More on politics and society from The Atlantic Monthly.
The Atlantic Monthly | January 1912
can only hope, in this paper, to sketch certain lines of thought which soon lose themselves in the mists of the future. Religion and government have come hand in hand down the ages, government expressed by monarchy, religion by hierarchy. Is not the transformation of government by what may be called the Protestant principle, that placing of authority in the individual soul,—where it seems that Christ would have it,—the death-sentence of hierarchy? And, on the other hand, is not this leaven, fatal at once to hierarchy and monarchy, changing our whole conception of government? The sense of responsibility for our fellow men is gradually creeping into government. What will be the Church of the future? Who can say? That process which at a casual glance appears to be disintegration is perceived, on closer inspection, to be a precipitation of the foreign elements hitherto mixed with Christianity, an absorption of the Spirit of Christ into the very life of the nation itself.
Modern Government and Christianity
by Winston Churchill*
In spite of the gross materialism which we behold to-day on every side, and which is apparently triumphant and ascendant, there are not many thoughtful readers of the Atlantic, I venture to say, who have not felt on occasions certain throbbing, spiritual currents. Perhaps these readers have asked themselves the questions, as I have: 'What are they? Whence are they?'
Although signs and portents are not lacking elsewhere in this pregnant twentieth century, let us confine ourselves to America, where we have seen a great wave, like an electrical storm, sweep over our country from the Atlantic to the Pacific. People called it political.
Was it political? Many men I know were gripped by it, heated into something like incandescence. We neglected our professions, we went around the state in which we live and into other states, making speeches with other men impelled by the same motive, and we kept on in spite of wholesale criticism and denunciation. When some of us stopped to think, we were puzzled, for we had never gone so far as to regard ourselves as altruistic. Was this feeling merely patriotism, merely the natural indignation of American citizens who have discovered that organizations of men have seized control of their institutions for private gain? Or was it something more?
We were, at least, taking an ethical view of politics; and it was this attitude, I found, that was most resented by our opponents. They flatly declared that the introduction of morals into politics was mischievous: that the Republican party represented one economic theory of conducting the government, and the Democratic party another. That was all there was to it. But, if this were so, what of the dreamers and idealists who wrote and signed that immortal document in the history of government, the Declaration of Independence? What of that same Republican party, now insisting on economics, which had fought and won the greatest moral issue of the nineteenth century?
It seems to me that all our questions point the same way. People are paying no attention to these utterances of the politicians. They are saying, 'Give us a good man, be he Democrat or Republican.' And what is a good man but a Christian? What is the good man they desire but one who does not apply the individualistic theory of the survival of the fittest to society?
In short, we began to see more and more clearly that God is in politics. That he always has been, and always will be. That in some greater and higher sense than we had yet perceived, the saying, vox populi vox dei, is eternally true. He enters into the hearts of the people and moves them, and so the world progresses. God is in politics, to the confusion of politicians. And when these mysterious, quickening currents are abroad, we must believe that mankind is ready for another step forward.
Can any person, I wonder, who has seen and perhaps addressed the great political audiences of the past few years fail to be led into reflections more or less profound? I have known old men and young men, and women with children in their arms, to sit for more than two hours on a hot night listening to—what? Fireworks and rhetoric, claptrap? Not at all. Sober discussions of political problems,—yet problems that involve a greater content still. Who has looked into the upturned faces of these people and not beheld there an intense, unsatisfied yearning? Politics alone do not fill them, nor ethics alone.
The truth is that we are at the dawning of an age, spiritual like all the great ages which have preceded it.
Let any one of us look around him, and talk to his neighbors, humble or prosperous, and see if he does not find a spiritual craving. Last year I said to a prominent publisher, 'Send me your recent books on religion.' His answer was that they would fill my library.
A medical specialist recently gave it as his opinion, that most of the so-called nervous prostration of to-day is due to a lack of religious belief.
