[Note: This is taken from Albert Parker Fitch's Preaching and Paganism.]
We ventured to say in the preceding chapter that, under the influences of more than three centuries of humanism, the spiritual solidarity of mankind is breaking down. For humanism makes an inhuman demand upon the will; it minimizes the force of the subrational and it largely ignores the superrational elements in human experience; it does not answer enough questions. Indeed, it is frankly confessed, particularly by students of the political and economic forces now working in society, that the new freedom born in the Renaissance is, in some grave sense, a failure. It destroyed what had been the common moral authority of European civilization in its denial of the rule of the church. But for nearly four centuries it has become increasingly clear that it offered no adequate substitute for the supernatural moral and religious order which it supplanted. John Morley was certainly one of the most enlightened and humane positivists of the last generation. In his Recollections, published three years ago, there is a final paragraph which runs as follows: "A painful interrogatory, I must confess, emerges. Has not your school held the civilized world, both old and new alike, in the hollow of their hand for two long generations past? Is it quite clear that their influence has been so much more potent than the gospel of the various churches? Circumspice. Is not diplomacy, unkindly called by Voltaire the field of lies, as able as ever it was to dupe governments and governed by grand abstract catchwords veiling obscure and inexplicable purposes, and turning the whole world over with blood and tears, to a strange Witch's Sabbath?" This is his conclusion of the whole matter.
But while the reasons for the failure are not far to seek, it is worth while for the preacher to dwell on them for a moment. In strongly centered souls like a Morley or an Erasmus, humanism produces a stoical endurance and a sublime self-confidence. But it tends, in lesser spirits, to a restless arrogance. Hence, both those lower elements in human nature, the nature and extent of whose force it either cloaks or minimizes, and those imponderable and supersensuous values which it tends to ignore and which are not ordinarily included in its definition of experience, return to vex and plague it. Indeed the worst foe of humanism has never been the religious view of the world upon whose stored-up moral reserves of uncompromising doctrine it has often half-consciously subsisted. Humanism has long profited from the admitted truth that the moral restraints of an age that possesses an authoritative and absolute belief survive for some time after the doctrine itself has been rejected. What has revealed the incompleteness of the humanistic position has been its constant tendency to decline into naturalism; a tendency markedly accelerated today. Hence, we find ourselves in a disintegrating and distracted epoch. In 1912 Rudolph Eucken wrote: "The moral solidarity of mankind is dissolved. Sects and parties are increasing; common estimates and ideals keep slipping away from us; we understand one another less and less. Even voluntary associations, that form of unity peculiar to modern times, unite more in achievement than in disposition, bring men together outwardly rather than inwardly. The danger is imminent that the end may be bellum omnium contra omnes, a war of all against all."
That disintegration is sufficiently advanced so that we can see the direction it is taking and the principle that inspires it. Humanism has at least the value of an objective standard in the sense that it sets up criteria which are without the individual; it substitutes a collective subjectivism, if we may use the term, for personal whim and impulse. Thus it proclaims a classic standard of moderation in all things, the golden mean of the Greeks, Confucius' and Gautama's law of measure. It proposes to bring the primitive and sensual element in man under critical control; to accomplish this it relies chiefly upon its amiable exaggeration of the reasonableness of human nature. But the Socratic dictum that knowledge is virtue was the product of a personality distinguished, if we accept the dialogues of Plato, by a perfect harmony of thought and feeling. Probably it is not wise to build so important a rule upon so distinguished an exception!
But the positive defect of humanism is more serious. It likewise proposes to rationalize those supersensuous needs and convictions which lie in the imaginative, the intuitive ranges of experience. The very proposal carries a denial of their value-in-themselves. Its inevitable result in the humanist is their virtual ignoring. The greatest of all the humanists of the Orient was Confucius. "I venture to ask about death," said a disciple to the sage. "While you do not know life," replied he, "how can you know about death?" Even more typical of the humanistic attitude towards the distinctively religious elements of experience are other sayings of Confucius, such as: "To give oneself earnestly to the duties due to men, and while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them may be called wisdom." The precise area of humanistic interests is indicated in another observation. "The subjects on which the Master did not talk were ... disorder and spiritual beings." For the very elements of experience which humanism belittles or avoids are found in the world where pagans like Rabelais robustly jest or the high spaces where souls like Newman meditate and pray. The humanist appears to be frightened by the one and repelled by the other; will not or cannot see life steadily and whole. That a powerful primitivistic faith, like Taoism, a sort of religious bohemianism, should flourish beside such pragmatic and passionless moderation as classic Confucianism is inevitable; that the worship of Amida Buddha, the Buddha of redemption and a future heaven, of a positive and eternal bliss, should be the Chinese form of the Indian faith is equally intelligible. After a like manner it is the humanism of our Protestant preaching today from which men are defecting into utter worldliness and indifference on the one hand and returning to mediaeval and Catholic forms of supernaturalism on the other.
