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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 37

The Evil of Disproportion

The Evil of Disproportion.

There is a great deal of truth in each of the three conceptions of religion which I have briefly sketched, and to which almost all others may be Ultimately reduced. The dogmatist, for instance, asserts the superlative importance of a true belief; and this it is almost impossible to overestimate. Yet the danger lies in assuming too hastily that a belief is true, and thereby putting all the energies of humanity under the guidance of falsehood, perhaps very cruel and noxious falsehood. If reason, and not revelation, is taken as the judge of truth, no harm ensues; for reason never assumes the prerogative of infallibility. But all history shows the terrible mischief of letting revelation pronounce that to be certainly true which reason pronounces to be doubtful or false. When this has happened, zeal for the safety of a creed has caused men to stifle mercy, and strangle freedom, and ride roughshod over every large interest of humanity. This is the evil of emphasizing belief unduly, and elevating dogma to the throne. Other and lesser evils result whenever mere feeling or mere outward activity receives the supreme and excessive emphasis.

Dogmatism values particular thoughts rather than thought; mysticism values particular feelings rather than feeling; formalism and moral-ism value particular actions rather than action. That is to say, they all value the definite and completed products of human faculties rather than the free play of the faculties themselves; and this over-valuation of the products, which is under-valuation of the faculties, is a natural consequence of the one-sided views of human nature implied by the defective views of religion just described. The finest and fullest thought ever conceived by the human mind will in due time be surpassed by its successors; and so will page 21 the noblest sentiments and the purest acts. It Is a fatal error to prize the water you have drawn above the fountain from which you have drawn it. First in value is that in man from which all high thoughts and feelings and deeds proceed. While we love the truths we have won let us love truth itself better, and be not unwilling to confess that what we once held or even now hold to be truths may yet turn out to be half-truths,—possibly even untruths Whoever conceives religion in the one-sided manner I have depicted is unable to discern its true nature, or to protect himself from the costless brood of evils engendered by disproportion.