Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/796

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a strong inducement or as a strong deterrent. We do not find anything that can be relied on to save society from the danger of a moral interregnum. An exaggerated interpretation is not to be put upon that phrase. Society will hold together, and the milkman will go his round. For that, daily needs, habit, human nature, the examples of China and Japan, both of which are agnostic, sufficiently answer. Society has held together during former intervals between the fall of one morality and the rise of another; but it has been in rather a sorry way. Things have righted, but before they have righted there have been times to which nobody wishes to return. The continuity of history is indisputable; yet it is not such as to preclude very terrible convulsions; and surely the doings of nihilism, which in its speculative aspect is clearly a product of the present disturbance of religious and, at the same time, of ethical beliefs, are warning enough of the existence of subterranean fires. Once more, it is not from the personal tendencies of the distinguished party which surrounds an intellectual tea-table that we can gather with certainty those of the masses inflamed by fierce passions and goaded by animal wants, or even those of genius itself, like that of Napoleon, in pursuit of selfish aims. That all will be well in the end, theists, at any rate, must implicitly believe; yet the day of salvation may be distant.

"It is strange," says Mr. Spencer, "that a notion so abstract as that of perfection, or a certain ideal completeness of nature, should ever have been thought one from which a system of guidance could be evolved." Call the notion abstract, and the remark may be true. But it is certain that a personal type, or supposed type, of perfection, has furnished Christendom with guidance, with a rule of life at all events, up to this time. The sudden disappearance of that type must fill all, except the most serenely scientific minds, with misgivings as to the immediate future, it being admitted by "our great philosopher" that there is nothing to be put in its place.

There are one or two points which, though not strictly pertinent to the present inquiry, it may not be wholly beside the mark to notice. One of these relates to the theistic notion of morality, which we can not help thinking the author of the "Data" misapprehends, so far as rational theists are concerned. "Religious creeds," he says, "established and dissenting, all embody the belief that right and wrong are right and wrong simply in virtue of divine enactment." In another passage he represents the religious world as holding that "moral truths have no other origin than the will of God." There is a fallacy in the term "will." A law is not made by the will of the legislator; it is enforced by his will, but it is made by his nature, moral and intellectual, the goodness or badness of which determines its quality and the salutariness of obedience. Wise advice given by a father to his children is useful in itself, not merely because he gives it. Moreover, what a rational theist may be said to hold is simply that our moral