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It is a generally admitted fact that in these days only a small proportion, even of intelligent and eminently respectable people, are regular attendants upon religious services on Sunday. It is believed, and frequently deplored, that the proportion is diminishing year by year. The increasing aversion of people who cannot be called bad or depraved to church attendance is generally ascribed to the spread of unbelief; but this does not wholly account for it.
The world has, indeed, been moving very rapidly during the last generation, and theology, which used to be in the van of human thought, and in some measure to lead in human progress, has fallen to the rear, and is in imminent danger of being left altogether. The results of scientific and philosophic inquiry have widely diffused an intelligent common sense, which will not accept teachings that were once potent over the human mind. People do not like to be fed on the dry leaves of an antiquated theology in which the sap of life has ceased to flow. Dogmas which used to keep the superstitious mind in subjection, and rule the lives of men through their hopes and fears, have lost their power, because enlightened thought declares that there can be no such terrific chances in another life as the world used to believe.
It is useless to fight against the tendencies of the age, or to deplore them as evil, for they are in the line of human progress. Men are better and not worse than in the olden time, and yet they believe less in the supernatural and the unprovable. The majority of intelligent and well-meaning people, whose purposes are good, whose aspirations are high, whose conduct is upright, do not and cannot believe what the churches teach, and they are weary of its reiteration. In fact, the keener their apprehension, the clearer their mental vision, the stronger their powers of thought and the broader their intellectual culture, the less will. ing or able are they to stoop to the yoke of belief which the church imposes. It is not the daring atheist or the reckless evil-doer that is now chiefly found in the ranks of non-attendants at church, but the sober citizen and the father of a family, who is loyal to his convictions and faithful to his duty.
Why does he not go? Why should he go? It is for the church to attract, and it repels. It proscribes thought and free inquiry. It cramps the brains of its ministers until it is only the intellectual light-weights that seek its service. The mediocrities of the seminaries go to the pulpit. They offer nothing for the mental or moral digestion and nutrition of healthy men. They minister chiefly to the superstitious, the narrow and the morbid, and the masculine sex is disappearing from among their followers.
There is no doubt that people are repelled from the pews because the pulpit is behind the age. The notion can no longer be kept up that “unbelievers ” are bad. It has to be admitted that they are, as a rule, intelligent, earnest, and altogether honest. They still cherish the hope, at least, of a future life, and they certainly have no “enmity toward God." They want to lead decent and well-ordered lives, and bring their children up with good principles and high ideals. They recognize the needs of their higher nature, and have no objection to its being called a spiritual nature. They recognize the value of appeals to the purer feelings and the loftier sentiments. They know that through the eye and ear the soul may be reached and benefited. They would be glad on their weekly day of rest to subject themselves to elevating influences, and bring their families within them. Having this want, and recognizing this need, they still keep away from the "sanctuary,” partly because it so inadequately provides for them. They do not find there satisfaction for the soul, and modern society, dominated by an antiquated ecclesiasticism, is failing to provide for the spiritual wants of man. It is therefore failing to arrest the working of those forces in human nature that tend to moral degeneracy. Science is to-day doing more for morals than the Church.
But, as was stated at the outset, unbelief is but one cause of non-attendance at church. There are many who would put up with a good deal of decayed theology, and try for themselves and
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their children to obtain benefit and satisfaction from churchgoing for the sake of the sustenance of the better nature and the stimulus to the higher impulses, inadequate though they be, were they not actually repelled from the church-door by the demands made upon them if they enter. A common excuse for not going to church is the same as a common excuse for not getting married. Men of modest means and a fair share of pride and self-respect“ cannot afford it.” They would willingly pay in the form of pew-rent a reasonable compensation for such benefit as they could get; but having obtained their seat and paid for it, they find themselves subjected to constant solicitation for a hundred purposes that have no connection with their reasons for wishing to go to church. Perhaps the church which they wish to attend, through a policy which they had no part in making, and which they would never have approved, is involved in debt, and they are asked to help it out of foolish bankruptcy. They are asked to subscribe for foreign missions, though doubting the benefit to distant savages of the five dollars' worth of teaching which it costs a hundred dollars to give them. They are called upon to contribute to various charitable enterprises and entertainments, not called upon simply, but persistently urged, when they have their own personal notions about charitable aid, in accordance with which they do in private what they can afford or feel disposed to do. They find that in what claims to be the temple of the meek and lowly Saviour, who gave his special blessing to the poor, and was himself more slenderly provided for than the foxes and the birds of the air, they cannot feel at home unless they are comparatively rich. The Church to-day is a beggar, not humble and meek in its demands, but greedy, persistent, almost impudent. Our seeker for sustenance and inspi. ration for his better nature finds himself in a congregation of daughters of the horse-leech, ever crying: “Give, give !" and he flees in weariness and disgust from their importunities.
