The Worship of God in Man
September 1893 — World’s Parliament of Religions, Word’s Congress Auxiliary Building, Columbian Exposition, Chicago IL
As we have not yet reached the ultimatum of religious faith it may be legitimate to ask, What will the next step be ? As we are all alike interested in the trend of religious thought no one should feel aggrieved in hearing his creed fairly analyzed or in listening to speculations as to some thing better in the near future. As I read the signs of the times, I think the next form of religion will be the “religion of humanity,” in which men and women will worship what they see of the divine in each other ; the virtues, the beatitudes, the possibilities ascribed to Deity, reflected in mortal beings.
To stimulate our reverence for the Great Spirit of life that set all things in motion and holds them forever in their places, our religious teachers point us to the grandeur of nature in all her works.
By all the wonders and mysteries that surround us we are led to question the source of what we see and to judge the powers and possibilities of the Creator by the grandeur and beauty of his works. Measuring man by the same standard, we find that all the sources and qualities the most exalted mind ascribes to his ideal God are reproduced in a less degree in the noble men and women who have glorified the race. Judging man by his works, what shall we say to the seven wonders of the world, of the Colossus of Rhodes, Diana’s Temple at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Pharos at Alexandria, the Hanging Gardens at Babylon, and the Olympian Zeus ? True, these are all crumbling to dust, but change is law, too, in all nature’s works.
The manifestation of man’s power is more varied and wonderful as the ages roll on.
And what shall we say of the discoveries and inventions of the past fifty years, by which the labors of the world have been lifted from the shoulders of men, to be done henceforth by the tireless machines?
Man has manifested wisdom, too, as well as power. In fact, what cardinal virtue has he not shown, through all the shifting scenes of the passing centuries ? The page of history glows with the great deeds of noble men and women. What courage and heroism, what self-sacrifice and sublime faith in principle have they not shown in persecution and death, mid the horrors of war, the sorrows of exile, and the weary vears of prison life ? What could sustain mortal man in this awful ” solitude of self” but the fact that the great moral forces of the universe are bound up in his organization ? What are danger, death, exile and dungeon walls to the great spirit of life incarnate in him?
The old idea of mankind as “totally depraved,” his morality “but filthy rags,” his heart “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” his aspirations ” but idle dreams of luxury and selfishness,” are so many reflections on the Creator, who is said to be perfect and to have made man in his own image. The new religion will teach the dignity of human nature and its infinite possibilities for development. It will teach the solidarity of the race that all must rise or fall as one. Its creed will be Justice, Liberty. Equality for all the children of earth.
The Old and New Testaments, which Christians accept as their rule of life, are full of these lessons of universal benevolence. ‘* If you love not man whom you have seen, how can vou love God whom vou have not seen ?” Jesus said to his disciples, ” Whatsoever you have done unto these, my brethren, ye have done unto me.” ‘”When I was hungry ye gave me meat, when naked ve clothed me, when in prison ye ministered unto me.” When the young man asked what he should do to be saved, Jesus did not tell him he must believe certain dogmas and creeds, but to go and sell all that he had and give to the poor.
The prophets and apostles alike taught a religion of deeds rather than forms and ceremonies. “Away with your new moons, your sabbaths and your appointed feasts ; the worship God asks is that you do justice and love mercy.” “God is no respecter of persons.” “He has made of one blood all the nations of the earth.” When the pulpits in our land shall preach from these texts and enforce these lessons, the religious conscience of the people will take new form of expression, and those who in very truth accept the teachings of Jesus will make it their first duty to look after the lowest stratum of humanity.
To build a substantial house, we begin with the cellar and lay the foundations strong and deep, for on it depends the safety of the whole superstructure. So in race building, for noble specimens of humanity, for peace and prosperity in their conditions we must begin with the lowest stratum of society and see that the masses are well fed, clothed, sheltered, educated, elevated and enfranchised. Social morality, clean, pleasant environments, must precede a spiritual religion that enables man to understand the mysteries binding him to the seen and unseen universe.
This radical work cannot be done by what is called charity, but by teaching sound principles of domestic economy to our educated classes, showing that by law, custom and false theories of natural rights, they are responsible for the poverty, ignorance and vice of the masses. Those who train the religious conscience of the people must teach the lesson that all these artificial distinctions in society must be obliterated by securing equal conditions and opportunities for all : this cannot be done in a day; but this is the goal for which we must strive. The first step to this end is to educate the people into the idea that such a moral revolution is possible.
It is folly to talk of a just government and a pure religion where the state and the church alike sustain an aristocracy of wealth and ease, while those who do the hard work of the world have no share in the blessings and riches that their continued labors have made possible for others to enjoy. Is it just that the in anv should ever suffer that the few mav shine ?
” Equal rights for all ” is the lesson this hour. ” That cannot be,” says some faithless conservative: “if you should distribute all things equally today they would be in the hands of the few to-morrow.” Not if the religious conscience of the people were educated to believe that the way to salvation was not in creed and greed, but in doing justice to their fellow men. Not if altruism, instead of egoism, were the law of social morals. Not if cooperation, instead of competition, were the rule in the world of work. Not if legislation were ever in the interest of the many, rather than the few. Educate the rising generation into these broader principles of government, religion and social life, and then ignorance, poverty and vice will disappear.
Source: Stanton, The World’s Parliament of Religions, An Illustrated and Popular Story of the World’s First Parliament of Religions, Held in Chicago in Connection with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, (Chicago: The Parliamentary Publishing Co.) 1893, pp. 1234-1234.