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free. And then it will recover its lost ground, and take a stronger and
diviner position than it ever had before.

This is the work that Liberal Christianity has in hand; a difficult,
slow, and often discouraging work, but one that is intensely patriotic,
intensely practical, intensely necessary. That which was the mere
fortress into which the enlightened and free-minded people of
Massachusetts fled for refuge from ecclesiastical tyranny, a
half-century ago, - Unitarianism, - is now become a recognized crusade for
religious liberty for the American people. The liberty is coming fast
enough, and surely enough; but will the worship, will the Christian
seriousness, will the fellowship of faith, will the piety that gives
aromatic beauty as well as health to the soul, come with it? If it were
not to come, liberty would be only license and secularity and
worldliness. Every firm, well-ordered, earnest and religious
congregation of the liberal faith; exhibiting stableness, order,
solemnity; doing religious work among the poor, and cultivating piety in
its own youth; making sacrifices to its own ideas, and upholding its own
worship, - is an argument of the most solid kind, an example of
contagious power, an encouragement of priceless cheer, for those who
think that Christian liberty necessarily leads to license and decay of
worship; or that Christ is less revered and loved and trusted when he is
accepted in the derived and dependent character he claimed, - the only
tenable, rational, possible character in which a century hence he can be
received by any unsuperstitious persons. We have a sacred privilege, a
glorious opportunity. We only need to show ourselves warm, earnest,
united, attached to worship, fruitful in piety, devoted to good works,
zealous for God's glory and man's redemption, sincere, humble, yet
rational and free followers of Christ, to win an immense victory for the
gospel in this inquiring and doubting age. I have no great _immediate_
hopes, but hopes beyond expression in the gracious development of
another generation. I bate not a jot of heart or hope that absolute
liberty in religion will favor the growth of piety, as much as political
freedom has favored the growth of order and peace and prosperity. Oh!
not a thousandth part the power of Christian truth and righteousness has
yet been shown in the world. The love of God, the love of man, have only
begun their glorious mission. Christ yet waits for his true throne.
Humanity is just come of age, and, with some wild festivity, is claiming
its heritage. But God is with and over it; and Jesus Christ is its
inspirer and guide. He will not lose his headship. He will be more
followed when less worshipped; more truly loved when less idolized; more
triumphant when more clearly understood! Darkness, wrath, threats,
enchantments, sacraments, prostrations, humiliations of reason,
emotional transports, affectations of belief, belief for its own
sake, - none of these things are truly favorable to Christ's kingdom or
the glory of his gospel. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Christ is the Sun of righteousness. When reason, conscience, affection,
rule the world; when love and justice, and mild and tender views of life
and humanity, of God and Christ, displace the cruel terrors and
superstitions that have survived the social and political meliorations
of the age, we shall begin to see that love is the fulfilling of the
law, and liberty of thought the greatest friend of worship, the finest
result of Christ's coming, and the throne from which he commands the
whole human heart and history.





The subject of the present lecture is "A True Theology the Basis of
Human Progress." And, in order to strike the key-note, and to indicate
the object at which I aim, I will read four or five passages from the
New Testament, which describe such a Theology in its spirit and root.

The Apostle Paul says:[1] "I count not myself to have apprehended: but
this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and
reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the
mark." So he declares himself a Progressive Christian.

[Footnote 1: Phil. iii. 13.]

Again he says:[2] "We know in part, and we prophesy [or teach] in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall
be done away." So he declares that all intellectual statements, his own
included, are relative and provisional. He is here speaking, doubtless,
not of rational insights, but of the insight when elaborated by the
intellect into a statement; not of intuitional knowledge, but that which
comes from reflection. In regard to all such propositions, he would
accept the modern doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge; thus cutting
up by the roots the poisonous weed of Bigotry.

[Footnote 2: 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10.]

Again: "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit, in malice
be ye children, but in understanding be men."[3] He thus requires and
authorizes a manly, intelligent Theology.

