The Varieties of Religious Experience
... Squashed down to read in about 100 minutes
"The highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves have been flown for religious ideals."
Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 1593080727
Scarcely can anyone ever have been so brought up as to make him almost inevitably a scholar of human nature. Born in New York, his father was a Swedenborgian theologian, his sister Alice a noted diarist, and his brother Henry a distinguished novelist. His private education was in the USA, England, France, Germany and Switzerland, while Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Stuart Mill were all family friends. Before he was twenty, he spoke five languages. Yet, despite such a vigorous start, or because of it, James' life was blighted by the regular bouts of hypochondria and depression which seem almost essential for a philosopher.
He studied art and geology before settling on medicine at Harvard, where he taught for thirty-five years as one of the effective founders of modern psychology. He once jested, 'The first lecture in psychology that I ever heard was the first I ever gave.'
'Varieties of Religious Experience' now stands as such a masterly investigation of the psychology of individual theologies, that his other works tend to be rather pushed to one side. In Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking (1907) he expanded CS Peirce's philosophy, in The Will to Believe (1897) he defended individual rational belief against the necessity of reason and evidence, and offered a system of voluntary service in The Moral Equivalent of War (1906).
Should there be a part of heaven set aside for secular sages, William James must certainly sit there as a saint.
At around 190,000 words the original has taken a fair amount of hacking-about to get it to a manageable size, though it remains one of the largest in the 'Squashed' series. Should the shade of William James, who expressed the view that the 'Varieties' was far too short and required expanding, be looking down disapprovingly at how few of his fascinating quotations, examples and well-tuned aphorisms are left, I'm afraid I'll have to gently remind him that he used exactly the same vicious technique on a great many of the passages he himself 'quoted'.
The manucript in the header image is of some notes made by James on lectures at Harvard Medical School.
You'll find the basics of the holy texts neatly squashed down at Religion
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011
The Varieties of Religious Experience - A Study in Human Nature
To E.P.G. IN FILIAL GRATITUDE AND LOVE
RELIGION AND NEUROLOGY
I am neither a theologian nor an anthropologist. My learning is Psychology, so that, not religious institutions, but rather religious feelings and impulses must be my subject, and I must confine myself to the words of articulate and self-conscious men. I speak not of your ordinary religious believer, following the conventional observances of his country. His religion has been made for him by others, communicated by tradition and retained by habit. We must make search rather for the original.
Religious geniuses have often shown nervous instability, of which there can be no better example than George Fox. The Quaker religion which he founded was rooted in spiritual inwardness, and everyone who confronted him, from Oliver Cromwell to county magistrates, seems to have acknowledged his power. Yet Fox was a psychopath or détraqué of the deepest dye. His Journal abounds in entries of this sort:-
"As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head and saw three steeple-house spires, and asked them what place that was? They said, Lichfield. Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must pull off my shoes: it was winter but the word of the Lord was like a fire in me. I went up and down the streets, crying with a loud voice, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield!"
We cannot possibly ignore religion's pathological aspects. We must describe them just as if they occurred in non-religious men. But spiritual value seems undone if lowly origin be asserted. Conversion is a crisis of puberty, the macerations of saints only the parental instinct of self-sacrifice gone astray. For the hysterical nun, Christ is but an imaginary substitute for more earthly affection. Medical materialism finishes Saint Paul by calling his vision a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex and snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric. But there is not a single one of our states of mind that has not some organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions. Nor do inner happiness and serviceability always agree. If merely "feeling good" could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid human experience, while "Genius," said Dr. Moreau, "is allied to moral insanity."
In the natural sciences and industrial arts opinions are tested by logic and by experiment. It should be no otherwise with religious opinions. In other words, not its origin, but the way in which it works on the whole, is our own empiricist criterion. By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.
Says Saint Teresa:-
"Instead of giving more strength to the head, a genuine heavenly vision yields to her a harvest of ineffable spiritual riches."If there were such a thing as inspiration from a higher realm, it might well be that the neurotic temperament would furnish the chief condition of the requisite receptivity.
CIRCUMSCRIPTION OF THE TOPIC
Consider the "religious sentiment" - there is religious fear, love, awe, religious joy, and so forth. But religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight; only it comes over us at the thought of our supernatural relations.
Religion shall, arbitrarily, mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they consider divine.
Still, the word "divine" is not uncontroversial. The Buddhistic system is atheistic, and modern transcendental idealism, Emersonianism, for instance, also seems to let God evaporate into abstract Ideality. Consider that 1838 address which made Emerson famous:
"In the soul of man there is a justice whose retributions are instant and entire. He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled. If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he God."
We must therefore interpret the term "divine" very broadly, as denoting any object that is godlike, whether a deity or not.
For common men "religion" signifies always a serious state of mind. Religion, if glad, must not grin or snicker; if sad, it must not scream or curse. So I propose, arbitrarily again, that the divine shall mean for us only such a primal reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to solemnly and gravely.
"I accept the universe" said the New England transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller; to which Thomas Carlyle commented "Gad! she'd better!" But it makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference whether one accept the universe in the drab, stoic way, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints.
Occasionally, the stoic rises to something like Christian warmth, as with Marcus Aurelius:-
"Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. The poet says, Dear City of Cecrops; and wilt thou not say, Dear City of Zeus?"
But compare this with a genuine Christian outpouring, and it seems a little cold. Turn, for instance, to Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ:-
"Lord, thou knowest what is best; let this or that be according as thou wilt. Do with me as thou knowest best, and as shall be most to thine honour."
The Christian also spurns the pinched and mumping sick-room attitude, and the lives of saints are full of a kind of callousness to disease which probably no other human records show. The sanest and best of us are of one clay with lunatics and prison inmates, and death finally runs the robustest of us down. All our morality appears as a plaster hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing as the hollowest substitute for that well-being that our lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.
Here religion comes to our rescue. There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others, in which the will to assert ourselves has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts of God.
If you ask how religion falls on the thorns and faces death, and in the very act annuls annihilation, I cannot explain the matter, for it is religion's secret. I propose that we begin by addressing ourselves to the concrete facts.
THE REALITY OF THE UNSEEN
Were one asked to characterize the life of religion in general terms, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto. But the concrete objects of most men's religion, the deities whom they worship, are known only in idea.
Immanuel Kant held a that our conceptions always require a sense-content to work with, and the words 'soul,' 'God,' 'immortality,' cover no distinctive sense-content whatever. Yet, we can act as if there were a God; feel as if we were free; lay plans as if we were to be immortal; and we find then that these words do make a genuine difference in our moral life, the full equivalent in praktischer Hinsicht. (practical concerns)
For Plato, Abstract Beauty, for example, is a perfectly definite being, of which the intellect is aware as something additional to the perishing beauties of the earth. One interpretation would have it that the Greek gods were personifications of those great spheres of abstract law and order into which the natural world falls - the sky-sphere, the ocean-sphere and the like; just as even now we speak of the smile of the morning, or the bite of the cold, without really meaning that these phenomena actually wear a human face.
Such instances lead to a conclusion something like this: It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the particular "senses", the most curious proofs of which are found in experiences of hallucination.
An intimate friend of mine, one of the keenest intellects I know, has had several experiences of this sort. He writes:-
"After I had got into bed and blown out the candle, suddenly I felt something come into the room and stay close to my bed. I did not recognize it by any ordinary sense and yet there was a horribly unpleasant 'sensation' connected with it. It stirred something more at the roots of my being than any ordinary perception."
My friend does not interpret these experiences as the presence of God. But it would clearly not have been unnatural to do so.
We may lay it down as certain that many persons possess the objects of their religious belief, not as mere conceptions, but rather as quasi-sensible realities. Here is an experience by a clergyman:-
"I remember the night, and almost the very spot on the hill-top, where my soul opened out, as it were, into the Infinite, and there was a rushing together of the two worlds, the inner and the outer. I could not have doubted that He was there. My highest faith in God and truest idea of him were then born in me. I have stood upon the Mount of Vision since, and felt the Eternal round about me. But never since has there come quite the same stirring of the heart. "
Here is another mystical experience, from the daughter of a man well known as a writer against Christianity.
"The very instant I heard my Father's cry calling unto me, my heart bounded in recognition. 'Come unto me,' called my Father. 'I will,' my heart panted. Did I stop to ask a single question? Not one. Since then the idea of God's reality has never left me."
I propose accordingly that we make religious optimism the theme of the next two lectures.
