Men Think they can Accept Christianity without Altering their Life – Pagan Conception of Life does not Correspond with Present Stage of Development of Humanity, and Christian Conception Alone Can Accord with it – Christian Conception of Life not yet Understood by Men, but the Progress of Life itself will Lead them Inevitably to Adopt it – The Requirements of a New Theory of Life Always Seem Incomprehensible, Mystic, and Supernatural – So Seem the Requirements of the Christian Theory of Life to the Majority of Men – The Absorption of the Christian Conception of Life will Inevitably be Brought About as the Result of Material and Spiritual Causes – The Fact of Men Knowing the Requirements of the Higher View of Life, and yet Continuing to Preserve Inferior Organizations of Life, Leads to Contradictions and Sufferings which Embitter Existence and Must Result in its Transformation – The Contradictions of our Life – The Economic Contradiction and the Suffering Induced by it for Rich and Poor Alike – The Political Contradiction and the Sufferings Induced by Obedience to the Laws of the State – The International Contradiction and the Recognition of it by Contemporaries: Komarovsky, Ferri, Booth, Passy, Lawson, Wilson, Bartlett, Defourney, Moneta – The Striking Character of the Military Contradiction.
There are many reasons why Christ's teaching is not understood. One reason is that people suppose they have understood it when they have decided, as the Churchmen do, that it was revealed by supernatural means, or when they have studied, as the scientific men do, the external forms in which it has been manifested. Another reason is the mistaken notion that it is impracticable, and ought to be replaced by the doctrine of love for humanity. But the principal reason, which is the source of all the other mistaken ideas about it, is the notion that Christianity is a doctrine which can be accepted or rejected without any change of life.
Men who are used to the existing order of things, who like it and dread its being changed, try to take the doctrine as a collection of revelations and rules which one can accept without their modifying one's life. While Christ's teaching is not only a doctrine which gives rules which a man must follow, it unfolds a new meaning in life, and defines a whole world of human activity quite different from all that has preceded it and appropriate to the period on which man is entering.
The life of humanity changes and advances, like the life of the individual, by stages, and every stage has a theory of life appropriate to it, which is inevitably absorbed by men. Those who do not absorb it consciously, absorb it unconsciously. It is the same with the changes in the beliefs of peoples and of all humanity as it is with the changes of belief of individuals. If the father of a family continues to be guided in his conduct by his childish conceptions of life, life becomes so difficult for him that he involuntarily seeks another philosophy and readily absorbs that which is appropriate to his age.
That is just what is happening now to humanity at this time of transition through which we are passing, from the pagan conception of life to the Christian. The socialized man of the present day is brought by experience of life itself to the necessity of abandoning the pagan conception of life, which is inappropriate to the present stage of humanity, and of submitting to the obligation of the Christian doctrines, the truths of which, however corrupt and misinterpreted, are still known to him, and alone offer him a solution of the contradictions surrounding him.
If the requirements of the Christian doctrine seem strange and even alarming to the man of the social theory of life, no less strange, incomprehensible, and alarming to the savage of ancient times seemed the requirements of the social doctrine when it was not fully understood and could not be foreseen in its results.
"It is unreasonable," said the savage, "to sacrifice my peace of mind or my life in defense of something incomprehensible, impalpable, and conventional – family, tribe, or nation; and above all it is unsafe to put oneself at the disposal of the power of others."
But the time came when the savage, on one hand, felt, though vaguely, the value of the social conception of life, and of its chief motor power, social censure, or social approbation – glory, and when, on the other hand, the difficulties of his personal life became so great that he could not continue to believe in the value of his old theory of life. Then he accepted the social, state theory of life and submitted to it.
That is just what the man of the social theory of life is passing through now.
"It is unreasonable," says the socialized man, "to sacrifice my welfare and that of my family and my country in order to fulfill some higher law, which requires me to renounce my most natural and virtuous feelings of love of self, of family, of kindred, and of country; and above all, it is unsafe to part with the security of life afforded by the organization of government."
But the time is coming when, on one hand, the vague consciousness in his soul of the higher law, of love to God and his neighbor, and, on the other hand, the suffering, resulting from the contradictions of life, will force the man to reject the social theory and to assimilate the new one prepared ready for him, which solves all the contradictions and removes all his sufferings – the Christian theory of life. And this time has now come.
We, who thousands of years ago passed through the transition, from the personal, animal view of life to the socialized view, imagine that that transition was an inevitable and natural one; but this transition through which we have been passing for the last eighteen hundred years seems arbitrary, unnatural, and alarming. But we only fancy this because that first transition has been so fully completed that the practice attained by it has become unconscious and instinctive in us, while the present transition is not yet over and we have to complete it consciously.
