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18. The Religious Outlook in a Twentieth-Century World

In the last two chapters we have been looking at some of the idols that, in a Late Modern Western World, have been taking the place of Western Man’s discarded ancestral religion, Christianity; and our attention has been caught by three idols in particular: Nationalism, Oecumenicalism, and the Technician. We have observed that two of these three idols—the Technician and Nationalism—seem now to be falling. On the other hand, there seems to be a future for an oecumenical state.

In contrast to a parochial state whose rulers’ first concern must be to defend it against other parochial states and to promote its interests at the expense of these rivals, an oecumenical state, being relieved, ex hypothesi, of all rivals, could afford to concern itself less with its own self-preservation and more with the service of human beings. It could, in fact, be primarily a ‘welfare state’, and could dedicate itself to promoting the interests of Mankind as a whole. But everything that is of any value has its price. If a Westernizing World in which distance had been ‘annihilated’ by Late Modern Western technology were ever to enter into an oecumenical state on a literally world-wide scale, this political institution would be bringing to the whole of the Human Race, this time, the boon that had been brought to fractions of it, at other times, by states that had been oecumenical in function and feeling without having embraced the entire habitable and traversable surface of the planet. The boon would be security; and the price of security is a sacrifice of freedom. A world-wide readiness, in a dangerous age, to buy security at the cost of freedom would be the state of mind expressed in a literally world-wide welfare state, if this were ever to be achieved.

In a Westernizing World mid-way through the twentieth century of the Christian Era, there were at least three demands—all of them strong, persistent, and wide-spread—that were militating against freedom and in favour of regulation and regimentation. There was a demand for security, a demand for social justice, and a demand for a higher material standard of living.

The threat to freedom in the name of security came to our attention at the end of the preceding chapter, when we were considering the adversity into which the technician had fallen since the advent of the Atomic Age in A.D. 1945. But the ban upon freedom of discussion to which the atomic technician and experimental scientific researcher were now being subjected by governments was, of course, only one among a number of restrictions on freedom that the demand for security was exacting. Statesmanship might perhaps succeed in reducing to vanishing-point the danger of a world war fought with atomic weapons, and the vast enhancement of Man’s material power through atomic science might be applied eventually, not to armaments, but to constructive civil purposes making for an increase in human welfare. But, even then, the sheer potency of Mankind’s new equipment would make a stringent public control and regulation of the use of it still necessary, even if and when it was no longer being used for the deliberately destructive purpose of atomic warfare. Already, more than a hundred years back, public safety-regulations to govern the operation of power-driven machinery had been found necessary when the mechanical power at Man’s command was still merely the relatively puny force of steam. It was therefore probable that the need for safety-regulations would not be eliminated if atomic power were to be applied exclusively to pacific and beneficent uses. So far from that, the stringency of the necessary safety-regulations would be likely to increase pari passu with the increase in Man’s command over Physical Nature—and, mid-way through the twentieth century, Man seemed still to be conquering Nature at an accelerating pace.

An epitome and symbol of the abiding need to regulate the use of mechanical power in the interests of security was to be seen, in A.D. 1956, on the roads of a world in which the facilities for communication were becoming more and more important for the well-being, and indeed for the maintenance, of Society. The publicly enforced rules of the road were becoming both more elaborate and more severe as the increase in the speed, mass, and momentum of power-driven vehicles was increasing the seriousness of the effects of accidents. No such measures had been required in the past, when the swiftest vehicles on the road had been stage-coaches and the most ponderous had been carriers’ carts. In that antediluvian age, the problem of traffic had not been how to avoid accidents; for these had not been dangerous when the typical accident was a collision between a donkey-cart and a wheelbarrow. The problem in the pre-mechanical age had been how to transport a large enough volume of goods at a high enough speed. The virtual solution of this problem through mechanization had now given rise to the problem of accidents; and accidents could not be avoided without regimentation.

Moreover, security against physical damage or destruction in the factories and on the roads was not the only kind of security that would still be required in a scientifically efficient society that had succeeded in abolishing Man’s traditional institution of War. There were, for example, the demands for security against incapacitation both by sickness, during the years of working life, and by old age after the date of retirement. The prolongation of the average expectation of life by an increasingly successful application of preventive medicine was increasing both the individual’s need for an old age pension and the burden of this charge upon Society; and the problem could not be solved except by compulsory public insurance financed by levies on employees, employers, ‘self-employed’ persons, and tax-payers. A high rate of taxation, and a steep grading of the rate as between incomes of different sizes, were required in any case by the demand for social justice. In a twentieth-century Westernizing World, this demand was being met, not merely by a reduction of the difference between rates of remuneration paid to individual earners, but by the public provision of social services financed by a graduated tax. Arrangements for insurance against sickness and old age were only two out of a number of social services that were now being provided by a compulsory redistribution of private incomes by public action; and the reverse side of this policy was an increasing reduction of the quota of an individual’s earnings that he was left free to spend or invest as he chose after the tax collector had made his levy.

