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VI: The Political Attributes of God

Having in the brief exposition of the former lectures considered the essential traits and implications of tribal or group-religion, we may next investigate those attributes usually imputed to the divinity in the higher religions that relate him or her directly to the political life of the people.

A preliminary illustration has been given of the vital interaction between religion and politics in ancient Greece, and it is worth dwelling on this particular example, for no other society in our history affords such rich material for our present purpose. By a variety of titles, invocations, and special cults, the leading personalities of the Hellenic pantheon were made in some way responsible for or protective of the various organizations of the social and civic life, for the marriage-bond, for the family-circle of kinsmen, for the grouping into phratries and demes, for the settlement of the city or polis, the most momentous and characteristic product of the political genius of Greece, and finally, for such higher ideals as at times glimmered upon the Hellenic vision—the confederacy of states into some form of Pan-Hellenic union. We have indeed reason to suppose that many of the Hellenic states developed from a religious origin, the temple with its adjacent buildings forming the nucleus of an expanding settlement: at least their name suggests such an origin as this for Athens—from the temple of Athena—and for some other cities of lesser significance. In the separate city-cults, Zeus and Athena figure most prominently as the inspirers of counsel; and when the members of the Athenian council prayed to them before each meeting for good guidance, we must believe that they were in earnest; and how real was the belief at Athens in the political interests of Athena may be gathered from the record that his opponents endeavoured to thwart Themistocles’ policy of maritime expansion by appealing to the prejudices of the old goddess of the land who might object to her people abandoning agriculture for seafaring.

But for Greece in general no part of the established religion had such political significance as the Apolline oracle at Delphi. It was consulted by legislators engaged in framing a new code; by statesmen anxious to heal civic feuds; by leaders of colonies seeking direction in the choice of new sites; by cities afflicted with a bad conscience or labouring under some calamity or sense of approaching danger. And Apollo contributed much to the development of criminal law and assisted in relieving society from the tyranny of the blood-feud. These facts are familiar to the student of Greek religion. Those who are unfamiliar with the Greek temperament and with the atmosphere of Greek society might draw from them the seriously erroneous conclusion that that society like the Hebrew was theocratic. The Hellene was saved from this by his eminently secular and progressive practical trend of spirit: the secular statesmen controlled and used the religion and the priesthood: the Delphic oracle is not allowed to become the vicegerent of God.

From the early records of the other races whom we call Aryans scarcely any evidence is forthcoming that bears on the present inquiry. Early Roman religion was variously and dexterously used for political purposes; but no cult or cult-title or invocation suggests the idea that the Roman senate or the Comitia or the law-courts were sanctioned or directed by divine guidance; we have only the faint and feeble story of Numa being inspired by the nymph Egeria; and the use of the Sibylline books could not engender any serious belief that the High God was the source of wise counsel. The Zarathustrian religion was wholly inspired according to its own credentials by Ahura Mazdāh, but it had no concern at all with political life. Nor in the rich and varied religious literature of Vedic India, where so many aspects of the deities are so impressively presented, do we find any recognition of them as political powers or as the source of wise state-counsel, or any figure corresponding to Zeus of the city or Athena of the council-chamber. The religious imagination of India, profound, vague, and metaphysical as it was, had no concern with social institutions. On the other hand, from the records of the pre-Christian Teutonic communities some slight evidence is forthcoming. The Batavian cohorts on our Hadrian's wall dedicated an altar to ‘Mars Thingsus’1: this is the old Teutonic-Scandinavian war-god Twys or Tyr, and the epithet shows him as the president of the ‘Ting’, the free-assembly of our forefathers, the source of much of our free political constitution. We cannot determine from this inscription whether the God was imagined as merely protecting the peace of the Ting or also as inspiring the counsels delivered there. But we know that the Teutonic-Scandinavian mind was advancing towards some higher religious ideas before the adoption of Christianity; according to the sagas the settlement of Iceland was suggested to individual chieftains by Thor; and that some god was the source of tribal law is confirmed by a Frisian tradition.2 It is possible then that in the days before Christianity the higher Teutonic mind was capable of the concept that the Godhead was the inspirer of political counsel and concerned with the state-organization.

