The purpose of this book is to outline, in the simplest and clearest language I can command, a position in which my own mind has found rest after thirty years of search. But in order that the point of view from which it is written may be the more easily apprehended I have, after some hesitation, thought it well to preface it with a few details of an autobiographical nature.
I came up to Oxford with a scholarship in Classics in 1893, fully determined to follow my father in the profession of the Law. But about the end of my second year---I was reading 'Greats'-I realised quite suddenly that the religious beliefs in which I had been brought up rested on a very slender intellectual foundation ; and I awoke one day to find myself an agnostic. After a year or so of thought and reading, and discussion with older friends, I reached, through the gateway of T. H. Green's philosophy, what at the time seemed to me an adequate intellectual basis of religion largely taken over, in a not too well-digested form, from the earlier writings of Illingworth and Gore. The conviction was then borne in upon me that it was my duty to give my life to the task of further working out, and passing on to others, the truth which I had seen ; and I decided to seek ordination. After taking my Degree I read Theology, and there opened up a possibility, which had not previously occurred to me, that my work might be in Oxford ; but it was not till some little time after I had been elected to a Fellowship that I realised how very far from being intellectually water-tight was the position which I had reached. The restraining advice of a senior friend kept me from relinquishing my Orders ; but I think that I should ultimately have taken this step but for the reinvigorating inspiration of the Summer Conferences of the Student Christian Movement, which I began to attend 'in 1905. Here I gained a renewed confidence that in Religion man can attain to a genuine apprehension of Reality, of that 'Beyond which is also Within', in a way and of a kind which any intellectual theory of the Universe must account for or confess itself bankrupt.
I started again on my quest with a new courage, but with no weakening of my old conviction that religion in its mystical, emotional or practical expression was, to me at any rate, of little value if divorced from intellectual integrity. 1 endeavoured to work on in the spirit of the philosopher who, in Samuel Butler's famous phrase,'should have given up all,even Christ Himself,for Christ's sake'.
It has been my peculiar good fortune to have come into a personal contact, which admitted of long and repeated discussion of large problems, with an exceptional number of fellow-seekers after truth-philosophers, scientists, and others whose interest was mainly in art, literature or practical life, as well as theologians of many Christian denominations, and students or adherents of the great religions of the East. Looking back over my life, I feel that I have learnt more in this way than from the books which I have read. I owe a special debt to those friends who were associated with me in the series of ' group-books'-Foundations, Concerning Prayer, Immortality, and The Spirit. The method of systematic group discussion employed in the preparation of these was an invaluable intellectual discipline, besides suggesting to me avenues of further investigation which otherwise I might never have explored.
Before the last of these symposia was published, I had set to work on a scheme, long ago projected but often interrupted, for a book which would clear up my own mind by presenting in a reasonable compass a synthetic summary of the position which I had reached up to date. A good deal of what is here printed is a re-writing of material put together then (1919-21). Towards the end of 1921 1 laid this work aside in order to gather up the results of investigations, started at a much earlier date, into the origins of the Gospels; these were published under the title The Four Gospels, late in 1924. The interruption was fortunate, since it enabled me, by sitting at the feet of scientific friends, to get some inkling (if only at second hand) of the general trend of some of the modern developments in Physics, and to read some of the more recent literature bearing on that new conception of the nature of scientific knowledge which is being put forward by workers in that field. This has led to a considerable re-orientation of much that I had previously drafted.
It is now many years since it first began to dawn upon me that, during the earlier years of my search, I had been doing, what, so far as I see, most other searchers after truth in the sphere of Religion have done -I had been asking the wrong question. I will explain my meaning. Instinctively any one brought up in the Christian tradition-provided always he does not belong to the number of those who would prefer to think it false-frames his question in the form, Is Christianity true ? But merely to state the question thus precludes a satisfactory answer; for the very form of the question implies that Religion is itself the problem, whereas the truth of Religion is a matter worth inquiring about only if, and in so far as, it offers a solution of the problems which are posed by life-of which the problem of evil is the chief.
Is there not wrong too bitter for atoning ? What are these desperate and hideous years ? Hast Thou not heard Thy whole creation groaning, Sighs of the bondsmen, and a woman's tears ?