[Footnote 3: 1 Cor. xiv. 20.]

Again: "Who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not
of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit
giveth life."[4] He here rejects the Theology of the letter, including
the doctrine of Literal Inspiration.

[Footnote 4: 2 Cor. iii. 6.]

Again: "God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of
love, and of a sound mind."[5]

[Footnote 5: 2 Tim. i. 7.]

My Thesis to-night is not a truism; my argument is not unnecessary or
uncalled for. Nothing is more common than to undervalue the importance
of Theology; to regard it as having no bearing on life, no influence on
human progress, no causative power in regard to civilization. Mr.
Buckle, one of the most recent English philosophical historians,
contends that Theology is the result rather than the cause of national
character; that it is merely symptomatic of the condition of a people.
If they are in a good condition, they have a good Theology; if in a bad
condition, a bad one. He even thinks it owing to a mistaken zeal that
Christians try to propagate their religion, because he believes that
savages cannot become Christians. Civilization, Mr. Buckle supposes,
depends greatly upon soil, upon climate, upon food, upon the
trade-winds; but not much upon religious ideas. He says that, in
England, "theological interests have long ceased to be supreme." "The
time for these things has passed by." And this is also a very common
opinion among ourselves. Many reformers have a notion that we have done
with Theology, that we can do without it. Some men of science tell us
that Theology has nothing to do with the advance of civilization, but
that this comes from discovery in the sphere of physical science. But I
believe that the one thing which retards the progress of reform is a
false philosophy concerning God and man, a false view of God's ideas
concerning this world; and that the one thing needful for Human Progress
is a deeper, higher, broader view of God and his ways. And I hope to be
able to show some grounds for this opinion.

The religious instinct in man is universal. Some individuals and some
races possess more of it, and others less; but the history of mankind
shows that religion in some form is one of the most indestructible
elements of human nature. But whether this religious instinct shall
appear as faith or as fanaticism; whether it shall be a blind enthusiasm
or an intelligent conviction; whether it shall be a tormenting
superstition or a consoling peace; whether it shall lead to cruel
persecutions or to heavenly benevolence; all this, and more, depends on
Theology. Religion is a blind instinct: the ideas of God, man, duty,
destiny, which determine its development, constitute Theology.

The same law holds concerning Conscience and Ethics. Conscience in the
form of a moral instinct is universal in man. In every human breast
there is a conviction that something is right and something wrong; but
what that right and wrong is depends on Ethics. In every language of
man, there are words which imply ought and ought not, duty,
responsibility, merit, and guilt. But what men believe they ought to do,
or ought not to do, - that depends on the education of their conscience;
that is, on their Ethics.

Conscience, like religion, is man's strength, and his weakness.
Conscience makes cowards of us all; but it is the strong-siding champion
which makes heroes of us all. Savages are cruel, pirates are cruel; but
they cannot be as cruel as a good man, with a misguided conscience. The
most savage heart has some touch of human kindness left in it, which
nothing can quite conquer, - nothing but conscience. That can make man as
hard as Alpine rock, as cold as Greenland ice. The torture-rooms and
_autos da fe_ of the Inquisition surpass the cruelties of the North
American Indian. The cruelties of instinct are faint compared with the
cruelties of conscience. Now what guides conscience to good or to evil?
Theology, in the form of Ethics, is the guide of conscience. For, as
soon as man believes in a God, he believes in the authority of his God
to direct and control his actions. Whatever his God tells him to do must
be right for him to do. Therefore religion in its inward form is either
a debasing and tormenting superstition or a glad faith, according to the
Theology with which it is associated. And religion, in its outward form,
is either an impure and cruel despotism or an elevating morality,
according to the idea of God and Duty which guide it; that is, according
to its associated Theology.

Some persons, like Lucretius, seeing the evils of Superstition, Bigotry,
and Fanaticism, and perceiving that these have their root in religion,
have endeavored to uproot religion itself. But could this be effected,
which is impossible, it would be like wishing to get rid of the
atmosphere, because it is sometimes subject to tempests, and sometimes
infected with malaria. Religion is the atmosphere of the soul, necessary
to the healthful action of its life, to be purified, but not renounced.

Every one has a Theology, who has even a vague idea of a God; and every
one has this who has an idea of something higher and better than
himself, higher and better than any of his fellow-men. The Atheist
therefore may have a God, though he does not call him so. For God is not
a word, not a sound: he is the Infinite Reality which we see, more or
less dimly, more or less truly, rising above us, and above all our race.
The nature of this ideal determines for each of us what we believe to be
right or wrong; and so it is that our Theology rules our conscience, and
that our conscience determines with more or less supremacy the tendency
and stress of our life.

No one can look at the History of the Human Race without seeing what an
immense influence religion has had in human affairs. Every race or
nation which has left its mark on Human Progress has itself been under
the commanding control of some great religion. The ancient civilization
of India was penetrated to the core by the institutions of Brahmanism;
the grand development of Egyptian knowledge was guided by its
priesthood; the culture of China has been the meek disciple of Confucius
for two thousand years. Whenever any nation emerges out of darkness into
light, - Assyria, Persia, Greece, or Rome, - it comes guided and inspired
by some mighty religion. The testimony of History is that religion is
the most potent of all the powers which move and govern human action.

Such is the story of the past. How is it at the present time? Has
mankind outgrown the influence of religion to-day? Has the spread of
knowledge, the advance of science, the development of literature, art,
culture, weakened its power in Christendom? Never was there so much of
time, thought, effort, wealth, consecrated to the Christian Church as
there is now. Both branches of that Church, the Catholic and Protestant,
are probably stronger to-day than they ever were before. Some few
persons can live apart from religious institutions; but mankind cannot
dispense with religion, and they need it organized into a Church or

Religion is a great power, and will remain so. But what is to determine
the character of this power? It may impede progress or advance it; it
may encourage thought or repress it; it may diffuse knowledge or limit
it; it may make men free or hold them as slaves; it may be a generous,
manly, free, and moral religion or a narrow, bigoted, intolerant,
fanatical, sectarian, persecuting superstition. It has been both: it is
both to-day. What is to decide which it shall be? I answer, its
Theology; the views it holds concerning God, man, duty, immortality, the
way and the means of salvation. Religion is an immense power: how that
power is to be directed depends on Theology.

Proceeding then with my theme, I shall endeavor to show how false ideas
in Theology tend to check the progress of humanity, and afterward how
true ideas always carry mankind onward along an ascending path of

But first let me say that my criticism is of ideas, not of sects,
churches, nor individuals. By a true Theology, I mean neither a
Unitarian nor a Trinitarian Theology, neither a Catholic nor a
Protestant Theology. I do not mean Calvinism nor Arminianism. I have
nothing to say concerning these distinctions, however important they
may be; and I, for one, consider them important. But I refer to a
distinction more important still, lying back of these distinctions,
lying beneath them; a difference not of opinions so much as of ideas and

By a true Theology, I mean a manly Theology, as opposed to a childish
one; a free, as opposed to a servile one; a generous, as opposed to a
selfish one; a reasonable and intelligent Theology, as opposed to a
superstitious one.

By a true Theology, I mean one which regards God as a father, and man as
a brother; which looks upon this life as a preparation for a higher;
which believes that God gives us freedom, inspires our reason, and is
the author of whatever is generous, self-forgetting, and noble. I find
something of this Theology in all sects and churches; from the Roman
Catholic at one extreme, to the Universalists and Unitarians, the
Spiritualists and Come-outers, at the other. And the opposite, the false
Theology, dishonorable to God, degrading to man, I find in all sects,
and accompanying all creeds. And if I shall show, as truth compels me to
show, that certain parties and persons are specially exposed to danger
in one or another direction, I wish distinctly to state my belief that
sincere and earnest men continually rise above the contagion of their
position, and live untainted in an atmosphere which may have in it some
special tendency to disease.

One false idea in Theology, which opposes human progress, is that
Pantheistic view of the Deity, which loses sight of his personality, and
conceives of him as a blind, infinite force, pervading all Nature, and
carrying on the universe, but without intelligence and without love.

I know indeed that many views have been accused of being Pantheism which
are not. I do not believe in a God outside of the universe. I believe
that he is one "in whom we live, and move, and have our being," one
"from whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things," - a perpetual
Creator, immanent in his world. But this view is quite consistent with a
belief in his personal being, in his intelligent, conscious, loving
purpose. Without such a belief, hope dies out of the heart; and without
hope mankind loses the energy which creates progress. Unless we have an
intelligent Friend who governs the universe, it will seem to be moving
blindly on toward no divine end; and this thought eats out the courage
of the soul.

In some poetical natures, as in the case of Shelley, this Pantheism
takes the form of faith in a spirit of beauty, or love, or intellectual
power, pervading all things. In more prosaic minds it becomes a belief
in law, divorced from love. It turns the universe into a machine, worked
by forces whose mutual action unfolds and carries on the magnificent
Cosmos. Often this view comes, by way of a reaction, against an
excessive Personality of Will. When the Christian Church speaks of the
Deity as an Infinite Power outside of the world, who creates it and
carries it on according to some contrivance, of which his own glory is
the end, it is perhaps natural that men should go to the other extreme
and omit person, will, and design from their conception of Deity. But
thus they encounter other and opposite dangers.

A gospel of mere law is no sufficient gospel. It teaches prudence, but
omits Providence. This utilitarian doctrine, which reduces every thing
to law, - which makes the Deity only a Great Order, not a Father or
Friend, - would soon put a stop to the deepest spring of human progress.
It takes faith and hope out of our life, and substitutes observation,
calculation, and prudence. But the case of Ecclesiastes and of Faust
teaches us what comes from knowledge emptied of faith. He who increases
such knowledge increases sorrow. The unknown, wonderful Father; the
divine, mysterious Infinite; the great supernatural power and beauty
above Nature, and above all, - these alone make life tolerable. Without
this brooding sense of a Divine love, of a Heaven beyond this world, of
a Providence guiding human affairs, men would not long have the heart to
study, because all things would seem to be going nowhere. Without such a
Heavenly Friend to trust, such an immortal progress to hope, all things
would seem to revolve in a circle. Not to believe in something more than
a God of Law is to be without God in the world, is to be without hope.
And hope is the spring of all progress, intellectual progress as well as
all other. Intellect, divorced from faith, at last kills intellect
itself, by destroying its inner motive. It ends in a doctrine of
despair, which cries continually, "What is the use?" and finds no
answer. And so the soul dies the only death the soul can die, - the death
of torpor and inaction.

Another false idea in Theology, which interferes with human progress, is
that of ecclesiastical authority in matters of faith and practice. When
the Church comes between the soul and God, and seeks to be its master
rather than its servant, it takes from it that direct responsibility to
God, which is one of the strongest motives for human effort. I know that
this has always been done from a sincere desire, at any rate in the
beginning, to save men from apparent dangers. The Church has assumed
authority, in order to do good with it. It has commanded men not to
think for themselves, lest they should err. But God has meant that we
should be liable to error, in order that we should learn to avoid it by
increased strength. Therefore Christ said, "Be not called Rabbi; be not
called Masters, and call no man father on earth." His church, and his
apostles, and he himself are here, not to be masters of the soul, but to
be its servants.

