Let us now examine the doctrine that all theological statements are symbolic or analogical in nature. In the widest sense of the term all language may be said to be symbolic; the word ‘cow’ for instance, being the conventional symbol used by English-speaking peoples to denote a certain four-footed animal. The usage with which we are here concerned is, however, the more familiar one according to which some language is symbolic and some is not. Thus the Concise Oxford Dictionary defines a symbol as a ‘thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought.’ For our present purpose we may define it a little more narrowly still as a unit of thought or speech that effectively points to a reality which it nevertheless inadequately expresses, and we may define theological symbolism as a way of thinking and speaking which, while pointing to the infinite, the divine and the unseen, describes it in terms of things seen, human and finite. A non-symbolic statement, says Dr Tillich, ‘does not point beyond itself. It means what it says directly and properly’. A symbolic statement, on the other hand, is indirect and ‘improper’1—improper in the sense that the terms it employs do not really belong (German, uneigen) to the sphere of reality they are used to denote.
Now, as we saw, Dr Tillich holds that everything we say about God is of this kind save the single statement that he is being-itself. This, however, looks more like a formal definition of what we mean by the word ‘God’ than an informative statement about him; as Dr Tillich perhaps concedes when he writes that ‘Any concrete assertion about God must be symbolic for a concrete assertion is one which uses a segment of finite experience in order to say something about him.’2
Symbolic language is thus essentially analogical in nature and it will have been noticed that the Dictionary had recourse to the concept of analogy in framing its definition of it. Dr Tillich may then be taken as agreeing rather closely with the contention of St Thomas Aquinas that, once we have established the proposition that God is, all further positive knowledge of what he is can be reached only by the via analogiae from our finite experience; though it is true that within this agreement there is a certain difference:
Can a segment of finite reality become the basis for an assertion about that which is infinite? The answer is that it can, because that which is infinite is being-itself and because everything participates in being-itself. The analogia entis is not the property of a questionable natural theology which attempts to gain knowledge of God by drawing conclusions about the infinite from the finite. The analogia entis gives us our only justification of speaking at all about God. It is based on the fact that God must be understood as being-itself.3
What is here tilted at is no doubt Dr Barth's repudiation of the analogia entis as being necessarily bound up with the Thomist natural theology which he so much dislikes.
It is of course quite obvious that our accustomed Christian discourse is replete with symbol and analogy. Or if it is not already obvious to us, all we need do is to open our hymn books or our prayer books, or indeed our Bibles, at any page. We read, for example, of Christ as the Lamb of God, but also as the Good Shepherd who cares for the lambs. If these descriptions were understood non-symbolically, they would contradict one another and lead only to confusion, whereas in fact they lead to no confusion, being understood to be symbols. In his Gifford Lectures on Symbolism and Belief, the late Edwyn Bevan drew a distinction between two classes of religious symbols, the symbols behind which we can see and the symbols behind which we cannot see. In the former case we have some non-symbolic conceptual understanding of the reality they symbolize and can therefore, if we so desire, express ourselves in language that is no longer ‘improper’; whereas in the latter case we have no such access to the reality behind the symbols as would enable us to think of it in conceptual terms, so that we have nothing to work with but the symbols themselves. Of the former he gives the following example:
Even in the case of many symbols used to express things in the life or activity of God we may be said to see behind the symbol. Take such a figure as the Hand of God. If we say that in a certain event we can see the Hand of God, we mean that the event appears to us to have come about in order to realize some particular value—Justice or the good of mankind or an exhibition of beauty—for which we think of God as caring, and the event appears to us to have been brought about by the Will of God as the efficient cause, either directly or working through the natural order. If we put our belief in that way, we should be convinced that we were stating things much more as they really are than when we talk of God as having a hand, though in such a case as this the figure of the Hand may have a truth for feeling greater than the truth in the other, intellectually more correct, statement. The figure of the Hand makes us feel God's action as the simple direct act of an almighty Person more vividly, and this emotional realization may be an apprehension of the truth more perfect than one gets by the other concatenation of more abstract intellectual notions. However, we must, I think, admit that in the case of such a symbol as the Hand of God, we do see behind the symbol, and so can contrast the symbol with a truer view.4
Of the other kind of symbolic language, the kind which we are unable to translate into the language of concepts, we have a typical example in the description of the heavenly city and of the end of all things in the Apocalypse of St John the Divine. We have also the pre-Christian example of the myths in the Platonic dialogues. Indeed all religious eschatological discourse, as all religious cosmogonic discourse, must be couched in a symbolical language which we have no means of translating into conceptual terms. It cannot be ‘demythologized’.
The point I now wish to make, however, is that not all our theological statements are symbolic either in one kind or in the other. I cannot accept the doctrine that all our knowledge of what God is, is reached by analogy from our experience of the finite or created world. Already twenty years ago I ventured a refutation of this doctrine, and I may now be allowed to summarize very briefly what I then wrote.5 Prominent among the affirmations which the Christian believer is accustomed to make about God are that he is a personal being, infinite, eternal, unchanging, omniscient, omnipotent, ‘most holy, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth’.6 It is, however, quite impossible to believe that such characters as these are suggested to us by anything we find in ourselves or elsewhere in the created world. To say that we gain the conception of perfect being by arranging our feeble human approaches towards perfection in an ascending series, and then imagining the indefinite prolongation of this series, is to forget that such an arrangement could not have been made by us save by the aid of a standard of perfection already present to our minds. How can we say that this is nearer to perfection than that unless we already have some conception of what perfection is? The very definition of the infinite is that which cannot be reached by the extension, however prolonged, of a finite series. Yet on the other hand the construction of such a series would be impossible if the idea of the infinite were not at the same time in the mind.
But indeed, already in the thirteenth century, these very considerations were advanced by St Bonaventure and his fellow Franciscans against St Albert and St Thomas and their fellow Dominicans. M. Gilson thus summarizes Bonaventure's argument:
We think we are starting from strictly sensible data when we state as the first step in our demonstration that there are in existence beings mutable, composite, relative, imperfect, contingent: but in actual fact we are aware of these insufficiencies in things only because we already possess the idea of the perfections by whose standard we see them to be insufficient. So that it is only in appearance that our demonstration begins with sense data. Our awareness, apparently immediate and primary, of the contingent implies an already existent knowledge of the necessary.7
As I wrote in my earlier work, ‘What is true in the doctrine of the analogia entis is that the knowledge of God does not precede our knowledge of man in time but is given “in, with and under” such knowledge, and that therefore no one of God's attributes is ever given us save in conjunction with—that is, in comparison with and in contrast to—some corresponding attribute of man. What is false is the assumption that the comparison moves from man to God instead of from God to man.’8 Thus while there is no temporal priority of one knowledge to the other, the logical priority lies with our knowledge of God. As I there quoted from Professor Kemp Smith:
In respect of each and all of the ontological attributes, the Divine is not known by analogy with the self, or with any other creaturely mode of existence,… If, without any antecedent or independent apprehension of the Divine, we have to start from the creaturely, as exhibited in Nature and man, and by way of inference and analogy—through enlargement or other processes of ideal completion, to construct for ourselves concepts of the Divine, then the sceptics have been in the right; the attempt is an impossible one, condemned to failure from the start. We cannot reach the Divine merely by way of inference, not even if the inference be analogical in character. By no idealization of the creaturely can we transcend the creaturely.9
It cannot indeed be too strongly emphasized that God's revelation of Himself cannot be received by us save in the context of our knowledge of finite realities. Only a being who is (a) self-conscious, (b) aware of other selves, and (c) aware of corporeal things can have any knowledge of God. But the point we are at present concerned to make is that the world of created reality cannot be known to us as what we may call a graded valuational field apart from some revelation of the divine perfection. In that sense our knowledge of all ideals is a priori; not chronologically prior to our knowledge of the actual, but a necessary condition of our ability to ascribe to the actual such characters as good and bad, just and unjust, wise and foolish.
