Letter: God from the critical realist's perspective

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Boulton of the Sea of Faith network (letter, 6 August) is right in saying that it is not new to think of God, not as an eternal transcendent reality, but as a projection of our human ideals. The classic statement was that of Ludwig Feuerbach in the early 19th century, and the Rev Don Cupitt has been saying essentially the same for the past 14 years with the tolerant acquiescence of the Anglican Church - so that it now seems rather inconsistent of the Church to come down so heavily on the more vulnerable Rev Anthony Freeman.

However, many of us regard the issue between God as a creation of the human imagination and God as, in Mr Boulton's phrase, 'a cosmic Father Christmas', misleadingly simplistic. I doubt if many people over the age of eight think of God as a fatherly figure looking down on us from the sky and occasionally arbitrarily intervening in earthly affairs.

But the more promising development today is neither the naive realism of a Father Christmas theology, nor the total anti-

realism which sees religion as purely human projection, but (using a current epistemological concept), a critical realism which recognises that all our awareness, including our religious awareness, is structured by our concepts and takes culturally-determined forms.

In Christian terms this means that there is an ultimate transcendent Reality which is the source and ground of everything; that this Reality is benign in relation to human life; that the universal presence of this Reality is humanly reflected ('incarnated') in the lives of the world's great spiritual leaders; and that among these we have found Jesus to be our principal revelation of the Real and our principal guide for living. Such a critical realism takes religious experience much more seriously than does anti- realism, and at the same time goes beyond the image of a deity who is merely the human person writ large.

Yours sincerely,


Birmingham University

The writer is emeritus professor of the philosophy of religion at Claremont Graduate School, California.