The Unitarianism Of Nature
( Originally Published 1912 )
There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.—Paul.
If one should undertake to write a history of Unitarianism, as a form of Christianity, he would find his task as delightful and inspiring as would be that of composing a history of any religious sect. There is as much in it to eulogize and as little for which to apologize as may be found in any other form of Christianity. It doubtless possesses the distinguished merit of being the earliest form of the new religion. If it was the earliest, it was the purest; it most nearly conformed to the model and spirit of its Founder.
It is hardly probable that the immediate associates of Jesus, sitting at the table with him, seeing him eating the same kind of food they ate, beholding him, at times, weary and sad and discouraged, ever thought of him as the infinite God. Every scholar knows that Trinitarianism is much more a Platonic than a Christian doctrine. It was formed long after the religion of Christ had departed from its early simplicity—a sentiment of love for God and man—and had become a collection of complex, metaphysical questions, to be debated by the learned, rather than a form of life to be lived by the multitude. Near the beginning of the third century Tertullian complains that the common people will not accept the doctrine of the Trinity. It required a hundred years more to establish this doctrine as the correct form of belief and it was established in the same way an article of a political platform is adopted—by a majority vote.
Unitarianism has also furnished its full quota of martyrs. Emerson once called it a system of "pale negations." Perhaps in his day it may have been thus justly characterized, but it was not always sa. For "pale negations" no one will endure persecution, exile, death ; but many Unitarians have endured all this. Hence, in all its history, in addition to "pale negations," its adherents must have held many flushed and blazing affirmations, palpitating truths that were vital and indispensable to the soul in its relation to God and duty. This sect has also its saint's calendar. Some of the most reverent souls that ever graced earth with their presence may be found within its lines. There, too, some of the most powerful intellects have been seen bending over the problems of our great world. Perhaps in these years it is doing as much for human welfare as any other religious party is doing. Did one wish to become a propagandist of a spiritual philosophy that seems to hold a mortgage on the most enlightened minds of these and the coming years of the twentieth century, and could only become their missionary by allying himself with a sect, the signs of the times indicate that this one, by furnishing him the greatest freedom, would furnish him with the greatest opportunity. Events transpiring in other denominations suggest that this one is more necessary than ever before as a place of refuge for all those preachers who are, or think they are, the objects of ecclesiastical or theological oppression. So many clergy-men have come into it from the other sects and so many are thinking of coming that it would be a kind of cruelty to permit this one to go out of existence. It is perhaps not necessary yet, but if the heretics in the other churches keep on increasing at the present ratio, it is not inconceivable that those in official charge of the Unitarian sect may be compelled to take into consideration the whole subject of clerical immigration. Perhaps it is not so yet, but they may find it necessary to place some restrictions upon it.
But interesting and valuable as a study of ecclesiastical Unitarianism may be, it is only one appearance of a universal law. It is one arm of a greater sea. It is one branch detached from an immense forest.
When earth rolls forward, making its annual journey of six hundred millions of miles, it carries all its possessions with it. Oceans, rivers, mountains, plains, trade-winds, sunlight and moonlight all join in the amazing flight. Every particle moves, because the immense mass, from center to circumference and from pole to pole, is moving.
The same thing occurs in the world, not material. When the mind moves everything pertaining to the mind is carried forward. Philosophy cannot be taken and art left behind. If literature goes, religion must bear it company. In the age of Pericles at Athens, of Augustus at Rome and of the Medici at Florence, art, science, philosophy and poetry were all carried on one stream. In our day the effort to enthrone a few great religious principles is part of a general tendency. It is a tributary of a-universal flood.
To him who, at night, in meditative mood, be-holds the firmament sown with constellations, comes the thought that earth is one among a multitude of known and unknown worlds. This knowledge is in advance of those times when the sky was regarded as a covering for earth and the stars were swinging lamps to give it light. Long ago that childish idea was cast aside. But it is in comparatively recent times the discovery was made that, not only are the stars worlds, but are worlds like our own. They are made of the same kind of material ; they are moved by the same forces; they are subject to the same laws. Knowing what carries this globe through space, we know what carries all globes. The same causes that make the blazing light and heat of the sun, make all suns aflame with light and heat. The same elementary substances composing the structure of this planet, upon which our feet rest, compose the structure of those far off planets upon which our eyes rest. Such is the unity of all created things that, knowing one, the mind may know all.
Thinking of multi-formed life in the universe, there may be many kinds still unveiled to human view. Yet, such is the unity of the world, the mind may with confidence assume that they are all grouped under one principle. Forms of life on the other planets may be different from those we know here; yet the life itself must be the same. Fossils indicate what species and varieties, once peopling earth, became extinct. They could not exist under present conditions. The chalk cliffs of England are the •stately tombs of perished life. The coal beds of Pennsylvania were once great swampy forests. Remains of creatures are found that could breathe carbon-loaded air. Perhaps they found as much vigor, as much exhilaration, and as great delight in life as creatures now find breathing air composed of oxygen and nitrogen. To the forms of life we now know a few breaths of that old carbon-charged atmosphere would bring the sleep that knows no waking. Nevertheless, through all ages, the vital principle remains the same.
