Sunday, December 29, 2013

Here is the essay "The truth in the Trinity: a re-examination of some cherished Unitarian views of God, with questions", by the Rev. Carl Scovel, minister emeritus of King's Chapel in Boston, receipient of the distinquished service award by the UUA and a Berry Street lecturer, originally printed in the Summer, 1973 issue of The UU Christian Journal.

At the end of the essay I will also provide links to a few of our contemporary discussions.

Here is the essay by Carl Scovel:

If God is Three
And three's a crowd,
Then only One
Can be allowed.
If God is One
and one's alone,
Then how can God
Come to his own?
If One is Three
Where's unity?
If three is One,
Then where's the fun?
But if God's free,
He might be three,
Or one, or four,
Or less, or more.
We keep on counting;
He keeps the score.

I suppose the question will arise: "Why discuss the Trinity anyway?" Who cares? Who is going to lose sleep over it? Does it make the slightest difference to the couples wandering in the park, to the bigwigs dickering in Moscow, or to the ballplayers on the athletic field? Does it really interest anyone who attends church nowadays--Unitarian or otherwise?

I asked myself this question a dozen times as I pored over Scripture and the church fathers. And the deeper I got into this doctrine, the more I read and scribbled, the more I encountered ideas and interpretations which ran headlong into each other, the more urgently did this question press itself upon me, until I realized that I was not looking for an answer, for a new doctrine or an old doctrine, but for a question. I was looking for the question which prompted four hundred years of profound and serious and sustained theological inquiry and debate, four centuries of history which have been summarily dismissed by many Christians and virtually all Unitarians as logic-chopping and vain speculation.

Yet we seek for the questions which will illuminate our faith. The issues which faced the church fathers during the first three centuries A.D. are here today, but they are badly put and badly argued. This is not surprising, for theology is hard and desperately unrewarding work. It is easier to spend one's time in committee meetings. But what the church--laity and clergy alike--needs today is clarity. We need to understand the promise that has been given to us. We need to know what is asked of us and what we have a right to ask. It is, therefore, not only proper but essential that we look at the church doctrines which we have so smoothly and arrogantly passed over before--and one of these is the doctrine of the Trinity. And if we need to go beyond the council of Nicea in 325 A.D. we need also to go beyond William Ellery Channing's 1819 Baltimore sermon on Unitarian Christianity.

The case for trinitarianism

In that sermon, Channing articulated the principal arguments against the Trinity which Unitarians have raised throughout Christian history. He said quite simply that the doctrine of the Trinity could not be found in the Bible. It was the same argument used by Michael Servetus three hundred years before and by Arius twelve hundred years before that. Channing wanted to go back to the simple religion of Jesus as he saw it in the Gospels and to bypass all the seemingly useless theological wrangling that followed.

And there's much to be said for Channing's side. The New Testament doesn't ever use the word "trinity." Tertullian coined it in the third century. Jesus refers to God as his father, says he must obey his father, return to his father, and so forth. He clearly subordinates himself to God. But what most Unitarians miss in the New Testament is the way in which Jesus identifies his work with God's work and his will with God's will (cf John 14:1-11). "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me." "He who has seen me has seen the Father." "Know you not," he says to Phillip, who has asked him for a big display of miracles, "know you not that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" This echoes the faith of the early church. "God was in Christ," says Paul, "reconciling the world to Himself." (2 Cor 5:19). And again: "For if there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist (1 Cor 8:6). The New Testament may not teach the Trinity, but it surely seems to pave the way for the idea of the Trinity. The texts just cited are simply ignored by most Unitarians when they talk about going back to that "simple religion of Jesus."

It is necessary to realize that Jesus' ministry per se did not make a tremendous impact on the world while he was alive. His impact came after he died, in the events which we call the Resurrection. He came alive in the remembering, in the reliving of his life, by those who felt his impact in a way that they did not seem to when he was alive and with them. In a sense, he was more alive after he died, alive to those who were so struck by him that now they did not quite know what to do with their traditional Father-God. Jesus now seemed more real to them. They knew Jesus had taught them of the Father-God, but he seemed so much more vital than the God of tradition--until it occurred to them that the reason he seemed so real was that it was this God who was with him and in him and through him, and through him was now with them. Emmanuel--God-with-us--came true in Jesus Christ. This, I submit, was the early Christian's experience of God.

The question which the early church was trying to answer was: How is God with us? And the church answered it by saying, "He is with us through Christ, God's spirit now moving and speaking in our church, among us, present in our hymns and prayers and preaching and in the breaking of bread." No, this in itself does not create a doctrine of the Trinity, but it is clear that the Christian experience was moving in that direction.

The Council of Nicaea

I will not attempt to describe here the two centuries of debate that preceded the council of Nicea. What the Council decided in 325 was that the Son of God was not an angel, nor a creature like other creatures, but was derived from the very essence of God Himself. Christ was "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God; being of one substance (homo-ousios) with the Father."

Now of course the Council of Nicea was a highly politicized event. It was called by the emperor, Constantine, in order to bring about theological unity in his empire. He paid the expenses of the 318 bishops who attended, and it is likely that he neither understood nor really cared much about the arguments that filled the air. What he wanted was a unified statement of belief, and he got it. Only two of the bishops who attended the Council--one of them Arius, a proto-Unitarian--refused to sign it.

I am convinced that certain benefits resulted from this decision. The trinitarian style of thinking preserved both the majesty of God and his proximity to his children, asserting both his mystery and his love without compromising either. The trinitarian style of thinking kept a certain motion or dynamic in the center of God. There is a church in Constantinople (Istanbul) which has a mosaic depicting God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit dancing with each other hand in hand. Motion is essential to an understanding of God, unless you prefer to see God as a big clockmaker who winds up the clock and then goes to sleep.

But the political atmosphere of Nicaea and the harshly dogmatic debates turned Christianity into a religion of propositions which one either assents to or denies. I can appreciate the (small t) trinitarian style of thinking, but hardening this into the formula of (capital T) Trinity has hurt the Christian faith.

Servetus and afterwards

It was up to Michael Servetus 1206 years after Nicaea, to raise this question again when he published On the Errors of the Trinity in 1531. In this work, written in the midst of Protestant and Catholic inquisitions, Servetus affirmed that the Bible teaches the Father is supreme, the Son is coeternal with the Father but subordinate to him, and that the Son can save mankind without being equal to the Father. For these heresies Servetus was executed in 1553, but his ideass travelled across Europe and eventually reached England, where in 1714 a young minister named Samuel Clarke, rector of the church of St. James in Picadilly, wrote a book that might have come from the pen of Servetus himself. It was called On the Scriptural Doctrine of the Trinity, and with 1250 Scriptural citations attempted to prove exactly what Servetus had said. Just before his death, Samuel Clarke amended the Book of Common Prayer, removing the prayers to Christ and the Athanasian Creed, and substituting Scriptural doxologies for the Gloria Patri. It was this revision of the Service of Morning Prayer which 55 years later became the basis for James Freeman's revision of the prayerbook at King's Chapel. The prayerbook now used in King's Chapel, therefore, contains the classical Unitarian Christian theological position. The prayerbook protects this position and makes possible its enunciation every Sunday.

From Unitarian Christianity to Humanism

At one time Unitarian Christianity was the theological position of every American Unitarian church. Now it is the position of relatively few Unitarians, and those few are dwindling. There is a reason for this. Unitarian Christianity has sought simplicity. Simplicity is fine, but simplicity has its dangers. It tends to become a religion of that which is intellectually the easiest to grasp, and of what feels to be true at the moment. Furthermore, one God without dynamics and without a mediator becomes either the unmoved Never, utterly transcendent and remote from man, or else becomes solely the Father God, so anthropomorphic that he ceases to be believable as God. For example, the God whom Channing described in his Baltimore Sermon sounds for all the world like a benevolent New England merchant. Very anthropomorphic.

In this Unitarian Christianity, God becomes either too remote or too close, but in either case the same result ensues. Man takes God's place. Unchecked Unitarianism then leads to Humanism. As Robert Frost aptly stated it in a passage in his Masque of Mercy (describing a bookstore owner named Keeper):

Keeper's the kind of Unitarian
Who having by elimination got
From many gods to Three, and Three to One,
Thinks why not taper off to none at all,
Except as father putative to sort of
Legitimize the brotherhood of man,
So we can hang together in a strike.

Intellectual positions do have consequences: What has happened to American Unitarianism is no accident. And what is amazing is how much mysticism and God-talk and orthodox hymnology still remain in Unitarian churches--a witness to the spiritual hunger of the human heart.

The church in a godless world

If then, we are to go beyond Nicaea, we must also go beyond Channing. We cannot go back to what is called "the simple religion of Jesus." It is just not available to us, and, after all, Christian faith is the response to Jesus; it is in fact the religion about Jesus, and there is no escaping this.

But we must begin where we are--in an essentially godless world, a world that gets along by and large without a sense of God and probably will indefinitely. Yet we are a special community--we who call ourselves Christians. We have elected to stand within the promise that God is with us. By being members of the Christian church we assume that somehow this promise is true, although we do not understand how. In fact, our question is the same one the church fathers asked so many centuries ago: "How is God with us? What does it mean--to be in Christ? How can Christ be close to us and yet remain still God in all His, or Its, mystery?" I believe that if we have the courage to ask these questions, God in his time and in his ways will answer us.


The Personality of the Deity
Henry Ware, Jr.
A sermon preached in the Chapel of Harvard University, September 23, 1838. Published at the request of the members of the Divinity School. Boston: James Monroe and Company, 1838.
Note: The following discourse is one of a series, in the course of delivery in the Chapel of Harvard University, on the Existence, Perfections, and Government of God. This circumstance explains the allusions in the introductory paragraphs. — 9/26/1838.
 “He is the living God and an everlasting King.”—Jeremiah 10:10
In treating the doctrine respecting God, the mind is deeply impressed with a sense of its importance in its bearing on human duty and happiness. It is the doctrine of a Creator, the Governor and Father of man. The discussion relates not merely to the laws of the universe and the principles by which its affairs are directed, but to the character and dispositions of the Being who presides over those laws and by whose will those affairs are determined. It teaches, not only that there is a wise and holy order to which it is for every man's interest to conform, but that that order is ordained and upheld by an active, overruling Intelligence, and that hence virtue is not merely conformity to a rule, but allegiance to a rightful Lawgiver, and happiness not the result merely of obedience to a command, but of affectionate subjection to a Parent.
The importance of this consideration to a true and happy virtue cannot be overestimated. The difference between conformity to a statute and obedience to a father is a difference not to be measured in words, but to be realized in the experience of the soul. It is slightly represented in the difference between the condition of a little child that lives in the presence of a judicious and devoted mother, an object of perpetual affection, and of another that is placed under the charge of a public institution, which knows nothing but a set of rules. Each is alike provided for and governed, but the one enjoys the satisfactions of a trusting and loving heart, while the other, deprived of the natural objects of affection, knows nothing but a life of order and restraint. Take away the Father of the universe, and, though every ordinance remain unchanged, mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum, clothed, fed, governed, but objects of pity rather than congratulation because deprived of those resting-places for the affections without which the soul is not happy.
Our representations of the being and perfections of God are therefore incomplete until we have taken into consideration the additional view now suggested. The idea of personality must be added to that of natural and moral perfection in order to the full definition of the Deity. Without this he is but a set of principles or a code of laws. Yet by some philosophers at various times it has been speculatively denied, and by too many in common life it is practically lost sight of. It may be well, then, in connection with our preceding discussion, to consider a little particularly the doctrine of the Divine Personality, to state what it is, to show the grounds on which it is established, and to survey the evils which must result from a denial of it.
I begin with stating what is meant by the Personality of the Deity.
person is an intelligent, conscious agent—one who thinks, perceives, understands, wills, and acts. What we assert is that God is such. It is not implied that any distinct form or shape is necessary to personality. In the case of man, the bodily form is not the person. That form remains after death, but we no longer call it a person, because consciousness and the power of will and of action are gone. The personality resided in them. So also in the case of the Deity; consciousness, and the power of will and of action, constitute him a person. Shape, form, or place make no part of the idea.
The evidence of this fact is found in the works of design with which the universe is filled.   They imply forethought, plan, wisdom, a designing mind—in other words, an Intelligent Being who devised and executed them. If we suppose that there is no conscious, intelligent person, we say that there is no plan, no purpose, no design; there is nothing but a set of abstract and unconscious principles. And, strange as it may seem to Christian ears, which have been accustomed to far other expressions of the Divinity, there have been those who maintain this idea, who hold that the principles which govern the universe constitute the Deity, that power, wisdom, veracity, justice, benevolence are God, that gravitation, light, electricity are God. Speculative men have been sometimes fond of this assertion, and in various forms have set up this opposition to the universal sentiment, sometimes with the design of removing the associations of reverence and worship, which make men religious, sometimes under the supposition that they thereby elevate the mind to a conception of the truth more worthy of its exalted subject. But it will be evident upon a little inquiry that, in either case, the speculation is inconsistent with just and wholesome doctrine.
1. For, in the first place, one of the most observable and least questionable principles, drawn from our observation of man and nature, is that the person, the conscious being, is the chief thing for the sake of which all else is, and subservient to which all principles operate. The person—the conscious, intelligent, active, enjoying, suffering being—is foremost in importance and honor; principles and laws operate for its support, guidance, and well-being, and therefore are secondary. Some of these principles and laws have their origin in the relations which exist amongst intelligent, moral agents; most of them come into action in consequence of the previous existence of those relations. If there were no such agents, there either would be no such principles, or they would have no operation.    Thus, for example, veracity, justice, love are sentiments or obligations which spring up from the relations subsisting between different beings, and can exist only where there are persons. We may say, indeed, that they exist abstractly, in the nature of things, but if there be no beings to recognise them, no agents to conform to or violate them, they would be as if they were not. They are qualities of being, and like all qualities have no actual existence independent of the substances in which they inhere. They have relation to acts—voluntary acts of truth, justice, goodness—and acts belong to persons. If there existed no persons in the universe, but only things, there could be neither the act nor the sentiment of justice, goodness, truth; these are qualities of persons, not of things, of actions, not of substances. Suppose the Deity to exist alone in the universe which he has made. Then, from the conscious enjoyment of his own perfections and the exercise of his power in the physical creation, He must dwell in bliss; but, as he has no relations to other conscious existences, he cannot exercise justice, or truth, or love. They lie in the infinite bosom as if they were not; they have only a contingent existence. But the instant he should create various tribes, they spring into actual existence. They no longer may be; they are. They rise out of the new relations which are created, and are the expression of sentiments and duties which had not before been possible.
Or make another supposition. Upon the newly created earth one man is placed alone. He knows no other conscious existence but himself. What are truth, justice, charity, to him? They are nothing to him. He cannot have ideas of them. They are sentiments that belong to certain relations between beings, which relations he does not stand in, and knows nothing of. To him, therefore, they do not exist. Now send him companions, and the relations begin, which give those sentiments birth and make their expression possible. He is in society, and those principles, which make the strength and order of society, immediately come into action. The necessities of conscious being call them forth.
Thus what is chiefest in the universe is conscious, active mind; abstract principles are but the laws of its various relations.
This may be illustrated, if necessary, from the analogies of the physical universe. Which is chief, the law of gravitation, or the universe which it sustains? The one is but means; the other is end, and the end is always greater than the means. If you say, "No, gravitation is the superior, because it is the universal power of God," then I reply, "You thereby assent to the superiority of the person over the principle, for, as his power, it is his servant; he controls and directs it." But if you take the other ground, and speak of gravitation as a power independent of any being, then you cannot deny that it exists and is active for the sake of the systems and their inhabitants. Operating for their sake, it is their servant and inferior; without them it would be inert and non-existent. Thus the analogy of the physical universe corroborates the position. If there were no material masses, there could be no gravitation; if there were no persons, there could be no truth, or justice, or love.
There is another way of considering this point. What is it that in the whole history and progress of man has proved most interesting to man? What has been the favorite study, the chief subject of contemplation and care? Has it not been men, persons? Have not their   character, fortunes, words, deeds, been the chief themes of thought, of conversation, of letters, of arts? Is it not the interest which the soul takes in persons that is the foundation of society, of its activity, its inventions, its advancement in civilization, its institutions, its laws? And what is the happiness of human life?from the moment that the conscious infant opens its eyes to the mother's smile and comes to the perception of her care and love, through all the years of filial and fraternal satisfaction, the confidence of friendship, the delights of love, the endearments of home, and the honors and toils of manhood, until the death-bed of weary age is brightened by the kindness of faithful affection—what, through the whole, is the happiness of life, but this connection with kindred beings? Where has the heart rested through all, but on the bosom of those whose personal interests were one with its own? We cannot cast this slightest glance upon life without perceiving the place which belongs to personality, for, take it away, and the whole of that beautiful scene vanishes; sympathy, friendship, love, all social enjoyment, all social life, are annihilated.
Thus the doctrine which denies personality to God is in opposition to the general economy of nature, which, as we have seen, sets peculiar honor on persons. In all the other relations of its being, the soul is concerned with nothing so much. Why should it be less so in its highest relation?
2. It also, in the next place, amounts to a virtual denial of God. Indeed, this is the only sense in which it seems possible to make that denial. No one thinks of denying the existence of principles and laws. Gravitation, order, cause and effect, truth, benevolence—no one denies that these exist; and, if these constitute the Deity, he has not been, and cannot be, denied. The only denial possible is by this exclusion of a personal existence. There can be no atheism but this; and this is atheism. If the material universe rests on the laws of attraction, affinity, heat, motion, still all of them together are no Deity; if the moral universe is founded on the principles of righteousness, truth, love, neither are these the Deity. There must be some Being to put in action these principles, to exercise these attributes. To call the principles and the attributes God is to violate the established use of language and confound the common apprehensions of mankind. It is in vain to hope by so doing to escape the charge of atheism; there is no other atheism conceivable. There is a personal God, or there is none.
We reason in this case, as in that of a man. Man was made in the image of God. But when we have described so much power, wisdom, goodness, so much beauty, justice, truth, love, we have not described a man; the very essential element is wanting. Without adding personality, we may speak of these qualities forever, and they will not make a man. So, too, we may enlarge them infinitely, but unless we add personality, they will never make up the idea of God.
3. Further, to exclude personality from the idea of God is, in effect, to destroy the object of worship, and thus to annihilate that essential duty of religion. The sentiment of reverence may, undoubtedly, be felt for a principle, for a code of laws, for an institution of government. But worship, which is the expression of that sentiment, is applicable only to a conscious being, as all the language and customs of men signify. It is praise, thanks, honor, and petition, addressed to one who can hear and reply. If there be no such one—if the government of the world be at the disposal of unconscious power and self-executing law—then there can be no such thing as worship.
