James Haughton Woods.

The value of religious facts; a study of some aspects of the science of religion online

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which should contrast it as sharply as
possible with other activities of our own
inner life. If a single definite thought
indicates the peculiar nature of what is
moral, all we have to do is to fix this
clearly and describe its meaning within
our own life. It is enough to know
that there is the thought of a law which
is higher than impulse, and to show that
our personal feelings of obligation con-
nect themselves with this law.



The Values and the Standard 147

Just so it would be with the religious
Hfe. We analyze what is present to us
when we experience, ourselves or hypo-
thetically, what is to our own convic-
tion, the complete form of religious
life. By comparison with other activi-
ties of our own life we try to bring
clearly to mind characteristics of what
is passing within us. It is the signifi-
cance to our own life that we need to
know. The result would be that one
idea would separate the inner processes
which are given us in the highest re-
ligion from the other processes of our
inner life. These processes would be
under the control of one thought of a
power which can supplement the im-
perfections of our experience and real-
ize for us our own highest and most
personal aims.

The aim in this method, then, is to
state in the most concentrated form



148 The Value of Religious Facts

how the inner activities of the reHgious
hfe are distinguished from the other
functions of our life, and thus to bring
to mind one clear thought which should
give the key to the particular meaning
of all those processes.

With this thought well in hand we
apply it as a standard, asking, in the
first place, how, in the normal religion,
the facts of the religious life are differ-
ent from, or rather similar to, other
normative activities. What has the
religious life in distinction from the
ethical, the aesthetic, the logical activi-
ties ? All these different problems
attack us as soon as a historical re-
ligion is examined. One asks to what
extent is the normal formation of
religious ideas discernible in this re-
ligion; to what extent is the religion
separate from theories about the world ;
is aesthetic emotion severed from re-



The Values and the Standard 149

ligious feeling ? With the solution of
these questions the scale of religions
begins to build itself up on the basis of
the one concentrated thought.

In the second place, within the re-
ligious process itself, a cluster of pecu-
liar emotions, voluntary activities, and
ideas group themselves about the cen-
tral thought. The analogy of moral
life shows us the way. The limits of
morals are clearly defined by the
thought of a law, the acknowledgment
of which as our own law raises us
above the flood of impulses. But the
task for ethics remains to make clear
what are the numerous inner processes
which are under the influence of that
one thought : the feeling of personal
dignity, of self-respect, of responsibil-
ity, of regret and guilt, of conscience
and moral resolve.

Likewise in defining the idea which



150 The Value of Religious Facts

controls the religious hfe, a great
variety of actually or hypothetically
experienced inner processes which ac-
company it present themselves: the
emotions of trust, of reverence, of de-
votion, of obedience, the conception of
a divine order of the world.

A mere description of the peculiar
religious or moral life which is under
the influence of the one central
thought, the description of an actual
historical situation is very far from
being the end of such an analysis.
Any distinct content which could be
given by perception must be rejected.
It is the form of inner activity that we
seek clearly to define. If we were try-
ing to secure a conception of the inner
activity which we call knowledge, we
ignore the different objects of know-
ledge ; we attempt no description of
schools, or literature, or of the press.



The Values and the Standard 151

We try to make clear by comparison
of what we ourselves experience, what
we mean by the activity we call know-
ledge. We compare different degrees
of the knowledge, opinion, assent, and
proof, and the feeling of doubt, uncer-
tainty, and conviction. We try to
reproduce the conditions of social psy-
chology under which knowledge de-
velops. Thus we discover what we do
and experience, or what the normal
scientific thinker does when he accom-
plishes a mental act guided by a wish
for truth.

If we are to understand the moral
life in its perfection, we should not
describe the contents of the moral law,
nor the particular actions commanded
under certain conditions, nor the con-
dition of society which we should
recognize as ideal. Rather we should
contrast activities under the moral law



152 The Value of Religious Facts

with other inner activities. We should
try to understand what we do when we
experience a standard, or an objective
moral law instead of individual rules or
motives, or personal aims and the high-
est good. We should make ourselves
more aware of the meaning of guilt,
repentance, and other moral feelings.
We should investigate the psychical
processes upon which a moral society
rests : respect, moral indignation, moral
self-reliance, moral authority and edu-
cation.