For the primitive in man is a beast whom it is hard to chain nor does humanism with its semi-scientific, semi-sentimental laudation of all natural values produce that exacting mood of inward scrutiny in which self-control has most chance of succeeding. Hence here, as elsewhere on the continent, and formerly in China, in Greece and in Rome, a sort of neo-paganism has been steadily supplanting it.
To the study of this neo-paganism we now address ourselves. It is the third and lowest of those levels of human experience to which we referred in the first lecture. The naturalist, you may remember, is that incorrigible individual who imagines that he is a law unto himself, that he may erect his person into a sovereign over the whole universe. He perversely identifies discipline with repression and makes the unlimited the goal both of imagination and conduct. Oscar Wilde's epigrams, and more particularly his fables, are examples of a thoroughgoing naturalist's insolent indifference to any form of restraint. All things, whether holy or bestial, were material for his topsy-turvy wit, his literally unbridled imagination. No humanistic law of decency, that is to say, a proper respect for the opinions of mankind, and no divine law of reverence and humility, acted for him as a restraining force or a selective principle. An immediate and significant example of this naturalistic riot of feeling, with its consequent false and anarchic scale of values, is found in the film dramas of the moving picture houses. Unreal extravagance of imagination, accompanied by the debauch of the aesthetic and moral judgment, frequently distinguishes them. In screenland, it is the vampire, the villain, the superman, the saccharine angel child, who reign almost undisputed. Noble convicts, virtuous courtesans, attractive murderers, good bad men, and ridiculous good men, flit across the canvas haloed with cheap sentimentality. Opposed to them, in an ever losing struggle, are those conventional figures who stand for the sober realities of an orderly and disciplined world; the judge, the policeman, the mere husband. These pitiable and laughable figures are always outwitted; they receive the fate which indeed, in any primitive society, they so richly deserve!
How deeply sunk in the modern world are the roots of this naturalism is shown by its long course in history, paralleling humanism. It has seeped down through the Protestant centuries in two streams. One is a sort of scientific naturalism. It exalts material phenomena and the external order, issues in a glorification of elemental impulses, an attempted return to childlike spontaneous living, the identifying of man's values with those of primitive nature. The other is an emotional naturalism, of which Maeterlinck is at the moment a brilliant and lamentable example. This exchanges the world of sober conduct, intelligible and straightforward thinking for an unfettered dreamland, compounded of fairy beauty, flashes of mystical and intuitive understanding intermixed with claptrap magic, a high-flown commercialism and an etherealized sensuality.
Rousseau represents both these streams in his own person. His sentimentalized egotism and bland sensuality pass belief. His sensitive spirit dissolves in tears over the death of his dog but he bravely consigns his illegitimate children to the foundling asylum without one tremor. In his justly famous and justly infamous Confessions, he presents himself Satan-wise before the Almighty at the last Judgment, these Confessions in his hand, a challenge to the remainder of the human race upon his lips. "Let a single one assert to Thee, if he dare: I am better than that man." But his preachment of natural and spontaneous values, return to primitive conditions, was equally aggressive. If anyone wants to inspect the pit whence the Montessori system of education was digged, let him read Rousseau, who declared that the only habit a child should have is the habit of not having a habit, or his contemporary disciple, George Moore, who says that one should be ashamed of nothing except of being ashamed. There are admirable features in the schooling-made-easy system. It recognizes the fitness of different minds for different work; that the process of education need not and should not be forbidding; that natural science has been subordinated overmuch to the humanities; that the imagination and the hand should be trained with the intellect. But the method which proposes to give children an education along the lines of least resistance is, like all other naturalism, a contradiction in terms, sometimes a reductio ad absurdum, sometimes ad nauseam. As long ago as 1893, when Huxley wrote his Romanes lecture on Evolution and Ethics, this identity of natural and human values was explicitly denied. Teachers do not exist for the amusement of children, nor for the repression of children; they exist for the discipline of children. The new education is consistently primitivistic in the latitude which it allows to whim and in its indulgence of indolence. There is only one way to make a man out of a child; to teach him that happiness is a by-product of achievement; that pleasure is an accompaniment of labor; that the foundation of self-respect is drudgery well done; that there is no power in any system of philosophy, any view of the world, no view of the world, which can release him from the unchanging necessity of personal struggle, personal consecration, personal holiness in human life. "That wherein a man cannot be equaled," says Confucius, "is his work which other men cannot see." The humanist, at least, does not blink the fact that we are caught in a serious and difficult world. To rail at it, to deny it, to run hither and thither like scurrying rats to evade it, will not alter one jot or one tittle of its inexorable facts.
Following Rousseau and Chateaubriand come a striking group of Frenchmen who passed on this torch of ethical and aesthetic rebellion. Some of them are wildly romantic like Dumas and Hugo; some of them perversely realistic like Balzac, Flaubert, Gautier, Zola. Paul Verlaine, a near contemporary of ours, is of this first number; writer of some of the most exquisite lyrics in the French language, yet a man who floated all his life in typical romantic fashion from passion to repentance, "passing from lust of the flesh to sorrow for sin in perpetual alternation." Guy de Maupassant again is a naturalist of the second sort, a brutal realist; de Maupassant, who died a suicide, crying out to his valet from his hacked throat "Encore l'homme au rancart!"—another carcass to the dustheap!
