You are here

Chapter III: The Inadequacy of Natural Religion


In a former lecture I explained that, after sketching in outline the nature of religion in the usual acceptation of the term, I proposed to take up another point of view and to consider whether, if all such religion is dismissed on the ground of its contradicting positive knowledge, or going without reason beyond it, any sort of religion is consistently possible; and if so, how far it can do what we have found to be done (with or without intellectual justification) at least by some of the higher forms of religion we have been examining. We are now to begin this task: but before we come to it, I wish to say a few words from a point of view more in sympathy with these phenomena, though this is not meant as a final point of view.

We have so far been looking at these phenomena in the barest abstract and outline, but this is a very different thing from the full and coloured picture which anyone sees who has been trying to learn in detail about the religious ideas and customs of man in the past and present. What is the impression it makes on him if he tries to keep his mind open, but in his study sets aside for the time (in order that he may get the phenomena clearly before him) the ideas by which perhaps he would seek to interpret them? The spectacle must surely seem to him very strange and disconcerting. We know what religion at the best is to its votary, the truest and most sacred thing in the world; but we wander on among ideas and beliefs, of which some appear not only utterly absurd but disgustingly immoral; others fairy tales, sometimes silly, sometimes charming, rarely elevating; others noble and profound in meaning, or lit by gleams of sunny or perhaps unearthly radiance, yet, as they stand, incredible, irreconcilable with what we know, or have good ground to believe, about the universe; a few at most (in many religions, none) that seem to us either perfectly true or perfectly good. And of the rites and customs we can say nothing better. Some appear childish or even senseless, some horrible, bloody or obscene; and those which symbolise a deep or beautiful meaning seem too often to sink into petrified forms or mischievous superstitions. And the outcome of it all, while in part of priceless value, is manifestly in part shameful; unworthy hopes and degrading fears, cruelty, hypocrisy, madness, and bloodshed, as though man formed a notion of God only to become a torment to himself and the enemy of his brother.

These impressions and reflections are partial, no doubt, but even when the most painful of them are dismissed, or are softened by other thoughts, there remains, I think, an overwhelming feeling of the strangeness of the spectacle—somewhat the same feeling that comes over us when we spend an afternoon in a great Museum of Natural History, which shows us not only the wonderful creatures that are, but reconstructs for us the still more extraordinary that have been. There we see marvellous beauty and grace and design, and then what seems merely ugly, shapeless, or even monstrous. And the latter, and in some degree the former too, strike us as exceedingly strange and sometimes grotesque, as if they were made in jest. It would never have occurred to us even to wish to make a great many of these creatures; they remind us only of what creates itself in our dreams—sometimes in our nightmares. ‘Yes,’ we say, idly musing, ‘the imagination that works in nature is like the imagination that works in dreams. It creates exquisite things, far beyond the power of our conscious mind, but it has a great liking for the quaint and grotesque and even the horrible.’ Well, that is much what may be felt in studying perhaps the majority of religious phenomena, when our moral repulsions are ignored, and also any theoretical interpretations we may cherish.

But perhaps when we leave the Museum the impression of strangeness, though it does not vanish, suggests further thoughts; and these may have some bearing on the spectacle of these strange religious phenomena. ‘After all,’ perhaps we say to ourselves, ‘why should you be surprised, even if you think the nature that produced all this is in some sense divine? You surely did not suppose that your notions of beauty and ugliness, or (for that matter) of good and evil, are final and absolute standards? Perhaps if you could enlarge them, these things that seem to you so ugly or monstrous would not seem so. We must be true to ourselves, no doubt, and not call a thing beautiful if we see it as ugly, or good if we see it as evil; but we know very well that we are apt to take our first rough judgments for final, and then to discover that they were very narrow. The music that on a first hearing was almost meaningless, or downright repulsive, we discover to have that difficult beauty which is sometimes the highest. The peaks that almost all men used to regard with mere aversion and dread, and that some still perhaps find cold and cruel, are quite otherwise to him who sees more. The whole history of art is, in one aspect, the discovery of beauty in apparent ugliness and harmony in what sounded discordant. To an empty mind tragedy is mere sensation, to a contracted mind a mere exhibition of evil, but, to anyone who can see, a glorious as well as a terrible thing. As for these creatures or phenomena being quaint or grotesque, do you know any reason why the power that produced them should not be pleased with quaintness and grotesqueness? But as for their being ugly or monstrous, doubtless they have not the kind of beauty that a gazelle or a hummingbird has (and presumably you would not wish everything to be exactly alike), but you find them ugly or monstrous largely because you are too ignorant or indolent to imagine the surroundings in which they live or lived. The hippopotamus is not the war-horse, but the author of the Book of Job could see in him the grandeur that you blaspheme. In like manner if you could see the strange religious ideas and customs, that startle you, in the minds that they inhabited, perhaps they would appear to you, not certainly the fitting medium for your worship, but no such unfit medium for theirs, something possibly as true and good as they could apprehend, though neither true nor good for you.’

