Reason in Religion
Charles Carroll Everett
Berry Street lecture, 1897
read before the Ministerial Conference
Suppose a child to have this problem set before him: Given fifty dollars to be divided among five men, how many dollars would each man receive? This problem, however simple it may seem to us, we can imagine to be a little formidable to the child. It sets down its figures, adding ciphers to represent cents, and proceeds by long division. It reaches the result that each man will receive a hundred dollars. Now, whether it discovers the cause of its mistake, that it omitted to mark off the ciphers which stood for cents, or whether it does not, it might possibly be bright enough to see that the answer could not be right. This might be seen to be unreasonable. The child's reason might decide that the result of its reasoning was a mistake.
It is related of General Grant that, during a battle in the Wilderness, it was reported to him that one of the wings of his army was routed. He thought a moment and said, “I do not believe it,” and went on with his whittling. The report was too unreasonable to be true.
In the course of the history of Christianity the Christian world in general has been made to believe many strange doctrines. One doctrine, for instance, that has been received by many with Joy, and has driven others insane, is that God elected from eternity some to everlasting joy and some to everlasting and unmitigated torment. Other doctrines, less terrible but otherwise more or less akin to this, were bound up with it. These doctrines had been reached by reasoning that seemed faultless. The authority of the Bible had been supported by miracles which were testified to by witnesses whose knowledge and honesty could not be doubted. The Bible seemed evidently to teach these doctrines; consequently they must be believed. While many accepted the results some were found to dispute them. These persons had little in the way of an argument to offer. They could not disprove the argument from miracle. They had no satisfactory exegesis which they could oppose to that which was current. Whatever later science has done in this direction was not at their command. Some simply denied the truth of these doctrines; others forced the Bible to say something that was different. But whether the one course or the other was taken, the doctrines were rejected because they were unreasonable. Men urged the unreasonableness of the result against the truth of the reasoning by which this result had been reached.
Experiences such as I have referred to are not wholly unfamiliar to any. We consider all the arguments that lead to a certain conclusion, and we may perhaps be able to detect no flaw in them; but we reject the conclusion, in spite of the apparent truth and validity of the premises, because it seems to us too unreasonable to be accepted.
We recognize thus two uses of the word “reason.” On the one side it may refer to the reasoning by which certain results are reached. When a man is asked what is his reason for believing this or that, he will probably give the arguments by which the belief is supported. On the other hand, we use the term “reason” with reference to what appears to us reasonable or unreasonable. Thus it appears that reason in the one sense may be opposed to reason in the other. Of course, there are minor antagonisms between different utterances of the same form of reason. In the case of reasoning, arguments may be urged against arguments. Thus, also, things may have different aspects; and what looks reasonable from one point of view may look unreasonable from another. At present, however, I wish to notice merely this fundamental opposition that may exist between the reason which affirms that a certain view is true or false because it is reasonable or unreasonable, and the reason which supports or denies a certain affirmation on the strength of reasoning. Although, as I have said, the term reason covers both these methods of procedure, still it may be convenient, though not perfectly accurate, to speak of the reason as over against reasoning.
We thus see that it is an interesting and somewhat important inquiry which seeks to fix the nature of this reason that undertakes, independently of all argument, and, it may be, against all evidence, to determine what we shall and what we shall not believe.
Let us look at the cases which I have just brought together in a haphazard way, using what chanced to occur to me. Take the first and the simplest of all, the child with its sum. On what ground did it pronounce the result of its ciphering too unreasonable to be true? Perhaps we might differ a little in our account of this. Some might say that it was simply the result of experience, that the child had seen that the part was never greater than the whole. Some, perhaps, would say that it was the result of an insight such as needs the confirmation of no experience, that from the very nature of things, from the very nature of the whole and the part, as seen in the very mention of them, the part could not be greater than the whole. Neither explanation would assume that the child consciously enunciated this somewhat formidable proposition; but the idea would be that the child simply recognized in a concrete instance that which the formula expresses in an abstract and universal manner. In the incident from General Grant's life there need be no difference of interpretation. From Grant's knowledge of men, and of the special men who formed and commanded his army, from his knowledge of the strength and position of his army and those of the enemy, he knew that the story of a routed wing could not be true. In this case the unreasonableness was based upon a bit of rapid and condensed reasoning, which itself was based upon knowledge and experience.