But outside Hellas, it is the Semitic communities, Israel and Babylonia, that present this belief most vividly. Before Jahwé had dictated to Moses his ordinances for the tribes of Israel, Hammurabi had received the first secular legislative code in the world directly from the hands of the sun-god Shamash; and an impressive Babylonian relief exhibits him at this solemn moment. We have noted before3 the close association of Shamash with law and justice; we have also the interesting record that annually in the Hall of Assembly at Esagila the Council of the Gods under the presidency of Nebo decided the destiny of the King and the Empire for the ensuing year;4 we may suppose that these utterances were answers to questions prepared by the king and the priests; the practice then, that was only occasionally adopted by the Kings of Israel and Judah, of seeking through the prophets political counsel from God was part of the regular machinery of government in Babylonia. And in the various periods of this immemorial empire, there was a tendency to regard the kings as the fosterlings of the deities, and the King and the God together as the common source of Law and Order. Also, we have evidence, slighter but suggesting the same belief, in regard to the other polytheistic Semitic communities.

The pyramid-texts of Egypt, as recently expounded by Breasted,5 reveal the same interdependence of government and religion. One special god, Thoth the God of Truth, may be the guardian of legal procedure; but the Pharaoh incarnates the Highest God, Ré, and he and his officials speak with the voice of Ré when they pronounce the Law and deliver just decisions.

The monarchical form of society, both in its primitive stage and under the great empires of the ancient world, has contributed more than any other to the early growth of religion; the idea of the god-king or the semi-divine ruler having been a potent force, as Sir James Frazer has expounded to us with great skill and learning, in the evolution of early society.

We may also surmise that the splendour of the old monarchies, especially when they expanded into mighty empires, coloured and heightened men's imagination of the deity and the divine attributes. The magnificence of the earthly court was transferred to the celestial; the unapproachable majesty of the King was translated into the ineffable majesty of God; the hopeful belief of the people in the benevolence of the King as the shepherd of his people may have assisted the growth of the conviction that benevolence and compassionateness were essential traits of the King of Kings, the august phrase bequeathed to us from the old social order.

The belief in the political character and interests of the deity has varying social results according to the form in which it is expressed. If it establishes an accepted tradition that the main structure and ordinances of society are of divine origin, it is a strong conservative force. Some such tradition is not uncommonly found among savage communities, where the tribal rites and customs are frequently supposed to have been originated by some mysterious ancient Father or Fathers of the tribe, who have passed away into the spirit-land and on whose authority they must be maintained. It is probable that the imposition of any kind of social order and its maintenance when imposed upon so difficult and anarchic an animal as man was greatly helped by this belief. This might develop in the societies of higher culture into the dogma that the social order was dictated by the High Gods and was therefore inviolable. Fortunately for human progress this was never maintained in carnestness and thoroughness save in Israel and Islam, those societies for whom the Old Testament and Koran served as the basis for secular law. The conservatism of Sparta might have been fortified to some extent by the belief that the Lycurgean constitution had been blessed by Apollo, even if it had not emanated from him. But after the monarchic period in Greece, when any belief in monarchy as a divine institution had faded, the Hellenic communities, while usually consecrating all departments of their social life by some association with religion, were little inclined to render homage to any claim to divine origin that any of them might advance: a salient example of this is the struggle that arose at Athens in the earlier part of the fifth century between the democratic party and those who desired to maintain the privileges of the semi-sacred court of Areopagos. We have to accept the paradoxical fact that while ancient Greek religion, more than any other save the Hebraic, was interfused with politics, the Greek societies were the pioneers of all secular progress. On the other hand, the tyranny of the Koran has been regarded as the cause of the political and social stagnation of most of the communities of Islam. And our own social history supplies us with many examples, as in the trials for witchcraft, the questions concerning slavery, the position of women, sabbatical observances, showing how the tyranny of the Bible has worked against progress towards humane and equitable legislation; and the bitter civil strife between the Crown and the Commons was associated with a biblical dogma concerning the divine right of kings. Of this dogma, once alive and momentous, there may be heard here and there only a faint echo; but the biblical belief in the divine origin of the monogamic marriage is still of strong avail in the sphere of legislation.

