But in actual fact we all know well enough that it is not merely with respect to the formal attitude of the will that personal mediators are, where recognised at all, accepted as external exemplars. The concrete content does have attributed to it a like finality of perfection. The result can only be that the living spirit of man is torn, and progressively torn as culture widens, by conflicting loyalties. On the one hand is his loyalty to the personal mediator. On the other hand is his loyalty to his ideal of perfection. The latter, defined for him through his rationally developing appreciation of what form of life is really to be desired, can no more be repudiated than the obligation to follow the historic person. The conflict may be more or less sharp, according to circumstances, but it is fundamentally irreconcilable. The attempts to reconcile it may follow two distinct courses. Either there may be organised discouragement of what would otherwise appear as 'emancipation' in ethical ideas: or else, by dint of disingenuous reinterpretations of the character and ideals of the historic person, it may be sought to show that modern advances are not really 'advances' at all, but have all been foreseen and provided for. Whether or not either or both of these efforts at solution possess historic actuality, it may be left to the reader to decide. But that they express the direction in which the solution will naturally be sought is, I think, undeniable. It is surely no slight advantage in the creed which I am defending that it offers no temptation to a shuffling obscurantism, which shows ten times the uglier through its association with the name of true religion.
No one, of course, would desire to deprecate without qualification the value of taking a concrete person as the exemplar of the good life. The contemplation of a beautiful and noble character has well-proven effects upon the springs of conduct. But it is not a sine qua non of goodness, and unless we are careful to concentrate upon the formal aspect - which is the beginning of the abandonment of the 'concrete person' - it is an actual danger. Conduct at its best is not imitation but creation. It requires us, as Aristotle taught, to make just the precise adjustment which the individual situation, always more or less novel, calls for. If we have little confidence in the creative insight of our practical reason then we shall do well, as Aristotle again taught, to model ourselves upon the man of 'proved practical wisdom.' But this is a compromise to save us from a worse fall, not one of the loftier flights of human achievement. Surely the right attitude to the historical exemplars of goodness is not to sit at their feet but to stand on their shoulders.
There is one further 'omission' upon which I wish to touch now, but very briefly indeed. Our creed says nothing concerning the 'hope of immortality' in any of its very man) meanings. And it is not uncommon to hear it said that no religion can be potent over the heart of man which fails to convey specific assurance of survival of bodily death. Should this be regarded as a serious defect in our doctrine?
It would be ridiculous (even had I the competence under any conditions, which I have not) to attempt to make a contribution to the tremendous problem of Immortality in the concluding pages of a concluding chapter. My purpose here is of a much more humble character. I shall merely set out in principle the reply which seems relevant and sufficient upon our doctrine to this, and any similar, charge of omission.
I might, indeed, appeal to the facts. I might ask whether in the Old Testament, for example, we do not learn of a life in which religion is potent, and immortality is disbelieved. But I lay no stress on this. 'Facts are chiels that winna ding' no doubt, but then it is often astonishingly hard to know just what the 'facts' are. What I wish to point out is this. For anyone who embraces in a living form the creed which I am defending, the question of personal survival of bodily death, in whatever form, cannot be an independent issue of vital import. For if we have faith in the Perfection of the Whole (as on this creed), we have, ipso facto, faith that Reality is such as to satisfy in full our aspirations after perfection. This in turn means, not indeed that all our desires but (to use an expression of Bosanquet's) our 'criticised desires' meet with their fulfilment. But this again implies that our faith must include a faith in immortality just in so far as we believe immortality to be genuinely worthy of desire, i.e. an element in true perfection. We cannot believe both that Reality is the consummation of our aspirations after perfection, and that Reality is opposed to the satisfaction of one such aspiration. And if, on the other hand, immortality presents itself to us as something which, although we desire it, ought not to be desired, then of course we have no right to insist upon it in religion, or be filled with despondency at the prospect of not achieving it.1
In this last Section I have sought to answer some of the objections which might be felt against our creed on the score of its abstractness. I have tried to show that its abstractness involves no diminution of 'satisfyingness.' It is easy to imagine other objections of the same general character, but it is questionable if their discussion would elicit any new principle of interest. At any rate, I do not propose to dwell further upon this relatively unimportant aspect of our theme. So much defence did seem called for, however, in view of the very great prominence in religious life and thought of the conceptions whose claims we have just considered.
1 The reader may be referred to an illuminating, if brief, discussion of the so-called 'religious' demand for finite immortality, in Professor J. S. Haldane's recent Gifford Lectures published under the title The Sciences and Philosophy.