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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 151

CHAPTER V.

WHO that has known the hour when the Father is not, and Law has taken the place of Love, can ever forget it? The whole aspect of life is changed, and a cry goes out from the soul as when the beloved has died—a cry to which is no answer and for which is no comfort—only the echo flung back by the walls of the grave. The blank despair; the sense of absolute loneliness, of drifting on a pathless sea without a fixed point to make for or a sign by which to steer, of floating unrooted in space; the consciousness of universal delusion and phantasmagoric self-creation that it has all page: 152 been—no man who has gone through that moment of supreme anguish need fear the schoolman's hell. He has been down into one worse than the worst which terrified timid souls in those Ages of Faith which were essentially the Days of Darkness. Henceforth he has only reason for his guide, with that impenetrable barrier of the Unknown—and Unknowable?—closing the way at every turn;—that dissolving power of negation, reducing what had once been solid and eternal to a vapoury mass of conjecture where nothing is sure, save ignorance.

And yet if this darkness, this limitation, this impenetrable barrier, be really the TRUTH, and all attempts at more positive construction be delusions, the pain of the discovery, in the desolation it brings with it, is better for the strong man than the false comfort of a cheating hope. Before all else let us have things as they are. If we are in the midst of an untilled waste, page: 153 let us recognise its barrenness and its potentialities; and neither believe that it is a garden for this part, nor unimprovable for that. In the one case we have at least an incentive to cultivate and amend our holding, and to go on until we come to something better. In the other, we are content with our fancied possessions, like those poor creatures who command the stars in Bedlam; or we fold our hands and leave the activities of amelioration to a higher power and one outside ourselves.

Nothing tends so much to religious speculation as unhappiness. The believing strengthen the foundations of their faith; the doubting plunge deeper into inquiry. For where there is no outside joy to satisfy the nature, the mind turns inward on itself, thoughts taking the place of affections, and speculations that of emotions. In these lonely days of my life I went over again the whole ground that I had traversed—from my first doubts of the evidence of page: 154 the Incarnation to where I now stood confessing only the truths of science, and confronted everywhere else by uncertainty, phantasmagoria, and the Unknown. I recalled it all, step by step, and how from the first doubt I gradually grew to see that the teaching of Christ and His Apostles was only abreast with the knowledge of the day; and that those things which have made most for the good of humanity were hidden from them as from the later saints and martyrs. I specially remembered the strange tenacity with which my mind had fastened on that trivial matter of failing to eradicate ophthalmia; and how this had crystallized and drawn to its own form all the rest.

The impossibility of logically faithful adherence to the laws of life as laid down in the Gospels had also been a stumbling-block. Those laws of life are pure communism in system, with the widest, flattest, most loving democracy in action. page: 155 But put them into practice—call your maid-servant ‘my dear,’ and shake hands with your footman; forgive an impertinence repeated as often as forgiven; allow yourself to be defrauded twice over by your needy brother who takes your cloak as well as your coat; take no thought for the morrow, but spend your principal on those who want—act out your life on the Christian plan in its integrity, and then see where you will stand, not only in relation to your own fortunes, but in relation to the respect of your fellow Christians.

I could never accept the doctrine of Development, which makes it necessary for man to continually explain and expand the elements of Christianity, so as to harmonize them with the contradictions of science and the necessities of society. This doctrine, which is cousin-german to the uninterrupted stream of inspiration claimed by the Romish Church, is so evidently an ingenious compromise by those who wish to excuse and page: 156 dare not deny, that the wonder is how any robust thinker can be found to adopt it. It is a clever patch to hide a rent; but the patch was not in the original web.

Again, the sweet and patient moralities of Christianity are not special to Christians, but all, including that sublime command to do unto others as we would they should do unto us, and to love our enemies—which have been held as peculiarly the Master's—are to be found in every other moral code promulgated by every other religious teacher. Buddha, Confucius, the ‘Rabbi Talmud,’ all taught the same thing. And necessarily;—for the abnegation of private vengeance is the beginning of social law. Just as Judaism was the outcome of Egyptian theology, plus racial sympathy and the supremacy of Jehovah, so was Christianity the outcome of Judaism, plus a more generalized philanthropy than belonged to the close-set lines of an exclusive people. But Christians imagine that page: 157 brotherly love began with Christ, as the Jews imagine that the law of righteousness was first made known to Moses. And the evidence of the papyri here, and of the Talmud there, goes for nothing. These beliefs are on all-fours with that naïve confession of reverent ignorance made by the poor Catholic peasant to whom I talked the other day, when he told me that before Christ came into the world all was darkness and chaos, and that creation and the human race began with the Madonna and her Son.

