EATING, DRINKING AND BEING MERRY
We ventured to say in the preceding chapter that, under the influences of more than three centuries of humanism, the spiritual solidarity of mankind is breaking down. For humanism makes an inhuman demand upon the will; it minimizes the force of the subrational and it largely ignores the superrational elements in human experience; it does not answer enough questions. Indeed, it is frankly confessed, particularly by students of the political and economic forces now working in society, that the new freedom born in the Renaissance is, in some grave sense, a failure. It destroyed what had been the common moral authority of European civilization in its denial of the rule of the church. But for nearly four centuries it has become increasingly clear that it offered no adequate substitute for the supernatural moral and religious order which it supplanted. John Morley was certainly one of the most enlightened and humane positivists of the last generation. In his Recollections, published three years ago, there is a final paragraph which runs as follows: “A painful interrogatory, I must confess, emerges. Has not your school held the civilized world, both old and new alike, in the hollow of their hand for two long generations past? Is it quite clear that their influence has been so much more potent than the gospel of the various churches? Circumspice. Is not diplomacy, unkindly called by Voltaire the field of lies, as able as ever it was to dupe governments and governed by grand abstract catchwords veiling obscure and inexplicable purposes, and turning the whole world over with blood and tears, to a strange Witch’s Sabbath?" This is his conclusion of the whole matter.
[Footnote 11: Recollections: II, p. 366 ff.]
But while the reasons for the failure are not far to seek, it is worth while for the preacher to dwell on them for a moment. In strongly centered souls like a Morley or an Erasmus, humanism produces a stoical endurance and a sublime self-confidence. But it tends, in lesser spirits, to a restless arrogance. Hence, both those lower elements in human nature, the nature and extent of whose force it either cloaks or minimizes, and those imponderable and supersensuous values which it tends to ignore and which are not ordinarily included in its definition of experience, return to vex and plague it. Indeed the worst foe of humanism has never been the religious view of the world upon whose stored-up moral reserves of uncompromising doctrine it has often half-consciously subsisted. Humanism has long profited from the admitted truth that the moral restraints of an age that possesses an authoritative and absolute belief survive for some time after the doctrine itself has been rejected. What has revealed the incompleteness of the humanistic position has been its constant tendency to decline into naturalism;