Chapter 4: Henry Nelson Wieman
In Thomism and Boston personalism we find vigorous expression of two quite different types of natural theology. In one respect, however, they resemble each other. Both affirm the existence of God on the basis of inference from data that are more immediately given than God. We have seen that the data are conditioned and that the justification of any inference whatever has been called in question. This does not mean that the arguments are not well taken, but it does reveal that their conclusions cannot be taken as the unequivocal dictates of objective reason. If faith depends upon prior acceptance of these conclusions, then it rests upon the shaky foundation of doubtful speculation.
Some of the theologians whom we will consider in subsequent chapters reject every effort to rest faith upon any general human experience or thought. They are convinced that faith can be faith only if it is the work of God as his immediate act and gift. If human agency is allowed at all, they believe, not only must we rely on the broken reed of rational argument but faith’s own nature is misunderstood. Hence modern Protestant theology has seen efforts unmatched in previous history to exhibit faith in its total autonomy and separateness from the rest of man’s beliefs and convictions.
In principle, if faith is wholly God’s act in and for us, then all criteria for its justification are surrendered. Faith occurs as and where it occurs, and no discussion of it is possible except where it has in fact occurred. (See Wieman’s critique, The Source of Human Good, pp. 32- 37; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 110, 133.) Before proceeding to a discussion of those positions which accept and glory in this situation, we will consider one supreme effort that has been made to avoid alike the speculative character of the natural theologies considered earlier and the apparent arbitrariness of the positivistic positions treated in the later chapters.
The alternative to speculation on the one hand and the "leap" of faith on the other must be some kind of empirical description. Such description has played some role in all theologies, and in some cases has played a very large role. But in most Christian theology it has been assumed that what can be described is only the effect of God’s activity, and is hence only a source of data from which inferences to God’s existence and nature can be drawn. If we are to avoid such inferences, and the doubtful speculations they always entail, then we must assert that God is given directly in experience and hence subject to direct description and verification.
This kind of claim can be made in several ways. First, there is mystical experience, with its claim to immediate participation in the divine life or lmmediate encounter with the divine person. Its difficulty is that the witness of mystics is diverse and is always conditioned by the theological heritage they bring to their experience. That there is mystical experience is clear, but to believe in God on the basis of its occurrence is to accept another doubtful inference. For the mystic himself, something more may be said; but for those who are limited to normal experiences, an empirical theology cannot be built upon hypernormal experiences. (For Wieman’s interpretation of mystical experience, see The Source of Human Good, pp. 186-187; Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p. 142.)
Second, psychologists such as Jung claim to have discovered through clinical observation what they call the God-archetype as a structure in man’s unconscious psyche. (Carl Gustav Jung, Psychology and Religion.) For all practical purposes they then identify the God-archetype with God. On this basis, an empirical theology appears possible in which the situation of man universally in relation to God can be described. However, a twofold objection must be raised. First, one must question whether in fact considerable speculative inference is not involved in the identification of the God-archetype and the "description" of its functions. Second, it can hardly be demonstrated that none of what has been historically understood as religious faith has been directed toward an extrapsychic reality instead of toward this intrapsychic one. As long as this possibility is open, most Christians will prefer to understand by "God" something quite different from the God-archetype.
If an empirical theology is to be taken seriously, it must describe a non-subjective reality that is directly accessible to normal experience. But so long as men think in terms of substances, such a venture is impossible. Every empirically accessible substance must be a spatiotemporal entity, which it would be idolatrous to regard as God. Systematic development of thoroughgoing empirical theology required first the abandonment of these categories of thinking. In this sense it was the radical philosophy of Hume that prepared the way for empirical theology.
Empirical theology receives its most adequate expression in the work of Henry Nelson Wieman. Wieman’s theology can be understood only when we have first entered into the philosophicospiritual situation of modern man, in which the stable world of substantial entities has been abandoned. The sticks and stones, tables and books, vegetables and human bodies, which were once regarded as the individuals out of which the world is composed, are now seen as strands that in various conjunctions with one another and with strands of perceiving and feeling constitute events. (Henry Nelson Wieman, The Directive in History, pp. 7-8.) Events are the conjunctions of such strands, or rather the events are the actualities through analysis of which we isolate these strands. A human person is itself one of these strands and not, as the Boston Personalists suppose, the inclusive event. (Ibid., pp. 19,21.)
These events, which constitute the ultimate reality, are qualitative in nature. That is, they are complex qualities that may be analyzed into simpler qualities in particular relations. Among these qualities no priority can be given either to sensory or emotional elements. They occur in conjunction, and this conjunction is the given reality itself. (Ibid., p. 14.)
This vision is so important for the understanding of Wieman’s empirical theology that some further exposition and illustration are demanded. What still seems to us more "common sense" is an understanding of reality as composed of separate entities in interaction. In this view my mind constitutes one such entity, and my body, my typewriter, and the paper on which I am writing constitute other such entities, along with the chair on which I sit and the table that supports the machine. These entities seem to be the primary realities and my act of typing seems to be secondary. But the history of modern philosophy has shown that this view assumes an idea of substances underlying the observed qualities of things that cannot stand under analysis. The typewriter is a togetherness of qualities and potentialities. But these qualities do not exist simply in themselves. They occur only in conjunction with the sensitive organism and mind of man. By the same token this organism does not exist in itself. (Ibid., p.19.) It always occurs as an interaction with its environment. What is primary, what is the source for all other knowledge, what is prior to all speculative inference, is the event of my typing, which includes all the qualities of color and sound and touch as well as of emotion, memory, and expectation that constitute it.
When we shift the focus of reality from substances to events we also move from static to dynamic categories. A substance could be thought of as enduring unchanged through time. The typewriter could be understood as a self-identical substance on successive days. But every event is absolutely unique. (The Source of Human Good, p.303.)The event of my typing today is numerically and qualitatively different from the event of my typing yesterday. Furthermore, within an event, however broadly or narrowly conceived, there is a qualitative flow rather than an unchanging being. The qualities are the concrete, objective realities that constitute events and hence processes. (The Directive in History, p.14; Man’s Ultimate Commitment, pp. 82-83.) Therefore, process is the all-inclusive term for reality. We may speak of the one total cosmic process, or we may speak of the myriad of processes that make it up. The point is that the most concrete division of the whole, whether into few or many parts, always yields qualities, events, or processes. These processes can be analyzed also into those relatively stable structures which we call strands, but this analysis requires abstraction from the qualitative concreteness of the processes or events.
The replacement of the dualism of substantial matter and ideal experience by the monism of event means that we are no longer confronted by the problem of explaining spirit in terms of matter or matter in terms of spirit. The physical and the spiritual occur at opposite poles of a single continuum of events. They are known in the same basic way, if they are known at all. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 181-184, 211- 212). There may be differences between firsthand knowledge and secondhand knowledge — acquaintance with and knowledge about — but all knowledge is fundamentally of one piece. It cannot be divided into types according to its subject matter.