An important example may be found in the conception of personality. Much modern philosophy had taken for granted that personality is the characteristic mode of being of finite spirits, the very hall-mark of our finitude, and had therefore been very naturally contemptuous of all theological attempts to extend such a characteristic by way of analogy to the divine mode of being. As long ago as the middle of the nineteenth century this assumption was powerfully challenged by such thinkers as Albrecht Ritschl and Hermann Lotze, who insisted that, on the contrary, personality was an ideal conception never more than very imperfectly realized in human existence, but it was not until recent psychology began to talk in much the same way that their contention found wide acceptance. The resultant change of outlook found what is perhaps its most notable expression in the late Dr Clement Webb's Gifford Lectures of 1918 and 1919, where it was very clearly shown that the terminology of personality is originally theological, so that men spoke of the Persons of the Godhead long before they came glibly to speak of themselves as persons; and certainly ‘philosophical discussion of the nature of human personality is posterior in time to these theological discussions. Nay, it may even be said that it was the religious and theological interest in the Personality of Christ, concerned as being at once God and man, which actually afforded the motive and occasion of undertaking the investigation of the nature of personality in men generally.’10 Moreover Dr Webb contended that this order of going did but reflect the true inter-relation of the realities being discussed:
Personality is not merely something which we observe in men; rather is it something which, though suggested to us by what we find in men, we perceive to be only imperfectly realized in them; and this can only be because we are somehow aware of a perfection or ideal with which we contrast what we find in men as falling short of it. In such cases we rightly begin with thinking out the ideal and then considering the experienced facts in the light of it.11
It is for this reason that I cannot agree that all theological statements are of the nature of analogies or are symbolic in Dr Tillich's sense. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is, I believe, using directly applicable and non-symbolic language when it answers the question ‘What is God?’ by saying ‘God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.’12
But how much further down the scale of theological statements does the same thing apply? ‘Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is, God.’13 Yes; and by the same sign none is wise but he. When therefore we say that God is wise and good, we are using ‘proper’, non-symbolic and non-analogical language; and it is when we speak of a man as wise and good that our language is improper. But how is it, for example, when we speak of God as Father? Is it only by analogy that we call him Father? This is strenuously denied by Dr Barth, who writes as follows:
It must not be said that the name ‘Father’ for God is a transference to God, figurative and not to be taken literally, of a human creaturely relationship, whereas God's essential being as God per se is not touched or characterized by this name.… But what is figurative and not literal is that which we characterize and imagine we know as fatherhood in our human creaturely sphere.… He is the eternal Father, He is that in Himself. It is as such that He is then Father for us and reveals Himself to us and is the incomparable prototype of all human creaturely fatherhood; ‘from whom every fatherhood (pa/sa patria,) in heaven and earth is named’ (Eph. iii, 15).14
We must not say that the use of the name ‘Father’ here is a transferred, improper, inadequate one. That could be said only if the standard of propriety, here and generally, were our language or the created reality to which our language applies. If the Creative is the standard of the propriety of the created, and therefore also of our language, then the reverse is true… God alone… as He who is by Himself, as the eternal Father of the eternal Son, is properly and adequately to be called Father. From the power and dignity of this, the only, proper name of Father there flows by grace and for faith the improper—certainly not for this reason untrue, but really improper—application of the name to God as the Creator; and likewise its application to inter-creaturely progenitorships such as are called fatherhood in heaven and on earth (Eph. iii, 15)—which once again is true but improper—is to be understood as dependent upon the intratrinitarian usage.15
And here perhaps it is necessary to remind ourselves that fatherhood has not traditionally been enumerated among the attributes of God, all of which apply to all three Persons of the Holy Trinity, but as the property (ivdi,wma, proprietas) of the first Person; filiation and procession being the properties of the second and third Persons, as paternity is of the first.
This is indeed high doctrine on the part of Dr Barth. Is it too high? It certainly seems an assault on common sense to say that when I speak of my human progenitor as my father, I am applying the word to him only in a figurative sense. I believe, therefore, that a further distinction here falls to be made. I believe the word ‘father’ applies in the first place, and quite non-figuratively, to the fact of natural human procreation; so that when I say ‘The man who has just entered the room is my father’, I am in no sense using transferred or improper language. But some have unfortunately been heard to say ‘Yes, he is my father, but he has been no real father to me’. Clearly, then, the word is employed by us both in a factual and in a ideal sense. Not all who are in the bare factual sense fathers display the character of fatherliness even in a minimal degree. Only God possesses it and displays it in perfection; and it is only by the standard of his perfect fatherliness that we can measure the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the attribution of fatherliness to any man. So far, then, Dr Barth speaks truly when he says that God alone is properly and adequately to be called Father, and that it is in no figurative sense that we so call him. The divine is always prior. The ideal is always a priori. Only if something of its nature is revealed to us, can we proceed to the grading or valuation of the actual.