Several men I know, who represent widely divergent elements in American life, are looking for books to read, and showing a willingness to discuss a subject which they had thought to have settled forever. That subject is religion. The history of most of these men is a familiar one. They were brought up in orthodox Christian homes, but when they went to school and college, what they were taught of history, of science, the conception they were given of the universe, differed so sharply from their religious instruction that they went through the process of reading the agnostic books of twenty years ago, and lost their faith. They weighed what they believed to be Christianity in the balance, and found it wanting. I repeat,—what they believed to be Christianity.
The thought-currents are playing upon them. To one or two, poignant sorrows have come; to others, lack of worldly success; and to others still, a vague sense of the emptiness of a life that does not include service,—and a desire for service and for the faith which is its driving force. And the majority of them, I think, with few exceptions, have had, in the last few years some of the glaring inequalities and injustices of our modern civilization sharply called to their attention, and have been moved to a certain pity, indignation, and shame.
Ask the average men who are not connected with any church—ask even some who are so connected—what their conception of the Christian religion is. The answers will be interesting and varied. Think of the people we all may count among our acquaintances, who are studying Buddhism and Sufism and Babism! All of this means something; it is surely a sign of the age. It indicates a want which even scientists now tell us exists in the human heart—the necessity of religion.
Why is it that Christianity as presented to these people has not satisfied them as it satisfied their fathers? The answer to that question, I firmly believe, lies in the fact that the evolution begun four hundred years ago is not yet completed; that we are still in a state of transition. And to get at the true causes we shall have to go back to the sixteenth century, to the time of Martin Luther himself. Luther began it. Luther lighted a fire which was to burn through the centuries, despite the efforts of men to quench it; which was and is to endure until all the misconception and superstition are consumed; until the deathless Spirit, the true idea of God as Christ preached it, alone remains. The true idea of God, and the true idea of government. For they are intimately related. Church and State, and State and Church.
It cannot be said that Luther's was merely a revolt against abuses. It was infinitely more than that, and we are just beginning to realize to-day something of the extent of it. Martin Luther liberated the idea which is embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
Before I come to dwell on this, I would point out that modern learning and modern science had their birth, too, in Luther's time, and the overwhelming knowledge that is ours is the result of that liberation. We are moving very rapidly to-day: the accumulation of knowledge, the momentum it has acquired, make it very difficult to keep pace with the bewildering developments going on around us. The gap between succeeding generations is widening by leaps and bounds, and what appeared logical to our fathers and mothers in the last quarter of the nineteenth century is no longer logical to us in the first quarter of the twentieth. This process has been going on for four hundred years, until now, by some incalculable mathematical progression, it has attained a speed that leaves us breathless.
Each generation seeks and demands harmony in the relations of life, harmony between religion, science, history and government. It is becoming increasingly apparent, for example, in spite of any seeming indications to the contrary, that a civilization cannot hold at the same time a pre-reformation idea of the Church and a post-reformation idea of government.
Now the question is continually asked by sincere men and women today who feel in their lives the need of which I have spoken, 'Can Christianity be presented to me in such terms of modern thought that I may accept and embrace it?' Nor must we contend that these people are averse from faith. Is there such a thing as a reasonable faith? Put the matter in another way: is not our religion, as Christ really taught and lived it, independent of all changes in scientific conceptions?
If we have eyes to see, and ears to hear, there is no lack of portents that the fermentation—if it may be called so—begun in the time of Luther is growing toward culmination, that we stand on the threshold of a greater religious era than the world has ever seen. And by some mysterious, guiding thought, the men who are led into politics, into literature, into sociology and science,—science, whereby suffering and disease are relieved and lessened and life is made in a thousand ways more useful,—all these men—yes, and women—are slowly beginning to see that they are doing the work of God, the work of Christ on earth. God is a Spirit. So Christ taught—a quickening Spirit.
As history—the meaning of history through modern knowledge—grows clearer to us, we are able to approach the Gospels and the life of our Lord more and more nearly with the freshness of mind and absence of false tradition of the Christians of the time of St. Paul.
