In the last four lectures we have been studying the appearances of the upper regions of the human cave not merely in their immediate and uncriticized but in their more fully reflected revised forms and semblances. We saw that suspended above the first-order existences of the bodily realm and the second-order existences of the realm of mind whose primary concern is these first-order existences is a realm of intellectual values and ideals and of abstract objects cut and trimmed to match them which gather together and arrange and simplify all that is to be found in the lower spheres in question. There are values and ideals of the selectively simple and the endlessly enriched of the limiting and pointed and the embracing and comprehensive of what is true to the detail of empirical encounter and of what is loyal only to the distinctive and significant and so forth and in obedience to such values and ideals minds retract themselves to various thin-edged abstractions or spread and blur themselves in various rough open-textured notions. All these intellectual ideals specify a basic endeavour or nisus to rise above the contingencies of individual encounter and personal perspective to approach things in manners which pertain to mind reason intelligence as such rather than to minds reasoners or intelligences. They also express a deep-set preference for consciously constructed deliberately sealed-off intentional objects as against those merely culled from experience thereby achieving that mastery over the empirical and the existent which is only open to those who are not too considerate of the latter.
Lecture V | The Collapse of the Realm of Reason and Spirit
Similar to the values just mentioned are the wider realm of values and disvalues which preside over all towards which we feel emotions or experience practical urges whether positive or negative values and disvalues which all exhibit Humean prohibitions notwithstanding a firm logical marriage between descriptive content and emotive and prescriptive force and which are in fact merely the correlated goals of variously specified forms of impersonal-mindedness. Here we have the comprehensive value of satisfaction or happiness which is a necessary object of endeavour to all impersonally minded persons for all persons whatever no matter what the contingent content of that satisfaction or happiness may be for anyone. Here too we have the values of freedom and fairness and reciprocal affection and of endeavour directed to the other values just distinguished as also the more puzzling outlying analogically justifiable types of impersonality the scientifically explanatory and the aesthetically perspicuous. And we saw further that it is of the nature of these varied values to culminate in a single unique intentional object to which devotion worship unconditional self-dedication are the only appropriate attitude. In this intentional object all values are given as present in what we say without knowing quite what we mean is their fullest most perfect most original form which is in fact not so much an instance of these values as the united presence and being of these values themselves and the source from which all valuable things derive them. This union is not to be thought of as abstract because it does not so much sidestep as transcend the distinction between type and case in doing which it is equally thought of as rising above the difficulty of reconciling the values which cannot be combined in the individual case.
With the removal of the distinction between type and instance goes the removal of the distinction between nature and existence: the object we are conceiving is not one in regard to which we can raise the question as to whether it is exemplified or not exemplified or in which we can only raise it in a quite transformed sense. It is if we like an object whose being is not so much evident in any remarkable encounter but in the sheer impossibility of getting away from it no matter how hard we try but which is none the less not an abstraction since there are and can be no instances of it from which one might abstract. It is in short an object unique in category and in its overriding of categories to which aseity or necessary being must be attributed. The logical objections to this type of object we saw to be question-begging. But we held further that it is an object to which the contingent cannot in any degree or instance be thought of as external; it is in fact necessary for the object in question to exhibit contingent characters without which it could be not said to be fully real at all though the precise form of these contingencies is of course by definition non-necessary. What must be the case only has significance as delimiting what may be the case as setting bounds within which what may be the case will fall and to know necessity or the complete round of alternative contingencies is to know the same thing from a different point of view. Even not to have any positive contingent manifestations is a limiting purely negative case of contingency. We may hold further that the power and perfection of the object in question will be greatest—that it will be most truly the object it is—to the extent that its limiting necessities run far enough into the depths and differences of contingent detail rather than emptily contain and permit them to the extent that is that there are vastly many special necessities limiting every contingent instantial sphere rather than a few wholly general necessities bounding them all. The detail in the world must in short be deeply rather than superficially understandable and relatively much rather than relatively little of its pattern must be such that instrinsically or ex hypothesi it could not be otherwise. It must represent in some sense the inevitable self-manifestation of the absolute being though there will necessarily be some part of that expression which is purely contingent.
The logical position of an object conceived in this fashion we saw to be unique and exciting: if it is really a well-formed and consistent object capable of a thorough working out in thought at a sufficiently engaged and not merely formal level then it is also an existent and necessarily existent being. It is not conceivable except as existing. But if however we can discover in it flaws of categorial make-up or internal inconsistency then it is not merely an object whose existence is doubtful but one which can be shown up as impossible. The misconceived quasi-empirical problem of the existence of a transcendent religious object therefore transforms itself into the question of its real conceivability: if the notion of a necessary all-perfect being makes sense at all then there certainly is a necessary all-perfect being but does it after all make sense to speak of such a thing? And the whole thesis of the intrinsic conceivability and real significance of a being which unites all values and which exists of necessity remains as open to controversion as any issue of common-orgarden existence. That we have found a place for a religious object as the crowning phenomenon in the cave does not mean that a deeper look at the phenomena may not encase it in intentional brackets as a mere regulative ideal a transcendental idea which whatever its inspirational importance still does not permit a complete working and thinking out.