Lectures IV and V
THE RELIGION OF HEALTHY MINDEDNESS
If we were to ask: "What is human life's chief concern?" one of the answers would be: "Happiness." I invite you now to consider the simpler kinds of religious happiness.
"God has two families of children on this earth," says Francis W. Newman, "the once-born and the twice-born," and the once-born he describes as follows: "They see God, not as a strict Judge, not as a Glorious Potentate; but as the animating Spirit of a beautiful harmonious world, Beneficent and Kind, Merciful as well as Pure."
In the "once-born" consciousness, optimism may become quasi-pathological. The supreme contemporary example of such an inability to feel evil is of course Walt Whitman.
"His favorite occupation," writes Dr. Bucke "seemed to be strolling about outdoors by himself, looking at the grass, the trees, the vistas of light and listening to the birds, the crickets, and all the hundreds of natural sounds. Perhaps, indeed, no man who ever lived liked so many things and disliked so few as Walt Whitman. I never knew him to argue or dispute, and he never spoke about money."
Whitman is often spoken of as a "pagan." The word nowadays means sometimes the mere natural animal man without a sense of sin; sometimes it means a Greek or Roman with his own peculiar religious consciousness. But Whitman is less than a Greek or Roman; for their consciousness, even in Homeric times, was full to the brim of the sad mortality of this sunlit world.
If we give the name of healthy-mindedness to the tendency which looks on all things and sees that they are good, we must distinguish between a involuntary and a systematic way of being healthy-minded.
The advance of liberalism, so-called, in Christianity, during the past fifty years, may fairly be called a victory of healthy-mindedness over the morbidness of the old hell-fire theology. We have now preachers who ignore, or even deny, eternal punishment, and insist on the dignity rather than on the depravity of man. They look at the continual preoccupation of the old-fashioned Christian with the salvation of his soul as something sickly and reprehensible.
As examples are better than descriptions, I will quote a document received in answer to Professor Starbuck's circular of questions. The writer's state of mind may by courtesy be called a religion:
Q. What does Religion mean to you?.
If we are in search of a broken and a contrite heart, clearly we need not look to this brother. We have in him an excellent example of the optimism encouraged by popular science.
To my mind a current far more important and interesting religiously is that which has recently poured over America and seems to be gathering force every day, to which I will give the title of the 'Mind-cure movement.' This 'New Thought,' is a deliberately optimistic scheme of life, and it must now be reckoned with as a genuine religious power.
Let me pass to some concrete accounts of experience with the mind-cure religion. One of them, a woman, writing as follows:-
"The first underlying cause of all sickness, weakness, or depression is the human sense of separateness from that Divine Energy which we call God."
On the whole, one is struck by a psychological similarity between the mind-cure movement and the Lutheran and Wesleyan movements. To the anxious query, "What shall I do to be saved?" Luther and Wesley replied: "You are saved now, if you would but believe it." And the mind-curers come with precisely similar words - "You must awaken to the knowledge of your real being."
The mind-curer's methods are of course largely suggestive. But "suggestion," is only another name for the power of ideas, so far as they prove efficacious over belief and conduct. The ideas of Christian churches are not efficacious in the therapeutic direction to-day, whatever they may have been in earlier centuries, and if mind-cure should ever become official, respectable, and intrenched, these elements of suggestive efficacy will be lost.
Now science, on the other hand, these positivists say, has proved that personality, so far from being an elementary force in nature, is but a passive resultant of the really elementary forces, physical, chemical, physiological, and psycho-physical, which are all impersonal and general in character. Follow out science's conceptions practically, they will say, the conceptions that ignore personality altogether, and you will always be corroborated. The world is so made that all your expectations will be experientially verified.
But here we have mind-cure, with her diametrically opposite philosophy, setting up an exactly identical claim. Live as if I were true, she says, and every day will practically prove you right.
The experiences which we have been studying plainly show the universe to be a more many-sided affair than any sect, even the scientific sect, allows for. Evidently, then, the science and the religion are both of them genuine keys for unlocking the world's treasure-house.
Lectures VI and VII
THE SICK SOUL
To the healthy-minded temperament, evil is a disease; and worry over disease is itself an additional form of disease. Spinoza's philosophy has this sort of healthy-mindedness woven into the heart of it; knowledge of evil is an "inadequate" knowledge, fit only for slavish minds.
Within the Christian body, repentance of sins has from the beginning been the critical religious act. Repentance means getting away from the sin, not groaning and writhing over its commission. Martin Luther repudiated priestly absolution for sin. Yet had very healthy-minded ideas,
"When I was a monk," he says "I thought that I was utterly cast away, if at any time I felt the lust of the flesh. I should have said to myself, as now commonly I do, 'Martin, thou shalt not utterly be without sin, for thou hast flesh.' "
One of the heresies for which the Jesuits got that spiritual genius, Molinos, the founder of Quietism, so abominably condemned was his healthy-minded opinion of repentance:-
"When thou fallest into a fault, in what matter soever it be do not trouble nor afflict thyself for it. For they are effects of our frail Nature, stained by Original Sin."
Now in contrast with such healthy-minded views, stands a way of maximizing evil. If we admit that evil is an essential part of our being and the key to the interpretation of our life, we load ourselves down with a difficulty that has always proved burdensome in philosophies of religion. On the monistic or pantheistic view, evil, like everything else, must have its foundation in God; and the difficulty is to see how this can possibly be the case if God be absolutely good.
On the whole, the Latin races have leaned towards looking upon evil as made up of ills and sins in the plural, removable in detail; while the Germanic races have tended rather to think of Sin in the singular, and with a capital S, as something ineradicably ingrained in our natural subjectivity, even if these comparisons of races are open to exception.
Just as we might speak of a "pain-threshold," a "fear-threshold," a "misery-threshold," so the sanguine and healthy-minded live habitually on the sunny side of their misery-line, the depressed and melancholy live beyond it, in darkness and apprehension. Does it not appear as if one who lived more habitually on one side of the pain-threshold might need a different sort of religion from one who habitually lived on the other?
What single-handed man was ever on the whole as successful as Luther? Yet when he had grown old, he looked back on his life as if it were an absolute failure.
"Rather than live forty years more, I would give up my chance of Paradise."
Robert Louis Stevenson writes, with characteristic healthy-mindedness: "Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits."
For naturalism, fed on recent cosmological speculations, mankind is in a position similar to that of a set of people living on a frozen lake, surrounded by cliffs over which there is no escape, yet knowing that little by little the ice is melting. The merrier the skating, the more poignant the sadness with which one must take in the meaning of the total situation.
The early Greeks are held up as models of the healthy-minded joyousness which the religion of nature may engender. But the jealousy of the gods, the nemesis that follows too much happiness, were the fixed background of their imagination. The Epicurean said: "Seek not to be happy, but rather avoid disappointment by expecting little." The Stoic said: "The only genuine good that life can yield a man is the free possession of his own soul".
One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it is mere passive joylessness and dreariness. Professor Ribot has proposed the name anhedonia to designate this condition. A temporary condition of this sort, connected with the religious evolution of a singularly lofty character, is well described by the Catholic philosopher, Father Gratry;
"I thought myself, in fact, rejected by God, lost, damned! I felt something like the suffering of hell. Before that I had never even thought of hell. Heaven did not seem to me worth going to. It was like a vacuum; a mythological elysium, an abode of shadows less real than the earth."
So much for the incapacity for joyous feeling. A much worse form of melancholy is positive and active anguish. I quote from a patient in a French asylum.
"I am afraid of God as much as of the devil, so I drift along, thinking of nothing but suicide, but with neither courage nor means here to execute the act. Oh, if he would but kill me, devil take him! Death, death, once for all!"
At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments of perplexity he calls arrest, as if he knew not "how to live".
"I felt that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested. Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, no longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.
When disillusionment has gone as far as this the happiness of Eden never comes again. We find a somewhat different type of religious melancholy in John Bunyan's autobiography.
"If now I should have burned at the stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me. My original and inward pollution, was my plague and my affliction. I was sorry that God had made me a man."
The worst kind of melancholy is that which takes the form of panic fear. Here is an excellent example, for permission to print which I have to thank the sufferer. (NOTE: James later revealed this to be his own experience of breakdown while studying in Germany)
"I went one evening into a dressing-room when suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic, who used to sit all day with his knees up against his chin, like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat. That shape am I, I felt, potentially. The fear was so invasive and powerful that if I had not clung to scripture-texts like 'The eternal God is my refuge,' etc., 'Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden,' etc., I think I should have grown really insane."
