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The friends of progress should always be able to read that greatest of all living chapters in Creation : the condition of the human world. It concerns every body; because the world is composed of individuals. And if those who stand upon the summit of the hill are incapable of seeing the broad extent of humanity that surrounds them, then who shall go to the contemplation? The whole world, as a general thing, sees future events through the eyes of a very few persons. Indeed, it is almost true to say that, considered in the historical sense, the entire body of mankind has but two eyes or mediums through which to contemplate the condition of things, namely, Politics and RELIGION.
On this occasion, let us look at the world through the medium of Religion. My impressions upon this subject may be briefly written. I, therefore, solicit your clearest discernment to the following points : It is well known by all the inhabitants of Christendom that the world is full of sectarian jargon and bitterness. And that very conspicuously before the world are arrayed, in bitter and uncompromising hostility, two powerful forces—Protestantism and Catholicism.
In order to bring these religious institutions distinctly before your minds, I will describe their leading characteristics.
Catholicism is a system of supernaturalism. It claims to be the “One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church”-based upon supernatural authority, claiming unending infallibility. It denies the right of individual judgment upon religious subjects ; but inculcates the virtues, charities, and hospitalities of Christianity through the agency of popes, bishops and priests, who profess to have their authority direct from the supernatural
Protestantism is also a system of supernaturalism–I mean, when considered as a whole. It claims to have discovered the true import of the Sacred Scriptures. It is based upon a supernatural foundation, but encourages the right of private judgment upon all subjects pertaining to religion and conscience. It likewise inculcates the virtues and charities of Christianity through the medium of clergymen, schools, and colleges.
Now I am not impressed to consider the minor points of either Catholicism or Protestantism, nor the different views which one party or the other entertains concerning the truest methods of biblical interpretation. There have already been too many churches built, and too many salaries paid, to have these oriental and insignificant affairs discussed. But I have to do only with the foundation upon which these two very popular institutions manifestly stand. It is essential to understand here, what is very generally overlooked, that both of these gigantic religious organizations are struggling to maintain an everlasting position upon the same identical basis. There is one foundation ; but it is not large enough to sustain two such stupendous and inharmonious superstructures. Hence it inevitably follows, that both must fall foreverleaving the ground to be occupied by something more consistent. But one must decline and crumble before the other. Now the question is, which of these two religious institutions is first destined to decay ?
Let us leave this question unanswered, for a few moments, and turn our thoughts in another direction.
It is well known by the clergy and people generally of the present day, that there is rapidly growing a spirit of rationalistic or philosophical Christianity. This is the Harmonial Philosophy. It stands upon the revelations of Nature, and upon the foundations of the highest form of Reason. It does not deny the virtues, charities, truths, or liberalities of any known religion ; but simply rejects every thing which claims to be intrinsically based upon the miraculous or unprofitably supernatural. It looks upon the moralisms and precepts of Christianity as a natural development of a well balanced mind-or, more properly, as a natural unfolding of truth in the general progress of mankind. It regards all the real miracles, prophecies, and miraculous powers, as explainable upon philosophical principles; and holds to the doctrine of human progress and universal improvement in the constitution of things.
Now, it will be perceived, the declarations and positions of this Philosophy are clear, and positively antagonistic to both Protestantism and Catholicism. It is essential that you fix
your minds firmly upon this point. The rationalism of this day is positively opposed to the two great forms of religious belief. Because, as before said, the quarrel, between Protestantism and Catholicism, is sustained on the desire which one party has to supplant and transcend the other. For they stand upon the same foundation. By this, I mean to say, that the Bible is the unmistakable originator of both these religious institutions. It is the ground-plan of each; and the two start from the same degree of apostolic authority; but there is a vast struggle, not now obvious, but certain to occur between these Powers—a war, destined summarily to settle the question of the ground-title, and the divine right of human government. A supernatural religion based upon and supported by miracles equally supernatural, is the basis of both superstructures. There is no denying this plain fact. I would not be understood to consider Catholicism as good in
all respects as Protestantism; for it is clear, that the latter has wrought many improvements in the form of religious worship, has abandoned many expensive and unnecessary ceremonies, and encouraged individual education, and private judgment in scriptural reading.
But mankind are now far more civilized and advanced in arts and sciences than in any former era. Men understand each other better now; and the great laws of nature are more easily and generally comprehended. The shackles of bigotry and intolerance drop off as the cause of Freedom advances ; and all members of humanity-of Christendom especiallyare becoming more thoroughly reasonable and baptized in the pure waters of wisdom.
Here, then, is the point: men are becoming more reasonable. The fate of Christendom depends wholly upon this one fact. Men are realizing their manhood and becoming intelligent and strong.
Among other revolutions which await the higher portions of mankind, is a religious one, which will be more powerful than any known to history. But it will be effected principally by Reason. One party will reason philosophically, the other theologically; both will reason correctly from the premises assumed. You may be assured of the truth of this approaching crisis. The world must recognize it, because it will be accompanied with war; for politics are inseparably connected, all over the world, with religious systems. Religion will develop reason ; but politics will impel the masses to unsheath the sword and to stain the bosom of nature with blood! Friends of progress! be not discouraged; for the final crisis must come; then the strange interregnum.
Concerning so-called revealed religion, the majority of the people will reason thus : “We believe Christianity to be a supernatural development of truth. There are truths our feeble reason could never have discovered such as the char.
acter of God, the doctrine of immortality, and so forth; hence, a supernatural revelation is essential to our future safety and present enlightenment.” (Remember, my friends, that thousands of Protestants will and do reason in this way.) And looking about on either side, they will say: “What means all these sects? Whence their origin? Is this the result of religious liberty ? Nay; it is religious anarchy! Wherefore? Because all Protestantism is in error. We have a supernatural religion, but we have been striving to comprehend a supernatural matter, with our common, natural judgments! This is unreasonable.” Thus many will say: This
! is unreasonable; and it is all chargeable upon Protestants. They have been very inconsistent. They believe that Christianity is a supernatural revelation of supernatural truth ; and yet they have the presumption to think, that every man should read this supernatural revelation to please himself. Catholicism is more consistent, and more certain to redeem the sinner from the mortgage which the devil holds against him; because this religion is true to all the apostolic symbols and pen and ink habiliments of the early church, as these were supernaturally originated and organized on earth. Protestantism, on the contrary, is unsafe (on the supernatural theory) as a divine power unto salvation. Its existence is based upon the original developments of supernaturalism; but, on the score of freedom of opinion, this church has adopted a somewhat more spiritual method of accomplishing the new birth and the sinner's final salvation. This freedom of opinion is now the great trouble. It has opened the door to all manner of heresy, atheism, demonism, and diverse sectarian antagonisms to the claims of supernaturalism. Now I am impressed with the conviction, that no natural judgment is adequate to the just understanding of supernatural things. If Christianity is a system of supernatural truth, then it requires a supernaturally illuminated mind to comprehend its