The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8
It is strange, but no less true than strange, that ecclesiastics will always carry their wallet behind them and only have an eye for their neighbours' peccadilloes. Whether it arise from an obliquity of vision especially attaching to this class of persons, or from the unfavourable view they are supposed to take of human nature, their ordinary aim seems to be to stir up strife, and to smite a neighbour's cheek whenever they can reach it. This is by no means an amiable characteristic. But fortunately, here as elsewhere in creation, the will to injure and the power to accomplish are not conceded to one and the same creature.
There has existed, as our readers are aware, for the last two or three years a weekly print styled the Australian Churchman, somewhat ambitious as to size, and sufficiently respectable as to its typographical get-up. Unhappily for the projectors, its circulation is as limited as, unfortunately for the public, is the talent that edits it. And though perhaps in this instance no great pecuniary harvest was anticipated, it is generally considered to be a somewhat undignified drawback when the returns of a venture do not square with its expenses. After all the clergy can only be wheedled and squeezed up to a certain point, and even episcopal countenance is but sorry metal wherewith to pay the printer's account, or to satisfy the cravings of his "devil."
But let us for a few moments examine the tone and bearing of this hebdomadal production. And first, as to its motto—"Love the brotherhood." How are we to reconcile this motto with its ordinary proceedings? Is it a covert satire on its own pages, and is it to be interpreted by the doctrine of reservation? Must those be the brotherhood, and those only, who obediently think as the Churchman would have them think, and who have too little independence either of mind or position to murmur dissent or to hazard an objection? If this be the condition of brotherhood, we must be allowed to express our satisfaction that we are not of our contemporary's guild.
If this self-constituted organ of the Establishment confined itself to its legitimate sphere of action, hectoring its own clients only, we might, it is true, think the whole thing as good as a play, but we should have little right to comment on the matter. But when we find it lecturing Unitarians and others, on their "superfluity of naughtiness," we cannot for the life of us refrain from asking what other superfluity it is that comes far more prominently page 33 before our eyes—whether it be in the much overpaid stipend of a bishop, or in the quasi-baronial display of his surroundings. It is a homely saying, that he who has a glass house should never throw stones. But our haughty sciolist gives the adage no heed. In throwing down the gauntlet, however, he must not decline the lists, but give us the "essential and fundamental truths" from the assumed vantage-ground of which he makes his theological assault.
Now, in religion, as in all else, man longs, so far as he may reasonably do so, for some infallible organ of truth, whereby he may once for all set his mind at rest from the religious embroilment around him. Its exposition must be concise, or it will weary; intellectual, or it will be scouted; truthful, or it will inspire disgust. It will not suffice, as it has sufficed in days gone by, to reason as Caesar might, with his thirty legions at his back. Our nearly extinct Establishment long gloried in this procedure, and even now utters its unheeded wail over the degenerate days that will neither accept frauds for truth nor myths for Gospel. The spirit of the age that will table-turn, and gape with wonder at any mountebank who has the boldness to defy common sense, must not be held to be the spirit that will accept as religious truth the ipse dixit of any religionist. Its operations are different in the two cases. In the one, it is the result of an easy sort of admiration which, if productive of little good, does little harm. In the other, the case is far different; for with all man's apparent outward apathy, he longs for some exponent of a faith whose tenets should impress a world-wide sense of virtue and goodness. The carping character, the narrow views, the stupid assumptions of the clergy of the Church of England, and, indeed, of ecclesiastics generally, regard all this with no friendly eye. In all difficulties, whether of mind, spirit or position, they would constitute themselves, individually as well as collectively, the one sole court of human appeal.
Are they really qualified for such a trust? Let us see. "If you want to persuade us"—we say to these self-assumed exponents of the word of truth—"of the honesty and squareness of what you preach, prove first that all those are wrong who differ from you on points of religious doctrine; and after having done this in a way satisfactory to your own feelings and convictions, show us how it comes to pass that you who have proved yourselves right are at loggerheads with your own party on those identical points whose adoption you insist on in others. You may talk about squeezing and mutilating Scripture, and prate as you may about the heretical tendencies of the age. But which of your unassailable tenets has been left wholly intact? What squeezings have taken place? What mutilations perpetrated? What grotesque mummeries ruthlessly exhibited to the public eye. Arid, again, by whom has this been done? page 34 Not by your bêtes noirs, the Heretics, but by familiar friends and companions; by men at least nominally of your own faith, but before whom the Sydney 'Men of Gotham' are not fit to hold a candle, being infinitely their superiors in energy and talent, and in every quality that renders even an adversary free from contempt."
In brief, a man's religion is a delicate thing to handle. It dislikes being mauled about—being insulted by the drivellings of mental dotage, or desecrated by weak-headed ecclesiastics; and especially so, when these disturbers of a longed-for world's religious peace, these scoffers at the inalienable rights and privileges of reason and conscience, have nothing better than there own doctrinal patchwork to offer as a substitute for what they would impugn. The intelligence of the age is clearly ahead of these would-be religious censors; nay, has already consigned them as a body to the obscurity that secures their being innocuous. Man must have some sort of religion, even if it be the religio which is little more than a superstition, so long as it embraces some kindly consideration for our fellow-men and a respect for those tenets whereon are based their several principles of faith. Some people can wear their faith as they do their shorts and gaiters, and make it, too, fit as easily. And even if they should experience a twinge of conscience or discover a hole in their belief, they are far too wise to whisper it even to the winds for a bird of the air to carry it. They prefer to give up for the moment their own intestine squabbles about rubrics, synodical action, and so on, and abuse all sects that differ from them. Unsettled themselves, they would unsettle others; and if their success in such efforts is but small, it apparently urges them on to farther action, even at the risk, if not to the certainty, of additional contempt and ridicule.