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Evolution in Christian ethics online

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place in the future as in the past, in the town
or the country to which it belongs. This feel-
ing is fatally weakened by the restless and
reckless spirit of modern times. The attach-
ment to locality being diminished, save in the
case of a few old families, the notion of the
family as a continuous clan dies out, and the
ties of relationship grow laxer. But the family
as well as the individual is a spiritual unit. To
each family it is given to play a special part in


the revelation of the divine will in the world.
Each family has a mission which it can ac-
complish better than any other family. Apart
from a revived feeling of duty to the family
and the nation, one can see no prospect of
putting a limit to the merely personal con-
siderations which are at present all-powerful
in such questions as marriage and the begetting
of children.

It is not only families which possess great
estates, and have played a conspicuous part in
the national history, which have a corporate
life and a continuous history. In the ranks
of the less prominent there are thousands of
families which have a history and a definite
character. One family sends up to the uni-
versities in succeeding generations boys who
become brilliant scholars ; another produces a
long succession of soldiers or painters or sur-
geons. And at a lower social level we find in
every country town families which have for
several generations been noted for good farming,
for honest dealing, for a steady support of
some church or chapel, for devotion to local
business. Such family traditions are of in-
estimable value in the life of a country. It is
greatly to be regretted that the increasing
individuality and growing restlessness of our
times are sapping their power. By the Chinese


and the Japanese it is regarded as one of the
great defects of Christianity that it acts rather
as a solvent than as a consecration of family
ties. They cite such passages as k< He that
loveth father or mother more than me is not
worthy of me," and " I am come to set the
father against the son," as utterly subversive
of that family piety which they regard as the
basis of all morality. There can be little doubt
that this is a real difficulty. In the time of
ferment and new birth during which Chris-
tianity arose, it was necessary to insist on the
primacy of the individual conscience. The
first Christians had to come forth one by one,
leaving family ties and mundane duties behind,
to work for the future of the race. And when
a better religion is proclaimed amid a com-
munity devoted to a worse, these conditions
will from time to time recur. But in ordinary
times there must be a far more evenly-balanced
conflict of duties, when the convictions of son
or daughter lead them to forsake the faith in
which they were brought up. The common-
sense of mankind has naturally found this out,
and is not too ready to justify the forsaking of
domestic duties on the ground of a religious
call. But in these cases it is very unfortunate
that in practice all the sanctions of religion are
on one side, and only tradition and the eternal


domestic affections on the other. The case is
really one of the conflict of two motives both
religious. But our modern Christianity in
this as in so many cases is one-sided, has
absorbed one half of the truth and rejected, or
at least failed to assimilate, the other half.

The newspapers have of late years been
full of letters deploring the decay of home
life, and the preference by men and women
of their personal happiness and advantage to
the more laborious and responsible life in
the family. These letters have called forth
others in which the freedom and self-seeking
of the individual is boldly defended, and the
sacrifice of self to the coming generation
ridiculed as old-fashioned. How can these
contentions be answered ? Certainly there is
not now in church or state any authority
whose pronouncement in such matters will
be accepted as decisive. The only decisive
voice must be that of fact and experience.
It is the great merit of Mr Benjamin Kidd
that he has in his work on social evolution
so clearly set forth the necessity under which
every generation lies to surrender some of
its own happiness for the sake of those who
are not yet born. Usually this surrender
has been scarcely conscious. The profound
instincts which in the long run determine


conduct have driven men and women un-
witting to do that which is necessary for the
existence and the progress of future genera-
tions. Great danger arises because we are
fast escaping from the predominance of
overmastering instinct, while we have not
yet learned that in the event not merely
the happiness but the very continuance of
our race depends upon our subordinating
our personal point of view to that of the
community, and doing the will of God rather
than our own will.

The whole question has become more vital
for us, because as manners become softer and
life more even, the primary passions of man
are affected. Among our urban populations
we cannot expect to find the healthy mas-
culinity which goes with robust vigour of
body, nor the urgent desire of giving birth
to children which dominates less refined
women. Nature can no longer be fully
trusted ; and unless public opinion, duty,
religion, come to the help of natural impulse,
the consequences to the race may be very