In none of these cases was there any intellectual insanity. Here is the real core of the religious problem: Help! help! No prophet can claim to bring a final message unless he says things that will have a sound of reality in the ears of victims such as these. But the deliverance must come in as strong a form as the complaint. Buddhism, of course, and Christianity are are essentially religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life.
THE DIVIDED SELF, AND THE PROCESS OF ITS UNIFICATION
Some persons are born with an inner constitution harmonious and well balanced from the outset. Others are oppositely constituted; in degrees which may vary from a merely odd or whimsical inconsistency, to a discordancy of which the consequences may be inconvenient in the extreme. Of the more innocent kind, consider Mrs. Annie Besant's autobiography;
"As a child I used to suffer tortures of shyness, and if my shoe-lace was untied would feel shamefacedly that every eye was fixed on the unlucky string. As the young mistress of a house I was afraid of my servants, and would let careless work pass rather than bear the pain of reproving the ill-doer; when I have been lecturing and debating with no lack of spirit on the platform"
A a stronger degree of heterogeneity may make havoc of the subject's life. This is the religious melancholy and "conviction of sin" that have played so large a part in Protestant Christianity. The man's interior is a battle-ground for what he feels to be two deadly hostile selves, one actual, the other ideal. Saint Augustine's case is a classic example. I find another good description in the autobiography of Henry Alline, the Nova Scotian evangelist;
"I was now very moral in my life, but found no rest of conscience. I began to be esteemed in young company, and soon began to be fond of carnal mirth, and I thought God would indulge young people with some recreation. I would make promises that I would attend no more on these frolics; but no sooner would I hear the music and drink a glass of wine, but I would find my mind elevated and soon proceed to any sort of merriment. I was one of the most unhappy creatures on earth. Sometimes I would leave the company, and go out and walk about crying and praying, as if my very heart would break, and beseeching God that he would not cut me off, nor give me up to hardness of heart."
Saint Augustine and Alline both emerged into the smooth waters of inner unity and peace, and I shall next ask you to consider some of the peculiarities of the process of unification, when it occurs.
The French philosopher Jouffroy has left an eloquent memorial of his own "counter-conversion," as the transition from orthodoxy to infidelity has been styled by Mr. Starbuck.
"I shall never forget that night of December, in which the veil that concealed from me my own incredulity was torn. Vainly I clung to these last beliefs as a shipwrecked sailor clings to the fragments of his vessel; frightened at the unknown void in which I was about to float. When towards morning I threw myself exhausted on my bed, I seemed to feel my earlier life, so smiling and so full, go out like a fire, and before me another life opened, sombre and unpeopled, where in future I must live alone."
Mr. Horace Fletcher, in his little book called Menticulture, relates that a friend with whom he was talking of Japanese Buddhist discipline said;
"'You must first get rid of anger and worry.' 'But,' said I, 'is that possible?' 'Yes,' replied he; 'it is possible to the Japanese, and ought to be possible to us.' On my way back I could think of nothing else 'If it is possible to get rid of anger and worry, why is it necessary to have them at all?' The baby had discovered that it could walk. It would scorn to creep any longer. From that time life has had an entirely different aspect. I am amazed at my increased energy and vigor of mind, at my strength to meet situations of all kinds and at my disposition to love and appreciate everything. Neither am I wasting any of this precious time formulating an idea of a future existence or a future Heaven. The Heaven that I have within myself is as attractive as any that has been promised or that I can imagine."
Tolstoy was looking for the value of one finite term in that of another, and the whole result could only be one of those indeterminate equations in mathematics which end with 0=0. Yet this is as far as the reasoning intellect by itself can go, unless irrational sentiment or faith brings in the infinite. Little by little, Tolstoy came to the settled conviction that his trouble had not been with life in general but with the life of the upper, intellectual, artistic classes. He had been living wrongly and must change. To work for animal needs, to abjure lies and vanities, to relieve common wants, to be simple, to believe in God, therein lay happiness again.
Bunyan's recovery seems to have been slower, and, in the end, he leaves this world to the enemy;
"I must pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, and to say to corruption, Thou art my father and to the worm, Thou art my mother and sister. . . . The parting with my wife and my poor children hath often been to me as the pulling of my flesh from my bones, especially my poor blind child who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides. Poor child, thought I, what sorrow art thou like to have for thy portion in this world! Thou must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand calamities, though I cannot now endure that the wind should blow upon thee. But yet I must venture you all with God, though it goeth to the quick to leave you."
To be converted, to be regenerated, to receive grace, to experience religion, are so many phrases which denote the process, by which a self hitherto divided, and consciously wrong inferior and unhappy, becomes unified and consciously right superior and happy, in consequence of its firmer hold upon religious realities.
Let me enliven our understanding with the quaint case of an unlettered man, Stephen H. Bradley, who thought that he had been already fully converted at the age of fourteen.
"I thought I saw the Saviour, by faith, in human shape, for about one second in the room, with arms extended, appearing to say to me, Come. The next day I rejoiced with trembling my happiness was so great that I wanted to die.
So much for Mr. Bradley. Now for a minuter survey of the constituent elements of the conversion process.
If you open the chapter on Association, of any treatise on Psychology, you will read that a man's ideas, aims, and objects form diverse internal groups and systems, relatively independent of one another. When one group is present and engrosses the interest, all the ideas connected with other groups may be excluded. The President of the United States when, with paddle, gun, and fishing-rod, he goes camping in the wilderness for a vacation, official habits are replaced by the habits of a son of nature, and those who knew the man only as the strenuous magistrate would not "know him for the same person".
Let us hereafter, in speaking of the hot place in a man's consciousness, the group of ideas to which he devotes himself, and from which he works, call it the habitual centre of his personal energy.
Now if you ask of psychology just how and why aims that were peripheral become at a certain moment central, psychology has to reply that she is unable to account accurately for all the single forces at work.
Professor Starbuck of California has shown by a statistical inquiry how conversion is in its essence a normal adolescent phenomenon, incidental to the passage from the child's small universe to the wider intellectual and spiritual life of maturity. "The word 'religion,'" says Professor Leuba, "is getting more and more to signify the conglomerate of desires and emotions springing from the sense of sin and its release"
A good example is that of Mr. S. H. Hadley, who after his conversion became an active and useful rescuer of drunkards in New York.
"One Tuesday evening I sat in a saloon in Harlem, a homeless, friendless, dying drunkard. I had pawned or sold everything that would bring a drink. I had often said, 'I will never be a tramp, I will find a home in the bottom of the river.' As I sat thinking, I seemed to feel some great and mighty presence. I did learn afterwards that it was Jesus, the sinner's friend. I went to the nearest station-house and had myself locked up.
Dr. Leuba rightly remarks that there is little doctrinal theology in such an experience. He gives other cases of drunkards' conversions which are purely ethical, containing no theological beliefs whatever, neither God nor Jesus being mentioned.
Some persons never are, and possibly never could be, converted. Religious ideas cannot become the centre of their spiritual energy. They may be excellent persons, servants of God in practical ways, but they are not children of his kingdom.
CONVERSION - Concluded
In this lecture we have to finish the subject of Conversion, I had better cite two or three cases before proceeding
I go back to our friend Henry Alline
"As I was wandering the fields lamenting my miserable lost and undone condition I returned to the house, and cast my eyes on the 38th Psalm, which was the first time I ever saw the word of God, and my whole soul was filled with immortal love, soaring on the wings of faith, freed from the chains of death and darkness. I so longed to be useful in the cause of Christ, in preaching the gospel. I lost all taste for carnal pleasures, and was enabled to forsake them."
The next case was an Oxford graduate, the son of a clergyman
"Between leaving Oxford and my conversion I never darkened the door of my father's church, although I lived with him for eight years, sometimes drunk for a week together. I was converted in my own bedroom at precisely three o'clock in the afternoon of a hot July day, having been off the drink for a month. A young lady friend had sent me Professor Drummond's 'Natural Law'. 'He that hath the Son hath life eternal, he that hath not the Son hath not life' I had read scores of times before, but this made all the difference. I had the feeling that there was another being in my bedroom, the stillness was marvelous, and I felt supremely happy.
The most curious record of sudden conversion is that of M. Alphonse Ratisbonne, a free-thinking French Jew, to Catholicism;
"I met Monsieur B. He asked me to wait for a few minutes whilst he attended to some duty at the church of San Andrea delle Fratte. I entered the church myself to look at it. Poor, small, and empty; no work of art attracted my attention; I can only remember a black dog trotting and turning before me. In an instant I no longer saw anything. Heavens, how can I speak of it? Human words cannot express the inexpressible. I kissed the image of the Virgin, radiant with grace. Oh, indeed, it was She! It was indeed She! I came out as from an abyss of darkness; and I was living, perfectly living."
