1. In my last lecture I was concerned with the question ‘Is supra-rational theism valid as the theoretical expression of religion?’—and I tried to show that despite the reluctance which people naturally feel towards having to make do in religion with a knowledge that is of a merely symbolic or analogical kind there are good reasons for returning an affirmative answer. Today I begin discussion of the different question ‘Is supra-rational theism objectively valid i.e. true?’ At the stage the general argument of this course has now reached this can be seen to be in fact the original question we set out to answer in these lectures; the question ‘Is religion true?’ For religious experience (so our argument ran) finds its developed theoretical expression in theism; and the only form of theism that can adequately meet the demands of a religious experience from which the mysterium tremendum et fascinans has not been illicitly expunged is supra-rational theism.
Part Two (Second Course): On Godhood
Lecture XVIII: The Objective Validity of Religion (I)
For us so far the God of supra-rational theism has only the status of an abstract possibility. In this respect however it has the advantage over the God of Rational Theism which if the argument of Lecture XV was sound is not even abstractly possible. For Rational Theism while ascribing to God Absolute Perfection ascribes to Him also in their literal significance various qualities which presuppose in Him thought and will; and thought and will we tried to show since they imply imperfection in the thinking and willing subject are incompatible with absolute perfection. The God of Rational Theism therefore involves a self-contradiction; and a self-contradictory Being is not even abstractly possible. This fatal disability does not attach to the God whose existence we are now to debate. According to Supra-rational Theism qualities presupposing thought and will in their highest conceivable manifestations—qualities like Wisdom Love and Justice—are also ascribable to God but only as ‘ideograms’ which symbolically represent and do not literally portray the Absolute Perfection of the Divine Nature. Such a God we can posit I think at least without self-contradiction. His existence is at least an abstract possibility. But are there substantial reasons for holding His existence to be not merely possible but actual? That is what we are to consider for the remainder of this course.
2. We may best begin I think with arguments from the nature of religious experience itself.
It is common ground to all parties that religious experience carries with it a very powerful subjective assurance of the real presence of its object—the ‘Numen’ or ‘God’. No one indeed subscribes today to the proposition in any general form that subjective feelings of certainty are of themselves a guarantee of objective truth. Yet there are always those who appear to think that however absurd elsewhere the proposition does somehow have a valid application in religion and that the man who enjoys ‘religious experience’ stands in no need of any other support for his belief in God.
In the light of the rather lengthy discussion in the opening lectures of the first course of the rights of reason in the field of religious truth I may perhaps be excused from dealing with this view in much detail. The only defence of it that seems to me to have even superficial plausibility consists in arguing that the feelings of certainty in religion are of a quite unique sort which the critic who does not know religion ‘from the inside’ is incompetent to assess. Probably everyone who has ever ventured to criticise the claims of religion or of any particular form of it is familiar with this rather irritating device for reducing him to silence. ‘You just don't understand’ he is told ‘because you have never yourself experienced this unique certainty.’
But the device is surely as specious as it is irritating. In the first place it seems to be forgotten that even in the ranks of those whose acquaintance with religion ‘from the inside’ is beyond challenge there are many who frankly acknowledge that the certainty they feel stands in need of support from other considerations if an assertion of objective validity is to be justified. They at any rate do not find the alleged uniqueness in their feelings of certainty. In the second place it is surely fair to assume that if there is an unique kind of certainty attainable in religious experience there will be some indication of this uniqueness in the descriptions of religious experience given by those who have been privileged to enjoy it and perhaps some indication also in its effects upon behaviour. In fact however no evidence whatever of such uniqueness seems discernible. Everyone agrees that there are multitudes of putative religious experiences which though accompanied by strong feelings of certainty are spurious in the sense that they are not really as the experients proclaim apprehensions of the Divine. (Obviously this must be so if only because putative religious experiences frequently contradict one another.) In some cases therefore the feelings of certainty in putative religious experience are admittedly delusive. But no one has ever succeeded in pointing to any specific quale among the feelings of certainty in different putative religious experiences which might serve to mark off the authentic from the spurious the objectively valid from the objectively invalid. On the contrary I think it is fair to say that the more closely one studies the reports of religious experiences within different and mutually exclusive religious communions the clearer it becomes that the attendant feelings of certainty are identical irrespective of the differences of content. The critic so far as I can see does not require to have himself enjoyed religious experience in order to draw a legitimate inference that if no such difference as alleged is discernible no warrant exists for talking of an unique sort of religious certainty which obviates all need of justification on objective grounds.
