This brings us to the next phase of our discussion. If the conclusion which we have reached is sound, if, that is, religious experience implies recognition of the Supra-rational character of the Absolute, the consequences for philosophy must be frankly faced. Only a metaphysic which at least closely resembles the Bradleian, we must agree, is compatible with the validity of religious experience. Every rationalist metaphysic, every metaphysic which, like Idealism, asserts the intelligible continuity of Reality, must be held to be opposed in principle to that which religion affirms. Accordingly, the whole weight of religion's authority attaches itself to the type of philosophy which maintains the Supra-rational Absolute. There will, of course, be diverse opinions as to the value of the authority of religion. But not many will contend, I imagine, that its support is wholly negligible.
Now not every variety of sceptical philosophy, of course, can claim to derive support from religion, as we have come to understand religion. But a glance at Bradley's doctrine does suggest, I think, that here we do have a sceptical philosophy peculiarly well fitted to consort with religion. Indeed, there seems no immediate reason why Bradley's Absolute should not rank as the philosophic counterpart of the God of Religion. Reality or the Absolute, for Bradley, is, as we have previously seen, a single, all-inclusive, and completely harmonious experience, the principles of whose nature are impenetrable by the finite intellect. Moreover, this Whole may fairly lay claim to the title 'Perfection.' For when we ask ourselves what it is that would ultimately satisfy the self, whether in will, thought, or feeling, we find that nothing short of being this Whole will meet the case. Being the Whole is Perfection, as it seems. So far then, at all events, Bradley's principles appear to be in full harmony with religious experience.
I shall shortly proceed to argue that Bradley's principles are likewise consistent with a further aspect of the religious consciousness to which I have not yet called attention. But at this juncture it seems proper to say something respecting the manner in which Bradley himself deals with the apparent contradiction at the heart of religion and its philosophical implications. The solution which our present chapter offers is suggested by consideration of Bradley's doctrines. But it is far indeed from representing Bradley's own treatment. On the contrary, Bradley flatly maintains that contradiction is of the essence of religion, that to make it consistent is possible only by destruction of its integrity as religion. And yet, on Bradley's view, this inherent contradictoriness is of no great consequence, even for religion. Such an unusual position calls for some examination.
The contradictoriness of religion manifests itself for Bradley in a variety of guises, and, among others, in the particular guise that we have elected to concentrate upon in this chapter. 'The Whole is at once actually to be good, and, at the same time, is actually to make itself good. Neither its perfect goodness, nor yet its struggle, may be degraded to an appearance.'1 This is Bradley's statement of the dilemma which has occupied us, the dilemma of being forced to assert the reality of imperfection in a Perfect Reality. But for Bradley the contradiction is not merely apparent, but real. There is no way out of the dilemma. 'The religious consciousness rests on the felt unity of unreduced opposites: and either to combine these consistently, or upon the other hand to transform them is impossible for religion. And hence self-contradiction in theory, and oscillation in sentiment, is inseparable from its essence.' 2
But what is of special interest for us is not Bradley's insistence upon the finality of contradictoriness for religion. Such a view has no novelty, and, so far as I can detect, Bradley adduces no fresh point of principle which the solution suggested in this chapter would require to take into account. Bradley's omission to avail himself of that solution will seem a merit or a defect according to the reader's judgment upon the thesis of this chapter. What is of interest is, as I have already hinted, Bradley's interpretation of the significance of the contradiction which he finds. The natural view would be that the apprehension of a contradiction in our experience would forthwith lead to the abandonment, or at least the radical modification, of that experience. That is what we should be led to expect from a common-sense survey of ordinary life, and not least in the sphere of religious experience. It is with something of a shock, therefore, that we find Bradley explicitly holding that contradiction should not be regarded as really a very serious matter for religion at all. On what grounds does he adopt this apparently paradoxical attitude?
1 Appearance and Reality, p. 442.
2 Ibid., p. 443.
We can detect, I think, two distinct, although allied, arguments. The first of these rests upon his belief that 'the essence of religion is not knowledge.'1 The implication of this is apparently taken to be that the whole question of knowledge, or of theoretical consistency, is really not vital to religion. Religion, qua religion, has no direct concern with the objective truth of its ideas. It is enough for religion if the ideas it entertains are suitable to religion's purpose, which is, 'to express the complete reality of goodness through every aspect of our being.' 2 If the ideas fulfil this purpose, then they do all that religion requires of them, and may be said to be 'true for religion'.
I cannot think, however, that this line of argument will bring conviction to many. It is true, no doubt, that 'the essence of religion is not knowledge.' But that does not exclude the possibility that knowledge - at least in the sense of true ideas, however these may be come by - is of the essence of religion. And this seems to be the real state of the case. The ideal side of religion is emphatically not regarded by the religious man as something whose significance lies solely in adequately expressing a feeling or a purpose. It is taken as doing this, but as also expressing objective truth. And we cannot ignore this aspect without doing violence to the religious consciousness. It may be the case, as has sometimes been suggested,3 that religious feelings come first and that religious ideas follow as an inference from these feelings. But whatever the genetic relation, it seems certain that religious ideas are actually taken to express not merely feelings, but the truth about reality. If we find that ideas expressing these feelings contradict one another, we are not content to say: 'So much the worse for theoretical consistency. Religion needs these ideas, so they're true for religion whether they contradict one another or not.' Rather do we say: 'If these contradictory ideas really express my feelings, so much the worse for these feelings and my religion generally. I must reconstruct'.
1 Appearance and Reality, p. 453. 2 Ibid.
3 See an interesting article by Professor G. C. Field on 'Some Modern Proofs of the Existence of God,' in the Journal of Philosophic Studies, Vol. iii., No. II.
The second reason which, if I have understood rightly, underlies Bradley's position on this matter, does not seem to possess greater cogency than the first. Bradley points out, in accordance with the general principles of his philosophy, that complete theoretical consistency is nowhere to be found in finite experience. It is absurd for us therefore, he suggests, to withhold our belief on the mere ground that theoretical consistency is absent, if, on the other hand, the beliefs in question correspond with our deepest needs. Such beliefs we must not, of course, fall into the error of regarding as expressive of ultimate truth. Yet, 'in proportion as the need to which they answer is wider and deeper, these ideas already have attained actual truth.' 1
Now it is true enough, no doubt (granted Bradley's general principles), that to make belief wait upon a proposition that enjoys complete theoretical consistency is just to eliminate the possibility of belief altogether. But does this imply that religion, or any other attitude of mind, can accept with equanimity a stark contradiction? It is one thing, surely, to maintain at once two propositions whose consistency is not clear to us: quite another thing to maintain two propositions whose inconsistency is clear to us. Even as a 'working belief,' I should think, a mutually destructive complex of ideas cannot be understood to be such, and at the same time continue to be happily entertained. Bradley might perhaps reply that the religious consciousness, even if it understands the complex as mutually destructive, still feels it to be a unity, and that this feeling more than counterbalances the intellectual apprehension of discord. But being unable to accept the possibility of the permanence of a feeling in a mind which recognises that the ideas expressive of it are in blank contradiction with one another, I must still, for myself, hold that religion must either resolve its paradox or perish.
1 Essays, p. 431.