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leads in practice to a quagmire which there
is no passing, to practical failure out of which
there is no escape.

In order to establish this latter thesis, let us
look at human life if possible in the purely
secular spirit, to discover what courses of
action it must regard with most favour, and
to what results we should attain in following
those courses of action in a wholly secular
way. We know what results, both good and
bad, have ensued when men have followed in
a strictly religious spirit such injunctions as
" Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his
righteousness." Let us see what will be the
result of following, in a purely secular spirit,
such an injunction as " Seek ye first the
happiness of mankind."


Kant propounded a test of the value of
the practical maxims of conduct, which is of
great wisdom. The test is to try whether
the maxim on which one acts will bear being
made into a general rule of conduct. By
this test I propose to try some of the secular
principles. We shall find that though they
may pass muster as guiding principles of some
individuals, or groups of men, in a society
which even now is largely dominated by re-
ligious feeling and idealist aspirations, they
are self-destructive when accepted by society
at large.


We may select as specimens of the saintly
virtues of secularity the two following: (1)
devotion to material progress, (2) devotion to
redistribution of wealth among the people.
Surely the pursuit of these ends is above all
things worthy "service of man." I am not,
of course, about to condemn them in them-
selves. But it can be shown that pursuit of
them, without ideals, and in secular fashion,
leads to precisely the opposite result to that
which the pursuer desires. Such pursuit tends
not to the happiness, but to the misery of

(1) Let us first consider material progress,


the more and more complete exploitation of
the forces of the material world in the service
of human convenience. In regard to this pro-
gress, the axiom of secularity would be that
it continually provides us with fresh gratifica-
tions, with new ways of filling our desires,
and so must greatly further human happiness.
This looks very much like a truism ; but when
we closely examine it, we find that it makes
no account of important and indeed funda-
mental facts of human nature. One of these
is, that every gratification of a desire leaves
behind it a desire for further gratification,
produces in the mind a new need. And as
fresh needs accumulate, happiness becomes
harder and harder of attainment. The more
complicated and elaborate the machinery of
life, the more easily is it thrown out of gear,
so that the wheels run heavily. And each
successive gratification of a desire becomes a
less keen pleasure than the last. Thus the
material gratifications which a more compli-
cated life heaps about us become, by a fatal
law, like the reputation of Lancelot,

" Pleasure to have it, none ; to lose it, pain ;
Now grown a part of me ; but what use in it ? "

As well-being requires the conjunction of
more and more elements, it must necessarily
become harder and harder to attain, and


therefore be more seldom attained. The dis-
content which is the main spur of industrial
and material progress is certainly not in the
line of happiness.

We hear of American millionaires who
bathe in a bath of onyx, and of ladies who
wear diamond rings of such magnificence that
they cannot put on their gloves. Perhaps
we shall hear next of millionaires who never
put on a pair of boots twice, and who disdain
ever to speak except through the telephone.
But in what way this artificial multiplication
of inconveniences can tend to the increase of
happiness does not clearly appear.

The great scientific discoveries of our day
have about them a certain glamour which may
naturally dazzle. But when we soberly con-
sider them, this glamour is seen to hide a great
deal of illusion. They have increased out of
all proportion the facility of intercourse be-
tween men. Is it then such a great advantage
that the world should every year be growing
smaller and smaller ? The restlessness of life
has immensely increased : we are always on
the move. We can scarcely be said to live in
one place. We know what lies on the surface
of all European countries, and have acquain-
tance with a world of hotels ; but this merely
physical contact has not brought about a closer



moral contact and sympathy between class and
class or between nation and nation. It is a
very suggestive fact that almost every great
discovery is exploited first of all in the cause
of military efficiency. One of the greatest
spurs of physical invention is the desire to kill
as many people as possible in the shortest time.
I need not dwell on a theme which has natur-
ally been uppermost in recent years in the
minds of all who have time for reflection.
But it may be said in all seriousness that we
have reached a state of things in which the
unmoral and inhuman use of the discoveries
of the great inventors threatens the destruction,
not merely of our material civilisation, but even
of the races of Europe. Any day a great fresh
discovery may be made which will enable a
general in a few minutes totally to destroy the
forces of his opponent. Would he hesitate to
use it ? Analogy indicates that he would not
hesitate ; such is the exasperation between the
nations in conflict. In his World Set Free,
Mr Wells has tried to foreshadow this very
event. We say that it would mean the end
of war ; but we can scarcely suppose, things
being as they are, that the rulers who first
gained control of this invention would not use
it in order to establish the predominance of
their own people. It would work, not in the


service of civilisation and good will, but in the
service of jealousy and hate.

