The phenomena of the present age are not unlike those...

The Onlooker

The phenomena of the present age are not unlike those under which Christianity made its first appearance. It is no paradox to say that modern methods of thought, modern skepticism, the modern attitude, first came to a head in the Mediterranean cities of Greek and Roman days. There was a high intellectual and artistic standard in the public mind of those times which was subsequently lost, and which has perhaps never been improved on. This enlightened and non-superstitious level of thought was accompanied by a wide-spread dissatisfaction with the prevailing conditions of life. Whilst evil was rampant everywhere, the conscience of mankind was not asleep, but suffering.

The religions and sects of the age were powerless to meet its needs. The grandest poetic summary of Roman religion, Virgil's "Æneid," was written at a time when probably its author himself and most of his contemporaries had ceased to believe in the gods other than as worthy or beautiful offsprings of the human genius. Lucretius' atomistic theory of the universe was prevalent, as were also a hundred less consistently materialistic systems wherein superstition and physical science mingled, endeavoring to account for themselves monotheistically, with Zeus as representative of a supreme creative being, and the other gods as symbolical of his creative energies in nature and man. No one wanted to lose the gods; no one knew how the world would ever get on without them; their external cult and service, both privately and publicly, was ubiquitous and never more splendidly performed or more strongly authorized by the existing powers; but the conscience of mankind was most uneasy. In a word, people were looking for truth; or, if not doing so, were actively engaged in supporting the old beliefs against rising tides of agnostic philosophy or purely materialistic atheism. One of the charges brought against Socrates was that he taught his students that the sun was a stone! and like doctrines. It was in vain that he pleaded his teaching had always been ethical and metaphysical; such distinctions were nothing to an alarmed state of public feeling, and he had to suffer. The present age has made vast advances on the old in the adaptation of nature and in mechanical improvements, but it has not advanced on the intellectual range of the old world. They knew as much and as little as this age knows, so far as a mental attitude or outlook on things human and divine is concerned.

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