When we come to the position that affirmed the unreasonableness of certain doctrines of the church we have a case differing from the two just named. Here we have no place for experience or for arguments based upon definite knowledge of facts. Men have had no direct experience of divine beings upon which they could base any reasoning in regard to their habitual ways. Indeed, the actual experience of life might very well be appealed to in defense of some of these doctrines. In life itself do we not see persons who seem to have been appointed to joy and others who seem to have been appointed to sorrow; some who are born to ignorance and misery, and we might almost say, to sin, and some who seem to have been born to ease, to delight, and we might almost say, to virtue? Something like this was the line of argument adopted by Bishop Butler in his famous “Analogy.” Yet in face of all these facts, and of this lack of experience of other facts which might be opposed to them, the reason dared to deny the doctrines which the known facts might seem to support. It denied that there is any God; or it affirmed that, if there were a God, He is not like the one whom these doctrines described. I do not say that there are no arguments besides that of unreasonableness which might be urged against these views, but simply that the reason has often denied them without reference to any arguments. It has spoken like a monarch, recognizing no authority above and beyond its own, and has decided absolutely, by its own right and authority, that certain things could not and must not be believed.
The reason in the sense in which I now use it, that power of insight, or that assumption, by which we pronounce any form of thought or statement to be reasonable or unreasonable, may thus include various elements. Sometimes it might be difficult for the person uttering a judgment to explain precisely what is the real basis of it. It may be a condensed expression of the experience of life. Past thought, past feeling, past experience, may all be united in this expression. To these elements, as we have seen, there may be added another. The statement pronounced reasonable or unreasonable may be judged by a standard which is independent of experience, which is purely ideal. The sense of what ought to be may have a more important part to play in the judgment than any knowledge of what is or has been. One may go so far as to affirm that what, according to his ideal standard, ought to be, must be; or that what ought not to be cannot be. This is the nature of the judgment which, as we have seen, condemned some of the religious doctrines of the past, even when all the authority of tradition and much of that of experience seemed to be in their favor. This ideal standard of reasonableness may have been recognized in its isolation, or it may have been blended with the other elements which have been named. It may exist with some approach to perfection; or it may be very imperfectly developed. In either case the individual may accept it as final.
Thus the judgment in regard to what is reasonable or unreasonable is the expression of the whole intellectual or spiritual condition of the man who makes the judgment. It is the utterance of the entire self. It thus marks the position which the man has reached in his development. Thus the judgment will vary immensely according to the community and the age in which one lives. Just as arguments on one side may be met by arguments on the other, so the judgment of the reason may be met by counter-judgments. What is perfectly reasonable to one man or to one age may be pronounced absurdly unreasonable by another. In any line of national development each age has its distinct method of thought and feeling. It has its assumptions and its presumptions. It has its traditions and its habits. It has its standard of right and wrong, of the probable and the improbable. It has its beliefs, the source of which and the evidence underlying which it would find in many cases to be wholly unknown and unsuspected. In many cases the question as to origin and basis is not raised, is not even thought of.
Of course, in every age, in the same community, there are very great differences between class and class, and between person and person. Some of the assumptions to which I have referred are indeed common to all classes and all persons in any given age, but others belong to certain spheres of life and special companionship. Even those that differ have, however, a certain community, or stand in a certain relationship to one another. Persons living side by side may practically belong to different ages. Persons are living today who might seem to belong to the thirteenth century, or to the sixteenth, or to the seventeenth; or, on the other hand, to the twentieth, or even to some later and better age of the world. These men, however, are not precisely what they would have been in these past centuries, or would be in those which are to come. No man can escape wholly from the age in which he lives. This community between those living in the same age and in the same mental environment forms what Leslie Stephen calls the “social tissue.” It is this social tissue as it is embodied in different individuals, that plays a large part in the judgment as to what is reasonable.
As this judgment is formed to a large extent, though not altogether, independently of conscious reasoning, so it is changed to a large extent, though not wholly, without conscious reasoning. Lecky calls attention to the fact that no arguments could be used today against belief in witchcraft or the hanging of persons suspected of being witches, that could not have been used against them in earlier days. The change is simply that the spirit of the age is against the belief and the practice. What was thought reasonable once is judged to be unreasonable today. Persecution, in the bloody or fiery sense, would probably not be used today by any church even if it had the power. The spirit of the age is against it. Petty forms of persecution may be and are indulged in, even in civilized communities; but the grand forms of persecution are in the past.
