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Dogmatism The Mother Of Doubt Post by :Robert_Newton Category :Essays Author :William Cowper Brann Date :July 2011 Read :1103

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Dogmatism The Mother Of Doubt


"Church Unification" has long been the dream of many earnest souls, who regret to see the various denominations wasting energy warring upon each other that should be brought to bear on the legions of Lucifer; but even the most sanguine must admit there is little prospect of their dreams becoming more tangible--at least for some ages yet. The bloody chasm which Luther and his co-laborers opened will not be bridged during the lifetime of the present generation, and human wisdom is not competent to formulate a "creed," to devise a "doctrine," upon which the Protestant world will consent to unite. The present tendency is not toward church unification, but greater and more sharply defined division. Instead of dogmatic controversy dying away it is becoming more general; "heterodoxy" is being hunted with a keener zest than for years, and doctrinal disputation has become well-nigh as virulent as the polemics of partisan politics.

In the meantime a majority of mankind in highly civilized countries remain away from church--take no thought of the future or seek truth in science rather than revelation. Dogmatism is the fruitful mother of Doubt. By assuming to know too much of God's great plan; by demanding too abject obedience to his fiats; by attempting to stifle honest inquiry and seal the lips of living scholars with the dicta of dead scholastics, by standing ever ready to brand as blasphemers all who presume to question or dare to differ, the church has driven millions of Godfearing men into passive indifference or overt opposition, and the number is rapidly increasing. The church does not realize how stupendous this army really is. Not every man who regards the church as but a pretender proclaims that fact on the housetops. It is not "good policy," and policy is the distinguishing characteristic of this day and age. Church people are very sensitive to criticism of their creed (perhaps the mother of a malformed or vicious child could tell why), and most men have loved ones or patrons who are trying to find a little comfort among the husks of an iron-bound orthodoxy. If any devout dogmatizer really desires to learn how general is this attitude of nonreceptivity of the orthodox religion, let him assume the role of a scoffer; then he will hear the truth from men's lips; for while the doubter may yield passive assent to the prevalent orthodoxy, the earnest believer is not apt to enact the role of Peter without compulsion. Instead of conquering the world, the church is rapidly losing what it has hitherto gained. True, it still retains a semblance of vigor and prosperity; but, like many a great political structure, its brilliancy is born of decay. It is no longer the dominating factor in social life, the heart and soul of civilization, but an annex--increasing in magnificence as wealth increases and mankind can afford to expend more for ostentation and fashionable diversion.

It is noticeable that the less attention the minister pays to creeds, the less dogmatism he indulges in, the more popular he becomes with the people, the more eagerly they flock to hear him. The world does not care to listen to prosy lectures on foreordination and the terrors of Tartarus, because its reason rejects such cruel creeds; it takes little interest in the question whether Christ was dipped or sprinkled by the gentleman in the camel's-hair cutaway, because it cannot, for the life of it, see that it makes any difference; it does not want to be worried with jejune speculations anent the Trinity, because it considers one God quite sufficient if it can but find him; does not want to hear much about the miracles, because it considers it a matter of absolute indifference whether they are true or not. But just the same, the great world is heart-hungry for real knowledge of the All-Father, eager to embrace any faith that does no violence to its reason, to grasp at any tangible thread of hope of a happy life with loved ones beyond the tomb's dark portals.

Prof. James T. Bixby, in a powerful plea for truth-seekers, quoted approvingly the words of an eminent ecclesiastic of the church of England who characterized the present age as "preeminently the age of doubt." Another writer says that Europe is turning in despair toward Nirvana. The almost unprecedented success of Hartman's "Philosophy of the Unconscious"--which is little more or less that Buddhism--gives a strong color of truth to the startling assertion. While Europe is sending missionaries to the Ganges, India is planting the black pessimism of Gautama on the Rhine and the Seine! Nineteen centuries of dogmatizing, to end in an "age of doubt" and a cry for the oblivion of Nirvana! Clearly there is something wrong, for doubt and a desire for annihilation is not the normal condition of the human mind. A belief in God, that the universe is the result of design, is inherent in man. It is not a belief that must be implanted and tenderly nursed; it is one that manifests itself in the lowest form of savage life of which we have cognizance--one that is well-nigh impossible to crush out--and complementing this belief, in most instances, is the hope of immortality. No cataclysm of crime into which man can plunge is able to eradicate his belief that he is the creature of a supernatural power and intelligence. The tendency of scientific research is to strengthen it by making more manifest the wondrous works of God. It is doubtful if the belief in man's divine origin was ever entirely obliterated from any human mind--if there ever was or will be an "atheist." Many men believe themselves such; but if they will carefully examine their position, they will usually find that they have been carried to this extreme by a powerful revulsion from incredible dogmatism, and that they can only maintain it by a continual and unnatural effort--by a persistent outrage upon that very intelligence of which they boast. The moment they cease to act on the defensive they begin to drift back under the divine spell; to pay homage, conscious or unconscious, to the All-Father.

Those who deny the inspiration of the Bible are, for the most part, but doubting Thomases who ask to see the nail- prints in the hands of their risen Lord; who are disposed to question him, not because they are irreligious, but because they want the Truth, and they know for a verity that it is the truth.

