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This approach invites followers to a devotional, mystical, non-literal form of worship. It has the attraction of being found in, and so creating a communion with many of the world’s religions, expressed in Judaism and Islam by the writings of Maimonides and al-Ghazālī. It corresponds to the conception of the transcendent God posited by Kant, who famously wrote that he had denied knowledge in order to make room for faith. God, on this view, is the ground of being, the fundamental predicate. This is indeed what faith in its purest form means, for faith is not an intellectual conclusion to the sifting of evidence following a quasi-scientific inquiry. In the epistle-writer’s paradox, it is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”; it is no more or less rigorous than atheism, in that both are assumptions that reflect the adherent’s pre-existing inclination, and require the acceptance of what can only be supposed. In the case of the religiously inclined, the resulting state of mind is one of trust, one that is open to mystery (an anathematic term to materialists), and one that does not object to practising a faith of which unknowing is the heart. The person who follows this path may find that, compared with others who take a more historically conventional approach, he believes more and more in less and less, but also that this progression represents an enhancement, not a diminution of faith.

Such an approach to God also has the advantage of marginalising trivial questions of the “Can God make a weight so heavy that He can’t lift it?” variety as well as setting into a more theologically coherent context serious issues such as (in C.S. Lewis’s phrase) the problem of pain. The first sort of question might ask, for example, why God bothered to make us in the first place: it starts by hypothesising a God with the conventional attributes of creativity, transcendence, omnipotence and sempiternality, and then asks — of that very posited God — a question that only makes sense if one supposes God to be the opposite: temporal, contingent, limited and somehow possessed of humanity’s vocabulary of values. One may as well ask whether God bowls round the wicket. The second much more difficult type of question, however, also erroneously assumes the correctness of ascribing to God a set of characteristics which accord with our own sub-lunary values and moral preoccupations. Both presuppose that the way in which to engage with Him is as a puzzling but in theory decodable member of the Senior Common Room, when He can by definition be no such thing. Atheists often ascribe to the God in whom they disbelieve a set of characteristics which those who have faith in God themselves do not believe.

The devout sceptic who has an inclination to belief and who is in sympathy with the approach outlined above now confronts a choice — whether to make the large jump from faith to established religion. He remains convinced that religions are man-made, and it follows that whilst they might have a tendency towards truth, no religion can claim an exclusive access to revelation (not least because of their mutual contradictions), or assert that there is only one path up the mountain. He is also careful not to beg any questions by pre-supposing the necessary existence of but a single truth (an enduring but unproven assumption in Western thinking since the days of Plato.) He is less convinced by the often-cited argument, iterated with uncharacteristic tediousness in Christopher Hitchens’s book God is not Great, that discredits religions by pointing to the many evil deeds done in their name. This is because (among other answers) the actions of corruptible people in the names of their religions can have no logical bearing on the existence or non-existence of the superhuman Being whom religions imperfectly seek to describe.
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