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By the Same Author

The Mind of Man:


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Liberty Review.


ion of

The Essence of Religion What is Art ? Ethics and Science
The New Faith and Social Reform The Relation
of the New Faith to Philosophy The Test of
Progress A Democratic Basis for Education The
Ethical Movement.






25 High Street, Bloomsbury, W.C.



Not all revolutions are heralded and accompanied by
disorder and violence.

The revolution in thought which Socrates witnessed,
and the great French Eevolution were marked, the
first by moral confusion, and the second by social

A mightier revolution is taking place in our genera-
tion, implying profounder readjustments in men's
beliefs and actions than the revolutions referred to,
which proceeds with marvellous rapidity and yet
almost without protest.

The Conscience has eclipsed the Scriptures ; Science
has destroyed the belief in Divine Interposition; Demo-
cracy and Civism have shown men how to help
themselves, and the supreme test and interest of men
have become Ethical, and have ceased to be Super-
naturalistic. We are even assured that the creeds and



dogmas are practical moral helps whose truth is a
matter of indifference and that the supreme test of a
revival is the ethical result.

It is not that men are becoming indifferent. It is
rather that a new faith, the faith in moral endeavour,
is displacing the faith in supernatural hopes and fears.

With science and morality dominating men's lives, a
radical reconstruction of beliefs has become inevitable,
and the object of the present volume is to show the
positive and bracing faith in man and society which
has been silently emerging out of the bloodless
struggle of the last quarter of a century.


March, 1908.






II. WHAT is ART? - - 44










THE question of the relation between ethics and
religion is coming to be acutely felt, not only among
philosophers, but among the public at large. Modern
scientific advance has introduced the problem to an
ever-widening circle of thoughtful persons, and it has
thus opened up a field of inquiry in which the interest
is intensely personal, for with the majority of in-
dividuals a scientific ethics seems to remove the very
foundations of their deepest convictions. The problem,
however, cannot be shelved. The social tendency at
the present day is towards religious reinterpretation,
towards scientific explanations in every department of
life, and towards tolerance and humanitarianism
generally. As a result it is natural that works on
ethics should have multiplied during the last century


and that the supposed necessary connexion between
ethics and religion should have been emphasised less
and less. At first, under these changed conditions,
the tendency was to find a general metaphysical basis
for ethics independent of special theologies; but the
prevailing humanitarianism and desire for scientific
treatment gradually shifted the centre of gravity
towards a scientific, civic, and non-metaphysical or
autonomous ethics. At the same time the public
interested itself in this problem and the cry went up,
on the one side, that ethics is in danger because of
tendencies which are leading to the dissolution of
religious sentiments, and, on the other, that because of
the inevitable weakening of religious faith it is im-
perative to free ethics from theology and make it

So soon as the autonomy of ethics had become a
much canvassed question, fresh developments were
unavoidable. Men began to argue that ethics is in
its very nature independent of theology or of God's will,
and that a dependent ethics ceases to be an ethics
altogether. Whether men believed in a deity or not, it
was contended, should make no difference to them
morally; for since ethics is independent, belief in a
deity can be of no consequence. We see here ethics,
as regards its foundations, altogether separated from


theology. Once, however, men had advanced thus far,
they were not slow to draw further conclusions.
Religion, they said, satisfies certain mystical cravings
of human nature, and has nothing to do with ethics.
Eeligion stands for a personal, philosophical conception ;
it is purely speculative, and morality is not its concern.
Hence there is really neither an agreement nor a
conflict between religion and ethics ethics goes one
way and religion another, and a man's religion and
ethics are shut up in cortical compartments which
do not communicate. On Sunday morning we go to
church and draw religious strength ; on Sunday even-
ing we go to a meeting of an ethical body and draw
ethical strength. Could there be a more beautiful
compromise? Yet in the minds of many of those
who pleaded for an autonomous ethics a final con-
clusion ripened. They were so overpowered by the
majesty and sublimity of the moral law that they
declared that it was the Highest, that ethics should,
therefore, be regarded as a religion, and that theology,
whether false or true, was a philosophical system and
had naught to do with religion pure and undefiled.
Finally, from this point it was but a step the last one
possible along this line to the declaration that
theologies are out-of-date working hypotheses, and
that a naturalistic, scientific, humanitarian and demo-


cratic philosophy of life must underlie the new

We have sketched the gradual enfranchisement of
ethics from religion, and we have seen the process
end, according to a certain school, in a re-affirmation
of religion, minus theology and plus certain modern
conceptions. Under the circumstances it is an indis-
pensable task to make a careful inquiry into the
nature of religion, more especially from the ethical
standpoint, so as to enable us to judge impartially of
the claims of the contending parties. The two extreme
views have come to agree to a certain extent, that is,
that ethics cannot be dissociated from religion ; but
they are wholly disagreed as to what religion consists
in. Which line of thought, then, is defensible ? Or
what is the truth in the matter ? And as to the
countless views which mediate between the extremes,
the hope for the present of a common understanding,
let alone of a common agreement, appears altogether
Utopian. Perhaps, therefore, if we analyse the contents
of the ordinary religious consciousness and allow fully
for changes due to individual and social peculiarities
and development, it may become possible to restrict
the number of plausible differences and to bring about a
closer and a better understanding.



In a thoroughly organised community men are at
home and do not feel lost. When, however, as at
present, owing to rapid and incalculable social changes,
almost complete instability in the social relations
prevails, men seek for some anchor of the soul which
shall make them independent of the vicissitudes of
life. They are bewildered by uncertainty; they feel
like helpless prey ; they are not equal to struggling
with the world; hope and satisfaction seem to forsake
them. A child trusts his parents implicitly, and thus
his life is organised for him. Similarly by belief in
a providence, in a loving father, in a loving saviour, in
the essential rightness of things, in the law of compen-
sation, or in a happy final consummation, an adult may
achieve the same object. Stoicism, Epicureanism,
fidelity to a moral or artistic ideal, produce a similar
effect. Likewise, a feeling of our oneness with God, with
men, or with nature, will take us out of ourselves
and make us superior to circumstance. Ideals, of
course, vary in breadth ; but only those ideals which
free life as such from dependence on circumstance are
called truly religious. These ideals are principally
determined by social conditions, and they only dis-
appear where a man knows his place and is allowed to
fill it; in other words, when circumstance has been


shaped to agree with principle. In an ideal society we
are not at the mercy of oppression, of delusion, of
ignorance, of weakness, of loneliness, of hatred, of an
irrational world, and consequently life offers there
what otherwise only an overpowering belief in a very
remote or refined ideal could give. When men will
have made a unity of the world, they will naturally
be at one with themselves, their fellows and the world
generally. In the meantime the craving for an anchor
of the soul is a very real and a very insistent one ; yet
such an anchor is not everything, for it may be inimical
to self-reliance and to progress. Thus a child may
be happier through complete trust and obedience;
but when the period of childhood is past, it is wrong
and cowardly to seek happiness in the way children do,
and we are then bound to decline the assistance of our
parents or our superiors. Indeed, in some transitional
periods the sheerest hopelessness is right, while con-
tented trust is then criminal. Even to-day the eye
should be fixed on what requires improving in society
rather than on smugly reposing our faith in some
panacea. We may not have peace at any price, least of all
moral peace. However, many men yearn for calm and
peace and serenity, and where social anarchy prevails
which the individual cannot remove, religion secures
this to some extent by sending men into the desert,


by building monasteries and convents, by laying the
stress on the inner life, and by picturing in glowing
colours another world as a balance to this. In our
day the thought that we are doing our best, and that
the best is sure to triumph, ought to lift us above
passing circumstance, and should yield a feeling of
security and satisfaction.

The desire for a reassuring conception of life appears
in religion because it appears in society generally.
On this account evolution is said to favour the right,
and for this reason the same thing is affirmed of the
constitution of the universe. Emerson and others never
weary of telling us of the law of compensation that
rules the world. Many are the voices which assure
us that only the good life satisfies ; that there exists
an avenging and rewarding conscience; that the
triumph of wrong is illusory ; that in the long run
justice gains the victory; that injustice and evil are
illusions ; that everything tends to a happy consumma-
tion ; that life is a mystery, a half-way house, a trial.
Modern hedonists inform us that the ethical life brings
the greatest pleasure. Epicureans, for the same reason,
led the simple and unselfish life. Stoics praise the
harmonious life a consistent self living in a harmonised
society, which itself is part of a cosmos. The same end
of lending a unity to life is attained by optimistic,


melioristic, socialistic, individualistic, anarchistic, and,
in a less degree, by radical, liberal and conservative
ideals; and similarly, a life of principle, of large
purposes, of universal sympathy, of reason, of worship
of the eternities, has been extolled above that of impulse
and that of trust in the momentary good. Again, hope
that our efforts are not vain, strength which we may
derive from companionship, assurance that help will be
forthcoming, belief that great wrongs can be prevented
or remedied, courage which comes from the feeling that
we do not stand alone, shame that some one who knows
us is possibly aware of a wrong that we are doing,
wisdom which we may gain from our superiors all
these vitally influence the average moral life. If
these blessings can also be procured from a deity, why
in principle should they lose their propriety, value and
power ? To this the answer comes that just as earthly
fathers think it best for their sons to struggle independ-
ently of their parents' help, and as sons feel that they
must not be dependent, so men must reject, or all but
reject, the assistance of the deity if they are to grow
strong and manly. He who is no more a child and
yet relies on God as a child on his father, has signed his
moral death warrant.

Our conclusion concerning this subject is, then, that
when justice and desire are foiled, men evolve or adopt


some theory which tends to satisfy and to reinforce justice
and desire, and that these theories are frequently of a
non-supernaturalistic kind.

Compensation. What shall we say to the religious
theory of Compensation? The good man, it is often
asserted, acts regardless of compensation. He only
wishes to satisfy his own conscience. As Marcus
Aurelius contends, the reward of a good deed lies in
the deed done, and it is therefore absurd to seek for a
second reward, an external one. Desire for compensa-
tion, according to Kant and others, would degrade
morality and reduce it to a system of selfishness.
From this point of view all that is said of compensation
by theologians is false and immoral. Yet two other points
of view are possible and have prevailed. In certain
ages men do not do the social deed willingly; they
have to be encouraged. And so decided is often the
unwillingness that a man, for doing his duty, is not only
rewarded but honoured. The hired soldier, policeman,
or fireman, is thus thought of highly besides being
rewarded. Seasonably enough, then, the eighteenth
century encouraged far-sighted selfishness, and justifi-
ably enough, Thomas More defined morality as the (in
his time) rare power to deny oneself for the sake of a
superior future good. In other words, wherever good-
ness has been hard to practise and where the normal


rewards of goodness were persecution and suffering as it
has been in some ages, there compensation for present
disadvantages was preached and believed in, in
theological circles and outside them. The wish that the
good man's life should not be cramped ; that the good
man, as the unfortunate Boethius felt, should not be
mocked ; that injustice should not appear to triumph ;
that happiness should not be the exclusive right of the
bad man ; or, on the other hand, the desire that men
should not give way to unlawful temptations, all
encouraged the belief that he who is good is, in some
way, recompensed. Whether the just man is conceived
of, with Plato, as incapable of losing anything valuable ;
whether he is regarded, with the Stoics, as indifferent
to pleasure and pain ; or whether he is paid in money
or consoled with a heaven, is theoretically the same. So
soon, however, as social conditions favour morality men's
views regarding compensation change until the attitude
favouring compensation is condemned altogether on
the tacit assumption that the times have changed and
that morality is not an incessant struggling against
hopeless odds. To ignore all compensation, even the
satisfaction of having done our duty, leads to moral

The second standpoint from which the compensation
theory is defended is a profounder one. We feel that


we are in honour bound to pay for a service, even
though the service rendered was not due to a hope of
pay. It is the duty of him who serves, to delight in
the service done ; but it is also the duty of him who
is served, not to exploit his benefactor. Here there is
no mean view of human nature on either side, and yet
the feeling exists that we must not let another suffer
harm and that it is wrong to take without, if possible
and necessary, giving something in return. If he who
saves our life or our reputation loses in consequence
health or repute, we feel bound to do all in our power
to minimise his loss, even though gainer and loser scorn
the thought of being determined by the desire for com-
pensation. The benefactor may not, however, have any
need of our help, and accordingly he who wins the race
gets a laurel wreath or holds a silver cup ; the saviour
of his country is hurrahed as he passes through the
city, the rich philanthropist receives our utmost respect.
We still show in these cases our appreciation, but only
in a formal way ; and not to show appreciation would
appear mean to us. This point of view is strongly
emphasised when we put ourselves in the places of those
who should be appreciated. To serve our family, our
friends, our profession, our town, our country, our race,
without a word of cheer or appreciation when the service
is known, would be most discouraging. Our effort has


been others' gain, and to have that effort accepted
deliberately and yet coldly, in a matter-of-fact way,
would imply callousness, for as social beings we owe
appreciation. As with the return of services, so
appreciation of what others do is a moral demand.

