Eastern Religions and Western Thought – S. Radhakrishnan – Chapter 7 – Greece, Palestine, and India

S. Radhakrishnan – Eastern Religions and Western Thought

Lectures Given in 1936-1938

p. 252


Chapter VII



O what is this phenomenon of spiritual waywardness in the West due ? May it not be that it is motived by a deep instinct for self-preservation and a longing for world unity? The attraction of Eastern forms is probably due to a failure of nerve akin to what occurred at the bcgijining of the Christian era, which experienced a similar phenomenon. We seem to be vaguely aware that in spite of our brilliant and heroic achievements wc have lost our hold on the primal verities.

The instability of life is manifesting itself in many forms. The affirmation of the sovereign State, owing allegiance to none and free to destroy its fellows, itself open to a similar fate without appeal, racial and national iaolatries which deny the corporate life of the whole, the growing tyranny of wealth, the conflict between rich and poor, and the destruction of the co-operative spirit threaten the very existence of society. Insecurity of nations and destitution of peoples have always been with us, but periodic sanguinary upheavals have also been with us. The two are different sides of a social order which is really primitive in character. Greek culture was born in strife, in strife of city-States and against foreign foes.

The Roman Empire was
formed by a series of destructive and often savage wars,
though it became the home and cradle of Western civilixation. The period of the Middle Ages, when Europe had the
formal unity of a common religion, was also the period of
the most incessant war, It will not be an over-statement to
say that never a day passes but the Great Powers are engaged
in wars small or great in some part of their vast dominions.
Even now we have the struggle within for juster and better
conditions of life, and without for independence. Man has
not grown worse, In some points he is an improvement on
his predecessors, but we need not exult in it.

p. 253

When Mrs.
Rosita Forbes (Mrs. Col McGrath) rvisited the penitentiary at Sao Paulo she asked
if there were many thieves among the inmates. The warden was shocked. * 0h, no,’ he replied, ‘Brazilians are very
honest. Nearly all these men are murderers.’

quotes with approval the reply of the pirate to Alexander
the Great, ‘Because I do it with a littfe ship, I am called
a robber, and you because you do it with a great fleet, arc
called an emperor. The final test of every social system is
the happiness and well-being of men and women.

who live for economic power and for the State are not concerned with the development of a true quality of life for the
people and arc obliged to adopt war as a national industry,
Our habits of mind and our relations to our neighbours have
not altered much, but the mutual antagonisms and reciprocal
incomprehensions are turning out most dangerous in a
closely knit world with new weapons of destruction. Enormous mechanical progress with spiritual crudity, the love of
economic power, and political reaction, with all the injustice
that it involves, have suddenly startled us out of our complacency.

We are asking ourselves whether the props by
which society has hitherto maintained itself precariously arc
moral at all, whether the present order with its slave basis of
society and petty particularism is based on canons of justice,
When universsd covetousness has outstripped the means
of gratifying it; when the unnatural conditions of life demand for their defence the conversion of whole nations into
mechanized armies; when the supremacy of power-politics
is threatened by its own inherent destructiveness; when the
common people feel in their depths blessed are the wombs
which never bare, the breasts that never gave suck’; it is a
challenge to our principles and our faith. The perception
of the tr^ic humiliation of mankind must make \is think

The world is a moral Invalid surrounded by quacks
and charlatans, witch-doctors and medicine men who are interested in keeping the patient in the bad habits of centuries.
The patient requires drastic treatment. His mind must be
led out of the moulds in which it has been congesting and
set free to think in a wider ether than before. Ultimate reality
cannot be destroyed. Moral laws cannot be mocked.

p. 254

Macdonald has a parable In which a strong wind tried to blow
out the moon, but at the end of it all she remained ‘motionless miles above the air’, unconscious even that there had been a tempest. It is because we have not developed the spiritual
equipment to face facts and initiate policies based on truth
and tolerance that we have to secure our injustices by the
strength of arms. The alternatives are either a policy of
righteousness and a just reorganization of the world or an
armed world. That is the issue before us. It is of the utmost
seriousness and greatest urgency, for it is even now upon us.

