Percy Gardner.

Evolution in Christian ethics online

. (page 11 of 15)
Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 11 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

way. The teaching which bids us cut off an
offending hand or put out an offending eye
would commend the man who sacrifices alike
beauty and health to duty, who is content to
[ive at a lower physical level, in order that he
may benefit relatives and friends. And the
unhealthy conditions of the modern world
cannot usually be avoided ; an attempt to
avoid them may often destroy the chance of
a useful life. But he who consciously sacrifices
the body to the spirit has a right to feel that
he is laying a precious gift on the altar of God.


'hus far I have spoken of men as indi-
viduals, as responsible beings partly physical


and partly spiritual. But the progress of
science has in recent years laid more and more
stress upon existing men as a link in a long
chain, as the bond which connects our ancestors
in the past with the race that is to be. If to
the moralist and the sociologist man seems 1
capable of infinite variety, a creature of in-j
definite possibilities, to the historian and the]
physiologist he appears in a very different light.
Far back as we can trace the human race, to]
the dawn of history about 7000 years ago, and!
even beyond that to the human creatures on
distant geologic epochs, we find these remote!
predecessors of ours astonishingly like our-j
selves, with the same stature, the same brain]
capacity, the same diseases, and the samel
tendencies. On the surface education and]
surroundings largely mould us ; but a littlel
below the surface we find a massive human]
nature which changes very slowly. Races of]
men have never been varied and improved as]
have, for example, races of dogs and horses.J
And it has dawned upon many students that!
if mankind is to be definitely and permanently!
raised to a higher level, it must be partly byl
the use of the same means which have improved!
the breeds of animals, not natural but artificial!
selection. Hence the growth of the eugenicl
idea, which at present is usually regarded as]


a mere craze, but which has already, at all
events in America, begun to leave a mark
on legislation.

In past times the carrying on of the race
has been accomplished by the working of the
primary instincts of our race, almost every-
where, even in barbarous tribes, regulated and
controlled by the institution of marriage. Men
and women have been swayed by that desire
of propagation which is, next to self-preserva-
tion, the most fundamental tendency in all
living creatures. But law or custom, based
mainly on the helplessness of the human
infant, has stepped in to arrange that the pair
who produce a child shall nurture it and bring
it up ; and as a natural consequence live to-
gether and produce other children. Irregular
connections have of course everywhere existed ;
but it is probable that their disturbing influence
on the production of the next generation has
everywhere been almost negligible. The result
is written large in history. Races of greater
vitality and prowess have multiplied and
grown, unless kept down by excessive war.
Races mentally and physically weak have been
pushed aside, and have tended to disappear,
unless protected by outward circumstance.
Apart from the race question, the inhabitants
of particular countries seem to have preserved


through successive ages a surprisingly uniform
level of physical, mental, and moral qualities.
Men and women have married almost as a
matter of course ; and tendencies away from
the average have tended to cancel one another,
and to be eliminated. The incoming of an
exceptionally vigorous race like the Norman
may permanently raise the standard in a
country ; or devastating wars like the religi-
ous wars of the seventeenth century may for
for a long period depress it ; but on the whole
it shows wonderful elasticity.

But in the last century this balance has been
upset by a number of colliding tendencies.
Probably the most fundamental of these, in
Western Europe and America, has been the
crowding into cities, the growing artificiality
of life and the spread of material comfort.
These things have greatly weakened the
primary impulses of our nature. Healthy
vigour of appetite in eating, drinking, and
sexuality has fallen away. Tastes have become
artificial, and often at variance with what is
healthy and natural. Hence in the relations
of the sexes extraordinary phenomena. We
find apparently strong and vigorous men and
women who pass their lives without feel-
ing the imperious call of sex. The marriage-
rate, and especially the birth-rate, are rapidly


falling in almost all the countries of Europe.
And the qualities which attract men in the
female sex are seldom vigour of mind and
body, but brightness and showy qualities, often
combined with poor physique and inferior
health. Probably in past times there was a
good deal of deviation in men's admiration for
women from a robust standard ; but it mat-
tered little, when almost every woman married
someone. But it matters enormously when
male taste acts in the direction of debarring
from matrimony systematically those who are
best fitted to carry on the race.

Perhaps this phase of the sexual problem is
less obvious than another, which belongs to a
somewhat lower stratum of the population, the
reckless propagation of the thoughtless and
unfit, contrasted with the smallness of the
families of prudent and cleanly-living work-
men. The very conditions of life and lodging
in our cities are a terrible handicap against
large families, a handicap effective against
all those who hate overcrowding and dirt.
Hitherto the reckless livers, if they have had
more children, have lost a far greater propor-
tion of them ; but a very natural and kindly
movement for the saving of infant life has
arisen, and probably matters no longer adjust
themselves. The tendency of society is in-


creasingly, both in well-to-do and poor classes,
to discourage the propagation of the most
fit, and to breed from those who are less
self-restrained, less intelligent, less efficient,
physically and morally. It is a by-product
of the course of modern civilisation, and a
by-product of so deadly a character, that
unless the intelligence of modern nations can
find a remedy, it will poison society at the

This is the mischief with which eugenic
societies are setting themselves to grapple.
The remedy must come from human wisdom
and action ; we have no right to expect that
the Master of the Universe will alter the laws
of inheritance in order to obviate the con-
sequences of human perversity and folly. The
remedy, however, can scarcely lie in an appeal
to individuals. It would be chimerical to
expect an ordinary man to alter a course of
action in which his feelings were strongly in-
volved, in order to help to obviate a mischief
which threatens society. This is altogether
too remote a calamity to influence the springs
of action. Many men and women abstain
from marriage on conscientious grounds ; but
they are probably thinking rather of their
own immediate future, and the burden of un-
healthy children, than of the good of society.


It is clear that if society wishes to obviate an
impending evil, it must take public steps for
the purpose. Sooner or later legislation will
be necessary ; only the power of the state can
overcome the tendencies of private selfishness.
But hasty or premature legislation, legislation
which the people do not approve or think
necessary, is a great evil. The way for legisla-
tion has to be prepared by creating a public
conscience in the matter.

And this is a long and difficult task. In-
dividualism has struck such deep roots in
modern society that any control of individual
action by the state is sure to raise a storm of
opposition. And there can be no doubt that
the force of popular religion will be at first
ranged against any enforcement of the eugenic
principles. Probably the eugenic writers have
roused opposition by overstating their case,
and speaking as if human beings could be
bred as cattle are bred, and as if moral aspects
of marriage could be disregarded. In America
the authorities of the Roman Church are
setting themselves in opposition to eugenic
legislation on the ground of the spiritual
nature of the marriage-tie, which makes very
perilous any attempt to interfere l with it. I
have very little doubt that, in spite of all
opposition, the eugenic idea will slowly make


way ; and that before very long some restric-
tion will be in most countries placed by law
on the multiplication of the obviously unfit.

The Christian view of the principle of
eugenics seems to me clear. We have a
divine revelation in the matter from two con-
trasted sources. According to Christianity,
the body of man is the temple of the Holy
Spirit, a framework prepared by the Divine
Providence for the indwelling of a soul which
is a son of God. Obviously, then, it is our
duty to provide in future times as many and
as beautiful temples as we can. Then science
comes in and expounds the laws of heredity,
and shows that such temples can only be pro-
duced, the constitution of the world being
what it is, by the conjunction in matrimony
of chaste and healthy men and women. The
rest is mere matter of reasoning and the
adaptation of means to ends. The man who
is thoroughly fit to have children, and who
either through love of comfort, or some in-
dulgence of sentiment, refrains from marriage,
defrauds not only his family and his nation,
but human society and the Ruler of it. It
is possible that he may take this course in
deference to some divine call ; in which case
he must stand or fall to his own Master. But
the man or woman who knowing themselves


to be unfit to have healthy children yet
marry, are clearly guilty of an even more
serious offence.