It was only yesterday, it seems to me, that I was able to put thoroughly out of my mind the idea that I got in my youth, the notion that heaven was a definite place above the panoply of the sky, and God an awful, wrathful and majestic being who dwelt there—a God outside. Such is the persistence, in religion, of a medieval cosmogony. Now, such a God as this I have described was quite in harmony with medieval life and ideas. The church was then science, philosophy, theology, and religion embodied in one. And the conception of the Church, while God lived in it and worked through it, was nevertheless a delegated conception in the extreme sense of the word—not in the sense, just as high, in which so many of us think of it now. God, in a far distant heaven, appointed the Church as his sole spiritual agency, and the King as his sole governmental agency.
All this, I repeat, was in harmony with life in that age. And wherever a man went he found Mother Church, Christianity as he believed in it, institutions and seats of learning in agreement. All non-understandable phenomena of a terrifying nature were the work of evil spirits, as they still are in parts of Italy and Spain to-day. The Borgias went from mass to murder and murder to mass in spite of the injunction, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' But there was harmony, because the teaching as a whole was entirely suited to the medieval mind.
Then, in the sixteenth century, began the revolution, or evolution, the end of which, after four hundred years, is not yet. The new learning, the new science, the new government,—and in religion, what? New in one sense; in another as old as the reign of the Caesars. I believe that that evolution will, after the terrible struggles, end in another harmony: if it be admissible to use the term, a higher harmony.
That which characterized the revolt from ecclesiastical tyranny was the love of truth. The love of truth is the love of God, and many of those seekers after truth were pioneers indeed, who risked their souls rather than their bodies to find it. It is a terrible reflection when we stop to consider that the beginnings of all our modern knowledge of ourselves, the Universe, history, the Bible, our modern ideas of government even, are due to the courageous opposition of these pioneers against the persecution of the church of Christ on earth,—of Christ, who said, 'God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.'
We Americans believe that the idea which is at the foundation of our institutions represented, at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a distinct advance in the history and evolution of government. But was there not embodied in that Declaration, so sacred to us as patriots, something equally sacred to us as Christians and lovers of truth? What was it? It was an advance—in what was to become a nation that was to take a lead among nations—in the idea of God.
God, for Jew and Christian, and even for the pagan, has always been the most vital element in government. We see it in ancient Egypt, and in the Roman Empire: we see it in Israel. And just as we turn to Greece for art and to Rome for law, we turn to Israel for religion. What was the Jew's conception of God? He was our God. We can recognize him in Isaiah, in the Psalms, in the Pentateuch. Yet he was, as they conceived him, something of an Oriental despot,—but not wholly. He was more. He was the kind, just father of his chosen people, but outside of them, in a place above the roof of the sky which they called heaven. He was a God who ruled by laws which he had sent down from heaven and given to Moses; he was God who demanded sacrifice.
Then Jesus came with a new and bewildering idea of him, so transcendent that many, many generations were to elapse before the world could begin to grasp something of the full meaning of it. God is a father; not the father of a nation, but the father of every man and woman who walks the earth, of the publican, of the sinner and the outcast as well as of the fortunate; a father who is ready to recognize the spirit of Godhood in each, no matter into what state of bestiality he has deteriorated; man may become, by recognizing God in his true relationship, a responsible, autonomous being. 'I will arise and go to my Father.' How? Manfully, not ingratiatingly: not with presents to propitiate him, but with the offer of service—the only acceptable thing.
'Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.' And is there, in all the gospel, any emblematic act more sublime than that final attempt, at the last sorrowful supper, of Our Lord to impress upon his disciples the meaning of his mission? We can hear the amazed cry of Peter, 'Lord, dost thou wash my feet?' and Jesus saying to him, 'What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.' He, the Messiah, washing their feet! Incomprehensible! What was the idea of God conveyed in this act?
Our Lord taught no system of government, but he brought into the world the germ, the seed, the idea that was to change all governments. He came to show an ignorant, groping humanity what God was. Behold the bewildered Pilate, who could not rid his mind of the obsession of monarchy, demanding, 'Art thou a king then?' And Jesus answering wearily, 'To this end was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should bear witness of the truth.'
