Morality has in the past been chiefly based upon the positive precepts of religion. This was the case with the earlier moral systems of antiquity. But, as the old religions lost their hold on men, a new foundation was sought for morality. This is seen in the case of the later Stoics, who presented a moral code quite independent of religion. The morality of Christendom is essentially Christian, based upon the positive commands of God, and of Christ and His Apostles. It is remarked by Prof. Jowett, that "of morality, as distinguished from religion, there is scarcely a trace in St. Paul's Epistles."
But, if our age is showing a disposition to put away Christianity as an authoritative revelation of the Divine will, and even to deny a personal God, can it retain Christian morality? Some seem to believe this, but the logical conclusion is that we must find some other basis for it, and this many are attempting to do. A supreme moral Lawgiver, they say, is not needed. If, as affirmed by J. S. Mill and M. Arnold, we can have religion without a personal God, why not also morality? Without believing in His existence, we may find right rules for human conduct. There is a natural as distinguished from a revealed morality, and this is all-sufficient for our guidance. We may give up Cbristianity and its code of morals, and yet find in Nature and experience definite rules for our moral action.
We meet here a matter of confessedly highest importance. Even those who say that society can exist and flourish without religion, admit that morality is indispensable. Upon what basis, then, shall it rest? A recent writer says (Andover Review, March, 1893) that "the theory of morals is undergoing a process of radical reconstruction. . . . We have come to a momentous crisis in the conception and treatment of morals. The old foundations of morality are gravely suspected, and the living generations are much at sea as to what are the proper principles." "If the great laws of morality are to retain their hold upon modern men, they must be put, like all other laws, upon a scientific basis." If this crisis is come,— and it finds confirmation on every hand,— we may well ask of those who deny a personal God and moral Lawgiver, What are the moral rules which they will substitute for the Christian code? Upon what basis will they rest, and what force will impel men to keep them?
Christian morality rests upon the facts of God's personality, and of the personality of man, and of rules of moral conduct made known by God for man's guidance. We are not concerned to ask how far under non-Christian religions a wholesome morality may exist; but what shall take the place of Christian morality in Christendom, if the fundamental facts on which it rests are rejected?
The first question which meets us is the relation of man to the two great realities of Nature and God, as now presented to us by modern science and philosophy. The position given him by Christianity in regard to both is one which permits freedom of moral action, though not one of absolute independence. As the creature of God, who has made him what he is, he must be dependent upon his Creator; but the relation is that of a person to a person. Christianity affirms the personality both of God and of man; and, therefore, man's life is a moral life which demands as its condition selfhood and self-activity.
In regard to Nature, also, his position is not one of absolute independence. He exists as a part of a great universe; but not in such dependence upon it, or so controlled by it, that he cannot act freely as a moral being.
If we now put aside Christianity with its teachings of God as personal and as the Creator, and of man's relations to Him and to Nature, can we give to man a place compatible with his moral freedom? Let us consider him, first, as a part of Nature, and ask in what sense he is a part, and whether Nature can teach him any code of morals.
I. Man as a part of Nature. That he is in some sense a part of it, no one can deny. He is a small item in the great totality of things. Is he so far under natural law that he is physically, intellectually, and morally, what the cosmic forces make him to be? And can we, from the study of these forces, find in Nature a Moral Order?
1. Atheistic Materialism. It scarcely need be said that this brings man wholly under material law, and denies a moral order. It can make no distinction between matter and spirit, for man in his whole being is the product of material forces, and his life can have in it no moral element.
2. The Evolutionary Theory of Morals. As evolution is now claimed to be "a great scientific method, transforming every department of thought," its bearing upon man's relations to Nature must be noticed. It asserts that it can explain how man, from his state of animality, has become a rational and moral being; and that it can give, as the evolutionary process goes on, a higher and higher moral code. Let us then ask, What does evolution teach us as to the relations of man to Nature, and the existence of a moral order? Can we learn from it rules by which to regulate our lives?
It is here that the natural moralists disagree. As evolution can only justify its claims to explain the way in which the universe, including all moral relations, has become what it is, by shewing how morality has originated, many have undertaken the task. Let us, then, briefly consider the evolutionary theory of morals.
