The End of the Churches


Under all previous conditions of society, there existed, and exists yet, certain churches, priesthoods, fervid beliefs, promoting religious and moral action to the fullest degrees of which humanity there under circumstances was capable, and often conserving all there was of justice, art, literature, and good manners.
It is clear, I say, that, under the democratic institutes of the United States, now and henceforth, there are no equally genuine fountains of fervid beliefs, adapted to produce similar moral and religious results, according to our circumstances.
The churches, sects, pulpits, of the present day exist not by any solid convictions, but by a sort of tacit, supercilious, scornful sufferance,
Few speak openly—none officially—against them,
(How these Unitarians and Universalists
—bloodless religion addressed merely to the intellect—want to be respectable and orthodox, just as much as any of the old line people!)  
Doctrine gets empty consent or mocking politeness,
It wriggles through mankind, it is never loved or believed,
The throat is not safe that speaks it aloud.
It is the very worst kind of infidelity because it suspects not itself but proceeds complacently onward and abounds in churches.

The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions,
The tune of the choir of the whitewash’d church,
The earnest words of the sweating Methodist preacher, impress’d seriously at the camp-meeting—
Who does not see that the outward religious belief of the sects of this age is a mere crust, crumbling everywhere under our feet?
The priests are continually telling what they know well enough is not so, and keeping back what they know is so,
The people do not believe them, and they do not believe themselves,
Any living fountains of belief in them are now utterly ceas’d and departed from the minds of men.
Who does not know that, with all these churches, ministers, and all the surface deference paid to the sects, the souls of the people, needing something deeper and higher, have irrevocably gone from those churches?
How few see freedom or spirituality, or hold any faith in results.

The Bible admits of exhaustion like the rest and is now exhausted;
It may be left to its fate on these terms: As long as it stands it is worthy of standing,
(These are perhaps the true terms of all religions.)
Now it is certain that what is called revealed religion as founded or alleged to be founded on the Old and New Testament is not responded to by the highest, devoutest modern mind.
O, Bible! (say I) what nonsense and folly have been supported in thy name!
Who is not aware that the churches are one vast lie?

Silent and amazed even when a little boy,
I remember I heard the preacher every Sunday put God in his statements,
As contending against some being or influence—
These preposterous and painful screamings from the pulpit,
To whine about sin and hell, to pronounce his race a sham or swindle.
Ah, there is no religion there; I don’t see how it is possible to worship God there at all;
Whatever would put God as contending against some being or influence is of no account. 

You have been warned through your whole life to pay your duty to God—religion the original and main matter,
Really there is no such thing—what we call religion, a mere mask of wax or lace.
Religions, with all the churches and the insane statements of the ministers, appear but as empty shells,
Not all the traditions can put vitality in churches,
The bodies are dead, the spirits have flown to other spheres.
I have seen corpses shrunken and shriveled,
But no corpse have I seen that appears to me more shrunken, more inert and blue and fit for the swiftest burial, than the whole and the best of what over this great earth has been called, and is still called, religion.
Yet they know it not—so melancholy!—they keep on the same, celebrating over the coffins—
The spectacle is a pitiful one.

I am not to be deceived by this huge show of churches enveloping us with all their dramatic scenery of religion,
They are not alive, they are cold mortar and brick,
I can easily build as good, and so can you.
As George Fox rais’d his warning cry, “Is it this pile of brick and mortar, these dead floors, windows, rails, you call the church? Why this is not the church at all—the church is living, ever living souls.”

A lot of churches, sects, etc., the most dismal phantasms I know, usurp the name of religion;
What is called such, even accepting the most florid and large description of it, is but one little item in the sum of that boundless account which a man should be always balancing with his own soul.
What does the soul know of any church—or of all churches?
The flights and sublime ecstasies of the soul cannot submit to the exact statements of churches or any creed.

I say in the present age, for developed people, the churches are full of mummeries, disgraceful,
Have done with mummeries,
For the soul of modern times has past on and left them far, far behind,
To a developed person they stand for little or nothing.
The mummery of the churches in which none believes but all agree to countenance, with secret sarcasm and denial in their hearts, is what stands most in the way of a real athletic and fit religion.

Religion is too important to be consigned any longer to the churches—Saint this, or Saint that,
I demand something far more real than that for America.
All the sects, churches, creeds, pews, sermons, observances, Sundays, etc., have nothing to do with real religion, which escapes independent of them, and now turning, looks upon them with derision, as upon things strange and foreign to itself.
They surely, surely go,
It may be sooner, or it may be later, but go they must,
(They may wait a while, perhaps a generation or two, dropping off by degrees.)

The true religious genius now seems to say, Beware of churches! Beware of priests!
There will shortly be no more priests,
Those rhymsters and sexless priests, whose virtues are lathered and shaved three times a week,
The most they offer for mankind and eternity less than a spirt of my own seminal wet—
I say their work is done.
From your formules, O bat-eyed and materialistic priests,
(Are you so poor that you are always miserly, priests?)
Allons! from all formules,
It is time the men be sternly recalled to themselves, and the women also.

Yet don’t be too severe on old religious delusions—or modern ones either.
From grand points of view, ascending high enough, we dare not find fault with any of them,
But perceive that they have done the work that was for them, and that could not be done without them.
The fading religions and priests were alive and did the work of their days,
Each as far advanced as it could be, considering what had preceded it.
But I am no shallowpate to go about singing them above the rest and deferring to them;
They did not become great by singing and deferring.

Moreover they bore mites as for unfledg’d birds who have to rise and fly and sing for themselves;
Every one, without exception, prepares the way for a higher—must, in due time, give way to a higher and far different (even if inclusive of the former,)
The religions, the new ones arising out of the old ones, each fit for its time and land, yet helplessly withdrawing in due time, giving place to the more needed one that must succeed it.
The certain evolution of (not ecclesiasticism but) religion, through all stages and happenings is the inevitable development of humanity—
They have arrived at that—by-and-by they will pass on 
farther;
In this age or any age, it is a study which has to be begun by the age for itself. 

NEXT: The New Religion