10) The religious outcome.
Religious reformers have always achieved one of two results: either, under the pretext of reform, to plunge their followers into an abyss of resignation and atrophy even more profound than the chasm from which they pretend to pull them, or, if they show some sincerity, lead their partisans to surpass them, to become no longer modifiers of religious forms, but critics of the religious basis itself. Such was the case with the Reformation which led far from the aim that its originators assigned it: first to the free-thinker of the eighteenth century; to the diffusion of the contemporary critical spirit, to anarchism, finally, which we can consider as its culmination, standard and logic of the evolution of free-thought. We will return there.
What reforms, what transformations have the religious reformers proposed to us? Generally, to a religious idea of the past, abandoned or distorted by corrupt zealots or half-hearted proponents. What ideals have they presented? A divinity, single of divided, a pantheon of gods or demi-gods endowed or afflicted with all the attributes, with all the qualities, with all the faults, with all the follies with which mortals are adorned or marred. They all come down to this: some working gods, slaving away like men so that the men become gods. The great hobby horse of the religious reformers is to push humans to become like God or to or to annihilate themselves in him, if not in this world below, at least in the other, since—safety-valve and encouragement to resignation—will shine one day after death, when the elect creature will contemplate the creator “face à face,” when the soul will bask in eternal beatitude, when the spirit will return to the spirit. What does it matter the name of this place of delights, varied according to races or climates. Call it the Champs-Élysées, Valhalla or Nirvana, Paradise is always realized on the other side of the tomb.
We hear the objections: we are too exclusive, we ride roughshod over revelation, where the theological metaphysics soar, and of the great mystery which lies at the root of the religions, the struggle between good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, the great and the base, the pure and the impure! The religions will speak the language of their times, that is understood—nous fait-on remarquer—but their last vision was the triumph of the fair and the good that they symbolized in some images striking the imagination. We do not deny the importance of the religions in the history of the development of men: it is a stage through which it must pass.
Do no forget that, in practice, the aim of the priests, is above all the triumph of dogma over free research, of the tyrant over the rebel, of obedience to the mystery over the revelation of the initiation. For the individualist, it is Prometheus who was in the right against Jupiter, Satan against Jehovah, Eblis against Allah, Ahriman against Ormuzd.
The grandeur of theology, if you look at it closely, vanishes into casuistry. If the religious nuances have never reached the degree of elevation that one claims, there remains only on conclusion to draw from it: the regret of knowing that some well endowed brains are given to such mental games. Finally, no one dreams of denying the selflessness, the sincerity, the pure enthusiasm of many religious reformers whose ideas can surpass the common conceptions. That have a right to our impartial estimation, and to nothing else.
Let us summarize: the religious reformers have:
a) for human ideal: the believer. It is impossible for them to give an education other than one based on faith, that “undemonstrable” virtue; the believer, “the man who has faith”–whatever may be his education or aptitude–will never cross certain frontiers, will not dare to taste the fruits produced by “the tree of good and evil,” will not experiment with all things; he is faint-hearted: he fears finding himself face to face with a fact which destroys his faith;
b) for moral ideal: God, a fictive entity, not demonstrable by science, allegedly extra-human and in reality created by humans, a product of their imagination;
c) for social ideal: the reign of God on the earth, or in other words, a society no longer inhabited by anyone but priests charged with explaining and interpreting the will of the divinity, and believers constrained to accomplish it. In short, a society based on the “divine fact.”
If those who propose a religious reform of Society lose ground every day, it is not the same for the legalistic reformers, those who only know how to think of Society as based on the code of regulations and ordinances designated abstractly as the Law. The legalistic reformers admitting that the present Society is not perfect, that it is far from being so, concede that it is perfectible, eminently, infinitely perfectible; they claim at the same time that the imperfections of Society arise from defects in the laws, insufficiently or unjustly applied, but they add that if these laws were modified, redrafted in a more general, more equitable sense, applied more humanely, that same Society, without becoming perfect, would transform itself into an abode more and more bearable and pleasant to inhabit.
No agglomeration of people, they say, can subsist without written law, regulating the rights and duties of the “good citizen:” each setting the infractions and determining their punishment. To the laws, or to the law, their ideal expression, the citizens owe obedience, as the believer must obey the divinity. They owe the same respectful deference to the commentators of the law as they faithful owe to the interpreters of the divine will. It is by their conformity of their outward acts to the law that we recognize the model citizens. The ideal of the legalists, the ideal type, is the “good citizen” who by obeying the law, out of love for it, sacrifices his independence, even his most legitimate personal aspirations, and his affections, if necessary,—sacrificing himself and, if need be, those who are most dear to him. Dura lex, sed lex.