John Haynes Holmes.

Religion for to-day, various interpretations of the thought and practise of the new religion of our time online

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The Revolutionary Function of
THE Modern Church

Marriage and Divorce

Is Death the End?

New Wars for Old

Religion for To-day


Various Interpretations of the

Thought and Practise of

the New Religion

of our Time







Copyright, 1917







The contents of this present volume comprise a list
of thirteen addresses, selected out of the many de-
livered in the Messiah Pulpit, and elsewhere on mani-
fold occasions, during the last ten years. These par-
ticular addresses, with the exception of slight verbal
corrections, are printed here exactly as spoken to my
audiences. They are chosen for publication not be-
cause of any connection with one another in form and
content ; and no attempt has been made to arrange or
adapt them so that they may present a systematic
whole. Each has been included in this collection be-
cause of its own especial character as a representative
expression of radical thought on religious questions of
the day. In so far as they are subject to any kind
of classification, they have fallen naturally into four
groups. The first address, " The New Religion," may
be regarded as an introduction to, or summary of, the
general theme of the book. Then follow, in three ad-
dresses, statements of certain princi|)les underlying the
liberal religion of our time. The next three addresses
provide examples of certain aspects of the character-
istic thought of this religion. The third group, also
of three addresses, embodies different illustrations of
that social application of religious idealism which con-


stitutes the distinctive feature of " religion for to-
day." In the last group are three addresses, delivered
shortly after the opening of the Great War, which
may be taken as indicating one phase of the spiritual
reaction which followed upon this stupendous event.
It is obvious that this collection of addresses,
like every collection of the kind, lacks the merit
of presenting a systematic and thorough treatment
of .the subject; and fails altogether to touch upon
certain important aspects of the subject, as for ex-
ample, immortality. Serious as these facts are,, they
are necessarily involved in the limitations of the scheme
here adopted, and must therefore in the beginning be
accepted and discounted. On the other hand, is the
unquestioned advantage of such a collection in open-
ing up new lines of thought, in offering a viewpoint and
a method for the consideration of questions of religious
theory and practice, in quickening by flashlight sug-
gestions a curiosity to know and understand the whole
system of thought, or gospel of religion, of which such
glimpses are the momentary and therefore imperfect
expression, and in communicating that contagion of
the free spirit which is the Alpha and Omega of true
religion not only to-day but yesterday and forever.
If these addresses do no more than turn an occasional
reader from the old religion to the new, help an oc-
casional reader who has already abandoned the old to
find the new, persuade an occasional reader who has
found the new to rejoice and then convey the secret
of his rejoicing to other hearts, I shall be well content.


One other motive underlies the publication of this
volume. On February 4, 1917, I shall complete ten
years of service in the Messiah Pulpit. It is my hope
that, to the dear friends who have "lent me (their)
ears " and shared with me their hearts during this
period, these addresses here collected may appear as
a kind of record of our long and happy association.
In this spirit and to this end, I have taken the liberty
of dedicating this book to my people. Sensible as I
am of the inadequacy of this slight offering, it gives me
comfort that I can here bear public testimony to my
gratitude and affection.

John Haynes Holmes.

Church of the Messiah

New York City

December 1, 1916.



Preface vii

The New Religion . . 3


Truth, not Tradition 27

Liberty, not Authority 51

Justice, not Charity 72


The Dilemma of Denial 103

Is God a Personality? 130

The Modern Conception of Prayer 157


The Church and the World 187

Legislation and Morals 210

The Crime of Caste . . . *. 238


Man: An End, not a Means 265

The God of Battles 289

Is Christianity a Failure? 311




It must be recognised at the outset of our discussion
of this subject, that, in the deepest and finest sense of
the word, the new religion is the same as the old
religion. There is a great truth involved in the majes-
tic words of traditional adoration, " As it was in the
beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end,
Amen." For religion, after all, has to do fundamen-
tally with the attempt of the human soul to get into
right relations with God, and God, by the very nature
of his being, is " a constant quantity." " With him is
no variableness, neither shadow of turning." " He is
the same yesterday, to-day, and forever." And the
same therefore must be the endeavours of men in every
age to find him, to know him, to love him, to serve him.
Nothing is more impressive in the modern study of
comparative religions, than the discovery of the essen-
tial identity of these religions. Turn to the considera-
tion of any people, no matter how remote, or of any
age, no matter how primitive, and you find that re-
ligions are indeed many, but that religion itself is one!
Here in all cases do we find the recognition of some
kind of a supreme being, spiritual in nature, who is
regarded as the creator of the universe, the source of



living energy, and the ruler of the world. Here do
we find the deliberate and persistent endeavour to get
into relations with this deity — to understand his mind,
propitiate his favour, and serve his purposes. Here do
we find the august affirmation of the essential kinship
of humanity with God, and the consequent destiny of
every human soul to some kind of immortality. Espe-
cially do we find the definition and inculcation of a rule
of life which is well pleasing unto God and therefore
necessary to happiness and prosperity in this world
and in the next. These are the essential ingredients
of religion as we have known it in the past. And what
is true of the past, is true also, we may be sure, of the
future. If religion is destined to endure, as I most
certainly believe that it is, it will continue to preserve,
through all the ages that are to come, exactly this
same content which I have just described. Religion
will always be the same in its search after God if haply
it may find him, in its hopeful expectancy of a life
beyond the grave, in its belief in the essential integrity
of the world, in its faith in the ultimate triumph of
good over evil, in its endeavours after the kind of life
which will bring salvation to the soul. Experienced
travellers have again and again borne testimony to the
fact that, in the strangest lands of earth, one can feel
at home in the public ceremonies of religion, for, how-
ever unfamiliar the language and practices of devotion,
worship is still worship and prayer is always prayer.
And as with dlff^erent places, so also with different ages !
If you and I were suddenly to be transported this day


far back into the Athens of Pericles or the Rome of
Augustus or the Jerusalem of David, we would un-
doubtedly find nothing so familiar as the temples and
their services. And if, in the same way, we were sud-
denly to be transported far ahead into some distant
Utopia of the future, it is altogether certain that we
would recognise nothing so quickly as the religious
activities of the people. The religion of to-morrow will
be in all essentials the religion of to-day, just as the
religion of to-day in all its essentials is still the religion
of yesterday.

I have quoted the famous sa3'ing, " religions are
many, but religion is one." While recognising that re-
ligion is indeed one and the same thing in every age of
human experience, it is important for us to recognise that
it is also true that religions are nevertheless " many ! "
Religion, in other words, which is permanent, works out
into all sorts and kinds of religions, wliich are passing.
Every age has its own particular ideas, experiences, and
hopes ; and inevitably these give different colour or shape
to the expression of the unvarying religious sentiment
of the soul. It was natural for the Greeks, who culti-
vated fertile valleys and basked in pleasant sunshine, to
interpret religion in different terms of thought and
practice from the Iranians, who walked on rocky path-
ways and wrestled with tempestuous skies. It was im-
possible for the Romans, who became the masters of
the world and the builders of the greatest empire of law
and order that mankind has ever seen, to express their
religious emotions in the form of institutions and cere-


monials which would have much identity with those of
the Jews, for example, who were for centuries the
ravaged victims of every military conqueror of the East.
It was inevitable that the new ideas, which came rushing
into the minds of men like a loosened flood in the period
of the Renaissance, should lead to a transformation in
the field of religion no less revolutionary and epoch-
making than the transformation in the field of culture.
Religion in its essence is undoubtedly an abiding reality,
as I have said, but the conceptions of religion are as dif-
ferent as the different environments in which men live,
the different experiences which they undergo, the differ-
ent perspectives of knowledge and aspiration from
which they gaze upon the world. Religion is like a river.
The same great tide of water is sweeping on from the
springs in the distant mountains to the outlet in the sea.
But here it is " the still waters " by " green pastures,"
and there a foaming cataract between the granite walls
of a mighty canj^on; here it runs smooth and clear
through sandy soil, there it is discoloured with mud or
turgid with the defilement of a city's refuse. The same
river is a hundred different rivers as it makes its way to
the sea by fields and mountains, through deserted for-
ests and busy villages, by quiet farms and crashing
factories. And so with religion ! Ever the same in
essence, it takes on a new and distinct character in
every country which it enters and in every age through
which it moves. " From epoch to epoch," says Maz-
zini, in his From the Council to God, " the pages of the
eternal gospel are turned ; each fresh page, disclosed


by the ever-renovated spirit of God, indicates a period
of progress marked out by the providential plan, and
corresponds historically to a religion. Each religion
sets before mankind a new idea — each is a fragment
of eternal truth. So soon as that idea, comprehended
by the intelligence and incarnated in the hearts of man-
kind, has become an inalienable part of universal tra-
dition, even as the mountain traveller, on reaching one
summit beholds another rising above him, so is a new
idea or aim presented to the human mind, and a new
conception of life arises to consecrate that idea. Hav-
ing accomplished its mission, that religion disappears,
leaving behind the portion of truth that it contained,
and straightway a new religion appears ! " This
phenomenon of the passing in the permanent is wliat
we have in mind when we compare the religion of the
Babylonians with that of the Egyptians, or the religion
of the first century after Christ with that of tl^^liddle
Ages. And this it is which we very partici:jB|Bhave
in mind, when we look into the future and try, as best
we can, to forecast the religion of to-morrow as con-
trasted with the religion of yesterday and to-day. ^^
It is doubtful if ever before, in the spiritual history
of the race, this question of the new religion was ever
so pertinent as it is at this present moment. Concep-
tions of religion, as we have seen, have always changed,
as the ideas and experiences of men have changed.
But never have these changes been so fundamental and
so universal as to-da3\ It was this fact which
prompted Dr. Charles William Eliot to the writing of


his famous essay on The Religion of the Future, " The
nineteenth century," he says, " immeasurably sur-
passed all preceding centuries in the increase of knowl-
edge, and in the spread of scientific inquiry and of the
passion for truth-seeking. , . . (My) observing and
thinking life has covered the extraordinary period since
the Voyage of the Beagle was published, anaesthesia and
the telegraph came into use, Herbert Spencer issued
his first series of papers on evolution, Kuenen, Robert-
son Smith and Wellhausen developed and vindicated
Biblical criticism, J. S. Mill's Principles of Political
Economy appeared, and the United States, by going to
war with Mexico, set in operation the forces which abol-
ished slavery on the American continent — the period
within which mechanical power came to be widely dis-
tributed . . . and all the great fundamental indus-
tries of civilised mankind were reconstructed." It is
evident that such changes as these, within the period
of a single life-time, have brought us a new world, and,
by the same token also, a new religion. What this
religion is, no man can say. It is still a matter more
of the future than of the present. But what this new
religion is destined to be, at some date not too far dis-
tant, is a matter which is well within the range of rea-
sonable speculation. Certain large characteristics of
the new religion of to-morrow have become manifest in
our time, just as, on an early day of the creation, cer-
tain great continents lifted themselves out of the waste
of chaos, and straightway took form and content.
I. In the first place, I believe we may affirm that


the new religion will be a scientific religion. For three
hundred years or more, the battle has been raging
between theology and science. At first the conflict
seemed to be concerned v» ith the facts about the crucial
problem.s of the origin, destiny and character of the
world. On the one side was religion, w^ith a great mass
of legends and traditions, gathered up from all sorts of
ancient sources, Jewish, classic, and barbarian. On
the other side was science with a rapidly accumulating
mass of facts gathered up from observatories,
laboratories, archaeological expeditions and historical
researches. In no single instance, so far as I know,
did the traditions of the priest match with the con-
clusions of the scientist. And it was the necessity,
thus created, of finding out which side of the contro-
versy was to be trusted, that led to the discovery that
there is something m.ore fundamental involved here than
any mere dispute as to doctrines and facts.

At the heart of this vfhole business is a m.atter of atti-
tude or method. Are we to believe that truth has been
disclosed all at once in the past by some miraculous pro-
cess of revelation, or are we to believe that truth is
disclosed little by little by the wholly natural and infi-
nitely laborious process of observation, investigation
and experimentation? Is knowledge something that is
definite in amount and determined in character, or is
it something which is ever growing and unfolding as
man penetrates deeper and deeper into the constitution
of things ? Are we living in a world, wherein all things
past, present and future, have been disclosed, or are


we living in a world which, as Immanuel Kant put it so
vividly, is but a little island of the known, washed on
every shore by the vast waters of the unknown? Is the
book of wisdom, written, closed and sealed for all eter-
nity, or is page after page still being written with the
blood and tears of striving men? Here in this matter
not of fact but of attitude, not of conclusion but of
method, not of letter but of spirit, is the real issue in
this three centuries' old conflict between science and
theology. And it is an issue, let me state with all pos-
sible emphasis, which has been definitely decided on the
side of science. Dr. Draper in his History of the Con-
vict Between Religion and Science and Dr. Andrew D.
White in his History of the Warfare of Science with
Theology, have together demonstrated that, on every
point where these two great interests have joined bat-
tle, science has emerged triumphant. And it is this
which the religion of to-morrow, unlike most of the
religion of to-day, is going to recognise and acclaim.
The new religion of the future, as I have said, will be
a scientific religion. It will abandon to science once
for all the entire world of natural phenomena, and
accept as the basis of its own teachings the facts which
science discovers and establishes. It v/ill abandon, in
its own particular fields of study, the whole theological
method of deduction from a priori premises, and accept
and practise the scientific method of induction from
facts observed and tested. It will abandon that pre-
sumptuous idea of a full, final and infallible revelation
which Herbert Spencer well dubbed "the impiety of the


pious," and accept that attitude of reverent and yet
curious agnosticism which becomes a finite mind when
brought face to face with an infinite universe. Above
all, will it abandon its reverence of the past as the re-
pository of divine truth, and look forward confidently
to the future for the apprehension of those hidden
realities which " eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor
the heart of man conceived." The religion of to-mor-
row will have no quarrel with science, nor science with
religion. On the contrary, these two traditional
antagonists will become colleagues, working side by
side, in one common spirit of devotion, for the dis-
covery of truth and the enlargement of life. And
this new alliance, in place of the old hostility, will
mean at least three momentous changes for the religion
of to-morrow.

