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HOME > Religious Fiction > The Varieties of Religious Experience > Lecture XVIII PHILOSOPHY
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The subject of Saintliness left us face to face with the question, Is the sense of divine presence asense of anything objectively true? We turned first to mysticism for an answer, and found thatalthough mysticism is entirely willing to corroborate religion, it is too private (and also toovarious) in its utterances to be able to claim a universal authority. But philosophy publishes resultswhich claim to be universally valid if they are valid at all, so we now turn with our question tophilosophy. Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious man's sense of thedivine?

I imagine that many of you at this point begin to indulge in guesses at the goal to which I amtending. I have undermined the authority of mysticism, you say, and the next thing I shall probablydo is to seek to discredit that of philosophy. Religion, you expect to hear me conclude, is nothingbut an affair of faith, based either on vague sentiment, or on that vivid sense of the reality of thingsunseen of which in my second lecture and in the lecture on Mysticism I gave so many examples. Itis essentially private and individualistic; it always exceeds our powers of formulation; andalthough attempts to pour its contents into a philosophic mould will probably always go on, menbeing what they are, yet these attempts are always secondary processes which in no way add to theauthority, or warrant the veracity, of the sentiments from which they derive their own stimulus andborrow whatever glow of conviction they may themselves possess.

In short, you suspect that I am planning to defend feeling at the expense of reason, to rehabilitatethe primitive and unreflective, and to dissuade you from the hope of any Theology worthy of thename.

To a certain extent I have to admit that you guess rightly. I do believe that feeling is the deepersource of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, liketranslations of a text into another tongue. But all such statements are misleading from their brevity,and it will take the whole hour for me to explain to you exactly what I mean.

When I call theological formulas secondary products, I mean that in a world in which noreligious feeling had ever existed, I doubt whether any philosophic theology could ever have beenframed. I doubt if dispassionate intellectual contemplation of the universe, apart from innerunhappiness and need of deliverance on the one hand and mystical emotion on the other, wouldever have resulted in religious philosophies such as we now possess. Men would have begun withanimistic explanations of natural fact, and criticised these away into scientific ones, as theyactually have done. In the science they would have left a certain amount of "psychical research,"even as they now will probably have to re-admit a certain amount. But high-flying speculationslike those of either dogmatic or idealistic theology, these they would have had no motive toventure on, feeling no need of commerce with such deities. These speculations must, it seems tome, be classed as over-beliefs, buildings-out performed by the intellect into directions of whichfeeling originally supplied the hint.

But even if religious philosophy had to have its first hint supplied by feeling, may it not havedealt in a superior way with the matter which feeling suggested? Feeling is private and dumb, andunable to give an account of itself. It allows that its results are mysteries and enigmas, declines tojustify them rationally, and on occasion is willing that they should even pass for paradoxical andabsurd. Philosophy takes just the opposite attitude. Her aspiration is to reclaim from mystery andparadox whatever territory she touches. To find an escape from obscure and wayward personalpersuasion to truth objectively valid for all thinking men has ever been the intellect's mostcherished ideal. To redeem religion from unwholesome privacy, and to give public status anduniversal right of way to its deliverances, has been reason's task.

I believe that philosophy will always have opportunity to labor at this task.[288] We are thinkingbeings, and we cannot exclude the intellect from participating in any of our functions. Even insoliloquizing with ourselves, we construe our feelings intellectually. Both our personal ideals andour religious and mystical experiences must be interpreted congruously with the kind of scenerywhich our thinking mind inhabits. The philosophic climate of our time inevitably forces its ownclothing on us. Moreover, we must exchange our feelings with one another, and in doing so wehave to speak, and to use general and abstract verbal formulas. Conceptions and constructions arethus a necessary part of our religion; and as moderator amid the clash of hypotheses, and mediatoramong the criticisms of one man's constructions by another, philosophy will always have much todo.

It would be strange if I disputed this, when these very lectures which I am giving are (as you willsee more clearly from now onwards) a laborious attempt to extract from the privacies of religiousexperience some general facts which can be defined in formulas upon which everybody may agree.

[288] Compare Professor W. Wallace's Gifford Lectures, in Lectures and Essays, Oxford, 1898,pp. 17 ff.

Religious experience, in other words, spontaneously and inevitably engenders myths,superstitions, dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical theologies, and criticisms of one set of these bythe adherents of another. Of late, impartial classifications and comparisons have become possible,alongside of the denunciations and anathemas by which the commerce between creeds usedexclusively to be carried on. We have the beginnings of a "Science of Religions," so-called; and ifthese lectures could ever be accounted a crumb-like contribution to such a science, I should bemade very happy.

But all these intellectual operations, whether they be constructive or comparative and critical,presuppose immediate experiences as their subject-matter. They are interpretative and inductiveoperations, operations after the fact, consequent upon religious feeling, not coordinate with it, notindependent of what it ascertains.

The intellectualism in religion which I wish to discredit pretends to be something altogetherdifferent from this. It assumes to construct religious objects out of the resources of logical reasonalone, or of logical reason drawing rigorous inference from non-subjective facts. It calls itsconclusions dogmatic theology, or philosophy of the absolute, as the case may be; it does not callthem science of religions. It reaches them in an a priori way, and warrants their veracity.

Warranted systems have ever been the idols of aspiring souls. All-inclusive, yet simple; noble,clean, luminous, stable, rigorous, true;--what more ideal refuge could there be than such a systemwould offer to spirits vexed by the muddiness and accidentality of the world of sensible things?

Accordingly, we find inculcated in the theological schools of to-day, almost as much as in those ofthe fore-time, a disdain for merely possible or probable truth, and of results that only privateassurance can grasp. Scholastics and idealists both express this disdain. Principal John Caird, forexample, writes as follows in his Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion:-"Religion must indeed be a thing of the heart, but in order to elevate it from the region ofsubjective caprice and waywardness, and to distinguish between that which is true and false inreligion, we must appeal to an objective standard. That which enters the heart must first bediscerned by the intelligence to be TRUE. It must be seen as having in its own nature a RIGHT todominate feeling, and as constituting the principle by which feeling must be judged.[289] Inestimating the religious character of individuals, nations, or races, the first question is, not howthey feel, but what they think and believe--not whether their religion is one which manifests itselfin emotions, more or less vehement and enthusiastic, but what are the CONCEPTIONS of God anddivine things by which these emotions are called forth. Feeling is necessary in religion, but it is bythe CONTENT or intelligent basis of a religion, and not by feeling, that its character and worth areto be determined."[290]

[289] Op. cit., p. 174, abridged.

[290] Ibid., p. 186, abridged and italicized.

Cardinal Newman, in his work, The Idea of a University, gives more emphatic expression still tothis disdain for sentiment.[291] Theology, he says, is a science in the strictest sense of the word. Iwill tell you, he says, what it is not--not "physical evidences" for God, not "natural religion," forthese are but vague subjective interpretations:-[291] Discourse II. Section 7.

"If," he continues, "the Supreme Being is powerful or skillful, just so far as the telescope showspower, or the microscope shows skill, if his moral law is to be ascertained simply by the physicalprocesses of the animal frame, or his will gathered from the immediate issues of human affairs, ifhis Essence is just as high and deep and broad as the universe and no more if this be the fact, thenwill I confess that there is no specific science about God, that theology is but a name, and a protestin its behalf an hypocrisy. Then, pious as it is to think of Him while the pageant of experiment orabstract reasoning passes by, still such piety is nothing more than a poetry of thought, or anornament of language, a certain view taken of Nature which one man has and another has not,which gifted minds strike out, which others see to be admirable and ingenious, and which allwould be the better for adopting. It is but the theology of Nature, just we talk of the PHILOSOPHYortheROMANCEofhistory,orthePOETRYofchildhood,orth(as) e picturesque orthe sentimental or the humorous, or any other abstract quality which the genius or the caprice ofthe individual, or the fashion of the day, or the consent of the world, recognizes in any set ofobjects which are subjected to its contemplation. I do not see much difference between avowingthat there is no God, and implying that nothing definite can be known for certain about Him."What I mean by Theology, continues Newman, is none of these things: "I simply mean theSCIENCE OF GOD, or the truths we know about God, put into a system, just as we have a scienceof the stars and call it astronomy, or of the crust of the earth and call it geology."In both these extracts we have the issue clearly set before us: Feeling valid only for theindividual is pitted against reason valid universally. The test is a perfectly plain one of fact.

Theology based on pure reason must in point of fact convince men universally. If it did not,wherein would its superiority consist? If it only formed sects and schools, even as sentiment andmysticism form them, how would it fulfill its programme of freeing us from personal caprice andwaywardness? This perfectly definite practical test of the pretensions of philosophy to foundreligion on universal reason simplifies my procedure to-day. I need not discredit philosophy bylaborious criticism of its arguments. It will suffice if I show that as a matter of history it fails toprove its pretension to be "objectively" convincing. In fact, philosophy does so fail. It does notbanish differences; it founds schools and sects just as feeling does. I believe, in fact, that thelogical reason of man operates in this field of divinity exactly as it has always operated in love, orin patriotism, or in politics, or in any other of the wider affairs of life, in which our passions or ourmystical intuitions fix our beliefs beforehand. It finds arguments for our conviction, for indeed itHAS to find them. It amplifies and defines our faith, and dignifies it and lends it words andplausibility. It hardly ever engenders it; it cannot now secure it.[292]

[292] As regards the secondary character of intellectual constructions, and the primacy of feelingand instinct in founding religious beliefs see the striking work of H. Fielding, The Hearts of Men,London, 1902, which came into my hands after my text was written. "Creeds," says the author,"are the grammar of religion, they are to religion what grammar is to speech. Words are theexpression of our wants grammar is the theory formed afterwards. Speech never proceeded fromgrammar, but the reverse. As speech progresses and changes from unknown causes, grammar mustfollow" (p. 313). The whole book, which keeps unusually close to concrete facts, is little more thanan amplification of this text.

Lend me your attention while I run through some of the points of the older systematic theology.

You find them in both Protestant and Catholic manuals, best of all in the innumerable text-bookspublished since Pope Leo's Encyclical recommending the study of Saint Thomas. I glance first atthe arguments by which dogmatic theology establishes God's existence, after that at those bywhich it establishes his nature.[293]

[293] For convenience' sake, I follow the order of A. Stockl's Lehrbuch der Philosophie, 5teAutlage, Mainz, 1881, Band ii. B. Boedder's Natural Theology, London, 1891, is a handy EnglishCatholic Manual; but an almost identical doctrine is given by such Protestant theologians as C.

Hodge: Systematic Theology, New York, 1873, or A. H. Strong: Systematic Theology, 5th edition,New York, 1896.

The arguments for God's existence have stood for hundreds of years with the waves ofunbelieving criticism breaking against them, never totally discrediting them in the ears of thefaithful, but on the whole slowly and surely washing out the mortar from between their joints. Ifyou have a God already whom you believe in, these arguments confirm you. If you are atheistic,they fail to set you right. The proofs are various. The "cosmological" one, so-called, reasons fromthe contingence of the world to a First Cause which must contain whatever perfections the worlditself contains. The "argument from design" reasons, from the fact that Nature's laws aremathematical, and her parts benevolently adapted to each other, that this cause is both intellectualand benevolent. The "moral argument" is that the moral law presupposes a lawgiver. The"argument ex consensu gentium" is that the belief in God is so widespread as to be grounded in therational nature of man, and should therefore carry authority with it.

As I just said, I will not discuss these arguments technically. The bare fact that all idealists sinceKant have felt entitled either to scout or to neglect them shows that they are not solid enough toserve as religion's all-sufficient foundation. Absolutely impersonal reasons would be in duty boundto show more general convincingness. Causation is indeed too obscure a principle to bear theweight of the whole structure of theology. As for the argument from design, see how Darwinianideas have revolutionized it. Conceived as we now conceive them, as so many fortunate escapesfrom almost limitless processes of destruction, the benevolent adaptations which we find in Naturesuggest a deity very different from the one who figured in the earlier versions of the argument.

[294] The fact is that these arguments do but follow the combined suggestions of the facts and ofour feeling. They prove nothing rigorously. They only corroborate our preexistent partialities.

[294] It must not be forgotten that any form of DISorder in the world might, by the designargument, suggest a God for just that kind of disorder. The truth is that any state of thingswhatever that can be named is logically susceptible of teleological interpretation. The ruins of theearthquake at Lisbon, for example: the whole of past history had to be planned exactly as it was tobring about in the fullness of time just that particular arrangement of debris of masonry, furniture,and once living bodies. No other train of causes would have been sufficient. And so of any otherarrangement, bad or good, which might as a matter of fact be found resulting anywhere fromprevious conditions. To avoid such pessimistic consequences and save its beneficent designer, thedesign argument accordingly invokes two other principles, restrictive in their operation. The first isphysical: Nature's forces tend of their own accord only to disorder and destruction, to heaps ofruins, not to architecture.

