Religion by John Wilson (Heinemann Concept Books 60P) READERS of "An Introduction to Moral Education" and "Education in Religion and the Emotions" will find the general line of thought in this book very familiar. John Wilson's concern is with the conceptual analysis of religion as an observable human phenomenon.
• He sets out to mark off its defining characteristics, taking ng into account the wide variety of beliefs and activities which the term comprehends. He argues that its essential meaning is not to do with the empirical world, or with morality, or social progress or the answering of ultimate questions.
It relates to the human emotions, especially to the emotion of awe and to the related activity of worship. But religion cannot be written off as "mere emotionalism," lying quite outside the rational sphere.
Reason has its own important place in the education of the emotions; not in the way of mastery and suppression in the Platonic manner but through the application of those canons of reasonableness and appropriateness which are a necessary part of healthy emotional development.
"Do the things of which we are 'in awe' exist?" will be the proper questions, and "Is it right to be in awe of them?" It is a conception related to Pascal's "The heart has its reasons" — an extension of reason beyond the narrow pale of empirical and analytic statements, to discover the kind of reasoning proper to the fields of morality and religion.
In the second part of the book the author outlines several approaches to the study of religion. Comparative religion, he argues, is not enough. There must be an effort to realise what it feels like to be a Buddhist, a Christian or an ancestor-worshipper.
He writes also a chapter on the relationship of religion to "making sense of the world" and answering "ultimate questions," and it is here that the inevitable relativism of his conception appears most clearly.
John Wilson appears sometimes a little patronising, as though he sat astride some conceptual pinnacle surveying, with olyrnpian though genial detachment, the religious follies of mankind. Nevertheless, however much one may disagree with its relativism, however hard one may find it to be, in Wilson's favourite word "non-partisan," this is a very useful book for Catholics to •read.
For one thing the clarity of the analysis forces us to look closely at what religion is, and blocks the tendencies, common today, to reduce it to something else, to ultimate concern or revolutionary politics or mental health. A thing is what it is and not another thing.
Secondly, the emphasis on reasonableness in religion may cause us to look again at the humble but useful science of apologetics, whose total eclipse at present leaves a very serious gap in the intellectual formulation of the Christian Faith.