Title: Address of President Coolidge before the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
Date: October 10, 1928
Location: Washington, D.C.
Context: Speech to the general convention of the Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.
Members of the Convention:
This general convention of the Episcopal Church, which is held once in three years, represents organized religious life and missionary effort in every part of the globe. Many thousands are taking part in it. Considered by itself alone it constitutes an activity of the greatest importance. But when we remember that it is but one of many similar organizations, some larger and some smaller, all devoted to the service of religion, we can not escape the conclusion that the major forces of the world are actively and energetically engaged in promoting the spiritual advancement of humanity. When we remember further that this movement is steadily advancing through the years, steadily increasing in the strength of its main body and its innumerable auxiliaries, we realize that it provides a complete and devastating answer to the indifferent, the cynic, and the pessimist. We can not doubt that the world is growing better.
But because we have made a very large progress, because we are confident that we are going in the right direction, is no reason for failing to comprehend the enormous work that yet remains to be performed and the long distance that must still be traveled before the goal of human perfection is reached. As we look over the world we see that there are almost whole continents in some areas still to be reached and large masses of people everywhere still to be given the advantages of modern civilization. While it is well for us to look abroad and carry to other people a knowledge of our faith, we should not forget that our success in that direction will be largely measured by what we do at home. The light which we shed for others will depend upon the intensity of the flame which we create for ourselves. The ability to help others to see comes from the clearness of our own vision. The greatest service that we can possibly perform for the world is to perfect our own moral progress. If we can do that, we need have no fear concerning the helpful influence we shall supply to others.
The most casual survey of our own country reveals the existence of conditions which require constantly increasing efforts for their redress. The problem of the training of the youth of the Nation is one that is now and will be forever recurring. In spite of our great school system, our secondary institution, our colleges, and our universities, many of our young people are still growing up with the most meager advantages of education. There are large settlements of people in our great centers of population still living under foreign conditions. Although they are dwellers within our borders, they have never yet really come into the United States. We have provided by our institutions for a genuine method of self-government, but there are many of our people who, through indifference or inability, are not receiving the full benefits of such a system. In the midst of a high productive capacity and constantly expanding material resources there are yet those who, through ignorance or misfortune, are not able to participate to the extent of their deserts in our economic progress. The forces of evil are constantly manifest and their opportunities for activity enlarge with the increasing complexities of our modern modes of life.
The officers of our governmental agencies are constantly alive to these problems and through legislation and administration are alert to meet their demands. But those who have given these subjects much thought are constantly reminded that an additional element is needed, if they are to meet with the desired success. The advancement of knowledge, the increase in science, the growth and distribution of wealth, the enactment of laws, while they may all be commendable or even necessary in themselves, do not alone meet the problem of human existence or furnish a sufficient foundation for human progress. Man is more than all these. He requires the inspiration of a higher motive to meet the demands of a spiritual nature. They might furnish a partial explanation of an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon. They fail utterly to account for a Hampden or a Cromwell, a Washington or a Lincoln, or for the long list of sacrificing missionaries, saints, and martyrs who have devoted their lives to the higher cause of humanity. Organized government and organized society have done much and can do much. Their efforts will always be necessary, but without the inspiration of faith, without devotion to religion, they are inadequate to serve the needs of mankind. It is in that direction that we must look for the permanent sources of the ministrations of charity, the kindness of brotherly love, and the renunciation of consecrated lives.
Our country is thoroughly committed to a life of action. We expect our people to put forth great energy and great effort in perfecting the material structure of our national life, in enlarging our production, in increasing our commerce, in strengthening our agriculture, in improving our transportation, in organizing our finances. But all these things will never be done for their own sake. They are not an end in themselves. They are but a means to a nobler character and a higher life. Unless that motive is provided from some other source, these activities inevitably lead back to the conclusion that the end justifies the means and that might makes right. We are not seeking an increased material welfare that leads to materialism; we are seeking an increased devotion to duty that leads to spiritual life. Such an effort would be in vain, unless our Nation as a whole continued in its devotion to religion.
We can not remind ourselves too often that our right to be free, the support of our principles of justice, our obligations to each other in our domestic affairs, and our duty to humanity abroad, the confidence in each other necessary to support our social and economic relations, and finally the fabric of our Government itself, all rest on religion. Its importance can not be stressed too often or emphasized too much. If the bonds of our religious convictions become loosened, the guaranties which have been erected for the protection of life and liberty and all the vast body of rights that lie between are gone. The debt which this country owes to the men and women down through the ages who have been teaching and are teaching to-day the cause of righteousness is beyond all estimation. So long as the great body of our people continue to be inspired by their example, and to be faithful to their precepts, our institutions will remain secure and our civilization will continue in its increase of material and spiritual welfare.
Citation: Everett Sanders Paper, Library of Congress
The Coolidge Foundation gratefully acknowledges the volunteer efforts of Kaien Yang, who prepared this document for digital publication.