Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/778

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whether the forms are articles in irrational creeds or outward observances. But can it be maintained that the belief in an All-seeing Eye—in infallible, inflexible, and all-powerful justice—in a sure reward for well-doing and a sure retribution for evil-doing—has been without influence on the conduct of the mass of mankind, or that its departure is likely to be attended by no consequences of importance? There are two miners, say, by themselves, and far from human eye, in the wilds of the far West: one has found a rich nugget, the other has toiled and found nothing. What hinders the man who has found nothing, if he is the stronger or the better armed, from slaying his mate as he would a buffalo, and taking the gold? Surely, in part at least, the feeling, drawn from the Christian society in which his youth was passed, that what is not seen by man is seen by God, and that, though the victim himself may be weak and defenseless, irresistible power is on his side. I say in part only; I say at present only; and, once more, I do not prejudge the question as to the possible appearance of an independent and self-sustaining morality in the future. We dwell too exclusively on the restraining principle. Who can doubt that religion has, as a matter of fact, largely impelled to virtue; that it has formed characters at once of great force and of great beneficence; that it has sustained philanthropy and social progress? Who can doubt that many good and noble works have been, and are still being performed, from love of God and from a love of man which is inspired by belief in our common relations to God? Who can doubt that heroes and reformers have been led to face peril, to risk their lives in the service of their kind, by the conviction that they were doing the Divine will, and that while they were doing it they would be in the Divine keeping? Would it be so easy even to man a life-boat if all the ideas and all the hopes which center in the village church were taken out of the seaman's heart? Go to the beach: tell the men that if they sink there will be an end for ever of them, and of their connections with those whom they love; are you sure that they will not be rather less ready to take an oar?

Hundreds of thousands have suffered death for their religion. Is it conceivable that the belief for which they died can have had no influence on their lives? Is it conceivable that the influence can have been confined to the martyrs? Is not Christendom almost coextensive with moral civilization? And does not the whole face of Christendom—do not its literature, its art, its architecture, show that religion has been its soul? So, at least, thought that eminent agnostic who pronounced the eighteen centuries of Christianity a retrogression from the happy and scientific age of Tiberius, and by that strange burst of antitheistic frenzy showed that we may have to be on our guard against a fanaticism of hostility to religion as well as against a fanaticism of religion.

The opinion of those who are confident that no moral disturbance