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on 18 September 2012
Review of The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures 2010 Roger Scruton [continuum 2012]
In the middle of last century Austin Farrer wrote what should have been a seminal book exploring the compatibility of science and religion when God is understood through the framework of human comprehension that is theology in parallel with science. Regrettably, the path taken in the science and religion debate since has been predominantly adversarial; to the point where science largely rejects religion as irrelevant not just to scientific understanding but to understanding per se while religion retreats into a cocoon of denial, either by ignoring science altogether or else by seeking to trivialize scientific understanding through pseudo- science as evidenced in Creation Science and Intelligent Design arguments. (See my review of Farrer's A Science of God? at Amazon)
Roger Scruton's Gifford Lectures of 2010, now published as The Face of God, offers the possibility of rapprochement again - in keeping with the foundational intent of the Gifford bequest - as he "explores what we lose when we lose [God] belief". Scruton argues that expressing a disbelief in God "is not only an intellectual phenomenon ...but also a moral phenomenon, involving a turning away from God". Through the analysis of face as the core concept of meaning and understanding for a metaphysic in harmony with the diversity of human knowledge and understanding, Scruton seeks to re-open the transcendental dimension that has been lost to Postmodern consciousness.
God is not a `hypothesis' to be set beside the fundamental constants and the laws of quantum dynamics. .... It is not causation but revelation that leads us to such an entity ..." And that revelation is, ultimately, the revelation of the face of God. But in a consumer and utilitarian culture such as ours, "we should not be surprised ... if God is so rarely encountered now" and "that moments of sacred awe should be rare among us". "... it is surely this, rather than the arguments of the atheists, that has led to the decline of religion". "By remaking human beings and their habitat as objects to consume rather than subjects to revere we invite the degradation of both". For then we have created a world without faces, without Face: without God.Roger Scruton's Gifford Lectures are an important challenge to religious meaning and understanding for a Postmodern world. His illustration of his arguments through the exploration of art and architecture, music and the variety of human expression makes for a rewarding and enlightening reflective journey.
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on 26 November 2017
A gift. Person still reading it. Says excellent
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on 16 July 2013
(This review first appeared in Philosophia Christi 15.1 [2013], 208ff.)

In this published version of the Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of St Andrews in 2010, Roger Scruton, the British writer, philosopher and self-proclaimed skeptical Anglican, argues for theistic belief via the face. Scruton's thesis appears in the final paragraph of Chapter 1. He states: "I shall argue that we can reconcile the God of the philosophers with the God who is worshipped and prayed to by the ordinary believer, provided we see that this God is understood not through metaphysical speculations concerning the ground of being, but through communion with our fellow humans (21)". He goes on to construct "a general theory of the face: the face of the person, the face of the world, and the face of God (21)". That said, humankind's response is to "destroy the face (1)", and this in an attempt "to escape from the eye of judgment (2)".

Scruton begins with the scientific worldview via Richard Dawkins, the Big Bang theory and Immanuel Kant, but finds the scientific worldview wanting. He then considers two responses: Richard Swinburne's version of the argument from the fine-tuning of the universe and Stephen Hawking's version of Brandon Carter's weak anthropic principle, but finds these similarly wanting. After a brief discussion of the Newtonian world, the theory of relativity and Quantum mechanics, Scruton concludes "that while science has closed the gap between the world and our knowledge, it has also dissolved the world in the knowledge. By becoming knowable the world has ceased to be imaginable (8)".

Turning to Aristotle, Avicenna, and then Aquinas, Scruton argues for a "relation of dependence that binds the world to God (13)", and this in distinction to a causal relation. The issue here, however, is that, "place[d] outside the world of empirical particulars (15)", God becomes unknowable. Scruton thus turns from philosophy to the French sociologist Émile Durkheim. Following Durkheim, Scruton argues "that belief is a form of membership (16)", and that it is "received from a community (19)". And it is here, in the community, with its practice of communion, that we come face to face with God.

In Chapter 2, "The View from Somewhere," Scruton moves from God's presence to God's personal revelation. He notes: "God is a person, and he reveals himself as persons do, through a dialogue involving three critical words, `I', `you' and `why?' (23)". The bulk of the chapter is concerned with the third of these words. Scruton explains: "The question `why?' lifts our actions out of the realm of cause and effect and places them squarely in the realm of reasons and goals (38)". Advocating an implicit personalism, he argues over and against the evolutionary account for human distinctiveness and freedom, a freedom not found in the world of objects. "Freedom," Scruton says, "is bound up with the first person perspective (49)". In Chapter 3, he shifts from God's presence to the question: "what and where am I, in the world of objects? That question," says Scruton, "is a necessary preliminary to the question of God's presence (52)". And the answer to that question is found in freedom, action and accountability. We, like God, are present in the world as a subject, a subject who acts and makes itself known through the face.

In Chapter 4, Scruton explores the face as "an instrument of meaning", arguing that it "mediates between self and other (75)", a sort of visitation "from a place beyond it (74)". The face is flesh and spirit (i.e., "the vehicle for subjectivity", 81), a means of being present to the world. Here, Scruton considers various phenomena including the kiss, smiles, looks, laughter, tears, blushes, masks, as well as the face and human sexuality, the latter no doubt drawing upon his Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (Continuum, 2006). A discussion of human sexuality in terms of desire and hunger follows. Sexual hunger and its resulting perversions (e.g., rape, pornography, voyeurism, etc.), perversions that deface and desecrate the sacred, occupy Scruton's attention for the remainder of the chapter.

In Chapter 5, Scruton moves on to consider the face of the earth (i.e., the built environment), and more specifically, sacred places. He explains: "The sacred place is a place that has been signaled out by suffering or sacrifice, by revelation or prayer (116)". But he is not interested in the place per se, but in "the emotions and motives that lead us to respect some place as holy or in some related way protected from violation (117)". And for Scruton, this emotion has everything to do with "what it means to be in the world, and in dialogue with it (118)". Here, Scruton discusses the Israelites and the Promised Land, the Temple, the human body, architecture, and the environmental movement. In relation to the latter, he notes: "The earth ... has its own subjectivity (126)". He continues: "Just as the subject appears in the human face, and lays before the assassin and the abuser the absolute `no', so does an observing, questing, interrogating `I' appear in the sacred place, and command us to respect it (127)". Returning to Kant, Scruton addresses the judgment of beauty and aesthetic value, suggesting that aesthetic experience is a sort of "face-to-face encounter with the world (132)". He goes on to consider beauty along the lines of his Beauty: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2011) before concluding the chapter with a sort of broad sacramentalism. The face of the earth leads us to the face of God, the subject of his final chapter. There, Scruton identifies humanity's condition as one of existential loneliness (i.e., as other to the other), one for which grace is the only remedy.

In some ways, Scruton fits in with the "gallery of figures" canvased in Aidan Nichols A Grammar of Consent (University of Notre Dame Press, 1991), Scruton's general theory of the face beings yet another experiential cue pointing towards the existence of God. The book takes its place alongside works such as David Brown's God and Enchantment of Place (Oxford University Press, 2004), but stands alone in its unique and extended consideration of the face.

Positively, two things: 1) The book covers a wide array of material, and this without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. 2) His engagement with the visual arts and the accompanying figures throughout the book are especially helpful.

Negatively, two things: 1) While Scruton's project is generally concerned with theism (i.e., as opposed to Christian theism), his conclusion oversteps this boundary by implying particularity. Two examples should suffice, Scruton's use of the designations "grace" and "the transcendental `I AM'". Regarding the former, Scruton states: "The separation between the self-conscious being and his world .... can be remedied only by grace (153)". But I wonder what "grace" means divorced from a specifically Christian context. A bit further on, Scruton explains that "grace" is wrapped up with "receiv[ing] the world as gift (169)". He argues: "In the religions that are familiar to us, the idea of grace is of fundamental importance .... The idea that the world is sustained by gift is second nature to religious people (169)". But it seems as though Scruton is borrowing a bit too much too soon from Christian theism here. Regarding the latter (i.e., "the transcendental `I AM'"), he states: "For the religious being ... redemption is an emancipation from the things of this world, and an identification with a transcendental `I AM' (156)". This designation is especially problematic, being simultaneously (non)specific. As such, it goes too far, and yet not far enough. Scruton wants to root religions in "the communities of the faithful (157)", and while this has the appearance of specificity, sociological if no other, "religions" and "communities" are grammatically plural, and thus explicitly non-specific. While "the real presence of the other (157)" is, for Scruton, granted through "a community", without specificity or singularity we seem to be left with syncretism or polytheism, both options being an abuse of the given: "I AM". Later, Scruton acknowledges his Christian leanings, noting: "For me the Christian view of the matter is the one that gives the greatest insight into our situation (172)". This seems appropriate here, even if not earlier where his concern was with theism as opposed to Christian theism. His discussion of the incarnation, "[t]he distinctiveness of the Christian Eucharist (172)", and encountering the face of God "in all that suffers and renounces for another's sake (177)" bring appropriate specificity with regard to the referent, even if they do not explain exactly how this works. 2) Finally, his discussion at the end of Chapter 2 might have included Alvin Plantinga's God and Other Minds (Cornell University Press, 1967), and the discussion in Chapter 5, T.J. Gorringe's A Theology of the Built Environment (Cambridge University Press, 2002) as well as Brown's God and Enchantment of Place. That said, these texts might be considered "too specialized or intricate (ix)". All the same, they would have been welcome conversation partners.

I recommend this book to students and scholars interested in natural theology or theology and the arts, particularly those with interests in imaginative apologetics, the visual arts or the built environment, as well as those with more general interests in philosophy of religion or metaphysics.
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on 4 December 2017
As Nietzsche said, "Christianity promises everything and breaks its promises. Buddhism promises nothing and keeps its promises. I'd like to think that Scruton is aware of this quotation. If he is, however, I'm pretty sure he has misunderstood it. No-thing-ness has been taught by Buddhism for two and a half millennia. Given this history, you'd hope that a competent modern philosopher might avoid attacking straw-man nihilist positions. Unfortunately, he seems unable to resist the temptation.

Perhaps he is not acquainted with the great peace that comes when one relinquishes attachment to the delusion that there is meaning in our existence.
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on 18 October 2012
In "The Face of God", the philosopher Roger Scruton considers the epistemological possibility of the revelation of God and our apprehension of Him in the Universe. The book consists of an expanded series of addresses given at the University of St. Andrews as the Gifford Lectures in 2010. For Scruton, the apprehension of the presence of God is part of a two- way process by which we perceive God as revealed to us in time and history as a person, the consequence of which is that we, as His creation, are endowed with person hood and subjectivity. God is a person with a face, and we are likewise persons with faces. With those faces we look out on the world, are responsible to it and are judged by it. In that lies our capacity for self- transcendence and the means to co-operate with God in the task of re-enchanting a world that became disenchanted (sundered from God by Original Sin) after the Fall. That is our central task in life as followers or disciples of God. That is what we strive to do when we obey Christ's injunction to follow the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbour ("Agape").

The face of God cannot be discovered or proved according to the causal laws of physics, the laws of matter and nature. Rather, it can only be perceived by a disposition of receptivity to God's call and invitation to friendship with Him. According to Scruton, the existence of God and the truthfulness of revelation cannot be ascertained by reason and evidence; indeed they occupy a different category of knowledge to that of scientific reason.

The hiddeness of God is a constant challenge to human reason. The Hebrew Bible contains passages calling on God to "rend the heavens and come down". Looking out on the world of God's creation, the enquiring and reflective mind is weighed down by His absence, experienced as a loss and bereavement of the kind described by Matthew Arnold in "Dover Beach". Cardinal Newman (whom Scruton surprisingly does not refer to) compares looking out on a world bereft of God to looking in a mirror and seeing no reflection of his face (in the "Apologia Pro Vita Sua", chapter 5). Newman's purpose in writing the "Apologia" was to contest the prevailing liberalism of his time, which hollowed- out the capacity for faith and imagination with reductive thinking that led ultimately to nihilism. Another work not considered by Scruton is C.S. Lewis's late novel "Till We Have Faces", which considers the face as a symbol of human person hood and spiritual fulfilment, the uncovering of our real nature: "How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?"

Through the face we see God, ourselves and others, if we have the "purity of heart" that Christ invoked in the Beatitudes. Scruton writes at length about becoming a subject that can be addressed as "I", following God's self- revelation to Moses in the Burning Bush as "I Am". Counterpoised to this is the world of objects, what we make of ourselves, each other and Creation when we lose sight of the face of God and relate to each other in an instrumental way, with an ulterior, selfish motive. From that flow many of our present ills, including the over-exploitation of the Earth's resources and environmental destruction. Scruton fully incorporates an awareness of and concern for nature and the animal world, when rightly understood as part of creation and related to by us with proper respect.

The realisation of individual subjectivity results in a capacity to relate to other subjects in our social dealings. That in turn creates and sustains the life of a community of people in which conflict and differences can be negotiated and managed. Religious expression finds its highest form in communal acts of worship and co-operation. All religions (and Scruton considers Hinduism and Islam as well as Judaism and Christianity) lead to an understanding of our inter- subjective nature: we do not stand alone, but in relation to God and our neighbour. In that way we can live more truthfully and humanely, and accept a call to live under the authority and judgement of an order of creation that is greater than ourselves. The cost is high, as St. Paul wrote; that understanding can only be reached after long striving and suffering.
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on 29 October 2015
Very pleased. Speedy delivery and excellent condition. Valuable philosophical contribution to the on going debate around modern attitudes to culture and religion. Challenging and refreshing.
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on 21 February 2015
Atheist culture has recently become more mainstream, thanks in part to the success of Richard Dawkins' book, ''The God Delusion''. However, religion does still have a part to play, with Prince Charles urging the United Kingdom to be more tolerant towards faiths other than the Church of England he was raised as part of and even the Prime Minister talking about faith issues. Since 1888, the Gifford Lectures have been given to ''promote and diffuse...the knowledge of God''.

In Spring 2010, the Gifford Lectures were given by Roger Scruton and ''The Face of God'' is the transcript of those lectures. Scruton aims to show that there is still a place for God in modern society. He looks at the atheist view and how it removes God from the world, before looking at how the individual fits in and where the face of God appears in the lives of the individual and the life of the planet.

Although I am much closer to agreeing with Scruton's worldview than I am that of the likes of Dawkins, I did find ''The Face of God'' to be a struggle to read. Scruton is clearly highly educated and his arguments certainly seemed very sound, but I'm not particularly well educated in this area and I found the writing style very fussy and much of the arguments, particularly the philosophical ones early on, went way over my head. When he came to talk about God's place in the world, something I'm a little more familiar with, I found it easier to read, but still a bit of a struggle.

Even allowing for my lack of intelligence affecting how I found the book, the writing style was also a little fussy for my tastes. Even without the knowledge that this was a transcript of a lecture series, this becomes apparent very early on. The word usage feels far more suited to the spoken word than the written on and this proved to be a minor distraction to me. I continually felt as if I should be hearing the book rather than reading it myself.

This made for a very difficult reading experience, although this is the kind of book intended for study rather than as a pleasurable read. But even here, it falls short, as the limits of the arguments, possibly shortened by time constraints for the lecture series, don't really allow for detailed argument. It also seemed slightly lacking in that whilst Scruton argues for God, he seemingly does so without the faith in God that I personally have, which gave the whole book a detachment that didn't sit well with my own position on God. It seems that Scruton's belief in God is based on knowledge more so than faith and whilst the book explored this side of things very well, it didn't go any further than that and didn't coincide well with my personal faith.

The ''Face of God'' is a book really only suited to those who need it as a textbook to argue against an atheist worldview and even then, may not be the best resource available. For those looking to understand faith, it is limited and for someone looking for something to read rather than to study, it's of virtually no use. This isn't to say that the content is not first rate, but much of it didn't fit into my particular sphere of knowledge and given the availability of the original lecture series online in audio form, not something I could recommend.

This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
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on 19 May 2016
Good book. Thank you
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on 26 December 2013
The face of God, the face of the "I" and the face of "You" (the other & the world) is discussed from various points of view with heavy references to a host of authors (with complete citations in the footnotes.) The face of God is the personal God of Moses, now uncovered in Jesus with whom one can have a dialogue -a personal God. The face of the "I" is the person as a complete personal and emotional "Self"- a sacred identity. The face of the "You" is the interpersonal other and the exterior world through whom one comes to know himself as a "self" and becomes conscious of himself. God is not an unknowable hidden essence but especially for Christians a personal God in the incarnate Jesus. Jesus' suffering is God suffering in the human world of suffering - God in the world whose face is present in the human world of travail and calvary/Golgotha. The face of the "I" is a sacred face which has become horribly desecrated by modern behaviours (i.e.faceless societies, pornography, sex darkrooms, etc.) The face of the "other" like all faces is a mediator between the body and the soul. Scruton argues for a society that is not one of reductionism, making humans a collection of neuronal cells or a set of evolutionary behaviour patterns passed down through the species to man, which he calls "living down" without responsibility, without being judged (by God, by the other), a society and a person without a face to be judged by. Many people fall for this way of life, because "it makes degeneracy chic" he says. "It abolishes the real human being and human kindness". Faceless people and a de-faced world of waste and junk, in which God has been removed is what Scruton agrues against. The view that God is a "final cause" and not a "efficient cause" is also presented. The world of "efficient causes" is the world of natural laws and science, in which the object is studied. God and persons are not objects, therefore they "will never be found" in the causal chain of "efficient causes", but like melodies, intentions, the "conscious Self" they are real and exist in a world outside of the efficient causal chain. This idea is well presented and runs through the entire text. There are many interesting other works cited - many ideas for thought, but overall Scruton does not present his thesis very coherently nor synthetically. The organization and style is disjointed and far from fluent. Worth reading but in the end it remains a disappointing presentation. A view worth persuing with the other readings cited in the text. See also: The Social Costs of Pornography; Scheler: Feeling, Knowing and Valuing; Wolfson,: The Philosophy of the KalamThe Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and RecommendationsOn Feeling, Knowing, and Valuing: Selected Writings (Heritage of Sociology Series)The Philosophy of the Kalam (Structure & Growth of Philosophic Systems from Plato to Spinoza; 4)
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on 4 December 2012
The Face of God by Roger Scruton. It is serious, but not humourless; avoids obscurity; and is written in terms that a layman can understand. The layout and print are attractive. Mr Scruton is not a fan of Karl Marx, which is not all that common in a modern-day philosopher.
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