In our own actual casting-about for an object that might fulfil all these transcendent requirements we have had recourse to the Hegelian idea of rational self-conscious Spirit the suprapersonal life in which we all in our attempts to rise above the contingencies of our individual approaches in some measure participate. This common rational life is responsible for the whole crop of proliferating meanings and values that we have been studying and it is responsible for their culminating fruit the intentional object of religion in which necessary existence and an embracing synthesis of values are combined. What more natural step than to hold that this common rational life is itself the reality which fulfils its own transcendent demands and that in painting the portrait of what is perfect and exists of necessity it is really painting a Selbstbildnis and not the vain likeness of an empty ideal? This is in fact the step taken by the Germanic theology of which the philosophy of Hegel is the most interesting and complete expression. It has of course to face the objection that there is an infinite and necessary gulf between the ideals which direct conscious rational life and that conscious rational life itself and that any identification of the former with the latter must be absurd. It is we may say of the essence of conscious rational life to strive for a consummation beyond itself. To this it is the Hegelian answer that a gulf necessary to the being of what lies on either side of that gulf is not really a gulf but a piece of dummy scenery. Conscious rational life must indeed first envisage itself as engaged in an infinite task of overcoming the brute unintelligibility of sensation the blindness of personal passion the sheer recalcitrance of material instruments and media the endless abrasion of personal interest on personal interest and all the other untowardnesses of this life in order then to rise to the higher-order insight that these untowardnesses are really part of the rational game that their necessity as spurs to rational effort makes them really not untowardnesses at all that this imperfect life of struggle is in truth the one kind of victory and triumph that can be rationally desired. When one is young Hegel tells us one sees this world as sunken in wickedness and as calling for endless reform; when one is old one sees this world in all its wickedness and fruitful reformability as essentially ruled by providence as being in all its arrangements just as it should be. It is not and should not be a place for insipid edification or recumbent ease but for unending absolute actuosity for insight that is always penetrating frontiers for love that is always abolishing barriers and for endeavours that always end in further tasks: only in its opposed tensions can it achieve quiescence and harmony. This vision of Hegel this incredible move into moonlit classical peace from what is essentially Fichte's Germanic vision of an endless Valhalla of moral heroism is as we have held the supreme philosophical and religious illumination of our post-Renaissance world. Arguably it explains and justifies our intellectual aesthetic and moral efforts it gives philosophical expression to our deepest mystical and religious sentiments and those in particular that are inspired by Christianity. From our own point of view it has the supreme merit of alone promising to dissipate or mitigate the many thorny puzzles and discrepancies which make us feel this life to be a cave. All the surface indifference and opposition and deeper collusion among phenomena of bodies with bodies and of bodies with space and time of what is here and now with what is there and then of bodies with minds and minds with minds and minds with bodies of knowledge with real being of values with knowledge of religious ideals with their worthless worshippers and so on here have their explanation and their organic unity: these oppositions and indifferences exist for the sake of the rational activities they render possible and in this new context they lose their original character of opposition and indifference. The unity of the whole arrangement of factors is teleological but its teleology hangs as it were in the air and is the work of no special agent: it is itself the absolute rather than its offshoot or manifestation. The absolute being that which cannot be removed from being and which incarnates all excellence and which lends necessity to the main lines of the world while justifying the contingency of its detail is none other than our own rational self-transcendent thinking being for the sake of whose emergence and development all things are as they are. It is a being which in an extraordinary manner reconciles the transcendent perfection of our rational ideals supremely gathered together in the notion of a religious absolute with the ignorance confusion misunderstanding and even perverse wickedness of our present condition. Our present condition properly seen is the absolute perfection that seems to hover so unattainably beyond it. If these sayings are hard the discrepancies that have prompted them are harder yet.
Our task in the present lectures is not however to carry further the teleological construction on which we have been labouring but to show that despite its freedom from the absurdities that assailed simpler minded views and that were set forth in previous lectures it still has subtler absurdities of its own. Our aim is therefore to bring to ruin the whole teleological fabric we have been rearing and particularly its crowning religious manifestations. All these must be shown to involve tensions which pull in opposed directions and that admit of no lasting accommodation. The cave however understood or interpreted remains a cave with all the batinfested mouldering darkness that our fitfully spluttering intellectual torches only serve to intensify. It can then be argued that it is only by going resolutely beyond towards states and conditions of some deeply different sort that the cave-like character of our existence can be finally transmuted.
The main uneasiness that affects the teleological picture we have drawn can be quite readily stated: it lies in its imposed arbitrary somewhat wilful character. We are within our rights to see phenomena in what light we will and to bring them under what general forms or categories align them best. To see bodies and space and time and minds and abstracta and values and religious objects all as bearing on the emergence and development of what we have called rational mind—the thought and desire common to us all which is likewise inspired by the desire to achieve such commonness—is a legitimate way of viewing the phenomena in question. Our common rational life has the most intimate and necessary relations to our dealings with bodies and with our fellows and evolves its characteristic products in this context: if it is correct and inevitable to see our common rational life in its connection with them all it is correct and permissible to see them all in their connection with it. The world of bodies and the social world of interacting persons do provide the pabulum the resistances the framework the subject-matter for our higher spiritual activities and are in fact their necessary presuppositions. It is legitimate for us to view them entirely in this bearing. There are here no crude issues of observational observability no bow to be made in the direction of the method-mad epigoni of the metaphysical scientists of the past. We are not going beyond the experienced data in viewing them in one framework of relations and that supreme in significance for feeling and practice and not in another. But the data though permissive of endless variations of stress and angle none the less differ in their reception of these: an irrefutable way of viewing the world may none the less seem forced wanton voulu not according easily with the material on hand. In the phenomenology of formal arrangements or Gestalten it is well known that some formal arrangements more readily make themselves manifest than others: it is easier to see normally placed than inverted pendent staircases or thin columns widely spaced than thick columns close together. (These principles have of course much more than a merely de facto empirical validity.) In the same manner in the more fundamental phenomenology of cave-furnishing there are some formal arrangements that only make themselves manifest with strain and effort and maintain themselves with difficulty whereas others come natural and easy. To view all phenomena in a special teleological relation to our rational selves may be forced on us by the pressure of the conflicts considered in our first series of lectures but it remains a difficult unstable way of viewing things which like some strange effort of stereoscopy is ready at any moment to switch back again to the deeply unsatisfactory but more stable ways of viewing things out of which it arose. There is something forced unnatural about it: it readily comes before us as febrile and insincere in character. All excessively idealistic ways of looking things have this forced character. They force on the data a slant that does not accord well with them even if they do not positively reject it.
We have put the point in an exceedingly abstract way. It can be given a more specific quantitative slant. We are inclined to say that it is abitrary to view the whole vast world of phenomena in its bearing upon a single phenomenon in it however interesting and distinctive this last may be in its higher-order subtlety and complexity. The stars may be as Hegel said a mere light-rash upon the sky infinitely insignificant beside the simplest human thought or emotion. But is there not something very wanton in seeing the whole meaning of the former in all their immensity of spatial and temporal extent in their role as a mere background or presupposition of the latter? Is there not likewise something wanton in regarding the whole series of world-stages which led up to conscious rational life in their vast range of forms and phases as a mere preparation for the latter much as the prophets sibyls and heathen poets and philosophers were seen as mere prefigurers of the coming of Christ? Why should they all be regarded in this single perspective rather than in the many perspectives that their structure and character permits and suggests and which may have nothing to do with teleology at all? Why we are tempted to ask further should not any existence however trivial stake a similar claim to embodying the ‘sense’ and the ‘truth’ of the world the goal towards which all its stages and arrangements tended? There seems a violation of simple justice in seeing so many and such various things in the light of one only among them particularly when this exploits the biased appeal of ourselves and our kind. I am in other words revoicing the Renaissance protest against the Platonic-Aristotelian-Scriptural teleology from which protest modern science took its rise. To return to an anthropocentric teleological way of viewing the world however much based on the philosophical infirmity of our concepts is like reverting to the stuffy devotions of a pitch-pine conventicle after sampling choral worship under some nobly rounded Renaissance dome. What we have said has been deliberately phrased in terms of logical values of the ethics of conception and utterance rather than in supposedly objective terms which merely mask the basically evaluative issues.
It is particularly when we consider such factors as the extent of space now yawning ever more vacuously as planet after planet reveals itself bare of its imagined population that a teleological absolutism à la Hegel seems more and more frivolous. Gibes as to the pointlessness of mere quantity its vacant repetitiousness lose their force: from the standpoint of interest of value quantity may be nugatory but from the standpoint of theory of unbiased vision it weighs against the significant and the extraordinary and may very well outweigh it. More terrible still is the contemplation of the long probable period when there was and worse still when there will be no rational life in the cosmos when e.g. the ‘heat death’ of the world or some similar consummation will have put an end to things. If anything is definite it is that rational spiritual life demands to have the ‘last word’ in a cosmic dialectic and that its primacy will be utterly refuted if this demand cannot be met. Such prospects may be powerless to modify or destroy our values but are not powerless to destroy teleological world-views shaped in terms of them and it is hollow sophistry to pretend otherwise. There is further a senselessness and an inconsequence in the distribution of great evils in the world which makes it shallow and heartless to regard them as a mere shadow of the good things they set off and help to stimulate and whose possibility certainly presupposes their possibility. Only if the world necessarily tended to ever better conditions as the idealistic or liberal or evolutionary or Marxist views of the last century all too readily supposed could a teleological view be more than forced and idle a deliberate interested bolstering up of one side of the phenomena at the expense of others. Possibly as traditional religion and these lectures have repeatedly suggested the solution of this world's absurdities lies in another dimension and another life altogether. Only this it may be argued would suffice to fix the wavering teleological perspective which this world's phenomena do all too little to justify.
There is violence further in the whole attempt to make of our shared rational life the religious absolute that we have attempted to make of it. An absolute exists of necessity and our shared rational life is given as being the most delicate and precariously poised of products and the most readily disturbed and disrupted. Though it may flower with more than empirical inevitability in the right conditions there is no inevitability in the presence or duration of such conditions. It is only by a teleological tour de force that our shared rational life can be seen as extending its presence to the vast tracts of space and history in which it is not overtly there by being held to be there in germ or in consequence or in silent presupposition. In the same way a religious absolute involves a synthesis of the highest values and this not merely instantially but in some difficult sense essentially and in principle. Plainly again it is only by a dialectical tour de force that this can be held to be involved in our wretched confused heartless piecemeal living however much it may blessedly apply to us in our more lucid and generous moments. A religious absolute so put together will not readily hold together: it will break up into a necessarily non-existent ideal on the one hand and a poor thinking existence that humbly intends it on the other.
It is plain further that the requirements of a religious absolute though not involving the logical absurdity with which question-begging arguments have credited it are none the less far beyond anything that can be encountered or envisaged in the human cave. A necessity of existence may not involve the monstrous confusions with which Kantian and linguistic critics have saddled it it may even have a putative fulfilment in what we feel in our bones to be true e.g. of space but can it be said to appear luminously in the centre of our experience rather than tantalizingly and mistily at its apex? In the same manner a joint presence of all values in a single principle overriding the plain impossibility of their joint realization in a single this-world instance and which is not properly a case of instantiation at all is no more than an outline a ghostly transcendental requirement to which we can give no precise filling ‘down here’. That the cave should involve such a glorious phantom at its apex is no doubt an important fact about it but it does not make it less of a cave nor the glorious phantom less of a phantom. Aquinas may have worked out in exhaustive detail the sorts of things that we feel in our bones should be true of a supreme something that holds all life and being together but in doing so he has used a language whose precise semantics could be clear only to the angels. Used by ourselves and in this life it represents rather a groping after significance than the utterance of anything intelligible and positivistic and linguistic criticism is to this extent wholly justified.
We face in fact the unpalatable truth that though the objects of religion may be the supreme occupants of the human cave which promise most in the way of explanation and justification they are also plainly the most blemished by antinomy and obscurity of any cave-phenomenon. And from being sublime inspirers they are by their nature ready to swing over into being the most dangerous confusers and corrupters that the whole cave harbours. Subtle philosophical syntheses like the Idea of Hegel or the learned ignorance of Cusanus or the higher flights of St Thomas are powerless to hold their components together except under unusual and strong pressures: they are always ready to dissolve into a simpler vision in which one side only receives full emphasis and perhaps becomes dangerously unbalanced through absorbing and swallowing the virtues of the other. What arise are not so much specifications of the absolute religious object as perversions and distortions of it and these unhappily would seem to be the main religious population of the cave. It is on this interesting pathology of religion that I shall for the rest of this lecture concentrate.
There are three main directions in which the distortion of the apical religious object can most naturally be carried. There is first a direction towards sheer emptiness and featurelessness towards a washing out of contingencies in a being so pure that it is as Hegel pointed out indistinguishable from nothing at all. This is the celebrated negative way conspicuous in Hinduism and Buddhism and pervading the whole life and culture of Japan where no teahouse is complete without some symbol for that transcendental nothingness which tea-drinking like every other positive manifestation and activity merely serves to diversify. This negative way is of course also to be found in Plato and Plotinus as in much Christian mystical theology even in the Thomist doctrine of the profound simplicity of God. There is secondly a direction towards pure abstraction towards religious objects usually multiplied which do little more than give mythic concreteness to various one-sided facets of value whether centred in what is immediate and ordinary as in the household pieties of the Romans or in transcendental mystical perfections as in the aeons of Valentinus the multiplied hypostases of Mahayana Buddhism or the more nebulous abstractions of emancipated theologies from Schleiermacher to Paul Tillich. There is lastly a direction towards full-blooded concrete contingency and existence a direction mainly characteristic of our own Semitic tradition and its later Arab offshoots. This though in some ways the most rich and splendid of religious traditions is also the richest in its antinomies and in its odd jarring descents from the magnificent to the squalid and even the monstrous.
