Play And The Play
( Originally Published 1906 )
I AM tired.
Tired of a great many things, but especially tired of hearing and answering questions about the so-called doubtful amusements."
" Should a Christian play cards ? " "May not a Christian dance—just a little ? " " Won't you let us go to the theatre with a clear con-science, if we will be careful to select only proper plays ?"
Don't you see, young people, that such questions answer themselves ? You don't need to ask me or any one else whether you shall play crokinole, or whether you shall ride the bicycle, or whether you shall go to hear Professor Bright lecture. You ask me about card-playing, dancing, and theatre-going because the all but universal Christian conscience has condemned those amusements, because they are under the ban of Christian sentiment, and you want my say-so to bolster up your uneasy consciences.
Now there is no duty urging you to do any of these things,—nothing but your inclination. On the other hand, the vast majority of Christians advise you not to do them. Conscience is all on one side. This being the case, I could afford to grant that these three amusements are perfectly proper, and yet have the very best of reasons for urging you to let them alone, namely, respect for the opinion of the great body of our Lord's children.
Of course I do not propose to take it for granted that these amusements are harmless, but there is absolutely no need to enter into that argument at all. This other argument should be conclusive.
But what a low standard of Christian living is indicated by such questions ! Do you suppose Paul, when the Vision stopped him on the way to Damascus, thought twice before he asked, " Lord, what wilt thou have me to do ?" and asked first this other question, " Lord, if I become thy disciple, may I still go to the games in the circus ? " Do you suppose John, when the Master bade him leave all and follow Him, replied, " Yes, on condition that I may still join now and then in a village dance " ?
The truth of the matter is that when one has really become a lover of Christ, loving Him with heart and mind and strength and soul, filled with a sense of eternity, with a passion for the winning of souls,—he is ransomed henceforth from such petty concerns as a pack of cards, or a shaking of feet to a fiddle, or a procession of painted women on the stage. His meat and his drink henceforth, his absorbing pleasure, is to do the will of his Father.
Not that he will not play. Indeed, no one plays better than a Christian, knows more games, and jollier ones. The world is full of them—games as far superior to cards, dancing, and the theatre as the light of the blessed sun is better than gaslight. But even as Paul said, "If meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth "—so the Christian will have nothing to do with doubtful amusements, or doubtful books, or doubtful customs, or doubtful drinks, or doubtful anything else, while there is any doubt about them, while there is in them any possibility of hurting a single soul of those that Christ gave up His life to save.
And now a word more particularly about the theatre, leaving to the following chapters just a word—they deserve no more—about the other principal " doubtful amusements."
The other day I was reading an interesting article by Dr. Charles H. Parkhurst. In this article the famous preacher and reformer says that he believes profoundly in the theatre, and holds that " as a means of intellectual stimulus and of moral uplift there is nothing, with the possible exception of the pulpit, that could stand alongside of it as an enginery of personal effect, provided only it would maintain itself in its proper character as the. dramatized incarnation of strength."
That is a rather startling sentiment, coming from a Christian minister, and I read rapidly on, finally heaving a sigh of relief when I discovered that, judging the matter from the statements of theatre-goers, from newspaper criticisms, from the bill-boards, and from conversation with one of the most distinguished of modern actors, Dr. Parkhurst, thus unprejudiced, has been led to conclude "that if the American theatre were suddenly to omit all its vicious accompaniments, and to come out frankly upon the ground of unequivocal purity, the theatre-going world would withdraw in impatient disgust, and the whole business would go into the hands of a receiver inside of a month"!
Now that, in a nutshell, is the whole case against the theatre. You may think what you please, young folks, about the ideal theatre. You may hold that when Sophocles wrote his " Antigone " and Eschylus his " Prometheus" and Euripides his "Medea," the drama was a powerful stimulus to lofty thought and noble action. You may exalt Shakespeare to the stars, and find all the force you please in King Lear, the most delightful poetry in the Mid-summer Night's Dream, the deepest philosophy in Hamlet. That has absolutely nothing to do with the question of the modern theatre.
The opposition of Christians to the theatre is not an opposition to Shakespeare, but to "Camille"; not an opposition to Edwin Booth, but to with her almost annual divorces, and to with his drunkenness, and to with his lowest of intrigues. It is not opposition to an ideal, an impossible, theatre, but to the theatre as it is and as it is likely to continue.
And the more knowledge a pure-minded Christian gets of the present-day theatre, the less he will wish to have to do with it—as long, that is, as he remains a pure-minded Christian.