It is the Universe itself that compels us to ask questions. First there are theoretical questions. Are we to think of It as alive or dead? If alive, what is It after? Or, in more formal words, must Reality be thought of only in terms of quantity, or is quality (or value) also real? Then comes the fact of evil ever forcing us to face the practical question, Is there any way in which 1 personally can overcome, and help others to overcome, the suffering and the wrong ?
By those who first heard it the Christian message was called 'Gospel', that is, 'good news'. It was so named because to them it did seem to give an answer both to the theoretical and to the practical questions. Life posed the riddle ; Religion had found an answer. Life has not ceased to pose its riddle; but who to-day has an answer which to the majority seems to have the authentic ring? Those who are without Religion admit they have no answer. The Christian theologian stands on the defensive. Having once begun by asking the wrong question, he finds himself 'defending the faith' ; in effect, he has got himself into the position of being anxious to save Religion, instead of expecting Religion to save him.
This book, then, is not a 'Defense of Christianity'; indeed, in Christianity as traditionally presented there are some things which (if I had any taste for theological controversy) I should be more inclined to attack than to defend. It is an endeavour to discover Truth.
Accordingly I start off to interrogate the Universe afresh. I ask whether Quality as well as Quantity is of the essence of Reality. When I go on to inquire whence and how we may get light on this Quality, I cannot but see that much of the evidence to be studied consists in the phenomena--social, historical, psychological-of human religion, of which the most important is the fact that Christ once lived and taught and died. From a consideration of this evidence there seems to me to emerge a new way of approaching certain old ideas. This, unless I am mistaken, enables one to see that there is an answer to the riddle set by life in a Religion which has the quality of Vision and Power-the vision of truth and the power to overcome.
The questions I discuss-whatever be the value of answers which I seem to myself to have found-are living questions to every human being; and I shall have failed in my object if this book is intelligible only to philosophers, scientists and theologians. It is addressed in the first instance to the man who has no special training in any of these subjects. That the book as a whole will prove easy reading, I am fairly confident. In the earlier chapters, while the general position set out is in itself simple and straightforward, it has, in order to expound this, been necessary to criticise certain features in Materialism, Absolutism and other theories; and some of the sections in which this is attempted naturally make a more serious claim on the reader's attention. I believe, however, that even here I have succeeded in so writing that the main draft of the argument will be clear to any person of ordinary education, even if he has no technical knowledge of the subject. Moreover, the Synopses at the head of each chapter will enable the reader, if he finds any particular section difficult or uninteresting, to skip it without losing sight of the general purport of the chapter. Perhaps, however, any one who has no previous knowledge of either Science or Philosophy might do well to postpone the reading of Chapters I. - II. and IV.until he has gone through the rest of the book.
Nevertheless, although this book is not primarily intended for philosophers and theologians, it is my hope that some of these will deign to read it. For, apart from certain sections, it is in no sense a popularisation of currently accepted views. It is an attempt to limn out a position which, taken as a whole, is a new one. My debt, of course, to the thought and writings of others will be obvious on every page; but if regard be had, not so much to detailed considerations, as to the mode of co-ordinating the essential data and to the trend of the argument as a whole, 1 believe that I am justified in speaking of it as a new correlation of Science and Religion.
In Chapters II. and IV. I sketch out what is, in effect, a new Theory of Knowledge. To this, if it were worked out into a formal system, I should be inclined to give the name BiRepresentationism. But to have worked out such a system with an elaborate apparatus of technical terminology might have resulted in a wrong impression of the main conception of the book. For if I am right in maintaining that the language natural to Religion is more closely akin to Art than to Science, then a Philosophy of Religion is likely the better to reflect the spirit of that which it endeavours to interpret, the more its exposition avoids technicalities and is expressed in a way that can be imaginatively, as well as conceptually, realised. At any rate, so far as this theory is concerned, I shall be more than satisfied if I have suggested an outline which others more competent than myself may develop or amend.
To various friends who have read the whole or part of the book in MS. or proof I owe a debt of gratitude, more especially to Miss Chilcott of Lady Margaret Hall, Mr. Will Spens of Corpus Christi, Cambridge, Mr. A. S. L. Farquharson of University College, Oxford, Archdeacon Lilley of Hereford, Mr. W. Force Stead, and Mr. Norman Ault; and to Miss Earp of Cumnor, both for this and also for the preparation of the Indexes.
B. H. STREETER.
OXFORD, Sept. 1926.
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