I can but glance at a very unpleasant
though important side of the matter. When
the healthy urgings of sex are perverted
in a society in which the nerves and the


sentiments are abnormally active, we shall
find the most painful aberrations from the
lines of nature among both men and women.
I am not speaking only of unnatural forms
of vice, though it is to be feared that these
have grown commoner, but rather of the
accordance to sexual passion of an absurdly
predominant place in life. Novelists both
French and English have made a fetish of
mere sexual attraction between men and
women as a thing so sacred that it will
justify the overriding of all sense of duty
and honour. They have taught that a man
and woman have only to reach a certain
degree of mutual attraction in order to be
justified in violating the claims of duty to
religion, of duty to parents, even of duty
to the marriage vow. They represent the
sacrifice of all one's purpose in life to the
indulgence of passion as a natural and even
a laudable thing. The barriers which the
wisdom and experience of mankind have
erected against the caprices of passion are
giving way on all sides. Divorce is becoming
more and more frequent, and the re-marriage
of divorced men and women incurs less and
less reprobation. Even the bearing of ille-
gitimate children is not regarded in the light
in which it has always been regarded by


peoples who have advanced beyond savagery ;
but a pity, in itself natural and Christian, for
the fallen woman, has given rise to attempts
to justify her, which is a very different thing.
However, I must not pursue this theme.

Again, it cannot be doubted that the spread
of insubordination in households has gone too
far and become an evil. If on the one hand
there is excess in the Japanese view that it is
the first duty of children under all circum-
stances to sacrifice themselves for the good of
their parents, there is at least an equal excess
in the opposite tendency, in western societies,
for parents to deny and sacrifice themselves in
every way for their children, who do not feel
in return the profound gratitude for which one
might look. It may often act as a refining
and moralising force in the case of parents,
and all self-sacrifice for the sake of affection
brings with it a degree of happiness. But it
is ruin to the children, who are not usually
brought by the indulgence of their parents
into a condition of reverent affection towards
them, but come thoughtlessly to take all that
is bestowed on them as their mere due, and to
acquire in regard to their parents a feeling of
friendship not quite unmixed with contempt.

And such a condition of affairs not only
tends to produce a race selfish, conceited,


averse to any kind of order and discipline,
but it also acts as a deterrent on those who
might naturally be anxious to have children.
The reverence for parents and the desire to
keep up the family tradition which prevail in
India and Japan, seem to be far more favour-
able to a vigorous growth of families than is
the careful self-restraint of western countries,
where the fear of not being able to give
children all the advantages one might wish to
give them, tends strongly, in the case of all
but the reckless classes, to keep men and
women back from marriage, or at all events
strictly to limit the number of children.


But, it will be said, if the Founder of Chris-
tianity and his apostles did not give us rules
of conduct in these matters, did not consecrate
for us a way, who shall in these modern days
fill the gap? To which the answer is easy.
Our Founder did not in this case, as in most
other cases he did not, give us a definite rule,
but he gave the principle on which rules may
be founded. For if the end of religion be the
doing of the will of God in the world, then
can the will of God be more clearly revealed
than it is in visible facts as regards the nature
of men and women, as regards family life, and


the preservation of the race ? If a man is
determined to wait until his duty is written
in the skies, or printed in an infallible book,
he may defy conviction. But if he is ready in
religion, as in all the other affairs of life, to
learn by experience and observation, duty will
not be hard to find.

The difficulties lie not in the realm of intel-
lect, but in that of will. Statesmen and philo-
sophers would generally be agreed as to the
duty of the individual to the family. The
question is how to bring this duty home to
the rising generation, and induce them to
sacrifice what at the moment may seem to
them a greater personal happiness to the good
of the race. Something may no doubt be
done by statesmen who control legislation,
and by those who found voluntary societies.
For many of the obstacles to the growth of
healthy home life lie in external circumstance.
In our great cities it is becoming more and
more difficult for families weighted with young
children to find suitable dwellings. Employers
of labour are apt, in defiance of the general
good, to give undue preference to the un-
married over the married. And the calling
away of married women from the home to com-
pete with men in the ranks of employment is
a direct blow at the future of the race. Those


who regard as a triumph every step which
leads to the opening of fresh careers to women
and promotes their independence, may further
the ruin of the future by the present, and do
what they can to frustrate the divine will
which has ordained that the desires of one
generation have often to be sacrificed to the
deeper needs of the next. In all these matters
society, so soon as it realises its full responsi-
bility, will interfere to control the anti- social
action of individuals and classes.

Probably, however, whole generations will
pass before a practical socialism of this kind
arises. It will not prevail until it has become
clear that only by rearranging the foundations
of our European societies they can be saved
from internal decay, or made efficient against
the competition of China and Japan. In the
meantime there lies an appeal, which may at
least make slower the destructive process.

