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This discussion involves the following important questions, viz:
First. Can the State consistently tax its citizens for the support of any one theory concerning a problem which cannot be demonstrated and solved through the evidence of the senses, and is, therefore, necessarily the subject of diverse opinions ?
Second. Is an individual really permitted to "worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience” while forced to pay for the support of schools that teach and sustain a theology he honestly repudiates, and which is taught and promulgated at the expense, exclusion, and sacrifice of the only method of religion his conscience apprcves ?
Third. Can we refer this Bible question to precedents based on "common usage,” “common consent,” “designs of our forefathers,” will of the majority, etc., without ignoring straightforward justice, and falling back upon the unchristian doctrine that "might makes right”?
Fourth. If our free schools were conducted by Papists, who teach ritualism
Fifth. Should they adopt the latter course, would they not consider the state
monious human growth; one who believes in the inspection and ventilation of mystery, no matter whether it surrounds a state institution or a sacred book. ile believes that the Catholic policy of keeping the Bible out of schools and a vay from the masses, because of its sacredness, tends to make the book an instrument of despotism. He is also convinced that the Protestant plan of compelling its use as a school-book, because of its divine character, has precisely the same tendency. In other words, he proposes to treat the Bible like other books
depriving it of the hollow form and sham dignity of state patronage, and allowing it to fall unless sustained by the involuntary respect and homage of an enlightened humanity.
This is the writer's policy; and it is difficult to see how the state can favor any other without doing work it must eventually undo.
The state should only demand good citizenship, right doing, and justice in this life. Individuals, and even churches, may feel justified in oppressing the Heak, and in practicing pious fraud for the “glory of God”; but it is disgraceful for governments to do these things. Civil government is law, and law deals only with the logic of facts, and never with the possibilities or probabilities of faith.
Without overlooking the grand mission and good results of Christianity, or the beauty and excellence of true Christian character, we must admit that the system embodies the most wild and startling assumption that finite mind can conceive of. And, if government has a right to teach in our schools that Jesus was and is God the Creator, it clearly has a right to teach the same concerning any other good and remarkable man.
Tu INDEPENDENT of June 16th and July 7th published long articles, by RevDr. Geo. B. Cheever, defending the use of the Bible in schools, and laboring to prove what few will deny-viz.,that religion and morality are indispensible to national prosperity. In earnestly subscribing to this, it does not follow that we must declare our belief in the necessity of teaching a certain system of theology in our secular free schools. It is one thing to acknowledge the universality and importance of the religious element, and to favor means for its cultivation and growth; and quite another thing to attempt to nationalize a peculiar method or "plan,” concerning which the wisest and best of our authors and statesmen hold utterly opposite opinions.
It is well known that Jefferson and Franklin were avowed disbelievers in the dogma of the Trinity; yet it is possible that these, with Washington, Adams, and other great fathers of the government, meant, as Dr. Cheever claims for themi, *that the Christian religion and none other should be the religion of the nation.' If so, we can only give them credit for honesty, but not infallibility of judg ment. It matters little whether they meant this thing or that t?iing. Undoubteilly, the same wise fathers, when speaking of “persons bound to service," meant fugitive slaves ; but we of the North, including Dr. Geo. B. Cheever, paid no regard to this meaning in the days of the “Underground Railroad,” and why this excess of veneration for their opinions now ? When an advocate avoids the live ing issues of the present, and hides behind the opinions of a few wise dead men of a former age, he acknowledges the weakness of his cause. Every generation has new questions to meet, and its representative men to meet them. This gencration of Americans must grapple with the great question of choice between religious despotism and religious liberty.
There is no despotism so crafty and relentless as ecclesiastical authority, because it is based upon mystery rather than upon reason and virtue.
Roman Catholicism usually carries its points by strategy, and seldom by direct assault. I believe that future events will prove that the Bible question was opened at this early day for the sole purpose of committing Protestants to a principle whicn Romanists do not yet dare advocate.
If the precedent of nationalizing Christianity be once established, we may look fra most rigid application of the principle when Rome holds the balance of pilitical power, and numbers six churches and convents where she now does
Disguise the fact as we may, the difference between the creed of the Catholic ind that of the Protestant is simply incidental, and not fundamental. And
se men who approve of acknowledging the deity of Jesus in the constitution
and who, like Dr. Cheever, favor a state religion, are blindly acting as skirmishers for the Pope of Rome, and unconsciously forging weapons which will
1 yet be used in warfare against the true spirit of Protestantism.
Dr. Cheever says: "The necessity of self-preservation authorizes the people to include divine truth in their system of elementary education, and that truth they cannot get but from the Bible.”
If Dr. Cheever would but have added "end if any person deny this, let him be accursed,” we might have accused him of quoting the above from the anathemas passed by the Ecumenical Council. The Doctor seems as firm as any Papist in the notion that God only reveaul himself to human consciousness through the written words of the Old and New Testament.
The world is beginning to learn that all truth is divine, without regard to the writer, or the poor rubbish containing its letter; that any mora! or spiritual lesson or record is only valuable to humanity as it is susceptible of so entering into practical life that it may by experience be wrought into healthy human character. Truth, when once it takes this form, is elevated above books, and becomes as independeot of all record as the full-grown oak is of the acorn-shell out of which it first sprung. Rome would hide God in the Bible, lock the Bible in the Church, and give the key to the Pope. Dr. Cheever would confine God to Protestantism, and beseech government to guard the door. There is really but little to choose between the two systems.
