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Protest against Protestantism

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©1996-2017 T. P. Davis

From Interpretations of Poetry and Religion

Beginning, however, with that zealous Protestant, the old Xenophanes, the austerer minds, moralists, naturalists, and wits, united in decrying the fanciful polytheism of the poets. This criticism was in one sense unjust; it did not consider the original justification of mythology in human nature and in the external facts. It was, like all heresy or partial scepticism, in a sense superficial and unphilosophical. It was far from conceiving that its own tenets and assumptions were as groundless, without being as natural or adequate, as the system it attacked. To a person sufficiently removed by time or by philosophy from the controversies of sects, orthodoxy must always appear right and heresy wrong ; for he sees in orthodoxy the product of the creative mind, of faith and constructive logic, but in heresy only the rebellion of some partial interest or partial insight against the corollaries of a formative principle imperfectly grasped and obeyed with hesitation. At a distance, the criticism that disintegrates any great product of art or mind must always appear short-sighted and unamiable.

Poetry & Religion at 46 (The Dissolution of Paganism) [#742 1899]

From Introduction and Reason in Common Sense

The tenets of Protestant bodies are notoriously varied and on principle subject to change. There is hardly a combination of tradition and spontaneity which has not been tried in some quarter. If we think, however, of broad tendencies and ultimate issues, it appears that in Protestantism myth, without disappearing, has changed its relation to reality: instead of being an extension to the natural world myth has become its substratum. Religion no longer reveals divine personalities, future rewards, and tenderer Elysian consolations; nor does it seriously propose a heaven to be reached by a ladder nor a purgatory to be shortened by prescribed devotions. It merely gives the real world an ideal status and teaches men to accept a natural life on supernatural grounds. The consequence is that the most pious can give an unvarnished description of things. Even immortality and the idea of God are submitted, in liberal circles, to scientific treatment. On the other hand, it would be hard to conceive a more inveterate obsession than that which keeps the attitude of these same minds inappropriate to the objects they envisage. They have accepted natural conditions; they will not accept natural ideals. The Life of Reason has no existence for them, because, although its field is clear, they will not tolerate any human or finite standard of value, and will not suffer extant interests, which can alone guide them in action or judgment, to define the worth of life.

Common Sense at 12-13 (Introduction) [#743 1905]

From Reason in Religion

To this day we have not achieved a really native civilisation. Our art, morals, and religion, though deeply dyed in native feeling, are still only definable and, indeed, conceivable by reference to classic and alien standards. Among the northern races culture is even more artificial and superinduced than among the southern; whence the strange phenomenon of snobbery in society, affectation in art, and a violent contrast between the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor, classes that live on different intellectual planes and often have different religions. Some educated persons, accordingly, are merely students and imbibers; they sit at the feet of a past which, not being really theirs, can produce no fruit in them but sentimentality. Others are merely protestants; they are active in the moral sphere only by virtue of an inward rebellion against something greater and overshadowing, yet repulsive and alien. They are conscious truants from a foreign school of life.

. . . . [Protestantism] is simply the natural religion of the Teutons raising its head above the flood of Roman and Judean influences. Its character may be indicated by saying that it is a religion of pure spontaneity, of emotional freedom, deeply respecting itself but scarcely deciphering its purposes. It is the self-consciousness of a spirit in process of incubation, jealous of its potentiality, averse to definitions and finalities of any kind because it can itself discern nothing fixed or final.

Religion at 114-115 (Pagan Custom and Barbarian Genius Infused Into Christianity) [#744 1905]

From Reason in Religion

[Protestantism's] true essence is not constituted by the Christian dogmas that at a given moment it chances to retain, but by the spirit in which it constantly challenges the others, by the expression it gives to personal integrity, to faith in conscience, to human instinct courageously meeting the world. It rebels, for instance, against the Catholic system of measurable sins and merits, with rewards and punishments legally adjusted and controlled by priestly as well as by divine prerogative. Such a supernatural mechanism seems to an independent and uncowed nature a profanation and an imposture. Away, it says, with all intermediaries between the soul and God, with all meddlesome priestcraft and all mechanical salvation. Salvation shall be by faith alone, that is, by an attitude and sentiment private to the spirit, by an inner co-operation of man with the world. The Church shall be invisible, constituted by all those who possess this necessary faith and by no others. It really follows from this, although the conclusion may not be immediately drawn, that religion is not an adjustment to other facts or powers, or to other possibilities, than those met with in daily life and in surrounding nature, but is rather a spiritual adjustment to natural life, an insight into its principles, by which a man learns to identify himself with the cosmic power and to share its multifarious business no less than its ulterior security and calm.

