Eller contends that "religion does not have a method at all. ... Huston Smith, for instance, seems to think that intuition and revelation are among the methods of religion." (195)
This is linked with his argument from "religious diversity" examined earlier. Although it does not follow from the fact of diversity itself that no religion is true, if we add an extra premise that there is no way to adjudicate religious claims, no theological methodology, then the argument becomes considerably more biting. Every religion becomes an arbitrary effusion of a would-be guru or of someone's subjective and chaotic personal mania.
Mises puts the matter in the context of the philosophy of praxeology (science of human action) as follows:
The essential problem of all varieties of universalistic, collectivistic, and holistic social philosophy is: By what mark do I recognize the true law, the authentic apostle of God's word, and the legitimate authority. For many claim that Providence has sent them, and each of these prophets preaches another gospel.
For the faithful believer there cannot be any doubt; he is fully confident that he has espoused the only true doctrine. But it is precisely the firmness of such beliefs that renders the antagonisms irreconcilable.
Each party is prepared to make its own tenets prevail. But as logical argumentation cannot decide between various dissenting creeds, there is no means left for the settlement of such disputes other than armed conflict. (HA, 147)
Let me therefore start by outlining the method of rational theology.
On the first level, there is negative theology or remotio, wherein we conceive of God as something radically unlike any creature. Here we explain what God is not.
St. Thomas' question on the simplicity of God illustrates this method: God, he proposes, is not a body, not composed of matter and form, not a union of genus and difference, does not experience either generation or corruption, and so on.
Maimonides argues, too, that "all we understand is the fact that God exists, that God is a being to whom none of Adonai's creatures is similar, who has nothing in common with them, who does not include plurality," etc.
With the help of such arguments, the mind is purified from unfitting anthropomorphism and idolatrous imagery of God. It comes to view God as the principle of all being without reducing Him to any creature, neither even to "substance" nor to "being."
On the second level, we have positive or "perfect being" theology wherein we argue that there is a likeness between God and creatures after all.
God contains in Himself the perfections of all creatures yet in such a supereminent degree as to exceed them infinitely. We point out that God is an infinite mind with complete knowledge of itself that is identical to its act of self-understanding and which is completely pleased and happy with its own perfection and fulfilled in its life.
On the third and final level, we consider God as the first cause of all external to Him things, as creator and later sanctifier and redeemer of the world. Here we explore the implications of God's being our creator, the Absolute, and whether, how, and in what senses God, by virtue of giving life and will to pursue happiness to His creatures, is good.
Here we solve the problem of evil and show how God understood as goodness is as metaphysically superior to spirit (including His own) as spirit is superior to matter.
Eller does not "get" religion, because he is a fanatical relativist. He has no inkling that there may be something absolute. He has burned the sense of the absolute from his soul, or he never had it in the first place. Either way, his intellect is defective.
The concept of God, i.e., the meaning of the term "God," is unfolded one argument after another, together with the proofs that this concept has a reference, i.e., that the being whose nature is thereby elucidated exists. This aspect of the theological method, i.e., uniting closely the meaning and reference of God, is rather unique but is indispensable and unavoidable. We say, "argument P shows that there must exist something rather sui generis with such and such attribute A, and this is what all men call God."
P then both discovers A and demonstrates the existence of something with A.
Now as to the question in the title of this post asked by Eller on p. 195, religions produce different answers to the following 3 problems:
1) Where did we come from?
2) Where are we going?
3) Why are we here now in this rather tragicomic situation?
Since these are extremely general and all-encompassing questions, a mistake in answering them would reverberate throughout our entire lives. Eller goes on:
The very fact that religionists look to science for confirmation of their religious beliefs only evinces the power and prestige of science in our modern world.
Notice that no scientists... use religion to try to support science!
No scientist says, "Oh, the Bible says the world was created at a specific moment in time, so the big bang must be correct." (193)
That is true, but only because sciences are arranged in a hierarchy. Science may be called "atheistic" if we define it as search for knowledge of secondary causes of events, whether physical or teleological. We can then define philosophy and specifically its branch of theology as wisdom or apprehension and judgment of the first cause.
In seeking to grasp the nature of God, theology uses all the discoveries of science (but not vice versa), precisely because it is the "queen of the sciences":
Religion does not tolerate indifference. The one thing that religion demands, and I agree with all scholars who emphasize this, is commitment. ... "Belief in God is primarily a commitment to a way of life..."
Religion, then, often may be inherently hostile to science since science is so completely disinterested in religion.
Science does not bow to religion's authority; instead, science often takes its authoritative claims as sufficient grounds for doubt. Science does not care what the god(s) said, and it does not care what the prophets or the church fathers said.
It is, therefore, intrinsically disrespectful of religion, and that is a mortal threat. (201)
But we now see that science is uninterested in religion only in the sense that a servant is uninterested in overthrowing or manipulating the queen. When we understand science as a handmaiden of metaphysics and theology, we readily allow it its autonomy and use it for solving the ultimate questions. For example, St. Thomas warns of a potential snare to us when man "desires to know the truth about creatures, without referring his knowledge to its due end, namely, the knowledge of God. Hence Augustine says that 'in studying creatures, we must not be moved by empty and perishable curiosity; but we should ever mount towards immortal and abiding things.'" (ST, II-II, 167, 1)
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Vatican Council declared that revealed and natural theology "differ essentially not only in their cognitive principle (faith, reason) and their object (dogma, rational truth), but also in their motive (Divine authority, evidence) and their ultimate end (beatific vision, natural knowledge of God)."
I will not here treat the former except to point out that Christianity in its capacity as a revealed religion comes with its own version of upgraded, grace-enhanced morality. Where natural morality tells us not to hate, Christianity tells us to love. Where natural morality tells us not to harm and not to do evil, Christianity tell us to perform works of mercy, to help, and to do good. I do not understand why an atheist like Eller would ever want to adopt the precepts of the Christian justice. I'd imagine that from the atheistic point of view the "works of mercy" seem senseless and even insane.
Thus, Christianity further offers one solution to the problem of how man can attain his last end, i.e., happiness, that goes beyond the solutions offered by the sciences of secondary causes.