who is ex hypothesi perfect be conceived as in any literal sense a ‘thinking’ being?
Now if the doctrine concerning thought which I expounded and defended at some length in my first series the doctrine that all cognition involves judgment is valid the answer to our present question seems to be almost self-evidently in the negative. In judgment there must be a predicate distinct from the subject; and the function of the predicate in the judgment is that thereby we further characterise some feature of the objective reality which we take as already accurately characterised so far by the qualities implicit in our ‘subject’ term. Expansion and development of existing knowledge is thus of the very essence of the judgment. But expansion and development of existing knowledge have clearly no application to the mind of a perfect being. They presuppose defect for their very possibility. Accordingly thinking if it be true that all cognition involves judging is not conceivable as a function of the Divine nature.
Moreover not only does judgment presuppose defect in knowledge it is itself even when ‘completed’ defective as knowledge. And this defect is inherent in its nature. Bradley's argument to this conclusion in his famous (but alas! not now familiar) chapter on ‘Thought and Reality’ seems to myself decisive. There is always he points out in the subject of judgment an aspect of existence of ‘thatness’ which is not included in the thought-content of the judgment and which thus leaves the judgment inevitably incomplete as ‘knowledge’ of the ‘subject’. Make an actual judgment he adjures us and ‘see if you do not discover beyond the content of your thought a subject of which it is true and which it (your thought-content) does not comprehend.’1 The subject is always in some measure ‘beyond the predicated content’. But clearly the subject we are seeking to know cannot be perfectly known so long as there remains any aspect of it uncomprehended by the thought. We seem bound to say therefore that thought in so far as it is judgment implies some degree of defect of knowledge in its very constitution.
It will not do however to presume that the present audience was persuaded by or now even recalls or for that matter ever heard the rather lengthy argument by which I sought in the first series to recommend the old-fashioned—but as I firmly believe the almost incomparably important—doctrine that all thinking involves judging. And there is one kind of thinking often contrasted with judging which it would be particularly unwise of us to ignore merely on the strength of a general principle discussed a year ago. I refer to ‘intuitive thinking’ the special relevance of which to our question of the possibility of Divine thought is obvious.
Now not all intuitive thinking of course can be contrasted with judgment. Many philosophers believe that there is an intuitive thinking which grasps the truth of certain self-evident propositions: and here the ‘intuition’ is quite clearly an ‘intuitive’ judgment. The alleged intuitive thinking which might be placed in rivalry with judging is rather that to which Professor Price has given the name of ‘totalistic thinking’. This kind of intuition has nothing to do with the discernment of self-evident truths. Its contents may very well be false. The essence of it lies in its contrast with discursive thinking; and the difference between these two Price explains in a passage that deserves to be transcribed in toto:
‘In discursive consciousness (as the name suggests) there is a passage of the mind from one item to another related item for instance from a subject to a concept under which we classify it or from premises to conclusion. There may also be that kind of passage which is characteristic of “wondering” when after developing the consequences of one alternative we pass to another alternative and then to its consequences and then to a third. And when we have discursive consciousness of a whole or complex of any sort (as in counting) although the whole may be vaguely present to the mind from the first yet definite consciousness of the whole comes after consciousness of the parts. In intuitive consciousness on the other hand consciousness of the whole comes before definite consciousness of the parts. And there is no passage of the mind: whatever we intuit is present all at once. We might say that intuitive consciousness is “totalistic” not “progressive” or “additive.”
‘There is a further difference. In the discursive form of consciousness we seem to be active to be as it were “seeking” or “following” something. But in the intuitive form though there is an act of consciousness—in the sense of an actus the actualising of a power at a certain moment—yet there is no activity. The mind rests as it were on its object. (Not that it is passive either: it is just non-active.)’2
Price is concerned to exploit this important distinction in a context very different from ours but its significance for the question of the possibility of thinking in a Perfect Being is manifest. ‘Passage of the mind’ implies defect of knowledge in the mind that ‘passes’. But in this ‘totalistic’ thinking ‘there is no passage of the mind: whatever we intuit is present all at once’. We do not even ‘pass’ from whole to part. We apprehend the whole in its differentiations and we apprehend the parts only as differentiations of the whole. Is it not possible then that we have here a type of thinking which can legitimately be ascribed to a Perfect Being?
