This volume contains three parts which are related to each other as the three stories of one and the same edifice. The first treats of religion and its origin; the second of Christianity and its essence; the third of Dogma and its nature.

Proceeding thus from the general to the particular, from the elementary forms of religion to its highest form, passing afterwards from religious phenomena to religious doctrines, I have endeavoured to develop a series of connected and progressive views which I do not wish to be regarded as a system, but as the rigid application and the first results of the method of strictly psychological and historical observation that for years I have applied to this species of studies. In no domain is there a greater incoherence of ideas, a sharper conflict of feeling, or data more contradictory or, at all events, more difficult to reconcile. In no other is it more urgent to introduce a little sequence, clearness, harmony. Our century, from the beginning, has had two great passions which still inflame and agitate its closing years. It has driven abreast the twofold worship of the scientific method and of the moral ideal; but, so far from being able to unite them, it has pushed them to a point where they seem to contradict and exclude each other. Every serious soul feels itself to be inwardly divided; it would fain conciliate its most generous aspirations, the two last motives for living and acting that still remain to it. Where but in a renovated conception of religion will this needed reconciliation be found?

No one nowadays underestimates the social importance of the religious question. Philosophers, moralists, politicians, show themselves to be alive to it; they see it dominating all others, whose solution, in the end, it may prevent or decide. But, singular contradiction! the more zeal and the more decision these men manifest in handling the religious question in the social order, the more indifference or impotence they show in solving it for themselves both in their inner and their family life... No one has the right to impose a doctrine or the presumption, surely, to dictate to others how they must direct their thought; but a sincere and persuaded mind may tell how it has directed its own, and may set forth as an experience and a "document" the views at which it has arrived....

The solidarity of minds has now become so great, the currents of ideas, like the currents in the atmosphere, move so quickly and create, in circumstances so different and so far apart, states of soul so similar that many who read these studies, and who are struggling with the same difficulties as those which have so long engaged the author's thoughts, may find both interest and profit in seeing how he has succeeded in satisfying himself. Those even who have never reflected on these questions, or have lightly turned from them because they deemed them insoluble, will not perhaps object to be directed to them by one who wishes, not to check their freedom of thought, but to stimulate them to exercise it. Who, at the close of his secret meditations, on the confines of his knowledge, at the end of his affections, of the joys he has tasted, of the trials he has endured, has not seen rising before him the religious question—I mean the mysterious problem of his destiny? Of all questions it is the most vital. Men may be turned from it for a time by manifold distractions and by a sense of powerlessness to solve the question, but it is impossible that they should not return to it. Has life a meaning? Is it worth living? Our efforts, have they an end? Our works and our thoughts, have they any permanent value to the universe? This problem, which one generation may evade, returns with the next. Each new recruit to the human race brings the problem along with him, because he wishes to live, and to live is to act, and all action requires a faith. It is of the young that I have thought while preparing these pages, and it is to them that I dedicate them.

To a generation that believed it could repose in Positivism in philosophy, utilitarianism in morals, and naturalism in art and poetry, has succeeded a generation that torments itself more than ever with the mystery of things, that is attracted by the ideal, that dreams of social fraternity, of self-renunciation, of devotion to the little, to the miserable, to the oppressed—devotion like the heroism of Christian love. Hence what has been called the renaissance of Idealism, the return, i.e., to general ideas, to faith in the invisible, to the taste for symbols, and to those longings, as confused as they are ardent, to discover a religion or to return to the religion their fathers have disdained. Our young people, it seems to me, are pushing bravely forward, marching between two high walls: on the one side modern science with its rigorous methods which it is no longer possible to ignore or to avoid; on the other, the dogmas and the customs of the religious institutions in which they were reared, and to which they would, but cannot, sincerely return. The sages who have led them hitherto point to the impasse they have reached, and bid them take a part,—either for science against religion, or for religion against science. They hesitate, with reason, in face of this alarming alternative. Must we then choose between pious ignorance and bare knowledge? Must we either continue to live a moral life belied by science, or set up a theory of things which our consciences condemn? Is there no issue to the dark and narrow valley which our anxious youth traverse? I think there is. I think I have caught glimpses of a steep and narrow path that leads to wide and shining table-lands above. Indeed I have ascended in the footsteps of some others, and I signal in my turn to younger, braver pioneers who, in course of time, will make a broader, safer road, along which all the caravan may pass.

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