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´╗┐Title: No Refuge but in Truth
Author: Smith, Goldwin, 1823-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "No Refuge but in Truth" ***

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NO REFUGE BUT IN TRUTH


BY

GOLDWIN SMITH



TORONTO

WM. TYRRELL & COMPANY

1908



COPYRIGHT, 1907-1908

BY THE

SUN PRINTING AND PUBLISHING COMPANY



COPYRIGHT, CANADA, 1906

BY

GOLDWIN SMITH



CONTENTS.


PREFACE.

   I. Man and His Destiny
  II. New Faith Linked with Old
 III. The Scope of Evolution
  IV. The Limit of Evolution
   V. Explanations
  VI. The Immortality of the Soul
 VII. Is there to be a Revolution in Ethics?

The Religious Situation


[Transcriber's note: Because "The Religious Situation" had its own
title and verso page, it was split into a separate e-book.]



PREFACE.

The letters collected in this volume appeared, with others, in the New
York _Sun_, to the Editor of which the thanks of the writer for his
courtesy are due.

Appended is a paper on the same subjects commenting on one by the late
Mr. Chamberlain, since published in the _North American Review_.  To
the Editor of the _North American Review_ also the writer's
acknowledgments are due.

There appeared to be sufficient interest in the discussion to call for
the publication of a small edition.

The age calls for religious truth.  Nine thousand persons communicated
their cravings to the Editor of the London _Daily Telegraph_.  By their
side the present writer places himself, not a teacher, but an inquirer,
seeking for truth and open to conviction.

The position of the clergy, especially where tests are stringent, calls
for our utmost consideration.  But I submit that it would not be
improved by any attempt, such as seems to be made in a work of great
ability before me, to merge the theological in the social question.
Benevolence may still be far below the Gospel mark, and the Christian
faith may suffer from its default.  But the increase of it and the
multiplication of its monuments since the world has been comparatively
at peace cannot be denied; while of the distress which still calls for
an increase of Christian effort, not the whole is due to default on the
part of the wealthier classes.  Idleness, vice, intemperance,
improvident marriage, play their part.  Let us not be led away upon a
false issue.

There is nothing for it but truth.



I.

MAN, AND HIS DESTINY.


Time has passed since I first sought access to the columns of _The
Sun_, ranging myself with the nine thousand who in an English journal
had craved for religious light.  The movement which caused that craving
has gone on.  The Churches show their sense of it.  Even in that of
Rome there is a growth of "Modernism," as it is called by the Pope,
who, having lost his mediaeval preservatives of unity, strives to quell
Modernism by denunciation.  Anglicanism resorts to a grand pageant of
uniformity, beneath which, however, lurk Anglo-Catholicism,
Evangelicism, and Liberalism, by no means uniform in faith.  The
Protestant Churches proper, their spirit being more emotional, feel the
doctrinal movement less.  But they are not unmoved, as they show by
relaxation of tests and inclination to informal if not formal union, as
well as by increasing the aesthetic and social attractions of their
cult.  Wild theosophic sects are born and die.  But marked is the
increase of scepticism, avowed and unavowed.  It advances probably
everywhere in the track of physical science.  We are confronted with
the vital question what the world would be without religion, without
trust in Providence, without hope or fear of a hereafter.  Social order
is threatened.  Classes which have hitherto acquiesced in their lot,
believing that it was a divine ordinance and that there would be
redress and recompense in a future state, are now demanding that
conditions shall be levelled here.  The nations quake with fear of
change.  The leaders of humanity, some think, may even find it
necessary to make up by an increase of the powers of government for the
lost influence of religion.

Belief in the Bible as inspired and God's revelation of himself to man
seems hardly to linger in well-informed and open minds.  Criticism,
history, and science have conspired to put an end to it.  The
authorship of the greater part, including the most important books, is
unknown.  The morality of the Old Testament differs from that of the
New, and though in advance of the world generally in those days, in
more places than one, as in the case of the slaughter of the
Canaanites, shocks us now.  There are errors, too, in the Old Testament
of a physical kind, such as those in the account of creation and the
belief in the revolution of the sun.  Of the New Testament the most
important books, the first three Gospels, our main authorities for the
life of Christ, are manifestly grafts upon a stock of unknown
authorship and date.  They betray a belief in diabolical possession, a
local superstition from which the author of the Fourth Gospel, who
evidently was not a Palestinian Jew, was free.  There is discrepancy
between the first three Gospels and the fourth, notably as to the day
and consequent significance of Christ's celebration of the Passover.
It is incredible that God in revealing himself to man should have
allowed any mark of human error to appear in the revelation.

We have, moreover, to ask why that on which the world's salvation
depended should have been withheld so long and communicated to so few.

There remains of the Old Testament, besides its vast historical
interest, much that morally still impresses and exalts us.  Of the New
Testament there remains the moral ideal of Christ, our faith in which
no uncertainty as to the authors of the narratives, or mistrust of them
on account of the miraculous embellishment common in biographies of
saints, need materially affect.  The moral ideal of Christ conquered
the ancient world when the Roman, mighty in character as well as in
arms, was its master.  It has lived through all these centuries, all
their revolutions and convulsions, the usurpation, tyranny, and
scandals of the Papacy.  The most doubtful point of it, considered as a
permanent exemplar, is its tendency, not to asceticism, for Christ came
"eating and drinking," but to an excessive preference for poverty and
antipathy to wealth which would arrest human progress and kill
civilization.  We have, however, a Nicodemus and a Joseph of Arimathea,
as well as a Dives and a Lazarus.  Nothing points to a Simeon Stylites.
Self-denial, though not asceticism proper, is a necessary part of the
life of a wandering preacher, which also precluded the exhibition of
domestic virtues.  The relation of Jesus with his family seems to have
been hardly domestic; we have no record of any communication between
him and Joseph; in his last hour he provides a retreat for his mother.

We cannot appeal from reason to faith.  Faith is confidence, and for
confidence there must be reason.  The faith to which appeal is made is
in fact an emotion rather than an intellectual conviction.

But apart from the Bible, have we any revelation of the nature, the
will, the unity, the existence of deity?  It must apparently be owned
that, though we tremble at the thought, we have none.  We are left upon
this shore of time gazing into infinity and eternity without clue or
guidance except such as we can gain either by inspection of our own
nature with its moral indications and promptings or by studying the
order of the universe.

We find in man, it is true, a natural belief in deity, which we might
think was implanted by his creator; but it is not found in all men, and
in the lower races it assumes forms often so low and grotesque that we
cannot imagine its origin to have been divine.  Between the God of the
Christian and the god of the red Indian there is, saving mere force, no
affinity whatever.  This we must frankly own to ourselves.  The god of
the Mexican demanded human sacrifice.

On earth the creative power seems to be, as it were, contending against
itself.  Good of every kind is in conflict with evil.  Slowly and
fitfully, with many reverses, good seems to prevail.  Humanity as a
whole advances, and if we could believe in its collective advance
toward an ultimate perfection which all who have contributed to the
advance should share, we might have a solution of the great problem.
But of this we have no certain assurance.  Multitudes come into being
who to progress can contribute nothing.  There is evil of all kinds
that so far as we can see can be followed by no good effect.  Plague
and famine, with a great part of the common misfortunes of human life,
seem merely evil.  So, plainly, do the sufferings of animals, sometimes
on a terrible scale and apparently quite useless.  As long as effort,
even painful, is the price of perfection the price must be paid and we
acquiesce.  But in innumerable cases there appears to be no room for
that explanation.  The rocks display the fossil remains of whole races
of primeval animals produced apparently only to become extinct.  Of the
earth itself, man's destined habitation, large portions are utterly
uninhabitable.  The legendary war between the powers of good and evil,
God and Satan, Ormuzd and Ahriman, was a fable naturally devised,
though the birth of the two powers and the division of existence
between them is inconceivable.  Can anything like a clear line be drawn
between good and evil?

Effort and resistance to temptation may seem necessary ingredients in
the formation of a virtuous character.  So far we may think we have the
clue.  But what is to be said of the myriads of cases in which virtuous
effort seems to be morally impossible; in the case, for instance, of
barbarous or corrupt and depraved tribes or nations in which general
example is evil?  What is to be said of deaths in infancy, when there
has been no time for character to be formed?  To suppose that the
Creator could not have helped it, that this was his only way to the
production of virtuous beings, is to deny his omnipotence.  A Satan
with horns and hoofs, struggling against the power of good, used to be
the solution of the problem, but belongs to the simple religion of the
past.

