Modern Religious Cults and Movements
Gaius Glenn Atkins
Modern Religious Cults and Movements
Dr. Atkins has written a noteworthy and valuable book dealing with the new cults some of which have been much to the fore for a couple of decades past, such as: Faith Healing; Christian Science; New Thought; Theosophy and Spiritualism, etc. $2.50
The Undiscovered Country
Dr. Atkins' work, throughout, is marked by clarity of presentation, polished diction and forceful phrasing. A firm grasp of the elemental truths of Christian belief together with an unusual ability to interpret mundane experiences in terms of spiritual reality. $1.50
Jerusalem: Past and Present
"One of the books that will help to relieve us of the restless craving for excitement, and to make clear that we can read history truly only as we read it as 'His Story'—and that we attain our best only as the hope of the soul is realized by citizenship in 'the City of God.'"—Baptist World. $1.25
Pilgrims of the Lonely Road
"A very unusual group of studies of the great mystics, and shows real insight into the deeper experience of the religious life."—Christian Work. $2.00
A Rendezvous with Life
"Life is represented as a journey, with various 'inns' along the way such as Day's End, Week's End, Month's End, Year's End—all suggestive of certain experiences and duties." Paper, 25 cts.
Modern Religious Cults and Movements
GAIUS GLENN ATKINS, D.D., L.H.D.
_Minister of the First Congregational Church, Detroit, Mich.
Author of "Pilgrims of the Lonely Road," "The Undiscovered Country," etc._
New York Chicago
Fleming H. Revell Company
London and Edinburgh
Copyright, 1923, by FLEMING H. REVELL COMPANY
New York: 158 Fifth Avenue Chicago: 17 North Wabash Ave. London: 21 Paternoster Square Edinburgh: 75 Princes Street
Whose constant friendship through changing years has been like the fire upon his hearthstone, a glowing gift and a grateful memory
The last thirty years, though as dates go this is only an approximation, have witnessed a marked development of religious cults and movements largely outside the lines of historic Catholicism and Protestantism. One of these cults is strongly organized and has for twenty years grown more rapidly in proportion than most of the Christian communions. The influence of others, more loosely organized, is far reaching. Some of them attempt to give a religious content to the present trend of science and philosophy, and, generally, they represent the free movement of what one may call the creative religious consciousness of our time.
There is, of course, a great and constantly growing literature dealing with particular cults, but there has been as yet apparently no attempt to inquire whether there may not be a few unexpectedly simple centers around which, in spite of their superficial differences, they really organize themselves.
What follows is an endeavour in these directions. It is really a very great task and can at the best be only tentatively done. Whoever undertakes it may well begin by confessing his own limitations. Contemporaneous appraisals of movements upon whose tides we ourselves are borne are subject to constant revision. One's own prejudices, no matter how strongly one may deal with them, colour one's conclusions, particularly in the region of religion. The really vast subject matter also imposes its own limitations upon even the most sincere student unless he has specialized for a lifetime in his theme; even then he would need to ask the charity of his readers.
Ground has been broken for such an endeavour in many different directions. Broadly considered, William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" was perhaps the pioneer work. Professor James' suggestive analyses recognize the greatly divergent forms religious experience may take and establish their right to be taken seriously as valid facts for the investigator. The whole tendency of organized Christianity—and Protestantism more largely than Catholicism—has been to narrow religious experience to accepted forms, but religion itself is impatient of forms. It has its border-lands, shadowy regions which lie between the acceptance of what Sabatier calls "the religions of authority" on the one hand and the conventional types of piety or practical goodness on the other. Those who find their religion in such regions—one might perhaps call them the border-land people—discover the authority for their faith in philosophies which, for the most part, have not the sanction of the schools and the demonstration of the reality of their faith in personal experience for which there is very little proof except their own testimony—and their testimony itself is often confused enough.
But James made no attempt to relate his governing conceptions to particular organizations and movements save in the most general way. His fundamentals, the distinction he draws between the "once-born" and the "twice-born," between the religion of healthy-mindedness and the need of the sick soul, the psychological bases which he supplies for conversation and the rarer religious experiences are immensely illuminating, but all this is only the nebulae out of which religions are organized into systems; the systems still remain to be considered.
There has been of late a new interest in Mysticism, itself a border-land word, strangely difficult of definition yet meaning generally the persuasion that through certain spiritual disciplines—commonly called the mystic way—we may come into a first-hand knowledge of God and the spiritual order, in no sense dependent upon reason or sense testimony. Some modern movements are akin to mysticism but they cannot all be fairly included in any history of mysticism. Neither can they be included in any history of Christianity; some of them completely ignore the Christian religion; some of them press less central aspects of it out of all proportion; one of them undertakes to recast Christianity in its own moulds but certainly gives it a quality in so dealing with it which cannot be supported by any critical examination of the Gospels or considered as the logical development of Christian dogma. Here are really new adventures in religion with new gospels, new prophets and new creeds. They need to be twice approached, once through an examination of those things which are fundamental in religion itself, for they have behind them the power of what one may call the religious urge, and they will ultimately stand as they meet, with a measure of finality, those needs of the soul of which religion has always been the expression, or fall as they fail to meet them. But since some limitation or other in the types of Christianity which are dominant amongst us has given them their opportunity they must also be approached through some consideration of the Christianity against which they have reacted. Unsatisfied needs of the inner life have unlocked the doors through which they have made their abundant entry. Since they also reflect, as religion always reflects, contemporaneous movements in Philosophy, Science, Ethics and Social Relationship, they cannot be understood without some consideration of the forces under whose strong impact inherited faiths have, during the last half century, been slowly breaking down, and in answer to whose suggestions faith has been taking a new form.
A rewarding approach, then, to Modern Religious Cults and Movements must necessarily move along a wide front, and a certain amount of patience and faith is asked of the reader in the opening chapters of this book: patience enough to follow through the discussion of general principles, and faith enough to believe that such a discussion will in the end contribute to the practical understanding of movements with which we are all more or less familiar, and by which we are all more or less affected.
I. FORMS AND BACKGROUNDS OF INHERITED CHRISTIANITY 13
Certain Qualities Common to All Religions—Christianity Historically Organized Around a Transcendent God and a Fallen Humanity—The Incarnation; the Cross the Supreme Symbol of Western Theology—The Catholic Belief in the Authority of an Inerrant Church—The Protestant Church Made Faith the Key to Salvation—Protestantism and an Infallibly Inspired Bible—The Strength and Weakness of This Position—Evangelical Protestantism the Outcome—Individual Experience of the Believer the Keystone of Evangelical Protestantism—Readjustment of Both Catholic and Protestant Systems Inevitable.
II. NEW FORCES AND OLD FAITHS 46
The Far-reaching Readjustments of Christian Faith in the Last Fifty Years—The Reaction of Evolution Upon Religion—The Reaction of Biblical Criticism Upon Faith—The Average Man Loses His Bearings—The New Psychology—The Influence of Philosophy and the Social Situation—An Age of Confusion—The Lure of the Short Cut—Popular Education—The Churches Lose Authority—Efforts at Reconstruction—An Age of Doubt and a Twilight-Zone in History—The Hunger of the Soul and the Need for Faith—Modern Religious Cults and Movements: Their Three Centers About Which They Have Organized Themselves.
III. FAITH HEALING IN GENERAL 82
The Bases of Faith and Mental Healing—Cannon's Study of Emotional Reactions—The Two Doors—The Challenge of Hypnotism—Changed Attention Affects Physical States—The Power of Faith to Change Mental Attitudes—Demon Possession—The Beginnings of Scientific Medicine—The Attitude of the Early and Medieval Church—Saints and Shrines—Magic, Charms, and the King's Touch: The Rise of the Faith Healer.
IV. THE APPROACH TO CHRISTIAN SCIENCE AND MARY BAKER EDDY 108
Mesmerism—The Scientific Investigation of Mesmerism—Mesmerism in America; Phineas Quimby an Important Link in a Long Chain—Quimby is Led to Define Sickness as Wrong Belief—Quimby Develops His Theories—Mary Baker Eddy Comes Under His Influence—Outstanding Events of Her Life: Her Early Girlhood—Her Education: Shaping Influences—Her Unhappy Fortunes. She is Cured by Quimby—An Unacknowledged Debt—She Develops Quimby's Teachings—Begins to Teach and to Heal—Early Phases of Christian Science—She Writes "Science and Health" and Completes the Organization of Her Church.
V. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE AS A PHILOSOPHY 136
Christian Science a Philosophy, a Theology, a Religion and a System of Healing—The Philosophic Bases of Christian Science—It Undertakes to Solve the Problem of Evil—Contrasted Solutions—The Divine Mind and Mortal Mind—The Essential Limitations of Mrs. Eddy's System—Experience and Life—Sense-Testimony—The Inescapable Reality of Shadowed Experience.
VI. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE AS A THEOLOGY 163
Science and Health Offered as a Key to the Scriptures—It Ignores All Recognized Canons of Biblical Interpretation—Its Conception of God—Mrs. Eddy's Interpretation of Jesus Christ—Christian Science His Second Coming—Christian Science, the Incarnation and the Atonement—Sin an Error of Mortal Mind—The Sacraments Disappear—The Real Power of Christian Science.
VII. CHRISTIAN SCIENCE AS A SYSTEM OF HEALING AND A RELIGION 185
Christian Science the Application of Philosophy and Theology to Bodily Healing—Looseness of Christian Science Diagnosis—The Power of Mental Environment—Christian Science Definition of Disease—Has a Rich Field to Work—A Strongly-Drawn System of Psycho-therapy—A System of Suggestion—Affected by Our Growing Understanding of the Range of Suggestion—Strongest in Teaching That God Has Meaning for the Whole of Life—Exalts the Power of Mind; the Processes—Is Not Big Enough for the Whole of Experience.
VIII. NEW THOUGHT 210
New Thought Difficult to Define—"The Rediscovery of the Inner Life"—Spinoza's Quest—Kant Reaffirms the Creative Power of Mind—Utilitarianism, Deism and Individualism—The Reactions Against Them—New England Transcendentalism—New Thought Takes Form—Its Creeds—The Range of the Movement—The Key-Words of New Thought—Its Field of Real Usefulness—Its Gospel of Getting On—The Limitations and Dangers of Its Positions—Tends to Become a Universal and Loosely-Defined Religion.
IX. THE RETURN OF THE EAST UPON WEST. THEOSOPHY AND KINDRED CULTS 245
Historic Forces Carried Early Christianity West and Not East—The West Rediscovers the East; the East Returns Upon the West—Chesterton's Two Saints—Why the West Questions the East—Pantheism and Its Problems—How the One Becomes the Many—Evolution and Involution—Theosophy Undertakes to Offer Deliverance—But Becomes Deeply Entangled Itself—The West Looks to Personal Immortality—The East Balances the Accounts of Life in a Series of Reincarnations—Theosophy Produces a Distinct Type of Character—A "Tour de Force" of the Imagination—A Bridge of Clouds—The Difficulties of Reincarnation—Immortality Nobler, Juster and Simpler—Pantheism at Its Best—and Its Worst.
X. SPIRITUALISM 284
The Genesis of Modern Spiritualism—It Crosses to Europe—The Beginnings of Trance-Mediumship—The Society for Psychical Research Begins Its Work—Confronts Difficulties—William James Enters the Field—The Limitations of Psychical Investigation—The Society for Psychical Research Gives Intellectual Standing to Spiritism—The Very Small Number of Dependable Mediums—Spiritism a Question of Testimony and Interpretation—Possible Explanations of Spiritistic Phenomena—Myers' Theory of Mediumship—Telepathy—Controls—The Dilemma of Spiritism—The Influence of Spiritism—The Real Alternative to Spiritism—The Investigations of Emile Boirac—Geley's Conclusions—The Meaning of Spiritism for Faith.
XI. MINOR CULTS: THE MEANING OF THE CULTS FOR THE CHURCH 326
Border-land Cults—Bahaism—The Bab and His Successors—The Temple of Unity—General Conclusions—The Cults Are Aspects of the Creative Religious Consciousness of the Age—Their Parallels in the Past—The Healing Cults Likely to be Adversely Influenced by the Scientific Organization of Psycho-therapy—New Thought Will Become Old Thought—Possible Absorption of the Cults by a Widening Historic Christianity—Christianity Influenced by the Cults—Medical Science and the Healing Cults—A Neglected Force—Time and the Corrections of Truth.
THE FORMS AND BACKGROUNDS OF INHERITED CHRISTIANITY
Chronologically the point of departure for such a study as this is the decade from 1880 to 1890. This is only an approximation but it will do. It was a particularly decorous decade. There was no fighting save on the outposts of colonial empires, the little wars of Soldiers Three and Barrack Room Ballads—too far away for their guns to be heard in the streets of capital cities, but lending a touch of colour to newspaper head-lines and supplying new material for rising young writers. It was the decade of triumphant Democracy and triumphant Science and triumphant Industrialism and, among the more open-minded, of triumphant Evolution. Western Civilization was sure of its forces, sure of its formulae, sure of its future; there were here and there clouds no bigger than a man's hand against particularly luminous horizons, but there was everywhere a general agreement that they would be dissolved by the force of benign development. The world seemed particularly well in hand.
The churches generally shared this confidence. Catholicism and Protestantism had reached a tacit working agreement as to their spheres of influence and were even beginning to fraternize a little. The divisive force of Protestantism seemed to have spent itself. Since Alexander Campbell—dead now for a decade and a half—no Protestant sect of any importance had been established. The older denominations had achieved a distinctive finality in organization and doctrine. Evolution and Biblical criticism were generally the storm centers of controversy and though these controversies were severe enough they produced no schisms in the churches themselves. A few religious leaders were urging a more thoroughgoing social interpretation and application of the teachings of Jesus; such as these were really looked upon with more suspicion than the propagandists of a liberal theology.
We see now with almost tragic clearness that, beneath the surface of the whole interrelated order of that tranquil afternoon of the Victorian epoch, there were forces in action working toward such a challenge of the accepted and inherited as cultures and civilizations are asked to meet only in the great crises of history and bound to issue, as they have issued in far-flung battle lines, in the overthrow of ancient orders and new alignments along every front of human interest. It will be the task of the historians of the future who will have the necessary material in hand to follow these immense reactions in their various fields and they will find their real point of departure not in dates but in the human attitudes and outlooks which then made a specious show of being final—and were not final at all.
Just there also is the real point of departure for a study like this. We may date the rise of modern religious cults and movements from the last decades of the nineteenth century, but they are really reactions not against a time but a temper, an understanding of religion and a group of religious validations which had been built up through an immense labour of travailing generations and which toward the end of the last century were in the way of being more seriously challenged than for a thousand years (and if this seems too strong a statement the reader is asked to wait for at least the attempted proof of it). We shall have to begin, then, with a state of mind which for want of a better name I venture to call the representative orthodox religious consciousness of the end of the nineteenth century. That this consciousness is Christian is of course assumed. It is Protestant rather than Catholic, for Protestantism has supplied the larger number of followers to the newer religious movements.
To begin with, this representative religious consciousness was by no means simple. Professor James Harvey Robinson tells us that the modern mind is really a complex, that it contains and continues the whole of our inheritances and can be understood only through the analysis of all the contributive elements which have combined to make it what it is and that the inherited elements in it far outweigh more recent contributions. The religious mind is an equally complex and deep-rooted inheritance and can best be approached by a consideration of the bases of religion.
Certain Qualities Common to All Religions
We are but pilgrims down roads which space and time supply; we cannot account for ourselves in terms of what we know to be less than ourselves, nor can we face the shadow which falls deeply across the end of our way without dreaming, at least, of that which lies beyond. Whence? Whither? and Why? are insurgent questions; they are voices out of the depths. A very great development of intelligence was demanded before such questions really took definite shape, but they are implicit in even the most rudimentary forms of religion, nor do we outgrow them through any achievement of Science or development of Philosophy. They become thereby, if anything, more insistent. Our widening horizons of knowledge are always swept by a vaster circumference of mystery into which faith must write a meaning and beyond which faith must discern a destiny.