For this reason, the methods of knowing that are successful in one area of investigation can be applied to others. Of course, instruments, experimental techniques, and specific procedures vary according to whether one studies atoms, the stars, or the behavior of children. But in all cases there is required careful observation guided by hypotheses formed out of previous experience and subject to modification in the light of new experience. What must he rejected is the dogmatic spirit that holds some ideas or practices to be beyond criticism, beyond testing in the ongoing process. (Ibid., pp. 210-211; Henry Nelson Wieman, The Wrestle of Religion with Truth, pp. 63-64.)
This fundamental fact about how knowledge grows has the utmost significance for man’s religious quest. Just because religion is of supreme importance to man, he seeks to protect its teachings from questioning. But as the body of reliable knowledge grows, those beliefs that are kept unaffected by this knowledge appear increasingly dubious and even incredible. Hence, more and more, dogmatically affirmed religious doctrines are losing their hold on the modern mind. Since many identify religion with the dogmatic spirit, they turn their backs upon religion itself to their own untold loss. (The Wrestle of Religion with Truth, pp. 43-45.)
This situation can be remedied only as the realities of religion are located within the all-embracing process and are subjected to the most careful scrutiny. Then the verified results of such study can play their rightful role in providing guidance in the most important areas of life. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 34, 53; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 57.)
The central concept of religious thought is God. By "God," men have often understood a substantial being outside experience. But such a concept is at best exceedingly doubtful — at worst, meaningless. Men cannot really put their trust in that about whose reality honesty compels them to be skeptical. "God" must be redefined if he is to be sincerely worshiped in our age. But redefinition cannot mean that we arbitrarily call something else "God," something quite different from what religious faith has always meant by "God." On the contrary, we must push behind the now outgrown concepts of God to that which is more deeply meant by "God." The substantial being outside experience was not worshiped as God because it was substantial or because it was outside experience. It was worshiped because it was acknowledged as the author of all that is good and as that one to which man should give his devotion wholly. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 263-268; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 55-56.)
The property of being altogether worthy of devotion follows from the property of being wholly good in the sense of being responsible for all good things. Hence, the essential character of God is his creativeness of good. Wieman’s most famous book is entitled The Source of Human Good. Our task now is to develop a concept of the source of our good that will enable us to guide our devotion intelligently. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 16-17, 293; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 80.)
At one stroke we thus solve the problem of the existence of God. If God is understood as a nonempirical entity speculatively conceived, his existence is always suspect. But speculative conceptions have changed repeatedly in Christian history without basically affecting faith itself, for faith has been dependent on a functional understanding of God as he to whom man owes all that is most precious, rather than on a particular conception of what philosophical attributes are his. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 177; Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p. 12.) Once we have recognized this clearly, we can identify God in terms of his function as an experientially given actuality. We can and should then proceed to conceptual formulation.
This preliminary statement of Wieman’s approach is, however, subject to serious misinterpretation. Granted that there is human good and that there must, therefore, be sources of that good, do we not falsify man’s religious experience if we call all such sources "God"? Does not this mean that my parents, my teachers, and even the crops in the field become "God"? These questions pave the way for a much more precise formulation of Wieman’s teaching.
We do not mean by "God" the proximate causes of specific goods. Anything and everything can serve in such a capacity. We are concerned in religion with a much deeper question and must delimit our inquiry in two additional ways. First, what interests us is human good itself, that is, that which is inherently worth-while in human existence. Secondly, we are concerned with that self-identical process which is at work wherever this human good appears, not with this or that entity that plays an incidental role. Therefore, our need is, first, to identify the ultimate good and, second, to describe the process by which the good is brought into being.
Wieman identifies the good with qualitative meaning. (The Source of Human Good, p. 17; The Directive in History, p. 18.) To understand what he means we must return to the distinction between events as qualities and as conjunctions of strands. We must recall that it is the qualities which are concrete and the strands which are abstracted from the series of events. Meaning is a factor in relation both to the qualities and to the strands. In both cases meaning is a connection between qualities now appearing and other qualities remembered or anticipated. (The Directive in History, p.16.) But this connection may function in two quite different ways.
The meaning may consist in a relation between certain qualities now given and memory or anticipation of functions and their sequences. For example, one may identify certain qualities as a stick, referring thereby the presently given quality to past operations or to the anticipation of the consequence of future functions. The focus is upon the accurate identification of one strand in the event in terms of how it functions in other events. Attention is thereby directed away from the felt immediacy of the qualities that are involved. In this case the present experience is treated as an instrumental value. (Ibid., p.17.)
On the other hand, the meaning may focus upon the qualities themselves. Memory of the past and .anticipation of the future may enrich and heighten the present enjoyment of quality. (Ibid., p.16.)There is no known limit to the enrichment of quality that associations of this sort can introduce. (The Source of Human Good, p.307.) They transform the sheer qualitative event into qualitative meaning. This qualitative meaning, and it alone, constitutes intrinsic value. To increase qualitative meaning is, therefore, necessarily to increase the good. (The Directive in History, pp. 62-67.)
This identification of good with qualitative meaning is of central importance for Wieman’s thought. Since God is understood as the creative source of good, the definition of good determines where we look for God and hence the whole direction and form of religious faith. (Note, however, that he believes his call for devotion to the creative event follows also from other theories of value.) Therefore, we must consider briefly how Wieman defends his doctrine of the good.
First, we see that Wieman’s definition serves to identify good with concrete actuality. An event is good to the degree that it has complexity, unity, and intensity. (The Source of Human Good, p.134.) He is consciously opposing any doctrine that the good should be identified with certain qualities as opposed to others — to pleasure, for example, as opposed to pain. (Ibid., pp. 13-15.) An element of pain may be indispensable to intensity and richness of experience, whereas pleasure may be quite compatible with dull mediocrity. The difference between Socrates and the pig is not that Socrates is more contented but that Socrates has incomparably greater richness of experience, including far more pain, than the pig is capable of experiencing. The thrust of life is toward this richness, not toward the insipidity of porcine contentment. (Ibid., pp.93-97; The Directive in History, pp. 32-34, 47-48.)
Second, we must remember that an intrinsic good may also function instrumentally as an evil. That is, the entertainment of a qualitative meaning may lead to action that will destroy other men. But the qualitative meaning does not thereby become evil or even neutral. (The Directive in History, pp. 62-63.) Even in the extreme case of the sadist, the qualitative meaning in his experience is intrinsically good whatever the destruction of qualitative meaning for others may be. This makes it clear that we must distinguish the question of intrinsic good from the question of moral good. (Ibid., pp. 34-35.)
We cannot say that the pursuit of intrinsic good as such is always morally good. This is blatantly true in the example of the sadist we have just noted. But it is also apparent when we take the intrinsic good of a whole community into account. Again this is most apparent when the good of one community conflicts with that of another, but Wieman insists that this is not the only basis of the inadequacy of this kind of moral norm. Even if we seek the greatest good of the greatest number, we will still not be fulfilling the moral law. (Ibid., pp. 36, 48; The Source of Human Good, p. 224; Man’s Ultimate Commitment, pp. 122-124. However, in his latest book Wieman does define morality in utilitarian terms, thereby distinguishing it from faith. Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 18-20.)
