The Philosophy of Worship

Reflection on the Godward aspect of the Church's role, that is to say, reflection on the concept of worship, is another theme crying out for philosophical treatment.

There is some brief reflection on the topic in Robert Adams's Finite and Infinite Goods, where the centrality of worship in Christian ethics is stressed. As Adams puts it: 'A genuine love for the good can find in symbolic expression [i.e. in worship] an integration and completion that would otherwise be impossible.'17 But what we look for are more extended studies along the lines of Ninian Smart's 1972 book, The Concept of Worship.18 In accordance with his special expertise, Smart gives us a comparative, phen-omenological sketch of the salient features of worship in world religion. Smart would agree with Peter Geach that 'worship' is an intentional verb; that is to say, it is necessarily aimed at something. In Smart's terms, worship is relational. He calls its object the 'Focus' of the rituals that express it. In all developed religions where worship takes place, it comes to be held that nothing finite, only the transcendent, can be the appropriate object of worship. Worship of money, sex or one's car is inappropriate worship, idolatry. Smart borrows from Rudolf Otto the term 'numinous' to characterize the kind of conscious states experienced where appropriate religious worship takes place.

Where God is recognized as the Focus of human worship, the question arises whether the same Focus is to be discerned as lying at the heart of all theistic faiths. Here, Smart and Geach differ. For Smart (and Ward and, a fortiori, Hick ), since there can only be one ultimate transcendent reality, this must be the true object of all theistic worship, in however distorted a form. But, for Geach, the arrow of worship may miss its mark entirely, if its object is sufficiently falsely conceived. This is a debate inviting much further philosophical reflection.

The importance of incorporating a philosophy of worship within one's whole worldview lies in the fact that, for theists, including Christian theists, the universe as God's creation is specifically designed to evolve conscious, rational, spiritual beings capable of felt and articulated response to God. Finite being is, in this sense, open to the transcendent and cannot be fully understood apart from this inbuilt propensity.

What is special about Christian worship was briefly treated in chapters 6 and 7 on salvation and the consummation of all things. For Christians, worship involves not simply the Church's response of prayer and praise to the Creator. Nor are the sacraments simply signs and vehicles of God's grace. In both cases, it is held, the processes whereby God's human creatures are taken into the triune life of God are already under way. Much more work is called for from philosophical theologians on this aspect of the Creator—creature relation.

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