These restrictions on freedom that were the price of security and of social justice were considerable. Yet they were not so far-reaching as the restrictions that seemed likely to be required by the vocal demand for a rise in the material standard of living, and by the still more exigent tacit demand that the standard should at any rate not be allowed to decline from a level which, in A.D. 1956, was barely above the starvation line for perhaps three-quarters of the living generation of Mankind. Supposing that the threat of a third world war had receded, and that atomic power had been wholly applied to the increase of human welfare, the consequent possibility of raising the standard for the almost destitute majority of the Human Race might still be more than offset by the success of preventive medicine in lowering the death-rate. In Britain, preventive medicine had begun to produce this effect in the seventeen-forties; and, in consequence, the population of Britain had nearly quadrupled within the next 140 years, before the prospect of a return to equilibrium had been opened up, in the eighteen-eighties, by the beginnings of a fall in the birthrate.

This episode of English social history reveals the formidable length of the time-lag, after an impetus has been given to the growth of population by an advance in preventive medicine, before a brake is eventually put upon this impetus through a change in social habits. An advance in preventive medicine can be achieved very quickly, because this is the work of the Head. Even in a socially backward and conservative-minded country a small personnel, putting the simplest measures of public health into operation, can bring about a rapid fall in the death-rate. On the other hand, the change in social habits that is required if there is to be a lowering of the birth-rate is an affair of the Heart; and even in an advanced and progressive-minded country the Heart cannot easily be moved to go faster than its habitually slow gait. The time-lag of 140 years in Britain between the Head’s effect and the Heart’s effect upon the movement of population is unlikely to have been longer than the average; and, during the interval, the population of Britain increased nearly fourfold.

Britain was able to maintain this rising population at a rising standard of living, because, within less than a quarter of a century after the improvement of public health in Britain had begun to make itself felt in a rise in the population, Britain initiated the Industrial Revolution and thereby won for herself, for a century, as her reward for having been first in the field, the remunerative role of serving as ‘the workshop of the World’. No other country in the World thereafter could tide over the same time-lag by even temporarily winning for itself the same industrial monopoly. Yet Britain had been merely the first of a series of countries whose population was going to increase at approximately the same rate in consequence of the same time-lag between a fall in the death-rate and an eventual countervailing fall in the birth-rate. In China, too the population had begun to rise in the eighteenth century as a consequence, there, of the law and order established by the Manchu imperial régime, working together with the introduction of new food crops from the Americas. In India, the law and order established by the British raj, working together with the extension of irrigation and the improvement in means of communication, had brought about a comparable increase of population in the nineteenth century. The Indian and Chinese figures dwarfed the British figures in their scale; and, in the twentieth century, the growth of population from the same causes was coming to be world-wide.

It could hardly be hoped that the change of social habits, necessary for stabilizing the World’s population through a voluntary reduction of the birth-rate, could be achieved before the increase in the World’s population would reach the limit of the numbers that could be fed, even if the World’s food production were to have been raised to the highest degree that could be attained by the systematic application of science. In that event, Malthus’s forecast would have been wrong only in antedating the crisis by a mere 150 years or thereabouts, and the inevitable consequence would be a further restriction of freedom—and this time in a field in which governmental interference had been almost unheard-of hitherto.

The regulation of the movement of population by means of artificial restrictions is not, of course, in itself a new thing in human affairs. At many times and places, population has been regulated by divers expedients. But, when and where this has been done, it has been done almost entirely by the free choice of husbands and wives (or at any rate of husbands), acting at their own private discretion as a law unto themselves. The inner sanctum of family life is a domain into which, in the past, governments have been chary of intruding. The Lycurgean régime at Sparta was exceptional in claiming and exercising the right for a government to refuse to let a baby live, whatever its parents’ wishes might be. But, in a world whose population had reached the limit of the numbers that the face of the planet could feed, an oecumenical welfare state would be bound to take responsibility for providing every living person with a minimum food ration, and consequently be bound to assume the Lycurgean prerogative of limiting the number of living mouths.

If, in this world crisis, parents failed to accept, of their own accord, the revolutionary idea that the World had a right to have a say about the number of children that they were to bring into it, then the public authorities would find themselves constrained to impose their quota of births by exercising the coercive powers that states can bring to bear upon their subjects. This Lycurgean use of force would, in fact, be the only alternative to allowing Famine, in a world that had been freed from Pestilence and from War, to do the whole of the barbarous work that, in the past, the three traditional destroying angels had done between them; and Famine could not stalk the World again without soon bringing Pestilence and War back in its train. To allow the World’s population once again to be kept down in these irrational and inhuman traditional ways would be a confession of social bankruptcy; and we may guess that, if and when the formidable choice had to be faced, it would seem preferable that the state should restrict the freedom of individuals even in this the most intimate of all hitherto private affairs.

These considerations made it look, in A.D. 1956, as if freedom were likely to be restricted to an unprecedented degree, and that this restriction would be felt eventually in family life, as well as in economics and in politics. At this date, the limitation of the size of families by public policy had not yet become a live issue; but public restrictions on individual freedom in the economic and political spheres had already been multiplying and were still on the increase. In a Westernizing World that was manifestly moving towards social uniformity, these encroachments on the former preserves of individual freedom were taking place, at divers rates and to divers degrees, in all countries, and not only in those that were now under Communist or semi-socialist régimes. The same tendency could also be discerned in the United States, and here it was particularly impressive. For, of all countries in the world of the day, the United States was the one in which the material standard of living was the highest, and in which the demands for social justice and for security had been met the most adequately already. The increase in regulation and regimentation in the United States was thus ‘an acid test’ of their increase in the World as a whole. On this test, it looked as if the field for freedom, which had seemed almost boundless in a nineteenth-century Western Society, was likely, in a twentieth-century Westernizing World, to be not only severely limited but drastically curtailed.

