|Table of Contents|
The Varieties Of Religious Experience, By William James
material of our study of human nature is now spread before us; and in this
parting hour, set free from the duty of description, we can draw our
theoretical and practical conclusions.
In my first lecture, defending the empirical method, I foretold
that whatever conclusions we might come to could be reached by spiritual
judgments only, appreciations of the significance for life of religion,
taken "on the whole."
Our conclusions cannot be as sharp as dogmatic conclusions would
be, but I will formulate them, when the time comes, as sharply as I can.
up in the broadest possible way the characteristics of the religious life,
as we have found them, it includes the following beliefs:--
That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from
which it draws its chief significance;
That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our
That prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof-- be that
spirit "God" or "law"--is a process wherein work is
really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects,
psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.
includes also the following psychological characteristics:--
A new zest which adds itself like a gift to life, and takes the
form either of lyrical enchantment or of appeal to earnestness and
An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to
others, a preponderance of loving affections.
illustrating these characteristics by documents, we have been literally
bathed in sentiment. In
re-reading my manuscript, I am almost appalled at the amount of
emotionality which I find in it.
so much of this, we can afford to be dryer and less sympathetic in the
rest of the work that lies before us.
sentimentality of many of my documents is a consequence of the fact that I
sought them among the extravagances of the subject. If any of you are enemies of what our ancestors used to brand
as enthusiasm, and are, nevertheless, still listening to me now, you have
probably felt my selection to have been sometimes almost perverse, and have
wished I might have stuck to soberer examples.
I reply that I took these extremer examples as yielding the
profounder information. To
learn the secrets of any science, we go to expert specialists, even though
they may be eccentric persons, and not to commonplace pupils.
We combine what they tell us with the rest of our wisdom, and form
our final judgment independently. Even
so with religion. We who have
pursued such radical expressions of it may now be sure that we know its
secrets as authentically as anyone can know them who learns them from
another; and we have next to answer, each of us for himself, the practical
question: what are the dangers
in this element of life? and in
what proportion may it need to be restrained by other elements, to give the
this question suggests another one which I will answer immediately and get
it out of the way, for it has more than once already vexed us. Ought it
to be assumed that in all men the mixture of religion with other elements
should be identical? Ought it,
indeed, to be assumed that the lives of all men should show identical
religious elements? In other
words, is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds
For example, on pages 135, 160, 326 above.
these questions I answer "No" emphatically. And my reason is that I do not see how it is possible that
creatures in such different positions and with such different powers as
human individuals are, should have exactly the same functions and the same
duties. No two of us have
identical difficulties, nor should we be expected to work out identical
solutions. Each, from his
peculiar angle of observation, takes in a certain sphere of fact and
trouble, which each must deal with in a unique manner.
One of us must soften himself, another must harden himself; one must
yield a point, another must stand firm--in order the better to defend the
position assigned him. If an
Emerson were forced to be a Wesley, or a Moody forced to be a Whitman, the
total human consciousness of the divine would suffer.
The divine can mean no single quality, it must mean a group of
qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all
find worthy missions. Each
attitude being a syllable in human nature's total message, it takes the
whole of us to spell the meaning out completely.
So a "god of battles" must be allowed to be the god for one
kind of person, a god of peace and heaven and home, the god for another. We must frankly recognize the fact that we live in partial
systems, and that parts are not interchangeable in the spiritual life.
If we are peevish and jealous, destruction of the self must be an
element of our religion; why need it be one if we are good and sympathetic
from the outset? If we are sick
souls, we require a religion of deliverance; but why think so much of
deliverance, if we are healthy-minded?
Unquestionably, some men have the
completer experience and the higher vocation, here just as in the
social world; but for each man to stay in his own experience, whate'er it
be, and for others to tolerate him there, is surely best.
From this point of view, the contrasts between the healthy and the morbid
mind, and between the once-born and the twice-born types, of which I spoke
in earlier lectures (see pp. 159-164), cease to be the radical antagonisms
which many think them. The
twice-born look down upon the rectilinear consciousness of life of the
once-born as being "mere morality," and not properly religion.
"Dr. Channing," an orthodox minister is reported to have
said, "is excluded from the highest form of religious life by the
extraordinary rectitude of his character."
It is indeed true that the outlook upon life of the
twice-born--holding as it does more of the element of evil in solution--is
the wider and completer. The
"heroic" or "solemn" way in which life comes to them is
a "higher synthesis" into which healthy- mindedness and morbidness
both enter and combine. Evil is
not evaded, but sublated in the higher religious cheer of these persons (see
pp. 47-52, 354-357). But the
final consciousness which each type reaches of union with the divine has the
same practical significance for the individual; and individuals may well be
allowed to get to it by the channels which lie most open to their several
temperaments. In the cases which were quoted in Lecture IV, of the
mind-cure form of healthy-mindedness, we found abundant examples of
regenerative process. The
severity of the crisis in this process is a matter of degree.
How long one shall continue to drink the consciousness of evil, and
when one shall begin to short-circuit and get rid of it, are also matters of
amount and degree, so that in many instances it is quite arbitrary whether
we class the individual as a once-born or a twice-born subject.
you may now ask, would not this one-sidedness be cured if we should all
espouse the science of religions as our own religion?
In answering this question I must open again the general relations of
the theoretic to the active life.
about a thing is not the thing itself.
You remember what Al-Ghazzali told us in the Lecture on
Mysticism--that to understand the causes of drunkenness, as a physician
understands them, is not to be drunk. A
science might come to understand everything about the causes and elements of
religion, and might even decide which elements were qualified, by their
general harmony with other branches of knowledge, to be considered true; and
yet the best man at this science might be the man who found it hardest to be
personally devout. Tout savoir c'est tout pardonner. The name of Renan would doubtless occur to many persons as an
example of the way in which breadth of knowledge may make one only a
dilettante in possibilities, and blunt the acuteness of one's living
faith. If religion be a
function by which either God's cause or man's cause is to be really
advanced, then he who lives the life of it, however narrowly, is a better
servant than he who merely knows about it, however much.
Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in
life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.
Compare, e.g., the quotation from Renan on p. 37, above.
this reason, the science of religions may not be an equivalent for living
religion; and if we turn to the inner difficulties of such a science, we see
that a point comes when she must drop the purely theoretic attitude, and
either let her knots remain uncut, or have them cut by active faith.
To see this, suppose that we have our science of religions
constituted as a matter of fact. Suppose that she has assimilated all the necessary historical
material and distilled out of it as its essence the same conclusions which I
myself a few moments ago pronounced. Suppose
that she agrees that religion, wherever it is an active thing, involves a
belief in ideal presences, and a belief that in our prayerful communion with
them, work is done, and something real comes to pass.
She has now to exert her critical activity, and to decide how far, in
the light of other sciences and in that of general philosophy, such beliefs
can be considered TRUE.
"Prayerful" taken in the broader sense explained above on pp. 453
to decide this is an impossible task. Not
only are the other sciences and the philosophy still far from being
completed, but in their present state we find them full of conflicts.
The sciences of nature know nothing of spiritual presences, and on
the whole hold no practical commerce whatever with the idealistic
conceptions towards which general philosophy inclines.
The scientist, so-called, is, during his scientific hours at least,
so materialistic that one may well say that on the whole the influence of
science goes against the notion that religion should be recognized at all.
And this antipathy to religion finds an echo within the very science
of religions itself. The
cultivator of this science has to become acquainted with so many groveling
and horrible superstitions that a presumption easily arises in his mind that
any belief that is religious probably is false.
In the "prayerful communion" of savages with such
mumbo-jumbos of deities as they acknowledge, it is hard for us to see what
genuine spiritual work--even though it were work relative only to their dark
savage obligations-- can possibly be done.
consequence is that the conclusions of the science of religions are as
likely to be adverse as they are to be favorable to the claim that the
essence of religion is true. There
is a notion in the air about us that religion is probably only an
anachronism, a case of "survival," an atavistic relapse into a
mode of thought which humanity in its more enlightened examples has
outgrown; and this notion our religious anthropologists at present do little
view is so widespread at the present day that I must consider it with some
explicitness before I pass to my own conclusions. Let me call it the "Survival theory," for brevity's
pivot round which the religious life, as we have traced it, revolves, is the
interest of the individual in his private personal destiny.
Religion, in short, is a monumental chapter in the history of human
egotism. The gods believed
in--whether by crude savages or by men disciplined intellectually--agree
with each other in recognizing personal calls.
Religious thought is carried on in terms of personality, this being,
in the world of religion, the one fundamental fact.
