“A Personal Statement of Religious Belief”
Theosophist, April, 1880
“A PERSONAL STATEMENT OF RELIGIOUS BELIEF” is the title of a pamphlet now just appearing at Bombay. It is an unexpected, and very unusual piece of literature; and the subject is treated in a way to startle the whole of the Protestant Church, call out an inward chuckle of satisfaction from the Jesuits, and provoke extreme dissatisfaction among the Conservative, church-going Anglo-Indian officials. Yet it is an honest and sincere profession of faith. Simple and dignified, without one word of recrimination against those who will be the first to throw stones at him, entirely heedless of possible consequences, the author—a District Judge, we believe—Mr. G. C. Whitworth, comes out bravely and without ostentation, to tell the truth to the world about himself. He has “come to the conclusion that it is better that every man’s opinions, whether right or wrong, should be known;” and feeling that he “will never reach that state of straightforwardness and simplicity of conversation and conduct” after which he is striving, he does not wish to remain any longer “in a false position,” and hence renounces Christianity publicly and in print.
All honour to the man who is brave and honest in this century of sham beliefs and shameful hypocrisy!—who, regardless of all dangers—and such an act entails more than one—throws off the mask of false pretence that stifles him, with the sole motive of doing what he deems his duty to himself and those who know him.
Mr. Whitworth not only tells us what he believes no more in, but also makes a statement of the personal belief that has superseded the Christianity he now repudiates.
Before he was as certain as he is now of what his duty in this question was, he used to wonder what orthodox churchmen would advise him to do—
“I have heard,” he says, “of such a thing as, stamping out, or trying to stamp out, unbelief from the mind. I suppose the process is to set before yourself the idea that it would be a good thing if you could believe, and then to determine to act on all occasions as though you did, until at length it comes to seem to be a matter of course that you do believe. Now such a course of conduct seems to me to be wrong. I cannot see how a man is justified in trying to settle by resolution what he will believe, and in stifling instead of fairly examining doubts which may arise as to his past belief. Nor does anyone recommend this course to persons of a different creed to his own.” . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . “And though,” he says further on, “I would not willingly suggest doubt to the mind of any person happily free from it, and worthily occupied in this world, I can in no degree concur in the opinion that it is necessary to keep up artificial religions for the sake of the unenlightened masses. ‘Government by illusion’ is an expression I have lately heard. I cannot but think that the bare truth is better. More particularly if you think that a God of infinite power created and governs the world, does it seem unreasonable to suppose that he means those of his creatures that are comparatively wise to invent erroneous notions about him for their ignorant fellows to believe. We have been so long accustomed to associate such things as worship, prayer, sacraments, and holy offices with religion, that some men seem to fear that, if all these were got rid of, nothing would remain. That is not my experience. It should be remembered that all immoral and dangerous persons are either already without religion—in which case they could lose none if the doctrine of government by illusion were given up—or else that the religion they have has been useless to them.”
After that Mr. Whitworth states his present religious belief and says—
“I believe that it is every man’s duty to do what he can to make the world better and happier. That is the whole of my creed. I aim at no precision of language. Many other formulas would do as well. So to live that the world may be better for my having lived in it is the one most familiar to my thoughts. The meaning is plain, and there is nothing new in it . . . . . . .
“To me it seems absurd to attempt to devise a creed, or even to take, with any fixed resolution of keeping it, a ready-made one. What a man finds in the actual experience of his life to be good, that is what he must believe . . . . . . .
“Now, before I attempt to explain how I find the simple creed I have enunciated better than all the dogmas I once believed, I will refer to certain points on which (though they do not belong to my religion) I shall no doubt be expected, in such a publication as this, to express distinct opinions.
“Such a question is, Do you believe in God? Now I wish to be perfectly frank, but it is beyond my power to answer this question clearly. I certainly did until within a few years believe in God, but then I had a particular conception of him—namely, the being known as God the Father in the Church of England. Now, I am sure we are not warranted in holding that conception, and I have formed no other distinct conception of God. I cannot say I believe in God when the word conveys no distinct meaning to me; I cannot say I do not believe in him when my thoughts seem sometimes to require the use of the name. Perhaps that impression is due only to old habit. We hear it said that the existence of God is proved by the manifest design of the universe. But what sort of God? Surely one of finite, not of infinite power. The world is very wonderful; but how can we call it a perfect work? There are some terrible things in it. Perhaps it will be perfect, but time cannot be necessary to infinite power. I heard a preacher once expatiate on God’s power and love as shown in the structure of an animal. He took the mole as an example, and explained how its every part was perfectly adapted to the peculiar manner of its life. But what if a ploughman kills the mole? Carefully provided as all its properties were, they have all failed. Then the preacher spoke of the wonderful providence by which some plants are made to purify pestilential air. But we in India know that other plants by their natural decay poison instead of purifying the air. So, what do such examples prove?
“I am not dismayed or distressed at such puzzles, or because I cannot say whether or not I believe in God. The world teaches us plainly that there are countless things which I cannot know . . . . . . . . .
“My attempt to answer the above question is sufficient to show that I do not believe in the divinity of Christ, or of any other supposed incarnation of God. I add that it is between twelve and fifteen years since I had any such belief.”
As to a future life, the author neither affirms belief nor disbelief. He hopes we may live after death but he personally feels no conviction of it.
“My religion then,” he goes on to say, “it may perhaps be said by those who find comfort in any of the recognized religions of the day, leaves we without any God, without prayer or worship of any kind, leaves me a weak mortal struggling alone with the difficulties of this life . . . Well, if I hear such things said of my religion, I shall bear it patiently . . . While I am writing this in the saloon of the ‘Venetia,’ this 23rd of November, I can hear the passengers at service, overhead, singing—
‘Leave, ah leave me not alone,
Still support and strengthen me.’