Protestantism, in this perfectly instinctive trustfulness and self-assertion, is not only prior to Christianity but more primitive than reason and even than man. The plants and animals, if they could speak, would express their attitude to their destiny in the Protestant fashion. "He that formed us," they would say, "lives and energises within us. He has sealed a covenant with us, to stand by us if we are faithful and strenuous in following the suggestions he whispers in our hearts. With fidelity to ourselves and, what is the same thing, to him, we are bound to prosper and to have life more and more abundantly for ever." This attitude, where it concerns religion, involves two corollaries: first, what in accordance with Hebrew precedent may be called symbolically faith in God, that is, confidence in one's own impulse and destiny, a confidence which the world in the end is sure to reward; and second, abomination of all contrary religious tenets and practices—of asceticism, for instance, because it denies the will; of idolatry and myth, because they render divinity concrete rather than relative to inner cravings and essentially responsive; finally of tradition and institutional authority, because these likewise jeopardise the soul"s experimental development as, in profound isolation, she wrestles with reality and with her own inspiration.

Religion at 121-122 (Pagan Custom and Barbarian Genius Infused Into Christianity) [#745 1905]

From Egotism in German Philosophy

For favourable as Protestantism is to investigation and learning, it is almost incompatible with clearness of thought and fundamental freedom of attitude.

Egotism at 29 (The Protestant Heritage) [#746 1915]

From Egotism in German Philosophy

That an attitude is foolish, incoherent, disastrous, proves nothing against the depth of the instinct that inspires it. Who could be more intensely unintelligent than Luther or Rousseau? Yet the world followed them, not to turn back. The molecular forces of society, so to speak, had already undermined the systems which these men denounced. If the systems have survived it is only because the reformers, in their intellectual helplessness, could supply nothing to take their place. So Nietzsche, in his genial imbecility, betrays the shifting of great subterranean forces. What he said may be nothing, but the fact that he said it is all-important.

Egotism at 135 (The Ethics of Nietzsche) [#747 1915]

From Egotism in German Philosophy

[S]o that the later Jewish religion went almost as far as Platonism or Christianity in the direction opposite to heathenism [and toward an orthodox wisdom].

[T]he reformers [at the rise of romanticism] are deceived. What really offends them may not be what is false in the received orthodoxy, but what though true is uncongenial to them. In that case heathenism, under the guise of a search for a purer wisdom, is working in their souls against wisdom of any sort. Such is the suspicion that Catholics would throw on Protestantism, naturalists on idealism, and conservatives generally on all revolutions.

Egotism at 146-147 (Heathenism) [#748 1915]

From Egotism in German Philosophy

The rebellion of the heathen soul is unmistakable in the Reformation, but it is not recognised in this simple form, because those who feel that it was justified do not dream that it was heathen, and those who see it was heathen will not admit that it was justified. Externally, of course, it was an effort to recover the original essence of Christianity; [but it] was simply the inertia of established prejudice that made people use tradition to correct tradition; until the whole substance of tradition, worn away by that internal friction, should be dissolved, and impulse and native genius should assert themselves unimpeded.

Egotism at 151 (Heathenism) [#749 1915]

From Character and Opinion in the United States

The Reformation did not reform this belief in the cosmic supremacy of man, or the humanity of God; on the contrary, it took it (like so much else) in terrible German earnest, not suffering it any longer to be accepted somewhat lightly as a classical figure of speech or a mystery resting on revelation. The human race, the chosen people, the Christian elect were like tabernacle within tabernacle for the spirit; but in the holy of holies was the spirit itself, one's own spirit and experience, which was the centre of everything. Protestant philosophy, exploring the domain of science and history with confidence, and sure of finding the spirit walking there, was too conscientious to misrepresent what it found. As the terrible facts could not be altered they had to be undermined. By turning psychology into metaphysics this could be accomplished, and we could reach the remarkable conclusion that the human spirit was not so much the purpose of the universe as its seat, and the only universe there was.

