Popular Science Monthly/Volume 27/May 1885/Religion Without Dogma
NO purpose in the study of history is more instructive than that by which we trace the progress of freedom against authority, of inquiry as opposed to dogmatic assertion, of reason and right against arbitrary power.
As I shall have frequent need to speak of authority, it may be well to discriminate between its various species, and state with what specific meaning the term is to be used in this discourse. In the instruction of the young we all admit that authority must be the principal method employed. In early years many lessons were taught us chiefly on that principle—the rules of arithmetic, the relations of geometry, the formulas of logic, the rudiments of physics, with sundry theories as to the fluid nature of electricity and the atomic structure of matter. Besides these were lessons in history, which included the statement that Charles I was a martyr; and lastly the Church Catechism—all these did we diligently commit to memory and regard as truth. With the lapse of years came the perception that the lessons of childhood and youth were not all of equal validity. The mathematics and logic which appealed to the understanding remained, so did the largest part of physics; the hypothetic nature of electricity, however, and of the ultimate structure of matter, being deemed something else than certain. Our views of history underwent some change, and Charles I was removed from our roll of the army of martyrs. The revered sentences of the Catechism, which so tersely told the origin and destiny of all things, the nature and intentions of the Supreme Cause, were submitted to tests which left them of somewhat less force than of old. The maturing powers of reason passed judgment on the authorities, left some of them undisputed, regarded others as approaching correctness with more or less probability, and placed others, again, in the category of unsupported assertion.
As a typical case of allowable and legitimate authority, let us take the statement by Dr. Tyndall, that watery vapor, suspended in the atmosphere, acts as a powerful absorbent of heat radiant from the earth. We accept the statement because it is undisputed by physicists who are competent to execute tests of it, and because, should we choose to become instructed in the methods of research which Dr. Tyndall employs, we could verify his conclusions as many inquirers have done. Genuine authority gives us proofs, it predicts, and fulfillment follows: The geologist declares that certain strata may be coal-bearing; we sink a shaft and find the fuel. The meteorologist forecasts the weather twenty-four hours ahead, and the skies verify his prognostications. Venus, we are told from the observatory, is to cross the solar disk at a specified time, and punctually to the instant the planet appears. From elaborate consideration of the molecular groupings of certain compounds of carbon, a German chemist thought that a substance which he sought to build up from its elements would possess great beauty and value as a dye-stuff. Success rewarded his patient labor, and a new hue was placed at the disposal of the textile manufacturer. The kind of authority which men of scientific achievement exert, and which all men of special gifts of talent and character enjoy, is an authority to which we owe intelligent and cheerful allegiance. The world advances by leadership of this kind and by loyalty to such leadership. But, when a theologian says that the world was made from nothing, that man was created from the dust of the earth by instantaneous fiat, and then caused to be tempted to his fall—when we find all these assumptions made the basis of an elaborate and definite scheme of supernatural theology—we confront what seems to us the authority of unproved assertion, which reason questions and science ignores.
The history of every thinking man, in his separation of the authorities contending around him for obedience into valid and invalid, is a summary in some sort of the history of the race in its gradual emancipation from dictatorship in science, in the state, and in theology. The records of science show us the common case where men of extraordinary genius have risen so high above their fellows as to excite reverence for their results, rather than emulation of their methods. The price paid by mankind for towering ability has often been the production of generations of mere quoters and commentators, who revered the work of a master as too sacred to require addition or improvement. Ptolemy's system of the universe was so great an advance on the explanations which preceded it, that for sixteen dreary centuries it was imposed upon students of the heavens. Not until the time of Copernicus was the theory established that the sun is the center of our system, as against the notion that the sun and planets revolve around the earth. Aristotle had such a wonderful grasp of mind, had so comprehensive knowledge, and was a man of so much constructive genius, that admiration of him paralyzed research in science for nearly two thousand years. Whewell, the historian of the inductive sciences, shows how Aristotle's Hellenic love of symmetry in thought led him to bridge gaps in evidence and induction by verbal propositions. His works presented a fictitious completeness which imposed upon students for ages. Mere comment and expansion gave place to original work only when Bacon, Galileo, and others like them, taught that the way to know Nature was to observe, experiment, and generalize. When the methods of Aristotle and Ptolemy as observers were imitated, and when their results ceased to be echoed, was science born again, to achieve wonderful victories; then the goose-step of the schoolmen became the onward march of exploration.
