25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 6

The Challenge To Religious Orthodoxy

tin this series men and women presenting the outlook of the yowiger generation have been invited to express their criticisms of (agonized religion in order that their views may be answered from the Christian standpoint. Such criticism, well and ill-inforrned,i) common, and we hold that it should be met by those best qualified to do so. Last week Mr. J. D. Bernal wrote on " Irreligion." We publish below a reply to this article by Dr. N. P. Williams, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford. Next week Mrs. A. Williams-Ellis (the

daughter of Mr. St. Loa Strachey) will write on " Children and Religion," to be answered the following week by Canon Py-m.)

Faith and Unfaith

BY DR. N. P. WILLIAMS IT is a commonplace of theology that Faith is the gift of God. But what, in that ease, is Unfaith ? -This, as it seems to me, is the real problem which Mr. Bernal's essay raises for the convinced Christian—Why (if I may phrase the matter thus bluntly, for the sake of vividness and • without the slightest intention of discourtesy) do people like Mr. Bernal exist ? Or, to put the question more generally, why, if religion is as true and all-important as religious people say it is, is there a' not inconsiderable body of persons who not merely seem to he entirely devoid of the religious sense, but are actuated by, and find a profound satisfaction in, a passionate anti-religious enthusiasm--who, on their own showing, rejoice in the conviction that the destinies of the world are guided, not by an infinitely loving Father but by a blind and pitiless Fate, and that the goal of human life is not the perfect consummation of body and soul through personal im- mortality, but the eternal sleep of annihilation? The problem is not that of the indifferent masses who never enter a church, but who have no overt hostility to religion ; for in them Faith is not dead, or replaced by Unfaith, but merely dormant ; the amount of unconscious religion latent in the man in the street was strikingly illustrated by the extraordinary coitus of the Cenotaph and of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, so queerly reminiscent of the devotion which gathers round the shrine of a Catholic saint, immediately after the War. It is, rather, the phenomenon of irreligion manifesting itself as a kind of religion, of Unfaith exhibiting all the emotional élan of Faith, of a negativicreed which has pro- duced its martyrs like Giordano Bruno and its sudden conversions like that of Jouffroy, which from the Christian point of view imperiously demands explanation.

The parallelism just pointed out between zeal for Cod and zeal against God suggests that we may have here an instance of what psychologists call the " ambivalence " of emotion, of which a familiar illustration is the easy convertibility of human love into hatred and vice versa. Such a conclusion would appear to be not improbable in view of the composite nature which recent analysis assigns to Faith as involving the activity, not of one aspect only, but of all aspects of our personality. That basic Faith in God with which we are concerned—which is the indispensable presupposition of Faith in Christ, or in the Church, or in the contents of the Christian revelation —is not mere ratiocination ; but it does involve ratio- cination, though the scholastic arguments for the exist- ence of God fall short of formal cogency, and the position of the Vatican Council, that God can be known by the powers of the natural reason, can only be sustained if by " God " we understand the Absolute, or Herbert Spencer's " Infinite and Eternal Energy from which all things proceed," envisaged in the light of the general probability that That which has produced personality

and spirit is itself not less than personal and spiritual, however much more it may be. Nor is it merely identical with the moral consciousness, though the unconditional authority which we attributeto the moral law can hardly be justified except on the assumption that Absolute Value is rooted in the nature of Absolute Reality, an assumption to which it seems difficult to give any concrete meaning except by conceiving Absolute Reality as an infinitely holy, though supra-personal, spirit. Nor is it exclu- sively the aesthetic- sense, though similar lines of thought suggest a focal point in which the ascending scales of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty meet and coincide. Doubt- less there enters into Faith, as its primitive root and constituent, that shuddering awareness of the eerie, the "numinous," the " absolutely Other" which is a mysterium tremendum and yet fascinens, as Rudolf Otto has taught us ; and doubtless, too, we must include within the ambit of Faith that which is the volitional corollary of the sense of the " numinous," namely, the instinct of utter, self-surrendering adoration. But Faith is not identical with any one of these, nor even with the suns of them added together. It is a totally new factor, which emerges from the combination of the elements already mentioned, and of which the appearance could not have been pre- dicted by a psychologist who only knew those elements in isolation, any more than the production of water through the combination of hydrogen and oxygen could be predicted by a chemist who had never seen water and only knew those gases as separate substances ; it is Newman's " illative sense," which completes the work-of reason, conscience, and feeling, and leaps from the summit of a cumulus of probabilities into certainty ; it is the electric spark, the supernatural Funkelein of the German mystics, which blazes out from the assemblage of ele- mental forces, but could not have been kindled by any one of them apart from the rest.

The proportion in which the rational, moral, aesthetic and sensitive elements in Faith are blended together doubtless varies with the temperament of the individual believer. But certain it is that, although Faith may and must include a rational element, and though reason may to a large extent provide the prolegomena to Faith by clearing away prima fade difficulties and establishing the cumulus of probabilities with regard to the nature of the universe spoken of above, it cannot create Faith, any more than one dry faggot in a pile of wood prepared for a bonfire can set the rest alight. Reason is not even the most important factor in the genesis of Faith ; for, if it were, the possibility of Faith would not lie open to educated and uneducated alike, and "the poor" could not " have the Gospel preached to them." The " faith of the charcoal-burner " is as truly faith as that of an Aquinas or a Pasteur. So far as any one of the constituents of Faith can be singled out as being of primary importance, it is the sense of the " numinous," of the transcendent unseen, which is the most indispensable of all. It is this mysterious awareness of the divine that can be either neglected and allowed to atrophy, or cultivated to the highest pitch of sensitiveness, like the ear which can be taught to distinguish between fractions of a semitone, or the eye which can learn to recognize subtle lines and shades of colour, imperceptible to the untrained observer, within one band of the spectrum. It is this that can be acquired by association with those who possess it in a high degree—a fact which Ins been expressed by the Dean of St. Paul's in the vivid aphorism " Religion ii caught, like measles, from those who have it already." And it is this which, when united to the moral insight which springs from purity of heart, flashes up into definiteness and articulation as the self-evidencing vision of the Splendour of God. Faith thus necessarily consists • in " believing where we cannot prove," though it does not consist in believing what has been disproved. It is frankly supra-rational, but not irrational. In this the Faith which is the inspired synthesis of inan's aspirations after truth, goodness, and beauty does not differ from the more elementary forms of Faith (in the existence of an external world, of a difference between right and wrong and between beauty and ugliness) which must precede, and which alone make possible, even the beginnings of those aspirations. All modes of reasoning rest ultimately upon 8pra, first principles which are not given by reason ; and it is only by taking the plunge of Faith, and relying on such principles, that we become capable of any rational activity at all.

If Faith be interpreted in this way, the apparent contradiction between the traditional position that Faith is the gift of God and the more modern conception of a " Will to believe," exercised by the believer, disappears. It is not necessary for the Christian thinker to hold the Augustinian predestinarianism which regards Faith as a boon arbitrarily bestowed al, extra by God upon a relatively small number of the elect ; it is more natural nowadays to interpret His action upon man in terms of a synergism which recognizes the reciprocal interaction of the divine and of human wills, and maintains that God's gifts are not less His gifts when imparted through interior psychological processes than when catastro- phically imposed from without. Strictly speaking, man can no more will to believe in an instant than he can will to become an accomplished musician in an instant ; but he can will to train and discipline that sense of the divine and that singleness and sincerity of conscience upon which, according to God's gracious ordinance, Faith will normally supervene as their ideal perfection and bloom. "Lord, I believe ; help Thou mine unbelief."

Such an analysis of Faith will give us a clue to the problem of Unfaith. It is not reason which determines an individual mind to decide for naiad', any more than for Faith ; for the forms of thought and the data of science, history, and Biblical criticism are the same for all, and though Mr. Bernal naively assures us that "all the best minds are repelled by the churches," dis- passionate observation will hardly hear this out. Where the sense of the divine has become atrophied (and of such a spiritual mutilation there may be many causes, including the sins or the secularity of Christians them- selves), it does not follow that the instinct normally stimulated by this sense—that is, the instinct of adoration—is destroyed ; it may persist in full vigour, though fixed upon an inappropriate object, or an object less than the highest. Enthusiastic Unfaith, therefore, is a perversion of Faith, irreligion is merely religion gone wrong, devoting to the pursuit of an unknown and unknowable ideal . the energies designed by the living God for His own worship and service. " Ye worship that which ye know not : we worship that which we know." The pursuit of truth for its own sake is a noble ideal, but it is only part of that for which man was created, and Wean find a fuller satisfaction within the sphere of religion, which opens up a vista of man's unending intellectual progress through immortality, than in the world as portrayed by Unfaith, in which all intellectual achievements are ultimately destined to be overwhelmed by the oblivion of universal death. We would rather that Mr. Bernal and his friends could see their way to joining us in this eternal quest ; 'but, should they still feel it necessary, in his words, " to step out of their way to destroy religion," we may reply with calmness and confidenee—" Gentlemen, do yourworst. The-Church of God is an anvil which has broken many hammers."