It is a fact of History that civilizations which are based on
truly religious forces such as endurance, suffering, passive
resistance, understanding, tolerance are long-lived, while
those which take their stand exclusively on humanist elements like active reason, power, aggression, progress make
for a brilliant display but are short-lived.

Compare the
relatively long record of China and of India with the eight
hundred years or less of the Greeks, the nine hundred years
on a most generous estimate of the Romans, and the thousand
years of Byzantium. In spite of her great contributions of
democracy, individual freedom, intdleccual integrity, the
Greek civilization passed away as the Greeks could not combine even among themselves on account of their loyalty to
the city-Scates. Their exalted conceptions were not effective
forces, and, except those who were brought under the mystery
religions, the Greeks never developed a conception of human
society in spite of the very valuable contributions of Plato,
Aristotle, and the Stoics. The Roman gifts to civilization
are of outstanding value, but the structure of the Empire
of Rome had completely ceased to exist by a.d. 500.

Empires have a tendency to deprive us of our soul. Extension
in space is not necessarily a growth in spirit. Peace prevailed
under the Roman rule, for none was left strong enough to
oppose it. Rome had conquered the world, and had no rival,
none to struggle with or struggle for. The fax Romana reigned, but it was the peace of the desert, of sullen acquiescence and pathetic enslavement. The cement of the whole
structure was the army. The head of the army was the head
of the State, the Imperator, answering to our ‘Emperor’. In
the middle of the third century all manner of upstart soldiers
who were able to gather a few followers took over the
governments, each in his own region and over his own
troops. With the weakening of the Imperial government, moral anarchy increased. With the raids of pirates on the
coast and of marauding bands on the frontiers, insecurity
was rife. At the end of the third century, Diocletian attempted a reorganization of the whole State, but nothing
could arrest the decline in standards.

p. 255

There are some scholars of the Renaissance who attribute
the fall of Rome to the spread of the ‘superstition’ of Chris-
tianity, thus echoing the cry of the Chronicler of the pagan
reaction under Julian the Apostate, ‘The Christians to whom
we owe all our misfortunes . . ” Possibly the appeal of
Christianity grew stronger as outward fortunes sank lower.

The fall of Rome is not to be explained solely by the barbarian invasions. Treason from within was its cause quite
as much as danger from without.^ Greed and corruption,
growth of vast fortunes and preponderance of slaves threw
society out of balance. It was a period of disorder, the collapse of the higher intellectual life and the decline of
righteousness. European civilization had fallen so low that
many thought that the end of the world was near.

whole world groaned at the fall of Rome’, said Augustine.
‘The human race is included in the ruin ; my tongue cleaves to
the roof of my mouth and sobs choke my words to think that
the city is a captive which led captive the whole world’, wrote
St. Jerome from his monastery at Bethlehem. To Christian
and pagan alike it seemed that the impossible, the unthinkable, had happened. Rome, the dispenser of destiny, the
eternal city whose dominion was to have lasted for ever, fell.

The Empire was broken up into two parts, the Western
with Rome for its capital and the Eastern with Constantinople. By the end of the fifth century the whole of western
and north-western Europe was in the hands of the barbarians.
Italy had fallen to the Ostrogoths; Gaul and a large part of what is now Germany to the Franks; northern Africa to the
Vandals; and Spain to the Visigoths.


1. M. Renan says that ‘Christianity was a vampire which sucked the life-
blood of ancient society and produced that state of general enervation against
which patriotic emperors struggled in vain’ {Marc Aurih^ p. 589).

2 Mr, Stanley Casson writes: ‘The barbarian intrusions were more the
consequence than the cause of her sickness. What had happened was that
standards had fallen. Elements wholly alien to Roman rule and Roman freedom had emerged. In the letters of Sidonius we hear of censorship, of political
murder disguised as accident, of bribery and corruption in high places, and
evien of the persecution cf the Jews’ {Progress and Catastrophe p. 203),

p. 256

The Eastern Empire
was called the Byzantine, as its capital, Constantinople, was
founded by Constantine on the site of the ancient Byzantium, a town formed by nature to be the centre of a great
empire. From its seven hills it commanded the approaches
to both Europe and Asia. Its narrow straits joined East
and West. In all this darkness the single ray of light which
remained to kindle civilization once again was preserved
within the narrow walls of Byzantium. Theodosius built the
great fortress, and Justinian, who succeeded him, rebuilt its
institutions. But the fear of attack by barbaric hordes from
every part of the world was constantly present,^ and the
values of spirit could not be fostered in an atmosphere of
constant fear and imminent catastrophe. Philosophy failed,
literature languished, and religion became rigid and superstitious.