The only kinds of legislation for which the
times are ripe seem to be two. In the first
place, marriage might be forbidden in the case
of those mentally deficient, or suffering from
certain hereditary diseases. And in the second
place, much more might be done by the state s
than is done at present in the way of provid-
ing cottages in the country, and well-arranged
dwellings in towns, and by encouraging in
every way the production of healthy children.
Steps in these directions have been taken
lately in England, but they have been slow
and apparently unwilling steps, so far as the
legislature is concerned. To bring a healthy
public opinion to bear on our timid and dila-
tory legislators is probably the duty that lies
nearest to hand.

The problems of eugenics have in the last
few years become far more pressing in con-
sequence of the terrible war which has
devastated Europe. The tendency of this
war to depress the standard of humanity is
undeniable. In past days, and especially in
the nineteenth century, the fit in mind and
body have possessed some advantages for
survival over the unfit. In spite of the


countervailing tendencies of which I have
spoken, on the whole, energy and vigour might
confer such advantages in the struggle for
existence that they might hold their own in
some measure in the matter of propagation of
the race. But war steps in here with fatal
effect. We winnow carefully our classes of
young men, deliberately sending those who
are healthy and vigorous into dangers which
must be fatal to a large proportion of them.
The weaker, and especially those whose vital
organs are the least sound, we retain at home
to carry on the race. It is a competition in
which the unfit have an enormous advantage
over the fit. What the consequences will be
in the next generation we may well foresee.
It would seem that a general lowering of the
level of vitality must take place in all the
countries of Europe. Even the women are
not unaffected, since the strongest and best of
them are absorbed in hospitals, in munition
work, and the like, while the feebler and the
more inert lie in wait for the soldiers.

It may be said that we have in the past
always had wars, and this has been their
inevitable tendency. But modern wars are
in many ways different from those of past
times, and give far less chance of advantage
to prowess and to energy. It is not the best


who survive, as a rule, but the most cautious
and unenterprising. Modern artillery, gas-
shells, and machine-guns mow down whole
regiments, the good and the bad alike ; only
that for dangerous and enterprising work
special troops are selected ; and often, what
is still more fatal, volunteers are called for to
undertake some dangerous feat.

However, it is not for a mere closet moralist
to suggest remedies for these portentous evils.
To meet them must be one of the first tasks
of statesmen in the future ; if indeed we may
hope for statesmen wiser than the people, and
prepared to lead rather than merely to carry
out popular mandates. Such evils as I have
mentioned are scarcely realised by the people
at large ; and unless the governing democracies
of the future are prepared to accept the con-
victions of the specialists who have given their
lives to the investigation of such matters, the
outlook has but little of the brightness of hope.
God rules ; but how far God will allow the
men whom he has endowed with free-will to
bring themselves to ruin, through sheer per-
versity and folly, is a matter as to which we
dare not dogmatise, though we refuse to give
up hope.


THAT which makes the beauty and the vigour
of the bodies of men and women of so vast
importance in the history of the world is
the great fact that this physical vigour is
closely bound up with the propagation of
the race into the future. Of all the great
defects of English Christianity, one of the
greatest is that it has no recognised religious
code of ethics in regard to the relations of
the sexes and the ties which bind together
the family. This .great gap in our Christian-
ity is exercising on us a terrible revenge.
In America, where the force of traditional
morality is least, we may see phenomena
which may well give pause to the least
reflective, the commonness of divorce, the
complete dislocation of family life, the rapidly
falling birth-rate. Those of us who are still
young will before we die see this matter
taking the most prominent place in the
practical life of the western world. Unless



we find some way of staying social diseases
which are taking deep root among us, there
is nothing in store for the Teutonic and the
Latin races but decay and disappearance.