I think not. And the reason is in a nut-shell that totalistic intuition despite appearances to the contrary cannot at bottom escape being a judgment. The intuited content it seems to me clear is always implicitly predicated of a subject that is not itself comprehended within that content. Take e.g. the totalistic intuition of an individual person—it is of course to the apprehension of such individual wholes as persons that this kind of intuition is especially adapted. Our intuition here is I suggest always of a being that has not of a being that just is the differentiated unity of qualities which constitutes the ‘content’ of the intuition. There is an aspect of ‘thatness’ in the person not comprehended in the ‘what’ of the intuited content. And the proof that this is so lies in the manner of our natural reaction in cases where as sometimes happens the person of whom we had this ‘intuitive’ apprehension goes on to behave in a way that conflicts with our intuition of him. When this occurs we are doubtless surprised. But we are not stupefied as we ought to be if we really supposed that he this person was wholly comprehended within reduced without remainder to the content of our intuition. Our natural reaction is just to say that ‘he’ did not after all have precisely the character we took him to have. But if for our intuition ‘he’ just was the individual whole intuited that reaction would be absurd. There could then be no ‘he’ about whom a mistake was being made no ‘he’ to be the bearer of the different character which we now recognise that ‘he’ has. We should be obliged to suppose that it is not really ‘he’ but some other person altogether that we now observe acting ‘out of character’ with the intuited person. But in fact of course we suppose nothing of the sort. As already remarked we take for granted a ‘he’ of whom our intuited content was implicitly predicated. In short ‘totalistic thinking’ involves judgment with whatever disabilities as knowledge may attach thereto and it cannot accordingly be ascribed to God any more than ‘discursive’ thinking can.
I think we must say then that there always is even in totalistic thinking an aspect of ‘thatness’ in the intuited object not comprehended in the intuited content and constituting therefore an ‘other’ over against thought. Our desideratum in the search for a thinking completely free from defect and thus appropriate to a Perfect Being is a kind of thinking in which this element of otherness is eliminated and thought becomes truly ‘one with’ its object. Is there any reasonably promising candidate for this office besides totalistic thinking?
One only it seems to me—the kind of thinking (if indeed it qualifies for this name) which occurs in certain aesthetic experiences. Descriptions of such experiences are frequently offered which suggest an at least very close approximation to the actual identification of mind with its object. In contemplating the beauty of a great picture or a great poem a man's mind it is claimed may be so absorbed by so caught up into the consummately satisfying unity of the object that for a brief but appreciable spell it is truer to say that he is the painting or the poem rather than that ‘it’ is an object of ‘his’ contemplation. The subject-object distinction would seem to be temporarily annulled. There is no longer awareness of self over against an other but only of self in other. Thought has become ‘one with its object’.
There is little doubt that this way of talking does point to an important truth about aesthetic appreciation. But it is I think as it stands an over-statement of that truth. For even if it were the case that our mind became literally one with its object it seems certain that we could never be aware that it was so. We could not be aware of it during the experience itself; for we could not frame the judgment ‘I and my object are one’ if we did not in our thought distinguish the ‘I’ from the ‘object’—that is to say the judgment presupposes the very distinction which it asserts to be non-existent. Nor could we be aware of it by means of memory; for one can only remember that of which one has once been aware; and (as has just been pointed out) we cannot have been aware during the supposed experience of being one with the object that we were one with the object.