And yet it is not his pocket alone that is sensitive. His selfrespect and pride are hurt. He thought, perchance, that among the professed followers of the meek and lowly one, there might be a sort of equality of position, as among joint heirs to a common inheritance compared with which earthly resources are said to be insignificant. But he finds that the continual calls for contribution and for aid in the entertainments and charitable sideshows of the Church serve the purpose of gauging a man's worldly means, and he is relegated to his place in the social grade of the Church according to his ability to pay for it. Perhaps his means are modest, and the private demands upon them all they will bear. In that case, he is nobody in the society of the Church. He is made to feel that he and his family are measured and estimated according to the scale of worldly treasures, and he becomes discontented and unhappy. He concludes that if the modern Christian Church is the guardian of the gateway to heaven, it is easier for a whole caravan of camels to thread the postern of a needle's eye than for a poor man to make his way through the formidable barrier. He gives up his search in that direction for elevating and encouraging influences in life's trials, and, with the conclusions of science and philosophy, makes a more comfortable, if not a better, sanctuary for himself and his in his own home. Churches, at least in large cities, are for the rich, and serve rather a social than a genuine religious purpose; chapels and mission schools are for the poor, who are thereby made to feel their inferiority ; but for the great class of reading, thinking, and active men of the age there is no provision made for spiritual salvation.
REV. DR. WARD.
I MUST confess to a certain embarrassment in attempting to comment on the paper of “A Non-Church-Goer," from a difficulty I find in determining whether it should be treated as a serious communication or as a sort of jest. As a serious attempt to state facts I could read it only with astonishment, for from beginning to end it assumes as well-known fact what is well known to every person of intelligence upon the subject to be the reverse of fact.
The substance of the article in review is the repetition, with variations, of the assertion that “it is a generally admitted fact that in these days only a small portion, even of intelligent and eminently respectable people, are regular attendants upon religions services on Sunday." This is palpably untrue, and yet it is reiterated again and again. “The majority,” says the writer, “ of intelligent and well-meaning people, whose purposes are good, whose aspirations are high, whose conduct is upright, do not and cannot believe what the churches teach, and they are weary of its reiteration.” After making this assertion, that intelligent and moral people have generally withdrawn from attendance upon our churches, the writer then proceeds to discuss reasons for his false fact.
It would have been the part of an intelligent writer to make at least superficial investigation to discover whether the facts are as imagined. One whose purpose, however, is simply to stir up the lions may not care whether his stick is tipped with fact or fancy. But the fact is easy to obtain. It is patent to the eye, and a few minutes' search in the Census Reports and in the Year Books of our religious bodies would give the desired in. formation to any one who was not desirous to remain in ignorance of it. I suppose it is the United States that is chiefly being considered in this discussion; and it is a fact easily demonstrated that the proportion of members of so-called Evangelical Protestant churches is now considerably larger than at any previous time within the century. There is in the United States a population of fifty millions of people of all ages. Of these, over ten millions, more than one in five, are communicants in Evangelical Protestant churches. Mind, I say communicants. I do not say nominal members, adherents. I do not count in the baptized children. There are actually enrolled as communicants, who are chiefly adults, by trustworthy statistical reports, by count and not by guess-work, over ten million men and women. These represent five million families which are attendants at church, and the children of which, and many of the adults, are attendants but not communicants. We are within bounds if we say that they represent thirty millions of people who recognize themselves as attendants or adherents of the churches. Here we have at once a handsome majority of our people in this Protestant division of the believing Church. But we must add to these, according to the best computations, over six millions of Catholics. “A Non-Church-Goer” may deny that either they, or the thirty million Protestants, are “intelligent and eminently respectable people"; but he cannot claim that they “do not believe what the churches teach." That would be absurd. They do believe.
We have, then, at a moderate calculation, thirty-six of the fifty millions of our population who are recognized as regular attendants on those churches whose faith, we are told, has ceased to attract men of culture and intelligence. Of these ten millions