Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/866

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
848
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

to the angels, and assumes too confidently that supernatural religion is spiritually defunct, and its advocates ready to own their in efficiency. He is candid and clear-sighted, and sees distinctly that what he calls religion will be called in turn pantheism and paganism by "religious" people. But he trusts too readily that they will be convinced that, in using these names, they are miscalling persons of practically the same creed as themselves. He greatly underrates, one can not help thinking, the power that such conceptions as miracles, and heaven and hell, exert upon minds that have once firmly grasped them. At times this miscalculation leads him to adopt a tone toward the adherents of supernatural religion which is, to say the least of it, by no means conciliatory. Take, for instance, the following sentence:

"The Eternal and the Infinite and the All embracing has been represented as the head of the clerical interest, as a sort of clergyman, as a sort of schoolmaster, as a sort of philanthropist."

The reminiscence of Mr. Matthew Arnold might remind our author that Mr. Arnold has scarcely reconciled Dissent, however he may have undermined it. In short, our author appears to agree with Goethe, when he cynically concludes the above-quoted epigram:

"Wer Wissenchaft und Kunst nicht besitzt Der habe Religion."

Further, our author is scarcely so successful in showing the fundamental identity of art and religion as of science and religion. When touching on the latter point he draws some instructive and novel analogies between the creed of science and the faith of the Old Testament:

"I say that man believes in a God who feels himself in the presence of a Power which is not himself. and is immeasurably above himself; a Power in the contemplation of which he is absorbed, in the knowledge of which he finds safety and happiness."

"But now, either under the name of God, or under that of Nature, or under that of Science. or under that of Law, the conception works freshly and powerfully in a multitude of minds. It is an idea, indeed, that causes much unhappiness, much depression. Men now reason with God as Job did, or feel crushed before him as Moses, or wrestle with him as Jacob, or blaspheme him; they do not so easily attain the Christian hope."

"We have spoken of science as replacing miracle; prophecy it does not so much replace as restore. As it. grasps human affairs with more confidence, it begins to unravel the past, and with the past the future. It shows the significance of each new social or political phase as the Hebrew prophets studied to do."

These quotations may serve to illustrate the author's main contentions as to the relation of science and religion. But it is more difficult to explain his views as to the connection of the artistic and religious ideals. He points out the great influence of the poet on the higher life of the time, reviving Mr. Arnold's "criticism of life" view; and he recognizes the ideal tendencies of the Antinomianism that is generally associated with artistic impulses. But he almost invariably regards art as solely dealing with beautiful objects of sight, and thus bringing it into contact with the scientific observation of nature. We have throughout observed not one word devoted to music, yet there are thousands nowadays with whom the cultus of rhythmic and harmonic sounds has usurped the place of almost all other worship, and a work on natural religion should have taken notice of their case. And on art in general, barring a few excellent pages on Goethe and Wordsworth, little is said that justifies the position given her alongside of science and religion. That position may be de-, served; but the arguments brought forward in this book do not show adequate appreciation of the artistic mind.

Apart from this lack of sympathy with the orthodox schools of religious opinion, and an inadequate estimate of the artistic ideal, it is possible to find fault with other lines of the argument. There is, perhaps, a certain amount of professional exaggeration in the estimate formed of the historian's office. It is, to say the least, paradoxical to assert, "It is not exclusively, but only par excellence, that religion is directed toward God." It is obscuring a fundamental distinction to include, as our author often does, humanity in nature. The argument from Mohammedanism, that there may be a religion without miracles (p. 192), may be turned another way, when we reflect how inevitably the earliest traditions introduced miraculous events into the life of the Prophet. And interesting as is the attempt to widen the meaning of religion, it too often results in mere paradox, and manages only to evade difficulties by denying that they exist, Still the aim of the author, which is to point out the large amount of agreement among conflicting parties, is perfectly legitimate, and permits a certain exaggeration in looking only at common qualities, and neglecting divergencies.

Turning to the more pleasant and more profitable task of pointing out the many novel ideas and brilliant thoughts contained in this book, one has first to notice the power of acute social diagnosis that is throughout displayed. Take, for instance, the following résumé of the scientific temper:

"Instead of that painful conflict with temptation which moralists describe, there may be an almost unbroken peace arising from the absence of temptation; instead of the gradual formation of virtuous habits, there may be the gradual disuse of all habits except the habit of thought and study; there may be perpetual self-absorption, without what is commonly called selfishness, total disregard of other people, together with an unceasing labor for the human race. A life, in short, like that of the vestal, 'the world forgetting, by the world forgot,' yet without any love or heavenly communion."

Or, again, take the few but weighty words dealing with Nihilism; or the account of the