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THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 



EDWARD SCRIBNER AMES 
University of Chicago 



This paper approaches the problem of the validity of the 
idea of God from the social and genetic points of view. Valid- 
ity is conceived in terms of value and experience rather than 
in terms of the metaphysical concept of existence. This 
approach, of course, implies the conviction that the history 
of an idea is an important means of ascertaining its nature. 
Such a study suggests that the reality of God may be found 
to be social in nature. This reality may be of the same 
order as the reality of the family or state which consists in 
the character of the organization of the individuals included 
in it. "Existence" in the case of the family or state includes 
the relations which the members have to one another. 

Studies of the development of religion among various 
races have shown a striking relation between organized social 
life and the gods. The gods are identified with those objects 
of the environment which are the centers of interest and 
attention. Hunting and nomadic peoples have animal gods, 
fishers have fish gods, agriculturists have grain and rain 
gods, and where cultures blend as among the later Hebrews 
the sacred objects are syncretized. This statement is not 
made merely with reference to' totemism, though the totem 
deities are obviously related in this way to the activities and 
interests of the people. When the social organization is 
sufficiently advanced to center attention upon human leaders, 
the gods become more human and are invested with the 
character and powers of the sheik and king. It is significant 
that monotheism did not arise in religion before monarchy in 
government. In the present time with the falling of monarchs 

462 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 463 

and the increasing tendency toward democracy the concep- 
tion of a Kingdom of God is losing ground. Professor Coe 
has not hesitated to insist that we must now do our religious 
thinking in terms of the "democracy of God." 

The intimate identification of God with the Spirit of the 
Group is further revealed in the fact that these wax and 
wane together in the shifting fortunes of peoples. Robertson 
Smith was one of the first to note this. If a god's followers 
were conquered and enslaved their god became a vassal of 
the conqueror's god. If the tribe were scattered and its 
identity lost the god became a jinni, shorn of power and 
tending to disappear completely. Just as the personality and 
power of an earthly ruler increase with the extension of his 
domain and the growth of his armies, so the god grew with 
the enlarging circle of his worshipers and their access of 
power. 

Irving King has emphasized the fact that the personality 
of Yahweh was gradually built up through the experiences 
and conflicts of Israel particularly as these were mediated and 
interpreted by the prophets. He has attemped to indicate 
something of the process by which the ethical idealism of 
the nation evolved and the manner by which it was progres- 
sively reflected in the character of God. That he was conceived 
as set off above and beyond the people and regarded not as 
the reflection of their aspirations but the source of them, is 
explained as a common tendency of the evaluating conscious- 
ness to put our highest values into a different sphere, separate 
and unique. 

We have this same phenomenon in our modern group life. 
We do not designate the lesser social unities as gods, but we 
do personify them. The psychological process is apparently 
of the same nature as in primitive groups. The Alma Mater 
of college life is an example. The whole meaning and spirit of 
the college is registered in our feeling for the Alma Mater. The 
validity of this idea is not to be found in any specific individual, 



464 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

though any person prominently associated with the institu- 
tion may be representative of the whole. The idea of the 
Fostering Mother is more adequate for symbolizing the entire 
life of the school just because it is not bound down to the 
definite form and features of any one person. The reality 
answering to it is not without tangible, vital qualities. The 
buildings and grounds, the libraries and laboratories, the 
long procession of founders, teachers, students, friends, and 
benefactors belong to this reality. Moreover, there is a 
peculiar flavor and spirit which we call the genius of the 
institution. Anyone who has participated intimately in the 
life of Yale or Harvard, for example, is sensitive to certain 
customs, attitudes, manners, methods of work, and habits of 
mind which are so characteristic as to be keenly appreciated 
by their supporters and antagonists. 

A similar case is that of Uncle Sam. He is not an actual 
person in the ordinary sense of a man of certain height and 
weight, but he is a person in the legal sense. That is, the 
United States is a person before the law who can own property, 
sell and trade, collect revenues, excite loyalty and antagonism. 
During the war at least, it was not safe to speak lightly of 
Uncle Sam. The idea of such a person cannot be said to 
be valid in the sense of the existence of a particular being in 
human form answering to it, but has the idea therefore no 
validity at all ? During the war it was noticeable that the 
cartoonists used this idea to fire the imagination, to awaken 
patriotism, and to portray the fortunes and the attitudes of 
America. As the United States entered the war Uncle Sam's 
countenance became stern and impassioned. As wealth 
rolled into our coffers he appeared stouter and more prosper- 
ous. He gave evidence of greater cosmopolitan interests. 
Surely this face and figure had meaning and referred to a 
reality, that is, to the American people in their national 
organization. The use of the symbol had two functions at 
least. It furnished a means of conceiving the people of the 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 465 

United States as a whole, and it provided a familiar, vivid, 
and manageable representation in reference to which national 
attitudes and purposes could be expressed and cultivated. 
It may even be insisted that there is some necessity and 
urgency about this Uncle Sam. The mind requires some 
means of grasping the main characteristics of the nation, 
since its relations are essentially social, especially in dealing 
with other social units. Personification is one of the most 
natural means of accomplishing this. 

The analogy of these cases with the idea of God is sugges- 
tive. The reality which the idea of God expresses may be 
thought of, not as an independent person or individual in the 
very form and shape of man, but as the Common Will ideal- 
ized and magnified and presented in personal symbolism. The 
whole of life, taken in a certain way, is then the reality. The 
whole of life includes physical objects, earth and sun and 
stars, motion and ether and light, and also the sentient orders 
culminating in mankind. When the idea of God is employed it 
implies a particular organization of reality in terms of the 
felt values of experience. God is felt to be the source and 
guardian of life and of good fortune. In earlier society each 
god had a special sphere over which he presided — Poseidon 
over the sea, Ares over war, and Zeus over all. As society 
becomes more highly organized and unified, these various 
interests become functions of the one deity. God is occupied 
more and more explicitly with the human social order and its 
needs. The concerns which are felt most acutely by the whole 
community are those with which God is associated. Thus 
drought, famine, pestilence, and war which affect all individ- 
uals stir a universal impulse to seek relief and to turn to the 
embodiment of all power and protection. As arts and special- 
ized forms of culture arise, God becomes their patron. With 
gradual modification of customs and the emergence of new 
standards those members of the group who favor them refer 
them to the will of God. And those who oppose such modifica- 



466 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

tion are equally sure that they are works of the Devil. It is 
the party whose policy succeeds which establishes assurance 
with reference to what the will of God is. We have striking 
illustrations of this fact in our own society. Slavery was for 
a long time thought to have the approval of God, but now 
the judgment or will of God is wholly identified with opposi- 
tion to slavery. During the struggle to establish prohibi- 
tion there were many Christians who quoted Paul's advice to 
Timothy about the value of wine for his frequent infirmities 
and cited the use of wine in the communion service, the most 
sacred ordinance of the church. Now the will of the majority 
has been registered against intoxicating liquor and religious 
people in America have become certain that its use is contrary 
to the will of God. Only a few generations ago the doctrine 
of the divine right of kings was commonly accepted and it is 
clearly written in our Scriptures, but it is no longer the correct 
doctrine in these democratic days. The will of the people 
does not now support that conception and therefore it is not 
the will of God. 

The voice of the people as the voice of God is a statement 
which may claim assent if by the voice of the people is meant the 
expression, not of the impulsive cries of the mob or rabble, but 
that of the matured, deliberate judgment of the whole people. 
There is much to be said for the divine authority of tradition 
if we may include in the conception of tradition the growing 
body of criticized opinion, scientific reflection, and social 
aspiration. When this is registered in codes of conduct, in 
laws and customs, it gains majestic proportions and becomes 
profoundly impressive. The individuals of society do not 
think of such tradition being made out of hand or as weak and 
transient. They have the sense of its vast importance. It 
is superindividual and in a very true sense objective. 

