HAS RELIGION BEEN DOING SOMETHING FOR US — OR TO US?
There appears in the April issue of the Ladies" Home Journal a critical analysis of present-day religion by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Christian spokesman for whose intellectual honesty I have long had a deep regard. It is entitled: "How Religion Helps to Mess up the World," and is something every religious-minded person should read, particularly those who measure spiritual values with a sectarian yardstick. To examine one's own religion, discern its weaknesses, and point to its ineffectiveness, demands a breadth of vision and honesty of purpose few men are capable of revealing. One of the strange but familiar aspects of dogmatic religion is that it imbues its devotees with the belief that they alone have truth, and nothing but the truth, and that it is always someone else who must be reformed; the religious concepts of others must be changed and improved, rather than their own.
For too long have religious concepts been looked upon as something too sacred to be honestly questioned and weighed in the light of logic and reason. Yet the highway of history is marked by the funeral pyres and maligned reputations of honest men who have dared to question enthroned error and plead for intellectual freedom and the inherent spiritual rights of the individual. The very life-blood of dogmatism is an unquestioning blind faith which precludes the individual's inherent spiritual capacity to grow and expand toward a greater understanding of the eternal verities, and is a denial and negation of the fundamental concept upon which all religion is supposed to be based — that man is essentially a spiritual being. Granting that he is, the only logical purpose of life and his experience in a world of matter is the progressive unfoldment of his own intellectual and spiritual capacities, and which cannot be accomplished by following anything blindly. Unless this premise is admitted, religion and life itself are meaningless, or to use the terms of a materialistic and moribund 19th Century science that life is but "A fortuitous concurrence of atoms" — — a universe without rhyme, reason or purpose. The present-day state of religion, its ineffectiveness in bringing peace to the world and brotherhood to men — which Dr. Fosdick points out and deplores — is nothing new. The germs of the weakness were present from the very beginning, and attention has been called to that fact time and again.
For centuries western civilization has been nurtured at the breast of a unique ecclesiastical system with its various sectarian ramifications, built upon dead-letter interpretation of the early Christian mystery teachings, the esoteric nature, or inner meaning of which never was revealed publicly, even by the Christian Master himself, but given at least in part to a few half-educated disciples. The church did not lose them, as has sometimes been claimed, for the reason that it never possessed them. What happened to Christian doctrine from the very beginning is well known to students and scholars. Innumerable Christian sects sprang up in the first century, and there was much bitter wrangling as to the meaning of this, and the meaning of that, and it is doubtful if Christianity per se, in its pristine purity, survived the first century of our era. Several of the early church fathers, Clement and Origen, undoubtedly had some understanding of the true nature of the teachings, judging from their writings still extant, but their influence on church doctrines soon was overcome and swept aside by the overwhelming spirit of dogmatism which was fast crystalizing as the last remnants of Christian Gnosticism and neo-Platonic thought were discarded.
That no vestige of the ancient culture remain to reveal the source of their borrowed robes, the Christian mob, led by the monks, burned the celebrated Alexandrian library, long a seat of Mediterranean culture and learning, and destroyed, as they supposed, some 700,000 ancient manuscripts, which was just the beginning of the long purge. When the perspective of time gives a cleared relationship between cause and effect, and the history of our age and civilization is written, I think the ancient stupidities of the race will again be revealed — the familiar pattern of men blindly marching down the corridors of time, following the same banners of half-truths and illusions, refusing to examine their beliefs, and screaming in rage when anyone else did, marching stiffly onward into the catastrophe that marks the end of every fool's paradise, and where we now find ourselves.
Human nature being what it is, and what it has been as far as history records — a veritable storehouse of conceit and pride — man in every age has smugly drawn the mantle of his own illusions about him; viewed his handiwork with colossal pride; pointed to the gods his half evolved mind has created and loudly proclaimed: "THIS IS IT!" From the graves of the unnumbered dead; from the monumental relics of long-forgotten civilizations lost in the night of time comes a voice of warning: "Take it easy, brother! That's what we thought, too! The last word of Divine Wisdom has not yet been revealed!"
1. From the PEOPLE'S FORUM, where letters and comments of general public interest appear regularly in The Norwalk Hour, Norwalk, Connecticut. (return to text)
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