Before Byzantium fell to the Turks in a.d. 1453
she had succeeded in spreading in the Western world the
light of civilization and culture derived from Greece and
Rome. And modern civilization, which took its rise after
the fall of Byzantium, seems to have worked itself out, for
it is exhibiting today all the features which are strangely
similar to the symptoms which accompany the fall of civilizations: the disappearance of tolerance and of justice; the
insensibility to suffering; love of ease and comfort, and
selfishness of individuals and groups; the rise of strange
cults which exploit not so much the stupidity of man as his
unwillingness to use his intellectual powers; the wanton
segregation of men into groups based on blood and soil.
A world bristling with armaments and gigantic intolerances,
where all men, women, and children are so obsessed by the
imminence of the catastrophe that streets are provided with
underground refuges, that private houses are equipped with
gas-proof rooms, that citizens are instructed in the use of
gas-masks, is conclusive evidence of the general degradation. Through sheer wickedness, by advocating disruptive
forces, not co-operative measures, by allegiance to the ideals of power and profit, man is preparing to destroy even the
little that his patient ingenuity has built up. Instead of progress in charity we have increase of hostilities. In order to
live we seem to have lost the reason for living. World peace
is a wild dream, and modern civilization is not worth saving
if it continues on its present foundations.


There were attacks by the Persians and the Arabs in a.d. 616, 675,
717, b7 the Bulgarians in a.d. 813, b7 the Russians in a.d. 866, 904, 936,


p. 257

The Chinese and the Hindu civilizations are not great in
the high qualities which have made the youthful nations of
the West the dynamic force they have been on the arena
of world history, the qualities of ambition and adventure, of
nobility and courage, of public spirit and social enthusiasm.
We do not find their people frequently among those who risk
their lives in scientific research, who litter the track to the
North or the South Pole, who discover continents, break records, climb mountain heights, and explore unknown regions
of the earth’s surface. But they have lived long, faced many
crises, and preserved their identity. The fact of their age
suggests that they seem to have a sound instinct for life, a
strange vitality, a staying power which has enabled them to
adjust themselves to social, political, and economic changes,
which might have meant ruin to less robust civilizations.

India, for example, has endured centuries of war and invasion, pestilence, and human misrule. Perhaps one needs a
good deal of suffering and sorrow to learn a little understanding and tolerance. On the whole, the Eastern civilizations are interested not so much in improving the actual
conditions as in making the best of this imperfect world, in
developing the qualities of cheerfulness and contentment,
patience and endurance. They are not happy in the prospect
of combat. To desire little, to quench the eternal fires, has
been their aim. ‘To be gentle is to be invincible’ (Lao Tze).
The needs of life are much fewer than most people suppose.

If the Eastern people aim at existence simplified and self-
sufficient and beyond the reach of fate, if they wish to develop gentle manners which are inconsistent with inveterate
hatreds, we need not look upon them as tepid, anaemic folk,
who are eager to retreat into darkness. While the Western
races crave for freedom even at the price of conflict, the
Easterns stoop to peace even at the price of subjection. They
turn their limitations into virtues and adore the man of few longings as the most happy being.



Diogenes annoyed
Plato with the taunt that if he had learned to live on rough
vegetables he would not have needed to flatter despots. The
future is hidden from us, but the past warns us that the
world in the end belongs to the unworldly.

A spiritual
attitude to life has nourished the Eastern cultures and given
them an unfailing trust in life and a robust common sense
in looking at its myriad changes. A purely humanist civilization, with its more military and forceful mode of life like
the modern, faced by the risk of annihilation, is turning
to the East in a mood of disenchantment.

In Greek mythology, young Icarus was made to fly too high until the wax
of his wings melted and he fell into the sea, while Daedalus,
the old father, flew low but flew safely home. This is not
a mere whim. The qualities associated with the Eastern
cultures make for life and stability; those characteristic of
the West for progress and adventure.

