Thursday, January 12, 2017

Religious Journalism

If we were to hear of any particular individual that he was eminently religious, what kind of person should we expect to see? As the word “religion" is now generally used to denote the sum total of the relations between man and his Maker, and not merely, as was once the case, the external ceremonial of worship, we should have a right to expect that a very religious man would differ from his neighbours, not so much in the apparent objects or in the ordinary habits of life, as in being eminently Wise and good—a man of truth, principle, honour, an charity—a judicious adviser, a man whose word could be trusted, one who feared nothing in the path of duty. In short, we should look for a man fearing and loving God, and acting upon these principles in all his dealings with men. If we were to hear of a newspaper as distinguished by the same peculiarity, we ought, by a parity of reasoning, to expect in it similar qualities. The function of a newspaper is to report and to comment upon passing events. A religious newspaper, one would suppose, ought to be distinguished from journals not so characterized by commenting more truthfully, and more generously, and more wisely than other newspapers upon the occurrences which might attract its notice. Words, however, are not readily divested of their appropriate meaning; and though the usage of the day may seem to sanction the notion that the word ‘religions’ is equivalent to ‘righteous,’ it is sometimes used in its original sense of “addicted," wisely or not, “to ceremonial observances." If the word be used in this sense, we have no difficulty in understanding what is meant by the ‘religious' Press, and by the “religious" world which it represents. The phrases, on this hypothesis, will denote that part of society and those particular newspapers which are distinguished by attaching—generally, sincerely enough—a peculiar importance to the maintenance of those outward an visible habits of conduct, of language, and of thought which are usually associated with devotion. Every one knows that in every theological denomination there are peculiarities which distinguish those who profess the strictest adherence to its principles. We do not wish to ridicule or to impute insincerity to those who adopt them. If we knew nothing whatever about two given individuals, except the fact that the one did and the other did not exhibit inch peculiarities, we should think that there was some evidence that the first was a better man than the second. The aggregate of these bodies is what is generally called the “religious world;" and the function of religious newspapers is to represent the opinions, feelings. and interests of the various classes into which it is divided. The universal profession of these papers is, that they wish to promote the interests of true piety. Their all but universal practice is founded 11 on some such argument as this:— “True piety is that which is believed and done by the truly pious. The truly pious are those who act upon certain principles in a certain manner. The principles, and the way of applying them, are such and such. The persons who hold and act upon them are that section of the religious world which we represent. Upon the whole, the body which we represent is truly pious, and by representing their feelings, wishes, opinions, and interests, we are advocating the cause of true piety."

Now, inasmuch as such bodies are distinguished, not only by their piety, but by the peculiarities which we have mentioned— and as it is much easier to recognise the outward and visible sign than the inward and spiritual grace which gives it its value—the newspaper which represents it is pretty sure, for the sake of convenience and distinctness, to accept the sign which can, as conclusive evidence of the spiritual condition which cannot be ascertained. If all red-haired men were eminently constitutional, a newspaper established on constitutional principles would be very apt to distrust all whose heads were black, brown, or grey; and when a little heated in political contest, they would not scruple—of course, with every expression of tenderness for “our black-haired brethren in all parts of world"—to attack all those who did not comply with the test, not on the ground of the blackness of their hair, but on the ground of their disloyalty. Add to this circumstance the belief—very possibly quite sincere— of the infinite significance of the questions at issue, and there will no longer be any cause for surprise at the frightful vehemence and constant disregard of truth which are indissolubly associated in our minds with the words “religious newspaper." We have vulgar papers, we have unprincipled papers, we have disingenuous papers, and we have imbecile papers; but the full bitterness which the human heart is capable of feeling, the full ferocity which it is capable of expressing, is to be met with nowhere but in religious papers. We know of no spectacle more frightful than that of a “religions" writer, raging with currish spite, and taxing his generally very narrow capacity to put into words the images familiar to a bad heart and a gloomy imagination. We know of no more awful responsibility than that of being a permanent scandal and stumbling-block to those who wish to love and to serve their Maker, and a perpetual occasion to the enemies of religion to blaspheme. Sometimes, in the midst of such displays, it is hardly possible to repress a smile at a blundering ferocity which is at once amusing and disgusting. Take, for example, the following extracts (slightly compressed) from an article in last week's Tablet, on Crime in England:—
‘The devil, according to St. Augustine, has certain moral attributes. He cannot get drunk. He is industrious. He is eminently intelligent, and would, with the most distinguished success, fill a professor’s chair in any one of the godless colleges. Like the devil, the people of Protestant Britain are amazingly industrious, and like him, their industry had a Satanic origin. [Did the devil create himself?]. We may see in Protestant England an industry which may be termed Satanic, a temperance which is Satanic, and an intelligence which is Satanic. This intelligence makes men at once chemists and atheists, alike godless and well informed. Lectures on chemistry which lead men to the use of strychnine have superseded sermons on Catholic dogma which lead men to the frequentation of the sacraments. Untiring efforts to assimilate the moral character of men to that of Satan are made by titled itinerant lecturers [poor Lord Stanley!]. Britain is fast becoming a hell upon earth. As men sow, so shall they reap. Pernicious teachings are followed by more pernicious practices. Thus the world is horrific within one short month the harvest of crime which mantles Great Britain with its disastrous and funereal shadow.’
We suppose the murder of Miss Hinds was only pretty Paddy’s way, and that the nine unfortunate victims hung last year in Ireland were Catholic martyrs. Our contemporary proceeds—
‘We have first the fiendish felon [miserable misdemeanour would have been as good jingle and better law] of Sir John Paul, who, with the same hand which opens a heretical Bible, despoils the widow of her mite and the orphan of his patrimony. After this grim and cowardly crawler follows the clumsy figure and coarse red face of William Palmer.’
It is some comfort to reflect that Palmer is not yet convicted. But it does not follow that England is a hell upon earth, because he has “a clumsy figure and coarse red face;" nor were Sir John Paul's crimes discovered within a month of those imputed to Palmer, but nearly nine months before. Ebullitions of this kind are probably only the last efforts of the “felon” press, sighing itself to rest; and we are not sorry that the heroes of the sword, the dock, and the cabbage-garden should carry their virulence into a sphere in which it only aggravates the symptoms of a chronic disease, instead of threatening to produce a civil war.

Certainly the conduct of many of the Irish Roman Catholics has not been such as to incline us either to respect or to admire them. There is, however, a body in England of which we wish to speak with the sincerest respect, and which has many undoubted claims to our admiration. It is caricatured by a paper as bitter as the Tablet, but less able, and more totally unscrupulous. We allude to the Evangelical party and the Record newspaper. No one who is a friend to the Church of England can doubt that the Evangelical party has rendered it inestimable service. The great religious revival of the last century — the foundation, the maintenance, and the government, conducted with extraordinary skill and vigour, of some of our most eminent charitable societies—the names of such men as Scott, Venn, Newton, and Simeon, and of many living persons who not unworthy represent their spiritual ancestors, are most unquestionable titles to respect. In an evil hour, not only for themselves, but for the peace of English society, they have allowed themselves to be represented by a paper bitter, false, and malignant to an extent almost incredible. Of the theology of the Record we will say nothing, as we do not agree with our contemporary in thinking that such subjects can be profitably discussed in a newspaper. We will content ourselves with stating a general impression, which, we think, will be shared by all entitled to judge. Let anyone compare books which the Record would greet with a Judas's kiss—H. Venn's Complete Duty of Man, J. Venn’s Sermons, or Wilberforce's Practical Christianity — with the theological articles in the Record, and he will feel the same kind of shock which would be occasioned by the substitution of the photograph of a corpse for the portrait of a face. In the one, he will find some peculiarities of expression and of opinion with which he would perhaps not be inclined to sympathize, but he would also find in every page the deepest marks of the love of God and the love of man. In the other, he would find the same expressions, and a caricature of the same opinions, petrified into a shape which would lead him to suppose that, whilst the object of the Master served by the one set of writers was to save the world, the characteristic of the Being worshipped by the other was to prepare and to rejoice in its destruction. No doubt the columns of the Record are full of lamentations over human wickedness and the consequences to which it tends, but it is impossible to read them without perceiving that they are crocodile’s tears, and that in reality the writer rejoices over the corruptions which appear to prove his conclusion. At the head of the column of correspondence in the Record, stands this notice—“We shall not insert anything opposed to the fundamental truths of the Gospel, without an immediate refutation." On the the 7th January, a letter, containing the following passage, was published in that column without note or comment, under the curious signature of “P. O. P." It calls the Editor's attention to “A work called Boyle v. Wiseman, which ought to be devoured by every Englishman, whether Protestant, Dissenter, or Catholic." Why? Because, “never was a man so clearly convicted of lying, slander, and detraction as Cardinal Wiseman in this book. It would be wrong to say [but not to insinuate] that he is also convicted of perjury, but the statement of facts is such as to throw very strong suspicion on" his affidavits. We have no particular love for Cardinal Wiseman, but we should be sorry to think him perjured. It is a “fundamental truth of the Gospel," that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth; but it would seem that there is joy in the pages of the Record over the detection of any one who needs repentance.