All this seems extremely obvious. And probably there are few religious thinkers who if it were formally put to them would care to deny its truth. It is a matter of common observation however that many of those who are themselves well aware of the folly of trusting to uncriticised private feelings in religion and who are in the habit of submitting their own convictions to rigorous scrutiny by reason are strangely averse to preaching what they practise. They condone in others—at least in the sense that they do not condemn—a faith that asks no questions and never has asked any; no doubt on the principle that since religious conviction is something very central and very dearly cherished in a man's life one ought not to make suggestions liable to disturb it and cause the believer distress of mind unless for exceedingly strong reasons. But the answer to that is obvious. There are exceedingly strong reasons for discouraging an uncritical mind in religion for it is beyond all question that this has brought untold calamities upon mankind. Where people imagine that ‘faith’ is the guarantor of its own truth and that to raise a doubt about its validity is idle and even impious an intolerance more or less bitter towards all opposing faiths is well-nigh inevitable. Critically-minded seekers after truth can be expected to acknowledge more or less as a matter of course the possibility that their beliefs may after all be wrong; for to them it will have become overwhelmingly clear that in view of the great multitude and complexity of the problems raised an attitude of dogmatic assurance is impossible except for the very ignorant and the very arrogant. Those on the other hand who consider their subjective private feelings to be a self-sufficient and final criterion just ‘know’ that they are right and all who differ from them wrong. Mediation by way of argument being ruled out the upshot inevitably is sheer deadlock. Now a state of deadlock is something to be deplored in any field of human experience; but in the emotive atmosphere of religion it has peculiarly pernicious consequences.’ Unbelief—the title which the bigot blandly assigns to beliefs that differ from his own—tends to be regarded as an offence against God which it is the pious duty of ‘the faithful’ to eradicate. And since the appeal to the civilised technique of persuasion by reasoned argument is rejected there is only one way of eradicating opposing views viz. force. One may well be shocked but one has no right to be surprised at the number and the bloodiness of the religious wars that stain so many pages of human history. It would be naive to expect anything else where the appeal to reason in matters of religion is accounted not a virtue but a vice.
Moreover it ought not to be forgotten that respect for reason is in the end indivisible. If men are allowed to believe that in religion subjective feelings of certainty need no supplementation by rational evidence they will with difficulty be dissuaded from adopting the same attitude towards other momentous questions—moral social and political—about which they happen to feel passionately. And surely no one can be indifferent to that consequence who has any concern for the fate of civilisation itself? It is an essential precondition of any way of life that can be called ‘civilised’ that there should have grown up in the community a strong tradition of appealing to reason for the settlement of disputes. To encourage or even to condone habits of mind that tend to weaken that tradition—as e.g. most if not all forms of religious revivalism most certainly tend to do—is to incur a responsibility of whose gravity some notable religious leaders seem to me to be strangely and deplorably unaware.
But we have already spent over-much time on a topic which despite its surpassing human importance is to say truth of somewhat slender philosophic interest. I would only remind you in a final word of the two propositions confusion between which I suggested in my first course1 was at the bottom of most of the distrust of reason in religion. There is the proposition (1) that reason is competent to apprehend God; and the proposition (2) that reason is competent to assess the evidence as to whether an ostensible apprehension of God is an authentic apprehension of God. The first proposition seems to me almost certainly false. But it should be clearly distinguished from the second proposition which it does not entail and which is in my judgment almost certainly true.
3. Turning now to philosophically more weighty endeavours to establish the objective validity of the religious consciousness (without as it were passing beyond the bounds of that consciousness) there is one very attractive line of argument which it seems to me important to explore with some thoroughness. It is a line of argument analogous to that which we advanced in the concluding lecture of our last course in proof of the objective validity of the moral consciousness. Let me very briefly recall to you the general form which the argument took as applied to the moral consciousness.
The moral consciousness we there tried to show is a mode of human experience that is ultimate and unique. Consciousness of moral oughtness is consciousness of an unconditional obligation—a ‘categorical imperative’; and this consciousness is incapable of being explained in terms of any combinations and permutations of non-moral ideas and feelings. The ultimacy of moral experience can be rejected only if we are prepared to deny that the moral consciousness does involve consciousness of an unconditional obligation; and alternative analyses which seek to dispense with this element it seemed to us are inadequate to the actual facts of moral experience. But if the moral consciousness has thus to be accepted as an ultimate mode of human experience its testimony cannot reasonably be rejected. One may fairly ask what one is entitled to believe in if not in something which by the very constitution of our nature we are obliged to affirm. And the testimony of the moral consciousness we argued is unmistakably to the objective reality of the moral order.
