Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/August 1884/The Ghost of Religion
|THE GHOST OF RELIGION.|
IN the January number of this Review is to be found an article on Religion which has justly awakened a profound and sustained interest. The creed of Agnosticism was there formulated anew by the acknowledged head of the evolution philosophy, with a definiteness such as perhaps it never wore before. To my mind there is nothing in the whole range of modern religious discussion more cogent and more suggestive than the array of conclusions the final outcome of which is marshaled in those twelve pages. It is the last word of the Agnostic philosophy in its long controversy with Theology. That word is decisive, and it is hard to conceive how Theology can rally for another bout from such a sorites of dilemma as is there presented. My own humble purpose is not to criticise this paper, but to point its practical moral, and, if I may, to add to it a rider of my own. As a summary of philosophical conclusions on the theological problem, it seems to me frankly unanswerable. Speaking generally, I shall now dispute no part of it but one word, and that is the title. It is entitled "Religion." To me it is rather the ghost of religion. Religion as a living force lies in a different sphere.
The essay, which is packed with thought to a degree unusual even with Mr. Herbert Spencer, contains evidently three parts. The first (pp. 1-5) deals with the historical Evolution of Religion, of which Mr. Spencer traces the germs in the primitive belief in ghosts. The second (pp. 6-8) arrays the moral and intellectual dilemmas involved in all anthropomorphic theology into one long catena of difficulty, out of which it is hard to conceive any free mind emerging with success. The third part (pp. 8-12) deals with the evolution of religion in the future, and formulates, more precisely than has ever yet been effected, the positive creed of Agnostic philosophy.
Has, then, the Agnostic a positive creed? It would seem so; for Mr. Spencer brings us at last "to the one absolute certainty, the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed." But let no one suppose that this is merely a new name for the Great First Cause of so many theologies and metaphysics. In spite of the capital letters, and the use of theological terms as old as Isaiah or Athanasius, Mr. Spencer's Energy has no analogy with God. It is Eternal, Infinite, and Incomprehensible; but still it is not He, but It. It remains always Energy, Force, nothing anthropomorphic; such as electricity, or anything else that we might conceive as the ultimate basis of all the physical forces. None of the positive attributes which have ever been predicated of God can be used of this Energy. Neither goodness, nor wisdom, nor justice, nor consciousness, nor will, nor life, can be ascribed, even by analogy, to this Force. Now a force to which we can not apply the ideas of goodness, wisdom, justice, consciousness, or life, any more than we can to a circle, is certainly not God, has no analogy with God, nor even with what Pope has called the "Great First Cause, least understood." It shares some of the negative attributes of God and First Cause, but no positive one. It is, in fact, only the Unknowable a little more defined; though I do not remember that Mr. Spencer, or any evolution philosopher, has ever formulated the Unknowable in terms with so deep a theological ring as we hear in the phrase "Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed."
The terms do seem, perhaps, rather needlessly big and absolute. And fully accepting Mr. Spencer's logical canons, one does not see why it should be called an "absolute certainty." "Practical belief" satisfies me; and I doubt the legitimacy of substituting for it "absolute certainty." "Infinite" and "Eternal," also, can mean to Mr. Spencer nothing more than "to which we know no limits, no beginning or end," and, for my part, I prefer to say this. Again, "an Energy"—why an Energy? The Unknowable may certainly consist of more than one energy. To assert the presence of one uniform energy is to profess to know something very important about the Unknowable: that it is homogeneous, and even identical, throughout the Universe. And then, "from which all things proceed" is perhaps a rather equivocal reversion to the theologic type. In the Athanasian Creed the Third Person "proceeds" from the First and the Second. But this process has always been treated as a mystery; and it would be safer to avoid the phrases of mysticism. Let us keep the old words, for we all mean much the same thing; and I prefer to put it thus. All observation and meditation. Science and Philosophy, bring us "to the practical belief that man is ever in the presence of some energy or energies of which he knows nothing, and to which therefore he would be wise to assign no limits, conditions, or functions." This is, doubtless, what Mr. Spencer himself means. For my part, I prefer his old term, the Unknowable. Though I have always thought that it would be more philosophical not to assert of the Unknown that it is Unknowable. And, indeed, I would rather not use the capital letter, but stick literally to our evidence, and say frankly "the unknown."
