The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
Christianity and Philosophical Theism
Christianity and Philosophical Theism.
Sir,—I have received the July number of your Journal—in all eighteen numbers. The perusal of your periodical inspires me with mingled sentiments of delight, amusement and indignation. A correspondent from this city says that he "cannot go your length in exposing the shortcomings of the Bible." I must say that you do not go far enough for me. It is not my intention to criticise, within the narrow compass of a letter, any or all of your serials in detail. But permit me, in general, to say that your criticisms are too broad for Christians and too narrow for Theists. In steering your course between Philosophy and Christianity, you will find that the Roman maxim, so safe in ordinary affairs of life—In medio tutissimus ibis—is not a sure guide of conduct. Here, emphatically, the middle course is neither the safest nor the most rational. I can see by your writings that you are an independent man, remarkably free from prejudices in the main, and on that account I shall always be happy to receive and read your periodical. At the same time, you will allow me to say that your present course of procedure is as much at variance with sound philosophy as your Dunedin correspondent's suggested emendations of John i. 1 and Heb. i. 8 are at issue with the Greek New Testament. You preach a perpetual crusade against Popular Christianity. Pardon me when I say that I feel a certain loathing towards that most unprofitable subject. Jesus himself did not write the rambling utterances attributed to him. He left no autographs. I am at present studying Plato's Dialogues. What would you think of me, if I always quarrelled with the Master of Athenian wisdom on the score of what Socrates said or did not say? You would, as a scholar, laugh at me? Now, Sir, with due deference, this is precisely what you are doing in relation to the Gospels. I feel disposed to say to you what F. W. Newman said to Martineau, whom you greatly admire: "Publish an expurgated Gospel," and let your readers, and me among the rest, know precisely "what is the Jesus whom you revere." For some time I followed a similar line of action with yourself; but many years ago I saw it would not do. I discovered that no reliance could be placed on Hebrew mythology. I found that what was true in the Gospels was not new, and that what was new was not true. I could not reconcile Jesus with History. Therefore I frankly ceased to preach, and threw the whole overboard. If ever I take to the pulpit again, it will be on the platform of Philosophical Theism. Tell me not that the Man of Nazareth was "the noblest human soul that has yet worn flesh"—till you shall have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the spurious and genuine utterances attributed to him by the writers of the Gospels. Till you shall have done this, I, for my part, feel that there is wanting a proper basis whereon to stand and contend in gladiatorial battle array.
I hope I do not use too strong language; and, if I may judge of the characteristics of your mind from your writings, I feel confident that you will not deem me impertinent or disrespectful in thus frankly unbosoming page 254 my sentiments to you. We are all seeking after Truth, and would joyfully hail the advent of More Light to guide our paths in the mysterious labyrinths of Religion as contradistinguished with Christianity of multiplex jargon. Proceed, Sir, in your quest after truth. Albeit your modus operandi is different from what I have been pursuing in my own humble way, in the Saturday Review first, next in the Delphic Oracle, and now in the Stoic. Nevertheless, I bid you godspeed, believing that so much original thought conveyed in such a bold style, cannot but ultimately forward the interests of Truth and Rational Religion, even in orthodox Sydney.
I remain, Sir, your obedient Servant,
J. G. S. Grant.York Place, Dunedin, Otago, N.Z.,
August 2, 1871.