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It is obvious that science can do nothing directly against superstitions that grow within their natural habitat of ignorance. Science has fairy tales of its own, and marvels which shame the poor miracles of sorcery ; but science has got to proceed as slowly to its decorated temples as ever did the religion which began with a fishboat for its pulpit, and a handful of working men for its clergy.
“ The present promoters of spiritual phenomena,” says Professor Tyndall, “ divide themselves into two classes, one of which needs no demonstration, while the other is beyond the reach of proof. The victims like to believe, and they do not like to be undeceived. Science is perfectly powerless in the presence of this frame of mind. It is, moreover, a state perfectly compatible with extreme intellectual subtlety, and a capacity for devising hypotheses, which only require the hardihood engendered by strong conviction, or by callous mendacity, to render them impregnable. The logical feebleness of science is not sufficiently borne in mind. It keeps down the need of superstition, not by logic, but by slowly rendering the mental soil unfit for its cultivation. When science appeals to uniform experience, the spiritualist will retort ' how do you know that a uniform experience will continue uniform.? You tell me that the sun has risen for six thousand years: that is no proof that it will rise to-morrow; within the next twelve hours it may be puffed out by the
Almighty. Taking this ground, a man may maintain the story of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk' in the face of all the science in the world. We urge, in vain, that science has given us all the knowledge of the universe which we now possess, while spiritualism has added nothing to that knowledge. The drugged soul is beyond the reach of
It is in vain that impostors are exposed, and the special demon cast out; he has but slightly to change his shape, return to his house, and find it'empty, swept and garnished.'" *
Of one thing, however, science, its representatives and its believers, may now be fully aware, namely, that the established and prevailing religion of Europe and America is systematically fostering the mental soil out of which alone this superstition can grow. Its Christ is a great spirit medium, its credentials are thaumaturgic phenomena, the thing it most discourages is necessarily that faith in the uniformity of nature which were fatal to its authority and influence.
Rational men and women may also take note of the stupendous fact, that in the presence of a new and vast superstition, Christianity has shown itself utterly powerless to check or control it. How can the churches impugn the belief in witches, ghosts, omens, the power of ignorant people and their prayers to change the order of nature, when their own Bible is full of such things, and to deny them is to assail their own foundation ?
And as it is with spiritualism, so is it with all other
* “Fragments of Science," p. 321,
superstitions, whether surviving or growing in our time. As the first Christian missionaries did not dare to deny the existence of the pagan deities for fear of admitting a sceptical principle, which would include their own invisible powers, so now the churches dare not defend the principles even of common sense and sanity against the most cruel delusions, because they are, in the like case, with them; to deny them is to surrender to the one enemy alike of ghost-craft and priest-craft-Science.
These delusions (as I must reiterate) will multiply and increase just so long as the leading nations of the earth are without a real religion, whose first characteristic must be to include its best wisdom, its noblest character, and command the conviction and enthusiasm of its most virtuous and scholarly men and women. A religion which has to apologise for its existence to such is already cumbering the ground.
If the very light offered us be darkness, how great is that darkness! The divorce between the culture of a nation and its religious institutions is, as we have seen, a two-edged fact: precisely in the ratio of the abandonment of those institutions by the enlightened, must proceed their corruption. The day that came to Greece and Rome, when every fair god and goddess became hag and demon, has come fearfully upon us. When such a man as Thomas Carlyle, amid his glowing words of love for a clergyman, pauses to describe that clergyman's aberration into orthodox orders, as an entrance on the highway of dead damnable putrescent cant,* we have come upon a formidable crisis. A religion of England detestable to Carlyle is virtually disestablished. Before such alienation of a great heart, a noble genius, a stainless virtue, from the established religion of a country could occur that religion must have long been sinking under the control of its baser elements; and the process of corruption must increase. The creeds and observances unrestrained by the presence and interest of the intelligent and cultivated, must be left more and more to ignorance and vulgarity, to be made into their own wretched image and likeness. The salt being no longer purchasable, the savourless semblance of it alone procurable, decay must go on, poisoning the air more and more with malaria, and breeding foul things that creep and devour.
* “ Life of Sterling," chap. XV.
Small things, it may be to-day, to-morrow monsters ! If indeed we are destined to see the old dragons of barbarism returning-moral chimæras, fanatic Hydras, revival of Python phantasms,-let all true souls see to it that, so far as lay in them, each shall meet his slayer. Science, education, literature, will be increasingly strong and brave, as they have a free and earnest constituency to uphold them in their ascending, extending light, and we shall find our Apollo, whose arrows shall speed in splendour through the air, and send this brood of darkness back, recoiling to the caves of Night.