He tells of the rhodora, the club-moss, the blooming clover, not of the hibiscus and the asphodel. He knows the bumblebee, the blackbird, the bat and the wren. He illustrates his high thought by common things out of our plain New England life: the meeting of the church, the Sunday-School, the dancing-school, a huckleberry party, the boys and girls hastening home from school, the youth in the shop beginning an unconscious courtship with his unheeding customer, the farmers about their work in the fields, the bustling trader in the city, the cattle, the new hay, the voters at a town meeting, the village brawler in a tavern full of tipsy riot, the conservative who thinks the nation is lost if his ticket chances to miscarry, the bigot worshiping the knot-hole through which a dusty beam of light has looked in upon the darkness, the radical who declares that nothing is good if established, and the patent reformer who screams in your unwilling ears that he can finish the world with a single touch–and out of all these he makes his poetry, or illustrates his philosophy.
—Theodore Parser’s Lecture on Emerson
Among wild animals, members of each species look alike. Horses, wolves, deer, cattle, quails, prairie-chickens, rabbits–think it over!
Breeds in birds and animals are formed by taking individual peculiarities and repeating them through artificial selection until that which was once peculiar and unique becomes common. White pigeons are simply albinos. But all breeds in time “run out” and form a type, just as a dozen kinds of pigeons in a loft will in a few years degenerate into a flock, where all the members so closely resemble each other that you can not tell one from another.
A religious denomination or a political party is a breed. When it is new it has marks of individuality; it means something. In a few years it reverts to type. Political parties grown old are all equally bad. They begin as radical and end as conservative. That which began in virtue is undone through profligacy. Among successful religions there is no choice–they all have a dash of lavender.
When the man who founded the party, or upon whose name, fame and influence the party was founded, dies, the many who belong to it are tinted by the whims and notions of Thomas, Richard and Henry, and it reverts to type.
Only very strong and self-reliant characters form sects. Moses founded a denomination which has been kept marvelously pure by persecution, and healthy by constant migration. Jesus broke away from this sect and became an independent preacher. Naturally he was killed, for up to very recent times all independent preachers were killed, and quickly. Paul took up the teachings of Jesus and interpreted them, and by his own strong personality founded a religion. Paul was crucified, too, head downward, and his death was really more dramatic than that of his chief, but there was a lack of literary men to record it.
So we get the religion of Christ interpreted by Paul, and finally viseed and launched by a Roman Emperor. Now, countries are this or that, because the reigning ruler is. This must be so where there is a state religion and forth thousand priests look to the king for their pay-envelope and immunity from all taxation. Henry the Eighth and his daughter Elizabeth decreed that England should be Protestant. They gave the Catholic clergy the choice of resigning their livings or swearing allegiance to the new faith. Only seventy-nine out of ten thousand dropped out. If Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart had succeeded politically, England would today have been Catholic. The many have no belief of any kind: they simply accept some one’s else belief.
When Constantine professed Christianity, every pagan temple in Rome became a Christian Church. Had Constantine been circumcised, instead of baptized, all the pagan temples would have become synagogues, and every priest a rabbi. They do say it was a Christian woman who influenced Constantine in favor of Christianity, If so, it is neither remarkable nor strange. Constantine made the labarum the battle-flag of Rome. “By this sign I conquer.” And he did. So we get the religion of Jesus, siphoned through the personality of Paul, fused with paganism, and paganism being the stronger tendency, the whole fabric reverts to type.