« Prev Lecture I. Note E—P. 9. Internal Conflicts of the… Next »



An internecine warfare is waged among the representatives of the “modern” view, quite as embittered and irreconcilable as that which they unitedly wage against Christianity. A “Kampf der Weltanschauungen” is going on here also. Deists, Pantheists, Agnostics, Pessimists, Atheists, Positivists, and liberal theologians, unceasingly refute each other; and were their respective opinions put to the vote, out of a dozen systems, each would be found in a minority of one, with the other eleven against it. If escape were sought in a theoretical scepticism, which despairs of truth altogether, 373this would but add another sect to the number, which would encounter the hostility of all the rest.

Not without justice, therefore, does Dr. Darner, after reviewing the systems, speak of the attempt to set up a rival view to Christianity as ending in a “screaming contradiction.”—System of Christian Doctrine, i. pp. 121, 122 (Eng. trans.).

“The atheistic systems of Germany,” says Lichtenberger, “have raised the standard, or rather the ‘red rag’ of Radicalism and Nihilism; and have professed that their one and only principle was the very absence of principles. The one bond which unites them at bottom is their hatred of religion and of Christianity.”—History of German Theology in the Nineteenth Century, p. 370 (Eng. trans.).

“It is not here our business,” says Beyschlag, “philosophically to arrange matters between the Christian theistic ‘Weltanschauung’ on the one side, and the deistic, or pantheistic, or materialistic, on the other, which latter have first to fight out their mortal conflict with one another.”—Leben Jesu, i. p. 10.

A few examples in concreto will point the moral better than many general statements.

The columns of the Nineteenth Century for 1884 witnessed an interesting controversy between Mr. Herbert Spencer and Mr. Frederick Harrison, in which some pretty hard words were bandied to and fro between the combatants. Mr. Spencer had written a paper (“Religious Retrospect and Prospect,” January 1884), developing his theory of the origin of religion from ghost-worship, and expounding his own substitute for decaying religious faith. To this Mr. Harrison replied in a vigorous article (July 1884), ridiculing Mr. Spencer’s proposed substitute as “The Ghost of Religion,” and scoffing at his “Unknowable” as “an ever-present conundrum to be everlastingly given up.” Extending his attack to certain modern Theisms, he said, “The Neo-Theisms have all the same mortal weakness that the Unknowable has. They offer no kinship, sympathy, or relation whatever between worshippers and worshipped. They, too, are logical formulas begotten in controversy, dwelling apart from men and the world.” “Tacitly implying,” retorts Mr. Spencer, in a later round of the controversy, “that Mr. Harrison’s religion supplies this relation” (November 1884), which, as he shows at great length, it does not (“Retrogressive Religion,” July 1884). Sir James Stephen also had offended Mr. Spencer by describing his “Unknowable” (June 1884) as “like a gigantic soap-bubble, not burst, but blown thinner and thinner till it has become absolutely imperceptible”; and Mr. Harrison also returns to the attack (“Agnostic Metaphysics,” September 1884).

In a subsequent controversy, Mr. Harrison fares as badly at the hands of Professor Huxley as he did at those of Mr. Spencer. Replying to an article of his on “The Future of Agnosticism,” Professor Huxley says: “I am afraid I can say nothing which shall manifest my personal respect for this able writer, and for the zeal and energy with which he ever and anon galvanises the weakly frame of Positivism, until it looks more than ever like 374John Bunyan’s Pope and Pagan rolled into one. There is a story often repeated, and I am afraid none the less mythical on that account, of a valiant and loud-voiced corporal, in command of two full privates, who, falling in with a regiment of the enemy in the dark, orders it to surrender under pain of instant annihilation by his force; and the enemy surrenders accordingly. I am always reminded of this tale when I read the Positivist commands to the forces of Christianity and of science; only, the enemy shows no more signs of intending to obey now than they have done any time these forty years.”—“Agnosticism,” in Nineteenth Century, February 1889.866866Mr. Harrison complains (Fortnightly Review, October 1892) that Mr. Huxley, in this article, has held him up “to public ridicule as pontiff, prophet, general humbug, and counterpart of Joe Smith the Mormon,” and tries to show how much agreement, mostly in negations, underlies their differences.

Mr. Samuel Laing, author of Modern Science and Modern Thought, probably regards himself as quite a typical representative of the modern spirit. The “old creeds,” he informs us “must be transformed or die.” Unfortunately, not content with assailing other people’s creeds, he undertook the construction of one of his own,867867“It appears that Mr. Gladstone, some time ago, asked Mr. Laing if he could draw up a short summary of the negative creed; a body of negative propositions which have so far been adopted on the negative aide as to be what the Apostles’ and other accepted creeds are on the positive; and Mr. Laing at once kindly obliged Mr. Gladstone with the desired articles—eight of them.”—Professor Huxley, as above. concerning which Professor Huxley writes: “I speak only for my. self, and I do not dream of anathematising and excommunicating Mr. Laing. But when I consider his creed, and compare it with the Athanasian, I think I have, on the whole, a clearer conception of the meaning of the latter. ‘Polarity,’ in Art. viii., for example, is a word about which I heard a good deal in my youth, when ‘Natur-philosophie’ was in fashion, and greatly did I suffer from it. For many years past, whenever I have met with ‘polarity’ anywhere but in a discussion of some purely physical topic, such as magnetism, I have shut the book. Mr. Laing must excuse me if the force of habit was too much for me when I read his eighth article.”—Nineteenth Century, February 1889. Mr. Laing’s own book is a good example of how these “modern” systems eat and devour one another. See his criticisms of theories in chap. vii., etc.

Mr. Rathbone Greg is another writer who laboured hard to demolish “the creed of Christendom,” while retaining a great personal reverence for Jesus. His concessions on this subject, however, did not meet with much favour on his own side. Mr. F. W. Newman, in an article on “The New Christology,” in the Fortnightly Review (December 1873), thus speaks of his general treatment: “He has tried and proved the New Testament, and has found it wanting, not only as to historical truth, but as to moral and religious wisdom; yet he persists in the effort of hammering out of it what shall be a ‘guide of life.’ In fact, he learns by studying the actual world of man; but in his theory he is to discover a fountain of wisdom, by 375penetrating to some essence in a book which he esteems very defective and erroneous. This is ‘to rebuild the things he has destroyed.’ To sit in judgment on Jesus of Nazareth, and convict Him of glaring errors, as a first step, and then, as a second, set Him on a pedestal to glorify Him as the most Divine of men and the sublimest of teachers, a perpetual miracle,—is a very lame and inconsequent proceeding. . . . Mr. Greg, as perhaps all our Unitarians, desires a purified gospel. Why, then, is not such a thing published? No doubt, because it is presently found that nearly every sentence has to he either cut out or rewritten.”

Mr. Greg and Mr. Newman are Theists. The latter even writes: “The claim of retaining a belief in God, while rejecting a Personal God, I do not know how to treat with respect.” Mr. Fiske also, author of Cosmic Philosophy, is in his own way a Theist. But “Physicus,” another representative of the “modern” view, in his Candid Examination of Theism, can see no evidence for the existence of a God, and speaks thus of Mr. Fiske’s attempt to develop Theism out of Mr. Spencer’s philosophy: “I confess that, on first seeing his work, I experienced a faint hope that, in the higher departments of of evolution as conceived by Mr. Spencer, and elaborated by disciple, there might be found some rational justification for an attenuated form of Theism. But on examination I find that the bread which these fathers have offered us turns out to be a stone....We have but to think of the disgust with which the vast majority of living persons would regard the sense in which Mr. Fiske uses the term ‘Theism,’ to perceive how intimate is the association of that term with the idea of a Personal God. Such persons will feel strongly that, by this final act of purification, Mr. Fiske has simply purified the Deity altogether out of existence.”—Candid Examination, essay on “Cosmic Theism,” pp. 131, 138, and throughout.868868It has already been noted that the author, Mr. G. J. Romanes, returned later to the Christian faith. See his Thoughts on Religion, edited by Canon Gore (1895).

Thus the strife goes on. Strauss, in his Old Faith and the New, refutes Pessimism; but Hartmann, the Pessimist, retorts on Strauss that he has “no philosophic head,” and shows the ridiculousness of his demand that we should love the Universe. “It is a rather strong, or rather naive claim, that we should experience a sentiment of religious piety and dependence for a ‘Universum’ which is only an aggregate of all material substances, and which threatens every instant to crush us between the wheels and teeth of its pitiless mechanism.”—Selbstzer. des Christ. Pref. and p. 81.

Hartmann may as well speak of the “Selbstzersetzung” and “Zersplitterung” of unbelief, as of the disintegration of Christianity.

« Prev Lecture I. Note E—P. 9. Internal Conflicts of the… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection