The Great Religious Revival
THE mass of the American people have always been Protestants; for they came out of north European peoples on whom the Protestant Reformation took early and strong effect. Now Protestants have long been divided into numerous denominations or sects, some large, some small, but all very tenacious of their characteristic religious tenets and practices and eager to defend and advance them. Hence discord and divisions, not peace and unity. Indeed, the whole history of the Christian churches, Greek, Roman, and Protestant, down to the moment now passing, illustrates the accuracy of Jesus’ saying: ‘I came not to send peace but a sword.’ They have promoted not peace and good will, but dissensions, conflict, and war, and are still doing so.
To this discordant mass, now spread across the continent, have been gradually added during the past hundred years a small proportion of Jews, and a larger but still moderate proportion of Catholics, both additions coming from peoples scattered widely over northern, eastern, and southern Europe. In the freedom of American political, industrial, and commercial life both the Jew and the Catholic have developed their inherited or acquired diversities or dissimilarities. The American Jews are now deeply divided among themselves into Synagogue and Temple, Zionists and Anti-Zionists, those who are content to see the young Jewry become absorbed into the Christian population and those who mean to hold their children and their children’s children to the Faith of their forbears. The Roman Catholic Church in the American atmosphere has adopted new policies and entered on new ventures. It has consented to the novel activities of the Church Unions, strong organizations of laymen who manifest a very independent spirit in their good works. It has created and supports the parochial schools with money drawn from Catholic parishes and families —truly a praiseworthy but a perilous adventure into the field of popular education. Its clergy are hotly divided on Prohibition.
This heterogeneous and divided American people, which lives in many different climates and on many different soils, now finds itself divided in quite a new way into three parties or sections in regard to religion, the number of persons in each party being unknown, but variously estimated or guessed at with the utmost assurance by different guessers.
The Fundamentalists and their like insist that the Old and New Testaments contain infallible or inerrant revelations about God, Christ, and the nature of Man; and that the doctrines so revealed were correctly formulated for Christians, in the native tongue, at the time of the Protestant Reformation. They are the doctrines since known as Calvinistic. The Fundamentalists reject the results of the Biblical Criticism which has grown up during the nineteenth century and since, believing it to be unsound as learning or scholarship, and the direct source of impious or blasphemous beliefs. The Fundamentalist movement is at bottom a strong effort to revive and spread the kind of religion which inspires and governs its devotees; and in this effort the movement has been strikingly successful. All its phases are amply reported in the secular Press, where they secure the attention of millions of readers. It is a quickening revival and also a propaganda.
The Modernists, on the other hand, respect modern Biblical Criticism, and accept its conclusions. They no longer believe that Jesus was the only begotten Son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary, or that the fleshly body rises from the dead. They do not believe that the Old Testament is an inerrant record of the experience through centuries of the Jewish people. They do not believe that God Himself led the Jews out of Egypt, inspired their leaders, commanded their armies, and finally established them in a land flowing with milk and honey by taking a strong hand Himself in killing off and enslaving its former inhabitants. They do not believe that Abraham was instructed by God to carry his young son Isaac three days’ journey from home, and then kill him, and burn his body as an acceptable offering to Him. They realize that David was not a praiseworthy saint and sweet religious poet, but the dastardly betrayer of his best soldier to death in battle, because he wanted to possess that soldier’s faithful wife. While they find many sayings and writings in the Old Testament — some of them tales, some poems, and some exhortations — which are just, beautiful, and helpful towards human goodness and virtue, they find also many passages which are wrong, and even abominable, so bad indeed that they cannot properly be put before children, youth, or ignorant adults. They therefore use the Old Testament only in a selective way — as indeed almost all twentieth-century Christians, especially Protestants, do in practice if not in theory. Jesus Himself used the Old Testament in just that way. See his citation Luke IV: 17-20 from Isaiah LXI: 2, when he stopped at a comma in order to avoid reading ‘and the day of vengeance of our God.’ The general use of the inductive method of reasoning with its conquests over human and animal woes and for happiness has led many persons — both Catholics and Protestants — to modify their former views about the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament.
