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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/388

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374
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

or less sacred in scientific than in unscientific households? Is there even ground to conjecture that such is the case? If not, such language as the above simply shows that Miss Cobbe, who has written so much and so well in times past, is growing hysterical at the very period of life when we might have expected to see her manifesting in a special degree the qualities of moderation and self-control, of calm insight and wide sympathy.

Miss Cobbe objects to the scientific spirit that it makes much of disease and little of sin. If so, it is simply inverting the habit of past times, which was to make much of sin and little of disease. And what was "sin" in the apprehension of our ecclesiastically-directed forefathers? To a large extent it consisted in what the clergy of a certain church would call "irregularity"—some want of conformity with ecclesiastical rules and requirements. It was by no means always coincident with immorality. A man might have a lively sense of "sin" in connection with some purely ceremonial matter, and very little sense of wrong-doing in connection with the most grievous offenses against his fellowman. In obedience to the "code of honor," men who regarded themselves as pillars of church and state would prepare to commit deliberate murder; while they would always consider a gambling debt as vastly more sacred than one incurred for food or clothing. The "Christian" nations have found enormous quantities of "sin" in heresy, and very little indeed in mutual bloodshed on the most appalling scale. Pious monarchs have appeased their consciences by persecuting the Jews, and pious folk generally by hunting witches. According to popular opinion in our own day, the Divine anger is much more quickly kindled by the parody of a religious rite than by the most hideous villainy perpetrated by a man upon his neighbor. Every now and again there is a story in the papers about some boy or man struck blind or dumb for blasphemy, or of the personal appearance of the devil among some group of revelers engaged in profanely mocking a religious ceremony! So various have been the aspects in which "sin" has presented itself, and so little relation has it seemed to bear in any of its best recognized forms with practical morality, that it is not to be wondered at if scientific men show some impatience with so vague and unsatisfactory a conception, and prefer to consider all conduct simply in its bearing on intelligible human interests. As to disease, they necessarily regard it as the great enemy, primarily, of man's physical estate, and secondarily of his intellectual and moral constitution; and if their chief efforts are bent on its extermination, it would be hard to say in what more useful work they could be engaged.

The next fault that Miss Cobbe finds with the scientific spirit, which she characterizes as "analytic, self-asserting, critical" is