The revolt against the predominance of classical education in favor of that of science is a noteworthy sign of the times. Greek and Latin literatures used to be held to furnish a mental training obtainable by no other studies. Now the dominion of words is passing away. In technical schools and colleges students are brought into direct contact with the facts of Nature, and are taught how to interpret these facts into principles. It is becoming more and more widely held that the ancient literatures only provided a gymnasium for the mind, exercise wherein can be profitably superseded and included by that afforded in the tasks of the laboratory, the workshops or the botanic field. Instead of repeating Greek prose and verse, the student of science is taught skill in the use of his senses and reasoning powers, it being intended that he shall so acquire knowledge as to be able to add to knowledge.
As in the history of science and education, so in that of the state, has authority declined before the spread of the love of freedom. The history of European and American civilization is the history of the gradual recognition of the individual's rights, as against the claims of monarchy and aristocracy, of privileged persons, families, and classes. And, however imperfectly democracy may fulfill the expectations of its advocates, through freedom having often come before education in responsibility, one thing is clear, its idea is better than those which it has displaced—the idea that, as each individual man has duties to the state, he has correlative rights which entitle him to a voice in appointing those who make the laws and execute them.
In its advance from authority to freedom, the history of Christian theology supplies a parallel to that of science and that of the state. Christianity, based on the claim of its 'founder to be the Lord and Saviour of men, finds its strongest and most consistent exponent in the Roman Catholic Church. That Church presents its dogmas with absolute claims to truth and infallibility, and demands the complete submission of mind and will, as the representative on earth of the Divine Saviour. The yoke of this Church, though firmly fixed about the necks of its followers, grew so burdensome at last that the Reformation arose, and belief was transferred by millions of men from the infallible Church to an infallible book, which book, however, was to be interpreted in the light of private judgment. While the ecclesiastical government of Rome was discarded, much of its creed was retained; and to this day Protestantism, in its ritualistic and more authoritative forms, is scarcely to be distinguished from its parent. Dissatisfied with the Bible as an infallible standard of faith and morals, the Liberal Churches have discarded it from its place of supreme authority and accept Christ as spiritual Lord and teacher. The Liberal fold in turn has developed a school of much influence, which, unable to bow to any external guide, looks within and finds in intuition direction sufficient for spiritual life. The history of Christianity, from the time of the apostles to that of Theodore Parker, manifests first the gradual evolution of authority, and then tells us how by abusing its power and becoming corrupt and arbitrary it incited the rebellion of bold and free men, who point by point have taken the citadels of assertion and dogma. Theology proves on examination to be no more than the views of Nature entertained by observers in the remote past. These views, formulated into creeds and crystallized into institutions, have established churches, ruled not less by the love of power than by the desire to do good.
The church-makers, in a very different spirit from that of men of science, have not dealt directly with facts, but with opinions about facts, and on examination it would appear that they have proceeded on some erroneous lines. In refusing competency to the intellect in its attempt at dealing with the problems of life, the theologians have on another hand overrated the powers of this same intellect.
