Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/25

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the comprehension of particulars, and as human beings have succeeded in understanding themselves they have thrown aside the convenient habit of dividing the rest of the world into vast homogeneous classes, and have recognized the dignity and importance of each individual of the race. This is most vividly reflected in the literature of the present day. We find in the romantic movement an expression of the renewed interest in man and nature: this interest was mainly felt at first simply in their picturesqueness; modern realism shuns the picturesque, as one form of the romantic exaggeration, and endeavors to treat human life as the man of science treats the objects of his study.

It would be singular if religion remained untouched by these movements. There would be no precedent for its escape from the common fate of all branches of thought. The Reformation was a democratic revolution. That its original fervor died out, and was succeeded by imitation of the forms that it had bitterly fought, is well known. When, toward the end of the last century, the great outburst of Methodism startled the Church of England out of its lethargy, it was not so clear as it is now that religion was experiencing the same change that was mating over politics and literature. The campaigns of the Salvation Army, so far as they have more than mere temporary importance, give proof that lower social circles are feeling the general excitement. Can we suppose that the most important subject of man's thought is disregarded at the present time? Far from it; we see in the modification of the demands it makes on society a great change in religious feeling. We may observe the general relaxation of formal bonds in the more liberal ground that is taken by even the more conservative sects, and in the fact that the others insist rather on righteous living than on rigid belief.

May not some of this spirit of toleration be due to the recognition of the fact that laxity of belief does not necessarily connote immorality? Are not society and theology tending toward a generally acceptable modus vivendi? Is not ecclesiasticism dwindling before the change which has made itself felt in politics and literature, that is, before the growing importance of the individual? If this phrase meant that the individual has simply grown in conceit, the result would be absolutely intolerable; but if it implies that there has been greater development in the notions of right and wrong, and a more general recognition of the rights of conscience rather than of an outside force, the change, if it exists, may not be for the worse. The examination of these questions is a difficult matter. Some will answer them, without delay, in accordance with their already fixed opinions; and any one who gives them any consideration must be ready to acknowledge the difficulty of judging the present in anything like a satisfactory way. Contemporary life obviously lacks the perspective which is necessary to set in their proper place what is important and what is merely trivial and ephemeral. Yet we have before us a cer-