In English letters Wordsworth in his earlier verse illustrated the same sentimental primitivism. It would be unfair to quote Peter Bell, for that is Wordsworth at his dreadful worst, but even in Tintern Abbey, which has passages of incomparable majesty and beauty, there are lines in which he declares himself:
Byron's innate sophistication saves him from the ludicrous depths to which Wordsworth sometimes fell, but he, too, is Rousseau's disciple, a moral rebel, a highly personal and subjective poet of whom Goethe said that he respected no law, human or divine, except that of the three unities. Byron's verse is fascinating; it overflows with a sort of desperate and fiery sincerity; but, as he himself says, his life was one long strife of "passion with eternal law." He combines both the romantic and the realistic elements of naturalism, both flames with elemental passion and parades his cynicism, is forever snapping his mood in Don Juan, alternating extravagant and romantic feeling with lines of sardonic and purposely prosaic realism. Shelley is a naturalist, too, not in the realm of sordid values but of Arcadian fancy. The pre-Raphaelites belong here, together with a group of young Englishmen who flourished between 1890 and 1914, of whom John Davidson and Richard Middleton, both suicides, are striking examples. Poor Middleton turned from naturalism to religion at the last. When he had resolved on death, he wrote a message telling what he was about to do, parting from his friend with brave assumption of serenity. But he did not send the postcard, and in the last hour of that hired bedroom in Brussels, with the bottle of chloroform before him, he traced across the card's surface "a broken and a contrite spirit thou wilt not despise." So there was humility at the last. One remembers rather grimly what the clown says in Twelfth Night,
This same revolt against the decencies and conventions of our humanist civilization occupies a great part of present literature. How far removed from the clean and virile stoicism of George Meredith or the honest pessimism of Thomas Hardy is Arnold Bennett's The Pretty Lady or Galsworthy's The Dark Flower. Finally, in this country we need only mention, if we may descend so far, such naturalists in literature as Jack London, Robert Chambers and Gouverneur Morris. One's only excuse for referring to them is that they are vastly popular with the people whom you and I try to interest in sermons, to whom we talk on religion!
Of course, this naturalism in letters has its accompanying and interdependent philosophic theory, its intellectual interpretation and defense. As Kant is the noblest of the moralists, so I suppose William James and, still later, Henri Bergson and Croce are the chief protagonists of unrestrained feeling and naturalistic values in the world of thought. To the neo-realists "the thing given" is alone reality. James' pragmatism frankly relinquishes any absolute standard in favor of relativity. In the Varieties of Religious Experience, which Professor Babbitt tells us someone in Cambridge suggested should have had for a subtitle "Wild Religions I Have Known," he is plainly more interested in the intensity than in the normality, in the excesses than in the essence of the religious life. Indeed, Professor Babbitt quotes him as saying in a letter to Charles Eliot Norton, "mere sanity is the most Philistine and at the bottom most unessential of a man's attributes." In the same way Bergson, consistently anti-Socratic and discrediting analytical intellect, insists that whatever unity may be had must come through instinct, not analysis. He refuses to recognize Plato's One in the Many, sees the whole universe as "a perpetual gushing forth of novelties," a universal and meaningless flux. Surrender to this eternal flux, he appears to say, and then we shall gain reality. So he relies on impulse, instinct, his elan vital, which means, I take it, on man's subrational emotions. We call it Intuitionism, but such philosophy in plain and bitter English is the intellectual defense and solemn glorification of impulse. "Time," says Bergson, "is a continuous stream, a present that endures." Time apparently is all. "Life can have no purpose in the human sense of the word." Essentially, then, James, Bergson and Croce appeal from intellect to feeling. They return to primitivism.
Here is a philosophy which obviously may be both as antihumanistic and as irreligious as any which could well be conceived. Here is license in conduct and romanticism in expression going hand in hand with this all but exclusive emphasis upon relativity in thought. Here is disorder, erected as a universal concept; the world conceived of as a vast and impenetrable veil which is hiding nothing; an intricacy without pattern. Obviously so ungoverned and fluid a universe justifies uncritical and irresponsible thinking and living.
We have tried thus to sketch that declension into paganism on the part of much of the present world, of which we spoke earlier in the chapter. It denies or ignores the humanistic law with its exacting moral and aesthetic standards; it openly flouts the attitude of obedience and humility before religious mandates, and, so far as opportunity offers or prudence permits, goes its own insolently wanton way. Our world is full of dilettanti in the colleges, anarchists in the state, atheists in the church, bohemians in art, sybarites in conduct and ineffably silly women in society, who have felt, and occasionally studied the scientific and naturalistic movement just far enough and superficially enough to grasp the idea of relativity and to exalt it as sufficient and complete in itself. Many of them are incapable of realizing the implications for conduct and belief which it entails. Others of them, who are of the lesser sort, pulled by the imperious hungers of the flesh, the untutored instincts of a restless spirit, hating Hellenic discipline no less than Christian renunciation, having no stomach either for self-control or self-surrender, look out on the mass of endlessly opposing complexities of the modern world and gladly use that vision as an excuse for abandoning what is indeed the ever failing but also the ever necessary struggle to achieve order, unity, yes, even perfection.
To them, therefore, the only way to conquer a temptation is to yield to it. They rail nonsensically at all repression, forgetting that man cannot express the full circle of his mutually exclusive instincts, and that when he gives rein to one he thereby negates another; that choice, therefore, is inevitable and that the more exacting and critical the choice, the more valuable and comprehensive the expression. So they frankly assert their choices along the lines of least resistance and abandon themselves, at least in principle, to emotional chaos and moral sentimentalism. Very often they are of all men the most meticulously mannered. But their manners are not the decorum of the humanist, they are the etiquette of the worldling. Chesterfield had these folk in mind when he spoke with an intolerable, if incisive, cynicism of those who know the art of combining the useful appearances of virtue with the solid satisfactions of vice.
Such naturalism is sometimes tolerated by those who aspire to urbane and liberal judgments because they think it can be defended on humanistic grounds. But, as a matter of fact, it is as offensive to the thoroughgoing humanist as it is to the sincere religionist. They have a common quarrel with it. Take, for example, the notorious naturalistic doctrine of art for art's sake, the defiant divorcing of ethical and aesthetic values. Civilization no less than religion must fight this. For it is as false in experience and as unclear in thinking as could well be imagined. Its defense, so far as it has any, is based upon the confusion in the pagan mind of morality with moralizing, a confusion that no good humanist would ever permit himself. Of course, the end of art is neither preaching nor teaching but delighting. For that very reason, however, art, too, must conform—hateful word!—conform to fixed standards. For the sense of proportion, the instinct for elimination, is integral to art and this, as Professor Babbitt points out, is attained only with the aid of the ethical imagination. Because without the ethical restraint, the creative spirit roams among unbridled emotions; art becomes impressionism. What it then produces may indeed be picturesque, melodramatic, sensual, but it will not be beautiful because there will be no imaginative wholeness in it. In other words, the artist who divorces aesthetics from ethics does gain creative license, but he gains it at the expense of a balanced and harmonious expression. If you do not believe it, compare the Venus de Milo with the Venus de Medici or a Rubens fleshy, spilling-out-of-her-clothes Magdalen with a Donatello Madonna. When ethical restraint disappears, art tends to caricature, it becomes depersonalized. The Venus de Milo is a living being, a great personage; indeed, a genuine and gracious goddess. The Venus de Medici has scarcely any personality at all; she is chiefly objectified desire! The essence of art is not spontaneous expression nor naked passion; the essence of art is critical expression, restrained passion.
Now, such extreme naturalism has been the continuing peril and the arch foe of every successive civilization. It is the "reversion to type" of the scientist, the "natural depravity" of the older theology, the scoffing devil, with his eternal no! in Goethe's Faust. It tends to accept all powerful impulses as thereby justified, all vital and novel interests as ipso facto beautiful and good. Nothing desirable is ugly or evil. It pays no attention, except to ridicule them, to the problems that vex high and serious souls: What is right and wrong? What is ugly and beautiful? What is holy and what is profane? It either refuses to admit the existence of these questions or else asserts that, as insoluble, they are also negligible problems. To all such stupid moralizing it prefers the click of the castanets! The law, then, of this naturalism always and everywhere is the law of rebellion, of ruthless self-assertion, of whim and impulse, of cunning and of might.
You may wonder why we, being preachers, have spent so much time talking about it. Folk of this sort do not ordinarily flock to the stenciled walls and carpeted floors of our comfortable, middle-class Protestant meeting-houses. They are not attracted by Tiffany glass windows, nor the vanilla-flavored music of a mixed quartet, nor the oddly assorted "enrichments" we have dovetailed into a once puritan order of worship. That is true, but it is also true that these are they who need the Gospel; also that these folk do influence the time-current that enfolds us and pervades the very air we breathe and that they and their standards are profoundly influencing the youth of this generation. You need only attend a few college dances to be sure of that! One of the sad things about the Protestant preacher is his usual willingness to move in a strictly professional society and activity, his lack of extra-ecclesiastical interests, hence his narrow and unskillful observations and perceptions outside his own parish and his own field.
Moreover, there are other forms in which naturalism is dominating modern society. It began, like all movements, in literature and philosophy and individual bohemianism; but it soon worked its way into social and political and economic organizations. Now, when we are dealing with them we are dealing with the world of the middle class; this is our world. And here we find naturalism today in its most brutal and entrenched expressions. Here it confronts every preacher on the middle aisle of his Sunday morning congregation. We are continually forgetting this because it is a common fallacy of our hard-headed and prosperous parishioners to suppose that the vagaries of philosophers and the maunderings of poets have only the slightest practical significance. But few things could be further from the truth. It is abstract thought and pure feeling which are perpetually moulding the life of office and market and street. It has sometimes been the dire mistake of preaching that it took only an indifferent and contemptuous interest in such contemporary movements in literature and art. Its attitude toward them has been determined by temperamental indifference to their appeal. It forgets the significance of their intellectual and emotional sources. This is, then, provincialism and obtuseness and nowhere are they by their very nature more indefensible or more disastrous than in the preacher of religion.
Let us turn, then, to those organized expressions of society where our own civilization is strained the most, where it is nearest to the breaking point, namely, to our industrial and political order. Let us ask ourselves if we do not find this naturalistic philosophy regnant there. That we are surrounded by widespread industrial revolt, that we see obvious political decadence on the one hand, and a determination to experiment with fresh governmental processes on the other, few would deny. It would appear to me that in both cases the revolt and the decadence are due to that fierce, short creed of rebellion against humane no less than religious standards, which has more and more governed our national economic systems and our international political intercourse. Let me begin with business and industry as they existed before the war. I paint a general picture; there are many and notable exceptions to it, human idealism there is in plenty, but it and they only prove the rule. And as I paint the picture, ask yourselves the two questions which should interest us as preachers regarding it. First, by which of these three laws of human development, religious, humanistic, naturalistic, has it been largely governed? Secondly, by what law are men now attempting to solve its present difficulties?
The present industrial situation is the product of two causes. One of them was the invention of machinery and the discovery of steam transit. These multiplied production. They made accessible unexploited sources of raw material and new markets for finished goods. The opportunities for lucrative trading and the profitableness of overproduction which they made possible became almost immeasurable. Before these discoveries western society was generally agricultural, accompanied by cottage industries and guild trades. It was largely made up of direct contacts and controlled by local interests. After them it became a huge industrial empire of ramified international relationships.
The second factor in the situation was the intellectual and spiritual nature of the society which these inventions entered. It was, as we have seen, essentially humanistic. It believed much in the natural rights of man. The individual was justified, by the natural order, in seeking his separate good. If he only sought it hard enough and well enough the result would be for the general welfare of society. Thus at the moment when mechanical invention offered unheard-of opportunities for material expansion and lucrative business, the thought and feeling of the community pretty generally sanctioned an individualistic philosophy of life. The result was tragic if inevitable. The new industrial order offered both the practical incentive and the theoretical justification for institutional declension from humane to primitive standards. It is not to be supposed that men slipped deliberately into paganism; the human mind is not so sinister as it is stupid nor so cruel as it is unimaginative nor so brutal as it is complacent. For the most part we do not really understand, in our daily lives, what we are about. Hence society degenerated, as it always does, in the confident and stubborn belief that it was improving the time and doing God's service. But He that sitteth in the heavens must have laughed, He must have had us in derision!
For upon what law, natural, human, divine, has this new empire been founded? That it has produced great humanists is gratefully conceded; that real spiritual progress has issued from its incidental cosmopolitanism is manifest; but which way has it fronted, what have been its characteristic emphases and its controlling tendencies? Let its own works testify. It has created a world of new and extreme inequality, both in the distribution of material, of intellectual and of spiritual goods. Here is a small group who own the land, the houses, the factories, machinery and the tools. Here is a very large group, without houses, without tools, without land or goods. At this moment only 7 per cent of our 110,000,000 of American people have an income of $3,000 or more; only 1¼ per cent have an income of $5,000 or more! What law produced and justifies such a society? The unwritten law of heaven? No. The law of humanism, of Confucius and Buddha and Epictetus and Aurelius? No. The law of naked individualism; of might; force; cunning? Yes.
Here in our American cities are the overwealthy and the insolently worldly people. They have their palatial town house, their broad inland acres; some of them have their seaside homes, their fish and game preserves as well. Here in our American cities are the alien, the ignorant, the helpless, crowded into unclean and indecent tenements, sometimes 1,000 human beings to the acre. What justifies a pseudo-civilization which permits such tragic inequality of fortune? Inequality of endowment? No. First, because there is no natural inequality so extreme as that; secondly, because no one would dare assert that these cleavages in the industrial state even remotely parallel the corresponding cleavages in the distribution of ability among mankind. What justifies it, then? The unwritten law of heaven? No. The law of humanism? No. The law of the jungle? Yes.
Now for our second question. By what law, admitting many exceptions, are men on the whole trying to change this situation at once indecent and impious? This is a yet more important query. Our world has obviously awakened to the rottenness in Denmark. But where are we turning for our remedy? Is it to the penitence and confession, the public-mindedness, the identification of the fate of the individual with the fate of the whole group which is the religious impulse? Is it to a disinterested and even-handed justice, the high legalism of the Golden Rule, which would be the humanist's way? Or is it to the old law of aggression and might transferring the gain thereof from the present exploiters to the recently exploited?