The old-world view of God the legislator, the author of the whole social system under which a particular community lives, probably survives nowhere outside Israel and Islam. But it may have left as a deposit in the mind of certain religious moralists a feeling of the divine sanctity of the abstract notion of law. In a striking fragment of Pindar No,moj or Law is personified as ‘the king of all mortal and immortal beings’;6 and with this we may compare the eloquent phrase of Hooker: ‘her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world.’7

But the other form of the recognition of the political character and interests of the divinity is the belief that he inspires the leaders of the State with wise counsel. This belief is wholly consistent with progress and with the outlook of the highest humanitarian religion. It is world-old and also modern and alive. It has been most powerful in the history of the Catholic Church, as enabling its Oecumenical Councils to escape from the bondage to the letter of their Sacred Books. It is still conventionally accepted in regard to our own legislative assemblies; for our Church of England liturgy contains the prayer uttered during the session of Parliament that God will direct their counsels to righteousness and his glory. If this belief has grown dim and faint in religious minds, the sordidness of much modern politics may be responsible; for the perception of divine agency in the world of public affairs can maintain itself strongly in the presence of tragic catastrophes and the agonies of war, but with difficulty in the depressing milieu of meanness and intrigue. Yet the religious experience that led the Greeks to invoke Zeus as ‘Eubouleus’, the giver of good council to the State, is essential to higher religion and will persist as long as a public religion based on a belief in a personal providential God persists.

The dogma that all ‘good Thought’ comes from God and can be maintained and quickened by communion with the High Power in prayer is impressively proclaimed by the Zarathustrian message as well as by our own Christian liturgy. It is the ethical limitation of the wider and vaguer idea that God is the source and author of all our thoughts and moods, an idea which finds its earliest utterance in Homer8 and which when its logical implications are realized is found to involve the repugnant and dangerous doctrine that the Divine Being is the author of our evil thoughts as well as our good, and that he may lead us into temptation to our undoing. It is illustrated poignantly by certain passages in the Old Testament; the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac is unworthy of high religion, for the Supreme Being appears to be tempting his worshipper to a cruel act, merely, like a capricious Oriental monarch, to test his obedience; but a clearer instance of the view that God might be the direct and deliberate inspirer of evil counsel, luring a man to his ruin, is the narrative in the Book of Kings where God sends one of his own messengers in the form of a lying spirit to induce Ahab to go up against Ramoth-Gilead;9 it is an exact parallel to Homer's story in the second book of the Iliad that Zeus sent to Agamemnon a lying dream to persuade him to take the field; to both stories Plato's severe judgement on the immoralities of mythology would apply. What more surprises is that the higher prophetic vision of Israel had not risen above this lower view; for Ezekiel maintains it strongly and explicitly:10 ‘if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I myself have deceived that prophet and I will destroy him.’ When we can consider in another connexion the problem of evil in the world and its relation to God, we shall have to note that the theology of the Old Testament presents God as the author of evil as of good and therefore of evil counsel as of good counsel, and we are not surprised to find it part of Rabbinical teaching that God has implanted in man an ‘evil imagination’. It is of greater significance for us that Christ himself, as he accepts current Jewish tradition in some other matters, appears to accept this also, if the phrase in his prayer ‘Lead us not into temptation’ has been rightly reported and understood. In our own sacred literature it was left for St. James in his general epistle to proclaim the doctrine that is more consonant with the highest conception of the divine nature and attributes: ‘Let no man say when he is tempted, he is tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil,11 neither tempteth he any man’, an utterance which shows him in harmony here with the higher ethical thought of Greece and which might have saved him from Luther's unjust censure, who called his epistle ‘an epistle of straw’.