Thus the judgment of what is reasonable or unreasonable in religious belief springs largely out of this social tissue, or spirit of the age. As this slowly changes, the notion of what is reasonable or unreasonable changes with it. The great advance which has been made in the religions of the world has resulted less from conscious reasoning than from the varying judgment, as to what is reasonable. Take the development of the religion of Greece, for instance. To the larger and more developed spirits it seemed unreasonable that the gods should be such as the popular mythology described them. Thus these larger spirits reached the idea of an absolute divinity who was wise and good. It would appear that they had little basis for reasoning that was not open to all. They felt, however, that it was impossible that time divinities could be such as tradition and the common thought of men would make them. They felt that, if the divinities were to be worshiped, they must be worshipful. And it was out of this feeling of worthiness and of the reality of what seemed most worthy that the larger thought and faith arose.
I have spoken of this judgment of reasonableness as a feeling. I am inclined to think that this is a true name for that mental condition out from which the judgment springs. It is, as I have said, the condensed result of the whole mental and spiritual development, — a result that often is not reached by conscious reasoning which a man can analyze and of which he can give an account. It is rather the basis of reasoning than the result of it. It is something that is not reasoned to, but is reasoned from. It thus seems to belong less to the intellect than the feeling. One feels that it must be so. The noblest spirits of Greece felt that the gods must be worthier than the common thought would make them. Thus reason has been the guide which has led men up from the depths of superstition to the grander heights which later ages have reached.
I have spoken as if the judgment of reasonableness had been to a large extent that of the age. The question here meets us, How then does any age advance? How can it escape from its own limitations?
In reply to this question it may be suggested that life is always introducing new factors into the mental structure of the world. New discoveries, like that of this Western Continent, broaden it. Profound experiences deepen it. Thought and feeling, though they cannot escape wholly from their age, may yet stretch somewhat the bands that unite them with it; and the spirit of the age may move forward with them. The movement of any age is like that of an army. It moves rank behind rank; none can escape from the army; every man wears its uniform; but some are merely followers and others are leaders. The advance in the world has been made through the leadership of great souls who have obeyed the touch of reason and have led the elect spirits that followed them, like the volunteers to some perilous enterprise, through the darkness of superstition to heights where there was at least some glimmer of a brighter sun.
It may be urged that, even if what has been said is to a large extent true, if the reason has been the guiding principle in the advance of the world, yet the account given of it shows how little reliance can be placed upon it. We have seen that, after all, it is an individual matter. It depends upon external influences, upon the state of development which one may chance to have reached. As we have seen, what is reasonable to one person or to one age may be unreasonable to another. Thus it may be urged that reason is not a clear light according to which one may walk in confidence, but a sort of will-o'-the-wisp, shining now here and now there, and leading through devious and often dangerous ways. What is needed, it may be claimed, is some clearly defined authoritative and absolute revelation manifested by means of such marks as may make it unmistakable. Such revelation, it may be said, is like the clear and steady light of the sun, by the aid of which men may walk in safety, certain to reach at last their journey's proper goal.
However conclusive such reasoning may seem, the history of the world will hardly justify the result to which it has can indeed conceive the abstract possibility of such a revelation, and we may admit that by it mankind might have been spared some wandering and failure. We do not find in the world, however, such a revelation. I do not here raise the question whether God has revealed Himself in a way that may be called supernatural in the ordinary use of this word, that is, in a way to interrupt the course of human development and introduce a wholly new factor. I do not here raise the question whether Christianity is based upon such a revelation; I insist only that if there has been such a revelation it has not accomplished what is claimed for it in the form of thought to which I have just referred. It has not proved the clear and steady light according to which men have been able to walk in confidence and safety. Consider the history of Christianity, consider the different interpretations of it that have been given, consider the extravagance, even the horror, of doctrines that have been based upon it, consider the cruel persecutions which it has inspired. Where could we find more terrible torment or more refined cruelty than have been brought about by Christianity? But this, it may be urged, was because Christianity was misunderstood. It was not the real Christianity that has inspired persecution whether of the sharper or milder form. The true Christianity, it may be said, would make men patient and loving as, full of hope, they press on to the fulfillment of its sublime promises. All this may be true. It simply shows, however, that revelation has not furnished to the world that safe and steady light which was needed. It also has led men into wild wandering in dangerous and toilsome ways, such as without it might never have been found. Nothing has yet appeared in the world that has prevented mistake and wandering.
