I’m working my way through the radical transcendentalist / associationist / spiritualist journal The Spirit of the Age, which lasted for two volumes in 1849-50, edited by William Henry Channing. Joshua King Ingalls, the libertarian land reformer who is occupying much of my scholarly time right now, contributed ten articles and a poem to the periodical. I’ve already posted “Books—Their Sphere and Influence,” which is in many ways a very nice companion piece to the “Creed” I’m posting today. Ingalls was no doubt still dealing with his break with the Unitarians, which occured early in 1848. In the Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate for Jan 28, 1848, appeared the following:
“WITHDRAWAL.—Rev. J. K. Ingalls, of Southold, Long Island, having become a Davisonian, has withdrawn from the Universalist order and connection. We commend him for his consistency in this; and if there are any more among us of the same stamp we can well spare them.”
“We believe and therefore speak.”—Paul.
How is it that faith has come to signify a lack of faith?—a creed itself, to mean no creed; but simply a long transmitted heir loom, or rather the woof of words, which are lifeless and empty? The original credo was indicative of what I believe; but strangely enough, it only means, in the Church’s vocabulary, a formula, which all mortals must repeat with uplifted eyes, on pain of being shut out from the company of the faithful. How much belief if there in repetition; can be easily seen by all who have courage to look at it. So far from its being faith, it is a formula for strangling faith. Conservatism would put an end to all true belief, and prevent the individual from exercising any religious element of his nature. Insisting on passive obedience, in his refraining to look with confidence up to God, and out upon the boundless, truth teaching, trust-inspiring beauties of his universe, and in gazing, ever doleful, at her inverted picture of the past. And yet the worshippers at her gloomy altar imagine that they believe and have a creed. But what do they believe? Well! The creed of Rome or Geneva, or Westminster, or of some man or church. They have then no belief of their own; have never exercised faith in any true sense. Paul did not submit to have his thinking and believing done for him by David, Moses or Isaiah, by Jewish rabbin or pagan poet, however he might approve and make his own the noble sentiments recorded by each. His creed was the creed of Paul. The creed of every true man has been his own, not another’s.
“But is not Christianity true, the whole truth? Is there any thing to be believed after that?” The answer to your question depends on what you mean by the term. If by Christianity you mean any form of it decreed by a corrupt church or all that has yet become spoken or written, then it is not the whole truth, and much more has to be believed. But if that system of truth is meant, which was believed, spoken, what is more, lived by Jesus, which involves the true religion of all time, as believed and spoken, according to light and opportunity by all earnest and confiding spirits, as it approximates the absolute religion of nature, then, there is nothing after it, but an eternity of progress, ever growing insight and holy trust in the arrangements and purposes of the divine.
“What means, then, this talk in the world, about faith and belief, and of creeds many?” It means nothing. Its object is to throttle the beliefs of men, by a mummery, which is at best but the dead body of what might have been some man’s creed, in days gone by. You may place it in different attitudes, swear it is a veritable living thing; yet will it not speak by any conjuration, much less work. In the days of a real Gospel, men spake as they were moved with inward consciousness. Now the church has one ready prepared for minds of all growths, which is only to be rehearsed till familiar; and then rested in for ever more. It will work mechanical results, being itself mechanical. Whether it will work by love and purify the heart; whether it will cleanse the fountains of life, and keep the well-springs of goodness flowing free from the soul’s depths, is questionable; no! not questionable. It can do nothing; only prevent doing and being done. Gog-like it would palsy the tongues of all true believers. Can you imagine why? The counterfeit likes not comparison with the real. So the real must not see light, or if it will be out spoken it must be branded as imposition, infidelity, humbug, whereat cowards and sycophants join in the chorus, and at least, will not hear the true faith spoken, lest they be convicted of their idol worship of a name.
Little consoling for any length of time, are the results of each creed-binding, such persecution of the free, truth speaking faithful. Against a band of true men, you array an army of sycophantic, time-serving mortals. Go on, then, suppressing speech, believing it wherever free! Make unpopular heresy and unbelief, which have strangely enough come to signify the same which faith once did! You will make the hated thing obnoxious, you will frighten from its devotion those who lack devotion; you will attract to yourself kindred elements of hypocrisy and nothing ness, and so save a tattering fabric for a time. You may even christen it the temple of life, and assume such terms as, to vulgar minds, express the thing to be counterfeited; but the coming light shall reveal its deformity; not shall power be given you to injure any real thing, or quell one truthful voice. J. K. I.
J. K. I., “Creed,” Spirit of the Age, I, 1 (July15, 1849), 11-12.