LORD AMBERLEY'S " ANALYSIS OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF."* 'SECOND NOTICE.1 WE
have disclaimed the power to make a perfectly impartial literary estimate of these volumes. They have a pathetic interest which forbids the attempt, and they have another kind of interest
which forbids the attempt. They form an interesting specimen of a kind of feeling worth careful notice, and force us to realise the powerful attraction that there is in the mere phantom of Religion, when all that is characteristic of it has evaporated. The attraction is not one we ourselves feel ; it seems to us that the belief in a Divine Being is important truth, or important falsehood. That it should be a valuable testimony to something of which mutually- exclusive conceptions are possible, does not seem to us a tenable hypothesis. When there is nothing in common between two beliefs but negatives, we think they are best distinguished by a different name. Nor is this a mere question of nomenclature. It is a nice and subtle point to discern between questions of no- menclature and questions of truth ; but there is no doubt that at a certain point questions about words become questions of things ; and that point is certainly reached when the issue is as to the existence of a Being who may be the object and source of those feelings by which man is bound to man. And the attempt, in a certain degree embodied hero, to exhibit this issue as one of the same kind as that which separates one creed from another, seems to us a kind of intellectual jugglery. When men speak as if any possible difference of opinion about the character of a particular person was of the same kind as the difference between those who assert and those who deny that he had ever existed, they seem to us on that dangerous slope where the loss of intellectual ac- curacy passes into the loss of moral truthfulness, and we hold it a greater misfortune for the cause of truth that the thought of our day is so apt to take this path, than it is a gain to the cause of charity. We shall surrender with regret, but with ac- quiescence, the present contemptuous tolerance of Agnostics, when they come to see, as we believe they will, that a supposed object of duty can never be a mere harmless addendum to the sum of belief, but must be a stumbling-block or a reality. If they have possession of the world long enough to form a characteristic ideal, we expect this to be so unlike that which has been formed under the influence of Christianity, that the duty of disbelief will be as urgent and real to them as the duty of belief has ever been to Christians.
Long before that day, if it ever arrives, we arc sure that the duty of distinguishing things divergent from their very beginning will be recognised by all honest thinkers. It is a very arduous duty. The unravelling of mistaken association is perhaps the most laborious of all mental processes, and nothing is more tempting than to save oneself this trouble by
• analysts of Baotou, Belief. By Viscount Amberley. Loudon : TrUbner.
making the meaning of words vague enough to cover this mis- taken association, and only taking care that these words shall preserve their moral stamp, and continue to mean something good or something bad, as the case may be. But the hidden pressure of sloth cannot always disguise itself as charity. All minds sufficiently logical to apprehend the intellectual conditions of truth, and sufficiently loyal to feel its transcendent claim, must come at last to recognise the duty of bringing into distinct- ness the issue between two intellectual alternatives, each of which is interwoven with a great moral ideal.
This book is a sufficient demonstration that they have not yet done so, and it is a demonstration the more forcible, as coming from one not himself of strong or original mind, but from posi- tion and sympathies a valuable reflector and index of the opinions of a certain important division of the intellectual world. It is thus a specimen of a kind of inconsistency which seems to us, on the whole, dangerous, and yet with which, inasmuch as it wards off the sense of ultimate separation, every one must feel a great sympathy. Surrendering ourselves for the moment to this sym- pathy, let us appropriate what seems valuable in Lord Amberley's pleading for the cause which we believe a more logical exponent of his real views would have strongly opposed.
He contends that instead of asking, " Is there any reason to believe that this particular feeling points to that which is?" we might fairly ask. "Is there any reason to doubt that this par- ticular feeling points to that which is ?" In the world of the senses, all we mean by perceiving something is having a feeling as if it were there. As Mr. Lewes has well said, " Reality and feeling are correlative." The fact that there are five different kinds of feeling for the outer world, and only one for the inner, no doubt, so far as it goes, prevents the analogy from being perfect. " In the mouth of two witnesses everythin g may be established" in the region of physical truth, and in the region of spiritual truth we have only one witness. Faith would not be faith, if there were another inward sense which stood to it in the same relation as touch does to sight, so that its aberrations might be checked and confirmed by something different from itself. How far this weakens the force of the following argument we have not space here to say ; we allow that it weakens it a little, and to suggest the counterbalancing weight on the side towards which it tends would not be relevant in a review of this book. Still, inasmuch as we do not scruple to speak of the things we have seen without having satisfied ourselves by touching them that they are not optical delusions, and that we even speak thus about things, such as appearances in the sky, which no one can test by the convergence of two senses—a test which, in reality, we think far more necessary for the realising power of the imagination than for the consent of the reason—we may accept, as expressing our own view, the following argument against those who assert that we are ignorant of everything but what we can touch, and weigh, and see :—
" Those who make the assertion that a deep and wide-spread emotion is absolutely without any object resembling that which it imagines to be its source are bound to give some tenable account of the genesis of
that emotion. How did it come into being at all? This is the question pressing for an answer from those who ask us to believe that
one of our strongest feelings exists merely to deceive We see a table, and because we see it we inter the existence of a real thing external to ourselves. The presence of the sensations is conceived to ho an adequate warrant for asserting the Presence of their cause. Pre- cisely in the same way, we feel the Unknowable Being, and because we feel it, we infer the existence of a real object, both external to ourselves and within ourselves. The presence of the emotion is conceived to be an adequate warrant for asserting the presence of its cause. Un- doubtedly the supposed object of the sensations and the supposed object of the emotion might be both of thorn illusory But there can be no reason for maintaining the unreality of the emotional and the reality of the sensible object." (II., pp. 474-77.)
The common notion that a negative belief is of itself more probable than a positive, Lord Amberley goes on to urge, is entirely groundless here. A negative belief is snore probable than a positive belief, when the negative covers many possibilities and the affirmative only one. A mere guess that an unopened purse contains five shillings is far less probable than a mere guess that it does not contain five shillings. But a guess that it con-
tains nothing is not in the least more probable. This part of the work closes with the following parable, perhaps suggested by
something of the same kind in Mr. Fitzjames Stephen's Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity:-
" A ship that has been driven from her intended course is drifting upon an unexplored ocean. Suddenly her captain exclaims that he sees land in the distance. The mate, however, summoned to verify the captain's observation, fancies that the speck on the horizon is not land, but a large vessel. The sailors and passengers take part, some with the one, some with the other, while many of them form opinions of their
own not agreeing with that of either One solitary passenger sees nothing at all. Instead of drawing what would appear the most obvious conclusion, that he is more shortsighted than the rest, he in- fers—oblivions of the fact that the mere failure to perceive an object is no proof of its non-existence—that his vision alone is right, and that of all others, captain, passengers, and crew, is alike misleading." (II., pp. 486, 487.)
The illustration may not be the best that could have been chosen, but it seems to us a perfectly correct statement of the case between those who believe in an unseen Being, and those who add to their statement of an incapacity to discern any-
thing in this direction, like Hamlet's mother, " Yet all that is, I see."
But when we come to ask what the unseen Being is, we seem to grasp a puff of smoke. " The dim figure of an inconceivable and all-embracing ultimate existence" (IL, 489), was evidently considered by Lord Amberley as a fit object for real religious faith, although he had found it a desolate exchange for " the thought of a Heavenly Father who loves and helps us in our con- tinual combat against evil without and evil within ;" for the con- viction that "our love for those whom we have cherished on earth is no temporary bond, to be broken ere long in bitterness and despair, but a possession never to be lost again, a union of souls, interrupted for a little while by the separation of the body, only to be again renewed in far greater perfection, and carried on to far higher joys than can be even imagined here." lie thinks that Agnosticism (a term which he accepts as describing this ultimate religion of the Unknowable), is to afford compensa- tion to its votary for these great losses, in the quickened love of man which will be the result of the liberated energy needed formerly by the love of God ; and though he owns that the loss to be compensated for is great, he still considers that the very same law of development which leads the instinct of worship from the invisible Father to the visible Son, and then to a yet more mysterious Being who is near to and yet distinct from every man, brings Humanity to an ultimate belief, —in what? We can only describe this thing by saying what it is not, and a set of convictions which centre in such a being seem to us much more worthy of the name of dis- belief than of belief. But we have sufficiently emphasised our protest against the intellectual dishonesty, as it seems to us, of putting the new wine into the old bottles. In the space which remains, we will try to give that side of our belief which embodies whatever justification there is for this attempt.
We have spoken of the development of belief as the gradual expansion of those feelings which human kindred exercises and feeds, into a sphere where they demand more than their human object, and we have indicated this process in the case of filial and of brotherly love, and pointed out the antagonism between them.
Is there no other kind of affection which is also a guide to some- thing beyond itself ? If Fatherhood is the ideal of the God
above man—Brotherhood of the God among men—what remains as the type of that last stage of religious development where we receive "the inspiring force of a Being who, raising us above our- selves, is still a part, the best part, of ourselves?" (IL, 434.)
Is there no human relation which typifies that of man to the God within man?
We believe that relation is typified by the most intimate of all human bonds. While the sense of community with one who has shared our burdens and accepted our duties expands the sense of brotherhood, there is a sense of nearness to the Divine which is based not on community, but on difference of nature. In history, we believe, this feeling has been in some of its most marked forms associated with the worship of a female deity, and it seems to us at once the expansion and root of that feeling which draws man and woman together, and makes of two one. And indeed this belief, wherever it comes, is the principle of union. That the words, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword," were uttered by a Prophet, will be denied by no one, whatever else he believes as to the nature of the speaker. But the Holy Spirit comes to bind only, and not even for any short interval to separate. If the Son of God has taken human flesh here, he has not taken it there,—so transcendent an event must be the corner-stone of history. But the coming of that mysterious influence which enters into the very core of man's being is not less • distinctly here, because it was once there. By its very nature, it is a universal fact ; if this mystic union takes place in one case, it must be possible in all. And if, in some imperfect degree, this influence dwells in every heart, if this man and that man have been conscious that their individuality was at times, and to a certain small extent, dominated 'and merged by another being, a prompter of moods and desires that lay altogether above and beyond their own character ;—then it is not un- natural to expect that one man shall have entirely incor- porated this influence. Nor do we, in saying this, deny a real difference of kind, as well as of degree, between the divine Son and his imperfect brethren, any more than we deny an expansive force to steam in saying that it is water heated above a certain point. There is a difference of degree which becomes a difference of kind. Beyond certain limits, new forces are developed, which are not discerned as we approach those limits. And there is nothing incoherent in the belief that the indwelling of this divine Spirit in humanity may be always a reality, sometimes a rct strong influence, and once an influence so absorbing and over- powering that the-person who showed it forth manifested in literal truth the character of God.
In what sense, it may be asked, do we bring forward this, which we would call the mystic element of religion, as a bond of union with those who deny it? We can give but a feeble hint of a reply. Readers of George Sand will remember a striking fiction, in which she depicts the struggles of a monk who loses his hold on the faith of his youth, but supplants it by an almost filial de- votion to another of his Order, and by a strange, supernatural intercourse, to which only the genius of a poet could give the power it must be felt to have in her pages. The conclusion to which the young Italian is led through the storms which beset his path is that just as the coming of Christ was the revelation of the Son, so the great conflict and struggle of modern life is to be the revelation of the Spirit;—a revelation which might, like that which had gone before, be confounded with the denial of the dispensation it developed and fulfilled. The idea may not have been original to the gifted Frenchwoman ; it was the utter- ance of a mystic of the twelfth century, and perhaps may have been the thought of many men in many different ages. For these different phases of the religious life are made known in varying degrees to the hearts which find themselves at home within them ; they present to each man the aspect which most develops and nourishes his moral nature. And while the world fasts, it will be true that the aspects of divinity, which we have roughly and dimly endeavoured to characterise, will appeal with special force to different persona; while yet it may be true, on a broad view, that history develops in different degrees those facul- ties which correspond to these different aspects, and that there is an age of the Father, and of the Son, and an age of the Spirit. If we are living in this last age, it is possible that the belief which, taken as a whole, seems to us a great and dangerous error,—viz., that's the dim figure here shadowed out of an inconceivable and all-embracing ultimate existence is altogether in har- mony with many expressions of the religious idea by the most devoutly religious minds" (II., 489) may have a aide of truth. It is possible so to represent the sense of mystery that it shall seem like the denial of any spiritual contact with the realities involved. And although no two things are more unlike than the awe of finding ourselves under the pressure of an influence we cannot enough shake off to describe, and the sense of a mere blank, yet the outward results may be identical. Nor would we deny a deeper truth to this assertion of Lord Amberley's, for as it is this sense of an indwelling spirit which is the closest bond of man with man, so that union, though it is closest where a recognition of this intimate blending of the divine and the human prevails, yet extends far beyond that conscious recognition. And so far, the new enthusiasm of humanity is akin to the recognition of the divine in humanity, which seems to us the special aspect of religion in our day.
We close these volumes with a sense of real regret that one born to a position of so much influence as their author, and likely, on the whole, to have used it for such high and pure aims, should have been taken from among us. We do not quite see, on his own creed, the reason for his resignation to a fate which, after reading his legacy, we feel to be a loss to the cause of all earnest and dutiful spirits, except, indeed, the uselessness of any other feeling. But those who believe that the mysterious future will develop all the energies that begin their exercise or do not begin their exercise here, may find a more solid ground for this feeling in their belief that he has been removed to a field of work where all the efforts indicated here are carried on to fulfilment, with equal honesty of purpose, and more light.