The Order of Creation
The Order of Creation.
You apologize for your government with its majority tyranny. You patronize it as a necessary evil. Where, you ask, are your individuals with free minds to seek the truth, find the truth, and live the truth ? A far greater tyranny is that which enslaves the mind than any that enslaves the body. To have free men capable of self-government, we must have the right of private judgment on all matters pertaining to all the concerns of life freely and persistently exercised.
You are right. Thomas Paine was as wise in the early days of the Republic. With his " Common Sense " he had severed the tie that bound the colonies to Great Britain. Then he turned to Jefferson and said: "The church with its superstitions, its authority, its zeal for other-worldliness, is now the foe in our path. We must begin the attack upon that. In other words, we must now carry the Revolution into religion."
"Don't," said Jefferson, "the church will grind you into dust."
"Let it," Paine replied, and produced his "Age of Reason," which threw the theological world into convulsions.
Jefferson was right. Paine was buried under a load of obloquy it will take ages to remove. But the Age of Reason he proclaimed was not buried with him. That has gone steadily on, until at length, science coining steadily to the support, intellectual liberty in affairs of religion is assured. More and more the religious world dares to think, and in church as everywhere else the words of Lucretia Mott, "Truth for authority, riot authority for truth," lead the way.
Two evils are thus disappearing. The one pernicious and enslaving, the submission to authority of church or infallible book; the other the degrading of the life that now is, to enhance the value of the riches of a life to come.
All this is being left to the darkness of the past. Ignorance is less and less esteemed as the necessary outfit for a religious life. The very words of the Lord, so abjectly worshipped, become a liberating message to the enslaved: " Why do ye not even of your own selves judge what is right ? " No other thought of the Nazarene stirs a profounder depth in our modern life than this.
Again, the conflict science has waged with old-fashioned religion has resulted in turning the chief, the basic dogma of the Christian church end for end. No longer do we wrestle with the bewildering statement that the work of creation was ended in six days, the :reator then taking a rest, congratulating himself that ill was very good, including his crowning triumph, the perfect man and perfect woman; on whom, howsver, he had hardly turned his back, when, lol into their Paradise stole the also very good serpent, to permade them to forsake all their blessedness and follow him down to an everlasting perdition, and so bring sin into the world, with all our woe.
We of this generation are more fortunate. We open our eyes on the fact that the work of this world's creation began, as all work does and must, with modesty and patience. A vast big job, to quote Abraham Lincoln, not to be dismissed with six days of prestidigitorial labor. We are now enabled to perceive that the god of the world, the creative spirit in matter, could not so acquit itself and withdraw; for it is immanent and continuous in all life. As Tennyson sings: "Through the ages one increasing purpose runs." From smallest beginnings, from ovum of life, the evolution advances. The divine worker was not led astray by an ambition to do at the outset that which was only possible at the end. The work was to be fashioned and projected into time and space.
Thus has science reversed in our minds the order of creation. Instead of the perfect man at the dawn, we yet look for him at the meridian or in the far twilight. Instead of the race tumbling down when it first began into a state of evil, where it has ever since been floundering with an almost heart-breaking despair, we have the goodly encouragement of a progressive order of life,—the earth unfolding, transfigured, as Swedenborg declared, into the torn of the perfect Man.
In plainer speech we have the idea of human progress placed upon a scientific basis, with its worst foe, the church, more than half conquered and submissive.
This, without going farther into the matter, is the phase of the religious evolution which I deem important, coming, as it does, to deliver us, in part, at least, from the dissatisfaction consequent upon the discovery that the Revolution ending with our political achievement can never have other than a lame and impotent conclusion.
This idea of human progress by the process of a natural evolution is an inspiration to every great and generous work. Man himself a participant in his own creation has all the incentive of an original creator.