Thus viewed, the attempt, so to speak, to put a little unction into the Unknowable is hardly worth the philosophical inaccuracy it involves; and such is the drawback to any use of picturesque language. So stated, the positive creed of Agnosticism still retains its negative character. It has a series of propositions and terms, every one of which is a negation. A friend of my own, who was much pressed to say how much of the Athanasian Creed he still accepted, once said that he clung to the idea "that there was a sort of a something." In homely words such as the unlearned can understand, that is precisely what the religion of the Agnostic comes to, "the belief that there is a sort of a something about which we can know nothing."
Now let us profess that, as a philosophical answer to the theological problem, that is entirely our own position. The Positivist answer is of course the same as the Agnostic answer. Why, then, do we object to be called Agnostics? Simply because Agnostic is only dog-Greek for "don't know," and we have no taste to be called "don't knows." The "Spectator" calls us Agnostics, but that is only by way of prejudice. Our religion does not consist in a comprehensive negation; we are not forever replying to the theological problem; we are quite unconcerned by the theological problem, and have something that we do care for, and do know. Englishmen are Europeans, and many of them are Christians, and they usually prefer to call themselves Englishmen, Christians, or the like, rather than non-Asiatics or anti-Mahometans. Some people still prefer to call themselves Protestants rather than Christians, but the taste is dying out, except among Irish Orangemen, and even the Nonconformist newspaper has been induced by Mr. Matthew Arnold to drop its famous motto, "The dissidence of Dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion." For a man to say that his religion is Agnosticism is simply the skeptical equivalent of saying that his religion is Protestantism. Both mean that his religion is to deny and to differ. But this is not religion. The business of religion is to affirm and to unite, and nothing can be religion but that which at once affirms truth and unites men.
The purpose of the present paper is to show that Agnosticism, though a valid and final answer to the theological or ontological problem—"What is the ultimate cause of the world and of man?"—is not a religion nor the shadow of a religion. It offers none of the rudiments or elements of religion, and religion is not to be found in that line at all. It is the mere disembodied spirit of dead religion: as we said at the outset, it is the ghost of religion. Agnosticism, perfectly legitimate as the true answer of science to an effete question, has shown us that religion is not to be found anywhere within the realm of Cause. Having brought us to the answer, "no cause that we know of," it is laughable to call that negation religion. Mr. Mark Pattison, one of the acutest minds of modern Oxford, rather oddly says that the idea of deity has now been "defecated to a pure transparency." The evolution philosophy goes a step further and defecates the idea of cause to a pure transparency. Theology and ontology alike end in the Everlasting No with which science confronts all their assertions. But how whimsical is it to tell us that religion, which can not find any resting-place in theology or ontology, is to find its true home in the Everlasting No! That which is defecated to a pure transparency can never supply a religion to any human being but a philosopher constructing a system. It is quite conceivable that religion is to end with theology, and both might in the course of evolution become an anachronism. But if religion there is still to be, it can not be found in this No-man's-land and Know-nothing creed. Better bury religion at once than let its ghost walk uneasy in our dreams.
The true lesson is that we must hark back, and leave the realm of Cause. The accident of religion has been mistaken for the essence of religion. The essence of religion is not to answer a question, but to govern and unite men and societies by giving them common beliefs and duties. Theologies tried to do this, and long did it, by resting on certain answers to certain questions. The progress of thought has upset one answer after another, and now the final verdict of philosophy is that all the answers are unmeaning, and that no rational answer can be given. It follows then that questions and answers, both but the accident of religion, must both be given up. A base of belief and duty must be looked for elsewhere, and when this has been found, then again religion will succeed in governing and uniting men. Where is this base to be found? Since the realm of Cause has failed to give us foothold, we must fall back upon the realm of Law—social, moral, and mental law, and not merely physical. Religion consists, not in answering certain questions, but in making men of a certain quality. And the law, moral, mental, social, is pre-eminently the field wherein men may be governed and united. Hence to the religion of Cause there succeeds the religion of Law. But the religion of Law or Science is Positivism.