In a world in which Freedom was thus being driven from pillar to post, what was the sphere of life in which she was going to find asylum? The question presented itself because Man cannot live without a minimum of freedom, any more than he can live without a minimum of security, justice, and food. There seems to be in human nature an intractable vein—akin to the temperament of Man’s yoke-fellows the camel, mule, and goat—which insists on being allowed a modicum of freedom and which knows how to impose its will when it is goaded beyond endurance. This hard core of obstinacy in Man has been the bane of tyrants. Even the most long-suffering peoples revolt at some point, as is witnessed by the record of revolutions in Russia and in China; and even the most efficiently despotic governments have found it impossible to suppress freedom in all spheres simultaneously. Despots who have recklessly sat on the safety valve have usually been blown sky-high sooner or later; and the frequency of this mishap has taught the more prudent practitioners of the hazardous art to leave some vent open for their subjects.

Naturally the despots look for this vent in some activity that does not appear to them to affect whatever may be their own paramount concern. In seventeenth-century Western Christendom, for example, where the paramount concern of despots was Religion, they were willing, as we have seen,1 to allow their subjects the apparently harmless vent of applying experimental science to Technology. In the twentieth century, when a scientific technology had placed edged tools in Man’s hands, and when the paramount concern of governments was security, the technician was being deprived by governments of the freedom that had been granted to him by these governments’ seventeenth-century predecessors. Security against War, against accidents, and against want was an objective that could not be pursued effectively without restricting freedom in the spheres of political, economic, and perhaps eventually even domestic life. In A.D. 1956 the surviving parochial governments were already embarked on that course; and there was no reason for expecting that this tendency in public policy would change if and when these parochial governments were superseded, or, short of that, were subordinated, through the establishment of an oecumenical régime. In these circumstances it might be forecast that, in the next chapter of the World’s history, Mankind would seek compensation for the loss of much of its political, economic, and perhaps even domestic freedom by putting more of its treasure into its spiritual freedom, and that the public authorities would tolerate this inclination among their subjects in an age in which Religion had come to seem as harmless as Technology had seemed 300 years back.

This forecast had some support in history; for Religion had in fact been the sphere of activity in which the subjects of past oecumenical empires had been allowed by their rulers to seek and find compensation for their loss of freedom in other fields. This was one of the reasons why so many of the historic higher religions had arisen within the framework of empires that had been oecumenical in the pertinent sense of being world-wide in feeling—as distinct from being world-wide in the literal meaning of the word.

No empire had ever been literally world-wide so far. This had not been a practical possibility until ‘the annihilation of distance’ had been achieved by Modern Western technology. Yet the limits of the geographical range of the oecumenical empires of the past did not make their experience irrelevant to the problem of the future of freedom in a Westernizing World in which world-government, in the literal sense, had now become technically possible. For both the subject’s demand for freedom, and the government’s policy in dealing with this demand, were matters, not of physical geography, but of human nature; and, in this psychological and political context, an empire that was felt to be all-embracing—in the sense of embracing all lands in which its subjects could feel themselves at home—was as effectively oecumenical as if it had literally had no frontiers. It was oecumenical in the subjective sense of there being nowhere else in the World where its subjects could find a tolerable asylum if life were to become intolerable under this régime; and this subjective sense was the sense in which the Roman Empire was legitimately equated with ‘the Inhabited World’, and the Chinese Empire with ‘All that is under Heaven’. In a society composed of parochial states with a common civilization, an Athenian who found life intolerable at Athens could move to Thurii or Miletus or any one of a number of other Hellenic city-states without exiling himself from the Hellenic Civilization that was his native social element. On the other hand, a subject of the Roman Empire who found life intolerable under this oecumenical Hellenic régime could not emigrate to the Parthian Empire without expatriating himself psychologically as well as politically.

This means that even a less than literally world-wide oecumenical empire differs from any parochial state in the nature of the psychological pressure that it exerts. If it makes itself intolerable to its subjects, an oecumenical empire is apt to breed in them a much more acute claustrophobia than they would have felt in a state which they could have left without having to lose their cultural heritage as the price of changing their domicile. Such acute claustrophobia is an explosive force; and prudent oecumenical governments have generally been anxious not to let the pressure of this force accumulate to a dangerous degree. Their general policy has been to leave open to their subjects some vent for freedom, under their own régime, that would save the subjects from having to make the excruciating choice between intolerable conditions at home and likewise intolerable conditions in exile. The vent which oecumenical governments have usually found the least objectionable has been some measure of freedom in the field of spiritual life, as is witnessed by the fact that a number of oecumenical empires have allowed themselves to be used as mission-fields by higher religions. The Achaemenian Empire, for example, served as a mission-field for Zoroastrianism and for Judaism; the Maurya Empire for Hīnayāna Buddhism; the Kushan Empire and the Han Empire for Mahāyāna Buddhism; the Roman Empire for Isis-worship, Cybele-worship, the cult of Juppiter Dolichenus, Mithraism, and Christianity; the Gupta Empire for post-Buddhaic Hinduism; the Arab Caliphate for Islam.