It would appear to be generally true that society at this moment is not chiefly concerned with either love or justice, renunciation or discipline, not with the supplanting of the old order, but with perpetuating the naturalistic principle by means of a partial redivision of the spoils, a series of compromises, designed to make it more tolerable for one class of its former victims. Thus in capital we have the autocratic corporation, atoning for past outrages on humanity by a well-advertised benevolent paternalism, calculated to make men comfortable so that they may not struggle to be free, or by huge gifts to education, to philanthropy, to religion. In labor we see men rising in brute fury against both employer and society. They deny the basic necessities of life to their fellow citizens; they bring the bludgeon of the picket down upon the head of the scab; by means of the closed shop they refuse the right to work to their brother craftsmen; they level the incapable men up and the capable men down by insisting upon uniformity of production and wage. Thus they replace the artificial inequality of the aristocrat with the artificial equality of the proletariat, striving to organize a new tyranny for the old. It is significant that our society believes that this is the only way by which it can gain its rights. That betrays our real infidelity. For between the two, associated capital and associated labor, what is there to choose today? By what law, depending upon what sort of power, is each seeking its respective ends? By the unwritten law of heaven? No. By the humane law, some objective standard of common rights and inclusive justice? No! By the ancient law that the only effectual appeal is to might and that opportunity therefore justifies the deed? On the whole it is to this question that we must answer, yes!
Turn away now from national economics and industry to international politics. Does not its real politik make the philosophical naturalism of Spencer and Haeckel seem like child's play? For long there has been one code of ethics for the peaceful penetration of commercially desirable lands, for punitive expeditions against peoples possessed of raw materials, for international banking and finance and diplomatic intercourse, and another code for private honor and personal morality. There has been one moral scale of values for the father of his family and another for the same man as ward or state or federal politician; one code to govern internal disputes within the nation; another code to govern external disputes between nations. And what is this code that produced the Prussian autocracy, that long insisted on the opium trade between India and China, that permitted the atrocities in the Belgian Congo, that sent first Russia and then Japan into Port Arthur and first Germany and then Japan into Shantung, that insists upon retaining the Turk in Constantinople, that produced the already discredited treaty of Versailles? What is the code that made the deadly rivalry of mounting armaments between army and army, navy and navy, of the Europe before 1914? The code, to be sure, of cunning, of greed, of might; the materialism of the philosopher and the naturalism of the sensualist, clothed in grandiose forms and covered with the insufferable hypocrisy of solemn phrases. There are no conceivable ethical or religious interests and no humane goals or values that justify these things. International diplomacy and politics, economic imperialism, using political machinery and power to half-cloak, half-champion its ends, has no law of Christian sacrifice and no law of Greek moderation behind it. On the contrary, what should interest the Christian preacher, as he regards it, is its sheer anarchy, its unashamed and naked paganism. Its law is that of the unscrupulous and the daring, not that of the compassionate or the just. In what does scientific and emotional naturalism issue, then? In this; a man, if he be a man, will stand above divine or human law and make it operative only for the weaklings beneath. Wherever opportunity offers he will consult his own will and gratify it to the full. To have, to get, to buy, to sell, to exploit the world for power, to exploit one's self for pleasure, this is to live. The only law is the old primitive snarl; each man for himself, let the devil take the hindmost.
There is only one end to such naturalism and that is increasing anarchy. It means my will against your will; my appetite for gold, for land, for women, for luxury and beauty against your appetite; until at length it culminates in the open madness of physical violence, physical destruction, physical death and despair. There can be no other end to it. If men dare not risk being the lovers of their kind, then they must choose between being the slaves of duty or the slaves of force. What are we reading in the public prints and hearing from platform and stage? The unending wail for "rights"; the assertion of the individual. Ceased is the chant of duty, forgotten the sacrifice of love!
The events which have transformed the world since 1914 are an awful commentary upon such naturalism and a dreadful confirmation of our indictment. Before the spectacle that many of us saw on those sodden fields of Flanders, both humanist and religionist should be alike aghast. How childish not to perceive that its causes, as distinguished from its occasions, were common to our whole civilization. How perverse not to confess that beneath all our modern life, as its dominating motive, has lain that ruthless and pagan philosophy, which creates alike the sybarite, the tyrant and the anarch; the philosophy in which lust goes hand in hand with cruelty and unrestrained will to power is accompanied by unmeasured and unscrupulous force.
It is incredible to me how men can take this delirium of self-destruction, this plunging of the sword into our own heart in a final frenzy of competing anarchy and deck it out with heroic and poetic values, fling over it the seamless robe of Christ, unfurl above it the banner of the Cross! The only contribution the World War has made to religion has been to throw into intolerable relief the essentially irreligious and inhumane character of our civilization.
