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To Infidelity and Back By Henry F. Lutz Characters: 29280

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

During my third year at the Meadville Unitarian Theological School, after I became thoroughly convinced that the Unitarian position was untenable, and I had found my way back to Christ, it so happened that it was my turn to read a paper and to preach to the school, as the members of the higher classes preached before the school in turn. In these parting messages I frankly and sincerely presented my change of viewpoint, and argued against the Unitarian position as strongly as I could at the time. The school is open, on equal terms, to anybody wishing to study for the ministry, no matter what their views, or what religious body they belong to. Everybody is supposed to be perfectly free to hold and express his honest religious opinions. In the spirit of this generosity, I patiently listened to all the school could offer me in presenting what it believed to be the truth, and gratefully accepted every help it could give me in my search for the truth. I felt I was acting in entire harmony with the spirit of the founders of the institution when I used the knowledge and culture imparted to me in kindly contending for the truth as I saw it, even when it was against the truth as held by the teachers of the school.

Most of my sermon on "The Proper Method of Inquiry in Religion" has been lost or mislaid. But I have the paper read before the school, and the last part of the sermon. I give these here because it shows how the matter looked to me at that time, and how I treated it in the presence of the keen, intellectual audience of students and professors.

The professor of homiletics, who read and criticised all sermons before they were preached, rather took me to task for my bold attack upon Unitarianism, but he admitted to me that, although he had preached and taught it for more than a score of years, there were yearnings in his soul that it did not satisfy. The sermon was listened to with great respect and sympathy, especially by the more conservative students. About ten years later I received a letter from a young Unitarian minister in Massachusetts who referred to the sermon, and said he had never forgotten it, but was often reminded in his experience of how true it was, especially in what I said about the coldness and fruitlessness of Unitarianism.

Although the matter in this paper and sermon is largely the same as that in the previous chapter, I present it because, as the line of thought is out of the ordinary and somewhat difficult to the general reader, its repetition in this conversational style will help to get a better grasp of the deadly delusions of rationalism. Truth usually has to be repeated in various ways before it gets a thorough hold upon the average mind. Therefore "precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little and there a little" (Isa. 28:10).

A Religious Discussion Between Mr. Liberal, Mr. Orthodox and Mr. Freethinker.

SCENE.-Ocean of Life. STEAMBOAT.-Experience.

[The three above-named persons had made each other's acquaintance, and had engaged in discussions with each other on several occasions. They now seat themselves in a group on deck and enter upon the following discussion.]

Mr. Liberal-The great objection to your religion, Mr. Orthodox, is that it violates reason and conscience. To be more specific, let us consider a few instances. There is your doctrine of eternal punishment, in which you ascribe fiendish qualities to our dear heavenly Father such as the most savage human being could not be capable of. Then, take your doctrine of the Trinity, around which most of your dogmas cluster, and we see at once that it violates the simplest postulates of reason. I know that you will answer that these are all mysteries which are to be accepted on faith. But it is perfectly clear that there is no mystery about it. It is as clear as daylight that three cannot be one. You talk about mysteries which we must accept by faith, but all such talk is nonsense and ignores our sacred reason. The idea of getting over all difficulties by declaring them mysteries, and exhorting your opponents to leap over them by the exercise of faith, is truly, as some one has said, "a touchstone for whole classes of explanations based on no evidence." You orthodox people are the cause of all the infidelity that is afloat in the land. People come in contact with your irrational and ridiculous claims, and, taking them as religion itself, they throw overboard the whole business, the good with the bad. What we need is a pure and simple religion that will satisfy man's reason and conscience as well as his heart. And we do not have to go far for such a religion, for we find it in the liberal faith which it is my privilege to represent. Let us compare our grand, simple and rational beliefs with your irrational, absurd and mysterious products of the Dark Ages, and see what a contrast there is between them. Instead of your "Son is God, Father is God, Holy Spirit is God; yet there are not three Gods, but only one," we have the simple faith in one heavenly Father-all-powerful, all-wise and all-good. No mystery about it. It would be absurd to suppose that such a God could punish his children to eternity, or that He would require the suffering of the innocent to enable him to forgive the guilty. Then, of course, we reject all the absurd dogmas clustering around your conception of the Trinity. The simple belief in the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man is enough for us. Instead of your endless punishment, we have the reasonable belief that the Father punishes simply to bring us good, so that our joy may be greater. This is all perfectly simple, and can be understood by the uneducated man as well as by the philosopher.

