IT is the good or bad fortune of the present age to be one of intellectual tumult and revolution. The Christian world, like a man just awakening to the knowledge of his own faculties, has begun to question the truth of what it has been taught to accept as dogma. On the one hand, science, made confident by its recent achievements, assails the very foundations of the Christian religion, rejecting with scorn testimony and proof which require standards of judgment other than those of the exact sciences; while, on the other, literature, or rather the champion of the "literary theory of culture," refuses to accept a religion which cannot be justified by man's own powers of reasoning. Just as the word "culture" in its present sense is of very recent origin, so the movement, or whatever else we may choose to call the influence exercised by its apostles, is the index of nothing less than a new theory of religion. That culture, as ordinarily used, always has this meaning, or that it does not primarily denote full intellectual development, it would be absurd to assert; but we must admit that its general tendency is to the subversion of religion, as it is now taught. For, as Principal Shairp tells us, the very life of the theory of culture is to make itself the one important thing, and therefore to degrade religion to the position of one element among many others, which serve to make up the whole called "culture."
It would be strange enough, were there no other considerations, to suppose that, in so short a time, and only at this late day, men have become possessed with the desire for thorough intellectual training. For a man to be learned and accomplished is nothing new in theory or in practice; but the separation of learning and intellectual training from religion, - using the word in its broadest sense, - or rather the elevation of the one above the other, is something as new as it is startling.
It is a curious fact that this new movement principally affects by its two phases the two extremes of society. Certain of the most learned and brilliant writers of the day develop and expound their theory of culture in its aesthetic direction, and as opposed to or as including religion; while, according to more than one authority, the lower classes have begun to discuss at least one side of the question, - that which concerns religion as it is now taught. Scepticism and contempt for the "theologians" have, we are told, long prevailed among them, until, in the natural course of events, they have begun to add the discussion of religious belief to that of the "eight-hour law," or the rights of labor. For the least educated portion of society to have caught so quickly the sentiments of the most advanced thinkers would, no long time ago, have been impossible; but now Mr. Ruskin finds a correspondent among the "working" cork-cutters of Sunderland, and mechanics and laborers, to the horror of some very respectable people of monarchical tendencies, are fast equipping themselves with all the weapons that education can furnish.
It is easy to see that the "theologians," as they are derisively called, are having a very hard time of it. The common people are presuming enough to inspect, and perhaps reject, the doctrines which are zealously laid before them, in much the same way that they have sometimes been known to refuse very good cold meat, or clothing not more than three quarters worn out. And, as if this were not enough, the men of "culture" assail them with all the opportunities for attack which can be furnished by extensive learning and a delicate taste for sarcasm. That the "theologians" will be utterly unable to maintain their position by means of that same metaphysical and logical reasoning which is used to drive them from it, is too often taken for granted. Preachers of the Christian religion are so apt to make use of arguments addressed to the feelings rather than to the will, that the infatuated disciples of the new theory forget that the "theologians," bigoted though they may be, stand upon ground every inch of which has been tried and proved by men who paid regard, not to the feelings, but to that which they honestly thought to be right.
M. C. H.