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- Lectures and Essays - 20/67 -


perception, and that no other faculties or means of communication with the universe can ever in the course of evolution be developed in man? Around us are animals absolutely unconscious, so far as we can discern, of that universe which Science has revealed to us. A sea anemone, if it can reflect, probably feels as confident that it perceives everything capable of being perceived as the man of science. The reasonable supposition, surely, is that though Science, so far as it goes, is real, and the guide of our present life, its relation to the sum of things is not much more considerable than that of the perceptions of the lower orders of animals. That our notions of the universe have been so vastly enlarged by the mere invention of astronomical instruments is enough in itself to suggest the possibility of further and infinitely greater enlargement. To our bodily senses, no doubt, and to physical science, which is limited by them, human existence seems to end with death; but if there is anything in our nature which tells us, with a distinctness and persistency equal to those of our sensible perceptions, that hope and responsibility extend beyond death, why is this assurance not as much to be trusted as that of the bodily sense itself? There is apparently no ultimate criterion of truth, whether physical or moral, except our inability, constituted as we are to believe otherwise; and this criterion seems to be satisfied by a universal and ineradicable moral conviction as well as by a universal and irresistible impression of sense.

We are enjoined, some times with a vehemence approaching that of ecclesiastical anathema, to refuse to consider anything which lies beyond the range of experience. By experience is meant the perceptions of our bodily senses, the absolute completeness and finality of which, we must repeat, is an assumption, the warrant for which must at all events be produced from other authority than that of the senses themselves. On this ground we are called upon to discard, as worthy of nothing but derision, the ideas of eternity and infinity. But to dislodge these ideas from our minds is impossible; just as impossible as it is to dislodge any idea that has entered through the channels of the senses; and this being so, it is surely conceivable that they may not be mere illusions, but real extensions of our intelligence beyond the domain of mere bodily sense, indicating an upward progress of our nature. Of course if these ideas correspond to reality, physical science, though true as far as it goes, cannot be the whole truth, or even bear any considerable relation to the whole truth, since it necessarily presents Being as limited by space and time.

Whither obedience to the dictates of the higher part of our nature will ultimately carry us, we may not be able, apart from Revelation, to say; but there seems no substantial reason for refusing to believe that it carries us towards a better state. Mere ignorance, arising from the imperfection of our perceptive powers, of the mode in which we shall pass into that better state, or of its precise relation to our present existence, cannot cancel an assurance, otherwise valid, of our general destiny. A transmutation of humanity, such as we can conceive to be brought about by the gradual prevalence of higher motives of action, and the gradual elimination thereby of what is base and brutish, is surely no more incredible than the actual development of humanity, as it is now, out of a lower animal form or out of inorganic matter.

What the bearing of the automatic theory of human nature would be upon the hopes and aspirations of man, or on moral philosophy generally, it might be difficult, no doubt, to say. But has any one of the distinguished advocates of the automatic theory ever acted on it, or allowed his thoughts to be really ruled by it for a moment? What can be imagined more strange than an automaton suddenly becoming conscious of its own automatic character, reasoning and debating about it automatically, and coming automatically to the conclusion that the automatic theory of itself is true? Nor is there any occasion here to entangle ourselves in the controversy about Necessarianism. If the race can act progressively on higher and more unselfish motives, as history proves to be the fact, there can be nothing in the connection between our actions and their antecedents inconsistent with the ascent of man. Jonathan Edwards is undoubtedly right in maintaining that there is a connection between every human action and its antecedents. But the nature of the connection remains a mystery. We learn its existence not from inspection, but from consciousness, and this same consciousness tells us that the connection is not such as to preclude the existence of liberty of choice, moral aspiration, moral effort, moral responsibility, which are the contradictories of Necessarianism. The terms _cause and effect_, and others of that kind, which the imperfection of psychological language compels us to use in speaking of the mental connection between action and its antecedents, are steeped from their employment in connection with physical science, in physical association, and the import with them into the moral sphere the notion of physical enchainment, for which the representations of consciousness, the sole authority, afford no warrant whatever.