Read the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which the Roman historian dismisses so contemptuously in a few words; consider its simple but sublime teaching, put forth amid such trials and sorrows; think of the darkness and desolation of that Good Friday, when even the disciples had fled in terror, and then of the joy of these same disciples at the Resurrection—defeat turned into victory. Can it be possible that Peter, who had followed the footsteps of one who had deliberately made himself lowly among men, Peter, whose feet Christ had washed—that this Peter so misinterpreted his life and teachings that he went to Rome and became a high priest himself, and founded the greatest hierarchy the world has ever known?
The Acts and Epistles have enabled us more or less vividly to picture those early churches in Asia Minor, in Greece, yes, and in Rome itself. 'And he gave some to be apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.' There, in all its social simplicity, is the organization of Christ's church—each worker according to his talent. We may well believe that the blessing of God has descended from one head to another, from one spirit to another, thus going back to the Divine Source of all—our Lord himself.
It is interesting to consider the form of government taken by those early churches which were nearest to the life teachings of the Lord. He did not prescribe their form; he prescribed no form; it was taken naturally, as the result of his teachings. Those churches or communities, with their overseers and presbyters, have been called by some modern writers democracies. We shall not quarrel about the name. We are more concerned with the spirit with which each Christian citizen was imbued the spirit of Christ himself, helpfulness toward his neighbor, love of his neighbor. That gave the life to the community, and made its simple form possible.
Gradually, as we read history, we see a change coming over the form of government of the Church, a reactionary change. Rome being the centre and metropolis of the empire, as Christianity spread, the church in Rome as a matter of course took precedence. The empire was wide, communication was slow. Heresies, like Gnosticism, arose, and if the body of Christians were to be held together, if the Church were to remain united, a certain uniformity of belief was imperative. Then came the fall of the Roman Empire, and the rise of the Church from its ashes; the Church transformed, no longer a collection of simple communities, but a hierarchy and a temporal power combined, which was to exercise undisputed sway over kings and nations, over mind and soul for a thousand years. What had been a social democracy had become a monarchy, with high priests and princes of its own.
A monarchical God, a monarchical government, a monarchical church. We see the Church stoutly upholding a theory called the divine right of kings—God in the vice-riddled rulers of France, God in Charles Stuart.
The marvelous thing to contemplate is that, throughout the transformation, she consorted with kings, she upheld monarchy, but the poor and humble she never forgot.
Even after the Reformation, monarchy, for the majority of our race, remained the logical form of government. Read John Bunyan, in spite of the allegory. But with religious enlightenment, which was the result of the translation of the Bible, and especially of the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul, came slowly and imperceptibly—so slowly and imperceptibly that men themselves did not perceive whither they were going—another idea of God and another idea of government. What hand led the Pilgrims across the deep? What faith inspired them, what force sustained them on rigorous, inhospitable shores? God was still a terrible God for them. And yet they, and others who came here, Anglicans and Quakers, Baptists and Methodists and Presbyterians,—yes, and Roman Catholics, for Maryland sought for independence and Charles Carroll signed the Declaration,—all grew gradually to perceive, although they may not have argued it out in this way, that God had not delegated their government to a man who sat on the other side of the water, and who called himself 'George the Third, King by the grace of God.' No, God had brought them, in his own way, to the knowledge that his real dwelling-place was in the bosom of mankind. Government was there. What a casting off of false, what a taking on of true authority was that same Declaration of Independence!
By what authority? The baptism of John, was it of the Jewish hierarchy, or of God? The government of Washington and Lincoln, was it of God? or of the royal line of England?
I cannot refrain, here, from saying a word in connection with that other country with which we are united by ties of kindred and affection. Their struggle for liberty and truth has been parallel with our own. Nay, it is our own, for ours began in England.
As the meaning of history, of God's hand in history, becomes plain to us, a fact of remarkable significance stands out. We see that our Declaration of Independence had a vital religious significance: it was the first application of what may be called the Protestant principle to what was to become government on a large scale. We, representing a race in the van of civilization, had left one idea of government and religion behind us forever, and were slowly and painfully advancing toward another. Who will read the story of the revolt in Luther's day and say it was not political, as well as religious? It shook the very foundations of society.