It took ages, thousands of years, for the social conception of life to permeate men's consciousness. It went through various forms and has now passed into the region of the instinctive through inheritance, education, and habit. And therefore it seems natural to us. But five thousand years ago it seemed as unnatural and alarming to men as the Christian doctrine in its true sense seems to-day.
We think to-day that the requirements of the Christian doctrine – of universal brotherhood, suppression of national distinctions, abolition of private property, and the strange injunction of non-resistance to evil by force – demand what is impossible. But it was just the same thousands of years ago, with every social or even family duty, such as the duty of parents to support their children, of the young to maintain the old, of fidelity in marriage. Still more strange, and even unreasonable, seemed the state duties of submitting to the appointed authority, and paying taxes, and fighting in defense of the country, and so on. All such requirements seem simple, comprehensible, and natural to us to-day, and we see nothing mysterious or alarming in them. But three or five thousand years ago they seemed to require what was impossible.
The social conception of life served as the basis of religion because at the time when it was first presented to men it seemed to them absolutely incomprehensible, mystic, and supernatural. Now that we have outlived that phase of the life of humanity, we understand the rational grounds for uniting men in families, communities, and states. But in antiquity the duties involved by such association were presented under cover of the supernatural and were confirmed by it.
The patriarchal religions exalted the family, the tribe, the nation. State religions deified emperors and states. Even now most ignorant people – like our peasants, who call the Tzar an earthly god – obey state laws, not through any rational recognition of their necessity, nor because they have any conception of the meaning of state, but through a religious sentiment.
In precisely the same way the Christian doctrine is presented to men of the social or heathen theory of life to-day, in the guise of a supernatural religion, though there is in reality nothing mysterious, mystic, or supernatural about it. It is simply the theory of life which is appropriate to the present degree of material development, the present stage of growth of humanity, and which must therefore inevitably be accepted.
The time will come – it is already coming – when the Christian principles of equality and fraternity, community of property, non-resistance of evil by force, will appear just as natural and simple as the principles of family or social life seem to us now.
Humanity can no more go backward in its development than the individual man. Men have outlived the social, family, and state conceptions of life. Now they must go forward and assimilate the next and higher conception of life, which is what is now taking place. This change is brought about in two ways: consciously through spiritual causes, and unconsciously through material causes.
Just as the individual man very rarely changes his way of life at the dictates of his reason alone, but generally continues to live as before, in spite of the new interests and aims revealed to him by his reason, and only alters his way of living when it has become absolutely opposed to his conscience, and consequently intolerable to him; so, too, humanity, long after it has learnt through its religions the new interests and aims of life, toward which it must strive, continues in the majority of its representatives to live as before, and is only brought to accept the new conception by finding it impossible to go on living its old life as before.
Though the need of a change of life is preached by the religious leaders and recognized and realized by the most intelligent men, the majority, in spite of their reverential attitude to their leaders, that is, their faith in their teaching, continue to be guided by the old theory of life in their present complex existence. As though the father of a family, knowing how he ought to behave at his age, should yet continue through habit and thoughtlessness to live in the same childish way as he did in boyhood.
That is just what is happening in the transition of humanity from one stage to another, through which we are passing now. Humanity has outgrown its social stage and has entered upon a new period. It recognizes the doctrine which ought to be made the basis of life in this new period. But through inertia it continues to keep up the old forms of life. From this inconsistency between the new conception of life and practical life follows a whole succession of contradictions and sufferings which embitter our life and necessitate its alteration.
One need only compare the practice of life with the theory of it, to be dismayed at the glaring antagonism between our conditions of life and our conscience.
Our whole life is in flat contradiction with all we know, and with all we regard as necessary and right. This contradiction runs through everything, in economic life, in political life, and in international life. As though we had forgotten what we knew and put away for a time the principles we believe in (we cannot help still believing in them because they are the only foundation we have to base our life on) we do the very opposite of all that our conscience and our common sense require of us.
We are guided in economical, political, and international questions by the principles which were appropriate to men of three or five thousand years ago, though they are directly opposed to our conscience and the conditions of life in which we are placed to-day.
It was very well for the man of ancient times to live in a society based on the division of mankind into masters and slaves, because he believed that such a distinction was decreed by God and must always exist. But is such a belief possible in these days?
The man of antiquity could believe he had the right to enjoy the good things of this world at the expense of other men, and to keep them in misery for generations, since he believed that men came from different origins, were base or noble in blood, children of Ham or of Japhet. The greatest sages of the world, the teachers of humanity, Plato and Aristotle, justified the existence of slaves and demonstrated the lawfulness of slavery; and even three centuries ago, the men who described an imaginary society of the future, Utopia, could not conceive of it without slaves.
Men of ancient and mediæval times believed, firmly believed, that men are not equal, that the only true men are Persians, or Greeks, or Romans, or Franks. But we cannot believe that now. And people who sacrifice themselves for the principles of aristocracy and of patriotism to-day, don't believe and can't believe what they assert.
We all know and cannot help knowing – even though we may never have heard the idea clearly expressed, may never have read of it, and may never have put it into words, still through unconsciously imbibing the Christian sentiments that are in the air – with our whole heart we know and cannot escape knowing the fundamental truth of the Christian doctrine, that we are all sons of one Father, wherever we may live and whatever language we may speak; we are all brothers and are subject to the same law of love implanted by our common Father in our hearts.
Whatever the opinions and degree of education of a man of to-day, whatever his shade of liberalism, whatever his school of philosophy, or of science, or of economics, however ignorant or superstitious he may be, every man of the present day knows that all men have an equal right to life and the good things of life, and that one set of people are no better nor worse than another, that all are equal. Everyone knows this, beyond doubt; everyone feels it in his whole being. Yet at the same time everyone sees all round him the division of men into two castes – the one, laboring, oppressed, poor, and suffering, the other idle, oppressing, luxurious, and profligate. And everyone not only sees this, but voluntarily or involuntarily, in one way or another, he takes part in maintaining this distinction which his conscience condemns. And he cannot help suffering from the consciousness of this contradiction and his share in it.
Whether he be master or slave, the man of to-day cannot help constantly feeling the painful opposition between his conscience and actual life, and the miseries resulting from it.
The toiling masses, the immense majority of mankind who are suffering under the incessant, meaningless, and hopeless toil and privation in which their whole life is swallowed up, still find their keenest suffering in the glaring contrast between what is and what ought to be, according to all the beliefs held by themselves, and those who have brought them to that condition and keep them in it.
They know that they are in slavery and condemned to privation and darkness to minister to the lusts of the minority who keep them down. They know it, and they say so plainly. And this knowledge increases their sufferings and constitutes its bitterest sting.
The slave of antiquity knew that he was a slave by nature, but our laborer, while he feels he is a slave, knows that he ought not to be, and so he tastes the agony of Tantalus, forever desiring and never gaining what might and ought to be his.
The sufferings of the working classes, springing from the contradiction between what is and what ought to be, are increased tenfold by the envy and hatred engendered by their consciousness of it.
The laborer of the present day would not cease to suffer even if his toil were much lighter than that of the slave of ancient times, even if he gained an eight-hour working day and a wage of three dollars a day. For he is working at the manufacture of things which he will not enjoy, working not by his own will for his own benefit, but through necessity, to satisfy the desires of luxurious and idle people in general, and for the profit of a single rich man, the owner of a factory or workshop in particular. And he knows that all this is going on in a world in which it is a recognized scientific principle that labor alone creates wealth, and that to profit by the labor of others is immoral, dishonest, and punishable by law; in a world, moreover, which professes to believe Christ's doctrine that we are all brothers, and that true merit and dignity is to be found in serving one's neighbor, not in exploiting him. All this he knows, and he cannot but suffer keenly from the sharp contrast between what is and what ought to be.
"According to all principles, according to all I know, and what everyone professes," the workman says to himself. "I ought to be free, equal to everyone else, and loved; and I am – a slave, humiliated and hated." And he too is filled with hatred and tries to find means to escape from his position, to shake off the enemy who is over-riding him, and to oppress him in turn. People say, "Workmen have no business to try to become capitalists, the poor to try to put themselves in the place of the rich." That is a mistake. The workingmen and the poor would be wrong if they tried to do so in a world in which slaves and masters were regarded as different species created by God; but they are living in a world which professes the faith of the Gospel, that all are alike sons of God, and so brothers and equal. And however men may try to conceal it, one of the first conditions of Christian life is love, not in words but in deeds.
The man of the so-called educated classes lives in still more glaring inconsistency and suffering. Every educated man, if he believes in anything, believes in the brotherhood of all men, or at least he has a sentiment of humanity, or else of justice, or else he believes in science. And all the while he knows that his whole life is framed on principles in direct opposition to it all, to all the principles of Christianity, humanity, justice, and science.