The French Flammarion loved to state his science in the form of fiction. In one of his books he endeavored to illustrate the condition of things on other planets. He peopled those shining worlds with beings of a superior order. Their superiority is caused by superior circumstances. They excel man in his present condition for the same reason that he excels the creatures of the carboniferous age. Those planets have gone beyond the stage of refinement which earth has, as yet, reached, just as earth has passed on from stage to stage at each change becoming more favorable to higher forms of life. There was a time, far remote, when it could not support so fine a creature as the human. Now it can ; and, as conditions became more favorable, this creature called human became more re-fined. Thus other worlds, acting under the same law of progress, are only farther along in the same road that earth is traveling. Their inhabitants are almost as far above man as he is above the animal. Their knowledge is much greater, because the mind is freed from the infirmities and entanglements that hinder it here. The struggle for material existence has been left behind. National and individual hunger for power, cruelties and oppressions, caused by selfishness and merciless competitions, are unknown. They belonged to a lower order of existence ; and, when ascent came, they were left behind. The whole scene is one of combined grandeur and beauty. It seems like realization of that which, in momentary glimpses, as of lightning flashes at night, inspired souls have beheld as a possible destiny for humanity.
Thus, to the mind of this author, the physical and mental universe arose as a scene of an endless diversity made orderly by an all pervading unity.
In a great oration, amid all variety, must run one central idea. The orator may state his proposition in logical form ; he may clothe it in a happy metaphor; he may illustrate it with tear-causing or laughter-causing anecdote; he may appeal to reason and passion by turn; but he must never lose sight of the principle involved and which alone makes the oration necessary.
The same is true of sacred architecture. The variety is superficial ; the unity is organic. From the grave in the desert marked by a few rude stones, lest in the wide expanse bounded only by the monotonous sky-line its place should be hopelessly lost, on to the pyramids, that became the august tombs of kings, one idea runs. From the first rude booth made of bushes and clay to the Parthenon with its columns and statues and the Gothic Minsters with their arches and pointed towers and storied windows one principle is constantly present.
The same thing is true of music. From the time that Jubal made the first harp and
"Poured his triumph in a song
and Pan made the first flute and played so sweetly that
"The sun on the hill forgot to die,
until Beethoven came with his matchless sonatas and Wagner came with his colossal operas, all simple melodies and complex harmonies are woven out of a few primary notes. There are diversities of operations, but it is the same sound that worketh through all.
Sixty years ago Emerson wrote :
"There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same."
This bold statement caused a flutter of surprise and protest in the conventional schools and churches. He was compared with the Greek Prophetess who sat on a tripod until, made delirious by smoke and gas, she uttered her oracular nonsense. He had stayed so long in an atmosphere of transcendentalism that he did not know truth from nonsense. But that estimate was soon set aside. That which he saw, by sudden glance, the men of science proved by their slower methods. Herbert Spencer, no transcendental dreamer, but a surveyor and student of concrete things, came for-ward with the statement that back of all changing appearances reposes one unchanging principle, and that all forms of knowledge are streams from one fountain.
The many languages are all fruits plucked from a common tree—that Tree of Life standing in the midst of the great Paradise of man. The mythologies of all nations have a common origin. So have the folk-lore and nursery rhymes. The Uncle Remus stories of animals are not peculiar to our southern negroes. In some form they are told in Africa and Brazil and China. The Laplanders and the Zulus have a Cinderella and a Jack and his Bean Stalk. In a museum of antiquities, among the implements of the chase and field and household gathered from the four quarters of earth, there is more likeness than unlikeness. Finding a minnow left by fishermen on the ice of Concord River, Thoreau was impressed by its resemblance, in outline, to a whale that he had seen stranded on the sands of Cape Cod. This led him to institute comparisons among other natural objects and he found the list of resemblances interminable. Nature seems to have followed a few original patterns. The multitude of statutes are founded upon a few fundamental principles of equity. The arts are beams flung from a central sun. They-differ no more than the red ray differs from the violet. When the rays are all bound together they make a beam of pure white light ; and, when the many arts are thus joined, they are seen streaming as one common beauty from the one creative human soul.
