A couple years ago Jane Goodall was asked to comment on her belief (or lack thereof) in God. She replied:
“I don’t have any idea of who or what God is. But I do believe in some great spiritual power. I don’t know what to call it. I feel it particularly when I’m out in nature. It’s just something that’s bigger and stronger than what I am or what anybody is. I feel it. And it’s enough for me.”
This quote encapsulates perfectly both the value and danger of general revelation. It’s value is to provide further insight into the nature of the world than we might have otherwise. In Goodall’s case it brings her to the point of recognizing that a “great spiritual power” exists, which is surely more correct than believing no great spiritual power exists.
But then comes the danger of thinking that this is “enough for me”. Goodall’s language suggests that her belief in this great spiritual power has, ironically enough, had a stultifying effect on what might have otherwise been a life-transforming spiritual quest. What should have prompted her to ask more questions instead led her to cease questioning so that she could get back to other important (but not as important) topics like chimps and conservation.
In this regard I think of general revelation as akin to handing a person a flotation device every time they get on a boat. “Hmm, now I can float,” they think to themselves, “so I guess I’ll never need to learn how to swim.” Consequently, the flotation device ends up providing not an additional layer of protection. Instead, it effectively undermines one’s resolve to become more adept in the water, thereby leaving one in a more precarious position than they would have been otherwise.