Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

more

Again, it will not merely belittle life, it will carnalize it to take Religion out of it. The lump without the leaven will be grosser and heavier than we have dreamed. Civilization, as we all know, bore under Imperial Rome, and may assume again any day, the hateful type in which luxury and cruelty, art and sensuality, go hand in hand. That it ever changed its character and has come to mean with us refinement, self-restraint, chivalry, and freedom from the coarser vices, is surely due to the fact that it has grown up pari passu with Christianity. In truth it needs no argument to prove that, as the bestial tendencies in us have scarcely been kept down while we believed ourselves to be immortal souls, they will have it still more their own way when we feel assured we are only mortal bodies.

And the life thus belittled and carnalized will be a cowardly life than men have been wont to lead while they had a Providence over them and a heaven waiting for them. Already, I fear, we may see some signs of this new poltroonery of reflective prudence, which holds that death is the greatest of all evils, and disease the next greatest; and teaches men to prefer a whole skin" to honour and patriotism, and health to duty. Writing of this Hygeiolatry elsewhere, I have remarked that it has almost come to be accepted as a canon of morals that any practice which, in the opinion of experts, conduces to bodily health, or tends to the cure of disease, becomes ipso facto lawful; and that there are signs apparent that this principle is bearing fruit, and that men and women are beginning to be systematically selfish and self-indulgent where their health is concerned, in modes not hitherto witnessed. In public life it is notorious that whenever a Bill comes before Parliament corcerning itself with sanitary matters there is exhibited by many of the speakers, and by the journalists who discuss it, a readiness to trample on personal and parental rights in a way forming a new feature in English legislation, and well deserving of the rebuke it has received from Mr. Herbert Spencer. As to military courage, I fear it will also wane amongst us, as it seemed to have waned among the French atheistic soldiery at Metz and Sedan. Great as are the evils of war, those of a peace only maintained by the nations because it had become no longer possible to raise troops who would stand fire, would be immeasurably worse.

From the general results on the community, I now pass to consider those on the life of the individual which may be expected to follow the collapse of Religion.

Mr. Mallock in his “ New Republic,” made the original and droll remark that even Vice would lose much of its savour were there no longer any morality against which it might sin. As Morality will probably not expire, though its vigour must be considerably reduced -by the demise of its Siamese twin, Religion, it would seem that Vice need not fear, even in such a contingency, the entire loss of the pleasures of disobedience. Nevertheless (to speak seriously), it is pretty certain that the temperature of all moral sentiments will fall so considerably when the sun of religion ceases to warm them that not a few will perish of cold. The “Faithless World ” will pass through a moral Glacial Period, wherein much of our present fauna and flora will disappear. What, for example, can become, in that frigid epoch of godlessness, of Aspiration, the sacred passion, the ambition sainte to become perfect and holy, which has stirred at one time or other in the breast of every son of God; the longing to attain the crowning heights of truth, goodness, and purity? This is surely not a sentiment which can live without faith in a Divine Perfection, existing somewhere in the universe, and an Immortal Life wherein the infinite progress may be carried on. Even the man whose opinions on the general unimportance of religion I am venturing to question in these pages, admits frankly enough that it is not the heroic or saintly character which will be cultivated after the extinction of faith. Among the changes which he anticipates, one will be that “the respectable man of the world, the lukewarm, nominal Christian, who believed as much of his creed as happened to suit him, and led an easy life, will turn out to have been right after all.” Precisely so. The easy life will be the ideal life in the “Faithless World;" and the life of Aspiration, the life which is a prayer, will be lived no more. And the “lukewarm” men of the world, in their “ easy lives," will be all the easier and more lukewarm for leading them thenceforth unrebuked by any higher example.

