"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the fourth instalment of In Search of Truth from A Time to Keep (1934)
Be that as it may, at the age of seventeen the Protestant pack of cards in my hands collapsed. Why? Because, apart from moral issues of which no mortal man can judge, I had no philosophic system. The Shorter Catechism, a philosophy in itself, had been learnt by me as it might have been learnt by a parrot. The generation before me had the Bible and the Commentaries. I make no complaint. The Bible was passed on, but not the Commentaries. It was impossible for anyone to have passed on Dr. Jenkins’ Commentary on Jude, an enormous time. With religion I abandoned a good part of the moral code of my boyhood, in which all manner of things were confused. It was wrong to bet or to pawn, and it was wrong to enter a public-house or a house of ill-fame. The first three prohibitions were based on respectability, and when respectability is confused with morality the results may be disastrous. It is not wrong to bet if you can afford to lose. It is better to pawn than to borrow from friends. Nor is it wrong to enter a public-house, provided you drink in moderation. The last prohibition is universally accepted as right in every code of morals, and is in a different category to the first three. A moral code based on respectability or social convenience is a poor shield against temptation.
Yet one gift from the older generation remained — the fear of God. In August 1914 there came the hazards of war, and for me the time had come when it was expedient to make my peace with God. At a few hours’ notice the Church of Scotland admitted me to her membership. Thus, at the age of thirty-two, I received Holy Communion for the first time. It was my first and last communion in the Church of Scotland. The right of that Church is most solemn by reason of its scriptural simplicity, and he could he who communicated realised the power of Christ.
The truth or falsity of religion is a matter of vital interest, because everyone of us must die. That is the only certitude in life, and we are all on our last voyage on the mysterious River of Life which runs from the cradle to the grave. The River of Life is composed of millions of little particles. Each is a human being. It is as though every particle of water in the Rhône became conscious at the moment of leaving the Lake of Geneva, and remained consciousness until the Rhône disappears into the earth a few miles away. The particles would not know of themselves whence they came or whither they were going. But during their brief journey they could choose within limits their place in the stream, could alter for better or worse the land through which they were passing, and could make observations concerning the size and speed of the river. And thus do we men and women make observations on the earth, and pause to tell the children following swiftly in our wake. They in turn will pass back their knowledge to generations yet unborn. It is a mysterious river, because when you in the river come to think of it, the past is in front of us and the future generations are behind. Now this river of human life has been flowing over the earth for a long time. It was certainly there in the Third Glacial Period, and some say the date of that period in the world’s history was one hundred and fifty thousand years ago.
Without religion we know nothing of the purpose of life or of what happens after death. If there be no God there can be no religion, or if God be unknowable there can be no religion. This last is modern paganism. There is a God, but He has never made any revelation of His will to anyone, and all codes of morality were invented by man as a social convenience.
The mechanistic theory of the last century that the universe came into being by chance has been abandoned, and we know that chance itself is governed by immutable laws. In the world of the infinitesimally small there is law and order. Bacteria, four hundred millions of which could lie side by side on the surface of a postage stamp, are attacked and destroyed by vital elements smaller than themselves. The causes of disease in man have diseases of their own. When we turn to immensity we find our earth racing through space, space filled with avalanches of hurtling rocks and stones. Two hundred miles above us these rocks strike the stratosphere at such speed that they are burnt to atoms in a moment. In the stratosphere the temperature is that of boiling water, and the cosmic rays so strong that they could penetrate fourteen feet of solid lead and kill instantly. All around us and within us is Design, Law, Order, all of which imply the existence of a First Cause, and the First Cause we call God — a mind infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. Religion is our relation to God, and is as inevitable as the relation in everyday life between father and daughter. She is the daughter of her father, and if she denied it people would think her unreasonable. No man discovers religion, he merely acknowledges an existing relationship. Even the most primitive savages believe in God and a future life. Religion is not the successor of magic, although magic may be perverted religion. The whole problem was well stated by Browning: