The ground and nature of religious belief in the work of John Macmurray, John Baillie and John Oman, with special reference to their understanding of the relation between ordinary experience and religious belief
The study expounds the views of Macmurray, Baillie and Oman on religious belief in the context of their other epistemological, anthropological and theological convictions. It is shown that each of the writers argues that religious belief is a response to a feature of everyday experience (human alienation, moral intuition and the sense of the holy respectively), that each of them takes the view that religious belief functions in order to achieve a valued end (community, willing obedience to divinely ordained duties and the on-going development of moral personality) which is regarded as both the will of God and essential to human flourishing, and that they also hold that religious beliefs may be confirmed in relation to the valued end which they aim to promote. I argue that whilst each is not without their lacunas and inadequacies, the three writers provide insights which may be useful in understanding religious belief in a Christian context. I maintain, for instance, that Macmurray's argument that religion is a derivative response to a critical dimension of ordinary experience is an illuminating perspective. Again, it is argued that there are resources in Baillie's work to help in the articulation of the view that Christian belief is a response to an a priori encounter with the divine presence in experience. Again, Oman's emphasis on the role of feeling in the disclosure of the divine is plausible, and his analysis of the nature of religious belief is particularly rich in illuminating insights. An important argument that runs through the thesis is that it is plausible to think that there are preconceptual experiences that are cognitively important. In this sense, the study aims to help underpin an experiential approach in the face of those critics who deny the conceptual possibility of such primal experiences.