A difficulty with this teaching may perhaps be found in the fact that Jesus, in his parabolic discourses, constantly appeals to the analogy between human and divine fatherhood, and uses indeed a certain argument a fortiori from the former to the latter.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?16
Or we may think of the so-called parable of the Prodigal Son, which is really a parable from a father's abiding and out-going love for his erring child. Here, however, two points may be made. Jesus is not using the argument a fortiori to establish the fatherhood of God. Rather is he addressing those who claimed already to believe in it, and who were wont to sing ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him’;17 and was urging them, as he so often had to do, to live up to what they believed. Again, in the parable, he is not arguing from actual human behaviour to the divine behaviour. The father of the prodigal son was not a portrait drawn from life but an ideal picture. Our Lord's hearers had never known an earthly father behave like that. As in Faber's hymn:
No earthly father loves like Thee;
No mother, e'er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done
With me, thy sinful child.18
I have contended that our fundamental knowledge of God is such as cannot have been reached by way of analogy from our knowledge of his creatures, but by a mode of apprehension which is no less direct in its own way than that by which his creatures are known. Let us now devote some further attention to the implications of this contention. In placing its reliance upon the argument from analogy the old natural theology was confessedly proceeding upon the assumption that our only direct knowledge is of the created world, but it was convinced that, starting from that knowledge, it could argue its way to the existence, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God, and to his providential care for his creatures. For example Plato, who may be regarded as the father of natural theology, uses the following analogy to prove that God's provision for our human welfare extends to the minutest and most apparently trivial particulars (evpi. to. smikro,taton)19:
If a physician, whose office is to cure a body as a whole, were to neglect its small parts while caring only for the greater, will the whole ever prosper in his hands?… Nor would it be any better with pilots or generals or housekeepers, or indeed statesmen or any other such people, if they cared only for things many and large and not for things few and small. The stone-masons have a proverb that the great stones do not lie well without the small ones.… Let us not then judge God to be ever inferior to mortal workmen who, the better they are, the more accurately and perfectly do they complete their works by one and the same skill; nor let us think that God, who is the wisest of beings and both willing and able to exercise care, takes no care at all of those things which, being small, are easier to take care of, but attends only to the greater things—like some idle good-for-nothing who is tired of his work.… With this it seems to me that we have given a very reasonable answer to those who are prone to blame the gods for their lack of care over us.20
The difficulty we feel with this manner of approach to the knowledge of God is that any practice of religion which founds upon it must be a quite one-sided one, lacking any mutuality of communion between God and man. On this view neither is our worship to him a response to a gracious approach on his part nor can it in its turn expect any response from him. This is why Francis Bacon said that a knowledge of God obtained in this way may suffice ‘to convince atheism, but not to inform religion’.21 It is indeed remarkable how far even the deistical writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries believed such knowledge could extend. According to Lord Herbert of Cherbury it extended to the propositions (1) that a Supreme Being exists, (2) that he ought to be worshipped, (3) that virtue is the principal part of his worship, (4) that faults are to be expiated by repentance, and (5) that there will be rewards and punishments in a future life.22 And Spinoza's list is as follows: (1) that a Supreme Being exists, (2) that he is one, (3) that he is omnipresent, all things being open to him, (4) that he has supreme right and dominion over all things, (5) that his worship consists only in justice and charity in regard to our neighbours, (6) that ‘all those, and those only, who obey God by their manner of life are saved’, and (7) that God forgives the sins of those who repent.23 Both Herbert and Spinoza describe their lists as comprising ‘the dogmas of universal religion’, the former contending that they are innately implanted by God in the minds of all men, and the latter that they are either thus ‘written on the hearts of all men’ or are reached by the use of figures provided by the prophetic imagination. But in neither case is there postulated any present activity of communication of the Spirit of God with the human spirit. Religion is an altogether one-sided thing. As is well known, Spinoza taught that ‘he who loves God cannot expect that God should love him in return.’24
However, to this inevitable one-sidedness of a worship that founds only on such a natural theology there has been added, since the time of Hume and Kant, a wide-spread doubt of the validity of that theology even within its own acknowledged limits. Does it suffice to ‘convince atheism’, let alone to ‘inform religion’? The Protestant Reformers, who were early in the field of criticism of natural theology, would have replied that at least it ought to do so, though actually it seldom does. ‘All men of right judgement’, writes Calvin, ‘will testify that there is engraved on human minds a sense of the divine which can never be expunged’;25 and further that ‘not only has God planted in our minds this seed of religion, but has also manifested Himself in the whole fabric of His creation, so placing Himself before our view that we cannot open our eyes without being constrained to behold Him’.26 But he goes on at once to say that owing to the corruption of our natures by sin, ‘scarcely one in a hundred cherishes the conception of Him in his heart, and in not one does it grow to maturity’.27 But the post-Kantian critics of natural theology go even farther. They contend that the testimony of the world of nature is ambiguous in itself. Coleridge, who was profoundly influenced by Kant, is reported to have remarked on the difficulty of deciding whether nature was ‘a goddess in petticoats or a devil in a strait-waistcoat’. And Helmholtz, the celebrated physicist, is reported as having said, with regard to the argument, so much relied on by the natural theologian Paley, from the structure of the human eye to the existence of a wise and benevolent God who designed it, ‘If an optician sent it to me as an instrument, I should send it back with reproaches for his carelessness and demand the return of my money.’28