“If some of them are less alone than I, it should not make me discontented, for I know that I am better with my religion than I, the same person, was with theirs. But, notwithstanding . . . those objections which many persons will make, I do deliberately put forward this religion of mine as something better for humanity than any other . . . I believe that most, or at least very many, men of business, working men, are as I am . . . If, as a fact, men do not already hold the creed that I do, I do not expect that by anything I can say they will come to do so. But there are two things which I can still hope I hope that those of my readers who really believe no more than l do, but who in a half-hearted way cling to dogmas, which indeed to them are dead and ineffective, will examine and see what they really do believe and what they do not, distinguishing between those articles of belief which they give effect to in their lives and those they hold merely for want of energy to throw away. And I hope that those who find their actual belief to be less than or different from what their neighbours have been led to suppose it to be, will ask themselves the question whether they ought not in some way or other to remove the misapprehension and make their lives speak truly to all who behold them.
“But there are two classes of persons to whom I can hardly hope to make intelligible the step I am taking in publishing this statement. The first class is the clergy and all persons engaged in teaching or propagating any religion; the second, all idle persons. These two very different classes seem to me to be less likely than other persons to discover that the religions they observe are false, if they are false. Rather are they likely, as I conceive, to find them, whatever they are, to be sufficient and satisfactory. In the case of the first, because religion is the business of their lives; and in the case of idle persons, because what they have of religion is better than the rest of their lives . . . A man’s life and his religion should be one and the same thing. That which is not a part of what his life ought to be, ought not to be a part of his religion. And it seems to me quite intelligible that a man whose business is religious teaching should make his life and religion one and the same, though much of the religion be false, without ever finding that test of true and untrue. If a man’s duty is to explain or teach a certain doctrine, he may find it very difficult to make people believe or understand it; but he will not be in a position to say, well, this doctrine may be true or false, but it has nothing to do with my life. It has to do with his life.”
The author, explaining how his creed is a better religion for the world at large than any other, says:—
“In the first place, this religion seems to me to have the property of being constantly present in a way which other religions are usually not. I do not think it is sufficient to devote an hour, or two hours, or twelve hours a day to religion. I think the whole day should be so devoted. But, in order for that to be, religion must consist of daily life, and there must be no distinction of spiritual and temporal, of religious and secular, of Sunday and week-day, or of priest and people. The fact that one day is to be kept holy, means that others are distinctly recognized as being something less than holy; and the fact that a holier and purer manner of life and conversation is expected in one particular class of men, means that such high attainment, though practicable, is not expected of the bulk of mankind. Of course all men require time, apart from their proper business, for patient meditation and reflection on the tendency of their lives; all men require the advice of others of different experience to themselves; all men should have time for the fun and the pleasure that life affords. But why should some of these things be called religious, and others non-religious or secular? Is the thing good or bad? is the question that my religion asks; and it asks it equally whether the thing be an act of charity or a game of tennis. If religion and daily life are not one and the same, it will happen that the first is sometimes made to give place to the second. If a church catches fire at the time of public worship, the priest and the people must run out. Their religious service is interrupted but they obey the dictate of a truer religion which bids them save their lives. That which need never be interrupted is the true religion—namely, always to do what is best to be done.
“I next claim for my religion that as a fact it has created in me a greater love of the human race than I had when a Christian. When I thought there was virtue in prayer and religious services, and that my first duty was to save my own soul, my sense of the duty of rendering service to men, and my sense of pleasure at the thought of particular services done to particular persons, whether friends or strangers, were certainly less than they are now. If it be said that the difference in me is due not to the change of religion but only to the improved perception and knowledge that years bring, I can only reply that the two causes seem to me to be identical. My religion I have neither invented nor selected: it is what my life has taught me.
“This religion has again this advantage, that it allows you no rest or permanent happiness except with a sense of duty done. It knows nothing of idle ‘drawing near to God.’
“You must not speak of ‘leaving with meekness your sins to your Saviour.’ Your sins are your own, and you cannot leave them to anyone. The best you can do is to outweigh them with good, but get rid of them you cannot. There is no absolution. Think of that when you are disposed to do a bad deed again. If you do it, it will remain forever. The balance of good, if even you get a balance of good, will be finally less by reason of that bad debt.”
We verily believe that, though Mr. Whitworth gives no name to his deity, and simplifies his religion, so as to make it appear to be hardly a religion at all, yet he is a truer religionist than any Church-going dogmatist. His religion recognizes and worships but the latent divinity indwelling in himself. Like Elijah, he sought for the Lord in the strong wind—but the Lord was not in the wind; nor was he in the earthquake, nor yet in the fire. But he found Him in the “still small voice”—the voice of his own CONSCIENCE, the true tabernacle of man. The author without belonging to our Society is yet a true-born Theosophist—a God-seeker.
And yet the Rev. T. G. Scott, assailing us in a long letter to the Pioneer, says Christianity never had such sweetness, sympathy, life, and power, as now!
Mr. Whitworth’s Gauntlet
Theosophist, May, 1880
To such as do not know the reluctance of the Christian church and its bullies to attack a strong and manly foe (except by innuendo), the silence in which Mr. G. C. Whitworth’s Personal Statement of Religious Belief has been received, must seem strange. This brave pamphlet deserves the thoughtful attention of not only every Christian, but every man of any faith who cares for the approval of conscience. It is a clarion call to honest speech and useful living. Most unfortunately, our extended notice of the work (see p. 189 of the THEOSOPHIST for April) was so cramped in between the article on “Cremation in America” and the crowded matter in the last page, that it may have escaped the notice of many; which the printer’s aggravating omission of its title from the Table of Contents makes more probable still. If any have passed it over, let them read it and take its lesson to heart.