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THE NEXT STEP IN RELIGION


AN ESSAY TOWARD THE COMING RENAISSANCE



BY

ROY WOOD SELLARS, Ph.D.

Author of "Critical Realism," "The Next Step in Democracy," etc.




New York

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1918

_All rights reserved_




COPYRIGHT, 1918

BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY


Set up and electrotyped. Published, August, 1918




TO

HELEN STALKER SELLARS

THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED




FOREWORD

The purpose of this book is positive and constructive, although it may
not at first appear such to the reader whose inherited beliefs are
freely challenged. But let the reader ponder the fact that the deepest
spiritual life has always concerned itself with the appreciation and
maintenance of values. He who acknowledges, and wishes to further,
human values cannot be said to be irreligious or unspiritual.

The center of gravity of religion has been openly changing for some
time now from supernaturalism to what may best be called a humanistic
naturalism. The history of this change is traced in many of the
chapters of the book. There have been many steps forward in the past,
for every age must possess its own religion, a religion concordant with
its knowledge and expressive of its problems and aims. The sincerity
and adequacy with which this necessary task is done measures the
spiritual greatness of the particular age.

I have called the book _The Next Step in Religion_ because the time is
ripe for one of the great steps forward. The setting of religion must
be adjusted to man's knowledge. Let it not be feared that man's
spiritual life will be injured thereby. Rather will it be made saner,
healthier and more creative.

The first phase of religion reflected man's helplessness and fear. He
peopled his surroundings with conscious powers, sometimes adverse,
sometimes friendly, but always jealous. Man became their slave. As
man became less of a savage, these gods of his fancy became nobler.
But they still acted like magnets to draw his attention away from his
own problems. The coming phase of religion will reflect man's power
over nature and his moral courage in the face of the facts and
possibilities of life. It will be a religion of action and passion, a
social religion, a religion of goals and prospects. It will be a free
man's religion, a religion for an adult and aspiring democracy.

A book must in the main carry its own credentials. But there may be
those who will wish to carry the quest further and deeper. To those
interested in my share in this larger work I may mention my _Critical
Realism_ and _The Next Step in Democracy_.

R. W. SELLARS.

Ann Arbor, Michigan,
August 5, 1918.




CONTENTS


CHAPTER PAGE

I SUGGESTIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
II THE AGE OF MYTH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
III STORIES OF CREATION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
IV MAGIC AND RITUAL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
V THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTIANITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
VI THE PROPHET OF NAZARETH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
VII THE EVOLUTION OF CHRISTIANITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
VIII THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY . . . . . . . . 98
IX THE LIMITS OF PERSONAL AGENCY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 110
X DO MIRACLES HAPPEN? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
XI THE SOUL AND IMMORTALITY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
XII THE PROBLEM OF EVIL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
XIII RELIGION AND ETHICS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169
XIV THE CHURCH AS AN INSTITUTION - THE CATHOLIC CHURCH . . . . 187
XV THE CHURCH AS AN INSTITUTION - PROTESTANTISM . . . . . . . 198
XVI THE HUMANIST'S RELIGION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 211




{1}

THE NEXT STEP IN RELIGION


CHAPTER I

SUGGESTIONS

More than people are consciously aware, a new view of the universe and
of man's place in it is forming. It is forming in the laboratories of
scientists, the studies of thinkers, the congresses of social workers,
the assemblies of reformers, the studios of artists and, even more
quietly, in the circles of many homes. This new view is growing
beneath the old as a bud grows beneath its covering, and is slowly
pushing it aside. While the inherited outlook, still apparently so
strong, is losing effectiveness and becoming a thing of conventions and
phrases, the ideas and purposes which are replacing it possess the
vigor and momentum of contact with the living tendencies and needs of
the present.

Mankind grows away from its traditional beliefs as inevitably as does
the boy or girl from childhood fancies, and often with much the same
lack of realization. But the time is certain to come to both when the
change is pressed home and there is need for interpretation and serious
self-communing. At such a time, kindly - yet uncompromising and
veracious - explanation of the nature and implications of the crisis is
the course dictated by wisdom. Nothing can be more cruel,
disorganizing, and, in a way, insulting than the attempt to {2}
harmonize what cannot in the long run be harmonized. The agony is then
sure to be long drawn out and the strength of soul, given by
fearlessness, is lost. I feel that the first law of personality is
_spiritual courage_. Actions and methods founded on a doubt of this
primary law lead to a blunting of the fine edge of the self, an injury
greater than which can scarcely be conceived.

In this day of testing, when so few have been found lacking in courage
and the capacity for self-sacrifice, it seems peculiarly fitting that
spiritual values and beliefs be boldly thrown into the arena, there to
prove themselves. In the years after the Great War, mankind must build
its life afresh and it will be wisest to see that the foundation is a
sound one. And, as a matter of social psychology, I doubt that a
people which is unwilling to look carefully to the framework of its
social and spiritual edifice can build a noble mansion. Mechanical
efficiency and cleverness will not be enough for this task of spiritual
creation. We must find lasting values around which to build a humane
life. And this, also, is a kind of warfare. Some have expressed to me
a doubt whether America is prepared for this effort at reconstruction
of a basic, yet intangible, sort. I have hopes, although not blind
ones. I refuse to take the vulgarities and ignorances of popular
evangelists as completely diagnostic of America's soul.

In the following pages, which are devoted to a clear statement of the
new view of man and nature which, in its essentials, has come to stay,
I shall act according to this law of personality, to wit, spiritual
courage. I shall explain the spiritualized naturalism to which we are
ascending in the same spirit that the scientist presents his
facts - impersonally, calmly, and simply. {3} Such, at least, is my
purpose and desire. What I write here is in its way a confession of
faith. The values and loyalties which I shall proclaim as true,
redemptive and invigorating are those which my own life and concrete
reflection have selected. In them I see the possibility of high
spiritual attainment.

The new view of the universe is founded upon, influenced by, and has
for its necessary setting, the exact knowledge which the various
special sciences, mental as well as physical, have been accumulating.
This knowledge is rounding into something of the nature of a whole
whose interpretation does not admit of doubt. Incomplete in detail
though his knowledge be, man is no longer in the dark as to the main
features of the world and his own origin and destiny. He knows that he
is an inhabitant of a small planet in one of the many solar systems of
the stellar universe, that he is the product of an age-long evolution
in which variation and survival have been the chief methods of advance,
that his mind as well as his body has its natural ancestry. While it
will always remain a wonder, so to speak, that there is a universe in
which and to which we awaken, it is equally certain that the only
sensible thing to do is to seek to find out its character and laws. Is
it not like exploring the chambers and corridors of a house in which
one shall live for a stated period?

As a matter of fact, man has always been curious about his world. Yet
before he hit upon the proper methods of investigation, he could only
guess and dream about it, under the sway of hopes and fears which too
easily threw themselves like gigantic shadows before him. The fire of
his untrained intelligence was feeble and unpenetrating and, so,
distorted the world which it {4} dimly revealed. The result was what
must be called the older religious view of the world - a view which saw
personal and super-personal agency at the heart of things. This
primitive interpretation of the world we shall be led to criticize,
but, in so doing, we shall be the servants of truth and of a more adult
spirituality.

It is not surprising that the patiently acquired knowledge, obtained by
science, philosophy and a matured human wisdom, has been found to
conflict with the first interpretation of the world. The recognition
of this conflict dates back now some centuries - the warfare between
science and religion also has its history - but each generation has seen
the addition made of some new element to the clash which is leading man
to a new view of the world.

What is striking about the present situation is the increase of the
positive elements in the outlook which is forming in men's minds. In
the past, the traditionalist had some justification in speaking of the
opposed ideas as largely negative. What positive doctrine there was in
the physical science which theology had to meet, to its discomfort, had
only an indirect bearing upon life. But the nineteenth century was the
witness of a distinct revolution in this regard. I do not refer merely
to the fact that the idea of evolution was applied to man. That was
prophetic and strategic rather than revolutionary. It symbolized the
passage of science from the periphery to the center, from the outlying
regions of the universe to man's very self. All the time, however, a
new perspective had been arising in man's interests and values. The
possibilities and needs of this life were replacing the dream of
another life in {5} another world. A busy concern with the things of
this world was everywhere evident. Man was seeking to master his
environment.

During the first stage of this revolution, the industrial and political
changes were the most prominent. A change in the instrumentalities of
life, physical, economic and political, occupied men's thoughts to a
larger degree than ever before. But as the nineteenth century circled
to the twentieth, deeper notes became audible. Humanitarianism,
constructive reform, social democracy became the watchwords of the day.
I do not think that it has yet been clearly realized how completely
these new aims and interests fit in with the results of science and yet
pass beyond them to the service of human values. The truth seems to be
that, by an imperceptible process, new values and hopes have been
replacing the traditional ones, and that these values and aims both
find themselves in harmony with the new knowledge and rest upon it.

In spite of the conflict between the rising view of man and nature and
the traditional religious conception, there is yet, I believe, a
profound continuity in the genuinely spiritual achievements of
humanity. It is a pity to be so ridden by the new that the noble in
the old is forgotten. Tenderness and love, however obscured at times
by formalism and bigotry, owe much to their nurture by Christianity.
Hence, the deeper and truer interpretation of all past movements
regards them as varying expressions of humanity's growth in social and
mental stature. There is, in other words, no real discontinuity in
human history. The only difference is, that the dynamic of social
conditions and intellectual heritage has varied.

