Chapter 5: Discernment and Commitment
So far we have been looking at religious language in terms of natural theology and natural religion. We have been concerned to show that there is a God about whom we may speak. We have not dealt with a supernatural revealed theology, except to suggest that when men think of God as "wholly other" it is difficult if not impossible to talk of God so that men will understand.
We now turn to a position which has become for me a watershed in thinking about religious language. It is the point at which the "light dawned" in my own consideration of the use of words in Christian education.(See my Christian Nurture and the Church [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1961], pp. 88-94.) The key book is Religious Language, by Ian T. Ramsey, now Lord Bishop of Durham.( Religious Language (London: SCM Press, 1957; New York: Macmillan Paperback, 1963). "The central problem of theology," he writes, "is how to use, how to qualify observational language so as to be suitable currency for what in part exceeds it -- the situations in which theology is founded."(Ibid., p. 38.)
This involves some kind of empirical grounding for religious assertions if the language of faith is to be meaningful Ramsey makes three important points:
(i) The need to peg back all our assertions into an awareness of God.
(ii) The need to be circumspect of any too extensive systematization, of any cut-and-dried theology.
(iii) The recognition that lack of such logical circumspection can lead to blunders which darken the light of God.(On Being Sure in Religion [London: Athlone Press, 1963], p. 16.)
"Being sure in religion," he writes, "does not entail being certain in theology."(Ibid., p. 47. See Ramsey, Christian Discourse [London: Oxford University Press, 1965], p. 89) Theology can be tested by its stability in the face of many data and its ability to incorporate them into a meaningful whole. This is similar to the work of an archeologist who applies his theory to a gathering of stones and who discovers that one conceptual theory may fit better than another, but this is not real deduction. Furthermore "it is a built-in hazard of disclosures, as contrasted with ‘facts’ provided by scientific reporting, that they give rise to no self-guaranteed assertions." (Christian Discourse, p. 25.)
This thesis, we will see, comes up in a variety of ways in Ramsey’s thought. It is derived from Joseph Butler’s statement that "probability is the very guide of life." By this, he does not mean that we have nothing but doubt and uncertainty, but he does mean that in practical matters a man must act against the odds, and does it reasonably when he does so. It is similar to the position of William James, who saw clearly that there were living, forced, and momentous options facing men and that to sit on a fence waiting for evidence that is not available is to make a negative choice. Loyalty and commitment operate in areas in which theoretically we have only probability. We act in important situations when the odds are only even and sometimes when they are against us, as when a child is drowning and one tries to save him in spite of being a poor swimmer.(Religious Language, pp. 15-17; Christian Discourse, pp. 23-24. See William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays [New York: Longmans Green & Co., 1897], pp. 2-11, 96-103.)
The power of Ramsey’s discourse arises as much from his illustrations as from his analyses of religious language, which makes it difficult to summarize his position without repeating his examples. He describes religion primarily in terms of ‘‘discernment" or "disclosure" and "commitment."
In religious language, he says, "we use phrases that are in certain ways odd, peculiar, and unusual." When these phrases are sufficiently parallel to discernment, "they ‘come alive’ the ‘light dawns’. . . the ‘ice breaks’. . . the ‘penny drops,’" and a disclosure is evoked in the other.(Religious Language, p.19.)
In such characteristically personal situations, new insights may come over one in various ways. The use of a nickname, the humorous situation that "breaks the ice" at a stuffy party, swearing which offends the pious because it is close to the logic of the language about God, the use of words with a specialized meaning and enclosed in quotation marks or inverted commas, the discovery of someone’s name after an encounter on an impersonal level are incidents which may lead to discernment. Such situations, common in everyday life as well as in religious situations, have, say’s Ramsey "an objective reference and are, as all situations, subject-object in structure."(Ibid., p. 28.) They achieve "depth" alongside subjective changes.
A response of commitment accompanies a discernment in "a characteristically religions situation." When one faces a situation, however simple or complex, his response is in terms of freedom, which may or mar not be based on a sense of duty or loyalty. Even the commitments may operate on different levels. One may make a partial commitment to mathematical axioms, recognizing that there are options although the axioms are universal in their range. One may make a complete commitment to cricket or baseball, so that it infiltrates one’s whole life, but obviously it is not universal in its claim. "Religious commitment," suggests Ramsey, "combines the total commitment to a pastime, to a ship, to a person, with the breadth of mathematical commitment." (Ibid. p. 35.) It is something that ‘‘grips’’ us; it takes a personal revolution to accept it, and once accepted it takes another conversion to reject it.
