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CHAPTER IX

FAITH AND DOUBT

"How very hard it is to be a Christian!" 1 says Browning, and by this he means not the mere living up to the Christian ideal, that we all acknowledge to be difficult, but hard to realize what such a faith implies. Belief is difficult enough, but once convince a man that the least command of God is God's indeed, none but an idiot would dispute it. Martyrdom itself would be easy, could we be assured that God would be served that way. It is the uncertainty makes all the difficulty. We are so apt to argue that perhaps there is no God who is interested in our affairs, no laws which He cares whether we keep or break. A Simeon Stylites on his pillar, a St. Anthony in the desert, or a Xavier perishing in the Indies, may please Him no more than the lotus-eater in his luxury. It may

as pleasing to the Supreme Being, if He have any interest in our affairs at all, that we should eat, drink, and be merry as if we sacrificed our 1 Easter Day.

1

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"A SCIENTIFIC FAITH'S ABSURD' 155

selves for others, or poured out our blood in the arena as witness to what we conceive to be His truth. Science teaches us how to ensure certain results by such and such processes and expenditure of energy. We reap precisely in proportion to what we have sown. In all this we know what we are about; but when it is demanded. of us that we assent to certain propositions about God, the soul, and future life, and endeavour to shape our lives in accordance with that assent, we are invited to invest in a speculation for which no guarantee whatever is offered by any responsible person.

You demand a scientific faith? asks Browning; but " a scientific faith's absurd.”1 Faith may be God's touchstone

"You must mix some uncertainty
With faith, if you would have faith be." 2

Plato said, "God geometrizes," and men demand that the exact laws of the natural should obtain in the spiritual world; but our moral and religious character does not

66 Grow as a natural tree, Stand as a rock, soar up like fire." 3

"A faith that is commanded," says Kant, "is nonsense." "We cannot prove God, freedom, and immortality by speculative reason, although

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

1 Easter Day.

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FAITH NOT SERVITUDE

neither can we refute them." We may wish for God, freedom, and immortality, but that does not justify us in assuming them. But, he adds, if the pure moral law inexorably binds every man as a command (not as a rule of prudence), the righteous man may say: "I will that there be a God, and that my duration be endless."

We cannot safely argue from a want to the objective reality of the object, yet it must be remembered that the wish for God, freedom, and immortality amounts to much more than mere inclination. A right conception of the moral law justifies us in assuming the conditions proper for it. To realize the summum bonum to the utmost of our power is our plain duty; the rational man therefore cannot avoid assuming what is necessary for its objective possibility. The assumption is as necessary as the moral law.2

Faith is not servitude, as it would be if we were compelled to believe in the doctrines of Christianity; nor are we compelled to believe in the sun's light and the motion of the waves. Faith initiates us into the highest freedom, because, in the words of St. Augustine, "it opens the way for the understanding."

"1

"Belief or unbelief

Bears upon life, determines its whole course." 3

1 Kant's Ethics, Pt. II., ch. ii. 7.

2 See note to Kant's Ethics, Pt. II., ch. ii. 7.
3 Bishop Blougram's Apology.

DESIRE FAITH, YOU HAVE IT

157

In his first published poem, Pauline, Browning

avows

"That he will give all earth's reward

But to believe, and humbly teach the faith." How nobly he fulfilled his promise to his life's end the most superficial examination of his works will show. Yet he had just the warm sympathy with the honest doubter that we should expect from a mind of his calibre. He had doubted, had "faced the spectres of the mind,” but with such religious earnestness that, as his Paracelsus said, his scepticism was but

"Just so much of doubt

As bade me plant a surer foot upon
The sun-road."1

Bishop Blougram's faith is not of a very high order; yet the poem shows how lenient the poet could be to the honest half-believer. "If you desire faith-then you've faith enough." Pure faith sears too much our sense to be borne. Creation is intended to hide God, "and that's what all the blessed evil's for." It is to shield us from the potent light till we can bear its stress—just as the brain-pan and the eyelid keep brain and eye from withering. Faith with the half-believing Bishop meant "perpetual unbelief kept quiet." A poor thing that! Well-the Bishop could retort unanswerably-" It is as good as any of 1 Paracelsus

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158

"THE GRAND PERHAPS

your scepticism!" The Agnostic, the Atheist, and Indifferent are no safer from the pangs of doubt than the weakly Christian. How does the unbeliever know his unbelief will last?

"Just when we are safest, there's a sunset-touch,
A fancy from a flower-bell, some one's death,
A chorus-ending from Euripides,-

The grand Perhaps !"

A man throws off his early faith, discards his church-going, puts aside his Bible, his religious books, neglects prayer, and scoffs at what he once held precious beyond all else in the world. If he reads, thinks, observes at all, his mind will oscillate as a pendulum from one point to another, and he will be compelled to admit to his own heart at least

"All we have gained then by our unbelief
Is a life of doubt diversified by faith,
For one of faith diversified by doubt." 1

And if our doubt be sincere, and truth, and not self-will and perversity, be our motive power—

66 The more of doubt the stronger faith, I say,
If faith o'ercomes doubt." 2

The rejection of Christianity is too often due to a reckless spirit of trifling; a careless tampering with sacred things far enough removed from the only spirit which can excuse the "neglect of 2 Ibid.

1 Bishop Blougrams Apology.

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