The story of Buddha, too, had greatly exercised me because of its parallelism in self-devotion with the life of Christ. Buddha, who claims no incarnate Godhead and preaches no impersonate God, did as much for righteousness and humanity as did the Son of Mary. A king, a husband, wealthy, powerful, he abandoned all human delights to become a beggar and an outcast, that he might find the Hidden Wisdom and page: 158 thus rescue mankind from ignorance and the sin that lies therein. And—scheme for scheme—purification by successive incarnations is more merciful than even purgatory, not to speak of hell; and reabsorption in the Great Whole is no more unthinkable than the eternal individuality of a material product.

We abandon the belief in the unchangeableness of law—which is masculine—in favour of the religious sentiment, shifting, personal, emotional, subject to the pressure of affection and the relief of compassion—which is feminine. The fundamental doctrines of Christianity;—seeking strength elsewhere than in our own resolve; humility before a dread power which accords favour and denies rights; holiness of life springing from love to or fear of God and in obedience to His command, and not because holiness is good in itself and needs no incentive of reward nor deterrent of punishment; the fear born of hell and the hope page: 159 registered in heaven; Christ, the eternal Man-God, ever willing to save those who come to Him; Mary, the eternal Mother, ever ready to comfort and intercede for those who pray to her; the saintly hierarchy doing their best for their loving brothers and sisters—all these heavenly advocates standing as merciful mediators between humanity and the Supreme God; the intense conviction of the personal importance of the individual;—these are essentially feminine; and the proof of sympathy is seen in the lines of attachment. It is woman who fills the churches; as how should it not be, seeing that Christianity idealizes her needs, her virtues, her sentiments? The virile strength of man has no favour where her timid plasticity has all. Where heathen ethics taught magnanimity, because of the noble pride which would not stoop to parallel lines of baseness, Christianity teaches forgiveness, because Christ forgave His enemies and died that page: 160 sinners might be forgiven of God. Does not the whole world lie between these two limits? Surely!—the whole world of masculine self-control and feminine obedience; masculine reason and feminine emotion. Where heathen philosophy taught self-respect, and Buddhism makes a man's higher moral state dependent on his own will, Christianity sighs out the confession of sin, and trusts to a stronger Hand for help. Where heathendom formulated the great law of Necessity, encompassing and limiting the action of the gods themselves, Christianity confesses an Omnipotence which overloads us with misery here that we may be compensated hereafter, and patiently accepts present sorrow for the sake of future glory, as a woman accepts the mysterious pain of maternity for the sake of the living joy to come. Where heathendom, manlike, credited its gods with the lusty life of love, the pleasures of social intercourse and the varied delights of the senses, Christianity, page: 161 as the chaster woman, ranks perpetual virginity as one of the supremest virtues, and makes all sensual enjoyment coincident with spiritual degradation. Where heathendom left Hades a land of shadows, and made the sorrow of life after death to consist in the bloodless strengthlessness of the spirits of brave men, neither alive nor yet dead, Christianity accepts, trembling, the ghastly doctrine of eternal torture, to be avoided only through the mercy of the Saviour who gives by grace what cannot be wrung from power—just as the typical woman sues for mercy because she has not the courage to demand, nor the strength to obtain, justice. It is the same through all the clauses. And if not in direct injunction nor in distinct allowance, yet in spirit and sympathy, the apotheosis of woman began with Christianity, because therein are enshrined the special characteristics of her sex.

