Should Smith Go to Church?

An anonymous author explores the dilemma of an average American going to church in an industrial age.

The unpleasant thought comes to him that the clergy are in the same boat as a lawyer conducting a case at court: that they have taken their retainer and are not free to present other than the one side. All the ethics of their profession inhibit them from the expression of views contrary to the dogma that they represent. Nevertheless he recognizes that their teaching has righteousness in view, and so far as he may be of aid to them in helping along the cause of righteousness, he is willing and glad to do so; but in matters of belief he wishes that they would let him alone. If others feel that they achieve merit by the faith that is in them, he has no objection; he neither argues against it, nor does he oppose them. In his heart he feels that it is better for him to work things out as may than to lie about what he does not believe. This is the substance of his resentment against the Church: that it urges him to affirm that which he does not believe to be true.

The pressure upon him, however is very strong, so he goes to church again, and hears the usual appeal, demanding how anyone can resist the example of the only life that ever was lived without stain or flaw. But he knows that the preacher, no matter how honest he be, can only give record of about three years of that life, and assumes the rest. Surely there is nothing new in this knowledge; he has always known what he knows now, and so has substantially the whole Christian world. The facts remain just what they were. The difference lies in the angle of Smith's vision, in the order in which it seems necessary to him to arrange the facts so as to get a vision of the truth; thus, although he does not enter into any dispute about it, what the preacher says does not go into him.

Again, he hears a tirade against divorce, with quotations from Scripture to support its prohibition, but he knows that divorce is occasionally a real human need, whether the clergy approve or not; and that marriage should sometimes be severed in spite of ecclesiastical condemnation. Ecclesiastical law does not appeal to him as based upon present need.

Appeals for aid for foreign missions usually rouse his ire. He does not try to explain why; perhaps it is because the missionaries are not his neighbors, and he can vent against them his impatience at the whole Christian establishment without incurring the ill—will of those of his neighbors who do not think as he. Smith is very human! He hears horrible tales of the perversity of the heathen, but since there is so large a fraction of organized Christianity to which he cannot subscribe, he thinks that there may well be a considerable fraction of heathen ways that are not so bad. He may not think well of the theory and practice of the Christian religion as he knows it, but he is sure he would defend it if some foreigner were to come to his home town and tell all the people that they were living in vileness; and he sympathizes with the foreigner who resents the American missionary. As for medical and social helpers, he would think more of them and have all praise for them if, being inspired with the need of their work in foreign fields, they were to go out from sheer love of it, and make their own way among the people they desire to help.

Occasionally an effort is made to stem the tide of Sabbath-breaking. He does not protest. He is wholly willing to avoid interference with those who find it to their souls' good to devote the day to services and meditation. As for him, he knows that he is better off for an outing, and at the expense of his reputation among thepious, he goes fishing, plays golf or tennis—in short, he lives his life as his experience shows him is best. He is not disturbed over the idea that he is exercising an influence for evil in doing so; he is very democratic, and is of opinion that people in humble circumstances may have as good minds as he, and may have the same way oflooking at things; and he thinks that they should not be hindered from enjoying themselves, either. In short,strangely enough, his attitude toward the Church is distinctly the Christian one of non-resistance. His unbelief is condemned, and his way of life is held to be evil, the while it is the best that he can do; and to all this he makes no reply. The Church condemns while the unbelieving sinner forgives.

Smith is a man capable of prayer. He yearns, as do so many sincere men, for a way unto God. Of course he could say that he believes all that the Church requires of him. That would be a lie, even though it consisted only in acknowledging his belief that Jesus Christ is his salvation, and that the Bible is the inspired word of God, the father of us all. It would be the eas­iest way, because all the brethren and sisters would encourage him that he was doing that which is right. Still, he refuses to be other than severely honest in this matter, and so he holds his peace. Evil report is upon him if he makes known his unbelief in the dogmas that oppose his way unto God. So he goes his way without offending, wishing for a light unto his spirit, but neither asking nor receiving from those who condemn.

Lately I had a talk with a very earnest and efficient officer of the Young Womens' Christian Association. We discussed their objects and work, and I could not but admire their large and comprehensive helpfulness. Finally I asked her if she could see the time ahead when they would work together with Unitarians, Catholics, and Jews. 'I have a vision of it,' she said; 'although I shall probably not live to see it.'

 'What do you need to bring it about?' I asked.

 'Only some funerals,' she answered.

I believe the time is coming when the fence of dogma will be broken down, and no one will be asked to lie, and none will be condemned for his vision of the truth. It may not be, perhaps, until Paul and Peter and John have ceased to speak with authority, until the Torah and the Talmud idea are laid aside, and the bishops and prelates and dignitaries and presbyters have gone their way into a forgotten past, that the day will dawn when the Church shall cease to curse and shall live by love alone. Until then it is better to leave Smith in peace, so long as he is a good man. He is thinking, and none of us knows the way yet. Some day we may all be able to go to church together, being neither Catholic nor Protestant nor Jew, but all praising God.

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