A plan of which we are ignorant, but of which the end will be good, is
apparently our only explanation of the mystery.  The earth is
beautiful; we have human society with all its interests; we have
friendship, love, and marriage; we have art and music.  We must trust
that the power which will determine the future reveals itself in these.

The belief that man has an immortal soul inserted into a mortal body
from which, being, as Bishop Butler phrases it, "indiscerptible," it is
parted at death, has become untenable.  We know that man is one; that
all grows and develops together.  Imagination cannot picture a
disembodied soul.  The spiritualist apparitions are always corporeal.

Free will surely we unquestionably have.  Necessarianism seems to
assume that in action there is only one element, motive.  But
reflection seems to show that there are two elements, motive and will;
and of this duality we seem to be sensible when we waver in action or
feel compunction for what we have done.  Is it possible to explain
moral repentance or morality at all without assuming the freedom of the
will?  Habit may enslave; but to be enslaved is once to have been free.

What is conscience?  When we repent morally are we looking only to the
immediate consequences of the act, or are we also looking to the injury
done to our moral nature?  If the latter, does it not appear that there
is something in us not material and pointing to a higher life?  Much of
us, no doubt, is material.  Memory and imagination often act unbidden
by the will; imagination often when we are asleep.  We may find a
material element even in the character as moulded by physical or social
circumstance or need.  But is there not also a conscious effort of
self-improvement not dependent on these?  That all is material, nothing
spiritual, does not seem yet to have been proved.

It is by close examination of our own nature and its workings, perhaps,
that we are most likely to solve the enigma of our being.  The word
spiritual surely has a meaning; it suggests self-culture not only for
the present but for a higher state.

Evolution is a great discovery.  But evolution cannot have evolved
itself, nor does there seem to have been an observed case of it.
Points of similarity between the ape and man are not proofs of
transition.  Has any animal given, like man, the slightest sign of
self-improvement or conscious tendency to progress?

The putting on by the mortal of immortality, it must however be owned,
baffles conception.  In the apologue of Dives and Lazarus the dead
appear still in their human forms and talk to each other across the
gulf, apparently narrow, which divides the abode of the damned from
that of the blessed.  This clearly is the work of imagination.  Nor,
seeing the infinite gradations of character and the frequent mixture of
good and evil in the same man, can we understand how a clear line can
be drawn between those who are admitted to heaven and those who are
condemned to hell.

Mere difficulties of sense or intellect on mundane questions might be
met by appeal to the mysteries of a universe which may conceivably be
other in reality than to us it appears.  But it is to be supposed that
divine beneficence would give its creatures all powers of intelligence
necessary to their moral welfare, above all those entailing reward or
punishment in a future life.

What is to be said in this connection of man's aesthetic nature, of his
sense of beauty and melody?  Can they be the offspring of material
evolution?  As they meet no material need, we might almost take them
for the smile of a beneficent and sympathizing spirit.  The basis of
the gifts no doubt is physical, but we cannot easily understand how
they can have been developed by a purely physical process.

To ghosts and apparitions of all kinds, spiritualism included, we bid a
long farewell.

We turn to the universe, of which while we believed in the Incarnation
our earth was the central and all-important scene, but in which it now
holds the place only of a minor planet.  We see order and grandeur
inexpressible, but with some apparent signs of an opposite kind--the
conflagration of a star, a moon bereft of atmosphere, errant comets and
aerolites.  In our own abode we have variations of weather, apparently
accidental and sometimes noxious, atmospheric influences which beget
plagues, ministers of destruction such as earthquakes and volcanoes.
The plan, if plan there is, transcends our sense and comprehension.

Still, be it ever borne in mind, of the human race, progress, moral and
mental, is the unique characteristic, and the one which suggests a
divine plan to be fulfilled in the sum of things.  It distinguishes man
vitally and immeasurably from all other creatures.  Fitful, often
arrested, sometimes reversed, it does not cease.  It may point to an
ultimate solution of the enigma of our chequered being such as shall
"justify the ways of God to man."  This may be still the world's
childhood, and the faith which seems to be collapsing may be only that
of the child.