He knows that all the habits in which he has been brought up, and which he could not give up without suffering, can only be satisfied through the exhausting, often fatal, toil of oppressed laborers, that is, through the most obvious and brutal violation of the principles of Christianity, humanity, and justice, and even of science (that is, economic science). He advocates the principles of fraternity, humanity, justice, and science, and yet he lives so that he is dependent on the oppression of the working classes, which he denounces, and his whole life is based on the advantages gained by their oppression. Moreover he is directing every effort to maintaining this state of things so flatly opposed to all his beliefs.
We are all brothers – and yet every morning a brother or a sister must empty the bedroom slops for me. We are all brothers, but every morning I must have a cigar, a sweetmeat, an ice, and such things, which my brothers and sisters have been wasting their health in manufacturing, and I enjoy these things and demand them. We are all brothers, yet I live by working in a bank, or mercantile house, or shop at making all goods dearer for my brothers. We are all brothers, but I live on a salary paid me for prosecuting, judging, and condemning the thief or the prostitute whose existence the whole tenor of my life tends to bring about, and who I know ought not to be punished but reformed. We are all brothers, but I live on the salary I gain by collecting taxes from needy laborers to be spent on the luxuries of the rich and idle. We are all brothers, but I take a stipend for preaching a false Christian religion, which I do not myself believe in, and which only serves to hinder men from understanding true Christianity. I take a stipend as priest or bishop for deceiving men in the matter of the greatest importance to them. We are all brothers, but I will not give the poor the benefit of my educational, medical, or literary labors except for money. We are all brothers, yet I take a salary for being ready to commit murder, for teaching men to murder, or making firearms, gunpowder, or fortifications.
The whole life of the upper classes is a constant inconsistency. The more delicate a man's conscience is, the more painful this contradiction is to him.
A man of sensitive conscience cannot but suffer if he lives such a life. The only means by which he can escape from this suffering is by blunting his conscience, but even if some men succeed in dulling their conscience they cannot dull their fears.
The men of the higher dominating classes whose conscience is naturally not sensitive or has become blunted, if they don't suffer through conscience, suffer from fear and hatred. They are bound to suffer. They know all the hatred of them existing, and inevitably existing in the working classes. They are aware that the working classes know that they are deceived and exploited, and that they are beginning to organize themselves to shake off oppression and revenge themselves on their oppressors. The higher classes see the unions, the strikes, the May Day Celebrations, and feel the calamity that is threatening them, and their terror passes into an instinct of self-defense and hatred. They know that if for one instant they are worsted in the struggle with their oppressed slaves, they will perish, because the slaves are exasperated and their exasperation is growing more intense with every day of oppression. The oppressors, even if they wished to do so, could not make an end to oppression. They know that they themselves will perish directly they even relax the harshness of their oppression. And they do not relax it, in spite of all their pretended care for the welfare of the working classes, for the eight-hour day, for regulation of the labor of minors and of women, for savings banks and pensions. All that is humbug, or else simply anxiety to keep the slave fit to do his work. But the slave is still a slave, and the master who cannot live without a slave is less disposed to set him free than ever.
The attitude of the ruling classes to the laborers is that of a man who has felled his adversary to the earth and holds him down, not so much because he wants to hold him down, as because he knows that if he let him go, even for a second, he would himself be stabbed, for his adversary is infuriated and has a knife in his hand. And therefore, whether their conscience is tender or the reverse, our rich men cannot enjoy the wealth they have filched from the poor as the ancients did who believed in their right to it. Their whole life and all their enjoyments are embittered either by the stings of conscience or by terror.
So much for the economic contradiction. The political contradiction is even more striking.
All men are brought up to the habit of obeying the laws of the state before everything. The whole existence of modern times is defined by laws. A man marries and is divorced, educates his children, and even (in many countries) professes his religious faith in accordance with the law. What about the law then which defines our whole existence? Do men believe in it? Do they regard it as good? Not at all. In the majority of cases people of the present time do not believe in the justice of the law, they despise it, but still they obey it. It was very well for the men of the ancient world to observe their laws. They firmly believed that their law (it was generally of a religious character) was the only just law, which everyone ought to obey. But is it so with us? we know and cannot help knowing that the law of our country is not the one eternal law; that it is only one of the many laws of different countries, which are equally imperfect, often obviously wrong and unjust, and are criticised from every point of view in the newspapers. The Jew might well obey his laws, since he had not the slightest doubt that God had written them with his finger; the Roman too might well obey the laws which he thought had been dictated by the nymph Egeria. Men might well observe the laws if they believed the Tzars who made them were God's anointed, or even if they thought they were the work of assemblies of lawgivers who had the power and the desire to make them as good as possible. But we all know how our laws are made. We have all been behind the scenes, we know that they are the product of covetousness, trickery, and party struggles; that there is not and cannot be any real justice in them. And so modern men cannot believe that obedience to civic or political laws can satisfy the demands of the reason or of human nature. Men have long ago recognized that it is irrational to obey a law the justice of which is very doubtful, and so they cannot but suffer in obeying a law which they do not accept as judicious and binding.