While affirming the supreme mystery which infolds the universe, they have inconsistently given verbal explanations of that mystery. In the same page which speaks of the untrust worthiness and weakness of the human mind, we may find a full account of the origin and destiny of all things, and an analysis of the Divine nature and intention. The depreciation of human ability and the need of modesty in attacking the great questions of life and death are stated very forcibly, and thereupon solutions are offered us of all that a little before was declared inscrutable. In endeavoring to rise from Nature to a conception of a creating and ruling spirit, different in character from what observation of Nature would lead us to imagine that spirit to be, theology has become involved in endless contradictions. The Christian idea of the Deity would seem to have been developed in the light of the sympathies which have arisen in the domestic and social life of man. These sympathies with their allied sentiments have been unwarrantably projected out beyond their proper sphere, that of human affairs, into an idea of the Divine—it being forgotten in the process that Nature in the broad view is the fullest manifestation of divine power we know, and that from Nature herself in her manifold operations should we try to integrate a conception of its informing Spirit. Hence the discrepancy between the conception of the theological Deity and the facts of the universe. Do the processes of Nature exhibit sympathy, mercy, or love? Or do we not rather observe in them the uniformity of a power manifested through an infinite mechanism which neither excuses ignorance nor spares weakness? Yet so widely and in our view so unjustifiably have the ideas of God and Nature diverged, that we find Tennyson asking, as he depicts the agony of the struggle for existence and the profuse waste of organic life, "Are God and Nature then, at strife?" Any theory of the universe which endeavors to be comprehensive must subdue the impulses of sentiment and emotion and face all the facts of experience. The natural order shows us redundant life as necessary for the competition whereby the fittest individuals and species may survive and advance. The fittest may not from the human stand-point always be the best or the highest, for the parasite, protected from contest in the stomach of a man or horse, may degenerate and assume a type lower than that in which its existence began. The system of prey, the thousands of species of parasites which make the days of so many nobler types of life miserable and short—all this does the natural order include, no less than the culminations of human consciousness, genius, and conscience which thrill us with their power as if we stood in the very presence of the Divine. Nature presents to our view and study a mechanism of infinite complexity. Its rules of action we may know in part, and, when we obey that knowledge, happiness can be ours; but, however diligent we may be in study or willing in our obedience, all its laws we can never discern, and its wheels may seize us and painfully mar or quench our lives at any moment—the lurking germs of disease by inheritance within us, or floating in the air around us, the incalculable forces of earthquake or tornado; the liabilities incidental to modern locomotion, and many of the processes of modern industry. These, together with the willful exertion of human malignity, all beset us as subtractions from joy in life. Our sympathies, baffled in their endeavor to find scope beyond the limits of human relations, return thither to their source, as perhaps to the sole legitimate sphere for their exercise. Humanity remains, though the supreme cause continue undefined. In the spirit of much of what the theologians say, we find ourselves acknowledging our inability to rise from phenomena to ultimate cause or essence. Declining to attempt solutions of the origin and destiny of the universe, we would endeavor to attack undone work for mankind near at hand, neglecting in the mean time all discussion of the remote and impossible.
Not only in their overrating the powers of the intellect did our forefathers err, but also as seriously in their views of knowable truth did they exhibit immaturity of thought. Truth may be defined as the reality of things underlying our partial knowledge of them. Except in the limited area of axiom, our knowledge is imperfect and incomplete. On examination, it proves to consist largely of mere signs and symbols. We can state the law whereby gravitation acts, but the force itself eludes our scrutiny. We can formulate its rate and measure its quantity, but why bodies tend toward each other throughout universal Nature is as little known to our acutest physicists as to the least informed savages. All analogy requires us to think that a medium is necessary for the conveyance of the attraction, yet, if there be a medium, how does it do its work, and that too across the diameter of the visible universe with practical instantaneity? So too with the properties of substances which are surely among the simplest things we can consider. What is the essential difference between iron and lead, and why does water always freeze in six-petaled crystals? Such questions, which lie at the very threshold of the temple of inquiry, show us how hard is our task of getting below our labels, our names of things, and pursuing investigation more than a single remove from appearance.
