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The Sword And The Cross
by [?]

A correspondent asks “whether the great nations owe most to the sword or the cross.” That were much like asking whether the usefulness of a watch be due most to the case or the works. Religion has ever been the heart of the body social, the dynamics of civilization. A great nation of Atheists is a practical impossibility, because the basic principle of such a society must needs be selfishness, and from such a foundation no mighty superstructure can ever rise. “Ye cannot gather grapes of thorns nor figs of thistles.” War is but an incident in the history of a nation, while religion is its very life. In the latter it moves and breathes and has its being. From the standpoint of a statesman it makes little difference what the religion of a people may be so long as most of them believe it. History abundantly demonstrates that when a nation begins to doubt its gods, it begins to lose its glory. Without religion the contract social is simply a rope of sand. “No union of church and state” is simply a protest against the union of body and soul. The greatest rulers of ancient and modern times regarded religion as the palladium of national power. True it is that religion has time and again strengthened the hands of the tyrant and stoned the prophets of progress; but every good gift bequeathed to man has been at times abused. The sword has been wielded by the assassin; it has been employed to enslave and despoil the people; yet we dare not break the blade. Men of narrow minds, seeing many warring cults, imagine them to be disturbing factors in the human brotherhood–that if they could be eliminated, the body politic would have peace. They cannot understand that the discords of the finite make the harmony of the infinite. They fail to see that these warring creeds are but the necessary differentiations of a common faith. Lay the winds, still the tides, and old ocean, that perennial fount of health, becomes a stagnant pool of putrefaction–a malodorous “mother of dead dogs.” Force presupposes friction. Let the sectaries fight, each doing valiant battle for his own dogma, for when they all agree religion will be dead and progress at an end. It is not necessary that you and I should stand close enough to be stifled with the dust of conflict, to taste all the bitterness of sectarian controversy–we may mount above it all and watch it beat like the convolutions of a mighty brain. We may take refuge in the philosophy of religion and say that all are right in conception and wrong in expression; we may call it blind superstition if we will; but if we mount high enough to obtain a clear vision we must confess that religion has ever been the dominant factor in the forging of mighty peoples. Were I required to give a reason for this fact I would say it is because man is not altogether a machine–because he is not content to eat and sleep and propagate his kind like the lower animals. Despite his thick veneer of selfishness, man is at heart a creature of sentiment, and religion is the poetry of the common people. Crude it may be, but its tendency is toward the stars, while all else in man is animalistic and of the earth. Strike the religion, the poetry, out of a people, and you reduce them to the level of educated animals. Annul the power that draws them upward and they must sink back to primordial savagery. The individual may accept logic as a substitute for sentiment, but a nation cannot do so. The masses are not swayed through the head, but through the heart. Sentiment is the divine perfume of the soul. Of sentiment was born the dream of immortality. It is the efficient cause of every sacrifice which man makes for his fellow man. It is the parent duty, and duty pre-supposes the Divine. Could the materialists inaugurate their belauded age of reason, sentiment would perish utterly in that pitiless atmosphere, and the world be reduced to a basis of brute selfishness. The word duty would disappear, for why should man die for man in a world whose one sole god was the dollar. Why should a Damien sacrifice himself if selfish ease be the only divinity? If there be no Fatherhood of God there can be no Brotherhood of Man–we are but accidents, spawn of the sun and slime, each an Ishmel considering only himself. Atheism means universal anarchy. It means a kingdom without a king, laws without a legislator, a machine without a master. An Atheist is a public enemy. He would not only destroy the state but wreck society. He would render life not worth the living. He would rob us of our garden roses and fill our hands with artificial flowers. And why? Because, forsooth, he finds that some articles of religious faith are impossible fables. He sits down with a microscope to examine the tables of the law for tracks of the finger of him whose sentences are astral fire. He finds a foolish contradiction in some so-called sacred book and imagines that he has proven either that man’s a fool or God’s a fraud. “By geometric scale he takes the measure of pots of ale.” He calls himself a “liberal,” while fanatically intolerant of the honest opinions of others. He is forever mistaking shadow for substance, the accidental for the essential. He “disproves” religion without in the least comprehending it. He hammers away at the Immaculate Conception and the miracles with a vigor that amuses those who realize that cults and creeds are but ephemeral, while faith in the Almighty endures forever. And of all the Atheists and Agnostics Bob Ingersoll is the most insupportable. He is but a mouthful of sweetened wind, a painted echo, an oratorical hurdy-gurdy that plays the music of others. He’s as innocent of original ideas as a Mexican fice of feathers. He gets down on the muddy pave and wrangles with the “locus” preachers. He’s a theological shyster lawyer who takes advantage of technicalities. He is not a philosopher–he’s emphatically “a critic fly.” He examines the Christian cult inch by inch, just as Gulliver did the cuticle of the Brobdingnagian maid who sat him astride her nipple. He never contemplates the tout ensemble. He learns absolutely nothing from the cumulative wisdom of the world. He doesn’t even appreciate the fact that the dominant religions of the world to-day are couched in the language of oriental poetry. He wastes his nervo-muscular energy demolishing the miracles. When he gets through with the Bible I presume that he’ll take a fall out of aesop’s Fables. He doesn’t understand that the soul of man has never learned a language–that all sacred books are but an outward evidence of an inward grace. He doesn’t know that religion, like love, cannot be analyzed. Because the orient pearls are imbedded in ocean slime he denies their existence. Ingersoll and the “plenary inspiration” people are welcome to fight it out–it’s none of my funeral. You may prove Zoroaster a myth, Moses a mountebank, Gautama a priestly grafter and Christ the prototype of Francis Schlatter and other half-witted frauds; but adoration of a superior power will remain a living, pulsing thing in the hearts of the people. It is this poetry, this sentiment, this sense of duty, which transcends the dollar that constitutes the adhesive principle of society and makes civilization possible.