|Vol. VIII, No. 11
Shebat 5611, February 1851
Random Thoughts On Faith.
By Miss L. R. J.
“The ends and objects of religion are,” you say, “as effectually reached by the efforts of reason as by the power of faith.” But what is meant by “the ends and objects of religion?” My own definition of these words,—and it is one in which I think you would agree with me,—is this: To teach us to serve God truly and faithfully, in thought, word, and deed; in love and gratefulness of spirit, for that in his mercy He has surrounded us with blessings for which we can make no other return; in awe and reverence, for his power and wisdom fill the universe, which He has created, and can with a breath destroy;—and not merely in professions of love and reverence, but in the earnest endeavour to guide our outward actions so that they may be the expression of our inward convictions; in obedience to the commands which he has given for our guidance, and the silent monitor which dwelled in our hearts, shaping our daily duties in relation to our fellow-men and him who is our common Father;—in word, which will include all other words, religion teaches that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might, and thy neighbour as thyself.”
And for thyself religion provides rest for the wearied spirit, tempest-tossed as thou mayest be, shattered, almost wrecked, upon the hidden rocks, and dangerous shores where the winds of fate have cast thee; strength to the feeble spirit, striving in vain to free its heavenly pinions from the dews of earth, which, alas! have power to impede the flight even of the most untiring; energy to the indolent spirit, which lives, if life it may be called, in Dead Sea waters, dark and pestilential, where bright sunbeams come not, nor the glad habitants of unpolluted waters, to sport in its gloomy depths.
Can Reason do these things? Powerful, I know, is that godlike quality which distinguishes man, the favourite of creation; but great and dazzling as I acknowledge its gifts to be, I must believe that it is <<556>>only with the brilliant, the imposing, and the material of our earthly existence that reason has to do and that there is an inner temple, a holy of holies, where are kept the most precious things, at the portal of which Reason must step aside as a thing unclean, must retreat from the sacred entrance, and purify herself with fire, and cast from her the garments of pride and self-sufficiency wherewith she is enveloped, ere ever she dare, with humble mien and eyes cast down, to brave the presence of a Power before which her boasted works are but as a wall of thistle-down to oppose a hurricane.
Reason!—our friend, our companion, our willing and faithful servant gratitude forbid that I should slander thee. If I had no other cause, for this, that I remember what thou art, and by whom given; but I do mean to say, that in my opinion thou art nothing more than a hewer of wood and a drawer of water; not that I mean to upbraid thee with it,—no, I maintain the dignity of labour, and think thine an honourable vocation, only not the highest; and since thy worshippers will not hear me, I appeal to thyself. Now listen: Would it not be much better, instead of striving to sit in high places and judge the people, for which office thou art by nature unfit, modestly and with humility to fill the post for which thou art so well adapted? One born on the top of a monument might possibly not be affected on looking down, but he who has just ascended from the nether world grows dizzy with the elevation; his whirling brain no longer furnishes him its vigorous arguments, its just conclusions. Of what use at that moment are its varied arguments, its native talent? Happy is he if a strong arm or more practised nerves come between him and destruction. Once thou hast tried the ascent, and thou still blushest to remember how men, drunk with new-found liberty,—Frenchmen, gay, kind, social beings they are called, when sober, seeing that all things around them were being remodelled , thought it best to take upon themselves the formation of a new worship; Religion they thought had gone— emigrated,—for they had never known religion except in her holiday dress; they thought that she dwelt only in consecrated walls, her companions only priests in surplices, her only food <<557>>the sacraments; and, when they made war on these, they thought they had vanquished Religion, and called on thee to ascend her vacant throne. Thou too wert intoxicated with the noise—the tumult around thee, and not knowing what thou didst, compliedst.
And then didst thou find it an easy task to sway that human menagerie, broken loose from their keepers, hungry and hideous, seeking whom they might devour? Alas! it is to a dark page in history that we must look for our answer; and when we read how the streets of Paris ran with human blood, and see how, from the first moderate and just demands of the oppressed people, the avalanche of the popular passions, in rolling on, gathered each day fresh strength and fury, until it successively crushed king, aristocrats, and moderate reformers; and when we hear that the actors in these scenes announced themselves as called to the work in the name of Reason, we may well suspect this goddess of theirs to be no true object of worship, firm and immutable, but rather an automaton figure, working cleverly and usefully in its appointed sphere, but itself requiring a watchful eye for its guidance, lest the machinery run down, or some wheel slipping from its appointed place, impair the whole;—in short, it needs the hand of the Maker.
You will tell me of the omnipotence of human thought,—you will point to the splendid results of human wisdom and ingenuity, and, reviewing the progress of the arts and sciences, comparing our own times with ages gone by, you will say, “Behold what man has done for the world we live in!” See how on barren rocks he has created a fruitful soil, which bears for him rich food and costly apparel; for on yonder plain the dark smoke of mills and factories ascends, a monumental column, in his honour; there, muscles and sinews of iron labour day and night to weave his cloth and grind his corn; the spirit that impels them, water from the river, hot and angry from the contact of the flaming coal beneath; and that, too, has been rifled from its dark bed far beneath the surface, and compelled by prying man to tell of its first burial and transformation. And when his own wants are supplied, and he would dispose of the surplus, he will engage, “for a consideration,” the electric fluid to travel to his shipping-port and back in a few minutes, and bring him the prices <<558>>current; if these seem to him good, he can call to the wooden wagons for which he has prepared an iron road, and they take his burthens and fly with them toward the ocean, traversing in their course tunnels bored through solid rocks and under rivers, and over bridges of fairy workmanship, spanning frightful chasms, but safely bearing those who try their strength. Arrived at the ocean, the winds of heaven, like attendant spirits, spread the white sails and impel the good ship on its path, or the white steam throbs, like blood from the heart, through every vein, and the time is numbered in days ere the shores of another hemisphere greet the view.
“Oh, wonderful mind of man!” we may exclaim, as on every side some fresh proof of its power demands our attention, “can there be a limit to thy progress?" By the strength of his own unaided intellect, man, one of the weakest and most defenceless of created animals, has not only subjected the mighty monarchs of the plain and forest to his will, but the very elements must bow before him, and call him master. Old Earth must yield up for him her hidden stores of gems and precious metals, must resolve herself into her original elements, and submit to see her children borne away, that in the tortures of the laboratory and furnace may be extorted from them the secrets of their birth and relationship. What avails it that the glittering ore and the massive rock lie far below the surface? Science bids them stand forth that she may take the census, and each, as its name is called, must tell of its age, its dwelling-place, connexions and occupations. “What!” says the self-complacent geologist; “tell me that the world is not yet six thousand years old! Moses and the book of Genesis may be quoted by the unenlightened, but these fossils tell a different tale.”
The chemist has cunningly extracted from mineral and plant each healing juice and powder, and thinks, as he analyses the poisonous atmosphere of the hospital, “With such wonderful progress as the science of healing has lately made, it would seem not impossible that, at some future day, it may be brought to such perfection that man may cease to die; for what may we not hope, with such powers as magnetism, galvanism, electricity, in <<559>>our hands? If now, in the very dawn of our knowledge concerning them, we have reason to conjecture their connexion with the mysterious principle of life, why may it not be that, since we have eaten of the tree of knowledge, we may eat also of the tree of life, and live for ever? If anatomy and chemistry, in their researches, have noted the organization and composition of the human body, so that the frame, with all its apparatus of joints, sinews, and muscles, is as plain to the one as any other piece of mechanism might be; while the other has analyzed the blood which gives life to the system, the air that fills the lungs, and the brain from which proceeds the will that moves the whole: why may not man in time become himself a Creator,) and, from the original clay, form a second Adam?”
Such, as I have faintly portrayed them, are some of the gifts of Reason to man; such the wonderful facility with which he can, by her aid, supply his every earthly want, can expand and improve his sphere of thought and action, until, to eyes which know no other than earthly light, he seems, indeed, a being, omnipotent and self-sufficing. So have thought those material philosophers, who say, “Prove to me that there is a God in heaven—a life after death—that the book in which believers find guidance and consolation is, indeed, the work of inspiration.”
In return to whom I would say, “Annihilate for me one particle of the matter which has formed a portion of the globe ever since its first formation; restore me the blade of grass that you have stripped from its stalk; tell me, why does food sustain animal life, or water quench fire?” and if to do these things exceeds your power, acknowledge that there are things which must be believed without proof, and that you, with all your boasted knowledge of the laws of Nature, can only give the proximate causes of the most every-day phenomena; and, on pursuing your inquiries, find yourself constantly checked by the discovery of something, which you must acknowledge to be beyond your comprehension.
And so we find that the true philosopher, he who has penetrated most deeply the mysteries of creation; who has progressed beyond the point where the rules of matter have sway, and finds that there is everywhere a spirit which eludes <<560>>his grasp, as it has done that of all who have worked before him,—is the first to acknowledge the inefficiency of human reason, and to repose his trust in the Omnipotent Spirit to whom all nature points him. It is only to him who has trifled with science that it brings disbelief; so that it seems to me, that human minds, like the planets, move in circles; and, as he who has been satiated with the most artistic music, comes at length to relish the most simple melody; as the votary of dissipation finds, at last, all but the most natural enjoyments insipid: so the philosopher, who has travelled over the whole course of human knowledge, returns at last to the point from which, as a child, he started, finding that knowledge can give nothing of greater worth than the simple trust of his infancy; feeling that the proper attitude for finite man is one of humility, and that only in unhesitating obedience to a Power, to which he is, with or without his consent, compelled to bow his will, can there be for him any true greatness; and only when Science is content to ally itself to Religion, and work in her cause, is it a desirable object of pursuit; knowledge ill-applied is much worse than useless.