Wieman takes this antiutilitarian approach because he is convinced that in fact the greater good is not served by the effort to harmonize maximum individual achievements of good. There are two reasons that need to be noted. First, the attempt to harmonize the good of each with the good of all tends to lead to a decline of the intensities promoted by conflict. (The Directive in History, pp. 46-47.) Second, and more important, the identification of the greater good with any imagined state of affairs is limited by the inadequacy of our present imagination. The really creative forces will break through our fancied utopias, and our commitment to these ideals will hamper rather than promote these forces. (Ibid., pp. 48-50; The Source of Human Good, pp. 23-26, 46.)
This means that the greatest good is promoted, not when we project ideal situations and seek the means to achieve them, but when we discover that process which produces good and increases the conditions that facilitate its action. (The Directive in History, pp. 71-72; The Source of Human Good, pp. 224-225.) In other words, the moral law is that we should serve God. Any other principle will express our culturally conditioned values and will lead to mutually frustrating conflicts with other ideals. Only if we abandon commitment to ideals in favor of commitment to the source of good will fruitful universal co-operation be possible. This means, of course, that we must not attempt to identify the service of God with obedience to any historically determined commands or laws. (The Directive in History, pp. 50-52.)
We see now that the question about the nature of God is not of limited " religious" interest but is decisive for the adequate direction of all man’s striving. To accentuate this fact, and to gain a hearing among those who are not conventionally religious, Wieman sometimes writes about the creative process without speaking of it in theological terms. Yet he is sure that the service of this process requires worship and the kind of devotion that has characterized historic religion. (Ibid., p.130; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p.21.) Furthermore, he is convinced that the supernaturalist categories of religion have in fact functioned to guide devotion in the right direction even when they have also confused and hindered it. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 264-265.) Hence it is right and proper to speak of the creative event or process as God, however different the conceptuality suitable for modern man may be from that of earlier centuries.
We are ready now to ask the crucial question: What is the process that produces human good? That is, how does the growth of qualitative meaning occur? This is an empirical question that can be answered only through careful observation. This observation is in principle open to all who will discipline themselves to look with sufficient care. Our first answers may be quite inadequate, and no answers will ever exhaust the reality. But in answering the question we appeal neither to inferences to an unobservable reality nor to a leap of faith. We ask only for attention, care, and openness. Our conclusions should be equally acceptable to all men of good will whatever their traditional faiths may be, just as the findings of science are open equally to all.
In recent writing Wieman has identified five aspects of those events in which qualitative meaning grows. The first is an expansion of the range of the individual’s capacity to know, control, and appreciate. The second is increase in the appreciative understanding of oneself and others as individuals. The idea of appreciation in both of these aspects includes the discrimination of positive and negative values. The third aspect of the creative event is a progressive integration of all that the person is acquiring. The fourth is increase in the capacity to meet suffering, failure, and death creatively. The fifth is the increase of freedom. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 61-62, 125-126. Wieman’s best-known analysis of the creative event into four sub-events is found in The Source of Human Good, pp. 58-65.)
This total event is one that Wieman often calls "creative interchange." By this he means any situation in which individuals encounter other persons or possibilities with openness and sensitivity. Even when the other persons are morally evil, the encounter with the qualitative meanings that they embody can be an occasion of growth. Hence the one great enemy of the creative event is rigidity, commitment to limited values, closedness to new experiences and possibilities. (The Directive in History, pp. 66-67.)
Wieman believes that every child’s development offers us an example of creative interchange in which qualitative meaning increases. Hence the process that is God is fully accessible to our study. But man’s problem is that with the attainment of adulthood he generally becomes closed to the further operation of creative interchange except in very limited ways. (Ibid., pp. 67-68.) Our urgent need is to learn how to keep ourselves open throughout life to ever continued growth. To say this is to say that our problem is to achieve genuine surrender to the working of God in our lives.
We have thus far shown that when we understand God as that process which is creative of human good we can identify God empirically and begin the important task of empirical description. However, before proceeding to a consideration of what this means for Christian theology, we must face an important objection. Many may protest that what they mean by God is not only that which is the source of their good but also one who stands over against them in grace and judgment. God is not only creator and redeemer but also lord and judge. If the process that Wieman identifies as God does not function in this way, if it is after all only a part of nature subject to man’s control and manipulation, then to call it "God" is blasphemous.
For Wieman, too, this objection is entirely valid. But now the question is a purely empirical one. Is that process by which human growth occurs one that men can manipulate and control or one to which they can only submit themselves in faith? To Wieman it seems overwhelmingly clear that we are not the authors of our own good. Can I really pretend that I have produced in myself such spiritual growth as has occurred? Or can I suppose that I am able to produce it in my children? Can any psychiatrist claim to produce growth in his patients? Or can any minister suppose that he produces it in his congregation? To ask such questions is to answer them. A farmer cannot make crops grow. He can only help in faith to provide conditions in which growth occurs. At the very best we cannot claim to do more than this with respect to our spiritual development. The author of our good acts freely among us as our lord rather than as our servant. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, pp. 25, 73, 76.)
Careful investigation serves only to heighten this realization that we are dependent for our good upon a process that we cannot control. It is not only that this process cannot be forced by us; it is also that we cannot even foresee its ends. We can understand good states of affairs only in terms of our present spiritual discernment. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 75-76, 224-225.) Hence, what is beyond that discernment we humanly fear and distrust. But to avoid that which we cannot imagine or understand is to limit drastically the amount and kind of good that may be attained. Over and over again maturity brings us to stages of life that are deeply rewarding but that could not entice us until we had tasted of their worth.
On the other hand, this cannot mean a blind effort after change for its own sake. Modes of life that we do not understand may in fact be destructive rather than good. We cannot be guided either by our present understanding or by the ideal of novelty for its own sake. We can, however, discern the process that has been at work in the creation of every past good, and we can trust that process to lead to still greater future good. (Ibid., p. 81.)
This means that if greater good is to be created in us and through us we must so relate ourselves to the creative process — God — that we will be continuously remade by it. This relation must be one of trust and devotion in the fullest degree. So long as we cling to the particular attainments that are already ours, whether they are the products of our own efforts or of the past working of God, we block the new working of God. Hence, we cut short our own growth. True growth occurs only in a continuous surrender of all that we have and are. (Ibid., pp. 276-279.)
Thus far in our exposition of Wieman’s thought we have operated on a purely empirical basis, without special reference to any historical tradition. Hence, we have been dealing with what may be called philosophy of religion rather than with theology. However, two unusual things about this philosophy of religion must be noted. First, Wieman is not developing a theoretical system of thought for its own sake but is so describing experience as to challenge men to commit their total selves to God. In the second place, Wieman’s empirical conclusions have remarkable affinities with the religion of the New Testament. (Ibid., pp. 263-265; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 34-35.)
