Francis Howe Johnson.

God in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology online

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expression gets transformed into a craving for
recognition. The desire to be is supplanted by
the desire to appear, the desire of dominating
the imaginations of others, of commanding their
praises. And out of this desire is developed that
brood of unlovely and hateful things, jealousy,
envy, cruelty. Many of the greatest evils of
society owe their origin and their violence to the
warring of rival contestants for self-realization.
In any given age, the fashion of the world fixes
the attention of many on the same prizes, and in
all ages, the desire for wealth and power is a
dominating passion of dominating souls. This
means war. In the realm of finance, of politics,
of social prestige, passions and cruelties are


engendered that are sometimes as essentially
"hell" as that which declares itself on the battle-
fields that are strewn with human bodies.

What then are the motives that shall prove
strong enough to curb and transform into an
angel of light this masterful, tyrannical instinct?
We have said that, in its normality, this instinct
is but one of an organic group of principles, each
one of which is equally important in the higher
evolution and each one of which has emerged as
a rudimentary instinct in the natural course of
the great process. We might go far afield to
marshal these principles, for they manifest them-
selves in a variety of forms. But it is more to
our purpose to devote attention strictly to the
condensed statement of them given in our second
formula. And the more we study that formula
in relation to the realities of life and to the
processes of becoming in human evolution, the
more, I believe, we shall be impressed with its
all-comprehensive grasp of the truth.

In the prosecution of this study it is desirable
that we dissociate it as much as possible from its
traditional implications of divine authority. This
is not to separate it in thought from its connection
with the inspired Teacher Who set the seal of His
greatness upon it. We must, indeed, compare it
with His other teachings to know what He meant
by His endorsement of it. But when we have
ascertained, so far as may be, what it meant to
Him, it remains for us to make it ours by testing


it thoroughly as related to life's experiences. Does
it fit in with the past of human thought and
feeling? Is it capable of meeting satisfactorily
the demands which the crying deficiencies of our
incompleteness make upon it? Does it give us a
true answer to the great questions which we are
asking of evolution? Does it indicate the one
and only line of normal development? Does it
mark out clearly an end worthy of the life-effort
and enthusiasm of every human soul?


"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all
thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy
mind — thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.''
This is said to be two laws, and it is ordinarily
thought of as such. But, as we have elsewhere
pointed out, it is practically a threefold formula.
And its second clause, prescribing, as it does, two
streams of soul-energy that are diverse and often
antagonistic to each other, obliges us to divide our
attention to the study of each one separately.

The love of our neighbour is to be one of the
great ends of life. The love of self is another, of
equal importance with the first; and, because it
is the first in the order of development, we must
make it the starting-point of our investigation.
It is here that we have the strongest attach-
ments in reality. And because it is a principle
of action fully mobilized and in actual possession
of the situation at the outset, it is made the


gauge of that other principle that ought to be
its peer. That which we know and practise is
to be the measure of that which is as yet only
partially known and practised: its measure not
simply as to the volume of the attention and life-
energy we bestow upon it, but also as regards its

The standard of self-interest is, in every
normal soul, continually changing. If we are in
the true line of promotion we are progressively
aiming at higher and more comprehensive ends,
and the love of our neighbour must follow suit.
Not that we are to presume that we and our
neighbour will be always moving at the same
pace, but that our increased apprehension of the
possibilities and of the value of life will react
upon the love of our neighbour, enlarging and
carrying it to a higher degree of intensity.

This throws us back once more on the recogni-
tion of the fact that the progressive realization of
self is a vital factor in the true life. That this
was Our Lord's understanding of the second
clause of our formula will be clearly seen by a
comparison of the development of its two outlooks
in His illustrative discourses. His parables give
us truth in a concrete objective form which there
is no mistaking. And in the twenty-fifth chapter
of St. Matthew we have both sides of this moral
equation so illustrated. Probably no two repre-
sentations of the outcome of human life and of
the standards by which its success, or failure, is


to be measured have more deeply impressed them-
selves upon men's imaginations, or more effectually
influenced their lives, than that of the parable of
the Talents, on the one hand, and that of the Final
Judgment on the other.

Both these representations have to do with the
results of life as a whole, and each one is put
before us as if it constituted the sole test by which
individual lives are to be judged. At the same
time they are as diverse in their outlooks as they
can well be, one having regard to what we have
called self-realization, the other setting up human
sympathy and helpfulness as if it were the sole
test of a normal life. This latter has regard to
the love of one's neighbour, the former has regard
to the love of oneself.

The parable of the Talents carries us into life's
conflicts, the battle-fields where men are wrestling
for the mastery and where one man's gain fre-
quently involves another's loss, and it seems not
only to legitimize the struggle, but to make its
prosecution the test of a faithful life. I say it
seems so to do. And even where we rise above
the literalness of the figure, we are still held to
the interpretation that the development and in-
crease of man's natural endowments are the great
end of life. For the working out of his own
salvation, in other words, every man must pri-
marily aim at making the most of himself.

