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practical test of the goodness or badness of theoretical opinions, a system
which can produce a life like that of Darwin is good enough for anything.
Conduct is, fortunately, not dependent on creeds, and good men and
women can be found plentifully among all classes of belief, from Ortho-
doxy to Agnosticism. But it cannot, I think, be denied that the leaders
of scientific thought, such as Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Lyell, Huxley,
and other honored names, have led, on the whole, simple, noble lives,
and present characters worthy of imitation. Nor is there any reason to
believe that the vast and increasing number of the rank-and-file, who have
more or less adopted the views of these great leaders, are in any respect
below the average type, or lead worse lives than those who walk in the
narrower paths of pre-scientific traditions.

Thus far the Religion of the Future has been comparatively plain sail-
ing. Intellectually, it is clear that evolution has become the mould of
thought, and that the lines of Agnostic Christianity and of Agnosticism
pure and simple, but recognizing Christianity as one of the forces of evo-
lution, have converged so closely that the difference between them is
almost reduced to a name. What Herbert Spencer calls the infinite,
eternal energy, which underlies all phenomena, and of whose existence
we feel certain, though we can never know or define it, Bishop Temple
calls "God." Accurate thinkers may prefer the former definition, for
the term "God" has come to be associated with a number of anthropo-
morphic and other ideas, which imply knowledge of the unknowable ;
but practically the bishop and the philosopher mean much the same thing,
and the converging lines of science and religion approach so nearly that
they may be said to coincide. Morally, it is equally clear that there is
nothing to fear from such a view of religion, and that the moral instincts
are based on something much more permanent and certain than intellect-
ual conceptions or antiquated traditions. But when we come to practical
religion there is a great deal comprised in the word which it is not so easy
to dispose of.

In the recent controversy between Herbert Spencer and Frederic Harri-
son the latter reproached the former with offering to the world the mere
ghost of a religion. Religion, he says, must be something positive; it
must have a " creed, doctrines, temples, priests, teachers, rites, morality,
beauty, hope, consolation; " and these, he adds, can be found only in a
religion which is intensely anthropomorphic. ' ' You can have no religion
without kinship, sympathy, relation of some human kind between the be-
liever, worshipper, servants, and the object of his belief, veneration, and
service. "

As Mr. Harrison not only admits, but asserts strongly, that science has
has upset all existing anthropomorphic creeds and theories, his logical
conclusion apparently ought to be that there can be no more any religion.
But he escapes from his dilemma by offering us a new religion Positivism,
or the religion according to Comte. For the dethroned Deity of the


Christians, who has been, by the confession of his own theologians, ' ' defe-
cated to a pure transparency," we are to substitute " Humanity," the
symbol of the new Divinity being a woman of the age of thirty, with her
son in her arms; and Christian worship is to be replaced by an elaborate
series of rites and ceremonies, evolved from the inner consciousness of the
French philosopher, and which, to the apprehension of an ordinary ob-
server, are for the most part puerile and ridiculous. Thus among the
Positivist saints, who are to be canonized in order of merit, Gall, who, in
conjunction with Spurzheim, wrote an absolute book on phrenology, gets
a week, while Kepler gets only a day; Tasso is assumed to be a seven
times greater poet than Goethe, and Mozart a seven times greater musician
than Beethoven; while in politics Louis XL, the crafty and sinister French
king, depicted by Walter Scott in Quentin Durward, is to be worshipped
as a seven times greater saint than Washington. Of the only two new
forms of positive religion which has been started in my recollection, Posi-
tivism and Mormonism, I may be excused if, barring the plurality of
wives, I give the preference to the latter, which has, at any rate, proved
its vitality by laying hold, not without a certain amount of success, of
colonization, temperance, and other problems of practical life. Herbert
Spencer had little difficulty in answering this attack. He showed that his
definition of the " Unknowable " was very different from the mere nega-
tion, or algebraical symbol, which Harrison assumed it to be, and that it
was distinctly the assertion of something positive and actually existing,
though beyond our faculties. In fact, it is very much the same as Words-

" Sense sublime,

Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round earth, and in the mind of man."

And if such a feeling can inspire noble poetry, why not a noble re-
ligion ? The retort was obvious, that, if the Unknowable were too re-
fined an idea on which to base a religion, at any rate it was better than
Humanity; for the first is based on a fact, while the second has no foun-
dation but a phrase.

It is an undoubted fact that, when we trace phenomena back to their
source, we arrive at a substratum, or first cause, which we cannot under-
stand, or even form any conception of. But what is Humanity ? It is
but a convenient expression, like gravity or electricity, by which we sum
up a number of separate, individual facts, which have certain attributes in
common. The only thing real about gravity is, that individual bodies
attract one another directly as the mass and inversely as the square of the
distance. Annihilate the individual masses, and you cannot anthropo-
morphize the law of gravity; for instance, following the example of
Comte, under the symbol of a heavy woman with a fat child. No more
can you individualize and anthropomorphize " Humanity," apart from


the individual human beings, good, bad, and indifferent, of whom the
aggregate has been, is, and will be composed. " Parturiunt Mantes" -
the mountains labor to produce a new religion; and the result of Posi-
tivism is to make a fetish of a phrase.

At the same time it must be admitted that, while Positivism is no
more likely than Mormonism to become the world's religion of the future,
the new creed to which we are tending, whether we call it Agnostic
Christianity or Christian Agnosticism, places in jeopardy a great deal of
what has hitherto been included under the word religion. Mr. Harrison's
definition is not an unfair one, that the term includes "creed, doctrines,
temples, priests, teachers, rites, morality, beauty, hope, consolation."
Of these, the four last may be called spiritual, and the six first practical
elements of religion. As regards the spiritual elements, they will remain
unaffected, and, in some cases, will be strengthened. Morality, as we
have seen, depends on rules of conduct, which have, to a great extent,
become instinctive; and it would be strengthened, rather than impaired,
by getting rid of the Calvinistic conceptions of a cruel and capricious
Deity, condemning untold millions to eternal punishment for the offence
of a remote ancestor, and only partially appeased by the sacrifice of his
only son. Beauty, again, would certainly gain by getting rid of the idea
that all pleasant things are of the domain of the flesh and the devil, and
substituting an enlightened sestheticism for a narrow and sordid asceti-
cism. Hope would, as at present, find its field in the possibilities which
lie behind the veil, and time, the one great consoler of human sorrows,
would still exert its beneficent influence to assuage the poignancy of
recent afflictions.

But what will become of the " creed, doctrines, temples, priests,
teachers, and rites," which constitute what may be called the machinery
or practical side of existing religions ? Is the creed the keystone of the
fabric, and will it crumble to pieces if this creed ceases to be credible ?
In other words, if the creeds of Christian Churches, instead of being defi-
nite doctrines, as embodied in the Thirty-nine Articles, or the dicta of
infallible Popes and Councils, are sublimated into such vague and remote
conceptions as enable Huxley to say that the three bishops have conceded
all he asks, and Mivart to remain a good Catholic while admitting all
the most advanced conclusions of Darwinian science and of Biblical criti-
cisms, can sincere men become Christian priests and officiate in Christian
churches ?

I judge no one, and can appreciate the reasons which may induce en-
lightened and excellent men to cleave to old creeds and remain in posi-
tions when they feel that they are doing good, as long as it is possible for
them to allegorize or explain away accepted doctrines, without feeling
that they are consciously insincere. But I confess that it is not easy to
understand how this can go even the length it has, and, still more, how
it can go further and become general, without degenerating into hypocrisy