Character & Opinion at 21 (The Moral Background) [#792 1920]

From Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies

My instinct is to go and stand under the cross, with the monks and the crusaders, far away from these Jews and Protestants who adore the world and who govern it.

Soliloquies at 95 (War Shrines) [#750 1922]

From Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy: Five Essays

In what sense can myths and metaphors be true or false? In the sense that, in terms drawn from moral predicaments or from literary psychology, they may report the general movement and the pertinent issue of material facts, and may inspire us with a wise sentiment in their presence. In this sense I should say that Greek mythology was true and Calvinist theology was false.

Turns of Thought at 92 (A Long Way Round to Nirvana) [#753 1923]

From The Letters of George Santayana

My philosophy is normal human orthodox philosophy, such as has come down from the Indians through the Greeks, to Spinoza. It is simply not Protestant philosophy. The problems of Protestant philosophy do not exist for me: I regard them as products of a confusion of thought, of a heresy. Catholic philosophy differs from the normal only in that it accepts sacred history as well as natural history as the true account of the facts: but when the facts are agreed upon, one way or another, philosophy has no real difficulty in discovering what to say. It has said everything essential already. To invent a philosophy would be not to have understood.

Letters 3:219 (To John Boynton Priestley , Cortina d'Ampezzo, September 15, 1924) [#752 1924]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

Life itself exists only by a modicum of organization, achieved and transmitted through a world of change: the momentum of such organization first creates a difference between good and evil, or gives them meaning at all. Thus the core of life is always hereditary, steadfast, and classical; the margin of barbarism and blind adventure round it may be as wide as you will, and in some wild hearts the love of this fluid margin may be keen, as might be any other loose passion. But to preach barbarism as the only good, in ignorance or hatred of the possible perfection of every natural thing, was a scandal: a belated Calvinism that remained fanatical after ceasing to be Christian. And there was a further circumstance which made this attitude particularly odious to me. This romantic love of evil was not thoroughgoing: wilfulness and disorder were to reign only in spiritual matters; in government and industry, even in natural science, all was to be order and mechanical progress. Thus the absence of a positive religion and of a legislation, like that of the ancients, intended to be rational and final, was very far from liberating the spirit for higher flights: on the contrary, it opened the door to the pervasive tyranny of the world over the soul. And no wonder: a soul rebellious to its moral heritage is too weak to reach any firm definition of its inner life. It will feel lost and empty unless it summons the random labours of the contemporary world to fill and to enslave it. It must let mechanical and civic achievements reconcile it to its own moral confusion and triviality.

It was in this state of mind that I went to Germany to continue the study of philosophy . . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 11-12 (A General Confession) [#754 1930]

From The Philosophy of George Santayana

[F]or if in other respects Protestant sentiment often seems to me rather a religious cloak for worldliness, as to the nature of faith it seems to me admirable and profound. For whereas faith among Catholics (except for the mystics) means intellectual assent to traditional dogmas, among Protestants it means an unspoken and sacrificial trust in an unfathomable power . . . .

Schilpp's Phil. of G.S. at 588 (Apologia Pro Mente Sua) [#755 1940]

From Dominations and Powers: Reflections on Liberty, Society, and Government

In strictness one might say that the ultimate Protestant ideal is to have no outward or specific religion at all—no priests, churches, theology, Scripture or Sabbath, and indeed, no God. This position has not been reached by most Protestants, but I think that the nearer they come to it the more Protestant they are. It is the position of the great German idealists, who have brought the Protestant spirit to its perfect and most speculative expression.

Dominations at 166-167 (How Religion May Become Political) [#756 1951]

From Physical Order and Moral Liberty: Previously Unpublished Essays of George Santayana

The honest effort of this school [empirical critics of knowledge] is to stick to the obvious and to discard all dogmatism and fiction: it is the stout spirit of Protestantism applied to logic. The obvious, they think at first, is the facts—events and things in the world of practice . . . .

Lachs' Physical Order at 119 (Psychologism) [#757 1969]


Number of quotations (including supressed): 16


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