The Free Religious AssociationBoston

The New-York Herald, May 29, 1869.

Boston Religious Anniversaries.
The Free Religious Association—A Mingling of Sects—Jews and Gentiles—Love and Metaphysics—Addresses by Emerson, Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone Blackwell.

Boston, May 28, 1869.

A largely attended meeting of the Free Religious Association was held in Tremont Temple to-day.  Rev. O. B. Frothingham opened the meeting with an address, in which he stated the position which the society occupied before the public—having no creed to propagate, differing very much in their belief, but all seeking after the truth.  He referred to similar movements in other places, referring particularly to Germany, where meetings were held every year, which, in nearly all their details, were similar to those held here, and the report of which, if written out, might answer for the report of a meeting here in Boston.  He stated that the movement was calculated to inaugurate an era of the absolute supremacy of human reason in spiritual matters.  He then referred to similar movements in Switzerland and to the vast proportions of this movement, which was not composed of a small band making its way through a trackless wilderness.  The purposes of this society were peace, harmony and unity, and yet in the attitude of the churches the word unity meant warfare.  Religion was organized division, and not organized unity.  One object of the Association was the study of scientific theology; not of theology, for that was anything but scientific.  God is not a definition; he is the soul of things, and in Him we live and move and have our being.  It had been objected that they did not call themselves theists, deists, Christians or anti-Christians; they were anti-nothing; they made war upon no religion; they made war only on error.  All that the world needs is light; let it be pure, let it be sweet, let it be steady, and the world will be created anew.  They were here to-day to show a few beams of that light.

Dr. Etlanger, of New York, Editor of the Jewish Times, was introduced and read a paper on the Jewish faith, making an earnest appeal for truth—the truth of one God and one humanity, having carried the race to which he belonged through persecution in triumph.  Judaism knew no distinction between man and man, but recognized the God who manifested himself through man.  He quoted from the Talmud to show the spirit of liberalism which it breathed.  He referred to the Bible as the first book of the greater bible which shall contain the universal history of man.

Rev. Jesse H. Jones, of New York city, desired to speak of Jesus in an orthodox light—that same Jesus who was despised eighteen hundred years ago, and who had been again rejected to-day; that same Jesus who taught the new law of moral action, the law of life; who broke through the law of selfishness, which before his time was the cornerstone of human life; who taught that the more a man had the more was he bound to serve others, instead of the now universal theory that the more you had the more were men bound to serve you.  Christ had placed the golden age in the future; all other leaders of religion had placed their golden age in the past.  The world was dying with selfishness, and the Christians were bearing the chalice of love to the lips of the dying—the elixir of eternal love.  Jesus Christ was the Sherman, and they were marching under his command to the sea.  They invited all to join them in the grand march.

Rev. Francis E. Abbott said they wanted to offer a platform in which every one could speak his own personal convictions.  It was in that spirit which he wished to speak.  Protestant Christianity, he claimed, was a compromise between Roman Catholicism and free religion, and he had come here to-day to throw all compromise behind them and to stand up for free religion.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was received with great applause.  He opened by saying that we might now relinquish our strife in the theological world.  He stated that the Author of Nature had not left himself without a witness in every sane mind, and that the moral sentiment speaks to every man the law after which the universe was made; that we find identity of design throughout nature; that there is a force always at work to make the best better and the worst good.  St. Augustine said that that which is now called Christianity originally existed among the ancients.  He believed that  Christianity was not only as old as the creation, but more, that a man’s religious susceptibility can find the same idea in numberless conversations.  The religious can find religion wherever they associate; where he finds narrow religion he also finds narrow reading.  We are all believers in natural religion; we all agree that the health and integrity of man is self-respect.  Wise men wish their religion to go alone, only humbly bowing themselves before the source of wisdom which they have discovered within themselves.  George Fox said that he heard the words of Christ and God.  He knew them only in his own soul.  It is the principle of our own Testament that its teachings go to the honor and benefit of our humanity.  Let it stand, but do not attempt to lift it out of humanity in a sound frame of mind.  We read or remember the religious sayings of religious teachers only for our friendship and the social identity which they open to us; but these words would have no weight with us if we had not the same convictions already.  Zealots eagerly fasten their eyes upon the difference between their creed and yours, but the charm was to find the identity between the two.  In conclusion he expressed his pleasure at seeing so many men of different views here, and made the remark that it was no wonder that there was a Christ, but that there was not a thousand.

After the conclusion of the remarks of Mr. Emerson the Chairman read a letter from Lucretia Mott, who is sick and unable to be present.

At the afternoon services Colonel T. W. Higginson read the report of the Executive Committee, and also letters from Dr. A. H. Quint, of New Bedford; Re. Philip Brooks, of Philadelphia; Rev. Wm. H. H. Murray, of Boston; Rev. Lyman Abbott, of New York; Wm. E. Parks, of Lawrence, and Professor Diamond, of Brown University, all of which expressed sympathy with the objects of the association.