Of course, the men and the ideals who actually fought the contest as distinguished from the men and ideals which precipitated it and determined its movements, fill gallant pages with their heroism and holy sacrifice. For wars are fought by the young at the dictation of the old, and youth is everywhere humane and poetic. Thus, if I may be permitted to quote from a book of mine recently published:
"Our sons were bade to enter it as a 'war to end war,' a final struggle which should abolish the intolerable burdens of armaments and conscription. They were taught to exalt it as a strife for oppressed and helpless peoples; the prelude to a new brotherhood and cooperation among the nations, and to that reign of justice which is the antecedent condition of peace.
"They did their part. With adventurous faith they glorified their cause and offered their fresh lives to make it good. Their sacrifice, the idealism which lay behind it in their respective communities—the unofficial perceptions that they, the fathers and mothers and the boys, were fighting to vindicate the supremacy of the moral over the material factors of life—this has made an imperishable gift to the new world and our children's lives. When an entire commuity rises to something of magnanimity, and a nation identifies its fate with the lot of weaker states, then even mutilation and death may be gift-bringers to mankind.
"But it is more significant to our purpose to note that the blood of youth had hardly ceased to run before the officials began to dicker for the material fruits of conquest. Not how to obtain peace but how to exploit victory—to wrest each for himself the larger tribute from the fallen foe—became their primary concern. So the youth appear to have died for a tariff, perished for trade routes and harbors, for the furthering of the commercial advantages of this nation as against that, for the seizing of the markets of the world. They supposed they fought 'to end business of that sort' but they returned to find their accredited representatives contemplating universal military service in frank expectation of 'the next war.' They strove for the 'self-determination of peoples' but find that it was for some people, but not all. And as for the cooperation among nations, Judge Gary has recently told us that, as a result of the war, we should prepare for 'the fiercest commercial struggle in the history of mankind!'"
Is it not clear, then, today that behind the determining as distinguished from the fighting forces of the war there lay a commercial and financial imperialism, directed by small and powerful minorities, largely supported by a sympathetic press which used the machinery of representative democracy to overthrow a more naked and brutal imperialism whose machinery was that of a military autocracy? Motives, scales of value, methods and desired ends, were much the same for all these small governing groups as they operated from behind the various shibboleths whose magic they used to nerve the arms of the contending forces. The conclusion of the war has revealed the common springs of action of the professional soldier, statesman, banker, ecclesiastic, in our present civilization. On the whole they accept the rule of physical might as the ultimate justification of conduct. They are the leaders and spokesmen in an economic, social and political establishment which, pretending to civilization, always turns when strained or imperiled by foreign or domestic dangers to physical force as the final arbiter.
It is truly ominous to see the gradual extension of this naturalistic principle still going on in the state. The coal strike was settled, not by arbitration, but by conference, and "conferences" appear to be replacing disinterested arbitration. This means that decisions are being made on the principle of compromise, dictated by the expediency of the moment, not by reference to any third party, or to some fixed and mutually recognized standards. This is as old as Pythagoras and as new as Bergson and Croce; it assumes that the concept of justice is man-made, produced and to be altered by expediences and practicalities, always in flux. But the essence of a civilization is the humanistic conviction that there is something fixed and abiding around which life may order and maintain itself.
Progress rests on the Platonic theory that laws are not made by man but discovered by him; that they exist as eternal distinctions beyond the reach of his alteration. Again, an unashamed and rampant naturalism has just been sweeping this country in the wave of mean and cruel intolerance which insists upon the continued imprisonment of political heretics, which would prohibit freedom of speech by governmental decree and oppose new or distasteful ideas by the physical suppression of the thinker. The several and notorious attempts beginning with deportations and ending with the unseating of the New York assemblymen, to combat radical thinking by physical or political persecution—attempts uniformly mean and universally impotent in history—are as sinister as they are stupid. The only law which justifies the persecution and imprisonment of religious and political heretics is neither the law of reason nor the law of love, but the law of fear, hence of tyranny and force. When a twentieth-century nation begins to raise the ancient cry, "Come now and let us kill this dreamer and we shall see what will become of his dreams," that nation is declining to the naturalistic level. For this clearly indicates that the humane and religious resources of civilization, of which the church is among the chief confessed and appointed guardians, are utterly inadequate to the strain imposed upon them. Hence force, not justice, though they may sometimes have happened to coincide, and power, not reason or faith, are becoming the embodiment of the state today.
We come now to the final question of our chapter. How has this renewal of naturalism affected the church and Christian preaching? On the whole today, the Protestant church is accepting this naturalistic attitude. In a signed editorial in the New Republic for the last week of December, 1919, Herbert Croly said, under the significant title of "Disordered Christianity": "Both politicians and property owners consider themselves entitled to ignore Christian guidance in exercising political and economic power, to expect or to compel the clergy to agree with them and if necessary to treat disagreement as negligible. The Christian church, as a whole, or in part, does not protest against the practically complete secularization of political, economic and social life."
You may say such extra-ecclesiastical strictures are unsympathetic and ill informed. But here is what Washington Gladden wrote in January, 1918: "If after the war the church keeps on with the same old religion, there will be the same old hell on earth that religious leaders have been preparing for centuries, the full fruit of which we are gathering now. The church must cease to sanction those principles of militaristic and atheistic nationalism by which the rulers of the earth have so long kept the earth at war." Thus from within the sanctuary is the same indictment of our naturalism.
But you may say Dr. Gladden was an old man and a little extreme in some of his positions and he belonged to a past generation. But there are many signs at the present moment of the increasing secularizing of our churches. The individualism of our services, their casual character, their romantic and sentimental music, their minimizing of the offices of prayer and devotion, their increasing turning of the pulpit into a forum for political discussion and a place of common entertainment all indicate it. There is an accepted secularity today about the organization. Church and preacher have, to a large degree, relinquished their essential message, dropped their religious values. We are pretty largely today playing our game the world's way. We are adopting the methods and accepting the standards of the market. In an issue last month of the Inter-Church Bulletin was the following headline: "Christianity Hand in Hand with Business," and underneath the following:
"George W. Wickersham, formerly United States attorney-general, says in an interview that there is nothing incompatible between Christianity and modern business methods. A leading lay official of the Episcopal Church declares that what the churches need more than anything else is a strong injection of business method into their management. 'Some latter-day Henry Drummond,' he said, 'should write a book on Business Law in the Spiritual World.'"
In this same paper, in the issue of March 27, 1920, there was an article commending Christian missions. The first caption ran: "Commercial Progress Follows Work of Protestant Missions," and its subtitle was "How Missionaries Aid Commerce." Here is Business Law in the Spiritual World! Here is the church commended to the heathen and the sinner as an advertising agent, an advance guard of commercial prosperity, a hawker of wares! If the Bulletin ever penetrates to those benighted lands of the Orient upon which we are thus anxious to bestow the so apparent benefits of our present civilization it is conceivable that even the untutored savage, to say nothing of Chinamen and Japanese, might read it with his tongue in his cheek.
Such naïve opportunism and frantic immediacy would seem to me conclusive proof of the disintegration and anarchy of the spirit within the sanctuary. It is a part of it all that everyone has today what he is pleased to call "his own religion." And nearly everyone made it himself, or thinks he did. Conscience has ceased to be a check upon personal impulse, the "thou shalt not" of the soul addressed to untutored desires, and become an amiable instinct for doing good to others. The Christian is an effusive creature, loving everything and everybody; exalting others in terms of himself. We abhor religious conventions; in particular we hasten to proclaim that we are free from the stigma of orthodoxy. We do not go to church to learn, to meditate, to repent and to pray; we go to be happy, to learn how to keep young and prosperous; it is good business; it pays. We have a new and most detestable cant; someone has justly said that the natural man in us has been masquerading as the spiritual man by endlessly prating of "courage," "patriotism"—what crimes have been committed in its name!—"development of backward people," "brotherhood of man," "service of those less fortunate than ourselves," "natural ethical idealism," "the common destinies of nations"—and now he rises up and glares at us with stained fingers and bloodshot eyes! In so far as we have succumbed to naturalism, we have become cold and shrewd and flexible; shallow and noisy and effusive; have been rather proud to believe anything in general and almost nothing in particular; become a sort of religious jelly fish, bumping blindly about in seas of sentiment and labeling that peace and brotherhood and religion!
Here, then, is the state of organized religion today in our churches. They are voluntary groups of men and women, long since emancipated from the control of the church as such, or of the minister as an official, set free also from allegiance to historic statements, traditional, intellectual sanctions of our faith; moulded by the time spirit which enfolds them to a half-unconscious ignoring or depreciation of what must always be the fundamental problem of religion—the relationship of the soul, not to its neighbor, but to God. Hence the almost total absence of doctrinal preaching—indeed, how dare we preach Christian doctrine to the industry and politics and conduct of this age? Hence the humiliating striving to keep up with popular movements, to conform to the moment. Hence the placid acceptance of military propaganda and even of vindictive exhortation.
Is it any wonder then that we cannot compete with the state or the world for the loyalty of men and women? We have no substitute to offer. Who need be surprised at the restlessness, the fluidity, the elusiveness of the Protestant laity? And who need wonder that at this moment we are depending upon the externals of machinery, publicity and money to reinstate ourselves as a spiritual society in the community? A well-known official of our communion, speaking before a meeting of ministers in New York City on Tuesday, March 23, was quoted in the Springfield Republican of the next day as saying: "The church holds the only cure for the possible anarchy of the future and offers the only preventative for the hell which we have had for the last five years. But to meet this challenge the church can only go as far—as the money permits."
Has not the time arrived when, if we are to find ourselves again in the world, we should ask, What is this religion in which we believe? What is the real nature of its resources? What the real nature of its remedies? Do we dare define it? And, if we do, would we dare to assert it, come out from the world and live for it, in the midst of the paganism of this moment? Is it true that without the loaves and the fishes we can do nothing? If so, then we, too, have succumbed to naturalism indeed!
Copyright © World Spirituality · All Rights Reserved