Appendix O. Speeches For Study And Practise
William Jennings Bryan. The Prince Of Peace (1894)
I offer no apology for speaking upon a religious theme, for it is the most univensal of all themes. I am interested in the science of government, but I am interested more in religion than in government. I enjoy making a political speech - I have made a good many and shall make more - but I would rather speak on religion than on politics. I commenced speaking on the stump when I was only twenty, but I commenced speaking in the church six years earlier - and I shall be in the church even after I am out of politics. I feel sure of my ground when I make a political speech, but I feel even more certain of my ground when I make a religious speech. If I addrest you upon the subject of law I might interest the lawyers; if I discust the science of medicine I might interest the physicians; in like manner merchants might be interested in comments on commerce, and farmers in matters pertaining to agriculture; but no one of these subjects appeals to all. Even the science of government, tho broader than any profession or occupation, does not embrace the whole sum of life, and those who think upon it differ so among themselves that I could not speak upon the subject so as to please a part of the audience without displeasing others. While to me the science of government is intensely absorbing, I recognize that the most important things in life lie outside of the realm of government and that more depends upon what the individual does for himself than upon what the government does or can do for him. Men can be miserable under the best government and they can be happy under the worst governmnet.
1 Used by permission.
Government affects but a part of the life which we live here and does not deal at all with the life beyond, while religion touches the infinite circle of existence as well as the small arc of that circle which we spend on earth. No greater theme, therefore, can engage our attention. If I discuss questions of government I must secure the cooperation of a majority before I can put my ideas into practise, but if, in speaking on religion, I can touch one human heart for good, I have not spoken in vain no matter how large the majority may be against me.
Man is a religious being; the heart instinctively seeks for a God. Whether he worships on the banks of the Ganges, prays with his face upturned to the sun, kneels toward Mecca or, regarding all space as a temple, communes with the Heavenly Father according to the Christian creed, man is essentially devout.
There are honest doubters whose sincerity we recognize and respect, but occasionally I find young men who think it smart to be skeptical; they talk as if it were an evidence of larger intelligence to scoff at creeds and to refuse to connect themselves with churches. They call themselves "Liberal," as if a Christian were narrow minded. Some go so far as to assert that the "advanced thought of the world" has discarded the idea that there is a God. To these young men I desire to address myself.
Even some older people profess to regard religion as a superstition, pardonable in the ignorant but unworthy of the educated. Those who hold this view look down with mild contempt upon such as give to religion a definite place in their thoughts and lives. They assume an intellectual superiority and often take little pains to conceal the assumption. Tolstoy administers to the cultured crowd" (the words quoted are his) a severe rebuke when he declares that the religious sentiment rests not upon a superstitious fear of the invisible forces of nature, but upon man's consciousness of his finiteness amid an infinite universe and of his sinfulness; and this consciousness, the great philosopher adds, man can never outgrow. Tolstoy is right; man recognizes how limited are his own powers and how vast is the universe, and he leans upon the arm that is stronger than his. Man feels the weight of his sins and looks for One who is sinless.
Religion has been defined by Tolstoy as the relation which man fixes between himself and his God, and morality as the outward manifestation of this inward relation. Every one, by the time he reaches maturity, has fixt some relation between himself and God and no material change in this relation can take place without a revolution in the man, for this relation is the most potent influence that acts upon a human life.
Religion is the foundation of morality in the individual and in the group of individuals. Materialists have attempted to build up a system of morality upon the basis of enlightened self-interest. They would have man figure out by mathematics that it pays him to abstain from wrong-doing; they would even inject an element of selfishness into altruism, but the moral system elaborated by the materialists has several defects. Fust, its virtues are borrowed from moral systems based upon religion. All those who are intelligent enough to discuss a system of morality are so saturated with the morals derived from systems resting upon religion that they cannot frame a system resting upon reason alone. Second, as it rests upon argument rather than upon authority, the young are not in a position to accept or reject. Our laws do not permit a young man to dispose of real estate until he is twenty-one. Why this restraint? Because his reason is not mature; and yet a man's life is largely moulded by the environment of his youth. Third, one never knows just how much of his decision is due to reason and how much is due to passion or to selfish interest. Passion can dethrone the reason - we recognize this in our criminal laws. We also recognize the bias of self-interest when we exclude from the jury every man, no matter how reasonable or upright he may be, who has a pecuniary interest in the result of the trial. And, fourth, one whose morality rests upon a nice calculation of benefits to be secured spends time figuring that he should spend in action. Those who keep a book account of their good deeds seldom do enough good to justify keeping books. A noble life cannot be built upon an arithmetic; it must be rather like the spring that pours forth constantly of that which refreshes and invigorates.