To-day, quite as much as at any previous age, the religious
individual tells you that the divine meets him on the basis of his personal
on the other hand, has ended by utterly repudiating the personal point of
view. She catalogues her
elements and records her laws indifferent as to what purpose may be shown
forth by them, and constructs her theories quite careless of their bearing
on human anxieties and fates. Though the scientist may individually nourish
a religion, and be a theist in his irresponsible hours, the days are over
when it could be said that for Science herself the heavens declare the glory
of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork.
Our solar system, with its harmonies, is seen now as but one passing
case of a certain sort of moving equilibrium in the heavens, realized by a
local accident in an appalling wilderness of worlds where no life can exist.
In a span of time which as a cosmic interval will count but as an hour, it
will have ceased to be. The
Darwinian notion of chance production, and subsequent destruction, speedy or
deferred, applies to the largest as well as to the smallest facts.
It is impossible, in the present temper of the scientific
imagination, to find in the driftings of the cosmic atoms, whether they work
on the universal or on the particular scale, anything but a kind of aimless
weather, doing and undoing, achieving no proper history, and leaving no
result. Nature has no one distinguishable ultimate tendency with which it is
possible to feel a sympathy. In
the vast rhythm of her processes, as the scientific mind now follows them,
she appears to cancel herself. The
books of natural theology which satisfied the intellects of our grandfathers
seem to us quite grotesque, representing, as they did, a God who
conformed the largest things of nature to the paltriest of our private
wants. The God whom science
recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a
wholesale, not a retail business. He
cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals.
The bubbles on the foam which coats a stormy sea are floating
episodes, made and unmade by the forces of the wind and water. Our private selves are like those bubbles--epiphenomena, as
Clifford, I believe, ingeniously called them; their destinies weigh nothing
and determine nothing in the world's irremediable currents of events.
How was it ever conceivable, we ask, that a man like Christian Wolff, in
whose dry-as-dust head all the learning of the early eighteenth century was
concentrated, should have preserved such a baby-like faith in the personal
and human character of Nature as to expound her operations as he did in his
work on the uses of natural things? This,
for example, is the account he gives of the sun and its utility:--
see that God has created the sun to keep the changeable conditions on the
earth in such an order that living creatures, men and beasts, may inhabit
its surface. Since men are the
most reasonable of creatures, and able to infer God's invisible being from
the contemplation of the world, the sun in so far forth contributes to the
primary purpose of creation: without
it the race of man could not be preserved or continued. . . . The sun makes
daylight, not only on our earth, but also on the other planets; and daylight
is of the utmost utility to us, for by its means we can commodiously carry
on those occupations which in the night-time would either be quite
impossible. Or at any rate
impossible without our going to the expense of artificial light.
The beasts of the field can find food by day which they would not be
able to find at night. Moreover
we owe it to the sunlight that we are able to see everything that is on the
earth's surface, not only near by, but also at a distance, and to recognize
both near and far things according to their species, which again is of
manifold use to us not only in the business necessary to human life, and
when we are traveling, but also for the scientific knowledge of Nature,
which knowledge for the most part depends on observations made with the help
of sight, and without the sunshine, would have been impossible.
If any one would rightly impress on his mind the great advantages
which he derives from the sun, let him imagine himself living through only
one month, and see how it would be with all his undertakings, if it were not
day but night. He would then be
sufficiently convinced out of his own experience, especially if he had much
work to carry on in the street or in the fields. . . . From the sun we learn
to recognize when it is midday, and by knowing this point of time exactly,
we can set our clocks right, on which account astronomy owes much to the
sun. . . . By help of the sun one can find the meridian. . . . But the
meridian is the basis of our sun-dials, and generally speaking, we should
have no sun-dials if we had no sun." Vernunftige Gedanken von den
Absichter der naturlichen Dinge, 1782. pp.74-84.
read the account of God's beneficence in the institution of "the great
variety throughout the world of men's faces, voices, and hand-writing,"
given in Derham's Physico-theology, a book that had much vogue in the
eighteenth century. "Had
Man's body," says Dr. Derham, "been made according to any of the
Atheistical Schemes, or any other Method than that of the infinite Lord of
the World, this wise Variety would never have been:
but Men's Faces would have been cast in the same, or not a very
different Mould, their Organs of Speech would have sounded the same or not
so great a Variety of Notes, and the same Structure of Muscles and Nerves
would have given the Hand the same Direction in Writing.
And in this Case what Confusion, what Disturbance, what Mischiefs
would the world eternally have lain under!
No Security could have been to our persons; no Certainty, no
Enjoyment of our Possessions; no Justice between Man and Man, no Distinction
between Good and Bad, between Friends and Foes, between Father and Child,
Husband and Wife, Male or Female; but all would have been turned
topsy-turvy, by being exposed to the Malice of the Envious and ill-Natured,
to the Fraud and Violence of Knaves and Robbers, to the Forgeries of the
crafty Cheat, to the Lusts of the Effeminate and Debauched, and what not!
Our Courts of Justice can abundantly testify the dire Effects of
Mistaking Men's Faces, of counterfeiting their Hands, and forging Writings.
now as the infinitely wise Creator and Ruler hath ordered the Matter, every
man's Face can distinguish him in the Light, and his Voice in the Dark, his
Hand-writing can speak for him though absent, and be his Witness, and secure
his Contracts in future Generations. A
manifest as well as admirable Indication of the divine Superintendence and
God so careful as to make provision even for the unmistakable signing of
bank checks and deeds was a deity truly after the heart of eighteenth
subjoin, omitting the capitals, Derham's "Vindication of God by the
Institution of Hills and Valleys," and Wolff's altogether culinary
account of the institution of Water:--
uses," says Wolff, "which water serves in human life are plain to
see and need not be described at length.
Water is a universal drink of man and beasts. Even though men have made themselves drinks that are
artificial, they could not do this without water.
Beer is brewed of water and malt, and it is the water in it which
quenches thirst. Wine is
prepared from grapes, which could never have grown without the help of
water; and the same is true of those drinks which in England and other
places they produce from fruit. . . . Therefore since God so planned the
world that men and beasts should live upon it and find there everything
required for their necessity and convenience, he also made water as one
means whereby to make the earth into so excellent a dwelling.
And this is all the more manifest when we consider the advantages
which we obtain from this same water for the cleaning of our household
utensils, of our clothing, and of other matters. . . . When one goes into a
grinding-mill one sees that the grindstone must always be kept wet and then
one will get a still greater idea of the use of water."
the hills and valleys, Derham, after praising their beauty, discourses as
constitutions are indeed of so happy a strength, and so confirmed an health,
as to be indifferent to almost any place or temperature of the air.
But then others are so weakly and feeble, as not to be able to bear
one, but can live comfortably in another place.
With some the more subtle and finer air of the hills doth best agree,
who are languishing and dying in the feculent and grosser air of great
towns, or even the warmer and vaporous air of the valleys and waters.
But contrariwise, others languish on the hills, and grow lusty and
strong in the warmer air of the valleys.
that this opportunity of shifting our abode from the hills to the vales, is
an admirable easement, refreshment, and great benefit to the valetudinarian,
feeble part of mankind; affording those an easy and comfortable life, who
would otherwise live miserably, languish, and pine away.
this salutary conformation of the earth we may add another great convenience
of the hills, and that is affording commodious places for habitation,
serving (as an eminent author wordeth it) as screens to keep off the cold
and nipping blasts of the northern and easterly winds, and reflecting the
benign and cherishing sunbeams and so rendering our habitations both more
comfortable and more cheerly in winter.
it is to the hills that the fountains owe their rise and the rivers their
conveyance, and consequently those vast masses and lofty piles are not, as
they are charged such rude and useless excrescences of our ill-formed globe;
but the admirable tools of nature, contrived and ordered by the infinite
Creator, to do one of its most useful works.
For, was the surface of the earth even and level, and the middle
parts of its islands and continents not mountainous and high as now it is,
it is most certain there could be no descent for the rivers, no conveyance
for the waters; but, instead of gliding along those gentle declivities which
the higher lands now afford them quite down to the sea, they would stagnate
and perhaps stink, and also drown large tracts of land.
the hills and vales, though to a peevish and weary traveler they may seem
incommodious and troublesome, yet are a noble work of the great Creator, and
wisely appointed by him for the good of our sublunary world."
see how natural it is, from this point of view, to treat religion as a mere
survival, for religion does in fact perpetuate the traditions of the most
primeval thought. To coerce the
spiritual powers, or to square them and get them on our side, was, during
enormous tracts of time, the one great object in our dealings with the
natural world. For our ancestors, dreams, hallucinations, revelations, and
cock-and-bull stories were inextricably mixed with facts.
Up to a comparatively recent date such distinctions as those between
what has been verified and what is only conjectured, between the impersonal
and the personal aspects of existence, were hardly suspected or conceived.
Whatever you imagined in a lively manner, whatever you thought fit to
be true, you affirmed confidently; and whatever you affirmed, your comrades
believed. Truth was what had
not yet been contradicted, most things were taken into the mind from the
point of view of their human suggestiveness, and the attention confined
itself exclusively to the aesthetic and dramatic aspects of events.
Until the seventeenth century this mode of thought prevailed. One need only
recall the dramatic treatment even of mechanical questions by Aristotle, as,
for example, his explanation of the power of the lever to make a small
weight raise a larger one. This
is due, according to Aristotle, to the generally miraculous character of the
circle and of all circular movement. The
circle is both convex and concave; it is made by a fixed point and a moving
line, which contradict each other; and whatever moves in a circle moves in
opposite directions. Nevertheless,
movement in a circle is the most "natural" movement; and the long
arm of the lever, moving, as it does, in the larger circle, has the greater
amount of this natural motion, and consequently requires the lesser force.
Or recall the explanation by Herodotus of the position of the sun in
winter: It moves to the south
because of the cold which drives it into the warm parts of the heavens over
Libya. Or listen to Saint
Augustine's speculations: "Who
gave to chaff such power to freeze that it preserves snow buried under it,
and such power to warm that it ripens green fruit?
Who can explain the strange properties of fire itself, which blackens
all that it burns, though itself bright, and which, though of the most
beautiful colors, discolors almost all that it touches and feeds upon, and
turns blazing fuel into grimy cinders? . . . Then what wonderful properties
do we find in charcoal, which is so brittle that a light tap breaks it, and
a slight pressure pulverizes it, and yet is so strong that no moisture rots
it, nor any time causes it to decay."
City of God, book xxi, ch. iv.
aspects of things as these, their naturalness and unnaturalness the
sympathies and antipathies of their superficial qualities, their
eccentricities, their brightness and strength and destructiveness, were
inevitably the ways in which they originally fastened our attention.
you open early medical books, you will find sympathetic magic invoked on
every page. Take, for example,
the famous vulnerary ointment attributed to Paracelsus.
For this there were a variety of receipts, including usually human
fat, the fat of either a bull, a wild boar, or a bear, powdered earthworms,
the usnia, or mossy growth on the weathered skull of a hanged criminal, and
other materials equally unpleasant--the whole prepared under the planet
Venus if possible, but never under Mars or Saturn.
Then, if a splinter of wood, dipped in the patient's blood, or the
bloodstained weapon that wounded him, be immersed in this ointment, the
wound itself being tightly bound up, the latter infallibly gets well--I
quote now Van Helmont's account--for the blood on the weapon or splinter,
containing in it the spirit of the wounded man, is roused to active
excitement by the contact of the ointment, whence there results to it a full
commission or power to cure its cousin-german the blood in the patient's
body. This it does by sucking
out the dolorous and exotic impression from the wounded part.
But to do this it has to implore the aid of the bull's fat, and other
portions of the unguent. The
reason why bull's fat is so powerful is that the bull at the time of
slaughter is full of secret reluctancy and vindictive murmurs, and therefore
dies with a higher flame of revenge about him than any other animal.
And thus we have made it out, says this author, that the admirable
efficacy of the ointment ought to be imputed, not to any auxiliary
concurrence of Satan, but simply to the energy of the posthumous character
of Revenge remaining firmly impressed upon the blood and concreted fat in
the unguent. J. B. Van Helmont: A
Ternary of Paradoxes, translated by Walter Charleton, London, 1650.--I much
abridge the original in my citations.
author goes on to prove by the analogy of many other natural facts that this
sympathetic action between things at a distance is the true rationale of the
case. "If," he says,
"the heart of a horse slain by a witch, taken out of the yet reeking
carcase, be impaled upon an arrow and roasted, immediately the whole witch
becomes tormented with the insufferable pains and cruelty of the fire, which
could by no means happen unless there preceded a conjunction of the spirit
of the witch with the spirit of the horse.
In the reeking and yet panting heart, the spirit of the witch is kept
captive, and the retreat of it prevented by the arrow transfixed.
Similarly hath not many a murdered carcase at the coroner's inquest
suffered a fresh haemorrhage or cruentation at the presence of the
assassin?--the blood being, as in a furious fit of anger, enraged and
agitated by the impress of revenge conceived against the murderer, at the
instant of the soul's compulsive exile from the body.
So, if you have dropsy, gout, or jaundice, by including some of your
warm blood in the shell and white of an egg, which, exposed to a gentle
heat, and mixed with a bait of flesh, you shall give to a hungry dog or hog,
the disease shall instantly pass from you into the animal, and leave you
entirely. And similarly again,
if you burn some of the milk either of a cow or of a woman, the gland from
which it issued will dry up. A
gentleman at Brussels had his nose mowed off in a combat, but the celebrated
surgeon Tagliacozzus digged a new nose for him out of the skin of the arm of
a porter at Bologna. About
thirteen months after his return to his own country, the engrafted nose grew
cold, putrefied, and in a few days dropped off, and it was then discovered
that the porter had expired, near about the same punctilio of time.
There are still at Brussels eye-witnesses of this occurrence,"
says Van Helmont; and adds, "I pray what is there in this of
superstition or of exalted imagination?"
mind-cure literature--the works of Prentice Mulford, for example--is full of
indeed could it be otherwise? The
extraordinary value, for explanation and prevision, of those mathematical
and mechanical modes of conception which science uses, was a result that
could not possibly have been expected in advance.
Weight, movement, velocity, direction, position, what thin, pallid,
uninteresting ideas! How could
the richer animistic aspects of Nature, the peculiarities and oddities that
make phenomena picturesquely striking or expressive, fail to have been first
singled out and followed by philosophy as the more promising avenue to the
knowledge of Nature's life? Well,
it is still in these richer animistic and dramatic aspects that religion
delights to dwell. It is the
terror and beauty of phenomena, the "promise" of the dawn and of
the rainbow, the "voice" of the thunder, the
"gentleness" of the summer rain, the "sublimity" of the
stars, and not the physical laws which these things follow, by which the
religious mind still continues to be most impressed; and just as of yore,
the devout man tells you that in the solitude of his room or of the fields
he still feels the divine presence, that inflowings of help come in reply to
his prayers, and that sacrifices to this unseen reality fill him with
security and peace.
anachronism! says the survival-theory;--anachronism for which
deanthropomorphization of the imagination is the remedy required.
The less we mix the private with the cosmic, the more we dwell in
universal and impersonal terms, the truer heirs of Science we become.
spite of the appeal which this impersonality of the scientific attitude
makes to a certain magnanimity of temper, I believe it to be shallow, and I
can now state my reason in comparatively few words.
That reason is that, so long as we deal with the cosmic and the
general, we deal only with the symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal
with private and personal phenomena as such, we deal with realities in the
completest sense of the term. I
think I can easily make clear what I mean by these words.
world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective and
a subjective part, of which the former may be incalculably more extensive
than the latter, and yet the latter can never be omitted or suppressed.
The objective part is the sum total of whatsoever at any given time
we may be thinking of, the subjective part is the inner "state" in
which the thinking comes to pass. What
we think of may be enormous--the cosmic times and spaces, for example--
whereas the inner state may be the most fugitive and paltry activity of
mind. Yet the cosmic objects,
so far as the experience yields them, are but ideal pictures of something
whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly,
while the inner state is our very experience itself; its reality and that of
our experience are one. A
conscious field PLUS its object as felt or thought of PLUS an attitude
towards the object PLUS the sense of a self to whom the attitude
belongs--such a concrete bit of personal experience may be a small bit, but
it is a solid bit as long as it lasts; not hollow, not a mere abstract
element of experience, such as the "object" is when taken all
alone. It is a FULL fact, even
though it be an insignificant fact; it is of the KIND to which all realities
whatsoever must belong; the motor currents of the world run through the like
of it; it is on the line connecting real events with real events. That unsharable feeling which each one of us has of the pinch
of his individual destiny as he privately feels it rolling out on fortune's
wheel may be disparaged for its egotism, may be sneered at as unscientific,
but it is the one thing that fills up the measure of our concrete actuality,
and any would-be existent that should lack such a feeling, or its analogue,
would be a piece of reality only half made up.
Compare Lotze's doctrine that the only meaning we can attach to the notion
of a thing as it is "in itself" is by conceiving it as it is FOR
itself, i.e., as a piece of full experience with a private sense of
"pinch" or inner activity of some sort going with it.
this be true, it is absurd for science to say that the egotistic elements of
experience should be suppressed. The
axis of reality runs solely through the egotistic places--they are strung
upon it like so many beads. To
describe the world with all the various feelings of the individual pinch of
destiny, all the various spiritual attitudes, left out from the
description--they being as describable as anything else --would be something
like offering a printed bill of fare as the equivalent for a solid meal.
Religion makes no such blunder.
The individual's religion may be egotistic, and those private
realities which it keeps in touch with may be narrow enough; but at any rate
it always remains infinitely less hollow and abstract, as far as it goes,
than a science which prides itself on taking no account of anything private
bill of fare with one real raisin on it instead of the word
"raisin," with one real egg instead of the word "egg,"
might be an inadequate meal, but it would at least be a commencement of
reality. The contention of the survival-theory that we ought to stick
to non-personal elements exclusively seems like saying that we ought to be
satisfied forever with reading the naked bill of fare.
I think, therefore, that however particular questions connected with
our individual destinies may be answered, it is only by acknowledging them
as genuine questions, and living in the sphere of thought which they open
up, that we become profound. But
to live thus is to be religious; so I unhesitatingly repudiate the
survival-theory of religion, as being founded on an egregious mistake.
It does not follow, because our ancestors made so many errors of fact
and mixed them with their religion, that we should therefore leave off being
religious at all. By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of
ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard.
Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all.
Even the errors of fact may possibly turn out not to be as wholesale as the
scientist assumes. We saw in
Lecture IV how the religious conception of the universe seems to many
mind-curers "verified" from day to day by their experience of
fact. "Experience of
fact" is a field with so many things in it that the sectarian scientist
methodically declining, as he does, to recognize such "facts" as
mind-curers and others like them experience, otherwise than by such rude
heads of classification as "bosh," "rot,"
"folly," certainly leaves out a mass of raw fact which, save for
the industrious interest of the religious in the more personal aspects of
reality, would never have succeeded in getting itself recorded at all.
We know this to be true already in certain cases; it may, therefore,
be true in others as well. Miraculous
healings have always been part of the supernaturalist stock in trade, and
have always been dismissed by the scientist as figments of the imagination. But the scientist's tardy education in the facts of hypnotism
has recently given him an apperceiving mass for phenomena of this order, and
he consequently now allows that the healings may exist, provided you
expressly call them effects of "suggestion."
Even the stigmata of the cross on Saint Francis's hands and feet may
on these terms not be a fable. Similarly,
the time-honored phenomenon of diabolical possession is on the point of
being admitted by the scientist as a fact, now that he has the name of
"hystero-demonopathy" by which to apperceive it.
No one can foresee just how far this legitimation of occultist
phenomena under newly found scientist titles may proceed--even
"prophecy," even "levitation," might creep into the
the divorce between scientist facts and religious facts may not necessarily
be as eternal as it at first sight seems, nor the personalism and
romanticism of the world, as they appeared to primitive thinking, be matters
so irrevocably outgrown. The
final human opinion may, in short, in some manner now impossible to foresee,
revert to the more personal style, just as any path of progress may follow a
spiral rather than a straight line. If
this were so, the rigorously impersonal view of science might one day appear
as having been a temporarily useful eccentricity rather than the
definitively triumphant position which the sectarian scientist at present so
confidently announces it to be.
see now why I have been so individualistic throughout these lectures, and
why I have seemed so bent on rehabilitating the element of feeling in
religion and subordinating its intellectual part.
Individuality is founded in feeling; and the recesses of feeling, the
darker, blinder strata of character, are the only places in the world in
which we catch real fact in the making, and directly perceive how events
happen, and how work is actually done.
Compared with this world of living individualized feelings, the world
of generalized objects which the intellect contemplates is without solidity
or life. As in stereoscopic or
kinetoscopic pictures seen outside the instrument, the third dimension, the
movement, the vital element, are not there.
We get a beautiful picture of an express train supposed to be moving,
but where in the picture, as I have heard a friend say, is the energy or the
fifty miles an hour?
Hume's criticism has banished causation from the world of physical objects,
and "Science" is absolutely satisfied to define cause in terms of
concomitant change-read Mach, Pearson, Ostwald. The "original" of
the notion of causation is in our inner personal experience, and only there
can causes in the old-fashioned sense be directly observed and described.
When I read in a religious paper words like these: "Perhaps the best thing we can say of God is that he is
THE INEVITABLE INFERENCE," I recognize the tendency to let religion
evaporate in intellectual terms. Would
martyrs have sung in the flames for a mere inference, however inevitable it
might be? Original religious
men, like Saint Francis, Luther, Behmen, have usually been enemies of the
intellect's pretension to meddle with religious things.
Yet the intellect, everywhere invasive, shows everywhere its
shallowing effect. See how the
ancient spirit of Methodism evaporates under those wonderfully able
rationalistic booklets (which every one should read) of a philosopher like
Professor Bowne (The Christian Revelation, The Christian Life The Atonement:
Cincinnati and New York, 1898, 1899, 1900). See the positively expulsive purpose of philosophy properly
writes M. Vacherot (La
Religion, Paris, 1869, pp. 313, 436, et passim), "answers to a
transient state or condition, not to a permanent determination of human
nature, being merely an expression of that stage of the human mind which is
dominated by the imagination. . . . Christianity has but a single possible
final heir to its estate, and that is scientific philosophy."
a still more radical vein, Professor Ribot (Psychologie des Sentiments, p.
310) describes the evaporation of religion.
He sums it up in a single formula--the ever-growing predominance of
the rational intellectual element, with the gradual fading out of the
emotional element, this latter tending to enter into the group of purely
intellectual sentiments. "Of
religious sentiment properly so called, nothing survives at last save a
vague respect for the unknowable x which is a last relic of the fear, and a
certain attraction towards the ideal, which is a relic of the love, that
characterized the earlier periods of religious growth.
state this more simply, religion tends to turn into religious
philosophy.--These are psychologically entirely different things, the one
being a theoretic construction of ratiocination, whereas the other is the
living work of a group of persons, or of a great inspired leader, calling
into play the entire thinking and feeling organism of man."
find the same failure to recognize that the stronghold of religion lies in
individuality in attempts like those of Professor Baldwin (Mental
Development, Social and Ethical Interpretations, ch. x) and Mr. H. R.
Marshall (Instinct and Reason, chaps. viii.
to xii.) to make it a purely "conservative social force."
us agree, then, that Religion, occupying herself with personal destinies and
keeping thus in contact with the only absolute realities which we know, must
necessarily play an eternal part in human history. The next thing to decide is what she reveals about those
destinies, or whether indeed she reveals anything distinct enough to be
considered a general message to mankind.
We have done as you see, with our preliminaries, and our final
summing up can now begin.
am well aware that after all the palpitating documents which I have quoted,
and all the perspectives of emotion-inspiring institution and belief that my
previous lectures have opened, the dry analysis to which I now advance may
appear to many of you like an anti-climax, a tapering-off and flattening out
of the subject, instead of a crescendo of interest and result.
I said awhile ago that the religious attitude of Protestants appears
poverty-stricken to the Catholic imagination.
Still more poverty-stricken, I fear, may my final summing up of the
subject appear at first to some of you.
On which account I pray you now to bear this point in mind, that in
the present part of it I am expressly trying to reduce religion to its
lowest admissible terms, to that minimum, free from individualistic
excrescences, which all religions contain as their nucleus, and on which it
may be hoped that all religious persons may agree.
That established, we should have a result which might be small, but
would at least be solid; and on it and round it the ruddier additional
beliefs on which the different individuals make their venture might be
grafted, and flourish as richly as you please.
I shall add my own over-belief (which will be, I confess, of a
somewhat pallid kind, as befits a critical philosopher), and you will, I
hope, also add your over-beliefs, and we shall soon be in the varied world
of concrete religious constructions once more.
For the moment, let me dryly pursue the analytic part of the task.
thought and feeling are determinants of conduct, and the same conduct may be
determined either by feeling or by thought.
When we survey the whole field of religion, we find a great variety
in the thoughts that have prevailed there; but the feelings on the one hand
and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic,
Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their
lives. The theories which
Religion generates, being thus variable, are secondary; and if you wish to
grasp her essence, you must look to the feelings and the conduct as being
the more constant elements. It
is between these two elements that the short circuit exists on which she
carries on her principal business, while the ideas and symbols and other
institutions form loop-lines which may be perfections and improvements, and
may even some day all be united into one harmonious system, but which are
not to be regarded as organs with an indispensable function, necessary at
all times for religious life to go on.
