the First Week of Advent
Click to donate today!
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(indifferentismus), a word much used
I. By the theologians of Germany to denote
(1.) that state of mind which looks upon all religions (e.g. Christianity and Mohammedanism) as alike valuable or valueless in proportion as they agree with natural religion;
(2.) that state of mind which, carelessly admitting the truth of Christianity, holds that all discussion as to its doctrines is unimportant. An astonishing number of books have been written upon this subject. See Buddeus, Institut. Theol. Dogmat. p. 60; Bretschneider, Systen. Entwickelung, p. 13; Schubert, Institt. Theol. Polemn. 1, 569; Sack, Christliche Polemik, p. 65; Herzog, Real Encyklop. 6, 657; and a full list of books on the subject in Danz, Universal- Worterbuch. p. 449 sq. (See INTOLERANCE); (See LATITUDINARIANISM); (See TOLERATION). II. The term is used also to denote that form of infidelity, or semi- infidelity, which holds that man is not responsible for his beliefs. "Gibbon, speaking of the paganism of ancient Rome, says, The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true, by the philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful.' The comment of some one is, ‘ After eighteen centuries of the Gospel, we seem unhappily to be coming back to the same point.' A very weakened sense of responsibility, or an actual denial of it, lies at the bottom of that indifferentism which is so extensively prevalent in the present age. On the Continent, especially in Germany and France, not only are opinions destructive of the sense of responsibility widely diffused among the masses, but in the case of vast multitudes, who would not wish to be counted the foes of Christianity, there is an utter absence of anything like the religious obligation of belief. There is also a great deal of this kind of infidelity in England and America.
It is stated, or implied, in much of our current popular literature, that a man's creed does not depend upon himself. This dogma pervades the writings of Mr. Emerson. Napoleon, one of his ‘ representative men,' of whom he tells ‘ horrible anecdotes,' must not, in his view,' be set down as cruel, but only as one who knew no impediment to his will.' He depicts him as an exorbitant egotist, who narrowed, impoverished, and absorbed the power and existence of those who served him; and concludes by saying, ‘ it was not Bonaparte's fault.' He thus condemns and acquits in the same breath, sends forth from the same fountain sweet water and bitter. Mr. Theodore Parker makes each- form of religion that has figured in the history of the world ‘ natural and indispensable.' ‘ It could not have been but as it was.' And, therefore, he finds truth, or the ‘ absolute religion,' in all forms; ‘ all tending towards one great and beautiful end' (Discourse of Religion, p. 81). Of course, the idea of the religious obligation of belief resting upon the individual conscience is here quite out of question. Mr. F. W. Newman, who is so fond of parting off things that most men connect together, would persuade us that there may be a true faith without a true belief, as if the emotional part of our nature was independent of the intellectual. ‘ Belief,' says he, ‘ is one thing, and faith another.' And he complains of those who, on religious grounds, are alienated from him because he has adopted ‘ intellectual conclusions' different from theirs' the difference between them and him' turning merely ‘ on questions of learning, history, criticism, and abstract thought' (Phases of Faith, Preface). The philosophy is as bad here as the theology. In the view of common sense and Scripture, a living faith is as the doctrine believed. But Mr. Newman, in common with Mr. Parker and others, can lay down his offensive weapons when he wills, and take up a position on the low ground of indifference as to religious belief. Then, creeds become matters of mere moonshine, and responsibility is regarded as a fiction invented by priests. This is part of the bad theology of Mr. Bailey's ‘ Festus.' The hero of the poem is made to say,
"Yet merit or demerit none I see In nature, human or material, In passions or affections good or bad. We only know that God's best purposes Are oftenest brought about by dreadest sins. Is thunder evil, or is dew divine? Does virtue lie in sunshine, sin in storm? Is not each natural, each needful, best?'
The theory of this infidelity appears to be that man has no control over his belief, that he is no more responsible for his opinions than he is for his color or his height, and that an infidel or an atheist is to be pitied but not blamed. This, we are persuaded; is a piece of flimsy sophistry which no man should utter, and which would not be listened to for a moment in connection with any other subject than that of religion. It would be condemned in the senate and at the bar, it would be drowned in the tumult of the exchange and the market-place. Common sense, and a regard to worldly interests, would rise up and hoot down the traitor. Unfortunately, however, in the province of religion, the natural indisposition of the mind to things unseen and spiritual allies itself with the pleadings of the sophist, and receives his doctrine of irresponsibility with something like flattering unction. Nothing more than this is requisite to undermine the foundation of all religious belief and morals to let open the floodgates of immorality, and to make the restraints of religion like the brittle flax or the yielding sand. In opposition to such latitudinarianism, we maintain that man is responsible for the dispositions which he cherishes, for the opinions which he holds and avows, and for his habitual conduct. This is going the whole length of Scripture, but no farther, which affirms that every one of us must give an account of himself unto God. And this meets with a response from amid the elements of man's moral nature, which sets its seal that the thing is true" (Pearson, Prize Es. say on Infidelity, ch. 5). (Comp. Baumgarten, Gesch. der Religions-Partheien, p. 102 sq.) (See RESPONSIBILITY).
These files are public domain.
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Indifferentism'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​i/indifferentism.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.