"Conversion," writes the New England Puritan, Joseph Alleine, "is not the putting in a patch of holiness. The sincere Christian is quite a new fabric, from the foundation to the top-stone. He is a new man, a new creature." What, now, must we think of this? Are there two classes of human beings, of which one really partakes of Christ's nature while the other merely seems to do so?
If we take instantaneous conversions on their psychological side exclusively we are tempted to suspect, not necessarily the presence of divine miracle, but rather a simple psychological peculiarity. I do not see why Methodists need object to such a view. You may remember how I argued against the notion that the worth of a thing can be decided by its origin. If the fruits for life of the state of conversion are good, we ought to idealize and venerate it, even though it be a piece of natural psychology. Well, how is it with these fruits?
The characteristics of the affective experience which, to avoid ambiguity, should, I think, be called the state of assurance rather than the faith-state, can be easily enumerated. The central one is the loss of all worry, the sense that all is ultimately well with one, the peace, the harmony, the willingness to be, even though outer conditions should remain the same. The second is the sense of perceiving truths not known before. A third peculiarity of the assurance state is the objective change which the world often appears to undergo. Leuba quotes the case of a Mr. Peek, where the luminous affection reminds one of the chromatic hallucinations produced by the intoxicant cactus called mescal:-
"When I went in the morning into the fields to work, the glory of God appeared in all his visible creation. I well remember we reaped oats, and how every straw and head of the oats seemed, as it were, arrayed in a kind of rainbow glory."
The most characteristic of all the elements of the conversion crisis, and the last one of which I shall speak, is the ecstasy of happiness produced. President Finney's is vivid:-
The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed into the back room of the front office, to pray. As I went in it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, that it was wholly a mental state. On the contrary, it seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart."
Some of you, I feel sure, knowing that numerous backslidings and relapses take place, dismiss whole subject with a pitying smile at so much "hysterics." Psychologically, as well as religiously this is shallow. Men lapse from every level - we need no statistics to tell us that. Love is well known not to be irrevocable, yet, constant or inconstant, it reveals new flights and reaches of ideality while it lasts. These revelations form its significance to men and women, whatever be its duration.
Lectures XI, XII, and XIII
What may be the practical fruits of such movingly happy conversions? It ought to be the pleasantest portion of these lectures, because the highest flights of charity, devotion, trust, patience, bravery to which the wings of human nature have spread themselves have been flown for religious ideals.
Speaking generally, our moral and practical attitude, at any given time, is always a resultant of two sets of forces within us - "Yes! yes!" say the impulses; "No! no!" say the inhibitions. Sometimes no emotional state is sovereign, but many contrary ones are mixed. Take a soldier with his dread of cowardice impelling him to advance, his fears impelling him to run, and his propensities to imitation pushing him towards his comrades
To a Fox, a Garibaldi, a General Booth, the obstacles omnipotent over those around them are as if non-existent. Given a certain amount of love, indignation, generosity, magnanimity, admiration, loyalty, or enthusiasm of self-surrender, the result is always the same. That whole raft of cowardly obstructions, which in tame persons and dull moods are sovereign impediments to action, sinks away at once.
Many saints, even as energetic ones as Teresa and Loyola, have possessed what the church traditionally reveres as the so-called gift of tears. And as it is with tears and melting moods, so it is with other exalted affections. Their reign may come by gradual growth or by a crisis; but in either case it may have "come to stay." You recollect the case of Mr. Hadley and of the graduate of Oxford.
The collective name for the ripe fruits of religion in a character is Saintliness, of which the features can easily be traced.
1. A feeling of being in a wider life than that of this world. In Christian saintliness this is always personified as God.
2. A sense of the friendly continuity of the ideal power with our own life, and a willing self-surrender to its control.
3. An immense elation and freedom.
4. A shifting of the emotional centre towards loving and harmonious affections, towards "yes, yes," and away from "no," where the claims of the non-ego are concerned.
These fundamental inner conditions have characteristic practical consequences, as follows:-
b. Strength of Soul.
I now have to give some concrete illustrations of these fruits of the spiritual tree. Since the sense of Presence of a higher and friendly power seems to be the fundamental feature in the spiritual life, I will begin with that.
"Once, a few weeks after I came to the woods I doubted whether the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. But, in the midst of a gentle rain I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature. Every little pine-needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me."
Christ utters the precept: "Love your enemies!" Not simply those who happen not to be your friends, but your enemies, either this is a mere Oriental hyperbole, a bit of verbal extravagance, or else it is sincere and literal. There are few active examples in our scriptures, but the Buddhistic examples are legendary, as where the future Buddha, incarnated as a hare, jumps into the fire to cook himself for a meal for a beggar - having previously shaken himself three times, so that none of the insects in his fur should perish with him.
"Love your enemies" is the extreme limit of magnanimity which if radically followed, would involve such a breach with our instinctive springs of action as a whole, and with the present world's arrangements, that a critical point would practically be passed, and we should be born into another kingdom of being.
The inhibition of instinctive repugnance is proved equally by the showing of it to any one who is personally loathsome. Francis of Assisi kisses his lepers; Margaret Mary Alacoque, Francis Xavier, St. John of God, and others are said to have cleansed the sores and ulcers of their patients with their respective tongues and which makes us admire and shudder at the same time.
The annals of martyrdom are of course the signal field of triumph for religious imperturbability. Let me cite the statement of a humble sufferer, persecuted as a Huguenot under Louis XIV:-
"They shut all the doors," Blanche Gamond writes, "and I saw six women, each with a bunch of willow rods saying 'Undress yourself,' which I did. They tied me to a beam in the kitchen and then discharged their fury upon me, exclaiming as they struck me, 'Pray now to your God.' I had the honor of being whipped for the name of Christ. In vain the women cried, 'We must double our blows; she does not feel them, for she neither speaks nor cries.' And how should I have cried, since I was swooning with happiness within?"
The transition from tenseness and worry, to equanimity and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium, those changes of the personal centre of energy
The next religious symptom is Purity of Life. The early Quakers were Puritans indeed. John Woolman writes in his diary:-
"Dyes being invented partly to please the eye, and partly to hide dirt, washing our garments to keep them sweet is cleanly, but it is the opposite to real cleanliness to hide dirt in them. Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye grew more uneasy to me. On this account, being deeply bowed in spirit before the Lord, I got a hat of the natural color of the fur. Some friends were apprehensive that my wearing such a hat savored of an affected singularity: I generally informed them that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will."
When the craving for purity is developed to this degree, the subject may well find the outer world too full of shocks to dwell in. In this it resembles Asceticism:
1. Asceticism may be a mere expression of organic hardihood, disgusted with too much ease.
2. Temperance in meat and drink, simplicity of apparel, chastity
3. They may also be fruits of love, sacrifices which he is happy in making to the Deity
4. Ascetic mortifications and torments may be due to pessimistic feelings about the self,
5. In psychopathic persons, mortifications may be entered on irrationally
6. Ascetic exercises may in rarer instances be prompted by genuine perversions of the bodily sensibility, in consequence of which normally pain-giving stimuli are actually felt as pleasures.
A strange moral transformation has within the past century swept over our Western world. Ascetic discipline has largely come into discredit. A believer who flagellates himself today arouses more wonder and fear than emulation. Many Catholic writers even admit that to return to the heroic corporeal discipline of ancient days might be an extravagance.
When Professor Tyndall tells us that Thomas Carlyle put him into his bath-tub every morning of a freezing Berlin winter, he proclaimed one of the lowest grades of asceticism. Such a case belongs simply to our head 1. In the next case we probably have a mixture of heads 2 and 3. The writer is a Protestant:-
"I practiced fasting and mortification of the flesh. I secretly made burlap shirts, and put the burrs next the skin, and wore pebbles in my shoes."
In the next case we have a strongly pessimistic element, so that it belongs under head 4. M. Vianney, the cure of Ars, was a French country priest, whose holiness was exemplary:-
"He imposed it on himself that he should never smell a flower, never drink when parched with thirst, never drive away a fly, never show disgust before a repugnant object, never sit down, never lean upon his elbows when he was kneeling. The Cure of Ars was very sensitive to cold, but he would never protect himself against it. During a severe winter one of his missionaries contrived to heat his confessional. The trick succeeded, and the Saint was deceived: 'God is very good,' he said 'This year, through all the cold, my feet have always been warm.' "
Under our head 3 is Cotton Mather, the New England Puritan divine, generally reputed a rather grotesque pedant; yet what is more touchingly simple than what happened when his wife came to die?