If we believe, with the Founder of our
religion, and with eminent Christians of all
ages, that the path of the divine will is really
the path of happiness, that no one will really
become in the end more miserable because he
has tried to co-operate with Christ in the
saving of the world, then we may hopefully
appeal to men and women to find the Kingdom

of God in the life of the family. And in this



case faith does not demand any great sacrifice.
The ways of trust in God and of experience
reasonably regarded lie near together. For
we have it on the testimony of thousands that
successful ambition, wealth, ease, all human
luxuries, are as a drop in the bucket com-
pared with the happiness of a loving and
well-ordered household, that no gratification
of the senses can be to well-constituted men
and women comparable to the joys of wedlock
and maternity. All who have a heart and
human instincts must know that only in the
marital and filial relations can the affections
find a satisfactory field. It may be the duty
laid upon some, for reasons of private neces-
sity, of health, of duty to parents, of the
service of God, to forgo these exquisite
delights. But for the great majority of civi-
lised men they alone make life satisfactory.
If there be among us any widespread distaste
for them, or any avoidance of them from a
fear of responsibility, this can only be a sign
of a deep-seated moral disease, which threatens
the existence of the race.


IN treating of the ethics of family life, I
have naturally been unable to avoid the
question of women in relation to marriage
and social life. But it is necessary to discuss
this question more completely, since the
sex question lies at the very roots of all
conduct, as well as of the emotions. But
one approaches the subject with pain, as
well as with diffidence. For one feels that
while a merely conservative attitude in rela-
tion to the position and functions of women
in the modern Christian world is hopeless,
yet when one leaves it, one passes into an
utter chaos, a waste which is almost pathless.
Emotion and passion have so confused the
whole matter that it will take generations
before new lines of settlement can be estab-
lished, or anything like an equilibrium



I must begin by emphasising the essentially
Christian point of view in regard to women.
It is set forth by St Paul in an immortal
phrase, " In Christ there is neither male nor
female." As we go deeper and deeper into
the spiritual grounds of our being, the dis-
tinctions which from a worldly point of
view seem all-important gradually lose their
meaning. First goes the distinction of merely
outward condition, of rich and poor, learned
and unlearned. Next vanish the deeper
distinctions of race, English, German, French,
Japanese ; and the radical similarity of human
nature in relation to the divine is seen to be
the same among all peoples. Last of all
vanishes even the most radical of all dis-
tinctions, that between the sexes ; and the
soul or spirit, in its ultimate essence, is seen
to be . the same, whether it is manifested
under the conditions of a male or a female
body, mind, and character.

So in essential, or what may be called
oacy genie, religion, little will be said of sexual
differences. In the Gospels these distinctions
are scarcely mentioned. In Luke's Gospel,
it is true, the relations of women to Jesus
are depicted in a most charming and apprecia-
tive manner ; women do for the Master what
men could not do. They move with the


band of the apostles from place to place, and
nourish the infant society with help physical
and moral. But there is no special women's
morality in regard to the Kingdom of God.

With St Paul, in this as in other matters,
there comes in some of the nitrogen. He
has to give directions as to the conduct of
women in the new churches, and their relation
to the society around them. And he does it
with extreme sanity and wisdom. If we
compare St Paul's attitude in this matter
with that of any of his contemporaries in
the heathen world, we shall form a very
high opinion of his intellectual balance.
Though he maintains that in Christ there is
neither male nor female, yet he is very strict
in checking the excesses which are always
found in the first ardour of a rising religion.
Women owe to him an infinite debt of grati-
tude for the wise ordinances by which he
established the dignity of their position in
the Church, while at the same time saving
them from such aberrations as marked, for
example, the history of the Montanist
societies of Asia.

But however fully we may recognise the
wisdom of the legislation of St Paul in
regard to women, it is of little use to cite
it in the discussion of feminist questions at

it in t


present ; it is not infallible, and it is liable
to be superseded by subsequent developments
of society. The mediaeval teaching in regard
to women's place in the church and the world,
mainly based on the Pauline teaching, is
one of the features of mediaeval ethics
which are most strongly called in question in
the countries greatly influenced by the Re-
formation. In fact, the only tribunal left
open to us, where the principles suited to
modern society in this matter may be
examined and established, is the tribunal of
fact and experience. There is the light of
history, which shows us what social position
of women has in the past led to good results,
and the light of psychology which shows
what are the dominant tendencies and the
most fully developed faculties of women.

In this as in other fields of ethics the test
of solvitur ambulando is constantly working.
What succeeds when tried will be perpetu-
ated, and what does not succeed will in time
be rejected. But the fact of movement
does not, without further consideration, show
whether it is in a good or a bad direction.
Yet the past experience of man would be
given him to little purpose, and the results
of Christian striving for nineteen centuries
would be poor indeed, if a modern Christian


student could not discuss these questions
with fuller data and to better purpose than
the teachers of past ages, or the mere
theorisers and visionaries of the present.


There is a notable unrest among women, not
only in Great Britain but in all the countries
of the Continent ; in America ; even in India
and China. This vast movement means some-
thing: what it means probably none of us
fully knows ; but it is our business to study it,
and if we can, to prevent it from breaking out
in some destructive convulsion. However, I
shall not venture to say anything in regard to
the unrest in other countries with which I am
not well acquainted : to say anything to the
point in regard to the unrest among ourselves
is a task hard enough.

The main strength of the women's move-
ment undoubtedly lies in the well-educated
stratum of society, in the unmarried women
who lead what may be called a bachelor life,
and the childless married women. , Others are
drawn in by sympathy, notably married women
with daughters but no sons, or by a hope of
bettering their condition, which has attracted
many women of the proletariate. And of
course feminine influence draws in many men.


The " happy married woman " is usually
hostile ; and if almost all women were married
we should have heard less of the business.
But before the war there was a million excess
of women over men in the country, and it was
calculated that half the women of marriageable
age were single. It has become more and
more the tendency to expect girls to earn
their own living. Hence the insurgent class
has an enormous field to draw upon. And
without knowing much about physiology,
everyone can understand what a vast reserve
of energy lies waiting to be tapped. Every
woman is descended from an endless chain of
female ancestors, every one of whom was a
mother, and devoted a great part of her
strength and energy to the production and
tending of children. To this purpose above
all others nature has destined women, except
a few who are defective. When the stream
has gently flowed through thousands of genera-
tions, it cannot suddenly be stopped without
the most noteworthy results. The unmarried
woman who is passing her first youth is full of
powers which find no occupation, of energy
which finds no outlet. She may become a
total wreck, or a merely half-developed creature.
But she may also learn to divert this immense
capacity to other purposes, to find fresh outlets


for physical and moral energy, to set herself
some work to do in the world, and to throw
herself into it with all the force of an uncon-
scious yearning for development.

The same thing holds in a less degree of
men also. The man who is thoroughly happy
in his family life is far less likely to make a
figure in the world than the man who is un-
happily married or is childless. The unhappi-
ness of the marital relations of men of genius
is notorious ; sometimes the genius makes
them unfit for family life ; and sometimes the
unhappiness of their lives develops into activity
faculties which would otherwise have lain
dormant. It is the force of energy in a man
which is the determining feature in his life,
and that energy is not unlimited : if it is
spent in one direction, it cannot be used in
another direction. These facts by themselves
explain much.

The incoming also of machinery has deprived
women of those employments in which they
spent much of their time, and which furnished
an exercise for their talents. How simple the
life of the model housekeeper in Proverbs !
She rises early to give to her handmaids wool
which they may weave into garments. She
eats not the bread of idleness : every hour is
spent in the regulation of her household, in


providing food and clothing for husband
children. And by selling her goods she
able to buy fields and orchards. But tl
making of clothes, even the knitting of stoc]
ings, has passed mainly into the hands of great
manufacturers. The modern housewife may
take a pride in the order of her house and the
goodness of her dinners ; but such cares satisfy
less and less a woman of developed intelli-
gence. Of her hereditary functions woman
retains little more than the rearing and educat-
ing of children and the nursing of the sick ;
and even these employments are passing more
and more into the hands of trained experts.
The women who do not marry have not
always even these outlets. And as the broader
education of these days constantly enlarges
the horizon of women and stimulates their
ambition, they have greater and greater desire
to find occupations which may really satisfy
their longings.


The essential Christian teaching as to the
value of the soul and its relation to God
obviously applies as much to women as to
men. It may well be that an increased sense
of this value has a great deal to do with the
unrest among women. Many of them may


have a conviction, conscious or unconscious,
that in the past the souls of women have
not had full scope, have been unduly fettered
and thwarted by the narrowing conventions
of society and the undue predominance of
the male sex. If this be so, their uprising
is based on a noble impulse, and he who
opposes it runs a risk of fighting against God.
But even then, there can be no reasonable
doubt that, however good the ultimate im-
pulse, some of its practical expressions are
contrary to sound sense, and inconsistent with
the constitution of society. There is immense
need for really wise women, who may dis-
criminate between the expedient and the
disastrous, between the course which will
further, and the course which will impede,
the highest good. As in the case of all
sudden movements," there is the greatest fear
that the direction of the uprising may fall
into the hands of fanatics, of women who
are in revolt, not merely against unfair re-
strictions, but against the very conditions of
their own existence.

This applies to the new activities of women,
and it applies in a high degree to the relation
of marriage. A large proportion of educated
women are at present dissatisfied with the
working of the marriage tie. But how far


this dissatisfaction is reasonable, and how fai
it is really a revolt against the necessary con]
stitution of society, is a difficult question.

Clearly it is not for me to try to set fortlj

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 12 of 15)