It is quite certain that all the theological affirmations defended by Plato, Lord Herbert and Spinoza were suggested to them in the first place by reflection upon living religious experience and could not have been suggested in any other way. But all living religious experience has been understood by those who enjoyed it as a two-sided affair, that is, as an active intercourse between God and man. It is doubtful whether any race of men has ever believed that man could discover anything about God if God were not at the same time actively seeking to make himself known. Not even the most elementary practices of divination could proceed, if it were not believed that the gods themselves took the initiative in the provision of certain signs, omens and oracles such as could be interpreted by those in possession of the necessary skill. Cicero begins his treatise On Divination by saying that he knows ‘of no nation, however polished and educated, or however brutal and barbarous’, which does not share this belief. At all events it is certain that Christians have always believed that such knowledge as they can have of God is the fruit of a divine initiative whereby God seeks to make himself known. The faith of which it has spoken has always been conceived as a response to the divine approach. It is the apprehension of a divine communication.
We speak of this apprehension in frankly symbolic language as a hearing, and of this communication as a speaking. God speaks and we hear his word. But of course we do not suppose that he speaks with lips of flesh or that we hear with our fleshly ears. We believe indeed that the words of Christ were divinely spoken, and these he spoke with lips of flesh, yet we do not say that what is divine in them can be received by our fleshly ears. It is only by ‘the ear of faith’ that we hear what they have to say to us, just as it is only to ‘the eye of faith’ that his recorded deeds carry their divine message. There were many in the days of his flesh who heard all he said and saw all he did, but who found in it nothing that was divine. Speaking to his disciples about the crowd which out of curiosity had gathered about him, Jesus said that ‘they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not; neither do they understand’.
And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive… But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.29
As far as anything perceptible to the bodily senses was concerned, the life of Jesus proceeded from first to last on an entirely human level. His post-resurrection appearances may be adduced as an exception to this, but even here it is never recorded that these are manifest to any but those who had faith.
And here we are reminded of Professor John Wisdom's celebrated parable of the invisible gardener. Two people return to their long-neglected garden, and find among the weeds some of the old plants surprisingly vigorous. They therefore wonder whether somebody has been at work in the garden, but after the most exhaustive inquiries they find that no such person has ever been seen there by the neighbours. One says ‘I still believe a gardener comes’, while the other says ‘I don't’, but their different minds on the matter ‘reflect no difference as to what they have found in the garden, no difference as to what they would find in the garden if they looked further, and no difference about how fast untended gardens fall into disorder’.30
But my contention from the beginning has been that faith is a mode of apprehension which perceives something more in the total reality with which we are confronted than is manifest, or is expected to be manifest, to the senses. As far as these latter are concerned, all that transpires, all that happens to us and around us, can be explained in purely human terms, without leaving any remainder, without the need of any further hypotheses. As Professor Hocking has well said:
The world would be consistent without God; it would also be consistent with God: whichever hypothesis a man adopts will fit experience equally well; neither one, so far as accounting for visible facts is concerned, works better than the other.… The religious objects (the predicates given by religion to reality) stand at a pass of intellectual equipoise: it may well seem that some other faculty must enter in to give determination to reason at the point where reason halts, without deciding voice of its own.31
But it is evident that among the ‘visible facts’ that can be thus accounted for without hypothesizing a divine element in reality is the whole religious life of mankind. Men of faith believe that God is active in their experience at every point, and they conceive their religious life as a bi-polar intercourse between him and themselves. At one of these poles they themselves are standing. But to the mere onlooker, who has himself no part in the intercourse and who therefore, because he does not stand at the human end of it, has no means of access to the divine end, all that transpires at the former will be explicable in purely human terms; that is to say, all that happens in the mind of the believer, his resultant action and his resultant worship, is easily susceptible of explanation in terms of his own psychological states.
