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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

Religion as Fire

Religion as Fire.

When I say, therefore, as I must, that I believe in religion, the case is the same as when I say that I believe in fire. Of all agencies employed by man, fire is perhaps the most useful and the most terrible. It will warm your house, and cook your steak; but it will just as readily burn them up, aye, and you too. If it escapes the governance of your mind. Without fire civilization would be impossible; but the great wilderness of blackened ruins within a stone's throw from this Hall, marking the spot where the conflagration raged with frightful fury through your stores and warehouses, shows how remorselessly fire will unmake the very civilization it has made. So it is with religion. Without it human life would freeze into the desolation of an arctic winter; without it the tender flush on the face of humanity, looking upward and forward in the rocky path she climbs, would fade away and the golden aureole of a divine purpose would vanish forever from her head; without it the suffusing glow of hope and reverence would die out from the world of men, and the hard lines of care and stolid selfishness would be ploughed by the hand of Time where now he traces the marks of noble thought and earnest aspiration and grand enthusiasm for the true, the beautiful, the good. Yet the same mighty force which, if only guided by intelligence, makes each human heart an altar, has made it, and will make it again, under the guidance of ignorant folly, a lazar-house of superstition and a torture-chamber of cruelty. Let reason lose her mastery of the inner impulse of religion, and the fire which should warm, comfort, and preserve, will with all-devouring flames turn into ashes every costly product of civilizing mind. Truly, a fearful friend is this fire of the human soul,—the greatest of all blessings or the most terrible of all curses! I repeat it, I believe in religion as I believe in fire; for, notwithstanding the incalculable evils that result from their abuse, mankind could dispense with the one as little as with the other.