Religion without Humanism
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36 ] Religion without Humanism1 I must rely, in these few pages, upon a brief summary of the limitations within which I believe humanism must work, which I published in the Hound and Horn, June, 1929.2 In that paper I stated my belief that humanism is in the end futile without religion. Here I wish to put forward briefly a view which seems to me equally important, the counterpart of the other, and one which ought to be more welcome to humanists. Having called attention to what I believe to be a danger, I am bound to call attention to the danger of the other extreme: the danger, a very real one, of religion without humanism. I believe that the sceptic, even the pyrrhonist, but particularly the humanist-sceptic, is a very useful ingredient in a world which is no better than it is.3 In saying this I do not think that I am committing myself to any theological heresy. The ideal world would be the ideal Church. But very little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body; and that the communion of saints in Tibet is of a very low order.4 If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without. But here I wish to make a capital distinction: criticism, infidelity and agnosticism must, to be of value, be original and not inherited. Orthodoxy must be traditional, heterodoxy must be original. The attitude of Voltaire has value, because of its place in time; the attitude of Renan has value, in its historical perspective; Anatole France I can only consider as a man who came at the most unfortunate date for his own reputation – too late to be a great sceptic, and too soon to be a great sceptic. There must be more orthodoxy before there can be another Voltaire. And precisely I fear lest humanism should make a tradition of dissent and agnosticism, and so cut itself off from the sphere of influence in which it is most needed. For there is no doubt in my mind that contemporary religious institutions are in danger from themselves; that they have with few exceptions lost the “intellectual,” except that pernicious kind of intellectual who [ 37 Religion without Humanism adopts dogma merely because doubt is out of date.5 Nowhere is this more obvious than in America. All the religious forms which have some ancestry, and many which have none, flourish there; but among persons whom I have known, there is hardly one who had any connection (not to say any conviction) with any of them. But America is not isolated in this respect; it merely shows us under a magnifying glass what occurs everywhere. The two dangers to which religion is exposed are apparent everywhere and they are both cases for which “humanism” or “culture” might be called in: petrified ecclesiasticism, and modernism.6 The great merit of the Catholic Church, from the worldly point of view, is its catholicity. That is to say, it is obvious that every religion is effectively limited by the racial characters of the people who practise it, and that a strictly racial or national religion is certain to hold many irrelevances and impurities,fromlackofanoutsidestandard ofcriticism.WhentheCatholic Faith really is catholic, the aberrations of one race will be corrected by those of another. But it is obviously very difficult even for the Roman Church, nowadays, to be truly catholic. The embarrassment of temporal powers, the virulence of racial and national enthusiasms, are enormous centrifugal forces. The great majority of English speaking people, or at least the vast majority of persons of British descent; half of France, half of Germany, the whole of Scandinavia, are outside of the Roman communion: that is to say, the Roman Church has lost some organic parts of the body of modern civilisation. It is a recognition of this fact which makes some persons of British extraction hesitate to embrace the Roman communion; and which makes them feel that those of their race who have embraced it have done so only by the surrender of some essential part of their inheritance and by cutting themselves off from their family. But if one feels that the culture...