The Record's estimate of itself is perhaps as surprising as its judgment of its neighbours. In a well-known essay, an eminent writer had maintained the opinion that many persons who make little or no profession of religion are nevertheless distinguished by exemplary conduct, and that it is false and uncharitable to say that such actions are merely external, and have no spiritual value. On the 9th of last month, the Record published an article upon this subject, to the effect that there was a eat difference between Mr. Jowett's theory and the fact. He asserted that the church and the world were separated from each other by very slight distinctions, and “ besought us not to keep up such a rigid line of demarcation;" whereas, says the Record, how wicked are all the Courts of Europe (“for obvious reasons, excepting our own and that of France"). How wicked the President of the United States would be, if he could—it is worth while to remark not only the charity of the assumption, but the ingenuity with which, by an after-thought, a foreseen objection is silence. How wicked the respectable classes are—how wicked railway directors are—how wicked are the poor, as is shown by husbands beating their wives! In short, “the present state of the human race, or at least of ninety-nine hundredths of it, is desperately wicked." For these reasons the Record justifies itself in “enforcing a rigid line of demarcation." When the Pharisee in the parable arrived at the conclusion that he was not as other men, he had at least the grace to express his thankfulness. The Record does not even think it worth while to state the fact, but leaves it to be inferred. It rigidly marks itself off from the rest of the world—the ninety-nine hundredths are “desperately wicked." What can we infer but that the other one hundredth is unimpeachably good? Perhaps, in some future edition, Mr. Jowett will draw the other side of the picture, and show that, as the world has many of the virtues of the church, the church is not exempt from the frailties of the world. Perhaps, amongst other things, he would say, “How timid our spiritual reprovers are!" Is the Emperor of the French so is spotless that he alone is admitted to share with the Queen, the Editor, and the admirers of the Record, the fold of the little flock? Or can it be that the “obvious reasons" which exempt him from remark are mere cowardice and timeserving? Can we imagine Elijah saying to Israel, “Hear, O Israel! the priests are very wicked, the people are very wicked, the tradesmen of Jezreel are very wicked.  In short (though, for obvious reasons, what I say has no reference to Ahab and Jezebel) ninety-nine out of every hundred of you are desperately wicked?” Indeed, our contemporary's clumsiness puts his loyalty on a par with his charity and his courage; for he has placed in the same category, and or the same reasons, our own Sovereign, and a man whose friendship even worldly-minded people accept with some reservations.

One of the most curious circumstances in the conduct of the Record is the nature of its guardianship over that select number which it thus marks off. It is petty, spiteful, narrow, reminding one of a beadle who is so occupied in rapping the knuckles of little boys who look off their prayer-books in church, that he has no time to listen to the sermon, and little inclination to join in the prayers. On the 18th of last month, the Record published a favourable review of the Life of Captain Vicars, a pious and gallant officer killed in the trenches at Sebastopol. Very rightly considering such a subject most useful at the present time, the Record devotes something more than two columns to it; but the authoress was so unfortunate as to insert in her book several notations from Tennyson's poems, and to call the love of a son. or his mother one of “the holiest affections of man's heart," going on, moreover, to say, that through the instrumentality of that affection Captain Vicars was led to higher affections still. This would not seem very heretical, but the Record considers that it “sounds far more like the language of the Maurician school than the language of the New Testament," and proceeds to say, that such feelings “after all, have in them," as the Article expresses it, “the nature of sin." It is, perhaps, fortunate for a sinful world that we have not all been so successful as our monitor in mortifying the carnal virtues of the unregenerate heart. A little further on a reference, on the part of Captain Vicars to Newton’s Cardiphonia, suggests to his critic a late lecture of Mr. Alford’s, and he concludes thus:—“Hedley Vicars had not so learned Christ. He knew his Bible experimentally"—plainly suggesting that Mr. Alford, who is dragged into the question without having the slightest connexion with it, is destitute of “experimental" acquaintance with the Bible. Those who know what this ignorance is understood to imply, will shudder at the malignity which makes it the subject of an ill-natured sneer. A little further on, the authoress is reproved for quoting, not only the poet laureate, but “even Willis and Longfellow,” who “belong to the pantheistic school of Parker and Emerson.” A criticism about as just and as intelligible as it would be to say that they all embrace the “heresies” of Dr. Newman and his brother the Professor. "Charity thinketh no evil." The Record thinketh nothing but evil. One would have supposed that the most insane and inveterate enmity could have seen no harm in Mr. Macaulay's statement that the excellent General Mackay said on a particular occasion, “God's will be done." But the Record has the microscopic eye and acute proboscis which are characteristic of some of the less savoury parts of the insect creation. In a note on the passage, it says that the expression really was, “The will of the Lord be done," and remarks that man minds will recognize “the existence of God which will shrink from naming the Lord Jehovah;” —obviously imputing to Mr. Macaulay disbelief of the Old Testament, because he substitutes one equivalent for another.