On the psychological side the key to the importance of 
the group in reference to God may be found in the experience 
one has in any intimate, significant organization to which one 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 467 

belongs. Certain features of this experience emerge in any 
small face-to-face group where large interests are involved. 
A board of trustees administering a benevolent cause such as 
an educational institution may illustrate the matter. Here the 
individuals constitute an entity, whose being and will is more 
than the aggregate of their personalities. The board is a 
reality in which the minds and wills of the trustees have a 
certain organization and direction. It may be older than 
the living members. It may represent interests, financial, 
social, and political, quite beyond the combined power of 
all the individuals. The method of deliberation of this 
institutional mind is more or less prescribed by custom and 
precedent. When a member expresses himself in conference 
concerning a vital measure, he is uttering not merely his own 
mind, but his mind as influenced — stimulated and directed — 
by the group and its interests. He is a different "self" there 
from the "selves" which he is in other associations. When 
he sits with the members of that body there is a "sense of 
presence" peculiar to that relation. Various characteristic 
inhibitions and impulsions arise beyond the conscious, pur- 
poseful volitions of a voluntary attitude. The mind which 
he addresses is the group mind or the mind of certain members 
in reference to the group mind. When the company tries 
to "make up its mind" on any issue, a process occurs not 
unlike that of the deliberation of an individual, but the mind 
thus made up is not the mind of any one individual. All 
individuals stand in a unique relation to it, manifest considera- 
tion for it, and feel a kind of deference toward it. 

Something of this kind may be felt in the humblest com- 
mittee meeting, but the force of it is likely to be in proportion 
to the felt importance of the work in hand. When the delibera- 
tions concern ideal causes, such as the determination of national 
political policies or the world-wide interests of some humani- 
tarian or religious enterprise, there is an elevation of mind 
and heart of the highest degree. Sitting in a convention of 



468 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

delegates from all parts of the world deliberating upon the 
problems of world-wide missions the speakers are listened 
to as exponents of movements and issues of immeasurable 
significance. The emotional tension is often great, not so 
much through differing judgments as through the feeling of 
responsibility and the desire to hear and utter solving words. 
Emerson's reflections upon the Oversoul express this mood. 
There is a Spirit of the Group which exercises the function of 
control and inspiration for all the members. When the group 
is extended to embrace humanity and the participants share 
the noblest aspirations and plans for the uplift and welfare 
of all men, in the present and in the future, the fullest possible 
sense of a supermind or superspirit is attained. The social, 
psychological basis for the sense of God may therefore consist 
in this interaction of the individual and the group. The 
attempt at any analysis or description of this relation is 
necessarily inadequate and disappointing, but the experience 
of it is among the profoundest events of human life. 

If God is the idealizing Social Will, or Spirit of the Group, 
what is his relation to Nature ? It is sometimes assumed that 
if religion is regarded as primarily a concern of the social 
group it can take no sufficient account of the natural world. 
This view may rest upon the accepted picture of the order 
of events in the genealogy of our earth. Life appears after 
long geological ages, and human life still later. Society arises 
therefore as the latest development in a vast cosmic process. 
Human beings seem like puny insects in a great material 
order. Such a conception of man makes all of his thoughts 
and works appear insignificant. How, then, can a develop- 
ment within society, such as the social mind, or common will, 
condition or be superior to the forces of nature ? Such a view 
of man's place in nature has seemed to demand the conception 
of a God preceding the material universe and ordering all its 
minutest elements. A God of that kind rules as the master- 
creator. He is the conscious ordering Will sustaining every 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 469 

law and every event. But in the nature of the case, such a 
conception is a postulate, a dogma incapable of proof or 
verification. It may even be called a poetic fancy, and a 
similar notion is indeed found in the myths and legends of 
all peoples. With the coming of science and a critical exami- 
nation of man's ideas of himself and his world it becomes 
apparent that no scientific or logical procedure of thought 
can establish the existence of such a Being. Kant's criticisms 
of the arguments for the existence of that kind of God are 
conclusive. As Kant showed, the argument from design is 
recognized as establishing at most the "carpenter" relation of 
God to the materials given. It does not account for the 
origin of stuff and substance. The ontological argument, 
which Kant saw to be the most important and ultimately the 
foundation of all the other arguments, comes back to human 
life for its starting-point. It is the nature of man's idea, that 
is, its inclusion, by necessity, of perfection and existence, which 
is the guaranty of the truth of the idea and therefore of the 
existence of God. Probably the great majority of theologians 
and philosophers accept essentially such a starting-point for 
the doctrine of God. That is, they start with human experi- 
ence. They have then the problem before them as to how 
an idea in the minds of these little animals we call men, revolv- 
ing on a mere speck in space which we call the earth, can 
validate the existence and creative work revealed in all the 
stars and suns and planets whirling in the void. 