Wieman recognizes that the religion that is a vital option for us in the Western world is Christianity. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 39, 263. In recent years Wieman has de-emphasized this primary role of Christianity. In his as yet unpublished reply to this chapter, "In Defense of My Faith," Wieman stresses that our need is for a faith that can guide our culture and rhat Christianity does not have that power.) This does not prejudge the question as to whether Christian claims have unique relevance for all men, but it does indicate that for us in the West the task is to recapture the vital reality of our own religious heritage. To do so is to reinterpret that heritage in terms of the kind of empirical knowledge of God that is now available to us.
Our religious heritage centers in the events surrounding the life, ministry, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In those events the creative event became present in history in a new way. Jesus’ interchange with his disciples so transformed them that they became capable of having such interchange with one another. (Ibid., pp. 39-40.) With the death of Jesus this interchange seemed to cease, only to rise to new heights in the resurrection experience. Whereas during Jesus’ life it had been restricted in scope to its Jewish context, with his death and resurrection it broke through this cultural limitation and became universal in its scope. (Ibid., pp. 41, 43-44, 278,) Hence, this event is the most decisive of all history. (Ibid., pp. 233, 274. In the same book Wieman speaks of the atomic bomb as having cut history in two more decisively than the star over Bethlehem. But he does so only to emphasize the urgency of service to creative good which we know theologically as the living Christ. [Ibid., p. 37.]) The victory of the creative event over all other processes in history is far from evident in all of life, but in principle that victory has been won. (Ibid., pp. 271-272.) We can be transformed today by the power of that victory.
The impact of the Christ-event upon us today is not through some magical force overleaping the centuries. On the contrary, it is quite specifically through the church. Whereas the creative event has occurred often and to varying degrees throughout history, the Christ-event became decisive by virtue of producing a community in which creative interchange has been permanently continued. (Ibid., pp. 42-43, 269-270.) In this community, men are called to devotion to the source of good rather than to particular created goods. They are placed under obligations so demanding that their pride in their own virtue is destroyed and they are opened to mutual forgiveness. A bond is established between them more binding than congeniality or kinship. The witness of this community has opened men to a transformation that could never come from human effort directed by human ideals. Thus the symbols, the myths, the worship of the Christian church have sustained through the centuries those conditions in which the creative event could continue to transform men and bring them to new heights of qualitative meaning. (Ibid., pp. 263-265.)
In the preceding paragraph I have followed Wieman’s frequent practice of avoiding theological terminology. Wieman is convinced that he has as much right as any to the use of the term "God," (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 104-105.) but he is also convinced that readers are often misled by the term. Popular religion thinks of God as a person who transcends space and time. Many theologians who use personalistic language acknowledge that this language is wholly inadequate to speak of God, but by continuing its use they confuse the common people. Wieman wishes to be as explicit as possible about the difference between his concept of God and the concept of popular Christianity because he believes that faith cannot regain vitality until men regain confidence in the sober truth of Christianity’s objective foundation. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 265-266.)
Once we have cleared away the danger of being misunderstood, we must and should use the ritual and symbolism of historic faith. It is God who is incarnate in the Christ-event. Our salvation is given only by him. Our task is only to yield ourselves wholly to his will and to work to be born again into his Kingdom. Life in this Kingdom is the life of ever-renewed commitment, sacrifice, and devotion, sustained by the community of faith in its regular worship. All this Wieman can say in soberest truth and in full loyalty to the searching demands of empirical verification.
Furthermore, although Wieman does not acknowledge a realm of being that transcends space and time, he does insist upon God’s transcendence. His whole theology is a rejection of a humanism in which God is identified with any function or possession of man. (Cf. Edward Farley, The Transcendence of God: A Study in Contemporary Philosophical Theology, Ch. VI, esp. pp. 186-191.) Man cannot predict or control the working of God. Indeed, the effort to impose his own norms and his own ideals upon the course of events, however noble or worthy these may seem, is the one absolute evil. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 90, 273.) God is man’s sovereign Lord, and every effort of man to usurp that Lordship to himself is doomed to hinder the working of the good. But the redemptive work of God is never stopped by man’s rebelliousness. Even in his rebellion man experiences the forgiveness of God as always ready to redeem him when he turns in true repentance. (Ibid., pp. 278-279.)
To use other theological language, we may say that for Wieman salvation is by grace through faith. All works-righteousness is excluded. Yet man is not freed from responsibility. He cannot save himself; he cannot even foresee what his salvation will mean. But he can give up his confidence in the created goods that so easily absorb him. He can contribute to creating the conditions in which God’s work is most effective. He can submit himself to being remade by God, even though that means dying to his old self and rising in Christ. Even these acts are not his in the sense that they are independent of the prior working of God. His capacity to yield himself to God is already the work of God in him. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p.20.) Furthermore, no matter how effectively he has been transformed by God he never arrives at a stage that he can regard as one to be permanently possessed. The Christian life is an ever-renewed dying to the good that God has worked in us in order that God’s greater good may be born.
One traditional problem of Christian theology Wieman solves with a clarity and radicalism that are rare in Christian history. This is the problem of evil. This problem is that of reconciling God’s omnipotence with the presence of evil in the world. Those who think of God as a cosmic or supercosmic being, even when they acknowledge some limit to his power, are nevertheless driven to deny in some way the ultimacy of the apparent evil in the world. Wieman rejects all such claims. It is far from clear that good is certain to triumph in our world or that its ontological status is more ultimate than that of evil. On empirical grounds such sweeping judgments cannot be made. Furthermore, they are not religiously and morally helpful. They contribute to the idea of faith as believing that which is in itself improbable or at best radically uncertain. It is far better to face with unbiased honesty the realities as they can be seen and tested. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 87-93; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 118-120.)
Wieman’s affirmations about God, therefore, must not be understood as precluding other assertions about the processes that make for evil. What is supremely important for us is to know that there is a power not ourselves that dependably produces human good. We need further to know how to relate ourselves to that process in order that we may contribute to its effectiveness in ourselves and others. But we have no evidence at all that this is the only process in the universe or the most powerful. These processes and their results are a problem in the sense that they pose many practical difficulties for us, but their occurrence is no occasion for raising questions about the goodness of God. God’s power is inexhaustible, but we have no reason to suppose that no other powers exist. We may believe that whatever evil befalls us God will not cease working, but that working is no guarantee that evils of the most devastating sort will not befall us. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 81-82; Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 79.)
We are now in a position to ask how Wieman directs us to think as Christian theologians in distinction from philosophers of religion or natural theologians. He himself, it must be acknowledged, is rather indifferent to this methodological question. Wieman believes that religion must recover its concern for truth, and that this truth must be sought by rigorous empirical inquiry. He is passionately dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel that this inquiry discloses. He knows that he has himself found God within the Christian tradition and that this is the situation of Western man. (The Source of Human Good, p.263) He also affirms of the Christ-event a real decisiveness for all of history. (Ibid., p. 274.) Yet he does not deeply care whether the gospel he proclaims be called Christian or not. (One senses a definite shift here between The Source of Human Good, 1946, and his most recent writings, in which he is increasingly concerned to transcend the diversities among faiths. Cf. Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 5, 27-28, 34, 166-167, 179.) In this sense he does not concern himself with the particular methodological problems of Christian theology. In so far as Christian theology is committed to any dogma that it is not willing to subject to empirical tests, Wieman repudiates it. He is quite ready to take the onus of heresy if that is required by loyalty to the empirical evidence and that gospel which this evidence yields.
