The last Sunday in September is the day when we go through the amusing ritual of putting our clocks back, and to revert what some people might call God’s time. I say amusing. Because the practice of altering our clocks for saving daylight has always ‘jiggled my funny bone just a little.’ It seems a kind of way of fooling ourselves into getting up an hour earlier. Why don’t we just get up an hour earlier and let it go at that? Well I suppose in practice the idea of putting the clocks back has something to be said for it in the way of saving a reprinting of all the airline and railroad time tables. But it’s very illustrative of ways in which human beings fool themselves. And it offers what I feel to be a very instructive parallel to a lot of argument that is going on these days about going back to the old time religion.
I’ve speculated a good deal about this, and I’m not at all sure why, in certain circles, there is so much talk going on about God. And there is a kind of flavor in this revival of the idea of God which I don’t like, it’s sort of sinister. People want to write into all sorts of documents that this country is under God. And in this idea of God of course there speaks the projection upon the cosmos of the benevolent despot, the great patriarch. Because of course, it’s very convenient for people who want to play the part of benevolent despots and authoritative patriarchs to feel that they have some backing.
It is as I suppose. You feel a greater sense of authorization if you get up an hour earlier by doing so at the usual time through altering the clock. But the practice of changing the clock illustrative of another phase of this whole recrudescence of the idea of God. The patriarchal God. Because in going through all the various reasons which in the past twenty five or thirty years theologians have been advancing for reasons why God should be believed in, this kind of God should be believed in, I come across only one really dominant argument. That is to say, I’ve never found anybody yet in writing in modern times who has advanced what seemed to be any new simply logical reasons or metaphysical reasons for the belief in God. Most of these are simply repetitions of things that have been said hundreds of years ago.
Most of the reasons that are now advanced have to do with what an advantage it would be to human life and human society to believe in God. In other words, we have problems with juvenile delinquency. What a pity, if outside the Roman Catholic Church we cannot scare these children into good behavior by frightening them with ideas of hell and judgment. Or appeal to that sentiment by saying for example, look what your sins have cost to Jesus Christ, you put another nail in the cross. But it’s a strange thing isn’t it that sin has been running around in the world for an awful long time and people did desperate depraved and horrible things. When the old time religion was in full swing. And one of the reasons why it nowadays we think the world is going to the dogs. Is that everything happens not only on a much larger scale, that everything happens within the sight of everybody that is to say there’s so much news, there’s so much communication. And you just slug someone in a back alley in San Francisco one night and it’s all over the headlines in the morning. And therefore, the presence of evil is perhaps drawn to our attention more than it ever was before. But people very frequently say that the belief in God is necessary for preserving the dignity of man. In other words, if a man, say in the conception of the nature which is held by people we might call mechanists, if man is simply a piece of machinery. Of very complicated machinery which emerged as a result of the blind. Changes and processes of nature then he is qualitatively no more than a cow. Or any other domestic animal. He’s just more complicated that’s all. And therefore the argument goes, if human beings are only a mechanical cattle, and cattle are only very complicated chemical mechanisms, just as we exploit cattle, breed them impersonally, kill them when we want to eat them, and generally push them around. So also, if man is just this kind of thing there’s no reason why we shouldn’t just push him around there’s no reason why we shouldn’t gas millions of Jews if we find them inconvenient, and so on.
In other words, that the basis of the argument is, if man does not have some sort of guarantee beyond himself for his dignity, for the rights of his personality, then all chaos can break loose. And the Human being can be simply degraded, as indeed he has been degraded in modern times. But it seems to me a very very false and perhaps dangerous argument to say that the foundation for this dignity must be a belief in God. Because the believer in God will say no you must not humiliate human beings in this way. You must not despise human dignity, because man is a child of God. Every individual human being is the object of the love of God, has a special destiny planned for him by God, and therefore for this reason and on this authority, you must not treat human beings as if they were just machines are just animals.
This is similar to the argument frequently produced by Roman Catholics in commending the superiority of their form of Christianity to the various forms of Protestantism. They always say, well, what you believe as a Protestant is simply a matter of opinion, and it’s your own private judgment whereas a Catholic suspends his private judgment and believes because he also believes that he is bound to believe, it is an act of obedience. And this is an equally silly argument. Because it simply conceals the fact that to believe that you are bound to believe in something that you believe it’s a matter of personal opinion and private judgment. It’s an act of private judgment to accept the authority of the church. And in the same way, if we say the guarantee for the dignity of human personality is the existence of God, I’m going to ask then what is the guarantee for the existence of God? I suppose this is a know sort of sophisticated form of the child’s question, if God made the world, who made God? But it really is rather a good question because you can answer nobody made God. God isn’t made, and then the child can come back if he’s smart enough well why couldn’t you say the same thing about the world.