The view of the social psychologists emphasizes a different 
procedure. This view also starts with actual experiences and 
studies them, not by metaphysics and logic primarily, but in 
terms of their nature and functions. Thus Durkheim finds 
that the social group comes to have a sense of unity and 
relationship. This unity is symbolized and magnified, and 
is identified with a totem or a power of nature or an anthro- 
pomorphic being. The social group is a kind of protoplasm 
in which the individual is nourished and imbedded like a 



470 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

cell. The relation of the infant to his world is typical of his 
experience through life. He is surrounded and protected by 
the members of his group. His mother hovers over him. Her 
breasts and face and eyes and voice are among the first 
"objects" he encounters. Constantly persons are about him. 
By their movements they arrest attention. All his waking 
life they are watching, caressing, feeding, calling, commanding 
him. They come between him and all other things. They 
are ceaselessly pointing, explaining, advising, and putting him 
in his place. The commonest objects are already labeled. 
It is very important to call fire, fire, and not water or wood. A 
kind of veil of thoughts and attitudes is woven about every- 
thing, about people and dogs and trees and stars. This veil 
is the social medium, the atmosphere created by customs and 
speech and ways of human kind. This veil is never lifted, 
for the vast majority of human beings. They live and die 
within the mores and folkways of their inherited groups. 

Here and there an individual becomes aware of his own 
racial characteristics, manner of speech, and eccentricities. 
Few ever catch a glimpse of the profounder qualities of human 
nature or realize anything of the extent to which social inheri- 
tance and personal habit enter into perception and emotional 
attitudes. William James thought the study of the sub- 
conscious promised to open very remarkable chapters in the 
understanding of human nature. Much has been done in 
that direction, particularly by the French studies of hypnotism 
and other abnormal phenomena. The Freudians have made 
real contributions through their investigations of dreams, 
suppressed complexes, and related phenomena. The French 
school of Durkheim has opened new vistas by its study of 
the social or group mind. The reaction from the former 
intellectualistic conception of human life began in the last 
century with Arthur Schopenhauer. His voluntaristic psy- 
chology placed the intellect in subordination to the will and 
gave new importance to instinct and to the emotional life. 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 471 

From many sources the impression has been deepened that 
men have a collective organization of experience not unlike 
that of the insects and lower animals — for example, the ants 
and bees. The ants and bees have developed a remarkable 
system of subdivision of labor, interdependence, and discipline. 
Durkheim has shown that human society has grown up by 
these unconscious processes and is still to a remarkable extent 
controlled by them. The social organization quite unin- 
tentionally and without any purpose to do so furnishes the 
patterns and models of the august categories of space, time, 
number, and the rest. Language furnishes a striking illustra- 
tion. Not only does the child learn his mother-tongue 
literally before he knows it, but the race itself developed 
sign language and highly inflected speech before anyone really 
was aware of it. It is common experience to write a word 
as automatically as possible to ascertain how it should be 
spelled. In the same way we fall back upon our usage and 
feeling to ascertain the proper form of a phrase. The conscious 
analysis of such habits is more or less difficult and irksome, as 
may usually be seen in a boy's struggles with grammar. It 
is also appalling to see how little immediate influence such 
conscious analysis has upon incorrect established usage. 

