Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

subject, the larger part of the world is necessarily in disastrous error. Toleration, therefore, may fairly be called an evil (and the same applies to persecution equally well), inasmuch as it is but the name for a way of bearing evil; just as patience under a calamity, or a painful struggle against it, are really names for that calamity as falling on a patient or a resolute man.

I

But, though on due occasion the Catholic Church would be doubtless as ready in the future as it has been in the past to express its spirit of intolerance in the practice of persecution, it is to be observed that a very important change has grown into that spirit, which would be sure to influence the character of the practice. Catholicism, it is observed commonly, is essentially opposed to progress: it stands apart from, and unsoftened by the progress of mankind outside it. Nothing, however, can be more untrue than this. The moral sense of the Church is a thing for ever capable, not indeed of change, but of development; and the Church's way of regarding heresy and atheism is a noticeable instance of this. In former times she invariably regarded these as crimes; now she is growing to regard them as, at least in most cases, misfortunes. Her intolerance is, therefore, gradually losing its old vindictive character. And this change seems to have come about from the recognition of two facts; of which, whilst they both make misbelievers seem less deserving of consideration, the second makes misbelief seem even

more so.

The first of these facts is the general intellectual confusion in which the world is at present, and the evident desire for light in many who proclaim most loudly that for the human eye when open, the only possible spectacle must be always but darkness visible. other words, the existence of invincible ignorance is becoming more and more clearly recognised.

The second fact is, though less obvious, perhaps even more important. It is, that erroneous opinions must not be judged by their immediate fruits. They may take a long time before they become practically operative, and thus, though their present exponents may themselves be excellent men, the results of the system they advocate may be by-and-by practically execrable. The history of Protestantism, though it is not an example of this, is an excellent illustration. The original reformers did not deny the validity of dogmatic teaching themselves; on the contrary, they strenuously supported it; and for a long while their position, thus far, seemed a secure one. But as time has gone on, the real meaning of their position has become slowly apparent. It is seen that their principles have an application far wider than they ever dreamt they could have; and this application is now being made daily with a more and more pitiless logic. Protestantism is dividing itself into sects more and more numerous, and these naturally regard each other with an increasing tolerance.

They have nothing to hold them together; they have no common standards to appeal to; and thus, each for a time having claimed exclusive truth for itself, the conviction is now dawning that it can rationally be claimed for none. But it has taken three centuries to make this quite evident-to deduce the theological conclusions of Dean Stanley from the theological premisses of Luther. In the same way the present advocates of Atheism or Agnosticism may themselves be moral men, just as Luther was a dogmatic man; but their morality, in the course of years, will meet with the same fate as Luther's theology. This view of the matter will at once justify the largest charity towards Atheists, combined with the most absolute condemnation of Atheism. It will enable us, without the least confusion of either thought or feeling, to love the former, whilst we hate the latter.

This absolute dependence of morality upon religion, or rather the interdependence of the two, is of course denied by many. But I am speaking now from the stand-point of those who admit it; and these include many who are opposed, theoretically, alike to dogmatism and intolerance. Sir James Stephen himself, than whom no one on religious points could be less dogmatic, has said that, to see the moral value of a belief in God, we must wait to see a generation grow up on whom this belief has not had the slightest influence; and then he says, 'the light thrown on the subject may prove possibly to be a very lurid one.'

All this I have just said as to intolerance and persecution is, I am well aware, not new. My arguments, as it were, lie upon every man's table; but, to judge from the language heard and the ideas held so commonly, they lie in general in a state of litter and confusion, which renders them worse than useless for any practical purpose. In a former paper I described my aim in writing as that of an intellectual chimney-sweeper. I may compare it, in the present one, to that of an intellectual housemaid. I have been trying to arrange the litter, which every man has at his elbow-to sort and dust his thoughts for him, and show him what they really come to.

There are one or two things further, that still remain to be said. The matter in question may be rendered clearer, if we look a little more narrowly into our own daily practice, and see how much of intolerance, and of persecution also, of necessity enters into them. Let us consider the law of our own country first. That law is largely based upon certain definite views as to morality, and is to a certain extent enforced by reason of them. There is a certain censorship of the press and of the theatre; and there are certain offences which, simply from their supposed immorality, are treated and punished as crimes of the gravest kind. Now all these are offences which, from the principles of modern Agnosticism, may not only be logically defended, but cannot be logically blamed. When the law, therefore,