I am not let me make clear contending that there cannot be an experience in which there is no sense of an ‘other’ beyond the self an experience of genuine unity with the object. All that I am contending is that if there is it is not an experience of knowing. I do not see how there can be an experience properly called ‘knowing’ where we are not and cannot be aware that we are knowing. A unitary experience in which we have no awareness either of knowing or of an object known surely falls into the category of feeling rather than of thinking or knowing. No doubt many philosophers have offered descriptions of ideally perfect knowledge in which an essential factor is that this distinction between knower and known has been overcome; but it does not follow that there is any conceivable experience to which such descriptions correspond. Of course such descriptions are not just meaningless. But their significance is I think wholly negative. Those who offer them rightly see it to be a condition of perfect knowledge in which there must be no inadequacy calling for supplementation by further knowledge that there cannot remain any ‘other’ over against thought; and they accordingly formulate this ideal state as an experience in which the distinction of subject from object is transcended. The words of the description may be positive; but their significance so far as I can see is merely to indicate certain conditions of our ordinary knowledge that cannot be allowed to survive if perfect knowledge is to be achieved. That is to say their significance lies wholly in what they negate.
It is time moreover that we reminded ourselves that even if such phrases as noesis noeseos did denote a conceivable kind of thinking it would still not be the kind of thinking that any Theist would wish to ascribe to God. For Theism the created world is and presumably is contemplated by God as other than God's self. In God's apprehension of the created world that world must be in some sense a ‘not-self’ to God if theistic accounts of God's relation to the world are to make sense. It seems quite hopeless therefore to try to accommodate the Divine thinking to any description of perfect thought which requires the annulment of the distinction of self from not-self.
3. But a question of some interest arises here. The not-self of God i.e. the created world is a quite unique sort of not-self. For it is a not-self that is nevertheless (for theism) a manifestation of the self. It would seem therefore that we have in this one unique instance both the not-self which is necessary if the self is to have ‘knowledge’ in any sense of the term to which we finite beings can attach meaning and at the same time a not-self which has within it no uncomprehended ‘that’ as distinct from its comprehended ‘what’ (since in this instance the not-self is created by the self i.e. by God and is thus presumably known to the self in every aspect of its being). If so then we have here the possibility of knowing without the defects intrinsic to human knowing.
The suggestion is intriguing. But I fear it will not serve to remove our old difficulty. It is tempting to say that if God created the world he must ‘know’ it in its entirety its ‘that’ as well as its ‘what’. But it remains the case that we have no idea at all what it would be like to ‘know’ any existent thing in its ‘thatness’ as well as its ‘whatness’. In the thinking to which we can alone attach positive meaning the divorce of ‘that’ from ‘what’ in the object apprehended seems inescapable. But if the Divine ‘knowledge’ of the created world is thus different in principle from any ‘knowledge’ with which we are acquainted it can surely only mislead to talk and think of it as ‘knowledge’ at all.
The nearest analogy within human experience to knowledge of an entity in which there is no uncomprehended ‘thatness’ is probably to be found in the realm of ‘factitious’ ideas. If we frame the idea of a gold mountain or of a parallelogram we know everything there is to our object—in a sense its ‘that’ as well as its ‘what’; for there is nothing in the object which we have not ourselves put there. But this perfect knowledge is possible because and only because the existence of the ‘object’ here is a purely conceptual existence. If the world as the object of God's thought could be regarded in this light as existing only for His thought then we could certainly attach a clear meaning to His knowledge of it. But it is not a merely conceptual existence in God's mind that the created world is supposed to enjoy. No doubt according to many accounts of Creation the world did exist in God's mind conceptually as a precondition of His creating it. But the very essence of the act of Creation is that the world whether or not previously existing in idea is now given actual existence.
Before passing finally from the question of the possibility of a Perfect Being ‘thinking’ it is worth noticing though of necessity very briefly a special difficulty that relates to the apprehension of time. God's thinking of the world in time if it is to be perfect knowledge must be a thinking that completely comprehends the time-order in a single act. But can we really attach any meaning to such ‘thinking’? The trouble is that it would seem to be of the very nature of time as we experience it to be incomplete. Any time of which we can be conscious as a time points beyond itself both before and after. For our minds at any rate a ‘time’ that has no further time beyond itself is not what we mean by ‘time’ at all. How then can we possibly attach meaning to a ‘thinking’ that comprehends ‘the whole of time’?
It has sometimes been suggested that the analogy of ‘the specious present’ may help us here. It is pointed out that the ‘present’ for any single act of finite awareness is really a duration a block or span of time that comprises a before and after within itself. Could not we think of God as apprehending time in a magnified specious present that comprises within itself all ‘befores’ and ‘afters’?