{6}

But this acknowledged continuity does not preclude that presence of
genuine and effective newness which is revolutionary in its effects.
_The perspective, intention, and elements of religion are about to
alter_. In the following pages, I shall argue that the attachments of
past religion were determined by a mythological, and essentially
magical, idea of man's environment. Such attitudes and expectations as
prayer, ritual, worship, immortality, providence, are expressions of
the pre-scientific view of the world. But as man partly outgrows,
partly learns to reject, the primitive thought of the world, this
perspective and these elements will drop from religion. That this
alteration has, in surprisingly large measure, already taken place can
be seen from the following excerpts from the writings of the best known
American authority on Church History: "Traditional Christian ideas, in
fact, are undergoing extensive transformation as a result of the new
social emphasis. The individualism of evangelicalism, with its primary
concern for the salvation of the individual soul, is widely
discredited. The old ascetic ideal is everywhere giving way to the
social. Instead of holding themselves aloof from the world Christians
are throwing themselves into it and striving to reform it. Holiness in
the traditional sense of abstinence from sin is less highly valued than
it was. The test of virtue is more and more coming to be the social
test. The virtuous man is he who makes his influence tell for the
improvement of society. Personal probity and uprightness, dissociated
from the active service of one's fellows, is frequently regarded to-day
as 'mere morality' was by the Evangelicals. As virtue had value to
them only in union with and subordination to piety, so without the
spirit of service {7} personal morality seems to many a modern social
reformer a mere empty husk."[1] Obviously, the center of religious
gravity has altered tremendously from what it was in the Victorian Age.
We are on the brink of a new period, the period of a realistic, and yet
spiritual, social democracy.

"But," I will be asked, "do you advocate a religion of humanity? That
is an old effort weighed in the balance and found wanting." Comte's
reform was, in a way, premature. Society had not developed enough to
give his effort a concrete basis. But, more than this, his mistake was
that he did not see that the elements of religion, as well as its
perspective, must be altered. Humanity is not an object to be
worshiped. The very attitude and implications of worship must be
relinquished. In their place must be put the spiritually founded
virtue of loyalty to those efforts and values which elevate human
beings and give a quality of nobility and significance to our human
life here and now.

The positive note of the present work can now be given in a few words:
_Religion is loyalty to the values of life_. The idea of the spiritual
must be broadened and humanized to include all those purposes,
experiences and activities which express man's nature. The spiritual
must be seen to be the fine flower of living, which requires no other
sanctions than its own inherent worth and appeal. We must outgrow the
false notion that religion is inseparable from supernatural objects,
and that the spiritual is something alien to man which must be forced
upon him from the outside. _The spiritual is man at his best, man
loving, daring, creating, {8} fighting loyally and courageously for
causes dear to him_. Religion must be concrete instead of formal, and
catholic in its count of values. Wherever there is loyal endeavor, the
presence of the spiritual must freely be acknowledged. It would seem
to follow that religion will have objects only in the sense of purposes
to fulfill. It will no longer have need of a special view of the world.

The religion of the past has had much to say about salvation.
Salvation was only too often something which happened to a man from
outside. It was something capricious and uncontrollable like sudden
fortune. Let us see what the religion of the present with its more
realistic conception of life has to say about salvation. I have
written in the book as follows: "Only that soul is saved which is worth
saving, and the being worth saving is its salvation. Salvation is no
magical hocus-pocus external to the reach and timbre of a man; it is
the loyal union of a man with those values of life which have come
within his ken." Whatever mixture of magic, fear, ritual, and
adoration religion may have been in man's early days upon this earth,
it is now increasingly, and henceforth must be, that which concerns his
contact with the duties and possibilities of life. Such salvation is
an achievement which has personal and social conditions. It is not a
label nor a lucky number for admission into another world, but
something bought and paid for by effort. It is like character and
education, for these are but special instances of it.

The personal conditions of spiritual life are sanity, health, and a
capacity to be fired by consuming purposes. No one can be greatly
saved who has not a {9} soul capable of being touched in some measure
by what is sterling and significant. But one of the discoveries of
democracy is the wide distribution of this sensitiveness. The
spiritual is not something painful, but it is something which concerns
the quality of human life.

The social conditions of salvation are just as necessary. They are the
presence of institutions and arrangements which give opportunity to the
individual to develop himself. The individual must have a certain
amount of leisure and a chance for a vital education. He should have
some contact with beautiful things and the stimulus of association with
great causes. A healthy and sane society makes possible healthy and
sane individuals. It is especially desirable that society put its
emphasis on the right things. If it is permissible to speak of
society's salvation, we would say that it consists in the wise relation
of means to ends, the subordination of the economic side of life to the
moral, intellectual and artistic activities. A society which does not
order itself in this way is called materialistic; and such a society is
certain to contain numberless individuals who live at a far lower
spiritual level than they should. It is the very nature of religion to
condemn this falling short of loyalty to the finer values of life.

