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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

Religion as Feeling

Religion as Feeling.

It is the characteristic of all forms of mysticism to make religion consist primarily in feeling. Certain phases of Christianity, such as Moravianism and Methodism, will at once occur to your minds as illustrations of this, requiring as they do above everything else a peculiar "state of the affections," even to the comparative disparagement of orthodoxy of opinion. While less interesting to the thinker than the elaborately constructed systems of dogmatic theology, this mystical species of religion is more cheerful, more genial, and more free from the persecuting or intolerant spirit, than its harder-featured sister, dogmatism; and it is easy to see why Methodism, appealing chiefly to emotion and not rigorously exacting clear-cut opinions on doctrinal matters, should spread with great rapidity in an age when belief in Christian doctrines is either dying or dead.

Closely allied to mysticism, or the religion combining a maximum of feeling with a minimum of thought and action, is a species of modern radicalism for the historical influence of which I have profound respect and a large measure of sympathy, but which I regard as quite inadequate to take the lead to-day in the march of progress. I refer to New England Transcendentalism. It plants itself fundamentally on what it calls the "religious sentiment," as a distinct and special faculty of the human soul,—combining the quite unlike functions of intellectual intuition and emotional sensibility, and fitted, not only to apprehend supersensuous truths by direct vision or special illumination, but also to respond to them by an exalted range of feelings quite unlike all other sentiments in kind. For the great names which are most illustriously associated with this splendid movement of New England thought, and for the great good they have accomplished, I can yield to no one in point of admiration or gratitude; they are fixed stars in the galaxy of our age, and their light has come with divine cheer to great multitudes of page 18 darkened minds. But, however reluctantly, I am constrained to think and to say that their theory of religion is inadequate to meet the demands of the future, or even of the present. With all its mystical beauty and sweetness, it lacks a solid basis in thorough psychological analysis; it is a radiant dream, glorious and lovely, but not competent to till the wants of humanity in this opening era of scientific thought. That there is indeed such a thing as "religious sentiment," I most certainly believe. But that it is a special faculty, a special power of reception of the highest truths which is not possessed by the pure intellect as such, I must as certainly deny. The primary and well established division of faculties is into thought, feeling, and will; or, in more technical phrase, the cognitive, sensitive, and conative faculties. What is called by Transcendentalism the "religious sentiment" is really a complex manifestation of the former two, thought and feeling; it does not constitute a fourth division, and can only be regarded as doing so in the absence of a scientific psychology. Thought is thought; feeling is feeling; and their union in consciousness cannot at all destroy their elemental nature. In a right use of language, the "religious sentiment" signifies the feelings or sentiments which accompany, or result from, the purely intellectual contemplation of the idea of God, regarded as an objective truth. It is not an intuitive faculty; it is not a distinct faculty at all; it is simply the play of feeling excited by religious thought. As well might we consider love towards parents as a faculty distinct from love towards children; whereas love is essentially love, whatever its objects, and however various may be the coloring given to it by the varying nature of its objects. Awe, veneration, love,—all the sentiments which enter into the so-called "religious sentiment" are of universal application; and when Transcendentalism builds upon the conglomerate as if it were a simple and original basis in human nature, it does but found its house, fair as are its proportions, upon the sand. A new phase of thought is succeeding to Transcendentalism now, which, while page 19 gratefully honoring its predecessor, must carry forward "independently the same great work in the name of science.