Religion begins, therefore, in our need so to interpret the power manifest in the universe as to come into some satisfying relationship therewith. It goes on to supply an answer to the dominant questions—Whence? Whither? Why? It fulfills itself in worship and communion with what is worshipped. Such worship has addressed itself to vast ranges of objects, fulfilled itself in an almost unbelievable variety of rites. And yet in every kind of worship there has been some aspiration toward an ideal excellence and some endeavour, moreover, of those who worship to come into a real relation with what is worshipped. It would need a detailed treatment, here impossible, to back up so general a statement with the facts which prove it, but the facts are beyond dispute. It would be equally difficult to analyze the elements in human nature which lead us to seek such communion. The essential loneliness of the soul, our sense of divided and warring powers and the general emotional instability of personality without fitting objects of faith and devotion, all contribute to the incurable religiosity of human nature.
[Footnote 1: I have taken as a working definition of Religion a phrase quoted by Ward Fowler in the introduction to his Gifford Lectures on "The Religious Experience of the Roman People." "Religion is the effective desire to be in right relationship to the power manifesting itself in the Universe." This is only a formula but it lends itself to vital interpretations and is a better approach to modern cults, many of which are just that endeavour, than those definitions of religion just now current which define it as a system of values or a process of evaluation.]
The value which religion has for those who hold it is perhaps as largely tested by its power to give them a real sense of communion with God as by any other single thing, but this by no means exhausts the value of religion for life. All religions must, in one way or another, meet the need of the will for guidance and the need of the ethical sense for right standards. Religion has always had an ethical content, simple enough to begin with as religion itself was simple. Certain things were permitted, certain things prohibited as part of a cult. These permissions and prohibitions are often strangely capricious, but we may trace behind taboo and caste and the ceremonially clean and unclean an always emerging standard of right and wrong and a fundamental relationship between religion and ethics. Religion from the very first felt itself to be the more august force and through its superior authority gave direction and quality to the conduct of its devotees. It was long enough before all this grew into Decalogues and the Sermon on the Mount and the latter chapters of Paul's great letters to his churches and our present system of Christian ethics, but we discover the beginning of the lordship of religion over conduct even in the most primitive cults.
We shall find as we go on that this particular aspect of religion is less marked in modern religious cults and movements than either the quest for a new understanding of God or new answers to the three great questions, or the longing for a more satisfying communion with God. They accept, for the most part, the generally held standards of Christian conduct, but even so, they are beginning to develop their own ethical standards and to react upon the conduct of those who hold them.
As has been intimated, however, the appeal of religion goes far deeper than all this. If it did no more than seek to define for us the "power not ourselves" everywhere made manifest, if it did no more than answer the haunting questions: Whence? and Whither? and Why?, if it did no more than offer the emotional life a satisfying object of worship and communion with the Divine, supplying at the same time ethical standards and guiding and strengthening the will in its endeavour after goodness, it would have done us an immense service. But one may well wonder whether if religion did no more than this it would have maintained itself as it has and renew through the changing generations its compelling appeal. More strong than any purely intellectual curiosity as to a first cause or controlling power, more haunting than any wonder as to the source and destiny of life, more persistent than any loneliness of the questing soul is our dissatisfaction with ourselves, our consciousness of tragic moral fault, our need of forgiveness and deliverance. This longing for deliverance has taken many forms.
Henry Osborn Taylor in a fine passage has shown us how manifold are the roads men have travelled in their quest for salvation. "For one man shall find his peace in action, another in the rejection of action, even in the seeming destruction of desire; another shall have peace and freedom through intellectual inquiry, while another must obey his God or love his God and may stand in very conscious need of divine salvation. The adjustment sought by Confucius was very different from that which drew the mind of Plato or led Augustine to the City of God. Often quite different motives may inspire the reasonings which incidentally bring men to like conclusions.... The life adjustment of the early Greek philosophers had to do with scientific curiosity.... They were not like Gotama seeking relief from the tedious impermanence of personal experience any more than they were seeking to insure their own eternal welfare in and through the love of God, the motive around which surged the Christian yearning for salvation. Evidently every religion is a means of adjustment or deliverance."
[Footnote 2: "Deliverance," pp. 4 and 5.]
Professor James in his chapter on The Sick Souls deals most suggestively with these driving longings and all the later analyses of the psychology of conversion begin with the stress of the divided self. The deeper teaching of the New Testament roots itself in this soil. The literature of confession is rich in classic illustrations of all this, told as only St. Augustine more than a thousand years ago or Tolstoy yesterday can tell it. No need to quote them here; they are easily accessible for those who would find for their own longings immortal voices and be taught with what searching self-analysis those who have come out of darkness into light have dealt with their own sick souls.
Every religion has in some fashion or other offered deliverance to its devotees through sacrifice or spiritual discipline, or the assurance that their sins were atoned for and their deliverance assured through the sufferings of others. All this, needless to say, involves not only the sense of sin but the whole reach of life's shadowed experiences. We have great need to be delivered not only from our divided selves but from the burdens and perplexities of life. Religion must offer some explanation of the general problem of sorrow and evil; it must, above all, justify the ways of God with men.
Generally speaking, religion is very greatly dependent upon its power so to interpret the hard things of life to those who bear them that they may still believe in the Divine love and justice. The generality of doubt is not philosophical but practical. We break with God more often than for any other reason because we believe that He has not kept faith with us. Some of the more strongly held modern cults have found their opportunity in the evident deficiency of the traditional explanation of pain and sorrow. Religion has really a strong hold on the average life only as it meets the more shadowed side of experience with the affirmation of an all-conquering love and justice in which we may rest.
Broadly considered, then, the elements common to all religions are such as these: a satisfying interpretation of the power manifest in the universe, the need of the mind for an answer to the questions Whence? and Whither? and Why?, the need of the emotional life for such peace as may come from the consciousness of being in right relationship and satisfying communion with God, the need of the will and ethical sense for guidance, and a need including all this and something beside for spiritual deliverance. The representative religious consciousness of the end of the nineteenth century in which we find our point of departure for the religious reactions of the last generation naturally included all this, but implicitly rather than explicitly. The intellectually curious were more concerned with science and political economies than the nature or genesis of religion, while the truly devout, who are not generally given to the critical analysis of their faith, accepted it as a Divine revelation needing no accounting for outside their Bible. Moreover such things as these were not then and never can be held abstractly. They were articulate in creeds and organized in churches and invested with the august sanction of authority, and mediated through old, old processes of religious development.
Christianity Historically Organized Around the Conception of a Transcendent God and a Fallen Humanity
For in its historic development religion has naturally taken distinctly divergent forms, conditioned by race, environment, the action and reaction of massed experience and by the temper and insight of a few supremely great religious leaders. But centrally, the whole development of any religion has been controlled by its conception of God and, in the main, three different conceptions of God give colour and character to the outstanding historic religions. Pantheistic religions have thought of God as just the whole of all that is; they widen the universe to the measure of the Divine, or narrow the Divine to the operations of the universe. Pantheism saturates its whole vague content with a mystical quality of thought, and colours what it sees with its own emotions. The religions of the Divine Immanence conceive God as pervading and sustaining all that is and revealing Himself thereby, though not necessarily confined therein. The religions of the Divine Transcendence have believed in a God who is apart from all that is, who neither begins nor ends in His universe, and from whom we are profoundly separated not only by our littlenesses but by our sin.
All this is a bare statement of what is almost infinitely richer as it has been felt and proclaimed by the devout and we shall see as we go on how the newer religious movements take also their colour and character from a new emphasis upon the nature of God, or else a return to understandings of Him and feelings about Him which have been lost out in the development of Christianity.
Historically Christian theology, particularly in the West, has centered around the conception of a Transcendent God. As far as doctrine goes Christianity took over a great inheritance from the Jew, for arrestingly enough the Jew, though he belongs to the East, had never anything in common with Eastern Pantheism. On the contrary we find his prophets and lawgivers battling with all their force against such aspects of Pantheism as they found about them. The God of the Old Testament is always immeasurably above those who worshipped Him in righteousness and power; He is their God and they are His chosen people, but there is never any identification of their will with His except in the rare moments of their perfect obedience.
True enough, through the insight of the prophets and particularly the experience of psalmists, this conception of the Apart-God became increasingly rich in the persuasion of His unfailing care for His children. None the less, the Hebrew God is a Transcendent God and Christianity inherits from that. Christianity took over what Judaism refused—Jesus Christ and His Gospel. But out of the immeasurable wealth of His teaching apostolic thinking naturally appropriated and made most of what was nearest in line with the prophets and the lawgivers of their race. Judaism refused Christ but the Twelve Apostles were Jews and the greatest of the group—St. Paul—was a Jewish Rabbi before he became a Christian teacher. He had been nurtured and matured in the schools of his people and though he was reborn, in renunciations and obediences distinctly Christian, there were in his very soul inherited rigidities of form in conformity to which he recast his faith.
More distinctly than he himself could ever have known, he particularized the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Doubtless his own experience was the deeper directing force in all this. Theologies always, to begin with, are the molten outpouring of some transforming experience and they are always, to begin with, fluid and glowing.
Such glowing experiences as these are hard to communicate; they, too, soon harden down and we inherit, as cold and rigid form, what was to begin with the flaming outcome of experience. St. Paul's own struggle and the bitterness of a divided self which issued in his conversion naturally gave content to all his after teaching. He worked out his system strangely apart from the other group of disciples; he had probably never heard a word of Christ's teaching directly from Christ's lips; he naturally fell back, therefore, upon his Jewish inheritance and widened that system of sacrifices and atonements until he found therein not only a place for the Cross but the necessity for it. He made much, therefore, of the sense of alienation from God, of sin and human helplessness, of the need and possibility of redemption.
The Incarnation as the Bridge Between God and Man; the Cross as the Instrument of Man's Redemption. The Cross the Supreme Symbol of Western Theology
Here, then, are the two speculative backgrounds of historic Christianity,—God's apartness from man in an inconceivable immensity of lonely goodness, man's alienation from God in a helpless fallen estate. For the bridging of the gulf between God and His world Christianity offers the incarnation; for the saving of man from his lost estate Christianity offers the Cross. The incarnation is the reentry of God into a world from which, indeed, according to the Christian way of thinking, He has never been entirely separate, but from which He has, none the less, been so remote that if ever it were to be rescued from its ruined condition there was needed a new revelation of God in humanity; and the Atonement is just the saving operation of God thus incarnated.
Eastern Christianity has made most of the incarnation. The great Greek theologies were built around that. They exhausted the resources of a language particularly fitted for subtle definition in their endeavour to explain the mystery of it, and, after more than a century of bitter debate about the nature and person of Christ, contented themselves with affirming the reality both of the human and divine in His nature, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, nor indeed making clear in any truly comprehensible way the truth which they so sought to define, or the faith to which they so passionately held. But though their keen dialectic broke down under the burden they laid upon it, they did, nevertheless, keep alive just that confidence in God as one come into human life and sharing it and using it, without which there would have been in all the faith and thinking of the West for more than a thousand years an unbridged and unbridgeable gulf between God and man.
Indeed, when we turn back again to the great Greek symbols with that conception of the immanence of God which the truer insights of our own time have done so much to supply, we find these old forms and phrases unexpectedly hospitable to our own interpretations. If the Western Church had been more strongly influenced by the philosophical insight of the early Eastern Church, Western Christendom might have been saved from a good deal of that theological hardness from which great numbers are just now reacting.
But Western Christendom took the Cross for the central symbol of its faith. What would have happened to Western Christendom without Augustine we do not know, and it is idle to try to guess, but Europe in its religious thinking followed for a thousand years the direction he gave it. His theology is only the travail of his soul, glowing and molten. His Confessions reveal to us more clearly than any other record we have Paganism becoming Christian. In the travail of his spirit we see something vaster than his own conversion, we see the formulation of new spiritual experiences, the birth of new spiritual relationships, the growth of new moral orders and consecrations. He bridges for us the passages between Paganism and Christianity. He reveals what rebirth meant for men to whom it was no convention but an agonizing recasting of both the inner and outer life. He shows us what it meant to put aside the inheritances and relationships of an immemorial order and to stand as a little child untaught, undisciplined and unperfect in the presence of the new. The spiritual attitude which Augustine attained was to be for long the dominant spiritual attitude of Europe, was to govern medieval conceptions, inspire medieval actions, colour with its flame the mystic brooding of the medieval mind.
In the end the sovereignty of God became for Augustine supreme and over against this he set with strong finality man's hopeless fallen state. He was doubtless in debt to St. Paul for these governing conceptions but they took new character as they passed through the alembic of his own experience. "The one pervading thought of the Greek fathers concerning the redemptive work of Christ is that men are thereby brought into unity with God. They do not hesitate to designate this unity to be as a deification ... they dwell on the idea that we become partakers of the Divine nature." The emphasis here is not so much upon sin to be atoned for or punishment to be avoided, as reconciliation to be achieved.
[Footnote 3: Fisher, "History of Christian Doctrine," p. 162.]
After Augustine the interpretations of the Cross take a new direction. Now men are thereby not so much to be made partakers of the divine nature as to be saved from hell. The explanations of the way in which this salvation is really achieved change with the changing centuries but through shifting theologies there is one constant. All men are lost and foredoomed to an eternal punishment from which they are saved only in that Christ suffered for them and they, through their faith and obedience, have availed themselves of His vicarious death. The varying theological interpretations are themselves greatly significant as if here were something whose meanings no single explanation could exalt, something to be felt rather than understood. The Cross so seen is the symbol at once of love and need, of moral defeat and moral discipline, of suffering helplessness and overcoming goodness. We cannot overstate the influence of this faith upon the better part of Western civilization.
It has kept us greatly humble, purged us of our pride and thrown us back in a helplessness which is, after all, the true secret of our strength, upon the saving mercy of God. The story of it, simply told, has moved the hard or bitter or the careless as nothing else can do. Its assurances of deliverance have given new hope to the hopeless and a power not their own to the powerless. It has exalted as the very message of God the patient enduring of unmerited suffering; it has taught us how there is no deliverance save as the good suffer for the bad and the strong put their strength at the service of the weak; it has taught us that the greatest sin is the sin against love and the really enduring victories for any better cause are won only as through the appeal of a much enduring unselfishness new tempers are created and new forces are released. Nor is there any sign yet that its empire has begun to come to an end.
The Catholic Church Offered Deliverance in Obedience to the Authority of an Inerrant Church
Nevertheless the preaching of the Cross has not commonly taken such forms as these; it has been rather the appeal of the Church to the individual to escape his sinful and hopeless estate either through an obedient self-identification with the Church's discipline and an unquestioning acceptance of the Church's authority, or else through an intellectual acceptance of the scheme of redemption and a moral surrender to it. Here are really the two lines of approach through the one or the other of which Christianity has been made real to the individual from the time of St. Paul till our own time. During the early formative period of the Church it was a matter between the individual and his God. So much we read in and between the lines of the Pauline Epistles. As far as any later time can accurately recast the thought and method of a far earlier time evangelical Protestant theology fairly interprets St. Paul. Faith—a big enough word, standing for both intellectual acceptance and a kind of mystic receptivity to the love and goodness and justice of God revealed in the Cross of Christ—is the key to salvation and the condition of Christian character. It is also that through which religion becomes real to the individual. But since all this lays upon the individual a burden hard enough to be borne (as we shall see when we come back to Protestantism itself) the Church, as her organization became more definite and her authority more strongly established, took the responsibility of the whole matter upon herself. She herself would become responsible for the outcome if only they were teachable and obedient.
The Catholic Church offered to its communicants an assured security, the proof of which was not in the fluctuating states of their own souls but in the august authority of the Church to which they belonged. As long, therefore, as they remained in obedient communion with their Church their souls were secure. The Church offered them its confessional for their unburdening and its absolutions for their assurance, its sacraments for their strengthening and its penances for their discipline and restoration. It took from them in spiritual regions and maybe in other regions too, the responsibility for the conduct of their own lives and asked of the faithful only that they believe and obey. The Church, as it were, "stepped down" religion to humanity. It did all this with a marvellous understanding of human nature and in answer to necessities which were, to begin with, essential to the discipline of childlike peoples who would otherwise have been brought face to face with truths too great for them, or dismissed to a freedom for which they were not ready.
It was and is a marvellous system; there has never been anything like it and if it should wholly fail from amongst us there will never be anything like it again. And yet we see that all this vast spiritual edifice, like the arches of its own great cathedrals, locks up upon a single keystone. The keystone of the arch of Catholic certainty is the acceptance of the authority of the Church conditioned by belief in the divine character of that authority. If anything should shake the Catholic's belief in the authority of his Church and the efficacy of her sacraments then he is left strangely unsheltered. Strongly articulated as this system is, it has not been untouched by time and change. To continue our figure, one great wing of the medieval structure fell away in the Protestant Reformation and what was left, though extensive and solid enough, is still like its great cathedrals—yielding to time and change. The impressive force and unity of contemporaneous Catholicism may lead us perhaps to underestimate the number of those in the Catholic line who, having for one reason or another lost faith in their Church, are now open to the appeal of the newer movements. For example, the largest non-Catholic religious group of Poles in Detroit are Russellites. There are on good authority between three and four thousand of them.
The Protestant Church Made Faith the Key to Salvation with Conversion the Test for the Individual of the Reality of His Religious Experience
If religion has been made real to the Catholic through the mediation of his Church, Protestantism, seeking to recreate the apostolic Church, has made the reality of religion a matter between the individual and his God. And yet Protestantism has never dared commit itself to so simple a phrasing of religion as this, nor to go on without authorities of its own. Protestantism generally has substituted for the inclusive authority of the Catholic Church the authority of its own creeds and fundamentally the authority of the Bible. As far as creeds go Protestantism carried over the content of Latin Christianity more largely than we have generally recognized. Luther was in direct line with Augustine as Augustine was in direct line with St. Paul, and Luther's fundamental doctrine—justification by faith—was not so much a rewriting of ancient creeds as a new way of validating their meaning for the individual. Faith, in our common use of the term, has hardened down into an intellectual acceptance of Protestant theologies, but certainly for St. Paul and probably for Luther it was far more vital than this and far more simple. It was rather a resting upon a delivering power, the assurance of whose desire and willingness to deliver was found in the New Testament. It was an end to struggle, a spiritual victory won through surrender.
The Latin Catholic system had come to impose upon such tempers as Luther's an unendurable amount of strain; it was too complex, too demanding, and it failed to carry with it necessary elements of mental and spiritual consent. (St. Paul had the same experience with his own Judaism.) What Luther sought was a peace-bringing rightness with God. He was typically and creatively one of William James' "divided souls" and he found the solution for his fears, his struggles and his doubts in simply taking for granted that a fight which he was not able to win for himself had been won for him in the transaction on the Cross. He had nothing, therefore, to do but to accept the peace thus made possible and thereafter to be spiritually at rest.
Now since the whole of the meaning of the Cross for Christianity from St. Paul until our own time is involved in this bare statement and since our theologies have never been able to explain this whole great matter in any doctrinal form which has secured universal consent, we must simply fall back upon the statement of the fact and recognize that here is something to be defined in terms of experience and not of doctrine. The validating experience has come generally to be known as conversion, and conversion has played a great part in evangelical Protestantism ever since the Reformation. It has become, indeed, the one way in which religion has been made real to most members of evangelical churches. So sweeping a statement must be somewhat qualified, for conversion is far older than Luther; it is not confined to Protestantism and the Protestant churches themselves have not agreed in their emphasis upon it. Yet we are probably on safe ground in saying that religion has become real to the average member of the average Protestant Church more distinctly through conversion than anything else.
[Footnote 4: But rather in the discipline of the Mystic as an enrichment of the spiritual life than as a door to the Communion of the Church.]
Conversion has of late come up for a pretty thoroughgoing examination by the psychologists, and their conclusions are so generally familiar as to need no restatement here. William James, in a rather informal paragraph quoted from one of his letters, states the psychologist's point of view more simply and vividly than either he or his disciples have defined their position in their more formal works. "In the case of conversion I am quite willing to believe that a new truth may be supernaturally revealed to a subject when he really asks, but I am sure that in many cases of conversion it is less a new truth than a new power gained over life by a truth always known. It is a case of the conflict of two self-systems in a personality up to that time heterogeneously divided, but in which, after the conversion crisis, the higher loves and powers come definitely to gain the upper hand and expel the forces which up to that time had kept them down to the position of mere grumblers and protesters and agents of remorse and discontent. This broader view will cover an enormous number of cases psychologically and leaves all the religious importance to the result which it has on any other theory."
[Footnote 5: Letters of William James, Vol. II, p. 57.]
In Luther, Augustine and St. Paul, and a great fellowship beside, this stress of the divided self was both immediate and intense. Such as these through the consciousness of very real fault—and this is true of Augustine and St. Paul—or through a rare spiritual sensitiveness and an unusual force of aspiration—and this is true of many others—did not need any conviction of sin urged upon them from the outside. They had conviction enough of their own. But all these have been men and women apart, intensely devout by nature, committed by temperament to great travail of soul and concerned, above all, for their own spiritual deliverance. But their spiritual sensitiveness is by no means universal, their sense of struggle not a normal experience for another type of personality. The demand, therefore, that all religious experience be cast in their particular mould, and that religion be made real to every one through the same travail of soul in which it was made real to them, carries with it two very great dangers: first, that some semblance of struggle should be created which does not come vitally out of experience; and second, that the resultant peace should be artificial rather than true, and therefore, should not only quickly lose its force but really result in reactions which would leave the soul of the one so misled, or better perhaps, so mishandled, emptier of any real sense of the reality of religion than to begin with.
Protestantism Found Its Authority in an Infallibly Inspired Bible
Now this is too largely what has happened in evangelical Protestantism. The "twice-born" have been set up as the standard for us all; they have demanded of their disciples the same experience as those through which they themselves have passed. Since this type of religious experience has always been the more ardent and vivid, since the churches in which least has been made of it have generally tended to fall away into routine and some want of real power, we have had, particularly since Jonathan Edwards in America and the Wesleys in England, a recurrent insistence upon it as the orthodox type of religious experience. Partly through inheritance and partly in answer to its own genius Protestantism has built up a system of theology tending to reproduce the sequence of conviction of sin, aspiration, repentance, and conversion by doctrinal pressure from the outside. The foundations of it all are in the New Testament and somewhat in the Old, but what has been built upon these foundations has been either too extended or too one-sided. In order to include in one general sense of condemnation strong enough to create an adequate desire for salvation, all sorts and conditions of people, theology has not only charged us up with our own sins which are always a sad enough account, but it has charged us up with ancestral and imputed sins.
This line of theology has been far too rigid, far too insistent upon what one may call the facts of theology, and far too blind to the facts of life. It has made much of sin in the abstract and sometimes far too little of concrete sin; it has made more of human depravity than social justice; it has failed to make allowance for varieties of temper and condition; it is partly responsible for the widespread reaction of the cults and movements of our own time.
Since so strongly an articulate system as this needed something to sustain it, Protestantism has constantly supported itself in the authority of the Old and New Testaments. It displaced one authority by another, the authority of the Church by the authority of the Book, and in order to secure for this authority an ultimate and unquestioned power it affirmed as the beginning and the end of its use of the Scriptures their infallibility. The growth of Protestant teaching about the Bible has necessarily been complicated but we must recognize that Protestant theology and Protestant tradition have given the Bible what one may call read-in values.
At any rate after affirming the infallibility of the text Protestantism has turned back to the text for the proof of its teaching and so built up its really very great interrelated system in which, as has already been said, the power of religion over the life of its followers and the reality of religion in the experiences of its followers locked up on just such things as these: First, the experiences of conversions; second, conversion secured through the processes of Protestant indoctrination, backed up by the fervent appeal of the Protestant ministry and the pressure of Protestant Church life; and third, all this supported by an appeal to the authority of the Bible with a proof-text for every statement.
All this is, of course, to deal coldly and analytically with something which, as it has worked out in religious life, has been neither cold nor analytical. Underneath it all have been great necessities of the soul and issuing out of it all have been aspirations and devoutnesses and spiritual victories and new understandings of God and a wealth of love and goodness which are a part of the imperishable treasures of humanity for three centuries. This faith and experience have voiced themselves in moving hymns, built themselves into rare and continuing fellowships, gone abroad in missionary passion, spent themselves for a better world and looked unafraid even into the face of death, sure of life and peace beyond. But behind the great realities of our inherited religious life one may discover assumptions and processes less sure.
