THE PHILOSOPHICAL PROBLEM OF THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS by Xavier Zubiri ---------- Chapter 2 (79-94)




{81} Our intelligence, in the steps it takes towards God, leads us to the inexorable admission of the existence of an absolutely absolute reality. By being such, it entails the characteristic of being personal, and is fontanally present in the depth of every reality, most specially in the depth of the human person as it constitutes its I, i.e., his own relatively absolute being, his substantive being. The problem of the access to God can be put simply as follows: the access to God consists in the personal surrender to that absolute person, which as absolute, is at the depth of every reality, and most specially and formally at the depth of the human spirit precisely qua person. The surrender to a personal reality as true, is what thematically constitutes faith2.

Naturally, this faith is a manifestative faith, and consequently experiential with respect to what the power of the absolute and personal reality of God is in the depths of the human spirit. And this surrender is an internal and dynamic tension by virtue of which God and man are not an I and a You, as if the You were another I. The divine person is an absolute person, and therefore His relationship, although personal, is not of the I-You kind. That is the reason why it is often difficult to demarcate the boundary {82} between the I and God. On the one hand, sometimes the I seems to be like God; on the other, God seems to be like the I. It is precisely the reality of God and His personal presence, which makes the I to be an I. Therefore, their oneness is the oneness of an internal and dynamic tension in which the surrender occurs.

To be sure, in this surrender man gives himself with everything he is: with his individual conditions, with his mental, social, historical, etc., conditions. And naturally, that experience is essentially and constitutively shaded by the ingredients, which constitute the very reality of man. Because of this, many things, which man assigns to God, i.e., the way that man in that inner experience fills the area of the absolute reality of God with a particular concretion, depend in good measure on the type of experience that man actualizes.

Of course, that experience cannot be limited to what man gives, since in every interpersonal relationship there is also what man receives. Therefore, it is not excluded a priori that, in this internal experience of the relatively absolute person, which I am, with the absolutely absolute person (subjacent in the depth of my person, and making me a person), the divine reality may have manifesting characteristics, which may exceed3 what pure intelligence could say about God. And this is what in a more thematic sense can and should be called revelation. Revelation does not consist in a dictation of truths to the ear of a spirit, but simply consists in a kind of internal manifestative experience through which God makes that the {83} person, in its surrender to the divinity, have some ideas and a higher light about this divinity than the one, which the movement of his own intelligence could provide. And in this sense it is quite clear that any revelation, regardless of how transcendent it may be, presupposes religation metaphysically and theologically.

Faith is a dynamic surrender and consequently, at the same time it is individual, it is also historical. And since it exceeds the area of what pure intelligence gives, there might appear, and in fact do appear, different possible ideas about God. Therefore, faith —that surrender— comprises an essentially optative characteristic. Man chooses from within that area, which the continuous marching steps of intelligence open up for him. Faith has an essentially optative characteristic, quite present in both the positive and negative choices, because atheism, as autosufficiency of life, is just as much an option as believing in the one and triune God. And so, the surrender of man to God is a surrender of his whole being. It is not merely a stepping progress of his intelligence. Because of this it is necessary that we confront a new aspect of the question. The fact that the complete surrender of man to God is not just religation, since religation, in its absolute surrender to God, acquires a certain concrete form called religion.




When dealing with the problem of God I showed4, from the analysis of the man building his own personality, how one ultimately arrives at facing the inexorable reality of God. Confronting this reality, through a process that is not purely intellective but of faith, the existence of certain characteristics pertaining to this God are admitted. Man is constitutively religated to the power of the real, and is taken religatingly to the intellection of the absolutely absolute reality, which as I mentioned then, comprised three characteristics: it is personal, it is one, and it is transcendent. To this personal reality, which appears in the depth of every reality, and even more perceptibly in the depth of the human person, man surrenders. And the surrender to a personal reality insofar as true is precisely what thematically and formally we call “faith”.

