Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/248

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the immediate and the relative.""Since the beginning, religion has had the all-essential office of preventing men from being chiefly absorbed in the relative or the immediate, and of awaking them to a consciousness of something beyond it."—"First Principles," p. 100. Prof. Huxley admits in effect precisely the same thing when he says that the tendency of systematic materialism is to "paralyze the energies of life," and "to destroy its beauty."

Let us try to put the matter a little more concisely. It is admitted by our agnostics that the most valuable element in our life is our sense of duty, coupled with obedience to its dictates; and this sense of duty derives both its existence and its power over us from religion, and from religion alone. How it derived them from the Christian religion is obvious. The Christian religion prescribed it to us as the voice of God to the soul, appealing as it were to all our most powerful passions—to our fear, to our hope, and to our love. Hope gave it a meaning to us, and love and fear gave it a sanction. The agnostics have got rid of God and the soul together, with the loves, and fears, and hopes by which the two were connected. The problem before them is to discover some other considerations—that is, some other religion—which shall invest duty with the solemn meaning and authority derivable no longer from these. Our agnostics, as we know, declare themselves fully able to solve it. Mr. Spencer and Mr. Harrison, though the solution of each is different, declare not only that some new religion is ready for us, but that it is a religion higher and more efficacious than the old; while Prof. Huxley, though less prophetic and sanguine, rebukes those "who are alarmed lest man's moral nature be debased," and declares that a wise man like Hume would merely "smile at their perplexities."[1]

Let us now consider what this new religion is—or rather these new religions, for we are offered more than one. So far as form goes, indeed, we are offered several. They can, however, all of them be resolved into two, resting on two entirely different bases, though sometimes, if not usually, offered to our acceptance in combination. One of these, which is called by some of its literary adherents Positivism or the Religion of Humanity, is based on two propositions with regard to the human race. The first proposition is that it is constantly though slowly improving, and will one day reach a condition thoroughly satisfactory to itself. The second proposition is that this remote consummation can be made so interesting to the present and to all intervening generations that they will strain every nerve to bring it about and hasten it. Thus, though humanity is admitted to be absolutely a fleeting phenomenon in the universe, it is presented relatively as of the utmost moment to the individual; and duty is supplied with a constant

  1. "Lay Sermons," pp. 123, 124.