Epitome of the Positive Philosophy and Religion (Notice)

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4.—An Epitome of the Positive Philosophy and Religion, explanatory of the Society of Humanity in the City of New York, together with the Constitution and Regulations of that Society ; to which is added an important letter of Harriet Martineau in regard to her religious convictions. Published by the Society of Humanity, 141 Eighth Street, New York. 1877. pp. 60.

This little work, a mere brochure, bears the distinctive earmarks of the earnest and vigorous pen of Thaddeus B. Wakeman, who is rising to be the larger luminary of the American branch of the " Positive," or Positivistic, movement, as it slowly, but surely, forces its way upon the attention and convictions of the world. And yet, after half a century of announcement, " Positivism " is not so well known, even by the intelligent public at large, as not to be told of somewhat as if it were a new thing. A little ambiguity first has to be disposed of. The term positive, as the common property of the scientific world, means whatsoever is certainly known, or rather whatsoever is scientifically ascertained and demonstrated. In this sense, all scientists, — those who carefully hold hypothesis in the true place of hypothesis, and never allow credo to glide over surreptitiously or unconsciously into scio, — are positivists, unless they choose to call themselves echosophists. But the Positivistic movement sometimes means something more specific, as when it is confined to the full or partial disciples of Auguste Comte, the great French philosopher, now dead, who filled a place in France not unlike that which Herbert Spencer has filled, and now fills, in England.

Comte, while less extensively known among English-speaking peoples than Spencer, is more widely known over Europe at large, and is impressing himself probably more profoundly upon the general thoughts of the world. He preceded Spencer by two or three decades as a writer, and Spencer has experienced some difficulty in guarding himself from the imputation of being one of his partial disciples. Each, however, is a great original thinker, and the coincidence between them is only incidental to the fact that they have worked somewhat on parallel lines in the grand sciento-philosophic evolution of the past half-century. To point out the difference between them is more important in this sketch than to indicate their likeness. That difference lies, perhaps, most fundamentally in the inspiring animus of their respective labors. Spencer is scholarly, scientific, and philosophical ; Comte is scientific, philosophical, and reformatory. Spencer stops, for the most part, with the analysis of what has been and is, and the synthesis in idea, or our knowledge of the matter; Comte is intently bent on accomplishing the needed changes in human society, and his whole philosophical elaboration is simply the building of a platform upon which to operate for the beneficent reconstruction of human institutions. Spencer is a philosopher; Comte is both philosopher and reformer, the reformatory purpose preponderating, how profound soever were his preliminary investigations.

The result of this difference on the part of Comte has been, as he himself planned and intended, the springing up of small, incipient organizations in various countries, intended to replace the prevalent church organization, and to charge themselves with the general education and development of mankind. It is claimed for Comte that he was the founder, at once, of the science of sociology and the religion of humanity, as contrasted with the divinity schools and religions of the past. The Society of Humanity in the city of New York is, at a second remove, one of these organizations, but so enlarged as to cease to be distinctively Comtean. It retains and prefers the term Positive, enlarging it to embrace the labors of all the great thinkers. Henry Edger was incipiently, and for some years, the personal head of the distinctively Comtean movement in America, and, we believe, still retains that position. Mr. Wakeman is the active man and leader of this later effort to found a church upon the distinctive basis of science.

The first thing, in order to understand something of Positivism, is to know that certain frequent and important words have a distinctive and technical meaning, differing from the present popular use. The Creed of this church is, or means, the entire body of the sciences, or all that is known certainly of the world and its inhabitants. Positivists, even Comteans, are by no means atheists, although they make society, or humanity rather, the direct object of their worshipful devotedness. They simply demand scientific proofs of the existence of God, or else they leave the question in abeyance, among matters unsolved, in respect to which they are neither entitled to affirm or deny. So also of spiritual existence beyond this world. According to their view, church and religion are natural needs and outgrowths of humanity, not resting, as ordinarily assumed, upon faith in God or immortality, but upon the necessity for human culture and improvement; so, indeed, that if there be no God and no worldful of immortals to look after us, then all the more do we need to organize for the care of our own spiritual and material destiny. We should be all the more religious, and not less so, if there is no superhuman machinery intent on watching over and providing for us. But we cannot do better than to let Mr. Wakeman himself tell us what Positivism means by Religion.

" This word has been defined as belief in, worship of, or obligation of man to, some particular God or Supreme Being. Thus each Protestant or Catholic Christian, or Mohammedan, or Hindoo, has his ' religion.' Each sect and people regards itself as having the one true religion, because its god is the only true one. The word ' religion' has thus come to express the relation of the worshipper to his supernatural god. Religion and theology are, in this view, indissoluble. The moral and practical effect of thus limiting the meaning of this word has been to make enemies or strangers of the adherents of the various gods or theological conceptions. It was this old theological meaning of the word that made the earth the battle-field of ' religions.'