There is thus no guide more sure than reason. Men may scorn it, but to it they must finally, in some poor sort at least, return. The defenders of the dogmas of the church have sometimes set reason at defiance. They insisted upon the unreasonableness of the doctrines that they taught. They gloried in it. They bade men do dishonor to reason, to trample it under foot. Human reason has been used as a term of mockery. Thus revelation might seem to be independent of reason. But why should men accept such results? and here come the arguments that prove the authority of the revelation, the reasons why men should accept it and submit to it absolutely. Thus the last appeal has been to reason itself, reason that takes form in argumentation. This, however, only leads to the higher form of reason that manifests itself in reasonableness. Reason was appealed to to show that reason must be rejected. From reason under one form or other we cannot escape. We may apply to it the illustration which St. Anselm applied to God: We cannot escape, he said, from under the heavens. If a man flees from under one part of the heavens it is only to find himself under another part of the same. So, he said, if one flees from God commanding, it is only to find himself in the presence of God punishing. In like manner we may say that we cannot flee from reason. If, with those who insist upon the authority of a special and authoritative revelation, we flee from reason affirming, it is only to flee to reason arguing. Thus, after all, whether it be for good or evil, whether we can or cannot conceive of anything that seems more desirable, reason remains our only guide. We may admit much that has been said against it. We may admit that it falls often into self-contradiction, that its utterances depend largely upon time and place and upon individual idiosyncrasy. But what can we find in the world that is independent of these? We may as well give up, once for all the thought of a ready-made perfect truth that may be had for the asking or the grasping, and make the best of the possibilities and powers that have actually been given us.
Let no one imagine that I mean to imply that we can be certain of nothing. The very basis of my reasoning is the fact of certainty. No one can look into his own consciousness and not find that he is certain of a multitude of things; that there are truths which he cannot doubt, and that upon these his life is based. I raise no question of the fact of certainty, I but seek the basis upon which this certainty rests. We may be mistaken; but the knowledge of this possibility does not affect our confidence in that of which we feel assured. Our truth may not be a finality, for the world or for ourselves; but none the less, we absolutely trust and cannot help trusting to our reason, and to the truth of that which it reveals.
When we see what reason has actually accomplished, though we may admit its weakness and its frequent contradictions and failures, yet we may see that it has not wholly failed. If its utterances depend largely on the degree of development men have reached, we may see that, so far as the historical peoples are concerned, this development, on the whole, has been a progressive one. There have been retrogression and wandering, it is true, but as a road that is not free from winding, if viewed at a little distance from above, may be seen to have a fairly direct course so the line of development of the historical peoples has been, on the whole, an advancing one. Experience has moulded men's thoughts. Reasoning has enlarged them. More and more the great ideals of life have emerged out of the confusion and contradictions of the world. Men have not yet reached the region of perfect light. Complete and absolute truth does not yet belong to man, and never will belong to him. Yet, because the development of man has been, on the whole, in the direction of a fuller and larger life, so the reason of man, which is the exponent of this development, has reached larger and fuller results. The element of accident which may have seemed to be involved in the statement of the dependence of reason upon the development of the individual that uses it, is removed, at least in some degree, because the development of the individual is to a large degree bound up with that of his race, and this has been an advancing one.
I have contrasted the reason by which a proposition is affirmed to be reasonable or unreasonable with the reason that takes form in a process of reasoning. This was done for convenience because, practically speaking, there is this difference. When, however, we take a larger view, the contrast disappears. Reasoning is merely included in the larger sphere of the reason. We accept the results of an argument because it seems to us reasonable to assume that a proposition which can be so defended is true. In other words, it seems reasonable to accept a certain amount of proof as convincing. In point of fact nothing can be absolutely proved. If a chain of argument is to support any weight it must, like any other chain, be attached to something that is fixed. A chain without a staple, or some other fixed point, is powerless. An endless chain is inconceivable, and even if such a thing were possible it would be useless. In like manner an endless chain of reasoning is impossible; and, if it could exist, it would be as useless as any other endless chain. The use of an argument is that it leads our thought to something that is accepted without argument. The proposition that may have seemed at first doubtful is attached to something that admits of no doubt; and is regarded as being fixed and firm like that. In the syllogistic argument two things are taken for granted, — namely, the two premises. These are the staples that hold the chain. These may be found not to be firm. We then must go beyond them till we reach something that is indubitable, something, that is, which we must accept without proof, which we must accept simply because it is self-evident. These staples are driven in here and there, according to the mental development of one individual and another. One man will reach what satisfies him as being solid and trustworthy much sooner than another. The same individual will be more or less careful according to the necessities of the case. Practically we accept as true many things which, from a scientific point of view, would be uncertain. Many, and very often all, of us accept as sufficient what has come to us by way of tradition, or what is generally believed in our community. It often does not occur to us to go beyond this. In many matters it does not seem worth while. Who of us could give any sufficient reason for our belief that the tides are caused by the moon; or even for our own belief that the earth revolves about the sun? Most believe these things because everybody else believes them. We say that we believe them because it is the teaching of science. But how do we know even this? How many of us have talked about the matter with a man of independent authority, so that we could receive the teaching of science at first hand? Then, too, how many things has science taught that science has afterward contradicted! One's prejudices often seem sufficient ground for belief; or rather, we accept a basis for belief that has no other support than prejudice. In an argumentum ad hontinern we sound a man's mind just as we try a wall into which we mean to drive a staple. We tap it till we reach a spot where it feels ant sounds solid, and we think that there our staple will stick. The mind of another might be different.
The searcher for truth goes behind these superficial and convenient supports. The reformer, whether of thought or of life, brings forward the great hammer of his intellect. He pounds the wall that had seemed so solid to us, and shows us that it sounds hollow, and bids us seek some firmer basis for our beliefs and our habits of life, and shows us where, according to his thought, such a solid basis may be found. Of course the ultimate and absolute basis cannot be reached until we have found the fundamental principles of our reason. If we can reach these we have found something that is enduring, and arguments that lead back to these are attached to a firm support.
The outcome of this whole discussion is that we pursue our reasoning until it seems unreasonable to reject the result to which it leads. The beliefs that we regard as most logically defended rest finally upon our recognition of reasonableness or unreasonableness. A simpler statement would be that we pursue our reasoning till we reach a point where we cannot help believing that we believe because we must.
From another point of view we may illustrate the controlling power of the ultimate reason in our lives. We all believe that life should be reasonable. A man should know what he is living for; and to this, perhaps, most would add, why he is living for it. In fact, however, this latter is something for which no reason can be given. At least, in giving an account of the matter, we reach at last a reason which is sufficient in itself and beyond which we cannot go. A man, for instance, is laboring to get rich. Why does he want to be rich? In answering this question he may point to the goods which money can buy, to comforts and luxuries, to freedom from harassing toil and from the multitude of cares and anxieties by which poverty is so often surrounded. He may point to the social consideration which wealth may bring, and thus the avenues of pleasure which it may open. If you should ask him why he desires all these things, he would probably stare at you with amazement as if you lacked common sense. If he saw his way to an answer, he would probably say that with all these things he would be happier than he would without them. If you still questioned and asked why he wished to be happy, he would be dumb. He could not answer the question. Neither you nor any one else could answer it. In fact, the question is unanswerable.
The same is true in the case of the larger objects of life. One man devotes himself to study. Possibly his object may be fame. Possibly it may be money. Perhaps it is truth. Why should he spend his life in striving to attain the truth? He would be surprised at the question. It seems such a reasonable thing to do that he marvels that any one should ask why he does it. Another may live for the good of his fellow men. He sacrifices his own ease, his private pleasure and such money as he may have. He does it simply because it seems the most natural thing in the world. So it is with the great law of righteousness. Why should men feel impelled to do right? There are theories upon theories. At last we come upon Kant, who says that a man must do right simply because it is right. This is an answer that assumes the impossibility of an answer. It is such an answer as the child's, “Because,” that goes no further.
In fact, all these tendencies of human nature, the desire for happiness, the desire for power, the impulse to seek the truth, the impulse to philanthropy, all these, and one cannot say how many others, are instinctive. All taken together make up the sum of the instincts which compose the life of man. Every animate object is, we might say, a complex of instincts. Man is the most concrete organism that exists, and with him these instincts are more numerous and far reaching than those to be found in minor and lower organisms. These instincts we cannot get behind or outside of. They make up our life. One might say that they set the bounds to our life, except that some of them stretch far away into the boundless. Of course some of these are superficial. They are merely concrete forms of others that are more fundamental. Some are the results, doubtless, of inherited habits. Some, in practice hardly to be distinguished from the others, are simply the results of one's own habits. Some, however, are more profound and are bound up with the fundamental elements and activities of our life. One might say more simply that they are bound up with the essential activities of our lives, for I suppose that there is no element of life that is not an activity.
