Logic Taught by Love/Chapter 4
THE SABBATH OF RENEWAL.
"The Church bells were ringing,
The Devil sat singing
On the stump of a rotting old tree:
'Oh! faith it grows cold,
And the creeds they are old,
And the world is nigh ready for me.'
"The bells went on ringing;
A spirit came singing,
And smiled as he crumbled the tree:
'Yon wood does but perish,
New seedlings to cherish;
And the world is too live yet for thee.'"
Every now and then in History it has happened that some isolated Seer has perceived afresh the vital connection between Mosaism (in the original intention of its Founders) and the scientific doctrine of the renewal of health by rhythmic pulsation. One of the most interesting instances of such perception is the Civil Engineer Boulanger, who in the last century wrote a little volume entitled, L'Origine du Despotisme Oriental.
The work is so advanced in tone that one can hardly believe it is anything but a very clear summary of all that has been discovered since the great French Revolution, about the respective effects of fixed mental attitude in religion, and of free ventilation of religious problems. It is not, however, an after-summary, but an anticipation of modern investigations. The author believed in a Creative Unity who is perpetually revealing himself to man. Every man who once places his feet firmly on that high vantage-ground, becomes (intellectually at least) a Prophet; that is to say, he is able to trace accurately the course of lights not yet arisen above the horizon of persons less fortunately placed. It seems to this writer natural and inevitable that whoever believes in the Divine Unity must be in advance of his age; so much so, indeed, that he does not understand why the Jewish Prophets should be considered more inspired than other deep thinkers.
The true Revelation, he considers, was given before the invention of writing. The Bible is an attempt to perpetuate the memory of it by writing; the rituals of savages aimed to do the same thing in a different way. Truth about religion and government will be brought to light whenever Judaism is frankly compared with the forest and cavern rituals. In fact, his mind seems to have been saturated with the idea that the germ of new Truth will always be found by following up two old strains of tradition to the point from which they originally diverged.
The second edition of the work is preceded by a letter of sympathy written by Boulanger to console a brother Philosopher who had been reviled and insulted by fanatics. He said that those who are too far ahead of their time to be understood should not puzzle contemporaries by the immediate publication of their ideas, but leave their work for posterity, who will be better able to appreciate it. The key-note of the book is the intense conviction that despotism is only made possible by some form or other of idolatry, i. e. by the worship of some defined part of the great Unity. He has a horror of both tyranny and idolatry not unworthy of a Jewish Prophet. Yet he cultivates a genial sympathy with both tyrants and idolaters. No one, he believes, willingly invents an idolatry or imposes a tyranny. All such evils grow up by the degeneration of what was originally good. This degeneration, he thinks, might be prevented, if free access to all knowledge available at any epoch were given to all persons living at that epoch. The Prophets, he thinks, might have simply annihilated all false religions by explaining how they originated in natural and cosmical appearances. Why then give an apparent reality to the heathen gods by railing against them as if they were real? The true God would surely have found it as easy to convince idolaters as to punish them.
He who comments thus on the great men of the past, while professing to think that all accessible truth ought to be made available for all men, seems to have been keeping himself cool in his study, writing a treatise for the benefit of a possible posterity, who would need his instructions all the less for being already enlightened, while his contemporaries were, all around him, sunk in the most degrading slavery and superstition. He is criticizing men like Isaiah and Jeremiah, who had courage to enter into serious conflict with the vices of their own age, at all risk of disturbing the perfect balance of their own nervous systems. And here we find the answer to the question, why Isaiah was more truly a Prophet than Boulanger. A Prophet is a plain utterer; i.e., he not only sees truths ahead of his age, and thinks that the people ought to know them, but is so filled with the love of truth and right that he cannot lead a life of studious calm while self-interested charlatanism is misleading the masses; he feels that he must endeavour, at all cost to himself, to make what he knows accessible to whoever desires to learn it. In other words a man is not, in the fullest sense, a Prophet, unless he is both an inspired Seer, and also an actual Re-former. At all risk of over-balancing himself, such a man holds out a helping hand to whomsoever he sees falling into an abyss. And perhaps few forms of human conceit are more cruel or more blind than the lack of sympathy shown by too many abstractly wise men towards mistakes into which practical reformers may temporarily fall.
Boulanger paid the natural penalty of his somewhat insincere optimism, and his lack of sympathy with the impassioned Prophets. He committed himself to the prediction that tyranny and bigotry, and therefore the need for vehement resistance, were almost among the things of the past! Thirty years after his death, the French Revolution exploded; proving that such Prophets as Jeremiah were not yet out of date. To return to our author. The Sabbath, he says, was originally a festival of renewal, the permanent memorial of a re-created world. The Law of Moses means The Law adopted by a People saved from flood. When a great misfortune has overtaken a country and destroyed most of the population, the remnant who escape become, he says, for a time, serious and reverent; they try to express their gratitude for their preservation by re-organizing society in accordance with the will of the divine Law-giver as revealed in the laws of Nature. But as the knowledge of Nature is, at any given epoch, incomplete, the compilers of human law supplement their lack of knowledge by framing provisional workinghypotheses. These hypothetical assumptions ought of course to be held lightly; men ought to keep themselves always in readiness to substitute for any one of them any ascertained truth. The tendency, however, of the untutored mind is always towards thinking fancy more sacred than fact, and doubtful episodes more divine than ascertained and eternal laws. An instance of this perversion occurs in the history of the Sabbath. Legislators who had discovered by experience the enormous importance to human welfare of a periodic rest from labour, wishing to enforce its observance, made a fanciful guess at the origin of the need which they perceived. Once upon a time the Creator made visible objects on six of the days of the week, and abstained from doing so on Saturday! Till somebody discovered a more intelligible explanation, it was hoped that this one would impress the Hebrew mind with the idea of keeping Sabbath. The average Hebrew mind fixed itself on the one fragment of fancy lying amid so much solid truth, with the tenacity of a barnacle clinging to a rock; and alas! with something of the short-sightedness of a barnacle, which supposes itself safe because it has got tight hold of a scrap of shell! The Creator left off doing things on a certain Saturday long ago; therefore it is very wicked to do certain things on Saturday. (And indeed it is only too true that some Jews have so completely missed the essence of the Sabbath idea as to consider it wrong to carry an umbrella to Synagogue, but not wrong to sit at home thinking of accounts; wrong to write a letter to an absent friend whom one has not time to correspond with in the week; but quite permissible to "cram" for examinations at any subject which does not involve holding a pen.) The true object of Sabbath, the prevention of mental stiffening and moral hardening, the re-creation of moral life by change of mental attitude, is too often lost sight of; and many people know nothing, and care to know nothing, of all the marvellous science of periodicity by which the exceptional vitality of Judaism has been created, except the one obscure and doubtful statement, that, on one particular Saturday, long ago, creative activity suspended its beneficent operations!
And this is a fair sample of the manner in which what once were religious truths degenerate into dogmas full of superstition; the degeneration being in all cases due to neglect of the study of antiquity. On this point our author insists strongly. So far from the reverent study of antiquity being a cause of superstition and a hindrance to progress, it is the great preservative from the superstitions which grow up by the degeneration of useful customs.
The refrain of the book is like the announcement of a new day, a summons to awake to a richer and fuller life. It is a mistake to suppose that Sabbath has any necessary connection with inaction; the very words Sabbath and Jubilee (the author insists) originally meant, not inaction, but renewal. This message he leaves as a legacy to posterity, who, he trusts, will be able to understand him. Cast thy seed upon the waters, and after many days it shall be found!
Boulanger describes non-idolatrous religion by a series of delicate negative touches, which, so to speak, chip away, one by one, the elements of idolatry; leaving pure religion to reveal itself.
"Idolatry does not consist, necessarily, in taking a statue, an animal, or a man, as the representative of God; to define it fully, we must say that every form of worship or code of law is idolatrous which takes as divine that which is not divine. It is not only idolatrous to treat a stone, or beast, or a mortal, as if it were God; we are also guilty of idolatry if we imagine that the words of that man, or the oracles pronounced through that statue are the very words and decrees of Deity. We are guilty of idolatry when we prefer speculations and mystical chimeras to reason and good sense; when we treat any legislative code as if it were dictated by the Almighty; when we endow with a divine character the servant of a theocracy; when we try to regulate the conduct of men here below by Laws suited only to Celestial beings; when we confuse heaven with earth; when we mistake our own position and pretend to be more than mortal; and when we forsake our own place as citizens of this world and subjects of the Civil Government, either to tyrannize over other men in the Name of God, or to live as recluses, despising or forgetting our fellow-men."
I have dwelt at length on Boulanger's charming little volume, because it affords a good example of the way in which rational views of the Scripture religion have occasionally been held throughout the ages, and have died out owing to the prevailing ignorance about the logical basis of the doctrine of progress by gradual Inspiration.