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Home Religion
by [?]

It was Sunday evening, and our little circle were convened by my study fireside, where a crackling hickory fire proclaimed the fall of the year to be coming on, and cold weather impending. Sunday evenings, my married boys and girls are fond of coming home and gathering round the old hearthstone, and “making believe” that they are children again. We get out the old-fashioned music-books, and sing old hymns to very old tunes, and my wife and her matron daughters talk about the babies in the intervals; and we discourse of the sermon, and of the choir, and all the general outworks of good pious things which Sunday suggests.

“Papa,” said Marianne, “you are closing up your ‘House and Home Papers,’ are you not?”

“Yes,–I am come to the last one, for this year at least.”

“My dear,” said my wife, “there is one subject you haven’t touched on yet; you ought not to close the year without it; no house and home can be complete without Religion: you should write a paper on Home Religion.”

My wife, as you may have seen in these papers, is an old-fashioned woman, something of a conservative. I am, I confess, rather given to progress and speculation; but I feel always as if I were going on in these ways with a string round my waist, and my wife’s hand steadily pulling me back into the old paths. My wife is a steady, Bible-reading, Sabbath-keeping woman, cherishing the memory of her fathers, and loving to do as they did,–believing, for the most part, that the paths well beaten by righteous feet are safest, even though much walking therein has worn away the grass and flowers. Nevertheless, she has an indulgent ear for all that gives promise of bettering anybody or anything, and therefore is not severe on any new methods that may arise in our progressive days of accomplishing old good objects.

“There must be a home religion,” said my wife.

“I believe in home religion,” said Bob Stephens,–“but not in the outward show of it. The best sort of religion is that which one keeps at the bottom of his heart, and which goes up thence quietly through all his actions, and not the kind that comes through a certain routine of forms and ceremonies. Do you suppose family prayers, now, and a blessing at meals, make people any better?”

“Depend upon it, Robert,” said my wife,–she always calls him Robert on Sunday evenings,–“depend upon it, we are not so very much wiser than our fathers were, that we need depart from their good old ways. Of course I would have religion in the heart, and spreading quietly through the life; but does this interfere with those outward, daily acts of respect and duty which we owe to our Creator? It is too much the slang of our day to decry forms, and to exalt the excellency of the spirit in opposition to them; but tell me, are you satisfied with friendship that has none of the outward forms of friendship, or love that has none of the outward forms of love? Are you satisfied of the existence of a sentiment that has no outward mode of expression? Even the old heathen had their pieties; they would not begin a feast without a libation to their divinities, and there was a shrine in every well-regulated house for household gods.”

“The trouble with all these things,” said Bob, “is that they get to be mere forms. I never could see that family worship amounted to much more in most families.”

“The outward expression of all good things is apt to degenerate into mere form,” said I. “The outward expression of social good feeling becomes a mere form; but for that reason must we meet each other like oxen? not say, ‘Good morning,’ or ‘Good evening,’ or ‘I am happy to see you’? Must we never use any of the forms of mutual good will, except in those moments when we are excited by a real, present emotion? What would become of society? Forms are, so to speak, a daguerreotype of a past good feeling, meant to take and keep the impression of it when it is gone. Our best and most inspired moments are crystallized in them; and even when the spirit that created them is gone, they help to bring it back. Every one must be conscious that the use of the forms of social benevolence, even towards those who are personally unpleasant to us, tends to ameliorate prejudices. We see a man entering our door who is a weary bore, but we use with him those forms of civility which society prescribes, and feel far kinder to him than if we had shut the door in his face and said, ‘Go along, you tiresome fellow!’ Now why does not this very obvious philosophy apply to better and higher feelings? The forms of religion are as much more necessary than the forms of politeness and social good will as religion is more important than all other things.”