Again, Repentance as well as aspiration will disappear under the snows of atheism. I have written before on this subject in this REVIEW, * and will now briefly say that Mr. Darwin's almost ludicrously false definition of Repentance is an illustration of the inability of the modern scientific mind to comprehend spiritual phenomena; much less to be the subject of them. In his Descent of Man, this great thinker and most amiable man describes Repentance as a natural return, after the satisfaction of selfish passions, to " the instinct of sympathy and goodwill to his fellows which is still present and ever in some degree active” in a man's mind. . ..."And then, a sense of dissatisfaction will inevitably be felt” (Descent of Man, p. 90). Thus even on the showing of the great philosopher of evolution himself, Repentance (or rather the “ dissatisfaction” he confounds with that awful convulsion of the soul) is only to be looked for under the very exceptional circumstances of men in whom the "instinct of sympathy and good will to their fellows” is ever present, and more

' Agnostic Morality," CONTEMPORARY REVIEW, June, 1883.

[ocr errors]

a

more

over reasserts itself after they have injured them—in flat opposition to ordinary human experience as noted by Tacitus, Humani generis proprium est odisse quem læseris.

The results of the real spiritual phenomenon of Repentance (not Mr. Darwin's child's-play) are so profound and far-reaching that it cannot but happen that striking them out of human experience will leave life more shallow. No soul will survive with the deeper and riper character which comes out of that ordeal. As Hawthorne illustrated it in his exquisite parable of Transformation, men, till they become conscious of sin, are morally little

than animals. Out of hearts ploughed by contrition spring flowers fairer than ever grow on the hard ground of unbroken self-content. There bloom in them Sympathy and Charity for other erring mortals; and Patience under suffering which is acknowledged to be merited; and lastly, sweetest blossom of all! tender Gratitude for earthly and heavenly blessings felt to be free gifts of Divine love. Not a little, perhaps, of the prevalent disease of pessimism is owing to the fact that these flowers of charity, patience, and thankfulness are becoming more and more rare as cultivated men cease to feei what old theologians used to call " the exceeding sinfulness of sin ;" or to

; pass through any vivid experiences of penitence and restoration. As a necessary consequence they never see the true proportions of good and evil, joy and grief, sin and retribution. They weigh jealously human Pain; they never place human Guilt in the opposite scale. There is little chance that any man will ever feel how sinful is sin, who has not seen it in the white light of the holiness of God.

The abrogation of Public Worship was mentioned above as ore of the visible consequences of the general rejection of religion. To it must here be added a still direr and deeper loss, that of the use of Private Prayer-whether for spiritual or other good, either on behalf of ourselves or of others; all Confession, all Thanksgiving, in one word all effort at communion of the finite spirit with the Infinite. This is not the place in which this subject can be treated as it would require to be were the full consequences of such a cessation of the highest function of our nature to be defined. It may be enough now to say that the Positivists in their fantastic device of addresses to the grand ètre of Humanity as a substitute for real prayer to the Living God, have themselves testified to the smaller—the subjective-part of the value of the practice. Alas for our poor human race if ever the day should arrive when to Him who now “heareth prayer," flesh shall no longer come!

With Aspiration, Repentance, and Prayer renounced and forgotten, and the inner life made as "easy" as the outward, we may next

a

inquire whether in the “Faithless World” the relations between man and man will either remain what they have been, improve or deteriorate ? I have heard a secularist lecturer argue that the love of God has been a great hindrance to the love of man; and I believ? it is the universal opinion of Agnostics and Comtists that the “enthusiasm of Humanity” will flourish and form the crowning glory of the future after religion is dead. It is obvious, indeed, that the social virtues are rapidly eclipsing in public opinion those which are personal and religious; and if Philanthropy is not to be enthroned in the “Faithless World,” there is no chance for Veracity, Piety, or Purity.

