Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/28

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ness. In all her works the accidents of vice are carefully distinguished from the vileness of moral ruin; what tragedy there may be lies not in audacious crimes that make the fascination of the melodrama, but in the wrecked conscience of him who commits them. It is not long since fiction saw a hero in a murderer, who had at least the merit of boldness; now the analysis has been carried a step further, and novelists acknowledge, what we all know, that there may be evil-doers who are comparatively innocent, but that there is little to be said in behalf of a being sodden with selfishness, even if he do not offend against criminal law.

This distinction which the novelist draws between crime and wickedness is one that society itself is making, otherwise the novelist would not perceive it, and the growing interest in the discussion of the subject corresponds with the general increase in the value of the individual. Laws, we may perhaps say, concern masses; moral corruption is a personal matter that eludes the legislator. The ordinary citizen is law-abiding by nature and education; he does not consult the statute-book and trim his life in such a way as to avoid the grip of the constable; the policeman is his ally, not his foe. This alteration in men's way of modeling their lives has not been without effect on the position of the Church. Sermons are still preached that are remote from close connection with human interests, but there are many instances of the attempt that is making to save religion from the dry rot of ecclesiasticism. Doctrinal exposition is giving place to simpler explanation of right and wrong, and to aid in the government of life.

What was once a hierarchy is becoming a democracy. We see a proof of this in the way in which books of casuistry are left stranded for the entertainment of the curious. Society has nothing more to do with those huge folios in which the leaders of the Church tormented themselves to devise possible sins for which they constructed ingenious reproofs. This treatment of the problems of sin reminds us of the barren and intricate exercises of the logicians who were contemporary with the casuists. Nowadays no one dreams of consulting a book to find out how wicked he has been, any more than an orator who wishes to influence his hearers practices with x, y, and z—the skeleton of the syllogism—to ascertain how he shall move the feelings of his audience. A man trusts to his conscience, to the sentiments of his neighbors, to tell him what his conduct shall be. The possession of the test of right and wrong has spread from a class to society at large. In the same way, with every year less stress is laid on the cosmogony of the Old Testament, and more on the ethics of the New. It is no longer demanded that we believe in the literal truth of Genesis, or in the ever varying reconciliations, as they are called, with which theologians try not to be left behind by modern thought.

These modifications of ecclesiasticism—that is to say, the relaxation of dogmatism coincident with a general comprehension of mo-