Here let me ask without irreverence, page: 162 and going back on the anthropomorphism of the Christian faith: Is not the existence to which the creed condemns our God, or Gods, inexplicable in its unnecessary and enduring pain? We pray to them for pity and mercy. But does not pity include the sorrow which comes from sympathy? and how can there be mercy without the correlative of undue harshness? All the cries and piteous prayers which go up from earth to heaven, and surround the throne of Grace like clouds risen from oceans of tears, if they move the Divine Beings to whom they are addressed, move them of necessity through this pain of pity. And realize for a moment this weeping, shrieking, agonizing crowd; these countless millions of tortured men and women; these sobbing innocents massacred by fate and nature;—and the Great Powers looking on, sometimes helping those who cry to them for aid, and sometimes not. Add to this our fratricidal belief that those who cry for aid to these page: 163 Divine Beings under certain names are not heard at all. Christ may help us, but Vishnu cannot help his worshipper. God is our Father, but Brahma, Allah, Joss, are as powerless to save as was ever Ashtaroth or Zeus. It is as if children weeping in a dark room where is some one they cannot see, were left to their misery unhelped, because they beseech the nurse when it is the mother who is there; and the mother will not answer unless called by her right name. The whole thing is human. Ever and ever we determine the ways of Heaven by our own acts. We influence the divine will and deflect the law for our need and by our prayers. Or we create—as in the saints—the aristocracy of departed souls to whom we ascribe special powers, accrediting them as ambassadors whom the Great God accepts as they are sent. Or we give names and forms to angel and archangel, and call one Gabriel page: 164 and another Michael, with others less popular, such as Zachariel, Anael, Oriphiel and Lamael!

Unitarianism, with its eclecticism, rejecting the miracles, the atonement, a personal devil and eternal damnation, but always retaining that loving reverence for the character of Christ which is due to the most precious possession and perfect outcome of the human race, is naturally the next stage for those who have learned to deny the literal truth of the Mosaic record and the interpretation of the Gospels by the Church. Belief in the efficacy of prayer, in the disciplinary meaning of life, in an overruling Providence and an individual immortality, gives both anchorage and the sense of enlightenment. But here again, though the anthropomorphism of the orthodox creed is softened, and the personality of the Deity is more faintly sketched than in Byzantine mosaic or mediæval fresco, it is always a personality—always page: 165 humanity—grand, sublime, ideal, even nebulous, if you will, but none the less humanity in excelsis. As how should it not be, seeing that we cannot go beyond our own experience? Yet are we sure that Unitarianism gives us the truth? Beyond, and overruling organic forces, are we absolutely sure there is a Power corresponding to our own human nature—pitiful and wrathful; stern and placable; spreading temptations as a net before the feet of the unwary and punishing those who get entangled therein; able to save and consigning to perdition?—a Power of fluid resolves and unstable will; of unjust preferences and inexplicable abandonment; working a miracle of healing for A, but letting B drag on slowly to the grave by the way of unmitigated torture?—a Power which gives grace to one so that he shall ask for more, and denies to another that initial impulse of godliness so that he does not even desire to have or seed or increase?—a Power which page: 166 saves one soul alive and gives to another the wages of sin—death?

If there were in fact any stream of inspiration from the Great Unseen to man, should we be left to our present blindness, searching painfully the better way? Slowly, toilsomely, urged forward by pain, encompassed by difficulties, bit by bit we reform our laws through the gradual pressure, the gradual enlightenment, brought about by the intolerable injustice of the past; one by one we unearth those discoveries which make for the general good. Are we divinely directed in all this? Have all our lawgivers, inventors, discoverers, been simply the media of the higher intelligence? Where then begins and where ends this providential inspiration? Was Volta divinely inspired? If so, then also Wheatstone and Morse, Siemens and Edison, and every other adapter of a newly mastered principle—whether it be electricity, the motive force of steam, printing from moveable types, page: 167 paper made from rags, or any other discovery by which society has been modified and human thought revolutionized.

Unless we accept the creed that man's mental being is governed by the same law of development as that which has produced brain from protoplasm—that the moral sense is as much a matter of evolution as is the intellectual—we are lost in a sea of contradictions. Grant the unseen ultimate to which we are tending, and the hidden origin as well as meaning of life; grant the whole area of the unknown, and confess the mystery surrounding thought and matter alike; still, by this creed of mental evolution, we have at least a free sea-board though we may never touch land. But give us Omnipotence which interferes and does not save—which inspires some and does not cherish all—and we come inevitably to Mill's alternative:—Either not Omnipotent or not Benevolent.

