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BY T. B. STORK
"HAT was a suggestive remark of Dean Inge in his essay on
St. Paul, that: “the Gospel of Christ is not a religion, but religion itself in its most universal and deepest significance."
That is to say, there are not many religions of many and divers sorts, but there is only one religion and these many and divers sorts are merely different phases of that one and only religion. For they are all attempts more or less perfect to answer those time-old questions of man: What am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? What, in other words, is the meaning of all that I see about me: the earth with its beasts and plants, the stars in the sky of night, the sun of day, the moon of night? All these are mysteries just as I myself am a mystery in my birth, in my life, most of all in my death. Religion of whatever sort is an effort to answer these questions; it might be defined as the purposeful effort of man to find his place, define his relations to this world and the next. It puts a meaning into life that before was meaningless; for as Tolstoi has said, the most terrible thing to man is not the fear of death but the meaninglessness of things. Until a man finds for himself this meaning he is inferior, no matter how great his intelligence, to the poorest peasant woman who believes in the Virgin Mary and that her soul may suffer in purgatory or gain the bliss of Heaven.
It follows therefore since there can be but one rightful place for man in the world, so there can be but one religion; but one answer to his question, no matter how many fantastic shapes he may invent in his effort to find that answer. All religion so-called from the African fetichism, through the highly philosophical Brahminism of India, the cold, practical doctrine of Mahomet, the warm emotional teaching of Roman Catholicism, as well as the intellectual refinement of Unitarianism, all the various modes of Protestant Christianity are but examples of that one effort to put meaning into life, to solve the mystery of living, to find man's place and purpose in the Universe.
The one characteristic common to all is the deep ineradicable conviction that there is an answer, competent, complete, satisfactory, could it be found, and a righteous discontent until it is found. The man is like a traveller lost in a vast unknown region full of pitfalls, traps for unwary feet, precipices for rash adventurers, he seeks the path that shall show him his place and his way through the apparently trackless wild. Like the traveller he seeks in his religion a knowledge of his whereabouts and he longs for the safety, the sure confidence which the finding of the right path gives the traveller. All his surroundings prompt him to this quest; the material world extending on all sides with its lofty mountains, its vast plains, its boundless seas, its infinite varieties of life, men like himself, animals, birds, fishes, reptiles, all the wonderful phenomena of life in all its manifestations, fill his soul with questioning wonder. What is the meaning of all these? How do I come into it? Where do I stand? Whither do I go? What are my relations to it? Is there any over-seeing power that governs and directs, or is it a mere chaotic go-as-you-please without purpose, without reason, without premeditated cause or calculated end?
These questions insist on some sort of answer; they are selfborn, the natural reaction of intelligent mind to its surroundings, which to still its uneasiness must find some answer. And religion is the answer; religion is the attempt to still this uneasiness. Even those rabid enemies of all religion, the Bolsheviki, recognize this when they place in Moscow near one of the great churches in the Kremlin, an inscription declaring: “Religion is the opium of the People”; that is, religion answers these questions, tranquilizes the mind disturbed by the puzzle of the world and its life. This instinct of religion as it might be called is as primitive, as natural as hunger or thirst, and there seems no reason why it should not be accepted as a fact quite as real and credible in the psychological world as they are in the physical.
By his mental constitution, by the laws of his thinking, man is compelled to assume that there is a law, a method, a reasoned plan running through this apparent medley of the worl.1. It is only by this assumption, whether true in reality or not, that he finds satisfaction for his thinking. That the world is governed by laws, shaped by purpose, is a necessity of his thinking. He may not be able to discover those laws and that purpose, but he feels assured that they exist.
Expressed in the simplest terms this impulse to find his place and the equally strong conviction that there is a place not of chance, but of reason, planned long before his birth, spring from the desire for unity, for harmony with the world, with all things, with God. Separateness, disparateness, is abhorrent to man's soul, to escape it he seeks religion, which by showing him his place, his duties, his rights, his destiny, shall establish some reasoned relation with all that he sees about him and so make him one with it, with the all. To some the world may present no problem; it is all simple, requiring no explanation. They eat, they sleep, observe the daily routine of life, asking no questions, troubled by no doubts. Men are born and die, the world rolls on, all as a matter of course. But to the man who contemplates all this, who thinks, no matter how superficially, awkward doubts, strange questions arise. His regular tasks go on each day endlessly, monotonously, with no final purpose apparent, nothing is accomplished by his daily task beyond getting something to eat, something to put on. The whole race of men no matter how engaged is in the last analysis only marking time, doing things to enable it simply to exist. Finally all die to give place to others, their posterity, who occupy themselves likewise in similar tasks. They work for their living and then die. This has been going on for century after century. What is the meaning of it all? Why should man go on thus, generation after generation? What means this eternal march, this great unceasing procession of human beings from the cradle to the grave?
