Popular Science Monthly/Volume 41/August 1892/Editor's Table

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

 
PROGRESSIVE THEOLOGY.

WE note with great pleasure the issue by Messrs. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., of Boston, under the title of The New World, of a theological periodical which seems to us to be designed on truly progressive lines—to be, that is to say, rather an organ for the discovery of truth on all matters connected with theological belief than for the propagation or defense of the views of any particular theological school. The magazine is under the editorial management of Messrs. 0. C. Everett, 0. H. Toy, Orello Cone, and N. P. Gilman, names which of themselves vouch for the broad and liberal spirit in which the new enterprise is conceived, and for the scholarship which will be placed at its service. These gentlemen, in an editorial note, state that they "have no distrust of the scientific temper which, in many spheres of investigation, has accomplished such great results, or of the critical spirit which has led the way to a better understanding of every literature to which it has been applied." The number before us contains articles by Lyman Abbott, C. C. Everett, J. G. Schurman, W. R. Alger, C. H. Toy, J. Estlin Carpenter, Thomas R. Slicer, Edward H. Hall, and Charles B. Upton, as well as book-reviews by various hands. In all we note a liberal spirit worthy of this new departure in theological literature. Here and there, perhaps, there is a little lack of scientific exactness, as where Dr. Lyman Abbott professes to discover the "evolution of Christianity" in the fact that, while Jesus succeeded in feeding "five thousand men, besides women and children, seated in serried ranks on the ground," in our own day, "an organized benefaction, through the consecrated channels of commerce, so distributes to the needs of man that, in a truly Christian community, a famine is well-nigh impossible." Other articles, however, furnish a guarantee that, within the new review itself, such weak and, we must say, delusive analogies will not pass unchallenged. For example, in discussing The New Orthodoxy, Mr. Edward H. Hall deals in a very thorough-going manner with the evasions of what may be called the pseudo-liberal school—those who welcome criticism so long as it is not "destructive ": as if the function of criticism were never to destroy—and who, in a general way, take back with one hand what they seem to give with the other. Mr. Hall might be fully trusted to point out to Dr. Abbott that, if the feeding of the multitude by Jesus was a mere matter of commissariat, the vaster distributions of to-day point to an evolution in social organization, not to an evolution of Christianity; while if the multitude were fed by a miracle, as the Christian world has hitherto believed, what we see to-day has no relation to it whatever. Mr. Hall contends, and rightly, that if the aid of criticism is to be invoked at all, it is vain to attempt to circumscribe its action. "Whoever," he says, "invokes the name of Science, invokes a great name. He calls to his aid a master, not a servant. Science has its own domain and, in that domain, its own laws and its own rights. It can not be dictated to; it dictates. It suffers no one to assign its limits, but goes wherever there is work for it to do. Wherever there is question of evidence, argument, testimony, or proof, there the scientific method belongs; and, once admitted, it must be given full play." These are brave words, and, if The New World shall present a selection of articles written in frank acceptance of these principles, it will deserve well of all lovers of the truth, even though some of its writers may cling to less defensible positions. There is a great work for our new contemporary to do in freeing the religious sentiment from delusions which only serve to check its free expansion and development. Many now think that, in some mysterious manner, they ingratiate themselves with higher powers by disparaging and abusing their reasoning faculty; but The New World, if we do not mistake its mission, is prepared to teach a different lesson—namely, that the fullest development and greatest activity of the reasoning faculty are absolutely essential to the highest religious life. When man is a free being in the largest sense of the word, and has reconciled himself, once for all, to the conception of all-pervading law, his religious nature may then reach out for its own satisfactions, not only without dread of aught which it may be in the power of Science to reveal, but with a glad confidence that all further discoveries can only tend to a deepening of that spirit of reverence and self-reverence in which religion essentially consists. Science at last is coming into its own in this world in which its mission has so often been ignored or misunderstood, and in which the labors and sacrifices of its votaries have so often been repaid with persecution and reproach. The New World is a hopeful sign of the times, and we bespeak for it a liberal support from those who believe that, in religion as in science, there are better things in store for us than the world has yet seen.

 

 
COMMON SENSE WANTED.

Every day some new law is passed somewhere or other to protect people against the results of their own ignorance and folly; but it is comparatively seldom that we hear of any proposition of a serious or comprehensive kind to do away with the ignorance and folly which render, or seem to render, so many laws necessary. Popular education is believed by some to be doing this work about as fast as it can be done; but this we hold to be a serious error. There never was a time, we believe, when so many people were trading on the thoughtlessness and credulity of the masses as at present. The Post-Office Department spends a considerable percentage of the energy which it should devote to perfecting the mail service of the country in unsuccessful efforts to prevent the mails from being used to promote fraudulent schemes. The result, doubtless, is to more or less embarrass some swindling businesses; but as fast as one is suppressed another takes its place, and some that seem to have been suppressed have only changed their name and perhaps their base of operations. But, in addition to schemes that are unmistakably fraudulent, there are hundreds of at least dubious character that spread their nets in the advertising (sometimes even in the editorial) columns of the press. No offer is too grossly extravagant to captivate and delude some persons who might be supposed able to take care of themselves in an ordinary business transaction. We have known a man who could write a fair business letter send a dollar in response to an advertisement which stated that, for that sum, the advertiser would send a complete set of parlor furniture in black walnut and crimson plush to any address, carriage paid. This intelligent gentleman was very angry because, in return for his dollar, he got a few toy articles made of chips and rags and inclosed in a pasteboard box about six inches long by three broad, the whole thing weighing only a few ounces. The protests which he addressed, as we are informed, to the postal authorities were conceived in a fine tone of moral indignation, though the only part which the post-office had taken in the matter had been to convey to him a most harmless consignment of goods. So far as we could learn, it never occurred to him to pronounce himself an ass of high degree, and not only an ass but an actual aider and abettor of fraud, seeing that it is just the silly persons who expect to get something for nothing who keep the army of cheats in provender.

This idea of getting something for nothing is indeed the main-stay and support of far the larger part of the fraud that exists in the world; and the first lesson in practical wisdom is to learn that the thing is impossible, and that nobody professes to give something for nothing, or large value in exchange for small value, except for some selfish and dishonest purpose. We have discussed the subject before in these columns, and again we ask, Why could not a special effort be made in our educational institutions, not merely to put the young on their guard against being deceived, but to call forth their contempt for all the dishonest and semi-dishonest devices which now exercise so great an attraction over the masses? "Why should not the lesson be taught with iteration that the best way to get what we want is to give an honest equivalent for it, and that if this principle were more generally recognized everybody would get better value for his money or his labor than is now the case? The promoters of fraudulent enterprises are mere social parasites; they give no value, or at least no decent value, for the money they rake in, and the real workers of society have to tax themselves that these men may flourish. As to the word-making, text-finding, bean-guessing plans and devices which are so freely advertised, they ought to be beneath the contempt of all but the very weakest intellects in the community; yet how many people who can not be placed in that category take more or less interest in such things! "With all thy gettings," said one of old, "get understanding." Doubtless he meant common sense; and, if he spoke at all in the spirit of prophecy, he probably foresaw the time when, under a state-stimulated system of education, the intellectual gettings of people would be greatly increased in number, and yet common sense be very frequently left out.