Read LECTURE II - THE NEED FOR RELIGION of Christianity and Progress , free online book, by Harry Emerson Fosdick, on


One of the first effects of the idea of progress, whose development our last lecture traced, has been to increase immeasurably man’s self reliance and to make him confident of humanity’s power to take care of itself. At the heart of the idea of progress is man’s new scientific control over life, and this new mastery, whereby the world seems ready to serve the purposes of those who will learn the laws, is the dominant influence in both the intellectual and practical activities of our age. That religion, in consequence, should seem to many of minor import, if not quite negligible, and that men, trusting themselves, their knowledge of law, their use of law-abiding forces, their power to produce change and to improve conditions, should find less need of trusting any one except themselves, was inevitable, but for all that it is fallacious. Already we have seen that a stumbling and uneven progress, precarious and easily frustrated, taking place upon a transient planet, goes but a little way to meet those elemental human needs with which religious faith has dealt. In our present lecture we propose a more specific consideration of this abiding necessity of religion in a progressive world.

How difficult it is to go back in imagination to the days before men grasped the meaning of natural law! We take gravitation for granted but, when Newton first proclaimed its law, the artillery of orthodox pulpits was leveled against him in angry consternation. Said one preacher, Newton “took from God that direct action on his works so constantly ascribed to him in Scripture and transferred it to material mechanism” and he “substituted gravitation for Providence.” That preacher saw truly that the discovery of natural law was going to make a profound difference to religion. For ages men had been accustomed to look for the revelation of supernatural power in realms where they did not know the laws. And as men were tempted to look for the presence of God in realms where they did not know the laws, so in those realms they trusted God to do for them what they did not know how to do for themselves.

Then men began discovering natural laws, and every time they laid their hands on a new natural law they laid their hands on a new law-abiding force and began doing for themselves things of which their fathers had never dreamed. Stories of old-time miracles are overpassed in our modern days. Did Aladdin once rub a magic lamp and build a palace? To-day, knowledge of engineering laws enables us to achieve results that would put Aladdin quite to shame. He never dreamed a Woolworth Tower. Did the Israelites once cross the Red Sea dry-shod? One thing, however, they never would have hoped to do: to cross under and over the Hudson River day after day in multitudes, dry-shod. Did an axe-head float once when Elisha threw a stick into the water? But something no Elisha ever dreamed of seeing we see continually: iron ships navigating the ocean as though it were their natural element. Did Joshua once prolong the day for battle by the staying of the sun? Yet Joshua could never have conceived an habitual lighting of the city’s homes and streets until by night they are more brilliant than by day. Did Jericho’s walls once fall at the united shout of a besieging people? Those childlike besiegers, however, never dreamed of guns that could blast Jerichos to pieces from seventy miles away. Huxley was right when he said that our highly developed sciences have given us a command over the course of non-human nature greater than that once attributed to the magicians.

The consequence has been revolutionary. Old cries of dependence upon God grow unreal upon the lips of multitudes. Sometimes without knowing it, often without wanting it, men are drawn by the drift of modern thought away from all confidence in God and all consciousness of religious need. Consider two pictures. The first is an epidemic in New England in the seventeenth century. Everybody is thinking about God; the churches are full and days are passed in fasting and agonizing prayer. Only one way of getting rid of such an epidemic is known: men must gain new favour in the sight of God. The second picture is an epidemic in New England in the twentieth century. The churches are not full they are closed by official order and popular consent to prevent the spread of germs. Comparatively few people are appealing to God; almost everybody is appealing to the health commissioner. Not many people are relying upon religion; everybody is relying upon science. As one faces the pregnant significance of that contrast, one sees that in important sections of our modern life science has come to occupy the place that God used to have in the reliance of our forefathers. For the dominant fact of our generation is power over the world which has been put into our hands through the knowledge of laws, and the consequence is that the scientific mastery of life seems man’s indispensable and sufficient resource.