The new Republic proclaimed to the world that transfer of authority to which the Reformation logically pointed—this is what I should like to make clear. Universal suffrage, which by many was thought madness, was in reality but the Christian principle directly applied, the recognition of the intrinsic worth of the individual, the ignoring of property as a qualification, the expression not only of an ideal, but of a firm conviction that God resided in the soul of man, that the individual conscience was therefore the only authority for an enlightened people. And the confidence that this would work out was a superb and supreme faith in the teaching and life of Christ, a faith in the humanity which he loved. It had a far-reaching religious significance, and exerted an influence on thought and government all over the world. How keenly, how jealously, was this experiment watched by the believers in, and champions of, that other hierarchical and monarchical authority!
Christ condemned, I firmly believe from reading the Gospels, that kind of authority. The early Christian communities, which were nearest to him in time, rejected it. The world and his Church went back to it and held it for fifteen hundred years, when the light dawned again,—the light of his true meaning,—and grows brighter and brighter as the false conceptions are slowly burned away. And the government founded one hundred and thirty-five years ago, in this new world (let us dare to say it), was a nearer approach than any that had gone before to those first communities which took their form directly and naturally from what he taught. But those communities were churches, you say, not governments. Does not this sentence suggest thought? a thought, perhaps, that we can scarcely put into words, a sublimer conception of a future union between Church and State than any that has yet entered our minds? 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven.' How indeed could the evolution, the development going on around us be more aptly expressed! The way in which God works for the perfecting of the world, the approach to the ideal!
Only the man who has read Americans superficially would say we are not idealists. Our very Declaration of Independence, so scoffed at in Europe, itself proves it. And it is that idealism more than any other element which has drawn millions of emigrants to our shores, which will save us in the end. What then is the Christian ideal of government? We must not let the brightness of the vision dazzle us, we must not let it frighten us—we must keep our eyes steadily turned toward it. The Christian ideal is the least possible government, a government wherein neither you nor I nor any other man or woman will labor and obey because we have to, but because we have learned the lesson which Christ taught, that happiness lies alone in service, in giving to the world that which God gave us. To hold up that vision, the vision of what we may be if we try, the vision of what God wishes and expects us to be, is the mission of the church.
And which among us will refuse to believe that Abraham Lincoln, like Stephen, saw his Master in the sky?
We are beginning to understand, at the dawning of the twentieth century, that there is still a higher, more Christian conception of government to come, and that our Declaration was but a step toward it.
No superficial glance at the civilization of the Protestant nations might lead us to think so. Ah, we have paid a price, a terrible price, for freedom, for the liberation of the individual subject. Until individual responsibility begins to be felt, excesses are the inevitable result of liberty. And so we behold hypocrisy, selfishness, ruthless competition—as terrible contrasts between luxury and misery as in Mark Antony's day. Should we, for that reason, go back to leading strings? Can we if we would? A little thought should convince us, in the words of an able modern writer on philosophy, that the liberation of the individual cannot be revoked, that it has forever destroyed the power of mere authority and tradition to carry conviction. We cannot go back to the Middle Ages; to do so would be to deteriorate and degenerate. We must go on. We have definitely transferred our authority to the conscience of man, and there it must remain for better or worse. We must and do believe that God dwells there. Nay, that God is that conscience, for God is a Spirit.
Let us look again at this civilization by which we are surrounded, and try if we cannot see, in increasing numbers, new men emerging, imbued with a new idea of God, new men and women the keynote of whose characters is individual responsibility. Such men and women are the ideal units of the government to come. Yes, somehow, in some way we do not quite grasp, the conviction is being brought home to us that our own incarnation means something: we feel faint stirrings that grow stronger, cosmic memories of forgotten injunctions and resolutions. God is a Spirit; and man, through that Spirit, divine.
Our spiritual vision is growing clearer. We are beginning to perceive that charity does not consist in dispensing largesse after making a fortune at the expense of one's fellow men: that there is something still wrong in a government that permits it. It is gradually becoming plain to us, after two thousand years, that human bodies and souls rotting in tenements are more valuable than all the forests on all the hills; that government, Christian government, has something to do with these.
We shall embody, in government, those sublime words of the Master, 'Suffer little children to come unto me.' And the government of the future will care for its little children. We are beginning to do it. Here, as everywhere, Christianity and reason go hand in hand, for the child becomes the man who either preys on humanity and fills the prisons and robs his fellows, or else grows into a useful healthy citizen. It is nothing less than sheer folly as well as inhuman cruelty to let the children sleep in crowded, hot rooms, reeking with diseases, and run wild throughout the long summer, learning vice in the city streets. And we still have slavery—economic slavery—but as much a problem of government and a Christian concern as that which confronted us in 1861. The Christian manor woman who has worked in politics or sociology does not need to read the publication of commissions in Pittsburg or Chicago, or the revelation of a fire in a shirt-waist factory in New York, to realize this.
Who freed the Negro slaves? The Negroes? Or rather, what freed them? The Spirit of Christ freed them, the Spirit of Christ in the soul of Wilberforce, of Mrs. Stowe, of Lincoln, in millions of people who had nothing but sorrow and suffering to gain by the struggle. Is not this a wonderful thing, and does it not contradict and confound the wise, the cynical, the materialist? The Negroes, they said,—and say still,—were not ready for freedom, emancipation. Who is ready for it? Who is ready for responsibility, the only thing that develops us in this world, until it is thrust upon him? And then, somehow, he works it out.
There is another side to Christianity, a no less vital and important side for us moderns, which I must touch upon before I close.
I have laid stress upon the simplicity of government of those early Christian communities. One reason that has been assigned by many writers to account for the willing adoption of the brotherhood of man was the belief in the imminent coming of the Messiah. I am convinced that this reason, although often used to support another argument, is a true one. What our age needs, and what it has lacked, is the conviction of immortality.
Here we come again, I think, upon another element in the same problem I referred to before—the necessity of instilling faith into children in a way that cannot be shaken by any apparent contradictions in the knowledge they acquire in after life. The idea of immortality, plainly, was put before those first Christians in such manner that they could understand and grasp and believe it. And out of that belief they acted. Let me be personal for an instant, for I have gone through a process characteristic of thousands of men and women of to-day. I arrived at a conviction of immortality,—a Christian conviction, I believe,—but I had first to rid my mind of the imagery of the eschatology presented to me as a child; and, what is quite as important, of the obsession that my Christianity depended on it.
That eschatology given me in childhood was precisely the one preached to the Jewish peasant, the Greek, the Roman slave and freedman of the first century. Whenever I thought of it, I looked forward with terror to the last day, and the lurid light of the judgment scene was vividly pictured in my mind, the dead starting from their graves, the wicked on one side, the blest on the other.
As I grew older, the change that occurred in me was somewhat similar to that which went on in the world, as the years passed, and the Messiah did not come. So my own belief in the imminence of the Judgment Day gradually faded, and there was no other presentation put forward to take its place. I was not a Jewish Christian of the first century, but an American of the nineteenth. I had not in my blood, or instilled into me from my earliest recollections, the messianic idea, preached by the prophets of my nation for more than a thousand years. And in this messianic idea, by the way, were both patriotism and religion. Think of how the pious Jew must have dwelt upon the conception! Israel, in spite of the miseries of the past, in spite of oppression, defeats, captivity, persecution, would one day, through her God, come to her own; would rise triumphant and dominant over other peoples by means of her Messiah, who was to judge her, purge and emancipate her. And this Messiah must be a King himself, a descendant of the royal line of David. Think of the power of that idea upon one to whom, by race and environment, it might appeal!
Nor was I a Gentile, slave or freedman of the great Roman Empire, who might take fire from contact with a personality like Paul's or those of the early apostles, when told that this wonderful idea had been broadened so as to include me. The Messiah had indeed come, but not in the manner that men had looked for him. Therefore he must come again, and in that manner. The effect of that conception on the Christian, Jew, or Gentile of the age was, for reasons which we now clearly perceive, tremendous.