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The presence of God recedes as science advances. In the ignorant days of fetishism He is incorporate in the trees and the stones, the mountains and the streams, the sun and moon and stars and sky. He then becomes less the individual form, than the active forces, of nature. He is no longer to be touched in His material embodiment, but His power is in the tempest and His voice is in the thunder; He passes by in the strong wind; and when storms devastate the land, it is God who sends them for our chastisement. He gives us gentle rain for our benefit; and again He loosens against us drought and blight and pestilence for our sins. When, by the discovery of physical laws, we come to the knowledge that the forces of nature and all forms of disease are governed by conditions as absolute as those of arithmetic, then we relegate God's dealings with man to the mind, the spiritual sense, to communion through prayer, and inspiration as the con- consequence page: 169 sequence. He is the Great Soul; and our soul recognises His.

But when and where does this soul begin in man? when is that something added which is exterior to intelligence? We are one with the rest of living things, just as the earth is one with the sun and the planets. Our moral sentiments and intellectual perceptions have their beginnings in birds and beasts and insects—differing in degree and grade, not in kind. And thought—which we identify with our spirit, our soul—is no more strange nor incomprehensible than life. Both are incomprehensible. But that function of the brain which we call thought—life conscious of itself—is as, and no more mysterious than, the selection of its elements of growth by a crystal, the transformation of chemical material into the wood and leaves of a tree, the pushing over a barren space of the underground rootlets seeking their proper pabulum beyond. ‘Mind-stuff’ is behind page: 170 and within all matter; but is this mind-stuff providential? is creation self-conscious when as a plant it turns to the light, as a broken crystal takes up material to mend its fractures, as a microscopic speck of protoplastic jelly pushes out a finger-like process to seize some other speck which shall help to its own sustainment? Or is our great distinction in the moral sense? But dogs have a conscience, and elephants a sense of duty and responsibility.

Who does not see that all things are subjective?—all moods and thoughts conditional? Morality is as much a matter of climate, age, sex, education, as is the growth of an oak from an acorn in England, of a palm from a date-stone in Syria. It is as shifting as the thermometer—as local as vegetation. The morality of one age is not that of another. The morality of races is as diverse as the colour of their skins. The drunkenness which carries so little comparative disgrace page: 171 with it in England would be a man's destruction in Turkey; the free use of the knife, which public opinion justifies in Italy, would be the breaking of the Sixth Seal in Norway. We have not come to the absolute even in fundamentals; and Truth and Justice, incarnate in a Prime Minister, would make of the empire a wreck and of himself a traitor; while the polygamy which is honourable in a Mohammedan is felony in England, and the public prostitution rampant in our streets would be the translation of Gehenna to the upper world in Tangier or Ispahan.

Personally, what we are is determined by two things—age and sex; and we can no more go beyond their influence than the earth can free itself from the law of gravitation. The boy's thoughts and virtues are not the young man's; nor are the young man's those of his father in middle age; nor his again those of the octogenarian who has outlived both the active energy of his passions page: 172 and the plastic power of his brain. Among them which is absolute? What determines the very ground-work of society, and its moralities, but this material fact of sex, with its secondary modification, age? The courage of the man, the self-devotion of the woman; the shame of cowardice and lying—a form of cowardice—with him whose strength includes the salvation of others as well as of himself, and the easy condonation accorded to both with her whose weakness excuses fear; his freer license, her chaster modesties; his sense of justice, which makes laws for the equal good of all, her narrowed sympathies born of the restricted cares of maternity; his reason, her instinct; his philosophy, her religion; his aggressiveness, her compassion—these, and all other antitheses which could so easily be made, are essentially matters of sex doubled with age. And these are the bases of society and morality. How then can things so entirely conditional be treated as absolute?

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Again, each man and woman in a community of worshippers has his or her private spiritual experiences. Conviction passes for inspiration, and a state of mind proves itself. We find this in all religions alike; whether it be the Christian, the Mohammedan, or the Buddhist—in a Catholic Trappist or a Free-Grace Baptist. So that, reason as we may, we ever come back to the central point—the subjective quality of all thought, all belief, all morality, and how what we are is determined by the material conditions of inheritance, sex, age, and individual constitution;—which yet does not explain the religious instinct, nor catalogue the force by which it works so powerfully in the world.

Where is that Place of Departed Souls, so passionately believed in, so fervently desired? Always not here—not on nor about this planet on which we live, where the ‘strengthless heads’ of the dead lie mouldering in their forgotten graves. Yet we are made of the same stuff and page: 174 governed by the same laws as all the rest—the difference between us and Jupiter, us and the moon, us and the sun, being in the stages of development reached and passed. The laws of life and motion, of displacement and reconstruction, must be the same everywhere, though the special manifestations may vary. Everywhere there must be matter becoming, or already become, intelligence conscious of itself—or, by the changed relations of material forces, life in its plastic energy extinct and done with. Everywhere the form is finite and the essence eternal—the sum undiminished, but the place and relation of the units shifting. How can our dream of an unchanging eternity—a state of stable equilibrium never displaced—be possible? How can that individuality, which began and is bound up with material conditions, exist free from those conditions? How can a spirit be always the same, without change of parts or interchange of force? Every emotion includes page: 175 a change and shifting of atoms; everything we see and feel and hear and touch, and everything we think, sets the molecules of our body in motion—creates waste, reinforcement, an alteration of conditions and a reconstruction of parts. To speak of the soul as something beyond the laws which govern the universe is to assume what reason refuses to accept. A soul must at least be a force, like the flashing of the lightning, or like gravitation or attraction. To say that it is independent of all cosmic conditions is a phrase which simply marks our ignorance of things which are too subtle for our senses:—as the light of the night which the night-birds can see and we cannot—the sounds of the growing grass, the ebb and flow of the sap in the forest trees, the creeping step of the tendrils, the gathering up of material for the building of the germ, the cry of the bursting bud—all of which are there, though we cannot hear them. The organic forces are immaterial, according to page: 176 the nomenclature imposed by our own limitations. But the organic forces include movement; and movement is displacement. Is the soul more subtle than electricity?—is the heaven of our eternity more stagnant than a sea of brass?

We look to a future life as an advance on this in the perfecting of our intelligence, the continuance of our affections, the redressing of our wrongs. Should we have ever formulated this eternal life, had not death snatched us away in the immaturity or the plenitude of our powers, before our lives had been lived out to the end, or our work completed? Had we all lived out to our ultimate, we should have had only the need of rest, not the desire of renovation. Our work would have continued after us—our real immortality; and we should have been re-incarnate in our children—our replaced selves. And when we had sunk to sleep, after the prefatory slumber of decay, we should have no more asked for a resurrec- resurrection page: 177 tion of the body, nor for a continuance of spiritual identity, than for the individual return of this shattered rose and that fallen leaf.

Even those who loved us best would have said: When? At what period? Our playfellows, from whom we had been parted all our lives, would have said: As the boy they knew. Our partners in life's work would have said: As the strong and energetic man—strong and energetic because of the conditions of his age and sex. Our children and grandchildren: As the calm and tolerant, just and passionless, sage—calm, just and passionless also as the result of his age and the condition of his sex—that is, as a spirit influenced in its immortal nature by the material circumstances of flesh and food and time. Do you say: As the undated summary of these three states—the individual as he was in the tender freshness of his adolescence, in the energy of his maturity, in the wise tranquillity of his physical page: 178 decay? You might as well say: ‘Give me the bud, the flower, and the fruit all at the same moment, enclosed in the same calyx.’

Even while we live, when time has passed and sorrow is forgotten, is it necessary to our own happiness, or integral to the well-being of cosmic things, that our mother, aged ninety, should be finally convinced we did not steal those cakes for which we were unjustly punished just sixty-five years ago? What does it matter now to our seventy years of peace and patience, wherein time and thought have taught us the relative value of things and the worthlessness of going back on the past? It is done with—dead and gone, buried and forgotten. Let it lie in its deserved oblivion. It was hard to bear at the time; but now it is as insignificant as the fact that three hundred years ago the storm came down and wrecked that poor widow's cottage by the mountain-stream, and brought her and hers to poverty for many a day and year. The ruin was page: 179 great in its time, and the poor widow believed in compensation beyond the grave. Does she want it now? That too is past and done with, and wiped out of the record of time and memory; as are the sorrows of all those who have been destroyed—with those others consequently left desolate—by this volcanic eruption and that destructive earthquake. When, thousands of years ago, a savage wife was subject to the jealous test of the ordeal, and, innocent as she was, died under the ordeal—when want of food made the men kill the women and children to keep themselves alive—when Spartan helots and Roman slaves were scourged for faults they did not commit, and Gurths and Wambas were torn from their kindred swine in the beech-woods and set up as targets for the foeman's archers in quarrels not their own—when all this was done generations and generations ago, and the very memory of the men and deeds is lost, must these poor victims be page: 180 recompensed now? It was a sorrow while life lasted; and love had the ache of memory to the end of things. But now it is over—like yesterday's fever; and the world—the Great Man—has gone on as if those things had never been. Or rather, these and cognate things have been the ground-work of that amelioration which has come for the successors. They have been accumulated accusations against imperfect conditions, till at last the voices grew so loud that those in power were forced to listen and understand. From their dead selves men have indeed risen to higher things in the concrete;—which is a nobler outlook than that happy hunting-ground for the individual, as compensation for the goring of buffaloes on the prairie.

While pain is sharp and passion strong, we demand justice, redress, compensation, revenge. In a few years we shall have passed out of the sphere of our wrongs; before then we shall have come to the peace page: 181 of patience. What matters it now? We see how small have been our own individual sufferings, compared with the larger sorrows of the race, the unconscious cruelty of nature, the blind tyranny of ignorance. And we would take shame to ourselves to demand redress or retaliation for that which came and went so long ago, and is so small a fraction in the sum! For we have ever left us—Man. Ever that mighty law of moral evolution unfolds to us greater truths; ever the development of society leads us higher and higher. Just as the physical man has touched the beauty of the Apollo from the narrow skull and prognathous jaw of the brutish primitive—just as Shakespeare has been evolved from that languageless being, half beast, half human, who walked with bent knees not fully erect, for all covering had but his own hairy hide, and for all tools his own huge canines—so has the social man touched the sublimity of Law from the unordered chaos of indi- individual page: 182 vidual strength. We make better enactments; we spread knowledge; we apply remedies; we improve conditions—all for others, not ourselves. We realize with ever clearer understanding the obligation of living for the future, not only for the present; for the general well-being, not only for our individual good. After the practice of the right of might comes the doctrine of the duties of power; after class privileges come equal rights.

Altruism, far from general acceptance as it is, is at once our highest duty and our noblest consolation. To the individual, life is too often like a huge cynical joke where he is led by false hopes, mocked by illusive pleasures, pursued by phantom fears, and where he loses the joy of his desire so soon as he gains possession. The length of the time passed in the preparation of immaturity, the shortness of that of fruition, and then again the comparatively long decay—with the brevity of the whole term, page: 183 and the fact that each individual, born helpless and idiotic, has to learn all for himself from the beginning, and that he must die, leaving behind him only results attainable by endeavour but not absolute possessions bequeathed to the race like a sixth sense or the power of flying—the sharpness of sorrow and the satiety of love—joy that is pain because of its intensity—pain that makes living intolerable for its anguish—ignorance which brings disaster, yet is of itself part of the inalienable condition of things—all this illusion, this phantasmagoria, this darkness, where the only reality is suffering and the only certainty death, makes life, as I have said, like a farce over-written by a tragedy. And from this suffering, this mockery, this delusion of the senses and painful striving of thought and aspiration, the only mode of escape is forgetfulness of self in the good of the race.

A few tender souls are piously grateful be- because page: 184 cause the grass is green and the flowers are sweet; because the birds sing in the trees, the butterflies are beautiful to the eye, and the exquisite glory of created things delights those who watch it. That is, because their senses are gratified; and the imagination, a function of the emotions, follows the senses. But they forget the strife and death which overarch the whole; and how the general perfection which enchants them has come about only by the sacrifice of the weaker individuality. They forget the ruthlessness of nature, and how that hedgerow and this close-grown turf are but smaller representations of the shambles and the battlefield—Aceldamas wet with hidden blood. When reminded of this wholesale sacrifice for the sake of the selected margin—of the unconscious cruelty of that assemblage of forces we call Nature—they fall back on the pious formula of ‘All is for the best,’ and how ‘the mystery of pain is one of those things which are hidden with Christ in God.’ page: 185 These tender souls are to virile thinkers what children are to men; and their optimism, in view of what lies round them and the goal for which all sentient life is bound, is no more serious philosophy than the schoolman's calculation of how many angels could dance on the point of a needle is serious kinematics.