"Two hours before my lovely consort expired, I kneeled by her bedside, and I took into my two hands a dear hand, the dearest in the world. I solemnly and sincerely gave her up unto the Lord I gently put her out of my hands, and laid away a most lovely hand, resolving that I would never touch it more. This was the hardest, and perhaps the bravest action that ever I did."
The Roman Church has, in its incomparable fashion asceticism codified number of ready-made manuals. Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic who flourished - or rather who existed, for there was little that suggested flourishing about him - in the sixteenth century, will supply a passage;
"Let your soul therefore turn always:
"Not to what is most easy, but to what is hardest;
"Not to what most pleases, but to what disgusts;
"Not to will anything, but to will nothing;
"Despise yourself, and wish that others should despise you;
"To know all things, learn to know nothing.
"For to come to the All you must give up the All.
And now, as a more concrete example of all our heads together, and of the irrational extreme to which a psychopathic individual may go in the line of bodily austerity, I will quote the fourteenth century German mystic Suso's account of his own self-tortures.
"He wore for a long time a hair shirt and an iron chain, until the blood ran from him. He secretly caused an undergarment to be made into which a hundred and fifty brass nails were always turned towards the flesh. He devised leathern straps and gloves with sharp-pointed brass tacks, and he used to put them on at night, in order that if he should try while asleep to throw off the hair undergarment, or relieve himself from the gnawings of vile insects, the tacks might then stick into his body. He made himself a cross with thirty protruding iron needles and nails. This he bore on his bare back day and night. The first time his tender frame was struck with terror at it, and he blunted the nails against a stone. But soon, repenting of this womanly cowardice, he pointed them all again with a file. His feet were full of sores, his loins covered with scars, his body wasted, his mouth parched. These torments he endured out of the greatness of the love which he bore in his heart to the Divine and Eternal Wisdom, our Lord Jesus Christ."
I spare you the recital of poor Suso's other tortures. His case is distinctly pathological. Of the founder of the Sacred Heart order, we read that;
"She said again that she was devoured with two unassuageable fevers, one for the holy communion, the other for suffering, humiliation, and annihilation. 'Nothing but pain,' she continually said in her letters, 'makes my life supportable.'"
So much for the ascetic impulse. Upon the heads of obedience and poverty I will make a few remarks.
First, of Obedience. The secular life of our twentieth century opens with this virtue held in no high esteem. When the text-book theologians marshal their reasons for recommending it, the mixture sounds to our ears rather odd.
"One of the great consolations of the monastic life," says a Jesuit authority, "is the assurance we have that in obeying we can commit no fault. The Superior may commit a fault in commanding you to do this thing or that, but you are certain that you commit no fault so long as you obey, because God will only ask you if you have duly performed what orders you received."
Ignatius Loyola recommends obedience as the backbone of his order:-
"I must consider myself as a corpse which has neither intelligence nor will; be like a mass of matter which without resistance lets itself be placed wherever it may please any one; like a stick in the hand of an old man, who uses it according to his needs and places it where it suits him. So must I be under the hands of the Order, to serve it in the way it judges most useful. "
As for poverty, since Hindu fakirs, Buddhist monks, and Mohammedan dervishes unite with Jesuits and Franciscans in idealizing it, it is worth while to examine into the spiritual grounds for such a seemingly unnatural opinion.
The loathing of "capital" with which our laboring classes today are growing more and more infected seems largely composed of this sound sentiment of antipathy for lives based on mere having. As an anarchist poet writes:-
"Not by accumulating riches, but by giving away that which you have,
Only those who have no private interests can follow an ideal straight away. Sloth and cowardice creep in with every dollar or guinea we have to guard. When a brother came to Saint Francis, saying: "Father, it would be a great consolation to me to own a psalter, Francis put him off with the examples of Charlemagne, Roland, and Oliver, pursuing the infidels in sweat and labor, and finally dying on the field of battle. "After you have got your psalter you will crave a breviary; and after you have got your breviary you will sit in your stall like a grand prelate.
Over and above the mystery of self-surrender, there are in the cult of poverty other religious mysteries. There is the mystery of veracity: "Naked came I into the world," There is also the mystery of democracy, of equality before God. This sentiment (which seems in general to have been more widespread in Mohammedan than in Christian lands) tends to nullify man's usual acquisitiveness.
But in all these matters of sentiment one must have "been there" to understand them. No American can ever attain to understanding the loyalty of a Briton towards his king, nor can a Briton ever understand the peace of heart of an American in having no king. One can never fathom an emotion or divine its dictates by standing outside of it.
Lectures XIV and XV
THE VALUE OF SAINTLINESS
Today we have to judge the absolute value of what religion adds to human life.
In critically judging of the value of religious phenomena, it is very important to insist on the distinction between religion as an individual personal function, and religion as an institutional, corporate, or tribal product. In this course of lectures we are studying individual experience of the kind which has always appeared as a heretical innovation to those who witnessed its birth. Naked comes it into the world and lonely, always driving him who had it into the wilderness, often into the literal wilderness out of doors, where the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, St. Francis, George Fox, and so many others had to go.
"I fasted much," Fox says, "walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible, and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places until night came on; and frequently in the night walked mournfully about by myself; I was a man of sorrows in the time of the first workings of the Lord in me."
A genuine first-hand religious experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses, the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spread it becomes a heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enough to triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy. The new church, in spite of whatever human goodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle the spontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purer days it drew its own supply of inspiration.
The basenesses so commonly charged to religion's account are thus, almost all of them, rather chargeable to religion's wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion, and to religion's wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmatic dominion, the passion for laying down the law. The baiting of Jews, the hunting of Albigenses, the stoning of Quakers and ducking of Methodists, the murdering of Mormons and the massacring of Armenians, express rather that inborn hatred of the alien. The fruits of religion, in other words, are, like all human products, liable to corruption by excess.
First of all let us take Devoutness. When unbalanced, one of its vices is Fanaticism. The Buddha and Mohammed and many Christian saints are incrusted with a heavy jewelry of anecdotes which are meant to be honorific, but are simply abgeschmackt and silly, and form a touching expression of man's misguided propensity to praise.
An immediate consequence of this condition is jealousy for the deity's honor. The slightest affront or neglect must be resented. Between his own and Jehovah's enemies a David knows no difference; a Catherine of Siena, panting to stop warfare among Christians, can think of no better method than a crusade to massacre the Turks; Luther finds no word of protest or regret over the atrocious tortures of the Anabaptist leaders. So, when "freethinkers" tell us that religion and fanaticism are twins, we cannot make an unqualified denial of the charge.
Fanaticism is found only where the character is masterful and aggressive. In gentle characters, where devoutness is intense and the intellect feeble, we have an imaginative absorption in the love of God, which I will refer to as the theopathic condition. The blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque may serve as an example.
"Hold back, O my God, these torrents which overwhelm me, or else enlarge my capacity for their reception."
Christ's voice told her that, unable longer to contain the flames of his love for mankind, he had chosen her by a miracle to spread the knowledge of them. He thereupon took out her mortal heart, placed it inside of his own and inflamed it, and then replaced it in her breast, adding: "Hitherto thou hast taken the name of my slave, hereafter thou shalt be called the well-beloved disciple of my Sacred Heart."
"This revelation," says Mgr. Bougaud, "is unquestionably the most important of all the revelations which have illumined the Church since that of the Incarnation and of the Lord's Supper. Well, what were its good fruits for Margaret Mary's life? Apparently little else but sufferings and prayers and absences of mind and swoons and ecstasies. She became increasingly useless about the convent:-
"They tried her in the kitchen, but were forced to give it up as hopeless - everything dropped out of her hands. They put her in the school, where the little girls cherished her but she was too absorbed inwardly to pay the necessary attention. Poor dear sister."
Take Saint Teresa, for example, one of the ablest women, in many respects, of whose life we have the record. She had a powerful intellect wrote admirable descriptive psychology, and a first-rate literary style. Yet I confess that my only feeling in reading her has been pity that so much vitality of soul should have found such poor employment.
We have to pass a similar judgment on the whole notion of saintship based on merits. Any God who, on the one hand, can care to keep a pedantically minute account of individual shortcomings, and on the other can feel such partialities, and load particular creatures with such insipid marks of favor, is too small-minded a God for our credence.