Now it is entirely natural and proper to ask whether a parallel line of argument may not be valid with respect to the religious consciousness. We can distinguish a common religious consciousness from its different and sometimes mutually contradictory manifestations in particular religious experiences just as we can distinguish a common moral consciousness from its different and sometimes mutually contradictory manifestations in particular moral experiences. It was indeed the nature of this common or basic religious consciousness that we were chiefly concerned to portray in our earlier lecture on ‘The Concept of Religion’. What then if as many religious thinkers have held this religious consciousness is an ultimate and unique mode of human experience no less than the moral consciousness every bit as incapable of being derived from anything but itself? It will follow surely that we must accept its internal testimony too. And its internal testimony is just as unmistakably to the reality of the object of worship as the testimony of the moral consciousness is to the reality of a moral order.
It is a tempting line of argument; the more so since we so often speak of ‘the moral consciousness’ and ‘the religious consciousness’ with an implication of parallelism between them. Unfortunately doubts emerge about there being any such parallelism as soon as we seriously reflect on the matter. I shall try to show this first in a general way and shall then examine more rigorously what would appear to be the crucial point at issue.
The religious consciousness we may perhaps assume in the light of earlier discussions is essentially the awareness of a supernatural being or beings of a power and value transcending all human conception. Is there any constituent in this complex state which can be said to be peculiar to the religious consciousness any constituent that has an uniqueness or underivability corresponding to the uniqueness or underivability of the experience of ‘unconditional obligation’ characteristic of the moral consciousness?
Prima facie at any rate this must be accounted very doubtful. The most promising candidate for the necessary uniqueness is the mysterium element in the religious consciousness and Otto has rightly emphasised how impregnation by this element distinguishes religious emotions from certain ‘natural’ emotions which resemble them. But as we shall see later it is very difficult to prove and Otto certainly has not succeeded in proving that the sense of the ‘mysterious’ even in its numinous meaning of the ‘other worldly’ the ‘supernatural’ cannot have its origin in non-religious contexts. Yet nothing less than this would entitle us to regard the mysterium element in the religious consciousness as underivable and the religious consciousness in consequence as ultimate or autonomous. If we should be compelled to concede that neither this nor any other constituent of the religious consciousness is incapable of occurring in a non-religious context the door is open to the many theories (some of them certainly not implausible) which try to explain in ‘naturalistic’ terms how the various constituents come or can come to be combined in the specific way in which they are combined in what we know as ‘the religious consciousness’.
It is important to remember of course that even if a ‘naturalistic’ explanation of the religious consciousness is possible that is far from proving that the ‘object’ of the religious consciousness has no real existence. It does not even prove that religious experience is never what it seems to itself to be i.e. an experience directly evoked by the real presence of its object the ‘Numen’. Nevertheless if religious experience is even capable of being naturalistically derived we cannot appeal to the mere fact of religious experience (so-called) to establish the real existence of its object; as we can in my view appeal to the mere fact of moral experience to establish the real existence of its object.
4. We shall take up shortly this question of the ultimacy of the religious consciousness; but meantime let us notice another circumstance that raises doubts about a relevant parallelism between the moral and the religious consciousness.
The moral consciousness would appear to be a universal characteristic of mankind. It is true that a man will sometimes tell us that he does not know what it means to be conscious of an ‘unconditional obligation’. But there are good reasons for thinking that his disavowal of the experience arises from one or other of certain removable misunderstandings-a matter to which we made some reference in an earlier lecture and upon which Henry Sidgwick has some very pertinent observations in his The Methods of Ethics.2 That the moral consciousness should be universal as well as ultimate is a matter of some importance for the proof of the objective validity of a moral order. Obviously the proof offered can carry no weight for a man who is devoid of a moral consciousness. But in so far as a man has and acknowledges that he has a moral consciousness it seems clear that he can deny the objective reality of a moral order only on pain of self-contradiction since qua moral consciousness he himself implicitly affirms what (no doubt from the standpoint of some theory) he also feels called upon to deny.