The Christian "cosmic commitment on Christ" is expressed in ordinary language used in logically odd ways. Ramsey calls this "object language and more," that is, language which "exhibits logical impropriety." One notes that religious language is like that expressed in personal situations, suggesting that "I-talk" and "God-talk" are logically related. Ramsey suggests that the logic of nicknames is akin to the use of such a term as "Son of man" by Jesus.(See ibid., pp. 137-43.) Ordinary words are strained or are mixed with others in unusual ways.
The key words of religion, says Ramsey, are found in "significant tautologies." When we force someone to a final explanation of why he did something, he will sax’, "Because I chose to do it," or one step further, "Because I am I." We also talk about "Duty for duty’s sake" or sax’ that "God’s will is my conscience." ‘We also say, "God is love." This, says Ramsey, is not a platitude but "a significant tautology labeling a commitment." (Ibid., p. 46.)
Ramsey’s conclusion is "that for the religious man ‘God’ is a key word, an irreducible posit, an ultimate of explanation expressive of the kind of commitment he professes. It is to be talked about in terms of the object-language over which it presides, but only when this object-language is qualified; in which case this qualified object-language becomes also currency for that odd discernment with which religious commitment, when it is not bigotry or fanaticism, will necessarily he associated.
"Meanwhile, as a corollary," continues Ramsey, "we can note that to understand religious language or theology we must first evoke the odd kind of situation to which I have given various parallels." (Ibid., p. 47.)This provides a basis not only for theology and communication, but for an understanding of Christian education.
Models and Qualifiers
The word model is just beginning to have widespread use in theology, but it has been a staple of scientific thinking for many years. The most elementary model is a scale or picture model, from which someone may make something. The mockup of a new automobile shows what it will look like when manufactured. Models of airplanes are tested in wind tunnels. Theology has used picture models for God as king or judge operating in a heavenly kingdom.
Models assist one to be articulate, to make accurate descriptions, or to take a familiar situation in order to reach a less familiar one. Scale or picture models rely on identity. But some models reproduce the structure and only approach what is to be reproduced. Max Black calls these latter, "analogue" models. Ramsey further modifies Black’s view with what he calls "disclosure" models, for these rely on the "similarity-with-a-difference" that produces insight.(Ibid., pp. 47 ff.) Science also uses such models to generate insight, especially when direct empirical verification is impossible, although they may be indirectly verified in crucial experiments. So also, theological models may make discourse possible, simplify complexities, and point to what otherwise eludes us. They are tested by what Ramsey calls "empirical fit" or "empirical accord" rather than by means of data specified by verifiable deduction.
Ramsey cautions us never to he satisfied with any one model. Any model will prove too limiting, one-sided, or if pressed too far actually false. The most reliable religious discourse has the widest possible range of models. Of course some models arc more fertile than others. They need to be "suitably contextualized in a multi-model discourse." (Ramsey, "Talking About God: Models Ancient and Modern," F. W. Dillistone, ed., Myth and Symbol (London: SPCK, 1966), p. 85.) Furthermore, Ramsey warns that our discourse must fit the world around us, for otherwise we will be talking nonsense. Just as in a previous time talk about seed time and harvest was suitable, so today we need to find relevance for our models in dark streets and traffic jams. A suitable model refers to God, on the one hand, and illuminates the situation, on the other; we must be careful about both reference and preference.
Ramsey’s interpretation of models is helped by comparing them with similes and metaphors. A simile is like a pictorial model, as when we say that a seasick person is "as green as a leaf." A metaphor is more like a disclosure model. It opens up many possibilities of articulation, but chiefly it is a means of disclosure. "Metaphors, like models," says Ramsey, "are rooted in disclosures and born in insight." ( Models and Mystery (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), They disclose but do not explain a mystery. Two realms of thought meet in a tangential manner, which at first sight may seem eccentric, and each language illuminates the other, although in "the most selective and subtle way."(Ibid., p. 52.) What is disclosed includes them both but is no mere combination.
Ramsey points out that his position is similar to that of Max Black, even to agreement that both science and the humanities build on imaginative insights. But Ramsey emphasizes the word disclosure to point to the objective reference. The objective reference in theology, however, is mystery, and therefore there is always a logical gap between the model used and the disclosure that occurs. Theology thrives on a diversity of models which leads to "life by a thousand enrichments" rather than the death of God "by a thousand qualifications." (Ibid., p. 60; also see Max Black, Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy [Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1962], p. 221.)
