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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Religious Decadence

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: On reading this, I can only respond with a "what happened?" Taber sees all the signs of religious decay - agnosticism is in the ascendant. All this is attested to not just by non-believers, but also by many leading churchmen. And yet, here we are a century later. What happened?

I suspect an element of confirmation bias. Taber was obviously in contact with the more liberal, more educated clerics — those more open to doubt, reason, and intelligent consideration. But did they really represent the true religious majority of the time?

Also, Taber wrote before radio, before television — before evangelists were capable of reaching mass audiences with a voice of absolute certainty — a voice which nearly always drowns out a voice expressing possible doubts.

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“Through clouds of doubt and creeds of fear
A light is breaking, calm and clear.” — Whittier.

NONE of the “signs of the times” are more conspicuous than the indications that the days of religion, or at least of orthodox or ecclesiastical or theological religion, are fast passing away. In no generation that is past has so much been accomplished in this regard as in the present. The air is filled with the boldest expressions of those who have revolted against the unreasoning theology which has held the minds of the people in its tyrannical grasp. The determination to exercise the reasoning faculties, to indulge in what is known as the “higher criticism,” instead of permitting our intelligence to be subordinated to blind, unquestioning faith; together with the great discoveries in the sciences — in astronomy, in geology, in paleontology, in biology,— have well-nigh exterminated the theology of the first half of the century. The press (daily and weekly,) the monthly magazines, books innumerable, scientists, philosophers, scholars and theologians (of more or less liberal views,) are demanding a religion that invites discussion, that fears not investigation, and that is in the fullest accord with the latest discoveries of science.

“Criticism is at work with knife and fire. Let us cut down everything that is dead and harmful, every kind of dead orthodoxy, every species of effete ecclesiasticism.” (Rev. Charles K. Briggs, D.D.)

Orthodoxy and ecclesiasticism are being undermined more by the discoveries of Darwin and Haeckel than by almost any other influence. The accepted theory (or rather recognized fact) of evolution teaches the rise of man from lower orders of beings, in opposition to the rejected dogma of the fall of man. The argument adduced therefrom being that if there was no fall of man, then there was no Adamic sin; if no sin then no atonement-no eternal punishment; and so the whole theological structure totters to its fall.

“In the light of to-day” (says Rev. M. J. Savage,) the ‘plan of salvation’ has no rational excuse for existing one day longer.”

“Christianity is seriously weakened by the spirit of doubt and speculation so largely fostered by modern science. It has lost its hold on large numbers of people.“ — (N.Y. Tribune.)

“The scientists treat theology with contempt… Scientific skepticism is invading the pulpit, and all that distinguishes the Bible from any treatise on moral philosophy is gradually being surrendered by leading theologians… They are losing religion as well as theology.” (Buchanan’s Journal of Man.)

“Every advanced student must know the characteristic spirit of the age to be a general revolt against traditional theories.” (I. H. Hyslop in Princeton Review, Sept., 1888.)

Rev. Dr. A. J. F. Behrends demands that “theology – like science and philosophy-shall deal only with what can be accurately known.”

Rev. R. Heber Newton says: “Faith has outlived the superstitious doctrines of the atonement and of eternal punishment... The growth of knowledge has intensified the decay of ecclesiasticism… The modern world is passing through the greatest change of intellectual outlook which has probably ever been experienced by man… Men in ever-increasing numbers are exiling themselves from the homes of their fathers, because the priesthoods of Rome and of Protestantism allow them no freedom of thought and speech in the ancestral mansions, but only the slavery of superstition or the silence of cowardice.”

Rev. Hugh Curry said at the Church Congress in Cleveland, 0.: “The once popular notions regarding the character of the life eternal and of the resurrection of the dead, have ceased to command the assent of the great body of intelligent believers.”

A correspondent of the N.Y. Tribune from Canton, O., writing of the MacQueary heresy (disbelief in a hell, in the physical resurrection of Christ and of his virgin birth,) says: “The theology of the Church is in a state of flux; … the old order is passing away… If we are going to condemn Mr. MacQueary… we shall have to condemn a multitude of other clergymen.”

Rev. Geo. C. Lorimer, D. D., in the Arena for September, says: “Heresy is in the air... Everywhere it is being discussed... Religious papers are apparently staggering at the inroads which the so-called higher criticism has made of late.”

The Philosophical Journal says: “There is an advance in heresy all along the line. What was ‘infidelity’ twenty years ago is now taught in orthodox theological seminaries and from orthodox pulpits.”

In March last, eight heresy trials were going on in Pittsburg, Pa., alone.

Rev. Thomas Dixon (Baptist) speaking of the coming trial of Rev. Dr. Briggs, says: “It belongs to the credulence and ignorance and superstition of barbaric times. It smells of roasting flesh. . . . Is it a crime to think? If so the days of the Church are numbered. The fight means reason against stupidity — miscalled faith.”

The Boston Journal recently said: “The world is growing very sick of theological in-humanity.”

The St. Louis Advocate says: “Robert Elsmere and John Ward preach to us instead of Peter and Paul. We have surrendered faith to philosophy — revelation to reason.”

Froude says: “Theologians no longer speak with authority… Those who uphold orthodoxy cannot tell on what ground to defend it... Along the whole line the defending forces of orthodoxy are falling back, not knowing where to make a stand.”

Rev. John W. Cliadwick says: “The disintegration of the popular theology is going on as rapidly as any one opposed to it can wish… From scores of magazines and papers, from hundreds of pulpits and professors’ chairs, the trumpet blast is summoning to judgment the traditional doctrines of the churches...  Probably never at any time in the world’s history has there been such an immense deflection from the traditional creeds as during the last thirty years... I have not the least idea that our popular Christianity is going to be the religion of the future.”

“Infidelity is in the air.” — (Christian at Work.)

“A deluge of infidelity is rapidly spreading over Europe. In the United States and Canada, Agnosticism is cropping out everywhere.” (Archbishop Lynch, R. C., Toronto.)

“It is in vain to ignore or deny that a glacier of unbelief is moving down from the higher moral latitudes.” — (Western Christian Advocate.)

“A collapse of religious belief of the most complete and tremendous kind is now apparently at hand.”  —   (Prof. Goldwin Smith.)

“A process of religious decomposition has been going on for many years past.” — (Saturday Review.)

“What a change in religious sentiment and temper since thirty years ago.” — (Oliver Wendell Holmes.)

“Latitudinarianism is spreading rapidly in the Church of England.” — (Bishop Harold Brown.)

“Rationalism is destroying religion.” — (Rev. W. W. Everts, D.D.)

“Christianity is declining.” — (Rev. Alfred Niven, D.D.)

“The great mass of mankind have been slowly but irresistibly breaking away from the anchorage of dogma.” — (N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.)

“The public mind has slid from the old [religious] grooves.” (The Congregationalist.)

“The old hulk of theology must be abandoned.” — (Rev. Frank Dixon. Oakland, Cal.)

Rev. J. H. Rylance recently preached a sermon on the “decadence of ecclesiasticism,” calling upon the Church to recognize and appreciate the fact that “the spirit and methods of mediævalism are gone.”

Rev. Philip Schaff, D.D., says; “Now that the spirit of revision has spread over the Christian world, a return to narrow and exclusive orthodoxy is simply impossible.”

“The old sanctions of ecclesiasticism are losing their force with thinking people.” — (Rev. James B. Watson in North American Review)

“We are now on the eve of the greatest change in traditional views that has taken place since the birth of Christianity.” — (Prof. LeConte.)

“Religion is losing its hold upon men.” — (Rev. Dr. McGlynn.)

“Religion is rapidly ceasing to be an integral part of our social life.” — Bishop Gilmour, Forum, June, 1888.)

“Religion is now called upon to show why it should any longer claim our allegiance.” — (John Fiske.)

“A great change is going on in many of our American colleges as to the place allotted to religion. Some of them are abandoning one position after another, until little is left. Unless Christian sentiment arrest it, religion will disappear from a number of our colleges.“ — (Rev. James McCosh, D.D., late President Princeton College.)

Professor Swing of Chicago says of the contest of reason with Christianity: “Whether anything of Christianity will remain, is the question.”

Archdeacon Farrar says: “Scarcely a single truth of capital importance in science has ever been enunciated without having to struggle for life against the fury of theological dogmatists. … A great Puritan divine thought he had checked the progress of astronomical inquiry when he said that he preferred to believe the Holy Ghost rather than Newton ; yet Newton was absolutely right and the Puritan divine hopelessly wrong.”

Rev. Henry P. Smith, of Lane Theological Seminary, says: “A rigid insistance upon the Westminster doctrines… would vacate every chair of exegesis in the Church.”

Rev, Dr. VanDyke, Jr. says: “Why should we retain in our creed what none of us believe?”

Rev. Dr. Van Dyke, Sr. says: “If we cannot have liberty and orthodoxy, let orthodoxy go.”

Rev. T. De Witt Talmage says: “Now that the electric lights have been turned on the imperfections of our creed… let us put it aside respectfully and get a brand new one.”

No one influence towards undermining superstitious theological beliefs has been more potent than the pungent utterances of the greatest thinker, the most convincing writer, the most brilliant orator of the age. Col. Ingersoll’s masterly and unanswerable exposure of the absurdities of orthodox theology are being recognized by intelligent men and women, the world over — even in the orthodox Church.

At a meeting of Presbytery in New York city in 1890 a clergyman, opposed to advanced thought, said that his “church was taking Col. Ingersoll as its guide and leader.”