The issue is not far to seek. Such has been public confidence in the efficacy and adequacy of this scientific control of life to meet all human needs, that in multitudes of minds religion has been crowded to the wall. Why should we trust God or concern ourselves with the deep secrets of religious faith, if all our need is met by learning laws, blowing upon our hands, and going to work? So even Christians come secretly to look upon their Christianity as a frill, something gracious but not indispensable, pleasant to live with but not impossible to live without. Christian preachers lose their ability, looking first upon their spiritual message and then upon their fellow men, to feel how desperately the two need each other. Religion has become an “elective in the university of life.” But religion cannot persist as a frill; it either is central in its importance or else it is not true at all. Its great days come only when it is seen to be indispensable. We may use what artificial respiration we will upon the Church, the days of the Church’s full power will not come until the conviction lays hold upon her that the endeavour to found civilization upon a materialistic science is leading us to perdition; that man needs desperately the ministry of religion, its insight into life’s meanings, its control over life’s use, its inward power for life’s moral purposes; that man never needed this more than now, when the scientific control of life is arming him with so great ability to achieve his aims.


As we try to discern wherein man’s need of religion lies with reference to the scientific control of life, let us start with the proposition that, when we have all the facts which science can discover, we still need a spiritual interpretation of the facts. All our experiences are made up of two elements: first, the outward circumstance, and second, the inward interpretation. On the one side is our environment, the world we live in, the things that befall us, the kaleidoscopic changes of fortune in the scenery of which our lives are set. On the other side are the inward interpretations that we give to this outward circumstance. Experience is compounded of these two elements.

This clearly is true in ordinary living. Two men, let us say, go to their physicians and are told that they have only a few months to live. This is the fact which faces both of them. As we watch them, however, we are at once aware that this fact is not the whole of their experience. One of the men crumples up; he “collapses into a yielding mass of plaintiveness and fear.” Thinking of the event which he is facing, he sees nothing there but horror. That is his interpretation of it. The other man so looks upon the event which is coming that his family, far from having to support his spirit, are supported by him. He buoys them up; he carries them along; his faith and courage are contagious; and when he thinks of his death it appears in his eyes a great adventure concerning which the old hymn told the truth:

“It were a well-spent journey
Though seven deaths lay between.”

That is his interpretation. As we regard the finished experiences of these two men, we see clearly that, while the same fact lay at the basis of both, it was the inward interpretation that determined the quality of the experience.

This power to transform facts so that they will be no longer merely facts, but facts plus an interpretation, is one of the most distinctive and significant elements in human life. The animals do not possess it. An event befalls a dog and, when the dog is through with it, the event is what it was before. The dog has done nothing to it. But the same event befalls a man and at once something begins to happen to it. It is clothed in the man’s thought about it; it is dressed in his appreciation and understanding; it is transformed by his interpretations. The event comes out of that man’s life something altogether different from what it was when it went in. The man can do almost anything with that event. For our experiences do not fall into our lives in single lumps, like meteors from a distant sky of fate; our experiences always are made up of the fortunes that befall us and the interpretations that we give to them.

So far as the relative importance of these two factors is concerned, we may see the truth in the application of our thought to happiness. If there is any area in human experience where the outward circumstance might be supposed to control the results, it is the realm of happiness; yet probably nine-tenths of the problem of happiness lies, not in the outward event, but in the inward interpretation. If we could describe those conditions in which the happiest people whom we have known have lived, can any one imagine the diversity of environment that would be represented in our accounts? Let them move in procession before the eyes of our imagination, those happy folk whose friendship has been the benediction of our lives! What a motley company they are! For some are blind, and some are crippled, and some are invalid; not many are rich and fortunate; many are poor a company of handicapped but radiant spirits whose victorious lives, like the burning bush which Moses saw, have made in a desert a spot of holy ground. If, now, we ask why it is that happiness can be so amazingly independent of outward circumstance, this is the answer: every experience has two factors, the fortune that befalls and the inward interpretation of it; and, while we often cannot control the fortune, we always can help with the interpretation. That is in our power. That is the throne of our sovereignty over our lives.


The deep need of a worthy interpretation of life is just as urgent in a world where the idea of progress reigns as in any other, and to supply that need is one of the major functions of religion. For religion is something more than all the creeds that have endeavoured to express its thought. Religion is something more than all the organizations that have tried to incarnate its purposes. Religion is the human spirit, by the grace of God, seeking and finding an interpretation of experience that puts sense and worth, dignity, elevation, joy, and hope into life.

A body of students recently requested an address upon the subject: “What is the use of religion anyway?” The group of ideas behind the question is not hard to guess: that science gives us all the facts, that facts and their laws are all we need, that the scientific control of life guarantees progress, and that religion therefore is superfluous. But in such a statement one towering interrogation has been neglected: what about the interpretation of the very facts which science does present? Could not one address himself to the question of those students in some such way as this? You say that science has disclosed to us the leisureliness of the evolving universe. Come back, then, on the long road to the rear on which Bishop Usher’s old date of creation is a way station an infinitesimal distance behind us; come back until together we stand at the universe’s postern gate and look out into the mystery whence all things came, where no scientific investigation can ever go, where no one knows the facts. What do you make of it? Two voices rise in answer. One calls the world “a mechanical process, in which we may discover no aim or purpose whatever.” And another voice says:

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament showeth his handiwork.”

That is not a difference in facts, upon which we can get our hands. That is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or come forward together to look into that mystery ahead, toward which this universe and we within it are so prodigiously plunging on. Do we not often feel, upon this earth whirling through space, like men and women who by some weird chance have found themselves upon a ship, ignorant of their point of departure and of their destination? For all the busyness with which we engage in many tasks, we cannot keep ourselves from slipping back at times to the ship’s stern to look out along its wake and wonder whence we came, or from going at times also to its prow to wonder whither we are headed. What do you make of it? Toward what sort of haven is this good ship earth sailing a port fortunate or ill? Or may it be there is no haven, only endless sailing on an endless sea by a ship that never will arrive? So questioning, we listen to conflicting voices. One says there is no future except ultimate annihilation, and another voice sings:

“All we have willed or hoped or dreamed
of good, shall exist.”

That is not a difference in the facts, that eyes can see and hands handle; that is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or from such large considerations come down into some familiar experience of daily life. Here is a man having a hard battle between right and wrong. There is no more impressive sight on earth to one who looks at it with understanding eyes. What do you make of this mysterious sense of duty which lays its magisterial hand upon us and will not be denied? At once various voices rise. Haeckel says the sense of duty is a “long series of phyletic modifications of the phronema of the cortex.” That is his interpretation. And Wordsworth:

“Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!
O Duty!”

This sharp contrast is not a difference between facts, which can be pinned down as the Lilliputians pinned down Gulliver; it is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Or let us go together up some high hill from which we can look out upon the strange history of humankind. We see its agonies and wars, its rising empires followed by their ruinous collapse, and yet a mysterious advance, too, as though mankind, swinging up a spiral, met old questions upon a higher level, so that looking back to the Stone Age, for all the misery of this present time, we would be rather here than there. What can we make of it? Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer says “All this life is the shuddering of a fever.” And Paul says, “the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ.” That is not a difference in the facts. It is a difference in the interpretation of the facts.

Yet once more, come into the presence of death. The facts that human eyes can see are plain enough, but what can we make of it this standing on the shore, waving farewell to a friendly ship that loses itself over the rim of the world? Says Thomson of the world’s treatment of man,

“It grinds him some slow years of bitter breath,
Then grinds him back into eternal death.”

And Paul says: “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” That is not a contrast between facts; that is a contrast between interpretations of facts.

Is it not plain why religion has such an unbreakable hold upon the human mind? The funeral of Christianity has been predicted many times but each time the deceased has proved too lively for the obsequies. In the middle of the eighteenth century they said that Christianity had one foot in the grave, but then came the amazing revival of religious life under the Wesleys. In the middle of the last century one wiseacre said, “In fifty years your Christianity will have died out”; yet, for all our failures, probably Christianity in all its history has never made more progress than in the last half century. If you ask why, one reason is clear: man cannot live in a universe of uninterpreted facts. The scientific approach to life is not enough. It does not cover all the ground. Men want to know what life spiritually means and they want to know that it “means intensely, and means good.” Facts alone are like pieces of irritating grit that get into the oyster shell; the pearl of life is created by the interpretations which the facts educe.

In this difference between the facts of experience and their interpretations lies the secret of the contrast between our two words existence and life. Even before we define the difference, we feel it. To exist is one thing; to live is another. Existence is comprised of the bare facts of life alone the universe in which we live, our heritage and birth, our desires and their satisfactions, growth, age and death. All the facts that science can display before us comprise existence. But life is something more. Life is existence clothed in spiritual meanings; existence seen with a worthy purpose at the heart of it and hope ahead, existence informed by the spirit’s insights and understandings, transfigured and glorified by the spirit’s faiths and hopes. It follows, therefore, that while existence is given us to start with, life is a spiritual achievement. A man must take the facts of his existence whether he wants to or not, but he makes his life by the activity of his soul. The facts of existence are like so much loose type, which can be set up to many meanings. One man leaves those facts in chaotic disarrangement or sets them up into cynical affirmations, and he exists. But another man takes the same facts and by spiritual insight makes them mean gloriously, and he lives indeed. To suppose that mankind ever can be satisfied with existence only and can be called off from the endeavour to achieve this more abundant life, is utterly to misconceive the basic facts of human nature. And this profound need for a spiritual interpretation of life is not satisfied by an idea of temporal progress, stimulated by a few circumstances which predispose our minds to immediate expectancy.


When, therefore, any one asserts the adequacy of the scientific approach to life, one answer stands ready to our hand: science deals primarily with facts and their laws, not with their spiritual interpretations. To put the same truth in another way, science deals with one specially abstracted aspect of the facts; it drains them of their qualitative elements and, reducing them to their quantitative elements, it proceeds to weigh and measure them and state their laws. It moves in the realm of actualities and not in the realm of values. One science, for example, takes a gorgeous sunset and reduces it to the constituent ether waves that cause the colour. What it says about the sunset is true, but it is not the whole truth. Ask anybody who has ever seen the sun riding like a golden galleon down the western sea! Another science takes a boy and reduces him to his Bertillon measurements and at the top of the statistics writes his name, “John Smith.” That is the truth about John Smith, but it is not the whole truth. Ask his mother and see! Another science takes our varied and vibrant mental life and reduces it to its physical basis and states its laws. That is the truth about our mental life, but it is not the whole truth. What is more, it is not that part of the truth by which men really live. For men live by love and joy and hope and faith and spiritual insight. When these things vanish life is

“a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

When a man takes that quantitative aspect of reality, which is the special province of natural science, as though it were the whole of reality, he finds himself in a world where the physical forces are in control. We, ourselves, according to this aspect of life, are the product of physical forces marionettes, dancing awhile because physical forces are pulling on the strings. In a word, when a man takes that quantitative aspect of reality, which natural science presents, as though it were the whole of reality, he becomes a materialistic fatalist, and on that basis we cannot permanently build either personal character or a stable civilization. It is not difficult, then, to see one vital significance of Jesus Christ: he has given us the most glorious interpretation of life’s meaning that the sons of men have ever had. The fatherhood of God, the friendship of the Spirit, the sovereignty of righteousness, the law of love, the glory of service, the coming of the Kingdom, the eternal hope there never was an interpretation of life to compare with that. If life often looks as though his interpretation were too good to be true, we need not be surprised. Few things in the universe are as superficially they look. The earth looks flat and, as long as we gaze on it, it never will look any other way, but it is spherical for all that. The earth looks stationary and if we live to be as old as Methuselah we never will see it move, but it is moving seventy-five times faster than a cannon ball! The sun looks as though it rose in the east and set in the west, and we never can make it look any other way, but it does not rise nor set at all. So far as this earth is concerned, the sun is standing still enough. We look as though we walked with our heads up and our feet down, and we never can make ourselves look otherwise, but someone finding a safe stance outside this whirling sphere would see us half the time walking with our heads down and our feet up. Few things are ever the way they look, and the end of all scientific research, as of all spiritual insight, is to get behind the way things look to the way things are. Walter Pater has a rememberable phrase, “the hiddenness of perfect things.” One meaning, therefore, which Christ has for Christians lies in the realm of spiritual interpretation. He has done for us there what Copernicus and Galileo did in astronomy: he has moved us out from our flat earth into his meaningful universe, full of moral worth and hope. He has become to us in this, our inner need, what the luminous phrase of the Book of Job describes, “An interpreter, one among a thousand.” And in spite of all our immediate expectancy, born out of our scientific control of life, mankind never needed that service more than now.


There is a second proposition to which we should attend as we endeavour to define the need for religion with reference to the scientific mastery of life. Consider why so often men are tempted to suppose that science is adequate for human purposes. Is it not because science supplies men with power? Steam, electricity, petroleum, radium with what progressive mastery over the latent resources of the universe does science move from one area of energy to another, until in the imagination of recent generations she has seemed to stand saying: all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. With such power to bestow, is she not our rightful mistress? But who that has walked with discerning eyes through these last few years can any longer be beguiled by that fallacious vision? Look at what we are doing with this new power that science has given us! The business to which steel and steam and electricity, explosives and poisons have recently been put does not indicate that humanity’s problem is solved when new power is put into our hands. Even the power of wide-spread communication can so be used that a war which began in Serajevo will end with lads from Kamchatka and Bombay blasted to pieces by the same shell on a French battlefield. Even the power of modern finance can be so used that nations will exhaust the credit of generations yet unborn in waging war. How some folk keep their cheap and easy optimism about humanity’s use of its new energies is a mystery. We have come pretty near to ruining ourselves with them already. If we do not achieve more spiritual control over them than we have yet exhibited we will ruin ourselves with them altogether. Once more in history a whole civilization will commit suicide like Saul falling on his own sword.

The scientific control of life, by itself, creates more problems than it solves. The problem of international disarmament, for example, has been forced on us by the fear of that perdition to the suburbs of which our race has manifestly come through the misuse of scientific knowledge. Humanity is disturbed about itself because it has discovered that it is in possession of power enough to wreck the world. Never before did mankind have so much energy to handle. Multitudes of people, dubious as to whether disarmament is practical, are driven like shuttles back and forth between that doubt, upon the one side, and the certainty, upon the other, that armament is even less practical. The statisticians have been at work upon this last war and their figures, like the measurements of the astronomers, grow to a size so colossal that the tentacles of our imaginations slip off them when we try to grasp their size. The direct costs of this last war, which left us with more and harder difficulties than we had at the beginning, were about $186,000,000,000. Is that practical? At the beginning of 1922 almost all the nations in Europe, although by taxation they were breaking their people’s financial backs, were spending far more than their income, and in the United States, far and away the richest nation on the planet, we faced an enormous deficit. Is that practical? In this situation, with millions of people unemployed, with starvation rampant, with social revolution stirring in every country not because people are bad, not because they impatiently love violence, but because they cannot stand forever the social strain and economic consequence of war what were we doing? We were launching battleships which cost $42,000,000 to build, which cost $2,000,000 a year to maintain and which, in a few years, would be towed out to sea to be used as an experimental target to try out some new armour-piercing shell. I wonder if our children’s children will look back on that spectacle and call it practical. In 1912 the naval expenses of this country were about $136,000,000. In 1921 our naval expenses were about $641,000,000 approximately five times greater in nine years. So over all the earth war preparations were pyramiding with an ever accelerating momentum. And because any man can see that we must stop sometime, we have been trying desperately to stop now; to turn our backs upon this mad endeavour to build civilization upon a materialistic basis, bulwarked by physical force; to turn our faces toward spiritual forces, fair play, reasonable conference, good-will, service and co-operation.