As I said, I am not putting forward this train of thought as anything final or wholly satisfactory; for example, we ought never to take for granted that a religious product is due only to religious needs; and its defect may be due to the unconscious co-operation of other influences. Nor am I suggesting that the impression of strangeness can be entirely removed, or that what shocks or horrifies us in these phenomena can ever be seen to be good; but before passing to judgments of another kind on these phenomena, I wished barely to indicate another direction in which an interpretation might be sought.

We come now to those other judgments, and to the conclusions which may flow from them.

‘Religious ideas’, it may be said, ‘differ in regard to their beauty and their moral significance, but as regards their truth they are substantially on one level. They are all mere projections of man's mind into the world without. Certain things in nature make a strong impression on him, and his imagination, stimulated by fear, admiration, or hope, magnifies them into gods whom he has to conciliate. Or he finds within himself certain powers, impulses, and wishes, checked by the resistance of nature or of his fellows, or by their conflict with one another: and he unconsciously constructs a being consisting of these powers, impulses and wishes, fully satisfied, and he appeals to it to give him what he cannot get for himself. And if he is of an intellectual turn of mind, finding that he cannot discover the causes of all things or cannot connect them all in an intelligible whole, he imagines a mind which is, or knows, their single cause or unity. But in all cases he makes God in his own image, and is himself the father of the being he calls father. His deities are in the end his own wishes, and at the best he abases himself before the wish that he counts worthiest or most comprehensive. The psychology of his constructions is quite easy to follow. As to their truth, no one supposes that the great mass of them are anything but fictions, and even the most refined, the idea, for instance, of an infinite spiritual being, is probably of the same kind. In any case it clearly goes beyond the limits of positive knowledge, and we possess no rational ground for believing it true.’

From this kind of view, which may be held of course with various modifications, more than one practical conclusion may follow, and I will set out three.

First we may say: ‘It is time to have done with religion. It was well said long ago to be composed of a geological dream, a historical romance, and a treatise on morals. Its sole value lay in the last of these, and that we have in our own moral ideas. Moreover there we have it in its pure form. For these ideas are not only wider and higher than those of most religions, and perhaps of any, but they are freed from the false or, at best, ungrounded belief that they represent an external authority. Our knowledge of the world outside us is one thing: our moral ideas a totally different thing. They rest on themselves. They are not theoretical assertions, but judgments of value. They make and involve no statement about the world, and therefore cannot, like religion, conflict with our knowledge of it. They represent our wants and wishes for ourselves and others, which is all that religion could do: or rather, they represent those wants and wishes which we feel or find to be superior to the rest and to claim precedence and authority. To work for their realisation is to work for our own good and that of the race, for the progress of humanity. How far they can be realised we cannot tell, for that depends partly on outside forces. But this cannot affect our duty, for certainly their realisation depends partly on ourselves and our efforts. We and our successors can increase good and diminish evil, and may hope at least to succeed, perhaps even to succeed entirely. And even if we had reason to think that the task was already accomplished in some infinite being elsewhere, how could that help us to accomplish it here under conditions totally different from his?’

We may call this the view of morality in place of religion. ‘Much of this is very true,’ it may be answered, secondly, ‘but it does not follow that religious ideas, or rather the more beautiful and moral among them, should be wholly dismissed. They have the great merit of presenting those higher wishes and aspirations of ours as bright and ideal realities, and not as mere ideas or commands; and that is both comforting and stimulating, just as the ideal figures of painting and sculpture and poetry both satisfy and inspire us more than do precepts or theories. And even the momentary illusion that these beautiful and moral religious ideas are more than our own wishes and aspirations, and in some way represent a power beyond us and a future that is assured, is not to be despised: some illusion of the kind is perhaps even indispensable to us under the hard conditions of human life. Certainly it is imperative that the illusion, if we admit it at all, should, as in the case of painting or poetry, be momentary and not serious. But, if that condition is observed, there is no reason why we should deprive ourselves of the great advantages which religious ideas have certainly brought in the past and still may bring.’

