June 15, 2011
Nevada's Online State News Journal
[Thomas Fitch, Recollections and Reflections No. 16, San Francisco Call, 3 January 1904]
14 THE SAN FRANCISCO SUNDAY CALL.
RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS OF THOMAS FITCH.
"Creedless" Christians pay no tithing to orthodoxy, they yield allegiance to no denominational creed, they attend race courses and theaters and balls, and they read novels and newspapers and other works of fiction. Nevertheless, they feel that "it is not all of life to live nor all of death to die," and they respect, even if they do not altogether believe in, that splendid system of ethics and philosophy which for nearly nineteen hundred years has held aloft a flambeau to light the onward steps of civilization.
Christianity is a beautiful ship, plowing through the deeps of the universe and freighted with the hopes of a world. In her journey through the centuries barnacles have fastened themselves upon her keel and sides and impeded her progress. But as she has sailed out of the salt seas of the past into the fresh living Amazons of the present these offsprings of remote and murky waters have dropped away. The racks of Torquemada are rusted beyond repair. The fagot-fires with which Calvin roasted Servetus have been unkindled for 300 years. The old women of Salem no longer tremble when the Puritan witch hunter appears at the door and the pillories in which the Quakers were locked have crumbled to decay.
Society no longer closes its doors in the face of him who refuses to believe that Jonah sojourned for three days in the interior of a whale. Men are now esteemed as good citizens who distrust the statement that Samson wielded the jawbone of an ass as powerfully as some of his critics, and ostracism no longer attends upon those doubting souls who decline to concede that thousands of Israelites followed Moses around and around for forty years, like blind mules in a bark mill, trying to escape from a desert so small that a boy on a bicycle could have crossed it in one day.
That the growing intelligence of mankind is banishing from orthodoxy these allegories and fables of the Bible do not affect the central truths preached by the Savior any more than the variations of the needle caused by mounds of iron affect the eternal verity of the magnetic compass. The world of thought moves forward from the darkness of ignorance into the light of progress, as surely as the world of matter rushes onward through space under the lash of the centripetal force. Science has cleared away much of the rubbish that ignorance and fanaticism piled around the altars of Christianity, and the altars are none the worse for the cleansing. Of what consequence is it whether the passage of the Red Sea was the result of a miracle or of a low tide? Of what consequence is it whether or not the world ceased to whirl at the ipse dixit of Joshua? The story of the five loaves and the two fishes may have been a miracle, or it may have been hypnotism, or it may have been a parable — does that detract from the pose and beauty it the sermon on the mount?
"America," said a satirical Frenchman, "is a country with seventeen religions and only one gravy." He might have added that each religion is a force for good government, for order, for sobriety, for integrity, for unselfishness and for truth. Indeed there was never a religion since the beginning of the world that was not better for the world in its time than no religion at all. From Thor's altars amid the oaks the virtues of truth and chastity were extolled. On the cromlechs of the Druids was inscribed the maxim that no liar may enter heaven. Confucius announced the golden rule. Buddha preached charity and honesty and love. The priests of Isis and Osiris besought their followers to be merciful as well as just. The Greek, who worshiped Vulcan and Minerva, was a better blacksmith and a closer student for his belief. The Roman, who poured upon the earth his libation to Mars, was a braver soldier because of his faith. The Indian declares that the Great Spirit hates a crooked tongue. His religion keeps the Hindoo clean and the Turk sober, and makes of the Parsec an early riser.
And what shall be said of the uplifting and advancing and beneficent influence of the religion of progress, the religion of humanity, the religion of Jesus Christ? The answer may be read in the laws and literature and methods and morals and manners of the civilized world. Where the iron barges of commerce smite the abject seas with their conquering feet; where the "million chorded lyre of thought" makes music over the land and under the sea; where hospitals and houses of shelter for the sick and needy link their shadows across continents; where academies and libraries swing open wide their doors at the touch of the seeker for learning; where cataracts are harnessed to mighty wheels whose iron arms relieve mankind from toil; where order and law reign; where freedom abides; where man marches onward to a place among the immortals — there the triumphs of Christianity are sung.
From his Holiness at Rome, whose spiritual sway, extends from the Alps unto the Andes; from the Arctic unto the Orient, down or up to the humblest soldier of the Salvation Army, who beseeches his fallen fellow man to follow the drumbeats out of the slums into a better life, every honest follower of the religion of Jesus is a better man, and makes the world a better world because of his belief, for he is a force for truth, a force for honesty, a force for good.
The Protestant preacher constantly impresses upon the members of his congregation the duties of honesty, truthfulness, sobriety and obedience to law. The Catholic priest never ceases to enjoin upon his flock the necessity of righteousness of life. He says to the clerk "Keep your fingers out of the employer's till." He says to husbands, "Keep your feet out of the deadfall." He says to the youth, "Keep your presence out of the bagnio."
Every clergyman of whatever denomination is, I repeat, a persistent, industrious, potential influence for right living and right thinking. He saves the merchant from loss through the dishonesty of clerks. He closes the door of the home in the face of the desecrating libertine. He reduces the cost of the taxpayer of prisons and hospitals. His life, his example, his precepts are as much an element of material advantage to the community in which he lives as a new water supply or a new trolley line.
As humanity has left behind the cave dweller, the fisherman in his dugout canoe and the warrior who made a drinking cup of his enemy's skull; as it has come to the use of wheeled vehicles and ceiled houses; as it has harnessed the elements to do its bidding and has called into being slaves with fingers of steel and lungs of steam; as it has climbed out of the swamps upward and upward into the radiant sunshine of the upland, there has stepped out of the wayside shadows a gloomy presence which has croaked to humanity: "There is no God. There is no future. Yesterday you were not, today you are; eat, drink and be merry, for to-morrow you die."
Of what value to the community is a carping infidel seeking ever to belittle and deride the religions of the world ? Possibly Bulwer may have been right in saying that "all religions are equally incredible to the philosopher and equally useful to the statesman," but with it should have been coupled another saying, to the effect that "all materialistic philosophers are equally incredible to the scholar and equally dangerous to society." Anaxagoras said "the first thing is to seem honest, and the next is to be so." Yet unless there is value in "being" honest there can be no value in "seeming" so. The pseudo scientists who assert that faith in divine justice and divine mercy is a folly, that belief in an after life is a delusion, that there is no God, and who denounce religion and propose to elevate a tawdry and bedizened Goddess of Reason upon her desecrated altars, are engaged in mischievous work. Every advocate of this false philosophy is a moral lunatic standing upon the brink of a whirlpool and occupied in a malign effort to drive the property, the homes, the freedom and the happiness of a people into the vortex of anarchy.
What would be thought of him who should visit a hot springs resort and make it his business to knock the crutches from under every rheumatic cripple, who was limping, his way to the healing waters? If you make a Jew believe that the Pentateuch is a collection of fables, that Moses was an inefficient guide, that the ten messages of the thunder were never voiced from Sinai and that the teachings of Leviticus ought not to control the rate of interest — will he prove a better citizen for his non-belief ?
If you make the Christian believe that, the faith of the fathers is but a delusive dream of a Savior, who died in vain, that the story of the Virgin Mother is but a sweet, unsubstantial fancy, that the pennants which float from the masts of ships that carry the grain of charity to lift the pulsing crimson once more to the white lips of famine flutter no signals to watching angels to tell that benevolence still dwells in the breast of man; if you tell the Christian all this, and prove it to him by the logic of some professor who has examined a bug under a microscope and with the result assumes to overturn the literature and the traditions of 1900 years, will you have made of him a better citizen, a better neighbor or a better man?
Those who preach the creed of eternal death are engaged in a harmful task. Remove from man the stays of belief in an after life and accountability there for deeds done in the body and you have deprived him of the props without which he is not strong enough to walk erect and the selfish and savage instincts of the primeval human will assert themselves. Destroy religion and put its priests and preachers out of commission and the invisible police will be disbanded and chaos will come again.
According to materialism, there is no such thing as inspiration and thought is only a secretion of the brain, even as bile is a secretion of the liver. According to materialism, man's brain is only a thought producing machine and food is the fuel that generates the motive power. You place food in the mechanism of a Shakespeare and produce a great dramatist; you place it in a Webster and produce a great statesman; you place it in a Grant and produce a great general; you place it in a Captain Kid and produce a great pirate. We are Mrs. Jarley's wax works, all of us, and a mutton chop is the crank that winds us up.
The next step will probably be the development of a science of dietetic thought. The actor will eat raw beef when he is to play Richard III, and waffles before attempting Claude Melnotte, and the statesman will eat ice cream before voting on harbor appropriations, beet sugar before discussion of reciprocity with Cuba and stuffed peppers before he approaches the subject of a Panama canal.