The next saintly virtue in which we find excess is Purity. I will let the case of Saint Louis of Gonzaga serve as a type of excess in purification. At the age of ten, his biographer says:-
"The inspiration came to him to consecrate to the Mother of God his own virginity. Mary accepted the offering of his innocent heart. Thenceforward he never raised his eyes, either when walking in the streets, or when in society. Not only did he avoid all business with females, but he renounced all conversation and every kind of social recreation with them."
When he was seventeen years old Louis joined the Jesuit order. Never was he seen to hold in his hand a flower or anything perfumed, that he might take pleasure in it. In the hospital, he used to seek whatever was most disgusting, and eagerly snatch the bandages of ulcers. He sought after false accusations and unjust reprimands as opportunities of humility. He died in 1591, in his twenty-ninth year, and is known in the Church as the patron of all young people. On his festival, the altar "is embosomed in flowers and a pile of letters may be seen at its foot, written by young men and women, and directed to 'Paradiso.' They are supposed to be burnt unread except by San Luigi, who must find singular these pretty little missives, tied up now with a green ribbon, expressive of hope, now with a red one, emblematic of love."
Early Jesuits, especially the missionaries among them, the Xaviers, Brebeufs, Jogues, were objective minds, and fought in their way for the world's welfare. But when the intellect, as in this Louis, is no larger than a pin's head, and cherishes ideas of God of corresponding smallness, the result, notwithstanding the heroism put forth, is on the whole repulsive.
Proceeding onwards in our search of religious extravagance, we next come upon excesses of Tenderness and Charity. Here saintliness has to face the charge of preserving the unfit, and breeding parasites and beggars. "Resist not evil," "Love your enemies," these are saintly maxims of which men of this world find it hard to speak without impatience. Are the men of this world right, or are the saints in possession of the deeper range of truth?
The whole modern scientific organization of charity is a consequence of the failure of simply giving alms. The whole history of constitutional government is a commentary on the excellence of resisting evil, and when one cheek is smitten, of smiting back and not turning the other cheek also.
You will agree to this in general, for in spite of the Gospel, in spite of Quakerism, in spite of Tolstoi, you believe in fighting fire with fire, in shooting down usurpers, locking up thieves, and freezing out vagabonds and swindlers. And yet you are sure, as I am sure, that were the world confined to these hard-headed, hard-hearted, and hard-fisted methods exclusively, were there no one prompt to help a brother first, and find out afterwards whether he were worthy; no one ready to be duped rather than live on suspicion; the world would be an infinitely worse place.
From this point of view the saints are authors, auctores (leavens), increasers, of goodness. One fire kindles another; and without that over-trust in human worth which they show, the rest of us would lie in spiritual stagnancy. Force destroys enemies; and the best that can be said of prudence is that it keeps what we already have in safety. But non-resistance, when successful, turns enemies into friends.
The next topic is Asceticism, which I fancy you are all ready to consider a virtue liable to extravagance and excess. As the Bhagavad-Gita says, only those need renounce worldly actions who are still inwardly attached thereto. And the Buddha, in pointing out "the middle way" to his disciples, told them to abstain from excessive mortification, being as unreal and unworthy as mere desire and pleasure.
Asceticism thinks life is neither farce nor genteel comedy but something we must sit at in mourning garments, hoping its bitter taste will purge us of our folly. No matter what a man's frailties otherwise may be, if he be willing to risk death, and still more if he suffer it heroically, in the service he has chosen, the fact consecrates him forever.
Many of you would point to athletics, militarism, enterprise and adventure as the remedies. What we need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war: I have often thought that in the old monkish poverty-worship, in spite of the pedantry which infested it, there might be something like that equivalent.
We English-speaking peoples have grown to despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. Yet there are thousands of conjunctures in which a wealth-bound man must be a slave, whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a freeman. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer hold our tongues or fear to vote the revolutionary or reformatory ticket. Our stocks might fall, our hopes of promotion vanish; yet, while we lived our example would help to set free our generation. I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers.
The most inimical critic of the saintly impulses whom I know is Nietzsche. For Nietzsche the saint represents little but sneakingness and slavishness. He is the sophisticated invalid, the degenerate par excellence, the man of insufficient vitality. His prevalence would put the human type in danger. We all know what Nietzsche means. But the debate is serious.
The saint's type, and the knight's or gentleman's type, have always been rival claimants of this absolute ideality. We all know daft saints, and they inspire a queer kind of aversion. But in comparing saints with strong men we must choose individuals on the same intellectual level. The under-witted strong man is the bully of the slums, the hooligan or rowdy. Surely on this level the saint preserves a certain superiority.
Let us be saints, then, if we can, whether or not we succeed. But in our Father's house are many mansions, and each of us must discover for himself the kind of religion and the amount of saintship which best comports with what he believes to be his powers and feels to be his truest mission and vocation.
Lectures XVI and XVII
What does the expression "mystical states of consciousness" mean? How do we part off mystical states from other states?
1. Ineffability. No adequate report of it can be given in words.
2. Noetic quality. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance.
3. Transiency. Mystical states cannot be sustained for long.
4. Passivity. The mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance.
The simplest rudiment of mystical experience would seem to be that deepened sense of the significance of a maxim or formula which occasionally sweeps over one. A more pronounced step forward on the mystical ladder is found in an extremely frequent phenomenon, that sudden feeling, which sometimes sweeps over us, of having "been here before," As Tennyson writes:
"Moreover, something is or seems
A much more extreme state of mystical consciousness is described by J. A. Symonds:-
"Suddenly, at church, or in company, and always, I think, when my muscles were at rest, I felt the approach of the mood. It took possession of my mind and will in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous factors of experience which seem to qualify what we are pleased to call our Self."
The next step into mystical states carries us into a realm that public opinion and ethical philosophy have long branded as pathological. I refer to the consciousness produced by intoxicants. The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature.
Nitrous oxide and ether stimulate the mystical consciousness in an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to. Some years ago I myself made some observations on nitrous oxide intoxication, while J. A. Symonds records a mystical experience with chloroform:-
'After the choking had passed away, I seemed at first in a state of utter blankness, I thought that I was near death; when, suddenly, my soul became aware of God handling me, so to speak, in an intense personal present reality. Is it possible that I, in that moment, felt what some of the saints have said they always felt?"
Certain aspects of nature seem to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystical moods. Here from the Autobiography of J. Trevor.
"One brilliant Sunday morning, my wife and boys went to the Unitarian Chapel in Macclesfield, while I went up into the hills. In the loveliness of the morning, and the beauty of the hills and valleys I walked along the road to the 'Cat and Fiddle'. On the way back, suddenly, without warning, I felt that I was in Heaven - an inward state of peace and joy and assurance indescribably intense, accompanied with a sense of being bathed in a warm glow of light. I was aware that I was immersed in the infinite ocean of God."
Dr. R. M. Bucke, gives to the more distinctly characterized of these phenomena the name of cosmic consciousness, and recalls what occurred to him:-
"I had spent the evening with two friends, reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at midnight. I had a long drive in a hansom to my lodging. My mind was calm and peaceful. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire; the next, I knew that the fire was within myself. I saw that the universe is a living Presence. I saw that all men are immortal; that the cosmic order is such that all things work together for the good of each and all."
In India, training in mystical insight has been known from time immemorial under the name of yoga - experimental union with the divine, through exercise, diet, posture, breathing and moral discipline. The yogi, or disciple, who has overcome the obscurations of his lower nature sufficiently, enters into the condition termed samâdhi, and learns-
"That the mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state. Then the Truth shines in its full effulgence, and we know ourselves - for Samadhi lies potential in us all - for what we truly are, free, immortal, omnipotent, loosed from the finite, and its contrasts of good and evil altogether, and identical with the Atman or Universal Soul."
To Buddhists "dhyana" is their special word for higher states of contemplation. There seem to be four stages recognized. From concentration of the mind upon one point, through a stage where the intellectual functions drop off, then the satisfaction departs. In the fourth stage indifference and self-consciousness are perfected. Higher stages still are mentioned - a region where there exists nothing, and beyond that as close an approach to Nirvana as this life affords.
In the Mohammedan world the Sufi sect and various dervish bodies hold the mystical tradition. M. Schmolders has translated a part of Al-Ghazzali's autobiography.
I recognized for certain that the Sufis are assuredly walking in the path of God. The first condition for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God, by humble prayers and meditations. But in reality this is only the beginning, the end of Sufism being total absorption in God. Sufis see before them, whilst wide awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets, and are endowed with qualities to which you possess nothing analogous, and which consequently you cannot possibly understand.
This incommunicableness of the transport is the keynote of all mysticism.
In the Christian church there have always been mystics, although many of them have been viewed with suspicion. The basis of the system is "orison" or meditation, the methodical elevation of the soul towards God. Such manuals as Saint Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises recommend the disciple to expel sensation by a graduated series of efforts to imagine holy scenes through "dark contemplation." In this the Deity compenetrates the soul, but in such a hidden way that the soul:-
"...feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude, to which no created thing has access, in an immense and boundless desert, the more delicious the more solitary it is. There, in this abyss of wisdom, the soul grows by what it drinks in from the well-springs of the comprehension of love"
Saint Teresa is the expert of experts in describing such conditions:
"In the orison of union," says Saint Teresa, "the soul is fully awake as regards God, but wholly asleep as regards things of this world and in respect of herself. "
The deliciousness of some of these states seems to be beyond anything known in ordinary consciousness. it is spoken of as something too extreme to be borne, and as verging on bodily pain. In the condition called raptus or ravishment by theologians, breathing and circulation are so depressed that it is a question among the doctors whether the soul be or be not temporarily dissevered from the body. To the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggested and imitated hypnoid states.
Their fruits appear to have been various. Stupefaction seems not to have been altogether absent; remember the helplessness of poor Margaret Mary Alacoque. But Saint Ignatius' mysticism made him assuredly one of the most powerfully practical human engines that ever lived. Saint John of the Cross, writing of the intuitions and "touches" by which God reaches the substance of the soul, tells us that-
"They enrich it marvelously. A single one of them may be sufficient to abolish at a stroke certain imperfections of which the soul during its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself"
The fountain-head of Christian mysticism is Dionysius the Areopagite. He describes the absolute truth by negatives exclusively.
"The cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect; neither magnitude, nor littleness, nor equality, nor inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity. It neither stands, nor moves, nor rests. . . not divinity or goodness; nor even spirit as we know it,"
In mystical literature such self-contradictory phrases as "dazzling obscurity," "whispering silence," "teeming desert," are continually met with. They prove that not conceptual speech, but music rather, is the element through which we are best spoken to by mystical truth.
I have now sketched with extreme brevity the general traits of the mystic range of consciousness. It is on the whole pantheistic and optimistic, and harmonizes best with twice-bornness and so-called other-worldly states mind. My next task is to inquire whether it furnishes any warrant for the truth of supernaturality.
I will divide my answer into three parts:-
(1) Mystical states, when well developed, usually are, and have the right to be, absolutely authoritative over the individuals to whom they come.
(2) No authority emanates from them which should make it a duty for those who stand outside of them to accept their revelations uncritically.
(3) They break down the authority of the non-mystical or rationalistic consciousness. They show it to be only one kind of consciousness.
In this shape, I think, we have to leave the subject. Mystical states indeed wield no authority They offer us hypotheses which we may voluntarily ignore, but which as thinkers we cannot possibly upset.
Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious man's sense of the divine?
I imagine that many of you at this point begin to guess that I have undermined the authority of mysticism and I shall probably seek to discredit that of philosophy. To a certain extent you guess rightly. I do believe that feeling is the deeper source of religion, and that philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products.
Philosophy aspires to reclaim from mystery and paradox whatever territory she touches. In this we could have the beginnings of a "Science of Religions," so-called; and if these lectures could ever be accounted a crumb-like contribution to such a science, I should be made very happy.
The intellectualism in religion which I wish to discredit assumes to construct religious objects out of the resources of logical reason alone. It calls its conclusions dogmatic theology. Cardinal Newman, in The Idea of a University, gives more emphatic expression to this disdain for sentiment.
"By Theology, I simply mean the science of God, or the truths we know about God, put into a system, just as we have a science of the stars and call it astronomy"
The arguments for God's existence have stood for hundreds of years with the waves of unbelieving criticism breaking against them, never totally discrediting them in the ears of the faithful, but on the whole slowly and surely washing out the mortar from between their joints. The proofs are various. The "cosmological" one, so-called, reasons from the contingence of the world to a First Cause. The "argument from design" reasons from the fact that Nature's laws are mathematical, and her parts benevolently adapted to each other, that this cause is both intellectual and benevolent. The "moral argument" is that the moral law presupposes a lawgiver. The "argument ex consensu gentium" is that the belief in God is so widespread as to be grounded in the rational nature of man, and should therefore carry authority with it.
These arguments only corroborate our preexistent partialities. If philosophy can do so little to establish God's existence, how stands it with her efforts to define his attributes?
The Continental schools of philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man's thinking is organically connected with his conduct. It seems to me to be the chief glory of English and Scottish thinkers to have kept the connection in view, that every difference must MAKE a difference. What seriousness can possibly remain in debating philosophic propositions that will never make an appreciable difference to us in action?
The American philosopher Mr. Charles Peirce calls this pragmatism, and defends it as follows:
"Thought in movement has for its only conceivable motive the attainment of belief, or thought at rest. Beliefs, in short, are rules for action; To develop a thought's meaning we need therefore only determine what conduct it is fitted to produce."
Take God's aseity, for example; or his necessariness; his immateriality; his "simplicity" or superiority. If they severally call for no distinctive adaptations of our conduct, what vital difference can it possibly make to a man's religion whether they be true or false?
In the middle of the century just past, Mayne Reid was the great writer of books of out-of-door adventure. He was forever keeping up a fire of invective against "closet-naturalists," the collectors and classifiers, and handlers of skeletons and skins. Surely the systematic theologians are the closet-naturalists of the deity. What is their deduction of metaphysical attributes but a shuffling of pedantic dictionary-adjectives, something that might be worked out from the mere word "God" by one of those logical machines of wood and brass.
From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical monster which they offer to our worship is an absolutely worthless invention of the scholarly mind. It is a plain historic fact that they never have converted any one who has found reasons for doubting God.
Pragmatically, the most important attribute of God is his punitive justice. But who, in the present state of theological opinion, will dare maintain that hell fire or its equivalent is rendered certain by pure logic? But the very notion that this glorious universe, with planets and winds, and laughing sky and ocean, should have had its beams and rafters laid in technicalities of criminality, is incredible to our modern imagination.
Can modern idealism give faith a better warrant?
The basis of modern idealism is Kant's doctrine of the Transcendental Ego of Apperception. By this formidable term Kant merely meant the fact that the consciousness "I think them" must (potentially or actually) accompany all our objects. Former skeptics had said as much, but the "I" in question had remained for them identified with the personal individual. It was reserved for his successors to convert Kant's notion of Bewusstsein uberhaupt, or abstract consciousness, into an infinite concrete self-consciousness which is the soul of the world,
Let me quote in illustration from Caird, the Scottish transcendentalist:
"How are we to conceive of the reality in which all intelligence rests? Two things may without difficulty be proved, viz., that this reality is an absolute Spirit, and conversely that it is only in communion with this absolute Spirit or Intelligence that the finite Spirit can realize itself."
Here, you see, Principal Caird makes the transition which Kant did not make: he converts the omnipresence of consciousness in general as a condition of "truth" being anywhere possible, into an omnipresent universal consciousness, which he identifies with God. I believe that he has simply reaffirmed the individual's experiences in a more generalized vocabulary.
What religion reports is that there is always a plus, a thisness, which feeling alone can answer for. Philosophy in this sphere is thus a secondary function, unable to warrant faith's veracity. In all sad sincerity I think we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate by purely intellectual processes the truth of the deliverances of direct religious experience is absolutely hopeless.
Let me close, then, by briefly enumerating what philosophy can do for religion. If she transform herself from theology into science of religions, she can make herself enormously useful.
By confronting the spontaneous religious constructions with the results of natural science, philosophy can eliminate doctrines known to be absurd or incongruous. Sifting out in this way unworthy formulations, she can leave a residuum of conceptions that at least are possible. She can perhaps become the champion of one which she picks out as being the most closely verified or verifiable. I do not see why a critical Science of Religions of this sort might not eventually command as general a public adhesion as is commanded by a physical science. Philosophy lives in words, but truth and fact well up into our lives in ways that exceed verbal formulation. There is in the living act of perception always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught
What are the uses of religion, and its use to the individual who has it?
The first point I will speak of is the part which the aesthetic life plays in determining one's choice of a religion.