Mrs. Julia Ward Howe then read an essay on the subject of “Freedom and Restraint in Religion.”  True religion had come at last.  It was easy to vote ourselves free, but not to make ourselves free.  In speaking of the Church she said that each sect detected a narrowness in every other sect, and each might well devise a broader and more liberal platform.  Speculation contained but little real religion, and, in her opinion, controversy was the great obstacle to freedom.  A great many considered Christianity to mean superstition and the study of theology the confession of natural religion.  Religion encompassed our entire natures and unlocked the whole moral and intellectual elements of man, while natural religion was active in the few and very uncommmon.  Indeed, she held that the Free Religious Association had at last a tendency to correct the religious errors of the different sects and opinions.  The tendency of the inquiring spirit of the age was to free ideas, free types and make them aspiring and independent.  Mrs. Howe’s essay was a very abstruse and deep effort.

Colonel A. D. Higginson denied that free religion was negative in its character and ideas, but the sects were that made the charge.  After giving instances of the inefficiency of Christianity as practiced, he said that the difference in man’s religion depended on the spirit in which he accepted the code of virtue.  In regard to the high moral purpose of the association it was noticed that many of the persons composing the association were among the leading reformers in the most successful reforms of the day, while their opponents were among those in the sects who had always stood in the way of true progress.  Natural religion was good enough for the people to live by and die by—in short it was the hope of the world.

Mrs. Mary Grew charged upon Christianity all the libels that had ever been uttered against true religion.  She arraigned the Church of high ecclesiastical crimes and misdemeanors, and that it had crucified Christ a thousand times since he had been crucified by the Jews.  When theologians can prepare anything better than the Sermon on the Mount, they had better repudiate Christianity.  She heard of no better system of Christianity than that of Jesus of Nazareth.  The world was asking for spiritual food, besides the dry husks of theology.

Rev. Miss Gibson discussed the necessity of a religion that would know no sects, and would recognize woman as the equal of man.

Rev. Dr. Bartall, of Boston, said that Christ became a mediator and the voice of a moral sentiment merely; that Christ did not come to preach Christianity, but the truth; and that we would be most like him when we preached in the spirit in which he spoke.

Rev. M. Corvell said that the association was well on the way to reconciliation, because clergymen of various denominations who had spoken on the platform sought to make their religion practical.  It grieved him to see the name of Christianity disgraced by religious sects.  He wanted to see a true theology of nature, and thought if there ever was one need greater than another it was to withdraw the name of the Saviour from view and look to the inner sense for purity of spiritual life.

After a few remarks by Rev. M. T. Blackwell, of New Jersey, the meeting, at six o’clock, adjourned until half-past seven o’clock this evening.

Upon the reassembling of the Convention Rev. David A. Wasson discussed whether the province of social science was identical with religion.  Religion was an inherent sentiment; but social science, if it existed at all, was undefinable.  After discussing the relation of consciousness to freedom he said there never was a civilization but that originated in religion.  Science cannot take the place of religion, and that which is radical in history is radical in man’s nature.  Science is the product and garb of civilization; religion its base and sustenance.  The functions in State and society were also considered.  The State takes no cognizance of character; it takes from philanthropy to give to the miser.

Rev. Rowland Conner, of Boston, thought religion that finds expression in the Church of to-day was rapidly dying out, and in all the transactions of life it was being coolly bowed out of society.  The decay was in consequence of the superstitions of the Church and a neglect to work for humanity.  True religion is the dream that ennobles humanity.

Lucy Stone Blackwell believed that there was implanted in the soul of every man a still, small voice—the voice of God—which if heeded would develop true religion.  God never sent a soul out upon its helpless journey without giving it a witness within itself, and a consciousness that it would live forever.  The world’s true teacher is the mother, and the essence of true religion in every soul, and woman is by divine right the world’s instructor.  Release her from hopeless drudgery and place her in her true position, morally and intellectually, and true religion would be better developed.

John Weiss was the next speaker.  He said that love was the tap root of pure religion.  Social science had the great function before it of abolishing disease and tyranny, but it was powerless to save the soul.

Mrs. Cora Hatch Tappan said that the Church of to-day was the rostrum, not the pulpit, and that sectarian creeds were rapidly melting away before the truths of natural religion.  It was not a new religion, but a broad one.  Science, life and society do not tell us that we have religion, for the great keystone of religion is only touched by master minds.  The divine parentage of God constitutes our relation to Him, and the father and mother constitute the true teachers of the world.  Mrs. Tappan closed with a beautiful peroration, and at its close the gas was almost turned off, when Horace Seaver, editor of the Investigator, essayed to make a few remarks.  Loud cries were made for more light, and he proceeded briefly, after which the Convention dissolved.


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