The history of Christianity has had itself something to do with the severance and breach between the secular-political and the religious world, a severance still strongly influencing modern thought. The pregnant and wonderful text ‘render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's’ may have assisted the idea that Caesar's world and God's could be held separate; for various reasons early Christianity seemed strongly anti-political; and we must reckon with the rise of monasticism and with the evil part played by ecclesiastics in the sphere of politics and of rulers and statesmen in the sphere of religion to account for the current belief, often unexpressed but strong in many people of spiritual earnestness, that religion is something to be kept aloof from the sphere of political action. On the other hand, it is often urged by Christian philanthropists that certain measures of social reform are demanded by the spirit of Christianity or the direct teaching of Christ; and here obviously the old idea reappears of God the wise counsellor of the State. And we can still imagine it as possible or even probable that we may be called to take a decided part in some political controversy where the issues of right and wrong, the strife of the good spirit and the evil, are so clear and so solemn that some of the partisans will feel that exaltation and intensification of purpose, thought, and will which frequently engenders in men's minds the perception of divine inspiration real and operative in them; and such political strife would not be godless. Only our nauseating experience of the hypocrisy of those who have been wont to invoke the divine name for petty or base projects has made us shy of associating it with our daily politics.

One further general reflection of interest for history and still more for religion is suggested by our present theme. The idea that the deity directs the social and political life of man may naturally engender the view that all human history is the working-out of God's will. And those who believe that there is a discoverable purpose in that history, slowly realizing itself through the ages, may regard that as God's purpose. Whether the belief that there is a philosophy of history in that sense still prevails may be doubted. But the only attempts that have been made to construct it are of no avail for us now: some such attempt, the only example in the ancient world, appears in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic writings, where the history of mighty empires is explained as part of the general policy of God in dealing with his own peculiar people: the theory suffers from a general ignorance of history and the innate Hebraic egoism. A more modern and elaborate attempt to reconstruct such a philosophy is Hegel's; but as it leaves out nearly half the world, it does not appeal to us, and a distinguished thinker and writer has recently put forth the view that no philosophy of history, in the sense hitherto accepted, is possible.12 We may admit that he is right, if by it we mean a discoverable complex formula summing up the effects of myriads of events and actions working towards some definite purposed end which is sure to be obtained; for history is partly at least the tangled interaction of the wills of millions of human individuals; and as we find it impossible to discover a formula that will exactly express the life-purpose of one individual, it is not likely that we shall find one adequate to the aggregate sum. Whether there is some other sense of a philosophy of history, wherein it is conceivable, does not now concern us. What does concern us is the view that human history, such as our records reveal it, represents the will of God; that all public events have been willed or at least sanctioned by him. This strange dogma has often been expounded with earnest, even cheerful, conviction by poets and popular moralists from Homer downwards, and later Christendom does not seem to have doubted its orthodoxy or propriety. It is a singular example of man's thought working inorganically, one part out of connexion with another. For the dogma clashes hopelessly with the more essential doctrine of man's free-will and with the more essential concept of God's beneficence. To deal with the latter first, we may say that the deeper is a moral man's reading of history the more impossible the doctrine becomes for him that the drama of history is God's work. One's reason and imagination stagger at the proposition that a benign Power could be in any way responsible, let us say, for the slaughter of the Albigenses, the fall of Constantinople, the Spanish Inquisition, the Thirty Years‘War, or the recent world-agony. The virtuous and religious Plutarch sagely observed that it is better to be an atheist than to insult God. And the old theory of divine judgements, that could cheaply explain every horror, belongs to the barbaric concept of divine vindictiveness that will be considered later. The sage-king, Wen of China (circa 1200 B.C.), judged better concerning the miseries of his realm when he told his people ‘It is not God who has caused this evil time: but it is you who have strayed from the old paths’.13