It is a very great deal more open to doubt however whether the religious consciousness is a universal mode of human experience. That it is so is a proposition which looks at first sight as though it had widespread support among authoritative writers on religion. But on closer inspection it usually turns out that what these writers really mean when they tell us that religion is ‘a universal characteristic of mankind’ is merely that there is no sizeable community of men known to us of any time or any clime that does not practise a religion of some sort. And that of course even if true is perfectly compatible with there being any number of individuals who are without religion. And here we are bound to notice a phenomenon that looks a trifle ominous for religion. It can reasonably be held that in primitive communities even individuals without religion are very few if indeed they exist at all; but he would be a bold man who would say the same thing of communities which we ordinarily think of as ‘civilised’. Indeed such a contention would seem to become less and less plausible the higher we ascend in the scale of civilisation. The appearances certainly suggest that the more habituated people become to the free exercise of reason in the formation of their beliefs and the more extensive becomes the range of well-accredited knowledge available to them the less prevalent among them is anything recognisable as ‘religion’ or ‘the religious consciousness’. Of course this proves nothing. All the same I think the apologists of religion ought to be a good deal more disquieted than they usually seem to be by even the appearance of a close correlation between the increase of irreligion on the one hand and the increase of well-informed and disciplined intelligences on the other hand.
At the same time appearances can be extremely deceptive when we are trying to compute the extent to which the religious consciousness is present in a community-even where the community is the one we know best because we happen to belong to it. Two of the commonest sources of deception are worth a passing notice.
I shall first touch upon one which encourages people to imagine that religion is more prevalent than it actually is. In most of the communities with which we are acquainted religion whether widely believed or not has the support of ‘public opinion’. It is not very ‘respectable’ to be an atheist or an agnostic. In many countries including our own a particular form of religion even enjoys the official sanction of the State-perhaps that is why we in Britain are wont to speak of ourselves albeit a little wryly as ‘a Christian country’—and lip-service at least is accorded to it by the main organs of public opinion. In consequence not only are expressions of anti-religious opinion subject to the fairly effective deterrent of social disapprobation but also the media for such expressions of opinion are narrowly limited. Militant critics of religion who may be ready to brave the vilification of their fellow-men still have to overcome the formidable difficulty of securing a reasonable public hearing. It is obvious that neither our ‘free’ Press nor the B.B.C. for example can be said to be really ‘open’ to opinions hostile to religion; though as we are all aware there have of late been signs (by many people viewed as deeply sinister) of a more venturesome policy by the B.B.C. The only substantial exception however is the highly significant one of ‘The Third Programme’ which it is well appreciated will reach only a very small section of the community and that a section which is in any event determined to apply its intelligence to religious no less than to other matters of moment. The situation has an interesting parallel in the ‘taboo’ upon expressions of anti-monarchist opinion which is also thus made to appear far rarer than it probably is. The chances that the editor of an important newspaper or of any journal with a wide circulation will extend the hospitality of his columns to an assault upon either religion or the institution of monarchy no matter how brilliant its reasoning or how choice its literary form may fairly be said to be almost negligible. This virtual if covert censorship may or may not be a good thing. I am not here concerned to pass judgment but only to point to facts which have a bearing upon the capacity to assess accurately how far the religious consciousness really permeates a community. The ordinary reader of the newspapers and the ordinary listener to the radio could hardly be blamed if they formed the impression that the Christian Church in this country is an institution warmly approved by everyone except perhaps members of the criminal classes and a few crack-brained intellectuals.
The second common source of deception however is one that tells in exactly the opposite direction. When people say or even think that they ‘do not believe in religion’ do they always really mean what they say (or think)? It seems pretty certain that they do not. Very often what they really mean is that they do not accept the doctrines of the particular religion that finds favour in their community. I referred in an earlier lecture3 to the common if somewhat slovenly tendency in ordinary speech to identify ‘religion’ with the particular form of it practised in one's own community; and it is easy to understand how in our own country for example a man should disclaim religious belief on the inadequate ground that he disbelieves the central doctrines of Christianity. I do not of course suggest that those who in a Christian country disclaim religion are in fact devotees of Islamism or Hinduism or some other specific religion. Mostly they do not subscribe to any specific religion. But I am much disposed to think that at least some of them and possibly many would if suitably interrogated turn out to believe vaguely in some sort of mysterious yet just and benignant Power at the heart of things. Their belief is not formalised and there is no appointed ritual of worship in which it can find overt expression. But it would I think be a mistake to regard anyone who has even this much as wholly devoid of a religious consciousness.