Be satisfied, then, to apply the powers of your mind to the uses for which they were given, and believe that the utmost you can do is to work with such materials as the great Architect has provided for us, his workmen in his temple. Of the circumstances by which we are surrounded, we may erect for ourselves dwellings to conduce to our comfort and earthly happiness; but woe to the faithless servant, if he appropriate to himself the things which he holds in trust for the house of God. Human reason, how can it be thought a sufficient guide, when we see the errors into which the wisest are liable to fall? when we think over all the evils that exist in the world?—systems of worship, in which human lives are sacrificed to false gods; where cruelty and revenge are as strongly inculcated, as kindness and forbearance in the Book which bears within itself proofs of its divinity? We may believe that God, in his mercy, will judge the heathen according to the light that has been given them; but do not tell me that reason is a sufficient guide in religious duty, while there still ascends, in distant lauds, the cry of the <<561>>Hindoo widow,—the groan of the crushed victim beneath the car of Juggernaut,—the chant of savages in their feasts, where their conquered enemies form the banquet. Do not say that if there had never been a revelation of God’s will to man, society would have formed, for its own protection, such laws as He has given us.
What was the virtue of the ancient Spartans? Temperance in the mode of life, and courage in battle: for the rest, if a child was weak or unhealthy, it was to be killed, for its life could be f no use to the public or itself. “The old men attended the diversions of the youths and often suggested some occasion of dispute or quarrel, so that they might observe the spirit of each, and his firmness in battle.” Even theft was practised, so that they might learn to rob the enemy without detection. Excellent training for a nation of warriors; but, of the real duties of life, Lycurgus had only the ideas of a heathen, and could teach his countrymen no better.
What instances of mistaken political government do we not see even in our own day, which yet seem, to those who wield it, just and reasonable! The despot, who has never heard questioned his right to dispose of his subjects as seems best to him, would think the motto “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” utterly unreasonable. You could not persuade the owner of slaves that he was doing wrong, in holding in subjection the property which he inherited from his father; nor could you convince the abolitionist that he was unreasonable to expect him to do so. How many social evils cry out in our midst, while each and all have their supporters, who firmly and conscientiously believe their cause to be the right! What is the meaning of political parties, classes in society, sects in religion, if our own reason is sufficient to show us the right? Is it not rather true, that Reason is always an uncertain, often an erring guide? that even in things which we are best able to comprehend, there is a difference in the circumstances and disposition of every human being; which leads him to see things from a different point of view from his fellows? that though this immense mass of opinions, serving to correct one another, greatly advances the improvement of the common mind, it also renders it impossible that opinion, upon <<562>>any one subject of speculation or action, should ever be fixed or permanent?
But who would be willing to rest his hope for future happiness upon a power which he knows to be fluctuating and inconstant? Who, among men, is not liable to change his opinions? to see error in what has once appeared to him the only right course? to grieve over the mistakes of yesterday, and commit fresh errors to-day, to be again repented of on the morrow?
This, as far as it concerns our mere earthly affairs, though seemingly an evil, is, it appears to me, a wise provision, by which our interest in things of this world is maintained; for if, on coming into the world, we brought with us all our ideas and habits ready formed, how insipid would the monotony of life soon become! May we not believe that, foreseeing this, the Creator, on that account, gave to man that thirst after knowledge, that propensity to seek the cause of the effects which he sees around him, and to combine the materials which nature furnishes into new forms, to add to his comfort, and to charm him by their variety, which we name intellect, education, invention? But that He, in giving him an immortal soul, whose earthly life is but as the beginning, and endowing him for its preservation with the power to distinguish between good and evil, did not think this instinct of goodness sufficient safeguard,—that He foresaw how temptation and false instruction would speak louder than the voice of conscience, seems evident from the fact of his giving, through inspired men, and once in still nearer communication with his children, laws for the direction of that faculty.
And thus, it seems to me, that there can be no sufficient religion without firm belief in revelation. It is not sufficient, that from a contemplation of nature, you come to the conclusion that there is a God. You might, in your reasoning, have formed a different opinion. Minds, which in their time were extolled as the greatest and wisest of their age, and whose influence is still felt in their writings, have been led by their philosophy to ascribe this machine of a world to a lucky accident. It is no fault of yours that you did not agree with them; it is owing, partly to difference in your position; chiefly, perhaps, to your <<563>>natural disposition. They were cold, hard, material philosophers; you, perhaps, worshipping the beautiful in nature, have mistaken poetry for religion. It is not sufficient that you have found the Omnipotent to be possessed of the attributes of perfect justice and mercy. You, perhaps, have lived a calm and happy life; have never seen the hand of death bear from your side the loved one; or known the blasting of your most cherished hopes; felt poverty, sickness, and misery, with their temptations to revolt, while summer friends deserted you, and the proud, passing by, scoffed at your despair. Others, who have known these things, acknowledge the Deity but as a tyrant to be feared, not as a parent to be served with the heart; and why should we be surprised at this? Is not the earth indeed filled with sorrows and oppressions? Is it strange that he should think so, when we look abroad and see how the good man often spends his days in sorrow, and his nights in weeping; while the wicked flourishes, to all appearance, honoured and happy?