But another and equally serious difficulty arises for those who could believe that the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day was purposed by or was in some way fulfilling the purpose of God. Such a thought strikes at the belief in human free-will; for it implies that we are all puppets in God's hand, moved as he wills; it may also imply that though what we are doing seems evil and cruel it is made to serve some other purpose, merciful and beneficent, of his, that perhaps we cannot now discern. We are touching here the fringe of the question concerning the origin and explanation of evil, which cannot be discussed without raising the momentous question concerning the divine attributes of omnipotence and infinity; and if these lectures are able to deal with them, it can only be at the close. It is sufficient for the present purpose to make clear that if we maintain the doctrine that the human will is free, and that this freedom is an essential postulate for morality and higher religion and is a primary datum of fully developed consciousness, we cannot then say that human history represents God's purpose; for human history is the drama of human agents acting freely—under the pressure it may be of natural forces—for good or for evil. We may maintain indeed that man's free-will was given him by God, and this is part of God's cosmic purpose; but such freedom means freedom to choose evil rather than good, death rather than life. It is equally inconsistent optimism to speak of necessary progress or necessary amelioration of life; unless we are puppets in the hands of a beneficent power or atoms obedient to some law of benignant nature, there is no such necessity; progress means strenuous willing; and through stupidity or indolence man may will regress, his own abasement, and destruction; and by no religious logic can we justify the belief that God will prevent him.

But to maintain this is by no means to rule out the idea of divine action in human affairs on a large scale. To the depressing Epicurean doctrine, ‘ouvde.n epimelou/ntai oi` qeoi. twn anqrwpi,nwn’—‘the Gods have no care for human affairs’—we may oppose the higher thought of Homer: ‘me,lousi, moi ovllu,menoi, per’—‘they are all a care to me, though they perish’. The fortifying faith in the divine care for the human community may find expression in the doctrine that the thought and counsels of the good and wise man working for the State are inspired and maintained by his sought communion with the highest fount of good; but man must himself make the effort, must will and plan the strife; he then gains increase of strength as he feels himself the agent of God; there is more profundity than is usual in homely proverbs in the popular saying ‘God helps those who help themselves’. This is on the whole the wholesome message of Zarathustra, that God demands the help of the good man in his strife with evil, and without his help—the help of Good Thought—the triumph will not be won.14

At least such a doctrine satisfies our imperious conviction of free-will and our craving for a belief in the divine concern for the life and fortunes of our State. But the whole question of God's operation on the world of evil goes far beyond the special inquiry of this lecture, and must be reserved.