Rev. Thomas Dixon, speaking of Shedd’s theology, says: “If I believed such stuff, I would lay down my ministry tomorrow and join hands with Ingersoll.”

Rev. Samuel W. Small, of Philadelphia, says: “What he (Ingersoll) said was sought for, eagerly read and discussed by millions of the reading public of the world… If his speeches are worthy of being printed in the secular press, they are worthy of attention and answer from the editors of our Church papers, provided the latter are able to answer them.”

Rev. John R. Paxton, of New York city, says: “This is an age when people analyze…The Church is undoubtedly on the brink of revolution… A man like Ingersoll would not receive a hearing to-day. The ministers have gone beyond him.”

In the same vein of thought the New York Sun said recently: “Ingersoll and Huxley and the whole band of avowed Agnostics and Infidels are not doing so much to bring about the downfall of religious faith as the majority of the delegates to the Presbyterian General Assembly are to-day unwittingly doing by assailing the very foundations of faith with the weapons and strategy of mere human reason.”

The statistical evidence of the decadence of religion (or at least of the Protestant religion) is most convincing.

Peri Andrews in the Forum for August, 1890, says: “In 1840 there was one Protestant church (in New York city) to every 2,000 persons, and in 1888 there was one to every 4,000 persons.”

Rev. Dr. Morris reported to the Presbyterian General Assembly in May, 1889, that there were six churches without any membership, and in 108 churches a membership on an average, of but three and one-half persons.

Rev. T. Dewitt Talmage said recently: “Within the last twenty-five years the churches in this country have averaged less than two conversions a year each. There has been an average of four or five deaths in the churches. We gain two: we lose four.”

Rev. George J. Mingens says: “Of the 40,000 people who die every year in New York city, not ten per cent believe in God.”

A correspondent at what has been termed the “garden spot of Ohio” — the Western Reserve (settled in great part by New Englanders,) writing to the Religious Herald of Hartford, Ct., says: “In places where churches were well sustained fifty years ago there are no religious influences.”

Rev. A. C. Peabody, D.D., says: “Church attendance has sadly fallen off.”

Rev. Roderick Terry, D.D., (N. Y. city,) says: “We cannot fail to notice the falling off of attendance at religious worship and the apparent loss of respect for religious ideas and customs. ”

Rev. George F. Pentecost, D.D., says: “There are 250 churches in Massachusetts which report but two conversions all told, last year.”

The Independent said, four years since, that there were 1,000 unemployed Congregational ministers in the United States.

The N.Y. Evangelist says: “ Four-fifths of the young men of the country are skeptics.”

Henry Ward Beecher said, not long since: “Ninety per cent of those engaged in the higher field of research are Agnostics.”
The Andover Review quotes Dr. Dunning as saying that “there are ninety-five towns in Maine where no religious services are held.”

The Mail and Express, Dec. 10, 1890, says: “One-fourth of the population of California are between 16 and 21 years of age; only five per cent of these ever attend church.”

Rev. J. W. Weddell says: “Only one in ten of the population in Chicago are Christians.” Dr. Dorchester says that in Colorado it is only one in twenty. In Nevada one in forty-six; in Wyoming one in eighty-one, and in Arizona one in 685.

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat says that “of 85,000 men and boys in public in that city on a given Sunday, 75,000 are engaged in public sports and amusements.”

Rev. Wm. Lloyd says: “There is a woeful lack of real earnest Christianity. The class of indifferentists grows daily. The costly temples are not half-filled; and many of those who go have no vital feeling.”

These are a few of the many testimonies to the decadence of old religious ideas; and they are mostly from those who deplore such decadence, but who are compelled by the facts to admit it.

New religions ideas are taking the place of the old. Not only a new but a true religion is now being demanded, and is fast approaching. A religion without dogma, without creed, without fear, without theology. As Rev. R. Heber Newton says. “The churches must distinguish between theology and religion.” A religion which invites criticism and is in perfect accord with the sciences: which basks in the sunshine of reason, and which is no more like ecclesiastical religion than are the kindly utterances attributed to Christ like the fiendish acts of Tomas de Torquemada and John Calvin. A religion of humanity, of altruism, of love, of justice. A religion that discards the traditional, the fabulous, the miraculous, and that worships at the shrine of truth. The dawn of such a religion is upon us; and faith in advancing civilization, in progressive intelligence, in growing tolerance, in the ever onward march of the sciences, foretells its meridian triumph.

“The hour is coming when men’s holy Church
Shall melt away in ever-widening walls,
And be for all mankind; and in its place
A mightier Church shall come, whose covenant word
Shall be the deeds of love. Not Credo then;
Amo shall be the password through its gates;
Man shall not ask his brother any more
‘Believest thou?’ but, ‘Lovest thou?’”

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