The Strength and Weakness of This Position
Once more, this inherited faith in the Bible and the systems which have grown out of it have been conditioned by scientific and philosophic understandings. The Protestant doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible assumed its authority not only in the region of religion but in science and history as well. The inherited theologies really went out of their way to give the incidental the same value as the essential. There was no place in them for growth, correction, further revelation. This statement may be challenged, it certainly needs to be qualified, for when the time for adjustment and the need of adjustment really did come the process of adjustment began to be carried through, but only at very great cost and only really by slowly building new foundations under the old. In fact the new is not in many ways the old at all, though this is to anticipate.
It is directly to the point here that the whole scheme of religion as it has come down to us on the Protestant side till within the last fifty years was at once compactly interwrought, strongly supported and unexpectedly vulnerable. The integrity of any one part of its line depended upon the integrity of every other part; its gospel went back to the Fall of Man and depended, therefore, upon the Biblical theory of the Creation and subsequent human history. If anything should challenge the scientific or historical accuracy of the book of Genesis, the doctrine of original sin would have either to be discarded or recast. If the doctrine of original sin were discarded or recast, the accepted interpretations of the Atonement went with it. With these changed or weakened the evangelical appeal must either be given new character or lose force. A system which began with the Fall on one side went on to heaven and hell on the other and even heaven and hell were more dependent upon ancient conceptions of the physical structure of the world and the skies above it than the Church was willing to recognize. The doctrine of eternal punishment particularly was open to ethical challenge.
Evangelical Protestantism the Outcome of the Whole Process
Of course all this is rather an extreme statement of the situation fifty years ago. The churches did not all agree in insisting upon a conversion; some evangelic churches were beginning to place their emphasis upon Christian nurture; they sought what is secured for the emotionally twice-born through guided growth and a larger dependence upon normal spiritual conditions, though they were at least one with their brethren in believing that those who come into Christian discipleship must in the end be greatly changed and conscious of the change; they too must possess as an assurance of the reality of their religious life a sense of peace and spiritual well-being.
The high Anglican Church approached the Latin Catholic Church in its insistence upon sacramental regeneration. This wing of the Church believed and believes still that baptism truly administered and the Holy Communion also administered in proper form and accepted in due obedience by priests belonging to some true succession, possess a mystic saving power. Just why all this should be so they are perhaps not able to explain to the satisfaction of any one save those who, for one reason or another, believe it already. But those who cannot understand sacramentarianism may dismiss it far too easily, for though there be here danger of a mechanical formulism, the sacraments themselves may become part of a spiritual discipline through which the lives of men and women are so profoundly changed as in the most clear case of conversion, manifesting often a spiritual beauty not to be found in any other conception of Christian discipleship. Our differences here are not so great as we suppose them.
There have always been liberal reactions within the Church herself, tending either toward relaxation of discipline or the more rational and simple statements of doctrine. What has been so far said would not be true of Unitarianism and Universalism in the last century. But these movements have been somehow wanting in driving power, and so, when all these qualifications are made, evangelical Protestantism has resulted in a pretty clearly recognizable type. The representative members of the representative evangelical churches all had a religious experience; some of them had been converted after much waiting at the anxious seat, or long kneeling at the altar rail; others of them had been brought through Christian teaching to the confession of their faith, but all of them were thereby reborn. They were the product of a theology which taught them their lost estate, offered them for their acceptance a mediatorial and atoning Christ, assured them that through their faith their salvation would be assured, and counselled them to look to their own inner lives for the issue of all this in a distinct sense of spiritual peace and well-being. If they doubted or questioned they were answered with proof-texts; for their spiritual sustenance they were given the services of their churches where preaching was generally central, and exhorted to grow in grace and knowledge through prayer and much reading of their Bible.
The Individual Experience of the Believer the Keystone of Evangelical Protestantism. Its Openness to Disturbing Forces
Now fine and good as all this was it was, as the event proved, not big enough to answer all the needs of the soul, nor strong enough to meet the challenge of forces which were a half century ago shaping themselves toward the almost entire recasting of great regions of human thought. It was, to begin with, unexpectedly weak in itself. Evangelical Protestantism, as has been noted, throws upon the members of Protestant churches a larger burden of individual responsibility than does the Catholic Church. The typical evangelical Protestant has had little to sustain him in his religious life save his sense of reconciliation with God, from whom possibly he never vitally thought himself to have been estranged, and a consequent spiritual peace.
His church promises him nothing except teaching, inspiration, comradeship, an occasion for the confession of his faith and some opportunity for service. His ministers are only such as he; they may exhort but they dare not absolve. He is greatly dependent, then, for his sense of the reality of religion upon his own spiritual states. If he is spiritually sensitive and not too much troubled by doubt, if he possesses a considerable capacity for religious understanding, if his Bible is still for him the authoritative word of God, if his church meets his normal religious needs with a reasonable degree of adequacy, if he is resolute in purpose and if he has no excessively trying experiences in the face of which his faith breaks down, and if the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, or the strain of poverty do not too much distract him (and this is a long and formidable list of ifs) then he is faithful in his church relationships and personally devout. He grows in grace and knowledge and the outcome of it all is a religious character admirable in manifold ways, steadfast and truthful in good works.
* * * * *
The fact that in spite of all hindrances the Protestant churches do go on, registering from decade to decade a varying statistical growth with a strongly organized life and a great body of communicants who find in the religious life thus secured to them the true secret of interior peace and their true source of power, is itself a testimony to the massive reality of the whole system. And yet the keystone of the great structure is just the individual experience of the individual believer, conditioned upon his longing for deliverance and his personal assurance that he has found, through his faith in his church's gospel, what he seeks.
If anything should shake the Protestant's confidence in his creed or his Bible, or if his own inner experiences should somehow fail in their sense of sustaining reality, then all the structure of his religion begins to weaken.
If one may use and press a suggestive figure, here is a religious structure very much like Gothic architecture; its converging arches of faith and knowledge lock up upon their keystones and the thrust of the whole great structure has been met and conquered by flying buttresses. In other words, sustaining forces of accredited beliefs about science, history and human nature have been a necessary part of the entire system and the temple of faith thus sustained may be weakened either through some failure in the keystone of it which is inner experience, or the flying buttresses of it which are these accepted systems of science, history, philosophy and psychology.
Readjustment of Both Catholic and Protestant Systems Inevitable
Out of such elements as these, then, through such inheritances and disciplines the representative religious consciousness of American Protestantism of the end of the nineteenth century had been created. It rooted itself in elements common to all religion, it inherited practically the whole content of the Old Testament, it invested Hebraic systems of sacrifice with typical meanings and Jewish prophecy with a mystic authority. It was in debt to St. Paul and Augustine for its theology. Its cosmogony was 4,000 years old and practically uninfluenced by modern science, or else at odds with it. It was uncritical in its acceptance of the supernatural and trained on the whole to find its main line of evidence for the reality of religion in the supernatural. It made more of the scheme of deliverance which St. Paul found in the Crucifixion of Jesus than the ethics of the Gospels. It was mystic in its emphasis upon an inner testimony to the realities it offered. For the Protestant it locked up unexpectedly upon the infallible authority of the Bible and for the Catholic upon the inerrancy of the Church. It was out of the current of the modern temper in science and philosophy generally. Its conceptions of the probable fate of the world were Jewish and of the future life were medieval, and perhaps the strangest thing in it all was the general unconsciousness of its dependence upon assumptions open to challenge at almost every point and the process of profound readjustment upon the threshold of which it stood.
It is almost impossible to disentangle the action of the two sets of strain which have within the last half century been brought to bear upon it. Each has reacted upon the other. Perhaps the best thing to do is to consider the forces which for the last two generations have been challenging and reshaping inherited faiths, and then to consider the outcome of it all in the outstanding religious attitudes of our own time.
NEW FORCES AND OLD FAITHS
Within the last fifty years particularly the fundamentals of the Christian faith have not only come up for reexamination but have been compelled to adapt themselves to facts and forces which have gone farther toward recasting them than anything for a millennium and a half before. The Reformation went deep but it did not go to the bottom. There are differences enough in all reason between Protestantism and Catholicism, but their identities are deeper still. The world of Martin Luther and John Calvin was not essentially different in its outlook upon life from the world of Augustine and Athanasius. The world of Jonathan Edwards was much the same as the world of John Calvin and the world of 1850 apparently much the same as the world of Jonathan Edwards. There was, of course, an immense difference in the mechanism with which men were working but an unexpectedly small difference in their ruling ideas.
The Readjustments of Christian Faith More Far-reaching in the Last Fifty Years Than for a Thousand Years Before; Science Releases the Challenging Forces
We should not, of course, underestimate the contribution of the Reformation to the breaking up of the old order. It left the theologies more substantially unchanged than Protestantism has usually supposed, but it did mark the rise of changed attitudes toward authority. The reformers themselves did not accept without protest the spirit they released. They imposed new authorities and obediences upon their churches; they distrusted individual initiative in spiritual things and the more democratic forms of church organization. John Calvin sought in his Institutes to vindicate the law-abiding character of his new gospel; Luther turned bitterly against the German peasants in their demand for a most moderate measure of social justice; the Anglican leaders exiled the Pilgrims; the Puritan drove the Quaker out of Boston through an instinctive distrust of inward illumination as a safe guide for faith and religious enthusiasm as a sound basis for a new commonwealth. But the spirit was out of the bottle and could not be put back.
The right of the individual to make his own religious inquiries and reach his own religious conclusions was little in evidence for almost two hundred years after the Reformation, partly because the reactions of the post-Reformation period made the faithful generally content to rest in what had already been secured, partly because traditional authority was still strong, and very greatly because there was neither in history, philosophy nor science new material upon which the mind might exercise itself. We may take 1859, almost exactly two hundred years after the final readjustments of the Reformation period, as the point of departure for the forces which have so greatly modified our outlook upon our world and our understanding of ourselves; not that the date is clean-cut, for we see now how many things had already begun to change before Darwin and the Origin of Species.
Darwin's great achievement is to have suggested the formula in which science and history have alike been restated. He had no thought at all that what he was doing would reach so far or change so much. He simply supposed himself, through patient and exhaustive study, to have accounted for the rich variety of life without the supposition of a special creation for each form. But the time was ripe and longing for what he supplied and his hypothesis was quickly taken and applied in almost every field of thought. Nor does it greatly matter that Darwinism has been and may be still greatly modified. We have come under the spell of evolution. Our universe is no longer a static thing; it is growing and changing. Our imaginations are impressed by long sequences of change, each one of them minute in itself but in the mass capable of accounting for immense transformations. Darwin's initiative released the scientific temper which has been the outstanding characteristic of our own age. The physicist, the chemist and the biologist re-related their discoveries in the light of his governing principle and supplied an immense body of fact for further consideration. Geology was reborn, the records of the rocks came to have a new meaning, every broken fossil form became a word, maybe a paragraph, for the retelling of the past of the earth.
Astronomy supplied cosmic backgrounds for terrestrial evolution and Physics became a kind of court of appeal for both. The physicist proclaimed the conservation of energy, reduced seeming solidities to underlying force and resolved force itself into ultimate and tenuous unities. The processes thus discovered and related seemed to be self-sufficient. No need to bring in anything from the outside; unbroken law, unfailing sequence were everywhere in evidence. Where knowledge failed speculation bridged the gap. One might begin with a nebula and go on in unbroken sequence to Plato or Shakespeare without asking for either material, law or force which was not in the nebula to begin with. Man himself took his own place in the majestic procession; he, too, was simply the culmination of a long ascent, with the roots of his being more deeply in the dust than he had ever dreamed and compelled to confess himself akin to what he had aforetime scorned.
The Reaction of Evolution Upon Religion
All our old chronologies became incidental in a range of time before which even imagination grew dizzy. We found fragments of the skulls of our ancestors in ancient glacial drifts and the traditional 6,000 years since creation hardly showed on the dial upon which Geology recorded its conclusions. There is no need to follow in detail how all this reacted upon religion. The accepted religious scheme of things was an intricately interlocking system irresistible in its logic as long as the system remained unchallenged in its crucial points. If these should begin to be doubted then the Christian appeal would have lost, for the time at least, a most considerable measure of its force. The inner peace which we have already seen to be the keystone of the Protestant arch grew in part out of the sense of a universal condemnation from which the believer was happily saved; this in turn was conditioned by the unquestioned acceptance of the Genesis narrative. We can see clearly enough now that Christianity, and Protestant Christianity especially, really depended upon something deeper than all this. Still for the time being all these things were locked up together and once the accepted foundations of theology began to be questioned far-reaching adjustments were inevitable and the time of readjustment was bound to be marked by great restlessness and confusion.
The evolutionary hypothesis profoundly affected man's thought about himself. It challenged even more sharply his thought about God. Atheism, materialism and agnosticism are an old, old trinity, but they had up to our own time been at the mercy of more positive attitudes through their inability to really answer those insurgent questions: Whence? Whither? and Why? Creation had plainly enough demanded a creator. When Napoleon stilled a group of debating officers in Egypt by pointing with a Napoleonic gesture to the stars and saying, "Gentlemen, who made all these?" his answer had been final. Paley's old-fashioned turnip-faced watch with its analogies in the mechanism of creation had supplied an irresistible argument for a creation according to design and a designing creator. But now all this was changed. If Napoleon could have ridden out from his august tomb, reassembled his officers from the dust of their battlefields and resumed the old debate, the officers would have been apparently in the position to answer—"Sire, they made themselves." Our universe seemed to be sufficient unto itself.
We have reacted against all this and rediscovered God, if indeed we had ever lost Him, but this ought not to blind those who have accomplished the great transition to the confusion of faith which followed the popularization of the great scientific generalizations, nor ought it to blind us to the fact that much of this confusion still persists. Christian theism was more sharply challenged by materialism and agnosticism than by a frankly confessed atheism. Materialism was the more aggressive; it built up its own great system, posited matter and force as the ultimate realities, and then showed to its own satisfaction how everything that is is just the result of their action and interaction. Nor did materialism pause upon the threshold of the soul itself. Consciousness, so conceived, was a by-product of the higher organization of matter, and we ourselves a spray flung up out of the infinite ocean of being to sparkle for a moment in the light and then fall back again into the depths out of which we had been borne.
Those who so defined us made us bond-servants of matter and force from birth to death though they drew back a little from the consequences of their own creeds and sought to save a place for moral freedom and responsibility and a defensible altruism. It is doubtful if they succeeded. Materialism affected greatly the practical conduct of life. It offered its own characteristic values; possession and pleasure became inevitably enough the end of action, and action itself, directed toward such ends, became the main business of life. Science offered so fascinating a field for thought as to absorb the general intellectual energy of the generation under the spell of it; the practical application of science to mechanism and industry with the consequent increase in luxury and convenience, absorbed the force of practical men.
It naturally went hard with religion in a world so preoccupied. Its foundations were assailed, its premises questioned, its conclusions denied, its interests challenged. The fact that religion came through it at all is a testimony both to the unconquerable force of faith and the unquenchable need of the soul for something greater than the scientific gospel revealed or the achievements of science supplied.
The Reaction of Biblical Criticism Upon Faith
The first front along which the older faith met the impact of new forces was scientific; the second drive was at a more narrow but, as far as religion goes, an even more strategic front. The Bible had to submit to those processes of inquiry and criticism which had so greatly altered the scientific outlook. The Old and New Testaments, as has been said, supplied really the basal authority for the whole Protestant order, and speaking merely as a historian one is well within the facts when one says that even before the enlightenment of the last two generations the traditional way of thinking about the Bible had not proved satisfactory. The more free-minded were conscious of its contradictions; they could not reconcile its earlier and later moral idealisms; they found in it as much to perplex as to help them. Some of them, therefore, disowned it altogether and because it was tied up in one bundle with religion, as they knew religion, they disowned religion at the same time. Others who accepted its authority but were unsatisfied with current interpretations of it sought escape in allegorical uses of it. (We shall find this to be one of the distinct elements in Christian Science.) But after all it did answer the insistent questions, Whence? and Whither? and Why? as nothing else answered them. Therefore, in spite of challenge and derelict faith and capricious interpretations and forced harmonies it still held its own. Directly science began to offer its own answers to Whence? and Whither? and Why? curiosity found an alternative. Science had its own book of genesis, its own hypothesis as to the creation of man, its own conclusions as to his ascent. These had a marvellously emancipating and stimulating power; they opened, as has been said, vast horizons; they affected philosophy; they gave a new content to poetry, for the poet heard in the silences of the night:
"AEonian music measuring out The steps of Time—the shocks of Chance— The blows of Death."
The challenge of science to the book of Genesis specifically and to the miraculous narratives with which both the Old and the New Testaments are veined more generally, doubtless stimulated Biblical criticism, but the time was ripe for that also. The beginnings of it antedate the scientific Renaissance, but the freer spirit of the period offered criticism its opportunity, the scientific temper supplied the method and the work began.
Inherited faith has been more directly affected by Biblical criticism than by the result of scientific investigation and the generalizations based thereon. The Bible had been the average man's authority in science and history as well as faith. That statement naturally needs some qualification, for before evolution took the field it was possible not only to reconcile a fair knowledge of the natural sciences with the Bible, but even, as in the argument for design, to make them contributory to Bible teaching. But evolution changed all that and it was really through the impact of the more sweeping scientific conclusions upon his Bible that the average man felt their shock upon his faith. If he had been asked merely to harmonize the genesis of the new science with the genesis of the Old Testament he would have had enough to occupy his attention, though perhaps he might have managed it. The massive mind of Gladstone accomplished just that to its own entire satisfaction.
But the matter went deeper. A wealth of slowly accumulated knowledge was brought to bear upon the Scriptures and a critical acumen began to follow these old narratives to their sources. There is no need here to follow through the results in detail. They were seen to have been drawn from many sources, in some cases so put together that the joints and seams were plainly discernible. One wonders how they had so long escaped observation. The Bible was seen to contain contributory elements from general ancient cultures; its cosmogony the generally accepted cosmogony of the time and the region; its codes akin to other and older codes. It contained fragments of old songs and the old lore of the common folk. It was seen to record indisputably long processes of moral growth and spiritual insight. Its prophets spoke out of their time and for their time. It was plainly enough no longer an infallible dictation to writers who were only the automatic pens of God, it was a growth rooted deep in the soil out of which it grew and the souls of those who created it. The fibres of its main roots went off into the darkness of a culture too long lost ever to be quite completely understood. It was no longer ultimate science or unchallenged history.
[Footnote 6: The Old Testament narratives particularly. The results of New Testament criticism have not yet fully reached the popular mind.]
We have come far enough now to see that nothing really worth while has been lost in this process of re-interpretation, and much has been gained. If, as the French say in one of their luminous proverbs, to understand is to pardon, to understand is also to be delivered from doubts and forced apologies and misleading harmonies and the necessity of defending the indefensible. In our use of the Bible, as in every other region of life, the truth has made us free. It possesses still—the Bible—the truth and revelation and meaning for life it always possessed. We are gradually realizing this and gaining in the realization. But the Bible has been compelled to meet the challenge of an immensely expanded scientific and historical knowledge. We have had to test its supposed authority as to beginnings by Astronomy, Geology and Biology; we have had to test its history by the methods and conclusions of modern historical investigation. The element of the supernatural running through both the Old and New Testaments has been compelled to take into account that emphasis upon law and ordered process which is, perhaps more than any other single thing, the contribution of science to the discipline of contemporaneous thought.
The Average Man Loses His Bearings
The whole process has been difficult and unsettling. There was and is still a want of finality in the conclusions of Biblical scholars. It needed and needs still more study than the average man is able to give to understand their conclusions; it needed and it needs still a deal of patient, hard, clear-visioned thinking to win from the newer interpretations of the Bible that understanding and acceptance of its value which went with the inherited faith. The more liberal-minded religious teachers doubtless very greatly overestimate the penetration of popular thought already accomplished, by what seems to them a familiar commonplace. The New Testament is still, even for the scholar, a challenging problem. Conclusions are being bitterly contested and where the specialist is himself in doubt the average man is naturally in utter confusion. The more conservative communions neither accept nor teach the results of the higher criticism, and so it reaches the body of their communicants only as rumour and a half-understood menace to the truth.
Religion is naturally the most conservative thing in the world and even when we think ourselves to have utterly changed our point of view something deeper than mere intellectual acceptance protests and will not be dismissed. We pathetically cling to that to which we, at the same time, say good-bye. The average man somewhat affected by the modern scientific spirit is greatly perplexed by the miraculous elements in the Bible and yet he still believes the Bible the word of God with an authority nothing else possesses. In fact, by a contradiction easy enough to understand, what puzzles him most seems to him the clearest evidence of the supernatural character of the narrative itself. His religion is not so much the interpretation of what he does understand as the explanation of what he does not understand. If he gives up the supernatural his faith goes with it, and yet the other side of him—the scientifically tempered side—balks at the supernatural.
It is hard to know what to do with such a temper. Indeed, just this confused temper of believing and doubting, with miracles for the storm center, has offered a rich field for those interpretations of the miraculous, particularly in the New Testament, in terms of faith and mental healing, to which Christian Science and New Thought are so much given. We may conclude in a sentence by saying that since the infallibility of the Bible was one of the flying buttresses which upheld the inherited structure of religion, those changes and confusions which have grown out of two generations of Biblical criticism have greatly affected the popular faith.
The New Psychology Both a Constructive and Disturbing Influence
A third influence tending to break up the stability of the old order has been the new psychology. So general a statement as this needs also to be qualified, for, suggestively enough, the new psychology has not so much preceded as followed the modern multiplication of what, using James' phrase, we may call the "Varieties of Religious Experience." It has been, in part, a widening of our conclusions as to the mind and its processes to make room for the puzzling play of personality which has revealed itself in many of these experiences. Hypnotism necessarily antedated the interest of psychology in the hypnotic state; it compelled psychology to take account of it and for the explaining of hypnotism psychology has been compelled to make a new study of personality and its more obscure states. The psychologists have been far more hospitable to the phenomena of mental healing than have the faculties of medicine. They took them seriously before the average doctor would even admit that they existed. Their study led them to a pretty thoroughgoing consideration of the power of suggestion upon bodily states, and eventually to formulate, as they have been able, both the laws of suggestion and the secret of its power. Telepathy and psychic phenomena generally have also offered a rich field to the student of the abnormal and psychology has broadened its investigations to include all these conditions. That is to say, the border-land phenomena of consciousness as stressed and manifested in the more bizarre cults have really supplied the material upon which the new psychology has been working, and the psychologist to-day is seriously trying to explain a good many things which his predecessors, with their hard and fast analyses of the mind and its laws, refused to take seriously.
They concede that a complete psychology must have a place in it for the abnormal as well as the normal, and for the exceptional as well as for the staid and universally accepted. Those who have been fathering new religions and seeking to make the abnormal normal have been quick to avail themselves of the suggestions and permissions in the new psychology. Once we have crossed the old and clearly defined frontiers, almost anything seems possible. Personality, we are now taught, is complex, far-reaching, and is really, like a floating iceberg, more largely below the sea level of consciousness than above it. How far it extends and what connections it makes in these its hidden depths, no one of us may know. Normal consciousness, to change the figure, is just one brilliantly illuminated center in a world of shadow deepening into darkness. The light grows more murky, the shadows more insistent, as we pass down, or out, or back from that illumined center. We cannot tell how much of the shadow is really a part of us, nor do we dare to be dogmatic about what may, or may not, there be taking place.
Indeed, we may fill the shadows with almost anything which caprice or desire may suggest. Our curiously inventive minds have always loved to fill in our ignorances with their creations. We formerly had the shadowed backgrounds of the universe to populate with the creatures of our fear or fancy, but now, strangely enough, since science has let in its light upon the universe psychology has given us the subconscious as a region not yet subdued to law or shot through with light. And the prophets of new cults and border-land movements have taken advantage of this. "Since there is," they say in substance, "so much in life of which we are not really conscious, and since there are hints within us of strange powers, how can we set limits to what we may either be or do, and may not one man's caprice be as reasonable as another man's reason?"
The popularization of the new psychology has thus created a soil finely receptive to the unusual. Without understanding what has been accomplished in the way of investigation, and with little accurate knowledge of what has actually been tested out, there is amongst us a widespread feeling that almost anything is possible. Here also we may end in a sentence by saying that present-day psychology with its wide sweep of law, its recognition of the abnormal, its acceptance of and insistence upon the power of suggestion, its recognition of the subconscious and its tendency to assign thereto a great force of personal action, has broken down old certainties and given a free field to imagination. It has, more positively, taught us how to apply the laws of mental action to the more fruitful conduct of life, and so supplied the basis for the cults which make much of efficiency and self-development. It has also lent new meaning to religion all along the line.