There are still special points of interest that a complete historical account of the concept of a State-god must consider. Communities at certain periods have been possessed by a passionate devotion to particular political institutions and forms of social life; if the passion is deep enough it may in a religious people be consecrated by religious association, and the attributes of a political deity may come to include a predilection for that particular form or institution. We have noted this in respect of monarchy, from which many of even our modern thoughts and phrases concerning the High God have been probably derived. We need not suppose that the peoples of the old-world monarchic empires had any passionate attachment to that mode of government; they may not have been able to imagine any other; the fact that the kings were the immemorial depositaries of the State-religion is sufficient explanation of the close association between kingship and Godhead. We have noted also how the Christian tradition has maintained the political-religious conception of the divine right of kings. On the other hand we have found in ancient Athens a religious consecration of democracy, and that the divinity of their State became a democrat. This example is unique; for although the Puritans in the period of our civil war could fortify their anti-monarchical sentiments and their demand for freer Church-government and free political institutions by the authority of the Old Testament, the revolutionary enthusiasm of more recent times and the movement that has established democracy as a modern world-force have been on the whole non-religious. Apart from political forms, we are supposed to have inherited from our northern ancestors a passion for freedom; but it has never either among them or among us been consecrated as a moral religious ideal, save in the occasional utterances of some fervid revolutionary poets. For the Norseman freedom meant independence of central authority, the power to lead his own life with his family and followers and serfs around him in his own valley or in far-off Iceland. It was a secular and honorable craving, and so on the whole it has remained for us; we have never convincingly associated it as an ideal with God's nature or with any divine attribute; and if we hear occasionally such phrases as that Christ was a good democrat or the first communist, we reject them as repugnant paradoxes. It was otherwise with the Hellenes in their period of greatness. In them the passion for freedom or local independence was of such strength that, like other overmastering passions which seemed to raise men above themselves, it demanded religious consecration and engendered an actual cult; and their own High God received the proud political title Eleutherios, ‘the free man's God’. By this was he worshipped at Plataea after the great battle which saved Greece and the Western world from Persia, and Simonides commemorated the institution of the cult by a striking epigram: ‘Having driven out the Persian, the Hellenes raised an altar to Zeus the Free, a fair token of freedom for Hellas’. Elsewhere in the Greek world of the fifth century the same worship was established, commemorating a city's deliverance from the rule of a tyrant and indicating the same attribute of Zeus. There has been no other race that has adapted its religion so pliantly as the Hellene to the master-passions of the national soul.

Finally, we have to consider how the character and attributes of the State-deity have been coloured and determined by another department of public activity, namely war. At first thought the idea of a god of war may appear to separate and estrange the ancient and backward ideals of religion from the modern and more refined; and we must reckon seriously with a matter that so deeply concerns our religious thought and imagination.

As war has inevitably been hitherto the occasional occupation of all communities ancient and modern, primitive and civilized, a deity who is regarded as the leader of his people and their counsellor in public affairs must of necessity be concerned with it. And no deity of the ancient world-religions was so exalted or so benign as to be removed from any part in it. At one time the Hebrew psalmist may say of Jahwé, in a passage where the storm of battle is heard, ‘he maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth: he breaketh the bow and cutteth the spear in sunder’;15 but another naïvely robust utterance in the triumph-song of Moses, which takes hold of us by its poetic force, declares: ‘The Lord is a man of war;’16 and again the Psalmist maintains: ‘he teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.’17 We find that the same warlike character attached to most of the leading divinities in the polytheisms of the old world; most marked is the warrior-aspect of Marduk of Babylon, and Indra of the Vedic and later Indians, of the Teutonic-Scandinavian Tyr and Odin; it is only lacking, so far as appears from the records, in the deities of Egypt. The Mexican deities had, indeed, a special reason for taking a sympathetic interest in war, as they drew their food-supply from it. For only among this people is the belief found prevailing that the blood and flesh of the prisoners taken in war supplied the deities with their sole nourishment.18 As regards Hellenic polytheism, the facts are of interest. As their deities were pre-eminently political, they assist the wars of their respective states, and some of them may even lead them into battle; and to most of them, even to Zeus, some warlike titles of worship are attached. But their peaceful attributes were far more pronounced and emphasized; and even in Homer, the aloofness of Zeus from the actual strife of the battlefield enhances the majesty of his figure. But the Greeks had in Ares, what is rare to find in the religions of the world, a specialized god of war, whose activity was limited to that function. Ares, however, was probably of Thracian origin, and was held in little esteem and some repugnance by the majority of the Greek communities, who lost at an early period whatever they may have inherited from their northern ancestors of the Berserker rage of battle. This strange passion, overmastering a man and lifting him above himself, would naturally engender a belief in its daemoniac or divine origin; and the emergence of a special war-daemon or war-god can be thus explained. Such a cult is only likely to be cherished by a warrior-class, and is likely to fade with increasing civilization, which always cools the animal passion for war. Where that passion is at its height, as at a certain period among the northern Teutons, we can discern how it colours the personalities of the religion. The belief in Valhalla as the paradise of those who fell in battle does not seem to have been a mere fiction of the court-sagamen. A similar belief prevailed in pre-Christian Mexico; and we must attribute to it some influence on conduct both in Scandinavia and Mexico; for a Spanish writer attests the desperate valour of the Indians, who seemed to enjoy dying in battle;19 and we may compare the similar effect of a like belief on the warriors of Islam.