The sense of the group as a whole is one of the deepest and 
most tenacious facts of human experience. It is more than 
a feeling for particular individuals. It is the sense of the 
complex relations which several persons, including one's self, 
sustain to one another and to other groups. It enters into the 
masterpieces of art. The translators of works of literature are 
constantly baffled by shades of meaning which elude them. 
Persons who have lived long among people of a different race, 
as Lafcadio Hearn did, have confessed that they could not 
establish the full sense of kinship. He remained a foreigner 
in his own home and the sense of complete unity was impossible 
to achieve. From such depths of social habituation do our 
profoundest attitudes arise that we cannot fathom them. And 



472 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

we are constantly projecting this inner order and structure of 
thought and feeling into our consciousness of the world about 
us and the God over us. It was natural that when men 
lifted their eyes to the stars and began to notice them they 
saw them grouped in the shapes of animals with which 
they were familiar — the bear, the scorpion, the fish, and 
the bull. For the same reason there is a man in the moon. 
Equally significant is the fact that there is a woman in 
the moon, though she is of course less conspicuous than her 
liege lord. 

There is certainly a very real truth in the contention that 
the cosmos as we conceive it is a social affair, dependent 
upon society. Even if it has now passed beyond the myths of 
childish fancy it is a construct of the scientific imagination. 
Kant believed he had achieved an epoch-making truth when 
it occurred to him that we should regard nature as conforming 
to the laws of our thought — not our conscious, individual 
thought, but our pure, a priori, synthetic judgment. And the 
studies of early society have emphasized the fact that man 
naively spread the pattern of his clan and tribal arrangement 
over all animate and inanimate things. The Zuni Indians 
named the points of the compass, that is, they described all 
space, in terms of the seven divisions of their camp. The 
Australians likewise attributed to all space their own social 
arrangement of it. It is of interest that since Kant what has 
probably been the most dominant school of philosophy, ideal- 
ism, has insisted that we conceive the physical world of space 
and time, not in terms of things as they are in themselves, 
but according to the law and temper of our own intelligence. 
From this standpoint the representation of God as the Spirit 
of the Group, that is, as the Common Will, with its idealizing 
tendency, is not unrelated to nature, but is supreme over it. 
The conception of God in social terms is not inconsistent 
with the thought of him as also the God of nature when 
nature is thought of as socially conditioned. 



THE VALIDITY OF TEE IDEA OF GOD 473 

A further feature which should be considered before 
deciding that a social conception of religion does not deal 
adequately with nature is the very practical, vital fact that 
society does much in the actual control and development of 
the natural order. With the coming of scientific medicine 
contagious diseases, such as malaria, measles, smallpox, and 
diphtheria, are no longer the dreaded enemies of civilization. 
The use of vaccine, quarantine, and other preventives have 
all but ehminated these perils. Pests of the soil, of grain 
and fruits have been destroyed. Irrigation projects have 
made deserts bloom. By aviation man has attained mastery 
over space and time which for practical purposes has marvel- 
ously diminished them. By working with nature man has 
helped her to produce new species of grain and flowers and 
has wrought transformations in animals and men. By 
processes of selection and training the men and women of a 
few centuries hence may be supermen and women as compared 
with ourselves. It requires no strain of the imagination to 
realize that we might go far toward the elimination of disease, 
poverty, and crime simply by spreading and intensifying 
present-day education, limited as such education is. In 
many countries 90 per cent of the population are illiterate, 
and in the United States even with our free public-school 
system 7.7 per cent are illiterate. Rapid improvement in 
this respect is shown in the United States by the fact that in 
1900 there were 10.7 per cent, in 1890, 13.3 per cent, in 1880, 
17 per cent who were illiterate. 

The study of the various modifications which society has 
made in nature and especially in man himself and in his 
relation to his environment strengthens the impression which 
is abroad that the process of creation is still going on and that 
it is the Spirit of the Social Group which is directing this 
activity. We have learned from the Great War how devastat- 
ing and remorseless the power of society may be when turned 
upon itself. If the war had lasted a little longer, the wreck and 



474 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

ruin by bomb and poisoned gas would have been incalculably- 
greater. Perhaps it is not over optimistic to believe that 
more slowly, but just as surely, man's inventiveness and 
social organization may accomplish correspondingly great 
constructive results. 

