Project Canterbury

Religion and Politics

By Algernon Sidney Crapsey

New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1905.

Chapter XII. The Present State of the Churches

In his address before the Ministerial Association, the mayor of Rochester said, in effect, that the gentlemen before him could have any kind of a city government that they really desired. This statement, I take it, was based upon the fact that the ministerial association represented the moral sentiment of the community, and that in the long run it is the moral sentiment of the community that creates and continues civic institutions. Our municipal, state and national governments can never go far below, nor rise far above, the average moral status of the people. Legislatures can make laws, but the legislatures cannot enforce them. If the law does not express the moral judgment of the people, it becomes a dead letter. If, then, the ministers of the churches are the moral force of the community; if they are the accredited teachers of the national morality; if the people look to them for guidance,--then it follows as a matter of course that whatever government the ministers want the ministers can have. But, as a matter of fact, if there [276/277] is one class more than another which is shut out from civic influence and political activity, that class is the ministerial. It is not considered becoming for a minister so much as to express an opinion on any subject of current politics. He is a minister of religion, and in the popular estimation religion and politics have nothing to do with each other. Not only is the minister thus excluded from all wdirect participation (except that he may cast his secret ballot) in the political life of the community in which he lives, but he is not expected, nor even permitted, to have anything to say in regard to the great industrial and economic questions that engage the attention of the people. In the conflict between capital and labor neither the capitalist nor the laborer has any use for the minister. In 1901 the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church appointed a standing commission on capital and labor, having among other duties that of "being in readiness to act as arbitrators, should their services be desired, between men and their employers, with a view to bring about mutual conciliation and harmony in the spirit of the Prince of Peace." This commission reporting in 1904 says: "Taking the definitions of our duty in reverse [277/278] order, we have to say regarding arbitration that no request for our services has been received." During the three years from 1901 to 1904 the industrial world was the scene of strikes and lockouts, which disturbed the peace of the country and caused the waste of millions of money; but in no case did the contending parties turn to this commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church or any other church commission for a solution of their difficulties. If a clergyman like the distinguished Catholic Bishop of Peoria was placed upon the arbitration commission it was not because he was a clergyman, but because he had as a man interested himself in and informed himself concerning the great issues involved. For the churches and the ministers as such there is no part cast in the great drama of social evolution which now occupies the stage of the world. There is one field of human effort which fifty or sixty years ago the clergyman claimed as his own. The education of the youth of the country was then almost exclusively in the hands of the ministers of religion. The presidents of our larger colleges and universities and likewise of our smaller colleges, and the head masters of our academic [278/279] schools, were of necessity and as a matter of course ordained ministers of some one of our religious denominations. The teaching profession was largely ministerial in its makeup. So that one might almost take it for granted that a professor in a college was also a clergyman. But during the last fifty years the province of education has passed from under the power of the clerical body into the possession of the laymen. The presidents of all our larger universities and colleges are laymen, and if some of our smaller colleges are still required by their charters to have a clergyman as their head, then such clergyman is careful not to emphasize his clerical character; in dress, in manner, in thought, he is in accord with the lay, rather than with the ministerial, world. Our academic schools, following the lead of our universities and colleges, are seeking their teaching staff among laymen, and if by chance they do employ a clergyman they take care that he is not clergyman enough to hurt him. And as for the great public school system which the people have created for the education of their children, that, as we too well know, is not only free from, but antagonistic to, clerical influence. There is nothing that the people resent [279/280] more quickly than the interference on the part of any church or denomination with the common schools of the country.

As the clergyman looks out on the world to-day he is apt to cry: "Where do I come in?" He finds himself debarred from any real and active participation in the political, industrial, educational, or social life of the world in which he lives. And in this enforced isolation his manhood withers and his interest in life dies out.

Now, if we seek for the reason of this waning of ministerial influence we find it in that divorce of what is called religion from life which is the characteristic of the modern world. Religion has no place in our politics, no place in our business, no place in our education, no place in our society. Its province, if it have any, lies outside our everyday life and far beyond our everyday thought. We hear on every side of the evil of divorce, the breaking of the bond of union between husband and wife, but what divorce is more desolating than the divorce of life from religion; these are not simply husband and wife, one of which can die and the other live, but they are body and soul, neither of which can really exist without the other. If it [280/281] were the fact that life and religion were parted asunder never to come together again, then life would be worthless and would soon end in despair, and go down into the gloom of death.

But the truth is that religion is entering into life and spiritualizing every department thereof as it has not since the primitive days. It is not dying out; it is only changing its mode of operation. It refuses any longer to be shut up in churches, and is striving to make itself a home in the street, in the shop, in the market, in the common council chamber.

The clerical order is losing influence, not because the world is growing less religious, but because it is more religious that it was sixty years ago. Religion has to-day a wider scope and a farther reach than the clerical interpretation permits it to have.

The churches and denominations, which now claim to represent the religious interests of mankind, are the rear-guard of the powers that make for religious progress. They are the product of spent forces. The Catholic church is the survival in the modern world of the imperialistic system that from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries was the system common to both church and state; in which all men were in theory subjects of the Emperor and [281/282] the Emperor the subject of the Pope. In this system the people are in bondage to the clergy, who claim to stand between them and God, and from whose lips the people must receive knowledge. The Pope, shut up in the Vatican, is a sign to the world of the status of the Catholic church. It is permitted to exist only so long as it secludes itself from the activities of every-day life. It is imperialistic in its government, and unscientific in its teaching, and it has no place in a democratic and scientific age. The great national churches of north Europe and England are the creation of the spirit of monarchy and of privilege; they are the handiwork of the Kings, the nobles, and the gentry and mark the triumph of the King, the nobles, and the gentry over the Pope and the Emperor. These churches are aristocratic in government and unscientific in doctrine, and have no place in a democratic and scientific age. The great denominations, such as the Methodist and the Baptist, are composed mainly of the middle class. They represent the revolt of the tradesman against the domination of the gentry. These denominations are occupied with minor morals, are unscientific in their doctrine, and are out of touch with the workmen and the poor, [282/283] who in our day are slowly and painfully emerging from their servile state, and are claiming a name and a place for themselves in the regulation of the affairs of the world.

The great salient fact in the present life of the western world is the democratic revolution. This revolution has been in progress for six hundred years, and has proceeded by regular stages. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it delivered the Kings from the domination of the church and the Empire; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it made the Kings subordinate to the nobility and the gentry; in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the middle class became dominant, the manufacturer and the shopkeeper drove the nobility and gentry from power, and now this class is struggling for supremacy with the common people, with the hand worker and the wage earner, in whose supremacy the democratic revolution will reach its goal. It is with this phase of the revolution that the world is now occupied, and in this crisis the organized churches are not, for the most part with the rising people, but are either indifferent or are with the dominant class. The churches stand for privilege; the bishops in the Episcopal churches [283/284] are a privileged class among the clergy; the clergy are a privileged class among the people; the wealthy are a privileged class in society. But privilege of any and every kind is becoming every day more and more odious. Equality, political, social, and intellectual, is a constantly growing demand, and all institutions that stand simply upon privilege are passing away. The democratic revolution is the working out into the life of the world of the life and teaching of Jesus. The only privilege which He claimed for himself, or allowed to others was the privilege of service and sacrifice, and that is the only privilege that can endure in the day of the social revolution that is at hand.

But if the churches are wanting in the democratic spirit which is necessary to any wide influence in the present revolutionary era, they are still more wanting in the scientific spirit, without which it is impossible for any institution, no matter how venerable, to have any intellectual standing in the modern world. The universe of thought in which we live is the product of the scientific movement, and the work of the scientific movement has been to substitute law for miracle as the basis of all the operations of nature. In the primitive ages man [284/285] was under the dominion of his fears and of his imagination, and the world of thought in which he lived was necessarily imaginary. His thought world was not the product of his reason; it was the creation of his fancy. He viewed the universe about him, not in the clear light of dispassionate intelligence, but in the refracted light of his hopes and his fears. For him nature was without unity and without continuity. His terrified soul filled the earth and the air with beings, like himself, only more powerful, who used the forces of nature for the purpose of expressing their pleasure or displeasure. All ancient religion was based upon the miracle; upon the belief that there are beings, like men, only greater, who can use the forces of nature to attract attention and to express their love or their hatred. In all history the gods are simply deified men, who, instead of smiting with the arrow or striking with the sword, smite with the pestilence or strike with the lightning.

