IN Carnegie Hall, New York City, on the morning of Sunday, the 14th inst., an assembled congregation listened to a seriously uttered plea by the president of the Society of Ethical Culture, Felix Adler, to put the state in the place of God. The subject of Mr. Adler’s discourse was, “What has religion done for civilization?” and in concluding his remarks he said:—
“Religion has aided civilization, then, by raising the standard of morality, and it has done this by personifying its ideas. But now the personification is going. Men are gradually passing from the belief in a personal God. What shall take its place? In the passing of the belief in this personification, men’s lives have become flexile and dry, because they have no longer a personal God. Their ideals are gone. What course remains open to them? They may go back to the fountain head of these ideals. They may remember for what those ideals stood. They may try to lead the good life. They ma have the reality back of the ideality. They may have the knowledge of the reality first hand, instead of a secondhand knowledge of the personification.
“This course presupposes a perfect race. Ah, friends, we’ve got to advance or sink to the level of the beasts. In most things we have advanced. In morality the most of us remain dunces.”
At this point the speaker made an impressive pause of several minutes’ length, and then continued:—
“I could well stop here, my friends, as my main argument is closed, but I have something else to say, and it may as well be said now as at any time. Religion has done another service for civilization in influencing politics. The first civic state was a religious state. In the old city states the words ‘fellow citizens’ had a different meaning from what they have now. ‘Fellow citizens’ then meant those who worshiped the same God, for each city had a god. Later, we remember that the idea of the king was that he was sacred; that he ruled by divine right.
“To-day we care nothing for kings. I fear we are losing our care for the state. In the old days the state was for the common weal. Each sacrificed something for the other. In the moral night that fell upon the city after the late election, we may think that men care nothing for the state. The morning after election I met persons who said they were going to move away from New York. They were the hasty, peevish ones. What we should do is to stay here and learn a holier feeling for the state. Let politics take the place of religion. If we care nothing for kings, let us devote ourselves to the state. In the state let us find the personal deity which is passing out of men’s lives. Let the state be the object of our worship. Let us make it sacred, and when we have done so, the state will have taken the place of the personification. Let the state be that personification.”
This proposal to deify the state is of course nothing less than pure paganism, out and out. In itself, as the outspoken plea of a teacher of modern ethical culture, it is significant enough. But it is vastly more so in view of the circumstances and conditions in which it finds support. “Men are gradually passing from the belief in a personal God.” Candid observation confirms the truth of this statement; and for those of whom it is true that deification of the state cannot be an altogether strange and illogical measure. For it is human nature to deify something; and the state, more readily perhaps than anything else in the present age, furnishes the ideals which human nature is prone to worship.
“Let politics,” said the speaker, “take the place of religion.” Here again, the proposal to deify the state finds support in the tendency of the times. For it is a well observed fact that politics is taking the place of religion, not only in the home, but in the pulpit. It is being taught that “Christianity is essentially political”—as was said by Rev. C. P. Mills at a recent Christian Endeavor convention in Massachusetts—and that it is the proper business of the church to “make politics go.” Religious legislation, another marked tendency of the times, constitutes another force working directly to put the state in the place of God. With all these evident facts and tendencies, the idea of deifying the state is in perfect accord. They could have no other logical result.
Do the American people want this kind of a deity? The state as a deity becomes no merciful, loving, and forgiving Father, but an exacting despot. Do the American people prize their liberties enough to repudiate this pagan corruption, with the despotism that is inseparable from it?