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THE ORIGIN OF THE CONCEPT OF GOD.
BY REV. GEORGE T. LADD, MILWAUKIE, WIS.
The knowledge which the adult mind has, or thinks it has, of God is given in the form of a concept. The truth of this statement will doubtless be admitted by all — by those who accept the theory of an innate idea, as well as by those who refer all the elements of the concept, and also the act of combining these elements, to man's powers of observation and reasoning. Whether the concept contain some germ of knowledge or belief which, given with the original gift of the mind itself, unfolds as the mind unfolds, and gathers to itself, as it were, by accretion the other “ marks” of the concept, may be, indeed, open to inquiry. We may also fairly question whether there be not some instinctive and constitutional cravings, which drive the mind to its act of conception. But a cognition so complex and shifting as that which answers to the word “ God” in the ordinary experiences of the adult mind can never be looked upon otherwise than as the result of foregoing observation and reasoning. It is, therefore, a concept. A concept, however, is ordinarily considered as the sole product of the logical faculty. It is a product composed of more or fewer factors, gathered from several objects by abstraction, comparison, and reflection, and impressed by the intellect with the stamp of mental
Vol. XXXIV. No. 123. - JANUARY, 1877. 1
unity. Logic is the science that deals with conception ; the logicians own by native right all the concepts. But we cannot bring ourselves to believe that with the formation and criticism of this particular and somewhat peculiar concept the logical faculty alone is concerned.
Indeed, it is clear that none of the so-called concepts are formed or reproduced without contributions from many other parts of man's total nature than that which we in dialectics have exalted to the supremacy. In the process of knowledge as it takes place in real life, the centres of sensual impressions, the feelings, the moral faculties, and particularly the will, are no less active than the intellect. The product corresponds to the process. When the word which stands for and calls up the product of this process is pronounced, and by the soul attended to, the nerve-ganglia of vision and of the other senses, the instinctive or acquired emotions, volitions put forth to summon or to repress certain elements of the desired total, take part in the response which is given by the soul. Nor do we represent the true state of the soul fairly when we speak as though these activities of sense, feeling, and will must be transformed into terms of the intellect, and so submit to be understood, in order that the concept may do its proper work. The fact is, that much of the whole product is spoiled by the very effort to render it a purely intelligible and logical product. In the real life of the living man, those activities which are not intellectual and cannot be presented to the soul in terms of the intellect are as real and as potent elements as any. For instance, how little can analysis and verbiage do to set forth what goes on within some men's souls when they hear spoken the word “ mother.”
Let a man of symmetrical culture be asked to pronounce the Divine name, and, summoning all his powers, to observe as fully as possible what state of mind and heart is induced in response to the name. The effort to observe will mar the product which he wishes to make the object of his observation. The subsequent effort to describe his state of consciousness will be quite unsatisfactory,– indeed, will be
without power to represent adequately any of his experiences, - unless the descriptive words stir up in him to whom they are directed a corresponding condition not only of intellect, but of feeling and volition as well. But what will be the result of his observation of this his own highest concept? He will be likely to detect a certain instinctive use of the physical organs, such as accompanies, usually, if not universally, the effort to become clearly conscious of the indefinitely grand and sublime. There will be observed that full inspiration which is so vastly expressive, and which seems to give token that the brain, called upon for an unusual effort, demands an unusual supply of well aerated blood. There will, perhaps, be also observed that effort at an indefinite widening of the circle of vision which comes, customarily, when the mind strives after a sensuous representation of indefinite space; with a bowing of the head in the reverence of awe, or an uplifting of it in the reverence of confidence. Nor must it be thought that these physical concomitants are impotent factors in the whole to be realized, or unworthy of notice by one who wishes to understand his own conceptions. How natural and expressive these gestures and other physical phenomena are, how almost indispensable in attaining the highest possible result in consciousness, is made clearly apparent by the conduct of men in those semi-conscious states when the senses are partially dormant and the will has withdrawn its accustomed control. Of the hypnotized subject Dr. Garth Wilkinson says: “Raise his head while in prayer, and his lips pour forth exulting glorifications, as he sees heaven opened and the majesty of God raising him to his place. Then, in a moment, depress the head, and he is dust and ashes, an unworthy sinner, with the pit of hell yawning at his feet.”
There will also be observed certain constituent elements of the concept which are furnished by the intellect, - the “ marks," in logical parlance, of the concept, — some of which are themselves concepts, and others intuitions. Among such marks may be named those of power, unity, purity,
justice, love, causation, final purpose. The effort to bring some of these into consciousness with their fullest vigor of presentation will, it is likely, be made not without certain physical concomitants. Just as the notion of power is apt to be accompanied with the nisus ; this nisus indicating that the force which originates with the will, and which gives us our point of starting in our proof for the reality of all force, is about to discharge itself in the movement of the bodily organs. There will be observed, also, arising into the conscious soul, certain emotions of awe, trust, fear, or answering love. And the whole will be moulded, in a measure, by the ever active volition of the observer, who, while he controls thought and feeling in order that he may observe them, also decides to a considerable extent what ones of the whole throng of impressions crowding their way into the sphere of consciousness shall submit to examination at all, what ones shall fall back into the darkness whence they came.
This view of the concept of God as a complex whole, to which the emotional as well as the intellectual makes its contributions, corresponds, I believe, to the truth of experience. The significance and potency of those elements of the whole which in order to be represented to the intellect must necessarily be totally changed are no less than of those elements which are primarily intellectual. As to this greatest of all concepts, the heart is in it, as well as the head. In it the heart is as trustworthy as the head. The heart has as good right to be heard as the head, and as good right to demand that the deliverances of the head shall be made to the heart in terms of emotion as the head has to claim that the deliverances of the heart shall be made to the head in terms of logic. Any perversion of feeling, conscience, or will is sure to detract important elements from the total product. This view of the nature of the concept corresponds, also, I believe, to the true view of its origin.
But our method of investigation must be more clearly defined. There are, we will say, three different methods of inquiring into the origin of our present knowledge of God.
One of these may be called the historic. It is the method of antiquarian research into man's early religious condition, and the method, as well, of him who studies in history the changes that the centuries bring to men's theological views. The second of these is the experimental or inductive. This method may engage itself with that more narrow observation of the phenomena of religious life which is open to every man ; or it may go out into the world at large, and compare the present views of nations differing in situation, education, and inherited characteristics. Both of these two methods are pursued by the student of comparative theology. The third method we will call analytic, not because the other methods do not demand power of keen analysis, but because the third method demands little else. This method, with much distrust as to ability to cope with a theme so vast, but with confidence that our suggestions of truth will be found in the main true, we will follow. The investigation according to this method requires some analysis of the concept of God and of the complex faculties of man, with a view to show how the different elements of the former necessarily take their rise from, and correspond to, the latter. In this way man's whole nature is made responsible for, and is discovered to be consonant with, the revelation of God which is made within man. And when it is seen that the symmetrically cultured man is the proper organ for the reception of the truth concerning God, then it is also seen that any refusal to accept deliverances of this truth, or any marring of its fulness, testifies to weakness or disease in some part of the whole manhood, that is, in some part of the organ through which the truth is delivered.
Nothing is, however, more necessary, in the endeavor to understand how the concept under consideration originates, than to hold correct views of the entire relation of man to truth. The view which, if not held as a theory, is quite too frequently carried out in the practical search after knowledge seems to be this one — that truth is a product of mind wrought out by the skilful use of the ratiocinative faculties.