This seems to me the first conclusion which we are entitled to draw
from the phenomena we have passed in review.
next step is to characterize the feelings.
To what psychological order do they belong?
resultant outcome of them is in any case what Kant calls a "sthenic"
affection, an excitement of the cheerful, expansive, "dynamogenic"
order which, like any tonic, freshens our vital powers.
In almost every lecture, but especially in the lectures on Conversion
and on Saintliness, we have seen how this emotion overcomes temperamental
melancholy and imparts endurance to the Subject, or a zest, or a meaning, or
an enchantment and glory to the common objects of life.
The name of "faith-state," by which Professor Leuba
designates it, is a good one. It
is a biological as well as a psychological condition, and Tolstoy is
absolutely accurate in classing faith among the forces BY WHICH MEN
LIVE. The total absence of
it, anhedonia, means collapse.
Compare, for instance, pages 200, 215, 219, 222, 244-250, 270-273.
American Journal of Psychology, vii. 345.
Above, p. 181.
Above, p. 143.
faith-state may hold a very minimum of intellectual content.
We saw examples of this in those sudden raptures of the divine
presence, or in such mystical seizures as Dr. Bucke described.
It may be a mere vague enthusiasm, half spiritual, half vital, a
courage, and a feeling that great and wondrous things are in the air.
Above, p. 391.
Example: Henri Perreyve writes
to Gratry: "I do not know
how to deal with the happiness which you aroused in me this morning. It
overwhelms me; I want to DO something, yet I can do nothing and am fit for
nothing. . . . I would fain do GREAT THINGS."
Again, after an inspiring interview, he writes:
"I went homewards, intoxicated with joy, hope, and strength.
I wanted to feed upon my happiness in solitude far from all men. It was late; but, unheeding that, I took a mountain path and
went on like a madman, looking at the heavens, regardless of earth.
Suddenly an instinct made me draw hastily back --I was on the very
edge of a precipice, one step more and I must have fallen.
I took fright and gave up my nocturnal promenade."
A. Gratry: Henri
Perreyve, London, 1872, pp. 92, 89.
primacy, in the faith-state, of vague expansive impulse over direction is
well expressed in Walt Whitman's lines (Leaves of Grass, 1872, p. 190):--
to confront night, storms, hunger,ridicule, accidents,
rebuffs, as the trees and animals do. . . .
Dear Camerado! I confess I have urged you onward with me, and
still urge you, without the least idea what is our
whether we shall be victorious, or utterly quell'd and defeated."
readiness for great things, and this sense that the world by its importance,
wonderfulness, etc., is apt for their production, would seem to be the
undifferentiated germ of all the higher faiths.
Trust in our own dreams of ambition, or in our country's expansive
destinies, and faith in the providence of God, all have their source in that
onrush of our sanguine impulses, and in that sense of the exceedingness of
the possible over the real.
however, a positive intellectual content is associated with a faith-state,
it gets invincibly stamped in upon belief, and this explains the
passionate loyalty of religious persons everywhere to the minutest details
of their so widely differing creeds. Taking
creeds and faith-state together, as forming "religions," and
treating these as purely subjective phenomena, without regard to the
question of their "truth," we are obliged, on account of their
extraordinary influence upon action and endurance, to class them amongst the
most important biological functions of mankind.
Their stimulant and anaesthetic effect is so great that Professor
Leuba, in a recent article, goes so far as to say that so long as men
can USE their God, they care very little who he is, or even whether he is at
all. "The truth of the
matter can be put," says Leuba, "in this way:
GOD IS NOT KNOWN, HE IS NOT UNDERSTOOD; HE IS USED--sometimes as
meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as
an object of love. If he proves
himself useful, the religious consciousness asks for no more than that.
Does God really exist? How
does he exist? What is he? are
so many irrelevant questions. Not
God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is, in the
last analysis, the end of religion. The
love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious
Compare Leuba: Loc. cit., pp.
The Contents of Religious Consciousness, in The Monist, xi. 536, July 1901.
 Loc. cit., pp. 571, 572, abridged.
See, also, this writer's extraordinarily true criticism of the notion
that religion primarily seeks to solve the intellectual mystery of the
world. Compare what W. Bender
says (in his Wesen der Religion, Bonn, 1888, pp. 85, 38):
"Not the question about God, and not the inquiry into the origin
and purpose of the world is religion, but the question about Man.
All religious views of life are anthropocentric." "Religion is that activity of the human impulse towards
self-preservation by means of which Man seeks to carry his essential vital
purposes through against the adverse pressure of the world by raising
himself freely towards the world's ordering and governing powers when the
limits of his own strength are reached."
The whole book is little more than a development of these words.
this purely subjective rating, therefore, Religion must be considered
vindicated in a certain way from the attacks of her critics.
It would seem that she cannot be a mere anachronism and survival, but
must exert a permanent function, whether she be with or without intellectual
content, and whether, if she have any, it be true or false.
must next pass beyond the point of view of merely subjective utility, and
make inquiry into the intellectual content itself.
is there, under all the discrepancies of the creeds, a common nucleus to
which they bear their testimony unanimously?
second, ought we to consider the testimony true?
will take up the first question first, and answer it immediately in the
affirmative. The warring gods
and formulas of the various religions do indeed cancel each other, but there
is a certain uniform deliverance in which religions all appear to meet.
It consists of two parts:--
An uneasiness; and
The uneasiness, reduced to its simplest terms, is a sense that there
is SOMETHING WRONG ABOUT US as we naturally stand.
The solution is a sense that WE ARE SAVED FROM THE WRONGNESS by
making proper connection with the higher powers.
those more developed minds which alone we are studying, the wrongness takes
a moral character, and the salvation takes a mystical tinge.
I think we shall keep well within the limits of what is common to all
such minds if we formulate the essence of their religious experience in
terms like these:--
individual, so far as he suffers from his wrongness and criticises it, is to
that extent consciously beyond it, and in at least possible touch with
something higher, if anything higher exist.
Along with the wrong part there is thus a better part of him, even
though it may be but a most helpless germ.
With which part he should identify his real being is by no means
obvious at this stage; but when stage 2 (the stage of solution or salvation)
arrives, the man identifies his real being with the germinal higher
part of himself; and does so in the following way.
He becomes conscious that this higher part is conterminous and
continuous with a MORE of the same quality, which is operative in the
universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with, and in
a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone
to pieces in the wreck.
Remember that for some men it arrives suddenly, for others gradually, whilst
others again practically enjoy it all their life.
seems to me that all the phenomena are accurately describable in these very
simple general terms. They
allow for the divided self and the struggle; they involve the change of
personal centre and the surrender of the lower self; they express the
appearance of exteriority of the helping power and yet account for our sense
of union with it; and they fully justify our feelings of security and
joy. There is probably no
autobiographic document, among all those which I have quoted, to which the
description will not well apply. One
need only add such specific details as will adapt it to various theologies
and various personal temperaments, and one will then have the various
experiences reconstructed in their individual forms.
The practical difficulties are: 1,
to "realize the reality" of one's higher part; 2, to identify
one's self with it exclusively; and 3, to identify it with all the rest of
"When mystical activity is at its height, we find consciousness
possessed by the sense of a being at once EXCESSIVE and IDENTICAL with the
self: great enough to be God;
interior enough to be ME. The
"objectivity" of it ought in that case to be called EXCESSIVITY,
rather, or exceedingness." ReCeJac:
Essai sur les fondements de la conscience mystique, 1897, p. 46.
far, however, as this analysis goes, the experiences are only psychological
phenomena. They possess, it is
true, enormous biological worth. Spiritual
strength really increases in the subject when he has them, a new life opens
for him, and they seem to him a place of conflux where the forces of two
universes meet; and yet this may be nothing but his subjective way of
feeling things, a mood of his own fancy, in spite of the effects produced.
I now turn to my second question:
What is the objective "truth" of their content?
The word "truth" is here taken to mean something additional to
bare value for life, although the natural propensity of man is to believe
that whatever has great value for life is thereby certified as true.
part of the content concerning which the question of truth most pertinently
arises is that "MORE of the same quality" with which our own
higher self appears in the experience to come into harmonious working
relation. Is such a
"more" merely our own notion, or does it really exist?
If so, in what shape does it exist?
Does it act, as well as exist?
And in what form should we conceive of that "union" with it
of which religious geniuses are so convinced?
is in answering these questions that the various theologies perform their
theoretic work, and that their divergencies most come to light.
They all agree that the "more" really exists; though some
of them hold it to exist in the shape of a personal god or gods, while
others are satisfied to conceive it as a stream of ideal tendency embedded
in the eternal structure of the world.
