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Art. I. - A Discourse of Matters pertaining to Religion.
By THEODORE PARKER. Boston : Charles C. Little and
We have nothing to add to the brief sketch we gave of the general character of the author of this volume in our last Review; and very little to say of the volume itself, as a simple literary production, detached from the system in exposition and defence of which it appears to have been written. It is loosely, and even heavily written, in a flippant and affected style, and sins hardly less against grammar and rhetoric than against piety and truth. It bears the marks of haste, and seems to have been hurriedly thrown together, from the author's commonplacebook and the fag ends of his sermons and discourses, and sent forth to the public without his having taken the time or the pains to melt his heterogeneous materials down into a common mass, or to think out, so to speak, the principles he had rashly adopted, in their systematic relations, and logical connexions and consequences. It is crude, confused ; without method, order, systematic unity, or scientific development. As the production of a vain, conceited pedant and scoffer, it may pass ; but as the production of a scholar, a theologian, a man ambitious of contributing to the literature of his country, and establishing a high literary and scientific character of his own, of it, the more shall we consult the credit of the author.
But we are not concerned with the author, nor with his book, save so far as one or the other is connected with the system he attempts to set forth, and is to be taken as its exponent. This system we propose to examine, - not simply the
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author or his book ; neither of which, separated from this system, which is not without numerous adherents, both at home and abroad, would deserve any serious attention. But this system, called ordinarily Transcendentalism, by Mr. Parker, Natural Religionism, and not inaptly, by Mr. Andrews Norton, The latest Form of Infidelity, it is by no means easy to ascertain. Its expounders write on the principle, that “ideas are shy of being expressed in words, and must be suggested rather than stated." They professedly eschew clear and definite statements, and seem to hold that truth can be seen and judged of in its true proportions only as it looms up in the dim and uncertain twilight of vague and indeterminate expressions. This is, no doubt, a convenient theory for them, but it is exceedingly perplexing to readers who would understand what they read, and especially to reviewers who would be just both to themselves and their author. We are not a little perplexed, the moment we undertake to analyze Mr. Parker's book, and reduce it to fundamental propositions which may be clearly apprehended and distinctly stated. It is a book of many pieces. Its author abounds in contradictions no less than in loose and intangible statements, and sometimes brings together in the same sentence not less than two or three mutually contradictory systems. Nevertheless, after much toil and pains, aided by our own familiar acquaintance with the general subject, we believe we may compress what is systematic in the book, what the author most values, what constitute the bases of the Transcendental doctrines generally, within the three following propositions ; namely :
I. Man is the measure of truth and goodness.
III. All religious institutions, which have been or are, have their principle and cause in human nature.
A single glance at these propositions reveals the character of the system. It is sheer Naturalism, and Mr. Parker himself calls it “ the natural-religious view.” Its advocates, however, profess to be religious, to be the especial friends of religion, and to have put a final conclusion to the controversy between believers and infidels, by having discovered a solid and imperishable foundation for religion in the permanent and essential nature of man. Man is religious because he is man, and must be religious or cease to be man. According to them, religion has its foundation, not in supernatural revelation, but in human nature, and rests for its authority, therefore, not on the veracity of God, but on the veracity of man; and
as man can neither deceive nor be deceived, it of course must be eternally and immutably true! They also affect to discover truth in all religions, and to accept it. But this does not take their system out of the category of Naturalism, because, 1, they recognize no religion as having been supernaturally given ; and, 2, because they acknowledge in religious institutions, which have been or are, nothing to be truth, which transcends the natural order, or which the natural faculties of man are not adequate to discover, and of whose intrinsic truth they are not competent to judge. All the rest they hold to be misapprehension or exaggeration of natural phenomena, or a mere symbolic way of expressing simple truths lying within the reach of natural reason.
This they all admit; but they fancy that they escape the condemnation to which Naturalism as ordinarily set forth is justly exposed, by holding that religious institutions depend on what is permanent and essential in man, not on what is accidental and transient. Whence comes the institution of religion ?
" To this question,” says Mr. Parker, “two answers have been given, one foolish, one wise. The foolish answer, which may be read in Lucretius and elsewhere, is, that religion is not a necessity of man's nature, which comes from the action of eternal demands within him, but is the result of mental disease, so to say ; the effect of fear, of ignorance combining with selfishness. ..... The wise answer is, that religion comes out of a principle deep and permanent in the heart, . . . . . from sublime, permanent, and universal wants, and must be referred to the soul, to the unchanging realities of life.” – pp. 13, 14.