A striking common feature that comes to light, when these instances are surveyed synoptically, is the comparative forbearance towards alien, and in some cases aggressive, non-official religions that was shown by oecumenical governments whose general temper was suspicious and their general policy repressive. In the policies of the pre-Christian Roman Empire towards Christianity, and of the Han Empire’s avatar, the T’ang Empire, towards the Mahāyāna, the remarkable feature is, not the imperial government’s occasional resort to persecution, but its usual tolerance, de facto, of a non-official religion that was not only distasteful to it but was officially proscribed by it. Conversely, it is not surprising that Hinduism should have flourished under the Gupta Empire, and Islam under the Arab Caliphate, since, in these two cases, the successful religion was professed and patronized by the imperial government. What is surprising in these two cases is the fact that the Hindu-minded Gupta emperors did not persecute Buddhism, and that the toleration, explicitly accorded in the Qur’ān to Jews and Christians, so long as they submitted to Muslim rule and paid a surtax, was extended, de facto, by the Caliphs to their Zoroastrian subjects, and by successors of the Caliphs to Hindus, though neither Hindus nor Zoroastrians had been mentioned, in the Qur’ān, in the catalogue of ‘People of the Book’.

A rather surprisingly large measure of religious toleration has, in fact, been a conspicuous generic feature of oecumenical empires, and the wisdom of this policy has been demonstrated by the disasters that have been the penalty for departing from it. The Mughal Muslim raj in India was wrecked by Awrangzib’s departure from a policy of tolerating Hinduism that had been taken over by the Mughal dynasty from previous Muslim rulers in India. The Roman Empire, after Constantine’s adoption of Catholic Christianity as the imperial government’s official religion, brought crippling eventual losses upon itself when Theodosius I abandoned Constantine’s prudent policy of toleration for all faiths and replaced this by a militant policy of persecuting all varieties of religion except the now officially established one.

The suppression of Paganism, which was started by Theodosius I and was completed by Justinian I, might, it is true, appear to have been justified by success. By Justinian’s day, a Romania which, by then, had become predominantly Christian had, in the process, become partly alien to an obstinate residual minority of unconverted Hellenes. Yet seven discharged professors of Hellenic philosophy, who sought and found asylum in the Persian Empire after Justinian’s closure of the University of Athens in A.D. 529, discovered by experiment that the air of an ex-Hellenic oecumenical empire in which they were now forbidden to teach was still the only air that they could breathe. The atmosphere of a Zoroastrian Iran proved to be so much more uncongenial to them than the atmosphere of a Christian Romania that they soon became desperately homesick for the Christendom in which their religion was being stamped out. Their recovery, under the Persian Emperor’s aegis, of their freedom to teach was no consolation in a social milieu in which their Hellenic philosophy had no public.

Their exile was indeed a more forlorn one than that of the Nestorian Christians, who had found asylum in the same Persian Empire 100 years before them. The Nestorian Christian refugees from the Syriac-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire had been able to strike new roots on the Persian side of the frontier among an indigenous Syriac-speaking Christian population there whom they soon succeeded in winning over to their own interpretation of the Christian faith. There were no Greek-speaking students of Hellenic philosophy still surviving in the Persian dominions to welcome the seven refugee Hellenic professors a century later. So the professors capitulated and petitioned for repatriation; and their protector the Emperor Chosroes showed understanding for their plight, and magnanimity in coming to their rescue once again. So far from taking offence at the Hellenic exiles’ inability to strike root in his Iranian World, Chosroes chivalrously wrote into a peace treaty that he was negotiating with Justinian an article stipulating that the seven pagan academic refugees should not only be allowed to return home to Romania but should be exempted there from the operation of Justinian’s anti-pagan penal laws.

When the Nestorians had been driven beyond the bounds of Romania and when the Hellene exiles had sued for permission to return on terms that condemned their Hellenic paganism to die with them, the Theodosian policy of intolerance might appear to have been vindicated. Yet already, in Justinian’s day, this policy was being defeated by a mass-secession of the Roman Empire’s Coptic-speaking, Syriac-speaking, and Armenian-speaking subjects from the Imperial (‘Melchite’) Catholic Church to Monophysitism. The Monophysites were not a minority that could be expelled like the Nestorians or be suppressed like the Hellenes. They were in a decisive majority throughout an area extending from Upper Egypt to the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates. They could neither be suppressed nor be expelled; but they could revolt against the Roman Empire, as they had already revolted against the Catholic Church, as soon as an opportunity presented itself. Their chance came when the Muslim Arabs invaded the Roman Empire little more than half a century after Justinian’s death; and the disaffection of the Monophysites towards the Empire partly accounts for the rapidity, and the apparent ease, with which the Arab invaders wrested Syria, Mesopotamia, and Egypt out of Melchite Roman hands.

This disastrous eventual result of a policy of intolerance inaugurated by Theodosius was a retrospective vindication of the opposite policy of toleration de facto which had been the usual policy of the Roman Imperial Government before Diocletian had consented, against his own better judgement, to put Christianity under a ban. Toleration had been reestablished by Constantine, and now not merely de facto but de jure, when, after his conversion, he had lifted this ban on Christianity without imposing a ban on Paganism. In the liberalism of his religious policy, Constantine was not merely being faithful to the spirit of a pre-Christian Roman régime; he was taking a line that has been characteristic of oecumenical empires as a class. Theodosius’s ban on Paganism, like Diocletian’s ban on Christianity, was an aberration that led to a disaster. These historical precedents suggest that, if a twentieth-century Westernizing World, in its turn, were to purchase security at the price of submitting to the political and economic bondage of some kind of oecumenical government, Religion would be the field, once again, in which human beings would seek the freedom without which they cannot live, and also, once again, the field in which the public authorities would be the least chary of leaving open the necessary vent.

