An article from the Cathedral Times
by the Rev. Canon George Maxwell
Christian Smith, in Moral, Believing Animals: Human
Personhood and Culture, defines religions as "sets of beliefs,
symbols and practices about the realities of superempirical orders that
make claims to organize and guide human life." (98)
A superempirical order is one that is not normally observable
with just our five senses. It cannot be directly seen, heard, smelled,
felt, or tasted.
It isn't just supernatural, though. If something is
supernatural, then it is not part of nature, which, by implication,
consists only of physical matter. We understand nature as including both
the spiritual and the physical"”that is, both the empirical and
It isn't just transcendent, either. In this context, I think
transcendent is another way of saying supernatural. We believe that God
is both transcendent and immanent"”that is, hidden in the empirical.
Smith maintains that we are all moral, believing animals. We
all continuously place our faith in premises, assumptions, and
suppositions that we cannot objectively justify without recourse to
other believed-in premises, assumptions, and suppositions.
Even the scientific method is based on assumptions about
objectivity that it can't objectively prove"”its exclusivity, for
example, or the idea that you can ever really step out of time and space
enough to be totally objective.
This is why you can't ever really prove the existence or
nonexistence of God using scientific means.
The nonreligious or secular believe (pun intended) that the
only reality that actually exists is what they can empirically observe.
Smith notes, though, that they too organize their lives in
accordance with a moral order that is beyond themselves, one that exists
at least in part outside of themselves. That's what it means to be
self-conscious, to be able to step back and look at ourselves as if from
a distance. It's just that they believe that this order is immanent
only, that it exists only in empirical reality.
In other words, we all have to choose. To what are we going to
commit ourselves, to what moral order will we subscribe? Even not making
a choice is, of course, a choice. As Bob Dylan says, "you gotta serve
As for me, I choose God.
What will you choose?
Canon George Maxwell