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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

The Clew of an Idea

page 3

The Clew of an Idea.

Yet, while stumbling and groping my way, as it were, amid the ruins of decaying world-religions, and consciously devoid of the light which is needed to illumine the path of escape, I do indeed believe that the clew of an idea is given which even in the dark shall serve as a guiding-thread. These vast tottering temples of faith in which the worshippers still congregate by millions, unlike as they appear to careless inspection, betray, notwithstanding, a far profounder unity than can be detected in mere similarity of moral precepts or identity of special beliefs. Such similarity or identity, though in itself a comparatively recent discovery, appears to me to be a quite superficial fact. Moral precepts and special beliefs, mere rules and mere opinions, never yet made a religion; they do not contain the vital principle essential to the organic existence of every world-faith. Deeper than to ethical codes or to theological conceptions must we look, if we would discover the vast arterial system of spiritual life which makes all religions one. What we want to discover is the common blood of them all, not the likeness of fingers or toes. The "sympathy of religions," as the phrase has been happily coined, is a great and fruitful truth; but there is danger lest we seek it in surface characteristics. When it is seen that moral precepts and theological beliefs are never the real bond of union even among the adherents of the same religion, we shall be cautious how we proceed in taking them as the bond of union among different religions. Without "unity of spirit," churches are ropes of sand; without unity of spirit, different religions, bristling as they all do with conscious hostility, could never be one in substance as they really arc. It is something, then, to be warned against going off on a false scent in the search for unity. It is something to be aware that moral precepts and theological doctrines, whether shared or not shared in common by different religions, do not and cannot constitute the essence of religion, but are simply the various forms of manifestation assumed at various times and under varying circumstances by a page 4 permanent force in human history. Opinions in ethics and in theology change from age to age; what is held to be right and true in one stage of development is seen to be wrong and false at a later stage. But the deep and powerful impulsion to seek for the right and true, without which these very changes could never have taken place, is an abiding element of human nature; and it is in this direction that we must look, if we would indeed discover that common essence which is the real nexus of unity among the diversities of law, creed, and cultus.