The Collected Works of Theodore Parker/Volume 01/The Conclusion
Who can hope for a better result, unless the great lesson bo leanit, that there can be no essential improvement in the condition of society, without tho improvement of men as moral and religious beings ; and tliat this can be effected only by religious Teuth ? To expect this improvement from any form of false religion, because it is called religion, is as if, in iiduiiuistering to one in a fever, we were to take some drug from an apothecarj^'s shelves, satisQed with its being called medicine."— Andrews Noetobt.— Statement of Reasons, dkc. Pvefcice, p. ixii. — Jiixiii.
"What greater calamity can fall upon a nation than the loss of Worship ? Then all things go to decay. Genius leaves the temple to haunt the senate or the market. Literature becomes fWvolov Science is cold. The eye of youth is not lighted by the hope of other worlds, and age •' without honour. In the Soul let the reden-.ption be sought. In one soul, iu your soul, there are resources for the world. Tho stationari- neas of religion, tho assumption that the age of inspiration is passed, that the Bible is closed ; the fear of degrading the character of Jesus, by representing him as a man, in- dicate with sufficient clearness the falsehood of our theology. It is the office of a true teacher, to show us that God is, not was ; that he speaketh, not spake. The true Chris- tianity—a faith like Christ's in the infinitude of man— is lost. None believcth in the soul of man, but only in some man, or person, old and departed."— Eaxph WaldoHiUlKBaos.— Address in Divinity College, <&c., p. 24, 25.
I. OF THE POPULAR THEOLOGY.
Theology is the science of Religion. It treats of Man, God, and the Relation between Man and God, with the duties which grow out of that relation. It is both queen and mother of all science ; the loftiest and most ennobling of all the speculative pursuits of Man. But the popular theology of this day is no science at all, but a system of incoherent notions, woven together by scholastic logic, and resting on baseless assumptions. The pursuit thereof in the ecclesiastical method does not elevate. There is in it somewhat not holy. It is not studied as science, with no concern except for the truth of the conclusion. We wish to find the result as we conceived it to be; as Bishop Butler has said, "People habituate themselves to let things pass through their minds, rather than to think of them. Thus by use they become satisfied merely with seeing what is said, without going any further." Our Theology has two great Idols, the Bible and Christ; by worshipping these, and not God only, we lose much of the truth they both offer us. Our theology relies on assumptions, not ultimate facts; so it comes to no certain conclusions; weaves cobwebs, but no cloth.
The popular Theology rests on these main assumptions; the Divinity of the Churches, and the Divinity of the Bible. What is the value of each? It has been found convenient to assume both. Then it has several important aphorisms, which it makes use of as if they were established truths, to be employed as the maxims of geometry, and no more to "be called in question. Amongst these are the following : Man under the light of nature is not capable of discovering the moral and religious truth needed for his moral and religious welfare; there must be, a personal and miraculous mediator between each man and God ; a life of blameless obedience to the law of Man's natm-e will not render us acceptable to God, and insure our well-being in the next life; we need a superhuman being to bear our sins, through whom alone we are saved; Jesus of Nazareth is that superhuman, and miraculous, and sin-reconciling mediator; the doctrine he taught is Revealed Rehgion, which differs essentially from Natural Religion; an external and contingant miracle is the only proof of an eternal and necessary truth in Morals or Eeligion ; God formerly transcended the laws of Nature and made a miraculous revelation of some truth; he does not now inspire men as formerly. Bach of these aphorisms is a gratuitous assumption, which has never been proved, and of course all the theological deductions made from the aphorisms, or resting on these two main assumptions, are without any real foundation. Theologians have assumed their facts, and then reasoned as if the fact were established, but the conclusion was an inference from a baseless assumption. Thus it accounts for nothing, "We only become certain of the immortality of the soul from the fact of Christ’s resurrection," says Theology. Here are two assumptions: first, the fact of that resurrection; second, that it proves our immortality. If we ask proof of the first point, it is not easy to come by; of the second, it is not shown. The theological method is false; for it does not prove its facts historically, or verify its conclusions philosophically. The Hindoo theory says, the earth rests on the back of an Elephant, the Elephant on a Tortoise. But what does the Tortoise rest upon? The great Turtle of popular theology rests on—an assumption. Who taught us the infallible divinity of the Bible, or the Churches? "Why, we always thought so. We inherited the opinion, as land, from our fathers, to have and to hold, for our use and behoof, for ourselves, and our heirs for ever. Would you have a better title? We are regularly ’seized' of the doctrine; it came, with the divine right of kings, from our fathers, who by the grace of God, burnt men for doubting the truth of their theology!" This is the defence of the popular theology. We have freedom in civil affairs, can revise our statutes, change the administration, or amend the constitution. Have we freedom in theological affairs, to revise, change, amend a vicious theology? We have always been doing it, but only by halves, not looking at the foundation of the matter. We have applied good sense to many things, Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, and with distinguished success; not yet to Theology. We make improvements in science and art every year. Men survey the clouds, note the variations of the magnetic needle, analyze rocks, waters, soils, and do not fear truth shall hurt them though it make Hipparchus and Cardan unreadable. Our Method of theology is false no less than its assumptions. What must we expect of the conclusion? What we find.