But, not to go over ground which I have traversed already in this Review, it will be enough now to remark that Mr. Justice Stephen, with his usual perspicacity, has found out that there is here a “rift within

“ the lute," and frankly tells us that we must not expect to see Christian Charity after the departure of Christianity. He thinks that temperance, fortitude, benevolence, and justice will always be honoured and rewarded, but

“If a purely human morality takes the place of Christian morals, self-command and self-denial, force of character shown in postponing the present to the future (qy., selfish prudence ?) will take the place of self-sacrifice as an object of admiration. Love, friendship, good-nature, kindness, carried to the height of sincere and devoted affection will always be the chief pleasures of life, whether Christianity is true or false; but Christian charity is not the same as any of these or of all of them put together, and I think, if Christian theology were exploded, Christian charity would not survive it."

Even if the same sentiment of charity were kept alive in a “Faithless World," I do not think its ministrations would be continued on the same lines as hitherto. The more kind-hearted an atheist may be (and many have the kindest of hearts) the less, I fancy, he could endure to go about as a comforter among the wretched and dying, bringing with him only such cold consolation as may be afforded by the doctrine of the “Survival of the Fittest." Every one who has tried to lighten the sorrows of this sad world, or to reclaim the criminal and the vicious, knows how immense is the advantage of being able to speak of God's love and pity, and of a life where the bereaved shall be reunited to their beloved ones. It would break, I should think, a compassionate atheist's heart to go from one to another death-bed in cottage or workhouse or hospital, meet the yearning looks of the dying, and watch the anguish of wife or husband or mother, and be unable honestly to say: “ This is not the end. There is Heaven in store." But Mr. Justice Stephen speaks, I apprehend, of another reason than this why Christian charity must not be expected to survive Christianity. The truth is (though he does not say it) that the charity of Science is not merely different from the charity of Religion ; it is an opposite thing altogether. Its softest word is Ve Victis !

[ocr errors]

Christianity (and like it I should hope every possible form of future religion) says, “The strong ought to bear the burdens of the weak. Blessed are the merciful, the unselfish, the tenderhearted, the humble-minded.Science says, “The supreme law of Nature is the Survival of the Fittest; and that law, applied to human morals, means the remorseless crushing down of the unfit. The strong and the gifted shall inherit the earth, and the weak and simple go to the wall. Blessed are the merciless, for they shall obtain useful knowledge. Blessed are the self-asserting, for theirs is the kingdom of this world, and there is no world after it."

These Morals of Evolution are beginning gradually to make their way, and to be stated (of course in veiled and modest language) frequently by those priests of science, the physiologists. Should they ever obtain general acceptance, and Darwinian morality take the place of the Sermon on the Mount, the old droit du plus fort of barbarous ages will be revived with more deliberate oppression, and the last state of our civilization will be worse than the first.

Behind all these changes of public and general concern, lies the deepest change of all for each man's own heart. We are told that in a “Faithless World ” we may interest ourselves in friendship, and politics, and commerce, and literature, science, and art, and that “a man who cannot occupy every waking moment of a long life with some or other of these things must be either very unfortunate in regard to his health, or circumstances, or else must be a poor creature.”

But it is not necessary to be either unfortunate oneself or a very “poor creature” to feel that the wrongs and agonies of this world of pain are absolutely intolerable unless we can be assured that they will be righted hereafter; that "there is a God who judgeth the earth, and that all the oppressed and miserable of our race, aye, and even the tortured brutes, are beheld by Him. It is, I think, on the contrary, to be a "poor creature” to be able to satisfy the hunger of the soul after justice, the yearning of the heart for mercy, with such pursuits as money-getting, and scientific research, and the writing of clever books, and painting of pretty pictures. Not that which is "poorest” in us, but that which is richest and noblest, refuses to

occupy every moment of a long life” with our own ambitions and amusements, or to shut out deliberately from our minds the “Riddle of the painful Earth.” A curse would be on us in our lordly pleasure-house” were we to do it.

Even if it be possible to enjoy our own good fortune regardless of the woes of others, is it not rather a pitiful wreck and remnant of merely selfish happiness wbich it is proposed to leave to us? “The world,” we are told, “is full of pleasant people and curious

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »