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A Pilgrimage To Perdition
by [?]

The church? What is it doing to extinguish the well-nigh shoreless Gehenna that threatens to engulf it? Drilling an augur-hole here and there in the thin crust and pouring in a few drops of water,–or oil, as the case may be; founding a few missions; distributing a little dole; sending a few Bibles to the heathen to offset the much bad whisky supplied them by “Christian countries”; perfecting its choir and sending its pastor to the Orient to hunt for “confirmation of Holy Scripture “amid the mummified cats of Egypt or the hoary trash of Palestine!

What is true of the city is true, though in lesser degree, of the country. If you think our agricultural brethren have no taste of Hell examine the list of mortgages! If you do not believe that Moloch is the presiding deity of commerce visit Trafalgar Square, the Place de la Concorde, or, worst of all, our own Wall Street. In old times men who despoiled others were called pirates and banditti; were execrated by honest men, anathematized by the church, a price set upon their heads by the State; yet they never pretended to be other than what they were; they did their devilish work openly, with the strong hand. Wall Street is a den of banditti who rob, not by open force, but by secret fraud. The tool of the seventeenth century freebooter was the flashing sword; that of his nineteenth century successor the cowardly and sneaking lie. The first pillaged a few ships, towns and castles; the latter plunders hundreds of thousands every year of the world, and then has the sublime audacity to come into court and plead that his business is both legitimate and necessary. And so rotten is society,–so prostrate does it cower before the golden calf– that the buccaneer, instead of being bastinadoed or beheaded, is crowned with bays! How can we harmonize these stubborn facts with Sir Edwin’s view that “the course of mankind is constantly toward perfection?” Of course we should “look at the matter philosophically”; the trouble is that too many content themselves merely with philosophizing and do not look at the matter at all, but only at some optimistic, far-fetched theory thereof.

It is very pleasant to close our eyes and believe–if we can– that the world is gradually working out its salvation; that it is steadily “growing grander and nobler”; to preach against “the sins of pessimism”; but unfortunately the stubborn fact is all too palpable that the shadow of the social world grows ever broader and deeper; that while the sunlight gilds the mountain tops the great valleys, wherein are congregated the millions of “poor people who have no work,” are buried in cimmerian night. If Sir Edwin and Dr. Talmage will but listen they may hear shrieks of woe and wail–not unmingled with bitter curses–cleaving that inky pall; may hear voices proclaiming, Let there be light–though the world blaze for it!

. . .

Progress? We boast of progress? Progress whither? From the slavery of the auction-block and cat-o’-nine-tails to that of the great industrial system, where souls as well as bodies are bought and sold; where wealth is created as by the magic wand of a genie or the touch of gold-accursed King Midas, while thousands and tens of thousands beg in God’s great name for the poor privilege of wearing out their wretched lives in the brutal treadmill,–to barter their blood for a scanty crust of black bread and beg in vain; then, finding the world against them, turn their hands against the world,–become recruits to the great army of crime. From the child-like simplicity, where man saw and adored the Deity in all his works, heard his laughter in the ripple of the stream, his voice in the thunder-storm and saw his anger in the writhen bolt, to the present age of skepticism, where he can see his Creator nowhere; and, blinder than his barbarian ancestors–knowing more of processes but less of principles–protests that Force is the only Demiurgus, dead matter the only Immortal.

Progress toward Greatness! Greatness of what? Certainly not of the individual, for the present conditions tend toward mediocrity. Greatness of the State? What does eternity know of States, that to promote their welfare immortal souls should be sacrificed? Why toil and travail, suffer and sin for toy balloons which destiny will whistle down the winds?

There are entirely too many self-commissioned watchmen, who, like Sir Edwin, sit at ease in their boxes and cry all’s well,–meaning thereby that it is so with them; too many seers who look into their own cozy back parlors and imagine that they are standing on a Mirza’s Hill and reading the riddle of human life; too many listening enchanted to their own sweet voices and mistaking the sound for a world-wide paean of praise, or at least the drowsy hum of human content. Such are blind Neros who complacently fiddle while Rome is, if not actually burning, yet filled to overflowing with combustibles, ready to burst into flame!