Is it not possible to found a church in which may be gathered the millions who cannot swallow the miracles, the incarnation, the plenary inspiration of the Bible, and other non-essential husks that enshroud the Christian cultus; where that religion which exists, conscious or unconscious, in their nature, may find room for expansion; where honest inquiry may be prosecuted, doubts freely and fairly discussed and perhaps dispelled; where all Truth, whether found in the Bible or the Koran, the Law of Mana or the Zend-Avesta, science or philosophy, may be eagerly seized and carefully treasured? If it were possible to thus bring together and utilize the vast amount of religious energy which lies without the pale of all present churches, unrecognized by the most, warred upon by the many; if it were possible to gather all believers in God together where they may strengthen their faith by communion and worship; extend their knowledge by research in every field, spiritual and material, secular and religious, what a mighty recruit would thus be added to those powers that are working for the world's salvation!

Let me briefly sketch such a church as I would like to be a member of--such as I imagine millions of others who are not, will never be members of existent communions, would worship in with pleasure. Its chief "essential" should be belief in God--not the God of the Jews, Mohammedans or Christians, but the God of everything, animate and inanimate in the whole broad universe; the God of Justice and Wisdom, Truth and Love; the God seen in the face of every noble woman and honest man, heard in every truth, felt in every holy aspiration. Everyone believing in the existence of such a God--and I doubt if any do not--should be eligible for membership, no matter what their theories regarding his personality, plans and powers. Truth should be sought assiduously, and welcomed wherever found. We should not attempt to make it fit a preconceived theory, but to make the theory conform to it. Science should be the handmaid of the church, philosophy its helpful brother; but its ecumenical council, its court of last resort, should be the religious instinct inherent in man--that perception so fine, so subtle, that all attempts to weave it into words to clothe it so that the eye may perceive and the reason handle it, have signally failed; which logic has hammered at with all her ballistae and battering-rams for thirty centuries or more in vain; which, above all things else, binds the human race in one great brotherhood, has supplied the missing links in every cult, bridged its laches, surmounted its incongruities, comprised its inexpugnable fortress upon which the high flood-tide of worldly wisdom beats in vain.

Its body doctrine should be Love of God, Charity for man, Truth, Honor, Purity. In these are comprised "the whole Hebrew Decalogue, with Solon's and Lycurgus' Constitutions, Justinian's Pandects, the Code Napoleon and all codes, catechisms, divinities, moralities whatsoever, that man has hitherto devised (and enforced with altar-fire and gallows-ropes) for his social guidance." They embrace all that is blessed and beautiful, gracious and great in every sect, science and philosophy known to man. These are "points of doctrine" upon which there can be no dissension; Buddhist and Mohammedan, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and Calvinist, philosopher and "free-thinker," will all approve.

Regarding what provision the Lord will make for us hereafter, the plenary or partial inspiration of the Bible, the evidential value of the miracles, the divinity of Christ, and kindred subjects, every communicant may properly be left free to exercise his individual judgment. To formulate a cast-iron article of faith upon any or all these questions would be to enter the realm of dogmatics, to add one more voice to the ecclesiastical wrangle that is filling the earth and heaven and hades with its unprofitable din--to found a sect instead of a world-embracing church devoted to the simple worship of God and the inculcation of morals. To many a religion without a future-life annex may appear as unfinished as a building without a roof; as ephemeral, as unstable as one put together without nails or mortar; but such forget that future reward and punishment was no part of the early Hebrew cult--that the doctrine of man's immortality is but a late and apparently a Gentile graft; that the Buddhist religion, which has held the souls of countless millions in thrall, teaches complete extinction of the ego as the greatest good. Man does not embrace religion "for what there is in it"; does not worship because God possesses the power to reward and punish, any more than he stands entranced by the glory of the sunrise because the rays of the Day-god will ripen his cotton and corn. He pays involuntary homage to the Higher Power, as he does to men of genius who benefit him but indirectly, to women of great beauty whom he never hopes to possess.

We may safely trust our future to the same great Power to whom we owe the present. It is of far more importance that we make the most possible of this life than that we have fixed convictions anent the next. It is safe to assume that had the great God intended we should know for a surety what awaits us beyond Death's dark river, He would have made it so manifest that diversity of opinion would be impossible; that had he intended we should each and all accept Christ as a divinity, He would have driven stronger pegs upon which the doubting Thomases of this late day could hang their faith; that had He intended the Bible should stand for all time as His infallible word, it would not have been intrusted for so many centuries to the care of fallible men; that had He intended we should each and all believe the miracles, He would have made better provision for their authentication--or built our heads on a different plan. Belief in immortality is a very comforting doctrine--for such as hope to dodge hell-pains--and is so general, so prone to manifest itself, where the mind of man has not been persistently trained in an opposite direction, that we may almost call it a religious instinct, which is but a vulgarism for a divine and direct revelation of God; therefore, it should not be discouraged in our new world- church, but given every opportunity for expansion. No one should be excluded, however, if he fail to find evidence, within or without, to sustain the theory.

Such a church would embrace all others as the ocean- stream of the ancients encompassed and fed every sea. It would be the tie that would bind all in unity. It should welcome to its pulpit all ministers of whatsoever denomination who desire to treat the worship of God from a nonsectarian standpoint or read a homily calculated to strengthen the morals of mankind. Its hymns should be songs of praise to that God who made us the greatest in His visible creation; its prayers should be thanks for past mercies and petitions that He will make our brightest dreams of life eternal beyond the skies a blessed reality-- that having brought us so near His bright effulgence in- create for Time, He will gather us to His loving bosom for all Eternity.

Such is the church in which I hope one day to see the whole world gathered--a church whose paeans of praise to the great God would drown dogmatic dialecties as the swelling notes of an organ drown the fretful complaining of a child.

(The end)
William Cowper Brann's essay: Dogmatism The Mother Of Doubt

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