They all agree, moreover, that it acts as well as exists, and that
something really is effected for the better when you throw your life into
its hands. It is when they
treat of the experience of "union" with it that their speculative
differences appear most clearly. Over
this point pantheism and theism, nature and second birth, works and grace
and karma, immortality and reincarnation, rationalism and mysticism, carry
on inveterate disputes.
the end of my lecture on Philosophy I held out the notion that an
impartial science of religions might sift out from the midst of their
discrepancies a common body of doctrine which she might also formulate in
terms to which <501> physical science need not object.
This, I said, she might adopt as her own reconciling hypothesis, and
recommend it for general belief. I
also said that in my last lecture I should have to try my own hand at
framing such an hypothesis.
Above, p. 445.
time has now come for this attempt. Who
says "hypothesis" renounces the ambition to be coercive in his
arguments. The most I can do is, accordingly, to offer something that may
fit the facts so easily that your scientific logic will find no plausible
pretext for vetoing your impulse to welcome it as true.
"more," as we called it, and the meaning of our "union"
with it, form the nucleus of our inquiry.
Into what definite description can these words be translated, and for
what definite facts do they stand? It
would never do for us to place ourselves offhand at the position of a
particular theology, the Christian theology, for example, and proceed
immediately to define the "more" as Jehovah, and the
"union" as his imputation to us of the righteousness of Christ.
That would be unfair to other religions, and, from our present
standpoint at least, would be an over-belief.
must begin by using less particularized terms; and, since one of the duties
of the science of religions is to keep religion in connection with the rest
of science, we shall do well to seek first of all a way of describing the
"more," which psychologists may also recognize as real.
The subconscious self is nowadays a well-accredited psychological
entity; and I believe that in it we have exactly the mediating term
required. Apart from all
religious considerations, there is actually and literally more life in our
total soul than we are at any time aware of.
The exploration of the transmarginal field has hardly yet been
seriously undertaken, but what Mr. Myers said in 1892 in his essay on the
Subliminal Consciousness is as true as when it was first written:
"Each of us is in reality an abiding psychical entity far more
extensive than he knows--an individuality which can never express itself
completely through any corporeal manifestation.
The Self manifests through the organism; but there is always some
part of the Self unmanifested; and always, as it seems, some power of
organic expression in abeyance or reserve."
Much of the content of this larger background against which our
conscious being stands out in relief is insignificant.
Imperfect memories, silly jingles, inhibitive timidities,
"dissolutive" phenomena of various sorts, as Myers calls them,
enters into it for a large part. But
in it many of the performances of genius seem also to have their origin; and
in our study of conversion, of mystical experiences, and of prayer, we have
seen how striking a part invasions from this region play in the religious
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. vii. p. 305. For a
full statement of Mr. Myers's views, I may refer to his posthumous work,
"Human Personality in the Light of Recent Research," which is
already announced by Messrs. Longmans,
Green & Co. as being in press. Mr.
Myers for the first time proposed as a general psychological problem the
exploration of the subliminal region of consciousness throughout its whole
extent, and made the first methodical steps in its topography by treating as
a natural series a mass of subliminal facts hitherto considered only as
curious isolated facts and subjecting them to a systematized nomenclature. How important this exploration will prove, future work upon
the path which Myers has opened can alone show.
compare my paper: "Frederic
Myers's services to Psychology," in the said Proceedings, part xlii.,
Compare the inventory given above on pp. 472-4, and also what is said of the
subconscious self on pp. 228-231, 235-236.
me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its FARTHER
side, the "more" with which in religious experience we feel
ourselves connected is on its HITHER side the subconscious continuation of
our conscious life. Starting thus with a recognized psychological fact as
our basis, we seem to preserve a contact with "science" which the
ordinary theologian lacks. At
the same time the theologian's contention that the religious man is moved by
an external power is vindicated, for it is one of the peculiarities of
invasions from the subconscious region to take on objective appearances, and
to suggest to the Subject an external control.
In the religious life the control is felt as "higher"; but
since on our hypothesis it is primarily the higher faculties of our own
hidden mind which are controlling, the sense of union with the power beyond
us is a sense of something, not merely apparently, but literally true.
doorway into the subject seems to me the best one for a science of
religions, for it mediates between a number of different points of view.
Yet it is only a doorway, and difficulties present themselves as soon
as we step through it, and ask how far our transmarginal consciousness
carries us if we follow it on its remoter side.
Here the over-beliefs begin: here
mysticism and the conversion-rapture and Vedantism and transcendental
idealism bring in their monistic interpretations and tell us that the
finite self rejoins the absolute self, for it was always one with God and
identical with the soul of the world.
Here the prophets of all the different religions come with their
visions, voices, raptures, and other openings, supposed by each to
authenticate his own peculiar faith.
Compare above, pp. 410 ff.
One more expression of this belief, to increase the reader's familiarity
with the notion of it:--
this room is full of darkness for thousands of years, and you come in and
begin to weep and wail, 'Oh, the darkness,' will the darkness vanish?
Bring the light in, strike a match, and light comes in a moment.
So what good will it do you to think all your lives, 'Oh, I have done
evil, I have made many mistakes'? It
requires no ghost to tell us that. Bring
in the light, and the evil goes in a moment.
Strengthen the real nature, build up yourselves, the effulgent, the
resplendent, the ever pure, call that up in every one whom you see.
I wish that every one of us had come to such a state that even when
we see the vilest of human beings we can see the God within, and instead of
condemning, say, 'Rise, thou effulgent One, rise thou who art always pure,
rise thou birthless and deathless, rise almighty, and manifest your nature.'
. . . This is the highest prayer that the Advaita teaches.
This is the one prayer: remembering
our nature.". . . "Why does man go out to look for a God? . . . It
is your own heart beating, and you did not know, you were mistaking it for
something external. He, nearest
of the near, my own self, the reality of my own life, my body and my
soul.--I am Thee and Thou art Me. That
is your own nature. Assert it,
manifest it. Not to become
pure, you are pure already. You
are not to be perfect, you are that already.
Every good thought which you think or act upon is simply tearing the
veil, as it were, and the purity, the Infinity, the God behind, manifests
itself--the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal Witness in this
universe, your own Self. Knowledge
is, as it were, a lower step, a degradation.
We are It already; how to know It?"
Swami Viverananda: Addresses, No. XII., Practical Vedanta, part iv.
pp. 172, 174, London, 1897; and Lectures, The Real and the Apparent Man, p.
of us who are not personally favored with such specific revelations must
stand outside of them altogether and, for the present at least, decide that,
since they corroborate incompatible theological doctrines, they neutralize
one another and leave no fixed results.
If we follow any one of them, or if we follow philosophical theory
and embrace monistic pantheism on non-mystical grounds, we do so in the
exercise of our individual freedom, and build out our religion in the way
most congruous with our personal susceptibilities.
Among these susceptibilities intellectual ones play a decisive part.
Although the religious question is primarily a question of life, of
living or not living in the higher union which opens itself to us as a gift,
yet the spiritual excitement in which the gift appears a real one will often
fail to be aroused in an individual until certain particular intellectual
beliefs or ideas which, as we say, come home to him, are touched. These
ideas will thus be essential to that individual's religion;--which is as
much as to say that over-beliefs in various directions are absolutely
indispensable, and that we should treat them with tenderness and tolerance
so long as they are not intolerant themselves. As I have elsewhere written,
the most interesting and valuable things about a man are usually his
For instance, here is a case where a person exposed from her birth to
Christian ideas had to wait till they came to her clad in spiritistic
formulas before the saving experience set in:--
myself I can say that spiritualism has saved me. It was revealed to me at a critical moment of my life, and
without it I don't know what I should have done. It has taught me to detach myself from worldly things and to
place my hope in things to come. Through
it I have learned to see in all men, even in those most criminal, even in
those from whom I have most suffered, undeveloped brothers to whom I owed
assistance, love, and forgiveness. I
have learned that I must lose my temper over nothing despise no one, and
pray for all. Most of all I
have learned to pray! And
although I have still much to learn in this domain, prayer ever brings me
more strength, consolation, and comfort.
I feel more than ever that I have only made a few steps on the long
road of progress; but I look at its length without dismay, for I have
confidence that the day will come when all my efforts shall be rewarded.
So Spiritualism has a great place in my life, indeed it holds the
first place there." Flournoy
the over beliefs, and confining ourselves to what is common and generic, we
have in the fact that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self
through which saving experiences come, a positive content of religious
experience which, it seems to me, is literally and objectively true as far
as it goes.