However, all that Wieman says is fully compatible with a confessional or perspectival Christian theology. Granted that the knowledge of God’s existence and working is not systematically dependent on any particular historical event, Wieman himself sees its factual dependence upon the community that arose from the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ. We must confess, then, that it is in this community originating from this event that both understanding and salvation have come to us. Our task is not to attack other confessions and perspectives; it is to witness to the grace that is given us. With this vision the confessing Christian theologian is in a position to consider the doctrines that come to him through his tradition and to treat them both appreciatively and critically as efforts to witness to that one reality of salvation in Christ which he shares with the fathers in the faith. (Daniel Day Williams has developed a perspectival position based largely on Wieman’s general orientation. See God’s Grace and Man’s Hope, pp. 50-51. Although based on a different ontology, H. Richard Niebuhr’s confessional theology is also methodologically compatible with Wiemans position.)
Wieman’s own attitude toward this kind of use of his position is ambivalent. He recognizes the necessity of rooting faith in tradition, ritual, and institutions. Hence he must approve the systematic effort to do this. But at the same time he fears the tendency to relapse into a misleading terminology and to avoid the hard issues of demythologizing. He wishes to stress that the empirical approach to the study of God is available to all men everywhere and that its results are to be affirmed not only confessionally but also with all the objectivity that attaches to the conclusions of any empirical investigation. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp.179-180.) It is of supreme importance today, as cultures and religious traditions interact and conflict, that devotion be directed to that which can be known independently of any culture or tradition. Thus the desire to substitute a universal philosophy of religion or life for all the particular theologies clashes in Wieman with the recognition of man’s need for the richness of traditional symbol and myth. But this clash is more pragmatic than theoretical. In principle there is no conflict except in emphasis, and the extensive harmony between Wieman’s empirical findings and the Christian understanding of man’s relation to God renders the use of Wieman’s philosophy of religion an open possibility for the theologian — a possibility that has been explored to some degree by Wieman himself.
The analyses of Mascall and DeWolf both led to the conclusion that the Christian theologies of these men rested upon speculative inferences from historically conditioned data. Our interest in Wieman has centered in the possibility that by the rigorous use of empirical method we might base Christian theology on fundamental convictions that are beyond speculative disagreement. Hence, further examination of his position must be directed by the question as to whether he has in fact achieved this end.
I propose to focus my criticisms at two points. First, can Wieman identify the good, and the process that produces good, without committing himself to one among several defensible value theories? Second, is the identification of the creative event with God legitimate? Does this identification depend upon any prior speculative commitments?
In the preceding presentation of Wieman’s theology, we saw that he identified good with qualitative meaning. We saw that this identification had much to commend it and that Wieman was able to develop an impressive position based upon this understanding. At the same time, we have to recognize that there are other ways of understanding what value is. If Wieman’s whole theology rests upon the acceptance of this value theory, he is hardly freer of dependence upon philosophical speculation than are Mascall and DeWoIf.
Wieman is fully aware of this fact, and he deals with it quite explicitly. He lists six theories of value, which he regards as exhaustive of the possibilities for practical purposes, and he argues that the process he has identified as the source of human good increases value as understood by any of these theories. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 297-298.) For example, if the good is understood as satisfaction of human desire, we find that it is the creative event that leads to the greatest of such satisfactions. (In Wieman’s later work, Man’s Ultimate Commitment, the greatest good is understood as the most complete satisfaction of the whole person [p. 98] This would seem to require considerable revision of my exposition based on The Source of Human Good and The Directive in History, but he asserts that what is most satisfying to man’s whole being is the richest content of felt quality [p. 97]. I assume this is virtually the same as qualitative meaning. In The Source of Human Good, Wieman also asserts that qualitative meaning satisfies human want [p. 19]).
This does not mean that Wieman regards the existing value theories as adequate. On the contrary, he thinks all six are inadequate as a guide to conduct because they leave the impression that men should work directly for the increase of value as they define value or else they make no serious effort to guide action at all. The major point of Wieman’s view is that when men work directly to increase value as they see it they in fact fail to achieve their goal. (The Source of Human Good, p.46.) Value is increased only when men commit themselves to that process which increases it and abandon the effort to manipulate events toward idealized ends. If this one point is established by empirical investigation, then the ethical and theological consequences follow without regard to the philosophical position adopted about value.
Thus far, Wieman’s defense appears adequate. He confronts an apparently more difficult problem when we contrast to this whole way of approaching ethical questions the deontological approach. This approach takes "right" as a primitive term and denies that one can derive what one ought to do from an inspection of what is good in itself. For example, some philosophers argue that one ought to keep promises regardless of the anticipated consequences.
Once again, Wieman is not oblivicius to this philosophic doctrine. He agrees with the deontologists that moral principles cannot be derived from foreseen consequences. (Ibid., p. 222.) But believes that this ethical school offers no adequate alternative. He rejects the appeal to intuition, presumably on empirical grounds. (Ibid., p. 223.) Apparently he feels that his own theory does full justice to the real basis for the deontological opposition to the primacy of foreseen consequences, and hence he does not give further consideration to the philosophical rejection of the position.
At this point, therefore, we must recognize a philosophic commitment on Wieman’s part that is not acceptable to all contemporary philosophers. If we follow the deontologists in the view that breaking promises is inherently wrong regardless of foreseen consequences and also regardless of the demands of the creative event, then we will not be able to identify the moral demand with the service of Wieman’s God. Life might confront us with real dilemmas in which we must choose between doing our duty and serving God. To say the least, serious complications would be introduced into Wieman’s position.
The solution of this problem most favorable to Wieman would be as follows. Even the most thoroughgoing deontologists recognize that there is a plurality of moral obligations that may conflict with one another and that, therefore, the concrete demand upon the individual can only be that he take full account of each of the principles involved. Furthermore, among these principles the increase of human good plays a major role. (Ibid., p. 222.) Further analysis is likely to show that the amount of weight given to promise-keeping when it conflicts with increasing the foreseen good is proportionate to the extent that promise-keeping is an important contributor to the sustaining of those relations of mutual trust which are essential to the working of the creative process. If so, the remaining theoretical divergence between a deontologist and Wieman would have little or no practical or theological significance.
There remains a third contemporary view of moral and valuational discourse that is less adequately confronted by Wieman. This is the view that this whole realm of discourse lacks cognitive significance. For example, it may be held that the assertion that a certain state of affairs is good is an expression of emotion or an effort to influence behavior rather than a communication about that state of affairs. If so, then all the theories of value and deontological ethics are alike empty, and Wieman is reduced to saying that a certain describable process leads to ends about which he or others emote in a certain way or that he exhorts others to view favorably or unfavorably.