Faith occurs in surrender. But then, faith is not the complete surrender. Faith is purely and simply the radical dimension of the surrender of man. But the surrender as such affects the totality of the human being. Consequently, the problem, {86} which began by being a religation starting from the power of the real, and finishing in an access to God, now translates itself into the dimension of totality (the wholeness or the complete total being) of the man who surrenders to God. And this is not simply religation: the surrender thus understood, in its totality, is precisely what in a formal and thematic way, can and should be called religion. Religation is molded constitutively and formally into religion. Needless to say, religation is the fundament of religion. If religion were to be nothing more than a code of laws, it would be as disputable as the rest of all the codes on Earth. That is not the question. The question is that religation is the fundament, in the sense that without religation there would not be any religion, and also in the sense —as I will proceed to show next— that it is religation itself, which takes us to religion.

If we can say now, in a neutral manner, that religation molds itself into religion, the first thing we have to do is to indicate more concretely in what does this molding of religation into religion consist. And in second place, to show in what does religion itself consist, i.e., that into which it molds itself.




The question involves the molding of religation. And religation, as I have shown previously, is a constitutive and formal dimension of the human person qua person. Therefore, the first thing we must say about this molding is, that it is constituted as a personal act of man. Thus, we need to begin with this first clarification, In what does this first aspect of the molding of religation consist, as the molding of a personal act of man?

I. Molding as a personal act of man

Indubitably, molding is not an arbitrary act. It is an act to which man is led by religation. And in that generic sense, it can be said that the molding of religation into religion is just something natural. However, this is a term full of ambiguities. Let us be more precise. What do we mean by “natural”? At the outset “natural” does not mean that religion can be natural in the sense that a thing called “natural religion” may exist. Nothing of the kind. This was one of the infamous inventions of the XVII century, which became the era of natural religion, natural law, natural knowledge, natural theology, natural psychology... without ever being told what “natural” is. But that is not the question. Natural religion has no existence whatsoever, and the same can be said for {88} natural law. They are, regardless of how many times we turn this around, mental constructs. Here “natural” means that religion is purely and simply something, which is natural from the point of view of the prolongation (sit venia verbo) of religation as such. In this sense, religion is natural without there being a natural religion, whose concept, if it were to exist, would be entirely false. Because religation, and consequently also the religion into which religation molds itself, is not, not even remotely, a constitutive dimension of human nature, but rather a constitutive dimension of the human person. There is no such thing as natural religion, but only personal religion, just as there is no natural religation, but only personal religation.

Obviously, having thus demarcated the ambit of the meaning that it is natural for religion to exist, the problem of what happens with the one that does not have any religion immediately comes to mind. Those without religion, far from being a marginal minority of blind men, are becoming more numerous today, and without doubt constitute a significant block of humanity. Although it may lead to repetitions, it will be useful to say something here about this “not-having-religion”. In the first place, I have mentioned that the molding of religation into religion is something natural. With respect to the one without religion, it concerns, for example, the voice of conscience, which in each case not only says what has to be done, but represents a dictate for absolutely abiding by reality. Although expressed with another name, there is no doubt that the voice of conscience is nothing less but the authentic voice and presence of God, just as much as one of the toráh of the patriarchal, and Yahwist religion5. Consequently, not to have any religion, in this {89} sense, can signify a certain interpretation of this presence, justified from other points of view, and not simply a natural privative fact like having or not having something else. To admit the existence of an ultimate reality —call it what you will— is not a question of option. The option consists in the unfolding of its intellection.

In second place, it could be understood that not to have a religion means not to have a certain type of positive religion, but this is not “not-having-religion”. I have not said, not even remotely, that the molding of religation into religion lands on a positive religion. As we shall see, that is a different question. Then, Does this mean that one can actually admit in a factual, intellective way the reality of a God, and, however, have nothing to do with Him? This is radically inadmissible. Obviously all that about not having a religion must be taken cum grano salis: there are atheisms, which are presented clearly festooned with all the predicates, which traditional theology has precisely attributed to God. The fact of the matter is that the one who has no religion nevertheless lives from an option of faith. Because not to have a religion is clearly not a natural state: it is an option. As much an option as believing in the one triune God. Let us not create fantasies. Not to have a religion is not like having a poor ear or not having good eyesight. It is a real and positive option just as much as being a Buddhist or a Catholic or a Muslim can be. In this sense the molding means, so far, a personal act, which prolongs in a more or less inexorable way that which we call religation.


II. Molding and socialization6

The term “molding” is somewhat vague. It will be necessary to explain what the very molding consists of. There is an answer that, without the name of molding, but answering to what we evoke at this moment, has been given mainly at the beginning of this century. It consists in saying that religion is a social fact. Religion would be the molding of some tendencies —whatever they might be— into a social institution called religion. That was the thesis of Durkheim. Religion as a social fact is, in the first place, something that is there, just like the State, the economic institutions, etc. And, as an institution it is a system of beliefs, a system of practices, a system of obligations, etc., which man encounters when he is born, exactly the same as he encounters a political organization, or social institutions of any other kind. In the second place, religion is not only an institution, but an institution, which forces itself like any other institution, precisely by that specific characteristic with which every real and radical social fact forces itself upon every individual: through by imposition. For Durkheim imposition has a precise name, namely pressure. The real and actual pressure, which the social —that certainly is not outside individuals, but rather is in them without identifying itself with them— exerts in the depth of each individual. And this pressure is a characteristic of every social institution with respect to the individuals to which it is applied.

However, Is it true that the molding of religation {91} into religion is a socialization? It cannot be denied that from a certain aspect, and from a certain point of view it can be true, without making this any sort of discovery by Durkheim. But from the point of view of the specific conception of Durkheim there are serious omissions. In the first place, What does Durkheim do with the individual acts of religious life? Have they no reality at all? In the second place, besides that hypertrophy of the social characteristic of religion, to which all of us are sad heirs nowadays, Durkheim has clearly confused two aspects, something he was very prone to do in all things. He has confused the form of religion with religion itself. Regardless of the institutional characteristic that a religion may have like any other institution of a moral or intellectual character (including science itself), one thing is the institutional form it has, and another the spirit with which it lives. They are two different things. Let us not confuse religion with a social form. This is what Durkheim plainly does, and the title of his book The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (“Formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse”) denounces that confusion. What if religion were to be something more than a form? In third place, Durkheim tells us it is a question of social pressure. Leaving aside the general theme of sociology, which does not concern me at this moment, Is it true that the form religion imposes upon its faithful is one of pressure? It might be thought that in reality it is a question of something less forceful: of a series of obligations, which one could even break. Fine, in that case I would join Durkheim: the strength with which religion imposes itself upon each one of its faithful is more than an obligation. Quite conversely: the alleged obligatoryness of religious obligations stems precisely from the strength with which religion imposes itself upon the individuals who believe in it, and have become the faithful. However, this strength {92} is not a pressure or an obligation. It is a different subtle thing, which is precisely what I have been trying to express from the beginning of these pages with the term “religation”. Man is religated. And the molding of this religation continues to be religating for man. But religation is not obligation, or pressure. It is much more than obligation, and is present at an infinitely much more subtle level, but more apprehensible than the so-called “social pressure”. The principle and the arché of every religion, from this point of view, is religation. It certainly cannot fit in the category of social facts, which Durkheim describes.

Up to now we have been referring to the institution itself. However, Durkheim would say that religion, in addition to being an institution has an object, and to that object sociological conditions are also applied, like the ones he has applied to the religious attitude itself. In fact, if one asks Durkheim what is the object of religion, his answer is unambiguous: it is definitely the sacred. The great divide in the world, much more radical and profound —Durkheim says— than the division between good and evil, is the divide between the sacred and the profane. The sacred and the profane comprise two isolated worlds. There may be —according to Durkheim— acts, for example initiation rites, which are acts of this world, by virtue of which the inductee can pass to the world of the sacred. But in themselves and from themselves the world of the sacred, and the world of the profane are radically separated. And strictly speaking every transition is a metamorphosis. Consequently, what becomes essential for religion, according to Durkheim, is the sacred; understanding as sacred that which is untouchable. Therefore, the radical and elemental form of the object of religious life for Durkheim is the taboo. Religion would then be a social institution, which is concerned {93} with the sacred, where the difference between the sacred and the profane is precisely the very product of socialization, because the difference is established by the social bonds.

Nevertheless, Is this object of religion acceptable? In the first place, Is it true that the sacred is the untouchable? It might be possible that here Durkheim is confusing two subtly, but absolutely different dimensions, just as he missed the distinction between pressure and religation before. Because indeed, the sacred is venerable, but not untouchable. They are absolutely different things. It is said that this sacred, which is venerable, is a product of society. However, What do we understand by a product of society? Society, and each one of the religions of the world can definitely circumscribe the area of the sacred. Words and objects sacred in one religion may not be sacred for another. All this is true, but concerns sacred things. And the sacred as such? In what does its sacredness consist? Certainly sacredness does not rest upon itself. There is no doubt that the sacred is present in every religion. But it is present in every religion because it is religious, because it is the molding of religation. It is not religious because it is sacred, but rather it is sacred because it is religious. For this reason the sacred is not opposed to the profane; to what the profane is thematically and formally opposed is the religious. Still, this opposition is not the opposition of two worlds, but two slopes of the same reality, and that is what life taken religiously is, the religious reality7.

The molding, therefore, is not and cannot in any way signify {94} a socialization. The molding is something entirely different. I have pointed out that religion, at the very least in a radical and primary way, is the surrender of the whole being of man, within the channel of faith, to the reality of God. In each surrender faith plays a primary role. Without it there would be no possibility of a total surrender of man to God. But neither can the totality of that surrender be identified with its dimension of faith. Which allows us to say, on the one hand, that the molding is the configuration of the surrender of the whole being of man by faith. But, since faith emerges at the same time, and is an act of surrender of the being of man, it can be said that this surrender in turn is molding the faith. Taking both dimensions unitarily, it can definitely be said that the molding is the configuration of faith into the whole being of man. They are two equivalent formulations.

Having said all this, we now have arrived to the exact terminus I had proposed to examine. What kind of religion is it into which religation molds itself? This question must be answered in three parts, and in this chapter I will only consider the first:

In the first place: What is religion precisely?
In the second place: What is one of the characteristics, which religion has, and the one in which we are most interested in this study, namely, its diversity?
And in third place: In what does the intrinsic historicity of religion consist?

1 From this point on we follow the text of the end of the first part (“Man and God”), and above all of the second part (“Religion and Religions”) of the 1971 seminar. The present text comprises the whole first part of that seminar, corresponding in its fundamental contents to what was published in Man and God.
2 The justification of the reality of God is offered by Zubiri in El hombre y Dios ("Man and God"), op. cit. pp. 134-164. About faith as the formal root of the access of man to God can be seen ibid., pp. 209-222.
3 On the text of the 1971 seminar Zubiri wrote on the margin: “Attention: eliminate the idea and name of excess”.
4 Again, this is a reference to the first part of the seminar. About the characteristics of the reality of God please refer to El hombre y Dios ("Man and God"), op. cit., pp. 165-178.
5 Toráh in Hebrew primarily means “instruction”. Probably, in the beginning the toráh were instructions or divine norms communicated by the levites by means of the instruments for oracles, the urim and tummim (cf. Dt 33: 8-10).
6 Some repetions of what was said in the first chapter are here inevitable.
7 Zubiri repeats the example of the confrontation of the prophet Elijah with the Canaanite prophets, mentioned in the first chapter.

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