I pass on to the next point. The 'faith' or creed which I am advocating is certainly one which is deficient in the concreteness commonly attaching to religious creeds. I want to inquire now as to whether this admitted bareness and abstractness may legitimately be made a ground of objection. Does religion, to be active and effectual in the human soul, necessitate a more definitive content? A short, but I think relevant, answer would be to insist that for those who have become alive to the prima facie contradictoriness of religious experience, the choice is not between an abstract and a concrete religion, but between an abstract religion and no religion at all. I do not wish, however, to press this argument at the present juncture, and least of all do I wish to give the impression that recourse to abstract religion is a sort of 'Hobson's choice' It will be profitable, I think, to try to determine what lies at the root of the objection.
There is one possible meaning of the objection, however, which does not seem to require very serious consideration. It may be maintained that the average man will never be satisfied with a creed which does not offer him something definite and concrete, something that is capable of imaginative embodiment. I shall not stop to ask whether it is not a defect in spiritual experience itself, rather than in intellectual culture, that thus exalts the palpable above the impalpable. I wish merely to say that whether or not mankind in general will ever attain to the level of recognising the aids of imagination for what they arc is a matter of quite secondary importance for our present discussion. I offer no opinion upon it. What is of the first importance, however, and what does constitute a genuine crux for our theory, is the question of whether our creed lacks something without which the nature of man is intrinsically incapable of enjoying the full satisfyingness that is characteristic of religious experience. Is there something fundamentally wanting in a religion which is summed up in the faith that God is the Supreme Reality, that His Perfection transcends all human conception, and that devotion to the ideal of good is our appropriate mode of union with Him?1
What essential feature, then, does our religion lack? Some will say, perhaps, the definite recognition that God is a Person. And it is indeed a common enough belief that the very bottom falls out of religion if the Personality of God is denied. But how is it possible really to hold this view in face of the patent facts of experience? Are we to deny religion to those religions, such as Buddhism, which appear very well able to dispense with such a conception? Or again (if I may be permitted one more reference to the mystics), are we to deny religion to those persons who are commonly regarded as the very geniuses of religion? It is difficult to see how anyone who faces the facts squarely can continue to insist that God's Personality is an indispensable article of religion. The main cause of the insistence, I suppose, is the failure to realise that 'not to be Personal' is not necessarily to be 'sub-personal.' It may be (as of course with me it is) to be 'Supra-personal.' If it were understood that the very state after which developing personality aspires, the consummation of personality, is a state in which the attributes of personality as we know them cease to be, there would perhaps be an end of this superstition. And as to attempted philosophical vindications of God's personality, all, as it appears to me, founder upon the same rock. Sooner or later the God of Personal Attributes reveals himself as a God who is in essential relationship to an 'other,' not Himself. And with this we are back to the doctrine of the Finite God. It is true, indeed, that many of the philosophers who have been forward to assail the conception of Divine Personality have laid themselves open to an effective argumentum ad hominem. As von H?gel very justly points out, those writers who most trenchantly denounce as 'anthropomorphic' the ascription of Personality to God appear to feel no scruple in availing themselves of metaphysical concepts which are liable to precisely the same objections, often in an intensified form. 'Thus Thought or Love or Law, or even Substance, nothing of this is, for such thinkers, anthropomorphic or sub-human: but everything personal is rank anthropomorphism/.' 1 The argument is fair, I think, against those upon whom it is directed. But it is not, of course, in itself a philosophical vindication of Divine Personality. And it is not effective even as an argumentum ad hominem in regard to the metaphysics of Supra-rationalism.
1 The criticism that in speaking of 'Him' I am implying the 'Personality' of God would of course be frivolous. I say 'Him' rather than 'It' as being the less misleading course, for God is Supra-personal, not sub-personal. See more below.
I cannot admit, then, that the replacement of the Personal God by the Supra-personal God in any way jeopardises the tenability of our creed. Let us turn now to another 'defect' which may be laid to our charge. We have, by implication at least, ruled out the doctrine of the 'personal mediator.' The path to God, we have urged, lies in devotion to the moral ideal, not in devotion to, or spiritual identification with, an historic person. Is this a blemish upon the power or purity of our faith?
I want to reply to this quite frankly and plainly. It is a matter upon which one is too often tempted to 'hedge,' and if in what follows I incline to the other extreme I may perhaps be pardoned. I do not regard our substitution of the moral ideal for the historic person as a blemish, or a loss, but as an incomparable gain. So long as devotion to an historic person is believed to be the true medium of union with God, the one way of salvation, so long will the ideal of perfection be stabilised in a manner fundamentally contradictory of man's nature, with its limitless potentialities of fresh and fruitful advances. It is no use saying that this is not so, on the ground that the person who is our exemplar is to be conceived 'spiritually' rather than 'bodily,' as an attitude of will rather than as a concrete system of willing. If we abstract from the historical content we do, or at least may, get rid of the disadvantages of an 'embodied' ideal. But it is only because we have really replaced the historic person by the moral ideal itself. For there is a sense in which the moral ideal is itself devotion to the moral ideal. The 'highest we know' is, formally, devotion to the 'highest we know.' And if the historic person is not thus stripped of all temporalities, and taken to be an eternal exemplar solely in virtue of the spiritual attitude of will, the difficulties in the way of accepting such an ideal as 'absolute' seem to me insuperable. If he is so taken, let us be open about it, and admit that, apart from the mere fact of concrete embodiment (the value of which is now not obvious, whereas its danger is very obvious indeed) we have nothing here that is not in principle apprehensible by the 'pagan' moral consciousness.
1 Essays and Addresses, Ist series, p. 50.