The Place Of The Conventional In Morals -- By: Henry A. Stimson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 062:248 (Oct 1905)
Article: The Place Of The Conventional In Morals
Author: Henry A. Stimson


The Place Of The Conventional In Morals

Rev. Henry A. Stimson

Among the various baccalaureate and commencement addresses, which this year have dealt to a rather unusual extent with public morals, that of President Hadley has attracted marked attention. The newspapers have praised it as the deliverance of a “layman,” unmindful that that is a term used often to indicate that a man is dealing with matters in which he is without technical training.

His subject was the importance of a morality that lies outside of, and goes beyond, the conventional. Young men in college, as in life, constantly are called to face new forms of temptation which are not specifically covered by the thou-shalt-nots of their home training. As a consequence, they are frequently maintaining what may be called their conventional good habits and virtues, while at the same time doing things that are wrong, and that with consciences little disturbed. They have good habits and bad morals; they belong to the race of religious hypocrites, with which just now the world is peculiarly cursed.

So far the word is well spoken. The question arises when one comes to the line of positive teaching. Whether it is intended or not, the address disparages conventional training. The emphasis is upon what may be called an original, or spontaneous, virtue, which is set over against and exalted above the other. This contrast surely is unnecessary and misleading.

The moral training of our childhood and the religious habits of the early home can hardly be regarded as the yoke under which any man is groaning to-day. On the contrary, the burden of proof is so completely shifted, that a man who retains his early habits has continually to justify himself. One can hardly take a step from the home door without discovering that the world has departed far from them. A careful search would be needed to find a public man of whom it could be said, as was said in high praise of President Garfield, that with all his greatness he had never separated himself from the obscure religious denomination to which his parents belonged, nor abandoned their simple ways. The other day Sidney Low applied to the late W. E. Henley in loving praise the words of Sainte Beuve, which Henley had previously applied to Matthew Arnold, se vanter d’être resté fidèle à soi même, à son premier et à son plus beau passé. These students of their times regard that sort of virture as notably rare; it certainly is not to be disparaged or even overshadowed by terming it conventional, or contrasting it with something newer and more spontaneous.

May not the goal be reached in a better and surer way? Instead of disparaging the conventional, suppose we ...

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