Thirdly, and lastly, we may take a view still more hopeful, but in one respect quite different from these two. It affirms the possibility and necessity of religion, though it denies, or at least dismisses from view, for the purpose of discussion, religion in the usual sense, the religion we have been analysing. It would say to the adherents of the two views we have sketched something like this: ‘What you call religious ideas are ideas about a realm beyond our knowledge or about what is called the supernatural. One of you says they are to be dismissed: the other says some of them, though dismissed as truth, should be retained as poetry. But I say that, quite apart from them and within the region of the knowable and certain, we may find objects of religion, and that, since without religion life is a poor affair, we ought to find them. For the essence of religion is a certain attitude of mind, an attitude of awe, admiration and devotion. That is the fundamental thing in it. But the direction of these feelings to one particular sort of object, a supernatural or non-phenomenal object, is not fundamental nor in the least essential to religion. Wherever that attitude is, there is religion, whatever the object may be.

‘Now within the sphere of our positive knowledge there is plainly that which forms an appropriate centre for wonder, awe, and admiration. There are, first, the objects of our higher desires and aspirations ; and we may sum them up as goodness, truth, and beauty, which, so far as attained, we approve and love, and which we long to attain more fully. This is in essence the same as what you call morality. And these objects we take simply as you do, as being supremely desirable and making a claim on our devotion, without saying or implying anything as to their existence or foundation in the world outside us. But, secondly, there is what we actually and scientifically know in the world outside us, in nature. In nature itself we find and can verify something very like that which the old religions told us to worship beyond it; a unity of powers unbounded in time and space, in other words, a power infinite, omnipresent and eternal, which produces phenomena often far more beautiful and sublime than anything we can produce. In its presence, therefore, we may feel, if not moral emotion, yet in the highest degree wonder, admiration, awe; while towards the ideals summed up in goodness, truth, and beauty we may feel not only this but love and devotion. We may then have religion, and we ought to have it; and so far as this religion implies statements about the world outside us, it cannot possibly conflict with scientific knowledge, for it is founded on it and goes not an inch beyond it.’

These three views agree in certain points. They set aside religion in the accepted sense. As I shall have to refer to this often some shorter name for it is wanted; and as ‘supernatural’ is very ambiguous, and as the holders of these three views object to it mainly because it professes to go beyond what they would call the sphere of phenomena, we may call it ‘non-phenomenal’. In the lower form it is not strictly so, but the question really concerns only the higher. The three views agree in setting it aside and in insisting that we must not go beyond the phenomenal sphere. They agree also in laying great stress on morality or moral ideals, for we may without straining include under this head the object of all the higher human aspirations referred to. We must accordingly, in considering the substitutes for non-phenomenal religion offered by these views, bear in mind two questions: Can these substitutes do what non-phenomenal religion does? and, secondly, Do they themselves succeed in avoiding that reference to the non-phenomenal to which they object? And do those of them which profess to be merely moral and to ignore even nature, succeed in ignoring it? I need hardly point out that, however these questions may be answered, the replies will concern these substitutes alone, and will not tell us anything of the truth or untruth of non-phenomenal religion. That would be a further question.

I do not mean to enter on a formal criticism of these views and the substitutes they propose, nor on a formal discussion of these two questions. We shall have to criticise the views, but my first object is to learn from them. For whether they themselves are satisfactory or not, they all seem to contain elements of truth which (as well as their errors, if they are in error) may contribute to positive conclusions on religion, may tell us something about any religion that can satisfy us now.

Let us begin with the positive idea which appears in the third view and separates it from the others—that there may be religion apart from any belief in the non-phenomenal or supernatural, because religion is, essentially, not an attitude of mind towards a particular kind of object, but simply an attitude of mind. This idea, it appears to me, must be accepted as perfectly true and highly important. And I should express it thus, in the language I used in analysing accepted religion:—religion is worship or devotion. Wherever you find those feelings and the direction of will and action that we described, you find religion, whatever the object may be, natural or supernatural, phenomenal or non-phenomenal. Worship of a phenomenal or of any finite object we may find to be imperfect religion, but it is religion.