I do not think so; for the simple reason that the specious present to be a ‘present’ for us at all is always apprehended as itself temporally after a past and temporally before a future. We are not helped in the least towards the conception of completed time by the notion of the specious present. Indeed I am inclined to think that those who find in the specious present a clue to the Divine apprehension of time are misconceiving the problem. The problem is not how a temporal span a duration can be apprehended in a single act. It is how a duration of any kind can be apprehended otherwise than within a time that extends beyond it. And to this problem so far as I can see the notion of the specious present is irrelevant.
4. We may now turn from the problem presented by Divine thinking to the problem presented by Divine willing. ‘God's Will’ is an expression than which there are few more common in the religious life of man. Yet will far more obviously than thought presents apparently intractable difficulties when we try to conceive it as exercised by a Perfect Being.
For it seems almost self-evident that will (and the same holds good of other conative terms like desire and purpose) implies defect. In the typical conation the conative subject envisages a state of affairs not yet existing which he conceives to be better than the state of affairs that now exists. The imperfection of the subject's present state thus seems to be of conation's very essence. Sometimes it is true the object of our will (or desire or purpose) is not a state different from our present state but the prolongation into the future of our present state; and this looks at first sight like a special case of willing that implies no defect and is therefore applicable for what it is worth to a Perfect Being. But even this hope is incapable of being sustained. There can be no point in willing the prolongation of a state unless it is supposed that this state will or at least may cease to be if we do not take appropriate action. But this implies in the willing agent the consciousness of an at least possible imperfection. And a being cannot be ‘perfect’ if there is even a possibility of his becoming imperfect; still less if he is mistaken in supposing that he may possibly become imperfect. Moreover willing the prolongation of a present state like all other willing presupposes the existence of the willing subject himself within a temporal order. And we have already seen in an earlier lecture the difficulty of reconciling perfect self-complete being with a temporal order of existence.
The puzzles that beset the notion of Divine willing find very significant illustration in the intricate controversies of the theologians over the manner of God's creation of the world. From very early times theologians have been keenly alive to the difficulty of interpreting creation as an act of God's will; and at the same time to the apparently equal difficulty of interpreting it in any other way. Let us glance briefly at the two sides of the dilemma that here confronts theology.
In the first place if the creation of the world be conceived as due to a specific act of the Divine will this seems to imply a time at which the world as yet was not and at which God was conscious of ‘lack’ of incomplete excellence; and this is inconsistent with the postulate of God's Perfection. Nor does the difficulty appear to be removable by supposing with Augustine and many others that the Divine Will brings the time-order itself into being along with ‘the world’. The merit of this hypothesis is that if it be accepted we are no longer required—indeed we are no longer able—to conceive of God's existence (in a state of ‘lack’) prior to the creation of the world. For there was no ‘time’ at which the world did not exist. The trouble about this hypothesis is that it seems merely to shift the difficulty from one point to another. For we cannot intelligibly speak of God willing the creation of the time-order if it be the case as it would appear to be that ‘willing’ in any sense in which it has a meaning for us implies that there is for the willing agent a contrast between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. In other words the ‘willing’ of the existence of a time-order seems itself to presuppose the existence of a time-order.
Harassed by these and similar difficulties many theologians have attempted a counter-interpretation of the creative activity. According to the alternative they suggest the world comes into being not by a specific act of God's will but as a self-manifestation of the Divine nature. On this view the world is as it were ‘organic’ to God God could no more be without the world than the world could be without God. The world is as eternal as God Himself and creation must be regarded as an ‘eternal act’.
The most common objection to this view is that in abandoning the notion of a Divine act of will it seems to deny by implication anything of the nature of intelligent choice or purpose in the creation of the world. This is a deprivation which those nurtured in the tradition of a theistic religion can scarcely be expected to regard with equanimity. If they had to give up talking of God's ‘purpose’ for the world of God's ‘plan’ for His creation they would find it hard to believe that something is not being lost that belongs to the very core of theism. Moreover it is felt by many that a view of the world as a ‘self-manifestation’ of God has pantheistic implications absent from the view of it as called into being by an act of Divine will. It is more difficult it is felt to conceive of beings in the created world as enjoying even a measure of independent initiative; and some measure of independent initiative it is important for theism to retain at least in respect of those of God's creatures whom we think of as endowed with ‘soul’ or ‘personality’.
