The inquiry into the causes of the seeming unreality of the spiritual world is fundamental. Unless it is thoroughly made, no attempted positive argument can satisfy. But, on the other hand, this inquiry cannot be thoroughly made, as we have seen, without really involving at numerous points some indication of the positive way out. For the very reason, therefore, that we have dwelt so long on the reasons for the seeming obscurity of spiritual truth and life, and upon the presumptive evidence of the reality of the spiritual, we may hope to state with brevity and yet with explicitness our positive conclusions, making use at every point of results already reached.
It is worth remembering, as well, that, in any case, our positions on really ultimate questions are best determined by broad considerations rather than by minute argumentation. We legitimately set aside great masses of such minute argumentation when it is seen to proceed from a point of view, on good grounds rejected by us. One sometimes feels that one of the main rewards of the experience of living is to be found in just this acquired ease in calmly setting aside great piles of logic, that have gone forward upon some large gratuitous assumption, or that have quite left out of account the main consideration. One is sometimes asked what he does with such and such a line of argument. Well, when a man has definitely abandoned on good grounds a given standpoint, he doesn't do anything with the massive arguments which proceed from that standpoint And in reaching decisive points of view, it is particularly enlightening to see how very simple and brief the dominating considerations in one's mind have been. You can read no strong, thinking man at length, still less get into intimate conversation with him, without finding, if you refuse to be confused by the mere multiplicity of words, that there are in him a few absolutely dominant convictions capable of very brief and simple statement, and in fact only capable, in themselves, of such statement. Three or four sentences may contain the heart of the man's whole argument for some fundamental position. These facts are particularly worth recalling in connection with this question of religious conviction and life; for let us frankly say that the decisive, positive considerations here—the considerations that really determine—probably can be put with surprising brevity. It is not necessarily a matter of tomes. Indeed, one may well wonder whether the real grounds of our convictions have not been greatly obscured by many of these elaborate argumentations for God.
I turn, then, with some hope, to attempt, in the light of the principles already reached, a comparatively brief statement, both of the theistic argument and of our personal relation to God.
And, as to the theistic argument, we seem to need, first, definitely to face the facts ignored by the various misconceptions and mistaken or inadequate points of view, which have given the sense of unreality to the spiritual life; and, so, to see the thoroughly fundamental nature of the theistic position; and thus to reach the main possible lines of the theistic argument.
To begin with, we cannot expect sound results without definitely facing and taking into full account the facts ignored in the various mistaken views of the spiritual life that have been considered. This, we have seen, involves, first, some adequate recognition of the great common conditions of life, bodily and psychical—conditions that continually affect our thinking as well as our living. In particular, for our religious thinking, we found that that meant that we must bear in mind the practical nature of all knowledge and belief: that knowledge is never a merely passive process, and that no merely theoretical solution of our problem is possible. This compelled us to set aside as impossible, or unreasonable, in religious thinking, mathematical demonstration, overwhelming evidence, any substitute for living experience, the expectation of meeting difficulties out of hand, taking up the religious inquiry as something wholly new, overrating single intellectual difficulties and negative criticism, forgetting the results of long ignoring of facts, and especially forgetting the ideal assumptions which underlie all our practical beliefs.
To face the facts ignored in the mistaken views of the spiritual life meant also, we found, definite guarding against the common fallacies of ignoring all that cannot be precisely formulated, of making the intellectual the sole standard of reality, and of being dominated by a word, by an analogy, or by the merely imageable.
Sound theistic thinking, we saw, further, required that we should set aside as quite unwarranted certain traditional objections: both those which come from an undue exaltation of the mathematico-mechanical view of the world—like the difficulties of an abstract intellectualism, of a crude sensationalism, or of an impossible hypostasizing of laws; and those philosophical difficulties which are supposed to put religion at peculiar disadvantage. Here we found that religion had no peculiar responsibility for the solution of epistemological and metaphysical problems; that the doctrine of the relativity of knowledge did not concern it in any special way; that, in particular, the terms "Absolute" and "Unchangeable," as applied to God, were not to be gratuitously taken as putting God out of all real touch with men; that "Infinite" and "Personality" could by no means be taken as terms mutually contradictory; and that, rather, the attempted impersonal conceptions of God were the conceptions that refused to resolve into any clear meaning.
We have seen, also, as bearing on the problem of thorough-going religious thinking, that the religious problem must be in certain points clearly distinguished from both the scientific and philosophical problems. From the scientific problem: as a problem of ideal interpretation rather than of causal connection; a problem of ultimate inference, rather than of merely phenomenal inquiry; as attempting a different ideal construction of the world from that attempted by science; and as requiring the whole man in a way not true of the scientific problem, which is, far more truly, purely intellectual.
From the philosophical problem as ordinarily conceived, the problem of ultimate religious thinking was differentiated as definitely bringing into its inferences as data the facts of the historical revelation of God,—the preeminent spiritual facts of the race. And it was insisted that we had no right to expect a complete solution from an investigation that ignored these most important data of all.
The sense of unreality of the spiritual life which comes from failure to fulfil the natural conditions, concerns theistic thinking only indirectly, yet very really. For these conditions point out the one way to that experience of the spiritual life, which alone can give the key to any adequate interpretation of that life, and to any really decisive thinking concerning it. This is simply the common-sense requirement that a man should know something of what he is talking about.
So far, in our summary of the facts to be faced by theistic thinking, we have dealt with what we have called the removable causes of the seeming unreality of the spiritual life.
When we ask as to the bearing upon our religious thinking of the unremovable causes, we find ourselves obliged to take clear account of the limitations and fluctuations of our finite natures. We have, then, to recognize that our view of the world is necessarily partial; that by our very natures we are discursive in our living and thinking; that we are obliged to reckon upon a certain ebb and flow in our sense of reality everywhere; that we must expect these limitations and fluctuations to be specially felt in the religious inquiry, where we are dealing with the problems of the Infinite, where the grounds of our convictions lie quite below the surface, and where so much depends upon the ethical attitude. In view of this inevitable fluctuation in the sense of reality, we saw that we must give special importance to the witness of our consciously best hours.
The further thought—that this seeming unreality is in part definitely intended for our better moral and spiritual training—suggests, in spite of great similarities, that there is a reason that must be decisive in any question of the spiritual life, why we should not expect here even such proof as might be readily accessible in other spheres of life. God is moved, in this hiding of himself, by an abiding reverence for our human individuality and moral initiative. And yet, even in this intended obscurity, we found an implied evidence. Our very questionings, to be themselves explicable, seemed necessarily a proof of that about which they questioned.
This bare summary, perhaps, justifies the conclusion that there are here considerations which have an important bearing on all theistic thinking, and that our theistic argument must go forward in clear recognition of these considerations. In particular, we have felt that these considerations gave reasonable ground for setting aside initial objections to the theistic argument, and for meeting some of the most important difficulties both as to the conception of God, and as to the relation of God to the finite. At the same time they have brought clearly into view the necessary limitations in such theistic proofs as may be attempted. We seem prepared, thus, to pass to a brief and comprehensive statement of the main lines of the theistic argument; although it may be doubted whether, when one has given full weight to the considerations just reviewed, the mere formulation of the theistic argument has much contribution to make.