And so in the same way, when we say only God can be the guarantee only belief in God can be the guarantee for the proper treatment of human beings then we must ask again what is the guarantee for belief in God. And it’s simply, in other words, a way in which we can kid ourselves into a certain forms of conduct by laying down a premise just as we kid ourselves into getting up early about changing the clocks. And while as I said, changing the clocks may be actually a practical idea because of the time tables and all the reprinting of stuff, it’s very important to know what you’re doing when you’re doing it it’s very important to know that you’re just changing your standard of measurement and that you made the standard of measurement that the clock is your invention. And so in the same way, it should be important to realize that when people start talking about the need for belief in God again, this is just a gambit in the art of ruling. A gambit in the art of preserving law and order. Only, it seems to me in this case to be not so useful and in many ways to confuse the issue profoundly. Because it gets us into the strange state of mind which you find so often in discussing the problems of human conduct and thought, that people want to base their actions and their ideas upon some sort of authority. And it’s strange this, for a Christian, because it said of Jesus that He spoke as one having authority and not as the scribes. And to have authority is a very different thing from following authority. The scribes, you know, were the sort of people who never said anything unless they could quote somebody else as having said it before some great and Rabbi of the past to whom time had given the kind of distance of divinity.
And in the same way, when we nowadays in our academic world get what is called an authoritative text, you may be sure that the author Orotate of text is absolutely jammed with footnotes nobody dared say anything without documenting it. But, in a deeper sense than that, people want to feel that certain forms of conduct, certain ways of life, are not things upon which they can safely embark unless they are in some way authorized. That is to say, unless they feel that this is in accord with the will of God, or if they don’t believe in God In that sense they want to feel that it’s in accordance with what is natural with what is in accordance with the laws of nature, or else it’s perhaps with what is in accord with the opinions of a very celebrated person or with some other forceful and successful group of people. There’s always this curious desire to found what one does and thinks on authority. To get, as it were some basis outside one’s own judgement and one’s own will for doing what you’re going to do. And then of course, when it what you do is challenge either by other people or by life itself you can say well I, really I wasn’t responsible I acted on authority, but without authority.
And so we can see how in this sense we kid ourselves by invoking and inventing reasons for what perhaps deeply we are going through what we want to do and we’re going to do anyhow reasons which somehow seem to pass the buck, to shelve the responsibility on a higher shelf. At the same time, you might think that an argument of this kind would Come on naturally from a person who is simply an atheist. Who believes that the universe is a drifting process that is absolutely without any sort of authority behind it. And that man finds himself in this process and has to make the best of it that he can make. And this is the difficulty which I think today, very very many thoughtful people find themselves in. The notion of God, as presented by tradition whether Hebrew or Christian is utterly distasteful. But mechanistic atheism is equally distasteful. Because as a matter of fact both of them rest upon the same premises. The atheists, mechanistic universe, of course, not all atheists would be mechanists but very often they are. But that universe is based on the same premises as the universe of the theist. Atheist and theist seem so often to be heads and tails of the same coin, acknowledging the same premises because both of them naturally look upon the universe as an artifact, a machine as an artifact only in the case of the atheist or what we might call the moon mystic naturalist the architect has disappeared and there is just left the machine. It’s all part of this thing which I’ve mentioned occasionally our attitude of regarding the world as a collection of objects.
