The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37
The Future of Religion
The Future of Religion.
In fact, the destinies of religion are bound up, as I believe, with the possibility of broadening the popular conception of it in some such way as I have tried to show. The common people are little aware of the nature of the intellectual influences that are now acting upon them, and do not suspect the slow changes thus wrought in their own ideas. Hut it is true that the cultivated mind of to-day has broken with Christianity, and, for lack of the very conception of religion I urge to-day, is breaking with religion too. Deny it or disguise it as they please, the watchful and intelligent observers of the times know this to be the fact. Science has been compelled to assume an attitude of hostility towards religion which is indeed justifiable, considering the claims made by religion itself, but which is none the less injurious both to one and to the other. If forced to choose deliberately between the two, mankind mast decide for science; they cannot help themselves. The knowledge of facts never gives way to anybody or anything; and that is what science is. Unless, therefore, religion can prove itself to be other than it has allowed itself to appear, its doom is sealed, and its very name will survive only as a part of history.
It is with utter earnestness, therefore, that I declare my own conviction to be that, unless religion has been described with substantial accuracy in what I have said to-day, it will wholly vanish from the world's life. If it is not substantially the effort of Man to perfect himself, unrestricted by the obligation of arriving at any foregone theological conclusions, the world will have no use for it hereafter. Whatever perishes, freedom of thought must survive. Yet I cannot page 30 frame any other conception of religion which shall utterly and unreservedly concede freedom of thought. In urging it, therefore, I believe that I not only defend science, but religion too, patching up no wretched compromise between them, but pointing out the common ground on which both may stand erect, as natural allies instead of foes. Now, as ever, radicalism is the true conservatism; and if I had no other design but simply to conserve religion among men, without the least interest in the truth as such, I should most certainly urge these views of it as the only ones that could save it from destruction. Let that pass for what it is worth; I speak now as one who believes in religion, thus conceived, from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head,—without apology either for the name or the thing, and without the smallest concession to the prejudice that assails either the one or the other. To-day I speak only to the large in heart and broad in mind,—to those who must accept science and would fain accept religion too. To these I say that science itself would lose her fearless love of truth, were it not that religion fed its secret springs; that social reform would lose its motive and inspiration, literature and art their beauty, and all human life its sweetest and tenderest grace, did not religion evermore create the insatiable hunger after perfection in the soul of man. Bright, cheerful, ennobling, stimulating, emancipating, religion is the greatest friend of humanity, ever guiding it upward and onward to the right and the true; aye, and to all we yearn for, if, as we believe, the right and the true are indeed the pathway to God.