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CAN THE OLD FAITH LIVE
WITH THE NEW ?
Our design in the present treatise is to endeavour to ascertain to what extent the speculations of modern thought would, if proved to be true, affect the fundamental articles of religious belief., Our subject is therefore not the establishment of a thesis but the institution of an inquiry. Our aim is not either to prove or to disprove anything. We have simply recognised the fact that the spirit of the nineteenth century has led men to certain views of mind and nature which are very different from those entertained by their fathers; and without inquiring whether they or their fathers have occupied the right side of the question, we have set ourselves, if possible, to determine the influence
of these opinions on the religious sentiments in which we have been nurtured.
It will be seen that the position here taken is an intermediate, to some extent a neutral, one. There have been two extreme attitudes in which faith has stood to science—that of antagonism and that of alliance. There are some who have looked upon the page of revelation as a final sentence against the doctrine of Evolution; there are others who have looked upon it as itself an anticipation and forewarning of the truth of that doctrine. We do not ourselves hold either of these views. We do not believe that when the writer of the Book of Genesis attributed to God the act of creation, he had in his mind any comparison whatever between creating and evolving, and therefore we refuse to see in the doctrine of that Book either an anticipative refutation or an anticipative corroboration of the doctrine of Evolution. But when all this is said, there remains another and an intermediate question, which, alike from the side of religion and of science, is a legitimate subject of inquiry. We may refuse to believe that the old culture was in any conscious sense an anticipation of the new, and still we may ask the question, Will the new culture lend itself to the old ? Is it possible, on the one hand, that the ancient faith may be expressed in terms of modern thought, and on the other, that modern thought may be expressed in
terms of the ancient faith? Let it be observed that such an inquiry is at all times legitimate, and is by no means limited to the sphere of Christian theology. No one, for example, would for a moment maintain that Confucianism was a designed anticipation of the institutions of modern culture. Yet there may occur circumstances in which it may be the interest of modern culture to ask whether her institutions can take root on the basis of the Confucian system, whether the results of modern civilisation can find a possible meeting-place in any caste of thought indigenous to the Chinese soil. It is not too much to say that the discovery of such a meeting-place, so far from being regarded by modern culture as a detraction from her own dignity, would be hailed by her with the most lively enthusiasm. Alike in the field of missionary enterprise and in the field of secular education, the discovery of a point of contact between the most recent and the most antique civilisation which the world has beheld, would be greeted as a pioneer of progress and a promise of future development.
Is there, then, any a priori probability that such a meeting-place should be found between the old culture and the new? At a first glance it would seem as if such a hope were precluded by a simple study of the records of the past. The original impression made on every student of history is a
sense of the utter transitoriness of the thoughts and the systems of men. The civilisations of the past seem to succeed one another in no other relations than those of destroyer and destroyed. Each new system of culture is to all outward appearance built on the spot left vacant by the removal of its predecessor, and the feet of those who carried out its predecessor are already seen waiting at the door to carry it out also. In a floating panorama such as this,—a panorama which appears to consist only of shifting scenes without causal sequence and without mutual interdependence, it is hard to see where room can be found for any contact between the future and the past. If the history of previous systems has been simply the history of successive revolutionary changes in the thoughts of men, what reason have we to suppose that the system which we now call modern shall manifest any greater continuity with the products of other days?
And if, indeed, the apparent picture were the real one, there could exist no reason for such a hope ; there is no reason whatever to believe that the culture of the nineteenth century possesses any exceptional element which puts it beyond comparison with previous cultures. Is the picture, however, of these previous cultures what it has been represented to be? Do we find on examination that the civilisation of one period has dis
placed the civilisation of another by the process of abolition ? On the contrary, the slightest scrutiny of human annals makes it apparent that, in every case, the displacement has been effected not by abolition but by transmutation, — that the new system has taken the place of the old not by rooting out the old, but simply by transplanting it. To make this clear, let us take one or two representative instances.
One of the earliest and most extensive modifications of human culture exhibited by the history of man is that embraced in the transition from the creed of the Brahman to the doctrine of the Buddhist. At first sight it would seem as if that transition had involved a complete and radical revolution-a revolution in which the old faith was entirely obliterated, and a new faith, or rather an absence of faith, substituted in its room. Yet a deeper study will show us that Buddhism never contemplated any such revolution. Buddha, like Confucius, appeared not as an innovator but as a reformer. He did not propose to break with the past; what he desired was, to give a philosophic meaning to the dogmas of the past, to represent in the world of spirit that which up to his time had only been symbolised in the world of matter. He found a belief current in his age and country that the souls of men who had conquered their worldly lusts would be absorbed at death in the Life of the