Modernists also take a very different view of the New Testament from that which Luther and Calvin held. Far from regarding the Gospels as inerrant records of the sayings and doings of Jesus of Nazareth, they look on them as imperfectly remembered accounts by unlettered companions of words and acts uttered or done years before. They accept the views of Biblical scholars as to the right interpretation of the Gospel narratives. Thus, when they read in Matthew, Mark, and Luke that Jesus, when baptized by John the Baptist in Jordan, ‘saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him; and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,’ they infer only that Jesus, like every other Jewish prophet, believed that he had then received a special illumination from Almighty Wisdom and Love, which was to guide his whole life; but they do not take the vision as literal truth or fact, any more than they do the very next sentence in Matthew: ‘Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.’ These Modernists are inevitably bringing about a revival of interest in religious subjects on the part of both sympathizers and opponents.
The third party or section of the American people in respect to religion contains tens of millions of men and women of scanty education who are not connected with any church and, apparently, take no interest in any religious doctrine or practice. Their children are not baptized or christened; if dangerous illness invade the family, no priest or minister is requested or even allowed to visit the sick one; when a death occurs in the family the funeral is conducted from an undertaker’s ‘Funeral Parlor’ or ‘Funeral Home,’ with such singing and reading as the undertaker chooses to provide. Marriage is a civil process only. The great events in any human life — birth, puberty, marriage, mortal sickness, and death — receive no religious notice. Children get no religious instruction whatever at home or abroad and grow to maturity without knowledge of Christianity or any other religion, and densely ignorant of the fundamental moralities and of good manners. No such experiment on so vast a scale has ever been tried since time began, as this considerable fraction of the American people is now trying — namely, bringing up children without any religious instruction, or any transmission to rising generations of the moral traditions handed down through primitive, barbarous, and civilized peoples in succession.
It should be said, however, that, acting for the most part, so far as influence on public opinion goes, with this mass of the ignorant Unchurched, and ranking themselves as Unchurched, are a few thousands of well-educated persons who themselves give religious instruction to their children in the way they received it during their own childhood, and teach them good manners or gentle behavior by both precept and example. These more favored children, therefore, do not necessarily grow up in ignorance of the moralities and courtesies of life, although they never go to church; but their number is relatively very small. Moreover, they tend to go beyond their parents in indifference to all religious interests. These educated Unchurched adults will sometimes contribute to a church’s receipts, because they think that particular church to be a judicious agent in giving charitable relief; but the governing motive for such acts is not religious but social.
Explanations of this remarkable state of mind — that of the Unchurched — in a large portion of the American people are to be found in the clauses of the Constitution which declare that no religious test shall ever be required as qualification for office, and that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The several States, bent on maintaining and supporting toleration in religion, have enacted statutes which prevent or greatly restrict the reading of the Bible in the public schools supported by taxation, and the giving of religious instruction in State universities and technical schools supported in like manner. In short, the devotion of the whole people to the principle of toleration in religion has led to legislation which has produced the millions of the Unchurched and the millions of children who grow up without knowledge of either religion or gentle conduct. The influence of the Unchurched is reinforced by the increasing number of men, nominally connected with churches, who as a matter of fact never or very seldom attend church services. This practice has appeared in all the American Protestant churches, and in the Roman Catholic Church in many European countries.
Of these three parties the first and the third — that is, the Fundamentalists and the Unchurched — have no problems to solve about sincerity or unity in religion, or about the promolion of peace among the nations. The first say in worship or prayer just what they all mean; and the third do not worship or pray in public at all. Indeed, the Fundamentalists are prophesying the speedy coming of Christ at the head of an invincible army to drown civilization and society in blood, as necessary preliminary to setting up on earth a better Church and a better State. The Unchurched, however, have roused all over the United States an unexpected opposition to their theories and practices, an opposition which is gathering great strength but is not yet organized for effective work. This opposition proceeds from teachers, principals, school superintendents, and committee-men who see plainly in their own schoolrooms the effects of depriving children of religious instruction. From the observations and discussions of this opposition is springing a strong popular revival of interest in religion, its origins, its historical development, and its rightful influence on mankind.
It is, then, only the Modernists, the second party in the mass of the American people, who are liable to the suspicion that their laxity as regards creeds, dogmas, and rituals may render them less than sincere or candid in speech and practice before God, and even when speaking to God, and quite irrational in their eagerness for unity. The Modernists inevitably incur this danger to their intellectual integrity and perspicacity in their intense desire to create and maintain one inclusive Church in which millions of persons who no longer believe the ancient creeds, dogmas, and rituals can nevertheless unite in the use of forms and ceremonies with which they all have sacred associations, and about which linger very precious memories. They see in liberty to use old phrases with new interpretations the only chance to build up a great Church to which all religiousminded, liberal, and progressive people can happily resort, a Church which may in some decades overcome and absorb most of the other churches, and become the chief support of all democracies, republics, and constitutional governments. Truly a noble vision!
This proposed wide-open and allcomprehending Church ought to recall to men’s minds the sources and the steps of religious progress for mankind since Jesus was born. That progress has been immense; and the roots of it Jesus saw in the best traits of good men, women, and children, and in family loves and devotions. For him God was the Father Almighty, and all men were his children. Primitive man’s religion was one of propitiatory rites, and of cries for defense against imminent dangers and crushing natural evils. The pagan world deified sensuality, lust, and the low vices as well as the virtues; and its gods and goddesses were worshiped and feared quite as much in their vices as in their virtues. The One God of the Hebrew dispensation was pictured as cruel, revengeful, capricious, and unjust, a being to be feared but not loved. Before Christianity children were not habitually treated with tenderness and reverence by either fathers or the State. Mothers doubtless did better.
In contrast, consider how the God figured to mankind by Jesus is only the multiplication to infinity of the finest graces and virtues which the best men and women have manifested since history began; and consider, too, the effects produced by Jesus, as a peculiarly gifted child, on his parents and the ‘doctors in the temple’; —
‘And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom . . . and when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days . . . the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. . . . After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. . . . And his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? . . . And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. LUKE II: 40-52.
Let us remember, also, how Jesus in his teachings used children’s natural loveliness as guide to higher love of fellow men, and to knowledge of God’s ways with men: —
‘And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and . . . said unto them, Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me.’ MARK IX: 36, 37.
‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ MATTHEW XIX : 14.
In short, the religion of Jesus is a religion of and for family life; and the whole earth is to become the happy home of men, women, and children who live together in peace, good will, and mutual helpfulness.
But what have these facts to do with a Revival of Religion? Let us see.
The Gospel record is unsatisfying in one respect. It gives scant account of Jesus’ relations to his parents, to his brothers and sisters, and to his neighbors and friends in Nazareth. It reports from the teachings of Jesus sayings which imply injuries to family life and its dearest intimacies: —
‘I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother . . . and a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.’ MATTHEW x: 35, 36.
‘And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.’ MATTHEW xm: 54-58.
When the modern religionist is framing an answer to the question why Jesus did few mighty works in his own country, he will find himself in need of the spirit which animates the modern scientist, a spirit of sincerity, open-mindedness, and truth-seeking, combined with an intense desire to be serviceable to fellow men. Did Jesus resent the attitude of his family and neighbors in Nazareth? Or did he merely feel alienated from them? Or was belief in him an indispensable prerequisite for success in the cures he wrought on the sick, the lame, and the paralyzed ? Compelled to make an open choice among the contradictory Gospel statements concerning both the sayings and the acts of Jesus, the modern religionist will adopt those principles of selection which conduce to religious liberty and the practice of toleration in religion; from these principles adopted he will expect new triumphs by mankind over materialism, sensuality and hardness of heart. In short, he will feel and look for a Revival of true Religion.
During his active mission Jesus was inevitably a homeless wanderer, parted from father and mother, brothers and sisters, and former neighbors, and finding his associates and friends among the men and women who were strongly affected by his teachings and his personality. In the Gospel record of this part of the life of Jesus are many passages which support or advocate the practice of celibacy; and therefore the loss of all the good influences which come from family life. The Roman Catholic Church early adopted celibacy as the best practice for ecclesiastics and for self-sacrificing men and women who chose, or were induced, to give their lives to the service of humanity through the Church; but Protestants for more than three centuries have refused to accept those passages as mandatory. Here is another instance, and a striking one, of the use of the Bible in a selective way.
It is obviously impossible for Protestants to accept the Gospel narratives literally. They must apply to them the receptive imagination, now so eagerly exercised on the multifarious fruits of the literary and scientific imagination. Every Christian — Greek, Roman Catholic, or Protestant — should remember that the two sentiments which most inspire men to good deeds are love and hope; and that the best interpretation of the sayings and acts of Jesus is that which feels most, the love and hope which dwell in human hearts.
Moreover, every religious-minded human being should observe how religious practice is more and more imitating the medical practice of giving the preference to prevention of epidemic or contagious diseases over treatment of such diseases arrived and at work. Engineering practice is also eagerly embracing the preventive side of the calling. It is designing and building the great constructions which prevent floods and droughts and the resulting famines. In Japan engineers are already studying the means of preventing in large measure such terrible disasters as Tokyo and Yokohama have just experienced from earthquakes.
In the present Revival of popular interest in religious controversies, more attention seems to be given to the differing theologies than to the various practices concerning the prevention and cure of sin and vice; yet Americans generally pay more attention to practice than to theory. They also often find pleasure in watching a fight. It is therefore difficult, to interpret surely the present disposition of the secular newspapers to give large space to the religious controversies of the day. Is it a revival of religion, or only an expression of contempt for all churches?
The Modernists arc following Christ when they want to make their Church a family Church with God as Father, Jesus as brother, and motherhood and childhood as exponents of the heavenly life on earth. They are inspired by the best teachings of Jesus when they long to include in one all-embracing Church parents and children, friends and neighbors, and all people who enjoy religious rites performed in common, without questioning about the ancient phrases therein which imply beliefs no longer held. In all churches everybody joins in singingor chanting such phrases, when they have been set to music. Why may not. — Modernists ask — everybody join in repeating similar phrases in familiar and beloved litanies and prayers? Let us all get together at stated times to worship and pray. True religion springs from common and positive loves and devotions luminously sincere, not from cold negations, or merely mental convictions.
This state of mind in millions of modern Christians testifies to the immense progress in religious liberty which has taken place since the Dark Ages and the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church has had some part in this progress, ever since it accepted the leadership of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The progress of the world toward religious freedom, since Columbus sailed from Spain to find a shorter route to the East Indies, seems to the people of to-day almost as great as the progress in political liberty during the same period; and it is even more welcome.
The Church of the Future will be free alike to men and women who cling to ancient creeds and to those who believe that they have no creed. It will have no creedal or racial terms of admission. It will be active in palliative works of charity and mercy, and in all efforts to prevent suffering, disease, and sin. The most characteristic attitude and purpose of its members will be that they all fight persistently the awful evils which actually exist in human society, barbarous and civilized alike, no matter what theories they may individually hold as to the origins of those evils.
Especially they will accept the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth about children, family loves, and friendship, and will try to develop all the good tendencies in their own children, other people’s children, and the community, and to suppress the evil. The spiritual leaders in that Church will be the ministers, the poets, and the singers; but the laymen, young and old, will have a large share in all the Church’s fightings with existing wrongs. This is the Church which through its hopeful visions will in time bring about a great Revival of Religion.
The Church of the Future will undoubtedly employ rituals or forms in services which often recur; because the great majority of civilized mankind rather like repetitions, and prefer carefully considered forms of worship and prayer to any utterances casual and more or less extemporaneous at the moment; but there will never be the slightest doubt as to the sincerity or mental clarity with which these forms are used. It will use the best existing expressions of religious aspiration and emotion until future generations produce better — but no longer. It will hold the warm allegiance of men and women who recognize the difference between fact and fable, between constructive thinking and the play of a fantastic imagination over such vast themes as the infinite universe and the infinite God Almighty. And it will regard the Christian religion not as a body of doctrines, new or old, but as a way of life.
In all probability a free people will always be divisible into three sorts, recognizable by their different faces, attitudes, and mental habits, all equally sincere, and all living side by side in peace and good will— those who prefer to live under a sacerdotal authority; those who prefer to take their opinions and beliefs from other minds, stronger, clearer, and more authoritative than their own; and those who habitually think for themselves, select their leaders on grounds of sympathy and intellectual fellowship, ‘look out and not in,’ welcome new thoughts and prospects, and live in the present and the future rather than in the past.
For these last the Church of the Future is to rise.