The negative theology that I am first to consider may be a sophisticated rather than a popular way of picturing the apical object of religion but it none the less has its roots in the logical process—whether one regards it as a ‘proof’ or a construction—which we studied in the last lecture. Values point beyond themselves to a supreme synthesis an id quo melius cogitari nequit and in this notion is included the demand that the object projected should in some sense be all the values it sums up and not merely have them or be a contingent instance of them that it should be them all together and of necessity and that it should further embody the supremely explanatory logical value of necessary existence of not being the sort of thing that could not have been and of being further the sort of thing on which all contingent existences directly or indirectly depend and without which nothing that does not like the object itself exist of necessity could conceivably be. The demands we have uttered strain syntax to the utmost but it cannot be doubted that they follow the trend of rising above one-sidedness and personal arbitrariness on which all value is founded even if they may have followed it into the absurd. The strain of trying to go beyond the limits of plain sense leads however to a lapse into the opposed direction of simplification: we drop the difficult demand that our absolute should embody all the specific values which obviously quarrel in their instances and admit of no accommodation we place contingency entirely outside of it rather than make of it its necessary filling and complement and it readily becomes the irremoveable blank background the void logical space of everything and anything rather than the embracing entity which its inherent logic would make of it. We now have the characterless Brahman of Vedantist theology the unqualified voidness or Shunyata of Nagarjuna's interpretation of Buddhism the featureless One of the first hypothesis of Plato's Parmenides the first Hypostasis of Plotinus the ‘Nothingness’ of Erigena of Jakob Boehme and many others as well as other absolutes less austerely and purely negative. It is of course easy to see the defects of this particular perversion of religion that with its elimination of contingency and finitude it also eliminates reality and every conceivable form of value. A love e.g. merely in principle which is not a love of anyone or anything but only with senseless circularity of itself or of some emptily distinct shadow of itself is not only an Unding a mere truncated intentional phantasm but it is also in this abstract truncation devoid of all goodness or value which is inseparable from the notion of unbracketed not merely intended objectivity. The case is even worse if the specificity of characters like love beauty etc. is disdained and the absolute good is not thought of as being absolutely good in any specific manner. And the defect is at once felt by many negative theologians who like Plato in the Parmenides swing over from the first featureless One to a One as richly diversified and as contradictious as the first One was seamless and austere or who like Plotinus turn the lack of a need for anything into a source of endless emanation or who like those who profess the ‘Germanic theology’ think that the absolute being or nothing must necessarily declare itself in its creative Logos and in the creaturely being which in so far as it has solid substance is essentially an offshoot or ‘spark’ of the absolute itself. Nothing and nothingness may as intentional objects not deserve the abuse which analytic enlightenment has heaped upon them: they do not spring from a mere misunderstanding of syntax but represent a limiting possibility that at certain levels of abstraction we can and must conceive. Whatever decision we come to in regard to necessary being we can only come to it by first trying to conceive and thus at one level of abstraction actually conceiving that there should be nothing and directing our thought to an all-embracing class that is void of all members. That our thought of this class exists and that the class itself has a sort of higher-order being can be kept from view or regarded as irrelevant. But even in this artificial context it is clear that nothingness as an intentional object cannot be separated from the other possibilities that give it sense and that it in fact is merely one of those possibilities. For there to be no A no B no C and no D for something not to be A not B not C and not D are merely limiting permutations of a set involving the four members A B C and D and having no special position among them. We may say in fact that for there to be no world at all is merely one way of there being a world and that the elimination of all positive contingencies is only a limiting contingency which takes us no way towards the necessary and absolute. And negations only have value in relation to what they are the negations of. If a room is cluttered with innumerable knick-knacks and gewgaws it will gain beauty and dignity as they are stripped off one by one but if all are removed and the room itself demolished beauty and dignity will have vanished too. These are reflections which might well be pondered by those intent on losing themselves in some inadequately conceived merely negative samadhi or Nirvana. The negative theology has its indefeasible position in religion as negation has in all spheres of valuation but even its vacuity abhors a total vacuum.
From the one-sidedness of a pure necessity of properties we proceed to the one-sidedness which makes the religious absolute no more than an intentional object either covertly by identifying it with a truncated abstractum or set of truncated abstracta more or less clothed in imagery which one tailors to suit one's own needs or overtly as in modern times by characterizing it exclusively in terms of some human attitude or relation or experience whether as that on which we have an ultimate relation of dependence or as that with which we have an ultimate concern or as the appropriate object of worship or unconditional self-dedication or religious experience. The Mahayana's evasion of the early Buddhist atheism by multiplying nebulous shapes corresponding to the Buddha's various perfections of wisdom compassion etc. even to the abstract Dhamma or doctrine which he said would guide his disciples when he was gone is an example of the first more covert type of construction whereas the modern exclusively idealistic or phenomenological or ‘existential’ study of the object of religion belongs to the second overt type. In all these treatments the object of religion is bracketed in a manner which while it makes construction an easy matter of running up fronts or façades without elaborate buttressing or foundations and while it removes the penalties of imperfect coherence and even formal contradiction still fails to give the religious object the full solidity which is the reverse side of the totally committed seriousness of authentic religion. Such phenomenological treatment is what we ourselves have practised in our lecture on religion and what acknowledged masters like Otto and Scheler have practised more adeptly: it is the proper introduction to a true philosophy of religion. The phenomena must however be studied not merely in their first piecemeal abstraction but in their revised integrity and complete mutual accommodation and to keep characters so difficult as necessary existence and a non-instantial synthesis of values in intentional brackets is in a sense to dissolve them altogether. A religious object that in any sense might not be is as we have seen an object that could not be at all: in the same way a religious object whose existence we merely dally with or entertain without unconditionally committing ourselves to belief in it is in a sense not really conceived of at all. The unique limiting position of a necessary existent has consequences not only for ontology but for epistemology: what such an existent may be can be clear only to those who fully believe in it. Argument about it can never serve to add something extra to its mere notion: it can only show up the absurdity of trying to treat it as a mere notion and not as the irremoveable background that all mere notions presuppose. It is clear further that the relaxation of philosophical tensions which we have hoped for from a religious object as the summit of the realm of reason is not to be had from it as long as it remains merely an intentional object. All that we then have is the infinite aspiration and concern of man seeking against all reason for something that will bring health and sweetness into the singular mixture of collusion and discrepancy of profound fit and misfit in which all cave-life consists. This disastrous poisonous mixture is not rendered more drinkable by our mere hope of replacing it with some more palatable prescription.
We may now turn in the third place to what I may call our Semitic way of existence in which we are not afraid to impute contingencies of manifestation to our religious absolute to make it manifest itself in one excellent fashion rather than another equally possible one to make it elect to manifest itself positively rather than what is equally possible not to manifest itself positively at all to associate it in varying degrees of intimacy with various contingent existences some being its directly chosen channels some only things for which it is remotely and intermediately responsible while some represent an extension or direct embodiment of itself. We are not in short afraid to credit it with something like the capacity of turning a disjunctive possibility into a categorial actuality which we feel to be of the essence of human will or choice. Our God if he be a god must be a living God: he must operate freely in creation and history there must be an element of the beneficently arbitrary and wilful in what he achieves or elects not to achieve. We shall not here be concerned with the overtly perverse forms of this view in which arbitrariness and contingency cover the whole field of the religious object's activity in which this is deemed responsible not only for fulfilling and following but also for arbitrarily instituting all logical and axiological norms and proprieties. Nor shall we be concerned with views in which the range of the absolute being's activity extends to what is as such evil and not merely to what is incidentally or instrumentally or permissively such. Religious objects framed on either pattern violate the principles of their construction: they have nothing that would deserve the self-dedication even of our humble worship. The notion of an absolute that is quite arbitrary whose dispositions at all times range over all formally possible alternatives is not perhaps so absurd a notion as some have found it and has even a certain one sided-dignity. Possibly the amoral Brahman of the Upanishats whose decision to be many has a childish straightforwardness of purpose is arbitrary in this manner but even here its choice seems channeled between the elementary values of unity and rest on the one hand and of richness and movement on the other. The proposition that quicquid appetitur appetitur sub ratione boni may not be a self-evident truth since the primary ends set before us by engaged single-minded appetite precede the second-order rational ends or values which involve detachment and impersonality but it seems evident that arbitrariness too is a higher-order phenomenon which operates only in a pre-existent framework of ends set either by mere appetite or by the higher-order impersonal interests which found themselves upon it. In any case whatever the ontological conceivability of a being of quite unfettered arbitrariness it fails to achieve the synthesis of values which is essential to an adequate religious object. Its egoism need not e.g. include that necessary and passionate love for all egos that burning repudiation of repudiation and that exclusion of exclusiveness which is inseparable from the developed idea of deity. In its unlimited self-will the absolute would in fact come close to the pure Satanism which whether actual among men or among beings higher than men certainly represents a necessarily possible declension from the idea of deity.