We may formulate the facts thus: where a specialized war-god occurs in the more civilized religions he is likely to acquire other and more beneficent attributes than the warlike, if he retains his power; on the other hand there is scarcely any theistic religion in the world in which the high deity or deities have been kept aloof from any concern in war. Looking at least at its past history we must say that the religion of Christendom forms no exception; it has been deeply infected with the bellicose tradition of the Old Testament, and in large areas inflamed with the warrior-spirit of the north; we discern this in much of the phraseology and metaphors of our liturgy and hymns, in a strong and naive verse of our National Anthem, and in our prayers for victory over the King's enemies, while our prayer to be delivered ‘from battle, murder, and sudden death’ is not always sincere. The conscience of medieval Christianity, so far as I am aware, was not troubled in this matter, and felt no incongruity herein with the teaching of the New Testament or with the spirit of Christ: the wars of the Cross and the wars against heretics were particularly blessed, and were the most ferocious of all. The primitive Christian in the early days before the establishment had felt doubts whether the bearing of arms was consistent with his profession; but later such doubts faded away or were authoritatively reconciled with religion. They were not likely to trouble medieval Catholicism with its convenient system of absolutions, still less the later Protestants and Puritans, to whom the Old Testament was a revelation and an authority for conduct. But they have arisen with force in some of the post-Reformation sects, Quakers and ‘Christadelphians’, who furnished some and probably the sincerest of the many ‘conscientious objectors’ who embarrassed us in the late war.

The old idea accepted and proclaimed by Judaism, Christianity, Mazdeism, and Islam that war against unbelievers was inspired by God, is extinct now and not likely to revive. The higher ethical thought of Greece, as represented by Plato, was content to regard war as a grim necessity to be accepted at times by the most law-abiding state. Apart from religious fanaticism, attempts have been made to moralize war as God's judgement on sinners; or as a purge that a kindly Providence might occasionally use to cure the rankness of a state or the world. Thus a Greek epic poet of the eighth century B.C. justifies the Trojan war as benevolently willed by Zeus to ease the earth of excessive population; and a similar view is grandiloquently expressed in the great verses, probably Shakespeare's, in the drama, The Two Noble Kinsmen—an invocation to the war-god—

O great corrector of enormous times,

Shaker of o'er-rank States… that heal'st with blood

The earth when it is sick and cur'st the world

Of the pleurisie of people.

But the question whether the highest religious thought will henceforth deem it degrading and blasphemous to associate the character and action of the supreme God with such a calamity and evil as war, and whether in so associating him we have not been false to the Christian ideal as revealed by Christ, is a serious and difficult one both for morality and for religion. It is not disposed of by saying that war would be impossible if the spirit of Christ or the spirit of Buddha were to prevail wholly among all men. The question remains whether before such prevalence has been attained, which at present seems incalculably remote, it is for us a breach of ideal religion and religious morality to engage in any war at all. We are well aware that this has been maintained by Tolstoy and the pacificist sects on the strength mainly of a few passages in the Gospels containing utterances of Christ, to which they give a universal application, on the topic of non-resistance. Yet numbers of earnest Christians were convinced that when they took arms in the recent war they were fighting the cause of God; while others who did the same, feeling themselves responding to a deep and imperious moral call, were untroubled by religious casuistry. But it is unwise to leave a wide rift between our necessary action and our ideal theology; we should endeavour to adapt the one to the other, whichever one it be. It is open to us to say that the phrases concerning ‘the turning of the left cheek’ and non-resistance to evil are emergency-teaching only, spoken by Christ in the conviction of the nearness of the kingdom of God, and therefore not applicable, as Tolstoy chose to suppose, to all periods and circumstances of human life. Or we may suppose them to be regulative of our private conduct only; that they were not intended to determine the duty of a citizen when the whole State was confronted with war. It is relevant also to remember that neither Christ nor his apostles anywhere condemn the profession of a soldier and that their words were uttered in such an atmosphere as the great peace of the mighty Roman Empire, when the possibility that a citizen might be called on to help the State in a life-and-death struggle, threatening to extinguish all civilization and with it all religion, was never contemplated. But we have to contemplate such a position. If then the attitude of Tolstoy and the pacificists threatens to lead to the extinction of all religion, we must call it bad religion or even irreligious; for it cannot be the highest religious ideal that necessitates action which might lead to the extirpation of religion. We should make our minds up about this, considering the contingencies that we may have to face.

We should also seriously take into account that human nature has certain moral promptings, instinctive or intuitive, so deep and so long-enduring that we dare to call them primeval; and it is not well for the vitality of any religion that it should ignore these. One of these is the prompting to defend the hearth and the home from the violator and the oppressor. We should not allow a religious ideal that would gainsay that prompting to pass unscrutinized and unchallenged; for a religion is not likely to have long-abiding force, divorced from our deepest instincts. We ought still then to find room in our religious ideal for the happy and conscientious warrior. The utterances in the New Testament, even taken as the final pronouncement of the highest conceivable religion, do not make this impossible. It would only become impossible if our highest religious thought imposed on us the dogma that all life, at least all human life, is equally sacred in the eyes of God and therefore in all circumstances inviolable. But such a quasi-Buddhistic belief, which would condemn not only all war but our criminal code and much of our social economy, is neither dictated to us on the authority of our sacred books nor given us by our deepest experience of the world of nature and man. Death has its moral value at times as a deliverance from hopeless evil and as a condition of better life; and it may conform better with our deepest religious perception to maintain that it is only good life that is sacred in the eyes of God. Therefore, a religion that satisfies our ethical and spiritual ideas and is yet workable by a State in the present condition of the world need not discard the old-world concept of a God of righteousness who inspires men at certain crises with the will to war; while we may purify that concept of barbarism and refine away the crudeness with which it is embodied in parts of our liturgy.

  • 1.
    E. R. E. vol. 6, p. 304.
  • 2.

    Vide Golther, Handbuch der Germanischen Mythologie, p. 617.

  • 3.

    Vide pp. 105–6.

  • 4.

    Langdon, Expositor, 1909, p. 149; cf. Jeremias, s.v. ‘Nebo’ in Roscher, Lexikon, 3, p. 55.

  • 5.
    Op. cit., e.g. p. 224.
  • 6.

    Frag. 169.

  • 7.
    Eccl. Pol. 1, p. 285.
  • 8.

    Vide supra, p. 58.

  • 9.

    1. 22. 20.

  • 10.

    14. 9.

  • 11.

    Or ‘for God is not conversant with evil’ (1. 13).

  • 12.

    Pringle-Pattison, ‘The Philosophy of History’, from the Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. xi.

  • 13.

    Giles, Religion of Ancient China, p. 21.

  • 14.

    e.g. Gathas, Yasna 31, v. 22 (Moulton, E. Z. p. 355): ‘He (the man of understanding) shall be the most helpful companion for thee, O Mazdāh Ahura.’

  • 15.

    Psalms 46. 9.

  • 16.

    Exodus 15. 3.

  • 17.

    144. 1; cf. 18. 34.

  • 18.

    Vide Payne, History of the New World, 1, p. 524.

  • 19.

    Bernal Diaz, quoted by Payne, op. cit. 1, p. 528.

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