Because all models are inadequate and diversity is essential for religious discourse, every model needs "qualifiers." These qualifiers are not further descriptions, for their logical status is not that of labels: rather they point the model in such a way that disclosure becomes possible.(Ibid., p. 60; Religious Language, p. 62.) Models do not provide blueprints or descriptions of God, but when properly qualified they do present such improprieties as may lead to discernment(See Religious Language, p. 62.)
When we speak of God as "first cause," "first" is a qualifier. This is a way of placing God as prior to all causes, and various stories can be told or analyses pressed back until the "light dawns." "First" does not have the logical position of "proximate" or "remote," which are adjectives. The similar grammatical structure does not imply a similar logical structure. Ramsey uses "infinitely wise," "infinitely good," and "eternal purpose" for a similar kind of logical analysis. In each case the qualifier makes the difference, changing the logical function of the key word as applied to God. This is particularly clear in his treatment of "creation ex nihilo." We use the word creation to apply to everything from the making of a Dior dress to painting an abstract picture to the birth of a dog. But when "ex nihilo" qualifies the model "creation," one does not take this literally as making something out of nothing" but as the expression of a sense of one-sided dependence." Furthermore, it "places ‘God’ as a ‘key’ word, for the universe of ‘creatures.’"(Ibid., p. 73) When a disclosure occurs, it becomes a present claim about God and not a discussion of Genesis as a past story.
In these illustrations, Ramsey speaks of "positing the word ‘God,’" but notice that he never speaks of "positing God." "Theology is after all only our way of talking about God." (Ibid., p. 74.) Ramsey says that "God-talk" is both meaningful and objective in reference. But we do not invent a particular model with its proper qualifier to "produce God. That would be semantic magic."(Ibid., p. 99.) We cannot guarantee a disclosure.
Language of the Bible
Did the writers of the Bible use such logically odd language? They certainly did, but Ramsey realizes, of course, that they did not do so explicitly. Only recently have we had the need for this kind of logical examination. One of the reasons that we cannot write a history of Jesus is that the Gospels do not pay much attention to historical method as we know it today’. The Fourth Gospel’s key is: "The Word became flesh." "Flesh" is a descriptive physical word, but "the Word" (logos) refers to a realm of discourse that is primarily abstract. Yet "Word" and "flesh" are joined by "became," a "link word," says Ramsey, that cannot be modeled. "To understand it there has to be evoked just the kind of situation which ‘The Word became flesh’ expresses." (Ibid., p. 103; also see Christian Discourse, pp. 1-27.)
If we use the logically odd phrase "Word of God" to describe the Bible, with "Word" as the model and "of God" as the qualifier, so that we speak of "hearing" God’s Word, we mean that if we follow the verbal pattern formed by the words of scripture, we may find ourselves in a situation in which a disclosure occurs; the "light dawns" or the "ice breaks." We do not dare to treat the Bible as straightforward logic or history, even though it contains such, if we want to discern the objective reality and mystery to which it points.(See ibid., pp. 106-7)
The logical oddness of biblical language, with its riotous mixture of phrases, is perhaps best illustrated in Peter’s sermon in Acts: "This Jesus, God raised up, and of that we are witnesses. Being therefore at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. . . . Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified (Acts 2:32-33, 36)." These words, put together in a riotous mixture that was foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, evoked a disclosure. Look at the strange qualifiers: the raised Jesus, a crucified and risen Messiah, God has made him Lord and Christ, whom you crucified. Jesus is the key word, and the odd qualifiers that do not fit normal expectations made possible discernment and commitment. They were not convinced by argument but were "cut to the heart." We may believe that Peter s sermon on Pentecost was successful, for it is recorded that three thousand were baptized. His sermon was the kerygma in rough and ready form, before it had even been demythologized in later New Testament documents -- much less by Bultmann.(See ibid., pp. 154-56.)