But let us turn to the religious way of look-
ing at material discovery, which I take to be
the following. All science has a religious side,
for it implies a reverent study of divine law as
manifested in the material world. All practi-
cal discoveries, steam, photography, electricity,
and the like, are divine rewards bestowed in
return for the self-abnegation and the rever-
ence of the man of science. No doubt, one
sows and another reaps : the great inventor
profits by the self-devotion of the obscure
scientist, who loved knowledge for its own
sake and gave his life for its attainment. The
reward is divinely given ; but like all the gifts
of God, it may be turned to good or bad uses,
it may serve to promote self-will, or to further
the higher destinies of man. By physical dis-
covery man becomes stronger and richer:
everything depends on the way in which he
uses the strength and the riches. In them-
selves they are means which may be used to
any possible end.

A parallel case in politics is familiar to us
all. Not long ago the essence of liberalism
was supposed to lie in an attempt to extend
the franchise to fresh classes of people, to
broaden the basis of representation. But now,


when the franchise has been greatly extended,
we have come to see that after all the main
thing is the kind of Parliament and the kind
of government which results from the elections.
Extending the franchise is extending freedom
and opportunity ; but the freedom has to be
well used if any advantage is to be secured.

In just the same way scientific inventions
extend power, but they do not make it certain
that the power will be well used. Nor will it
be well used unless two conditions are observed.
First, the study of man, the investigation of
human nature, must not be pushed aside by
merely physical science. If inventions are
used without regard to the nature of man and
society, they will be wrongly used. And man-
kind must master and grasp them; it must
be recognised that the mere fact that science
makes certain things possible is no reason why
they should be allowed. To take an obvious
instance : many people seem to think that
since motor cars can travel forty miles an hour
on a road, it is tyranny to prevent them from
doing so, or because houses can be built twenty
storeys high, it is necessary to tolerate such
buildings. But no invention has the least
right to override the interests of the com-
munity. And these interests are not merely
obvious and physical : it is as true now as it


was two thousand years ago that man does
not live by bread alone, but by every word
that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.


(2) It remains to speak of the better distri-
bution of wealth among the people. This is
the main object of working-class representa-
tives in Parliament, and of many writers who
feel deeply how terrible are the contrasts of
extreme wealth and extreme poverty which
exist among us. In some of the Australian
states politics have been largely based on
systematic attempts to level up and level
down the existing inequalities ; but the results
of legislation conducted in this spirit have
scarcely been satisfactory.

No doubt, some kind and degree of socialism
is necessary for the better constitution of
society. We have gone so far in the destruc-
tion of personal responsibility and self-reliance,
that we must go further and introduce more
central control. Experiments in the direction
of municipal trading and national regulation of
the sources of wealth are very desirable, so long
as we can manage to stop at the right point.
The general good needs fencing against the
immoral activities of trusts and great em-
ployers. A raising of the level of life for the


poor of great cities is in itself a thing so
desirable, that one is tempted to grasp at any
means by which it can be brought about, with-
out too closely scrutinising them.

But yet nothing can stop the revenges of
the eternal laws of justice and honesty if they
are violated. Any violent appropriation of
wealth, by invasion of the rights which have
come into existence with the sanction of
society, must produce more evil than good.
If public greed clutched at private riches,
they would turn to dust in the hands which
seized them. For without security and settled
law, riches cannot exist. And the common-
wealth has to be raised to a very much higher
level than the present before it can be trusted
to possess and administer a general fund of
possessions. All experience warns us that
communistic experiments are sure to fail
unless they are based upon some ideal en-
thusiasm, in fact, unless they have a religious
spring of action. A more equal distribution
of wealth is doubtless in itself a desirable thing.
If all the rich were happy and all the poor
miserable, then redistribution of wealth might
greatly raise the level of general happiness.
But everyone knows that this is not the case.
There is probably a certain degree of squalor
and poverty which makes happiness almost


unattainable, though this again is a matter in
which those who judge the matter from a
distance are very liable to delusion. But it
appears that the usual secularist remedies for
poverty will not work amid the surroundings
of human nature.

Let us suppose that they might be of practi-
cal efficacy to such a degree that an economic
condition of society could be reached like that
set forth in Mr Bellamy's Looking Backward.
That book has captivated many, and it is
perhaps the best representation to be found of
a secular earthly paradise. But the imagina-
tion shown in it is just the imagination of a
grocer's clerk. No one who knows anything
of human nature could suppose that mankind
would find such a state of society blissful or
even tolerable. The people living under it
would simply perish of ennui. If such a
society existed, its only chance of escape from
rapid degeneration would lie in the revival of
those religious enthusiasms which people of
the secularist school regard as out of date and

A recently published book, Mr Stewart
Grahame's Where Socialism Failed, has given
us a wonderful record of an attempt to con-
struct in Paraguay a society on a basis of
economic communism, but without religious


sanctions. The founder, Mr William Lane,
was a man of great magnetic power, and wholly
possessed by a spirit of secular altruism. The
story of the disastrous failure of his project
has been well told. But the interesting point
in relation to the present subject is this :
after the colony had degenerated into what
the inhabitants themselves called a hell upon
earth, Lane went out with a few devoted fol-
lowers to make a new settlement. For a time
the enthusiasm of the chosen few buoyed them
up. But before long Mr Lane found it
necessary to introduce some kind of belief in a
great overruling spiritual power, on whom he
freely lectured, though the belief he taught
seems to have been too vague to exercise much
influence on the community, from which he
presently withdrew. The residue of the
colonists which he had left went from bad to
worse, until they were saved from destruction
by the teachings of a Christian schoolmaster,
and by the abandonment of all their original
notions. It is a marvellous story ; and it is
hard to see how those who are not utterly
case-hardened against experience can refuse to
learn from it.

We have only to compare the empty fancies
of Mr Bellamy with the hard facts of the
Australian colony in Paraguay to learn how


utterly false is the view of human nature on
which Mr Bellamy builds. Long ago Mrs
Browning wrote :

" Your Fouriers failed,
Because not poets enough to understand
That life develops from within."

Many a leader since Fourier has failed for the
same reason. Yet we have Mr Belfort Bax
writing : " According to Christianity, regenera-
tion must come from within. The ethics and
religion of modern socialism, on the contrary,
look for regeneration from without, from
material conditions and a higher social life."
Which view best fits the facts of history and
psychology ? These facts make it sufficiently
clear that a merely secularist and unideal
pursuit of material progress and general com-
fort is self-destructive and leads to a result the
exact opposite of that desired.

I might pursue the theme of the self-
destructive character of the axioms of secularity
into other fields. I might show how a mere
kindly ajid undiscriminating distribution of
alms tends to produce widely-spread misery
and degradation. I might even prove that
the practice of medicine in a too secular and
materialist spirit may tend to lower the vitality
of men, by aiding the survival and propagation
of those who are really unfit for life. But I


refrain ; for such argument may easily de-
generate into pessimism. After all, it is much
more useful and hopeful to advocate the better
course than to show the unsatisfactory char-
acter of the worse course, though the latter
proceeding may be sometimes expedient and


Let us turn to the secularist axiom in
regard to the nature of happiness itself, that
it is the sum of gratifications. This axiom
is false. We can doubtless attain to pleasure
on any particular occasion by indulging some
desire, or obtaining something we longed for.
But it is clear that we cannot by such means
really raise the level of happiness in our lives.
Happiness depends infinitely less on successive
gratifications than on permanent conditions.
It is like the water in a well, which rises by
the nature of things to a .certain level, but
can only for a little while be raised above
that level by the addition, or depressed below
it by the subtraction, of water. Every pain,
as Socrates long ago maintained in the
Phcedo, brings with it a sequel of pleasure,
and every pleasure brings with it a sequel
of pain. We are told by physiologists that
a man's heart gives a certain number of beats


in the day or week, and that if its action
be for a time quickened or retarded, the
average is soon re-established. Happiness,
like the action of the heart, has a tendency
to the average. Of course it depends in a
considerable degree on health, on the per-
manent domestic relations, on a satisfactory
employment of active powers, but only in a
less degree on the attainment of objects of
desire. If I may briefly dwell on my own
experience, it is this. The happiest man I
ever knew, a man who was not only always
cheerful, but who seemed to radiate happi-
ness on all who came near him, was one who
lost by accident or disease all his children,
then his charming arid beloved wife, who
died of a gradual decay, then almost all
his property. In the last loss he almost
rejoiced, as it set him free to undertake the
work of a Christian evangelist, in which he
found intense happiness.

By overvaluing mere material advantage,
and by placing all the stress on the procuring
of it for the greatest number, society makes
a mistake parallel to that made by materialist
and over-indulgent parents. It is known to
everyone that when fond parents indulge
every wish of their children, without regard
to their future life or their character, those


children are not merely made intolerable to
all around them, but are utterly maimed and
unfitted for the conflicts of the world. It is
less generally recognised that this principle
has a wider application. In a rude and harsh
state of society, where untamed egotism is
the mainspring of action, kindness, indul-
gence, mildness, are beautiful qualities, and
tend to make life more endurable. But as
with advancing civilisation society becomes
more humane, and the primary forces of
human nature have less free play, the value
of mere indiscriminate kindness and unselfish-
ness gradually falls. In a soft and unmanly
age, a kind of unselfishness may easily become
a greater danger to society than selfishness.
For pushing egotism at least secures the
survival of the more energetic : indiscriminate
kindness may have precisely the opposite
effect, and secure the persistence of the unfit.
There can be no real corrective save the
merging both of selfishness and of unselfishness
in an impulse higher than either, the desire to
forward in one's own person and to promote
among all whom one can control such ends
and purposes in life as are in harmony with
the laws of the visible and invisible world.
The working for ideal ends, the promotion
of character, the placing of perfection above


happiness, these alone can keep society from
degeneracy, weakness, and decay. And these
are the things implied in the luminous sayings
of the Founder of Christianity as to doing the
will of God and loving it.

We can distinguish four stages in this
matter, or, since they are not successive but
contemporaneous, we may perhaps better call
them four levels. The lowest is the level of
mere selfishness, at which a man drives and
pushes for his own advantage and that of his
family in sheer disregard of the interests and
feelings of other people. Next to this is the
level of secular altruism, at which he recog-
nises the claims of others and is willing to
consider their happiness as well as his own.
The third level is in some respects lower and
in some respects higher than the second, it
is that of the man with a conscience, of the
Puritan who is earnestly determined to do the
will of God in the world, but who in doing
it makes but small account whether of the
happiness of others or of their ideals, which
may be different from his own. As the
altruist is the pleasing man, he is the strong
man. But there is a fourth level, far higher
than any of these, the level of those who live
for the ideal, but not only for their own
ideals ; who are willing to give themselves,


body and soul, to promote not only happiness
but character and the higher well-being of
those around them. This is the level of
Christ, and of the great saints who have fol-
lowed Christ from the beginning.

What we have thus far said is neither
recondite nor obscure. How is it, then, that
the schools of secularity cannot see facts
which seem to lie on the surface ? The
reason is not far to seek. As I have already
observed, the spirit of secularity is a spirit
of revolt against tyranny, oppression, and
hypocrisy. And it retains the impress of such
an origin. Every militant secularist who has
within him any divine spark, believes that the
reason why his principles fail to work is to be
found in the faulty constitution and regula-
tions of society. The desire to change these,
so as to make happiness more attainable, is
the spring of energy which gives him a purpose
in life. The hope of remodelling our social
surroundings keeps him from despair, and an
intense belief that they may be greatly im-
proved often makes him an optimist. Very
commonly he is a socialist of some kind, and
almost always he feels with Mill, that unless
there were a prospect of greatly changing the
face of society, life would be a mere intolerable
burden to the majority.


It would be a sad thing in any way to
impede the enthusiasm which is working in
all countries for the improvement of the rela-
tions of classes. Experiments in socialism,
even if they are sure to fail, will be welcome
to most thinking men, unless their results
seem likely to be quite disastrous. Yet it
must surely sometimes occur to the most
optimistic of reformers that, after all, experi-
ments must be tried in the existing medium,
that of human nature. The tests of the
axioms of religion and the axioms of secularity
lie in a region which will no more be affected
by outward changes than the depths of the
ocean are affected by a change of wind or of
temperature. The cardinal conditions alike
of religion and of progress are, first, that all
visible things shall be estimated in relation to
human character and happiness ; second, that
man shall live in the light of divine ideas, shall
try to discern the will of God and to walk
in accordance with it. Thus we end as we
began, and we find that the method of Jesus
is the only method ever set forth in the world
which will necessarily lead to righteousness
and happiness. To do the will of God, to
know the will of God, to love the will of God ;
these are the first, the second, and the third
conditions of a good and worthy life. What


is needed is not that we should throw aside
these/ fundamental principles of Christianity,
but that we should work out their corollaries
in relation to the conditions of the new age,
as our predecessors tried to work them out
in relation to the circumstances of their
respective times. We want not revolution
but evolution.



IN various chapters of this book I shall have
to insist that one of the greatest needs of our
time, even from the ethical point of view, is a
raising of the general intellectual level. I pro-
pose here to explain and to expand that saying.
It is very doubtful whether, by any eugenic
legislation or conviction, it would be possible,
through artificial control of marriage, within
many ages greatly to raise the average in-
tellectual capacity in a country. The differ-
ence, that is, the natural difference in mental
capacity, between man and man, apart from
training and the effects of character, is
probably much less than most people sup-
pose. One continually comes across people
living quietly, and in no way distinguished,
who seem to have quite as much natural
capacity as highly trained lawyers or professors.

65 5


The peasant will often show a native shrewd-
ness which, if he had only been trained from
the cradle, would have assured him a high
position among the great. The life of Abra-
ham Lincoln is perhaps the most remarkable
proof of this in recorded history. Some of
the ordinary middle-class women, in novels of
George Eliot or Barrie, show powers of ob-
servation and reasoning as keen as those of a
trained man of science. And it is quite im-
possible to maintain that the men of modern
Europe are by birth on a higher intellectual

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Online LibraryPercy GardnerEvolution in Christian ethics → online text (page 4 of 15)