The kind of religious object that we have to consider and that the higher types of Semitic thought certainly tried to frame is one in which the arbitrary falls within and fills in the necessary the necessary consisting of the metaphysical values of simplicity unity self-existence and power together with all the other moral and non-moral values of justice mercy truth beauty etc. God or the religious absolute cannot fail to will these values because in a manner which defies ordinary grammar he not only has them but is them but within the bounds set by these basic forms of excellence what corresponds to a will in the religious absolute can and must determine itself quite freely. There is nothing in the idea of deity to exclude e.g. the choice of one way of manifesting itself rather than another equally valuable or even more valuable way: all modes of self-manifestation or non-self-manifestation necessarily involve just this. Existence in the sense of instantiation necessarily involves a choice among contrary possibilities and it is logically impossible to instantiate all good possibilities whether in a single world or in many sequences of worlds. The best of all possible worlds is a logical absurdity which imposed amazingly on the acute mind of Leibniz and the infinite perfection of deity consists in fact in the simple circumstance that it alone is best and that it is logically impossible to carry out this ‘bestness’ in any set or series of instantial realizations. If deity is id quo melius cogitari nequit it is not this as being a case or as producing cases of every possible form or shape of goodness: it can only lie in its being them all in principle or in being the root and source of them all. There is therefore no a priori reason why deity should not have operated more intensively through Abraham or Moses or Mohammed than through Socrates or Buddha though the notion of deity induced by my own moral development makes it hard for me to think that it did so. And the notion of a supreme embodiment or incarnation of the Logos or contingent creative side of deity is one that is in no sense unacceptable or absurd in principle nor in any way at odds with the notion of deity though its supremacy would necessarily be a contingent and not a necessary matter.
The difficulties of the Semitic way in religion lie not however in its principles but in its necessary corruption by the circumstances of cave-life in which alone we are considering it at present. The demands that the religious object should exist necessarily and should have all its perfections necessarily and should in fact rather be them than merely have them are not such that that they can readily be given a fulfillable sense within the limits of the cave: we cannot fully understand what they involve and we are inevitably driven away from them towards what we think we can more fully understand. What we are driven towards are contingencies decked out with all the glory and authority of what is inescapable and necessary and monstrously lording it over other similar contingencies. We bow down to specificities and particularities whose only source of dignity and authority lies in the impersonal values they exemplify and we give them all the dignity and authority of those values themselves withdrawing deference from other specificities and particularities which on the face of it exemplify precisely the same values. Certain practices certain subtle formulae certain special groups certain unique persons etc. then become for us the sole channels through which contact with the ultimate principle of all value can be had and alternative practices formulae groups persons etc. though not in general character different are felt to be suspect detrimental mysteriously corrupted and corrupting. And what then happens is that the unchangeable axiological bones of deity become confounded with its variable contingent covering and that worse still the latter acquire the absolute status of the former. The unsurpassability which necessarily lies in another dimension than that of instances which is if one likes a ‘spirit’ a ‘meaning’ a pure universal incapable of full expression in any instantial set whatsoever then becomes wedded and committed to a particular set of instantiations than which no contradiction could be more gross or more glaring. To worship the contingencies in which deity becomes concrete is a part of piety: to obliterate the distinction between them and the necessary framework they fill in can only be called impious. It constitutes in fact the wickedness of idolatry and it is a strange fact that the Semitic prophets and apostles who have been most deeply conscious of this possible transgression have also been the most often guilty of it. The heathen in his blindness may bow down to wood and stone but he has seldom or never confused the contingent particularities of the poor object before him with the divinity which breathes in it nor denied that others might find divinity in very different objects. It may not be wood or stone that attract our idolatrous devotions but these have been given to historicistic personal and doctrinal specificities whose subtlety renders them far more noxious. What is wrong in all these proceedings is not the reverence for the specific and particular which is part of any developed piety but the exaltation of the instance into the role of its supra-instantial pattern. And that this leads with an intrinsic probability to various evil forms of persecution and discrimination is not anything I need stress or document: such have been the bane of our Semitic religious. The Nothingness of Nagarjuna or the abstract aeons of Valentinus are innocuous by comparison: no one has had to suffer for failing to see the merits of either. We may note further that the possibility of the religious object manifesting itself through certain unique objects is only a possibility. It is consistent with the essence that it should have countless graded ‘theophanies’ with none at all uniquely pre-eminent.
