The Origin and Development of Religious Belief. Part Ii. Christianity

The Origin and Development of Religious Belief. Part II. Christianity. By S. BARING-GOULD. New York : D. Appleton & Co.
MR. BARING-GOULD is a very earnest and yet a very liberal-minded member of the English Church, who has sought and, as he himself thinks, found a new and philosophic armory for religious truth in the resources of Hegel’s dialectic. He concedes that the principle of authority−whether it be the Catholic principle of Church authority, or the antagonist Protestant principle of Scriptural authority − is no longer competent to subjugate the sceptical temper of the age; and he reasonably insists, therefore, that if we are to continue regarding Christianity as a veritable divine institution, we must bestir ourselves to find an enduring basis for it in the acknowledged truths of human nature and human science.
Mr. Baring-Gould, though a bright, vivacious intellect, and a man of signally amiable intentions, lacks logical completeness, and must accordingly content himself with the fame of having put a new face for a moment upon an old controversy, but one which will assuredly not survive the moment. For example. The sceptic, if he understands himself, is not at all the limp creature which Mr. Baring-Gould takes him to be, whose intellectual backbone is to be straightened up or cured of its curvature by a certain amount of logical friction at the hands of judicious Doctor Hegel, or some other logical expert. Hegel’s diagnosis of the sceptical malady is flagrantly shallow, to begin with. He conceives it to be a malady of the mind primarily, not of the heart. He conceives, in short, that scepticism is at most a diseased way of thinking. Why ? Because, to this great physician, thought is everything in life, and feeling nothing. Not affection, but thought, is in his opinion the limit of existence. The identity of being and thought is in fact the foundation-stone of his system. No doubt there may be an amateur or voluntary sceptic here and there whose melodramatic sorrows will relent under this agreeable titillation. But the hearty or honest sceptic will have none of it. It seems a medicine fashioned only for the insincere, for those whose grief exists only to be paraded or talked about. He cannot help looking upon it as quackery. In fact, the depth of his so-called malady predisposes him, along with Schopenhauer, to regard Hegel’s dialectic as transparent word-jugglery, and Hegel himself to that extent the arch-quack of his century. For he knows, past the power of all sciolism to dispute, that his disease, if it be one, is not of his thought, but exclusively of his deeper will. It is an outgrowth, not of his shifty politic understanding, but of his upright manly heart, which claims to recognize in God the ideal of all human perfection ; and which is only to be appeased consequently by such a revelation of his name as will be sheerly incongruous with the fossil exigencies of any existing church and state, or avouch henceforth only the interests of the broadest human society or brotherhood on earth and in heaven. Accordingly what every such man must feel himself impelled to say to the kindly but feeble-minded adviser he finds in Mr. Baring-Gould, and especially to the remorseless dogmatist he encounters in Hegel, is: “ Physician, heal thyself! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then perhaps you may see how to take out the mote (at most) which impairs my vision. I have no disbelief in truly divine things, such as the universe of the human heart, the universe of the human mind, the universe of the human body. And I insist, moreover, upon the necessary logical correlative of such faith in the truth of a divine individuality in man every way commensurate with these divine universals. But how is this devout and disinterested faith of mine − or rather how is it not − daily vexed and stifled, as it were, by your petty personal adulation of the Christ, as if his historic pretension had confessedly been to divinize his proper person at the expense of his common nature ! In short, my only disbelief is in you, and every other man who has the fatuity to set himself up, on either traditional or rationalistic grounds, as a competent exponent either of literal or spiritual religion. Non tali auxilio, etc. If consequently you would full surely cure me of this afflictive scepticism, you have only to mend your own bewildered ways by consenting to become a conscientious learner of others, before proposing yourself as their allsufficient critic and teacher. Si vis me flere, − the precept is old, but it admits of a timely application, which is, that if you wish to cope effectually with scepticism or any other intellectual malady, you must enter heartily into it yourself, or know it experimentally. So alone will you attain to that inward anointing of the eyes which is the indispensable condition of all spiritual vision. ”
With every disposition then to do justice to Mr. Baring-Gould’s exceptional frankness, and freedom from sectarian rancor, we cannot help thinking his method of dealing with scepticism essentially fallacious. What the sceptic demands, and has a perfect right to demand, of the Church, is, not any probable or tentative, but some most assured, knowledge of God ; that is to say, he demands, and has a right to demaud, a revelation of the divine name ample to conciliate, not merely the spiritual but the rational, and even the sensuous, homage of mankind. It is only paltering with his sincere doubts, consequently, when you relegate him anew to the mystical letter of truth, for a sole quietus to those doubts. This insatiate letter of revelation is the citadel and pregnant armory of his misgiving ; and by attempting to tighten its grasp upon his imagination by any fresh violence or speciousness of ratiocination, you simply shut him up to intellectual despair. Undoubtedly if you are wise enough to unlock this obdurate, implacable, letter, and, without forcing its mystical contents, to deduce from them a thorough philosophic justification of all the facts of nature and all the events of history, you will have done his intellect an incalculable service. But in that case farewell evermore to the letter, and hail only to the spirit ! For what you have now done with your sceptic is not to have made him a proselyte to any dogmatic system, but a sheer intellectual freedman. That is to say, the result of your effort in every such case will be, not to enhance, but to deaden one’s ritual conscience, by making one see in religion no longer a childish ceremonial, but an earnest and most secular life; no longer an outward law, but an inward inspiration, no longer an insult or imputation upon one’s natural force, but, on the contrary, so divine a consecration of it, as to inscribe one’s abject flesh and blood with “holiness to the Lord,” or exalt one’s ordinary appetites and passions to the dignity of a sacramental apparatus.

− H. J.