Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Spirit of the New Faith
By Octavius Brooks Frothingham (18221895)
[Discourse quoted in Frothingham and the New Faith. 1876.]
WHAT is the new faith? What is its peculiarity? What is its intellectual ground? The new faith rests frankly and composedly upon the doctrine of evolution; not maintaining the doctrine in any dogmatic sense; not pretending to define it with scientific accuracy; but accepting it in its broad meaning and lofty significance; planting itself upon it as the most probable account of the worlds existence. Instead of believing that the creative power and wisdom interposes to carry out special plans, and to impart special ideas to the race, it is persuaded that from the very beginningfrom the veriest beginningthings have been working themselves gradually out into intelligent forms, into beautiful shapes, into varied use, loveliness, and power. It contends that the world of humanity began at the beginning and not at the end. It therefore discards miracles, rejects everything like supernatural interposition, considers as obsolete the popular theory of revelation. It has no inspired books distinguished in character and contents from the worlds best literatures. It sets up no teachers and prophets as proclaiming an infallible word. It expects no infallible word from any quarter. It reads no book with absolute or entire reverence such as no other literature can receive. It sees the work of the supreme will and wisdom in the ordinary texture of the world, hailing its vital presence as an influence working toward light, order, righteousness, goodness, perfection in individual man and in the social groupings of mankind which are called societies. Planting itself upon this idea, the spirit that animates it must be peculiarly its own. It cannot be narrow, dogmatical, or exclusive; nor can it be negative, scornful, or contemptuous. It stands beyond the very last attainment in charity .
The new faith rises beyond charity to appreciation. It has no contempt; it has no toleration; it has no active or passive indifference; it has more than negative good will; it has the warm sentiment of brotherhood. It can turn to the most abject forms of faith, the forms commonly regarded as superstition, and recognize their importance, their timeliness, even their benignity, in the periods when they prevailed. It can do justice to their intent, their purpose, their being, when faith alone discloses it. It can interpret their significance to their own believers unaware of their spiritual sense. It has no language of disparagement for men like Mahomet, Confucius, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Socrates, or any other renowned teacher, reformer, or saint. It has no words of scorn for men like Voltaire, Thomas Paine, dHolbach, Helvetius, Bolingbroke, the so-called, the self-styled infidels or atheists of their day. It takes these men at their besttakes their systems by their positive elements, enters into their state of mind, their purposes and wishes, interprets them from the inside motives that actuated them, and holds them to account for what they meant to do and be, presenting them as objects of regard to the fellow-creatures whom they thought to serve. The new faith takes the old faiths by one hand and the modern faiths by the other, embraces all earnest people, and cordially says: Let us be friends; we are all working together, thinking, hoping, feeling our way into the realms of truth, conspiring to further the welfare of mankind. The new faith, thus taking every mode of thought at its best, not at its worst, can do justice even to abhorrent opinions. It says to the atheist: You deny the existence of God; you take Deity out of the Heavens, leaving none but natural and human forces in the world; very well, then put Deity into your hearts. You say there is no Creator of the Universe; but there must be creative power somewhere; be yourself a creator. Do your utmost to put the regenerating powers that are within you into the task of making the material and moral world what it should be. You ridicule the idea of a Divine Providence; but somebody must provide; be a providence yourself in your own place and after your own fashiona human providence, watchful, careful, helpful, kind. Show humanity that man has the capacity in himself for supplying his own necessities; logic compels you to this; compels you to look up, not down; to rank yourself with the affirmers, not with the deniers; with the builders, not with the destroyers; with the worshippers, not the desecrators.
The new faith approaches the materialist in the same spirit. It says to him: Be consistent with your own creed, and fulfil its positive requirements. You say there is no spirit in man or out of him; that matter is all in all. Very well, spiritualize matter by exalting all its capabilities. You are bound to develop all the potencies of organization; it is incumbent upon you, as you maintain that there is no supernatural, superhuman world, to unfold the possibilities of this world. You are certain that there is no hereafter; teach men to honor, love, glorify their existence. Teach them to believe in this life; believe yourself that the next life is the nearest life, and the nearest life is the life of to-day; show them that you understand the worth of the hours; make this life eternal, by packing it full of purposes and deeds that never perish .
When faith shall stand upon a spirit as live, sweet, tender, and encouraging as this, at once all heretics will be disarmed. The wars between the churches will cease; sectarian hatred must be at an end; religionist will no longer clutch religionist by the throat and drag him down. All true seekers, believers, hopers, aspirers, workers, will be confessed by one body, one fellowship, one family, contending together zealously to bring in a new order of things. This is the spirit of the new faith. Toleration it looks upon as utterly unwarranted. Charity at its best is exceedingly imperfect. It will accept nothing else than cordial and full appreciation of every earnest endeavor that is made by any thinker or worker for humanity.