Let this be seriously considered. What a desolation is wrought in society and in the soul when the foundation of worship is thus taken away. It is the suppression of a chief instinct; it is the overthrow of a system which has always made an inseparable part of the social order, and in which human character and happiness are intimately concerned. The relation of man, in his weakness and wants, to a kindred spirit infinitely ready to aid him, of the insufficient child of earth to a watchful Father in heaven, is destroyed. There remains no mind higher than my own, which is knowing to my desires; there is no Parent above, to whom my affections can rise and find peace. I am left to myself, and to men as weak as myself. If, following the impulses of my heart and the example of good men, I call on One who cares for me and will bless—I am driven back, and my heart is chilled by the reply, "The power that is over all sustains and guides, but, having no personality, it cannot appreciate affection, nor give it back in return; be satisfied to reverence and submit." And so the filial spirit is mocked—as if the little child, with its full heart, longing for the embrace of its absent mother, should be told, "That mother is but an idea, not a person; you may think of her, but you can have no intercourse with her. Be satisfied with this." And this poor substitute for the dearest of the heart's inestimable privileges is what philosophy would impose on man in the place of a sympathizing Father!
We must not consent to the injustice which is thus done to the affections. What an instinct is in them, and how they yearn for something to love and trust, is taught us in all the religious history of the race. From this cause men so multiplied their divinities that, from amid that great diversity, every variety of human soul might find its want of sympathy supplied. Hence, too, in the Catholic church, the worship of the Virgin—because, in the love for that beautiful and spotless person, was found a gratification that the heart is always seeking. And yet, in the face of this great instinct of humanity, everywhere manifested, Philosophy steps forth and insists that the soul is to be satisfied with abstractions. As if human nature were anything without its affections! As if a man were a man without his heart! As if to deny and baffle them were not to pour bitterness into the very fountain of the soul's peace! And this is done whenever man is made to believe that the altar at which he kneels is consecrated to a set of principles, and not to a "Living God."
4. In the next place, this notion removes the sense of responsibility, and so puts in jeopardy the virtue of man, as we have just seen that it trifles with his happiness. The idea of responsibility implies someone to whom we are responsible, and who has a right to treat us according to our fidelity. We indeed sometimes use the word with a little different application: we say that a man is responsible to his country, to posterity, to the cause of truth, but this is plainly employing the word in a secondary sense; it is not the original, literal signification. We hear it said, also, that a man is responsible to his own conscience, and this is sometimes spoken of as the most solemn responsibility—in one point of view, justly, since it is responsibility to that person whose disapprobation is nearest to us, and whose awards are of the highest consequence to our peace. We are not, therefore, to speak lightly of the tribunal within the breast. But why is it terrible? Because it is thought to represent and foreshadow the decisions of the higher tribunal of God. Let a man believe that it is ultimate, and he can learn to brave it; and how many accordingly have hardened themselves against it, and persevered in sin, as if it were not! Or let him think that the retributions of guilt are simply the accomplishment of natural laws, which go on mechanically to execute themselves, unattended by any sentiment of approbation or disapprobation, and he can, without great difficulty, defy them. They do not address his moral sensibility. This is the case with the improvident, the miserly, the intemperate. They are perfectly aware that grievous ill consequences will pursue their folly, yet they are not restrained thereby. If they have a mind to risk them, whose concern is it? They will judge for themselves what makes their happiness. But, if they had been made sensible to the disapprobation of a Living Father, if they had realized that the sentence against their iniquities was to be executed by Him to whom they owe everything, then they would have paused in their bad career.
And this is agreeable to what takes place under our daily observation. What could not be effected by all the experience of evils following in the natural train of events has, in thousands of instances, been at once brought about by the powerful thought of the Divine Being, who observes and judges. Many a man, long familiar with crime, who had been only exasperated and hardened by the natural consequences which plagued him in his pursuit, has been touched, alarmed, subdued, converted, by coming to the knowledge of that Gracious Sovereign, who holds all destiny in his hands, and who sent his Son to bring his wayward children home. It is idle to talk to men in general of responsibility, without directing them to the Being to whom the account is to be rendered. It is the thought of the Living Lawgiver and Judge, which affects them—of one whose displeasure they can dread, whose good opinion they can value, whose favor they perceive to be life. And herein is perceived the wisdom of the gospel of Christ; herein is found its efficacy—that, casting aside all such abstractions, it appeals wholly to the relations of conscious beings, and subdues, and reforms, and blesses by drawing the human soul to the soul of its Saviour and its God.
5. If now we pass to the declarations of the divine word, we find that the doctrine we are opposing stands in direct contradiction to the whole language and teaching of the Old and the New Testaments. Those volumes speak of God, uniformly and distinctly, as possessed of personal attributes. They so describe his perfections and his government, they so recite his words and his acts, they so assign to him the relations and titles of the Creator, King, Lawgiver, Father—that no reader could so much as dream that his name is used simply to express the principles and laws of the universe. To fancy it is to make Scripture unintelligible, and set at naught its express authority. Until language changes its meaning, and all description is falsified, the doctrine of the Divine Impersonality is a direct contradiction of the doctrine of revelation.
6. Further still, it destroys the possibility of a revelation, in any intelligible sense of the word. A revelation is a message, or a direct communication, from the Infinite mind to the human mind. But in order to this, there is required a conscious and individual action on the part of the communicator; and this implies personality. So that this doctrine virtually accuses the Scriptures of imposture, since they purport to contain a revelation from God, which in the nature of things is impossible. Nay, let us see the worst of it—it accuses the apostles of Christ, and the blessed Saviour himself, of deliberate fraud and imposition, since they and he declared, with the most solemn asseverations, that he was directly sent by God, the Father of mankind, when, if there be no such Being, but only certain principles and laws, he could not have been sent by him. Their language in that case is altogether deceptive. It seems to mean one thing, when it really means something quite the reverse. When Jesus declares again and again that he came from the Father and speaks his word, he does not intend what the words assert, but only what is equally true, in a degree, of all men. He was merely giving utterance to thoughts poured into his mind by the everlasting stream which flows into all minds. There was nothing special in his case, excepting that, as he was purer and better than other men, his thoughts were higher and purer. They were from God in the same sense in which any man's thoughts are from  God—Plato's, Mahomet's, Luther's; they have the same authority, that is, no authority beyond what lies in their own evident truth—the doctrine of Plato or Mahomet, of Luther or Confucius, is just as divine and just as authoritative, if it but recommend itself as strongly to my mind, and a holy thought of Fenelon or Swedenborg is as truly a divine revelation as the gospel of Christ. This is the result at which the doctrine arrives. It destroys the possibility of a revelation in any sense which makes it peculiar and valuable by making all truth a revelation, and all men revealers. It takes away all special divinity and authority from the Gospel, reduces it to a level with any other wisdom, and thus robs it of its power over the earth. Its pure and holy author becomes a pretender, for he professed to be sent from God and to bring his message; he worshipped him, and spoke of holding continual personal intercourse with him, and by such means he gained a hearing and an influence among men—gained them, however, only by deceiving the world, if there be, after all, no personal God.
By thus tracking this doctrine through its various bearings and observing its tendencies, we come to a clear discernment of its falseness and mischievousness. We see that it opposes what is taught in nature by all the marks of design which cover the works of creation—it sets aside the fundamental fact that conscious, intelligent being, in its various relations, is the chief interest of the universe, for the sake of which everything else is—it is a virtual denial of God, and a consequent overthrow of worship and devotion—it injures happiness by taking from the affections their highest object, and virtue by enfeebling the sense of responsibility—it contradicts the express lessons of the Bible, excludes the possibility of a revelation in any proper sense of the word, and denies to the Gospel its right to authority and power.
Of course, it will not happen that all these disastrous consequences will follow from this doctrine in the case of every individual who may receive it. To the pure all things are pure; and some men will dwell forever in the midst of abstraction and falsehood without being injuriously affected. Express infidelity is not vice, and may exist together with great integrity and purity of life. Atheism is not immorality, and may consist with an unblemished character. But, however it may be with individuals living in the midst of a believing and worshipping community, it is not to be doubted that a community unbelieving and godless would rush to evil unmitigated and hopeless. A philosopher here and there, by his science and skill, might perhaps live without the sun, but strike it out from the path of all men, and despair and death ensue.
On this subject, then, we are first to look for the truth, and then at the consequences of denying it. And those consequences, we are to remember, may flow as certainly from a practical disregard of it, as from a speculative rejection. It is possible by the mouth to profess God, and in works to deny him. The number of those who can be misled by the ingenuity of an imaginative mind is comparatively small, but the world is crowded with those who become aliens from God through the hardening influences of a worldly career, while they fancy themselves to know and acknowledge him as he is. On this account, the views of the present discourse ask the serious regard of all men. For who can doubt that, among the causes which produce in society so much moral and religious deadness, this is one—that men satisfy themselves with referring to the laws and principles of nature, and stop short of that Being in whom they reside? How much is this a habit amongst us! We talk of the "laws of our being," and of living by them, and of the consequences of violating them, as we should talk of a machine or of fate. We thus throw out of view the agency and love of the Living God, whose children we are, and claim relationship to inanimate abstractions. According to the common phrase, we stop at second causes. And in so doing, we not only wrong the truth, which is thus denied, but defraud ourselves of that exercise and enjoyment of the thinking, affectionate spirit, in which our highest action and bliss are to be found. This ought not so to be. And, until men come more to realize the presence and the authority of the Living Father, who governs them new, and who will judge them in the end, it is vain to hope for any wider prevalence of elevated piety or of happy devotion to duty.

Unitarian Universalism:
Dead or Alive?"
January 15th, 2006

Reverend James Dace

A perhaps-upsetting, probably befuddling, hopefully thought-provoking service by (and mainly for) the Rev. James Dace, inspired by the Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr.

Last Spring, in the Meadville/Lombard Theological School’s “Journal of Liberal Religion,” there appeared an article titled: “Why Unitarian Universalism is Dying.” Its author, The Rev. Dr. Davidson Loehr, is the senior minister of the First UU Church of Austin, TX. He was, also, the only UU participant in the Jesus Seminar—one of just 200 scholars invited from all over the world—so he is no intellectual lightweight and, however controversial, his opinions should be carefully considered. That article of his from last Spring is the source (much edited and paraphrased by me), especially of Part I.

Part I: “Why Unitarian Universalism is Dying”

 The movement called “Unitarian Universalism” has been dying ever since the two groups merged, and its slow but steady death is the elephant in the room that few in the UUA want to face, let alone talk about. Between 1970 and 2000, the UUA lost over-12,000 adult members, a decline of more than 7%. But, during those same 30 years, the population of the U.S. increased by over-37%. With our membership about what it was at merger in 1961, we cannot pretend that these facts paint a picture of health. To see how this happened, we go back to the beginning:

For the better-educated, the supernatural world ended with the late-18th century Enlightenment and the birth of a whole host of natural sciences which changed our picture of the world. By 1800, most people still thought the world was just 6,000 years old; Thomas Jefferson believed no species could ever become extinct. This was the worldview that was to change almost completely during the 19th century.

Theologians, preachers and churchgoers had to decide whether to hold on to the old faith or accept the emerging picture from the sciences that challenged it. The voices that wanted to keep the same safe feel on Sunday mornings—many of them in Unitarian churches—urged denial of the new knowledge. But they lost, and the voices that won were those that trusted the future more than the past and expected their religion to reframe its message, accordingly.

So, with the courage of a pioneer spirit, a few Unitarian leaders left their tradition of 18th century Christianity. But, in leaving, they left behind a faith with its own rich understanding of the human condition, its fall and its cure. Rather than seeking a new, distinctive vision and faith tradition of their own, 19th century Unitarians began following the path that has led us to being a group of over-educated, increasingly marginal, people.

In place of a new religious center, Unitarians moved toward a political center based on an unbalanced concern for individual rights (unbalanced, because there was not the equal concern for individual responsibilities. Their sacred scripture—or, at least, their main reference document—became not the Bible, but the Bill of Rights. This isn’t bad, but it is a political center, not a religious one. Unitarian leaders had moved out of theology into psychology, sociology, anthropology and politics.

Universalism, on the other hand, died because its pleasant answer—“All dead people go to heaven”—no longer fit the questions people were asking: in the 20th century, liberals were not worrying much about where dead people went.
By mid-20th century, the religions of Unitarian Christianity and Christian Universalism had each mostly exhausted their spirits: neither Unitarianism nor Universalism was a vibrant force. What was significant about them was not theological, but political and cultural; both, to differing degrees, had become identified with America’s well-educated liberals.

So, when the Unitarians and the Universalists merged, there was no common set of religious beliefs (beyond a disinterest in the supernatural), no shared understanding of the problems of being human let alone any prescriptions for their cure. In other words, there was no religious "salvation story," no unique efforts for satisfying deep spiritual yearnings that have always marked serious religions, no instructions for followers on how the living of their story would make their lives more useful and fulfilled.

Without a religious center—with no more than a social/political center inspired by generic cultural liberalism—the UU movement had become redundant. By the late-1970s, UUs were complaining: “Our children don’t know what to tell their friends they believe.” Looking back, the problem was not that kids didn’t know what they believed; it was that adults—including too many ministers—didn’t know what they believed that had any religious relevance any more.
We didn’t know how to tell others—let alone ourselves—who we were in any profound sense; we were unable to voice why we mattered any longer. We were—and still are—best known to most people only as the butt of Garrison Keillor’s jokes. We no longer asked hard religious questions, questions like: “Are there deep and abiding truths capable of sustaining honest spiritual quests without supernatural underpinnings?”

Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and others, each have deep and seasoned wisdom gleaned from their fertile mythic truths, teachings that have helped billions to become persons of responsible character over the centuries.

No one would want to set something as trivial as Unitarian Universalism in such a list of real and noble religions. But Unitarian Universalism was never meant to be a religion: It is a name we gave ourselves, a name for all those cultural liberals coming to our churches; it gives us an identity, something our children can say to their friends.

Thus, for Unitarian Universalists, religion was replaced by politics. The UUA and most UU churches have circled their wagons around unquestioned assertions by loud political leftists for so long that we’ve not noticed we are no longer critical: we have no distinctive religious vision and, what’s worse, we don’t even seek one, leaving us to focus solely on the individual in the here-and-now (though we do like to think a few dead people from 150 years ago were, also, members of our private club).

“I do not believe Unitarian Universalism can be saved,” concludes Davidson Loehr; “It’s too political, too self-absorbed, and too paltry. But I do know that many people are hungry for truths that can set them free rather than mere political posturing that just draws attention to them.”

Part II: “Unitarian Universalism: Dead or Alive?”

Unitarian Universalism: alive or dead? Like Davidson Loehr, I think it’s on life-support, unlikely to be saved. But, whatever its condition, does it really matter anymore?

After almost three-and-a-half years, I’ve stopped writing my column for the “Faith” section of the Saturday Pueblo Chieftain: I was running out of things to say and raising too many unanswered questions for myself. (I also discovered how seductive it was to start thinking I really knew what I was talking about.)
Now I work with a non-profit, interfaith coalition of 21 churches on the west side of Colorado Springs helping to meet city requirements and neighborhood objections to opening a soup kitchen at one of those churches. Since all those churches call themselves “Christian” (including the Mormons), the first thing I wanted the Director to understand about me was: “I am not a Christian.” He replied: “You do have faith, don’t you?” which I took to mean “Was I religious?” I answered “Yes, I’m a Unitarian Universalist;” and, after a pause, he said: “Well, that doesn’t matter.” (He meant, of course, that I was “acceptable” to work with that organization but, once again, I was forced to ask myself: does being a UU make me “religious”—and, more to the point, does it matter?)
In the 19th century, Unitarian Christianity and Christian Universalism were, indeed, religions but, as Davidson Loehr said, by mid-20th century, both had largely exhausted their spirits. And, while Loehr suggests that the merger of the two groups into Unitarian Universalism was never meant to make a religion—just a self-referential identity—I, for one, believed it was my religion: through ministerial training and in my years as a parish minister, I never questioned that: having grown up with no religion, I needed to have one, and Unitarian Universalism was my chosen religion. (Upon recent reflection, however, I find myself seeking, once again.)

I was once asked by a friend—a minister of another denomination—to describe the religious makeup of a “typical” UU church. Eventually, I answered: we’d likely have a few Christians; maybe twice as many responding to Nature’s way or to an Eastern religion; a much larger group would call themselves Humanists or atheists or agnostics; and the rest—perhaps even a small majority—could be listed as “none of the above” (which is a polite way of saying that they don’t have a clue).

We take pride in such religious diversity, even seeing UU churches as “way stations” for seekers to come and learn before moving on. But does having so many individual religious paths among us make Unitarian Universalism, itself, a “religion?” “Unitarian” and “Universalist” are still valid theological positions, but a point of theology, by itself, does not make a religion. Affirming our UU Principles (Loehr calls them “The Seven Banalities”) is important, but what distinguishes ours from those affirmed by other denominations?

I believe one key reason that Unitarian Universalism is dying is because it has nothing to say that has not been said already (and in better ways) by other religions; there is too little of that which energizes and inspires members of other religions. So, what are we missing? I suggest, for me, three things:
First, as Loehr said, we don’t have a religious “salvation story” of our own: we have no united approach to satisfy our innate urge for connection to the realm of the spirit; no distinctive perspective of meaning and purpose for humankind; there is no collective sense of why and how we should be living our own story in order to make our lives more useful and fulfilled.

Every respected world religion has their own mythology, their own salvation story, to guide and inspire believers. What does Unitarian Universalism have —other than the “story” of political liberalism (which, Davidson Loehr points out, requires victims in need of “rescuing” so rescuing liberals may feel virtuous)?
For the second thing that is missing, consider this: For Christians, the season of Advent has just concluded, the days that lead to celebrating the birth of Jesus, the start of their salvation story. For them, Advent is a time to expect —and get ready for—the unexpected, a time of anticipation and preparation. All other real religions have such times as part of their story: times for reflection, times of anticipation and preparation, times for celebration; what does Unitarian Universalism have that is not borrowed from somewhere else?

The third thing missing, for me—probably the most profound reason I believe UUism is dying—can be illustrated this way: The Rev. Mike Tipton, formerly minister to the Pueblo UU congregation, is now in Kiev, Ukraine, working, primarily, to train managers in the business sector. Hired by a Ukrainian entrepreneur who spent many years in the U.S. as a UU, it is understood that a part of his work is to assist the very few UU congregations there, especially their homegrown ministers.

Mike writes: “Though these groups are small, they have a passion for this faith that is totally lacking in the U.S.; they see the open expression of their personal religious beliefs as a privilege rather than a right. Ukrainian UUs begin their worship with a heartfelt time of reflection on that which drew them there. They hold hands as they share this,” he says, “and I found myself in tears the first time I entered into their circle, so sincere, so wondrous, so holy; it flows, and it is real, very real.” (In other words, for them, it matters: perhaps it must be taken away before it can, again, be found.)

But that, I believe, is the main reason UUism as a movement is dying: we are missing that sense of what is “real;” we take it for granted; it no longer matters. Our focus on the individual has led to a Romanticism that goes back to those few Unitarians who left Christianity with a pioneer spirit; we delight in seeing each individual UU as a lone rider out on the vast plains with nothing to fence him/her in—certainly not anything like an organized religion.

By being fixated on the individual—and typically denying all but the rational—we lost our religious center. We tend to become smug knowing we have the right politics and the correct ecological sensitivity; we no longer see the need to push ourselves toward a genuine spirituality. Without a religious center, we have deluded ourselves into believing that this is a religion; it may much have value for us but, by my way of thinking, it is not a real religion. What we are missing—what I am missing—is that overwhelming heartfelt sense of the sacred, the sincere spiritual reflection which draws us together on a common path.

Humankind cannot live by bread alone--and UUs cannot grow in politics, alone. What demands do we place on ourselves to move toward becoming more spiritually mature, toward reconnecting with a religious center of our own? Coffee-hour fellowship and social action committees are important, but they do not build a foundation for the spirit; they, alone, cannot push us toward deeper, more reverent lives. Besides bread for physical survival and politics or bettering society, we must believe that it matters.

Too many seem to have stopped asking religious questions: we still ask questions of science (to explain WHAT we can know); we still ask questions of morality and ethics (to learn HOW to better live together); “But,” as Albert Camus wrote, “one day, the question of why comes into it, and everything begins in this weariness tinged with amazement.” It is our religion that tells us WHY it matters…why we matter.

It’s been said that: “Seekers are looking for a path; pilgrims are following a path.” I’m not sure we’re even seekers, anymore; but I am sure there are very few pilgrims amongst us. We may have many thousands of individual private paths, but what is the UU path? Being a pilgrim must begin in the heart before it moves to mindful purpose; is that possible for Unitarian Universalism, anymore?

What is left that matters for today’s UUs? When I was writing my newspaper column, readers struggling with their own religious questions would sometimes write me, like: “Is there such a thing as a group which is united in an intelligent quest for truth? It's a lonely world for those of us who are not so-called Christians; there’s no place to meet where we can offer each other friendship and hope, encouraging greater understanding and inspiration to live better lives.”

Is there a group united in an intelligent quest for truth?” Many might say this describes “Unitarian Universalism,” but I don’t think it is united in any “quest for truth” (intelligent or not). What unites us is not religious or spiritual but political and cultural. There’s nothing wrong being part of such a group, but I wish it was a religion.

Is there “a place to meet where we can offer each other friendship and hope, encouraging greater understanding and inspiration to live better lives?” I think this could describe some congregations that now call themselves “UU” (even as the movement called “Unitarian Universalism” is dying).

Perhaps the greatest value of a UU church is the freedom it allows for people to discover their own religious beliefs so they may live better lives, more useful and more fulfilled. But by focusing, almost exclusively, on political and social issues, we are not encouraged to pursue a far more essential mission: to become a pilgrim following a religious path, rather than stay seeking a political path as “do-gooder” or an agitator. True, one may be both a pilgrim and an agitator at the same time (like the Evangelicals), but, I think, being a pilgrim following one’s religious path should come first (again, look at the Evangelicals). The peril for Evangelicals, of course, is that their “religion of certainty” leads to closed minds and a demanding, intolerant agitating; the peril for liberals is that their agitation often comes from minds so open they want to tolerate everything and, thus, end up with nothing of their own.

To help us become pilgrims on our religious path, I believe that today’s UUs need to understand two things: first, whether it was meant to be a religion or not, Unitarian Universalism is dying because its center is not religious but political. By accepting that Unitarian Universalism is not “a religion,” perhaps we may feel freer to passionately join with others seeking a broad-but-common religious path to follow—the way of a true pilgrim.

And the second thing today’s UUs must accept is this: if this is (or ever was) a religion, we’ve had it way too easy (which, probably was one of its chief attractions). As Davidson Loehr puts it: “To plant seeds for any noble religious future, we need to understand what every great world religion has taught: that the treasures of honest religion must be earned; that the way is narrow and few will even find it, let alone have the courage to follow it. We need our religion to make the very highest demands upon us; we need our religion to raise our sights so we can see what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” Then, we need to live that faith, but, being human—easier said than done.

How can our religion make upon us its highest demands? By being receptive to it. Lately, I’ve been looking into something called “Practical Theology.” This is not “ivory tower” theology (“how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?; “did Adam have a belly button?”) and it’s not Liberation Theology (seeking scriptural authority advocating more power for the oppressed in poor nations). Practical Theology is a way to live reverently while acting: It begins with periods of heartfelt reflection (some might call it prayer), asking, “Is what I am about to do worthy of who I am?” and, then, more reflection and discernment before I act again (a far cry from my usual “let’s do something NOW and hope it’s not wrong!”).

I do seek a church that “offers fellowship and hope, with greater understanding and inspiration to lead a better life.” That, for me, is a church with a non-dogmatic approach that emphasizes the spiritual before acting politically through encouraging the discipline of silent reflection. (As an example: after a long time of reflection at a recent Quaker silent meeting [my mind whirling around, trying to solve an accumulation of personal problems], this message got through to me:”It’s not about you.” What did it mean? How am I to live it? Could it mean that, while faith is always personal, it can never be private? More questions. )

What do I think is left for today’s UUs? While I think Unitarian Universalism as a religious movement is dying, long live those UU congregations whose members are committed to pursuing honest and profound religious paths; paths that are, as an ancient theologian put it, “useful to us, and worthy of God.” Within some UU churches, there is still the freedom to choose such paths. For myself, as an “old” new-seeker, I like the way those Ukrainian UUs open their worship, beginning with heartfelt reflection and open sharing —which can lead to renewed questioning and further reflection before acting in the world.

To CLOSE: a much-too-brief time of heartfelt reflection as do those Ukrainian UUs to begin their worship (but in silence): what draws you here? what path do you seek? Reminding yourself as you reflect and question in time to come: It’s not about you…and, you are blessed.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Helen Keller: OPTIMISM

art I : Optimism Within[edit]

Could we choose our environment, and were desire in human undertakings synonymous with endowment, all men would, I suppose, be optimists. Certainly most of us regard happiness as the proper end of all earthly enterprise. The will to be happy animates alike the philosopher, the prince and the chimney-sweep. No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is, he feels that happiness is his indisputable right.
It is curious to observe what different ideals of happiness people cherish, and in what singular places they look for this well-spring of their life. Many look for it in the hoarding of riches, some in the pride of power, and others in the achievements if art and literature; a few seek it in the exploration of their own minds, or in search for knowledge.
Most people measure their happiness in terms of physical pleasure and material possession. Could they win some visible goal which they have set on the horizon, how happy they could be! Lacking this gift or that circumstance, they would be miserable. If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep. If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, —if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing. As sinners stand up in meeting and testify to the goodness of God, so one who is called afflicted may rise up in gladness of conviction and testify to the goodness of life.
Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. My life was without past or future; death, the pessimist would say, "a consummation devoutly to be wished." But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought, and love and joy and hope came up in a passion of obedience to knowledge. Can anyone who escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?
My early experience was thus a leap from bad to good. If I tried, I could not check the momentum of my first leap out of the dark; to move breast forward as a habit learned suddenly at that first moment of release and rush into the light. With the first word I used intelligently, I learned to live, to think, to hope. Darkness cannot shut me in again. I have had a glimpse of the shore, and can now live by the hope of reaching it.
So my optimism is no mild and unreasoning satisfaction. A poet once said I must be happy because I did not see the bare, cold present, but lived in a beautiful dream. I do live in a beautiful dream; but that dream is the actual, the present, —not cold, but warm; not bare, but furnished with a thousand blessings. The very evil which the poet supposed would be a cruel disillusionment is necessary to the fullest knowledge of joy. Only by contact with evil could I have learned to feel by contrast the beauty of truth and love and goodness.
It is a mistake always to contemplate the good and ignore the evil, because by making people neglectful it lets in disaster. There is a dangerous optimism of ignorance and indifference. It is not enough to say that the twentieth century is the best age in the history of mankind, and to take refuge from the evils of the world in skyey dreams of good. How many good men, prosperous and contented, looked around and saw naught but good, while millions of their fellow-men were bartered and sold like cattle! No doubt, there were comfortable optimists who thought Wilberforce a meddlesome fanatic when he was working with might and main to free the slaves. I distrust the rash optimism in this country that cries, "Hurrah, we're all right! This is the greatest nation on earth," when there are grievances that call loudly for redress. That is false optimism. Optimism that does not count the cost is like a house builded on sand. A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him.
I know what evil is. Once or twice I have wrestled with it, and for a time felt its chilling touch on my life; so I speak with knowledge when I say that evil is of no consequence, except as a sort of mental gymnastic. For the very reason that I have come in contact with it, I am more truly an optimist. I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women. It lets us into the soul of things and teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. My optimism, then, does not rest on the absence of evil, but on a glad belief in the preponderance of good and a willing effort always to cooperate with the good, that it may prevail. I try to increase the power God has given me to see the best in everything and every one, and make that Best a part of my life. The world is sown with good; but unless I turn my glad thoughts into practical living and till my own field, I cannot reap a kernel of the good.
Thus my optimism is grounded in two worlds, myself and what is about me. I demand that the world be good, and lo, it obeys. I proclaim the world good, and facts range themselves to prove my proclamation overwhelmingly true. To what good I open the doors of my being, and jealously shut them against what is bad. Such is the force of this beautiful and willful conviction, it carries itself in the face of all opposition. I am never discouraged by absence of good. I never can be argued into hopelessness. Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.
As my college days draw to a close, I find myself looking forward with beating heart and bright anticipations to what the future holds of activity for me. My share in the work of the world may be limited; but the fact that it is work makes it precious. Nay, the desire and will to work is optimism itself.
Two generations ago Carlyle flung forth his gospel of work. To the dreamers of the Revolution, who built cloud-castles of happiness, and, when the inevitable winds rent the castles asunder, turned pessimists —to those ineffectual Endymions, Alastors and Werthers, this Scots peasant, man of dreams in the hard, practical world, cried aloud his creed of labor. "Be no longer a Chaos, but a World. Produce! produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of product, produce it, in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou hast in thee; out with it, then. Up, up! whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called To-day; for the Night cometh wherein no man may work."
Some have said Carlyle was taking refuge from a hard world by bidding men grind and toil, eyes to the earth, and so forget their misery. This is not Carlyle's thought. "Fool!" he cries, "the Ideal is in thyself; the Impediment is also in thyself. Work out the Ideal in the poor, miserable Actual; live, think, believe, and be free!" It is plain what he says, that work, production, brings life out of chaos, makes the individual a world, an order; and order is optimism.
I, too, can work, and because I love to labor with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all. I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that through the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless. The gladdest laborer in the vineyard may be a cripple. Even should the others outstrip him, yet the vineyard ripens in the sun each year, and the full clusters weigh into his hand. Darwin could work only half an hour at a time; yet in many diligent half-hours he laid anew the foundations of philosophy. I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. It is my service to think how I can best fulfill the demands that each day makes upon me, and to rejoice that others can do what I cannot. Green, the historian, tells us that the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker; and that thought alone suffices to guide me in this dark world and wide. I love the good that others do; for their activity is an assurance that whether I can help or not, the true and the good will stand sure.
I trust, and nothing that happens disturbs my trust. I recognize the beneficence of the power which we all worship as supreme— Order, Fate, the Great Spirit, Nature, God. I recognize this power in the sun that makes all things grow and keeps life afoot. I make a friend of this indefinable force, and straightway I feel glad, brave and ready for any lot Heaven may decree for me. This is my religion of optimism.

Part II : Optimism Without[edit]

Optimism, then, is a fact within my own heart. But as I look out upon life, my heart meets no contradiction. The outward world justifies my inward universe of good. All through the years I have spent in college, my reading has been a continuous discovery of good. In literature, philosophy, religion and history I find the mighty witnesses to my faith.
Philosophy is the history of a deaf-blind person writ large. From the talks of Socrates up through Plato, Berkeley and Kant, philosophy records the efforts of human intelligence to be free of the clogging material world and fly forth into a universe of pure idea. A deaf-blind person ought to find special meaning in Plato's Ideal World. These things which you see and hear and touch are not the reality of realities, but imperfect manifestations of the Idea, the Principal, the Spiritual; the Idea is the truth, the rest is delusion.
If this be so, my brethren who enjoy the fullest use of the senses are not aware of any reality which may not equally well be in reach of my mind. Philosophy gives to the mind the prerogative of seeing truth, and bears us not a realm where I, who am blind, and not different from you who see. When I learned from Berkeley that your eyes receive an inverted image of things which your brain unconsciously corrects, I began to suspect that the eye is not a very reliable instrument after all, and I felt as one who had been restored to equality with others, glad, not because the senses avail them so little, but because in God's eternal world, mind and spirit avail so much. It seemed to me that philosophy had been written for my special consolation, whereby I get even with some modern philosophers who apparently think that I was intended as an experimental case for their special instruction! But in a little measure my small voice of individual experience does join in the declaration of philosophy that the good is the only world, and that world is a world of spirit. It is also a universe where order is All, where an unbroken logic holds the parts together, where distance defines itself as non-existence, where evil, as St. Augustine held, is delusion, and therefore is not.
The meaning of philosophy to me is not only its principles, but also in the happy isolation of its great expounders. They were seldom of the world, even when like Plato and Leibnitz they moved in its courts and drawing rooms. To the tumult of life they were deaf, and they were blind to its distraction and perplexing diversities. Sitting alone, but not in darkness, they learned to find everything in themselves, and failing to find it even there, they still trusted in meeting the truth face to face when they should leave the earth behind and become partakers in the wisdom of God. The great mystics lived alone, deaf and blind, but dwelling with God.
I understand how it was possible for Spinoza to find deep and sustained happiness when he was excommunicated, poor, despised and suspected alike by Jew and Christian; not that the kind world of men ever treated me so, but that his isolation from the universe of sensuous joys is somewhat analogous to mine. He loved the good for its own sake. Like many great spirits he accepted his place in the world, and confided himself childlike to a higher power, believing that it worked through his hands and predominated in his being. He trusted implicitly, and that is what I do. Deep, solemn optimism, it seems to me, should spring from this firm belief in the presence of God in the individual; not a remote, unapproachable governor of the universe, but a God who is very near every one of us, who is present not only in earth, sea and sky, but also in every pure and noble impulse of our hearts, "the source and centre of all minds, their only point of rest."
Thus from the philosophy I learn that we see only shadows and know only in part, and that all things change; but the mind, the unconquerable mind, compasses all truth, embraces the universe as it is, converts the shadows to realities and makes tumultuous changes seem but moments in an eternal silence, or short lines in the infinite theme of perfection, and the evil but "a halt on the way to good." Though with my hand I grasp only a small part of the universe, with my spirit I see the whole, and in my thought I can compass the beneficent laws by which it is governed. The confidence and trust which these conceptions inspire teach me to rest safe in my life as in a fate, and protect me from spectral doubts and fears. Verily, blessed are ye that have not seen, and yet have believed.
All the world's great philosophers have been lovers of God and believers in man's inner goodness. To know the history of philosophy is to know that the highest thinkers of the ages, the seers of the tribes and the nations, have been optimists.
The growth of philosophy is the story of man's spiritual life. Outside lies that great mass of events which we call History. As I look on this mass I see it take form and shape itself in the ways of God. The history of man is an epic of progress. In the world within and the world without I see a wonderful correspondence, a glorious symbolism which reveals the human divine communing together, the lesson of philosophy repeated in fact. In all the parts that compose, the history of mankind hides the spirit of good, and gives meaning to the whole.
Far back in the twilight of history I see the savage fleeing from the forces of nature which he has not learned control, and seeking to propitiate supernatural beings which are but the creation of his superstitious fear. With a shift of his imagination I see the savage emancipated, civilized. He no longer worships the grim deities of ignorance. Through suffering he has learned to build a roof over his head, to defend his life and his home, and over his state he has erected a temple in which he worships the joyous gods of light and song. From suffering he has learned justice; from the struggle with his fellows he has learned the distinction between right and wrong which makes him a moral being. He is sighted with the genius of Greece.
But Greece was not perfect. Her poetical and religious ideals were far above her practice; therefore she died, that her ideals might survive to ennoble coming ages.
Rome, too, left the world a rich inheritance. Through the vicissitudes of history her laws and ordered government have stood a majestic object-lesson for the ages. But when the stern, frugal character of her people ceased to be the bone and sinew of her civilization, Rome fell.
Then came the new nations of the North and founded a more permanent society. The base of Greek and Roman society was the slave, crushed into the condition of the wretches who "labored, foredone in the field and at the workshop, like haltered horses, if blind, so much the quieter." The base of the new society was the freeman who fought, tilled, judged and grew from more to more. He wrought a state out of tribal kinship and fostered an independence and self-reliance which no oppression could destroy. The story of man's slow ascent from savagery through barbarism and self-mastery to civilization is the embodiment of the spirit of optimism. From the first hour of the new nations each century has seen a better Europe, until the development of the world demanded America.
Tolstoi said the other day that America, once the hope of the world, was in bondage to Mammon. Tolstoi and other Europeans have still much to learn about this great, free country of ours before they understand the unique civic struggle which America is undergoing. She is confronted with the mighty task of assimilating all the foreigners that are drawn together from every country, and welding them into one people with one national spirit. We have the right to demand the forbearance of critics until the United States has demonstrated whether she can make one people out of all nations of the earth. London economists are alarmed at less than five hundred thousand foreign-born in a population of six million, and discuss earnestly the danger of too many aliens. But what is their problem in comparison with that of New York, which counts nearly one million five hundred thousand foreigners among its three and a half million citizens? Think of it! Every third person in our American metropolis is an alien. By these figures alone America's greatness can be measured.
It is true, America has devoted herself largely to the solution of material problems—breaking the fields, opening mines, irrigating the deserts, spanning the continent with railroads; but she is doing these things in a new way, by educating her people, by placing at the service of every man's need every resource of human skill. She is transmuting her industrial wealth into the education of her workmen, so that unskilled people shall have no place in American life, so that all men shall bring mind and soul to the control of matter. Her children are not drudges and slaves. The Constitution has declared it, and the spirit of our institutions has confirmed it. The best the land can teach them they shall know. They shall learn that there is no upper class in their country, and no lower, and they shall understand how it is that God and His world are for everybody.
America might do all this, and still be selfish, still be a worshipper of Mammon. But America is the home of charity as well as commerce. In the midst of roaring traffic, side by side with noisy factory and sky-reaching warehouse, one sees the school, the library, the hospital, the park-works of public benevolence which represent wealth wrought into ideas that shall endure forever. Behold what America has already done to alleviate suffering and restore the afflicted to society —given sight to the fingers of the blind, language to the dumb lip, and mind to the idiot clay, and tell me if indeed she worships Mammon only. Who shall measure the sympathy, skill and intelligence with which she ministers to all who come to her, and lessens the ever-swelling tide of poverty, misery and degradation which every year rolls against her gates from all the nations? When I reflect on all these facts, I cannot but think that, Tolstoi and other theorists to the contrary, it is a splendid thing to be an American. In America the optimist finds abundant reason for confidence in the present and hope for the future, and this hope, this confidence, may well extend over all the great nations of the earth.
If we compare our own time with the past, we find in modern statistics a solid foundation for a confident and buoyant world-optimism. Beneath the doubt, the unrest, the materialism, which surround us still glows and burns at the world's best life a steadfast faith. To hear the pessimist, one would think civilization Had bivouacked in the Middle Ages, and had not had marching orders since. He does not realize that the progress of evolution is not an uninterrupted march.
"Now touching goal, now backward hurl'd,
Toils the indomitable world."
I have recently read an address by one whose knowledge it would be presumptuous to challenge. In it I find abundant evidence of progress.
During the past fifty years crime has decreased. True, the records of to-day contain a longer list of crime. But our statistics are more complete and accurate than the statistics of times past. Besides, there are many offenses on the list which half a century ago would not have been thought of as crimes. This shows that the public conscience is more sensitive than it ever was.
Our definition of crime has grown stricter, our punishment of it more lenient and intelligent. The old feeling of revenge has largely disappeared. It is no longer an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The criminal is treated as one who is diseased. He is confined not merely for punishment, but because he is a menace to society. While he is under restraint, he is treated with human care and disciplined so that his mind shall be cured of its disease, and he shall be restored to society able to so his part of its work.
Another sign of awakened and enlightened public conscience is the effort to provide the working-class with better houses. Did it occur to anyone a hundred years ago to think whether the dwellings of the poor were sanitary, convenient or sunny? Do not forget that in the "good old times" cholera and typhus devastated whole counties, and that pestilence walked abroad in the capitals of Europe.
Not only have our laboring-classes better houses and better places to work in; but employers recognize the right of the employed to seek more than the bare wage of existence. In the darkness and turmoil of our modern industrial strifes we discern but dimly the principles that underlie the struggle. The recognition of the right of all men to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a spirit of conciliation such as Burke dreamed of, the willingness on the part of the strong to make concessions to the weak, the realization that the rights of the employer are bound up in the rights of the employed —in these the optimist beholds the signs of our times.
Another right which State has recognized as belonging to each man is the right to an education. In the enlightened parts of Europe and in America every city, every town, every village, has its school; and it is no longer a class who have access to knowledge, for to the children of the poorest laborer the school-door stands open. From the civilized nations universal education is driving the dull host of illiteracy.
Education broadens to include all men, and deepens to teach all truths. Scholars are no longer confined to Greek, Latin and mathematics, but they also study science converts the dreams of the poet, the theory of the mathematician and the fiction of the economist into ships, hospitals and instruments that enable one skilled hand to perform the work of a thousand. The student of to-day is not asked if he has learned his grammar. Is he a mere grammar machine, a dry catalogue of scientific facts, or has he acquired the qualities of manliness? His supreme lesson is to grapple with great public questions, to keep his mind hospitable to new idea and new views of truth, to restore the finer ideals that are lost sight of in the struggle for wealth and to promote justice between man and man. He learns that there may be substitutes for human labor —horse-power and machinery and books; but "there are no substitutes for common sense, patience, integrity, courage."
Who can doubt the vastness of the achievements of education when one considers how different the conditions of the blind and the deaf is from what it was a century ago? They were then objects of superstitious pity, and shared the lowest beggar's lot. Everybody looked upon their case as hopeless, and this view plunged them deeper in despair. The blind themselves laughed in the face of Hauy when he offered to teach them to read. How pitiable is the cramped sense of imprisonment in circumstances which teaches men to expect no good and to treat any attempt to relieve them as the vagary of a disordered mind! But now, behold the transformation; see how institutions and industrial establishments for the blind have sprung up as if by magic; see how many of the deaf have learned not only to read and write, but to speak; and remember that the faith and patience of Dr. Howe have borne fruit in the efforts that are being made everywhere to educate the deaf-blind and equip them for the struggle. Do you wonder that I am full of hope and lifted up?
The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, —the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience. Tolerance is the first principal of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think. No loss by flood and lightening, no destruction of cities and temples by the hostile forces of nature, has deprived man of so many noble lives and impulses as those which his tolerance has destroyed.
With wonder and sorrow I go back in thought to the ages of intolerance and bigotry. I see Jesus received with scorn and nailed on the cross. I see his followers hounded and tortured and burned. I am present where the finer spirits that revolt from the superstition of the Middle Ages are accused of impiety and stricken down. I behold the children of Israel reviled and persecuted unto death by those who pretend Christianity with the tongue; I see them driven from land to land, hunted from refuge to refuge, summoned to the felon's place, exposed to the whip, mocked as they utter amid the pain of martyrdom a confession of the faith which they have kept with such splendid constancy. The same bigotry that oppress the Jews falls tiger-like upon Christian nonconformists of purest lives and wipes out the Albigenses and the peaceful Vaudois, "whose bones lie on the mountains cold." I see the clouds part slowly, and I hear a cry of protest against the bigot. The restraining hand of tolerance is laid upon the inquisitor, and the humanist utters a message of peace to the persecuted. Instead of the cry, "Burn the heretic!" men study the human soul with sympathy, and there enters into their hearts a new reverence for that which is unseen.
The idea of brotherhood redawns upon the world with a broader significance than the narrow association of members in a sect or creed; and thinkers of great soul like Lessing challenge the world to say which is more godlike, the hatred and tooth-and-nail grapple of conflicting religions, or sweet accord and mutual helpfulness. Ancient prejudice of man against his brother-man wavers and retreats before the radiance of a more generous sentiment, which will not sacrifice men to forms, or rob them of the comfort and strength they find in their own beliefs. The heresy of one age becomes the orthodoxy of the next. Mere tolerance has given place to a sentiment of brotherhood between sincere men of all denominations. The optimist rejoices in the affectionate sympathy between Catholic heart and Protestant heart which finds a gratifying expression in the universal respect and warm admiration for Leo XIII on the part of good men the world over. The centenary celebrations of the births of Emerson and Channing are beautiful examples of the tribute which men of all creeds pay to the memory of a pure soul.
Thus in my outlook upon our times I find that I am glad to be a citizen of the world, as I regard my country, I find that to be an American is to be an optimist. I know the unhappy and unrighteous story of what has been done in the Philippines beneath our flag; but I believe that in the accidents of statecraft the best intelligence of the people sometimes fails to express itself. I read in history of Julius Caesar that during the civil wars there were millions of peaceful herdsmen and laborers who worked as long as they could, and fled before the advance of the armies that were led by the few, then waited until the danger was past, and returned to repair damages with patient hands. So the people are patient and honest, while their rulers stumble. I rejoice to see in the world and in this country a new and better patriotism than that which seeks the life of an enemy. It is a patriotism higher than that of the battle-field. It moves thousands to lay down their lives in social service, and every life so laid down brings us a step nearer the time when corn-fields shall no more be fields of battle. So when I heard of the cruel fighting in the Philippines, I did not despair, because I knew that the hearts of our people were not in that fight, and that sometime the hand of the destroyer must be stayed.

Part III : The Practice of Optimism[edit]

The test of all beliefs is their practical effect in life. It be true that optimism compels the world forward, and pessimism retards it, them it is dangerous to propagate a pessimistic philosophy. One who believes that the pain in the world outweighs the joy, and expresses that unhappy conviction, only adds to the pain. Schopenhauer is an enemy to the race. Even if he earnestly believed that this is the most wretched of possible worlds, he should not promulgate a doctrine which robs men of the incentive to fight with circumstance. If Life gave him ashes for bread, it was his fault. Life is a fair field, and the right will prosper if we stand by our guns.
Let pessimism once take hold of the mind, and life is all topsy-turvy, all vanity and vexation of spirit. There is no cure for individual or social disorder, except in forgetfulness and annihilation. "Let us eat, drink and be merry," says the pessimist, "for to-morrow we die." If I regarded my life from the point of view of the pessimist, I should be undone. I should seek in vain for the light that does not visit my eyes and the music that does not ring in my ears. I should beg night and day and never be satisfied. I should sit apart in awful solitude, a prey to fear and despair. But since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
Who shall dare let his incapacity for hope or goodness cast a shadow upon the courage of those who bear their burdens as if they were privileges? The optimist cannot fall back, cannot falter; for he knows his neighbor will be hindered by his failure to keep in line. He will therefore hold his place fearlessly and remember the duty of silence. Sufficient unto each heart is its own sorrow. He will take the iron claws of circumstance in his hand and use them as tools to break away the obstacle that block his path. He will work as if upon him alone depended the establishment of heaven and earth.
We have seen that the world's philosophers —the Sayers of the Word— were optimists; so also are the men of action and achievement —the Doers of the Word. Dr. Howe found his way to Laura Bridgman's soul because he began with the belief that he could reach it. English jurists had said that the deaf-blind were idiots in the eyes of the law. Behold what the optimist does. He converts a hard legal axiom; he looks behind the dull impassive clay and sees a human soul in bondage, and quietly, resolutely sets about its deliverance. His efforts are victorious. He creates intelligence out of idiocy and proves to the law that the deaf-blind man is a responsible being.
When Hauy offered to teach the blind to read, he was met by a pessimism that laughed at his folly. Had he not believed that the soul of man is mightier than the ignorance that fetters it, had he not been an optimist, he would not have turned the fingers of the blind into new instruments. No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit. St. Bernard was so deeply an optimist that he believed two hundred and fifty enlightened men could illuminate the darkness which overwhelmed the period of the Crusades; and the light of his faith broke like a new day upon western Europe. John Bosco, the benefactor of the poor and the friendless of Italian cities, was another optimist, another prophet who, perceiving a Divine Idea while it was yet afar, proclaimed it to his countrymen. Although they laughed at his vision and called him a madman, yet he worked on patiently, and with the labor of his hands he maintained a home for little street waifs. In the fervor of enthusiasm he predicted the wonderful movement which should result from his work. Even in the days before he had money or patronage, he drew glowing pictures of the splendid system of schools and hospitals which should spread from one end of Italy to the other, and he lived to see the organization of the San Salvador Society, which was the embodiment of his prophetic optimism. When Dr. Seguin declared his opinion that the feeble-minded could be taught, again people laughed, and in their complacent wisdom said he was no better than an idiot himself. But the noble optimist persevered, and by and by the reluctant pessimists saw that he whom they ridiculed had become one of the world's philanthropists. Thus the optimist believes, attempts, achieves. He stands always in the sunlight. Some day the wonderful, the inexpressible, arrives and shines upon him, and he is there to welcome it. His soul meets his own and beats a glad march to every new discovery, every fresh victory over difficulties, every addition to human knowledge and happiness.
We have found that our great philosophers and our great men of action are optimists. So, too, our most potent men of letters have been optimists in their books and in their lives. No pessimist ever won an audience commensurately wide with his genius, and many optimistic writers have been read and admired out of all measure to their talents, simply because they wrote of the sunlit side of life. Dickens, Lamb, Goldsmith, Irving, all the well-beloved and gentle humorists, were optimists. Swift, the pessimist, has never had as many readers as his towering genius should command, and indeed, when he comes down into our century and meets Thackeray, that generous optimist can hardly do him justice. In spite of the latter-day notoriety of the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam, we may set it down as a rule that he who would be heard must be a believer, must have a fundamental optimism in his philosophy. He may bluster and disagree and lament as Carlyle and Ruskin do sometimes; but a basic confidence in the good destiny of life and of the world must underlie his work.
Shakespeare is the prince of optimists. His tragedies are a revelation of moral order. In "Lear" and "Hamlet" there is a looking forward to something better, some one is left at the end of the play to right wrong, restore society and build the state anew. The later plays, "The Tempest" and "Cymbeline," show a beautiful, placid optimism which delights in reconciliations and reunions and which plans for the triumph of external as well as internal good.
If Browning were less difficult to read, he would surely be the dominant poet in this century. I feel the ecstasy with which he exclaims, "Oh, good gigantic smile o' the brown old earth this autumn morning!" And how he sets my brain going when he says, because there is imperfection, there must be perfection; completeness must have come out of uncompleteness ; failure is an evidence of triumph for the fullness of the days. Yes, discord is, that harmony may be; pain destroys, that health may renew; perhaps I am deaf and blind that others likewise afflicted may see and hear with a more perfect sense! From Browning I learn that there is no lost good, and that makes it easier for me to go at life, right or wrong, do the best I know, and fear not. My heart responds proudly to his exhortation to pay gladly life's debt of pain, darkness and cold. Lift up your burden, it is God's gift, bear it nobly.
The man of letters whose voice is to prevail must be an optimist, and his voice often learns its message from his life. Stevenson's life has become a tradition only ten years after his death; he has taken his place among the heros, the bravest man of letters since Johnson and Lamb. I remember an hour when I was discouraged and ready to falter. For days I had been pegging away at a task which refused to get itself accomplished. In the midst of my perplexity I read an essay of Stevenson which made me feel as if I had been "outing" in the sunshine, instead of losing heart over a difficult task. I tried again with new courage and succeeded almost before I knew it. I have failed many times since; but I have never felt so disheartened as I did before that sturdy preacher gave me my lesson in the "fashion of the smiling face."
Read Schopenhauer and Omar, and you will grow to find the world as hollow as they find it. Read Green's history of England, and the world is peopled with heroes. I never knew why Green's history thrilled me with the vigor of romance until I read his biography. Then I learned how his quick imagination transfigured the hard, bare facts of life into new and living dreams. When he and his wife were too poor to have a fire, he would sit before the unlit hearth and pretend that it was ablaze. "Drill your thoughts," he said; "shut out the gloomy and call in the bright. There is more wisdom in shutting one's eyes than your copybook philosophers will allow."
Every optimist moves along with progress and hastens it, while every pessimist would keep the worlds at a standstill. The consequence of pessimism in the life of a nation is the same as in the life of the individual. Pessimism kills the instinct that urges men to struggle against poverty, ignorance and crime, and dries up all the fountains of joy in the world. In imagination I leave the country which lifts up the manhood of the poor and I visit India, the underworld of fatalism —where three hundred million human beings, scarcely men, submerged in ignorance and misery, precipitate themselves still deeper into the pit. Why are they thus? Because they have for thousands of years been the victims of their philosophy, which teaches them that men are as grass, and the grass fadeth, and there is no more greenness on the earth. They sit in the shadow and let the circumstances they should master grip them, until they cease to be Men, and are made to dance and salaam like puppets in a play. After a little hour death comes and hurries them off to the grave, and other puppets with other "pasteboard passions and desires" take their place, and the show goes on for centuries.
Go to India and see what sort of civilization is developed when a nation lacks faith in progress and bows to the gods of darkness. Under the influence of Brahminism genius and ambition have been suppressed. There is no one to befriend the poor or to protect the fatherless and the widow. The sick lie untended. The blind know not how to see, nor the deaf to hear, and they are left by the roadside to die. In India it is a sin to teach the blind and the deaf because their affliction is regarded as a punishment for offenses in a previous state of existence. If I had been born in the midst of these fatalistic doctrines, I should still be in darkness, my life a desert-land where no caravan of thought might pass between my spirit and the world beyond.
The Hindoos believe in endurance, but not in resistance; therefore they have been subdued by strangers. Their history is a repetition of that Babylon. A nation from afar came with speed swiftly, and none stumbled, or slept, or slumbered, but they brought desolation upon the land, and took the stay and the staff from the people, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water, the mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, and none delivered them. Woe, indeed, is the heritage of those who walk sad-thoughted and downcast through this radiant, soul delighting earth, blind to its beauty and deaf to its music, and of those who call evil good, and good evil, and put darkness for light, and light for darkness.
What care the weather-bronzed sons of the West, feeding the world from the plains of Dakota, for the Oars and the Brahmins? They would say to the Hindoos, "Blot out your philosophy, dead for a thousand years, look with fresh eyes at Reality and Life, put away your Brahmins and your crooked gods, and seek diligently for Vishnu the Preserver."
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope. When our forefathers laid the foundation of the American commonwealths, what nerved them to their task but a vision of a free community? Against the cold, inhospitable sky, across the wilderness white with snow, where lurked the hidden savage, gleamed the bow of promise, toward which they set their faces with the faith that levels mountains, fills up valleys, bridges rivers and carries civilization to the uttermost parts of the earth. Although the pioneers could not build according to the Hebraic ideal they saw, yet they gave the pattern of all that is most enduring in our country today. They brought to the wilderness the thinking mind, the printed book, the deep rooted desire for self-government and the English common law that judges alike the king and the subject, the law on which rests the whole structure of our society.
It is significant that the foundation of the law is optimistic. In Latin countries the court proceeds with a pessimistic bias. The prisoner is held guilty until he is proved innocent. In England and the United States there is an optimistic presumption that the accused is innocent until it is no longer possible to deny his guilt. Under our system, it is said, many criminals are acquitted; but it is surely better so than that many innocent persons should suffer. The pessimist cries, "There is no enduring good in man! The tendency of all things is through perpetual loss to chaos in the end. If there was ever an idea of good in things evil, it was impotent, and the world rushes on to ruin." But behold, the law of the two most sober-minded, practical and law abiding nations on earth assumes the good in man and demands proof of the bad.
Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. The prophets of the world have been good of heart, or their standards would have stood naked in the field without a defender. Tolstoi's strictures lose power because they are pessimistic. If he had seen clearly the faults of America, and still believed in her capacity to overcome them, our people might have felt the stimulation of his censure. But the world turns its back on a hopeless prophet and listens to Emerson who takes in account the best qualities of the nation and attacks only the vices which no one can defend or deny. It listens to the strong man, Lincoln, who in times of doubt, trouble and need does not falter. He sees success afar, and by strenuous hope, by hoping against hope, inspires a nation. Through the night of despair he says, "All is well," and thousands rest in his confidence. When such a man censures, and points to a fault, the nation obeys, and his words sink into the ears of men; but to the lamentations of the habitual Jeremiah the ear grows dull.
Our newspapers should remember this. The press is the pulpit of the modern world, and on the preachers who fill it much depends. If the protest of the press against unrighteous measures is to avail, then for ninety nine days the word of the preacher should be buoyant and of good cheer, so that on the hundredth day the voice of censure may be a hundred times strong. This was Lincoln's way. He knew the people; he believed in them and rested his faith on the justice and wisdom of the great majority. When in his rough and ready way he said, "You can't fool all the people all the time," he expressed a great principle, the doctrine of faith in human nature.
The prophet is not without honor, save he be a pessimist. The ecstatic prophecies of Isaiah did far more to restore the exiles of Israel to their homes than the lamentations of Jeremiah did to deliver them from the hands of evil-doers.
Even on Christmas Day do men remember that Christ came as a prophet of good? His joyous optimism is like water to feverish lips, and has for its highest expression the eight beatitudes. It is because Christ is an optimist that for ages he has dominated the Western world. For nineteen centuries Christendom had gazed into his shining face and felt that all things work together for good. St. Paul, too, taught the faith which looks beyond the hardest things into the infinite horizon of heaven, where all limitations are lost in the light of perfect understanding. If you are born blind, search the treasures of darkness. They are more precious than the gold of Ophir. They are love and goodness and truth and hope, and their price is above rubies and sapphires.
Jesus utters and Paul proclaims a message of peace and a message of reason, a belief in the Idea, not in things, in love, not in conquest. The optimist is he who sees that men's actions are directed not by squadrons and armies, but by moral power, that the conquests of Alexander and Napoleon are less abiding than Newton's and Galileo's and St. Augustine's silent mastery of the world. Ideas are mightier than fire and sword. Noiselessly they propagate themselves from land to land, and mankind goes out and reaps the rich harvest and thanks God; but the achievements of the warrior are like his canvas city, "to-day a camp, to-morrow all struck and vanished, a few pit-holes and heaps of straw." This was the gospel of Jesus two thousand years ago. Christmas Day is the festival of optimism.
Although there are still great evils which have not been subdued, and the optimist is not blind to them, yet he is full of hope. Despondency has no place in his creed, for he believes in the imperishable righteousness of God and the dignity of man. History records man's triumphant ascent. Each halt in his progress has been but a pause before a mighty leap forward. The time is not out of joint. If indeed some if the temples we worship in have fallen, we have built new ones on the sacred sites loftier and holier than those which have crumbled. If we have lost some of the heroic physical qualities of our ancestors, we have replaced them with a spiritual nobleness that turns aside wrath and binds up the wounds of the vanquished. All the past attainments of man are ours; and more, his day-dreams have become our clear realities. Therein lies our hope and sure faith.
As I stand in the sunshine if a sincere and earnest optimism, my imagination "paints yet more glorious triumphs on the cloud-curtain of the future." Out of the fierce struggle and turmoil of contending systems and powers I see a brighter spiritual era slowly emerge —an era in which there shall be no England, no France, no Germany, no America, no this people or that, but one family, the human race; one law, peace; one need, harmony; one means, labor; one taskmaster, God.
If I should try to say anew the creed of the optimist, I should day something like this: "I believe in God, I believe in man, I believe in the power of the spirit. I believe it is a sacred duty to encourage ourselves and others; to hold the tongue from any unhappy word against God's world, because no man has any right to complain of a universe which God made good, and which thousands of men have striven to keep good. I believe we should so act that we may draw nearer and more near the age when no man shall live at his ease while another suffers." These are the articles of my faith, and there is yet another on which all depends —to bear this faith above every tempest which overfloods it, and to make it a principal in disaster and through affliction. Optimism is the harmony between man's spirit and of God pronouncing His works good.