"God" is a key word for religious assertions. We may speak of God as mystery, using many models and qualifiers in order to express our beliefs. Men "posit talk of God" in a variety of ways, but this does not necessarily mean that God as objective reality lacks unity or identity. When we say that "God has disclosed himself" or "revealed himself," we are not moving into a new realm of human knowledge. Ramsey’s use of discernment is similar to William Temple’s interpretation of revelation. Temple writes that unless one sees revelation in the rising of the sun, one is not likely to see it in the rising of the Son of Man from the dead. Revelation is "the coincidence of a particularly revealing event and a particularly appreciative mind." (William Temple, Nature, Man and God [London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1934], p. 306,) The point is that this is the way knowledge occurs in both the secular and the religious fields of knowledge, and any concepts resulting from the insights of the "mind divinely illumined" must be fully tested for consistency, coherence, and "empirical fit." (See W.D. Hudson, "Discernment Situations: Some Philosophical Difficulties," Scottish Journal of Theology, XIX (Dec. 1966), pp. 435-45, for some criticisms of these knowledge claims.) There is a logical "impropriety" that is not the same as "irrational" or "nonrational" in that the oddity of the logic of religious language makes possible the evocation and articulation of key insights. There are grounds in such a claim for a distinction between dreams or hallucinations and religious assertions that point to and express the nonobservable.
The word God also functions as the "integrator word" in metaphysics, just as the word I functions as an "integrator word’’ in individual experience. Just as the word I is elusive, even when used by myself, and seemingly transcends the experience that others have of me, so also "God" is a word that eludes any set empirical formulas. Thus Ramsey writes that ‘God is active’ links any and all descriptive assertions about the Universe, such as science in particular specializes in."(Ian T. Ramsey, ed., Prospect for Metaphysics (New York: Philosophical Library, 1961; London: George Allen & Unwin, 1961) p.174. See William H. Poteat, "God and the ‘Private-I," Dallas M. High, ed., New Essays on Religious Language (New York: Oxford University Press. 1969). pp. 127-37.) This is why the word transcendent appears in Ramsey’s writings; but it is not always clear whether he is stressing the "transempirical" as a concept of imageless thinking or whether there is a "nonobservable" beyond all human endeavor; if it is the latter, there is a question whether we have any right to be articulate about it.
One other element in Ramsey’s thought has been developing; this is the need for models that arise out of situations of interpersonal relationships. The concept of substance is outmoded in reference to both the human person and to God. Recent studies in both the interpersonal and existential nature of man provide new models for biblical and theological concepts. Not only do interpersonal relationships offer possibilities for disclosure situations, but it is likely that "a theology of relationships" may provide a superstructure for the foundation of belief in the reality of God. Once belief in God is supported in terms of "empirical fit," it is legitimate to expand concepts relating to God in terms of models derived from interpersonal relations. This approach may lead to new models and qualifiers for assertions about God, partly along the lines of thought of Martin Buber, John Oman, and H. H. Farmer.(See Ramsey, "Contemporary Philosophy and the Christian Faith in Religious Studies, I (Oct. 1965), pp. 53, 57-58. See also Martin Buber, I and Thou (2d ed.; New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958); John Oman. Grace and Personality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1917; New York: Association Press. 1961); H. H. Farmer, Towards Belief in God (New York: Macmillan, 1943) and God and Men (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961). In Christian education, Reuel L. Howe has made use of such models.(See Howe, Man’s Need and God’s Action [New York: Seabury Press, 1953])
Implications for Christian Education
Ramsey’s contributions to Christian education theory are both direct and indirect. He defines the purpose of Christian education, makes clear the place of theology, suggests that a variety of words and models be used, provides a basis for the selection of stories and parables, and seeks to anchor the process in worship. He then makes specific suggestions about the use of the past, dialogue with other disciplines, illumination of strange logical forms, the need for new models, and finding those situations to which religious language can speak.
The purpose of Christian education, in Ramsey’s view, should be quite clear. It is
to teach insight, to evoke disclosures in which we come to ourselves when and as we discern a word which has "come alive" in some particular situation. . . . What Christian education in particular seeks to do is to create this response and this fullness of life -- this commitment -- in relation to a discernment which occurs around the person of Jesus Christ as discovered in the Bible, in doctrine, and in worship.(Ramsey, "Christian Education in the Light of Contemporary Empiricism," Religious Education LVII [Mar. - Apr. 1962], p. 95)
‘Within this framework are places for stories, parables, poetry and other proper logical placings of religious language in terms of models and their qualifiers, metaphors, and analogies. The empirical base is grounded in worship and interpersonal relations. Theological analysis is proper within this framework of the appropriate logical mapping of phrases. History is taken seriously, but the existential note is at the center, for discernment followed by commitment involves self-understanding and self-involvement as well as’ relation to objective reality.