(1) First of all, it will mean the end of those
numerous superstitions which have ever been the accom-
paniment of the religious sentiment, and have made
religion quite as much a source of fear as of comfort
to the human heart. Out of the centuries gone by
have survived a thousand and one extraordinary ideas
about man's history in the past and his destiny in the
future. Some of these superstitions are based on
ancient legends of the race, the origin of which no man
knoweth at this time — some are the consequence of
dogmatic speculation or malevolent invention — all are
the hideous brood of ignorance and fear. And all are
put to flight by the scientific spirit which deals with
facts and not with fables. In this sense, the science


of our time must be regarded as the great liberator of
the soul from the bondage of superstition into the free-
dom of reality. The more we know the universe, the
more do we find that its laws are to be trusted —
" that its wa3^s are ways of pleasantness and all its
paths are peace." Consider, if you will, the theologi-
cal bogies that have been shattered, the ecclesiastical
tyrannies that have been overthrown, the human ter-
rors that have been dissipated, not only by the facts
which science has revealed to us but by the method
which it has taught us, and at once you will see the
beneficent contribution which it has made to the religion
of to-morrow.

(2) In the second place, this union of science and
religion will end the reign of authority in the realm of
things spiritual. " The decline of reliance upon abso-
lute authorit}^," says Dr. Eliot, in his The Religion of
the Future, " is one of the most significant phenomena
of our time." This decline is to be seen everywhere —
in government, in education, in business, in the famil3^
But nowhere is it more marked than in the church.
The present generation has learned to distrust any
theory of the world which places authority in a book,
or an institution, or a creed; and this distrust is des-
tined to increase, until it has been transformed into out-
and-out disbelief. Science is teaching once for all that
reason is the only criterion of truth — and the mind of
man therefore the only genuine seat of authority. All
of which means that the religion of to-morrow, like the
science of to-day, will be free from all external pressure,


and thus be guided and controlled by nothing but the
inward impulse of the inquiring spirit.

(3) And lastly, the establishment of a scientific
religion will mean the end of all bigotry and dogmatism.
No longer will the religious mind be closed to new
inquiry, and the religious hand be lifted to smite the
new inquirer. On the contrary, the religion of to-
morrow will be as open to fresh revelations of God's
truth as any department of science which is known to
our age. Such persecution as the Catholic church
visited upon Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler because
of their searching of the heavens — such opposition as
the Protestant church offered to Darwin, Huxley and
Spencer because of their discovery and formulation of
the doctrine of evolution — will be utterly impossible
in the new religion which is even now dawning upon the
world. Thomas More, in his Utopia, prophesied very
definitely regarding the religion of the future. In some
things he was right, and in some things wrong. But
his vision was as accurate as it was beautiful when he
said of the Utopians — " This is one of their laws, that
no man ought to be punished for his religion. . . .
Every man might be of what religion he pleased, and
might draw others to it by the force of argument, and
by amicable and modest ways, but without bitterness
against those of other opinions. This law was made
not only for preserving the public peace, but because
. . . the interest of religion itself required it."

II. When we have said that the new religion will
be a scientific religion, we have named only the first of


many changes that are destined to take place in the
gradual transition from the present to the future. As
a further characteristic of this new religion, I would
here name, in the second place, the moral s entiment.
The religion of the future will not only be scientific,
but it will also be dominated by the ethical as contrasted
with the theological point of view. Not much longer
will the church content itself with maintaining sacra-
ments and rites and ceremonials of one kind and another
as the talismans of salvation. Not much longer will it
point to creeds and rituals as the sine qua non of reli-
gious faith. Already have the great masses of mankind
in our age and generation decided that these things
have nothing essentially to do with religion in itself,
and, by severing their connection with the church, given
evidence of their contempt for an institution which does
those things which it ought not to do, and leaves undone
those things which it ought to do. The vital thing in
religion, we know to-day, is not faith, but character
— not acceptance of creeds, but obedience to the moral
law — not conformity to theological tenets and eccles-
iastical obligations, but_glad and free allegiance to the
spiritual ideals of the soul. Not what a man believes
or does not believe — not what he thinks or does not
think about the birth of Jesus, the resurrection of the
body, or the fall of man — not what he does or does not
do in relation to the traditional church practices of
worship, pra^^er and praise — but what a man is as a
man — the purity of his private life, the justice and
generosity of his relations with his fellowmen, the quick-


ness of his sympathies, the sincerity of his convictions,
the integrity of his word and bond — this is the true
test of religion. Character is the great thing in the
practical life of the present day, and this will be the
essential thing, we may be sure, in the religion of to-

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Online LibraryJohn Haynes HolmesReligion for to-day, various interpretations of the thought and practise of the new religion of our time → online text (page 1 of 21)