Analogously, knowledge of normal
religious life is secured. Description
of historical facts, or of all the wealth
of concrete life Avith its tasks and in-
sights into suffering and joy, will not
lead us to the central fact. One must
abstract from all objects of reality
which are perceptible. It is not the
content but the activity that we need



The Values and the Standard 153

to understand. What do we do when
we think the central religious thought
of a Power beyond ourselves which
satisfies our highest needs, and when
we acknowledge that this thought is
true ? What do we do when we bring
into consciousness the activity which
finds the relation of our rnost personal
needs to a causality beyond the experi-
ence of the senses and submits to Him
as the completion of our own personal-
ity and as a supplement to the imper-
fect order of the world as we now know
it ?

Further we should find some light
upon the other activities which are
more or less bound up with the con-
trolling idea: the feeling of self, the
effort for more life, the arrangement of
inner values, the judgment of value,
the belief in a final order of the world.
Apart from any historical form one



154 The Value of Religious Facts

would try to understand the signifi-
cance of religious trust, of reverence,
of certainty, of the devotion of self to
the highest purpose, in their union with
the idea of God. Religious trust, for
example, in its Christian form, would
be the glad certainty of the reality of a
Power which assures me of the accom-
plishment of my highest purposes in
spite of flaws in the order of nature
beyond the control of my will.

And, finally, in the highest stages of
religion the common experiences of a
religious society dominated by the
thought of God are to be defined.
What is a revelation, a religious tradi-
tion, an authoritative faith ? How is
faith propagated and how are religious
customs extended ?

As a result we should have a highly
abstract conception of the normal re-
ligion. The advantages of this abstrac-



The Values and the Standard 155

tion over a description of the most
complete religion in all the fulness of
living detail would be that the peculiar
characteristics would be more sharply
distinguished from other sides of the
inner life. For all clear definition is
abstraction. And, furthermore, the
normative form of the conception
would be more fit to be used as a
standard with which other religions
might be compared.

Suppose now that the norm is present
in our minds and we feel its authority,
ought there to be any place for the
suspicion that the norm may be some-
thing visionary or fantastic, a beautiful
possibility, but unreal and unpractical ?

The answer is that the norms must
be accepted upon their own evidence.
That there should be truth, and right
and beauty and holiness is absolutely
beyond any explanation. The fact is



156 The Value of Religious Facts

simply accepted. I may trace the his-
tory of their prevalence among men ; I
can describe the fact that men do judge
themselves and others by them ; I may
treat them as facts of psychology to be
analyzed into sensational elements.
But just why these particular psychical
processes should have authority; why
these norms ought to be selected to
have authority over the whole stream
of consciousness and all the acts of life ;
why the normal conscience requires
that certain things should happen
which are not happening, and rejects
what is actually occurring, this we can-
not and need not explain.

We can say nothing more than state
the fact that men do feel responsible.
Is it not folly to ask whether it is right
to be virtuous, or true that there is
truth ? As a matter of fact we do
make ourselves responsible not only



The Values and the Standard 157

for will and deed, but for thought and
feeling. And a complete man re-
proaches himself for errors of thought
and offences against good taste, not
less than for moral laxity. He recog-
nizes duties for his thinking and his
emotional life as well as for moral life,
and he is ashamed and pained when he
violates any of the norms. He ac-
knowledges a law to which he is sub-
ject and he knows that the worth of his
deeds depends upon the fulfilment of
that law. The obligation to conform
to the laws of logic, if one wants truth,
is the most generally recognized of the
norms ; the moral obligation, if not so
universally acknowledged, is usually
more intensely experienced, to the
point even where transgressions are
punished by death.

These " laws " which we find in our
logical, aesthetic, and moral conscience



158 The Value of Religious Facts

offer no explanations of facts and are
not themselves explained. They assert
how facts must be that we may approve
them as right, true, and beautiful.
They are not laws stating observed
sequences of events, but standards or
ideals according to which the worth of
what happens in causal connection is
judged.

The religious norm insists that our
present experience is supplemented by
a higher experience. The obligation
passes beyond our present limits. Our
ideals, our norms, our highest values
are for it not merely abstractedly pos-
sible fulfilments of our present selves,
but facts of the very highest reality,
facts also to a normal experience of an
individual who selects for himself an
experience which fulfils his own plan.

Our relation to God is the most real
relation of all, a continual expression



The Values and the Standard 159

of thanks and deh'ght. He is the only
One whom we wish permanently to
imitate. This imitation is the religious
norm. It is the deepest part of us, far
below philosophy and custom.

It is the half-conscious impulse which
becomes a practical and verifiable cer-
tainty that our highest ideals may be
attained, that the highest possible
claims upon nature, upon society, and
upon ourselves are, after all, in some
mysterious way, required of us, and
that these ideals and these claims are
laid out upon an infinitely vast scale,
in which our own experience and the
experience of mankind about us now
is a provisional and rudimentary step.

This norm, then, is a standard for
our judgment when we wish to supple-
ment our own experience, or the col-
lective experience of our fellow-men in
a universal form. In proportion as we



i6o The Value of Religious Facts

feel keenly the clash of ideals and the
lack of things which ought not to be
left out, in proportion as our dissatis-
faction with ourselves as we are be-
comes genuine, and the egotism of our
highest self becomes intense, in propor-
tion as our claim for more significance
for human lives becomes firm, we shall
know that a Power which is eternal is
calling forth in us that which revolts
against a dull and languid life with
small hopes and small demands upon
life. We shall then be capable of
hatred for the flaws of life, and of
exultation in God.

When once the norm is constantly
in our thought, then the knowledge of
the different kinds of beliefs given us
in history doubles in value, both for
intensifying our insight into the norm
and into the inner life of historic re-
ligions. One's own experience of the



The Values and the Standard i6i

highest is the point of departure.
What is lower in one's own real or
hypothetical life is classed with regard
to the highest form known ; an inverse
classification would not give such clear
or accurate results.

It has been a common prejudice of
scientifically trained minds that our self
in reflection upon its own real or sup-
posed experience, when bringing a
mass of concrete details into conscious-
ness, can empty itself of all personal
feelings and purposes and remain, by a
slight strain of attention upon the
given contents, a purely reflective
activity.

This opinion has given place to the
reflection that the self, when it con-
siders its own states, past, present, or
hypothetical, is still a living self. Its
point of view must be from the midst
of a complicated state of individual



1 62 The Value of Religious Facts

attitudes. This is most clearly true in
cases wherein we reflect upon past in-
cidents in our own life, it may be,
upon some despondent mood of an-
other period. At that time, when we
were in the experience, certain mo-,
tives and insistent feelings were im-
mediately present. But when we now
recollect, we discover that there were
other grounds for our melancholy,
grounds of which we then were scarcely
aware. How can this be ? Not be-
cause we now, with more concentrated
attention, have discovered the true
grounds of our sad state, but because
our self now comprises a new content
of ideas, emotions, and purposes.
Either a content of consciousness which
we formerly had may have been re-
covered after loss, or an entirely new
content may have been assimilated
under new condition or with a new con-



The Values and the Standard 163

trol of our life. In some such way the
self has won a new position for analyz-
ing the past event. By comparing the
new content with that which, by hypo-
thetical experience, we have recalled
from the past, we discover reasons for
the mood which in immediate experi-
ence altogether escaped us. Not only
our personal life has changed, but we
have passed through new experiences
which fit us to reproduce in ourselves
by imitation experiences of others
which would have been before incom-
prehensible, fit us to understand others
as well as ourselves.

Just this same method we apply to
research into remote forms of religious
life. One analyzes the forms of re-
ligion which one acknowledges as the
complete form either in one's own life
or in some other experience, in order
to discover the standard.



164 The Value of Religious Facts

The hypothetical living into the sit-
uations of other men gives new points
of insight into the complete experience.
And from this point of view one brings
to one's mind more clearly the distinc-
tions between the religious and other
similar activities of the inner life.

Acquaintance, then, with different
historical forms of religious life is re-
quired in order to make firm one's
grasp upon the standard and for the
constant expansion of one's own re-
ligious life, not in order to accumulate
material for large generalizations, but
that one may allow one's self to go on
to new points of insight into other lives
and into the depths of one's own
normative life.

In this way one seeks for the secret
of another's life and one finds a part of
one's own life, and one finds the secret
of one's own life, and it is the part of



The Values of the Standard 165

the life of another which has long been
sought.

In such cases what is sought is a part
of what one has already found, and
both link us to God, who is revealing
Himself to us, and us to each other,
and what is best in us to our own
selves.

THE END



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Online LibraryJames Haughton WoodsThe value of religious facts; a study of some aspects of the science of religion → online text (page 6 of 6)