It is a suggestive fact that the sense of God is closely 
bound up with social solidarity, and that when society is 
disintegrating or full of conflict God becomes unreal and 
remote. Professor Cooley remarks that it is hard for our 
transition age to believe in God because we behold his face 
reflected in troubled waters. There are signs, however, of 
a new social spirit. The war gave us a vision of a new humani- 
tarianism. The dream of a League of Nations cannot be 
entirely forgotten. A new sense of kinship stirred in the 
hearts of all peoples, and it will never again be quieted into 
the old selfishness. The Hope of the Blessed Community, 
to use the phrase of Professor Royce, will continue to be 
cherished. It may be expected that the spirit of invention 
will turn to social enterprises in the future as it has to 
mechanical devices in the past. Some writers think that our 
civilization is still medieval in social affairs as compared 
with the natural sciences. They say the social sciences are 
a thousand years behind the physical sciences. If we are to 
expect developments in human associations such as this 
comparison suggests, then we may believe that these new 
measures of justice and mutual aid, of discipline and con- 
centrated effort will afford us a more vital companionship 
with our fellows and therefore a greater sense of God. 

It is a fair question to ask of such a view as the one here 
presented, How would its acceptance affect the practice of 
religion ? If God were thought to be the Spirit of the Group, 
would he still be of value in religious experience? What 
validity would God, thus conceived, have for the religious 
needs of man ? 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 475 

Here the recent studies of psychology furnish a valuable 
point of view with reference to the relation which man's 
ideational life sustains to his volitional and emotional nature. 
In this view we are primarily active and emotional. Some- 
one has said that "at best human beings just barely think 
even under the utmost provocation." Anyway, the religious 
life does not arise from thought or rest upon logic. Like 
love and patriotism it wells up from deeper sources. Religion 
is an expression of man's quest for life and life more abundant. 
It is more than the demand for self-preservation. It asks for 
expansion, for growth. Through the process of development 
now widely achieved under social pressure and pacemaking, 
human beings become partially conscious of the process. 
They generate ideas, theories, and hypotheses. In religion 
they produce creeds and symbols. When it is once realized 
that life creates systems of thought for its aid and satisfaction 
and is not created by them, then the problem of this discus- 
sion appears in a new light. The idea of God arising as a 
kind of "collective representation" may not persist in the 
same relation of externality and supernaturalism as it has 
seemed to hold in the past, but may be variously conceived 
and still have validity because formulating and symbolizing 
important attitudes and ideals. This seems to be suggested 
in part at least by Professor Coe's 

prediction that human nature will go on building its ideal personal- 
social worlds, rinding in them its life and its home. This process will 
continue to be carried out toward ideal completeness as faith in a divine 
order in which our life shares. The thought of God may, indeed, 
undergo yet many transformations, but in one form or another it will 
be continually renewed as an expression of the depth and height of 
social experience and social aspiration [Psychology of Religion, p. 326]. 

Evidence that God may still have meaning, and therefore 
validity, under most diverse conceptions is seen in the writings 
of the mystics and other men of conflicting creeds. Jacob 



476 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Boehme held God to be beyond all of our thoughts of him, 
even so far above our world that he is beyond good and evil. 
We cannot properly call him good. From quite another 
approach Herbert Spencer came to essentially the same 
conclusion. He was agnostic only with reference to what 
God is, not that he is. Poles apart from these positions is 
that of William James and H. G. Wells who find it easier to 
believe in a finite than in an infinite God, and do enthusiasti- 
cally confess their faith in a God who is so finite and limited 
as possibly to "draw vital strength and increase of very being 
from our fidelity." That is, our will to believe helps to 
create the fact. Some primitive peoples punish their Gods if 
their prayers are not answered. We may wonder how it is 
possible for them to believe in gods which they occasionally 
knock from their pedestals and roll in the mud, but at least 
it is some evidence that attachment to the gods does not 
depend upon maintaining an idea of the gods' perfection. 

