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of what Parker calls his Theism, without taking up very
Three factors of Ab
The elements which he places at the bottom
of the Absolute Religion, and which he traces solute Reli- through all its multitudinous forms, are three in
number: the Sentiment, the Idea, the Conception. There is in all men a feeling of dependence: this is the
religious sentiment. But the feeling of dependence involves, or is necessarily connected with,
an intuition of something on which the dependence rests: that objective something is God, and consti
tutes the religious idea. And this idea, as it is variously apprehended, limited, and defined, becomes the religious conception.
Of these three elements, the first two, the sentiment and the idea, are universal. They are also unvarying in their nature, being a part of the essential furniture of the human mind. Not so, however, the third element. This is the form under which the idea is. apprehended. It belongs to the comprehending faculty, and differs with the differing capacities, idiosyncrasies, and culture
The conception of God in the mind of a New Zealander, for instance, differs vastly
from that in the mind of an educated Englishman; but the sentiment and idea are in both cases the same. These three factors, then, constantly working together everywhere, make the Absolute Religion. This is all the religion there is in the world, or ever was, or will be. Judaism, Paganism, Christianity, Mohammedanism, are but the transient forms of this permanent essence.
All religions are substantially one and the same. But
tion alone varies.
they differ endlessly in form, owing to the variable term, the conception of God. This is purely subjective, and determined, in each individual case, by inherent but constantly changing peculiarities. The reli
reiigions. gious conception has been in a state of progressive development from the beginning. It has not yet reached its perfect maturity, however near to perfection some marvellously gifted soul, here or there, may perchance have come. Man is a steadily progressive being in religion, as in all the other. elements of his nature. This progress the author thinks he has traced in the histories of the various families of men: not traced it as thoroughly as he could desire, since the data are wanting, but sufficiently to persuade him that his main position is correct. He would be glad of certain facts which he does not find, -just as the extreme Darwinists would be, in proving their doctrine of the origin of species. But the large mass of facts which he does find seem to him to make the unfound so probable, that he assumes their existence; and he announces the conclusion to which he comes from such a premise with an air of scientific certainty. Man's original conception of God was in the form of Fetichism. Then, as he emerged from barbarism, and became somewhat civilized, that conception rose to the form of Polytheism, or even to some of the ruder forms of Pantheism. Then, as governments were set up, and nations became rivals of each other, this conception took the shape of a belief in national gods. Hence the Isis and Osiris of the Egyptians, the Indian Brahma and Gaudama; the Greek, and the Roman pantheon, the Scandinavian Thor, the Persian Ormuzd, the
Their succession traced.
Phænician Baal. The Jehovah, of whom we read in the Old Testament, was but the national god of the Hebrews; an imperfect god, as were those worshipped by the other nations; one who loved the Jews, and who was bent on making them the supreme political power among men. But this exclusive national spirit gave way somewhat before the conquests of the Roman empire. A new political era dawned, in which peoples hitherto at strife were brought under a single government. This new state of things led the way to the Christian conception of God; a conception larger and nobler than any which had preceded it, but still imperfect, since even the God of Christianity is a partial being, whose purpose it is to save a part of the human race, and to eternally torture all the
others. Plainly, then, the perfect conception is
not yet reached. Parkerism, as judged in its perseded.
own light, must soon perish. It is the duty of all men to struggle for something better yet in store for them. Forgetting the venerable past, and disentangling themselves from the present, they should keep their conception ever enlarging, that it may accord with the growing science, thought, and philanthropy of the world. This doctrine of an endless progress, as all must see, destroys the basis of the author's whole system. For by what right can he claim to speak of an absolute religion, while holding that the very faculties and powers on which man is dependent for all his religious views, are in a constant process of change? That which seems absolute to-day will be seen to be relative to-morrow, if his theory be true. Only a weary eternity of escape from one falsehood to another is before us. If there can be no absolutely perfect
Parkerism to be su
progress refuted by
revelation of God to us out of a supernatural sphere, but we can know him only under those forms of our own minds which we are daily outgrowing, the word truth is eternally without a fixed meaning; and whatever we may now happen to believe concerning God and our obligations to him, we are sure to reach a point in the future where we shall see that we believed a lie.
There are particular statements in the author's exposition of his theory, with which we might not disagree. Much that he says respecting the religious sentiment, the idea, and the conception in the unaided mind, is, no doubt, true, notwithstanding the suicidal spirit of his scheme as a whole. And besides this fatal feature, even the partial truths which he utters, rest on a the
religious ory of progress which the settled facts of his
history. tory flatly contradict. Those facts were given in a previous lecture. Scientific researches have shown that monotheism existed in the world - in Egypt, China, and elsewhere - before the ages of idolatrous worship. Fetichism is not the most ancient religion of which we have historic record. Archæology proves that a better religion than polytheism preceded polytheism. And the verdict of history is not that there was steady progress, but fearful degeneracy, in man's forms of worship and conceptions of God. There is a solid basis, which no plausible theory can disturb, for our belief that man was, at least religiously, better as God made him than as we find him in the savage state. However be may have improved in other respects, in that spiritual nature which makes him God's child, he has fallen. As a religious being he degenerated into the primeval barbarism, and
1 Lecture I.
the character of God.
did not grow up into it out of a deeper ignorance of the true God.
Perhaps there is no fact on which Parker insists more strongly, than the infinite perfection of the Creator. Yet he does not seem to see that the biblical doctrine of a fall, and of the religious degeneracy of man, is necessary to sustain this vital fact. That, rather than his own doctrine of progress from a life wholly brutish, is the logical inference
from God's infinite perfection. He insists, with Obscures
great earnestness, that God has a perfect mo
tive, and perfect purpose, and makes a perfect use of the most perfect means in fulfilling that purpose. Now, which being is more worthy of such a God, more worthy of infinite wisdom and love to create as the father of a religious race? Shall the first term in this grand series be a savage, more a brute than a man; one who, by the necessity of his organization, and with no capacity for a less revolting worship, sacrifices his child to the cat which he has defied ? Or shall this wondrous creature, made for fellowship with the great Father of men, be such as that Adam who is described to us in Genesis; upright, fashioned after the image of God, searching the heavens with fearless eye, and awaiting the visits of the Infinite One among the trees in the cool of the day? Certainly we should expect such a being, rather than the monster of Parker's
theory, to come forth from the divine Artist's Weakens hand. There is also a firmer basis of hope for of hope for
man, more reason to expect that he will rise
into communion with God and become a partaker of the divine holiness, if originally endowed with those high powers which the biblical account of his crea