His efforts to examine into the great riddle only plunge him deeper in its mysteries. He discovers traces in the earth of past centuries of human and animal life, men scarcely recognizable as such; beasts of a size and shape now unknown, marks of glaciers, of fires, of earthquakes that wrought destruction centuries ago. All these proclaim the existence of the world possibly for thousands of years during which strange happenings are indicated but not revealed.
So with the starry heavens where we behold extinct planets, stars so distant that the light that makes them known to us must have set out on its journey before we have any historic records of man's existence on the earth.
Religion is thus born of man's awe and wonder and of his irresistible impulse to orientate himself, to place himself in the world, and so to in some way understand the world and himself. It is the fashion of those who attack religion to ignore this vital and essential view of religion and to devote much unfavorable attention to the widely different answers which men have found in their various religions. Like men observing sailors struggling in the tempestuous sea, these critics devote more attention to the kind of vessels employed than to the vital issue whether the mariners can safely make the land. They argue that all religions must be false because so divergent and often apparently antagonistic to each other. They neglect the great fundamental identity of them all, namely, the endeavor to find satisfaction of soul.
This satisfaction of soul is the very heart of all religion, the content that comes with a sense that the individual is in harmony with this world, with all things about him, with God. For the individual by himself and for himself alone is an error whose correction is the Universal, the whole, which God is. This is the truth of religion, content, happiness of soul that comes from the consciousness that the individual has found his place, is in the path assigned him. The truth of religion is, therefore, not to be tried by physical external facts, by its correspondence or want of correspondence with scientific or historical truth, they are entirely beside the matter. The truth of religion is a spiritual truth and can only be tested spiritually. A religion which satisfies the soul of its place and destiny is always true for that soul. Souls are not all alike, are not all equally endowed. To one soul that may be the highest truth which to another may be grievous error. To each according to his capacity the answer of religion comes. An Eskimo cannot know or enter into ideas that seem simple and self-evident to your highly-trained Unitarian believer any more than he could appreciate the poetry of Tennyson or the higher flights of eloquence of St. Paul. To some the warm emotional religion of Roman Catholicism seems entirely unsatisfactory, while to the Romanist the cold logical dogmas of the Presbyterian appear banal and lifeless. If it be objected that this view of religion is purely and simply Solipsism, that thus every man is judge and final arbiter of his own religion, it must be conceded that it is so and necessarily and unavoidably so, if we believe that the state of the soul is the vital and only significant thing in religion. This has often been declared by inspired writers and by others. “As a man thinketh so is he." But the logical inferences from this declaration never seem to have been fully grasped; namely, that there is no test or standard by which one man can try the truth or falsehood of another man's religion, for there is no test or standard save the man's own soul and that we have no means of judging. It is true we are told by Christ that by their fruits ye shall know them and that the fruits of the spirit are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."1 But these tests apply to the soul, enable us to draw inferences which we are given to understand are trustworthy for the soul, they do not test the falsehood or truth of any particular religion, but rather seem to refer that to the state of the soul so that if the soul produces legitimate fruits its religion will be judged by that. False and true are terms which when applied to religion ought rather to be changed to perfect and imperfect, implying by those two terms that religion like education is a thing of degrees, of steps, in a spiritual progress. The various ceremonies, the beliefs intellectual, the dogmas ecclesiastical of the divers forms of religion are merely aids to the state of soul, steps in its education; to some they are helps, to others hindrances. The Friend or Quaker attains this state of soul by the avoiding of all ceremonies, all outward signs of inward grace; the Roman Catholic finds in his elaborate ritual, his gorgeous colors, his splendid music, the enunciation of highly artificial dogmas, the inspiration for that same state of soul which the Friend attains without them. For in the course of the spiritual growth of men through the ages-a growth which has necessarily been closely associated with their intellectual growth and their material progress in the arts and industries of life-many original beliefs and ceremonies have become obsolescent, many new ceremonies and dogmas have been invented, not deliberately but have sprung into existence naturally as better expressing their advancement in spiritual life.
A religion that causes rightful fruits of soul in conduct must never be held false, however imperfect, when compared with another more advanced since it must be inferred from external acts that the soul's state is one of content and satisfaction of harmony with the world and with God according to its capacity for content, satisfaction and harmony.
i Galatians v.22-23.