The strength of aesthetic sentiments makes it rigorously impossible, it seems to me, that Protestantism, however superior in spiritual profundity it may be to Catholicism, should at the present day succeed in making many converts from the more venerable ecclesiasticism. To intellectual Catholics many of the antiquated beliefs and practices to the Church are, if taken literally, as childish as they are to Protestants. But they are childish in the pleasing sense of "childlike" - innocent and amiable. To the Protestant they are childish in the sense of being idiotic falsehoods. He must stamp out their delicate and lovable redundancy, leaving the Catholic to shudder at his literalness. He appears to the latter as morose as if he were some hard-eyed reptile. The two will never understand each other - their centres of emotional energy are too different.
It is much like the patriotic sentiment of those brought up in ancient empires. How many emotions must be frustrated of their object, when one gives up the titles of dignity, the crimson lights and blare of brass, the gold embroidery, and puts up with a president in a black coat who shakes hands with you, and comes from a "home" upon a veldt or prairie. It pauperizes the monarchical imagination!
In most books on religion, three things are represented as its most essential elements. These are Sacrifice, Confession, and Prayer. I must say a word in turn of each of these.
Sacrifices to gods are omnipresent in primeval worship; but Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism Christianity substitute offerings of the heart, renunciations of the inner self, for all those vain oblations.
Confession corresponds to a more inward and moral stage of sentiment. It is part of the general system of purgation and cleansing which one feels one's self in need of, in order to be in right relations to one's deity. The Catholic church, for obvious utilitarian reasons, has substituted auricular confession to one priest for the more radical act of public confession. We English-speaking Protestants seem to find it enough if we take God alone into our confidence.
The next topic on which I must comment is Prayer - and this time less briefly. As regards prayers for the sick, in certain environments prayer may contribute to recovery, and should be encouraged, being a normal factor of moral health in the person. The case of the weather is different. every one now knows that droughts and storms follow from physical antecedents, and that moral appeals cannot avert them. But petitional prayer is only one department; if we take the word in the wider sense as meaning every kind of inward communion or conversation with the power recognized as divine, we can easily see that scientific criticism leaves it untouched.
Prayer in this wide sense is the very soul and essence of religion. By which term I understand no vain exercise of words, no mere repetition of certain sacred formula, but the very movement itself of the soul, putting itself in a personal relation of contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence.
This intercourse is realized at the time as being both active and mutual. If nothing be really transacted while it lasts; if the world is in no whit different for its having taken place; then religion must rooted in delusion.
Let this lecture still confine itself to the description of phenomena; and as a concrete example of the prayerful life, let me take the case of George Muller of Bristol, who died in 1898. Muller's prayers were of the crassest petitional order. He resolved on taking certain Bible promises in literal sincerity, and on letting himself be fed, not by his own worldly foresight, but by the Lord's hand. He had an extraordinarily active and successful career, among the fruits of which were the distribution of over two million copies of Scripture the building of five large orphanages. His method was to let his general wants be publicly known, but not to acquaint other people with the details of his temporary necessities.
"Greater and more manifest nearness of the Lord's presence I have never had than when after breakfast there were no means for dinner for more than a hundred persons; or when after dinner there were no means for the tea, and yet the Lord provided the tea; and all this without one single human being having been informed about our need.
There is an immense literature relating to answers to petitional prayer. The evangelical journals are filled with such answers, but for us Muller's case will suffice.
A less sturdy beggar-like fashion of leading the prayerful life is followed by innumerable other Christians. Persistence in leaning on the Almighty for support and guidance will, such persons say, bring with it proofs, palpable but much more subtle, of his presence and active influence. One finds in this guided sort of life, says Dr. Hilty:-
"That books and words (and sometimes people) come to one's cognizance just at the very moment in which one needs them; that one glides over great dangers as if with shut eyes, remaining ignorant of what would have terrified one or led one astray. Besides all this, other noteworthy things come to pass, of which it is not easy to give account. Through all these experiences one finds that one is kindly and tolerant of other people, even of such as are repulsive, negligent, or ill-willed, for they also are instruments of good in God's hand, and often most efficient ones."
Such accounts as this shade away into others where the belief is, not that particular events are tempered more towardly (sic) to us by a superintending providence, as a reward for our reliance, but that by cultivating the continuous sense of our connection with the power that made things as they are, we are tempered more towardly for their reception.
Such a spirit was that of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. It is that of mind-curers, of the transcendentalists, and of the so-called "liberal" Christians.
The last aspect of the religious life which remains for me to touch upon is the fact that its manifestations so frequently connect themselves with the subconscious part of our existence. The whole array of Christian saints and heresiarchs, including the greatest, the Barnards, the Loyolas, the Luthers, the Foxes, the Wesleys, had their visions, voices, rapt conditions, guiding impressions, and "openings." Motor automatisms, though rarer, are, if possible, even more convincing than sensations.
A striking instance of this is the bulky volume called, "Oahspe, a new Bible in the Words of Jehovah and his angel ambassadors," written and illustrated automatically by Dr. Newbrough of New York, lately the head of the spiritistic community of Shalam in New Mexico.
In the teachings of the Buddha, of Jesus, of Saint Paul, of Saint Augustine, of Huss, of Luther, of Wesley, automatic or semi-automatic composition appears to have been only occasional. In the Hebrew prophets, on the contrary, in Mohammed, in some of the Alexandrians, in many minor Catholic saints, in Fox, in Joseph Smith, something like it appears to have been frequent.
If we turn to Islam, we find that Mohammed's revelations all came from the subconscious sphere. To the question in what way he got them-
"Mohammed is said to have answered that sometimes he heard a knell as from a bell, Sometimes again he held converse with the angel as with a man"
The Mormon theocracy has always been governed by direct revelations accorded to the President of the Church and its Apostles. I quote from an obliging letter written to me in 1899 by an eminent Mormon:-
"It may be very interesting for you to know that the President (Mr. Snow) of the Mormon Church claims to have had a number of revelations very recently from heaven. This Church has at its head a prophet seer, and revelator, who gives to man God's holy will. "
We cannot, I think, avoid the conclusion that in religion we have a department of human nature with unusually close relations to the transmarginal or subliminal region. If the word "subliminal" is offensive to any of you, as smelling too much of psychical research or other aberrations, call it by any other name you please, to distinguish it from the level of full sunlit consciousness. Call this latter the A-region of personality, if you care to, and call the other the B-region. In persons deep in the religious life, as we have now abundantly seen - and this is my conclusion - the door into this region seems unusually wide open; at any rate, experiences making their entrance through that door have had emphatic influence in shaping religious history.
Summing up the characteristics of the religious life, it includes the following beliefs:-
1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance.
2. That union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end.
3. 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.
Religion includes also the following psychological characteristics:-
4. 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 heroism.
5. An assurance of safety and a temper of peace, and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.
The sentimentality of many of my documents is a consequence of 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,
Is the existence of so many religious types and sects and creeds regrettable? I answer "No" emphatically. If we are peevish and jealous, destruction of the self must be an element of our religion. If we are sick souls, we require a religion of deliverance.
A science might come to understand everything about the causes and elements of religion, and might even decide which elements were qualified, by their 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. For this reason, the science of religions may not be an equivalent for living religion.
Science has ended by utterly repudiating the personal point of view. Weight, movement, velocity, direction, position, what thin, pallid, uninteresting ideas! 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
To describe the world with all the various feelings left out 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, but it always remains infinitely less hollow and abstract than a science which prides itself on taking no account of anything private at all.
We must next pass beyond the point of view of merely subjective utility, and make inquiry into the intellectual content itself. First, is there, under all the discrepancies of the creeds, a common nucleus to which they bear their testimony unanimously? And second, ought we to consider the testimony true?
The warring gods and formulas do indeed cancel each other, but there is a certain uniformity, consisting of;
1. An uneasiness, a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand.
2. A solution in that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.
What is the objective "truth" of their content?
The most I can do is 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.
Let 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. 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.
God 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.
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. 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?
Notwithstanding 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.
I am ignorant of Buddhism and speak under correction, but as I apprehend the Buddhistic doctrine of Karma, I agree in principle with that. If 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.
Meanwhile the practical needs and experiences of religion seem to me sufficiently met by the belief that beyond each man there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals.
Upholders of the monistic view will say to such a polytheism (which, by the way, has always been the real religion of common people) that unless there be one all-inclusive God, our guarantee of security is left imperfect. For practical life at any rate, the chance of salvation is enough.
William James' grave at Cambridge Cemetery,
Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA
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