In a regimented world the realm of the spirit may be freedom’s citadel. But spiritual freedom cannot be achieved solely by the action of the State. What the State can do to provide for freedom is, no doubt, indispensable when the state has an oecumenical range; but, at the same time, this necessary action on the State’s part is, and can be, only negative. The State can and should refrain from either penalizing or favouring any religion that is professed by any of its subjects, and it also can and should ‘hold the ring’ in the sense of restraining its subjects from combating one another’s religions by the use of any means except non-violent missionary activities. But this necessary negative action on the State’s part is not enough to make spiritual freedom a reality; for to be real it must also be alive in the hearts of the people themselves. True spiritual freedom is attained when each member of Society has learnt to reconcile a sincere conviction of the truth of his own religious beliefs and the Tightness of his own religious practices with a voluntary toleration of the different beliefs and practices of his neighbours. A toleration that is genuinely voluntary is the only kind that has any virtue in it; but the degree of the virtue depends on the motive, and the motives for toleration are various. They can be lower or higher, negative or positive.

The lowest negative motive for toleration is a belief that Religion is of no practical importance, and that therefore it does not matter what religion our neighbours profess. The next lowest negative motive is a belief that Religion is an illusion, and that therefore it is idle to inquire whether this or that form of Religion is true or false or right or wrong. The next lowest negative motive is a prudential one arising from the observation that a resort to force is apt to provoke a resistance which may recoil upon the aggressor. However telling my own unprovoked first blow promises to be, I cannot be sure that the knock-out blow will not be received by me from the neighbour whom I have made my implacable enemy by wantonly assaulting him. The next lowest negative motive arises from the observation that religious conflict is a public nuisance which easily becomes a public danger. It is therefore better for discordant religious sects to resign themselves to living and letting live, without breaking the peace by trying to eliminate one another.

These negative motives for toleration would appear to have been the prevalent motives in the Western World when it opted for toleration in reaction against the evils of the Catholic-Protestant wars of religion;2 and our current Western experience is now showing us that toleration inspired by such negative motives is precarious. So long as we are not moved by any higher and more positive motives than these, there is no guarantee that intolerance will not raise its head again. If it does not reappear in Religion itself, it may make its appearance in some psychological substitute for Religion in the shape of a secular ‘ideology’ such as Nationalism, Fascism, or Communism. Happily, higher and more positive motives did also enter into the seventeenth-century Western spiritual revolution,3 and these are the motives that we need to confirm and strengthen in our own hearts today.

The fundamental positive motive for toleration is a recognition of the truth that religious conflict is not just a nuisance but is a sin. It is sinful because it arouses the wild beast in Human Nature. Religious persecution, too, is sinful because no one has a right to try to stand between another human soul and God. Every soul has a right to commune with God in God’s and this soul’s way; and the particular way concerns none but God and the particular soul in question. No other human being has a right to intervene by the use of any means except nonviolent missionary action. And Violence in this field is not only sinful; it is futile; for religions cannot be inculcated by force. There is no such thing as a belief that is not held voluntarily through a genuinely spontaneous inner conviction. Different people’s convictions will differ, because Absolute Reality is a mystery of which no more than a fraction has ever yet been penetrated by—or been revealed to—any human mind. ‘The heart of so great a mystery cannot ever be reached by following one road only.’4 However strong and confident may be my conviction that my own approach to the mystery is a right one, I ought to be aware that my field of spiritual vision is so narrow that I cannot know that there is no virtue in other approaches. In theistic terms this is to say that I cannot know that other people’s visions may not also be revelations from God—and these perhaps fuller and more illuminating revelations than the one that I believe that I myself have received from Him.

Moreover, the fact that I and my neighbour are following different roads is something that divides us much less than we are drawn together by the other fact that, in following our different roads, we are both trying to approach the same mystery. All human beings who are seeking to approach the mystery in order to direct their lives in accordance with the nature and spirit of Absolute Reality or, in theistic terms, with the will of God—all these fellow-seekers are engaged in an identical quest. They should recognize that they are spiritually brethren and should feel towards one another, and treat one another, as such. Toleration does not become perfect until it has been transfigured into love.

