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Accused of vices. How was Thomas Paine answered ? Charged with all manner of wickednesses.
Have our theologians got any better argument to-day? In some enlightened centres those who disbelieve the popular idols may escape slander and abuse if they keep well to their own audiences, or write in a high philosophical way that does not reach the masses; but if they come into the popular arena the argument is still apt to end as it has against Mr. Bradlaugh, who has had to defend himself several times in the courts against the personal charges heaped upon him, and of which he has proved himself innocent,—slanders like those against Damis, resorted to in lieu of any real arguments to prove the existence of the traditional and conventional deities.
But all such wrath directed against a man in reply to honestly-reasoned convictions are signs and confessions of a dying or dead belief. Personalities never rise till arguments fail. Thinking men who have listened to the denunciations heaped upon such men as Tyndall can only echo the thought attributed to Zeus when Hermes would console him by the reflection that the great ignorant mass still believed in him though Damis did not: “I had rather have one Zopyrus than ten thousand Babylons.” It would be worth more to the religion of England to possess the confidence of one Tyndall than that of ten thousand ignorant believers, and the retained advocates interested to foster their blindness and encourage their superstition.
As philosophy surrenders the problem of the divine existence, religious sentiment has taken it up. What we have for some years been calling “ pure
was the first result. It accepted the verdict of philosophy in large part; that is, it met the problem of pain and evil in the world by pronouncing the word “unknown," if not “unknowable.” But on the other hand it eagerly seized on all the beauty and joy of the world, and recognised in these the presence of wisdom and love. Its very heart was optimism. It said, so far as know all is well; when we know more of what now seems evil, no doubt we shall find that to be also good. It was not the necessity of this moral theism to affirm a beginning of the universe, nor a creator or great heavenly mechanic; all it wanted was a moral being, a sacred living ideal to be loved and adored. This marks an enormous distance of our present theism from any theology of the past. In all history we do not find an instance where any one has been persecuted for attributing wickedness to any god or gods. Tens of thousands have suffered for denying their existence, or for novel definitions concerning their form, essence, and mode of existence; but the gods have been freely associated with every baseness, from murder and lust to jealousy and wrath, and no one was ever troubled for holding such opinions about them. Perhaps it would be too much to say our modern theism has entirely reversed this, for it is to be feared that many theists would even yet fraternise with a clergyman who believes God capable of torturing human beings in hell, rather than with a man who denies God's existence. But though, for a time yet, the atheist may hardly fare so well among theists as the Calvinist, the tendency is to give up even so much anthropomorphism as lies in that feeling. It is not difficult to perceive that any god who personally cares what men think of him, or who is concerned whether his existence is believed in or not by mortals, is only a man,—and rather a narrow-minded man too; for a sensible man would hardly feel insulted if he heard that some one doubted his existence. A deity personally interested in such things belongs to a theology whose tomb he must ultimately share. At the same time it is perfectly consistent for one to oppose atheism as an evil without fancying it a sin. We may regard it as injurious to man without dreaming that it is an offence either to man or God.
The ascription of personality to the deity also represents a lingering anthropomorphism: to what degree, depends upon the exactness or vagueness with which the term “personality.” is conceived. Of course man can not have an idea of any personality but his own, however this may be idealised. All modern theists divest this personality of its coarser attributes, when ascribing it to a deity. Nay, even barbarians have not called any god by a personal
The names of ancient gods are those of the elements, the day, the sun, time, the sky, or space; and no tribe seems to be so low as to give personal names to their gods—as it might be William or Henry. But individual names are symbols of personal interests; it seems of the very essence of our personality that we should have a private history distinguishing us from all others. No theist can think of the deity as personal in that way, -as having a pedigree and private interests, concerns separate from the universe. Doubtless the vast majority of educated theists have eliminated these main elements of a human personality, and have taken its higher manifestations as attributes of the deity,—Power, Will, Intelligence, Consciousness, Love. Now these things are, in their obvious sense, known to us only as qualities of man, and as reflecting the limitations of man. We can conceive of power and will only as overcoming resistance, and to personify them in a good god implies the recognition of a power opposing him. Intelligence is the perpetual contrivance of an imperfect being to adapt itself to its environment. Consciousness is the result of an apparatus connecting a limited nature through senses with external objects, and possible only under changes in the relation to those objects. (We are not conscious of the weight of the atmosphere, vast as it is, because it is unchanging, nor of the motion of our earth, swift as it is: we become conscious of a thing by comparing it with a different thing, as if the earth's motion should cease we would become conscious of it by comparison of its stillness with the previous motion.) If we attribute such sensations to God we invest him with our own imperfections : his consciousness, for instance, would mean that he becomes
aware of something he did not know before. Shall we say “God loves us?” Love, in that sense, is a human attribute: it represents the longing of a limited nature for something it lacks; or the cleaving to another needed for its own completeness.
These facts confirm the words of Spinoza :.“ To define God is to deny him." Every personification of the deity is an attempt to define him. It has been tried through many thousands of years, and with one result. The personification of one age represents the highest conception of that age, but becomes a low conception to following ages. If the loyalty of that earlier age had gathered about an impersonal ideal, that ideal might grow with the intellectual and moral growth of the world. But when the ideal is personified, popular loyalty is divided between the moral quality and the person : the personality inspires awe and fear—which the abstract ideal does notand he continues to receive allegiance after his character represents only a discredited ideal. Many a kind woman and just man now worships a being neither just nor kind, an image inferior to themselves. Their loyalty is divided between the moral ideal alone worthy of worship, and an ancient personification of what once seemed moral but is now immoral,-simply because that personification was girt about with will, power, self-esteem and other menacing characteristics essential to personality.
Have we reason to hope more for our own personifications ? Can we be sure that any personality imagined today will give our descendents less trouble than Jehovah has given us? Will it not bind the growing ideal if in the