« PreviousContinue »
THE period through which we are passing has been characterized with great accuracy and felicity by Mr. Walter Lippmann as one of simultaneous drift and mastery: mastery of detail, combined with drift in the matter of the paramount interests of life and its direction as a whole. In no way is this state of things more clearly demonstrated than by the contrast between our great and constant advances in scientific knowledge and the control of the world's material resources, and the everincreasing confusion, obscurity and uncertainty in the domain of morals and religion. We know more about the trees than our forebears, and can handle them with unprecedented skill; but of the dimensions of the wood, and of the chances of finding a path through it, we do not know. Indeed, we are tempted to despair of the possibility of knowing. Our impulse is towards agreeing with Auguste Comte in his assertion that metaphysical inquiry is vain, and that we must deliberately limit ourselves to the field of the phenomenal, in which “positive” knowledge and “positive” results are obtainable.
And yet the soul of man refuses to acquiesce permanently in such a proposal. We cannot remain satisfied with building a roof to our house and calling it the sky. Moreover, a little attention convinces us that we cannot attain to mastery in those departments of life where to-day we are adrift, unless we can discover some sovereign principle whereby to co-ordinate our activities and to orient them towards goals which shall command our
spontaneous and rational loyalty. Such a principle is not to be found in the phenomenal world. The Positivist maxims of Love, Order and Progress, of devotion to Family, Country and Humanity, are not self-justifying to the post-Nietzschean age, if they ever were before; nor can they be vindicated without overstepping the limit which Comte arbitrarily prescribed to investigation. Agnosticism is, no doubt, a right and wise attitude in regard to many questions, but agnosticism as to the question of the worth of life, as to the essential difference between right and wrong, or as to the qualities of character which men should strive to develop in themselves, is a fatal disease, paralyzing to the will, and involving ultimately the suicide of the mind. Now the scientific attitude, with its equal and impartial interest in all facts, is bound to be agnostic on these issues, where the supreme interests of life demand clear and confident conviction.
We need, then, something in the nature of a religious faith upon which we can all agree. Yet the bare statement of this as a desideratum is calculated to excite ironical laughter. What is easier than to point to the endless differences even among that minority which still adheres to the various organized forms of religion, or to remind us that a large majority has turned its back upon them all? To hope for a time when the existing Churches shall have composed their differences and arrived at unity of faith and polity seems utopian. In so far as various Churches are co-operating in philanthropic and social work, they are doing so only after carefully stipulating not to discuss the vital principles which inspire them. Moreover, even if we could anticipate that within the next twenty or thirty years the Protestant sects will attain to unity among themselves, what hope