This theory is stated by Mr. Darwin in the plainest and briefest way.* According to him, morality has its root in the social instincts; and " any animal having these instincts, and with sufficiently developed intellectual power, will inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience." The social instincts become stronger with time, and seek to be gratified because of their utility in the struggle for existence. As social, the animal soon learns to regard the plainer distinctions of property and right; and, as he rises in the scale of being and is humanized, he begins to regard the interests of others as well as his own. As his intellectual powers develope, so also his moral sense.
* With the modifications of this theory by H. Spencer, " Data of Ethics," and L. Stephen, "Science of Ethics," we are not here concerned. For a statement of them, see the Essay by Prof. J. Seth, "The Evolution of Morality."
The feeling of duty is begotten in him, and its voice becomes imperative. Thus, there is evolved a moral being. And, as he developes a higher and higher type of morality, all egoism or selfishness will at last die out. The interests of the individual and of the community will perfectly harmonize, for he will be perfectly adjusted to his environment. Then will there be no sense of duty, for the man will not be inclined to do anything which does not tend to the common welfare. Self-sacrifice, if this term may be here used, will be as easy as any natural action; all duty will be spontaneous and pleasurable. Thus evolution will, in the end, enable men to fulfil the apostle's injunction, " Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."
Such is the theory which evolution presents to us of the genesis, the development, and the consummation of morality. We deal with morals as a branch of natural history. The ethical is the necessary outgrowth of the cosmical. Man, as he progresses up from his animal beginnings, will inevitably become a moral being. Under the action of the cosmic forces the moral nature is evolved and reaches its perfection.
But there are other evolutionists who do not recognize any moral purpose in Nature, and deny that the cosmic forces and the ethic are to be identified. We are told by Prof. Huxley (" Evolution and Ethics ") that we "do not find in Nature any moral purpose. To morality Nature is indifferent; it is neither moral nor immoral, but non-moral. We see the absence of any relation between suffering and moral desert." Prof. Huxley sees two processes going on, the cosmic and the ethic. The first is not governed by moral ends, it evolves both good and evil; the second is in contradiction to the first, and looks to moral ends, and cannot be evolved from it. In the cosmic process, it is the best man, physically and intellectually, who survives; in the ethic, it is the best, morally. Thus, there is a continual struggle between the two, and one which must ever continue. "Ethical nature may count upon having to reckon with a tenacious and powerful enemy so long as the world lasts."
Thus here, according to Prof. Huxley, we have a dualism. Humanity is presented as a little independent cosmos within the greater cosmos, and ruled only by its own inner forces. Evolution is no longer a continuous process, supreme in all the realms of Nature; for man, who is its product, can, as ethical, assert his independence of its forces. He can defy, and in some degree set aside its laws. Non-moral and unconscious Nature has, in some incomprehensible way, produced the moral and conscious man. But he has no permanent place in the universe. His civilization and his morality are " artificial products," and must speedily pass away. God being put aside as non-existent, there are no duties to Him, only duties to man.
In the evolutionary theory of Ethics what is the ethical end? I must do right; but what is right? This, we are told, is the social good, or the general welfare; or in a larger sense, the improvement of the race. Here, then, we find our moral criterion. That is right which tends to benefit society; that is wrong which tends to its injury. But as we do not know intuitively what is for its benefit or injury, how shall we attain to this knowledge? It can be attained to only through experience. "The Moral Code," says Mr. Leslie Stephen, "is the result of practical experience." It is in this way that we must find out the laws which should rule our moral life. We are to note whatever experience has shown to be useful to society or the race, and to regard this as morally right, and all that is injurious as morally wrong. This is to base our morality upon the principle of utility — the public good.
But how are we to determine what is for the public good? The individual citizen cannot determine it for himself; it must, therefore, be determined by the State, or by society in its collective capacity. Whatever the State affirms to be for the general good, becomes obligatory upon its individual members. The moral code will, therefore, be whatever the State determines it to be. But how shall the State know what will be useful? Only by experience, and this must be the rule of its action. But experience is of the past. If that which has been tried and proved has not been satisfactory, and there is general discontent with the present, on what ground can the adoption of the new and untried rest? It is upon the belief that it will promote the social welfare. Thus the door is opened to legislative experiments of all kinds. The laws undergo continual changes, and thus lose their authority; and as they are the measure of morality, society plunges into a moral chaos. All is confusion; no one knows what is right or what is wrong. As of old in Israel when there was no king, there is no moral code recognized as authoritative by all, and "every man does what is right in his own eyes."
II. Man as a part of God. In what sense is he a part, and what shall we say of his moral code?
We have already seen the Pantheist's view of man's relation to God. Denying the personality of God, he denies the personality of man, and with this all true moral action. He is so a part of God that he has no independent self-hood, and cannot oppose his will to that of God.
What is the ethical end? Not the development of society, but of the individual, his capabilities. Look within, not without. And this self-development must be the criterion of moral action. The Pantheist does not wholly deny that he is affected morally by the social influences around him, but he carries the standard of right and wrong in his own bosom. As expressed by one: "The only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong, what is against it." The interests of society hold a subordinate place. What is useful to myself is good and right; what is injurious is evil and wrong. Having the voice of God within,—his "categorical imperative," — no authority can impose upon him a code of morals. Yet, as there cannot be a multitude of sovereign wills, there must be some moral arbiter. This the Pantheist finds in the State. The State, according to Hegel, is to be regarded as the highest manifestation of moral reason, and therefore the individual must conform to its decision his personal and private ends. "The State is Divine will." And others of the school speak in the same way. It is said by them, a man's first duty is the State; genuine morality is life in the State. A man cannot serve both the State and Heaven. It is the moral will as presented in the laws, customs, and institutions of a country, which is to be regarded as the supreme law of human conduct.
The morality of the future, so far as it ceases to rest on the religious elements now underlying it, must be built on Naturalism or on Pantheism. Each will have something peculiar to itself, but both have this formula in common: "Live according to nature," — meaning in the one case, learn the laws of the material world and live according to them; and in the other, know yourself as Divine, and live accordN ingly. Let us note in what these two moral systems, Naturalistic and Pantheistic, agree.
First, in denying to man free-will. In respect to moral freedom, it makes little difference whether man be regarded as a part of Nature or of God. If there is an impersonal Power, or Force, or Energy, which fashions and rules the universe, and which covers and controls all man's life, conscious and unconscious, it is of no importance what name we use, whether we say God, or It. If man is a part of Nature in the evolutionary sense, he is under the law of its movements, and is at any given time what it makes him to be. Unless he has a life of his own, and a self-determined activity, he can act only as he is acted upon by external forces. This is affirmed by Mr. H. Spencer. "Psychical changes either conform to law, [as he affirms,] or they do not; if they do, there cannot be any such thing as free-will." It is said by Mr. Balfour (" The Foundations of Belief "): "On the Naturalistic view, free-will is an absurdity." It is true that all men think themselves to act freely, but this is a mere delusion according to the natural moralists, of whose origin they can give no satisfactory account.*
* We are aware that not a few moralists deny that the freedom of the will really concerns ethics. It is no place here to enter into any discussion of the principles of the Determinists. The force of their reasoning seems to depend upon their definition of terms — such as Freedom, Necessity, Compulsion, Uniformity
As Naturalism, so Pantheism in all its forms, must deny man's moral freedom. God immanent in man is the real agent, the efficient cause of human action. It is said by Jouffroy (" Introduction to Ethics "): "Deprived of all proper causality, man is deprived at the same time of all liberty; and consequently can have neither a law of obligation, nor a controlling power over his own conduct." Whether we speak of "The Substance" of Spinoza, or "The Absolute" of the Hegelian school, or "The Cosmic Consciousness," we reach the same result; we have no real freedom, and a moral life is impossible. As said by Prof. James Seth: "If I am but a vehicle of the Divine self-manifestation, if in myself, in my own proper self-hood or personality, I am nothing, it is all illusory to talk of my freedom."
Secondly. The code of morals must be determined by the State. If the ethical end is the welfare of a community, this can be determined only by the State, and this on the ground of experience. If the ethical end is self-development, this is dependent upon a man's social relations,—to the family, to society, and to the State,—all of which are expressions of the Divine will, but the last in highest measure. Thus both moral systems agree in making the State the supreme moral arbiter.
Thirdly. Neither Naturalism nor Pantheism can give a permanent standard of morality. There are no fixed and unchangeable formulas in Ethics. We cannot, consistently with Evolution, speak of absolute right or wrong, good or evil. All is relative. The moral rules governing life must be correspondent to that stage of adjustment with his environment which a man has reached. Egoism, selfishness, is a virtue in a savage. It is only as the cosmic process advances that the ethic process can advance. A code of morals, therefore, must always be judged of by its suitableness to external conditions. Conduct which is right and good in one stage of adjustment, may be wrong and evil in another. Perfect morality is only reached when there is a perfect adjustment, and then, as we are told, the practice of morality will be as natural and spontaneous as to breathe. All sense of duty, or of obligation, will disappear at the completion of the evolutionary process.
This examination of the code of morals given us by Naturalism and Pantheism shows us: a, that it leaves no place for man's free-will; b, that it is ever changing; c, that it must be determined at any given time by the State upon the basis of experience;
d, that in the last result it will be determined by every man for himself.
III. Let us now briefly contrast this morality of the future, Naturalistic and Pantheistic, with Christian morality. In this last we find three elements: a, a personal God, whose will is known, and is a law of human conduct; b, a sinful humanity, which, left to itself, rejects the moral restraints of the Divine law;
e, a future life with its reward or punishment. None of these elements can find place in the scientific moral code of the future.
a. If there be no personal God, and no revelation of His will as a rule of human action, there is ] nothing to control this action but the physical forces around him. These do not act under the control of a personal Will, and to moral ends; it is mere assumption to speak of " a Moral Order " in the universe, or of "a Power that makes for righteousness." Man obeys these forces because he must, but in this obedience there is no moral element. Nature makes no distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, and we cannot say of any act that it is in itself immoral. The man, therefore, who follows Nature, may claim its authority for all kinds of conduct.
Putting aside all positive precepts of God as to human conduct, and having only the light of Nature as our guide, many practical questions of highest importance meet us. Let us take as an example the relations of the sexes. Why monogamy? Why not polygamy? There is no moral distinction to be taken. Either is good if demanded by the social welfare. What of the indissolubility of the marriage relation? Why shall not the marriage contract be dissoluble at the pleasure of the contracting parties? It is a question of social expediency only. Why should marriage be allowed to the diseased and deformed, — thus perpetuating sickly and abnormal types? Why should children, feeble and unhealthy, be so tenderly cared for and reared to be a burden and expense to society? If, as Darwin and Spencer tell us, the ethical end is "the rearing of the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health," or " the improvement of the race," why make provision for and preserve in life the most imperfect types? And why build hospitals and homes for the old, the helpless, the incurable? To sacrifice the ethical end, the improvement of the race, to the feeling of personal affection, is not morality, it is sentiment.*
*It is suggested by Morison (" Science of Man") that " all habitual criminals be imprisoned for life, not as a punishment, but to prevent them from multiplying their kind." Other writers of this school make it an objection to the Christian God that He is a God who forgives sins and is merciful, and prefer a natural law which is inexorable and makes no discriminations. This indifference to moral character marks in their eyes the per. fection of righteousness, something better and nobler than Christianity can give.
As in the family relations, so is it in the relations of men to the State and its laws. Why is it immoral to disobey a law whose general utility is not self-evident? Why is it immoral to take from one who has a super-abundance, even if it be done by stealth or violence, and give to another who has nothing? Why in the State has not the woman the same right of suffrage as the man, and equal participation in all political offices? And if in the State, why not in the Church? It is a question of expediency alone, and this only trial and experience can decide.