The problem of the validity of the idea of God may lead 
through the observation of such facts to a discrimination 
between the analytical, critical, reflective attitude and the 
synthetic, active, religious attitude. This is the difference 
between the spectator and the participant. As spectator in 
any situation one may be detached, intellectually alert, and 
cold. As participant one is interested, appreciative, and warm. 
Both attitudes appear in varying degrees. When the partici- 
pation in a practical situation is most complete, the critical 
attitude is intolerable. Thus during the war there was a 
tendency to silence every questioning tongue without argument 
or investigation. The mind untrained in critical analysis is 
generally impatient of the attempt to describe objectively, 
in the spirit of science, any personal experience. A student I 
once advised to study botany feelingly objected on the ground 
that it would spoil her love of flowers. The same reaction 
often meets the student of religious experience. There seems 
at first something irreligious and disloyal about the descrip- 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 477 

tion of one's deeper emotions. This is the objection which is 
constantly brought against introspection. How is it possible 
to analyze an active, practical, or emotional state of mind 
without destroying it ? The answer is that we make such an 
analysis by means of the experience of what we may call 
different selves. We are accustomed to the notion that every 
person is a kind of community of selves. Each self is a role 
which the person takes in a sort of imaginative dramatization. 
Self-criticism is a process of setting up one of these r61es as a 
"me" to be analyzed in contrast to another possible "me." 
By practice this objectification may reach a point where the 
person becomes a fair and just critic of himself, but it is not 
often achieved. Where it is accomplished the individual 
moves back and forth from the r61e of an active agent to that 
of an impartial spectator. This is much more easily accom- 
plished, however, by the aid of another individual whose 
eyes we borrow for the purpose of seeing ourselves. If a 
person remained in the attitude of self-criticism he would be 
permanently inhibited from the active mood. It does some- 
times happen that a person who has endeavored to master a 
technique, such as playing an instrument or manipulating 
golf sticks, establishes such a definite and inescapable impres- 
sion of himself as a failure in that role that he gives up further 
effort. But the normal process of growth is by embodying in 
action the suggestions derived from criticism. 

The application of this transition from participant to 
observer and from observer to participant in religion bears 
directly upon the validity of the idea of God. The records of 
religious experience in the Bible and in Christian literature 
are largely from the standpoint of the participant. An 
excellent illustration is afforded by the prophets of Israel. 
They announced their message by saying, "The word of the 
Lord came unto me." Modern psychology affords a convin- 
cing account of this psychosis by identifying it with certain 
phenomena of the subconscious. The sense of objectivity 



478 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

pertains not only to hallucinations and illusions, but also to 
insistent ideas and deep convictions. They do not seem to be 
the work of the individual thinker. Many literary men, 
scientists, and artists have testified that their minds seem to be 
controlled by outside agencies. Their own accounts show that 
their understanding of this feeling does not lessen the sense of 
objectivity when actively absorbed in work. 

It may be that the sense of God is just as little affected 
by the discovery of its identity with the feeling for the 
group. If as observer and analyst a man reached the conclu- 
sion that God is one with the Spirit of the Group, it would 
not necessarily follow that as participant that man would 
have any lessened feeling for God as the supreme ruler of 
men and nature. The practical, emotional life may be said 
to guarantee the absoluteness of its objects, while it is the 
nature of reflective thought to qualify and limit them. It 
is difficult for the mother to see defects in her child. Love 
is blind, blind at least to blemishes. Religion has been slow 
to reconstruct its program of action under criticism, especially 
where God has been conceived statically. It has been neces- 
sary to make it appear that the growth of knowledge was only 
the achievement of more adequate insight into the eternal 
will and unchanging purpose of God. Often changes have 
come about by an unconscious development in the spirit of 
the age and in the mores, or the changes have been thought 
of as occurring in the nonessentials. This has generally 
meant that progress has been welcomed only where it was 
not felt to be important. So long as one did not criticize 
or attempt to reconstruct the fundamentals of the faith it 
was well enough. In all matters of mere expediency there 
could be full liberty of opinion. It seems seldom to occur 
to the defendants of this view that it means that God contented 
himself with only a partial arrangement of the world. Look- 
ing over the history of Christianity, one easily gets the impres- 
sion that the making of our human world was left with only a 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 479 

