I HAVE had the privilege of expressing myself with the utmost freedom in the preceding pages. It is, however, one thing to express one's views freely, and another to propose them as a basis of religious union. This I am distinctly unwilling to do. All that one can ask at the present time is that he shall be free to think and to express himself, that he shall not be put under the ban because his views do not accord with old-time standards ; but to propose any new set of views 1 as a part of the basis of religious fellowship would be so far to revive the intolerance of ancient orthodoxy.
I wish to ask now, not what is the truth with respect to various doctrines, ancient and modern, but what should make the fundamental terms of fellowship in a religious body ? This is an entirely practical question, though I am aware that in trying to answer it I may develop an ideal of religious fellowship which has little or no relation to any existing religious movement.2
1 Mr. Frederic Harrison declares that the Positivist " bond of union is a real, scientific, demonstrable conception of Nature and of man" (Unitarian Review, March, 1888, p. 236).
2 The only bodies of which I have any knowledge, whose platforms suggest such an ideal as I have in mind, are the Free Religious Association, the Western Unitarian Conference, and the:
In general, I conceive that assent should not be required in a religious body to any truth about which it is possible for a thoughtful and good man to doubt. The basis of fellowship should be so broad that no person striving for an ideal order of human life, no one striving to live blamelessly before conscience, should be perforce excluded from it. Hence, assent to the doctrines of Catholic or Protestant Christianity, or even of pure theism, should not be required. No one will deny that serious and good men can, and in some cases do, question these doctrines. Shall they, therefore, be excluded from the most sacred of all unions between man and man ? For my part, there is no materialist or atheist who yet loves and pursues the good, who feels that truth and honor bind him, whom I do not wish to call in the deepest and most sacred sense my brother.
The truth which it appears impossible to doubt is that duty binds a man. Not that we always know our duty, and not that we need always be sensible of its binding force. There may be — to quote from Wordsworth's " Ode to Duty" — Union of the Societies for Ethical Culture. The Free Religious Association aims " to promote the practical interests of pure religion, to increase fellowship in the spirit, and to encourage the scientific study of man's religious nature and history." The Western Unitarian Conference declares its " fellowship to be conditioned on no doctrinal tests," and welcomes "all who wish to join us to help establish truth and righteousness and love in the world." The aim of the Ethical Movement, as represented by the Union, is " to elevate the moral life of its members and that of the community ; and it cordially welcomes to its fellowship all persons who sympathize with this aim, whatever may be their theological or philosophical opinions".
" Glad hearts, without reproach or blot, Who do thy work, and know it not! "
For duty may become one with life, happiness, and joy; the antagonism between what we wish to do and what we ought to do may pass away. Yet duty does not cease to be binding because it is no longer felt to be. We may sometimes be ignorant of duty; but when we learn what it is, we know that we are bound by it. It is also true that men may differ in their theories of the ultimate grounds of duty; but the fact of moral obligation and the broad outlines of personal and social duty remain under any theory. The truth is, that the thought of what ought to be is as elemental a part of man's being as the sense of what is. It is even possible to be more clear as to what we ought to do than as to what we actually have done or are doing. We know we should be just: whether we are so or not, may be often a difficult question to decide. The thought of the right is indeed one that cannot be outgrown, that has entered into every religion worthy of our reverence, that even the savage has in some half-conscious imperfect fashion, that man can lose only as he loses his reason. One could easier drive the sun from the heavens than banish the moral sentiment from the mind of man. I can imagine our living under other skies, in other spheres, and all the dear familiar experiences of this earthly life no longer known; but without the moral sentiment we should cease even on the earth to be men, and the sun and all the stars would only shine on vacancy. We can not say, however, that the propositions of the Atha-nasian or even the Apostles' Creed are thus rooted in the nature of man; neither can this be said of the theistic or perhaps any distinct speculative doctrine. A true religious fellowship, then, would not oblige assent to any of these doctrines; it would require only the recognition that duty binds a man.
Positively speaking, the ideal religious body would be a union of all those who owned the authority of duty, and who sought to live as duty commands. The fellowship aimed at would be that of all good men; that is, of all striving to be good and to advance the cause of goodness in the world. For the omission of a doctrinal basis does not mean a "mush of concession," or the drowning of conscience in sentimentality. Not because one is a human being, but because he strives to realize the ideal of humanity in his life, and to contribute to the establishment of an ideal order of human life on the earth, should he be welcomed to the moral communion. Love cannot have fellowship with those who hate; just men cannot be joined in sacred union with tyrants and oppressors; men who are trying to lead pure lives cannot fraternize with those who are reckless and profligate. Conditional for admission must be the desire to purify oneself of all that is unworthy, to live according to one's best ideals. But other conditions should be unknown. One should not be obliged to confess himself a Christian or to confess himself a Jew ; the antagonisms of Protestant and Catholic, of Evangelical and Unitarian, should be forgotten ; all barriers should pass away save those which conscience sets up.