b. A sinful humanity. Christian morality, recognizing man as having a fallen and sinful nature, easily tempted and led astray to evil, commands a strict control over it, and the subjection of its passions and appetites to the Divine law. But this sinfulness Naturalism denies. The natural moralist asks: "Where do I learn from Nature to repress any natural appetite or desire as in itself immoral? Nature says, gratify rather than repress. As the end of society is the good of the individual members, each, following nature, is to seek his own. Christianity, with its dualism of flesh and spirit, and its demand for the crucifixion of the flesh, is mere asceticism — a remnant of the primitive belief that God demanded human sacrifices. The cross as a symbol of human life must be put away." As said by one of this school, We are to put the ethics of self-development in place of the ethics of self-mortification."*
The Pantheist, who affirms that his humanity is a Divine humanity, can find no sinfulness in it, only ignorance and imperfection. Here, too, should be development, not repression. We are to act out -what is within us, and accept no laws as binding on us that are not agreeable to our moral nature. We are told that we shall thus come to a morality far higher than any which Christianity can give us. It is said by Symonds (" Greek Poets "), who contrasts Greek morality with Christian, that the former rested on a belief in the moral order of the universe, and that this is better than that "which imposes upon us the will of a hypothetical ruler — our own creature — thus enslaving ourselves to our own delusions."
c. Immortality. Neither Naturalism nor Pantheism can make any positive affirmation of a life after death; and the logical tendency of both is to deny it. Some evolutionists put it wholly aside, as lying out of the range of scientific discussion; others affirm it on the ground that man is the end and crown of the evolutionary process. We are told by Mr. John Fiske, that "the psychical development of man is destined to go on in the future as in the past"; and by the Rev. N. Smythe, that "death is a necessary step in evolution"; and by Prof. Le Conte, that "without immortality the whole cosmic process is futile."
• A writer of great popularity, Prof. Renan, speaking of chastity says: "Later I saw well the vanity of this virtue, as of all the rest; I recognized that Nature cares not at all whether man is chaste or not. ... I cannot rid myself of the idea that after all it is perhaps the libertine who is right, and who practices the true philosophy of life." A living novelist of wide reputation in a very recent book affirms that his heroine, in breaking the law of chastity broke an accepted social law, but not a law of Nature, and need not sorrow over her offense. (See Prof. A. Seta in Blackwood's Mag., May, 1893.)
But other evolutionists, like Darwin, see no proof that evolution gives any promise of a future life for the individual man; the race may make progress for an indefinite period, but the individual ceases to be. As a part of nature, the personal life is merely a passing incident in the endless evolution.
The position of the Pantheist Spinoza in regard to immortality was negative, and that of Hegel and of the modern Pantheists is in substance the same. Of the more recent writers, it is said by Mr. Bradley ("Appearance and Reality"), that "a personal continuance is possible, but it is little more." By many of the socialists immortality is most energetically denied.
What are the moral bearings of this disbelief in a future life? It is obvious that it must be to make the present life of supreme interest. This, with the better-constituted mind, may lead one to labour with greater diligence for the good of others. But upon minds narrow and selfish and sensual the effect must be to intensify the natural impulse to make the most of the present by full indulgence in all such pleasures as attract them. They will say: "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." As there is no life of blessedness hereafter, all must find their enjoyment in the present. Why then endure patiently the evils which bad government and an unrighteous social order bring, — the poverty and misery consequent upon them? Let the oppressed rise up against the oppressors; let the poor make the rich to divide their wealth; in fine, let all who feel that they are not having their part of the good things of life, take them, — by legislation if possible, or if necessary by violence. As there is no punishment hereafter, the fear of present punishment is the only restraint upon the fierce passions and raging lusts; and this fear diminishes as the number of the lawless increases, and the execution of the law becomes feeble and partial.
As the great part of our present social order rests upon the precepts and principles given in the Scriptures, their rejection would throw society into endless confusion. We may take as an illustration the subordination of woman to man. This is put by the Apostle (1 Cor. xi, 8) on the ground that there la a law of headship embracing Christ Himself. "The head of the woman is the man; the head of the man is Christ; and the head of Christ is God." As her head, the wife is to be subject to her husband. But we hear many voices, and among the loudest the voices of women, crying out against this subjection as arbitrary and oppressive. The two sexes should be put, so far as laws and institutions go, upon a footing of absolute equality.*
*It was said by Theodore Parker: "In all forms of religion the degradation of woman is obvious; it is terribly apparent in the Christian Church. . . . The Absolute Religion will give woman her true place." But experience has shown that the personal characteristics which fit woman for the place assigned her by God, and which make her a blessing to all when abiding in it, become potent elements of evil when perverted from their true ends. We have only to recall the women of the French Revolution, and of the late Commune, to see that none are so easily inflamed, so intemperate in their anger, so cruel in their enmity.