I now proceed to state my own hypothesis about the farther limits of this
extension of our personality, I shall be offering my own over-belief--
though I know it will appear a sorry under-belief to some of you--for which
I can only bespeak the same indulgence which in a converse case I should
accord to yours.
"The influence of the Holy Spirit, exquisitely called the Comforter, is
a matter of actual experience, as solid a reality as that of electro
magnetism." W. C.
Brownell, Scribner's Magazine, vol. xxx. p. 112.
The further limits of our being plunge, it seems to me, into an altogether
other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely
"understandable" world. Name
it the mystical region, or the supernatural region, whichever you choose.
So far as our ideal impulses originate in this region (and most of
them do originate in it, for we find them possessing us in a way for which
we cannot articulately account), we belong to it in a more intimate sense
than that in which we belong to the visible world, for we belong in the most
intimate sense wherever our ideals belong.
Yet the unseen region in question is not merely ideal, for it
produces effects in this world. When we commune with it, work is actually done upon our
finite personality, for we are turned into new men, and consequences in the
way of conduct follow in the natural world upon our regenerative
change. But that which produces effects within another reality must be
termed a reality itself, so I feel as if we had no philosophic excuse for
calling the unseen or mystical world unreal.
That the transaction of opening ourselves, otherwise called prayer, is a
perfectly definite one for certain persons, appears abundantly in the
preceding lectures. I append
another concrete example to rein force the impression on the reader's
can learn to transcend these limitations [of finite thought] and draw power
and wisdom at will. . . . The divine presence is known through experience.
The turning to a higher plane is a distinct act of consciousness.
It is not a vague, twilight or semi-conscious experience.
It is not an ecstasy, it is not a trance. It is not super-consciousness in the Vedantic sense.
It is not due to self-hypnotization.
It is a perfectly calm, sane, sound, rational, common-sense shifting
of consciousness from the phenomena of sense-perception to the phenomena of
seership, from the thought of self to a distinctively higher realm. . . .
For example, if the lower self be nervous, anxious, tense, one can in a few
moments compel it to be calm. This
is not done by a word simply. Again
I say, it is not hypnotism. It
is by the exercise of power. One
feels the spirit of peace as definitely as heat is perceived on a hot summer
day. The power can be as surely
used as the sun s rays can be focused and made to do work, to set fire to
wood." The Higher Law,
vol. iv. pp. 4, 6, Boston, August, 1901.
is the natural appellation, for us Christians at least, for the supreme
reality, so I will call this higher part of the universe by the name of
God. We and God have
business with each other; and in opening ourselves to his influence our
deepest destiny is fulfilled. The
universe, at those parts of it which our personal being constitutes, takes a
turn genuinely for the worse or for the better in proportion as each one of
us fulfills or evades God's demands. As
far as this goes I probably have you with me, for I only translate into
schematic language what I may call the instinctive belief of mankind:
God is real since he produces real effects.
Transcendentalists are fond of the term "Over-soul," but as a rule
they use it in an intellectualist sense, as meaning only a medium of
communion. "God" is a
causal agent as well as a medium of communion, and that is the aspect which
I wish to emphasize.
real effects in question, so far as I have as yet admitted them, are exerted
on the personal centres of energy of the various subjects, but the
spontaneous faith of most of the subjects is that they embrace a wider
sphere than this. Most
religious men believe (or "know," if they be mystical) that not
only they themselves, but the whole universe of beings to whom the God is
present, are secure in his parental hands.
There is a sense, a dimension, they are sure, in which we are ALL
saved, in spite of the gates of hell and all adverse terrestrial
appearances. God's existence is
the guarantee of an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved.
This world may indeed, as science assures us, some day burn up or
freeze; but if it is part of his order, the old ideals are sure to be
brought elsewhere to fruition, so that where God is, tragedy is only
provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution are not the
absolutely final things. Only
when this farther step of faith concerning God is taken, and remote
objective consequences are predicted, does religion, as it seems to me, get
wholly free from the first immediate subjective experience, and bring a REAL
HYPOTHESIS into play. A good
hypothesis in science must have other properties than those of the
phenomenon it is immediately invoked to explain, otherwise it is not
prolific enough. God, meaning
only what enters into the religious man's experience of union, falls short
of being an hypothesis of this more useful order.
He needs to enter into wider cosmic relations in order to justify the
subject's absolute confidence and peace.
the God with whom, starting from the hither side of our own extra-marginal
self, we come at its remoter margin into commerce should be the absolute
world-ruler, is of course a very considerable over-belief.
Over-belief as it is, though, it is an article of almost every one's
religion. Most of us pretend in
some way to prop it upon our philosophy, but the philosophy itself is really
propped upon this faith. What is this but to say that Religion, in her
fullest exercise of function, is not a mere illumination of facts already
elsewhere given, not a mere passion, like love, which views things in a
rosier light. It is indeed
that, as we have seen abundantly. But
it is something more, namely, a postulator of new FACTS as well.
The world interpreted religiously is not the materialistic world over
again, with an altered expression; it must have, over and above the altered
expression, a natural constitution different at some point from that which a
materialistic world would have. It
must be such that different events can be expected in it, different conduct
must be required.
thoroughly "pragmatic" view of religion has usually been taken as
a matter of course by common men. They
have interpolated divine miracles into the field of nature, they have built
a heaven out beyond the grave. It
is only transcendentalist metaphysicians who think that, without adding any
concrete details to Nature, or subtracting any, but by simply calling it the
expression of absolute spirit, you make it more divine just as it stands.
I believe the pragmatic way of taking religion to be the deeper way.
It gives it body as well as soul, it makes it claim, as everything
real must claim, some characteristic realm of fact as its very own. What the
more characteristically divine facts are, apart from the actual inflow of
energy in the faith-state and the prayer-state, I know not.
But the over-belief on which I am ready to make my personal venture
is that they exist. The whole
drift of my education goes to persuade me that the world of our present
consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist,
and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning
for our life also; and that although in the main their experiences and those
of this world keep discrete, yet the two become continuous at certain
points, and higher energies filter in.
By being faithful in my poor measure to this over-belief, I seem to
myself to keep more sane and true. I
CAN, of course, put myself into the sectarian scientist's attitude, and
imagine vividly that the world of sensations and of scientific laws and
objects may be all. But
whenever I do this, I hear that inward monitor of which W. K. Clifford once
wrote, whispering the word "bosh!"
Humbug is humbug, even though it bear the scientific name, and the
total expression of human experience, as I view it objectively, invincibly
urges me beyond the narrow "scientific" bounds.
Assuredly, the real world is of a different temperament--more
intricately built than physical science allows.
my objective and my subjective conscience both hold me to the over-belief
which I express. Who knows
whether the faithfulness of individuals here below to their own poor
over-beliefs may not actually help God in turn to be more effectively
faithful to his own greater tasks?
writing my concluding lecture I had to aim so much at simplification that I
fear that my general philosophic position received so scant a statement as
hardly to be intelligible to some of my readers. I therefore add this epilogue, which must also be so brief as
possibly to remedy but little the defect.
In a later work I may be enabled to state my position more amply and
consequently more clearly.
cannot be expected in a field like this, where all the attitudes and tempers
that are possible have been exhibited in literature long ago, and where any
new writer can immediately be classed under a familiar head.
If one should make a division of all thinkers into naturalists and
supernaturalists, I should undoubtedly have to go, along with most
philosophers, into the supernaturalist branch.
But there is a crasser and a more refined supernaturalism, and it is
to the refined division that most philosophers at the present day belong.
If not regular transcendental idealists, they at least obey the
Kantian direction enough to bar out ideal entities from interfering causally
in the course of phenomenal events. Refined
supernaturalism is universalistic supernaturalism; for the
"crasser" variety "piecemeal" supernaturalism would
perhaps be the better name. It
went with that older theology which to-day is supposed to reign only among
uneducated people, or to be found among the few belated professors of the
dualisms which Kant is thought to have displaced.
It admits miracles and providential leadings, and finds no
intellectual difficulty in mixing the ideal and the real worlds together by
interpolating influences from the ideal region among the forces that
causally determine the real world's details.
In this the refined supernaturalists think that it muddles disparate
dimensions of existence. For them the world of the ideal has no efficient causality,
and never bursts into the world of phenomena at particular points.
The ideal world, for them, is not a world of facts, but only of the
meaning of facts; it is a point of view for judging facts.