Another possible source of serious aberration, we venture to think, will be found in the misapplication of the doctrine of _survivals_. Some lingering remains of its rudimentary state in the shape of primaeval superstitions or fancies continue to adhere to a developed, and matured belief; and hence it is inferred, or at least the inference is suggested, that the belief itself is nothing but a "survival," and destined in the final triumph of reason to pass away. The belief in the immortality of the soul, for example, is found still connected in the lower and less advanced minds with primaeval superstitions and fancies about ghosts and other physical manifestations of the spirit world, as well as with funeral rites and modes of burial indicating irrational notions as to the relations of the body to the spirit. But neither these nor any special ideas as to the nature of future rewards and punishments or the mode of transition from the present to the future state, are really essential parts of the belief. They are the rudimentary imaginations and illusions of which the rational belief is gradually working itself clear. The basis of the rational belief in the immortality of the soul, or, to speak more correctly, in the continuance of our spiritual existence after death is the conviction, common, so far as we know, to all the higher portions of humanity, and apparently ineradicable, that our moral responsibility extends beyond the grave; that we do not by death terminate the consequences of our actions, or our relations to those to whom we have done good or evil; and that to die the death of the righteous is better than to have lived a life of pleasure even with the approbation of an undiscerning world. So far from growing weaker, this conviction appears to grow practically stronger among the most highly educated and intelligent of mankind, though they may have cast off the last remnant of primitive or medieval superstition, and though they may have ceased to profess belief in any special form of the doctrine. The Comtists certainly have not got rid of it, since they have devised a subjective immortality with a retributive distinction between the virtuous and the wicked; to say nothing of their singular proposal that the dead should be formally judged by the survivors, and buried, according to the judgment passed upon them, in graves of honour or disgrace.

With regard to religion generally there is the same tendency to exaggerate the significance of "survivals," and to neglect, on the other hand, the phenomena of disengagement. Because the primitive fables and illusions which long adhere to religion are undeniably dying out, it is asserted, or suggested, that religion itself is dying. Religion is identified with mythology. But mythology is merely the primaeval matrix of religion. Mythology is the embodiment of man's childlike notions as to the universe in which he finds himself, and the powers which for good or evil influence his lot; and, when analysed, it is found beneath all its national variations to be merely based upon a worship of the sun, the moon, and the forces of Nature. Religion is the worship and service of a moral God and a God who is worshipped and served by virtue. We can distinctly see, in Greek literature for instance, religion disengaging itself from mythology. In Homer the general element is mythology, capable of being rendered more or less directly into simple nature- worship, childish, non-moral, and often immoral. But when Hector says that he holds omens of no account, and that the best omen of all is to fight for one's country, he shows an incipient reliance on a Moral Power. The disengagement of religion from mythology is of course much further advanced and more manifest when we come to Plato; while the religious faith, instead of being weaker, has become infinitely stronger, and is capable of supporting the life and the martyrdom of Socrates. When Socrates and Plato reject the Homeric mythology, it is not because they are sceptics but because Homer is a child.

But it is in the Old Testament that the process of disengagement and the growth of a moral out of a ceremonial religion are most distinctly seen:--

"'Wherewith shall I come before Jahveh, And bow myself down before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, With the sacrifice of calves of a year old? --Will Jahveh be pleased with thousands of rams, With ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?' '--He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, And what Jahveh doth require of thee; What but to do justly to love mercy, And to walk humbly with thy God?'"

Here no doubt is a belief in the efficacy of sacrifice, even of human sacrifice, even of the sacrifice of the first-born. But it is a receding and dying belief; while the belief in the power of justice, mercy, humility, moral religion in short, is prevailing over it and taking its place.

So it is again in the New Testament with regard to spiritual life and the miraculous. Spiritual life commenced in a world full of belief in the miraculous, and it did not at once break with that belief. But it threw the miraculous into the background and anticipated its decline, presaging that it would lose its importance and give place finally to the spiritual. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.... Charity never faileth; but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." Clearly the writer of this believes in prophecies, in tongues, in mysteries. But clearly, also, he regards them as both secondary and transient, while he regards charity as primary and eternal.

It may be added that the advent of spiritual life did at once produce a change in the character of the miraculous itself, divested it of its fantastic extravagance, and infused into it a moral element. The Gospel miracles, almost without exception, have a moral significance, and can without incongruity be made the text of moral discourses to this day. An attempt to make Hindoo or Greek miracles the text of moral discourses would produce strange results.

Compared with the tract of geological, and still more with that of astronomical time, spiritual life has not been long in our world; and we need not wonder if the process of disengagement from the environments of the previous state of humanity is as yet far from complete Political religions and persecution, for instance, did not come into the world with Christ; they are survivals of an earlier stage of human progress. The Papacy, the great political Church of mediaeval Europe, is the


Lectures and Essays - 20/67

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