While I am on the subject I might go further and say that, as a younger man, Oriental imagery had no attractions for me. I neither understood it, nor sympathized with it temperamentally. The Christian faith was presented to me largely in terms of the Oriental imagination. Not being an Oriental Jew, I had no interest in Jerusalem any more than in Mecca. Naturally the idea of a new Jerusalem, which must have struck the ancient Oriental mind with force, did not appeal to me as a modern American.
What was the effect? A long period of indifference, until these mysterious thought-currents of which I have spoken began to act upon me, as they are acting upon other men, thought-currents which lead one to believe that this age is comparable to other quickening epochs in history: to the time when the German monk arose to discover that he was thinking what Germany was thinking, and England was thinking. I began to read. I tried to put myself in the place of the ancient Jew, of the Roman slave and freedman; and then, and not until then, did I see something of the revelation the words and life and resurrection of Christ must have been for such a man. I saw that the Christian religion was far different from what I had supposed. I freed it from the hard shell of its ancient terminology, and made it live for me in the twentieth century. I saw that it was capable of being presented, in the language of our time, to the ironworker of Pittsburg as well as to the fisherman of Galilee. I saw what I had not seen before, that it was not necessary to treat the modern ironworker, any more than the ancient fisherman, as a superstitious being who must approach his God through rites, observances, intermediaries, and sacrifices.
Truths are eternal,—the expressions of them may change from age to age. If my own circle of acquaintances presents any indication of the times, I should say that thousands and thousands of men and women to-day who had lost their belief in immortality are regaining it, and some who never had it are acquiring it. As the meaning of life becomes clearer, as the habit of right thinking more general, men are beginning to conceive of immortality itself in terms of service. All is service, here and hereafter. All is development. It is a dazzling, an awful idea, until we begin to get used to it, and to learn to conform our lives to it. The peace of God passes understanding, because it is not static. And once having found the secret, who would lose it? 'Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many.' Good and faithful servant! There, then, is our doctrine of immortality, hidden in the parable of the talents. Service, development! That is the secret. And, if reward be service, higher service, who would not labor for it?
Immortality was not only a conviction of Jesus Christ, but the more one reflects upon his life, the more immortality would seem to be the supreme conclusion to be drawn from it. He taught us the meaning of this life, pointed clearly to a future of further service. And is the developed soul, gained at such cost here, to be wasted in the universe?
Christ lives. Not only, as some would say, in the influence of his life and teachings upon men, but in a truer, more positive and vital way. Christianity is unaccountable otherwise, and stops dismayed at that terrible cry on the cross, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' Ah, do not insist upon the exact manner of that resurrection! Let men believe it as they will, for to believe it is to act upon it, and to act upon it is to bring upon earth the reign of that Kingdom which is God's own government for mankind, in all its fellowship and simplicity.
Lines which we once thought diverging, and then parallel, are now seen to be drawing together to a focus of dazzling brilliancy. There are signs all about us that science and history, government and the church,—the fellowship of Christians upon earth,—are drawing nearer and nearer together and to Christ. Psychology is doing an inestimable service for religion in tending to bring it into harmony with modern life and conceptions. Let us believe firmly that a time is coming, nay, is now at hand, when the church of Christ shall no longer be separated from our lives; when the condition of the Middle Ages shall be restored in a higher, nobler, truer form; when the religion of the risen Christ, freed from idolatry and superstition, shall find its true abiding-place in the heart of man, reign there in its supreme Authority, and permeate all the departments of life. God is no longer King only of the tribes of Israel, or ruler of a flat terrestrial expanse. God is a Spirit. He is the spirit of a million spheres, the spirit of mankind and of the Universe. 'But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.'
*The author of this article is not Winston Spencer Churchill the Prime Minister of Britain, but Winston Churchill the American novelist who lived from 1871 to 1947 and wrote such bestselling historical novels as Richard Carvel (1899), The Crisis (1901), and The Crossing (1904).
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; January 1912; Modern Government and Christianity; Volume 109, No. 1; page 12.