Dogmatism has no place in this system. Ramsey writes:
Let us always be cautious of talking about God in straightforward language. Let us never talk as if we had privileged access to the diaries of God’s private life, or expert insight into his descriptive psychology so that we may say quite cheerfully why God did what, when, and where.(Religious Language, p. 91.)
He speaks of being "sure in religion, while being tentative, but contextually tentative in theology."(On Being Sure in Religion p. 90.) We start from an original context but we operate in our own context. Although our beliefs are grounded in a disclosure from God, we never reach a complete understanding of the divine mystery.
‘Theology, Ramsey reminds us, is built out of ordinary language used in a logically odd way. As we will see in the next chapter, this is similar to Horace Bushnell’s theory of the origin of theological words, but points to the unexpectedness of the way in which words are related. Also, Bushnell and Ramsey are agreed that a great variety of words must be used, for the goal is to keep on with words and phrases, models and qualifiers, until, hopefully, a disclosure occurs. In principle, any story may lead to the desired discernment (See Religious Language, p. 80.) as is clear from our previous consideration of the positions of Braithwaite and van Buren. But Ramsey backs off from this conclusion, for it could lead to a "fantasy world." History, theology, and logical criteria such as coherence govern the choice of stories.
Christian stories must be so told in Christian education that while as a sine qua non they ]ead to disclosures, and while even a secular world may value them for the commitment they create, they also arise out of historical events that not only safeguard the relevance of theology in terms of which the disclosures are explicated, but ensure also a reference to that clement of transcendence without which the good news might be less than it might be.("Discernment, Commitment and Cosmic Disclosure," Religious Education, LX [Jan-Feb. 1965], p. 13.)
The choice of stories is governed by the comparison of the context of the original story with the current context, taking into consideration what it might mean at various levels of development. The choice may be a biblical story, but there are many stories from all kinds of sources that may serve the purposes of Christian teaching. It is a warning to all teachers that motion pictures using biblical themes often have less religious significance than secular ones that deal with the real issues of life. Biblical stories when properly related to life have power, but if they are wrongly mapped in a prosaic or literal framework they sink to the level of a Cecil De Mille spectacular motion picture.
Parables, which are not stories about historical characters or about empirically descriptive events, have similar power, and for a very good reason. Ian M. Crombie say’s:
The point of a parable is that you do not suppose that there is any literal resemblance between the truth which is expressed and the story which expresses it, but you do suppose that if you accept the story, not as a true literal account, but as a faithful parable, you will not be misled as to the nature of the underlying reality.(I. M. Crombie, "The Possibility of Theological Statements," Basil Mitchell, ed., Faith and Logic [London: George Allen & Unwin. 1957], pp. 70-71. See Christian Discourse, pp. 6-13.)
Here is a principle which may be applied to many teaching devices. If the teacher prefers to teach myth as myth, without demythologizing, he can apply the principle of interpretation which Crombie suggests as a basis for discussion. Poetry may be interpreted in the same way. But a parable often has an extra sting which other forms may lack: "Go and do likewise." It is not only an occasion for a disclosure but also for commitment.
Stories, parables, and other forms of discourse for purposes of Christian education do not exist in isolation. Ramsey provides for this indirectly with the off-hand corollary "that to understand religious language or theology we must first evoke the odd kind of situation."(Religious Language, p. 47) It is not clear to me how much this involves. He places the "empirical anchorage" in "worship, wonder, awe. Without such an empirical anchorage all our theological thinking is in vain, and where there is controversy and argument we are to look for their resolution where they are fulfilled: in worship."(Ibid., p.89.)
This is one kind of situation in which discernment may be evoked, but the language of worship needs the same kind of logical analysis that Ramsey has provided for other forms of the language of faith. The unreality of worship is one of the barriers to any kind of Christian nurture for many people. Furthermore, the statement on worship does not take into account the characteristically personal and interpersonal situations to which Ramsey briefly alludes in a later article.(Religious Studies, I [Oct. 1965], pp. 53, 57-58.) Here there needs to be an awareness of the kinds of groups that make disclosures possible. Just as there needs to be some degree of prior awareness of God before language about God has currency, so there needs to be what Reucl L. Howe calls the "language of relationships" before words can have any currency at all.
With the emphasis on discernment and commitment, it sometimes seems that the end of Christian education is reached when a "decision for Christ" has been made. But it is Ramsey’s key belief that all knowledge and education is rooted in insight, and thus the process of gaining additional knowledge is a continuous one. Therefore, Christian education needs to be implemented at all levels of thinking and action. There are five ways in which this may be done.
First, suggests Ramsey, we can speak of the "will of God" in terms of belief and action if we study how people with Christian commitment have talked. We discover that they have related themselves in several ways to their environment, taking seriously their involvement in the life around them. They found that in some eases they could not conscientiously participate, and they took the consequences. But normally they were not distinguished from other religious groups in terms of language, dress, food, or most of their customs, except for worship. Such a study of the past could lead contextually to the situation today, in terms of any key social or ethical problems. This could lead to an insight,
using an obvious model, . . . of God speaking to us in our own day. . . . This insight (if it occurs, and it is not ours to command, but God’s to give) will show itself in some decision, some forthright judgment on the particular problem or issue under examination, and any such judgment will exhibit pro tem, a moral or social Christian principle -- here will be God’s message, if we wish to continue the model. . . . But the process never ends.(On Being Sure in Religion, pp. 35-36.)
Second, Christian education needs to be brought into dialogue with other disciplines. Theology belongs in the realm of secular discourse, even with all of its logical oddities, for like the sciences and humanities it has its models and metaphors. If a genuine dialogue occurs, as it can at the university level, theology will learn much about the "ever-changing models of the various disciplines" and "work out appropriately new routes to God" as well as alert other disciplines to its own developments. Theology no longer dominates any other discipline, but it can point to the underlying theistic reality supporting all of them. Not only at the university level is this dialogue important, however, for it needs to go on as best it may within the framework of religious classes in schools and churches so that the student may know how he can stand as a Christian believer in a secular world. ( Models and Mystery, p. 70. See also "A New Prospect for Theology," Theology, LXVII, No. 534 [Dec. 1964], pp. 527- 33.)
Third, and perhaps most significant as something new in Christian education, we can assist students in understanding by illuminating the strange logical forms which the language about God takes. "Those who sing: ‘I love you for a hundred thousand reasons, but most of all I love you ’cos you’re you’ are not likely, if they are consistent, to expect religious language to be of the plain ‘down to earth’ kind, or likely to expect reasoning in religion to be of the ‘knock-down’ compelling kind." We can help them to see the connections between the language of faith and the language of love, or between the language of models and the language of art, or between the various language-games that Wittgenstein mentions.
Fourth, many theological models "have been drained of their disclosure possibilities by the vast sociological, psychological, and cultural changes which separate us from the biblical, not least the Old Testament world." (Ramsey, in F. W. Dillistone, ed., Myth and Symbol, p. 92.) This is probably the single most frustrating factor in the communication of the gospel. Some models have been worn thin by premature exposure to children, so that their use at a later age is ineffective; but chiefly we have the problem of vast cultural changes in recent years. It is at this point, even without the help of linguistic analysis, that new models are being sought in such experiments as the coffeehouse ministry,(See John D. Perry, Jr., The Coffee House Ministry [Richmond: John Knox Press, 1966]) jazz and folk song masses, the underground church, and new translations of religious terms. In today’s world the sports car may replace the strong tower and the personnel officer may be a better symbol than the good shepherd.(See Carl F. Burke, God Is for Real, Man [New York: Association Press, 1966], p. 39) A generation ago, a viable model was "Railways to heaven," which at least was closer to the truth than "God is my co-pilot." Current folk songs are loaded with models that speak to the younger generation, often with pathos and hope that match the psalms. Such new models, drawn from relevant experience in today’s world, come from words that reflect new ideals and fervent hopes and have a basis in fact, but they need to he qualified so that they are never reducible to picture models.(See Myth and Symbol, p. 96.)
A fifth and final point made by Ramsey is that "if there is to be any religious education at all, there must be religious situations for children to explore." Such an experience as "basic trust," for example, is essential, and as part of it there needs to be appropriate language interacting with the experience. Except for worship, basic religious situations reside in secular experience, in terms of issues that are faced and relationships that are both nourishing and nurturing. To relate daily experience to Christian faith is not easy. It may involve both increased sensitivity and hard thinking. And why should not hard thinking be as essential to religion as to mathematics? ( See I. T. Ramsey, "The Plowden Report," Learning for Living, VI [May 1967], pp. 22-25.)
Bishop Ramsey, then, has led us to a deeper appreciation of the key to understanding religious language in terms of disclosure and commitment, of models and qualifiers, and of logically odd arrangements of ordinary language.