Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/29

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19
SCIENCE AND CONSCIENCE.

rality—are part of the change which in matters of government is represented by the decay of aristocracy and the spread of democracy. "The theory of the Church," Mr. Stopford Brooke says ("Faith and Freedom," Boston, 1881, page 333), "is an aristocratic theory, and it has ministered to that imperialistic conception of God which in theology has done as much harm as despotism or caste system of any kind has done to society." In England the Church exists as a part of the general aristocratic system of a country in which non-conformity is detested mainly as a social stigma; in America we see the clearest proofs of the altered circumstances, and these are visible on every side. The formal side of ecclesiasticism loses its force, while ethical teaching gives and receives fresh life. Dogmas linger a couple of centuries behind what people really believe, and even the most conservative are far more liberal than they try to be, or than they say they are. Even the most fervent Roman Catholic refuses to believe that his Protestant friend is doomed to eternal damnation.

If theology is willing to satisfy itself with furthering right living and right thinking, its future is bright; if it demands assent to irreconcilable dogmas, it must in time disappear like everything which rests on sheer authority. Yet probably no age will ever be confronted with this direct question; the present one has come near it, and, while a century ago the general discussion was tabooed by the cautious, lest the whole social system should be swept by the board, it is now seen more or less clearly that men can think variously about dogmas without relapsing into barbarism. In time this will be generally acknowledged—what we now feel in our hearts—that the eternal laws of right and wrong, of justice and injustice, of truth and falsehood, are safe from the bungling of copyists, the destruction of wars, and the confusion of commentators.

This, however, is taking us from the question immediately before us, which is the relation that religion bears to contemporary thought. We can judge of what may be in store in the future only from the past and the present. If we fail to detect any modification of older ways of thought, there is no firm ground for prophecy about what is yet to happen. Yet we have seen Christianity molded into a church by the force of the current Roman ideas; we have seen feudalism triumphant in things terrestrial and things celestial; we have seen new freedom come into religion as into the rest of the world with the Renaissance, and we have seen a renewed reaction into old ideas following this freedom, as we see mediævalism in the fantastic robes and many candles of the Church when, in its turn, it was affected by the Romantic movement. In the wider freedom that begets science we see new tolerance for freedom of thought, and this freedom of thought can not fail to undermine some of the artificial constructions of the past. That it will destroy the essential principles of religion need scarcely be feared, any more than that science will expel literature.