Horace James Bridges.

Some outlines of the religion of experience; a book for laymen and the unchurched online

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Online LibraryHorace James BridgesSome outlines of the religion of experience; a book for laymen and the unchurched → online text (page 1 of 21)
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MACMILLAN & CO., Limited








AUTHOR OF "criticisms OF LIFE," ETC.

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Copyright, 1916


Set up and elcctrotyped. Published August, 1916.







Introduction ix


I. The Position and Outlook of the Churches i

II, The Causes of the Relative Inefficiency of the

Churches i8

III. The Re-interpretation of God 43

IV. The Re-discovery of Jesus Christ 75

V. The Resurrection of Socrates 123

VI. Inspiration: Its Nature and Conditions 160

VII. Immortality: A Study in Plato 188

VIII. Religion and Nationality 217

Conclusion: The Hope of Spiritual Unification 261

Index 267



The period through which we are passing has been
characterized with great accuracy and fehcity by Mr.
Walter Lippmann as one of simultaneous drift and mas-
tery: mastery of detail, combined with drift in the
matter of the paramount interests of life and its direction
as a whole. In no way is this state of things more clearly
demonstrated than by the contrast between our great
and constant advances in scientific knowledge and the
control of the world's material resources, and the ever-
increasing confusion, obscurity and uncertainty in the
domain of morals and religion. We know more about the
trees than our forebears, and can handle them with
unprecedented skill; but of the dimensions of the wood,
and of the chances of finding a path through it, we do not
know. Indeed, we are tempted to despair of the possibil-
ity of knowing. Our impulse is towards agreeing with
Auguste Comte in his assertion that metaphysical in-
quiry is vain, and that we must dehberately limit our-
selves to the field of the phenomenal, in which '^ positive"
knowledge and ''positive" results are obtainable.

And yet the soul of man refuses to acquiesce per-
manently in such a proposal. We cannot remain satisfied
with building a roof to our house and calling it the sky.
Moreover, a little attention convinces us that we cannot
attain to mastery in those departments of life where
to-day we are adrift, unless we can discover some sover-
eign principle whereby to co-ordinate our activities and
to orient them towards goals which shall command our



spontaneous and rational loyalty. Such a principle is
not to be found in the phenomenal world. The Positixdst
maxims of Love, Order and Progress, of devotion to
Family, Country and Humanity, are not self-justifying to
the post-Nietzschean age, if they ever were before; nor
can they be vindicated without overstepping the limit
which Comte arbitrarily prescribed to investigation.
Agnosticism is, no doubt, a right and wise attitude in
regard to many questions, but agnosticism as to the
question of the worth of life, as to the essential difference
between right and wrong, or as to the quaHties of char-
acter which men should strive to develop in themselves,
is a fatal disease, paralyzing to, the will, and involving
ultimately the suicide of the mind. Now the scientific
attitude, with its equal and impartial interest in all facts,
is bound to be agnostic on these issues, where the supreme
interests of life demand clear and confident conviction.
We need, then, something in the nature of a religious
faith upon which we can all agree. Yet the bare state-
ment of this as a desideratum is calculated to excite
ironical laughter. What is easier than to point to the
endless differences even among that minority which still
adheres to the various organized forms of religion, or to
remind us that a large majority has turned its back upon
them all? To hope for a time when the existing Churches
shall have composed their differences and arrived at
unity of faith and pohty seems Utopian. In so far as
various Churches are co-operating in philanthropic and
social work, they are doing so only after carefully stip-
ulating not to discuss the vital principles which inspire
them. Moreover, even if we could anticipate that
within the next twenty or thirty years the Protestant
sects will attain to unity among themselves, what hope


would this give us of bridging the gulf that divides
Protestants from Catholics, and both from Jews and free
thinkers? Yet what we need is a principle which shall
bind together all the members of the nation, and, in
time, all the nations of the earth.

Our only hope seems to lie in discovering some fresh
standpoint from which the doctrines and disciplines of all
faiths may be seen in a new Hght and re-valued. This I
have attempted to do by raising the question of the
sociological function of religion. My first inquiry is not
as to the truth of the creeds, but as to their reason for
existence. What are those needs which have urged men
into religious fellowships, and induced them to elaborate
the various inadequate philosophies called theologies,
and the numerous systems of worship, prayer and
sacrament? Can these needs be isolated and studied
apart from the attempts made to satisfy them? If so,
may it not be possible to discover means of meeting them
upon which there could be the same kind of practical
agreement as there is in regard to the findings of physical

In seeking to answer these questions, I have availed
myself in this volume of the luminous and helpful method
of the psychological students of rehgion. This is the
method of distinguishing between experience and its
theoretical interpretation. I have ventured to assume
that the creeds and doctrines of all the Churches are
attempts to precipitate into conceptual form certain
experiences of the human spirit, certain demands which
it makes upon the universe, and the response of the
universe to those demands. Now since the creeds are
unverifiable (because their propositions cannot be sub-
jected to experimental investigation), it seemed necessary


to turn direct to the experience out of which they grew.
Moreover, it seems probable that the study of the dis-
ciplinary practices of the Churches, — their sacramental
and other devices for placing the individual in contact
with the sources of spiritual strength, — will bring us
directly into the presence of those needs in response to
which organized religion has functioned.

This book is thus an attempt to bring to light some of
the verifiable factors in religion. Its suggestion is that
the Churches should concentrate exclusively upon these.
To those who are accustomed to find mental rest and
satisfaction in the detailed creeds of the older Churches,
such a suggestion may sound chilling and disenchanting
in the extreme. It will not do, however, to make the
wilfulness of a pampered appetite our guide when truth
and the other sovereign interests of mankind are at
stake. No doubt it might have been possible, in the days
of the infancy of science, to construct a much grander and
more fascinating view of the universe than was then
verifiable, if wilfulness and imagination had been sub-
stituted for the slow and plodding method of investiga-
tion and experiment. Not only, however, would such
an unreal world have been fruitless, but it would also
have constituted a most effectual and permanent barrier
to the attainment of that truth, transcending in grandeur
all possible imaginary constructions, which the slower
method has gradually won.

Now, theologies elaborated in the days of alchemy and
astrology, and by the same a priori methods as those
employed by the alchemist and the astrologer, must
needs bear to the undiscovered truth such a relation
as alchemy and astrology bear to chemistry and astron-
omy. And just as, in the process of converting those


romances into our sciences, the first step was to cast
overboard all mere speculation and guesswork, and to
concentrate upon the tiny fragments of assured truth,
so to-day we must begin by denying ourselves the luxury
of indulgence in that which is unverifiable. We now
stand in rehgion where the fifteenth century stood in
physical science. We are only at the stage of beginning
to invent the new instruments and to devise the new
methods of inquiry by which we may at last attain to as
full a body of ascertained truth in religion as we have
won in our knowledge of the physical world.

It is because of an intense conviction that religion is
suffering through our failure to recognize the need of new
methods and instruments, that I have in these pages
given so large a place to the question of intellectual
honesty, and of that kind of sincerity which consists in
the rigorous separation of what is known from what is
merely assumed. Hence my assertion of the claim of
Socrates to rank beside Jesus Christ as a Saviour of the
world, in the conviction that his method and secret are
not only an integral part of any true religion, but a part
which, under present circumstances, needs emphasis
more than any other factor.

This book, I am aware, can scarcely justify its title.
The subject of the Rehgion of Experience is too vast for
adequate treatment within the limits I have imposed
upon myself. I am in the dilemma remarked by Seeley
in the Preface to his Natural Religion: "An author has
always to decide whether he will write sliort or long;
and it is a choice of evils. If he writes long the public
will decline to read him; if he writes short they will
misunderstand him." My only possible justification is
that this book, like several others of recent date, may


supply hints and suggestions which, if worked out by a
multitude of other thinkers, will at last lead to the elab-
oration of the new philosophy, psychology and sociology
of religion. I am chiefly anxious that the book shall be
recognized as an essay towards a basis of peace and co-
operation. The day of the warfare between the provi-
sional h^-potheses of science and the speculations of
theology (which was mistaken for a warfare between
science and religion) is over. The time has come to seek
peace upon the only possible worthy basis: that of the
acceptance of principles recognized as valid by both bel-
ligerents, and the apphcation of those principles to the
task of achieving human salvation, by giving to the whole
of life a spiritual interpretation and a spiritual orientation
that will call forth a devotion at once rational and

My hope is that this volume may secure the attention
of laymen of all denominations, and of those who are not
members of any religious organization. To experts in
theology and philosophy I fear I have Httle to offer
that is profound enough to merit their consideration.
The salvation of religion, however, must come, in my
judgment, from the laity, and from those clergy who, by
the multiplicity of their tasks, are prevented from becom-
ing specialists in its ultimate problems. Both the clergy
and the unchurched laity may, indeed, be weary of the
theme. I can but hope that there may be in these pages
enough freshness of treatment and suggestion of points
of view which have not hitherto been emphasized, to
engage their interest. My desire is to set their minds
working in fresh directions, rather than to convert them
to agreement with my own views on points of detail.

As my colleagues in the Chicago Ethical Society have


generously undertaken the distribution of a number of
copies of this book, it is due to them to state that these
pages contain a frank expression of my own convictions,
the censure of which must fall exclusively upon myself.
The Ethical Movement is one in which the members
are challenged to do their own thinking. The leaders
are neither expected to supply a body of dogmas to
their congregations nor to submit their own minds to
collective coercion. Hence the distribution of this work
by my colleagues does not commit them to acceptance
of the more debatable positions it sets forth.

My obligations are too extensive for detailed specifica-
tion. It is this fact, and not any deficiency of gratitude,
which deters me from mentioning names here. I cannot,
however, deny myself the pleasure of thanking my friend
Mr. Arthur Little Hamilton for his constant help and
encouragement, and in particular for his practical assist-
ance in reading and criticizing this volume in manuscript
and proof.

H. J. B.

Chicago, June, 1916.






There is in many minds a conviction that the day of the
Churches is drawing to a close. This is not merely an
idea entertained by unsympathetic critics in whom the
wish is father to the thought. It is the despairing behef
of many who, by antecedents and even by ordination, are
identified with the historical tradition and the spiritual
mission of the Christian fellowships. Recent periodicals
have been full of the question. Has the Church collapsed?
and most of the answers, even by ministers or ex-
ministers, have inclined towards the affirmative. In
many of the Churches the leaders are no longer leading;
they have lost the sense of their distinctive task and
function. They are groping in a twilight of intellectual
and spiritual uncertainty. Their whole tone is ''timid
and apologetic," as of men who are uncomfortably
doubtful whether they are rendering a service commen-
surate with their emolument.

This misgiving in some cases has taken a very positive
shape. Papers have appeared affirming that the Chris-
tian Church is in a state of complete apostasy from the
spirit and teaching of its founders, and implying that
sincere men should come out of her, lest they become
partakers of her plagues. In this sense recently the


Rev. Elvet Lewis (formerly the coadjutor in London of
Mr. R. J. Campbell) expressed himself in the Atlantic
Monthly. He has abandoned his own pastorate, and
apparently despairs of any kind of rehgious organization
possible under existing circumstances.

The Century Magazine for February, 191 5, contained a
paper by Dr. Edwin Davies Schoonmaker, on the ques-
tion ''Has The Church Collapsed?" The burden of his
plaint is that the Christian ecclesia has been false to its
mission and purpose, from the very first day that its
doctrine and organization began to crystallize into
definite shape in the minds of SS. Paul and Peter. Dr.
Schoonmaker's indignation is awakened by the fact that
the bombardment of Rheims Cathedral was resented
by the world on aesthetic grounds alone. To his mind
the majestic beauty of the medieval shrines is itself a
thing to be deplored. The cathedral, he thinks, is not
the home, but the tomb of the spirit of Christ. It ex-
presses not the triumph of the Church, but the victory
of the world over the Church. His argument implies
that Christianity ought always to have remained, what
it was in the hfetime of Jesus, a direct spiritual influence
of individuals upon individuals, without doctrine or
organization, without hierarchy, and without pecuniary
endowment. For him the apostasy began with SS. Paul
and Peter, the former of whom — so it is implied — turned
the religion of love into a system of unprofitable dogma,
while the latter transformed it into a temporal power,
destined subsequently to enslave the minds and souls of

One cannot but feel the earnestness of purpose which
these criticisms express, and it would be wrong not to
salute with respect the spirit of Dr. Schoonmaker and


Mr. Lewis. But their reasoning proceeds upon pre-
suppositions which are not congruous with the poor
world of actual experience. Organization and intellectual
formulation are, by the structure of our minds and the
nature of our circumstances, inevitable concomitants,
indispensable instruments of every spiritual movement.
St. Paul's theology may be as false as you please; and it
may be not wholly unjust to blame St. Peter for all the
sins and shortcomings of the Roman hierarchy. Yet the
patent fact is that, without their work and teaching, the
very name of Jesus would have perished in the bogs and
sands of oblivion, and to evil and to good been lost for
ever. The anarchistic ideas of the critics, — their visions
of a sweet and lovely spiritual influence, diffusing and
perpetuating itself without any worldly organization or
philosophical expression, — are dreams indeed: "dreams
out of the ivory gate, and visions before midnight."
They owe to the organization and the theology which
they condemn, the preservation of that very standard of
Christian inwardness by reference to which they con-
demn them. Without the theology and the missionary
labours of St. Paul there never would have arisen those
groups of people who demanded information about the
life and work of their Lord; and consequently the Gospels
would never have been written. Nor, without the de-
velopment which led to the establishment of Christianity
by Constantine, is it conceivable that the Christian fel-
lowship could have survived the avalanche which de-
stroyed the proud fabric of Roman civiHzation. How,
then, can one condemn unreservedly an institution which,
amid whatever tyranny and corruption, has preserved
the standard by which its own shortcomings are to
be judged, and has communicated to Mr. Lewis and


Dr. Schoonmaker that very impulse of unworldly ideal-
ism which breathes in their writings?

The Church, to be sure, is corrupt. There is no single
branch of it, from the Roman to the Quaker, which is
not obnoxious to this censure. But to say this is only
to say that the Church is a human institution. If one
is so obsessed with transcendentalism that one forgets
what complications must needs ensue when the white
radiance of eternity is refracted through the atmosphere
of the time-world, one may say that the presence of
even the slightest degree of corruption must condemn
the Church beyond reprieve. But the man who keeps
his feet upon the solid earth of the actual, even while he
lifts his head among the stars of the ideal, will regard
the presence of corruption as a reason not for condemna-
tion, but only for reformation.

It will not do to compare the actual historic Church
with some perfect pattern laid up in the clear heavens
of the ideal. The only fair comparison is between the
Church and other human institutions, all of which in
truth must finally be judged as sacramental vehicles of
the ideal, media of inward and spiritual graces to man-
kind. Has the Church been more corrupt relatively
than the State, the family, and the school? Have popes
and bishops, priests and deacons, been more traitorous to
their trust than kings and statesmen? Has the Church
done proportionately less good and more harm than so-
called secular governments? Granted that among its
evil it has done some good, could that good have been
better done in its absence?

Those who feel that Christianity has brought upon
the world a degree of harm that preponderates over the
good it has accomplished, must remember that the fair


way of judging the Church is not to compare it with
an ideal society that never could have been actualized
on earth, or even with the best and most catholic religious
fellowship conceivable to-day; but to compare it with
any other religious organization possible at the time and
under the circumstances in which it sprang into being.
Christian doctrine, ritual, and ecclesiastical organiza-
tion are, broadly speaking, a synthesis of the modernist
Judaism of the first century with the paganism of that
and later periods. The Christian element is tiny as
compared with the entire mass. The question, however,
is whether that element was a wholesome leaven, and
whether it did beneficently leaven the lump. Suppose
that, instead of Christianity, the predominant element
in the synthesis had been Mithraism, or Manichaeism,
or Neo-Platonism of the type of Philo or Plotinus. Sup-
pose any phase of the degenerate paganism pictured so
vividly in the early books of St. Augustine's City oj
God had taken in the synthesis the place that was
actually taken by the doctrine of Jesus and St. Paul:
would the result have been better? Would the pagan
hosts that overwhelmed the Empire have been more
speedily initiated into the principles of civilization?

Let the despairing critic of the Church place himself
imaginatively in the second or the third or the fourth
century. Let him obliterate from his consciousness the
memory of all that has since transpired, and contemplate
the possible alternatives that then were open to the
minds of men. Seeing that only a tiny elite could receive
the teaching of Seneca, or Epictetus, or Marcus Aurelius,
and that the world then was even less ready for the
concretion of pure ethics into a cultus than it is now;
seeing that truth must needs be embodied in some tale


if it is to enter in at lowly doors; and seeing that, even
for the deepest minds (Plato's, for example), myth is an
ine\dtable and indispensable vehicle for the communica-
tion of that vision which cannot be conveyed by lan-
guage : which of the available tales would he have chosen?
Which of those revered figures wherein men saw, or
dreamed they saw, some incarnation of the spirit of
eternal truth and goodness would he have selected as
the object of reverence and worship? Can any fair
student of history doubt that the choice that was made
was the best possible, — that the figure of Christ was the
least inadequate symbol of the God in man that was

If, now, it be admitted that the dominance of the
Christian element in the religious amalgam which
triumphant barbarism took over from Rome was benefi-
cent, the next question is whether the good done to the
Western world through the historic working-out of the
Christian process was in any degree ascendant over the
savageries and ignorances inevitably characteristic of a
growth from barbarism into rudimentary civilization.
We must keep vividly in mind the reaHsm of the historic
situation. That Goths and Huns, Teutons and Saxons,
Franks and Vandals, should have been semi-barbarous,
lustful, superstitious, ignorant, tyrannical, and dogmatic,
was inevitable in the nature of things. That they should
suddenly cease to be so through being baptized and called
Christians, or ordained and called deacons, priests and
bishops, is what nobody but a very superstitious person
could for a moment expect. The only triumph of a
refining influence that can reasonably be looked for
is that they should occasionally have intermitted their
savageries, — that once in a while there should be a


Charlemagne, an Alcuin, a John the Scot, capable of
better things. Our gratitude is due to the institution
which made possible these rare stray gleams of light.
Who can measure the contributions to civilization which
have directly and indirectly ensued through Ulfilas'
translation of the Bible into Gothic? If it be urged that
he would have done more good by translating Plato, the
answer is that Plato would have been as remote from the
understanding of Ulfilas and his contemporaries in Gothic
as in the original Greek.

The theology of Tertullian and Augustine, it may be
said, was barbarous. So be it. But be it remembered
also that any ethical message which is to grip the con-
sciousness and command the allegiance of barbarians
must necessarily take to itself a barbaric integument, in
order that it may come within their apperceptive range.
That is why the Latin rather than the Greek Fathers
became the dominant theologians of the West. The com-
parative humanity and intellectual subtlety of Jerome
and Origen placed them outside the mental horizon of
the barbarized West, as completely as Emerson and

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Online LibraryHorace James BridgesSome outlines of the religion of experience; a book for laymen and the unchurched → online text (page 1 of 21)