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It is the purpose of this paper to ask the meaning of that very common and sometimes very unclean social fact, the modern newspaper; more particularly to inquire into its relation to Christian belief and practice. As it will be necessary at the outset to define the term Christianity, I will begin by stating what, in my opinion, Christianity is not :
In the first place, it is not a religion.
In the second place, it is not embodied in creeds or dogmas. In the third place, it is not a closet into which men can withdraw from contact with the material things of life.
In the fourth place, it is not a scheme for saving individuals.
Let me explain what I mean by these four negatives, which, standing thus in isolation, may seem harsh and even inconsistent. First, Christianity is not a religion. It is no easy task to frame such a definition of religion as will meet the approval of all, even of those who are here present, but I think we should in the main agree upon the following: Religion is the conscious desire to be one with God, and the satisfaction of that desire through conduct in our daily life. This is a broad definition which covers and is intended to cover all the socalled religions known to history. For my own part, I find it impossible to look upon Buddhism, upon the Greek and Roman observances, upon the beliefs of the primitive Aryans, as lying without the circle of religious history. One of the most profoundly significant passages in all the New Testament is that contained in St. Paul's address to the Athenians on Mar's Hill: "God . . . hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth .. that they should seek the Lord if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he be not far from every one of us."
The apostle, if I interpret him aright, means there is but one God, and that he is God of the whole universe. In him literally do all things live and move and have their being, and in so far as men at any and all times have sought after this divine being and have found him in the world about them, and have lived out their beliefs, in so far have they had truly religious lives, whether it were in Africa, or Japan, or primeval America.
I know that this view has not been generally held. Perhaps it is not even now the common view There have been those there may be yet-who divide all religions into true and false beliefs, or into religions and superstitions. It has been thought that Christianity could be glorified by contrasting it with other religions. The darker they were painted, the more material, sensual and depraved they were made to appear, the brighter it was supposed would be the shining forth of that ray which is believed to be the light of the world. Even some well-meaning historians and philosophers, through mistaken zeal for a good cause, have laid on the colors with a careless hand. But one cannot go far in this depreciation of non-Christian religions without encountering serious obstacles. Men lived in India, Greece and Rome as noble, as earnest, as elevated in spirit as any who walk the earth to-day History tells of priests of so-called false religious who believed devoutly, who strove to teach their people purity, uprightness, and religious faith And what shall we say of such examples of pagan virtue as Socrates and Plato-men whose lofty sincerity puts all of us to shame, whose names are synonyms for devoutness, manhood, courage? We cannot talk of the darkness of paganism as though these men had never lived. That to be untrue to the facts, to become ourselves false priests. Swift,
in his Letter to a Young Clergyman, says that it was the custom in his day for ministers to seek to advance Christianity by abusing the Creek philosophers; but he has noticed that it is generally those who know least about the latter that find. most. to say in abuse of them. In the same way, we may say in general, that it is those who have but a vague, incoherent idea of the tenets of paganism who are loudest in denominating it wholly false and useless. Those who know these religions intimately and profoundly always speak of them with a respect. bordering on reverence. Indeed it may be laid down as a safe maxim that any belief that has long held sway over a great number of human minds is worthy of respect. To despise it on the ground that it is not Christianity, shows an intolerance, a narrowness which is diametrically opposed to the central teaching of Christ himself.
The truth is that this view of the religions of the world is at bottom polytheistic. If there is but one God, there is, there can be, but one religion, in whatsoever various forms it may be manifested. I believe that this is so, that all the so-called great. religions of history have been stages by which man has drawn steadily nearer to God, by which God has revealed himself with growing clearness to man. This approach of truth and humankind went on until the day when that revelation was made complete, when God and man met once for all upon the Mount. of Olives and by the Sea of Galilee that they might forever after meet upon every hill and plain and by every stream the whole wide world over. Since that day, we who have shared in that revelation, have known, or should have known, all religion under the name of Christianity. There is no other name to call it by.
Christianity is not, therefore, a religion, one religion among
many It is for us, precisely, religion, the religion, the modern religion, the only religion which it is possible for us to conceive. It is the process of the reconciliation of God and man which I have termed the essence of religion, brought openly to conciousness and thus revealed. Revealed, it is true, as never before, but so revealed because it gathered up into itself the significance of all previous anticipations of this revealing. The dreams of Buddha, the wistful hopes of Plato, the confident prophesies of Isaiah-all found themselves here realized
This is no new idea. It is almost as old as the Christian era. The early Latin father, Tertullian, says that the human soul is naturally Christian We do not bear Christianity to the heathen, we awaken it within them. And so Clement of Alexandria, one of the early Greek fathers, was of the belief that God had but one great plan for educating the world, of which Christianity was the final step. He considered the Greek religion a preparation for Christ's coming, little less significant than the Jewish dispensation.
It will now be apparent, I think, what is meant by my second negative, namely, that Christianity is not embodied in creeds or dogmas. In the first place, if Christianity is as big as all religion, no creed can hold it. A creed that contained the particulars of Christian belief would be a document as long as from here to the furthermost fixed star, and in it would be written all the hopes and aspirations and struggles of the human soul since man appeared upon this planet. In the second place, no dogma can represent it, because a dogma is a fixed and rigid thing, whereas Christianity is ever growing and widening with the widening sympathies and interests of men. When you
have put your leaven into the lump, it is folly to enclose the lump in an air-tight bottle. No, the essence of Christianity is
not in the dogma or the creed, but in the lives of men. And men grow. They want a better creed every day Even though they use the old forms, they read new meanings in them. To a genuine, live Christian the words of the creed mean infinitely more to-day than they did yesterday, and to-morrow, because the interests of the man are growing and ramifying, will have fresh significance.
In the third place, Christianity, I have said, is not a closet into which men can withdraw from contact with the material things of life. The belief that it is so, seems te be an error held over from the Middle Ages. Such beliefs die hard. Certainly, it was no part of the teachings of Christ that man should do his work by withdrawing from the forum and the market. He had no theory to propose upon which men were to meditate. His was a gospel of action It was a gospel to be lived out in conduct, in the relations of men, in the progress of civilization. Otherwise it would not have existed at all. It would have been a mere Utopian fancy, and have taken its place, with other such fancies, upon the dusty book shelves of libraries. Instead, it found embodiment in the works of men, the progress of wars, the building of churches and school-houses, the manufacture of clothing, the draining of swamps. It was the vital principle in that re-adjustment, that re-handling of materials, which we commonly recognize as the sign of the advance of civilization.
In the fourth place, Christianity is not a scheme for saving individuals. It is not that because it is something more. In economics and in politics men are passing beyond the merely individualistic view to a conception of the inter-actions of soci
Man is no longer viewed as an isolated individual, but as part of a large social and national organism in which he per