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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Perplexity of Modern Thought

Perplexity of Modern Thought.

Is it not an astounding fact—I take it to be an indisputable fact—that at the end of the nineteenth century of the so-called Christian dispensation a very large number of the most cultivated, the most thoughtful, the most sober-minded, and the most upright men in all the civilised and Christian countries of the world, are really unable to determine whether good and sufficient reasons can be found for belief in the existence of God, and whether there is any basis for morality other than supposed personal interest or utility? We cannot page 23 wonder, though we may well be appalled to observe, that this mental paralysis of a large number of the leaders of men in every country is extending rapidly to all classes, and is plainly disturbing the springs of action in almost every department of human activity, and in every region of human thought. In religion, in politics, in literature, in art, in the social relations, in scientific research itself, the human mind at this day is divided, weak, irresolute, perplexed, unregulated by a single ascertained and unquestioned law. And this, too, at a time when civilisation is threatened in some countries by new and hitherto unknown perils. Never before in the history of the world have the elements of evil and of danger to human society confederated on a scale so vast, and with purposes so deadly, as at present. Never before have the elements of good appeared to be so incapable of combining against the enemies of all. It seems as if the world were hurrying towards the realisation of that picture of universal intellectual and moral anarchy in which the human mind is seen to perish, while the animal life of man, and even the material civilisation of the race, survive—one of the most terrible pictures ever painted by a poet's imagination, and which we are told the painter himself could not to the end of his life ever look at without being moved to tears.

"She comes! she comes! the sable throne behold
Of night primeval and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy's gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rainbows die away.
Wit shoots in vain its momentary fires,
The meteor drops, and in a flash expires.
As one by one, at dread Medea's strain,
The sick'ning stars fade off th' ethereal plain;
As Argus' eyes by Hermes' wand opprest,
Closed one by one to everlasting rest;
Tims at her felt approach and secret might
Art after Art goes out, and all is night.
See skulking Truth to her old cavern fled,
Mountains of casuistry heaped o'er her head!
Philosophy, that leaned on Heaven before.
Shrinks to her second cause, and is no more.
Religion blushing veils her sacred fires,
And, unawares, Morality expires.
Nor public flame, nor private dares to shine,
Nor human spark is left, nor glimpse divine.
Lo! thy dread empire, Chaos, is restored,
Light (lies before thy uncreating word.
Thy hand, great Anarch, lets the curtain fall,
And universal darkness buries all."

We do not, of course, believe that this catastrophe imagined by Pope will finally overtake and overwhelm the human mind, though as yet the way of escape may not be apparent. Science itself seems to forbid that thought of utter despair. It is a wholly incredible supposition that the light which has guided humanity so far in its painful but inevitable struggle upwards on the eternal hills to the point that it has already reached will be suddenly and finally withdrawn. The power which has been man's help in the ages that are past is, and must be, a rational ground of his hope in years to page 24 come. But let us not forget that dangers that have been created by human ignorance and causeless dissensions will certainly be averted only by the instrumentality of wise and united human efforts. The salvation of the mind of Christendom at present appears to depend, so far as we can venture to hazard an opinion, upon union amongst laymen of all churches, who still retain an intelligent hold upon the ultimate object of faith, and who will combine to cast out from their own minds and from the Christian churches the spectres of old and now discredited fallacies.

For my part, I believe—and this, my deep conviction, is the last result of my reflections, which I shall "whisper" to you, my brother laymen, to-night—that it were the part of highest wisdom for you and for me, and for all thinkers everywhere, in this day of rising floods and beating wind, to withdraw resolutely and with all speed from all the lower standpoints of thought that are now no longer tenable, and to meet on the high central platform of thought—the rock of all ages, whereon every human mind may, if it will, build for itself a secure and indestructible abode—God, "the living Will that shall endure when all that seems shall suffer shock"—God, revealed to the intellect in every minute movement of matter, and in all the phenomena of this vast universe—God, revealed anew to the intellect, and also to the responsive human heart, as the Father, the Friend, the Guide, and the Support of our race, and of every member of it, in the simple but profound philosophy, and also in the sublimest life, of Jesus of Nazareth, the Light of the World.

Stillwell and Co., Printers Melbourne