The lesson to be learnt from such considerations (and it would be easy to add others of like import) is that so far as the empirical evidence is concerned dogmatic pronouncements are out of place with regard to the extent to which the religious consciousness is characteristic of mankind generally. It is not impossible that in germ at least it is a universal characteristic; though one would have to concede that if so there are very many persons in whom it does not attain to a degree of development and definition which enables it to be clearly recognised as such even by themselves. One thing however I think we can say. If the religious consciousness should turn out to be an ultimate mode of experience implying a specific power or ‘faculty’ it is very likely that it is also a universal mode of experience. For if the religious consciousness should turn out to be ultimate it is reasonable to accept its testimony as veridical: but if its testimony is veridical we must acknowledge the God of religion to be a reality; and if we acknowledge the God of religion to be a reality it seems hardly possible to reconcile the pre-eminent goodness that is ascribed to God in religion with His provision for only some persons and His denial to others of the specific native endowment which makes communion with Himself possible. A proof of ultimacy may therefore with some reason be said to be in the case of the religious consciousness a proof of universality also.
The primary question then is manifestly that of the ultimacyof the religious consciousness. Can or can not its characteristic features be satisfactorily explained as arising out of non-religious elements in human experience?
5. It might be well however to preface the formal discussion of this question with a brief reminder on a point which though obvious enough is a little apt to be forgotten. Even if the religious consciousness is not ultimate but has a non-religious basis it does not follow that this non-religious basis is of that ‘subjectivist’ sort which provokes natural doubts about the objective validity of what is built upon it. Doubtless in many psychological studies of religion it is so presented. Most commonly perhaps the religious consciousness is ‘explained’ as the product of certain subconscious desires which demand and (because they cannot in the ordinary way procure) project in phantasy their own fulfilment. But ‘explanation’ need not be of this subjectivist sort. Those who deny the ultimacy of the religious consciousness may wish to argue that belief in God arises out of straightforward reflection upon certain phenomena in the world about us and/or in the history of mankind and/or in our own souls. Once belief in God has been thus implanted they would suggest it is easy to understand how certain crucial experiences in a man's life come to be interpreted as experiences in which God is directly present to and operative upon him (which they may well be). Now such explanation of the religious consciousness in terms of intelligent reflection will clearly not throw doubt upon the reality of its object in the same way as does explanation in terms of imaginative projections excited by the pressure of unfulfilled desire. Prima fade there is every reason why we should trust the inferences arrived at by reflection provided they are drawn with due regard for logic and from an adequate range of relevant facts. It follows that even if we find ourselves forced to reject the ultimacy of the religious consciousness no necessary presumption is thereby created against its validity against the reality of its object. On the other hand if it should turn out that its ultimacy can be established we shall have available an agreeably simple and yet (I think) cogent proof of its objective validity.
6. Among the foremost of the champions of religion's ultimacy is of course Rudolf Otto. I have already expressed my unqualified admiration for the brilliance and penetration of Otto's psychological description of the religious consciousness. Has he also produced good reasons for assigning to that consciousness the status of an ultimate mode of human experience? I do not myself think that he has; but as it seems to me not easy to find anyone with anything better to offer in defence of that thesis it will be worth while to examine his view with some care.
Otto's reasons for holding the religious consciousness to be ultimate or autonomous are one with his reasons for declaring the numinous consciousness-or to speak more strictly the capacity for numinous consciousness-to be a priori. ‘The proof that in the numinous we have to deal with purely a priori cognitive elements’ he tells us ‘is to be reached by introspection and a critical examination of reason such as Kant instituted. We find that is involved in the numinous experience beliefs and feelings qualitatively different from anything that “natural” sense-perception is capable of giving us.’4 ‘The facts of the numinous consciousness point therefore’ he goes on ‘to a hidden substantive source from which the religious ideas and feelings are formed which lies in the mind independently of sense-experience.’ That is to say the religious consciousness cannot be understood as a product of ‘natural’ or non-religious experience but must be accounted underived ultimate autonomous.
It is clear I think that everything depends in this argument upon the premise that numinous or religious experience involves elements that are qualitatively different from anything appearing in a non-religious context. The argument will stand or fall according to the measure of Otto's success in justifying this premise. Does he in fact show convincingly that no empirical origin is conceivable for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of religious experience? The issue turns I think upon the character of the mysteriumelement. It is of course true that both the tremendum and the fascinans elements according to Otto's analysis have also qualitative uniqueness. There is something in them not merely greater than but other than the power and the entrancement to be found in ‘natural’ experiences. Nevertheless since it is through their integration with the mysterium that these elements acquire this uniqueness it is upon the mysterium that we must especially concentrate our attention. It will be convenient to have before us at this point what is I think a key passage for the understanding of Otto's attitude; a passage in which he expressly distinguishes the mysterium of religion from the mysterium of ordinary non-religious experience.