At the risk of being tedious, I shall take an example of the growth of our information about a single substance, to illustrate the indefinitely great extensions of knowledge which are possible to us, in every direction in which we may seek it—this in contrast with the views of knowable truth which were current in the infancy of information. Iron had, doubtless, in very remote times, been observed to be tenacious and malleable; of value, therefore, in making of tools and weapons. Later on its magnetism was noticed, and, at some uncertain date, in China probably, it began to be used in navigation as the mariner's compass. The rusting of the metal must have been observed very long ago; yet it is little more than a century since that common fact was rationally explained, and since the chemical relations of iron began to be studied. Examination has determined its crystalline structure; its capacity as a transmitter of sound, heat, and electricity; and its improved tenacity, when united with carbon, to form steel. The long catalogue of its various properties does not seem to be approaching a limit, but rather the reverse. Within recent years spectrum analysis has determined the peculiar lines, several hundred in number, which enable it to be identified as a fiery vapor, alike in the flame of the laboratory or in the remote orbs of space. The telephone proves that a small disk of the metal conceals within its structure the subtile means of converting sound-waves into electrical tremors, and these back again into audible vibrations, with so much of the individual tone of a speaker as to be readily recognizable. Now, if iron, which is comparatively so simple a thing, presents such a multitude of properties and powers, if it be shown to have relations with all else in Nature, if very important knowledge respecting it has but recently come into our possession, how very cautiously should we proceed when our subject of thought is not a chemical element, but, say, some large question of human nature or public policy! The little gray crystal of iron is eloquent in bidding us have some decent hesitation, when we are considering, say, some proposed legislation which is to affect the complex sentiments, desires, and passions of men. For lack of that decent hesitation, statute-books are filled with laws which are evaded, or work results opposed to those expected from them, all tending to establish in the popular mind an injurious contradiction between law and common sense. And what supreme diffidence should there be when we are endeavoring to arrive at, not some knowledge in a special science, not the best policy in a matter of law or state, but when we approach the highest questions: How best can we interpret Nature so as to form a conception of its informing spirit? If a man die, shall he live again? What are the sanctions and what the standard of right conduct? Which is the higher reverence, that which accepts the dictum of a local and arbitrary authority in response to these questions, or that which considers them patiently in the light of all human experience to the present day, by the aid of the highest faculties we possess? We are often told to bow to authority in the singular, but we are surrounded not by authority but by authorities, many and diverse. Among them all—religious, social, or scientific—we can but lean on such common sense as we possess to aid us in selection and discipleship.
I have defined truth to be the reality of things underlying our partial knowledge of them. Our forefathers thought of truth as a thing which they might grasp as fully and perfectly as a child's hand incloses a pebble; our conception is of something which we may approach, but never possess, save in the restricted field of axiom. We think of truth as of the dim face of a star, discerned through difficulties of distance, distortions of media, and defects of the seeing eye. The old view of finality, completeness, and perfection in knowledge, we discard as utterly disproved by fact. Science knows nothing of the infallibilities it was aforetime thought necessary to assume. The infallible standards of Church, Bible, and intuition have never yielded to inquiry more than the verbal husk of assumed certainty. Science accepts the risks of a fallibility which can not be escaped, but which it reduces to a minimum by the co-operation of many minds. The desire to be certain, which set up the oracles and established the successive infallibilities is, however, an intelligible desire. Doubt and ignorance are not pleasant states of mind to acknowledge, and the process of arriving at fair judgments is both laborious and painful. Instead, however, of assuming certainty because it is desirable, we would endeavor to earn it, by recognizing it as every man's duty and privilege to add to truth, in the justness, completeness, and clearness of his knowledge of it. And, since the scope of the unknown is infinite, the incitement to the fulfillment of this duty is full of hope and promise. Science, unlike dogma, does not point to fields harvested and gleaned long ago, but to continents awaiting their Columbus to pressing problems of individual, social, and political life demanding solutions by thoughtful men. And, in the fields of scientific investigation, we can see how every newly ascertained fact and law extends the horizon of Nature, adds to the area of unexplored territory, thereby stimulating the student to achievement therein. In researches respecting mind and brain, and their relations, in probing consciousness to its depths, and in the results which may follow the inquiry as to whether the intellect does or does not come into direct contact with external Nature, some of the ablest thinkers of our time place hope of more light on the chief problems of life. Our conception, then, of knowledge leads us back to the early similitude which likened it to a tree. Knowledge does not increase, like a honey-comb, cell simply added to cell, but, like an oak, whose every year of growth implies not addition merely, but vital transformation of structure. Nothing is fixed but the axis from which the branches and boughs spread out, as if they felt they had all the universe for their expansion. A stripling oak of a few seasons' growth is beautiful enough in its way; but would it be wise or useful to uproot it, shelve it in a museum, and declare it to represent a finality as to oak-possibilities?
The idea of knowledge which I have sought to express makes clear the grounds whereon thought and discussion ask for full liberty. As men differing in natural ability, temperament, education, and stand-point, strive to attain views of truth, their results must inevitably vary. "Recognition of difference of view" we would, then, substitute for the offensive term "toleration of dissent," which latter phrase, from one who holds that he possesses finality, simply means the permission of known error, which he may be unwilling or unable to punish. And the differences of view which men of opposite temperaments and tendencies may entertain are often mutually completing, and become indued in a master-mind with stereoscopic relief and unity. Let me cite an example of this: Two schools of thought endeavored to explain conscience on different principles. The one held it to arise from an innate moral sense, the other from the results of experience. The philosophy of evolution includes in its explanation both series of facts from which these two schools argued. It shows how ancestral experiences of right and wrong conduct become organized in the race, and are transmitted as moral tendencies to offspring. These tendencies are advanced in their progress a step by the experience of each individual life.
Having, then, expressed our dissatisfaction with the method of theological authority, from its having attempted problems which as yet are beyond the scope of the human intellect, and because of its erroneous notions as to the knowability of truth, let us endeavor to describe the method of science which we would adopt in the whole sphere of our mental activity. The scientific method is nothing very new or unfamiliar; it is simply ordinary thinking, corrected by the canons of a more exact and cautious procedure. It is organized, common sense coming into contact with fact, and carefully sifting the evidence derived from fact. Business men employ it in importing or manufacturing their wares, in estimating the demands of markets, and ascertaining the standing of their employés and customers. Physicians act according to it in diagnosing their cases, prescribing treatment, or operating in surgery. Lawyers employ it in supporting their pleas and arguments; and judges use it in rendering their decisions within the limits of the written law and of their precedents. The scientific method ignores no faculty of man or fact in Nature; it recognizes to the full our emotions, affections, and sentiments, but subordinates all these to the intellect, whose dictum alone is given command over the educated will. Authority relies on inspiration, revelation, the miraculous, and the supernatural; science relies on brain, on experience, the mastery of facts by accurate and patient thought. The one receives or imagines it receives, the other acquires and has no opinion not subject to revision as new evidence comes in. It entertains no beliefs beyond evidence, and seeks none. It knows nothing of infallible guides without or within, nothing of authorities which may not be doubted and which submit no proof of their assertions. Science endeavors to substitute convictions for mere assent; and, instead of mechanical adhesion, would give to genuine authority the intelligent concurrence earned by the labor of the individual mind. It is not because science has won its chief victories in the physical world, where the comparative simplicity of its problems has invited attack, that we should therefore have an imperfect idea of its scope. Its scope includes the whole range of human thought and feeling. Science is not limited to fields where clocks and micrometers may be used to measure, or logarithmic tables be employed to compute; it recognizes human emotions, sentiments, and will. To these it would direct study, no less than to the areas where exact results are attainable.
Applying, then, the method of science to an examination of theology, it appears to consist in an attempt at explaining the facts of Nature, and the sanctions of duty, in distant ages of scant knowledge. Its scriptural revelations come down to us through centuries of untrustworthy custodians, and when they reach us at last they are not revelations to us, but hearsay about revelations, and must be judged by the canons of criticism which we apply to other departments of literature. Every theology, no matter how emphatic its assertion of a supernatural source, bears about it the plain marks of its human origin. The conceptions of God vary with the zones and closely parallel the grades of culture in which they arise. The commandments called divine become more elevated as the civilization of a people advances. The disciples of a prophet or apostle direct the noble impulses he has implanted in their hearts to broaden his teachings and correct his errors. Contrast the almost human tribal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the lofty idea of the Deity entertained by Isaiah. Compare this latter, again, with the universal Father whom Jesus taught his followers to worship. Mark the cumbrous legality and ritualism of the Old Testament and its silence respecting the future life; how different this from the teaching of Jesus, who exalted the spirit above the letter, valued love more than sacrifice, and assured his hearers of an immortality which made this world but a temporary scene of trial and probation! Note how the high-minded Paul saw nothing reprehensible in slavery, and compare that with the humanity of an age which gives even dumb animals rights against their owners. The evolution of thought in general is fully exemplified by thought in theology, notwithstanding its assertion of a sacred fixity. John Wesley, sensible man that he was, said that, if he were to give up his faith in witchcraft, he would give up the Bible. Yet his followers have dropped the witchcraft, and kept the Bible.
