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the old worship that the name we now give it, “paganism,” is derived from them. But, on the one hand, the roughs, the peasantry, and the slaves, and, later, the German tribes; and, on the other, elevated minds purified by Platonism and Stoicism, were prepared to adopt a new form of worship.
To-day there is nothing whatever of this sort. No new race is at hand to restore youth to our worn-out society. There are no barriers between the classes ; scepticism descends as a flood from one to the other. Philosophical doctrines are no longer what they were in ancient times, a life discipline and a rule of conduct; they form simply a subject of research for some few erudite persons ; they interest and excite the curiosity of learned men, but furnish no spiritual sustenance to the higher classes of the population. Where, at the present day, are the crowds ready and eager to accept a new faith? Can one conceive, in our practical age, when the spirit of poetry is nearly extinguished, a religious movement like that which first threw the world into the arms of Christianity? The soil has become parched. The divine tree of faith, it seems, can find nothing to vivify its roots.
Three different causes are undermining religion in our day. The first of these is the principle of natural sciences applied to philosophy. I refer to what is known as Darwinism or Positivism. These sciences seek to explain all phenomena by natural causes, and thus reject even the mere notion of a supernatural power, and this idea leads, not necessarily but very frequently, to a doubt as to the existence of a Divinity, or at least to the affirmation that we can know nothing whatever of anything of the kind, which amounts to almost the same thing. Again, the studies on the origin of species seem to tend to prove that human beings owe their origin, through evolution, to the very lowest categories of the animal creation, and, further back still, to inorganic matter; it follows then that there is a temptation to assimilate man to animals and to withhold from him a soul. This order of ideas is not confined to the scientific world alone; it penetrates everywhere, and threatens the two essential principles of all spiritualism, a belief in God and in the immortality of the soul.
Religious sentiment is also weakened by the passion for well-being and by the pursuit of riches. It is quite true that in all ages men have endeavoured to secure for themselves wherewithal to satisfy their wants and their thirst for enjoyment and pleasure ; but this pursuit has now become more ardent and more restless than it formerly was, because the condition of each individual is no longer fixed, as it used to be, by social organization. A working-man may now rise to the highest rank ; but industrial crises may also reduce him to the most abject want. A man with nothing to-day may be a millionaire to-morrow, if only fortune favours him. In former days every 'man spent his life in the sphere in which he was born, and his condition was not exposed to all the risks of this struggle for existence, which is neither more nor less than universal competition. I may attain any height, but I am exposed to all possible risks; hence, for all, a life of worry, agitated both by the desire for success and the fear of failure, in which religious feeling can necessarily hold little place. Even the scholar and the priest, though it is their vocation to seek and propagate truth, can no longer lead the peaceful and contemplativo existence they did formerly, spending their whole lives in abstract and disinterested researches. Machinery is invading and devouring us even while doing us service. How many precious hours are absorbed by correspondence now that cheap universal postage is established, and by railways which draw us from our hearths by the facility with which we can now go from place to place! Each one wishes to succeed and raise his social status; hence a ceaseless effort towards the acquirement of earthly goods. In the midst of this whirl of business and pleasure no place is left for spiritual life, and for the cultivation of religious sentiment: see how busy men are about material interests, if not for themselves personally, for the works they patronize, and how their minds and souls are absorbed in political struggles and turned away from higher aims. The modern man fixes his affections on the things of this world, and desperately pursues the good things therein attainable, as if this were his lasting dwelling-place and there were nothing beyond. For him the word Heaven has no meaning. In this cold and dry atmosphere religion grows daily weaker and tends to be swept away.
The third cause undermining it 'acts on the working-classes. One shudders to think that in England, Germany, and France, everywhere, in fact, where Socialism penetrates among the lower orders, it sows the seeds of Atheism. On this point indeed a very strange error is committed. The workman who stands up for equality rejects Christianity, which brought the good tidings to the outcast and the desolate. Christ declared that “the last should be first;" and His word is proscribed by those to whom it promises freedom.
By a similar and no less strange contradiction, the majority of the partisans of democracy in the present day adopt the tenets of Darwinism and Positivism. Darwinism applied to social sciences sets aside all notions of equality, and simply glorifies the triumph of the strongest and the cleverest. We know, indeed, that in the animal kingdom the strongest and the fittest get the upper hand in the struggle for existence, and the weakly and delicate are by degrees eliminated. Thus is accomplished natural selection, which transforms the species and effects progress. In human society, says the Darwinist, the same law should be allowed free sway. In this way those races and individuals who are less favoured would have to yield their place to those who are superior. This is as it should be. Charity and pretended justice interfere very wrongly in such instances. They are placing obstacles
VOLUME LIV. JULY-DECEMBER. 1888
ISBISTER AND COMPANY
56 LUDGATE HILL LONDON