If a school were founded to teach Geology, and the professors of that science wore required to subscribe the geological symbol of Aristotle or Paracelsus, and swear solemnly to interpret facts by that obsolete creed, and maintain and inculcate the geological faith as expressed in that creed, in opposition to Wernerians, Bucklandians, Lyellians, and all other geological "heresies," ancient or modern; if the professors were required to subscribe this every live years, and no pupil was allowed the name of Geologist, or permitted peacefully to examine a rock, unless he professed that creed, what would men say to the matter? No one thinks such a course strange in theology; our fathers did so before us. In plain English, we are afraid of the truth. "God forbid," said a man famous in his day, "that our love of truth should be so cold as to tolerate any erroneous opinion"—but our own. Any change is looked on with suspicion. If the drift-weed of the ocean be hauled upon the land, men fear the ocean will be drank up, or blown dry; if the pine-tree rock, they exclaim, the mountain falling cometh to nought. How superstitiously men look on the miracle-question, as if the world could not stand if the miracles of the New Testament were not real!
The popular theology does not aim to prove Absolute Religion, but a system of doctrines made chiefly of words. Now the problem of theology is continually changing. In the time of Moses it was this: To separate Religion from the Fetichism of the Canaaniiies, and the Polytheism of tho Egyptians, and connect it with the doctrine of one God. No donht Janues and Jamb j;es , exclaimed with pious horror;, What, give up the GarHc and the Cats which our fathers prayed to and swore hj ! we shall never be guilty of that infidelity. But the Pi'iesthood of Garhc came to an end, and the world sfcill continued, though the Oats were not worshipped. In the time of Jesus, the problem was, to separate Religion from the obsolete ritual of Moses. We know the result ; the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked at the thought of abandoning the ritual of Moses ! Bat the ritual went its way. In the time of Luther a new pro- blem arose ; to separate Keligion from the forms of the Catholic church. The issue is well known. In our times the problem is to separate Religion from whatever is finite, church, book, person, and let it rest on its Absolute Truth.' Numerous questions come up for discussioa : lo Christianity Absolute Religion ? What relation does Jesus bear to the human race ? What relation does the Bible sustain to it ? We have nothing to fear from truth, or for truth, but everything to hope. It is about Theology that men quarrel, not about Religion ; that is but one. II. OP THE POPULAR. CHEISTIANITY. Coming away from the theology of our time, aid look- ing at the pubhc virtue, as revealed in our hfe, political, commercial, and social, and seeing things as they are, we must come to this conclusion; either ChristianKy — con- sidered as the Absolute Religion — is false and utterly de- testable, or else modern society, in its basis and details, is wrong, very wrong. There is no third conclusionpossible. Religion demands a divine life ; society one mean and earthly. Religion says — its great practical maiim — We that are strong ought to bear the burdens of tie weak ; society. We that are strong must make the weak bear our burdens, and do this daily. The strong do not always compel the weak as heretofore, with a sword, nor violently bind them mainly in fetters of ivon ; they compej with an idea, and chain with manacles unseen, but felt, lien most eminent in defence of the popular theology are loudest in 1 See Miscellanies, Art. XII. support of American Slavery. Hell and Slavery are their favourite dogmas 1 Who does the world's work ; he that receives most largely the world's good ? It needs not that truisms be repeated. Now it is a high word of Chris- tianity^ he that is greatest shall be your servant. What is the corresponding word of society ? Everybody knows it. Do we estimate greatness in this way, by the man's achievements for the public welfare ? Oh no, we have no such vulgar standard! Men of " superior talents and cul- tivation/' do we expect them to be great by derv.'ng man- kind ? Nay, by serving themselves!
Religion is love of God and Man. la that the bapis of action with us ? A young man se'ttuig out in life, and choosing his calling, says this to himself : How can I get the most ease and honours out of the world, returning the least of toil and self-denial ? That is the philosophy of many a life : the verv end of even what is called the " better class of society. Who says, This will I do ; I will be a man, a whole complete man, as God made me ; take care of myself, but serve my brother, counting my strength also HIS, not merely his mine ; I will take nothing from the world which is not honestly, truly, manfully earned ? Who puts his feet forward in such a life ? We call such a man a Fool. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth is a fool, tried by the penny- wisdom of this generation. We honour him in our Sunday talk ; hearing his words, say solemnly as the parasites of Herod, "It is the voice of a God, not of a man! " and smite a man on both cheeks, who does not cry Amen. But aU the week long, we blaspheme that great soul, who speaks though dead, and call his word, a Fool's talk. That is the popular Christianity. We pray as well as the old Pharisee, " Lord, we thank thee we are not as other men, as the Heathen Socrates, who knew nothing, as the ' Infidel,' who cannot believe contradic- tions and absurdities. We say grace before meat ; attend to all the church-ordinances; can repeat the creed, and we believe every word of both thy Testaments j O Lord, what wouldst thou more ? A/iTe have fulfilled all righteousness."
Alas for us! We have taken the name of Jesus in our Church, and psalm-singing. We can say "Lord, Lord, no man ever spake as thou. But our Christianity is talk; it is not in tlio iieart, nor the tu^d, nor the liead, hut only in the tongue. Could that great man^ whose soul bestrides iae world to bless it, come back again, and speak in bold words, to our condition, follies, sins, his denunciation and his blest beatitudes, rooting up with his " Woe-unto-you, Hypocrites,^' what was not of God's planting, and calling things by right names— how should we honour him? As Annas, and Caiaphas, and their fel- lows honoured that " Gahlean, and no prophet," — with spitting and a cross. But it costs little to talk and to pray.
A divine manliness is the despaii' of our Churches. No man is reckoned good who does not beheve in sin, and human inability. We seem to have said: — Alas for us! We defile our week-days by selfish and unclean living; we dishonour our homos, by low aims and lack of lov/3; by sensuality and sin. We debase the sterling word of God in our soul; we cannot discern between good and evil, nor read Nature aright; nor come at first-hand to God; therefore let us set one day apart from our work; let us build us a house which we will enter only on that day trade does not tempt us; let us take the wisest of books, and make it our oracle; let it save us from thought, and be to us as a God; let us take our brother to explain us this book, to stand between us and God; let him be holy for us, pray for us, represent a divine life. We know these things cannot be, but let us make believe." The work is accomplished, and we have the Sabbath, the Church, the Bible, and the Ministry; each beautiful in itself, but our ruin, when made the substitutes for hoHness of heart and a divine life.
In Absolute Religion we have what is wide as the East and the West; deep and high as the Nadir and Zenith; certain as Truth, and everlasting as God. But in our life we are heathens. He that fears God becomes a prey. To be religious, with us, in speech and action, a man must take his life in his hand, and be a lamb among the wolves. Does our Christianity enter the counting-room; the senate-house; the jail? Does it look on ignorance and poverty, seeking to root them out of the land? The religious doct.rir.6 of work and wages is a plain thing; he that wins the staple from the maternal earth; who expends strength, slfiii, taste, on that staple, ma,kiug it more valuable ; who aids men. to be healthier, wiser, better, more holy, he does a service to the race; does the world's work. To get commodities won by others^ sweat, by violence and the long arm, is Robbery, the ancient Roman way ; to get them by cunning and the long head, is Tx-ade, the modern Christian way. What say Reason and Jesus to that ? No doubt the Christianity of the Pulpit is a poor thing. Words cannot utter its poverty ; it is neither meat nor drink ; the text saves the sermon. Bat the Christianity of daily life, of the street, that is still worse, the whole Bible could not save it. Thfe history of society is ^mmed up in a word ; Cain killed Abel : that of real Religion also in a word ; Christ died for his brother.
From ancient times we have received two priceless trea- sures : The Sunday, as a day of rest, social meeting, and religious instruction ; and the institution of Preaching, whereby a living man is to speak on the deepest of sub- jects. But what have we made of them ? Our Sabbath — what a weariness is it ; wnat superstition defiles its sunny hours ! And Preacliing — what has it to do with Hfe? Men graceless and ungifted make it handiwork ; a sermon is the Hercules-pillar and ultima Thule of dulness. The Popular Religion is unmanly and sneaking. It dares not look Reason in the face, but creeps behind tradition and only quotes. It has nothing new and living to say. To hear its talk one would think that God was dead, or at best asleep. We have enough of Church-going, a remnant of oiu" fathers' veneration, which might lead to great good; reverence still for the Sabbath, one of the best institutions the stream of time has brought us ; we have still admiration for the name of Jesus. A soul so great and pure could not have lived in vain. But to call ourselves Christians after his kind of Religion, while we are keeping slaves and stoning prophets — may God forgive that mockery ! Are men to servo God by lengthening the creed and shortening the commandments ; making long prayers and devouring the weak j by turning Reason out of doors and condemning such as will not believe our Theology, nor accept a priest's falsehood in God's name ? Religion is Life. Is our Life Religion? ^To man pre- tends it. No doubt there are good men in all Churches, and out of all Churches ; there have been such in the hold of pirate-ships and robbers' dens. I know there are good men and pious women, and I would go leagues long to sit down at their blessed feet and kiss their garments' hem ; but what are the mass of us ? Disciples of Absolute Reli- gion ? Christians after the fashion of Jesus of Nazareth ? No ! only Christians in. tongue. It is an imputed right- eousness that we honour ; not ours, but borrowed of Tradition ; an historical Christianity " that was, but is no more. A man is a Christian if he goes to meeting in a fashionable place ; pays his pew-tax ; bows to the parson; believes with his sect j is good as other people. Tliat is our religion; what is lived, what is preached; *'like people, like priest,^' was never more true.
It is not that we need new forma and symbols, or even the rejection of the old. Baptism and the Sijpper are still beautiful and comforting to many a soul. A spiritual man can put spirit upon these. To many they are still powerful auxiliaries. They commune with God novr and then — through bread and wine, as others hold converse with Hiiti for ever, through the symbols of Nature, the wind? that wake the *^ soft and soul-like sound " of the pine tree ; through the earliest violets of spring and the last leaf of autumn ; through calm and storm, and stars and blooming trees, and winter's snows and summer's sunshine. A religious man never lacks symbols of its own, elements of connijunion with God. What we want is the Soul of Religion, Rehgion that thinks and works ; its SiON will tpJko care of it«elf.
With MB R<>hgion is a nun ; she sits, of week days, behind her black veU, in the meeting-house ; her hands on her knees ; making her creed more unreadable ; damning "infidels" and " carnal Reason;'* she only comes out in the streets of ft Sunday, when the shops are shut, and temptation out of sight, and the din of business is still as a baby's sleep. All the week nobody thinks of that joyless vestal. Meantime strong-handed Cupidity, with Ms legion of devils, goes up and down the earth, and presses Vv^eakneas, Ignorance, and Want, into his service ; sends Bibles to Africa on the deck of Lis sliip, and Eum and Gu.ipowder in the hold, knowing that the Church he pays will pray for ^'the outward bound." Ho brings home, most Christian Cupidity, images of himself God has carved in. ebony; to enslave and so Christianize and bless the sable son of Ethiopia ! Verily we are a Christian people; zealous of good- works ; drawing nigh unto God — ^with our lips ! Lives there a savage tribe our sons have visited, that has not cause to curse and hate the name of Christians, who have plundered, polluted, slain, enslaved their children ? Not one the wide world round, from the Mandans to the Malays. If there were but half the Religion in all Christendom, that there is talk of it during .a. "Revival,'^ in a village ; at the baseness, political, commercial, social baseness daily done in the world, such a shout of indignation would go up from the four corners of earth, as should make the ears of Cupidity tingle again, and would hustle the oppressor out of creation.
