Autonomy Of Spirit

The aim of our study has been to define our attitude to naturalism, and to

maintain in the teeth of naturalism the validity and freedom of the

religious conception of the world. This seemed to be cramped and menaced

by those "reductions to simpler terms" which we have already discussed.

But one of these reductions, the most important of all, we have not yet

encountered, and it remains to be dealt with now. In comparis
n with this

one all others are relatively unimportant, and it is easy to understand

how some have regarded the problem of the relations of the naturalistic

and the religious outlook as beginning at this point, and have neglected

everything below it. For we have now to consider the attempt of naturalism

to "reduce" spirit itself to terms of nature, either to derive it from

nature, or, when that is recognised as quite too confused and impossible,

to make it subject to nature and her system of laws, or to similar laws,

and thus to rob it of its freedom and independence, of its essential

character as above nature and free from it, and to bring it down to the

level of an accompanying shadow or a mere reverse side of nature. The

aggressive naturalism which we have discussed has from very early times

exercised itself on this point, and has instinctively and rightly felt

that herein lies the kernel of the whole problem under dispute. It has for

the most part concentrated its interest and its attacks upon the

"immortality of the soul." But while this was often the starting-point,

the nature of soul, and spirit, and consciousness in general have been

brought under discussion and subjected to attacks which sought to show how

vague and questionable was the reality of spirit as contrasted with the

palpable, solid and indubitable reality of the outer world. Prominence was

given to the fact that the spiritual side of our nature is dependent on

and conditioned by the body and bodily states, the external environment,

experiences and impressions. These were often the sole, and always the

chief subjects of the doctrine of the vulgar naturalism. But the same is

true of the naturalism of the higher order, as we described it in Chapter

II. In order to acquire definite guiding principles of investigation, it

makes the attempt to find the true reality of phenomena in the mechanical,

corporeal, physiological processes, and to take little or no account of

the co-operation, the interpolation, the general efficiency of sensation,

perception, thought, or will, and to treat them as though they were a

shadow and accompaniment of reality, but not as an equivalent, much less a

preponderating constituent of it. Out of these fundamental principles of

investigation, and out of the opposition and doubt with which the

spiritual is regarded, there is compounded the current mongrel naturalism,

which, without precision in its ideas, and without any great clearness or

logical consequence in its views, is thoroughly imbued with the notion

that that only is truly real which we can see, hear, and touch--the solid

objective world of matter and energy, and that "science" begins and ends

with this. As for anything outside of or beyond this, it is at most a

beautiful dream of fancy, with which it is quite safe to occupy oneself as

long as one clearly understands that of course it is not true. "Nature" is

the only indubitable reality, and mind is but a kind of lusus or luxus

naturae, which accompanies it at some few places, like a peculiarly

coloured aura or shadow, but which must, as far as reality is concerned,

yield pre-eminence to "Nature" in every respect.

The religious conception is deeply and essentially antagonistic to all

such attempts to range spirit, spiritual being, and the subjective world

under "nature," "matter," "energy," or whatever we may call what is

opposed to mind and ranked above it in reality and value. The religious

conception is made up essentially of a belief in spirit, its worth and

pre-eminence. It does not even seek to compare the reality and origin of

spirit with anything else whatever. For all its beliefs, the most sublime

and the crudest alike, conceal within them the conviction that

fundamentally spirit alone has truth and reality, and that everything else

is derived from it. It is a somewhat pitiful mode of procedure to direct

all apologetic endeavours towards the one relatively small question of

"immortality," thus following exactly the lines usually adopted by the

aggressive exponents of naturalism, and thus allowing opponents to dictate

the form of the questions and answers. It is quite certain that all

religion which is in any way complete, includes within itself a belief in

the everlastingness of our spiritual, personal nature, and its

independence of the becoming or passing away of external things. But, on

the one hand, this particular question can only be settled in connection

with the whole problem, and, on the other hand, it is only a fraction of

the much farther-reaching belief in the reality of spirit and its

superiority to nature. The very being of religion depends upon this. That

it may be able to take itself seriously and regard itself as true; that

all deep and pious feelings, of humility and devotion, may be cherished as

genuine and as founded in truth; that it behoves it to find and experience

the noble and divine in the world's course, in history and in individual

life; that the whole world of feeling with all its deep stirrings and

mysteries is of all things the most real and true, and the most

significant fact of existence--all these are features apart from which it

is impossible to think of religion at all. But they all depend upon the

reality, independence and absolute pre-eminence of spirit. Freedom and

responsibility, duty, moral control and self-development, the valuation of

life and our life-work according to our life's mission and ideal aims,

even according to everlasting aims, and "sub specie aeterni," the idea of

the good, the true and the beautiful--all things apart from which religion

cannot be thought of--all these depend upon spirit and its truth. And

finally "God is Spirit": religion cannot represent, or conceive, or

possess its own highest good and supreme idea, except by thinking in terms

of the highest analogies of what it knows in itself as spiritual being and

reality. If spirit is not real and above all other realities; if it is

derivable, subordinate and dependent, it is impossible to think of

anything whatever to which the name of "God" can be given. And this is as

true of the refined speculations of the pantheistic poetic religions, as

of the idea of God in simple piety. The interest of religion as against

the claims of naturalism includes all this. And it would be doing the

cause of religion sorry service to extract from this whole some isolated

question to which the mood of the time or traditional custom has given

prominence. Our task must be to show that religion maintains its validity

and freedom because of the truth and independence of spirit and its

superiority to nature.

It is, of course, impossible to give an exhaustive treatment of this

problem in a short study like this. The answer to this question would

include the whole range of mental science with all its parts and branches.

Mental science, from logic and epistemology up to and including the moral

and aesthetic sciences, proves by its very existence, and by the fact that

it cannot be reduced to terms of natural science, that spirit can neither

be derived from nor analysed into anything else. And it is only when we

have mastered all this that we can say how far and how strongly knowledge

and known realities corroborate religion and its great conclusions as to

spirit and spiritual existence, how they reinforce it and admit its

validity and freedom. Since this is so, all isolated and particular

endeavours in this direction can only be a prelude or introduction, and a

more or less arbitrary selection from the relevant material of facts and

ideas. And nothing more than this is aimed at in the following pages.