18 Annexe: The Seventeenth-Century Reaction in the West Against Religious Intolerance

The Pertinence of Seventeenth-century Motives in the Twentieth Century

The Late Modern Western practice of toleration seemed, in A.D. 1956, to be in serious danger of being brought to an end by a resurgence of fanaticism. This time the causes that were evoking this familiar evil spirit were not the conflicting varieties of Western Christianity in whose rival names the sixteenth-century and seventeenth-century Western wars of religion had been fought. They were secular ‘ideologies’, such as Nationalism, Fascism, and Communism. Yet in these professedly new-fangled faiths the fanatical vein in the traditional spirit of Judaism and Christianity, as well as some of the principal motifs of a traditional Jewish and Christian mythology, were clearly discernible and easily traceable to their historical origins. In fact, a spirit that had been suppressed in Western Christendom at the close of the seventeenth century was reviving in the twentieth century. This revival raised the question why it was that the practice of toleration should now once again be in jeopardy in the West after having prevailed there for no less than a quarter of a millennium, and after having been taken for granted, all this time, as an instalment of civilization which, now that it had been achieved at last, was secure against ever being lost. Some light on the answer to this question, which was presenting itself so insistently in A.D. 1956, could perhaps be found by recalling the motives in the minds of the founding fathers of a Late Modern Western Liberalism, when they had inaugurated, about 250 years ago, an era of toleration that was now proving not to be automatically everlasting. Some of these motives are on record in classical works of seventeenth-century pioneer Western liberal literature. They come to light in the following passages, which are here arranged in the order in which the motives themselves have been surveyed in the chapter of this book to which the present annexe attaches.

The two lowest of the negative motives in our catalogue might prove difficult to document from seventeenth-century Western sources. Some of the seventeenth-century advocates of toleration, like Locke, were sincere professors of Christianity. They were moved to plead for toleration largely because they felt that intolerance was unchristian and saw that the practice of intolerance in the name of Christianity was alienating Western hearts from the West’s ancestral religion. Others, like Bayle, were at least partially alienated from Christianity already, and even from religion of any kind; but these were well aware that, though faith might be ebbing, in the wake of an ebbing fanaticism, in the Western World of their day, the contemporary climate of Western feeling and opinion was still such as to make it advisable for sceptics to disguise their scepticism, even if the disguise were perfunctory and transparent.

A Resort to Force is apt to provoke a Resistance which may recoil upon the Aggressor

The establishment of this one thing [toleration] would take away all ground of complaints and tumults upon account of conscience; and, these causes of discontents and animosities being once removed, there would remain nothing in these assemblies [vulgarly called, and perhaps having sometimes been, conventicles and nurseries of factions and seditions] that were not more peaceable and less apt to produce disturbance of state than in any other meetings whatsoever.…

If men enter into seditious conspiracies, it is not religion inspires them to it in their meetings, but their sufferings and oppressions that make them willing to ease themselves. Just and moderate governments are everywhere quiet, everywhere safe; but oppression raises ferments and makes men struggle to cast off an uneasy and tyrannical yoke.… There is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotions, and that is oppression.…

It is not the diversity of opinions (which cannot be avoided), but the refusal of toleration to those that are of different opinion (which might have been granted), that has produced all the bustles and wars that have been in the Christian World upon account of Religion. The heads and leaders of the Church, moved by avarice and insatiable desire of dominion, making use of the immoderate ambition of magistrates and the credulous superstition of the giddy multitude, have incensed and animated them against those that dissent from themselves, by preaching unto them, contrary to the laws of the Gospel and to the precepts of charity, that schismatics and heretics are to be outed of their possessions and destroyed.… That magistrates should thus suffer these incendiaries and disturbers of the public peace might justly be wondered at if it did not appear that they have been invited by them unto a participation of the spoil.5

It cannot be denied that the fear of the death penalty has a great effect in silencing people who might have doubts to put forward against the dominant religion, and also great effects in maintaining an ecclesiastical unity in externals; but any dogma that sanctions this practice will be condemning itself to what happens with bombs, mines, and other infernal machines employed in war. The people who are the first to use these gain great advantages from them, and, so long as they have the upper hand, they are in clover; but, when they lose the ascendancy, they are hoist with their own petard.6

Religious Conflict is a Public Nuisance which easily becomes a Public Danger

Religion, which is regarded by everyone as being the firmest of all the supports of political authority, and which would indeed play this role if it were rightly understood and rightly practised, is ordinarily the force that does most to hamstring political authority.7

There can be no doubt that the love of [theological] novelties is a plague which, after having set on fire the academies and the synods, shakes and convulses the secular governments and sometimes overthrows them. So no praise could be too high for those professors who recommend their disciples to give a wide berth to this spirit of innovation.… The opponents of a new method of teaching display too much passion.… They are apt to be just as imprudent as their adversaries: they seem not to have noticed that a new method that is ignored falls to the ground of its own accord, while, on the other hand, if people deliver a frontal attack upon it, it degenerates into a regular sect.8

The providence of God, whose ways are always infinitely wise, allowed human frailty to have its part in the great work of the Reformation, in order to arrive, by the play of natural cause and effect, at His [divine] goal, which, as experience teaches us, was to make it impossible for either of the two religions to bring the other to complete ruin.9

Religious Conflict is Sinful, because it arouses the Wild Beast in Human Nature

Do not carry disputes beyond the point to which you can push them without disturbing the public peace, and keep quiet as soon as you have practical evidence that you are producing divisions in the family circle or are fomenting the formation of parties. Do not go to the length of re-awaking a thousand evil passions which ought to be kept in chains like so many wild beasts; and on your head be it if you are responsible for these wild beasts’ breaking their fetters.10

Religious Persecution is Sinful, because No one has a Right to stand between Another Human Soul and God

No man can be a Christian… without that faith which works, not by force, but by love.…

Although the magistrate’s opinion in religion be sound, and the way that he appoints be truly evangelical, yet, if I be not thoroughly persuaded thereof in my own mind, there will be no safety for me in following it. No way whatsoever that I shall walk in against the dictates of my conscience will ever bring me to the mansions of the blessed.… I cannot be saved by a religion that I distrust, and by a worship that I abhor.… Faith only, and inward sincerity, are the things that procure acceptance with God.… Men… must be left to their own conscience.…