punishes them, it acts strictly as a religious persecutor. It is the expression of the intolerance of a moral dogmatism. The man who gives a sentence of penal servitude for a revolting moral offence, and the licenser who prohibits a play because of its violation of decency, are respectively in the exact logical position of an ecclesiastical persecutor. If, then, there is any degree of immorality which the law will be justified in prohibiting, any speculative opinions which will lead to such immorality must surely fall equally within the law's cognisance. The most tolerant of men would probably not wish to tolerate the opening in Piccadilly of a public temple to Priapus, nor even the delivery of lectures in which men were urged to his practical worship, let the speculative ground of this teaching seem never so sound and rational. Or let us take the theory of medicine. A quack is at perfect liberty to theorise about such matters as much as he pleases, and to publish his theories. But if the publication of such theories could be proved to infallibly result in the sale of poisonous drugs, the law would very soon step in, and the publication would be prohibited. We may come nearer home than this. What is the education of any child but a system grounded on intolerance and carried out through persecution? If a Protestant mother keeps a Jesuit out of her house, that, in its own degree, is a religious persecution. If a father burns a licentious book, lest his boy shall read and be corrupted by it, in burning that book he, so far as is practicable, burns the author of it. Law-suits often arise, in these days, between parents of different religions as to which shall have the religious care of the children. What is it that, on either side, each parent claims? It is the right to a religious persecution on the child's behalf.

Finally, if persecution should still seem such a barbarous thing to contemplate, and such a sinister thing to anticipate, let us again remember what is its only possible end and its only legitimate condition. Regarded in its usual and more extended sense, it can fulfil its own end only when it represents the conviction of the vast majority; and if ever it be again had recourse to in the future, let us consider what that conviction it represents will be. It will be the deliberate and the solemn conviction of every one worth considering in the world; it will be a conviction led up to or sustained by every branch of human study, every exercise of the human intellect, and the need of every human emotion that humanity agrees to reverence. In other words, a religion, to persecute in the future, will need to represent and embody the entire intellect, morals, and force-in other words, the whole higher humanity—of the nation that arms it for this purpose. Until some religion does that, persecution is a thing we need none of us fear; when it does that, it is a thing that we shall all of us welcome.

Meanwhile, as far as the Catholic Church goes, she watches the

evils round her, and at once deplores and makes the best of them. She knows that it must needs be that offences come; but she knows, too, that these offences may work together for good; nor does she refuse to profit by many that do not follow after her. Whatever is good outside herself, she is theoretically capable of taking into herself and assimilating; whilst the intellectual spectacle of the present, and the intellectual experience of the past, are combining to alike intensify her condemnation of error and to melt her anger towards the victims of it.

It may be well, perhaps, to conclude this paper-the last of my present series-by stating that my criticisms of Catholicism are not the criticisms of a Catholic, but of a complete outsider-of a literal sceptic-who is desirous, in considering the religious condition of our time, to estimate fairly and fully the character and the prospects of the one existing religion that seems still capable either of appealing to or of appeasing it.

W. H. MALLOCK.

VERIFY YOUR COMPASS.

Of the many ethical errors to which humanity is prone, is one which is curiously common, and yet against which, as curiously, we are little on our guard. It is difficult to correct because it is not easy to recognise. It is not that we are habitually given to follow our impulses that error is too universal to be astonished at, or written about. It is that we are so apt to be proud of our failings, to worship our weaknesses, to canonise our defects, to mistake the beacon which should warn us off the rocks for the lighthouse which was designed to direct us into port-to enthrone in our blindness the very qualities and fancies and predilections which we ought sedulously to watch, and severely to imprison-to dress them up as idols and then worship them as gods-to glorify them with a hallowed name, and then to obey them with a devoted loyalty which is almost touching, and which would be admirable were it not so easy, so mischievous, and so tenacious. We take, as our guide in life, some Will-of-the-Wisp which is the mere miasma of our fancies and our passions, and follow it as if it were the Pillar of Fire which was sent to point our course amid the pathless desert and the forest gloom. We do this in all sincerity-often indeed almost unconsciously; nay, it may even be that those who fancy themselves virtuous, and who pass as virtuous in others' estimation, are specially liable thus to swerve from the true line; and then when we have gone far astray and have done much wrong, some of us pause amazed and aghast, and a few—very few indeed-perceive their error and repent. Probably of all qualities which have done most business in this way, one of the most notable and most rarely recognised is that which goes by the name of Conscientiousness. In noting the curious amount of mischief this has wrought in the world, as well as the smiling self-approval and inflated complacency of the perpetrators, we are provoked to inquire whether this may not be the most active of the faults which contrive to get themselves canonised as virtues, or at least knighted or coroneted as such, by an inconsiderate and hasty public.

We have most of us the misfortune to be connected, or at least acquainted, with a man who is a slave to his conscience,' and who

« AnteriorContinua »