Literature And Dogma "Conduct Is Three-fourths Of Our Life"

Matthew Arnold

"Conduct Is Three-fourths Of Our Life"

Context: English poet, literary critic, and classical scholar, Matthew Arnold–like John Ruskin–felt himself called as a kind of prophet to the Victorian scene. Son of the Headmaster of Rugby, he had grown up in a stanchly religious, if liberal, home, and he himself had experienced the frustration and spiritual dislocation which resulted from the scientific theories and discoveries of the mid-century. He could not, however, become a convert to science, for science in the final analysis would merely explain the systems under which life exists; it would not replace the inherent psychological needs for the religion it was destroying. Clearly then, to Arnold, with the old religion no longer feasible, a new kind of religion had to be found if man's personality was to remain meaningfully oriented to the principles of human dignity and the value of life. His solution was culture–"the best that has been said and thought in the world." Through education which would inculcate into the new generations the inherent human values as they have been articulated in the great aesthetic creations of the past, man could be taught to respect and sanctify the traditions of his civilization which have been inspired and crystallized under the impetus of religious worship. The Scriptures themselves, for example, quite apart from any divine record, possess valuable human instruction:

The Old Testament, nobody will ever deny, is filled with the word and thought of righteousness. "In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof is no death;" "Righteousness tendeth to life;" "He that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death;" "The way of transgressors is hard;"–nobody will deny that those texts may stand for the fundamental and ever-recurring idea of the Old Testament. No people ever felt so strongly as those people of the Old Testament, the Hebrew people, that conduct is three-fourths of our life and its largest concern. No people ever felt so strongly that succeeding, going right, hitting the mark in this great concern, was the way of peace, the highest possible satisfaction. . . .