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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1913

The Heretics' Club

page 52

The Heretics' Club.

"Religion is nothing but a common view of the nature of will, the purpose of life, the design of organism, and the intention of evolution."

Bernard Shaw.

It need only be added that the Heretics' Club exists as a medium to enable students to arrive at such a common view.

At the thirteenth meeting of the Club, held on 13th June, Professor McKenzie read a paper on "The Pragmatic Test." The problems that Religion dealt with, stated the lecturer, could be escaped by no thinking individual. Our rational faculty must have its place in Religion. To-day a revolution in religious thought was going on: the Christian Ethic was now on its trial. The speaker proceeded to discuss the origin and development of the idea of God. The facts of Totemism and Fetichism showed us how Theism began, and the arguments in favour of a theistic interpretation of the universe fell into five classes—the Ontological, the Cosmological, the Teleological, the Ethical, and the Intuitional. The all important question is: Of what value is the Theistic interpretation to man? The lecturer stated his opinion that the supreme test of Religion lay in the sphere of Ethics. From the Pragmatic point of view, Religion and Ethics were the same thing. The facts of moral psychology suggest the Theistic interpretation; the Pragmatic test of Religion comes by Ethical verification.

A largely attended meeting of the Club was held on 15th August, when Professor Hunter contributed a paper on "The Ten Commandments and the Christian State." The Professor founded his argument on the statement "that a contradiction in the basis of morals must work out in immorality.' A system of morals upon both a humanistic and a supernaturalistic basis could not be sound. A consideration of the great diversity of opinion that existed in Religion to-day and of the course of history during the last 2000 years must convince the impartial student that the State can no longer be truly described as Christian. The fact seemed to be now that the Church, so far from leading the world, had actually been forced to reform itself by external influences. In the progress of the world the Church had been left far behind. The fact was nowhere better illustrated than in the Decalogue, which to the Christian was still the basis of morality. A notable thing about the Decalogue, which was promulgated as a moral code for all time by God, page 53 was the fact that eight of the Commandments were negative injunctions; and negative injunctions are not calculated to develop character. The first commandment did not involve a high moral conception. The second was chiefly remarkable as being a fruitful source of Blasphemy. To it we owed the Blasphemy Laws. The Third Commandment seemed altogether inapplicable to the circumstances of the present day. Ministers of Religion, themselves, were not only compelled to break in, but apparently were troubled by no scruples in so doing. The Fifth Commandment was one that had been more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The pernicious influent of the Sixth Commandment could be seen from an early date from the favourable view with which the Church regarded celibacy. In spite of the Eighth Commandment, a strictly honest tradesman to-day could hardly hold his own against competition. With a cheerful disregard of the Ninth Commandment, the Church, throughout the ages, had most diligently persecuted the honest searcher for truth. The lecturer concluded by reiterating his statement that there can be one basis only for morality, and that a naturalistic one.

On 12th September Mr. Kwei Chih, Consul in New Zealand for China, addressed the Club on ''Chinese Political Philosophy." The meeting, as was to be expected, was a largely attended one. In view of the wonderful and woeful views that many good people have of China and her inhabitants, we need offer no excuse for quoting extensively from Mr. Kwei's paper. "Social intercourse and a free exchange of views are necessary if the well-being of humanity is to be advanced, and as we are all members of the great human family, it is our duty to endeavour to open up a path whereby our views may be brought as nearly as possible in unison." Is there a Constitution in China? If by a Constitution one means a body of customs, traditions, precedents as that of England, China has one. As the Christian cherished the Scriptures; the English, Magna Carta, and the Americans, the Constitution; so the Chinese cherish the Confucian classics. These are a mixture of Politics and Ethics, with a great preponderance of the former over the latter. The deeds and words of illustrious rulers, the teaching and doctrines of the sages and philosophers recorded in the classics, forming mandatory directions on the one hand, and the precedents created in the long disuse of the former Imperial prerogatives of an opposing nature acting as limitations on the other, constitute what may be called in China the law of the land. Of a nearly equal power and influence, and springing into page 54 existence almost at the same time with the Confucian school, was the school of Lan-tse, who has been regarded as the founder of the latitudinarian and laissez-faire principle in China. Two centuries later, an apostle of the school of Lao-tse, named Chong-tse; a man of towering intellect, was born. As to his political views, the following passages will give you an idea:—"There has been such a thing as letting mankind alone; there has never been such a thing as governing mankind." "As long as great rulers do not die, so long will there be robbers." "Away then with wisdom and knowledge, and great robbers will disappear." "Utterly abolish all the restrictions of sages, and the people will begin to be fit for the reception of true cold reason." Do you not think that the above views are identified with some of the modern political movements? Confucianism has been adopted for centuries, and has been specially encouraged by the authorities, and has therefore been a predominant force to the Chinese thinking world. It has affected the political organisation of the country, and has permeated the social life of the Chinese." Mr. Kwei proceeded to compare the philosophical views of Spencer, Mill, and Huxley with those of Mencius and Hsin-tse. Mill's views on human nature were at every point identical with those of Mencius. Mencius con-ceived a state of social harmony so complete that in it even the antagonism between altruism and egoism would be overcome. "We see that not only arc the views on human nature of Mencius identical with those of Spencer and Mill, but they also preach utilitarianism. Thus we bring together Eastern and Western thought separated by great distances in space and centuries in time." The lecturer concluded by stating "Confucianism was and still is the most representative of the political ideas and notions of the Chinese people because Confucius embraced in his political philosophy all that the people at large had for ages delighted in and been accustomed to. One thing is certain, when there is a tacit convention that principle are not to be disputed, where the discussion of the greatest questions that can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable. When people made a temporary approach to such a character, it was because the dread of heterodox speculation was for a time suspended. So to-day the best scholarship of the country inclines to believe that the doctrines of the various schools, by coming into contact with Western civilization, will survive this rude treatment, and in time, after having discarded their incongruities, will come out triumphant."