Thursday, December 10, 2015

Why Christians Cannot Be Dispassionate Toward Attacks on the Faith

If man has a soul, a God, and a hereafter, and is a fallen being, then, indisputably, every good man must deem the bearings of any code of speculative opinions upon the doctrine of Christian Redemption as unspeakably its most important aspect. For it is impossible for any professed humanitarianism to advance any praiseworthy purpose or motive whatsoever, assuming to tend to the well-being or elevation of our race, but that I will show, if man is to have any future, that motive is bound to urge the well-wisher to seek his fellow-creatures' future good, as much more earnestly, as immortality is longer than mortal life. But has the Sensualistic philosophy any proposal to offer for redeeming men from a disordered and mortal estate, as plausible or promising as Christianity? Unless it has, a mere decent regard for humanity should prevent all disrespect to this doctrine, from which, it is manifest, the larger part of all the virtue, hope, and happiness in a miserable world now spring. I freely declare, therefore, not as a clergyman, but as a human being not simply malignant toward my suffering race, that my main impeachment of the Sensualistic philosophy, and especially of the Positivist and Evolution doctrines, in which it now chiefly appears, is grounded upon their anti-Christian tendencies. I have pointed to that gulf of the blackness of darkness, and of freezing despair, toward which they thrust the human soul; a gulf without an immortality, without a God, without a faith, without a Providence, without a hope. Were it not both impossible and immoral for a good man to consider such a thing dispassionately, it would appear to him odd and ludicrous to witness the pretended surprise and anger of the assailants at perceiving, that reasonable Christian people are not disposed to submit with indifference to all this havoc.

There is a great affectation of philosophic calmness and impartiality. They are quite scandalized to find that Christians cannot be as cool as themselves, while all our infinite and priceless hopes for both worlds are dissected away under their philosophic scalpel. Such bigotry is very naughty in their eyes! This conduct sets Christianity in a very sorry light beside the fearless and placid love of truth displayed by the apostles of science! Such is the absurd and insolent tone affected by them. J. S. Mill coolly argues, that, of course, we clergy are wholly unfitted for any pursuit of philosophy, because they are bound beforehand by their subscription to creeds, which have taken away their liberty of thought in advance; and it is quietly intimated that mercenary regard for salaries and dignities dependent on that subscription, will prevent their accepting or professing the Sensualistic gospel. To this arrogance and injustice I, for one, give place by subjection, not for a moment. It is a composition of hypocrisy and folly. For we observe that whenever these philosophic hearts are not encased in a triple shield of supercilious arrogance, they also burn with a scientific bigotry, worthy of a Dominic or a Philip II. of Spain. They also can vituperate and scold, and actually excel the bad manners of the theologians! The scientific bigots are fiercer than the theological, besides being the aggressors!

If we were about to enter upon an Arctic winter in Labrador, with a dependent and cherished family to protect from that savage clime, and if "a philosopher" should insist, in the "pure love of science” upon extinguishing by his experiments all the lamps which were to give us light, warmth, and food, and to save us from a frightful death; and if he should call us testy blockheads because we did not witness these experiments with equanimity, I surmise that nothing but compassion for his manifest lunacy would prevent sensible people from breaking his head before his enormous folly was completed. When a wilful, absurd person chooses to dignify his novel (or stale) vagaries, which contradict not only my most serious and honest judgment, but that of the best and wisest of human kind, with the reverend names of "Truth" and "Science," I submit that I have at least as much right to reject them as no truth and no science, as he has to advance them. Let us suppose a case perfectly parallel. I had an honored father, whose virtue, nobleness, and benevolence were the blessing of my life. That exalted character and all that beneficence were grounded in certain professed principles. Now, I know that father; I know, by their fruits, that his principles were noble. But here come a parcel of men who did not choose to become acquainted with him, and so really do not know his memory, and they indulge their vanity, or some other caprice, in disparaging his person and principles. But they expect me, his son and beneficiary, to "take it all coolly!" It is quite naughty to have any heat toward gentlemen who are proceeding so purely "in the interests of the Truth!" Now, every right heart knows that it is not only my. right, but my sacred duty to defend the sacred character of my father and benefactor with zeal and righteous emotion. If I were capable of really feeling the nonchalance which his gratuitous assailants profess, I should be a scoundrel.