‘Taken indeed’ (Otto writes) ‘in its purely natural sense “mysterium” would first mean merely a secret or a mystery in the sense of that which is alien to us uncomprehended and unexplained; and so far “mysterium” is itself merely an ideogram an analogical notion taken from the natural sphere illustrating but incapable of exhaustively rendering our real meaning. Taken in the religious sense that which is “mysterious” is-to give it perhaps the most striking expression-the “wholly other” (θάτερον anyad alienum) that which is quite beyond the sphere of the usual the intelligible and the familiar which therefore falls quite outside the limits of the “canny” and is contrasted with it filling the mind with blank wonder and astonishment.’5
The crux of the matter then is this. Granted that the religious consciousness is impregnated through and through with the ‘mysterious’ in the sense of the ‘wholly other’ is the ‘mysterious’ in this sense something peculiar to the religious consciousness so that the religious consciousness cannot conceivably be explained in terms of anything other than itself?
Unfortunately Otto's treatment of this question which is clearly vital for philosophy is most disappointingly perfunctory. One gets the strong impression that on this particular matter he does not expect to be called in question by those whom he is addressing who are after all primarily theologians rather than philosophers. A thorough examination of the ways in which the ‘mysterious’ can present itself out ofa religious milieu seems urgently called for but Otto nowhere supplies it. In point of fact so far from its being impossible to locate apprehension of a ‘wholly other’ in non-religious experience most of Otto's critics have thought this a comparatively simple matter. Otto (as we have just seen) baldly asserts that the ‘mysterious’ if ‘taken in its purely natural sense’—by which he can only mean if his argument is to have point ‘taken in a purely non-religious sense’—refers merely to that which presents itself as ‘uncomprehended and unexplained’. But surely it is not difficult to point to instances in which it extends also to that which presents itself as incomprehensible and inexplicable to that which seems to the experiencing subject to cut clean across the foundations of the rational or natural order of things.
The most common though by no means the only instance of this is to be found I think in the human reaction to certain kinds of dream where the dream is as yet not known to be a dream. Often the weird creatures that inhabit our dreams come and go and change their dim shapes in ways that are grotesquely at variance with the familiar patterns of behaviour in the ‘natural’ world. To us sophisticated moderns this is not (once we have awakened) particularly mysterious or disturbing. For what we have before us in the dream we have learned are not independently existing things but a mere phantasmagoria projected out of the depths of our own ‘subconscious’. To the primitive intelligence on the other hand unversed in psychological explanations these objects will be as independently real as anything in waking experience. And in so far as they are taken as real they can hardly fail to impress the mind as profoundly disturbing and mysterious. For here are ‘realities’ (the awakened dreamer must feel) which yet do not conform at all; to ‘reality’ as he ordinarily knows it ‘realities’ whose manner of being is in many striking respects so dissimilar from that of the familiar objects of every-day life that his intelligence cannot even begin to cope with them; ‘realities’ endowed with powers apparently not merely greater than but of a totally different order from anything with which he is acquainted in his normal experience. He is confronted in fact with the ‘mysterious’ not merely in the sense of the uncomprehended but in the sense of the incomprehensible; with the ‘super-natural’ the ‘wholly other’ that ‘which has no place in our scheme of reality but belongs to an altogether different order’.
Moreover dream experiences seem quite sufficient to account for the notion of the mysterious in its ‘wholly other’ sense even in the mind of modern man with all his psychological sophistication. For after all every modern man was once a child as innocent of psychology as any savage. There must be few among us who cannot recall the state of indescribable terror in which we awakened from some childish dream so altogether different in kind from any terror evoked by dangers in the ‘natural’ world; and who cannot recall also how well-nigh impossible we found it to believe the assurances of our elders that the grisly forms that so vividly confronted us had no ‘real’ existence. Indeed even the adult experience of most of us is visited from time to time by the numinous-like terror of the dream. Witness the few evanescent moments that follow in the wake of an especially horrible nightmare before we have had time (as we say) to ‘collect our wits’ and to realise that it was ‘only a dream’.
It seems to me therefore that one need not look beyond dream phenomena to find ample justification for those who think that man's sense of the mysterious even in its non-natural or supernatural meaning of the ‘wholly other’ is easily enough accounted for independently of religious experience. The situation of course would be radically altered if it were possible to take the view that wherever we have the kind of experience commonly designated by words like ‘uncanny’ or ‘weird’ or ‘eerie’ there we are in fact enjoying an inchoate form of religious experience itself. If that were the case then no doubt the sense of the ‘wholly other’ mysterious could be regarded as something uniquely religious. But although there are passages in Otto which it is difficult not to interpret as suggesting this view I must confess that it seems to me the kind of view to which no one would incline except to save a theory. If the experience of the ‘uncanny’ is to be regarded as not just (as on the customary view) an element within religious experience and within certain forms of non-religious experience likewise but as actually itself an inchoate form of religious experience there must presumably be such identity of nature between the experience of the uncanny and full-fledged religious experience as will make intelligible the development of the latter out of the former. But can such identity plausibly be maintained? What is there in the uncanny as such that corresponds even in germ to that aspect of surpassing value which religious experience discovers in its object? I am aware of course that Otto has made much of a certain inherent ‘attraction’ which the uncanny exercises upon the human mind. He tells us that the ‘ghost’ has an attraction for us which ‘consists in this that of itself and in an uncommon degree it entices the imagination awaking strong interest and curiosity;’6 and again that the ghost ‘arouses an irrepressible interest in the mind’. Possibly this kind of attraction is always present in the uncanny; though I fancy it will continue to excape our notice when we awaken from a nightmare in a cold sweat of terror. But in any event this kind of attraction seems poles apart from the fascinans aspect of the religious mysterium. The ‘value’ which the religious object has for religious experience lies not in its being something we hunger to understand—an object that excites ‘interest and curiosity’—but in its being something that we hunger to commune with to be at one with. In the light of so fundamental a difference of principle it really seems a rather desperate expedient to try to interpret experience of the uncanny as in itself an inchoate form of religious experience.
So far as I can see then it is not possible to establish the ultimacy or autonomy of the religious consciousness on the ground that the sense of the mysterious which is integral to the religious consciousness is something unique and hence incapable of being derived from non-religious experiences. Is there any more hopeful way of trying to establish it? For myself I know of none; and I am forced in consequence to conclude that no line of argument parallel to that by which the objective validity of the moral consciousness is proved is possible in the case of the religious consciousness. The religious consciousness may very well be objectively valid; but its objective validity is not provable on the ground of its ultimacy or autonomy.
7. But of course this is not the only nor historically speaking anything like the most common ground upon which religious thinkers have tried to prove the objective validity of religion. What are we to say of the ‘classic’ arguments for God's existence-the Ontological the Cosmological the Teleological and the Moral Argument?
On two of these at any rate I propose to say very little. The Ontological and the Teleological arguments ought I think now to be allowed to rest in peace. They were slain by Immanuel Kant over 150 years ago and I see nothing to be gained by dissecting their stone-cold corpses. Metaphor aside the Ontological Argument I venture to assert has never yet persuaded anyone who has really understood the point of Kant's criticism that ‘existence is not a predicate’. As for the Teleological Argument all the critics since Kant have pointed out that it would at best establish a God Who is a designing craftsman working upon a partly recalcitrant material. But a ‘finite’ God of this sort is not the God even of Rational Theism. Still less can it be the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of Supra-rational Theism.
The Cosmological and the Moral Arguments on the other hand do both seem to me to contain much that is still of real significance for philosophical theology. Neither of them I think succeeds in proving God's existence but I believe that each contributes something of value towards its probabilification. My sympathy with the general purport of the Cosmological Argument will come out pretty plainly in the metaphysical argument I shall be developing in my next lecture. The Moral Argument I propose to discuss briefly in what remains of this lecture.
8. The basis of the Moral Argument is the proposition that Duty or The Moral Law is an objective reality. The most historically famous form of it is no doubt that given to it by Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason where arguments are led from the basic proposition to prove the existence not only of God but of Freedom and Immortality also. But since probably the majority of philosophers today would judge this to be among the least effective forms of the argument and as I take that view of it myself I propose here to pass it by. The Moral Argument in the form in which it seems to me to have chiefly influenced religious thought (and incidentally it is worth recalling the form in which it commended itself best to Kant himself in his last years) is much less ambitious and elaborate. Perhaps the following might be accepted as a fair summary of it.
Consciousness of duty is consciousness of a law that unconditionally claims our obedience-a ‘categorical imperative’. Now a ‘law’ implies a ‘law-giver’ and ‘imperative’ an ‘imperator’. Where are we to look for the giver of this moral law that confronts us with the categorical imperative of duty? Obviously we do not make the law ourselves. What we make we can unmake: but the moral law presents itself to us as something objective existing quite independently of our subjective interests and wishes. Still more obviously the moral law is not imposed upon us by any other human person or by any human power or institution. Of laws from these sources we can always intelligibly ask ‘Why should we obey them?’. But we cannot ask this intelligibly of the moral law of an imperative we recognise as unconditional. Now if there must be some imponent of the moral law and if this imponent is yet neither our self nor any other human person nor any human power or institution who or what can this moral law-giver be? Must we not posit some supra-human ‘Moral Governor’ of the world; a Spirit manifestly endowed with thought and will since only for such a being can the issue of moral decrees have meaning; a Spirit who can speak to us through our moral consciousness because he is himself the author of our nature; a Spirit moreover-it is reasonable to infer-himself supremely good since (as an eminent theist of an earlier generation has expressed it) he would not ‘have made us to hate and despise what is characteristic of his own nature.’7 In short does not reflection upon the implications of the objectivity of Moral Law lead the mind irresistibly to the notion of God as its imponent?
Even in so bald a summary the Moral Argument seems to me to show itself worthy of respect. Nevertheless it has I think a fatal weakness. It depends vitally upon an assumption which while it looks reasonable enough becomes on reflection something more than doubtful; the assumption viz. that the reality of the moral law intrinsically implies an ‘imponent’ of it a ‘moral law-giver’.
At first glance it may appear almost self-evident that ‘law’ implies a ‘law-giver’. But it appears so only I suggest because of our natural proneness to think of ‘law’ in its highly familiar—in these days all but ubiquitous-form as a social institution. There can be little doubt that law in this its most typical form does imply a law-giver. In the definitions of law offered us by jurisprudents there are very important differences with respect to the ultimate identity of the law-giver but reference to some person or body of persons as imponent of the law is so far as I am aware common to all definitions. Now ‘moral’ law is like ‘human’ law in certain salient features-that is the justification of our calling it moral law. In both cases there is a demand that our conduct should conform to certain principles or rules. But there is a vitally important difference in the sort of ‘demand’ in the two cases; and what the moral argument for God's existence has it seems to me failed to appreciate is that an essential difference of the ‘moral’ demand from the ordinary ‘legal’ demand is that the former does not like the latter carry with it an intrinsic reference to an imponent. It is of the very essence of moral obligation or moral oughtness as we experience it to be self-sufficient to carry its authority wholly within itself. There is no need whatsoever for us to think of the demand as made upon us by anything or anybody in order that it be recognised by us as morally obligatory as moral law. In contradistinction to all human law the question ‘Who (if anyone) made it?’ is totally irrelevant to the recognition of its authority over us. In short moral law as known in moral experience does not imply an imponent of it. An imponent there well may be. And we may perhaps on other grounds justify a confident belief that there is. But we cannot logically infer an imponent simply from the nature of moral law as such.
That the moral law carries with it no intrinsic reference to an imponent seems to me to be the undeniable testimony of our moral experience. At the same time one can easily understand why the contrary has so often been taken for granted. It is not merely that we tend to be misled by the analogy between ‘moral’ law and ‘human’ law. It is due also to the fact that we tend to approach the analysis of moral experience with presuppositions derived from elsewhere. Thus a great many persons who would not claim to be in any formal sense ‘religious’ believe that there is some sort of Creator of the world who is the author of their being. If we undertake our analysis of moral experience against such a background of belief it is well-nigh inevitable that we shall interpret the demand of moral law as though it were a command laid upon us by our Creator. This as I have already admitted may very well turn out to be the true view of the matter. But we cannot strengthen the argument for it by appealing to a nonexistent intrinsic implication of ‘moral law’ with ‘moral law-giver’.
Wherein then lies the value of the Moral Argument for philosophical theology? Its value has been hinted at in what has just been said. It lies as I see it in its capacity to combine with arguments of a different metaphysical character to constitute a more complex argument for God's existence that does have a very real force. Per se the analysis of moral experience yields no more (not that this is of less than superlative importance) than that there is a moral order rooted in the very nature of reality. If however there should also be justification on metaphysical grounds for positing an Infinite Being who is the ultimate source of all that is it will follow that this Being (to whom we perhaps could not otherwise on theoretical grounds ascribe any ‘moral’ significance) is the source of a moral order the ‘author’ or ‘imponent’ in some sense of the moral law that unconditionally demands our allegiance. Clearly the extension of our concept of the Ultimate Being to include this ethical relationship to man is an enrichment which brings far nearer the legitimate identification of this Being with the God Who is worshipped in religion. But the fuller development of the thought here vaguely foreshadowed must await the outcome of certain somewhat intricate metaphysical discussions in our next lecture.
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