I will try to make this clear by an illustration of an extreme case. Bring before your mind what you would call without any hesitation a religious attitude, and consider whether these statements hold good of it. (1) The worshipper feels himself to be entirely dependent on the object of his worship, submits himself wholly to it, and would not for anything lose it or be cut off from it. (2) He is prepared, if necessary, to sacrifice to it everything in himself which is alien to it or impedes his devotion—his comforts, pleasures, health, the cultivation of his mind, and even his dearest affections. And (3) he finds in it, in return for all his sacrifices, what he longs for, a satisfaction which, whatever resignation it has involved, is still complete. This does not profess to be a full description, but something like this may be gathered from the language of the most religious men.

Now what do you suppose I was trying to describe faithfully in these sentences? A miser. And, paradoxical as it may sound, I am confident that you will find the description almost entirely correct. The miser does feel himself entirely dependent on the object he worships, submits himself wholly to it, is agonised at the thought of losing it. He is not only prepared to sacrifice to it, but often does sacrifice, himself, his comfort, pleasure, health, the cultivation of his mind, even his dearest affections. He does find in it what he most longs for, a complete satisfaction, or one incomplete only in the sense that, though he possesses this object and is possessed by it, he desires to possess it more and more. The description then is true of him, and it is also true, as far as it goes, of a very religious man. And the miser has in his own way, but in a high degree, on one side at least, that without which religion is impossible, the central essence of religion.

This consideration will be found to apply to other cases—to any case, in fact, where a man is truly said to worship or, as we often say, make a god of a phenomenal object, person, thing, or pursuit. We often exaggerate, no doubt, and use these phrases when the absorption in the object, and the devotion to it, hardly deserve them, where the religion is half-hearted. But it does not cease to be religion for that, any more than the half-hearted Christian is to be called a man without religion. It is possible also for the religion of the visible phenomenal (as we may call it) to be, like other religions, polytheistic—though not highly so: a man may worship riches or social position at the same time that he idolises his child. But in its most developed form this religion, like other religions, is monotheistic, and we may confine our attention to that, and to the highest degree of it, and we should not think specially of the miser.

Now before we inquire into the imperfections of this religion, I should like to make two remarks on the positive side. And, first, I must insist in all seriousness that, whatever its defects, there is in it, just because it is religion of a kind, something of value which we are bound to recognise. This adoration of a person or thing may be most dangerous; it may narrow a man terribly, and diminish, if it does not destroy, his usefulness in the world; but, to say nothing of the fact that the same may also be said of higher religions, he has discovered in a fashion the secret of life—that life means self-devotion. And in that he is exceptional. The life of slothful, respectable idleness or frivolity, where the soul gives itself to nothing—that is atheism. But this man is not an atheist. His religion may be a perversion, but something great is perverted in it. Its end may be tragic; but to be capable of tragic error is no little thing, and we regard him, if we have eyes to see, with something of the fear and pity of tragedy. He gives to the finite, if you will, what only the infinite can claim: but he gives his infinite soul and not a stingy fragment. In a word, under however baffling a disguise, there is in him the greatest thing in the world—religion.

These cases, secondly, seem to point to a conclusion which now we must accept regarding any more satisfactory religion. Any such religion, clearly, at our stage of history, must so far resemble this that its object must be something the soul wants, and something capable of exciting passionate desire and giving intense joy. It cannot, that is to say, be merely or even mainly a power to which we have to submit or resign ourselves; it must be a power in which we also gain the satisfaction of our own souls or find ourselves.1 And further, like the object of this imperfect religion, it must be wanted for its own sake, and not as a means to something else. The miser worships money for itself, not for its uses. All he wants is to possess it and be with it. And so it is with the man who worships political power, or fame, and with the mother who idolises her child.

Regarded merely on this side, these imperfect religions are nearer to what religion now must be than any worship of the non-phenomenal in which the worshipper regards the object mainly as mere power and therefore mainly with fear, and tries to please it, not because he aspires to it as something intrinsically desirable, but in order to get from it a good beyond itself, or avoid the further result of its displeasure. If that is a sound conclusion, it is a considerable one.

Why, then, are these religions of the finite, the visible phenomenal, imperfect? Doubtless for many reasons, of which we need consider only two. Whether we judge them by comparison with the highest forms of non-phenomenal religion or by the tendencies visible in themselves, they have two characteristics which appear as marked defects. And these defects appear both in the object of the religion and in the state of the worshipper. The first is the obverse of the excellence just mentioned, i.e. that these are religions of aspiration or love. It is that the object lacks power. It certainly exists: and here there is no need for faith as opposed to sight. And it has abundant power over the worshipper, and, when it is a person, can agonise him with fear of its displeasure. But it has not enough power over the world. On the contrary, being itself a mere finite thing among others, it is at the mercy of power outside it. Any day he may be robbed of it, or it may sicken or die. In fact, on this side, it is in no way superior to himself. And the consequence is that he is in perpetual disquietude concerning it, and, whatever else it can give him, it cannot give him peace.

But peace is exactly what the people commonly called religious want, and say that they find. They go to religion because they cannot get this peace and the sense of security anywhere else, and there, as an observer cannot but see, they find it. And they do so because they are sure that the object of their religion is far more secure against injury and has much more power over the world than they themselves. It seems clear, further, that this security cannot be complete, and that religion cannot be considered perfect, unless its object is even perfectly secure because entirely self-dependent or infinite. And we have seen that the progress of non-phenomenal religion is on one side a movement towards belief in such a being. Considering these things, then, we may perhaps arrive at another general conclusion. Any religion will be in some degree imperfect and will fail to do its whole work, unless its object, besides being the object of supreme desire or aspiration, is also conceived as unlimited in power.2 Judged by this standard, the religion of the visible phenomenal is clearly on one side imperfect in a very high degree, for the power of its object is extremely limited.

But it is also imperfect on another side. For its second obvious defect is that, instead of going beyond morality, it falls short of it. Neither the desire of the worshipper, nor the object of his worship, can be called in the full sense good. And this, which will be admitted at once, appears in several ways. The object is not one he is bound to worship, whatever his personal wishes may be. On the contrary, his relation to it is merely personal; he wants it merely for himself, and, instead of uniting him with others, it isolates him. It itself clearly is not goodness, nor can he connect it harmoniously with his desire for goodness. Hence, on this side again, it fails to give him peace. He is divided in himself. And, if this is not so, if his conscience does not in some measure protest against his religion, that, we should say, is so much the worse for him. It means that his passion has perverted his moral nature.

If now we generalise again from the judgment we thus pass, the result would seem to be as follows. However matters may have stood in the past, no religion now can be satisfactory which is not the further development and consecration of morality. Worship, though it may be more, cannot be less than aspiration towards, and devotion to, goodness; it cannot collide with that, and must include it. Its object, phenomenal or more, human or superhuman, finite or infinite, can contain nothing which our conscience condemns. More: if it is not itself the ideal of moral effort, yet it must be conceived as connected in some positive manner with this ideal. Otherwise, at the stage we have reached, we could not worship it even if we wished to. And, though we are bound to enlighten our conscience as much as we possibly can, and not to forget our necessary ignorance, still we cannot judge against conscience, we must accept its judgment of good and evil.

This conclusion, I believe, accords so completely with what is deepest in us that it would probably be generally accepted now, if not stigmatised as a commonplace. But, if we accept it, we must realise what it means. It means that we cannot accept anything as divine merely on the ground that it is, or proceeds from, omnipotence. For mere omnipotence is no moral ideal; resistance to mere power is frequently a moral obligation. It means that the statement that a thing is God's will is simply irrelevant, unless we also believe that God's will is good or directed to good. It means that it is monstrous, as well as ludicrous, to credit God with feelings and actions which we should not dream of suspecting in the best men and women we know, and should be heartily ashamed of in ourselves. It means refusal to attribute to the object of worship anything, vouched for on whatever ground, which our conscience condemns, and refusal to tamper with conscience by admitting that such an attribution can possibly be true. These are far-reaching results. And they cannot be avoided by appeals to our ignorance of what a god's will free from all our limitations may do. The appeal is certainly very just; but what it properly amounts to is that if we accept the attribution to this will of something which our conscience condemns, we also assert that this something is not what, on the face of it, it purports to be but totally different, though we have not the knowledge to say what it really is. But, if that is so, it is a misuse of language, and morally a dangerous misuse, to speak of it as what it purports to be and is naturally understood to be.

We may now leave the kind of religion we have been examining, a real religion but a manifestly imperfect one, and, starting from the point we have reached, we may ask whether we can find some form of religion which shall be consonant with and rooted in morality, but which shall rest merely on human experience, find its object within humanity, and assume no knowledge and require no faith which goes beyond phenomena. Certainly, it would seem, some such religion exists, and, although men who hold it would describe it in very various ways, we may perhaps determine with a rough truth its general type by using alternative phrases.

‘My morality’, we may say, ‘is my obedience to the higher law within me, the moral law or duty; the suppression of whatever within me opposes it; and the effort to carry it into action. Or it is my effort to realise in myself and others what I regard as the higher in human nature, or that true happiness which is to be found only by the subordination of certain gratifications to certain others. Or it is the identification of my particular will or my personality with the good will in me which binds me to others.’ If we ask what the object aimed at by this good will is, or what that true happiness consists in, it seems to be, in the end, human life raised to its highest possible level, or human possibilities fully realised; and this we may call, for the sake of brevity, human perfection or ideal humanity. If again we try to define this more exactly, we may say (without pretending to be able to imagine it in detail) that it would include, first, morality itself, raised to its highest power—goodness of will or character exerting itself to the full in all the relationships and social functions of life. It would also include the highest and widest attainable degree of what we may call culture, the exercise of the intellectual and the aesthetic powers, the realisation of truth and beauty as well as goodness. All this would of course imply whatever outward conditions are necessary for it, and would include the happiness which must accompany it. My morality then will consist in my effort, in spite of inducements to the contrary, to contribute to the attainment of this ideal in myself and others, the character of this contribution depending largely on my particular qualities and position in the world.

The corresponding religion will be this morality intensified, so that a man feels that his whole life depends on this ideal object and his relation to it. Set against it, he is of no account; when by his sloth or sin he is out of harmony with it, he is at discord with himself, unhappy and remorseful; when he is in concord with it and devoted to it, he is at peace with himself. In what particular way a man represents to himself the object worshipped will vary, and is a matter mainly of psychological interest. One might say that he worshipped Duty, and that would mean the power that lays on him the obligation to serve this ideal. Others may think directly of the ideal itself, of the perfection of man; and others of the powers which work for its realisation and also form part of it, e.g. the Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love, to which Blake says we pray in our distress. These human powers like Duty or Freedom, and like Beauty and Truth (which a few would single out as special objects of adoration), are all either forms or objects of that good will with which the man identifies himself. And perhaps the simplest account—I am not aiming at philosophical precision—is that he worships the good will as operating in himself and others, and leading on to its own perfection. Lastly, if the worshipper means by the word ‘humanity’ this, and whatever else is consonant with it in human beings past, present, and future, and regards these human beings as forming somehow one being, he may worship humanity as in the religion of Comte.

Now unquestionably this kind of worship thus sketched is religion in our present sense. And in the last hundred years it has been the religion of many men who have lived noble and fruitful lives in the strength of it, though many would say, and some of them would themselves have said, that they had no religion. No one, unless from ignorance or prejudice, will deny this, however much he may be convinced that his own religion contains all that is true in theirs, and something more.

And three things at least may be said in praise of this religion. Its basis is a conviction of the intrinsic value of certain activities, and primarily of those which, using the word in a broad sense, we may call moral. This surely is the basis of any religion that can now satisfy. There cannot be any question of removing this basis; there can only be a question of adding to and remodelling what is built on it. But people deeply attached to their Christian beliefs seem frequently to be unaware of this. They are so ready to quarrel with the idea that goodness, when it reaches a degree that is adorable, is human, and that its adorableness may be perceived without a special revelation, that they forget that their own religion rests on this adorableness, and that the content of an idea is precisely the same whatever its origin may be. Would it not be truer and more fruitful to take the position that the good will which these men worship, though conceived no doubt in too limited a manner, is, in fact, so far as it goes, precisely the same thing as what Christians call the Spirit of Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and though it may be called human, its humanity, according as it does accord with the fundamental principle of Christianity, can hardly prove that it is not divine?

Secondly, from the nature of the case this religion, unless it organises itself into a church, is free from the diseases which infect in some measure ecclesiastical religion. And, thirdly, it lays the greatest stress on those activities which appear in social duty and in the effort to attain truth and create and appreciate beauty. And therefore it is free from and ought to help to correct those defects (if they exist) which have been so often attributed to Christianity in most of its usual forms—its dualism, its hard and fast antitheses of church and world, earthly and heavenly, sacred and profane, spirit and flesh, and its denial of any independent value to earthly life. These defects, it may be said, have been exaggerated, have arisen, so far as they existed or exist, from misunderstanding, are not inherent in the Christian principle. That may be, but that they have existed abundantly, and still exist though less abundantly, can hardly be denied: and in fact their existence has been the cause of the alienation of many naturally religious minds. The religion of ideal humanity is entirely free from them, and the influence of the strain of thought and feeling which issues in such religion is also a main cause of the diminution of these defects in popular Christianity itself.

  • 1.


  • 2.

    We need not discuss here the exact meaning of this phrase.

From the book: