Discuss Life and Religion with Tan Tai Wei

“Leap of Thought”: Reason for Religious Faith 2

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We noted in my first post that both secularists and believers in transnatural transcendent Reality involve “faith” and ultimate commitment. There can be no proof in our usual sense for one or the other position, for within our natural experience we reason and explain events and things in terms of  how they cohere and “link”, and even  “brute facts” are reasonably accepted on the basis of past experiences of phenomena of the sort,  comprising too a sort of natural regularity. But when we ask the ultimate question of the whole of the reality of our experience whether or not it’s just a fact “unlinked”,  there can of course be no explanatory regularity of that order we can be aware of.  Some thinkers would want to say that the question is therefore meaningless, its having a function only as regards events and things in the natural world. But how can they be sure that the sort of reasoning and explaining has no analogous function when referred to the whole of reality as we know it? This retort may already be too much a concession, for the question whether  reality does have an ultimate cause surely is sensible in itself, independently of what sense it has within our natural experience. Indeed, it is  intrinsically  reasonable to ask if things exist caused or uncaused, etc, and it is this that has impelled us to seek explanations and answers for events and things occurring within our experience.

Now that it is reasonable, and therefore as rational beings we are impelled, to ask of reality whether it came to be “out of the blue” or if there is an ultimate Ground  of  things, and since there can be no proof one way or the other of the sort we know, how do we decide what the truth of the matter is? That  there is the truth of things there can be no doubt, and just as all ultimate points at reasoning are there just to be discerned by those who have the capacity to do so, such as our seeing  the link between premises and conclusions of arguments or the validity of the law of contradiction, we can only, as HD Lewis put it, “cultivate a way of looking” which enables us to take the “leap of thought” necessary to grasp it.

There are the preliminaries to the sort of leap or intuition which  the initiates would need to undergo before being enabled for the seeing. “Eyes” need  to “open”, and “ears hear”. Such wonderment about the oddity HD Lewis brought us to notice, mentioned in my first posting, of a spontaneous, chanced beginning of things, also of the alternative of an infinite regress of causal links, and of such seeming divine “leadings” and “miracles” in the religious experiences of mankind, and those too within  individual persons’  life stories in those traditions, might also serve to put the initiate into the special mental frame and mood for the insight.

If indeed there exists the ultimate Ground of things in terms of which all is to be explained and nothing is in the end random and chanced, how else can we finite mortals discern it than by responding to such “intimations”, if there are such, reaching us from beyond our normal ken? There can be no crossing over to see as God. But do we not feel, when we do give ourselves the chance , in contemplation and meditation, after going through such preliminaries to the insight as suggested above, not only the factual (though not logical)  impossibility of the secularist account of reality, but, affirmatively, the factual (not logical) necessity of there being an ultimate Ground and explanation of all being? Logically speaking, odd things can happen, but has this really happened, that everything  has come to be as a happy or unhappy chance? Can we really believe that, once we face it as a real life issue, and not only as a point of academic debate? Do not we feel “drawn” in fact to expect and seek an explanation of it all?

It may be that, as CH Dodd pointed out about that encounter in the Gospel of John, only when the blind man’s eyes had been opened by Jesus that he was enabled to discern, and answer his doubting enquirers that “if this Man (Jesus) were not from God, He could not have done this thing (healed his blindness)”. And don’t ask him further how and why, he pleaded, for all he knew was “Once I was blind, but now I see”.

This basically cognitive assent is nevertheless a leap of thought involving the total living self, and, as HD Lewis pointed out, it should not be confused with other discernments of ultimate truths in our experience of things, even though we could well remain at only that level in our enquiry, taking it as a mere compelling  stance  as regards ultimate issues .  In the latter case, although it could be an important preliminary of religious experience, it could not have the unique significance as its crucial beginning. This experience (if indeed “religious”, and if there really are such experiences and not just any experience religiously interpreted) must be  unique, like aesthetic or moral awareness. And then it would have the compellingness of  a distinct dimension of the reality humankind must come to terms with, much like the dimensions of art and morals.  Initiation into this special mode of experience and submitting ourselves to all it requires of us, in its call to an unique sort of life commitment, must involve, in Newman’s words, “true” and not just “notional”  assent.

That indeed such a distinct dimension of reality exists for us to initiate ourselves into is in the end a matter for our “learning through experience”, despite the preliminary reasonings and events that  lead to it. Like aesthetic awareness, although like horses we may be dragged to its  waters, we must ourselves drink in order to appreciate. In the end, it can only be a matter of our responding to the invitation of St John  to “come and see”. And along with John, as with a host of others in that tradition and others, it may come to be that what we do find when we “see” is, like aesthetic and moral awareness, not fantasy but a real dimension of truth, except that this one  sets all other facets of the realities we are confronted with in their real, true light. As Huston Smith has it, describing the religious course he taught undergraduates, he has been exposing  students to”another world to live in”, a world from which their world is seen in its true light. This is probably the consciousness Wordsworth seemed to have been on the verge of crossing into, where at his aesthetic appreciation of nature he had often felt “a spirit in the woods”  and “intimations of immortality” beyond “the passion”   “the sounding cataracts” had often “haunted” him with. Accordingly, he in later life  returned to his Anglican faith.

Once thus religiously awakened, many have claimed to find the unique consciousness superimposing itself and adding its hue and significance to other events and encounters in life,  especially to those that seem to be only surprising, coincidental happenings to the religiously un-initiated. The initiated are convinced they are divine intrusions in their life events, as they discern them to be continuous with similar happenings writ large within the various histories and traditions of mankind. As HD Lewis said, we are not left alone in a cultural void to enter within the religious conscousness, but to do so through living committed lives within a shared, ongoing religious tradition. To them who thus “see”,  and have not allowed themselves subsequently to lose that sensitivity, nothing can take away the conviction  that come by so personal an “encounter”. So, as Austin Farrer said in a published sermon, it was too late for sceptics to reason with him, who had spent a lifetime “conversing with Him”,  that God did not exist. This initiation must be what John meant saying we must be “born again”,  and Paul, saying we become “new creatures in Christ”.

And it has been the case that events in the initiate’s life experiences and those writ large within cultures and traditions have varied, ranging from impingement of seeming impersonal or less personal  transcendent Reality  to what can only be felt as  the “living God” engaging him “in judgement, forgiveness and love.” The variations can be reasonably interpreted in terms of different stages or degrees of perfection in individual or cultural responses to divine initiatives. We may thus  reason that, personality being a greater perfection, if the religious intuition is into a Reality that explains all there is, that Reality must be perfect and, therefore, better captured by experiences of a personal “living God”.

Also, we have to agree with HD Lewis and others that, as we are being initiated into awareness of transcendent Reality that has to be all-explaining, He must be seen to be perfect in all ways and also self-explaining. Anything less than perfect in His attributes would need explaining. And He must transcend any being or envisaged “chain of being”, for in terms of Him all that exist other than Himself  is to be explained. And He Himself must exist necessarily or is “self-explanatory”. All this explains the term “transcendent” as ascribed to ultimate Reality. The self-explanatory Reality in Whose terms all else is explained must “transcend” all, for if He were a part of all, He too would need explaining, and so the child, told that God made the world, would be right to ask “Who made God?”


Written by Tan Tai Wei

December 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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