Yet it is of the first importance to realize that such an explanation can be adopted only if we are prepared to dismiss all that thus happens in the believer's mind as mere delusion, and his resultant action and worship as meaningless nonsense. What, for example, could be more nonsensical than addressing prayers to a being who does not exist? If our dealings with God are a purely one-sided affair, so that the explanation of them in terms purely of our human psychology is the true explanation, then the sooner we give them up the better. This state of the case has always been realized by the most hard-headed and clear-sighted critics of religion, though not a few others, being more muddle-headed, have tried to shut their eyes to it, endeavouring to conceive and to practise a kind of worship which was directed to no object beyond themselves and therefore expected no response. This, moreover, is why Schleirmacher, the Ritschlians, Kierkegaard and his followers in our own day, have all in their own different ways, and in spite of the deep differences dividing them, insisted that the truth of religion is evident only to those who stand within the religious relationship, that ‘the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him’32 and must for ever be concealed from the mere spectator or onlooker.
Up to a point, of course, the same thing applies within the sphere of aesthetic appreciation. The man who entirely lacks the relevant aesthetic sensibility, when he looks at a picture or listens to a piece of music, sees exactly the same lines and colours or hears the same sounds, as the connoisseur. The latter is aware of something more, but this something more does not consist of extra lines and colours, or of extra sounds, and cannot therefore be expressed in terms of mere sensory perception. The former will thus have no difficulty in providing a description of what both alike see or hear, which will be complete in itself, requiring no further hypothesis to explain it; but in so doing he reduces the painting to a mere random assemblage of lines and patches of colour, or the music to what Samuel Johnson is said to have called a noise that gave him no new ideas and prevented him from enjoying those he already had. As we say, ‘He sees nothing in it.’33
Yet this parallel is only partly apposite, since in the life of faith we have to do, not with anything that passively awaits our contemplation or appreciation, but with an interpersonal intercourse. I shall therefore propose a parable of a telephone conversation, a parable which in spite of its crudity may serve to illustrate the point I am desirous of making. We have often seen a man with a telephone receiver in his hand and have clearly heard all he said, seen the changing shades of expression on his face as he spoke, noticed the different tones in which different remarks were made, and perhaps certain bodily gestures—a nodding or shaking of the head or some movement of his free other hand—with which these remarks were accompanied, while all the time what was being said at the other end was completely inaudible to us. Now it is clear that if something is really being said at the other end, if the man is really hearing something that you are not hearing, then what you are hearing and seeing cannot be correctly accounted for without taking that into account. The sequence of his remarks—of his Yeses and Noes, his expressions of surprise or of protest or of delight—as well as the sequence of his facial and other visible reactions, are in fact determined by the words spoken by another who is far away, and apart from these they are not intelligible. If the conversation is a real one, any attempt you may make to explain the man's behaviour in terms merely of his own mind will be invalid.
On the other hand it is perfectly open to you, if you see good reason for so doing, to suspect that it is not a real conversation at all. The man may, as we say, be ‘putting on an act’, he may be the victim of a temporary hallucination, or he may be quite insane. If you adopt one or other of these hypotheses, you can, from your point of view as an observer, offer an entirely self-consistent and also a quite complete explanation of the whole affair without supposing that there is anybody at all at the other end of the wire. But if you do this, you will naturally believe that what you have heard spoken and seen done at the near end is mere sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The application of my parable should be sufficiently obvious. It is quite certain that religious worship and all characteristically religious behaviour sets up to be but one side of a two-sided traffic, and that it looks and sounds like this. Nevertheless it can all be quite easily described by the mere observer in purely psychological terms, and exhaustively accounted for by him on the alternative supposal that it is an entirely one-sided thing, revealing only certain strangely persistent aberrations of our human mentality. The outwardly observed facts are themselves ambivalent, patient of either explanation. But if the purely psychological explanation is the true one, then the whole sum of them reduces to meaningless nonsense such as merits at best our amused or pitying indulgence, and at worst our contempt. And such, as I said before, it has received in plenty from the most intelligent among those who have taken this view of it.