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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Superstition and Love of Truth

Superstition and Love of Truth.

Religion is the attitude of reverence, in which noble-minded people instinctively place themselves towards the Unknown Power which made man and his dwelling place. It is the natural accompaniment of their lives, the sanetification of their actions and their acquirements. It is what gives to man, in the midst of the rest of creation, his special elevation and dignity.

Accompanying our race as it has done from the cradle of civilisation, it has grown with our growth, it has expanded with the expansion of knowledge, subject only to the condition that when errors have been incorporated in religious systems, they have been exceptionally tenacious of their ground. Rituals and creeds, created by the piety of constructive and devotional ages, have become so precious when once accepted, that it has been held sacrilege to touch them. They have been guarded by superstition and sealed against alteration by anathema. The eternal nature of the Object of our reverence has been attributed to the form under which it has been adored, and unable notwithstanding to escape the charges which the development of knowledge imposes upon it, religion has advanced not by easy and natural transitions, but by successive revolutions, violent leaps, spasmodic convulsions. Opinions formed, or facts believed, in the immaturity of experience, become incredible when seen to be out of harmony with larger and more exact information. Piety, the twin brother of Science, tends at such times to be the guardian of error. Love of truth is forced into unnatural hostility with the virtue which is only second to it, and then come those trying periods of human history, when devotion and intelligence appear to be opposed, and the metal of which men and nations are composed is submitted to a crucial test. Those who adhere at all costs to truth, who cling to her though she lead them into the wilderness, find beyond it a promised land where all that they sacrifice is restored to them. Those who through superstition, or timidity, or political convenience, or pious feeling, close their eyes to fact, who cling to forms which have become shadows, and invent reasons for believing what is essentially no longer credible, escape a momentary trial only that it may return upon them again in a harder and harsher shape. They surrender themselves to conscientious emotions, and they forfeit those very emotions for which they are sacrificing their intellectual honesty as the object of their reverence becomes more palpably an idol. While the Church of Rome is losing the countries page 282 which it persuaded to refuse the Reformation, it exults in the converts which it is recovering from the nations which became Protestant. It fails to see that its success is its deepest condemnation. Protestantism alone has kept alive the sentiment of piety which, when allied with weakness of intellect, is the natural prey of superstition.—J. A. Froude.