No study of human history would be valuable or just which did not recognize as a prime fact the profound religious instincts of our race. The awe inspired by the sublimity of the starry heavens, and the terrible and resistless forces of Nature—those of the volcano, the tempest, the pestilence so mysterious in its origin and spread, and the famines so devastating in the childhood of races—all these, not less than the kindly succession of the seasons, and the enjoyments of health and home, have suggested an infinite Power, the immanent sustaining spirit of universal life. The baffled hopes and aspirations of the soul, the anguish of bereaved affection, the enigmas and tragedies of life, have joined together to implant a faith in another life which shall be complement and compensation for this. As a record of man's perception of his helplessness in the combat with Nature, as a pathetic registration of his hope, fear, and remorse, the religious sentiment is entitled to our profound respect. Every sentiment, however, of the human heart, while compelling our respect or reverence in itself, awakens some less lofty feeling by its expression in institutions. The loss which attends the translation of sentiment into organization may perhaps be exemplified in the case of our instinct for justice. That instinct, one with the love of truth, in its expression as a means of self-protection against wrong, has given rise to law and the courts. Are the results of their processes such as to awaken the reverence which the sentiment of justice compels? The discrepancy between religious feeling and ecclesiasticism; the love of right and law, as practically enacted and executed, suggests the parallel gap which philosophers and poets have so often mourned—the gulf between thought and language, which leaves music to suggest much that in speech must remain inarticulate. The great artists of the world, whose masterpieces fill the generations with wonder, have lamented how far execution has lagged behind conception. The supreme dramatist does not seem to have thought his work sufficiently valuable to take any special care to hand it down to posterity.and Councils of the churches, which have arisen by virtue of the religious sentiments of our race, do not appear to have been lifted above the passions and partialities of our Congresses and Parliaments. The inner heart of humility and reverence in religion we highly respect, but the churches not so highly. The inevitable
Religious feeling by its arrival at the theistic idea has done mankind incalculable service. How potent the thought that the universe is one, and represents one uncontradicted will! How influential for good the thought that a Supreme Mind, too great to be deceived, and absolutely righteous, knows every thought and act! "Thou God seest me," has, I think, restrained evil in the mind of conscientious theists, with a directness which might have been denied to reflections as to consequence. It is not because some of us may be dissatisfied with theology that we fail to recognize its value in the past and present. Associated with moral codes, it has impressed them on minds unfit by immaturity for the responsibilities of freedom, and by dogmatic force has doubtless given stability to order. Not because the Gods of the sects seem crude and imperfect conceptions are we to expect that the religious feeling which gave rise to all these will die out in man. It will, I believe, from age to age, go on endeavoring to form a theory which shall explain the facts of human life and universal Nature, which shall impress the imagination and influence the will.
One result of science will be profoundly influential here—its arrival at the idea of Law, its perception of uniformity and constancy in Nature; the proof which, in large part, it now possesses, that the history of the universe, from nebular mist to man, illustrates causation and continuity. This idea, excluding as it does the miraculous and the supernatural, leads us to regard the history of the universe as an unbroken and consistent unfolding. In this view, every item of knowledge we attain is secure from any interference from break in the natural order. We are incited to explore relations which are unchangeable. The sense of supreme mystery will grow as the margin of the known expands and touches larger and larger circles of the unknown; but any territory we may win we will feel sure of retaining. And, although our knowledge may not be either wide or deep, still much of it will doubtless be regarded as valuable and important throughout the future of our race. The laws of gravitation and evolution may he included by the coming man in wider generalizations, but we can scarcely conceive their being ever regarded as other than immovable and fundamental portions of truth. We are not of those who say that human knowledge is only relative to the individual consciousness, and therefore shadowy and invalid. With reverence be it said, we hold that such knowledge as we have of water or iron, to be a part, however infinitesimal, of the divine knowledge of these things.
The instituted religions have not only given us the theistic idea, but have also laid us under weighty obligations by establishing the only means of formal instruction in morals known to our race. And here let us note the damage caused by the accidental association of a moral code with a cosmogony developed in early stages of knowledge. It is not because Genesis gives an unsatisfactory account of the world's beginning, that the decalogue does not validly register the dictates of human experience, taking form in the brain of a great lawgiver. The Mosaic and all other authoritative codes of conduct, as currently held to-day, are supported by appeals to experience; then it becomes the mission of competent thinkers to revise these codes in the light of all that men have thought and done to date. It becomes the duty of science to investigate the conditions of happiness, which we must morally fulfill if we want happiness; no other standard of conduct do we know than this.
For the essence of religion, the faith that the right will win, and that we should help it to win, we are indebted to Christianity in its rationalized forms, and for that faith we thank it.
But the churches have done more than preach theism and teach morality—they have endeavored to imitate their Founder in his care for the desolate and oppressed. Countless kind and tender spirits have found in the noble philanthropies of Christianity scope for their charity and mercy. Here, as elsewhere, we do not propose, in our independence, to disinherit ourselves of anything of value which Christianity can give. The scientific conceptions of duty at which we seek to arrive are to be broadened and deepened by the sympathies which yield the highest satisfactions of man. The necessity for the greater recognition of this element in conduct was never so urgent as now. The masses of mankind born into a world abounding with pain and evil have hitherto been disposed to consider their burdens as all equally providential. They are, however, now beginning to distinguish among the ills which beset them. Some they regard as inevitable, to be borne with manly courage; others, again, as infractions of justice, preventable or remediable by proper means. There is no prevalent recoil from the disciplines of home and business life, but there is wide-spread and growing discontent at the extreme inequalities of fortune—inequalities held to be the result of bad laws, unwise customs, and downright dishonesty. The enormous sale of Mr. Henry George's books is not, I take it, due to any popular faith that the remedy he proposes—the public confiscation of land—will right the wrongs of poverty. The consciences of the people are shocked at the immorality of the proposal. Mr. George's vast audience is attentive because he states very forcibly the anxieties and dangers which beset bread-winners amid the contingencies of the modern industrial world. When, from beyond the sea, we hear of nihilistic vengeance, socialistic uprising, and dynamite plotting, it would seem that the safe-guards of civilization against a relapse into barbarism are less secure than is commonly imagined. Do not all these dangers spring from lack of sympathy between plenty and want? Not simply between plenty and want in matters of goods and chattels, but in the better things of culture and refinement. The generous man who will correct with kindness the faulty arguments of a neighbor less endowed than himself, who will cultivate in the youth of his acquaintance love of literature, of art, and of the natural sciences, is doing as much to strengthen the bonds of society as when he shares his income with the destitute and forsaken.
When I was in Ireland, four years ago, I heard many causes assigned for the prevailing discontent. My informants averred that, not less than the injustice of the landlords, had the arrogant and unsympathetic manners of many of them, and of many of their agents, served to alienate the people. In the development and satisfaction of the sympathies, let me repeat, lies the chief hope of establishing a true brotherhood among men.
Seeking happiness as our aim, we declare knowledge, and obedience to that knowledge, to be its means, and freedom its condition. The cultivation of the heart must receive our attention, not less than the improvement and equipment of the brain, if our lives are to be worthy, useful, and happy.
- A lecture delivered at Montreal, Sunday, March 30, 1884.