Among peoples at an early stage of culture,
nothing is so closely interwoven with religion
as the life of the family and the clan. The
ancestor is the earliest deity, and out of the
worship of the ancestor is developed, on the
one side, religious cult, on the other side,
the ties which bind together family and kins-
folk, the city and the nation. In Greece it
was a sense of duty towards the gods of the
family and tribe which controlled marriage ;
at Rome marriage retained a sacred character
when all the other sides of Roman religion
were falling into decay. But among both
these great peoples, at the beginning of our
era, caprice and irregularities of all kinds
had invaded the sacred fold of matrimony.
The Jews and some other lesser peoples
adhered, as the Jews have adhered down to
our days, to a religious view of marriage
and child-bearing ; but even on the Jews
the looseness of family ties, which was
destined to bring ancient civilisation to an
end, was not without effect.



The Founder of Christianity occasionally
spoke on the subject of the family relations.
His utterance that divorce should under no
circumstances be allowed 1 is memorable to
all time. And by comparing the relations
between men and their Divine Ruler with the
relations which prevail in families between'
children and parents, he not only brought
God nearer to man, but also gave a fresh
consecration to the relation of children to

Those who take what we may call the old-
fashioned view of the person of Christ can
hardly avoid accepting his decree as to
divorce. Those, on the other hand, who think
that it was not the intention of the Founder
to lay down any hard-and-fast rule in ethics,
but rather to inculcate a method and prin-
ciples, will feel less strictly bound by the
decree, and think that when the conditions
of society change positive rules must also
change. In the long run the decision between
these views must be dictated by life andj
experience. But in so saying I would notj
admit that all the tendencies which make for]
easier divorce among us are justified by their

1 In two of the Gospels this law is stated in undiluted
form; Matthew adds., "except for fornication/' but this]
is probably an insertion of an editor.


nere existence. My own opinion is rather
n favour of the stricter rule, which has been
lupported by such unconventional moralists
LS Comte and Tolstoy.

As Jesus consecrated the filial relation on
;arth by a heavenly analogy, so St Paul
consecrated the marital relation by comparing
t to the relation of Christ to the Church. It
s very striking and noble teaching, but the
Church could not properly assimilate it,
>ecause at first it was not disposed to hold
narriage in high honour.

The teaching of Jesus as to the Fatherhood
>f God, and the teaching of St Paul as to the
narriage of Christ and the Church, cannot be
luly appreciated unless we bear in mind the
deal of family life which was in the minds of
he teachers. In modern days we speak glibly
>f God as a loving Father ; and the phrase of
:ourse conveys truth ; but in the ideal father
>f the age of Jesus, love was by no means the
>nly prominent trait. Rigid justice of rule
yas quite as necessary ; the father was head
,nd master in his house, and it was one of his
irst duties sternly to chastise any fault in the
:hildren. He had not Jong lost the power of
[fe and death in his family ; and the children
vho regarded him with affection regarded him
Iso with awe. To please him, if need be to


suffer on his behalf, was the first duty of a
child. And we may fairly say that unless
this is borne in mind, the comparison of the
Creator of the world and the Ruler of man-
kind to a father has but little meaning. There
is no likeness between the ways of God amfl
those of most English fathers of the indulgent
and self-effacing kind.

Though, from the higher point of view, one]
may implicitly believe in the merciful kindness
of God, it is a kindness free from weakness.
" Whom the Lord loveth he correcteth, and
chasteneth every son whom he receiveth."
That phrase is true of the Divine Fatherhood,
but it applies very ill to the ordinary modern
father. And it often comes about that children,
who have heard much of the kindness of God,j
expect God to intervene in cataclysmic fashion]
to " turn from them those evils which they]
most righteously have deserved." They ex-
pect Him to give them, like an earthly father,!
anything that they want, or think they want.!
And when this intervention does not take!
place, and they are caught in the meshes of!
unavoidable retribution for crime or folly,!
instead of "humbling themselves under thdj
mighty hand of God," they rebel, and dethrone!
or deny God in their hearts. It is a terrible!
nemesis on parental indulgence, and too often!


leads to shipwreck in the sea of life. It is one
more of the many evils which arise from the
prevalence of a cataclysmic as contrasted with
an orderly and evolutional way of regarding
the relation of God to the world.