Some of us may remember the surprise, that was also a half-pain, we experienced when, in our youth, we found Plato abounding in New Testa-ment ideas. Those things, which we had been taught were Christian and special, suddenly stood revealed as human and universal. Supposing he possessed a gem whose rare intrinsic worth was increased because it was an heirloom coming from a unique ancestry through many generations, and there was no duplicate of it in all the world, one would be shocked by the discovery that many of his neighbors possessed similar jewels and, to them, of equal value. Such was the surprise when ethical and spiritual doctrines, once thought to have come miraculously to Palestine alone, were found to have come naturally to other lands. All civilized nations possess something resembling the Ten Commandments. The resemblance between the stories of Buddha and Christ is very striking. Some Christians raised the report that the biographers of Buddha had borrowed some incidents from the New Testament life of the Judean Master. Now all surprise has disappeared. It is now seen to be in full accord with the method of nature that the same spiritual force which produced Socrates in Greece produced Zoroaster in Persia, Gotama in India, and Jesus in Palestine.
Thus indications of a fundamental unity are multiplied. Of the early church Paul said: "We are all members of one body." The same thing may be as truly said by every star, by every grass-blade, by every up-turned face of humanity. Each is a part of all. Detached, each thing is discord. It is when there is unity of action ;—only when deep calleth unto deep; when wave and shore meet; when lake mirrors sky; when flower welcomes child; when continent salutes continent and world waves friendly signal to world; when justice and mercy stand with arms entwined;—it is then, alone, bursts forth the true world anthem which leads captive sense and soul. Every advance of knowledge along the paths of science, of philosophy, of religion confirms the belief in one mind, one law, one element, one purpose. In Goethe's famous poem, out of all the million miscellaneous events of nature and history the time spirits were seen weaving the life garment of Deity. So is it in fact ; and, like the one for which the soldiers cast lots that dark day in Palestine, it is a robe of one piece woven through-out with no break or seam.
Seeing the unity of the physical universe, the conclusion is almost unavoidable that a similar unity pervades the intellectual and moral universe. Whatever diversity there may be among the phenomena, the principle is one. Man, with all his amazing history, is part of a universal purpose. He cannot comprehend all of it. All he can see is his own particular island. But he may know that all around him is infinity of force and law.
"Aye, come up hither. From this wave washed mound
It is, indeed, an ocean of Being too great for measurement by any human trigonometry. Its deeps mock at every plummet line. Through its expanse sweeps many a mysterious current. Over its unvoyaged waste hurtles many a cosmic tempest. But it is everywhere the same sea.
In light of this all pervading unity, religion should assume a new and greater significance. It is not fragmentary and unrelated. It is a necessary part of the universe. It is not something miraculously imposed upon earth from the outside. By an inevitable law of nature, it has grown up from the inside. It is as natural as art, as government, as literature; natural as falling rains and rising mists , natural as the brown fields of November and the green fields of June.
It is to be feared that in religion diversity has been more emphasized than unity. Its passing phenomena have been made of more importance than its unceasing principle. Countless millions saw the lightning's flash; but the world had to wait for a Franklin to come and relate those momentary, gleams to ever present and all-enfolding electricity.
For ages, not only apples, but all things within a given radius had fallen upon earth; but until New-ton came no one had thought of relating their fall to worlds falling forever. through space. So, for centuries, Judaism, Hindooism, Christianity, Mo hammedanism, Parseeism, Confucianism and many another passing form of religion were regarded as separate and antagonistic. Now there is needed some philosopher, a spiritual Newton or Franklin, to show that all these diverse forms are manifestations of the one great soul of humanity.
Political economy should be restated and reap-plied to existing affairs in the light of unity among all races of mankind. Earth does not belong to any nation; it belongs to all human beings. The Chinese have equal right to happiness with the Americans. A law that adds prosperity to one, by, subtracting prosperity from another class is a crime. Money and toil are parts of the same thing. Neither is complete in itself. Left alone, either would perish. Both are merely means to an end, namely, the welfare of all mankind. Hence they should not combine against, but for each other. Many years ago a gifted Italian wrote :
"Analysis can never regenerate the nations. Analysis is potent to dissolve; impotent to create. Hostility is a form of destructive analysis. Friendship is synthesis. When analysis declares a principle extinct it seats itself beside the corpse and moves not onward. Synthesis alone has power to thrust the corpse aside and advance in search of new new life."
But what is synthesis? It is unifying; it is the grouping of many facts under one principle. This is what nations and parties in politics, classes in society, and sects in religion- need. For all there is one law of gravitation. It acts for the playing child no less than for the revolving earth. Without its aid the brook could not run to the river nor ocean tides swing from shore to shore. For all there is one sunshine. Its beams love to linger on the poor man's cottage no less than on the rich man's palace. For all there is one God ;
"His dwelling is the light of setting suns
For all there is one religion. It is composed of all the duties and aspirations and expectations of a thousand generations of one humanity. There is one temple of worship. Its floor is earth, by continents and oceans, by zones and seasons inwrought with many brilliant mosaics. Sunrise and sunset weave and hang their gorgeous curtains. Its dome is the sunlit and starlit firmament. There is one worship :—The free outgoing of the soul toward its highest ideals of all that is true and beautiful and blessed. Enfolding all there is one Power; one Purpose, one Benevolence. In such an amazing encompassment to live is a joy, to die is a triumph.