John Stuart Mill eloquently protested that he would rather go to hell than do violence to his moral nature by calling a Being good who bore no traces of the character designated by that word.1 A passage from Huxley reveals the same noble holding of moral distinctions :2 " For suppose theology established the existence of an evil deity, — and some theologians, even Christian ones, have come very near this, — is the religious affection to be transferred from the ethical ideal to any such omnipotent demon ? I trow-not. Better a thousand times that the human race should perish under his thunderbolts than it should say, ' Evil, be thou my good.'"
1 Contemporary Review, February, 1881, article on "The Moral Influence of George Eliot".
But with all the most discouraging facts in the world, there is no evidence that the ultimate powers of the world are evil. Only those who deny freedom and responsibility to man, and affix all blame for whatever is wrong upon the ultimate nature of things, can call that ultimate nature evil. Let responsibility for wrong be fixed where it belongs, — on the human doers of it, — and the sky is cleared of the hideous spectre of an evil god, and the ideals of justice and of goodness come naturally to be regarded as the voice of the ultimate nature of things, and obedience to them and working for them against whatever odds, against whatever show of might on the side of wrong and evil, as the truest, the deepest, nay the only piety. The only mistake would be in thinking that those ideals will be accomplished by some power outside ourselves, in thinking of a providential justice and goodness. In truth, so far as we can see, there is no such providential justice and goodness, and the Christian belief is as mythical as the old Roman belief. There were no such gods as Seneca pictured, and there is no such being as the Christian believes in. Justice and goodness have power not outside of us, but in our minds ; they are to rule the world, if ever they do, as we surrender ourselves to them and make them rule. Yet they are authoritative, they are binding, they are set fast for us in the nature of things, and by the nature of things; and when all notions of a providential deity are gone, they but shine clearer in their own light, and evidence something in which they are rooted that can never go, that is eternal and unchangeable. Some time humanity will be so aroused to its own true place and calling in the world that such a life and such a death as Sulla's can never again happen; society will be so ordered, individuals will be so treated and judged, that a man like Sulla will have no chance of rising, or if he has, will die in universal contempt. The fortune of Sulla was the crime of the Roman people. Society will always have such monsters of iniquity till it purges itself; and the task set for it, the task from which it cannot escape (unless it too is to rot and die), is to purge itself, — and religion, the only religion the future can have, must be a voluntary dedication on the part of society to that task.
1 Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy, chap. vii.
2 Critiques and Addresses, p. 49.
Alphonso of Castile's words have a charm like those of Seneca. " If he had been present at the creation, he could have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe." Ah, if Alphonso had only realized that a part of creation was there in his own power to refashion, if he would ! The responsibility for the unequal order of society that prevailed in the Middle Ages, when he lived, was not chargeable on the creator, but on men themselves, — and particularly on those lords and princes to the number of which Alphonso belonged. He might easily have given a better ordering to his little part of the universe, and set an example to the other princes about him, whereby oppressions and robberies and all manner of despoilings of the weak by the strong might have in some measure ceased.
It is strange, when we bear in mind the ideal nature of morality, to hear that morality must be based upon facts. Morality is not really a question of facts, but of the right of facts to be, of their correspondence with a standard of the mind. For all scientific hypotheses we must look for a foundation in the world as it is ; for they are nothing but attempted explanations of the actual order of things, and we believe in them more or less, as there is more or less evidence from facts in their favor. But morality is in its nature an ideal and a rule, and we can account for many of the phenomena of history and of human life to-day only on the supposition that morality was not and is not heeded, and perhaps not even thought of. Base morality on facts ? Which facts ? There are innumerable facts, an induction from which would only give us immorality. The good facts, then ? But plainly, this is moving in a circle. In truth, there is nothing on which to base morality. We do not so much find it, as demand it in the world.1 All the separate moral rules may be resolved into the supreme one, — to seek the general welfare, the universal good. But who can give a reason for the supreme rule ? Indeed, no serious man wants a reason. The supreme command appeals immediately to the human mind; it is an assertion of the human mind. No honest man wants a reason why he should do right any more than why he should allow the sun to be in the heavens. The sun is there, and he sees it; and joy and light and warmth come, he knows, from living under its influence. So with the idea of the universal good: to know it is to love it; to become simply aware of it is to feel it to be the true sovereign law of our lives. And not to own it, — not to own the several forms in which it comes to us, — what is this but to make ourselves wanderers and waifs on the earth ; yes, to contradict the universal law of existence, since even the atoms own their attractions, even the senseless rain owns its bond to the sea whence it came ? Man belongs to the idea of the universal good ; he is only himself as he acts from it and for it.
1 Amiel, "the sweet-souled Genevan mystic," says: "It is not history which teaches righteousness to the conscience; it is conscience which teaches righteousness to history. The actual is corrupting; it is we who rectify it by loyalty to the ideal".