There is absolutely no such thing under the Gospel as a Christian Commonwealth.… Christ… instituted no commonwealth… nor put he the sword into any magistrate’s hand, with commission to make use of it in forcing men to forsake their former religion and receive His.…

Nobody ought to be compelled in matters of religion either by law or force.11

One would be attributing to the Church a power which she does not possess if one were to maintain that she has a right to treat all those who leave her as the kingdoms of This World treat rebels. The Church can have none but voluntary subjects and never has the right to exact an oath that infringes the law of order—a law which rules that, always and everywhere, one should follow the lights of conscience.12

To believe that the Church is in need of reformation and to approve of some particular way of reforming it are two very different things. On the other hand, to blame the conduct of the opponents of a reformation and to disapprove of the conduct of the reformers are two things that are entirely compatible. So one can imitate Erasmus without being an apostate or a traitor, without sinning against the Holy Spirit, and without being untrue to the lights of one’s conscience.13

Koornhert was never tired of saying that Luther, Calvin, and Mennon had made vigorous attacks on a vast number of Roman Catholic errors, but that they had had singularly little success in combating the frightful and impious dogma that it is right to force people’s consciences, and that, instead of fighting this dogma well and truly, they had actually strengthened its hold—because each of them had put it into practice, wherever he had managed to make himself the master, and, in fact, each of them had created a new Papacy by the establishment of a schismatic church that condemned all others.… As for him, he maintained that it is not right to hate anybody; that all godly people, who by faith in Jesus Christ are doing their best to make themselves imitators of Him, are good Christians; and that the duty of the civil authorities is to regard all peaceable inhabitants of the realm as being good subjects.14

These two witnesses [a Protestant minister and a Catholic priest] agree on another point which is rather shocking. Each of them severally admits that, if the Christian princes had not brought the full rigour of the law to bear against the enemies of orthodoxy, the false religions would have inundated the whole Earth. In other words, when our Saviour made His promise to maintain His church against the gates of Hell, this promise will have meant nothing except that He would raise up princes who would quell the enemies of the truth by robbing them of their patrimony, thrusting them into prison, banishing them, sending them to the galleys, having them hanged, and so on. There is no doctrine, however absurd, which could fail, if it resorted to such means as these, to brave all the infernal powers that might desire to do it injury.15

People who want to maintain neutrality during civil wars, whether political or religious,… are exposed to being insulted by both parties alike.… Deplorable fate of Man! Manifest vanity of his Philosophic Reason!… ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, says the Scripture.… And that is true enough with reference to the Other World. In This World, though, they are miserable. They have no desire to be the hammer, and this condemns them continually to serve as the anvil, right and left.16

If only the peoples were reasonable, informers and judges of this sort would have reason to dread their wrath. After all, what can we think of that is more frightful, when one looks at it with an unprejudiced eye, than the thought of a human being who is condemned to the flames because he is unwilling to break the faith that he has sworn to keep with the true God?17

Religions cannot be inculcated by Force. There is No Such Thing as a Belief that is not held Voluntarily

All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing.… And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force.…

Nobody is born a member of any church,… but everyone joins himself voluntarily to that society in which he believes he has found that profession and worship which is truly acceptable to God.…

No religion which I believe not to be true can be either true or profitable to me.…

To believe this or that to be true, does not depend upon our will.18

Absolute Reality is a Mystery to which there is more than one Approach

Every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical.… The controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge… on Earth by whose sentence it can be determined. The decision of that question belongs only to the supreme judge of all men.…

The truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to shift for herself.…

Those whose doctrine is peaceable and whose manners are pure and blameless ought to be upon equal terms with their fellow-subjects.… Neither Pagan nor Mahometan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.19

It is dishonourable to pass a hard censure on the religions of all other countries: it concerns them to look to the reasonableness of their faith; and it is sufficient for us to be establish’d in the truth of our own.20

While the Bishops of Rome did assume an infallibility and a sovereign dominion over our faith, the reform’d churches did not onely justly refuse to grant them that, but some of them thought themselves oblig’d to forbear all communion with them, and would not give them that respect which possibly might belong to so antient and so famous a church, and which might still have been allow’d it without any danger of superstition.21

Several people of merit and authority in the other party were reasonable enough to do justice to a Protestant author who argued his case well without trespassing outside the bounds of his subject. Our Mr. Drélincourt is one case in point, and Monsr. Claude is another, for he was held in high esteem in Roman Catholic circles. This makes an exposure of the gross misconception or gross insincerity of certain people who take great credit for being detested like the plague in Catholic, Arminian, Anabaptist, and other circles. If they had done nothing but argue their case well, they would not have become objects of universal detestation. It is their behaviour, their personal invectives, the dishonest statements that they have spread abroad in their publications—it is all this that is responsible for the aversion with which they are regarded.22

[The zealots] want everybody to do as they do, that is, to embrace an opinion firmly and to anathematize the opposite one. They would be incapable of understanding that one could be a true adherent of a religion if they saw one retaining all one’s sang froid in comparing one’s own religion with others, and saw one preserving a large fund of fair-mindedness towards the followers of heresy.23

It is shocking beyond words to see the disputes about Grace producing such a venomous cleavage in human souls. Each sect attributes to the other the teaching of horrible impieties and blasphemies and pushes its animosity to the farthest limits; yet, according to all the laws of decency, doctrines of this kind are precisely those on which people ought to be the most ready to practise a mutual toleration. Intolerance would be pardonable in a party that could give a clear demonstration of the truth of its opinions and could make clean-cut, categorical, and convincing answers to the difficulties. But, when people are obliged to say that they have no better solution to offer than [that these are] secrets which are impenetrable to the human intelligence and which are hidden in the infinite treasure-houses of the incomprehensible immensity of God, it seems quite inexcusable that people who find themselves in this intellectual predicament should take a high line, should hurl the thunderbolt of anathema, and should banish and hang their opponents.24

The Pilgrims exploring Different Approaches are Fellow-seekers of the Same Goal

That a queen [Marguérite de Valois, Queen of Navarre, the sister of Francis I] should grant her protection to people who were being persecuted for opinions which she believed to be wrong, that she should open to them an asylum in order to preserve them from the flames in which their persecutors wished to put them to death, that she should give them the means of subsistence, that she should alleviate, with a liberal hand, the tedium and discomfort of their exile: this is magnanimity of an heroic order that is almost unexampled. It is the effect of an elevation of mind and genius to which hardly anyone can rise. It implies a capacity for sympathizing with the distress of people who are in error, and for admiring at the same time the fidelity with which they are obeying the voice of their conscience; a capacity to do justice to the goodness of their intentions and to the zeal that they are displaying for truth in principle. It implies a recognition that, while mistaken in their hypothesis, they are being true, in their [fundamental] thesis, to the unalterable and eternal laws of order—laws which command us to love the truth and to sacrifice to this love the temporal goods and amenities of life. In a word, it implies a capacity for distinguishing, in the soul of the same person, between this person’s opposition to truths of detail, of which he is ignorant, and his love for truth in principle—a love which he makes conspicuously manifest through the strength of his attachment to the doctrines that he believes to be true. Such was the discernment of which the Queen of Navarre showed herself to be capable.25

Someone who is convinced of [the truth of] the fundamental articles of the Christian Faith, but who abstains from communicating, because he regards this act as an indication that one condemns other Christian sects, could be treated as an atheist only in the judgment of an old driveler who had forgotten both the meanings of things and the definitions of words. I go farther and maintain that one could not deny to a man, such as I have described, the name of Christian.26

It is certain that there is no accusation that has been so grossly abused as that of Atheism. Innumerable petty-minded creatures or malicious spirits level this accusation against anyone who confines his affirmations to the grand and sublime truths of a solid metaphysic and to the general doctrines of Scripture. They want to compel such people to commit themselves, in addition, to all those articles on points of detail that are customarily propounded to the people a thousand times over. Anyone who ventures to exempt himself from this routine is impious and ‘tough-minded’, if some of our doctors [of Divinity] are to be believed.27

The mind of Man is so made that, at first sight, an attitude of neutrality in the matter of the worship of God is felt to be more violently shocking than the worship of false gods. So, when people hear that someone has abandoned the religion of his fathers without having adopted any other, they are more deeply horror-stricken than if they had heard that he had gone over from a better religion to a worse one.28

  • 1.

    In Chapter 14, pp. 184–7, above.

  • 2.

    See the Annexe to the present chapter, pp. 251–4, below.

  • 3.

    See the Annexe to the present chapter, pp. 254–60, below.

  • 4.

    Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, in a controversy with Saint Ambrose.

  • 5.

    Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration.

  • 6.

    Bayle, P., Dictionaire, 3rd ed., i. 543 b, s.v. Bèze.

  • 7.

    Bayle, P., Dictionaire, 3rd ed., ii. 1585 b, s.v. Junius.

  • 8.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 169 b and 170 b, s. vv. Alting (Henri) and Alting (Jacques).

  • 9.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 100 a, s.v. Agricola (George).

  • 10.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 182 a, s.v. Amyraut.

  • 11.

    Locke, op. cit.

  • 12.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1304 b, s.v. Grégoire I.

  • 13.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 801 b, s.v. Castellan.

  • 14.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1622 b, s.v. Koornhert.

  • 15.

    Bayle, op. cit., iii. 2079 a, s.v. Nestorius.

  • 16.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1090 b, s.v. Eppendorf (cp. ii. 1403 a, s.v. Heidanus).

  • 17.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 534 b, s.v. Berquin.

  • 18.

    Locke, op. cit.

  • 19.

    Locke, op. cit.

  • 20.

    Sprat, Tho., The History of the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge (London 1667, Martyn), p. 63.

  • 21.

    Sprat, op. cit., p. 47.

  • 22.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1020 a and b, s.v. Drélincourt.

  • 23.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1028 a, s.v. Drusius.

  • 24.

    Bayle, op. cit., iii, 2596 b, s.v. Synergistes.

  • 25.

    Bayle, op. cit., iii. 2058 a and b, s.v. Navarre (Marguérite de Valois, Reine de, soeur de François I).

  • 26.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1325 b, s.v. Grotius.

  • 27.

    Bayle, op. cit., ii. 1481 a, s.v. Hobbes.

  • 28.

    Bayle, op. cit., i. 69 b, s.v. Acosta.