Of these two doctrines of the relation of the created world to its source the Divine Will doctrine and the Divine self-manifestation doctrine the latter is in my opinion by far the less vulnerable. The objections to the former appear to me to admit of no really effective answer. An act of will on the part of a Perfect Being does seem to be a plain contradiction in terms. For this reason alone it will be worth our while to spend a little time over the objections to the ‘self-manifestation’ doctrine with a view to seeing whether they are in fact insurmountable. The main objections have just been stated: first that the doctrine apparently implies the rejection of purpose or plan for the created world; and secondly that it apparently reduces the created world to a mere phase or mode of the Divine life and is thus not easily distinguishable from Pantheism.
5. The second of these objections at any rate does not appear insurmountable. On any theory of the relation of the world to its creator the endowment of the creature with some real independence of its creator is a puzzling matter. It implies on the part of the creator an act of self-limitation of which it is hard to form any clear idea. But is there any greater difficulty in supposing that it is intrinsic to the Divine Nature to manifest itself in the creation of individual persons with a measure of genuine initiative than there is in supposing that this situation comes about through a specific act of Divine Will? I cannot see that there is. Indeed I rather suspect that those who find a pantheistic threat in the ‘self-manifestation’ doctrine of creation may be guilty of a certain confusion between two different senses in which the term ‘creation’ in this context may be understood. We may be meaning by God's ‘creation’ either the act of creation the bringing into being of the world; or on the other hand the thing created the world itself. Now if the ‘self-manifestation’ doctrine holds that ‘creation’ in the latter sense is a self-manifestation of God and if it understands by ‘the thing created’ (as is natural enough) all that happens has happened or will happen therein I should agree that Pantheism is inescapable. No ‘activity’ on the part of the creature could then be regarded as more than a specific differentiation of the Divine activity. But if on the other hand it is ‘creation’ in the former sense that is being meant there is so far as I can judge no implication of Pantheism. For the act of creation in which God manifests His nature may well be (as traditional theism normally holds) a bringing into being of creatures some of whom are also within limits themselves creators; creatures whose activities cannot be regarded as just modes of the Divine activity since they have been granted by an act of God which is at once a self-manifestation and a self-limitation a real measure of freedom in the conduct of their lives.
It will be appreciated I hope that I am not suggesting for a moment that the notion of the creating of creators is one that is easy to understand on the doctrine that creation is a self-manifestation of the Divine nature. Far from it. What I do suggest is that it is no harder to understand on this doctrine than on the alternative doctrine that creation comes about through an act of Divine will. And if this be so the internal difficulties which beset the conception of a Perfect Being exercising ‘will’ are sufficient to make the ‘self-manifestation’ doctrine much the preferable.
The first objection to the doctrine is more formidable; namely that only if we can regard the world as the product of Divine Will can we suppose it to have any purpose or plan. Yet I think that it too admits of at least partial solution.
The partial solution lies in seeing that while it is true that on the ‘self-manifestation’ as contrasted with the ‘Divine Will’ doctrine of creation we are forbidden to suppose that God had a ‘purpose’ in His ‘Mind’ in creating the world this does not necessarily have the disquieting implications it is commonly taken to have. We are apt to think (in our habitually anthropomorphic way) that if the world does not issue from a Divine purpose it must be ‘purposeless’ in the sense of ‘fortuitous’ and thus a world without meaning or value. Now this would indeed be a disquieting thought. But a little reflection suffices to show that nothing of the kind is implied by the doctrine we are now considering. For according to this doctrine the creation of the world is the self-manifestation of a Perfect Being a Being of transcendent excellence no less than of transcendent power. How can we consistently suppose a world which so originates to be devoid of meaning and value? Must we not rather agree that the very notion contradicts itself? No doubt the self-manifestation doctrine can of itself do no more than reassure us that the created world has meaning and value. It does not inform us wherein its meaning and value consist. But that would only be calamitous I submit if it entailed that we finite creatures are therefore left rudderless and helpless with no means of knowing whither we should direct our course no means of distinguishing good from evil in the conduct of life. And surely this is not our plight? We must not forget that there is after all such a thing as a ‘moral consciousness’ in man. The analysis of the moral consciousness belonged to our first series of lectures and I cannot of course recapitulate it here. But if the argument of the final lecture of that series had any force then we have in the moral consciousness something whose very essence it is to direct us to the objectively good to the good ‘in the nature of things’; something which I argued constitutes even in itself a sufficient guarantee of the meaning and value of human life.