The theory of the miracle looks upon every event in nature as having reference to the well- or ill-being of some particular man or men. When religion is based upon miracle then a flood of water, or a volcanic eruption, is looked upon as a direct visitation [285/286] of the wrath of God. The religion of miracle which the primitive imagination created held full possession of the world down to the beginning of the scientific era; which era may be roughly dated from the publication by Copernicus of De Orbium Coelestium Revolutionibus in 1530, which affirmed the fact of the revolution of the earth upon its axis and its annual journey around the sun. From that day to this the religion of the reason has been in conflict with the religion of the fancy, and truth has been contending with imagination. Slowly, but surely, scientific reason has reconstructed the universe. It has driven the vast horde of ancient gods and demons into the limbo of things impossible. It has made the primitive miracle incredible, because the ancient miracle and the modern conception of law cannot coexist in the same mind. Under the pressure of the scientific conception of uniformity and continuity the miracle has been driven from one stronghold to another until now it is making a last and desperate stand in one region of the world and in one period of time. The ordinary Christian does not give a moment's serious consideration to the miracles of which he reads in the history of Greece and Rome, or which he finds in the literature of the [286/287] east. He does not go into any long course of reasoning to prove or disprove these stories; he sets them down at once as the myth, the legend, the folk-lore, of the Roman, Greek, and Indian peoples. The Protestant views with impatient indignation the miracles of the Catholic church in the middle ages, and derides the miracles which the same church claims to perform at the present day. The vast mass of sensible Christians look upon the cures effected by the Christian Scientist, not as miraculous, but as being partly the operation of well-known laws of psychological therapeutics and partly mere delusion. But in spite of their rejection of all miracles in the so-called pagan world, in the mediaeval church, and in modern times, the great Protestant national churches and denominations base all their teaching upon the miracle. They claim that their religion is the one exception in the religious history of the world. All other religions are the product of historical causes. The ancient religions sprang from man's imaginative interpretation of nature. They contained elements of eternal truth, but in their conception of the relation of the gods to the natural world everyone knows that they were in error. But, when we [287/288] come to our own religion, we affirm what we deny in regard to the religions of ancient and mediaeval times, and we base our belief in our miraculous religion upon our possession of a miraculous book.

Of course, a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is no longer possible to an educated man, or for anyone in fact, who reads his Bible with reasonable intelligence and attention. Tt does not need profound scholarship; it only requires ordinary common sense, to see that the Bible is not the miraculous book which orthodox theology claims it to be. It is not the higher critic; it is the ordinary modern reader, who has reverently placed his Bible among the great literatures of the world, and finds that both he, himself and his Bible have gained immensely by the operation. He can read his Bible now with pleasure and profit, since, in reading, he does not have to outrage his intelligence.

In the light of scientific research, the Founder of Christianity no longer stands apart from the common destiny of man in life and death, but He is in all things physical like as we are, born as we are born, dying as we die, and both in life and death in the keeping of that same Divine Power, [288/289] that heavenly Fatherhood, which delivers us from the womb and carries us down to the grave. When we come to know Jesus in His historical relations, we see that miracle is not a help, it is a hindrance, to an intelligent comprehension of His person, His character, and His mission. [Encyclopedia Biblica, vol. 3, p. 294; Hasting's Dict. of Bible, vol. III. p. 286.] We are not alarmed, we are relieved when scientific history proves to us that the fact of His miraculous birth was unknown to Himself, unknown to his mother, and unknown to the whole Christian community of the first generation.

Believing this, we are no longer compelled to look upon the scientific movement as irreligious, but are able to see in it a greater confirmation of religion; a scientific religion based, not upon the sporadic miracle, but upon the eternal law. We are no longer compelled to look for our God in some obscure event of the past. We have but to lift up our eyes to see Him in the outgoings of the evening and the morning, of all the days of our pilgrimage.

The scientific movement has within the last fifty years acquired a momentum that is irresistible. [289/290] It has taken possession of every educational institution from the kindergarten of the common school to the post-graduate course of the great universities. The theological seminaries are the only educational institutions which have not adopted the scientific method of investigation and reasoning. In resisting the scientific movement the churches are resisting the inevitable. For twenty-five hours in every week our children are taught by trained instructors that the miracle has no place in nature, and then for twenty-five minutes in every week our children are taught, by untrained instructors, when they see fit to come to our Sunday Schools, that the universe is based upon miracle. For one hundred and sixty-seven hours in every week all our thought and our action is based upon the conviction that the miracle has no place in nature. We trust ourselves and all that we have to our unfaltering belief in the unchanging laws of the universe,--this for one hundred and sixty-seven hours; and then for one hour a few of us, when it is convenient, go to our churches and pretend to believe that the universe is based upon miracle. In our lecture rooms, in our laboratories, in our factories, in our counting rooms, we utterly discard the mode [290/291] of reasoning which we use in our churches. The clergyman himself discards his pulpit method when he comes to deal with the practical affairs of life or with the miracles of the Hindu, the Catholic, or the Christian Scientist. And yet with this fact of the complete divorce of theological thought from living thought staring us in the face, we wonder why the people do not come to the churches, and marvel at the waning of ministerial influence.

The scientific movement is not only constructing the thought world in which mankind must live for ages to come, but it is also profoundly influencing the political, social, and industrial life of the world. Science has unified the world to an extent and in a way that the old religions never dreamed of. The God of science is not the God of the Hebrew, nor of the Christian. He is the God of the whole earth, and not only of the earth, but of the infinite reach of the heaven. The man of science knows his God as God has never been known before. He is face to face with his God every moment of his life. He has learned through long experience to believe in that God, who is the Father of Lights, [291/292] with whom there can be no variation, nor shadow that is cast by turning.

The life of the man of science is necessarily favorable to the development of the religious character. What can be more ennobling than an intense love of truth for truth's sake? There is not in all religious history a more saintly character than that of Charles Darwin. His patience, his self-restraint, his quiet, uncomplaining endurance of pain and calumny, are as indicative of spiritual power and of true religious character as are the mortifications of St. Bernard or the ecstacies of St. Teresa. It cannot be by accident that the breath of scandal has never soiled the name of any of the great leaders of science. The man of science finds his God as David, Job, and Jesus found theirs. For Him, "the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork;" for him are unloosed the bands of Orion and the sweet influences of the Pleiades. He sees the glory of God in the grass of the field, and the providence of God in the fall of the sparrow. There may be elements of religion lacking in the man of science, but in his [292/293] love of truth, in his reverence for law, in his respect for fact, in his hold upon reality, the man of science is not as the unenlightened church member thinks,--an unbeliever, but a profound believer. He has a faith in his convictions which is beyond the faith of the mediaeval saint. Science is not simply a philosophy, it is a passionate religion, and a religion that is unifying the world. A German physician discovers the X-ray, and in six months' time the X-ray is used in every hospital from the rising to the setting of the sun for the alleviation of human misery. It is science that has made possible the great industrial organizations that are the wonder and the terror of the industrial world. A trust magnate told me that the telephone was the cause of the trust. Industrial commercialism is wiser in its day and generation than the churches of light. It is not afraid of the truth. It rewards discovery with its greatest prizes--while in the churches even to this day, discovery is a crime, and invention is of the devil. No reason for the loss of ministerial influence is so potent as the fact that the churches stand outside this great movement for unity which is the characteristic movement of the modern world. Being unscientific, the churches cannot account for [293/294] themselves, nor for any of the religious phenomena of the world. They one and all have to plead the miracle as the reason of their own existence and of the present state of the world.

The forces of formal Christianity are ineffective because they are disorganized, demoralized, and divided. Churches and denominations nullify the efforts each of the other. Episcopal bishops do all they can to defeat the purposes of the Catholic bishops. The Catholic bishops look upon the Episcopal bishops as both schismatic and heretical and as enemies of Christ and the church. The uneducated Protestant looks upon the great Catholic church as the work of the devil, and the uneducated Catholic looks upon the Protestant as the child of Satan. The educated man, both Catholic and Protestant, is becoming ashamed of this condition, and the laymen are leaving the quarrel entirely in the hands of the clergy. As for the outside world, it looks upon this dispute with amused vexation and with, "A plague on both your houses," goes about its business. While the churches are without unity, they must be without influence. The ministerial body cannot be the servant of the people as long as it is the servant of its [294/295] denominational formularies. These formularies cannot be all true; and it follows that in some respects all these formularies are false. The only way the formularies can be tested is by the scientific method, and the scientific method the churches resolutely refuse to use; and, therefore, the churches are hopelessly divided and helpless.

We ministers seem to me like a man traveling in the night, who falls over a precipice; in his fall he seizes upon some uneven surfaces of the rock. With one hand he holds on to the miracle, with the other he holds on to his denominational difference. All night long he sweats blood in his agony, as he feels his hands loosening upon the crumbling stone, and fears that at any moment he may fall into the black abyss of Atheism that yawns beneath him. But if he would only let go he would find himself on the solid earth, and would hear a voice saying to him: "Hear, O man! the Lord thy God is one Lord; and to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and all thy strength, and all thy mind, and to love thy neighbor as thyself, is more than the creeds and the churches."

As long as we, the ministers, are desperately holding on to the waning miracle and to the crumbling [295/296] denominational difference we are in no condition to fight for eternal truth and justice. We are trying in a pitiful way to get back into real life through what we call the institutional churches. The apostle serves tables, and the prophet becomes a teacher in gymnastics; and we think we have done a great thing in doing for the people what they can do much better for themselves. Meanwhile the message of the Master is not carried, and the Word of the Lord is not spoken.

Hear, now, oh ye churches, the sum of the whole matter: There are three great spirits at work creating the world that is and that is to be: The spirit of scientific investigation, that will know nothing but the truth; the spirit of democratic revolution, which will trust no one but the people; the spirit of social evolution, which will call no man common or unclean. If the churches wish for influence in the world that is and is to be, they must master these spirits and make them their own. The churches must become scientific, democratic, and socialistic. And, if they do so, then the churches will merge into the church and the church will no longer be separate from the state, nor the state from the church, but these two will be one flesh.

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