« AnteriorContinua »
meaning,' and that the deliberations of the Symposium bear a very strong resemblance to those of the diplomatists who have been lately concocting protocols; that is, they consist of empty phrases to which all the parties can agree because they do not touch any of the points on which the co-signataries would be likely to differ.' That is a much crueller interruption than any caused by Alcibiades to the guests assembled at the Symposium of Plato, nor do I think it is quite just, though there is enough justice in it to make me try to bring out what seem to me the clearly understood issues between us a little more distinctly, in the few words I have to say. To limit the subject as much as possible, I will speak of nothing but the effect likely to be produced on morality by any decline in the belief in a righteous God independent of, and external to, the human race—in one, that is, whose leading purpose in relation to us is believed to be to mould our motives and characters into the likeness of his own. Now it seems to me that all the previous speakers except two, Mr. Frederic Harrison and Professor Clifford, believe, for different reasons, and in different degrees, that such a decline in such a belief in God would probably result in a parallel decline in human morality; though some insist most, like Sir James Stephen and Professor Huxley, on the point that any attempt to bolster up the belief artificially for the sake of its moral consequences, by discountenancing free discussion, would result in a worse decline of morality, and others insist most, like Dr. Martineau, Lord Selborne, and Dean Church, on the point that the same causes which result in a decline in this belief (especially as it is represented in Christianity) are likely to result also in a decline in the force of the ethical principles so closely associated with it. But I do not understand any one to differ with Professor Huxley that if the belief can be shown to be false, be the moral consequence what it may, it ought to go. On the other hand, I understand both Mr. Harrison and Professor Clifford to assert that the causes which, as they think, have undermined and are undermining the belief in a righteous God, external to the human race, have no tendency to undermine the binding power of the highest human ethics, but, on the contrary, have a direct tendency to elevate and refine them, though Professor Clifford regards this tendency as, on the whole, slight, and confined chiefly to the blow which such a change in belief will have in diminishing the control of the clergy, while Mr. Harrison expects very much indeed from it, if only tłırough its tendency to concentrate on the desirable aims of a real world, an enthusiasm now so much dissipated, in his opinion, by lavishing it on imaginary objects.
Now, while I heartily admit with Professor Huxley the conceivability that a gross delusion-like the belief that every socially immoral act would instantly be followed by three months' severe toothache'-if it could be palmed off successfully upon our race, would have some very beneficial consequences-(some also by no means
beneficial)--and should not a bit the less regard a conspiracy, even if one were practicable, to impose such a delusion on our race, as a great sin, I cannot the more on that account see how to disentangle the question whether there be a righteous God external to men from the question whether there would be a great moral loss to human nature in the dissipation of the belief in such a God. It is quite conceivablenay, it has often happened—that a sincere delusion has produced the best results. The belief in an imaginary danger of death, for instance, has often made a man take life more seriously; and the belief in an imaginary danger of invasion has probably often bound a divided nation together and given it a greater nervous strength and manliness. But though it is easy to conceive a belief, in some respects beneficial, which is wholly false, it seems to me, in the case before us, that the very element in the belief we are discussing which makes it beneficial, is also a clear note of its truth. What makes the belief in such a God as I have spoken of beneficial, is that this belief, and this only, gives to the attitude of man's mind, in relation to right motive and right action, that mixture of courage and cheerful irresponsibility for the result, characteristic of a faith. Luther's great saying, We say to our Lord God that if He will lave his Church, He must uphold it, for we cannot uphold it, and, even if we could, we should become the proudest asses under heaven,'? would be of course simply untranslatable into any humanist or Positivist dialect at all. I do not indeed quite know what Mr. Harrison means when he talks of a “frankly human 'religion which shall provide us with a ' Providence' whom we are to love and serve;' but I suppose he must mean that we are to love that law of the universe which produces a certain amount of correspondence between our nature and its environment, and that we are to cooperate with that law. At least this is the only meaning I am able to attach to loving and serving'a Providence without believing in God. Now for myself I am incapable of loving a mere law of any kind, whether it be a law of gravitation, a law of assimilation between my organism and its environment, or any other; and as for serving' it, I like to judge for myself, and, instead of allowing myself always to be assimilated to iny environment,'I sometimes prefer what is called, in the language of the same philosophy, differentiating' myself from it. But I think even Mr. Harrison would hardly justify language of trust like Luther's, towards a 'Being' of whom we are supposed to know nothing except that it has given rise to the earth we live on, and will most likely, in a few thousand years, also put a final end to it. You cannot trust a being of whose purposes, or capacity for having purposes, you know nothing, because trust implies approving those purposes and believing them to be accompanied by
? Tischreden, ed. Förstemann, Leipzig, 1841, vol. ii. 1: 330.
a far higher range of knowledge and foresight than your own. Yet.
Nor can I see any better help in Professor Clifford's substitute for God-namely, the higher self represented by the voice of our Father Man who is within us,' i.e. by the accumulated instinct of the race poured into each one of us' and overflowing us, 'as if the ocean were poured into a cup.' The accumulated instinct of our race' includes a great deal of evil as well as good, and is often unaccompanied by any accumulation of instinct for the suppressing of the evil by the good. I quite agree with those who have urged that it was the “accumulated instinct' of the Athenian people which taught them the neces. sity of putting down Socrates as one who was undermining the social order to which he belonged. I do not doubt that Socrates shared that accumulated instinct not less--nay, probably, much morethan the rest of his countrymen. Probably it overflowed him 'as an ocean might overflow a cup. Nevertheless the solitary voice within him, which he attributed to his ó dæmon,' though it could not drown the voice of this accumulated instinct,' was heard above it, and prevailed over the pleas of comradeship, and over what Professor Clifford deems the only spring of virtuous action, the impulse which invites men to make individual sacrifices to promote the greater efficiency of the social bond.
Some one may wonder (says Socrates in Plato's Apology) why I go about in private giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in public and advise the State. I will tell you the reason of this. You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, 0 men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don't be afraid of my telling you the truth, for the truth is that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the State, will save his life ; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one. S
This is unsocial doctrine enough, and of course Professor Clifford will say that, though fatal to the existing Athenian State, it had its source in instincts essential to a higher political virtue and to the cohesion of a nobler kind of State. Grant it for a moment. Yet how can we expect moral heroism of the same type as that which is convinced that invisible Power is on its side, and trusts to the vindication of the future, if instead of ascribing the origin of its impulses to a divine Power which is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever-a Power above it and beyond it,-he who has to evince this moral heroism believes that there is no inspiring mind higher than his own, and holds, therefore, that he must rely on himself, and on himself alone, for the fine faculty to discriminate between the inchoate order of a new society, and the worn-out guarantees of an order which is passing away? How is one who is fully aware that he is dissolving the ancient bonds of a venerable society and polity, but who only hopes that he is creating the germs of something better, to set his face against the brotherhood among whom he lives, and to defy the wrath of the fellow-citizens whom he sees, and all without the whisper of approval from any spiritual being behind the veil ? Surely the hesitating inspiration of that long-buried ancestor, our Father Man' —to admit, for a moment, Professor Clifford's assumption—when it spells out dubious and unaccustomed lessons which the voices of our brother-men join, in loud chorus, to decry, would not be very likely to triumph over fears and scruples which our Father Man' also authenticates, and authenticates much more positively than he ever can authenticate the first faintly uttered principles of a new kind of social union against the old. What was it, as I asked before, which stimulated Luther to his gigantic enterprise ? Not the doubtful guess that buried generations had transmitted to him the glimpse of a reform which would transfigure society, but the belief that he could honestly use the language of that psalm that he so much delighted to appropriate to himself: “They came about me like bees, and are extinct even as the fire among the thorns, for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. Whether the belief in our Father Man' and in a tentative Providence which does not foresee, but only accommodates the individual to his environment,' as the only guides of our moral life, be wild or sober, this, I think, is clear, that it does not provide the martyr or the reformer with the stimulating power of a faith ; that it can give no confidence like that in an inspiration of far wider grasp and far deeper purpose than any which the reformer
8 Professor Jowett's Plato, vol. i. p. 346, 1st ed. Vol. I.-No. 3,
himself commands; that it leaves him a mere pioneer amidst dangers and difficulties to which it may turn out that both he and his race are quite unequal, instead of a humble follower obeying the beckoning of one who holds both past and future in his hand.
And now as to my second point—that the very element which gives so beneficial a character to the belief that conscience is the inspiration of God—the very element which makes it a useful and practically stimulating belief, and not, as Professor Clifford calls it, a mere source of refined and elevated pleasure'-is also a note of its truth. I hold this to be so because the very experience which produces the trust is an experience of life, and of life morally higher than oneself. Surely, if we are competent, as we are, to say when our friends and our favourite books tempt us, and when they raise us above temptation, we are also competent to say when thoughts that strike with a living power upon the heart come from a higher, and when they come from a lower source than that of our own habitual principles of action—when they come with promise and command, and when they come with discordant sneers, discouragement, and enervation. When we grasp dimly at a great moral principle which is full, to use Professor Tyndall's language, of 'the promise and potency of all forms of life—when the more we consider it, the less we see where it is leading us, and yet only feel the more confidence in it on that account—when we recognise a clue and a guide without recognising where that clue and that guide are pointing to—when we know that it is our duty to defy the world in the name of a principle of which we cannot gauge the full meaning, or measure even the immediate effects and this is, as I maintain, the true phenomenon visible in all great moral, as in all great intellectual, origination)—then it does seem to me to be a sober and wholesome conviction that that which we do not know, there is one who puts the clue into our hands, who does know; that what we cannot foresee, there is one who does foresee ; that we are grasping the hand of a Power which knows the way before as well as behind ; that we are following the glimmer of a ray which will lead us on to the dayspring from which it descended. I cannot but believe that we have as secure a faculty to discriminate the superiority of the life in which a moral impression originates, as we have to discriminate its rightness itself—that it is one and the same act of discrimination which says "This is obligatory,' and which says • This is instinct with divine life and promise.' To suppose that a dead ancestry are flashing through us these commands which at once repudiate their principles and nerve us against the wrath of their descendants, seems to me, I confess, a degrading superstition. If
we boast to be better than our fathers, it must be some one better than our fathers who is giving us our watchword. This is why I'hold that to lose the faith in God would be to lose a great inheritance of moral order and moral progress, and also to lose at the same moment