Page images

philosophy, and received a yet deeper colouring from the scepticism subsequently imported from France. Thus, much of the literature of the English classics in the eighteenth century was saturated with sentiments the reverse of evangelical; and through its influence, such doctrines as those of Bolingbroke, Hume, Gibbon and Pope, have spread among the people, and prepared the way for the rational literature recently imported from Germany.

Then again: The modern achievements of physical science have produced a powerful effect on the imagination of our working men. The working classes cannot be indifferent to anything which they see to have an ameliorating effect on their social and material condition, and the beneficial results of physical science are written on the face of the country in characters patent to their senses. This circumstance has produced a disposition among many of the more intelligent of our artizans to become dabblers in books of a scientific character. And, since books of this character have a bearing, more or less remote, upon many branches of labour in which the "skilled workman" is called to earn a livelihood, the natural desire to rise in the world gives additional impetus to his studies in this direction, for how does he know that he may not become a discoverer or an inventor. But studies of this kind, while they quicken his intellect, have also the tendency to narrow its activity. It has been said that, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing," and the mental condition of the mere tyro in scientific studies very often illustrates the truth of the saying. He conceives a conceit of his cleverness, becomes unfitted for the appreciation of moral evidence, and settles down satisfied under the assumption that all truth is to be arrived at by the scientific method. He is thus placed precisely upon that ground where he is likely to be influenced by rationalistic sentiments in reference to religion.

The habit of debating has also had its influence in leading to a similar result. Our artizan meets in debating clubs, and discusses religious topics with his fellow workmen in their workshops. He reads the Reasoner or the National Reformer, and has become acquainted with Hume's objection to miracles, and certain other objections to revelation, which he retails in the course of his debates. Neither his mental habits, nor the extent of his reading enables him to confute these objections; and starting in debate, perhaps, with a sincere desire for light, he meets only with opposition; he warms in discussion, and forgetting his much vaunted pursuit of truth, aims only at victory. His opponent, who has all the time been as much in the dark as himself, is silenced, and the objection is considered unanswerable. Nothing now seems left for either of them but to rest satisfied with the consoling reflection that, though they cannot solve the difficulty, they have, at any rate, become a match for "the priests." They do not, indeed give

up all belief in religion, but, seeing certain objections to it, which they cannot reconcile with their notions of reason, they conceive a contempt for that evangelical preaching which, in their estimation, consists for the most part of unfounded assumptions.

As the result of one or all of these causes, a mental condition has been induced in our working man, which exactly fits him for the reception of rationalistic doctrines. His frame of mind, indeed, has become rationalistic. The rationalism imported from the Continent, and infused into the literature of our own country, he receives with avidity, for, to him, it appears to strip religion of superstition and reduce it to a reasonable basis. He reads a cheap edition of Renan's "Life of Jesus," and is in raptures over it. Pressense's book he never thinks of reading. He gathers some notion of the "Essays and Reviews" and the criticism of Colenso, and is confirmed in his notion that the orthodox theology is built on a sandy foundation. The numerous and conclusive replies to those volume have probably failed to secure his attention. He may possibly conceive a sort of respect for Kingsley and others of the Christian socialist type, but on the whole he has an indefinite impression that Compte and J. S. Mill are the heralds of the faiths of the future.

2. The Rationalistic spirit among the working classes of this country manifests itself in two forms of development. The first is Indifferentism, or a disregard of the general claims of Christianity. The rationalistic mode of criticism necessarily tends to fritter away the Divine authority of scripture, weaken the sense of moral responsibility and issues in a spirit of religious indifference. The non-attendance on public worship, by large numbers of the working classes, has attracted much attention, and many causes have been assigned to account for it; but, it seems to us that, a sufficient prominence has not been given to the spread of the rationalistic spirit. The literature they read is permeated by this spirit, and, in their lecture-rooms, clubs and workshops, it floats, as a subtle poison in the atmosphere they breathe. It may be difficult to detect its presence except by its results, but its results, in our estimation, are visible enough in the wide-spread disregard of the public ordinances of religion.

This spirit of indifference is a reasoning spirit too, and attempts to justify itself upon rational grounds. Religion, it is said, is one thing; creeds and forms of worship are quite another thing. Religion is a native sentiment of the soul; creeds are the mere product of the intellect, and vary according to the national circumstances or mental conditions under which they are produced. Religion is one universal sentiment, the same under all the outward forms which invest it. That sentiment, when stript of its accidents, is simply a consciousness of God, with a sense of depen

dance upon him. This is the true spiritual religion, of which Christ was the great expounder. By some such process as this, religion is reduced to a purely subjective sentiment, which has no necessary dependance upon objective truth. The external form of Christianity is thus philosophized into a mere matter of indifference, and we are told that, God is seen as he choses to reveal himself, while, in the churches, he is only seen as the priests choose to reveal him. Although Christ has based Christianity on the great facts of the evangelic history, and has distinctly told us that his "words are spirit and life," yet such reasoning as we have alluded to is considered sound, and is set up as a philosophic ground for shirking the claims of Christianity. There is certainly need enough for the word of warning give by the poet Laureate:

"Hold thou the good; define it well:
For fear Divine Philosophy

Should push beyond the mark, and be
Procuress to the Lords of Hell."