The lover will say to his adored one: "Matilda Ann, I love thee. If thou will consent to be my bride life shall be one long dream of happiness." She will recognize in the tender avowal the food force of the veal which furnished the staple of Alfred's dinner, and the impulse generated by her own evening meal of spring chicken will cause her to reply in dulcet accents of undying affection. This may not be the approved modern method of love making. It is many years since I had occasion to make love to anybody except my wife and fashions change with times. Maybe the proper course to pursue would be to say: "Will the darling compacted molecules which constitute your consciousness consider the advantage of permanent affiliation with the development and developed protoplasm which now places itself at your disposal?"
Accept the doctrine that man is a machine and there is an end of conscience, there is an end of inspiration, there is an end of moral accountability and there ought to be an end of accountability to law, for man ought to be held responsible for the structure of his brain or the operation of food upon it, and if he can evade human consequences why may he not burglarize a bank; murder his mother-in-law, hate his neighbor and love his neighbor's wife as he may be impelled by the operations of his dinner?
Materialistic philosophers may sneer at the errors and conflicts of theology, but their creed of eternal death is a creed that makes criminals. Belief in God and belief in an after life constitute a great reserved vigilant, though unseen, armed guard, which ever lays arresting hands upon the selfish and savage impulses of man, and which ever aids to keep society in order. No thief ever comes away from the confessional unimportuned to make restitution and there the scarlet woman is warned to sin no more and the sorrowing are comforted.
When I have seen in frontier camps a Catholic priest riding forth into the storm and night to smooth the passage of a dying soul; when I have seen men and women wearing the Salvation Army uniform, feeding the hungry, succoring the distressed, I, who believe not implicitly, in any creed, and who yet believe in the truth which underlies all creeds, take off my hat in homage to every soldier of Christ.
Discussion between the orthodox and the unorthodox is usually profitless, for on such a subject men will reason in a circle, and I am not sure that such idle discussion may not best be terminated as it was once ended by an old Baptist divine. There was a conference meeting and an infidel farmer from an adjoining county rode over to argue with and discomfit the preacher. Placing himself in front of the man of God, he poured forth the arguments he had cribbed from Voltaire. The preacher listened scornfully, but patiently, and when the infidel paused he replied: "Well, my friend, I won't discuss the matter with you. Your infidelity is grounded in you. You can keep your belief and I will keep mine. You live your life and I will live mine, and by and by, when we leave this world, I will go to heaven and you can go to hell."
One reason why polemical discussion is usually profitless is because it is the spiritual sense of man that perceives his spiritual life. It is related of Tyndall that with a companion he once passed a night on the summit of the Alps in order to obtain a view there of sunrise. When the rays of the morning sun lit crystal domes and pinnarets with prismatic rays, Tyndall's companion said to him: "Now, Professor, don't you feel that there is a God?" "Yes," replied the great materialist, "if you don't try to prove it to me."
Happily the greater part of mankind are born with the spiritual sense. Occasionally there is a moral malformation who comes into the world without it. You cannot reach such. You may instruct in many things one who is born blind. You may instruct him in mathematics. In odors, in form, in taste and in music, but you cannot, with any system of raised letters, cause him to comprehend the difference between pink and blue. The truth of the after life is borne in upon each of us by the testimony of his own soul and thought is a witness never subpenaed.
For myself I do not, I cannot, I will not believe that this life ends all. The body of the unborn babe was death until life pricked the inoculating germ of immortality into the pulseless, colorless mass hurrying on in obedience to undeviating law into the voiceless, reachless eternities. The body of the man must be death again before life's work begins anew. We know that the body will pass on into the foliage of forests and the plash of streams, and who shall say that the life, freed from its earthly body, may not journey on in immortal youth "unhurt amid the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds"?
I decline to believe that I am an intelligence unfit to survive the death of my body. You may accuse me of being merely a bundle of molecules developed out of a protoplasm and progressing into a gas, but all the same I know with an intuition that is higher than reason — I know with a consciousness that scorns your scalpel and defies your microscope and defies the calculations of your pencil — that while you may bury or cremate my body you cannot thus dispose of me, for I am —
The wearer, not the garb;
The inmate not the room; the plume
Of the falcon, not the bars
That keep him from the splendid stars.
I know that the time will come when not the voice that speaks, not the arms that gesture, not the brain which is only the poor loom on which unseen fingers weave fabrics of imperfect thought, but the life which shall survive them all will go out into broader fields of effort, into grander cycles of time, into worlds before which this world shall pale as a star pales in the presence of the morning.