Religion As Feeling

The recognition of religion as having an intellectual content throws it open to intellectual criticism ; and in order to withdraw it from such criticism it has sometimes been placed in that faculty of the mind whose function is feeling.

The term feeling seems to be distinctively applied by psychologists to pleasure, pain and emotions in general. But emotion is not a totally separate function of the mind, independent of thinking and willing ; it includes both these at once. If I feel pleasure, that is will in that it involves an appetition towards the pleasant thing ; and it is also knowledge of the pleasant thing and of my own state.

There is no emotion which does not entail the activity of the other so-called faculties of the mind. Religion is doubtless an emotion, or rather involves emotions ; but it is not emotion in the abstract apart from other activities. It involves, for instance, the love of God. But the love of God implies knowing God on the one hand and doing his will on the other.

Religion as Feeling

Moreover the term itself is ambiguous. The word feeling as we use it in ordinary speech generally denotes not a particular kind of activity, but any state of mind of a somewhat vague, indefinite or indistinct character. Thus we have a feeling of the truth of something when we hardly say yet that we are convinced of its truth ; a feeling of the right treatment of a recalcitrant picture or sonnet, when we are not quite convinced of the right treatment ; a feeling that we ought to do something when we are not really sure. In this sense religion is decidedly not a matter of feeling. Some people’s religion is doubtless very nebulous ; but religion as a whole is not distinguished from other things by its vagueness and indefiniteness.

Religion is sometimes said to be a “ low ” degree of thought in the sense that it contains half-truths only, which are in time superseded by the complete truths of philosophy or science ; but in the meantime it errs (if the description is true) not by being vague but by being much more definite than it has any right to be. To define religion as mere feeling in this sense would amount to complaining that it is not sufficiently dogmatic.

In another commonly-used sense of the word, feeling implies absolute and positive conviction coupled with inability to offer proof or explanation of the conviction. In that case, to “ feel ” the truth of a statement would merely mean the same as to know it ; and this use of the word therefore already asserts the intellectual content of religion. The problem of the relation of this conviction to proof is noticed below.

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