Whatever trouble, moral, social, or political, a great change of belief
may bring, there is surely nothing for it but to seek and embrace the
truth.  Whatever may become of our creeds and of the dogma, so plainly
human in its origin, of some of them, we have still the Christian ideal
of character, which has not yet been seriously challenged, does not
depend on miracle or dogma for its claim to acceptance, and may
continue to unite Christendom.

Superstition can be of no use morally; even politically it can be of
little use, and not for long.  In the Christian ideal we still have a
rule of life.  Robinson, the good Puritan pastor, taking leave of the
members of his flock who were embarking for America, bade them not
confine themselves to what they had learned from his teaching, but to
"be ready to receive whatever truth might be made known to them from
the written word of God."  If there is a God, are not all truths,
scientific, historic, or critical, as much as anything written in the
Bible, the word of God?


September 20th, 1908.



II.

NEW FAITH LINKED WITH OLD.


A preacher cites a lecture of mine, delivered nearly half a century
ago, a part of which has had the honour of being embalmed in the work
of that most eminent theologian, the late Dean Westcott, on "The
Historic Faith."  I turned rather nervously to the lecture to see what
it was that I had said.  Not that I should have been much shocked had I
found that my opinions had even been completely changed.  Since that
lecture was delivered science and criticism have wrought a revolution
in theological belief, likely, as it appears to me, to be regarded
hereafter as the most momentous revolution in history.  With the whole
passage cited by Dean Westcott I will not burden the columns of _The
Sun_, but part of it is this:--

"The type of character set forth in the Gospel history is an absolute
embodiment of love, both in the way of action and affection, crowned by
the highest possible exhibition of it in an act of the most
transcendent self-devotion to the interest of the human race.  This
being the case, it is difficult to see how the Christian morality can
ever be brought into antagonism with the moral progress of mankind; or
how the Christian type of character can ever be left behind by the
course of human development, lose the allegiance of the moral world, or
give place to newly emerging and higher ideals.  This type, it would
appear, being perfect, will be final.  It will be final not as
precluding future history, but as comprehending it.  The moral efforts
of all ages, to the consummation of the world, will be efforts to
realize this character and to make it actually, as it is potentially,
universal.  While these efforts are being carried on under all the
various circumstances of life and society, and under all the various
moral and intellectual conditions attaching to particular men, an
infinite variety of characters, personal and national, will be
produced; a variety ranging from the highest human grandeur down to the
very verge of the grotesque.  But these characters, with all their
variations, will go beyond their sources and their ideal only as the
rays of light go beyond the sun.  Humanity, as it passes through phase
after phase of the historical movement, may advance indefinitely in
excellence; but its advance will be an indefinite approximation to the
Christian type.  A divergence from that type, to whatever extent it may
take place, will not be progress, but debasement and corruption.  In a
moral point of view, in short, the world may abandon Christianity, but
it can never advance beyond it.  This is not a matter of authority, or
even of revelation.  If it is true, it is a matter of reason as much as
anything in the world."

I went on to dwell on the freedom of the Christian type of character as
embodied in the Founder of Christianity from peculiarities of nation,
race, or sex which might have derogated from its perfection as a type
of pure humanity.  In those days I believed in revelation.  But my
argument was not from revelation, but from ethics and history.  The
undertaking of Christianity to convert mankind to a fraternal and
purely beneficent type of character and enfold men in a universal
brotherhood, baffled and perverted although the effort has been in
various ways, appears to have no parallel in ethical history.  There is
none in the Greek philosophers or the Roman Stoics, high as some of
them may soar in their way.  Aristotle's ideal man is perfect in its
statuesque fashion, but it is not fraternal; it is not even
philanthropic.  Nor does the Christian character or the effort to
create it depart with belief in dogma.  Do not men who have totally
renounced the dogma still cultivate a character in its gentleness and
benevolence essentially Christian?