It is no part of my purpose to criticise Mr. Spencer's memorable essay, except so far as it is necessary to show that that which is a sound philosophical conclusion is not religion, simply by reason that it relates to the subject-matter of theology. But a few words may be suffered as to the historical evolution of religion. To many persons it will sound rather whimsical, and possibly almost a sneer, to trace the germs of religion to the ghost-theory. Our friends of the Psychical Research will prick up their ears, and expect to be taken au grand sérieux. But the conception is a thoroughly solid one, and of most suggestive kind. Beyond all doubt, the hypothesis of quasi-human immaterial spirits working within and behind familiar phenomena did take its rise from the idea of the other self which the imagination continually presents to the early reflections of man. And, beyond all doubt, the phenomena of dreams, and the gradual construction of a theory of ghosts, is a very impressive and vivid form of the notion of the other self. It would, I think, be wrong to assert that it is the only form of the notion, and one can hardly suppose that Mr. Spencer would limit himself to that. But, in any case, the construction of a coherent theory of ghosts is a typical instance of a belief in a quasi-human spirit-world. Glorify and amplify this idea, and apply it to the whole of Nature, and we get a god-world, a multitude of superhuman divine spirits.
That is the philosophical explanation of the rise of theology, of the peopling of Nature with divine spirits. But does it explain the rise of Religion? No, for theology and religion are not conterminous. Mr. Spencer has unwittingly conceded to the divines that which they assume so confidently—that theology is the same thing as religion, and that there was no religion at all until there was a belief in superhuman spirits within and behind Nature. This is obviously an oversight. We have to go very much further back for the genesis of religion. There were countless centuries of time, and there were, and there are, countless millions of men for whom no doctrine of superhuman spirits ever took coherent form. In all these ages and races, probably by far the most numerous that our planet has witnessed, there was religion in all kinds of definite form. Comte calls it Fetichism—terms are not important: roughly, we may call it Nature-worship. The religion in all these types was the belief and worship not of spirits of any kind, not of any immaterial, imagined being inside things, but of the actual visible things themselves—trees, stones, rivers, mountains, earth, fire, stars, sun, and sky. Some of the most abiding and powerful of all religions have consisted in elaborate worship of these physical objects treated frankly as physical objects, without trace of ghost, spirit, or god. To say nothing of fire-worship, river, and tree-worship, the venerable religion of China, far the most vast of all systematic religions, is wholly based on reverence for Earth, Sky, and ancestors treated objectively, and not as the abode of subjective immaterial spirits.
Hence the origin of religion is to be sought in the countless ages before the rise of theology; before spirits, ghosts, or gods ever took definite form in the human mind. The primitive uncultured man frankly worshiped external objects in love and in fear, ascribing to them quasi-human powers and feelings. All that we read about Animism, ghosts, spirits, and universal ideas of godhead in this truly primitive stage are metaphysical assumptions of men trying to read the ideas of later epochs into the facts of an earlier epoch. Nothing is more certain than that man everywhere started with a simple worship of natural objects. And the bearing of this on the future of religion is decisive. The religion of man in the vast cycles of primitive ages was reverence for Nature as influencing Man. The religion of man in the vast cycles that are to come will be the reverence for Humanity as supported by Nature. The religion of man in the twenty or thirty centuries of Theology was reverence for the assumed authors or controllers of Nature. But, that assumption having broken up, religion does not break up with it. On the contrary, it enters on a far greater and more potent career, inasmuch as the natural emotions of the human heart are now combined with the certainty of scientific knowledge. The final religion of enlightened man is the systematized and scientific form of the spontaneous religion of natural man. Both rest on the same elements—belief in the Power which controls his life, and grateful reverence for the Power so acknowledged. The primitive man thought that Power to be the object of Nature affecting Man. The cultured man knows that Power to be Humanity itself, controlling and controlled by Nature according to natural law. The transitional and perpetually changing creed of Theology has been an interlude. Agnosticism has uttered its epilogue. But Agnosticism is no more religion than differentiation or the nebular hypothesis is religion.
We have only to see what are the elements and ends of religion to recognize that we can not find it in the negative and the unknown. In any reasonable use of language religion implies some kind of belief in a Power outside ourselves, some kind of awe and gratitude felt for that Power, some kind of influence exerted by it over our lives. There are always in some sort these three elements—belief, worship, conduct. A religion which gives us nothing in particular to believe, nothing as an object of awe and gratitude, which has no special relation to human duty, is not a religion at all. It may be formula, a generalization, a logical postulate; but it is not a religion. The universal presence of the unknowable (or rather of the unknown) substratum is not a religion. It is a logical postulate. You may call it, if you please, the first axiom of science, a law of the human mind, or perhaps better the universal postulate of philosophy. But try it by every test which indicates religion and you will find it wanting.
The points which the Unknowable has in common with the object of any religion are very slight and superficial. As the universal substratum it has some analogy with other superhuman objects of worship. But Force, Gravitation, Atom, Undulation, Vibration, and other abstract notions have much the same kind of analogy, but nobody ever dreamed of a religion of gravitation, or the worship of molecules. The Unknowable has managed to get itself spelt with a capital U; but Carlyle taught us to spell the Everlasting No with capitals also. The Unknowable is no doubt mysterious, and Godhead is mysterious. It certainly appeals to the sense of wonder, and the Trinity appeals to the sense of wonder. It suggests vague and infinite extension, as does the idea of deity: but then Time and Space equally suggest vague and infinite extension. Yet no one but a delirious Kantist ever professed that Time and Space were his religion. These seem all the qualities which the Unknowable has in common with objects of worship—ubiquity, mystery, and immensity. But these qualities it shares with some other postulates of thought.
But try it by all the other recognized tests of religion. Religion is not made up of wonder, or of a vague sense of immensity, unsatisfied yearning after infinity. Theology, seeking a refuge in the unintelligible, has no doubt accustomed this generation to imagine that a yearning after infinity is the sum and substance of religion. But that is a metaphysical disease of the age. And there is no reason that philosophers should accept this hysterical piece of transcendentalism, and assume that they have found the field of religion when they have found a field for unquenchable yearning after infinity. Wonder has its place in religion, and so has mystery; but it is a subordinate place. The roots and fibers of religion are to be found in love, awe, sympathy, gratitude, consciousness of inferiority and of dependence, community of will, acceptance of control, manifestation of purpose, reverence for majesty, goodness, creative energy, and life. Where these things are not, religion is not.
Let us take each one of these three elements of religion—belief, worship, conduct—and try them all in turn as applicable to the Unknowable. How mere a phrase must any religion be of which neither belief, nor worship, nor conduct can be spoken! Imagine a religion which can have no believers, because, ex hypothesi, its adepts are forbidden to believe anything about it. Imagine a religion which excludes the idea of worship, because its sole dogma is the infinity of Nothingness. Although the Unknowable is logically said to be Something, yet the something of which we neither know nor conceive anything is practically nothing. Lastly, imagine a religion which can have no relation to conduct; for obviously the Unknowable can give us no intelligible help to conduct, and ex vi termini can have no bearing on conduct. A religion which could not make any one any better, which would leave the human heart and human society just as it found them, which left no foothold for devotion, and none for faith; which could have no creed, no doctrines, no temples, no priests, no teachers, no rites, no morality, no beauty, no hope, no consolation; which is summed up in one dogma—the Unknowable is everywhere, and Evolution is its prophet—this is indeed "to defecate religion to a pure transparency."
The growing weakness of religion has long been that it is being thrust inch by inch off the platform of knowledge; and we watch with sympathy the desperate efforts of all religious spirits to maintain the relations between knowledge and religion. And now it hears the invitation of Evolution to abandon the domain of knowledge, and to migrate to the domain of no-knowledge. The true Rock of Ages, says the philosopher, is the Unknowable. To the eye of Faith all things are henceforth ἀκαταληψία, as Cicero calls it. The paradox would hardly be greater if we were told that true religion consisted in unlimited Vice.
What is religion for? Why do we want it? And what do we expect it to do for us? If it can give us no sure ground for our minds to rest on, nothing to purify the heart, to exalt the sense of sympathy, to deepen our sense of beauty, to strengthen our resolves, to chasten us into resignation, and to kindle a spirit of self-sacrifice—what is the good of it? The Unknowable, ex hypothesis can do none of these things. The object of all religion, in any known variety of religion, has invariably had some quasi-human and sympathetic relation to man and human life. It follows from the very meaning of religion that it could not effect any of its work without such quality or relation. It would be hardly sane to make a religion out of the Equator or the Binomial theorem. Whether it was the religion of the lowest savage, of the Polytheist, or of the Hegelian Theist; whether the object of the worship were a river, the Moon, the Sky, Apollo, Thor, God, or First Cause, there has always been some chain of sympathy—influence on the one side, and veneration on the other. However rudimentary, there must be a belief in some Power influencing the believer, and whose influence he repays with awe and gratitude and a desire to conform his life thereto. But to make a religion out of the Unknowable is far more extravagant than to make it out of the Equator. We know something of the Equator; it influences seamen, equatorial peoples, and geographers not a little, and we all hesitate, as was once said, to speak disrespectfully of the Equator. But would it be blasphemy to speak disrespectfully of the Unknowable? Our minds are a blank about it. As to acknowledging the Unknowable, or trusting in it, or feeling its influence over us, or paying gratitude to it, or conforming our lives to it, or looking to it for help—the use of such words about it is unmeaning. We can wonder at it, as the child wonders at the "twinkling star," and that is all. It is a religion only to stare at.
Religion is not a thing of star-gazing and staring, but of life and action. And the condition of any such effect on our lives and our hearts is some sort of vital quality in that which is the object of the religion. The mountain, sun, or sky which untutored man worships is thought to have some sort of vital quality, some potency of the kind possessed by organic beings. When mountain, sun, and sky cease to have this vital potency, educated man ceases to worship them. Of course all sorts and conditions of divine spirits are assumed in a pre-eminent degree to have this quality, and hence the tremendous force exerted by all religions of divine spirits. Philosophy and the euthanasia of theology have certainly reduced this vital quality to a minimum in our day, and I suppose Dean Hansel's Bampton Lectures touched the low-water mark of vitality as predicated of the Divine Being. Of all modern theologians, the Dean came the nearest to the Evolution negation. But there is a gulf which separates even his all-negative deity from Mr. Spencer's impersonal, unconscious, unthinking, and unthinkable Energy.
Knowledge is of course wholly within the sphere of the Known. Our moral and social science is, of course, within the sphere of knowledge. Moral and social well-being, moral and social education, progress, perfection, naturally rest on moral and social science. Civilization rests on moral and social progress. And happiness can only be secured by both. But if religion has its sphere in the Unknown and Unknowable, it is thereby outside all this field of the Known. In other words—Religion (of the Unknowable type) is ex hypothesi outside the sphere of knowledge, of civilization, of social discipline, of morality, of progress, and of happiness. It has no part or parcel in human life. It fills a brief and mysterious chapter in a system of philosophy.
By their fruits you shall know them is true of all sorts of religion. And what are the fruits of the Unknowable but the Dead Sea apples? Obviously it can teach us nothing, influence us in nothing, for the absolutely incalculable and unintelligible can give us neither ground for action nor thought. Nor can it touch any one of our feelings, but that of wonder, mystery, and sense of human helplessness. Helpless, objectless, apathetic wonder at an inscrutable infinity may be attractive to a metaphysical divine: but it does not sound like a working force in the world. Does the Evolutionist commune with the Unknowable in the secret silence of his chamber? Does he meditate on it, saying, in quietness and confidence shall be your strength? One would like to see the new Imitatio Ignoti. It was said of old, Ignotum omne pro magnifico. But the new version is to be Ignotum omne pro divino.
One would like to know how much of the Evolutionist's day is consecrated to seeking the Unknowable in a devout way, and what the religious exercises might be. How does the man of science approach the All-Nothingness? and the microscopist, and the embryologist, and the vivisectionist? What do they learn about it, what strength or comfort does it give them? Nothing—nothing: it is an ever-present conundrum to be everlastingly given up, and perpetually to be asked of one's self and one's neighbors, but without waiting for the answer. Tantalus and Sisyphus bore their insoluble tasks, and the Evolutionist carries about his riddle without an answer, his unquenchable thirst to know that which he only knows he can never know. Quisque suos patimur Manes. But Tantalus and Sisyphus called it Hell and the retribution of the Gods. The Evolutionist calls it Religion, and one might almost say Paradise.
A child comes up to our Evolutionist friend, looks up in his wise and meditative face, and says, "O wise and great Master, what is religion?" And he tells that child, It is the presence of the Unknowable. "But what," asks the child, "am I to believe about it?" "Believe that you can never know anything about it." "But how am I to learn to do my duty?" "Oh! for duty you must turn to the known, to moral and social science." And a mother wrung with agony for the loss of her child, or the wife crushed by the death of her children's father, or the helpless and the oppressed, the poor and the needy, men, women, and children, in sorrow, doubt, and want, longing for something to comfort them and to guide them, something to believe in, to hope for, to love, and to worship—they come to our philosopher and they say, "Your men of science have routed our priests, and have silenced our old teachers. What religious faith do you give us in its place?" And the philosopher replies (his full heart bleeding for them) and he says, "Think on the Unknowable."
And in the hour of pain, danger, or death, can any one think of the Unknowable, hope anything of the Unknowable, or find any consolation therein? Altars might be built to some Unknown God, conceived as a real being, knowing us, though not known by us yet. But altars to the unknowable infinity, even metaphorical altars, are impossible, for this unknown can never be known, and we have not the smallest reason to imagine that it either knew us, or affects us, or anybody, or anything. As the Unknowable can not bring men together in a common belief, or for common purposes, or kindred feeling, it can no more unite men than the precession of the equinoxes can unite them. So there can never be congregations of Unknowable worshipers, nor churches dedicated to the Holy Unknowable, nor images nor symbols of the Unknowable mystery. Yes! there is one symbol of the Infinite Unknowable, and it is perhaps the most definite and ultimate word that can be said about it. The precise and yet inexhaustible language of mathematics enables us to express, in a common algebraic formula, the exact combination of the unknown raised to its highest power of infinity. That formula is (xn), and here we have the beginning and perhaps the end of a symbolism for the religion of the Infinite Unknowable. Schools, academies, temples of the Unknowable, there can not be. But where two or three are gathered together to worship the Unknowable, there the algebraic formula may suffice to give form to their emotions: they may be heard to profess their unwearying belief in (xn), even if no weak brother with ritualist tendencies be heard to cry, "O xn, love us, help us, make us one with thee!"
These things have their serious side, and suggest the real difficulties in the way of the theory. The alternative is this: Is religion a mode of answering a question in ontology, or is it an institution for affecting human life by acting on the human spirit? If it be the latter, then there can be no religion of the Unknowable, and the sphere of religion must be sought elsewhere in the Knowable. We may accept with the utmost confidence all that the evolution philosophy asserts and denies as to the perpetual indications of an ultimate energy, omnipresent and unlimited, and, so far as we can see, of inscrutable mysteriousness. That remains an ultimate scientific idea, one no doubt of profound importance. But why should this idea be dignified with the name of religion, when it has not one of the elements of religion, except infinity and mystery? The hallowed name of religion has meant, in a thousand languages, man's deepest convictions, his surest hopes, the most sacred yearnings of his heart, that which can bind in brotherhood generations of men, comfort the fatherless and the widow, uphold the martyr at the stake, and the hero in his long battle. Why retain this magnificent word, rich with the associations of all that is great, pure, and lovely in human nature, if it is to be henceforth limited to an idea, that can only be expressed by the formula (xn); and which by the hypothesis can have nothing to do with either knowledge, belief, sympathy, hope, life, duty, or happiness? It is not religion, this. It is a logician's artifice to escape from an awkward dilemma.
One word in conclusion to those who would see religion a working reality, and not a logical artifice. The startling reductio ad absurdum of relegating religion to the unknowable is only the last step in the process which has gradually reduced religion to an incomprehensible minimum. And this has been the work of theologians obstinately fighting a losing battle, and withdrawing at every defeat into a more impregnable and narrower fastness. They have thrown over one after another the claims of religion and the attributes of divinity. They are so hopeless of continuing the contest on the open field of the known that they more and more seek to withdraw to the cloud-world of the transcendental. They are so terribly afraid of an anthropomorphic God that they have sublimated him into a metaphorical expression—"defecated the idea to a pure transparency," as one of the most eminent of them puts it. Dean Mansel is separated from Mr. Spencer by degree, not in kind. And now they are pushed by Evolution into the abyss, and are solemnly assured that the reconciliation of Religion and Science is effected by this religion of the Unknowable—this chimæra bombinans in vacuo. Their Infinites and their Incomprehensibles, their Absolute and their Unconditioned, have brought them to this. It is only one step from the sublime to the unknowable.
Practically, so far as it affects the lives of men and women in the battle of life, the absolute and Unconditioned Godhead of learned divines is very much the same thing as the Absolute Unknowable. You may rout a logician by a "pure transparency," but you can not check vice, crime, and war by it, nor train up men and women in holiness and truth. And the set of all modern theology is away from the anthropomorphic and into the Absolute. In trying to save a religion of the spirit-world, theologians are abandoning all religion of the real world; they are turning religion into formulas and phrases, and are taking out of it all power over life, duty, and society.
I say, in a word, unless religion is to be anthropomorphic, there can be no working religion at all. How strange is this new cry, sprung up in our own generation, that religion is dishonored by being anthropomorphic! Fetichism, Polytheism, Confucianism, Mediæval Christianity, and Bible Puritanism have all been intensely anthropomorphic, and all owed their strength and dominion to that fact. You can have no religion without kinship, sympathy, relation of some human kind between the believer, worshiper, servant, and the object of his belief, veneration, and service. The Neo-Theisms have all the same mortal weakness that the Unknowable has. They offer no kinship, sympathy, or relation whatever between worshiper and worshiped. They, too, are logical formulas begotten in controversy, dwelling apart from, man and the world. If the formula of the Unknowable is (xn), or the Unknown raised to infinity, theirs is (nx), some unknown expression of Infinity. Neither (xn) nor (nx) will ever make good men and women.
If we leave the region of formulas and go back to the practical effect of religion on human conduct, we must be driven to the conclusion that the future of religion is to be, not only what every real religion has ever been, anthropomorphic—but frankly anthropic. The attempted religion of Spiritism has lost one after another every resource of a real religion, until risu solvuntur tabulæ, and it ends in a religion of Nothingism. It is the Nemesis of Faith in spiritual abstractions and figments. The hypothesis has burst, and leaves the Void. The future will have then to return to the Knowable and the certainly known, to the religion of Realism. It must give up explaining the Universe, and content itself with explaining human life. Humanity is the grandest object of reverence within the region of the real and the known, Humanity with the World on which it rests as its base and environment. Religion, having failed in the superhuman world, returns to the human world. Here religion can find again all its certainty, all its depth of human sympathy, all its claim to command and reward the purest self-sacrifice and love. We can take our place again with all the great religious spirits who have ever molded the faith and life of men, and we find ourselves in harmony with the devout of every faith who are manfully battling with sin and discord. The way for us is the clearer as we find the religion of Spiritism, in its long and restless evolution of thirty centuries, ending in the legitimate deduction, the religion of the Unknowable, a paradox as memorable as any in the history of the human mind. The alternative is very plain. Shall we cling to a religion of Spiritism when Philosophy is whittling away spirit to Nothing? Or shall we accept a religion of Realism, where all the great traditions and functions of religion are retained unbroken?—Nineteenth Century.
- See "Popular Science Monthly" for January, 1884.