Men speak of innate ideas as though they were something tacked on an organism at its very start, or somehow branded upon it in letters that may be read by it. Others study their own organism and that of the world at large, of infants and savages. They find no such tags or brands. In fact, what are called innate ideas, so far as they exist, are simply late abstractions made from certain active tendencies which do not so much belong to, as constitute, the life. Take, for instance, the great idea of the unity of the world. As soon as man begins to think, he unconsciously postulates this. For what is Thought? Thought is the recognition, or the attempt at the recognition, of the relations between objects. The man, the savage, if you will, sees something that makes him think. His thought is the attempt to answer the question, more or less consciously present to his mind, as to the relation between this object and the complex of objects that constitutes his world. The question is not whether such relation exists; but what is the relation. He assumes, consciously or otherwise, that there is a relation, and that he has simply to seek its nature. This assumption of relationship is made, in regard to every object that interests him. It involves the tacit assumption that such relationship exists between all objects. Here we have, at the very first movement of thought, the implication of the organic unity of the world. Of this organic unity the savage knows nothing. He could not understand what you meant if you spoke of it. Instinct is often defined as the tendency in any animate organism to act as if it knew something it does not know. The definition is an incomplete one; but it is true as far as it goes. So even the savage thinks as if he knew that all the objects in the universe were bound together in organic relationship. Of this fact, as has been said, he has no comprehension and no idea. This assumption comes to consciousness only after ages of experience and thought. It may be science that formulates it at last in a proposition and claims to have discovered it. In fact science rests upon it.
It is so with the other great ideals of life. They are bound up in certain primary impulses that are followed almost unconsciously. One has an impulse, for instance, to help another in some hour of need. Why should he not? It is the most natural thing in the world. Why should he? The question is not raised. It is an impulse as natural as any other. It is the practical recognition of the tie that binds him to his fellows. The tie is so slight that it seems insignificant, hardly noticeable. Yet it is real; and it is something that could not exist except as a part of the universal relation in which all individuals stand to one another and to the whole. By degrees, just as the ideal of truth disentangles itself from the search after truths, until at last it stands in its completeness before the spiritual vision, so the ideal of universal relationship disentangles itself from the special relationships in which men have lived. Out from the mass of special duties rises the ideal of duty in its purity and vastness. So out of the loves which bind the individual to certain of his fellows rises the ideal of a universal love. So out from the admiration of this or that pretty or beautiful thing rises the ideal of absolute beauty, the manifestation of which is recognized as one of the great ends of the universe.
It may thus be seen that these impulses or instincts of which I have spoken may exist under two forms, or rather in two somewhat widely separated stages. The first stage is that of the simple, unreasoning, perhaps hardly recognized, impulse. Such is the impulse to think, or the impulse to help another. These take their place with other impulses. By experience and thought they-are brought into consciousness. They are seen in their vastness, and, it may be, something of their sublimity. In other words, instead of a mere impulse to help another in some moment of sympathy, we have the ideal of a life of service. Instead of what might be merely a certain sense of uneasiness if one does not perform some act of helpfulness, we have the ideal of duty. So also, if we may use the term ideal in a lower sense, instead of this or that impulse to self-seeking, we have the ideal of a life of far-reaching plans, all of which converge to the one fully recognized object of selfish gain or pleasure.
Between these two extremes the hardly thought of impulse on the one side and the fully recognized universal and imperious ideal on the other, we find the place for reasoning, for conscious intellectual activity. This opens and smoothes the path between the impulse and the ideal. It forms, we might say, a broader or narrower belt between these extremes. For the impulse one can give no reason. For the ideal one can give no reason. It is its own reason. In the belt of the intellect we have the region of arguments, of reasoning; but the reasons, the ultimate reasons upon which reasoning is based, are found only in the extremes within which this belt of the intellect is enclosed. These, taken as a whole, constitute reason. It is to these that we make our ultimate appeal when we pronounce our judgment as to what is reasonable or unreasonable. This intervening belt must not be thought of as though it were one of clear intellectual light, sharply marked off from that which lies on either side. It is streaked through and through by feeling, blurred often and indistinct; yet on the whole it performs well the office that I have claimed for it.
When men insist that in religion they will trust to reason alone, they sometimes mean that they will accept nothing that cannot be proved. More often they mean that they will accept nothing that is not in harmony with the great ideals of the reason. These ideals are used not merely negatively, not merely to criticize dogmas that are urged upon belief. They are used positively. They are made the basis of the largest faith. They rise above the soul like mountain ranges. Our mental and spiritual life is enclosed by them. Mentally and spiritually we live in a valley, happy or otherwise, like that of Rasselas. Not a breath from the outer world can reach us that does not blow across these heights of reason. They stand to us for the outward world; for we cannot help believing that they have their basis also in that. They belong to the soul; and yet we do not doubt that they are the revelation of the true nature of the universe. They are the ideals of our reason; yet we cannot help believing that they are also the ideals of the world.
In a word, we cannot help believing that the world is a reasonable world. The day laborer, when he goes to his work in the morning, expecting to find the stone wall which he left half finished the night before still standing as he left it, shows that he believes that the world is a reasonable world. The mathematician, studying the formulas in accordance with which some mighty bridge is to be constructed, shows that he believes that the world is a reasonable one. The man of science, searching out the laws which control the movements of the planets, those laws which are the same yesterday, today, and forever; and the philosopher, searching out the mysteries of the universe, — these share the same faith.
Religion utters simply the same great confidence in the reasonableness of the world. The confidence of Kant that what must be done can be done, and the postulates which he based upon this, show his faith that the world is a reasonable one. When Browning says, through the lips of his David,
Do I find love so full in my nature, God's ultimate gift,
That I doubt his own love can compete with it? Here the parts shift?
Here the creatures surpass the Creator, — the end what began?—
he appeals to the reasonableness of the world. That the creature should surpass the creator in the power of love would be too unreasonable to be imagined for a moment. When Jesus says, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” he appeals to the reasonableness of the world. He meets the error which he would refute by a reductio ad absurdum; and every reductio ad absurduns derives its force from the universal assumption of the reasonableness of the world.
The difference between this assumption as made by religion and as made in respect to other relations of life, is that religion makes it with a clearer insight into its significance. It perceives that if the world is the embodied reason, it must be the manifestation, of reason; that if it be a world in which the ideals of the spiritual nature are to be fulfilled, it must be a world that is, in its essence, not material but spiritual.
When we reach this point, that is, when we begin to take seriously this confidence in the reasonableness of the world, we are met by many an objection. We are told that there are things in the world which contradict our reason. The world is not such an one as we reasonable persons would have made it. Things often go at cross purposes. There are difficulties where we would have had ease. There are sorrows where we would have had joy. There are failures where we would have had success. There is sin where we would have had holiness; hate where we would have had love.
However strange it may appear, it is true that out of these very irrationalities of the universe the special faith of religion, to a large extent, took its rise. It happened a little oddly, also, that the first method that men took to reconcile their faith in the reasonableness of the world with the facts of life was to a large extent directly opposite to that which religion has followed in these later days. To the savage, death, disease, and similar interruptions of the order of life were supposed to come by the act of some supernatural being. Whether they ever stated it or not in this formal manner, the assumption would seem to have been that if these supernatural powers would only leave men in peace, health and happiness and life itself might continue indefinitely. So, too, the destruction that came by tempest or other convulsion of nature was the act of these supernatural beings. The faith of these simple peoples in the reasonableness of the world would thus seem to have been so great that whatever of unreason they found, or believed that they found, was placed outside the world of ordinary life and ascribed to supernatural, and, therefore, in a sense, unnatural powers.
I have spoken of this way of looking at the matter as though it were peculiar to savages. In fact, it continued to have its place in the thoughts of men who had risen far above the condition of the savage. To many, plague, pestilence and famine, disturbances of whatever kind in the order of nature, have been felt to be in a special sense signs of the presence and power of the divinity. It was not merely that in regard to events which they could not comprehend men rested in the faith that a wisdom greater than their own was controlling the course of events; these things were, as I have said, regarded as the special manifestations of the divine; so that so far as science showed an order in world it seemed to leave no place for religion. We read in the story of Elijah that “God was not in the earthquake,” yet there is where many have thought that they found Him in some special manner. All this was but a survival of the faith of the barbarian in the rationality of the world which showed itself by placing whatever seemed irrational outside the world. Slowly and partially it has given place to that higher faith which finds in the rationality of the world the indication of the absolute reason that rules it and which appeals to the thought of this higher reason to complement and explain the reason which is embodied in the universe. This later form of thought may also say that God is not in the earthquake. That is, so long as the earthquake is not understood, so long as it seems an interruption to the order of the world, this higher form of thought could not see in it the divine presence. It might believe, but it could not see. Only when the earthquake is understood to have its place in the orderly movement of the world is God found also in that.
In all this I have wished to illustrate the faith of man in the rationality of the world, and to show how these opposite forms of thought recognize it alike. At first the apparent unreason of the world is transferred to that supernatural power which is later seen to be the exponent and the source of the rationality that is in the world.
We can thus understand something of the nature of the strife between faith and reason which, as we have seen, played so large a part in the earlier church. The supernatural power that was called divine was, to a large extent, like the supernatural beings of the earlier religions, the seat of unreason. It stood thus opposed to rationality. The difference was that the earlier peoples sought to win over these supernatural powers, to make them reasonable, so that they would no longer interfere with, and might even promote, the rational development of human life; while in the later period which I have compared with it, men were called upon to sacrifice their reason itself to the divine unreason. Men have brought many precious offerings to God, but none more precious than the sacrifice of their reason at what was called his shrine. I do not mean, of course, that Christian worship was at any time the worship merely of unreason; but so far as the thought of God came into direct conflict with human reason, so far it obviously represented unreason, enthroned and deified.
We thus see what is the true relation between faith and reason. We see that when the nature of both is understood there is and can be no strife between them. So far is faith from being opposed to reason that it finds its object in reason. We do not find reason everywhere manifested in the world. There is much that appears irrational. Faith, so far as it is complete, affirms the absolute rationality of the universe. Where it cannot see, it believes. It postulates whatever seems to it absolutely needed, in order to represent to itself this rationality.
The assumptions made by religion are sometimes further criticized as exalting too much the human spirit. There is a tendency at present to insist that man should humble himself in the presence of the outward world; as if a single living, loving, aspiring human soul were not worth the whole physical universe put together. The older theologians used to speak scornfully of the pride of reason. Something like the same reproach we hear today only from the opposite quarter. Herbert Spencer, in criticizing a position taken by Dr. Martineau, refers to the well-known story of Alfonso of Castile, who is reported to have said that if God had consulted him he could have shown Him a better way in which to have constructed the world. Spencer says that this boast of the king was humble in comparison with the claim made by Martineau to knowledge of the divine method of creation. In regard to the special point of difference between Spencer and Martineau I will say nothing. The illustration that Spencer uses is, however, if I understand the story, an unfortunate one. I suppose that what Alfonso criticized was the complicated system of the universe, of cycles and epicycles as taught by the astronomers of his day. He accepted their account as true, and it struck him as a very awkward and complicated arrangement. He thought he could have arranged it better. If this is the truth of the story, we have here human reason criticizing the world as it was falsely supposed to be. The reason was right. We have in this an example of the triumph of reason. Surely, if we have a right to be proud of anything it is of our reason. This has weighed the sun and the stars. This has revealed the past and the future of our world. This has created ideals rising far above whatever the outward world can furnish. If anything could be the type of the power that is working in and through all things, surely it is this.
Pride of reason is, however, the last form of speech that I would use. I would speak rather of the humility of reason. After all, we walk by faith. The ideals of the reason are but dimly seen. Yet our faith is in them. We aspire towards them and are inspired by them. We have faith in them as we see them manifested by the truest and the best who have lived upon the world; as we see them in some degree confirmed by life and history, and as they offer themselves, however vaguely, to our own spiritual vision. One may feel himself exalted, as Kant felt himself, above the might and the vastness of nature; but one who feels the power of the ideas and the ideals of the reason can only: humble himself before them with that form of humility which alone befits our nature, the humility of self-forgetfulness. They are not forces that we can use; we must submit to be used by them. We see error and wrong abounding in the world; we see the self-seeking, the political corruption; we see the supremacy of things. If we take our place, as each one should among those who are striving to bring about a purer thought and a larger life, our only ground of hope for a final victory is faith in the essential reasonableness of man, the essential rationality of the world and in the supreme Reason that rules the universe.