« ZurückWeiter »
N unhappy sign in any country is the appearance
of pessimist speculations. Some English eyes
appear to be troubled with the vision of a black star hovering over their country, threatening the wealth, greatness, and even the stability of the nation. There are apprehensions that the coal will give out, and with it all the manufacturing and railway enterprises which make the commercial supremacy of England; next, that the intelligence of the country is alienated from its religion, which renders it certain that the masses of the people will presently be also alienated from it; and since these will be without the restraints of culture, the downfall of creeds will involve the downfall of the social and political insti. tutions which have grown up along with the creeds. It will require, say our sad soothsayers, a culture and refinement which the masses do not possess, to detach the social organism from the dogmatic parasites which have grown around it; and when the scepticism of the educated has filtered down into them, they will make a rude, indiscriminate sweep of good and evil alike. Then “enter” Macaulay's New Zealander with sketch-book, seeking picturesque ruins !
It is not within the scope of this essay to consider the particular perils pointed out by our prophets of evil. I merely refer to their warnings as illustrative of apprehensions felt by many in another direction, namely, the effect of religious inquiry on human happiness and character. And I do so because such apprehensions appear to me to rest upon fallacies quite similar to those fears of the results of free inquiry which I propose to consider. The main fallacy is the fear that the same intelligence which has adapted man to his present condition is to remain standing still while everything else changes. Our coal mines, it may be, are gradually to diminish, .possibly to fail; but will that intellect which has invented steam engines, and other machinery, lose its power of invention, and for the first time show itself inadequate to meet emergencies as they arise ?
Is the future to have all our problems, and to be without brains of its own? So also in the case of the violent revolution apprehended, when the masses share the scepticism of the educated. Our wode ravens forget, apparently, that such a change as that cannot be an isolated one.
Is it an enthusiasm to believe that in the same length of time a thousand other changes will also occur; that, for instance, the masses must acquire some of the calmness and self-control of the cultivated along with their scepticism; and also that the social fabric will improve, that the state will become nobler, and all classes possess too much interest in both to handle rashly any real and healthy institution?
This whole method of apprehension is treacherous. When Jesus said, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil