There is, first, what is commonly called the 'peace of religion'; the tranquil and joyous confidence that flows (as it appears) from an assured faith that the Universe is permeated throughout by the Divine Presence. A religion which could not confer this spiritual serenity, we should most of us say, would be so overwhelmingly impoverished as to cease to command the title of 'religion' at all.
And, in the second place, there is the feature which we may call the 'moral dynamic of religion'; the heightened urge to cleanse the world and our own souls of all impurity and imperfection, and to lessen thereby the vast gulf that, as we feel, divides our erring humanity from the Perfection of God. And here, again, it is natural to say, I think, that a religious experience void of this feature is a religious experience mutilated beyond recognition.
Now that either, or both, of these features may be denied to be integral to religion, I have already admitted. But it must be granted, I think, that at least they can claim immensely widespread recognition, to a degree, at all events, which suffices to make our problem a very living one. The great historical religions furnish abundant evidence of this. And it is significant that even where the theology of a great religion is (as is not infrequently the case) somewhat sharply opposed in logic to the propriety of one or other of these features, the sacred utterances of its devotees continue to recognise the reality of both moments, joyous confidence and moral fervour. Or again, if we care to regard the matter from the level of our own everyday assumptions, we shall find, I think, that a similar recognition is present here too. Most of us are accustomed to look with a good deal of suspicion upon professions of profound religious experience by those whose conduct betrays the lack either of 'the tranquil heart' or of any inward drive towards purity and goodness.
The religious consciousness, then, as I shall understand it in this chapter, has at least these two features as intrinsic characteristics. What I shall attempt to prove is that a religious consciousness so constituted can only preserve itself from being rent asunder by internal contradiction on the condition that it recognises the Supra-rational character of Reality.
The prima facie contradiction that arises is, of course, very well known. Let us see as plainly as may be wherein precisely it consists. It is most succinctly expressed, perhaps, in the saying that for the religious consciousness what 'ought to be' both 'is' and 'is not.' The 'peace of religion' seems to rest upon the postulate that what ought to be really is. Its overpowering sense of an inviolable security seems born of, and to imply, the steadfast assurance that the indwelling spirit of the all-perfect God animates the whole scheme of things, that existence in all of its phases would reveal itself for ultimate vision as the manifestation of Divine Perfection.1 While just as surely, on the other hand, the moral dynamic of religion seems to rest upon the postulate that what ought to be is not. For the urge to purify the world, it appears obvious, must imply the conviction that evil and corruption really do exist. Hence, on the surface at least, a religion for which both of these moments are intrinsic would seem to be involved in flat self-contradiction, since it asserts that Reality is at once perfect throughout and shot through with imperfection.
One way of resolving the difficulty - tempting but at bottom illusory - we may briefly notice. It may be urged that the above account weights the balance unduly, and that contradiction only arises when (as in that account) we identify the God of religion with the Absolute of Philosophy. On that assumption it is true that faith in the Divine Perfection conflicts with the belief in actual imperfection. But if, taking a different view, we are content to accept God as less than the Universe, if, in short, we frankly embrace the conception of the 'Finite God,' whom we may identify with the active principle of Good in the system of things, then no reason remains why our faith in Him should be felt as conflicting with moral endeavour. Indeed, the conception of a God with whom we may ally ourselves in the high enterprise of consummating the triumph of the Good over the powers of Darkness is one that may well fire the imagination and inspire the will to an heroic devotion.
1 Cp. Bosanquet, Value and Destiny of the Individual, p. 242. 'The characteristic faith of religion is not merely that the good is real, but that nothing else than the good is real'.
I do not think that either this or any cognate hypothesis provides a real way of escape from our impasse. If we are to be in earnest in claiming for religion the 'peace that passeth understanding,' then we must go on to say, I think, that this serenity of the spirit is not capable of consorting with faith in a merely finite God. For, on the supposition of a Finite God, it is surely clear that the only ground for the consummate confidence of religion must be that somehow we are assured that (to put the matter bluntly) God is going to win in the cosmic struggle. Now on what can such assurance be based? Only, surely, upon some insight into the cosmic principle itself - alongside which both God and the opposing forces of Evil now shrink to the status of subordinate and determined elements. And if we do possess this assurance as to the excellence of the Cosmic Principle, must it not be this Supreme Cosmic Principle that we now bow down to and worship, and acclaim as God? The Finite God can be, I think, but a temporary halting-place for religion. Ultimately the abiding peace of religion can find no justification save in faith in the character of the All, faith in a God who is the Absolute of philosophy.
I am not suggesting, of course, that the religious consciousness, even in developed religions, has uniformly expressed itself in terms which imply the identity of God with the Whole. It has very frequently done so, notably through the mouths of the mystics, but elsewhere also whenever the aspect of faith rather than practice has been uppermost in the mind. But the very fact that there is the difficulty which we are at present examining of reconciling moral striving with an Absolute God has naturally led, where it is the practical aspect of religious experience that is being stressed, to utterances which suggest belief in a merely finite God who is at war with an opposing principle of Evil. The oscillations of religion between the Finite and the Infinite God we may take, then, as simply registering and emphasising our problem. They do not in any way cast doubt upon the ultimate inadequacy for religion of the conception of the Finite God.