Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]

superstitions; and we must judge them by the tendency of their teachings. These teachings are sometimes marvellously clear. The testimony of Isaiah against prayer is clear. The rebuke of Confucius to those who try to do service to gods is plain. The great Persian poet Káli had learned the lesson more clearly than his prophet when he wrote eight centuries ago, “Only the low-minded can pray to God for benefits on earth.”

Some theoretical defenders of prayer are indeed inclined to accept the view of Kàli, and confine petitions to such as implore spiritual benefits. But here Cicero meets them with his rational principle that a man may rather ask the gods for fortune or a good harvest, which his unaided powers can not always command, but that it is base to pray for virtue, whose value consists essentially in the self-denial and labours of which it is the result. We can not doubt that Plato represented the best thought of Greece when he laid down in his Laws that they who believed the gods could be propitiated by sacrifices and prayers, or turned from their purpose by bribes and praises; that they who taught men (I use Plato's own phrase) " to fawn upon the gods as dogs fawn on their keepers to get some favour ;” should be kept in confinement for five years, and set free then on proof of recovered sanity. Plato held that to spread the delusion that the results of human conduct could be escaped by flattering deities was a danger to the state, and so far he was perfectly right. Every time this nation executes a criminal, whom priests say God has fully pardoned—and sends him from a life of villainy to an eternity of bliss, all

[ocr errors]

obtained by his and his priest's prayers,- a license to every scoundrel is proclaimed, and an indulgence to crime more demoralising than was ever issued by any Pope. While it is notorious that crime is aided by the uncertainties of human law, we support thousands of pulpits to proclaim that the laws and penalties of the universe and of God are all uncertain,-or still worse, that the criminal may appeal successfully to some heavenly Home Office against the sentence of his country. The truth is any belief contrary to the law of cause and effect is demoralising to the individual or the nation, for that which can be set aside by priest or prayer is no law at all. The very meaning of natural law is that which is invariable and inflexible. Prayer rests upon the wild fancy that the rule of the universe is variable, flexible-in fact, that there is no such thing as Law for the moral nature. If that be true, the revolution of the solar system may naturally depend on the revolution of a Burmese praying barrel; and the moral destinies of Humanity depend on the screams of revivalists. But let no man fancy he is any wiser in praying for God's love than he would be in praying for the sun to shine all night; nor let any man fancy that his round of Christian prayers is a whit better than the revolving litanies of Thibet.

Remembering the greatness of the great, then looking upon

the poor dead signs that conventionalise and stand for them,—the wheel, the Kaaba stone, the cross,—we may recall those pathetic legends which of old went round the world, in which every people held that its leaders never died, but are only sleeping in some

enchanted grot or isle whence they will some day return to fulfil the dreams of their country. In the creed of Folklore, Jàmi, St. John, Barbarossa, Charlemagne, Arthur, Kalewala, Tell, Boabdil, Sebastian, and even the Hiawathas and Gloscaps of American tribes, did not taste of death : they will return when some hour of opportunity shall strike, or when some fortunate mortal shall unsheathe the sword they wielded, and blow the old bugle that called their comrades from afar. Corresponding to all these are the teachers and prophets on whom the hag Superstition has cast her spell. Their spirit prisoned in the letter, their thought and heart-pulses arrested, they stand as the idols of innumerable caves, biding the time when a courage and inspiration like their own shall lead them forth into the full glory of their aim and ideal. When universal Justice holds the sword of power on earth, then will the sleeping heroes stir and start up! When pure Reason reigns in the cult and culture of civilized nations then will the spell-bound sages and prophets emerge! At the advent of the last incarnation,pure reason organised in humanity,—they shall all come forth to offer their royal gifts, and shine anew in the world's transfiguration.




« ZurückWeiter »