All moral and spiritual truth is self-evident and self-asserting, and of course self-sustaining and self-developing; as the tendency of all life is, of necessity, toward the light. Inspiration, like the sun, can quicken, but not create. Without ignoring the aid of the Hebrew writers, we may safely presume that God was in the world, and acting upon the lives of his children, long before the birth of the men who wrote the history of the Jewish people. Every intelligent reader of ancient literature and philosophy is aware that nearly all of Bible truth valuable in human affairs now may be found threading, like veins of gold in quartz rock, the writings of men and seers who lived in advance of Hebrew prophets. Even the Ten Comandments, as given by Moses, were, with the exception of the two regarding idolatry and the Sabbath, the sentiments already evolved by the necessities of human society, and recorded by earlier moralists and teachers. Moses simplified, condensed, and classified them, with a view to their more direct and forcible application to the dull minds and sensual lives of a race of slaves, whose previous condition of servitude had nearly destroyed in them all sense of moral obligation. Indeed, human society could not have lived, flourished, and built cities without understanding and observing nearly all the points involved in the moral code revealed to the fugitive Jews.
Dr. Cheever and other advocates of a state religion have much to say about divine truth. Can they inform us whether they mean sentiment which is of itself divine, or something to which they may attach the divine quality solely because they find it within the lids of a sacred book.
These men seem to be walking backward. If they will turn and cross the imaginary line which evidently, to them, circumscribes the manifestations of Deity, they will learn that God is Father of all truth, no matter whether it comes first through the lips of Confucius or Jesus, Socrates or St. Paul. Certainly the best and most "saving” truth is that which results in the best human character; and such doctrine does not need the superfluous label of "authority,' or “thus saith the Lord,” to render it sacred, for the world involuntarily pays its highest homage to those who represent the highest moral and and mental attributes. Hence, it follows that the value of all writings, either inside or outside of Bibles, must finally be determined by their intrinsic worth, by their power and vitality as actual fertilizers of the moral soil, without regard to any authority" based on the mere accident of their origin. If this logic is correct, then it is certain that three-fourths of Dr. Cheever's argumentation on the Bible question are utterly void of meaning. If false, let us henceforth admit that right is more than right, and wrong less than wrong when ? und recorded in the Bible; and vice versa, when revealed in the works of Gentile writers.
But when we extend the theory to the realm of principles, and declare, “A truth's a truth for a' that,” or, “A lie's a lie for a' that," Dr. Cheever and his disciples solemnly close the Bible, and inform us that human reason and discrimination cannot enter there, and that ordinary methods of criticism, as applied to all other books, must not be applied to the “Sacred Scriptures." Rev. Dr. Hopkins joins with them, and proves the divinity of slavery by the Bible; and the Southern Methodist clergy are to-day shouting “amen.
Father Hecker, Lawyer Graham, and the Advance, respond by using the “Word of God" to convince us that “God made man for Himself, and woman for man,” and that woman is nothing but a supplement. Temperance men prove by the Old Testament that wine-drinking is a sin; and dramsellers swear by the New Testament that wine-making and wine-drinking are virtues.
Of course, we must either admit that these advocates of conflicting views are ALL right, or we must treat the Bible as we do any other book-accepting the good and rejecting the evil. The latter is the only safe plan of treatment; for, while the book abounds in moral and spiritual lessons worthy of reverence at all times, it contains much that is objectionable in tendency, and much more which is negative or common-place, or which has no actual significance except for its direct reference to people and usages long passed away. It is folly for Protestants to bestow pity and ridicule upon Fetish worship and bead-counting, while blindly and foolishly reverencing so much indifferent and immoral reading matter, simply because it happens to be bound in the same book with some of the grandest, noblest, and most inspiring utterances that ever came from human lips.
If the Bible is to be used in schools and private families, it ought to be thoroughly revised, renovated and abridged. It certainly is desirable that young people grow up with a sincere respect for spiritual precepts as uttered by all great teachers, seers and prophets. To secure this result, we should emancipate the genuine truths of inspiration from the bad grammar and disgusting details which pervade the Bible accounts of the Jewish wars, and which enter so largely into the history of Abraham, Lot, Samson, &c., and give such an amorous glow to“ Solomon's Songs."
As the Bible now is, we find the positively useful and good bound in the same volume with the useless and impure, and the whole called the “Holy Bible," and credited to the same Divine source. Upright and pious fathers continue to “ read the Book by course” in the presence of young sons and daughters; and to repeat in morning and evening worship foul passages which they would scorn to tolerate in secular works of history and fiction. The inevitable result is a constantly growing spirit of indifference and contempt concerning the claims of true religion.
Religion is the combined action of the higher elements of the human organiism in the process of disciplining and developing the entire man; and it must of necessity act in harmony with reason. False veneration is not religion; but the instinct of religion gone astray. It is idolatry.
Human nature, like the physical world, has no energy to waste, and will seek equipoise. Hence, too much worship in one direction implies too little in another direction.
A traveler may lose his way in the wilderness, and find it again ; but it is always at the expense of time and energy which ought to have been given to the right path.
If this war over the Bible question continues till we have the gift of seeing things as they are, irrespective of associations, sacred or otherwise, till we have the bravery to call things by their right name, and to be truer to God and to Ourselves than to creeds, it will not have been waged in vain. We need not shrink from the contest. Spiritual shams are frequently spoiled by close inspection; spiritual realities never.
These Tracts, also the Report of the Annual Meeting of the Free Religious Association held in Boston last May, can be procured by applying by mail or otherwise, to H. L. GREEN CORRESPONDING SECRETARY RADICAL CI UB, SYRACUSE, N. Y. * Tracts, $1.00 per hundred--$6.00 per thousand. Report F. R. A., 50 cents per copy.