Rev. Heber Newton
Rev. Heber Newton.
Rev. Heber Newton before the Free Religious Association presented a striking and a pleasing figure. Mr. Newton is a clergyman grasping many excellent heresies, while yet maintaining a position in the Protestant Episcopal Church. He comes forth from the traditions and influences of his Christian "study," and finds himself quite at home on a this world's platform, discussing with zeal the interests of the life that now is. Few, if any, of the Free Religionists have shown so practical a turn of mind, so courageous a handling of the great industrial problem, as Mr. Newton's essay presents. Of what avail is it to reduce religion to ethics, if your ethics have no greater virility than the old religion? Orthodox Religion has had its home for the most part in a next world; Free Religion has been thus far very much in the air, — a thin speculation of God or no God. Culture has not given it breadth or freedom, but rather circumscribed and paralyzed it. Still, from time to time, the association furnishes a platform whereon brave men stand and speak encouraging, reassuring words. Mr. Newton naturally views the question of Socialism from a religious standpoint. He asks himself what is required of religion. Religion, he says, is the recognition of the bonds of a Divine Order, and the obedience thereto. But he does not find that Divine Order in our existing human system. It is to be sought in the ideal of human brotherhood and in the revelation of the Golden Rule. To affirm this with his most solemn sanctions, to persuade men really to believe it, and to induce men to act upon it,—this is the mission of religion today!
But Mr. Newton's observations lead him to discover, and his honesty to confess, that Socialism has never been without this religious aspect.
In seriously setting itself to correct the disorders of the earth, Socialism affirms its faith in the reality of the true order, and in the possibility of realizing it. He who struggles deliberately against a wrong declares therein his conviction that it can be righted; he who tries to transform a chaos confesses that he believes in a cosmos. If it be impossible to establish an order upon earth, why should one essay the thankless task of grappling with the disorders of earth? However little consciousness of the fact there may be in the breasts of Socialists, their fundamental conviction — a conviction which is unquestioningly held, which is expressed with childlike simplicity of confidence, a faith which literally removes mountains—is none other than the ancient belief in God. They have caught sight of the ideal social order. Its beauty has inflamed their souls.
In a rapid review of the successive socialistic movements and then- leaders he discovers that they have all manifested a "passionate aspiration which takes on the tones as of a new inspiration." And now "the greatest economic reconstruction and the most important social uplifting which the world has yet experienced are preparing. Our institutions will have to adjust themselves to the change."
We will not quarrel with Mr. Newton about the necessity of insisting upon God, since he is so ready to insist upon humanity, to call upon, persuade, human beings to dwell together in good will and peace. The survival of the God-idea he brings from his Church creed is tolerably harmless. Nor do we take exception to his religion, so defined. And we leave to others the opportunity to contrast the religion of the Socialist who had "done with God" and the religion of the Church which has had so little to do with any one else. Enough that he now declares for that "enthusiasm of humanity enkindled in the soul as the very love of God."
We have said this much in earnest commendation of the new departure which Mr. Newton desires religion to take. It remains for us to call his attention to the fact that in his investigation pf the subject he has failed to acquaint himself with the true character of the Socialism of the Anarchist. He betrays a familiarity with Mr. George and his book, and has undoubtedly done well in availing himself of whatever new light • and inspiration he could obtain in that quarter. But it will not do for him to rely upon Mr. George for his Anarchistic ideas. Mr. George has nowhere shown "that he has at all comprehended the individualistic movement. And Mr. Newton will find him but a blind .guide. Some day Mr. Newton will experience the surprise—and the pleasure, we trust — of discovering that the so-called Anarchists have not only a passionate enthusiasm for an ideal social order, but an intelligent conception of what that order is to be. "Socialism is not Anarchism," he exclaims; "it does not propose simply to overturn the existing order and let civilization lapse back again into chaos." We feel sure that Mr. Newton has his information at second hand, or he would not display the lack of courage and candor which such a statement implies. If he will read Anarchistic publications, he will find that a social science, a social order, — the harmony of individuals dwelling together developing human nature to its best, — is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega of the Anarchistic dream. Not Socialism? The Anarchist believes he has dwelt in the Mount and seen the perfection of Socialism!
It may surprise Mr. Newton still more to find that the Anarchist is the only Socialist who is not amenable to the "folly of translating an ideal into a law, ethical principles into an economic scheme." Precisely here the Anarchist lies open to the misunderstanding of the ignorant. Because he refuses politics, the State, will not go into caucus to "translate his ideal into a law," it is supposed he would upset all things and "let civilization lapse back into chaos." But Mr. Newton should never repeat such a charge. For with him the Anarchist says: "Civilization must ripen gradually into the sweetness of a brotherhood. We cannot force Nature's seasons. Society is a growth, and only through patient evolution can an order be worked out in which truly free people shall lift to the throne of Earth the holy form of Justice."