The way in which the Record treats the public in general combines all those qualities which common honour and good feeling repudiate. If any one wishes to see a specimen of the malignity which imputes motives and suggests accusations which it as neither the courage to make good, nor the modest to retract—if he wishes to see the kindest actions vilified, the best intentions misrepresented, and women dragged before the public and loaded with coarse abuse—let him read the articles on the Nightingale Fund which appeared in the Record between the 14th and the 28th of January last. Indeed, this “religious" periodical exercises over society a kind of surveilance not unlike that which was once wielded by the Age and the Satirist. We do not, of course, suppose that the Record trades in hush-money; but we do say that it trades upon scandal, and has the hypocrisy to profess to do so upon religious grounds. Suppose we were to publish an account of the pursuits of all the persons connected with it. Suppose we were to say, Mr. A. is in the habit of going to sleep in church, whilst Mr. B. preaches sermons bought of Mr. C. at 2s. 6d. a set: Mr. D. beats his wife; Mr. E. drinks too much port wine; and it is a fact that when Mr. F. dined at Mr. G.’s, the passed all their time in talking scandal about Mrs. H. and Mr. J. Would our contemporary's just indignation be qualified by the reflection that our slanders were published upon religious grounds, to show people that they ought not to put confidence in their teachers, and that we plastered them over with quotations from the Bible? Yet this is what they do week by week continually. On the 4th of last month they had to retract false statements which they had made about the private affairs of the Duchess of Buccleuch, and had the impudence to make their retractation the occasion of insulting comments upon the amount of the confidence existing between that lady and her husband. We have not forgotten how, some years since, they had the baseness to employ spies to find out whether grace was said at the table of a party of gentlemen with whose affairs they had as much to do as with the balances at their bankers'. They condescended to hunt up the affairs of the Oxford Union and the King's College Debating Society. In many instances, they have published to all the world the fact of the participation of clergymen in amusements, the propriety of which is surely a general and an open question; and whilst they have thus sedulously polished, according to their view of polishing, the outside of the cup and the platter, what has been their course with respect to the weightier matters of the law? Who would ever read the Record to learn whether a war was just, a law wise, a Ministry worthy of confidence? The reader will find there comments on ‘nude' (it is so indecent to say naked) statuary, enough to fill half the parsonages of the kingdom with prurient curiosity. He will find column after column of indignant dulness—about the Band in the Parks and the opening of the Crystal Palace on Sunday; but he will find very little worth reading on the great questions which involve the honour and conscience of the nation. If we turn to the Prophets or to the Gospels, we shall find that the sins which call down God's judgments on a people are injustice, bloodguiltiness, hypocrisy, falsehood, tyranny. If we turn to those who have the sacred volume in these days most frequently on their lips, we shall find that war, pestilence, and famine are cured out upon us for what, at the worst, are no more than a few insignificant external symptoms of sin, and what are, in many cases, more matters of arrangement or accident—such as the superscription of a coin, the endowment of a college, or the proposed opening of the British Museum on a Sunday.

Of all the phases of modern journalism, there is none more detestable than that which would lead an ignorant reader to suppose that either religion is principally concerned with trifles and ceremonial observances, or that it is the awkward mask of hypocrisy and the convenient tool of malice.

Saturday Review, February 16, 1856.

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