And yet, with this perpetual recession of the Presence of God, this withdrawal of the Hand of Providence in favour of an arbitrary Law that is never broken up for miracles nor set aside for interposition, there is Something behind matter, whether we call it Mind-stuff, Intelligence, Life, the First Cause, or God. What that Something is we know not. What are our relations with it and the universe outside ourselves and our planet—these also we know not. And the ultimate meaning of our aspirations—the root and fruit of that religious sense which is all but universal, and our belief in individual immortality, also universal— page: 186 this ultimate meaning is as dark as the rest.

Why should we be virtuous, men say, when we get nothing by it? ‘Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,’ rather than the pale vigils of thought, the painful discipline of self-control, that starvation of the senses we call the higher life, that moral mutilation we call virtue. Why should we forego the present, which is our own, for a future by which we shall not profit nor where we shall be found? Ah, why, indeed! Because of the law of moral evolution, which is just as irresistible as that of the physical—which is indeed the result of the physical. We do not know why this law should obtain, any more than we know how, from the savage chipping his flint, we have come to Nasmyth's hammer and the spectroscope:—we only know that it does obtain. Just as from the lowest forms of life, amorphous, undifferentiated, unconstructive, has been evolved man, so, page: 187 from the brutality of primitive communities where the stronger kill the weaker, and the mother eats the head of her own child taken for food because one too many in the tribe, have been evolved the majesty of law, the benevolence of pity, the mutual help of co-operation, the restraints of conscience. So will go on being evolved still nobler theories and more perfect states. It is the Law of Progress—the law under which all creation lives until it changes into that dispersion of forces we call death and disintegration, to be followed by a nobler reconstruction. We have no explanation to give. Agnosticism has no pillar of cloud by day nor flame of fire to lead by night, marking the way and illumining each step as we go. It has only the guidance of experience and scientific truth as its way-lines. But the Wherefore and the Whither are as obscure as the Whence and the How—as the future destinies of the race or the undetected relations of the spheres.

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I see no more difficulty in educating men up to the highest possible moral point, without the incentive of religious hope or dread, than there has been in educating them to be honourable, chivalrous, refined gentlemen, independent of the religious idea. A man does not forbear to peep through the keyhole, read an open letter, pocket a forgotten sum of money, or do any other purely dishonourable action, for fear of God or the devil, but because of that self-respect which is the root-work of all honourable thought. This sentiment carried farther comes to Altruism; and altruism is the basis of all the higher morality, and is cultivable without reference to personal gain. We must all confess that religion, minus moral and intellectual education, does but little for the world. The Neapolitan lazzarone is intensely religious;—that is, believing in the personal and ever-present as well as omnipotent power of unseen deities. This does not make him other page: 189 than a thief or a murderer when occasion offers itself. It is the fear of the law and the certainty of the material policeman which debar men from crime. The hidden deities are to be propitiated; and the sword which is not seen may never strike.

Personally, the religious sentiment embodied in a creed and an actual God has immense private influence. It gives a man a force beyond himself, and helps him to bear misfortune because it leaves him always hope. Still, even here, we find that resignation and self-control are matters of temperament rather than of intellectual assent; for some who believe devoutly never reconcile themselves to their sorrow—never ‘forgive God,’ according to the saying of Talleyrand—and the willingness of the spirit never overcomes the weakness of the flesh.

On the other hand, we see both patience and self-control carried to the last point of perfection with some philosophers who page: 190 have had recourse to no strength but their own.

I have taken all this from what I may call the itinerary of my thoughts. If the summary has the look of inconsequence to more trained dialecticians than I, to myself at least the attachments are distinct. It all seems to hang together—to pass step by step from the rejection of revelation to the confession of Agnosticism; from belief in Providence to the recognition of Law; from the crystallized definite to the nebulous unknown; from the happiness of the individual through eternity to the well-being of the whole human race in time; from Egotism to Altruism; and from personal rights to generalized duties.

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