And we of course have justification for this in so far as looking at the world as object has been such a successful way of dealing with it we don’t pray to the wind anymore. We don’t speak to the rain or to the sun as if they were people we look upon them as objects, that is to say, just as not people. And of course as time goes on we know more and more objectively and scientifically about ourselves in our own minds we can regard ourselves as objects. And so indeed, we do get the depersonalization of man which the people who call for a return to belief in God or at least some of them are afraid of and we get this feeling of the Universe being hollow, empty, a rattling shell. An altogether impoverished affair, with no more any life in it it’s all just hurrying atoms, as Whitehead said. Now, it’s always seemed to me that the difficulty or one of the main difficulties with the Hebrew Christian idea of God is that it’s much too specific. In fact, it’s strange isn’t it that many apologists for Orthodox Judaism or Catholicism or some sort of neoorthodox Protestantism, rather pride themselves on the specific character of their god and make fun of say Christian Scientists or new thought followers or liberal Protestants who have a very vague idea of God and they say oh these people a so we’re really and so vague and so sort of the implication is that timid and haven’t got the guts. Whereas we have a good strong definite belief. And they laugh about it and make jokes and have a great time, not realizing that it’s precisely this specific idea of God as something not just unimaginable but having a nature which has been revealed, say through the character of Christ, or through the Scriptures or through the church, which is intelligible to man even if man can’t know everything about it. But the difficulty you see with all these specific accounts of God is that on the very terms of a Jewish or Christian attitude to life then I don’t address. They pretend to knowledge which nobody has the right to pretend to. They form a specific image in the mind of what God is. And that specific image in the mind is far more idolatrous than a specific image sitting on an altar, because it is more persuasive. And therefore, it seems to me at the same time, that while we cannot lose while I cannot utterly reject every meaning that the word god has ever had. I at the same time feel still. That I want to be able to have at least a symbol. Which will embrace the concept of the totality. Or worlds. By that, I don’t mean simply an additive concept, world plus world plus world, just the total collection. Because I don’t think this world is a collection it’s only a collection of things if in the first instance you have split it up into things in order to think about it. But if you think of the what a physicist might call the total field of phenomena, there’s something that we can think about because we can’t get our minds round it we can analyze it and measure it and so on and so forth but all we have is various projected systems of measures which we use in just the same way that we use the measure of time to chart the movements of life.
But time isn’t up there. There isn’t a kind of cosmic clock with calibrations on it. We invented it. But at the same time, the, I think of almost anybody of any sensitivity at all finds it hard to regard the total realm of physical nature as something which he can sort of shrug off and say well radioactive gas and machinery. Because it always makes us wonder there are various ways of wondering one way of wondering is to ask well, what explains it all? And that creates that kind of question in the mind which we call wonder. But that’s not the only ground to wonder, Supposing I say well, perhaps to ask for an explanation of it all is the wrong question. That’s only after all translating the history of what has happened into words. This is what we mean by an explanation. And explanations never fully explain because there’s always more explanation that can be done more words that can be said, more events behind the events of history and so on and on forever and ever and ever.
What is also at the root of wonder is something perhaps more aesthetic is simply the admiration. The astonishment. That a world exists at all. And the realization that a great deal of it in fact, almost all of it, is something which influences us, rather than something which we influence. Now of course, if that is then something of which the world as an expression which we will just call X. Or, if we say energy like a physicist might say energy is a kind of devitalized word Strangely enough it means something mechanical like electricity. But we don’t know what it is. And part of our difficulty is that wherever we look, with our eyes, with our instruments, we find only the surfaces of things and the surfaces it within surfaces so that there’s only one place where we as it were have a very intimate acquaintance with what existence is, and that is in us.
But it’s a strange thing that at the very point where we have the most intimate acquaintance with existence it is the least susceptible to objective study, because it is too close it’s the very middle of us. And it is there, in the unknown. and ultimately it unfathomable springs, of our life our action and our thought. That we are linked with. Whatever this X is, of which all the world is a manifestation. I don’t want to say man… Manifestation is a curious word, because it sometimes suggests that. What is manifested. It’s very different from that which is manifested. In other words, that while on the outside in the manifestation we see all the multiple and glorious variety of this world. What’s on the inside must be somehow one instead of many, and therefore sort of an interesting live shapeless, something like wasn’t it C.S. Lewis said tapioca pudding. Or Jell-O. or something like that. No, I only say manifested in the sense that there is a way, and we experience this way when we experience our own existence. In which the world is not accessible to our examination and our control in a very intimate deep way. And I would say it’s there you see that our ingenuity stops. Not it doesn’t stop at a dead halt it’s slows down gradually as it penetrates deeper and deeper. And it’s at this point that we could exclaim God, more perhaps as an exclamation of wonder than an affirmation of a theological proposition.
And I feel that it’s profoundly important, not just to put out of mind the illimitable mystery from which we spring and from which we act. As something that just can be neglected. Because then indeed we do become what the theologians writely fear. We become inebriated with pride, we become cocky we become people who think that they can push the whole universe around and arrange everything just so and then we get into these enormous difficulties, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice who got hold of the magic, and didn’t know how to keep it under control because he didn’t have respect. He didn’t proceed with a certain caution. And so, if anything it seems to me that the future of the idea of God will involve less definition and much more vagueness. And in this wakeness of clear delineation will lie this strength and the difficulty to exploit it by people who just want to rule human beings.