The other form in which the Rationalistic spirit is developed among the working classes, is what we may call the Socialistic. The Rationalistic spirit is essentially egotistic; in all cases its artillery is directed against authority. In Philosophy and Criticism, it directs its efforts against the supernatural; in the churches, it opposes the formulated creeds; among the masses of the people it sets itself against social institutions. This spirit enters into a ready alliance with the democratic impulse which has been produced among the working classes by the idea that they have been unjustly deprived of their rights. Christianity is seen to be interwoven with most of the institutions of the country, and the blame is thrown upon it for whatever oppression the lower classes endure. The Rationalistic spirit is thus found forming an element in the movement in favour of Social Reform. Here it assumes a two-fold form of antagonism to the Church, In the first it takes the position that Christ and true Christianity are misrepresented both by the Creeds, the Clergy, and the Church. Christ, it is said, was in favour of the elevation of the masses; but the popular theology is all against it. Christ laboured for the benefit of the poor: science, too, benefits the poor; but the popular theology is, and has been for ages, the chief barrier against the progress of science. It does nothing for the poor man but tell him to be content with what he is, and look for something better in another world. It is therefore an obstruction to progress and a misrepresentation of Christ and Christianity. Again, it is said Christianity is misrepresented by the clergy; Christ allied himself with the poor, but the priests ally themselves with the rich. Christ was opposed to oppression, but the priests ally themselves with Governments, and sell themselves to be instruments of tyranny.

Christ was benevolent, but the priests are selfish; he was lowly, they are ambitious, and seek nothing so much as their own aggrandisement. Christianity, therefore, is misrepresented by them. But it is equally misrepresented by the Church. Christ intended the Church to be a brotherhood, but she is nothing but a mass of conflicting sects. She was intended to bind classes together in one family, but there is no place where class distinctions are more marked than in the Church. Christ intended the Church to be an organization for the amelioration of the social and material condition of the poor; this she never attempts to accomplish, but only lectures them about their souls, conversion, and hell, things which neither she nor they can rationally comprehend. Thus, it is said, that theology, the clergy, and the Church generally misrepresent the spirit and object of Christ.

But there is another and bolder position taken by this Socialistic Rationalism. It is the position that Christianity itself is opposed to social progress; and it seeks to support the tremendous assertion in the following way. Our first rational duty is to attend to what we know, but Christianity is a system of dogmas about what we do not know. Christianity has been developed, as it necessarily must have been, from the nature of man. Theology and the Church could not have been anything but what they are. But they have always been opposed to science and progress. Christianity, therefore, is an obstruction and a falsehood. This is where socialistic Rationalism lands sheer down into the great abyss of Atheism.

3. It is of the utmost importance to inquire what is the tendency of Rationalistic influence with respect to morality. The rules which determine the moral quality of human actions can only be conceived as becoming known in one of two ways; either it must be a matter of supernatural revelation, or a matter of human discovery. On the first of these theories, which is the orthodox one, morality has its rule in the written Word of God; a rule, harmonizing with the conscience of humanity, of unvarying and universal application, and supported by the loftiest and most imposing authority-that of God. On the second theory, morality has no certain and uniform rule at all; for the class of thinkers who adopt this view are not able to agree as to whether morality is to be based upon intuition or utility. Hence, we have intuitive moralists and utilitarians, both advocating their own views, but neither of them able to settle morality upon any substantial basis, or enforce it by any adequate authority. This theory, by divorcing morality from revealed religion, abstracts from the moral rule the essential elements of certainty and authority. The result is that, practically, every man must become his own law-giver; for if he adopt intuition as his standard, it only means that his actions are

to be determined by his own subjective condition, the predominating impulses of his own nature; if, on the other hand, he adopt utility as his standard, the result is the same, for he is his own judge as to what is utility, and will determine for himself, as his interest or inclination may dictate. Morality, indeed, in the true sense of the word, is destroyed, for if there be no certain rule by which right and wrong are to be determined, and no superior will by which obedience is to be enforced, the idea of duty is lost, and there is no definite sense in which man can be said to be morally responsible.

Now, what is the logical tendency of Rationalism in its bearing upon this important matter? We have seen that the ground-principle of Rationalism is the supremacy of reason, and that its tendency is to destroy our faith in supernatural revelation. We have also seen that to separate morality from religion, is to wrench it away from its only reliable basis. It is evident, therefore, that this is the result to which Rationalism logically tends-by frittering away our faith in the supernatural, it cuts asunder the moral links which bind our conduct to the Divine will, and leaves us, in our moral relations, to stagger on in the darkness, without a ruler or a guide. If we no longer believe in the supernatural, we can have no moral guide but reason, which, from its erring conclusions and conflicting decisions, is no moral guide at all. But even if reason could be supposed to discover a correct rule of moral action, still there is no authority by which obedience is to be enforced but such as may arise from the natural results of our actions, or the sanctions of human law; and these, in practice, are found to be totally inadequate. It may be said that we are to act with a view to the good of the community at large. But, we ask, what is to make it our duty so to act? Not the supernaturally revealed will of God, for that has been explained away; not the naturally discovered will of God, for each man will hold his own opinion as to what that may be; not Christian benevolence, for the love-inspiring doctrines of Christ's redemption are not believed in. We have no hesitation, therefore, in saying that the tendency of Rationalism is essentially immoral; and that unless the nature of a Rationalist be much better than his theory, he must become a monstrosity of selfishness and immorality.

We have already indicated that the tendency of Rationalism among the working men of this country is to slide down into Secularism. Between Christianity and Secularism there is no middle stage where the working classes can permanently rest, and Rationalism, to them, becomes simply the medium of transition from one to the other. Upon moral subjects, as we have seen, Rationalism tends directly towards the position occupied by the Secularists. What the state of morals is among them may be easily gathered

« PreviousContinue »