" But in the newer — that is, in the human and scientific — sense, the word 'religion ' has come to mean that' convergence ' or unity of people, or of peoples, that has resulted, or may result, from any common belief or sentiment, whether springing from a belief in a god or otherwise. In this sense, the unity, integration, or binding together under the influence of a common conviction, is the substance of the meaning, of which the gods are ever but variable incidents. iThus, in the march of history, each god in his turn falls into insignificance, but the social unity — the collective man — is more and more. In this view the lesson of history is clear that human progress must be arrested, or man must, in this newer sense, become more and more religious, and yet at the same time less and less theological.

" The whole law of human progress may well illustrate the new meaning of this word 'religion,' for that law is but the application of the law of growth in biology to human societies. There is an ever-increasing cooperation of parts and organs, which are ever more and more specialized. That is, the growth or integration of the people, or of peoples, is attended by an ever-increasing liberty and also convergence of the individual as a part and organ of the integration. Each religion in history is an integration, and each therefore has been in turn succeeded by a broader faith, while the individual has generally become more free, and less a slave or serf, — that is, less a creature of status or birth. To illustrate: —

" I. The fetichistic religions formed the bond of communities small in size and simple in organization, while the individual was the slave of Nature or of tribal authority.

" 2. Out of these tribes arose the larger religious integrations of astrolatry, — e. g., Egypt, Assyria, Persia.

" 3. Over these grew the still larger polytheistic empires of Greece and Rome.

"4. Over and out of these grew the grander monotheistic integrations of the Papacy and Mohammedanism.

" 5. The fierceness of the faiths last named was expended in the Crusades^ and the feeling that all men are brethren, and that all nations are, under the law of nations, parts of a great commonwealth, announced the dawn of a new and still higher integration. This has been properly called the Religion Ok Humanity. It is based upon the conviction that mankind and their interests and destiny are the matters of supreme interest on this planet. ' I come not to bring peace, but a sword,' was the old import of this word 'religion.' Liberty and Union, Order and Progresi, are the watchwords of its newer meaning.

" This scientific and human use of this word ' religion' Comte (Catechism, p. 51) finds to be most happily included in the generally received etymology of the word, by which it is derived from the latin re, back, and ligo-are, to bind. The word is thus made to tell us that it is the binding back of man to his fellows and to the world. It is the tie by which his feelings and thoughts within, and his actions without, are coordinated into health and harmony with each other, with society and the world, with the past and the future.

" Some modern scholars, however, suspect that the truer derivation of the word is from re, over again, and lego-ere, to gather or consider, —»'. e., to ponder or carefully review. Thus the common Latin phrase, ' Religio jurisjurandi' (the religion of an oath), would mean, under the first derivation, the bond or obligation of the oath; but, under the second derivation, it would mean the care and scrupulousness of the oath. Fortunately, under the 'new faith,' the meanings sustained by both derivations are happily included and harmonized. In it, religion stands, as never before, for the great reconciliation, in which social unity and moral obligation rest upon, and grow ever stronger from, the ever-tested truth and scrupulous exactness of science.

" The substance and the constructive feeling of the word ' religion' is admirably presented in the meaning and etymology of the word ' holy,' which, as an adjective, is often associated with it. The derivation of this word points to the Anglo-Saxon verb, to ' heal,' to make ' whole,' — that is, to secure the wholeness or harmony of health."

In a similar manner, the Epitome proceeds to define science, humanity, egoism, altruism, and other words, either new or employed in modified senses. Perhaps the use of the term priests by the Positivists is most novel and confusing. The creed of the new church being science, the whole body of scientific men becomes, or should become, the future priests of humanity. Their calling becomes elevated and sanctified. It is they who, in a special sense, are hereafter to take charge of the destinies of the social world. They should realize to themselves the sanctity and responsibility of their position. They should recall themselves from their vagrant and merely speculative investigations, tending now loosely outward in a thousand directions, and concentrate themselves upon such science as will most effectively and immediately contribute to the social welfare. In this manner sociology looms up as the supreme science. All other sciences should be studied in subservience to this. Such is a slight sketch of the religion of humanity. Its American development takes on certain modifications, never contemplated by Comte, from the more radical and cosmopolitan thinking around us. Already American " Positivism," itself a branch of empiricism at large, has become a pretty broad eclecticism, assimilating evolution, social freedom, and much other recent doctrine; and Wakeman is preeminently a leading, perhaps the leading, mind of this American eclectic empiricism.

s. P. A.