I'he Poor, the Ignorant, the Weak, have we always with us; inasmuch as we do ^ood unto them, we serve God; inasmuch as we do it not umo the least of them, we blas- pheme God and cumber the ground we tread on. Was there no meaning in that old word, " He that knew his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes ?" They are already laid upon us. Religion meant something with Paul; something with Jesus; what does it mean with us ? A divine life from infancy to age ; divine aU through ? Oh, no ; a cheaper thing than that ; it means talk, creed-makiag, and creed-believing, and cfeed-defending. We Christians of the " nineteenth cen- tury have many "inventions to save labour;" among them fl process by which " a man is made as good a Chris- tian in five minutes as in fifty years." Behold Christianity made easy I Do men love Religion and its divine life, as Gain and Trade ? Is it the great moving principle with us ; something loved for itself; somethmg to Hve by ? Oh, no. Nobody pretends it.
No wonder " ministers cannot bear to hear the truth spoken;" five minutes' talk will not weigh down fifty years' work, save in the Church's balance. The Christiam- ity of the Churches stands at the comer of the street^ and bellows till all rings again from Cape Sable to tbe Lake of the Woods, if a single " heretic " lifts up his voice, though never so weak, in the obscurest comer of the earth ; but Giant Sin may g' > through the land with his hideous rout ; may ride rougL -tJiod over the poor, and burn the stuudiiig corn c iid poison the waters of the nation, and shake tho very Church till the steeple rock — and there shall not a dog wag his tongue. When did the Chi-istianity of the churches leave a heresy unscathed ; when did it ever de- nounce a popular sin — the desolation of intemperauce, our butchery of the Indians, the soul-destroying traffic in the jQesh and blood of men " for whom Christ died ? " These things need no comment. They tell their own tale. Where is the infidelity of this age ? Bead the sectarian newspapers. We have a theological Religion to defend with tracts, sermons, ministers, and scandal. It needs all that to defend it.
No wonder young men, and young women too, of the most spiritual stamp, lose their reverence for the Church, or come into it only for a slumber, irresistible, profound, and strangely similar to death. What concord hath freedom with slaveiy? Talent goes to the world, not the churches. No wonder Unbelief scoffs in the public print: " beside what that grim wolf, with privy paw, daily devours apace, and nothing said ; " there is an unbelief, worse than the public scoffing, though more secret, which, needs not be spoken of. No wonder the old cry is raised, " The Church in danger,^' as its crazy timbers sway to and fro if a strong man treads its floors. But what then ? What is true never fails. Religion is permanent in the race; Christianity everlasting as God. These can never perish, through the treachery of their defenders, or the violence of their foes. We look round us, and all seems to change ; what was solid last night, is fluid and passed off to-day ; the theology of our fathers is unreadable ; the doctrine of the middle-uge " divines " is deceased like them. Shall our mountain stand ? " Everywhere is instability and insecurity." It is only men's heads that swim not the stars that run round. The Soul of man remains the same; Absolute Religion does not change; God still speaks in Mind and Conscience, Heart and Soul; is still immanent in his children. We need no new forms; the old. Baptism and the Supper, are still beautiful to many a man, and speak blessed words of religious significance. Let them continue for such as need them. We want real Christianity, the absolute Religion, preached with faith and applied to life; Being Good and Doing Good. There is but one real Religion; we need only open our eyes to see that; only live it, in love to God, and love to Man, and we are blest of Him that liveth for ever and ever.
JOHN CHILDS AND SON, PRINTERS.