It appertains to a different "-ology," and inhabits a
different dimension of being altogether from that in which existential
propositions obtain. It cannot
get down upon the flat level of experience and interpolate itself piecemeal
between distinct portions of nature, as those who believe, for example, in
divine aid coming in response to prayer, are bound to think it must.
my own inability to accept either popular Christianity or scholastic theism,
I suppose that my belief that in communion with the Ideal new force comes
into the world, and new departures are made here below, subjects me to being
classed among the supernaturalists of the piecemeal or crasser type.
Universalistic supernaturalism surrenders, it seems to me, too easily
to naturalism. It takes the
facts of physical science at their face-value, and leaves the laws of life
just as naturalism finds them, with no hope of remedy, in case their fruits
confines itself to sentiments about life as a whole, sentiments which may be
admiring and adoring, but which need not be so, as the existence of
systematic pessimism proves. In
this universalistic way of taking the ideal world, the essence of practical
religion seems to me to evaporate. Both
instinctively and for logical reasons, I find it hard to believe that
principles can exist which make no difference in facts.
But all facts are particular facts, and the whole interest of the
question of God's existence seems to me to lie in the consequences for
particulars which that existence may be expected to entail. That no concrete
particular of experience should alter its complexion in consequence of a God
being there seems to me an incredible proposition, and yet it is the thesis
to which (implicitly at any rate) refined supernaturalism seems to cling.
It is only with experience en bloc, it says, that the Absolute
maintains relations. It
condescends to no transactions of detail.
Transcendental idealism, of course, insists that its ideal world makes THIS
difference, that facts EXIST. We
owe it to the Absolute that we have a world of fact at all. "A world" of fact!--that exactly is the trouble.
An entire world is the smallest unit with which the Absolute can
work, whereas to our finite minds work for the better ought to be done
within this world, setting in at single points.
Our difficulties and our ideals are all piecemeal affairs, but the
Absolute can do no piecework for us; so that all the interests which our
poor souls compass raise their heads too late.
We should have spoken earlier, prayed for another world absolutely,
before this world was born. It is strange, I have heard a friend say, to see this blind
corner into which Christian thought has worked itself at last, with its God
who can raise no particular weight whatever, who can help us with no private
burden, and who is on the side of our enemies as much as he is on our own.
Odd evolution from the God of David's psalms!
am ignorant of Buddhism and speak under correction, and merely in order the
better to describe my general point of view; but as I apprehend the
Buddhistic doctrine of Karma, I agree in principle with that.
All supernaturalists admit that facts are under the judgment of
higher law; but for Buddhism as I interpret it, and for religion generally
so far as it remains unweakened by transcendentalistic metaphysics, the word
"judgment" here means no such bare academic verdict or platonic
appreciation as it means in Vedantic or modern absolutist systems; it
carries, on the contrary, EXECUTION with it, is in rebus as well as post rem.
and operates "causally" as partial factor in the total fact. The
universe becomes a gnosticism pure and simple on any other terms.
But this view that judgment and execution go together is that of the
crasser supernaturalist way of thinking, so the present volume must on the
whole be classed with the other expressions of that creed.
See my Will to Believe and other Essays in popular Philosophy. 1897, p. 165.
state the matter thus bluntly, because the current of thought in academic
circles runs against me, and I feel like a man who must set his back against
an open door quickly if he does not wish to see it closed and locked.
In spite of its being so shocking to the reigning intellectual
tastes, I believe that a candid consideration of piecemeal supernaturalism
and a complete discussion of all its metaphysical bearings will show it to
be the hypothesis by which the largest number of legitimate requirements are
met. That of course would be a
program for other books than this; what I now say sufficiently indicates to
the philosophic reader the place where I belong.
asked just where the differences in fact which are due to God's existence
come in, I should have to say that in general I have no hypothesis to offer
beyond what the phenomenon of "prayerful communion," especially
when certain kinds of incursion from the subconscious region take part in
it, immediately suggests. The
appearance is that in this phenomenon something ideal, which in one sense is
part of ourselves and in another sense is not ourselves, actually exerts an
influence, raises our centre of personal energy, and produces regenerative
effects unattainable in other ways. If,
then, there be a wider world of being than that of our every-day
consciousness, if in it there be forces whose effects on us are
intermittent, if one facilitating condition of the effects be the openness
of the "subliminal" door, we have the elements of a theory to
which the phenomena of religious life lend plausibility.
I am so impressed by the importance of these phenomena that I adopt
the hypothesis which they so naturally suggest.
At these places at least, I say, it would seem as though transmundane
energies, God, if you will, produced immediate effects within the natural
world to which the rest of our experience belongs.
difference in natural "fact" which most of us would assign as the
first difference which the existence of a God ought to make would, I
imagine, be personal immortality. Religion, in fact, for the great majority
of our own race MEANS immortality, and nothing else.
God is the producer of immortality; and whoever has doubts of
immortality is written down as an atheist without farther trial.
I have said nothing in my lectures about immortality or the belief
therein, for to me it seems a secondary point.
If our ideals are only cared for in "eternity," I do not
see why we might not be willing to resign their care to other hands than
ours. Yet I sympathize with the
urgent impulse to be present ourselves, and in the conflict of impulses,
both of them so vague yet both of them noble, I know not how to decide.
It seems to me that it is eminently a case for facts to testify.
Facts, I think, are yet lacking to prove "spirit-return,"
though I have the highest respect for the patient labors of Messrs. Myers,
Hodgson, and Hyslop, and am somewhat impressed by their favorable
conclusions. I consequently
leave the matter open, with this brief word to save the reader from a
possible perplexity as to why immortality got no mention in the body of this
ideal power with which we feel ourselves in connection, the "God"
of ordinary men, is, both by ordinary men and by philosophers, endowed with
certain of those metaphysical attributes which in the lecture on philosophy
I treated with such disrespect. He
is assumed as a matter of course to be "one and only" and to be
"infinite"; and the notion of many finite gods is one which hardly
any one thinks it worth while to consider, and still less to uphold.
Nevertheless, in the interests of intellectual clearness, I feel
bound to say that religious experience, as we have studied it, cannot be
cited as unequivocally supporting the infinitist belief. The only thing that it unequivocally testifies to is that we
can experience union with SOMETHING larger than ourselves and in that union
find our greatest peace. Philosophy,
with its passion for unity, and mysticism with its monoideistic bent, both
"pass to the limit" and identify the something with a unique God
who is the all-inclusive soul of the world.
Popular opinion, respectful to their authority, follows the example
which they set.
the practical needs and experiences of religion seem to me sufficiently met
by the belief that beyond each man and in a fashion continuous with him
there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals.
All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and
larger than our conscious selves. Anything
larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step. It
need not be infinite, it need not be solitary.
It might conceivably even be only a larger and more godlike self, of
which the present self would then be but the mutilated expression, and the
universe might conceivably be a collection of such selves, of different
degrees of inclusiveness, with no absolute unity realized in it at all.
Thus would a sort of polytheism return upon us--a polytheism which I do not
on this occasion defend, for my only aim at present is to keep the testimony
of religious experience clearly within its proper bounds.
[Compare p. 130 above.]
Such a notion is suggested in my Ingersoll Lecture On Human Immortality,
Boston and London, 1899.
of the monistic view will say to such a polytheism (which, by the way, has
always been the real religion of common people, and is so still to-day) that
unless there be one all-inclusive God, our guarantee of security is left
imperfect. In the Absolute, and
in the Absolute only, ALL is saved. If
there be different gods, each caring for his part, some portion of some of
us might not be covered with divine protection, and our religious
consolation would thus fail to be complete.
It goes back to what was said on pages 129-131, about the possibility
of there being portions of the universe that may irretrievably be lost. Common sense is less sweeping in its demands than philosophy
or mysticism have been wont to be, and can suffer the notion of this world
being partly saved and partly lost. The
ordinary moralistic state of mind makes the salvation of the world
conditional upon the success with which each unit does its part. Partial and conditional salvation is in fact a most familiar
notion when taken in the abstract, the only difficulty being to determine
the details. Some men are even
disinterested enough to be willing to be in the unsaved remnant as far as
their persons go, if only they can be persuaded that their cause will
prevail--all of us are willing, whenever our activity-excitement rises
sufficiently high. I think, in
fact, that a final philosophy of religion will have to consider the
pluralistic hypothesis more seriously than it has hitherto been willing to
consider it. For practical life
at any rate, the CHANCE of salvation is enough.
No fact in human nature is more characteristic than its willingness
to live on a chance. The
existence of the chance makes the difference, as Edmund Gurney says, between
a life of which the keynote is resignation and a life of which the keynote
is hope. But all these
statements are unsatisfactory from their brevity, and I can only say that I
hope to return to the same questions in another book.
Tertium Quid, 1887, p. 99. See
also pp. 148, 149.
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