. But this amounts to nothing ; for both the wise answer and the foolish agree in asserting that religion is of human origin, and that it, itself, — not its necessity, merely, - comes out of human nature. Moreover, what Lucretius regards as the result of mental disease, and rejects under the name of religion, the Transcendentalists themselves regard as springing from the same source, and also reject under the name of the form, or symbol ; and all they hold to be true and permanent, as springing from the permanent and essential nature of man, and which they call religion, Lucretius himself accepts, as well as they, and holds to be eternally true, but is foolish enough to call it “ nature.” The only real difference, then, between Lucre66 tius and Mr. Parker, between the “ foolish” answer and the “wise,” is that the former, with all the world, calls what he contemns and discards religion, and what he retains and commends nature, but the latter is too wise to be guilty of such folly.
Whatever, then, the merits of the system under examination, it is Naturalism, — nothing more, nothing less. The question, then, between us and Transcendentalism is the old question between Naturalism and Supernaturalism. Is man's patural relation the only relation he sustains to his Creator ? Have there been supernatural revelations, or are the so-called supernatural revelations explicable on natural principles? Do man's natural forces that is, what he is and receives by virtue of his natural relation to God — suffice for the fulfilment of his destiny ; or needs he the gracious, that is, supernatural, interposition and assistance of his Maker ? These are the real questions at issue; and these questions Mr. Parker and the Transcendentalists answer in favor of nature against grace, of man against God. The validity and value of their answer is, then, what we propose to examine.
With these remarks, we proceed to take up, seriatim, the propositions themselves. We begin with the first.
I. MAN IS THE MEASURE OF TRUTH AND GOODNESS.
We do not understand the Transcendentalists to assert by this proposition, that man actually knows all truth and goodness, though from many things they say we might infer this ; but that man is the measure, the standard, the criterion of all truth and goodness,
the touchstone on which we are to try whatever is alleged to be true and good, and to determine whether it be true and good, or false and evil. Nor do we mean to assert that they are prepared to maintain even this in general thesis ; but that they do assert it, that they everywhere imply it, and that without assuming it their whole system would be a baseless fabric, and their doctrines and speculations the sheerest absurdities.
A slight examination of the leading views of Transcendentalists on the origin and ground of ideas will sustain our assertion. Transcendentalists may be divided into three classes. . They all agree in their antagonism to the doctrines of Locke, as set forth in his Essay on the Human Understanding, and in asserting for man the inherent ability to cognize intuitively nonsensible, spiritual, or immaterial facts or realities. intuitively; for we do not understand Locke himself to deny absolutely our ability to cognize such realities, but simply to deny that we can do it intuitively, and to contend that we can do it only discursively, by reflection operating on sensible data.
The peculiarity of the Transcendentalists is in holding that we cognize them intuitively, immediately, instead of discursively. But in explaining the principle and fact of intuition, and its modes or conditions, they differ somewhat among themselves, and may, as we have said, be divided into three classes.
1. The first class name the vis intuitiva the reason, and contend that the vonuara, spiritual cognoscibles, or the immaterial realities capable of being known, are really exterior to and independent of the subject knowing, and are simply apprehended on occasion of the sensible phenomena by which they are rendered present. Thus, they contend that the ideas of cause, of cause in general, necessary cause, in a word, all the Kantian categories, — are entertained by the mind and applied to sensible phenomena, by actual intuition of the objects of these ideas, - not merely the ideas themselves — really existing in the non-sensible world. Yet they call this non-sensible world reason, and represent these ideas, objectively considered, that is, as objects existing in re, not as mere mental conceptions, to be its constituent elements. Taking ideas in this sense, as the object, the reason may be termed the regio idearum, or world of absolute and necessary truth. It is impersonal and objective, and operates spontaneously, by an energy not human, but which is the energy of God, whose Word or Speech reason is. Containing in itself absolute ideas or absolute truth and goodness, the reason is a measure of truth and goodness ; and as it is divine, it must be an exact measure.
Whatever it pronounces true is true ; whatever it pronounces beautiful is beautiful ; whatever it pronounces good is good.
But this reason, though declared to be impersonal and objective, is also assumed to be a faculty of human nature, a faculty of the human soul, its only light, that by virtue of which it is essentially intelligent, and knows all that it does know, whatever the sphere or degree of its knowledge. Hence, of two things, one, - either man is identical with God, intellectually considered, and it is God that sees in man, which must plunge us, in the last analysis, into absolute Pantheism ; or reason is human, an attribute, if not of the human personality, yet of
This class of Transcendentalists deny that they are Pantheists. Therefore, they must regard absolute reason as a human faculty ; and then, since reason is the measure of truth and goodness, man himself, taken in his totality, if not in his simple personality, as the same measure. If, however, it be denied that this reason is human, and it be assumed to be God,