I cannot see therefore that any vital interest of humanity religious or otherwise is threatened if we accept the Divine self-manifestation doctrine rather than the Divine Will doctrine concerning the relation of God to His creation. And I must again insist upon the fundamental theoretic superiority of the former. Mystery there is on any showing about the relation of God to His creation. How for beings that themselves belong to the creaturely order could it be otherwise? But mystery is one thing self-contradiction is another. It is a mystery that the world should be a manifestation of the Divine Nature; but it is not or at any rate not obviously a self-contradiction. On the other hand it seems no mere mystery but sheer self-contradiction that a Perfect Being should create the world by an act whose very nature implies defect as is the case with the act of will.
The intrinsic interest of the topic of creation has led me to give to it perhaps more space than was strictly its due within the context of the present lecture; though it does serve to illustrate in a particularly fundamental way the difficulties inherent in the concept of ‘God's Will’ with which Rational or ‘orthodox’ Theism makes so much play. I should like to stress however that I am very far from wishing to suggest that the notion of Divine ‘Creation’ in itself brings contradiction into the theistic position—as the notion of Divine Thought and Divine Will appear to me to do. For theism is not committed to the specific doctrine that God's creation proceeds from an act of will. What is essential to theism here (and essential I think to all developed religion) is simply that God is somehow the source of all that is. Trouble begins only when one tries to conceptualise this ‘somehow’. There is in most minds of philosophic bent a powerful urge to deny in practice—while often accepting in formal theory—that there is a limit to the human mind's powers of explanation even where what is to be explained is nothing less than the existence of the world itself and of our own souls. If one does succumb to the temptation of trying to offer a conceptual account of the Creative activity nothing is more natural than that one should do so in terms of the highest forms of activity with which we are ourselves acquainted those of thought and will. But that the temptation is one that must be resisted if we are not to fall into manifest absurdities seems to myself beyond reasonable doubt. Even if the sole alternative to a theology which assumes Divine Thought and Divine Will should be just no theology at all that would still in my judgment be an insufficient excuse for sponsoring doctrines that entail self-contradictions. And to call the self-contradictions ‘paradoxes’—blessed word!—seems to me to aggravate rather than to mitigate the offence.
6. Destructive criticism such as is exemplified throughout the whole of the present lecture is however of little or no value save in so far as it paves the way for reconstruction. The latter immeasurably more difficult task is to be initiated in the next lecture and it will occupy us to the end of the course. It will perhaps help to place in proper perspective the task ahead of us if I pause here to review briefly the movement of the argument in this second course up to the present juncture.
We began by trying to get a satisfactory definition of the term ‘religion’; not of the ‘thing’ which the term denotes but of the term ‘religion’ itself when it is being used in a critical and considered way in educated speech and writing. The conclusion we eventually arrived at was that ‘religion’ essentially connotes an experience comprising belief in a supernatural being or beings of transcendent power and value along with the complex emotive attitudes intrinsically appropriate thereto. We then proceeded to argue in Lecture XII that there is much more than mere parochial prejudice behind the virtual identification which is in practice so common of the question ‘Is religion true?’ with the question ‘Is theism true?’ Theism we took as consisting essentially in ‘belief in one God Perfect in Power Wisdom and Goodness an Infinite and Eternal Spirit Who is the ground of all that is Who is the Moral Governor of the world and Who is yet a living presence in the hearts of men’. And theism so understood we tried to show can with much plausibility be regarded as not just one among other species of ‘religion’ as we defined it but rather as the logical development of religion itself; or more explicitly as the theoretical form which religion tends to assume when its implications are freely and critically reflected upon by disciplined and knowledgeable minds.
Since it appeared then that there was strong justification for the ordinary man's identification of the question of the truth of religion with the question of the truth of theism the way seemed open for us to make a direct attack upon the fundamental problem of these lectures by a critical examination of the beliefs characteristic of theism. But we found that we could not do this without taking due account of a vital distinction between two ways of interpreting theistic beliefs. Are the qualities which theism predicates of God to be understood in their literal meaning or only in some merely symbolic meaning? We confessed our personal doubts about whether a theism which gave them a literal meaning could really be regarded as doing justice to the element of transcendent mystery which religion recognises in its worshipful object and our doubts consequently about such a theism's claim to be the true theoretical expression of the religious consciousness. At the same time we could not ignore that the manner in which theistic theologians in general articulate and develop their doctrines appeared to imply a large acceptance of these Divine qualities in their literal meaning. It seemed right therefore to ask the question ‘Is theism true?’ in the first place of theism in its orthodox ‘rational’ form.
That enquiry has occupied us throughout the last three lectures. We examined Rational Theism from the standpoint firstly of the consistency of theism with the ‘facts of experience’ as we seem bound to regard them; and secondly of the consistency of theism with itself—that is to say the consistency of the attributes and qualities of the theistic God with one another. The first standpoint entailed a prolonged discussion of the problem of evil in its twin forms of the problem of sin and the problem of suffering. Our conclusion was that theism was not inconsistent with the existence of evil in either form; though hard put to it without enlisting the postulate of immortality to maintain itself in the face of certain facts of undeserved suffering of a prolonged and intense character. But the consistency of Rational theism with itself examined in the present lecture we found ourselves quite unable to defend. The acceptance of God as a Perfect Being Infinite and Self-complete seemed in irresoluble conflict with the conception of God as exercising thought and will in any straightforward meaning of these terms. Yet thought and will are the indispensable—bases of all the moral and intellectual qualities that Rational Theism ascribes to the Divine Nature.
7. I am forced to the conclusion then that Rational Theism is untenable. And I must here repeat once more that despite the periodic verbal acknowledgments of the unfathomable mystery of God made by so many theistic writers I cannot see how the theism that inspires the theistic theologies can escape (even if it wants to) identification with ‘Rational’ Theism. The credal systems that are elaborated concerning the Divine Nature and the relation of God to the world and to the souls of men are surely intended in very large part at any rate to mean just what they say; and it is certain that they are so understood by the rank and file of believers. The theist I must insist cannot have it both ways. If he is really in earnest with the mystery of the Godhead to the extent of recognising the impropriety of applying to God terms like thought and will in any literal sense he cannot logically go on to construct a ‘literal’ theology. To be in earnest with the mystery of the Godhead is as I see it to commit oneself to the disjunction ‘Either symbolic theology or no theology at all’.
But is a ‘symbolic’ theology really practicable? Is it really possible to ‘justify’ in any way propositions that ascribe to God qualities like wisdom and goodness at the same time as we admit that these propositions in their literal meaning are nonsense? I am convinced that it is possible; though very much less confident of my ability to demonstrate the possibility in practice. There is a middle path I believe between the region of pure unadulterated mystery the sheerly unknowable on the one hand and the region of literal theology with its ‘rational’ concepts on the other. But it is a razor-edge; and to travel it without falling to one side or the other has defeated far more skilful theological equilibrists than the present lecturer. Among those who have sought to travel the middle path there is only one who seems to me to have achieved any impressive measure of success—the late Rudolf Otto (though even he at times sways most perilously!). I propose therefore to make the transition from the rational or literal theism we have been studying to the supra-rational or symbolic theism which it will be the aim of the rest of this course to expound and defend by discussing at some length in my next lecture the views of this very remarkable religious thinker.
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