This principle, though plausible at first sight, seems, in the light of recent biology, to be moreand more improbable. The second principle is one of anthropomorphic interpretation. Noarrangement that for us is "disorderly" can possibly have been an object of design at all. Thisprinciple is of course a mere assumption in the interests of anthropomorphic Theism.

When one views the world with no definite theological bias one way or the other, one sees thatorder and disorder, as we now recognize them, are purely human inventions. We are interested incertain types of arrangement, useful, aesthetic, or moral--so interested that whenever we find themrealized, the fact emphatically rivets our attention. The result is that we work over the contents ofthe world selectively. It is overflowing with disorderly arrangements from our point of view, butorder is the only thing we care for and look at, and by choosing, one can always find some sort oforderly arrangement in the midst of any chaos. If I should throw down a thousand beans at randomupon a table, I could doubtless, by eliminating a sufficient number of them, leave the rest in almostany geometrical pattern you might propose to me, and you might then say that that pattern was the thing prefigured beforehand, and that the other beans were mere irrelevance and packing material.

Our dealings with Nature are just like this. She is a vast plenum in which our attention drawscapricious lines in innumerable directions. We count and name whatever lies upon the special lineswe trace, whilst the other things and the untraced lines are neither named nor counted. There are inreality infinitely more things "unadapted" to each other in this world than there are things"adapted"; infinitely more things with irregular relations than with regular relations between them.

But we look for the regular kind of thing exclusively, and ingeniously discover and preserve it inour memory. It accumulates with other regular kinds, until the collection of them fills ourencyclopaedias. Yet all the while between and around them lies an infinite anonymous chaos ofobjects that no one ever thought of together, of relations that never yet attracted our attention.

The facts of order from which the physico-theological argument starts are thus easily susceptibleof interpretation as arbitrary human products. So long as this is the case, although of course noargument against God follows, it follows that the argument for him will fail to constitute aknockdown proof of his existence. It will be convincing only to those who on other groundsbelieve in him already.

If philosophy can do so little to establish God's existence, how stands it with her efforts to definehis attributes? It is worth while to look at the attempts of systematic theology in this direction.

Since God is First Cause, this science of sciences says, he differs from all his creatures inpossessing existence a se. From this "a-se-ity" on God's part, theology deduces by mere logic mostof his other perfections. For instance, he must be both NECESSARY and ABSOLUTE, cannot notbe, and cannot in any way be determined by anything else. This makes Him absolutely unlimitedfrom without, and unlimited also from within; for limitation is non-being; and God is being itself.

This unlimitedness makes God infinitely perfect. Moreover, God is ONE, and ONLY, for theinfinitely perfect can admit no peer. He is SPIRITUAL, for were He composed of physical parts,some other power would have to combine them into the total, and his aseity would thus becontradicted. He is therefore both simple and non-physical in nature. He is SIMPLEMETAPHYSICALLY also, that is to say, his nature and his existence cannot be distinct, as theyare in finite substances which share their formal natures with one another, and are individual onlyin their material aspect. Since God is one and only, his essentia and his esse must be given at onestroke. This excludes from his being all those distinctions, so familiar in the world of finite things,between potentiality and actuality, substance and accidents, being and activity, existence andattributes. We can talk, it is true, of God's powers, acts, and attributes, but these discriminations areonly "virtual," and made from the human point of view. In God all these points of view fall into anabsolute identity of being.

This absence of all potentiality in God obliges Him to be IMMUTABLE. He is actuality, throughand through. Were there anything potential about Him, He would either lose or gain by itsactualization, and either loss or gain would contradict his perfection. He cannot, therefore, change.

Furthermore, He is IMMENSE, BOUNDLESS; for could He be outlined in space, He would becomposite, and this would contradict his indivisibility. He is therefore OMNIPRESENT,indivisibly there, at every point of space. He is similarly wholly present at every point of time--inother words ETERNAL. For if He began in time, He would need a prior cause, and that wouldcontradict his aseity. If He ended it would contradict his necessity. If He went through anysuccession, it would contradict his immutability.

He has INTELLIGENCE and WILL and every other creature-perfection, for we have them, andeffectus nequit superare causam. In Him, however, they are absolutely and eternally in act, andtheir OBJECT, since God can be bounded by naught that is external, can primarily be nothing elsethan God himself. He knows himself, then, in one eternal indivisible act, and wills himself with aninfinite self-pleasure.[295] Since He must of logical necessity thus love and will himself, Hecannot be called "free" ad intra, with the freedom of contrarieties that characterizes finite creatures.

Ad extra, however, or with respect to his creation, God is free. He cannot NEED to create, beingperfect in being and in happiness already. He WILLS to create, then, by an absolute freedom.

[295] For the scholastics the facultas appetendi embraces feeling, desire, and will.

Being thus a substance endowed with intellect and will and freedom, God is a PERSON; and aLIVING person also, for He is both object and subject of his own activity, and to be thisdistinguishes the living from the lifeless. He is thus absolutely SELF-SUFFICIENT: his SELFKNOWLEDGEand SELF-LOVE are both of them infinite and adequate, and need no extraneousconditions to perfect them.

He is OMNISCIENT, for in knowing himself as Cause He knows all creature things and eventsby implication. His knowledge is previsive, for He is present to all time. Even our free acts areknown beforehand to Him, for otherwise his wisdom would admit of successive moments ofenrichment, and this would contradict his immutability. He is OMNIPOTENT for everything thatdoes not involve logical contradiction. He can make BEING --in other words his power includesCREATION. If what He creates were made of his own substance, it would have to be infinite inessence, as that substance is; but it is finite; so it must be non-divine in substance. If it were madeof a substance, an eternally existing matter, for example, which God found there to his hand, and towhich He simply gave its form, that would contradict God's definition as First Cause, and makeHim a mere mover of something caused already. The things he creates, then, He creates ex nihilo,and gives them absolute being as so many finite substances additional to himself. The forms whichhe imprints upon them have their prototypes in his ideas. But as in God there is no such thing asmultiplicity, and as these ideas for us are manifold, we must distinguish the ideas as they are inGod and the way in which our minds externally imitate them. We must attribute them to Him onlyin a TERMINATIVE sense, as differing aspects, from the finite point of view, of his uniqueessence.

God of course is holy, good, and just. He can do no evil, for He is positive being's fullness, andevil is negation. It is true that He has created physical evil in places, but only as a means of widergood, for bonum totius praeeminet bonum partis. Moral evil He cannot will, either as end ormeans, for that would contradict his holiness. By creating free beings He PERMITS it only, neitherhis justice nor his goodness obliging Him to prevent the recipients of freedom from misusing thegift.

As regards God's purpose in creating, primarily it can only have been to exercise his absolutefreedom by the manifestation to others of his glory. From this it follows that the others must berational beings, capable in the first place of knowledge, love, and honor, and in the second place ofhappiness, for the knowledge and love of God is the mainspring of felicity. In so far forth one maysay that God's secondary purpose in creating is LOVE.

I will not weary you by pursuing these metaphysical determinations farther, into the mysteries ofGod's Trinity, for example. What I have given will serve as a specimen of the orthodoxphilosophical theology of both Catholics and Protestants. Newman, filled with enthusiasm at God'slist of perfections, continues the passage which I began to quote to you by a couple of pages of arhetoric so magnificent that I can hardly refrain from adding them, in spite of the inroad theywould make upon our time.[296] He first enumerates God's attributes sonorously, then celebrateshis ownership of everything in earth and Heaven, and the dependence of all that happens upon hispermissive will. He gives us scholastic philosophy "touched with emotion," and every philosophyshould be touched with emotion to be rightly understood. Emotionally, then, dogmatic theology isworth something to minds of the type of Newman's. It will aid us to estimate what it is worthintellectually, if at this point I make a short digression.

[296] Op. cit., Discourse III. Section 7.

What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The Continental schools of philosophyhave too often overlooked the fact that man's thinking is organically connected with his conduct. Itseems to me to be the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers to have kept the organicconnection in view. The guiding principle of British philosophy has in fact been that everydifference must MAKE a difference, every theoretical difference somewhere issue in a practicaldifference, and that the best method of discussing points of theory is to begin by ascertaining whatpractical difference would result from one alternative or the other being true. What is the particulartruth in question KNOWN AS? In what facts does it result? What is its cash-value in terms ofparticular experience? This is the characteristic English way of taking up a question. In this way,you remember, Locke takes up the question of............
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