A man cannot but suffer when his whole life is defined beforehand for him by laws, which he must obey under threat of punishment, though he does not believe in their wisdom or justice, and often clearly perceives their injustice, cruelty, and artificiality.
We recognize the uselessness of customs and import duties, and are obliged to pay them. We recognize the uselessness of the expenditure on the maintenance of the Court and other members of Government, and we regard the teaching of the Church as injurious, but we are obliged to bear our share of the expenses of these institutions. We regard the punishments inflicted by law as cruel and shameless, but we must assist in supporting them. We regard as unjust and pernicious the distribution of landed property, but we are obliged to submit to it. We see no necessity for wars and armies, but we must bear terribly heavy burdens in support of troops and war expenses.
But this contradiction is nothing in comparison with the contradiction which confronts us when we turn to international questions, and which demands a solution under pain of the loss of the sanity and even the existence of the human race. That is the contradiction between the Christian conscience and war.
We are all Christian nations living the same spiritual life, so that every noble and pregnant thought, springing up at one end of the world, is at once communicated to the whole of Christian humanity and evokes everywhere the same emotion of pride and rejoicing without distinction of nationalities. We who love thinkers, philanthropists, poets, and scientific men of foreign origin, and are as proud of the exploits of Father Damien as if he were one of ourselves, we, who have a simple love for men of foreign nationalities, Frenchmen, Germans, Americans, and Englishmen, who respect their qualities, are glad to meet them and make them so warmly welcome, cannot regard war with them as anything heroic. We cannot even imagine without horror the possibility of a disagreement between these people and ourselves which would call for reciprocal murder. Yet we are all bound to take a hand in this slaughter which is bound to come to pass to-morrow – if not to-day.
It was very well for the Jew, the Greek, and the Roman to defend the independence of his nation by murder. For he piously believed that his people was the only true, fine, and good people dear to God, and all the rest were Philistines, barbarians. Men of mediæval times – even up to the end of the last and beginning of this century – might continue to hold this belief. But however much we work upon ourselves we cannot believe it. And this contradiction for men of the present day has become so full of horror that without its solution life is no longer possible.
"We live in a time which is full of inconsistencies," writes Count Komarovsky, the professor of international law, in his learned treatise. "The press of all countries is continually expressing the universal desire for peace, and the general sense of its necessity for all nations.
"Representatives of governments, private persons, and official organs say the same thing; it is repeated in parliamentary debates, diplomatic correspondence, and even in state treaties. At the same time governments are increasing the strength of their armies every year, levying fresh taxes, raising loans, and leaving as a bequest to future generations the duty of repairing the blunders of the senseless policy of the present. What a striking contrast between words and deeds! Of course governments will plead in justification of these measures that all their expenditure and armament are exclusively for purposes of defense. But it remains a mystery to every disinterested man whence they can expect attacks if all the great powers are single-hearted in their policy, in pursuing nothing but self-defense. In reality it looks as if each of the great powers were every instant anticipating an attack on the part of the others. And this results in a general feeling of insecurity and superhuman efforts on the part of each government to increase their forces beyond those of the other powers. Such a competition of itself increases the danger of war. Nations cannot endure the constant increase of armies for long, and sooner or later they will prefer war to all the disadvantages of their present position and the constant menace of war. Then the most trifling pretext will be sufficient to throw the whole of Europe into the fire of universal war. And it is a mistaken idea that such a crisis might deliver us from the political and economical troubles that are crushing us. The experience of the wars of latter years teaches us that every war has only intensified national hatreds, made military burdens more crushing and insupportable, and rendered the political and economical position of Europe more grievous and insoluble."
"Modern Europe keeps under arms an active army of nine millions of men," writes Enrico Ferri, "besides fifteen millions of reserve, with an outlay of four hundred millions of francs per annum. By continual increase of the armed force, the sources of social and individual prosperity are paralyzed, and the state of the modern world may be compared to that of a man who condemns himself to wasting from lack of nutrition in order to provide himself with arms, losing thereby the strength to use the arms he provides, under the weight of which he will at last succumb."