It will be noted that in the general religious ferment of the day, we find women most eager to pry into the mysteries of the unseen world. They, much more than men, have been ready to accept spiritism, and to become mediums; to dabble in Theosophy; to fall into the delusions of Christian Science and Mental Healing, and become practitioners. All the realm of the occult has for them a special fascination.
It may be mentioned as one of the signs of the times, that a revision of the Bible by some women is now in progress in New York, in order to show that the present translation "destroys woman's self-respect, and makes her the slave of man." "The first step in the elevation of woman to her true position in the scale of being, is the recognition by the rising generation of a heavenly Mother, to whom their prayers should be addressed as well as to the heavenly Father."
So marked and general is the movement against the Christian doctrine of marriage, that it has been called by some, "the great revolt of women"; by others, " emancipation of women"; but all, whether supporting or opposing it, agree that it is most significant. Its friends affirm it to be the beginning of a new era in the world's history, when all the capabilities of woman will have full scope, and she will play a far more important part in the development of humanity than she has done in the past. But marriage must renounce any religious sanction, and be secularized. Perhaps we may yet see such an aversion to marriage as was seen among both the Greeks and Romans at the last stages of their civilizations. Even now, what has been called "experimental marriage" seems to be coming into favour.
If there be no immutable principles of morality, nothing is criminal but what the State declares to be criminal; or, in other words, only acts which are punishable by law.
It becomes, then, simply a question for the citizen whether he will obey the law, or disobey it and take the risk of punishment. It is evident that when this is the case, all proper moral restraints cease to have power in a community; and all security of property and life is at an end. A condition of society will arise in which the Scripture predictions may be literally fulfilled: "The hand of every man shall be against his neighbour. The people shall be oppressed, every one by another." Respect for age and class and office vanish. "The child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable."
It is readily seen that if it is given to the State to define in laws what is moral and immoral, right and wrong, just and unjust, its power over its citizens is supreme. If the foundations of Christian morality are undermined, and no other code of morals can be presented before man than those which Naturalism or Pantheism presents, the civil ruler has society absolutely under his control. It is his will which determines what the moral character of all human relations shall be, and can make virtue vice, or vice virtue. This is the condition of morals under the Antichrist. But the process of decay begins earlier, with casting off the laws of God and denying their authority. Domestic morality — including the relations of husband and wife, parents and children, brothers and sisters, masters and servants,*—is the first to be attacked. We see Christendom filled with unions and associations of all kinds, with their self-constituted and often tyrannous leaders, bound together to further their own special interests rather than the public good. The chasm between the several classes, and especially between the rich and the poor, widens; and a bitterness of feeling is engendered, which leads more and more to acts of violence and blood. Society perishes by the murderous hands of its own members, arrayed one against another.
* See F. D. Maurice, "Social Morality."
As regards the moral relations of nations to one another, while much is said of peaceful arbitration, the real reliance is upon the strength of armies and navies. Considerations of right and wrong seem to be less and less powerful. Each at last consults only its own interests. Acknowledging in general terms the principles of international right, the Christian nations fight for territorial enlargement and commercial supremacy, and pay little regard to the rights of the less civilized peoples. Force is the supreme arbiter, and it is forgotten that there is a God of nations, who is a God of justice. In this condition of selfish isolation, each seeking its own, they easily are made subject to the Lawless One, who is able to bind them into unity and make his will the supreme rule of action.
Thus we may understand how the kingdom of the Antichrist may be full of moral disorder, and yet a strict political order be maintained. Like the leprous house which God would not endure in His land, and must be pulled down, and the stones and the timbers and the mortar be carried away (Lev. xiv, 45); so is it with his kingdom penetrated with the leprosy of immorality,— it must be broken in pieces, and be found no more, that the kingdom of righteousness may be established upon its ruins.