Culture and Religion in Some of Their Relations

By J. C. SHAIRP, Principal of St. Salvator, etc. New York: Hurd and Houghton.
To say the least, it is not an exhilarating work, this book of Principal Shairp. It betrays a sad lack of animal spirits in the author, and you are tempted to wonder at last how he gathered the pluck to write it. The book is not discreditable in a literary point of view. We could cull a sentence or two, or even a page, here and there, which are worth reading. But the general strain and movement of the book is so monotonous and unimaginative, that we must absolutely refuse to send any one to it for entertainment. And it is not profitable either for doctrine. The general scope of the book is to the effect that religion and culture may be combined, but that they are at variance in themselves. The author, to be sure, disavows this latter sentiment, but to no intellectual purpose, as when he says, for example, that “culture and religion, when rightly regarded, are not two opposite powers, but they are as it were one line with two opposite poles.” But if these poles exist, one must be relatively to the Other positive and one negative, and what opposition is more fundamental than that ? But he goes on: “Ideally considered, then, culture must culminate in religion, and religion must expand into culture.” The logic is very curious here. One can easily conceive how the opposing poles of the earth may coalesce, or if you prefer that word, “culminate,” in the equator; but that either may “culminate” into its opposite, and that again “expand” into it, passes our conception. Practically, however, the author deserts his own position. “ Goethe,” he says, “the high-priest of culture, loathes Luther, the preacher of righteousness. And Luther, likely enough, had he seen Goethe, would have done him scant justice.”
Evidently then, to begin with, Mr. Shairp utterly ignores the middle-term in which alone, upon his figurative hypothesis, religion and culture confess themselves reconciled ; utterly drops out of sight that equatorial or balanced life of man of which these are only the positive and negative attestations. But even with this adjustment Mr. Shairp’s metaphor will be found to falter, and at last flatly refuses to trot, or even to walk. For religion and culture are not in the least related to each other as the opposite poles of the earth are related, that is, as being the one positive, and the other negative to the same substance. The two poles of the earth relate themselves to one and the same substance, namely, the earth. But religion has relation to one substance, and culture to a totally different one. Religion relates itself exclusively to man in his generic or race aspect, and has no regard to him in his specific or individual aspect; while culture has exclusive relation to him in the latter aspect, and pays no manner of attention whatever to his race or nature. In other words, religion has regard to man only in his moral or outward aspect, that is, in so far forth as he stands related to his kind, or is under law to society ; while culture has regard to him only in his spiritual or inward aspect, that is, in so far forth as he stands related to his own destiny, being emancipated from the law of his kind and brought under law exclusively to God. If you were bent upon educating your child to a refined pitch of manhood, you would certainly lead him to give a due measure of attention to his bodily requirements, because the mind is more or less conditioned for its proper functioning upon the repose of the body. But, as certainly, you would never think of teaching him that his body and mind stood in a quite equal relation to his proper manhood, or constituted the invincible bipolarity upon which its evolution was contingent. On the contrary, you would instruct him that the body was inferior to the mind in that relation ; was altogether secondary and subservient to it in fact, inasmuch as it had no direct bearing upon his proper manhood, but only an indirect one through the uses it promoted to the mind ; and that the mind itself would then be at its highest estate, or most able to function, when it should be finally released from the shackles of the body.
Now religion and culture severally bear the same relation to the evolution of human destiny that body and mind bear to the evolution of our individual manhood. Religion is the law of man’s infancy. It addresses him first in spiritual or promissory form, telling him that he shall love the Lord his God with all his heart and soul and mind, and his neighbor as himself. And when man replies, “ But how can this be? My affections are already engaged to myself and the world. How shall I, then, ever come to love God supremely, and my neighbor as myself?” it addresses him in literal or mandatory form, saying, “ Thou shalt not bear false witness, shalt not steal, shalt not commit adultery, shalt do no murder, shalt not covet anything which is thy neighbor’s.” If man will only refrain from doing these ugly things, he shall infallibly come to love God supremely, and his neighbor equally with himself. Thus it is evident that religion views man as a social being exclusively, as being under law to society. Otherwise of course it would not pretend to limit his freedom by the welfare of his neighbor. If human morality were absolute, — if it were not a mere shadow of better things to come, when our social destiny should finally be achieved, — then every man would conscientiously spurn every limitation put upon his own freedom by the necessities of his neighbor.
How, then, does religion secure the social evolution of human nature, if man is by birth supremely selfish and worldly ? The process is equally obvious and irresistible. For no man of ordinary intelligence, when he addresses himsell to the maintenance of his religious obligations, can help discovering, if he deal fairly with himself, that he is by himself impotent to do so. That is to say, he discovers, nast all dispute, that he can keep the law very well if his relations to his own body and to his fellow-man are such as to put a premium upon his obedience to it, or exempt him from the temptation to infringe it in any particular ; but that if his relations to his own body and to society are such as to expose him to temptation, he cannot possibly keep the law. Hence, every man’s religious experience, if it be genuine or unsimulated, disposes him to humility, abases his natural pride of character, and inclines him to sympathy or fellow-feeling with his neighbor; so that when the neighbor perchance breaks the law, he no longer stands in a condemnatory attitude to him, but says to him, “Be of good cheer, my brother, and hope on ever. Your iniquity is in reality not yours, exclusively, nor even chiefly. It is the iniquity of our infirm and unequal civilization, which exalts one class of men to privilege, or exempts them from temptation, and debases another class to penury, making temptation, in the long run, inevitable and irresistible to them. Let us look to God, therefore, to bring about his promised reign of justice or equality upon the earth, and so do away forever with the dominion of evil.”
But culture is the law of man’s maturity. It supposes this social destiny of man, which religion has it at heart to secure, perfectly realized, and every man sitting under his own vine and fig-tree, with none any longer to make him afraid. Then it fearlessly says to every man, “ Do whatsoever thy heart craves, thy mind prompts, and thy hand finds to do.” Because human unity being divinely accomplished in a living society, fellowship, or equality of all mankind with each individual man, and of each man with all men, no man’s heart can any longer crave, nor his mind conceive, nor his hand bring forth, anything injurious to his neighbor. So that culture, unlike religion, instead of limiting man’s activity by his neighbor’s necessity, declares that law divinely fulfilled in our social evolution, or makes every man’s neighbor over to him in full possession, bidding him reckon in all he does upon his neighbor’s support and furtherance. In a word, while religion constitutes the necessary fixed earth of human hope, gives it solid body, or makes it divinely stable forever, culture opens an everexpanding heaven before it, gives it unlimited soul, bids it freely aspire to the fellowship of all divine perfection. Thus the literal bipolarity which Principal Shairp alleges between religion and culture, and which makes a perpetual illusion of human life, turns out instead a spiritual harmony, providing first for the unity of man with his kind or neighbor, and then for the unity of both with God, so making human life the grandest of all realities.