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A. The Initial Question

The conclusion of Alston’s book is really that it is rationalpractically rational, as he says—for at least many of us to engage in what he calls ‘Christian Mystical Practice’ (CMP, for short): the practice of forming beliefs about God (or the Ultimate) on the basis of experience of God, or more exactly (putative) perception of God (or the Ultimate):

My main thesis in this chapter, and indeed in the whole book, is that CMP is rationally engaged in [my emphasis] since it is a socially established doxastic practice that is not demonstrably unreliable or otherwise disqualified for rational acceptance. (194)

The sort of rationality at issue here is ‘practical’ rationality; we shall therefore consider whether the de jure question might be the question whether Christian belief is practically rational in his sense. Now Alston himself does not really address specifically Christian belief—trinity, incarnation, atonement, and resurrection, for example. He is instead concerned with the sorts of beliefs that are produced by (putative) perception of God. These include such beliefs as that God is glorious, delightful, holy, majestic, all-powerful, loving, and the like, as well as such beliefs as that he is strengthening, supporting or comforting one. These are not specifically Christian beliefs, and, of course, our de jure question is about the rationality of specifically Christian beliefs. Nevertheless, perceptual beliefs about God could contribute support to Christian beliefs about God; in any event, it will be of interest to ask whether Christian belief is rational in the sense of rationality Alston identifies, even if he himself does not address that issue. Further, the question whether Christian belief is practically rational seems to me at any rate closer to the de jure question we seek than the candidates we have already canvassed. But what is this ‘practical rationality’? How does Alston understand this protean notion, and how does he argue for the practical rationality of CMP and the beliefs it produces?

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