The allegory of the Final Judgment, on the
other hand, makes everything hinge on the extent


to which men have given heed to and cultivated
the natural promptings of sympathy. Their pity-
ing love has gone out to the unfortunate, to the
hungry, to the captive, to the sick. What an ab-
solutely different career from that outlined in the
narrative of the servant who, entering into life's
conflicts, made his five talents into ten! The
conscious aim in the one case is helpfulness to
others, the conscious aim in the other is the
realization of oneself. It is unnecessary to point
out that these two representations were not
regarded by their Author as the contradiction of
each other. We have only to refer back to His
formula, "love thy neighbour as thyself," or,
what is equally important, "love thyself as thy
neighbour," to recognize the fact that these were
to Him the two faces of a composite reality, an
organic truth which we are to work out into a
concrete, objective experience.

Turning now from the teachings of Jesus to the
teachings of nature, we find the fullest endorse-
ment of the equality of these two principles.
Altruism, the love of our neighbour, is, generally
speaking, the softer, the less established, and, as
a rule, the weaker when the two clash. It there-
fore demands more of our attention than the other.
It must be protected from the encroachments of
selfism. We have to think for it, plan for it, foster
and nourish it. But it is equally important that
we do not let the cultivation of the one obstruct
the full and vigorous action of the other. It is


the office of the later in development to modify
and to elevate, not to weaken, the earlier.

Now let us take a look at this word equality,
which we have used to characterize the relations
in which the two principles stand to each other.
We have seen in another connection how fatally
easy it is to confuse ourselves by using conceptions
generated in one realm of thought for the explica-
tion of relations generated in a totally different

If we permit the word equality, in this con-
nection, to bring before us ideas of mechanical
force, or even of degrees of authority, prestige,
and the like, we can reduce this claim to an
absurdity. It becomes a mere matter of words
quite out of connection with the world of facts.
Experience shows these two principles associated
indeed, but not as yet' perfectly adjusted to each
other. Their limits of jurisdiction are not defi-
nitely marked out. They are, now and again,
meeting face to face on narrow roads, where one
or the other is obliged to give way, and which
of the two yield must be decided by the circum-
stances of each particular case. The best life
is a matter of adjustments, of yielding here, of
insisting there, in deference to the good of the
personality and of society as a whole. In other
words, the only equality between altruism and
selfism is that which pertains to the parts of an

From a more comprehensive point of view they


are seen to be not antagonistic, but mutually
supporting factors in a living unity. Each sustains
and promotes the growth and health of the other;
they also limit, control, restrain each other. They
are to each other what the heart in a human body
is as related to the organs of digestion, or what the
nervous system is as related to these and to the
muscular system. The welfare of the whole and
of each one is determined by the normal balance
which is maintained by their collective action.

We are familiar with the antagonisms that
develop themselves in our physical members.
The unity of the body is, as we know, made up of
many departments of operation and government
in which there is great diversity, — the muscular
system, the nutritive system, the generative
system, that which governs the circulation of the
blood, and that which regulates our breathing, —
and each one of these has its own special centre
in the nervous system, which, apparently from
some higher centre, co-ordinates and administers
the whole as a balanced organism.

This wonderful complex of organs and activities
comes to us with all its parts so perfectly adjusted
to each other that, under normal conditions, we
know nothing of its working. Each department
performs its functions silently and rhythmically.
We are like passengers on a perfectly appointed
steamer, blissfully ignorant of machinery and
navigation, and with but little understanding of
the dangers that beset us.


But there is no rigidity about this apparently
perfect order. On the contrary it is characterized
by great elasticity and variability of adaptation.
It is like a musical instrument that can be played
upon with results ranging from discord and vul-
garity to the most sublime reaches of emotion
and thought. At a very early stage of our experi-
ence we discover that the natural and seemingly
perfect adjustments, that have come to us, have
to be modified, and further, that some of these
modifications are strenuously resisted by the old
order. Antagonisms are developed. The nervous
system, through which the demands of the govern-
ing ego are made, finds difficulty with its subordi-
nates. Extra and unusual labour is laid upon
them, and restraints, under which they chafe.
The distinctly animal departments clamour, more
or less insistently, for liberty of action; and the
result is sometimes a devastating insurrection.

Out of such experiences, many times repeated,
there grows up a definite and persistent recog-
nition of a duality of interests in our physical
constitutions ; and the governing personality is im-
portuned to encourage the one or the other, to the
discomfiture of its rival. The libertine sides with
one faction in the development of his animal
nature; the ascetic with the other, in the hope of
developing his higher impulses by the suppres-
sion of the lower. The result in both cases is
abnormal and, if persisted in, ruinous. Experi-
ence discloses to us a law written in our members.


Thou shalt regard and honour and normally
develop all the departments of that wonderfully
organized human body that thou hast inherited.
Thou canst not destroy nor degrade one part,
without prejudice to the whole. That whole,
with all its parts, is the outcome of an intelli-
gence higher and deeper and broader than thine.
Study and take counsel of it.

The antagonisms that have been developed are
very real, they cannot be ignored. But if we
magnify these to the obscuring of the unity of
the interests to which all are tributary, we are
mistaking a side issue for the central and vital
truth. It is not otherwise when we are confronted
with the claims of selfism and altruism. When
these latter are urged upon us from the standpoint
of an external a thou shalt, " the dominating aspect
of the situation is that of antagonism, and we
may be inclined to look upon altruism as an upstart
principle of action that has hitherto been asso-
ciated with self-government in a purely subordi-
nate position; that has existed in its household,
as it were, on sufferance, without authority,
without determining influence, the companion
and solace of our gentler moods, but one never
allowed to interfere with matters of moment.

Where battles have had to be fought — and life
has been a series of battles — love to one's neigh-
bour has been left at home. Life is a stern busi-
ness; altruism is weak-hearted: success means
triumph over opposition; altruism is concession


and surrender. Each is the contradiction of the
other; to try to establish them as equals in self-
government is suicidal. The vital forces that have
hitherto been directed successfully against foreign
enemies are now to be occupied in domestic war-
fare. The new principle neutralizes every effort
of the old. Progress is brought to a standstill,
and the man who tries to live by such a for-
mula is like one struggling in a quicksand. Every
movement makes his situation more hopeless.

This is, as I have said, the view of the case that
haunts us when we think of our formula as a
mandate from an external source, ordering us to
revolutionize all our experience of life's possi-
bilities. But, it is as far removed from the correct
view as an attack of hysterical alarm is from a
judicial opinion. It is our inveterate habit to
measure, at the outset, new principles of action,
or the readjustment of old principles, by conjuring
up visions of their extreme application. The con-
servative instinct of self-protection scents danger,
and presents the case wholly in the light of its
difficulties, ignoring the fact that all progressive
change involves difficulties and the overcoming
of them.

The antagonism between the two principles is
nothing like that presented to our imaginations;
nor is the affirmed subordination of altruism cor-
rectly stated. Altruism is a basic principle of
life, and one which far down in the tribes below
man has exerted a determining and momentous


influence. The fact that it has been quieter, less
obtrusive, and more restricted in its influence
is not to the purpose. The influence has been
there, deep set in human nature, and powerful. It
has been the theme of poetry and art, the moving
principle of the noblest heroics in every age, and
under modern conditions it is the source of all our
higher enthusiasms.

Under civilization it has become organized and
conventionalized, run, as it were, into moulds.
And through this conventionalizing it has been
transformed. It has taken on the appearance of
a modified self-interest. The whole social order
is a complex of adjustment by means of which
we serve our neighbour in serving ourselves. It is
next to impossible for us to engage in any health-
ful activity, beneficial to ourselves, that is not in
some way helpful to others. And all this organiza-
tion of interests has been gradually built up by
man's ingenuity, advancing under the guidance
of a higher intelligence. Like the human body,
it moves, for the most part, on its accustomed
ways without attracting our attention. We have
been born into it, we are formed and fitted to it.
Our duties and our privileges lie, for the most
part, within its sphere. We can serve our neigh-
bour more effectually, and in the long run more
acceptably, by working through the order of its
adjustments than in any other way.

But, as in the case of the physical organism,
there is no rigidity about this order. It gives


play to great freedom of choice for those who
occupy positions of more or less power, and for
all, as regards the spirit in which life is lived under
it. Like the human body, its provisions can be
distorted from their normal functioning, they can
be prostituted to base uses, made to serve the
ends of personal greed and cruelty, and, on the
other hand, they can be raised to a higher efficiency
and more harmonious action. Though so intri-
cate and highly organized, the social order into
which we are born is, in no wise, a completed one.
It works, but it works lamely. We accomplish
great things by its instrumentality, but the vision
of a better, more universally beneficent order,
engenders a wholesome dissatisfaction with that
which has been hitherto achieved.

Yet we must provisionally accept that which is,
and make the best of it. Unless we go into seclu-
sion we must become accomplices in much that
we deplore. The acceptance of the latter alterna-
tive is the lesser of two evils; for if good men
isolate themselves from the heat and conflict of
the world because of the wickedness of its organ-
ized working, the world is not thereby made
better. The only possibility of improvement is
through the energizing of the good element, the
increase of the volume of honourable, determined,
intense living on the part of those who love that
which is right and true. The character of a
civilization or a community is expressed neither
by its laws nor by its proclamations, but by the


use or abuse, on the part of its members, of the
liberty that its legal system permits.

Every man who forms plans, or pursues ends,
under such a system, does something to give
tone and character to it. If he plan and work in
harmony with its spirit, keeping always in his
heart the principles of fair dealing, restraining
himself where the law does not coerce him, he
helps to make the social order that which the
laws of the land aim at in their provisions. But
if, on the other hand, he scheme and plot to
make the laws which protect his interests the
instruments for invading the interests of others,
diverting into private channels the forces intended
to secure the good of all, he is helping to make the
social order an organized power for oppression
and robbery. To work worthily and uprightly
within the established order must therefore, it
seems to me, be the first aim of one who submits
himself to our formula.

The second flows as a corollary from the first.
Because the social order is an agency of such vital
importance, and because the creation and elabora-
tion of it has been, and must be, largely the work
of man, every intelligent member of society is
constrained, by the love of his neighbour, to
keep himself vitally and helpfully, if may be, in
sympathy with efforts toward its improvement.
It is a foregone conclusion that many of these
will prove to be failures. In the social as well as
in the individual life we live and prosper by making


experiments. They are often costly, and it must
be our study, by circumscribing their area, to
make them as little so as possible. But to ignore
the imperfections of our social system, to main-
tain an attitude of indifference toward the hard-
ships that its working involves, is not consistent
with love to one's neighbour.

And again, outside the framework of the estab-
lished order, there has sprung up an extensive
and important environment, that of voluntary,
philanthropic endeavour. Whatever may be said
in disparagement of our modern civilization, the
existence of this organized love to one's neighbour
is a standing and ever-increasing evidence of the
vitality of the principle of which it is the outcome.
However numerous the mistakes and however
serious the blunders that may have characterized
its development, the spirit that animates it is of
incalculable value, and no soul of man that works
sympathetically with it can fail of a rich reward.

Again, auxiliary to these organized forms is the
immediate, personal service that we may, in a
variety of ways, be able to render to those who
have been worsted in life's battles. All kinds of
relief or rescue work are, as related to the great
volume of organized life, side issues; but, as related
to the individual, they are matters of prime im-
portance. They are a supplementary work, an
attempted mitigation of the evils of the social
mechanism, the binding up of wounds incurred in
its battles, caring for the victims with which its


way is strewn. But they are of prime importance
to the individual because, without some participa-
tion in them, the best part of one's own soul is
in danger of becoming atrophied.

I think we may assume these considerations to
be sufficient to establish the position that love to
one's neighbour is organically the correlative of
love to oneself; that, for the highest results, the
two must work together, mutually inspiring, sus-
taining, restraining each other. But how to bring
about the harmony of working necessary for such
results is the question.

The principle that represents self is strongly
entrenched in the habit of generations. It is an
aggressive, dominating force that in the course of
nature overrides all obstacles. The principle that
stands for love to one's neighbour, though a well-
defined and, under favorable conditions, a power-
ful instinct, has not in itself the strength to hold
its own when brought into conflict with its rival.
The social organism moreover, though in many
ways helpful and indispensable, is, at the same
time, the source of the most intense rivalries and
antagonisms. It brings men together, makes
them helpful and necessary to each other, and at
the same time sets them in such opposition as
to engender deep-seated hatred. From the same
source flow kindly relations and diabolical pas-

Civilization, while it articulates and unifies
human life, at the same time differentiates and


separates. Classes become estranged from each
other. The sweet natural sympathy of a common
life becomes soured and, like a poison in the blood,
engenders disease in the place of health. Organ-
ically related and indispensable to each other as
altruism and selfism are, therefore, we cannot look
to them to work out by themselves the problem
of their normal adjustment.

This is just where the major clause of the
Christian formula justifies itself. It is the key-
stone of the arch that binds together and makes
mutually supporting tendencies, otherwise antag-
onistic. It is a mandate not from an external
source, but one that is rooted in our constitutions.
It is elemental in human nature because that
nature shares the divine. It is a command of the
great intelligence and love that far transcends
humanity, and yet dwells in every human soul.
It is the voice of our better selves and, at the
same time, the voice of God. There is no unnat-
uralness about it other than the unnaturalness
that may be predicated of every higher principle
that has emerged in the process of evolution. It
involves no antagonism to the principle of love
to oneself and one's neighbour except that which
characterizes the complementary forces of an or-
ganism. It is the outcome of an instinct without
which human life would be but a lame, inconse-
quent, abortive episode, but with the recognition
of which, vistas deep and wide disclose possi-

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Online LibraryFrancis Howe JohnsonGod in evolution: a pragmatic study of theology → online text (page 15 of 22)