Farmer on the absolute demand of God's Will

Right now I am studying H.H. Farmer's Revelation and Religion for my junior paper at Princeton. The whole book (together with a second volume, Reconciliation and Religion) constitutes an impressive attempt at a comprehensive theological interpretation of religious phenomena, which can be used in the context of a Christian apologetic as an answer to the problem of pluralism. He argues that one essential element of what he terms 'living religion' is the sense of an absolute demand pressing itself upon the human spirit by a higher Will, together with the acknowledgment that this demand must be obeyed regardless of the rewards or satisfactions which might be incurred. He notes that this is a phenomenon which psychological debunkings of religion (for example based in wish-fulfillment cannot accommodate):

[These are] views...which dismiss religion as being merely a means whereby men gain reinforcement in face of the threats, frustrations and disasters which beset them, and as such completely explicable in terms of wishful thinking or other such psychological process...such views...are almost incredibly indifferent to manifest facts. They ignore, that is to say, the presence in living religion of precisely this 'pricking' element of absolute claim...One may note, however, in passing that often the same superficial and confused minds which reject religion as being merely a fantasy-satisfaction of human desires also criticize it, in other contexts, for its puritanical demands upon, and restriction of, those desires. (Revelation and Religion, pp.141-142)

One is reminded of G.K. Chesteron's astute observation of the inconsistencies of the various critiques of Christianity which he had come across:

One accusation against Christianity was that it prevented men, by morbid tears and terrors, from seeking joy and liberty in the bosom of Nature. But another accusation was that it comforted men with a fictitious providence, and put them in a pink-and-white nursery. One great agnostic asked why Nature was not beautiful enough, and why it was hard to be free. Another great agnostic objected that Christian optimism, “the garment of make-believe woven by pious hands,” hid from us the fact that Nature was ugly, and that it was impossible to be free. One rationalist had hardly done calling Christianity a nightmare before another began to call it a fool’s paradise. This puzzled me; the charges seemed inconsistent. Christianity could not at once be the black mask on a white world, and also the white mask on a black world. The state of the Christian could not be at once so comfortable that he was a coward to cling to it, and so uncomfortable that he was a fool to stand it. If it falsified human vision it must falsify it one way or another; it could not wear both green and rose-coloured spectacles. (Orthodoxy, chapter VI)
One may of course argue that these two critiques are actually complementary, that religion is dangerous precisely because it careens between these two excesses, of false optimism and false pessimism. This reply would probably only be convincing, however, to someone whose experience of reality is quite diminished compared to the full range of possible experience, someone who has never felt the utter horror from watching Jewish babies being smashed against a brick wall by Nazi soldiers (as Wladislaw Spielman did) or conversely the almost indescribable joy of holding one's child for the first time. The truth is that reality contains both extremes, and any philosophy of life worth holding to must make sense of them together. Thus Christianity is the most adequate philosophy of life because it refuses to soft-peddle the tragic fallen-ness of human nature, and because it refuses to settle for anything less than the Beatific Vision as the ultimate destiny of humanity.


Ron said…
Great post! The hope of Christianity is great, in fact the greatest hope, but the path of a Christian is often rough.
thanks man. I appreciate your comments.

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