In the inner realm of conscience and spirit,
God is indeed revealed as of infinite goodness
and patience, forgiving sin, and granting divine
aid and protection in every situation of life.
But the inner relation between God and the
spirit, though it may sometimes dominate a
man's relation to the world of sense and ex-
perience, so that he will say in looking back
on his life, that all things have worked to-
gether for good, will not necessarily, though
it may sometimes, be immediately reflected
in the experience of the world without. God
indeed often moves in a mysterious way ; and
faith may need all her strength to avoid

In the same way, St Paul compares Christ to
the husband who is the head of the wife, and
to whom she submits in constant and dutiful
obedience. The husband who, in his view,
should be ready to give his life for his wife,
expects in return the practical daily devotion
of her life to him. I am not asserting that
the early Christian ideal of father and husband
must remain unmodified for all time. In these


matters various ages and various races have
differing notions ; and only the course of the
world and experience can decide which is best.
But I do not think that modern English
views on these subjects are likely to be finally

St Paul has occasion to speak of the family
relations among his converts, and he speaks
always with dignity and sobriety, adopting
into the Church a somewhat severe code of
family ethics, which he doubtless adopted from]
the best Jewish life of his time.

But there is in St Paul another strain, the I
strain of asceticism, which embodies a principle ,
noble, but beyond almost all principles liablJ
to abuse. " It is good for a man not to touclJ
a woman." At the moment when Christianity]
was struggling to the birth, there may harel
been deep need to impress upon the converts!
that what hindered the spread of the nevl
divine enthusiasm must be at all costs giveJ
up. And to a certain number of chosen souls!
from that day to this, the phrase of Paul majl
have come as a divine summons. But in subm
sequent times, amid the surrounding decay ofl
morals, the spirit of asceticism certainly hacl
too great a vogue, and called away from civicl
life a larger and larger number of the noblesB
and most devoted souls. Thus the life of thel


family was in the early Church often regarded
as a mere concession to human weakness and
necessity, and the great teachers of the Church,
being themselves celibates, did not rate it as it
is rated in the counsels of God, as shown by
the facts of history. And the great reformers
of the sixteenth century, though they utterly
revolted against the excesses of asceticism, and
did much to restore family life to its position
in the Church, yet were unable, in consequence
of their narrow horizon, and their imperfect
comprehension of human nature, to build up
a religious view of the relations of the sexes.

Indeed, it is notorious that in this matter the
reformers showed a culpable laxity, admitting
divorce with too great facility, and allowing
marriages which sinned against the conditions
of human society. Excuses may readily be
made for them. In a time of general unsettle-
ment, men do not easily see where liberty
ends and licence begins, nor readily distinguish
between relations which exist in the nature of
things and those which rest only on custom
and convention. The fact is none the less to
be regretted ; and the line which the reformers
took has been followed with deplorable results
in several Protestant countries, and especially
in America, where facility of divorce has be-
come a serious danger to society. The Roman


Church in this matter has taken a wiser as we
as a nobler course, in setting her face against
the freedom of divorce. For once, she is
closer to the text of the synoptic discourses
than are her rivals. But at the same time, by
allowing papal dispensations to override the
natural laws of society, she has made a fatal
breach between the revelation of the divine
will in the historic Church and its revelation
in human society.


Among primitive men no need is more
urgent than that of leaving children to repre-
sent their parents in the state and in the family
cults. And through the Middle Ages down
to our own day, in the case of all families of
antiquity and standing, there has been working
a strong desire that the family may hold its

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15

Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 11 of 15)