Faith in Our History

The distinction between history as known by the pure and as apprehended by the practical reason, though it raises difficulties that must be met, does assist us to understand how it is possible for the word "revelation" to point to history and yet point to God also. It cannot point to God, as we have noted, if the history to which it directs attention is the chain of events that an impersonal eye or mind apprehends. For such history, abstracting from human selves, must also abstract events from the divine self and, furthermore, while it may furnish motives for belief in the occurrence of certain happenings, it does not invite trust in a living God.

The error frequently made in the Christian community, which has been the occasion for the rise of many difficulties in understanding and propagating the historical faith, has been the location of revelation in external history or in history as known from the non-participating point of view. So revelation has been identified with some miracle, whether this was the single act of a person or his whole life or the life of a community, such as Israel or the church. In this way certain events in external history were set apart as sacred, or a sacred history of one community has been opposed to the secular histories of other societies.

Sacred events were inserted into a context otherwise secular and the continuity between the two types of events denied. It was denied that the events of holy history were subject to the same type of explanation which might be offered for secular happenings; that so-called secular events might have a sacred meaning for those who participated in them as selves was not thought possible.

Much so-called orthodoxy identified revelation with the Scriptures and regarded the latter as wholly miraculous, the product of an inspiration which suspended the ordinary processes of human thought and guaranteed inerrancy. But to validate the Scriptural miracle, another needed to be inserted into history, since that which stands completely alone is an impenetrable mystery no matter how much astonishment it calls forth. So miraculous Scriptures were related to miracles in the realm of nature, to a sun that stood still, a virgin-bom child, to water turned by a word into wine. Furthermore the psychological miracle of prophecy as a supernatural foretelling of events, as though by second-sight, was introduced to validate the wonder of the Bible. The consequence of this method of argument was that two systems of reality on the same plane— a natural, historical, rational system and a supernatural, super-historical and super-rational system —were set beside each other. They were on the same plane, perceived by the same organs of sense and apprehended bv the same minds, vet there was no real relation between them. Rev-elation took place within the supernatural and super-historical system; reason operated in the natural scries of events. The distinction between the history in which revelation occurred ana that in which there was no revelation was transferred to persons and things having history; there were natural and unnatural events, persons, and groups. It was assumed that the differences between nature and super-nature were due not to the beholder's situation but to the things viewed while the point of view remained constant. Hence arose the conflict between history and faith. For sacred events in a secular context must be secularly apprehended, and to demand of men that they should exempt certain events in the chain of perceived happenings from the application of the laws or principles with which they apprehend the others is to ask the impossible or to make everything unintelligible. How much the tendency to self-defen-siveness and self-glorification in Christianity contributed to this effort to exempt the faith and its history from the judgments applicable to ordinary events it is not possible to say. But it must be noted that the consequences of the attempt to isolate sacred from secular history led not only to fruitless quarrels with natural and social science but also to internal conflict and inconsistency since it tended to substitute belief in the occurrence of miraculous events for faith in God and invited dispute about the relative importance of many wonders.

If the distinction between history as seen from without by a pure reason and from within by a practical reason, and if the denial of the exclusive validity of either %iew be allowed, we are enabled to understand not only how faith and history may be associated but how in the nature of the case thev must be allied. An inner history, life's flow as

regarded from the point of view of living selves, is always an affair of faith. As long as a man lives he must believe in something for the sake of which he lives; without belief in something that makes life worth living man cannot exist. If, as Tolstoy points out in his Confession, man does not see the temporality and futility of the finite he will believe in the finite as worth living for; if he can no longer have faith in the value of the finite he will believe in the infinite or else die. Man as a practical, living being never exists without a god or gods; there are some things to which he must cling as the sources and goals of his activity, the centers of value. As a rule men are polytheists, referring now to this and now to that valued being as the source of life's meaning. Sometimes they live for Jesus' God, sometimes for country, and sometimes for Yale. For the most part they make gods out of themselves or out of the work of their own hands, living for their own glory as persons and as communities. In any case the faith that life is worth living and the definite reference of life's meaning to specific beings and values is as inescapable a part of human existence as the activity of reason. It is no less true that man is a believing animal in this sense than that he is a rational animal. Without such faith men might exist, but not as selves. Being selves, they as surely have something for which to live as being rational they have objects to understand.

Such faith in gods or in values for which men live is inseparable from internal history. It is the gods that give unity to the events of personal life. A nation has an internal history so far as its members have some common center of reference, some good for which they live together, whether that be an abstract value, such as equality or democracy, which unites them in common devotion, or whether it be the personalized community itself, such as Athena, or Britannia, or Columbia. A man has one internal history so far as he is devoted to one value. For the most part persons and communities do not have a single internal history because their faiths are various and the events of life cannot be related to one continuing and abiding god. They have "too many selves to know the one," too many histories, too many gods; alongside their published and professed history there are suppressed buc true stories of inner life concentrated about gods of whom they are ashamed. Without a single faith there is no real unity of the self or of a community, therefore no unified inner history but only a multiplicity of memories and destinies. Inner history and inner faith belong together, as the existence of self and an object of devotion for the sake of which the self lives are inseparable.

The relation is something like that of animal faith in the existence of an external world and the data of experience. By an unconquerable compulsion, given with life itself, we believe in the reality of the trees we see, the ground we walk upon, the table, chairs, and houses we touch and use, the food and drink we taste. We count upon enduring realities and are not usually put to shame. No matter how refined our skepticism grows, how far into infinity we pursue the constituent elements of our objects, how ethereal to the mind's eye the natural world becomes, we rely upon the enduring stuff of our environment and we continue to be nourished and to be borne up. "Nature/' that is to say human nature, is sufficient to dispel the clouds of skepticism, as Hume himself pointed out. Without this animal faith in a dependable external world we literally would not live as bodies, for if we were true skeptics we would be errant fools to eat food made up of sense-data only, to breathe an unsubstantial air with unreal lungs, to walk with unreal feet upon a nonexistent earth toward imaginary goals. By faith, by counting upon persistent factors in our environment, we live as bodies and with our brains think out this common world. But what the factors are on which we can count, what the permanent possibilities of sensation are on which we can depend in thought and act, that we cannot know save through repeated and common experience. The necessity of animal faith in objective reality may be prior to all experience, but concrete faith in any particular element in our world as dependable does not exist save as it is made possible by sense experience. Faith is inseparably connected with experience; but neither faith nor sense-experience can be substitutes for each other. So also the faith of selves in a source of value or in a god is inseparable from the inner experience of selves, from what happens to them in their history. They cannot but believe that these events, the joys and sorrows of the self, have meaning, but what the meaning is cannot be known apart from inner history. The necessity of believing in a god is given with the life of selves, but what gods are dependable, which of them can be counted on day after day, and which are idols—products of erroneous imagination—cannot be known save through the experiences of inner history.

The standpoint of faith, of a self directed toward gods or God, and the standpoint of practical reason, of a self with values and with a destiny, are not incompatible; they are probably identical. To be a self is to have a god; to have a god is to have history, that is, events connected in a meaningful pattern; to have one god is to have one history. God and the history of selves in community belong together in inseparable union.

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