and insincerity. Take, for instance, the Apostles' Creed, which, I sup-
pose, contains the minimum of doctrine that is generally considered con-
sistent with a profession of Christianity. I can understand how, by an
allowable latitude of construction, a Broad Church divine may adopt the
first Article and confess a belief in God. But when we come to the sub-
sequent, more precise and definite Articles, which profess a belief in the
miraculous conception, birth, and resurrection of Jesus, the carpenter's
son of Nazareth, I fail to see how any one can subscribe to them who be-
lieves in the permanence of Natural Law and the Darwinian theory of
Evolution. Even in the form of Bishop Temple's theory of original im-
press, as opposed to special acts of supernatural interference, it must be
admitted that miracles, if not impossible, are in the highest degree
improbable, and that it would require an immense amount of the clearest
possible evidence to admit occurrences which are so entirely opposed to
all we know of the real facts of the universe, and which, in so many cases,
have been shown to be mere delusions of the imaginations. And the
slightest acquaintance with Biblical criticism is sufficient to show how
weak the evidence really is, and how utterly unfounded the claims of the
various books of the Old and New Testament to anything like Divine in-
spiration. But, if the creeds go, what become of the priests, and, without
priests, where are the churches, rites, and ceremonies? And, if these
disappear, what an immense gap does it make in the whole framework of
existing society ! Consider the priests, including in the word all ministers
of all denominations. It is easy to denounce priestcraft, and to show by a
thousand examples that wherever priests have had power they have done
infinite mischief. They have too often been cruel persecutors and nar-
row-minded bigots ; and, even at the best, have been opposed to freedom
of thought and progress. But, for all this, the question has another side,
and there is a good deal to be said for the existence of a special class, set
aside from the ordinary pursuits of life, for spiritual instruction and works
of mercy and charity.

In countries like England, where priests have long since ceased to
possess any temporal power, and where they live more and more every
day in an atmosphere of free and liberal thought, there can be no doubt
that they are, as a class, much better than they were in former ages. Few
exercise an influence actively injurious, many are respectable and harmless,
and a considerable number set a good example of virtuous lives, and de-
vote themselves to the promotion of works of charity and benevolence.
They have, no doubt, to a considerable extent, lost touch with the masses
of population in large towns and industrial centres; and where they have
preserved it, chiefly among dissenting congregations, it is too often exerted
toward narrowness of views and sectarian prejudices. Still, on the whole,
it is exerted for good; and in many rural parishes and poor districts, like
the East-end of London, the priest is a powerful factor in organizing char-
ities, visiting the sick, rescuing the fallen, and giving consolation to the


suffering. To take an extreme case, what would a poor parish in the
West of Ireland be without its priest ? He is the sole centre of civiliza-
tion in a district of perhaps, twenty square miles; he is not only the spirit-
ual guide of his flock, but, to a great extent, their Education Board and
Poor- Law Guardian; he is their friend and adviser in all their difficulties,
and, in case of need, their ' ' Village Hampden, " who fights their battles
with tyrannical landlords, and negotiates the compromises by which they
are enabled to retain their humble roofs over their heads. He is worth
all the magistrates and policemen put together in repressing crime and
preventing outrages. It will be long before a population like that of rural
Ireland can dispense with priests.

Again, priests and churches go together; and although church services
have to a great extent become a repetition of formulas, and sermons an
anachronism, still there is a good deal in institutions which bring people
together on one day in the week, cleanly in dress and decorous in be-
havior, to join in services and listen to discourses which appeal, however
faintly and drearily, to higher things than those of ordinary prosaic life.
Especially to the female half of the population attendance at church or
chapel is, in many cases, a great pleasure, and, if it were only to see and
be seen and criticise one another's bonnets, it is a relief from the monot-
ony of life, gives them topics of interest, and promotes a feeling of decency
and respectability. Those, therefore, who hold larger views, and feel
that they cannot without insincerity subscribe to creeds which to them have
become incredible, would do well to be liberal and tolerant towards tradi-
tional opinions and traditional practices, and trust with cheerful faith to
evolution to bring about gradually such changes of form as may be re-
quired to embody changes of spirit.

In the meantime, the course of those who worship Truth above all
other considerations is plain. There are abundance of duties clear enough
for men of all creeds: the difficulty is to live up to them. But for those
who hold the larger views the first duty is to be doubly careful as to con-
duct. It would be too great a scandal if the larger creed were made the
excuse for a looser life. Those who are Darwinians in theory ought to try
to be like Darwin in practice: like him, high-minded, modest, gentle,
patient, honorable in all relations of life, loving and beloved by friends
and family. This, at least, is within the reach of every one, high or low,
rich or poor, if not to attain to, at any rate to aim at, as an ideal. Nor
do I think that Freethinkers will be wanting in this passive side of con-
duct. On the contrary, as far as my experience has gone, while more
liberal and large-minded, they lead lives quite as good, on the average, as
those which are more directly under the traditional influences of religion.
But what the Agnostic must beware of is, not to be content with the pas-
sive side of virtue, but to cultivate also its active side, and not let himself be
surpassed in works of charity and benevolence by those whose intellectual
creeds are narrower than his own. There is no doubt that the evangelical


faith in Jesus has been and is a powerful incentive with men like Lord
Shaftesbury, General Gordon, Dr. Barnardo. and thousands of other de-
voted men and women who fight in the foremost ranks against sin and
misery. With such as these all men can sympathize; and a more intel-
lectual creed ought to be no obstacle in giving aid and co-operation, but
rather an incentive to show that a belief in the truths of science is not in-
consistent with active charity and benevolence.

Another point which Agnostics would do well to attend to is to culti-
vate a love of Nature and Art, so as to keep alive the imaginative and
emotional faculties which might wither in the too exclusive atmosphere of
pure reason. A prosaic life is a dwarfed and stunted life, which has been
more than half a failure ; and, as old dogmatic religions fail to supply
the spiritual stimulus, it is the more necessary to find it in the wonders
of the universe, the beauties of nature, and in communion with great
minds through music, painting, and books. These are now brought to
a great extent within the reach of every one, and there is no more hope-
ful symptom of the times than to find that really good books by great
authors, when brought out in cheap editions, circulate by the millions.
Shilling and even sixpenny editions of Shakespeare, Scott, Carlyle, and
other standard authors, are continually brought out, and must be sold in
tens of thousands to make them a paying speculation. Who buys them ?
Certainly not the upper classes, who, in former days, were the only buy-
ers of books, They must circulate widely among the masses, and espe-
cially among the more thoughtful members of the working-classes, and
the rising generation of all classes who are earnestly seeking to improve
their minds and widen their range of sympathies and culture. To read
good books rather than silly novels is a practical measure within the
reach of every one, and it is supplying, more and more every day, a larger
and more liberal education than was ever afforded by theological contro-
versies and conventional sermons.

Another hopeful symptom is to see the growing demand among the
working-classes for schools, libraries, museums, music-halls, excursion
trains, and all manner of clubs and societies for mutual help, instruction,
and amusement. These are the plastic cells multiplying and forming new
combinations, out of which, in due time, will be envolved the " priests
and temples, the rites 'and ceremonies," and other institutions requisite to
give life and form to the demonstrated truth of the "great Unknowable,"
and leave the magnificent conception of Darwin and Herbert Spencer no
longer the ghost of a religion, but the foundation of a rational, lovable,
and, on the whole, happy existence, useful and honorable while its little
span of life lasts, and looking forward with hope and manly for*itude to
whatever may await it behind that veil which no mortal hand has ever



r ~T*HE philosophy which I have found work best, both in reconciling
A intellectual difficulties and as a guide in practical life, is that which
I have described elsewhere 1 at some length as " Zoroastrianism," or " Po-
larity." It amounts to this, that the infinite, eternal, and inconceivable
essence of all phenomena, which theologians call God, and philosophers
the Unknowable, manifests itself to human apprehension under conditions
or categories which are equally certain and equally incomprehensible.
We know that it is so, or so appears to us; but we do not know why.
Thus Space and Time are fundamental moulds of thought, or, to use the
phraseology of Kant, imperative categories. Another of such categories
is that of Polarity: no action without reaction, no positive without a neg-
ative, no good without evil. In the physical world this is a demon-
strated fact. Matter is made of molecules; molecules are made of atoms;
atoms are little magnets which link themselves together and form all the
complex creations of an ordered cosmos, by virtue of the attractive and
repulsive forces which are the results of polarity. Ordered and regular
motion also whether it be of planets round suns, of an oscillating pen-
dulum, or of waves of water, air, or ether, vibrating in rhythmic succes-
sion is a result of the conflict between energy of motion and energy of

As Emerson well says in his Essay on Compensation : " Polarity, or
action and reaction, we meet in every part of nature: in darkness and
light; in heat and cold; in the ebb and flow of waters; in male and female;
in the inspiration and expiration of plants and animals; in the undulations
of fluids and of sound; in the centrifugal and centripetal gravity; in elec-
tricity, galvanism, and chemical affinity. Superinduce magnetism at one
end of a needle, the opposite magnetism takes place at the other end. If
the South attracts, the North repels. To empty here you must condense
there. An inevitable dualism besets nature, so that each thing is a half,
and suggests another to make it whole : as spirit, matter ; man, woman;
odd, even; subjective, objective; in, out; upper, under; motion, rest;
yea, nay." This principle, applied to the higher problems of religion and
philosophy, leads to results singularly like those which, if we may believe

1 A Modern Zoroastrian,



the sacred books of the Parsees, were taught 3000 years ago by the ancient
Bactrian sage, Zoroaster. His religion was one of pure reason. He dis-
claimed all pretension to found it on miracles, or to define the indefinable
by dogmas; but, taking natural laws and human knowledge as his basis,
he asserted, in the indentical words used by Emerson thirty centuries later,
that an "inevitable dualism besets nature," and embodied the two con-
flicting principles under the names of Ormuzd and Ahriman. To Ormuzd
belong all things that are bright, beautiful, pure, lovely, and of good re-
pute, both in the material and moral universe; to Ahriman all that is foul,
ugly, and evil. Apart from certain archaisms of expression and ritual
observances which have become obsolete, the Zendavesta might have been
compiled to-day from the writings of Herbert Spencer and Huxley. This
conception of the universe has this enormous advantage over all those
\rhich rest on the idea of an anthropomorphic Creator that it does not
make religion a means of perverting the fundamental instincts of morality,
by making an Omnipotent Creator the conscious author of evil. This is
a dilemma from which no anthropomorphic form of religion can escape:
either its God is not omnipotent, or He is not benevolent. Sins and suf-
fering areyac/r, as much as virtue and happiness; and if the good half
of creation argues for a good Creator, it is an irresistible inference that
the bad half argues for one who is evil.

Theologians, in attempting to escape from this dilemma, have been
nly too apt to confuse the instincts of morality, by arguing that actions
which would be cruel, unjust, and even devilish, in the case of a human
despot, become merciful and righteous if done by an Almighty Ruler in
Heaven. Such a dogma is, to all intents and purposes, devil-worship,
and degrades man into a slave crouching under the lash of a harsh master.
How infinitely superior was the ideal of the old Roman poet of the
"justum et tenacem propositi virum" ; the upright and firm-minded man.
whom no threats of a frenzied mob or raging tyrant could shake from his
purpose, or induce to palter with his convictions; nay, not even though
the earth and sky fell in ruins about his head, could the convulsion of
nature daunt his steadfast soul.

" Victrix causa Deis placuit sed victa Cat out."

Bnt with a Polar theory of existence, the difficulty is relegated to the
realm of the unknown, and instead of sinking with Cowper into the
despairing depths of religious madness, we may hold with Wordsworth

" The cheerful faith that all which we behold
Is fall of blessings."

A serene and cheerful faith is, of itself, one of the greatest blessings, and
it is specially needed in an age in which so many gospels of pessimism are
abroad, and so many failures in the struggle for existence tell us that
society is a sham, civilization an imposture and life a mistake.


Another advantage of this Polar theory of the universe is that it teaches
us to take a large and tolerant view of men and of events. The true
charity which " suffereth long and is kind " is scarcely compatible with
a bigoted and one-sided adherence to a particular set of opinions.
Whether in politics or in religion, if we believe that all those who difter
from us have a double dose of original sin, we can scarcely comprehend

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