Mr. Orthodox-It is an easy thing to make charges; and, as they are usually made in sweeping terms, it frequently requires hours of time and much explanation to answer the charges made in a few minutes, even when the charges are false. I shall endeavor to defend myself, but must beg you to give me sufficient time to make myself understood. In the first place, I claim, as you say, that you cannot understand all the mysteries about religious doctrines. They must, to a large extent, be accepted by faith. And I claim that it is more reasonable to accept them by faith than to reject them on the ground that you cannot understand them. This may seem ridiculous to you, but wait until I explain myself further. Take eternal punishment. You say that man is a free agent, and that through his free agency he is able to bring evil and punishment upon himself. You say that God has so ordained because it is best for man that he should be left free, even though he becomes liable to suffer because of it, as it will be for his final good. In other words, you claim that God does punish his children for their own good. It seems perfectly just to you that God should punish a person because he is a free agent, but when we say that man can bring eternal punishment upon himself through his free agency, then you think it ridiculous, although the principle is exactly the same and the only difference is that of degree. But I see that I must be more general in my statements or I will not get far. You bring a host of other charges against us, either directly or by implication. You say that yours is a pure and simple religion that can be understood by uneducated people as well as by philosophers. Here we get at the very heart of the difference between us. It is true that your doctrines are very simple, but that is their chief demerit. They are simple, but the facts that they attempt to deal with are very complex. To declare that religious problems are simple is to go counter to the expressed opinions of the great thinkers of all ages. Such questions as evil, good, life, immortality, free will, God, and a host of others, are decidedly complex.

They are largely inscrutable and have always been considered so. And yet all the complex realities of life and death which have defied the theologians and philosophers of all ages, you now tell us are very simple, and you carry the simple solution around with you only too glad to give it free to everybody. Why is it that all of the thousands of worried and distressed souls don't come flocking to you? Why is it that the philosophers and thinkers don't come rushing in from all directions, to get from you the truths they have so long sought after? Why is it that the uneducated masses do not come to you and accept your simple doctrines which they can so easily understand? I know that you are ready with a charge of ignorance, prejudice, self-interest, etc., but I claim that as a rule your charges do not charge. You, believing in an all-wise, all-good and all-powerful God, who is Truth itself, must believe in the triumph of truth; and here I agree with you. I believe that just as soon as truth is brought in contact with error the latter will have to vanish just as sure as the darkness vanishes when a light is brought into a room. Error may apparently linger because of peculiar circumstances which we are ignorant of, but as soon as truth has a fair chance of coming directly in contact with error, the victory is won. I claim, therefore, that the reason that your explanations are not accepted, is because they do not explain. Your doctrines offer protection to a small part of the man, but leave all the rest exposed to the cold and inclement weather. The uneducated do not accept your doctrines because they belie their own experiences.

Mr. Freethinker-I hope you will pardon me for interrupting you, Mr. Orthodox. You are getting too hot. I think it will be better for you to cool off before you continue, and in the meantime I will have my say. That is the greatest objection I have to you religionists-you are all fanatics. You get an idea into your head, and then think that the continuance of the world depends upon you thrusting it into everybody's face. Of course you are willing to suffer for your doctrines, and even to die for them if need be, but that is the way with all fanatics. Your foolish notions give occasion for amusement to cool-headed free thinkers, who see perfectly well that they are all the result of self-delusion. I believe in keeping perfectly cool; in always keeping the head as high above the heart as it is in the body. I don't believe in attacking a man from behind while he is engaged by another in front, but, during the time Mr. Orthodox is cooling off, I wish to show you, Mr. Liberal, wherein I differ from you. Your great appeal is to reason, and I agree with you entirely on that point; but I don't arrive at your conclusions. You have been fixing your eyes on the monstrous outrage of reason in your brother's position so steadfastly, and yours is so much more in accordance with reason, that it is not surprising that you should have failed to see the irrationality of your own position. Furthermore, you have had a great deal of inherited prejudice to overcome, and a man cannot be expected to get rid of all those at once, especially when they have reference to the heart or feelings. You say that your God is all-good, all-wise and all-powerful. The inevitable, logical conclusion from that is that such a God would give his children an infinitely small amount of evil and an infinitely large amount of good. But such is not the case; therefore, to keep that jewel of rationalism which is so dear to you, you must give up your belief in such a God. Just wait a minute! I know that you are ready to give a lot of quibbling that will satisfy some people who follow their prejudices and inherited feelings, but I defy the whole world of logicians to show that such a conclusion is less logical than the claim that there can be three in one. You say that it is in the nature of things that God must give us evil that we may enjoy good the more afterwards. But if you clear yourself from all prejudice, you will see that this is the old method of the ostrich of putting its head under the sand and imagining that its entire body is protected. Nay, even worse than that, you don't even protect your head. Any man that gives clear sweep to his reason will see that if God must comply with certain conditions, then he is not all-powerful If he is all-powerful, he can give us all good without any evil, and if he is all-good it would logically follow that he will do so. Then, again, while affirming that man is a free agent, you at the same time claim that every effect must have a cause, or that something cannot come out of nothing. Now, the reconciliation of these two facts has ever defied the reason of mankind. And those that have adopted the belief in free will have confessed that reason did not lead them to that conclusion, but experience. On the other hand, the logical conclusion is inevitable that man cannot be free. I know that people have endeavored to satisfy themselves to the contrary, and I know that some have really succeeded in deceiving themselves so far as to believe that they could logically hold to it; but I declare that they have never succeeded in convincing any unprejudiced mind, and I defy any logician to prove that the conclusion of free will as consistent with eternal causation, is less absurd than that two and two make five.

Again, you preach that what a man sows, that also shall he reap. If that is true, then no person can really give him anything; therefore philanthropy is a delusion. Now, then, Mr. Liberal, you want to be reasonable and drop the false position to which your inherited prejudices have held you, and adopt my views, which are thoroughly simple and entirely consistent and logical. Belief in God is the product of superstition, and belief in free will is a self-delusion. I know that you will appeal to intuition in this case, but that is only a scapegoat for deluded and illogical minds to hide behind. You see that my conclusion is not only simple and logical, but it is really more beautiful than your complex affair, and you will see it as such after you succeed in overcoming your inherited prejudices. There is no God. The universe is governed by blind law; at least, that is all we know about it. We are evolved from the lowest forms of organic life. What about conscience? Well, that is a matter of education. Of course we should follow it, because it is a safer guide than our present judgment, since it represents the judgment of all our ancestors. Utility is our only standard of right and wrong in morals, and we follow utility because we are not free and are therefore compelled t

o do so.

Mr. Orthodox-If you are through, Mr. Freethinker, I will now continue. But I must consider myself your opponent as well as Mr. Liberal's. In the first place, I must admit that you are thoroughly consistent with yourself as far as you go. But, my dear fellow, where does your consistency lead you to? You claim to be a freethinker, and yet you conclude that you are an entire slave and even think as you do because you cannot help it.

I stated at the beginning of my reply to Mr. Liberal that many religious facts must be accepted without thoroughly understanding them, and claimed that it is reasonable to so accept them. I will now endeavor to explain myself more fully. It seems to me that if anything has been proven, it is that our logical reason is not always a safe guide. For example, we cannot conceive of an end to divisibility of space; and therefore we cannot conceive how we can reach a given point. Now, practice gives the lie to this conclusion, and if some rationalist should follow his reason here, he would conclude that he can never get a piece of food into his mouth; or, in other words, the logical conclusion would lead to starvation. I know that some will deny this as a logical conclusion to get out of the difficulty. But I could never see it as otherwise than logical, and I have a goodly list of thinkers who have reached the same conclusion before me. Again, it is admitted by all thinkers of all ages that our reason tells us that there cannot be existence without beginning, or, on the other hand, there can be no beginning of existence without something existing before to cause its existence.