Theory, I have none.  I plead, on a footing with the nine thousand
correspondents of the _Daily Telegraph_ of London, for thoroughgoing
allegiance to the truth, emancipation of the clerical intellect from
tests, and comprehension in the inquiry not only of the material, but
of the higher or spiritual nature of man, including his aspiration to
progress, of which there cannot be said to be any visible sign in
brutes, whatever rudiments of human faculties and affections they may
otherwise display.  But though I have no theory, I cannot help having a
conception, and my present conception of the historical relation of
Christianity and its Founder to humanity and human progress does not
seem to me to be so different from what it was half a century ago as
when I came to compare the two I expected to find it.  It seems to me
still that history is a vast struggle, with varying success, toward the
attainment of moral perfection, of which, if the advent of Christianity
furnished the true ideal, it may be deemed in a certain sense a
revelation.  Assuredly it may if in this most mysterious world there
is, beneath all the conflict of good with evil, a spirit striving
toward good and destined in the end to prevail.  If there is not such a
spirit, if all is matter and chance, we, can only say, What a spectacle
is History!


January 20th, 1907.



III.

THE SCOPE OF EVOLUTION.


In discussing the ground of ethical science some writers appear to hold
that evolution explains all; but surely the illustrious discoverer of
evolution never carried his theory beyond the material part of man.  He
never professed to trace the birth of ethics, idealization, science,
poetry, art, religion, or anything spiritual in the anthropoid ape.
There is here, apparently, not only a step in development but a _saltus
mortalis_, a dividing and impassable gulf.

Our bodily senses we share with the brutes.  Some brutes excel us in
quickness of sense.  They have the rudiments, but the rudiments only,
of our emotions and affections.  The mother bird loves her offspring,
but only until they are fledged.  The dog is attached to the master who
feeds him, commands him, and if he offends whips him; but without
respect to that master's personal character or deserts.  He is as much
attached to Bill Sykes as he would be to the best of men.  The workings
of what we call instinct in beavers, bees, and ants are marvellous and
seem in some ways almost to outstrip humanity, but they are not, like
humanity, progressive.  The ant and the bee of thousands of years ago
are the ant and the bee of the present day.  The bee is not even taught
by experience that her honey will be taken again next year.  Still less
is it possible to detect anything like moral aspiration or effort at
improving the community in a moral way.  Beavers are wonderfully
co-operative, but they have shown no tendency to establish a church.

Of the science of ethics the foundation surely is our sense of the
difference between right and wrong, and of our obligation to choose the
right and avoid the wrong for our own sake and for the sake of the
society of which we are members and the character of which reacts upon
ourselves.  This sense seems to me to be authoritative, whatever its
origin may be.  Different conceptions of right and wrong may to some
extent prevail under different circumstances, national or of other
kinds, giving room for different ethical systems, as a comparison of
the ethics of the Gospel with those of Aristotle shows.  Still, there
is always the sense of the difference between right and wrong and of
the necessity, individual and social, of embracing the first and
eschewing the second.  If the Christian system is found by experience
to show itself essentially superior to all other systems and to satisfy
individually and socially, it is supreme, and is presumably the dictate
of the author of our being, if an author of our being there is.

The necessarian theory, which in this connection is still advanced or
implied, largely accepted as it has been, I cannot help thinking is
really traceable to an oversight.  If in action there were only one
factor, that is to say, the motive, the action would seem to be
necessary and to be traceable in its origin apparently back to the
nebula.  But surely there are two factors, the motive and the volition.
Of the second factor in actions which are matters of course we are not
conscious; where there is a conflict of motives or hesitation of any
kind, we are.  Huxley at one time held that man was an automaton.  I
believe my illustrious friend afterward receded from that position.
Yet on the necessarian theory automatons we must apparently be.


February 10th, 1907.



IV.

THE LIMIT OF EVOLUTION.


Your last correspondent on the subject of my letters treats the
question lightly.  Perhaps he is young, enjoying the morning of life
and thinking little of its close.  On the mind of a student of history
is deeply impressed the sadness of its page; the record of infinite
misery and suffering as well as depravity, all apparently to no purpose
if the end is to be a physical catastrophe.  Comtism, while it bids us
devote and sacrifice ourselves to the future of humanity, can
apparently hold out nothing more.

I accept evolution, if it is the verdict of science as to the origin of
physical species, the human species included; though it certainly seems
strange that, the chances being so numerous as they are, no distinct
ease of evolution should have taken place within our ken.  But the
theory apparently does not pretend to account for the development of
man's higher nature.  That there is a gap in the continuity of
development or any supernatural intervention has never been suggested
by me; but it does appear that there is an ascent such as constitutes
an essential difference and calls for other than physical explanation.

In matter, said Tyndall, is the potentiality of all life.  Matter is
what we discern by our bodily senses.  What assurance have we that the
account of the universe and of our relations to it given us by our
bodily senses is exhaustive, or that the moral conscience may not have
another source?

Apart from anything more distinctly spiritual, where do we get the
faculty of idealization?  Is it traceable to physical sense?

Unless the moral conscience has a source higher than mere physical
evolution, what is to deter a man in whom criminal propensities are
strong from indulging them so long as he can do so with impunity?
Eccelino had a lust of cruelty.  Was he wrong in indulging it, so long
as he had the power, which he might have had, with common prudence, to
the end of his life?

I speak, as I have always said, from the ranks; and I am not presuming
to criticise Darwin's theory as an explanation of the origin and nature
of the physical man.  But if the theory is to be carried farther, and
we are to be told that man's higher attributes and his moral conscience
have no source or authority other than physical evolution, we may
fairly ask to see our way.


March 17th, 1907.



V.

EXPLANATIONS.


Interest is evidently felt in questions which I have been permitted to
treat in _The Sun_, and after the notices and the queries which I have
received there are points on which I should like, if you will allow me,
to set myself right.

I.  The leaning to orthodoxy with which I am gently reproached goes not
beyond a conviction, drawn from the study not of theology but of
history, that of all the types of character hitherto produced the
Christian type, founded on a belief in the fatherhood of God and the
brotherhood of man, appears to be the happiest and the best.  At its
birth it encountered alien and hostile influences; Alexandrian
theosophy, Oriental asceticism, Byzantine imperialism.  Later it
encountered the worst influence of all, that of theocracy engendered by
the ambition of the monk Hildebrand.  Theocracy, not Catholicism or
anything spiritual, has been the source of the crimes of the Papacy; of
the Norman raids upon England and Ireland; the civil wars kindled by
Papal intrigue in Germany; the extermination of the Albigenses; the
Inquisition; Alva's tribunal of blood in the Netherlands; the massacre
of St. Bartholomew; the persecution of the Huguenots; Jesuitism and the
evils, moral and political, as well as religious, which Jesuitism has
wrought.  Through all this, and in spite of it all, Christian character
has preserved itself, and it is still the basis of the world's best
civilization.  Much that is far outside the Christian creed is still
Christian in character and traceable to a Christian source.

II.  I fully admit that society can be regulated by a law framed for
mutual protection and general well-being without the religious
conscience or other support than temporal interest.  But if individual
interest or passion can break this law with impunity, as often they
can, what is there to withhold them from doing it?  What is the value
of a clean breast?

III.  The fatherhood of God seems to be implied in the Christian belief
in the brotherhood of man.  By that phrase I meant to characterise
Christianity, not to embark upon the question of Theism.  It does not
seem possible that we should ever have direct proof through human
observation and reasoning of the existence of Deity or of the divine
aim and will.  To some power, and apparently to some moral power, we
must owe our being.  We can hardly believe that creation planned itself
or that the germ endowed itself with life and provision for
development.  But what can have been the aim of creation?  What can
have led to the production of humanity, with all the evil and suffering
which Omniscience must have foreseen?  What was there which without
such a process mere fiat, so far as we can see, could not produce?  The
only thing that presents itself is character, which apparently must be
self-formed and developed by resistance to evil.  We have had plenty of
"evidences" in the manner of Paley or the Bridgewater Treatises, met by
sceptical argument on the other side; but has inquiry yet tried to
fathom the mystery of human existence?

IV.  One thing for which I have earnestly pleaded is the abolition of
clerical tests, which are in fact renunciations of absolute loyalty to
truth.  Would this involve the dissolution of the Churches?  Nothing
surely can put an end to the need of spiritual association or to the
usefulness of the pastorate so long as we believe in spiritual life.  I
think I have seen the most gifted minds, such as might have done us the
highest service in the quest of truth, condemned to silence by the
tests.


May 5th, 1907.



VI.

THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL.


There appeared the other day in the Washington _Herald_ a notable
letter by Mr. Paul Chamberlain on Immortality.  It took the same line
as an essay on the same question by Mr. Chamberlain's late father,
which I had read in manuscript.  Both the letter and the essay are on
the negative side of the question, which, in the essay at least, is
pronounced the happier and better view, as conducive to unselfishness.
Unselfishness, it must surely be, of a supreme kind.  Annihilation is
not a cheerful word.  Bacon has a highly rhetorical passage flouting
the fear of death.  His was probably not a very loving nature, nor does
he seem to have thought of the parting from those we love.

The life of the late Mr. Chamberlain was evidently happy as well as
good.  That of his son, I have no doubt, is the same.  But of the lot
of the myriads whose lives, through no fault of their own, are, or in
the course of history have been, unhappy, often most miserable, what is
to be said?  If for them there is no compensation, can we believe that
benevolence and justice rule the world?  If the world is not ruled by
benevolence and justice, what is our ground of hope?

The negative conclusion rids us, it is true, of the Dantean Hell, which
paints the Deity as incomparably worse than the worst Italian tyrant,
and, as it is to be everlasting, concedes the final victory to evil.

We discard all ghost stories and spiritualist apparitions as at most
signs of a general craving.  We resign all reasoning like that of
Butler, who describes the soul as indiscerptible, assuming that it
exists separately from the body.  Nor can we be said to have anything
that bears the character of Revelation.  That the Founder of
Christianity looked for a future life, with its rewards and
punishments, is evident.  But he brought no special message, lifted not
the curtain of mystery, did nothing to clear our minds upon the
subject.  His apologue of Dives and Lazarus shows that to Him as to us
the other world was a realm of the imagination.

Is there anything in man not physical, or apparently explained and
limited by the transient conditions and necessities of his present
state, anything which gives an inkling of immortality?  Our utilitarian
morality is the offspring and adjunct of our condition here.  But is
there not an aspiration to character which points to something more
spiritual and higher than conformity to the utilitarian code?  Heroism
and self-sacrifice are not utilitarian.

We can hardly allow the investigation to be closed by the mere mention
of the talismanic formulary Evolution.  There may be something still to
be said on that subject.  Evolution cannot have evolved itself, nor
does it seem capable of infallible demonstration.  It no doubt
postulates vast spaces of time for its action.  But within the space of
time of which we in any way have knowledge, apparently no case of
spontaneous evolution has taken place.  Rudimentary likeness between
the frame of the ape and that of man seems hardly in itself a proof of
the generation of man from the ape.

On no subject, however, does one who is not a man of science or a
philosopher feel more intensely his deficiency, and his need of having
his paths lighted by the perfectly free while reverent inquiry, to pray
for which has been the object of these letters.


August 11th, 1907.



VII.

IS THERE TO BE A REVOLUTION IN ETHICS?


A revolution in theology and in our conception of the government of the
universe such as we are undergoing is sure to draw with it a
revolutionary movement in ethics.  There lies before me a review
article giving an account of a number of books on ethics which are
widely at variance, it appears, with the ethics of Christianity.  The
general tendency of the authors seems to be to reject altogether the
Christian type of character as artificial and weak, and to aim at
substituting for it something more robust and, it is assumed, more in
accordance with nature.  One theorist is represented as regarding
humanity in its present form only as transient material out of which is
to be wrought the "Superman."  In what respect, so far as our
conceptions extend, has Christian ethic failed?  It has given birth to
the patriot as well as to the martyr, to the virtues of the softer as
well as to those of the stronger sex.  Communities which have kept its
rules, as well as individuals, have been happy.

The Christian ideal of character and life went essentially unchanged
through the violence of the Middle Ages and the vices of the Papacy.
It was somewhat perverted by asceticism; but it was radically the same
character in Anselm or in St. Louis, as it is in their counterparts
now.  Nor does it seem to lose by renunciation of theological dogma.
The moral principles and aspirations of good free thinkers or
Positivists remain still essentially Christian.

The ethical ideal which is now being set up against the Christian
apparently, is that of the Greeks.  In literature and art Greece, or
rather Athens, or, to speak still more correctly, a limited number of
free citizens in Athens, was pre-eminent: but its pre-eminence, if we
may trust its own moralists, hardly extended to morals.


May 3rd, 1908.





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