The Eastern civilizations are by no means self-sufficient.
They seem today to be chaotic, helpless, and incapable of
pulling themselves together and forging ahead. Their peoples,
unpractical and inefficient, are wandering in their own lands
lost arid half-alive, with an old-fashioned faith in the triumph
of right over might. They suffer from weaknesses which
are the symptoms of age, if not senility. Their present listless
and disorganized condition is not due to their love of peace
and humanity but is the direct outcome of their sad failure
to pay the price for defending them. What they have gained
in insight they seem to have lost in power. They require to
be rejuvenated. So much goodness and constructive endeavour are lost to the world by our partial philosophies of

If modern civilization, which is so brilliant and heroic,
becomes also tolerant and humane, a little more under-
standing, and a little less self-seeking, it will be the greatest
achievement of history.

East and West are both moving out of their historical
past towards a way of thinking which shall eventually be
shared in common by all mankind even as the material
appliances are. We can speak across continents, we can
bottle up music for reproduction when desired, animate
photographic pictures with life and motion; but these do not touch the foundations of culture, the general configuration of life and mind.



These are cast in the old moulds
which have never been broken, though new materials have
been poured into them. They are now beginning to crack.
The rifts which first made their appearance decades ago
have now become yawning fissures. With the cracking of
the moulds, civilization itself is cracking. Further growth
in the old moulds is not possible. We need to-day a proper
orientation, literally the values the world derived from the
Orient, the truths of inner life. They are as essential for
human happiness as outer organization. The restlessness
and self-assertion of our civilization are the evidence of its
youth, rawness, and immaturity. With its coming of age,
they will wear off. The fate of the human race hangs on
a rapid assimilation of the qualities associated with the mystic
religions of the East. The stage is set for such a process.

Till this era, the world was a large place, and its peoples
lived in isolated comers. Lack of established trade-routes
and means of communication and transportation and primi-
tive economic development helped to foster an attitude of
hostility to strangers, especially those of another race. There
has not, therefore, been one continuous stream into which
the whole body of human civilization entered. We had a
number of independent sprin|;s, and the flow was not con-
tinuous. Some springs had dried up without passing on any
of their waters to the main stream. To-day the whole world
is in fusion and all is in motion. East and West are fertilizing
each other, not for the first time. May we not strive for
a philosophy which will combine the best of European
humanism and Asiatic religion, a philosophy profounder and
more living than either, endowed with greater spiritual and
ethical force, which will conquer the hearts of men and com-
pel peoples to acknowledge its sway.?


It may be asked whether Western civilization is not also based on religious values. Greek art and culture, Roman law and organization, Christian religion and ethics, and scientific enlightenment are sid to be the mouulding foreces of modern civilization. It will be useful if we consider the exact nature of the religious life of the West and the extent
of its influence on Western civilization.



At the risk of over-
simplification, which is inevitable when we describe the
development of centuries in a few paragraphs, it may be
said that in the Western religious tradition three currents
which frequently cross and re-cross can be traced. We may
describe them for the sake of convenience as the Graeco-
Roman, the Hebrew, and the Indian.

The Graeco-Roman has for its chief elements rationalism,
humanism, and the sovereignty of the State. The spirit of
speculation which questioned religious ideas and sought to
follow truth regardless of the discomfort it might cause us
started with the Greeks. Xenophanes fought hard to emancipate his people from superstition and lies. He preached
against belief in gods who could commit acts which would
be a disgrace to the worst of men. Democritus found the
self-existent in the atom and Heraclitus in fire. The latter
said: ‘The world was made neither by one of the gods nor
by man ; and it was, is and ever shall be an ever-living fire,
in due measure self-enkindled and in due measure self-
Nothing is, everything is becoming.

Protagoras, man is the measure of all things, and as for God,
He cannot be found even if He exists. He says : ‘Concerning
the gods I can say nothing, neither that they exist nor that
they do not exist; nor of what form they are; because there
are many things which prevent one from knowing that,
namely, both the uncertainty of the matter and the shortness
of man’s life.’

For Critias, “nothing is certain except that
birth leads to death and that life cannot escape ruin”
. According to Gorgias, every man was free to fix his own
standard of truth. Unless Plato is wholly unfair, certain of
the Sophists were prepared to justify philosophically the
doctrine that might is right. The orthodox suspected even
Socrates and accused him of impiety and corrupting the
youth of Athens. Doubts run through the poetry of Euripides, the rationalism of the Stoics, the schools of the
sceptics, and the materialism of the Epicureans. In spite of
a different tendency, both the Stoics and the Epicureans
adopted physical explanations of the universe. They treated
the world, including man’s soul, as something material.



Epicurus revived the atomic view of Democritus. He aimed
at constructing a world on scientific principles to free men’s
minds from fear of the gods and the evils of superstition.
Man’s soul at death dissolves again into the atoms which
made it. He conceded to popular beliefs when he admitted
the existence of the gods, but they did nothing except serve
as models of ideal felicity. They are indifferent to human
affairs and so prayers to them are futile. Faith in gods could
not last when gods were being made before men’s eyes.

Ptolemies of Alexandria were freely spoken of as gods. In
an inscription at Calchis as early as 196 b.c. Quinctius
Flamininus was associated in inscriptions with Zeus,
Apollo, Heracles, and the personified Roma. Julius Caesar
received divine honours even in his life; and the day after
his death, the Senate decreed that he should be treated as a
god; in 44 b.c. a law was passed assigning him the title of
divus and the great Augustus dedicated in 29 b.c. the new
temple of Divus Julius in the Forum.* All this confirmed
the scepticism of Euhemerus that the gods were only great
men deified.

Though classical Rome was far less speculative than
Greece, it produced one of the greatest sceptics of antiquity,
Lucretius. With the fervour of a religious enthusiast he
attacked religion and hurled defiance and contempt on it.
Through his poem De Rerum Natura he tried to free men’s
minds from the fears which beset and haunted them. He
accustomed men to the idea of complete annihilation after
death. In the early days of the Roman Empire even such an
austere Stoic as Marcus Aurelius looked upon the Chris-
tian religion with fear and contempt. Independent thought
was efficiently suppressed by the tyranny of the Church till the
period of the Renaissance, though in the thirteenth century
the Emperor Frederick II declared, if the story be true,
that the world had been deceived by three impostors, Moses, .
Jesus, and Mohammad. Roger Bacon was a definitely
sceptical thinker. Machiavelli in his Prince revived the old
conception that religion is an instrument for keeping the
people in subjection. He did not disguise his intense dislike

of Christianity. Rabelais (1690) was impatient with asceticism and conventional religion.

* See Cyril Bailey, Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome (1932)1
pp. 138-40.



Science in the Middle Ages
was largely occultism and magic; nature was full of spirits
and to meddle with it was to risk damnation. Friar Bacon
was imprisoned as a sorcerer. The scientific movement of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with such names as
those of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Harvey, and Newton,
discouraged the supernatural explanations of natural phenomena and led to the conception of the universe as a great
machine working by rigidly determined laws of causation.

The thrill of new discoveries and mental activities raised
great expectations. Men seemed to be on the eve of surprising the last secrets of the universe and building a stately fabric of enduring civilization. They seemed to become the
Lords of creation, though not the heirs of heaven. While
some of the leading representatives of the scientific movement, like Descartes and Boyle, Bacon and Newton, were not
anti-religious, the movement as a whole encouraged free

The religious conflicts which followed the Reformation contributed to the growth of scepticism and wars.
The Church was split up into a number of sects and disputes; persecutions and wars became more frequent. Montaigne (1533-92) was nominally a Catholic but was really
an Agnostic. He says; ‘Death is no concern of yours either
dead or alive: alive because you still are\ dead because you
are no longer.
’ Leonardo da Vinci rejected every dogma
that could not be tested and was a complete sceptic. Shakespeare was no better. J. R. Green writes: ‘The riddle of
life and death he leaves a riddle to the last, without heeding
the theological conclusions around him.’
For Francis Bacon ‘the mysteries of the Deity, of the Creation, of the Redemption’ are ‘grounded only upon the word and oracle of Grod,
and not upon the light of nature’
.^ Hobbes’s scorn of super-
naturalism and revealed religon is undisguised. All that we
can legitimately say of God is that He is the unknown cause
of the natural world, and so our highest duty consists in
implicit obedience to the civil law. He reduced religion to
a department of State and held that the sovereign power was
absolute and irresponsible.* Locke defended theism more on pragmatic grounds. It was necessary for social security.

* Advancement of Learning, \i. * See further, p. 388.



work on The Reasonableness of Christianity aims at proving
that the tenets of the Christian religion are in accordance
with reason. It is assumed that their rationality is what
makes them worthy of acceptance. So for him reason is a
completely reliable source of knowledge and an infallible
guide in the quest for certainty. But the materials on which
reason works are provided not in a rational intuition which
penetrates into real being but in sensation and reflection on
sense data. If these are the only material for knowledge, it
follows that religious truths lie beyond the scope of man’s
reason. Locke admits the reality of revealed knowledge,
though he himself would prefer rational knowledge even in
the realm of religion. He believes that the central concep-
tions of religion can all be proved rationally.^ Toland,
Locke’s young Irish disciple, defends the deistic position
and finds support for it in the Gospels.^ ‘All men will own
the verity I defend if they read the sacred writings with that
equity and attention that is due to mere humane works, nor
is there any different rule to be followed in the interpretations of scripture from what is common to all other books.’

The Deists contend that all the truths necessary for a religious life could be gained rationally and such a natural
religion is the only one worthy of the respect of men. ‘All
the duties of the Christian religion’
, says Archbishop Tillotson, ‘which respect God, are no other but what natural light
prompts men to, excepting the two sacraments, and praying
to God in the name and by the mediation of Christ.
’ ‘And
even these’, Anthony Collins observes, ‘are of less moment
than any of those parts of religion which in their own nature
tend to the Happiness of human Society
‘. We cannot be
sure that Christianity is a revealed religion, when no one

seems to know what is revealed or perhaps everybody seems
to know that his own version of the faith is the true revelation and everything else a deadly error.


Since the precepts of natural religion are plain, and very intelligible to all
mankind, and seldom seem to be controverted; and other revealed traths which
are conveyed to us by books and languages, are liable to the common and
natural obscurities and difficulties incident to words: methinks it would be-
come us to be more careful and diligent in observing the former, and less
magisterial, positive and imperious in imposing our own sense and interpreta-
tions on the latter’ {Essay Concerning Human Understanding, m. k. 23).

* Christianity not Mysterious, ii. iii. 22 (1696).

3 Discourse of Free-thinking {I’ji’i’jt’p. 136.



The fact that the
Bible is an inspired document has not prevented its official
interpreters from disagreeing on all fundamentals. Deism
developed, and the Deists are rationalists with a feeling for
religion. Their rationalism took them away from orthodoxy
and their religion kept them from atheism. According to
some seventeenth-century Nonconformists a clergyman
answered their demand for the scripture texts on which
the Thirty-nine Articles were based by quoting 2 Timothy
iv. 1 3 : ‘The cloak I left at Troas, . . . bring with thee, and
the books, but especially the parchments.’
If Timothy had
not been remiss in executing St. Paul’s command we would
have had the parchments which provided the missing
authority. When Anthony Collins was asked why, holding
deistical opinions, he sent his servants to churches, he answered: ‘That they may neither rob nor murder me!’

Bolingbroke considered Christianity a ‘fable’, but held that
a statesman ought to profess the doctrines of the Church
of England.* Thomas Woolston in his six Discourses on the
Miracles of Christ (1727-9) maintained that the Gospel narratives were a ‘tissue of absurdities’. Hume declared that
miracles were impossible and accepted arguments for the
existence of God were untenable. Baron d’Holbach stood
for a materialistic conception of the universe and denied the
existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Voltaire,
Mr. Noyes tells us, was a theist, but there is no doubt that
he was a bitter critic of the Church, which he looked upon
as the instigator of cruelty, injustice, and inequality. Look
at his prayer which breathes the humanitarianism of the
French enlightenment: ‘Thou hast not given us a heart that we may hate one another, nor
hands that we may strangle one another, but that we may help each
other to bear the burden of a wearisome and transitory life; that the
small distinctions in the dress which covers our weak bodies, in our inadequate languages, in our absurd usages, in all our imperfect laws,
in all our senseless opinions, in all our social grades, which to our eyes
are so different and to thine so alike, that all the fine shades which
dififerentiate the “atoms” called “men” may not be occasions for hate
and persecution.’


Leslie Stephen in his English Thought in the Eighteenth Century writes,
referring to the later Deistic period: ‘Scepticism widely diffused through the
upper classes, was of the indolent variety, implying a perfect willingness that
the Churches should survive though the Faith should perish’ (vol. i, p. 375).



He was certainly not an orthodox churchman. During an
illness towards the close of his life he was visited by a priest,
who summoned him to confession. ‘From whom do you
come ?
* inquired the sick man. ‘From God’, was the reply.
When Voltaire desired to see his visitor’s credentials, the
priest could go no farther and withdrew.

Diderot and the
Encyclopaedists had unqualified contempt for conventional
religion. Diderot cried out at the end of his Interpretation
oj Nature : ‘O God, I ask nothing from Thee; if Thou art not, the course of
nature is an inner necessity; and if Thou art, it is Thy command;
O God, I know not whether Thou art, but I will think as though
Thou didst look into my soul, I will ask as though I stood in Thy
presence. … If I am good and kind, what does it matter to any
fellow creatures whether I am such because of a happy constitution
or by the free act of my own will or by the help of Thy Grace ?’

There is little in common between Rousseau’s sentimental
theism and Christian orthodoxy. Leibniz rejoiced in the
‘religion without revelation’ of China. Kant tells us that
there can be no theoretical demonstration of the existence of
God, though we need Him for practical life. Hegelian
dialectics have no place for a God to whom we can pray and
offer worship. The Prussian State was for him ‘the incarnation of the divine idea as it exists on earth’. National Socialism continues the Hegelian tradition and looks upon, not
the Prussian State, but the Nordic race, as the ultimate and
noblest self-expression of the cosmic intelligence. Its official
philosopher, Herr Rosenberg, in his book on The Myth of
the Twentieth Century (1930)
, makes it clear that he has no
faith in the transcendent God of the theist. His deity is the
human spirit and the racial society. Fichte in his Addresses
to the German Nation developed at length the notion of an
‘elect race’. His doctrine is continued in the work of Gobineau and his well-known theory of the inequality of human
races. In Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s Foundations of the 19th Century the racialist legends reappears in a psyeudo-scientific setting.



Rosenberg’s Myth is the classic on the
question. Each race has its particular soul in which its most
intimate being is expressed. Its special virtues are regarded
as the specific qualities of the blood. The human species is
an abstraction : we have only a number of races determined
by differences in the hereditary composition of the blood.
Human races are not only diverse but of unequal value. The
superior race is the Nordic. Its branches are to be recognized in the Amorites of Egypt, the Aryans of India, the
Greeks of the early period, in the ancient Romans, and above
all in all the Germanic peoples, whose chief representatives
are the Germans. The spirit of this race is personified in
the god Wotan, who embodies their spiritual energies. Con-
tamination with inferior races is the great danger which
menaces the superior race in all periods of universal history.
India and Persia, Greece and Rome are witnesses to the process of racial degeneration. A religion of universalism is
foreign to the Nordic race. Catholic religion. Freemasonry,
Communism are the enemies of Nordic; superiority. The
Germanic soul will be manifested in the Third Reich with
the symbol of the Swastika in place of the Cross. The aim
of the National Socialist Party is to rescue from contamination and develop this precious Nordic element,

Lessing conceives the whole religious history of mankind
as an experiment of divine pedagogy. He declares that accidental historical truths can never be the evidence for eternal
and necessary rational truths. Hamann observes that Kant’s
moralism meant the deification of the human will and Lessing’s rationalism the deification of man’s reason. Nietzsche
drew a distinction between the morality of masters and that
of slaves. The Romans are for him the strong and the whole,
the aristocratic and the noble. Christianity is the moral
rebellion of the slaves based upon the resentment of the
weak against the strong. Their victory over Rome was the
victory of the sick over the healthy, of the slaves over
the noble. Out of a feeling of resentment the slave decided
to be the first in the Kingdom of Heaven. Auguste Comte
put Humanity in the place occupied by God. A morality of
service in a godless universe is the ideal of the positivists.



G. H. Romanes (1848—94) in his A Candid Examination of
Theism writes : ‘It is with the utmost sorrow that I find myself
compelled to accept the conclusions here worked out: I am
not ashamed to confess that, with the virtual negation of God,
the universe has lost to me its soul of loveliness.’
He later
abandoned this position.^ Even the Christian thinkers themselves tried to reinterpret Christianity. Schleiermacher reduced religion to a feeling of dependence on God. Ritschl
meant by redemption the belief that God has revealed an ideal
for man to work towards.* To many Christians their religion
meant only love of man and unselfish service, Even though
the orthodox may use the old terminology of grace, communion, and redemption, they stress only pure morality or
humanitarian ethics. The works of Strauss and Renan, Karl
Marx and Nietzsche, and the scientific doctrines of evolution
have made atheism popular. A general tendency to irreligion
is in the air. Unbelief is aggressive and ubiquitous.

The strain of scepticism has been a persistent feature of the
Western mind. It takes many forms, modernism in religion,
scientific humanism, or naturalism. Modernism is not confined to movements which assume that name. All those who
wish at the same time to be traditionally religious and rational-minded are modernists in different degrees. In the Introduction to the Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine
in the Church of England
the- Archbishop of York writes : ‘In view of my own responsibility in the Church I think it right
here to affirm that I wholeheartedly accept as historical Acts the Birth
of our Lord from a Virgin Mother and the Resurrection of his physical
body from death and the tomb. But I fully recognise the position of
those who sincerely affirm the reality of our Lord’s Incarnation without accepting one or both of these two events as actual historical
occurrences, regarding the records rather as parables than as history,
a presentation of spiritual truth in narrative form.’*
What we accept of revelation depends on our piety and
intellectual conscience. The issue, however, relates not to this or that item of belief but the way in which any part of
the content of religion is arrived at and justified. It is not
a question of the articles of belief but of the intellectual habits
and methods.


See p. 389.

* ‘By the Kingdom’, according to Dr. A. E. Garvie, Ritschl means ‘the
moral ideal for the realization of which the members of the community bind
themselves to one another by a definite mode of reciprocal action’ {Encyclo-
paedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. x, pp. 8 1 2—20).

* Doctrine in the Church of England (1938), p. 12.



There is only one method for ascertaining
fact and truth, the empirical method. While modernism
and humanism are more or less compromises, dialectical
materialism is its boldest expression. It has its own cos-
mogony, its own interpretation of the origin and nature of
man, its own economic and social scheme, and its own reli-
gion. It proclaims a passionate plea for the spread of light
steady and serene which will help us to get out of the dark-
ness and barbarism of a monkish and deluded past, to shake
oflF the imbecility of blind faith with its fogs and glooms,
and get on to the broad highway of sanity, culture, and
civilization. When we speak of heaven and God we ‘give
to airy nothing a local habitation and a name’. They are
outworn superstitions, subjects of antiquarian interest. Reli-
gions have rendered a useful service in that they have
exhausted all the wrong theories in advance. Everything
can be explained in terms of matter and motion. Marx
accepts the Hegelian view of an immanent reality unfolding
itself by an inner dialectic. But he substitutes matter for
Hegel’s immanent spirit. Matter is invested with the power
of self-movement, auto-dynamism. A self-determining movement whose highest expression is human personality is
regarded as material, and the self of man is denied freedom and responsibility. Criminals and sinners who were
once upon a time consigned to eternal damnation are capable
of being turned into healthy and moral citizens, not by the
grace of God, but by a supply of iodine to the thyroid. Hell
or heaven depends on the twist of heredity or proportion of
phosphorus. Even though man is a product of material
•forces, he is still deified. As the individual man is obviously
too small to be deified, human society gets the honour.

With the Greeks, we reaffirm that the true line of progress
lies in positive action, concrete reasoning, and public spirit.
We oppose nature to custom and repudiate the latter as a
fraud and an imposture. The elaborate framework of cus-
toms which we call morality, which we have built up in our
rise from savagery, and to which we attribute an absolute