Wieman’s response to this line of thought is that it is purely verbal. One may, of course, always raise verbal objections against anything, but the reality of valuation continues. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p.113.) Men do respond positively and negatively to situations and possibilities, and at its simplest level we mean by "good" just that to which this positive response is directed. (The Directive in History, pp.31-32.) Wieman agrees that the content of this good varies immensely and that there may be legitimate disagreements in the effort to identify the universal characteristics of this good. We have seen this already in his recognition of alternative value theories. His own view is that what is common to all men’s good is qualitative meaning, but if he is in error here he asks only to be corrected.
Once again, I believe that Wieman’s response is largely adequate. Even extreme noncognitivists do not deny that men make discriminatory responses. They only deny that in the English language the word "good" is not equivalent to the words "positively responded to by someone." They argue that the word "good" suggests a rightness in this positive response. For example, they think that we cannot call the sadist’s satisfaction in the pain of others "good." Wieman, however, affirms unabashedly that this is good, although it is a limited good, and decidedly not a moral good. (Ibid., pp. 34-35.) Whether or not his usage conforms to that usage common in English is not a matter of critical importance. Given his intelligible usage, Wieman’s discourse about the good and the source of good appears fully cognitive.
The real crux of the problem comes at the point at which the deontological and the noncognitivist positions sometimes meet. We might call this the existential point, although neither position is likely to use this term. Granted that a certain process can be described that increases good, understood in any of several ways, why serve that process? Why concern oneself to promote the good in this way?
We arrive here at the central test of every ethical system, not of Wieman’s only. It is because of the difficulty of answering such questions as these that the noncognitivists deny that the good can be treated cognitively. They believe that as the term "good" is used in English (and equivalent words in other languages) it implies its own demand for actualization. But as soon as some other terms are substituted for it, this implication becomes questionable. Hence, these other terms are not real equivalents, and the word "good" must be understood as emotive, hortatory, or imperative rather than as cognitive.
The same difficulty is responsible for the turn to deontological ethics. However the good is understood, if it is to make a claim upon us, we require an additional principle, namely, that we ought to actualize or increase it. But if we recognize the necessity of this principle of obligation here, we have no reason to deny that there may be other such principles. Indeed, introspection reveals that such other principles do in fact exist.
The third possibility is that the good is implicitly understood as what all men want. In this case, once men are shown that a certain process will increase the good, they will serve that process because they want to do so. No new moral principle is required because clarification of the already existing goal is sufficient. Failure to serve the good is due to ignorance.
Wieman’s position must be the third of these. He requires acceptance of the view that there is such a thing as objective, intrinsic value, even though he does not require acceptance of his particular characterization of that value. He requires also acceptance of the view that the awareness of this value has decisive existential import for the human individual. But his philosophic position does not allow for the kinds of intuitions to which the deontologists appeal. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, pp. 122-123.)
We must consider, therefore, the difficulties that have been widely noted in any ethic of consequences, that is, in any value theory that does not introduce special principles of obligation. First, the good must be identified with that which men in fact are most concerned to achieve. But men’s desires are extremely diverse; so the good must be stated very abstractly and, even so, great difficulty is found in any formulation. Wieman’s formulation in terms of qualitative meaning faces the difficulty that many men seem to themselves and to observers to prefer security to increase of qualitative meaning. Wieman must distinguish between what men really want and what they seem to want. (Ibid., pp. 108-109, 200-201. Wieman is clear that men may not "like" the good.[The Directive in History, p. 32.]) This procedure is in line with that of the Greek philosophers and much Christian ethics, but Wieman advances the argument through his reference to modern psychological knowledge.
What men really want is the greatest possible satisfaction of their total being. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p.98.) But society compels the repression of many of their needs; so these cannot function consciously. (Ibid., pp. 101-102.) This means that we cannot solve our problem as the classical thinkers supposed, for we are not capable of recognizing consciously that state of affairs in which we would experience maximum satisfaction. We must, instead, identify that process in which greater satisfactions are progressively achieved and submit to its working in us and with us. This process is that in which qualitative meaning increases. Hence, as men are released from the psychological mechanisms that prevent them from recognizing their own real wants and needs, and are enlightened as to how to achieve their real ends, they will be motivated to submit to the creative event. (Ibid., p.134.)
If the increase of qualitative meaning always occurred for the individual who submitted himself to the process, I would regard Wieman’s solution to the problem of motivation as adequate. However, he is quite aware that this is not the case. Submission to the creative process may lead to death. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p.89.) Presumably it may also lead to straightened circumstances in which one will be denied further opportunities for creative interchange, for example, protracted solitary confinement under conditions destructive of human dignity and personality. Can we say that all men really desire the results of the creative process in spite of these possible outcomes?
Wieman may well reply that there is no other hope for man and that he must take his chances, (See, for example, his strong statement that the individual cannot find satisfaction except as he commits himself to creative good, in Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p. 107. In "In Defense of My Faith" Wieman states that security can be attained only by commitment to divine creativity, but there does seem in fact to be a kind of quest for security that operates against such commitment.) and this may very well be sound advice. However, differences of temperament and disposition will surely come into play at this point. Some desire a rich and zestful life at all costs and are willing to forego all security for its sake. But to say that this is true of all men is to make an assertion for which there is little empirical evidence.
Another possible reply is that, whatever happens to us individually, the service of the creative event leads to a larger good for the wider community. (The Source of Human Good, p. 293. Here Wieman is explicit that faith in the creative event will at least in some major crises involve the subordination of the private to the public good. He believes that the satisfaction received from this commitment will be sufficient recompense for this sacrifice, Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 89.) Here, too, there might be occasional circumstances in which factually this would not be correct, but let us assume that a life devoted to the creative event would on the whole lead to a far greater increase of good than any other kind of life. Could we then say that this kind of life leads to that end which all men ultimately desire? This would mean that man’s deepest desire, when freed from all repression and confusion, is for the increase of good as such rather than for the increase of his own participation in the good. Once again, such an affirmation seems to have but little support in the empirical evidence.
Since Wieman does not wish to make affirmations about human psy. chology that are not warranted by the evidence, his imperatives must be formulated hypothetically. If one desires that greater qualitative meaning be attained, then he must surrender himself to the creative process. Or if one desires that greater total satisfaction of human desires be achieved, then he must serve the creative process. But whether men do have this desire remains a purely empirical question, and nothing can be said to the effect that they ought to have it. Wieman may remain confident that the number of "men of good will" is large and that the practical need is for directing their efforts rather than proving that they should seek the good, but the situation that emerges may be more dangerous than Wieman realizes.
In part, at least, men of good will are motivated by the idea that there is an intrinsic good that demands their support. They do not think of themselves as simply attempting to further their own desires, which happen to be for the general good. To the extent that one is really persuaded that his preference for the good is the only reason for seeking it, his willingness to sacrifice in its service is likely to diminish.
In our day it is not idle speculation to point out this weakening of commitment to the good, which comes from the loss of the sense of its inherent rightfulness and absolute claim. The problem of meaninglessness is widely recognized as the spiritual problem of our time, and this problem grows precisely out of the loss of self-evidence of goods and goals. Men of good will in large numbers have suffered disillusionment. New generations arise nurtured on radical relativism, for whom the passion to produce the good is hardly comprehensible. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 207-208.) There is great value in giving clearer direction to those who do seek to increase good. But in our day an ethic that does not face the problem of motivating new generations toward the good, however conceived, has only limited relevance.
From one point of view it may seem unfair to single out Wieman for this criticism. He has done more than most theologians and moralists to come to terms with these problems. But the systematic approach of Wieman to theology requires of him a degree of success here that is not required of others. Traditional theology may appeal to love or gratitude toward God as the motivation for moral behavior. It may hold that to know God is to love him, and that hence religious experience can provide the needed motivation. But Wieman cannot escape his problem in this way.
For Wieman, we devote ourselves to the service of God because God produces the good. Our devotion to God is a function of our concern for the good. Knowledge of God cannot provide the motivation for that concern. If the good lacks power to claim us, God also lacks that power. He may continue to work among us, but the human submission to his working, apart from which his working is thwarted and impeded, will be lacking. Everything depends upon the power of the good to evoke our devotion to itself and to that process by which it is created. As long as that power exists, Wieman’s analysis of how we can most effectively respond will be relevant. But the more ultimate question of how this devotion can be effectively evoked and sustained remains unanswered. (Although this paragraph must be understood as my criticism and not a summary of Wieman’s statements, Wieman does recognize that the function of knowledge of God is at least primarily to direct an existing devotion and not to engender it. [The Source of Human Good, p. 48.])
The conclusion of this discussion of Wieman’s theory of value is that his theory has a remarkably wide range of relevance but fails to achieve the universality he seems to claim for it. The acceptance of his position does not depend upon defending one theory of value against all others, but it does depend upon a genuine commitment to the good, which transcends the theory. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, pp. 113-114.) The presence or absence of this commitment is presumably conditioned by the effective religious and cultural tradition, as well as by the particular life history, of each individual. Hence, Wieman’s theology, like the theologies of Mascall and DeWolf, depends upon a conditioned historical situation for its acceptance.
Having developed this criticism rather fully, it is now necessary to show that it is far from decisive for an evaluation of Wieman. Although he sometimes writes as though only confusion and obstructing psychological mechanisms prevent the universal service of the creative event, at other times he shows clear recognition of the difficult problem of motivation. He is convinced that unless men can be persuaded to serve the creative event, mankind is doomed, but he is by no means certain that men care enough about the salvation of mankind to undergo the kind of transformation that is required. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p.59.) He sees a large amount of convergence between private and public good in this service, but he does not pretend that this convergence is complete. (The Source of Human Good, p. 293.) He does not inform us that men will spontaneously serve the creative good when they see it for what it is. Rather, he appeals to men to do so for their own sake and for the sake of mankind. He understands that men are unlikely to serve the creative good until they despair of satisfaction in created goods, and he knows that even then other responses are likely. (Ibid., p. 278; Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p. 58.) He knows that such service can be developed and sustained only as it is cultivated by private and public worship. (Intellectual Foundation of Faith, p. 91; The Directive in History, p. 130.)
Even those who see the source of motivation to the good in our experience of God do not suppose that information about God produces devotion of itself. So Wieman also need not show that information about the nature of the good and the process by which it is created spontaneously
evokes our commitment. In both cases commitment can be encouraged and guided, but its occurrence is an event beyond human manipulation. Wieman’s argument is that when such commitment is evoked toward a transcendent deity no direction is given to human life. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 32-34.) He believes, and with much right, that he can provide the needed guidance to all those who are committed to the good. He believes further that men can accept his direction without first accepting any particular cultural or religious tradition.
The more serious question that we must pose is whether the creative event can function for us as God. Granted that it is the source of human good, can it be for us also the object of ultimate commitment?
The obvious objection to Wieman’s position here is that the creative process can be only instrumental to good. Good itself is a property of experience or states of affairs. We may commit ourselves to the achievement of such situations on the basis of the great good we perceive that they will contain. But that which produces them we regard as means to be used and cast aside when they are no longer needed. If the creative good is understood as a process creating good, then our attitude toward it is properly instrumental. (Wieman recognizes the kinship of creative good with instrumental good, but the latter term refers properly only to created goods employed for foreseen ends. [The Source of Human Good, p. 57.]) We cannot identify any such instrument with God.
This objection, however, largely misses the point. The error lies in the fact that it assumes that persons, situations, and processes are ontologically distinct. It treats the first two as achieved realities and the latter as a series of somehow less real events connecting them. Wieman’s view, in contrast, is that processes are the ultimate and only concrete reality. Persons and situations, if they are contrasted with the concrete processes, must be abstracted from them. The real value must inhere in the concrete process, not in that which is abstractly isolated from it.
As Wieman sees the relation of the creative process and the goods that it produces, he does not think of means and ends. The process is the ongoing reality in which stable structures emerge. But these structures are not intrinsically better than the process. The process itself is the becoming of higher values and contains, therefore, the value of these values. The created good is intrinsically less good than the creative good. (Man’s Ultimate Commitment, p.107.)
This becomes clear when we see how Wieman actually describes the source of human good. The term "source" suggests a means to an end that is other than itself. But Wieman’s actual analysis is quite different. He examines the events of the becoming of greater good to identify structures common to all of them. The occurrence of these structures he sees as sub-events within the inclusive event. The conjunction of these sub-events constitutes the common structure of all creative events. Thus, that by which the creative event is characterized is a complex structure that as such is abstracted from the event and lacks the intrinsic value that can occur only in the concrete event itself. But the relation of this structure to the event is not of means to ends but of structure to totality." This totality, which is precisely the occurring of the greater good, is God. Hence, devotion to God is devotion to that event which is the becoming of the greater good and which has, therefore, the full intrinsic value of that good."
We may go farther and say that Wieman has clearly identified that event which is intrinsically best. If any event is God, surely it is this supremely valuable one. But can any event as such be the object of our devotion? Is not devotion directed to persons who by their character or personality evoke our love and commitment?
Once again the objection betrays a refusal to accept Wieman’s basic ontology. Devotion must be directed to that which is most real, not to abstractions. In Wieman’s philosophy persons are strands within events and are isolable only by abstraction from the events. (This is very clear in The Directive in History, e.g., pp. 19, 21; but in Man’s Ultimate Commitment the individual is often spoken of as a concretely real entity. The shift in the focus of the good from qualitative meaning to human satisfaction reflects this change. I take it, however, that the change is terminological and for purposes of communication, and not an acceptance of a personalistic metaphysics. This interpretation is supported by the statement in his latest book, Intellectual Foundation of Faith, that the process of creativity is ontologically prior to persons [p. 63]) These events are themselves the entities fundamentally constitutive of reality. There can be no higher object of devotion than that event in which good is always brought into being.
But this defense betrays in its turn the dependence of Wieman’s whole position upon his ontology. If we take persons as ontologically real and regard the interactions among persons as ontologically abstract, then Wieman’s theology must be profoundly shaken. It is true that he can still argue that we can serve the good of persons only when we produce the conditions in which the creative interchange he has described can be freely operative. But in this case, it becomes clear that this event is instrumental to the good of the persons. The values that occur have their ontological locus not in the event but in the persons among whom the event occurs. We may Serve the event in the sense of encouraging its occurrence, but we do so because we are committed to the persons who are benefited by the event. We may even retain Wieman’s insight that we serve persons better when we contribute to this process of creative interchange without attempting to control its outcome than when we attempt to control the course of events toward foreseen ends, but the process remains something to make use of rather than that which claims for itself our final sacrificial commitment.
This does not mean that Personalism is right and Wieman wrong. It means only that Wieman’s creative event cannot seriously be regarded as God unless we agree that what he understands by events constitutes that which is ultimately real. If Wieman’s ontology is correct, then it may well follow that Wieman’s theology is also correct, But on what basis are we to decide as to the correctness of his ontology?
Wieman would have us accept his ontology on empirical grounds. It is based upon the recognition that nothing is real that is not of the order of experienced reality. It takes the immediacy of experience as its starting point and refuses to draw inferences to an unknown realm. But cannot almost the same thing be said about Brightman? He too takes the sheer givenness of immediate experience as his starting point and refuses to posit any other kind of ontological reality except such "shining presents." (See the discussion of Brightman in the preceding chapter.) It is true that he posits a plurality of shining presents rather than just his own, but Wieman also posits events other than that one in which at any given time he participates. How can one position be taken as superior to the other?
Brightman appeals to empirical coherence, which allows him to introduce explanations of his experience in addition to description. Wieman rejects explanation in this sense in favor of description. (Causes are the systems of events in which an event occurs. Hence, explanation is complete description. [The Directive in History, pp. 25-26.]) Brightman would find Wieman’s description confused at the point of Wieman’s neglect of the discontinuity between the privacy of one experiencer and that of another. Wieman would find Brightman driven to speculations increasingly remote from the givens of experience. Once again, how can we decide between them? By what neutral criteria shall we judge alternative ontologies?
My point is that however we decide ultimately to answer such questions, we shall be forced to enter extensively into philosophical discussion of highly debated questions. If our acceptance of Wieman’s theology depends upon our agreement with him on these speculative ontological questions, then Wieman’s position does not have the freedom we have sought from speculation.
Wieman is aware of the plurality of metaphysics, as he is aware of the variety of value theories, and he does not wish to base his religious position upon any commitment to one or another. He recognizes that it would be idle to attempt to refute all the philosophies that refer to a reality transcending all possible experience. He argues only for their irrelevance to the practical affairs of man, with which he is concerned. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 72, 208-209. The avoidance of ontological debate is especially noticeable in Intellectual Foundation of Faith.)
Furthermore, Wieman does not rule out the possibility of ontologies that take mind or matter as the central terms. Against them he urges only that they must not take one term or another in such a way as to give that term exclusive ultimacy. Also, he expresses his opinion that greater pragmatic value is found in an ontology of events. (The Source of Human Good, pp. 209, 301.)
Wieman’s position here seems so moderate and reasonable as to disarm the critic. However, I must restate my criticism. Wieman intends that his fundamental religious position be independent of prior commitment to any metaphysics or ontology. To a considerable degree he succeeds. That is, he shows what men must do if human satisfactions are to increase. He shows this in such a way that persons with very diverse ontologies can agree with him on the grounds of empirical evidence.
In another respect he fails. He believes that since the process of creative interchange is that in which the human good grows, therefore — independently of ontological views — it is available as an object of personal devotion. I am arguing that devotion can be given only to what is perceived as ontologically concrete, and that there are ontological positions in terms of which a process of interaction must appear as an abstraction.
One might object that as long as one is persuaded that the good is achieved by creative interchange and is willing to further this achievement, it would make little difference what attitude one adopted toward the interchange as such. But I do not think this is true. Wieman is deeply convlnced that religious devotion is needed, and he is seeking to point us to that which is supremely worthy of that devotion. It has seemed to be a fact that Personalists have been unable to understand how devotion can be given to an interaction, and I am trying to demonstrate systematically the cause of their difficulty. (I have taken Personalism as my one example of a position opposing Wieman’s ontology. Actually, a variety of ontologies exist and operate in a similar way as obstacles to accepting Wieman’s religious position.) My argument is that this central feature of Wieman’s position does depend for its acceptance on the prior acceptance of his ontology of events.
In the end we find that the methodological situation of Wieman is not very different from those of Mascall and the Personalists. If, with Mascall, we see the world composed of entities that do not contain within themselves the basis of their own existence, then we must agree with him that there is a ground or power of being that does contain the principle of being and that is therefore radically other than all these finite entities. If, with Brightman, we see the self as the only entity that is given to us and seek an explanation of its contents, then we will find the most reasonable explanation to be in terms of the activity of other selves, and in one way or another we are almost certain to be forced to posit a supreme self as the explanation of much that is otherwise incomprehensible. If, with Wieman, we see the given as the qualitative flow of events and reject the demand for explanation in distinction from description of this process, then we must accept his identification of the supremely valuable process as that which is supremely worthy of our devotion. (In "In Defense of My Faith," Wieman has shown that creative interchange is essential to the formation of any ontology or perspective and hence prior and superior to all. He seems to hold that for this reason the relativity of his position is transcended. However, the Personalist holds that the working on us of the personal God is prior and superior to all, and the Thomist calls attention to the fact that existence itself as God’s act has this priority or supremacy. I do not believe that the relativity of each position can be escaped in this way. The defense against the charge of relativity in each case presupposes the particular position that is defended.)
In each case a basic ontological judgment, expressing a distinctive sensibility, mode of vision, or primitive datum, is the ground of the natural theology. The very plurality of such grounds and the apparent incompatibility of the theologies that are built upon them tends to destroy confidence in the claim of any one of them to escape the relativities of private opinion or historical conditionedness. If natural theology, however ably pursued, leaves us with this fundamental relativity, many theologians are convinced it must be rejected. Its claim has been to ground the specificities of Christian faith in a rational context accessible also to the unbeliever. But we are forced to acknowledge that this claim is exaggerated. The rational context turns out to be hardly less relative to personal decision or prior conditioning than the distinctive act of Christian faith. Hence, we turn in the following chapters to a consideration of theologians who call for the radical autonomy of theology as witness to a divine act for whose occurrence no rational evidence is relevant.
Before leaving this discussion of natural theology, however, we may note that important elements in the positive affirmations of the three positions studied are compatible with one another. Within a more inclusive context the Thomist vision of God as the principle of being and the Personalist vision of God as supreme Person may be reconciled. Wieman’s sensitive account of how good grows in human history may well contribute decisively to any understanding of how this personal principle of being acts among us. Indeed, I believe the context for such partial reconciliation is available in the work of Whitehead and Hartshorne. Thereby a partial transcendence of the relativity of natural theologies may be attained.