rough structure and without clear plans for its completion. 
What some regard as important or essential, others place 
in the category of opinion. Perhaps the radically different 
conception of a growing God, finite but marvelously great 
and still advancing through the enlightenment of society and 
the organization of its will, might elicit, not only loyalty and 
affection, but a far greater sense of responsibility in the 
individuals of society. Other institutions have made this 
change in attitude with that result. Political democracy 
surrendered the conception of the divinity of kings and the 
divine right of kings and now accepts more or less frankly 
the authority of society itself in all matters, great and small. 
That change has not destroyed patriotism. Men still die for 
their country, and as it seems to us in America they die more 
gloriously when believing that their cause is an experiment 
and an adventure and that their deeds decide the issues. 
Religion might conceivably gain in the same way. Loyalty 
and devotion seem to increase rather than diminish where 
responsibility is most fully shared. Possibly the idea of a 
powerful, finite, struggling, and growing God identified with 
the common will of society would make a profounder appeal 
and therefore have greater validity than any notion of a 
perfect and ineffable Being could have. Just as we may 
regard the state critically in one mood and be willing to serve 
and die for her too, so we may be capable of holding our 
conception of God subject to revisions and also maintain the 
utmost devotion to him. In other words, it may be possible 
to regard God from the analytical, critical standpoint as 
limited and developing and also maintain in action and senti- 
ment the sense of the absolute. 

The question of the possibility of prayer and of worship 
naturally arises here. Both belong to the active, emotional 
attitude and are natural to it. Prayer is a form of communion. 
Ideal companionship is involved in it. It affords comfort and 
restfulness by inducing relaxation, a sense of security and 



480 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

strength. As in all conversation we are alert and sensitive to 
the other person's point of view, so in talking things over with 
God we tend to think of ourselves and our problem as such an 
ideal Being does. Prayer is therefore a valuable means of 
illumination and direction. Problems are solved through it 
and the course of events modified and transformed. If in the 
midst of one's prayers the critical spectator mood should set 
in, the prayer would be at an end for the time being, and if 
the critical mood in reference to this act became chronic it 
would undoubtedly abolish the practice of prayer. But it is 
equally true that if in conversation with a friend I allow the 
critical, scientific mood of the psychologist to possess me, then 
the conversation is at an end. Besides, my friend is likely 
to be irritated and estranged and may think me quite out of 
my mind, especially if he himself is not a psychologist, and 
not a very considerate person. It makes no difference what 
one's conception of God is, the emergence in thought of its 
critical, logical formulation interferes with prayer just as 
much as does the emergence of the view which identifies 
God with the Social Will. Any theory critically attended to 
inhibits for the time being the attitude of appreciation and 
acquiescence. 

The term worship has come to have a connotation which 
almost identifies it with obeisance and adoration. The 
subservience and deference of a slave or vassal is implied. 
With the passing of arbitrary dictators this attitude of sub- 
jection has become obnoxious. The endless chanting of 
hymns of adoration palls upon the modern mind. In a more 
democratic society there is a greater sense of kinship and of 
likeness of nature. Religion therefore tends to become more 
of a mutual enterprise. The church may be thought of 
as performing two functions, one that of a "deliberative 
assembly" with educational facilities such as classrooms and 
libraries and clinics to make the deliberations intelligent 
and fruitful; the other function that of dramatizing the 



THE VALIDITY OF THE IDEA OF GOD 481 

religious life with all the aids of scenery, music, and action to 
give the most vivid representation of the struggles, tragedies, 
and victories of man's spiritual progress. The ceremonial 
drama has been employed with the greatest possible wealth 
of expression bodying forth what have been felt to be the 
important crises and values of life and affording a means of 
contemplating with hope and vision the achievements of the 
future. In such comprehensive pictures of life different 
occupations and professions and the various social relations 
common to men may be seen in their total setting and in 
their ideal meaning and value. Worship thus conceived 
belongs to religion which is integral with life and concerned 
with concrete, natural relationships. The sense of God is 
found in that sense of presence which comes with comrade- 
ship in a genial company of earnest, idealistic souls who are 
interested in no petty selfish ends, but in the common good. 
This sense of God is not unlike other precious experiences of 
life which are not to be achieved so much by direct effort 
as by a kind of self-effacing devotion to objective, practical 
ends. Just as happiness and virtue elude too bold a search 
and yield themselves only where men live disinterestedly, so 
God becomes most real to those who in association with their 
fellows labor for the advancement of a social order in which 
there may be greater sympathy, wisdom, justice, and progress.