The Roman Catholic Church is a great organization, which has gradually
grown up, during a thousand years, the object of which has been to
educate men in Christian faith and Christian conduct. It has sincerely
endeavored to do this. But, unfortunately, it took a narrow view of
Christian education; supposing that it meant instruction and guidance,
restraint and tuition, but not development. It has magnified its own
authority, in order to produce docility in its pupils. It has not
allowed them freedom of inquiry nor liberty of conscience. It has not
said, like Paul, "Be not children in understanding;" on the contrary, it
has preferred to keep them children, so as to guide them more easily. It
has not said, with Paul, "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has
made you free;" for it has come to hate the very name of liberty. What
is the result? You may read it to-day in France, where, as Mr. Coquerel
tells us, that Church has prevented the steady development of free
institutions. It has always supported the principle of authority in the
State, as the natural ally of authority in the Church. There are so few
republicans in France to-day, because the people have been educated by
the Church to blind submission. The priests are not to blame, the people
are not: it is the Roman Catholic Theology which is to blame. That
Theology teaches that the soul is saved by the reception of external
sacraments, and not by vital, independent convictions of truth.[6]

[Footnote 6: The proof of this may be amply found in the famous
Encyclical and Syllabus of Pius IX., Dec. 8th, 1864. In the Syllabus he
denounces as errors such propositions as the following: -

That "every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which
guided by the light of reason, he holds to be true." § 15.

That "one may well hope, at least, for the eternal salvation of those
who are in no wise in the true Church of Christ." § 17.

That "the Church has no power to employ force." § 24.

That "men emigrating to Catholic countries should be permitted the
public exercise of their own several forms of worship." § 78.

That "the Roman Pontiff can and ought to reconcile and harmonize himself
with progress, with liberalism, and with modern civilization." § 80.]

Or, if you wish another illustration of the same thing, look at New
York. Why have republican institutions in New York almost proved a
failure? Why were a few robbers able to take possession of the city, and
plunder the citizens? Because they could control the votes of the Irish
Catholics in a mass; because this vast body of voters were unable to
vote independently, or to understand the first duties of a free citizen.
And why was this? Not because the Irish are naturally less intelligent
than the New-Englanders, the English, the Germans. No; but the Roman
Catholic Church, which has had the supreme control over the Irish
conscience and intellect for a thousand years, has chosen to leave them
uneducated. Of course, the Roman Church, if it had pleased to do so,
might long ago have made the Irish nation as enlightened as any in
Europe. But its Theology taught that education might lead them into
heresy, and so take them out of the true Church, and that ignorance _in_
the Church was infinitely better than any amount of intellectual and
moral culture _out_ of it. The fatal principle of Roman Catholic
Theology - "Out of the true Church there is no salvation" - has been the
ruin of the Irish nation for hundreds of years, and has very nearly
entailed ruin on our own.

Do you wonder that the priests oppose our school system? If I were a
Roman Catholic priest, I should oppose it too. Should I run the risk of
poisoning my child's body by accepting as a gift a little better food
than that I am able to buy? And shall I risk the vastly greater evil of
poisoning its soul, by allowing it to be tainted with heretical books
and teachers in free schools? The Roman Catholic priest is consistent:
it is the Theology which teaches salvation by sacraments that is to
blame. It is a theology which naturally, logically, necessarily, stands
opposed to human progress. It says, "In order to be children in malice,
you must also be children in understanding."

When the Protestant Reformation came, it brought with it a manly
Theology. It put the Bible into all men's hands, and asserted for each
the right of private judgment and liberty of conscience. Therefore the
Reformation was the cause of a great forward movement in human affairs.
It awakened the intellect of mankind. Science, literature,
invention, - all were stimulated by it. It ran well, but something
hindered. Its reverence for the Bible was its life; but, unfortunately,
it soon fell into a worship of _the letter_. It taught a doctrine of
verbal inspiration. It forgot the great saying of Paul, "not of the
letter, but the spirit; for the letter killeth." Very soon that saying
was fulfilled. Reverence for the letter of the Bible killed the spirit
of the Bible. That spirit is as free as air. It teaches no creed, it
demands no blind acceptance of any dogma. It declares that where the
spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But the letter-theology has
opposed nearly all the discoveries of science and all moral reforms with
the words of the Bible. It has set Genesis against geology, and the book
of Psalms against the Copernican system. Because the Book of Genesis
says the heavens and earth were made in six days, the letter-theology

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