I may here say briefly why I consider the Messianic life and mission of Jesus as a shadow of the cave and not as the unique incarnation of absolute deity that Christians suppose it to have been. My reasons for questioning the central dogma of Christianity are reasons of emphasis: that in the notion of the Messianic status of Jesus there is a stress on the contingent carrying-out as opposed to the essential core of deity which I cannot but see as unbalanced and which leads I think to a large amount of essential emptiness and circularity. What I shall call the Messianic circle is the feature which above all stamps Christianity as a cult confined to that cosmic catacomb which I have called the cave. I can explain what I mean by considering the history of theology. In my youth I studied the even then old-fashioned writings of Harnack in which great stress was laid on a distinction between the gospel of Jesus whose content was the new life about to open to truly repentant persons and that life's revolutionary values and the gospel about Jesus mainly put about by Paul whose content was the special saving role of Jesus as displayed in the unique events of his life and death. Jesus was in this theology not supposed to have spoken much about his special saving role but if anything to have only shown it forth in the values he inculcated and himself exhibited. It was to other later eyes that this role became emphatic was connected closely with traditional prophecy and eschatology and began to overshadow the original view of the coming Kingdom. Everyone will know that this view of Christian origins has long been burst asunder though not all will be happy in the fact that this is so.
It is plain beyond doubt that the gospel of Jesus was in the main a gospel about Jesus a doctrine about his own secret unique Messianic status and that the difference between his views of that status and those later held by the Church are of quite minor significance. Fundamentally the Church only worked out a clear theological statement of what Jesus in his claims regarding his unique position both thought and taught. The peculiar values exhibited and inculcated by Jesus are moreover all so closely tied up with his conception of his own Messianic status that they cannot without distortion be separated from it: even so cosmic a parable as that of the Prodigal Son has Messianic overtones which is of course even more true of parables like that of the Wise and Foolish Virgins and of many others. The behaviour of Jesus is throughout that of a wholly special person: it is not and has not been thought to be such that we should in all its details imitate it. All this is of course particularly true of the events and acts that surround the Passion. There all turns on Messianic status and nothing on any set of value and prescriptions that Jesus may have taught. Jesus was not put to death for any spiritual doctrine or way of life but for claiming to have a status which to some seemed to involve blasphemy while others thought it had dangerous political implications. The Passion was plainly a provoked death in which all turned on what seems a deliberate revelation of Messianic status and only a genuine Messiah could have had the right to provoke such a death. It was we may say a High Mass performed with a living victim for essentially ritual purposes and so standing beyond all bounds of the morally meaningful and permissible. The anxieties of Gethsemane were likewise not anxieties regarding the world or the truth or even Jesus himself but anxieties regarding the ability of Jesus to carry out the hard Messianic programme ahead of him and also regarding God's endorsement of his attempts and his claims. If one does not believe that Jesus was the Messiah or is not clear what being a Messiah could mean then there is nothing in the crucial acts of Jesus nothing even in his crucial teachings which would establish his divinity. And if one doubts whether divinity would or could behave in this essentially ritual manner stressing the historical personal and particular rather than the inescapable values behind them then the strange events of the Passion serve to refute rather than prove the Incarnation. It might be thought to assimilate Jesus to God to maintain that his special relation to God like the very being of God himself is something that we cannot at all understand unless we also believe in it that something of a circle is inevitable in its case. The position is not however analogous. For God is not thought of as a contingent escapable being who might or might not have been there but as the inescapable crowning synthesis of all values whereas the Messianic status of Jesus and the circumstances of his ritual death might quite well have been otherwise. Buddha was plainly Buddha the Enlightened One in virtue of the surpassing excellence of his Dhamma and his person but in the case of Jesus we have always to ask in virtue of what he was the Christ. And it is the presence of this circle which has been responsible for what we can only call the monstrous element in Christianity: the fanaticism e.g. which made Augustine believe in the damnation of unbaptized infants that led Kierkegaard into his strange gloating over Abraham's senseless attempted sacrifice and which is evinced in the occasional exalted selfishness of some even of the Christian mystics. We must regretfully say of many Christian saints what Augustine said of the pagans: that their virtues were at best splendid vices. All this of course need not take away from the complete personal faith and self-dedication of Jesus who made of events and doctrines sorry and strange in themselves symbols of the redemptive love that Christians have always seen in them. Nor are we prevented from seeing in such events and doctrines a revelation of divinity in a state of kenosis and in servitude to unsatisfactory Jewish traditions.
What we conclude at this point is that we cannot sustain any purely this-world resolution of the tensions among phenomena in terms of a teleology leading always to the emergence and the ever richer development of interpersonal rational life that we cannot prevent such a picture from switching over into an opposed sinister version in which rational interpersonal life remains a mere excrescence upon an order essentially purposeless or perhaps actively malign. We conclude also that the actual religions of the world which all represent rational faith at its highest are also all phenomena of the cave which incorporate absurd sinister and even monstrous elements which most apologists have sought to minimize but which some modern exponents have deliberately exaggerated.
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