There is no righteous room for neutrality or indifference of soul when righteousness is assaulted. It is impossible for man to love truth and right as it is our duty to love it without having sensibility when they are injured! Such is precisely the relation of the honest-minded Christian when his God and Saviour is disparaged! If men choose to exercise their right of free discussion by waging this warfare on our God and His cause, they need not expect anything except the resistance of honest indignation; it is a piece of hypocrisy as shabby as shallow to pretend to a right to outrage other people's clearest convictions without the provocation of their disapproval. We shall, of course, give them the full privilege of doing this wrong untouched of civil pains and penalties: this is the liberty of thought which Protestantism asserts, to its immortal honor. God forbid that any sinful abuse of the truth should ever provoke any Christian to infringe that liberty by persecution. And it is plainly our duty, under the bitterest provocation of these gratuitous assaults upon the most precious principles, to see to it that we "be angry and sin not;" that our indignation may not go farther than the evil desert, and our condemnation may contain none of the gall of personal spite.

But there is an affectation abroad, among the assailants of Christianity, which demands far more. It claims the privilege of speculating as unchristianly as they please, not only without being molested, which we freely concede, but without being disapproved. They say that the very emotion of disapprobation is a persecution; that this zeal is precisely the motive which, in more bloody days, prompted churchmen to visit civil pains and penalties upon dissentients; that this motive will do the same thing again, upon opportunity, if it be allowed to exist ; and that, therefore, we are not true friends of liberty of thought until the very emotion is banished, and all speculation, no matter what holy and righteous thing it may assail, is considered without feeling and weighed with the absolute impartiality and initial indifference which they affect.

Upon this claim my first remark is, that it is violently inconsistent. With these men, this license of thought is a holy thing (possibly their only one.) And when they imagine it assailed, or in the least restrained, do they entertain the question of the restriction with that dispassionate calmness? Not at all; they are full of an ardent zeal; and they believe that they "do well to be angry." They can argue the cause of charity most uncharitably, and can be most intolerant in their advocacy of toleration. Why? Because the encroachment is unrighteous. Aha! Then we have the sanction of the nonchalant gentlemen for the truth, that righteousness ought to be not only professed, but loved; that moral truth and right are the proper object, not only of judgment, but of moral emotion. They have found out that it is good to be "zealously affected" in a good cause! This is precisely my doctrine, provided only one is entitled to be sure that the cause is good. My second answer is: That this species of indifferentism is unnatural and impossible. Man's soul is formed by its Maker not only to see moral truth, but to love it upon seeing it. It is an unnatural soul, a psychological monstrosity, which does not. But love for that which is reasonably valued must have its counterpart emotion toward the opposite. One might as well demand to have a material mass with a top, but no under-side; or a magnet with a North pole to it, but no South, as a reasonable soul which loved the right (as it ought) and yet did not hate the wrong. Last: I argue, that such a state of soul would be criminal, if it were possible. Such moral neutrality would be intrinsic vice. In order to be capable of it, man must be recreant to the positive claims of virtue. If I find a man who is really able to hear the question debated, whether Jesus Christ was an impostor, with the same calmness, the same utter absence of emotion with which he would properly debate the species in botany to which a certain weed should be referred, I shall be very loath to trust my neck or my purse with that man in the dark. The demand for this actual indifferentism as essential to true liberty of thought and philosophic temper, is absurd; it is impossible it should exist. The speculative world needs to be reminded again of that doctrine of liberty of thought which Bible Protestantism enounced - when she bestowed that boon on mankind (for it was nobody's gift but hers.) That men are responsible for their opinions, but responsible not to society, but to God: that charity for evil and error is a universal duty; but the object toward which we are to exercise it is the person and not the error of "the misleading fellow-creature. Charity had its incarnation in Him, who shed His tears and His blood for the persons of the Scribes, while He denounced their principles with inexorable severity.

Taken from: R.L. Dabney, The Sensualistic Philosophy of the 19th Century Considered, Chapter 12

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