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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/251

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"COWARDLY AGNOSTICISM."

chasuble and the embroidered robe of theology, they are its hair-shirt, and its hair-shirt in tatters—utterly useless for the purpose to which it is despairingly applied, and serving only to make the forlorn wearer ridiculous. I propose to show that in retaining this dishonored garment, agnosticism is playing the part of an intellectual Ananias and Sapphira; and that in professing to give up all that it can not demonstrate, it is keeping back part, and the larger part of the price—not, however, from dishonesty, but from a dogged and obstinate cowardice, from a terror of facing the ruin which its own principles have made.

Some, no doubt, will think that this is a rash undertaking, or else that I am merely indulging in the luxury of a little rhetoric. I hope to convince the reader that the undertaking is not rash, and that I mean my expressions to be taken in a frigid and literal sense. Let me begin then by repeating one thing, which I have said before. When I say that agnosticism is fatal to our conception of duty, I do not mean that it is fatal to those broad rules and obligations which are obviously necessary to any civilized society, which are distinctly defensible on obvious utilitarian grounds, and which, speaking generally, can be enforced by external sanctions. These rules and obligations have existed from the earliest ages of social life, and are sure to exist as long as social life exists. But so far are they from giving life a meaning, that on Prof. Huxley's own showing they have barely made life tolerable. A general obedience to them for thousands and thousands of years has left "the evolution of man, as set forth in the annals of history," the "most unutterably saddening study" that Prof. Huxley knows. From the earliest ages to the present—Prof. Huxley admits this—the nature of man has been such that, despite their laws and their knowledge, most men have made themselves miserable by yielding to "greed" and to "ambition," and by practicing "infinite wickedness." They have proscribed their wisest when alive, and accorded them a "foolish" hero-worship when dead. Infinite wickedness, blindness, and idiotic emotion have, then, according to Prof. Huxley's deliberate estimate, marked and marred men from the earliest ages to the present; and he deliberately says also, that "as men ever have been, they probably ever will be."

To do our duty, then, evidently implies a struggle. The impulses usually uppermost in us have to be checked, or chastened, by others, and these other impulses have to be generated, by fixing our attention on considerations which lie somehow beneath the surface. If this were not so, men would always have done their duty; and their history would not have been "unutterably saddening," as Prof. Huxley says it has been. What sort of considerations, then, must those we require be? Before answering