We have said that religion must be catholic in its count of values.
Moral souls may still be comparatively starved souls. One of the great
mistakes religion has made in the past has been this very lack of
sympathy for values of all kinds. For this very reason, religion has
often displayed a certain narrowness and harshness. Its loyalty has
frequently been a one-sided loyalty which prided itself on its
asceticism. But the day of an irrational asceticism has passed.
Intensity {10} is good, but intensity and breadth are better still. A
humane religion will preach loyalty to many values, harmonized together
by the work of a concrete reason and a living art. When religion did
not consider itself of this world, it was passive and acquiescent
toward many features of human life. But a truer idea of the nature of
the spiritual, united with a decay of the old supernaturalistic
sanctions, will change all that. Religion will become active and
militant, intensely concerned with everything human, a loyal enthusiasm
for all the significant phases of life. It will cease to be a matter
of taboos, of ritual, of rather conventional routine and become a
spirit of vigorous search for whatever elevates and ennobles human
beings in their day of life. Into the service of such a religion
reason and art will gladly enter.

But this interpretation of religion has its obverse side. It is in
part directed against the age-old, supernaturalistic perspective which
has done so much to render religion a hindrance to the growth of
spirituality. The growth of my own thinking has led me to see, ever
more clearly, the harm done in this day and age by that emphasis on
sanctions for conduct which are not justified by the vital and concrete
needs of human life. The appeal to tradition and authority abstracted
religion from that fresh contact with the movement of events which
makes the great causes of history so vivid and appealing. This
abstraction divided the spiritual life of man against itself and led to
inefficiency and confusion. What the world needs to-day is a rational
enthusiasm for human values. The thought of another world with its
melodramatic last judgment encouraged individualism, withdrew {11}
attention from social problems and aspirations, made the conception of
the spiritual anæmic and vague. The official spirituality of the
Church lacked the happy stimulus of a social setting.

Bad as this division of man's spiritual life against itself was, it was
not all. Man had been taught to despise reason, almost his highest
quality. The consequence was, that reason passed into the service of
the mere technical arrangements of life. Man rationalized nature and
left himself irrational, as can be seen in the Great War. Because
religion ignored reason and slighted many sides of man's nature, it
paid the penalty of abortiveness. It is not a mere accident that
Christianity has been so helpless in the present crisis.

In times of darkness, it is natural for the individual to seek ways of
escape from the crushing load which has fallen upon him. The student
of the history of religion knows that the most popular way of escape
has been in terms of spiritualism and supernaturalism. But the thinker
knows that this is a search for a sedative rather than a remedy.
Moreover, the growth of human knowledge has made such a refuge more
strained and artificial than it used to be. Those few men of standing
in the physical sciences who have lent the prestige of their name to
fields in which they have little competence have done a grave
disservice to mankind. Man must conquer his problems; he cannot find
salvation in a cowardly flight from them. The teaching of this book is
that supernaturalism has prevented man from finding himself, and that
the spiritual task of the present generation is a re-interpretation of
the spiritual to take in all the significant features of human life.
We want a religion of present use, a religion {12} not concerned with
mythological objects and hypothetical states of existence but with the
tasks and needs of human beings in society. Will not the next step in
religion be the relinquishment of the supernatural and the active
appreciation of virtues and values? It is my hope that the present
sincere discussion will assist, in some small measure, the coming of
such a religion.



[1] McGiffert, _The Rise of Modern Religious Ideas_, p. 272.




{13}

CHAPTER II

THE AGE OF MYTH

We must, perforce, admit that our ancestors awoke to consciousness of
themselves and their surroundings at a time when they knew practically
nothing, as we understand knowledge. Theirs was a world of sights and
sounds, a world of woods and streams, of moving things, of growing
things, of things to be eaten, of things good and evil. It was a
driving, fearful, fascinating world. Unconsciously and inevitably, man
interpreted his surroundings in terms of his own eager, childish life.
Force and desire peeped from every corner.

The sky was not very high above him for it seemed to touch the mountain
tops; and yet he could never hope to climb there. But he could see
very well that it was inhabited. And was it not a wonderful place,
since the heat and light of the sun and the warm, fructifying rain came
from it? And what were the clouds that floated across it like huge
birds or strange, gigantic creatures? Even the lush grass of the
spring-time seemed full of a hidden life. Everywhere was force and
will - the power for good and harm.

Perhaps only an imaginative child, or an adult with something of the
poet's gift, can appreciate vividly the type of world in which these
early men found themselves. The city-dweller of to-day lives in a
subdued {14} and mechanically controlled region whose every clank and
rattle speaks of routine and order. The myth-making faculty of the
street-urchin has little to feed upon - all is so obvious and open to


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Online LibraryRoy Wood SellarsThe next step in religion; an essay toward the coming renaissance → online text (page 1 of 16)