Gratitude. We are grateful to our parents who
brought us into being and, in consequence, we feel
that we must do much for them and not disgrace them
by our conduct. Gratitude to our forefathers compels
us to wish to leave the world a little better than we
found it, and we consider it shameful to let the rights
hardly obtained to be lost without a determined struggle.
We feel debtors to Hampden and Cromwell, to John's
rebellious barons, to the men of the French Eevolution,
to modern reformers. We reason: Hampden did so
much for us ; shall we pay no acknowledgment by our
conduct ? Shall we not honour his memory ? Shall we
not follow in his steps ? If, then, as many believe, Jesus,
the man, laid down his life for us, suffered intense
agony and shameful disgrace for our sake, shall we do
nothing in return for him ? Yes, many say. We shall
be loyal to him ; we shall lead the life he expected us
to lead ; we shall feel deeply grateful ; we shall be
touched by his story ; we shall act as disciples of his.
Of course, too much may be made to depend on
gratitude; but the sense of solidarity suggests that


gratitude is a natural virtue, while man's ingratitude
to man is one of the deepest stains on his character.
Shakespeare justly sang :

" Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude."

We think that if we were in the benefactor's
position, it would wound us to the heart that our work
was not appreciated, and we feel that gratitude,
active appreciation, is implied in our being social
beings and not self-contained individuals. Here, too, as
with rewards to good men, we must not do good
because men will be grateful ; but we may be cheered
by the hope that, where our good works are known, the
sense of solidarity will bring appreciation. We often
hear that, urged by gratefulness for some large benefit
the saving of life, honour, or the like men become
devoted to their benefactor, and their only concern
henceforth is to live for him. Christians are, therefore,
human, though not just, when they live for Jesus only,
or when they emphasise the gratitude and reverence
we owe to the creator of all things. Heie personal
gratefulness and attachment, leading as they do to the
suppression of the interest in self, produce indirectly
the cessation of all vices connected with self-assertion,
for by serving another we cease to serve ourselves


Much of Christian morality is thus derived from
gratitude, although the gratitude we owe to the many
others besides Jesus and to former generations
generally, is enormously underrated by Christians.
One might say that morality at a certain social
stage was necessarily individualistic in temper and
made, instead of social reform, gratitude and consequent
self-obliteration the most sacred portion of morality:
we see this in ^Esop's Fables, in Grimm's Fairy
Tales, and in folklore generally. This conception was
naturally transferred to theology, and hence the over-
insistence to-day in orthodox that is out-of-date
circles on gratitude and reverence as against the under-
insistence on improving social institutions.
' Superiority. Many men show a profound respect for
superiority. If a person has unusual power, he is
supposed to have a right to exercise it, and others are
expected to wait his bidding. What he demands,
weaker vessels must yield as a matter of course, and his
doing a thing constitutes its rightness. Such a man is
his own law ; that is, the moral law is constituted by
his will, even if that will be a changing one. Should
he study the welfare of his inferiors, it becomes a case
of magnanimity, and we argue with Luther how kind
God is, considering that he could make a hell of every
hair on our head, or with one Jewish Prayer Book, that


the permission to exercise the elementary processes of
life is a sign of God's generosity. A man's being strong
entitles him to what his strength can bring, and his
possessing considerable strength makes him an object
of admiration and worship. Logically the will of the
stronger dictates here what is right. Hence when
morality had not come of age, when external authority
determined what was right, when democracy was not
yet born, God Almighty could be said to act as He
pleased, and no one had a right to complain, or
to say that He was not justified in doing what He
pleased. He could demand obedience and service, and
it was wrong to disobey Him or not to serve Him. He
had a right, solely because he willed it, to send men to
heaven or hell, and it was wrong to call this right into

Superiority even now claims some of these privileges.
A king may live in splendour while his subjects are
starving ; he may treat his courtiers and subjects in a
different way to that in which he treats himself and
his family ; his wish is, within limits, regarded as law ;
and he is favoured in many other ways. Could we get

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Online LibraryGustav SpillerFaith in man; the religion of the twentieth century .. → online text (page 1 of 11)