Part 3 out of 3
purposes, for those adventures and experiments towards God's purpose
which are the reality of life. But all organisations must be
watched, for whatever is organised can be "captured" and misused.
Repentance, moreover, is the beginning and essential of the
religious life, and organisations (acting through their secretaries
and officials) never repent. God deals only with the individual for
the individual's surrender. He takes no cognisance of committees.
Those who are most alive to the realities of living religion are
most mistrustful of this congregating tendency. To gather together
is to purchase a benefit at the price of a greater loss, to
strengthen one's sense of brotherhood by excluding the majority of
mankind. Before you know where you are you will have exchanged the
spirit of God for ESPRIT DE CORPS. You will have reinvented the
SYMBOL; you will have begun to keep anniversaries and establish
sacramental ceremonies. The disposition to form cliques and exclude
and conspire against unlike people is all too strong in humanity, to
permit of its formal encouragement. Even such organisation as is
implied by a creed is to be avoided, for all living faith coagulates
as you phrase it. In this book I have not given so much as a
definite name to the faith of the true God. Organisation for
worship and collective exaltation also, it may be urged, is of
little manifest good. You cannot appoint beforehand a time and
place for God to irradiate your soul.
All these are very valid objections to the church-forming
4. ORGANISATIONS UNDER GOD
Yet still this leaves many dissatisfied. They want to shout out
about God. They want to share this great thing with all mankind.
Why should they not shout and share?
Let them express all that they desire to express in their own
fashion by themselves or grouped with their friends as they will.
Let them shout chorally if they are so disposed. Let them work in a
gang if so they can work the better. But let them guard themselves
against the idea that they can have God particularly or exclusively
with them in any such undertaking. Or that so they can express God
rather than themselves.
That I think states the attitude of the modern spirit towards the
idea of a church. Mankind passes for ever out of the idolatry of
altars, away from the obscene rites of circumcision and symbolical
cannibalism, beyond the sway of the ceremonial priest. But if the
modern spirit holds that religion cannot be organised or any
intermediary thrust between God and man, that does not preclude
infinite possibilities of organisation and collective action UNDER
God and within the compass of religion. There is no reason why
religious men should not band themselves the better to attain
specific ends. To borrow a term from British politics, there is no
objection to AD HOC organisations. The objection lies not against
subsidiary organisations for service but against organisations that
may claim to be comprehensive.
For example there is no reason why one should not--and in many cases
there are good reasons why one should--organise or join associations
for the criticism of religious ideas, an employment that may pass
very readily into propaganda.
Many people feel the need of prayer to resist the evil in themselves
and to keep them in mind of divine emotion. And many want not
merely prayer but formal prayer and the support of others, praying
in unison. The writer does not understand this desire or need for
collective prayer very well, but there are people who appear to do
so and there is no reason why they should not assemble for that
purpose. And there is no doubt that divine poetry, divine maxims,
religious thought finely expressed, may be heard, rehearsed,
collected, published, and distributed by associations. The desire
for expression implies a sort of assembly, a hearer at least as well
as a speaker. And expression has many forms. People with a strong
artistic impulse will necessarily want to express themselves by art
when religion touches them, and many arts, architecture and the
drama for example, are collective undertakings. I do not see why
there should not be, under God, associations for building cathedrals
and suchlike great still places urgent with beauty, into which men
and women may go to rest from the clamour of the day's confusions; I
do not see why men should not make great shrines and pictures
expressing their sense of divine things, and why they should not
combine in such enterprises rather than work to fill heterogeneous
and chaotic art galleries. A wave of religious revival and
religious clarification, such as I foresee, will most certainly
bring with it a great revival of art, religious art, music, songs,
and writings of all sorts, drama, the making of shrines, praying
places, temples and retreats, the creation of pictures and
sculptures. It is not necessary to have priestcraft and an
organised church for such ends. Such enrichments of feeling and
thought are part of the service of God.
And again, under God, there may be associations and fraternities for
research in pure science; associations for the teaching and
simplification of languages; associations for promoting and watching
education; associations for the discussion of political problems and
the determination of right policies. In all these ways men may
multiply their use by union. Only when associations seek to control
things of belief, to dictate formulae, restrict religious activities
or the freedom of religious thought and teaching, when they tend to
subdivide those who believe and to set up jealousies or exclusions,
do they become antagonistic to the spirit of modern religion.
5. THE STATE IS GOD'S INSTRUMENT
Because religion cannot be organised, because God is everywhere and
immediately accessible to every human being, it does not follow that
religion cannot organise every other human affair. It is indeed
essential to the idea that God is the Invisible King of this round
world and all mankind, that we should see in every government, great
and small, from the council of the world-state that is presently
coming, down to the village assembly, the instrument of God's
practical control. Religion which is free, speaking freely through
whom it will, subject to a perpetual unlimited criticism, will be
the life and driving power of the whole organised world. So that if
you prefer not to say that there will be no church, if you choose
rather to declare that the world-state is God's church, you may have
it so if you will. Provided that you leave conscience and speech
and writing and teaching about divine things absolutely free, and
that you try to set no nets about God.
The world is God's and he takes it. But he himself remains freedom,
and we find our freedom in him.
So I end this compact statement of the renascent religion which I
believe to be crystallising out of the intellectual, social, and
spiritual confusions of this time. It is an account rendered. It
is a statement and record; not a theory. There is nothing in all
this that has been invented or constructed by the writer; I have
been but scribe to the spirit of my generation; I have at most
assembled and put together things and thoughts that I have come
upon, have transferred the statements of "science" into religious
terminology, rejected obsolescent definitions, and re-coordinated
propositions that had drifted into opposition. Thus, I see, ideas
are developing, and thus have I written them down. It is a
secondary matter that I am convinced that this trend of intelligent
opinion is a discovery of truth. The reader is told of my own
belief merely to avoid an affectation of impartiality and aloofness.
The theogony here set forth is ancient; one can trace it appearing
and disappearing and recurring in the mutilated records of many
different schools of speculation; the conception of God as finite is
one that has been discussed very illuminatingly in recent years in
the work of one I am happy to write of as my friend and master, that
very great American, the late William James. It was an idea that
became increasingly important to him towards the end of his life.
And it is the most releasing idea in the system.
Only in the most general terms can I trace the other origins of
these present views. I do not think modern religion owes much to
what is called Deism or Theism. The rather abstract and futile
Deism of the eighteenth century, of "votre Etre supreme" who bored
the friends of Robespierre, was a sterile thing, it has little
relation to these modern developments, it conceived of God as an
infinite Being of no particular character whereas God is a finite
being of a very especial character. On the other hand men and women
who have set themselves, with unavoidable theological
preconceptions, it is true, to speculate upon the actual teachings
and quality of Christ, have produced interpretations that have
interwoven insensibly with thoughts more apparently new. There is a
curious modernity about very many of Christ's recorded sayings.
Revived religion has also, no doubt, been the receiver of many
religious bankruptcies, of Positivism for example, which failed
through its bleak abstraction and an unspiritual texture. Religion,
thus restated, must, I think, presently incorporate great sections
of thought that are still attached to formal Christianity. The time
is at hand when many of the organised Christian churches will be
forced to define their positions, either in terms that will identify
them with this renascence, or that will lead to the release of their
more liberal adherents. Its probable obligations to Eastern thought
are less readily estimated by a European writer.
Modern religion has no revelation and no founder; it is the
privilege and possession of no coterie of disciples or exponents; it
is appearing simultaneously round and about the world exactly as a
crystallising substance appears here and there in a super-saturated
solution. It is a process of truth, guided by the divinity in men.
It needs no other guidance, and no protection. It needs nothing but
freedom, free speech, and honest statement. Out of the most mixed
and impure solutions a growing crystal is infallibly able to select
its substance. The diamond arises bright, definite, and pure out of
a dark matrix of structureless confusion.
This metaphor of crystallisation is perhaps the best symbol of the
advent and growth of the new understanding. It has no church, no
authorities, no teachers, no orthodoxy. It does not even thrust and
struggle among the other things; simply it grows clear. There will
be no putting an end to it. It arrives inevitably, and it will
continue to separate itself out from confusing ideas. It becomes,
as it were the Koh-i-noor; it is a Mountain of Light, growing and
increasing. It is an all-pervading lucidity, a brightness and
clearness. It has no head to smite, no body you can destroy; it
overleaps all barriers; it breaks out in despite of every enclosure.
It will compel all things to orient themselves to it.
It comes as the dawn comes, through whatever clouds and mists may be
here or whatever smoke and curtains may be there. It comes as the
day comes to the ships that put to sea.
It is the Kingdom of God at hand.