Yet how hard it is to make the change effective! Long ages ago in the primeval jungle, the dogs’ ancestors used to turn around three times in the thicket before they lay down, that they might make a comfortable spot to nestle in, and now your highbred Pekingese will turn around three times upon his silken cushion although there is no earthly reason why he should. So difficult is it to breed beasts and men out of their inveterate habits. So hard is it going to be to make men give up the idea that force is a secure foundation for international relationships. Yet somehow that change must be made. They are having trouble with the housing problem in Tokyo and the reason is simple. Tokyo is built on earthquake ground and it is insecure. You cannot put great houses on unstable foundations. One story, two stories, three stories that is about as high as they dare go. But in New York City one sees the skyscrapers reaching up their sixty stories into the air. The explanation is not difficult: Manhattan Island is solid rock. If you are going to build great structures you must have great foundations. And civilization is a vast and complicated structure. We cannot build it on physical force. That is too shaky. We must build it upon spiritual foundations.

There are those who suppose that this can be done by progress through the scientific control of life, and who treat religion as a negligible element. Such folk forget that while a cat will lap her milk contentedly from a saucer made of Wedgwood or china, porcelain or earthenware, and will feel no curiosity about the nature of the receptacle from which she drinks, human beings are not animals who thus can take their food and ask no questions about the universe in which it is served to them. We want to know about life’s origin and meaning and destiny. We cannot keep our questions at home. We cannot stop thinking. If this universe is fundamentally physical, if the only spark of spiritual life which it ever knew is the fitful flame of our own unsteady souls, if it came from dust and to dust will return, leaving behind no recollection of the human labour, sacrifice and aspiration which for a little time it unconsciously enshrined, that outlook makes an incalculable difference to our present lives. For then our very minds themselves, which have developed here by accident upon this wandering island in the skies, represent the only kind of mind there is, and what we do not know never was thought about or cared for or purposed by anyone, and we, alone in knowing, are ourselves unknown.

The consequence of this sort of thinking, which is the essence of irreligion, is to be seen on every side of us in folk who, having thus lost all confidence in God and the reality of the spiritual world, still try to labour for the good of men. They have kept one part of Christianity, its ideals of character and service; they have lost the other part, which assures them about God. In a word, they are trying to build an idealistic and serviceable life upon a godless basis. Now, the difficulty with this attitude toward life lies here: it demands a quality of spirit for which it cannot supply the motive. It demands social hope, confidence, enthusiasm and sacrifice, and all the while it cuts their nerves. It tells men that the universe is fundamentally a moral desert, that it never was intended even to have an oasis of civilization in it, that if we make one grow it will be by dint of our own effort against the deadset of the universe’s apathy, that if, by our toil, an oasis is achieved, it will have precarious tenure in such alien and inhospitable soil, and that in the end it will disappear before the onslaught of the cosmic forces; yet in the same breath it tells men to work for that oasis with hope, confidence, joy and enthusiastic sacrifice. This is a world view which asks of men a valorous and expensive service for which it cannot supply the driving power. Yet many of our universities are presenting just that outlook upon life to our young men and women. The youth are being urged to fight courageously and sacrificially for righteousness upon the earth, and at the same time they are presented with a view of the background and destiny of human life similar to that which Schopenhauer expressed: “Truly optimism cuts so sorry a figure in this theatre of sin, suffering, and death that we should have to regard it as a piece of sarcasm, if Hume had not explained its origin insincere flattery of God in the arrogant expectation of gain.”

What this generation, which so disparages religion and like the ancient Sadducee calls its good right arm its god, will ultimately discover is that the fight for righteousness in character and in society is a long and arduous campaign. The Bible says that a thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. It certainly seems that way. It is a long and roundabout journey to the Promised Land. Generations die and fall by the way. The road is white with the bones of pilgrims who attained not the promises but saw them and greeted them from afar. Some Giordano Bruno, who gives himself to the achievement of mankind’s high aims, is burned at the stake; centuries pass and on the very spot where he was martyred a monument is built with this inscription on it: “Raised to Giordano Bruno by the generation which he foresaw.” This is exhilarating when the story is finished, but in the meantime it is hard work being Giordano Bruno and sacrificially labouring for a cause which you care enough for and believe enough in and are sure enough about so that you will die for it. When such faith and hope and sacrifice are demanded one cannot get them by exhortation, by waving a wand of words to conjure his enthusiasm up. Nothing will do but a world-view adequate to supply motives for the service it demands. Nothing will do but religion.

One wonders why the preachers do not feel this more and so recover their consciousness of an indispensable mission. One wonders that the churches can be so timid and dull and negative, that our sermons can be so pallid and inconsequential. One wonders why in the pulpit we have so many flutes and so few trumpets. For here is a world with the accumulating energies of the new science in its hands, living in the purlieus of hell because it cannot gain spiritual mastery over the very power in which it glories. Here is a world which must build its civilization on spiritual bases or else collapse into abysmal ruin and which cannot achieve the task though all the motives of self-preservation cry out to have it done, because men lack the very elements of faith and character which it is the business of religion to supply.


We have said that when science has given us all its facts we still need a spiritual interpretation of the facts; that when science has put all its energies into our hands we still need spiritual mastery over their use. Let us say in conclusion that, when science has given us all its power, we still need another kind of power which it is not the business of science to supply. Long ago somebody who knew the inner meaning of religion wrote:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside still waters.
He restoreth my soul.”

That last phrase sums up one of the deepest needs of human life. We are in constant want of spiritual repair; we are lost without a fresh influx of inward power; we desperately need to have our souls restored. A young British soldier once came in from the trenches where his aggressive powers had been in full employ and, having heard one of the finest concert companies that London could send out, he wrote in a letter to his family: “I have just come down from the trenches, and have been listening to one of the best concerts I ever attended. It makes one feel that perhaps there is a good God after all.” The two aspects of life which that soldier discovered in himself all men possess. One takes us to life’s trenches; the other throws us back on some revelation of grace and beauty that we may be sure of God. With one we seek aggressively to master life; with the other we seek receptively to be inspired. Every normal man needs these two kinds of influence: one to send him informed and alert to his tasks, the other to float his soul off its sandbars on the rising tide of spiritual reassurance and power. Every normal man needs two attitudes: one when he goes into action determined to do his work and to do it well, and the other when he subdues his spirit to receptivity and with the Psalmist cries,

“My soul, wait thou in silence for God only;
For my expectation is from him.”

When science has given us all the power it can, we still need another kind of power which science cannot give.

Whatever else the scientific control of life may have accomplished, it has not saved mankind from the old and devastating problems of trouble and sin. So far as individual experience of these is concerned, there is little discernable difference between two thousand years before Christ and two thousand years afterward. Still disasters fall upon our lives, sometimes as swift in their assault as wild beasts leaping from an unsuspected ambush. Still troubles come, long drawn out and wearying, like the monotonous dripping of water with which old torturers used to drive their victims mad. Still sins bring shame to the conscience and tragic consequence to the life, and tiresome work, losing the buoyancy of its first inspiration, drags itself out into purposeless effort and bores us with its futility. Folk now, as much as ever in all history, need to have their souls restored. The scientific control of life, however, is not adequate for that. Electricity and subways and motor cars do not restore the soul; and to know that there are millions upon millions of solar systems, like our own, scattered through space does not restore the soul; and to delve in the sea or to fly in the air or to fling our words through the ether does not restore the soul. The need of religion is perennial and would be though our scientific control over life were extended infinitely beyond our present hope, for the innermost ministry of religion to human life is the restoration of the soul.

In this fact lies the failure of that type of naturalism which endeavours to keep religion as a subjective experience and denies the reality of an objective God. If we are not already familiar with this attempted substitution we soon shall be, for our young people are being taught it in many a classroom now. One of the basic principles of this new teaching is belief in the spiritual life but, when one inquires where the spiritual life is, he discovers that it is altogether within ourselves there is no original, creative and abiding Spiritual Life from whom we come, by whom we are sustained, in whom we live. Rather, as flowers reveal in their fragrance a beauty which is not in the earth where they grow nor in the roots on which they depend, so our spiritual life is the mysterious refinement of the material out of which we are constructed, and it has nothing to correspond with it in the source from which we sprang. Nevertheless, the new naturalism exalts this spiritual life within us, calls it our crown and glory, bids us cultivate and diffuse it, says about it nearly everything a Christian says except that it is a revelation of eternal reality. Moreover, it is difficult to differentiate from this outspoken group of professed naturalists another group of humanists who do retain the idea of God, but merely as the sum total of man’s idealistic life. “God,” says one exponent, “is the farthest outreach of our human ideals.” That is to say, our spiritual lives created God, not God our spiritual lives. God, as one enthusiastic devotee of this new cult has put it, is a sort of Uncle Sam, the pooling of the idealistic imaginations of multitudes. Of course he does not exist, yet in a sense he is real; he is the projection of our loyalties, affections, hopes.

It should go without saying that this idea of God has about as much intellectual validity as belief in Santa Claus and is even more sentimental, in that it is a deliberate attempt to disguise in pleasant and familiar terms a fundamentally materialistic interpretation of reality. The vital failure of this spiritualized naturalism, however, lies in the inability of its Uncle Sam to meet the deepest needs on account of which men at their best have been religious. This deified projection of our ideals we made up ourselves and so we cannot really pray to him; he does not objectively exist and so has no unifying meaning which puts purposefulness into creation and hope ahead of it; he does not care for any one or anything and so we may not trust him; and neither in sin can he forgive, cleanse, restore, empower, nor in sorrow comfort and sustain. A god who functions so poorly is not much of a god. Once more, therefore, one wonders why in a generation when, not less, but more, because of all our scientific mastery the souls of men are starved and tired, the Church is not captured by a new sense of mission. It is precisely in a day when the active and pugnacious energies of men are most involved in the conquest of the world that the spirit becomes most worn for lack of sustenance. To be assured of the nearness and reality and availability of the spiritual world is a matter of life and death to multitudes of folk to-day. There could hardly be a more alluring time in which to make the Holy Spirit real to the world. For the supreme moral asset in any man’s life is not his aggressiveness nor his pugnacity, but his capacity to be inspired to be inspired by great books, great music, by love and friendship; to be inspired by great faiths, great hopes, great ideals; to be inspired supremely by the Spirit of God. For so we are lifted until the things we tried to see and could not we now can see because of the altitude at which we stand, and the things we tried to do and could not we now can do because of the fellowship in which we live. To one asserting the adequacy of the scientific control of life, therefore, the Christian’s third answer is clear: man’s deepest need is spiritual power, and spiritual power comes out of the soul’s deep fellowships with the living God.

Such, then, is the abiding need of religion in a scientific age. To be scientifically minded is one of the supreme achievements of mankind. To love truth, as science loves it, to seek truth tirelessly, as science seeks it, to reveal the latent resources of the universe in hope that men will use them for good and not for evil, as science does, is one of the chief glories of our race. When, however, we have taken everything that science gives, it is not enough for life. When we have facts, we still need a spiritual interpretation of facts; when we have all the scientific forces that we can get our hands upon, we still need spiritual mastery over their use; and, beyond all the power that science gives, we need that inward power which comes from spiritual fellowships alone. Religion is indispensable. To build human life upon another basis is to erect civilization upon sand, where the rain descends and the floods come and the winds blow and beat upon the house and it falls and great is the fall thereof.