The conclusion is that inconceivability is not an infallible proof of the absence of a fact, and that we must follow our experience even if it conflicts with our reason. This is what we claim to do in religion. Whether experience is the sole source of knowledge is a question we need not discuss here. It is certainly the only safe method in most things. For example, I wish to know what will cure a certain disease. Suppose that I find a medicine that has cured every case in which it has been administered. Would it not be irrational for me to refuse to use that medicine because I cannot conceive how it effects the cure? Of course it might be possible that the medicine did not effect the cure; that it was the belief in its curative power that produced the effect. Cases have frequently occurred where a thing was for a long time believed to be the cause, while future investigation proved that it was some other attendant circumstance that was the real cause. But if our experience is that a given medicine cures a certain disease invariably, and that no other known medicine will cure it, we would be foolish not to use that medicine. The same is true in religion. If we wish to accomplish certain results and we have found a way in which those desirable results can be brought about, and know of no other way to bring them about; it would be irrational not to adopt that way, or follow out the requirements of that theory. I told you, Mr. Liberal, that your theory or doctrine was too simple. This is still more true of our friend, Mr. Freethinker. You claim to hold very broad, liberal and enlightened views. But although they are broad, they are not deep enough. They are stretched out over the surface merely, and thus hide from your view the great ocean of reality below. Yes, you have an abundance of light, but not enough heat. In the polar regions they have six months of light in one stretch, but no one would think of starting a garden there, as there is not enough heat. To the cold reason of some bachelor it is perfectly clear and indisputable that the young lover is a deluded fool and should follow his reason by never marrying. But I fondly believe that young lover sees the true worth of one human soul, and gives us an idea of the worth we shall see in all souls when we shall cease to see through a glass darkly. As the bachelor does not touch the reality in his case, so I believe that our friend, Mr. Freethinker, does not touch the great ocean of reality in religion. We are convinced by experience that man is free, and that nevertheless eternal causation does exist. We believe these to be two co-ordinate truths and we are willing to wait until we can solve the mystery; but in the meantime we wish to make use of the practical belief in both truths. People are convinced that there is a God who deals out exact justice; yet they are also convinced from experience that there is a God who is love who forgives the penitent sinner. That one God can possess both of these qualities seems as impossible as that three Gods can be in one God. And yet people are convinced that no other theory will explain their complex experiences, and that living according to no other theory will enable them to get the desirable results that they know from experience that they do get. They may be mistaken; but it will be time enough to consider that when some one has a theory that will account better for all their various experiences. Well, you see my point and I shall apply it no further. You see it is simply the principle that the empirical school of philosophy claims to employ, but which many of them employ only in the physical realm and fail to carry into the spiritual or religious realm. They must admit that religious convictions are and have been among the strongest, if not the strongest, motive powers in the world's history. And thus their philosophy of life leaves out the greatest pleasures and mightiest incentives to action found in life.

But Mr. Liberal and his friends would tell us that this all refers to theology. That doctrines are of no account. That what we want is works. Exactly, but don't you see that if after the afore-said experience you should not form the theory that the given medicine cures the given disease and act in accordance with the theory, the result would probably be death instead of health and life? The question is, is it true to experience? Does it accomplish what it purposes to accomplish better than any other theory, and can that result be accomplished only by following the said theory? According to many authorities, most if not all of our physical actions are performed according to a theory based on induction as to facts in the physical world. Thus we arrive at the conclusion that food nourishes our body because it has always been found to do so. In the same way many people have, through experience and facts, come to believe in God who guides them and nourishes them spiritually.

If now we judge by fruits rather than by doctrines, or rather judge our doctrines by their fruits, I claim that the orthodox doctrine is superior to yours, Mr. Liberal. In the first place, you admit that the lower ignorant classes you cannot reach, and you are greatly surprised that they do not eagerly accept your simple doctrines. It is not the whole, but the sick, that need a physician. A religion that cannot help those that need the greatest spiritual help cannot be the religion of Christ. But let us suppose that an intelligent foreigner who does not understand our language nor know our doctrines should attend our respective churches and see the result produced-the pleasure taken in coming and receiving our spiritual medicine. And making allowance for all other differences, should observe which helps most to make life worth living, and which makes the most and best changes in the character of its adherents. He would have no trouble to discover that orthodoxy ministers more to the needy soul than your simple faith.

You, Mr. Liberal, talk about making infidels of people and drawing them away from the church, but I believe it would have been fortunate for you if you had not mentioned this subject; because you, according to the confession of your own men, have driven more people from the churches than any religious body having a similar numerical strength. You tell people to use their reason, and after you have drawn them out of the orthodox churches by that bait, they see that they must go further than your position to satisfy what you call reason, and they find large numbers among you ready to lead them to that logical conclusion. It seems that the advocates of your liberal faith have always believed that they were on the verge of accomplishing great victories by drawing the multitudes to them; but as with the victim of tuberculosis, who imagines he is getting better all the time, it is always expectancy and never realization. If it is prejudice that prevents the spread of your belief, then it ought to grow most in New England, where it has largely worn away prejudice. But the facts seem to be that there it is growing the least comparatively; while out West, where it is a novelty and meeting with opposition, it is making the most progress. A person is almost tempted to conclude that if it were not for the opposition of some mistaken people, who do not realize your real error, your progress would come to an end at once.

I believe, Mr. Liberal, that Mr. Freethinker has the best of you because he vanquished you according to your own method of inquiry. But you are more nearly right according to the true method of inquiry. You see it is the proper method of inquiry that I am contending for. A person with the wrong method of inquiry in his head will only be repulsed by poking dogmas at him and nothing can be done with him until he has discovered the fallacy by following his method to absurdity, its natural conclusion. After that he may be induced to follow the empirical method of inquiry with a demonstration that experience and well-authenticated testimony are to be followed rather than rationalism.

What follows is the last part of the sermon on "The Proper Method of Religious Inquiry." Text: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

It is not only important that we should appeal to our own experience in trying to discover what is true in religion, but we should also take into consideration the experiences of others. If a man, who is partially color blind, should base a science of color on his own experience, it would necessarily be partial or incomplete. So if a class of men, with certain peculiar traits, should build up a system of theology on their religious experiences, it would necessarily be partial and not adequate for universal application. Suppose, for example, that a number of persons with large reasoning powers, cold temperaments, and very little religious feeling, should build up a religious system on their experiences. Is it not perfectly clear that it would be partial and narrow? It would make no allowance at all for people of strong religious experiences. While it might be of some use to these few people, it would never help the great bulk of humanity who need the help of religion the most. To say that a religion is not for the common people is to admit that it is narrow and not true to universal human nature. Certainly it is not Christian, for the common people heard Jesus gladly; and they ever will hear gladly any one who preaches a religion that is true to their own religious experiences.

In trying to discover what is true in religion, we should also carefully examine the religious experiences of all ages, as recorded in their religious writings. I shall here quote from an authority on this point, because I think it of much value, and because it is not probable that the writer was influenced by prejudice and preconceived ideas. I shall quote from John Stuart Mill's "System of Logic," page 477: "There is a perpetual oscillation in spiritual truths, and in spiritual doctrines of any significance, even when not truths. Their meaning is almost always in a process either of being lost or of being recovered. Whoever has attended to the history of the more serious convictions of mankind-of the opinion by which the general conduct of their lives is, or as they conceive ought to be, more especially regulated-is aware that even when recognizing verbally the same doctrines, they attach to them at different periods a greater or less quantity, and even a different kind of meaning. The words in their original acceptation connoted, and the propositions expressed, a complication of outward facts and inward feelings, to different portions of which the general mind is more particularly alive in different generations of mankind. To common minds, only that portion of the meaning is in each generation suggested, of which that generation possesses the counterpart in its habitual experience. But the words and propositions lie ready to suggest to any mind duly prepared to receive the remainder of the meaning. Such individual minds are almost always to be found; and the lost meaning, revived by them, again by degrees works its way into the general mind.

"The arrival of this salutary reaction may, however, be materially retarded by the shallow conceptions and incautious proceedings of mere logicians. … These logicians think more of having a clear, than of having a comprehensive, meaning; and although they perceive that every age is adding to the truth which it has received from its predecessors, they fail to see that a counter process of losing, truths already possessed, is also constantly going on, and requiring the most sedulous attention to counteract it."

But, as a matter of fact, people have, as a rule, followed their experiences in everything, despite the sneers and ridicules of the would-be wise. People have planted their vegetables during the increase of the moon despite all ridicule and laughter. And in due time the wise men came to their position, declaring that the sunlight reflected by the moon helps the growth of vegetation. People in all ages have believed in faith cure under one form or another to the utter amazement of the intelligent physicians who made fun of them and pitied their ignorance. But now, through the facts discovered by hypnotism and other means, the scientists are coming around and admitting that the old women were right, that the people really did get help from faith cure.

In religion, too, people have followed their experience, despite the sneers, ridicule and protests of wise men. And, on the whole, I have no doubt that they are better off than if they had listened to the persons who showed them that their beliefs, from a rationalistic standpoint, are false; and at the same time offered them beliefs that were about as ridiculous from a logical standpoint, and which left out all the power and good of their own system of belief.

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