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Lectures IV THE RELIGION OF HEALTHY MINDEDNESS
If we were to ask the question: "What is human life's chief concern?" one of the answers weshould receive would be: "It is happiness." How to gain, how to keep, how to recover happiness, isin fact for most men at all times the secret motive of all they do, and of all they are willing toendure. The hedonistic school in ethics deduces the moral life wholly from the experiences ofhappiness and unhappiness which different kinds of conduct bring; and, even more in the religiouslife than in the moral life, happiness and unhappiness seem to be the poles round which the interestrevolves. We need not go so far as to say with the author whom I lately quoted that any persistententhusiasm is, as such, religion, nor need we call mere laughter a religious exercise; but we mustadmit that any persistent enjoyment may PRODUCE the sort of religion which consists in agrateful admiration of the gift of so happy an existence; and we must also acknowledge that themore complex ways of experiencing religion are new manners of producing happiness, wonderfulinner paths to a supernatural kind of happiness, when the first gift of natural existence is unhappy,as it so often proves itself to be.

With such relations between religion and happiness, it is perhaps not surprising that men come toregard the happiness which a religious belief affords as a proof of its truth. If a creed makes a man feel happy, he almost inevitably adopts it. Such a belief ought to be true; therefore it is true--such,rightly or wrongly, is one of the "immediate inferences" of the religious logic used by ordinarymen.

"The near presence of God's spirit," says a German writer,[31] "may be experienced in itsreality--indeed ONLY experienced. And the mark by which the spirit's existence and nearness aremade irrefutably clear to those who have ever had the experience is the utterly incomparableFEELING OF HAPPINESS which is connected with the nearness, and which is therefore not onlya possible and altogether proper feeling for us to have here below, but is the best and mostindispensable proof of God's reality. No other proof is equally convincing, and therefore happinessis the point from which every efficacious new theology should start."[31] C. Hilty: Gluck, dritter Theil, 1900, p. 18.

In the hour immediately before us, I shall invite you to consider the simpler kinds of religioushappiness, leaving the more complex sorts to be treated on a later day.

In many persons, happiness is congenital and irreclaimable. "Cosmic emotion" inevitably takesin them the form of enthusiasm and freedom. I speak not only of those who are animally happy. Imean those who, when unhappiness is offered or proposed to them, positively refuse to feel it, as ifit were something mean and wrong. We find such persons in every age, passionately flingingthemselves upon their sense of the goodness of life, in spite of the hardships of their owncondition, and in spite of the sinister theologies into which they may he born. From the outset theirreligion is one of union with the divine. The heretics who went before the reformation are lavishlyaccused by the church writers of antinomian practices, just as the first Christians were accused ofindulgence in orgies by the Romans. It is probable that there never has been a century in which thedeliberate refusal to think ill of life has not been idealized by a sufficient number of persons toform sects, open or secret, who claimed all natural things to be permitted. Saint Augustine'smaxim, Dilige et quod vis fac--if you but love [God], you may do as you incline--is morally one ofthe profoundest of observations, yet it is pregnant, for such persons, with passports beyond thebounds of conventional morality. According to their characters they have been refined or gross; buttheir belief has been at all times systematic enough to constitute a definite religious attitude. Godwas for them a giver of freedom, and the sting of evil was overcome. Saint Francis and hisimmediate disciples were, on the whole, of this company of spirits, of which there are of courseinfinite varieties. Rousseau in the earlier years of his writing, Diderot, B. de Saint Pierre, and manyof the leaders of the eighteenth century anti-Christian movement were of this optimistic type. Theyowed their influence to a certain authoritativeness in their feeling that Nature, if you will only trusther sufficiently, is absolutely good.

It is to be hoped that we all have some friend, perhaps more often feminine than masculine, andyoung than old, whose soul is of this sky-blue tint, whose affinities are rather with flowers andbirds and all enchanting innocencies than with dark human passions, who can think no ill of manor God, and in whom religious gladness, being in possession from the outset, needs no deliverancefrom any antecedent burden.

"God has two families of children on this earth," says Francis W. Newman,[32] "the once-bornand the twice-born," and the once-born he describes as follows: "They see God, not as a strictJudge, not as a Glorious Potentate; but as the animating Spirit of a beautiful harmonious world,Beneficent and Kind, Merciful as well as Pure. The same characters generally have nometaphysical tendencies: they do not look back into themselves. Hence they are not distressed bytheir own imperfections: yet it would be absurd to call them self-righteous; for they hardly think ofthemselves AT ALL. This childlike quality of their nature makes the opening of religion veryhappy to them: for they no more shrink from God, than a child from an emperor, before whom theparent trembles: in fact, they have no vivid conception of ANY of the qualities in which theseverer Majesty of God consists.[33] He is to them the impersonation of Kindness and Beauty.

They read his character, not in the disordered world of man, but in romantic and harmoniousnature. Of human sin they know perhaps little in their own hearts and not very much in the world;and human suffering does but melt them to tenderness. Thus, when they approach God, no inwarddisturbance ensues; and without being as yet spiritual, they have a certain complacency andperhaps romantic sense of excitement in their simple worship."[32] The Soul; its Sorrows and its Aspirations, 3d edition, 1852, pp. 89, 91.

[33] I once heard a lady describe the pleasure it gave her to think that she "could always cuddleup to God."In the Romish Church such characters find a more congenial soil to grow in than inProtestantism, whose fashions of feeling have been set by minds of a decidedly pessimistic order.

But even in Protestantism they have been abundant enough; and in its recent "liberal"developments of Unitarianism and latitudinarianism generally, minds of this order have played andstill are playing leading and constructive parts. Emerson himself is an admirable example.

Theodore Parker is another--here are a couple of characteristic passages from Parker'scorrespondence.[34]

[34] John Weiss: Life of Theodore Parker, i. 152, 32.

"Orthodox scholars say: 'In the heathen classics you find no consciousness of sin.' It is verytrue--God be thanked for it. They were conscious of wrath, of cruelty, avarice, drunkenness, lust,sloth, cowardice, and other actual vices, and struggled and got rid of the deformities, but they werenot conscious of 'enmity against God,' and didn't sit down and whine and groan against nonexistentevil. I have done wrong things enough in my life, and do them now; I miss the mark, drawbow, and try again. But I am not conscious of hating God, or man, or right, or love, and I knowthere is much 'health in me', and in my body, even now, there dwelleth many a good thing, spite ofconsumption and Saint Paul." In another letter Parker writes: "I have swum in clear sweet watersall my days; and if sometimes they were a little cold, and the stream ran adverse and somethingrough, it was never too strong to be breasted and swum through. From the days of earliestboyhood, when I went stumbling through the grass, . . . up to the gray-bearded manhood of thistime, there is none but has left me honey in the hive of memory that I now feed on for presentdelight. When I recall the years . . . I am filled with a sense of sweetness and wonder that such little things can make a mortal so exceedingly rich. But I must confess that the chiefest of all mydelights is still the religious."Another good expression of the "once-born" type of consciousness, developing straight andnatural, with no element of morbid compunction or crisis, is contained in the answer of Dr. EdwardEverett Hale, the eminent Unitarian preacher and writer, to one of Dr. Starbuck's circulars. I quotea part of it:-"I observe, with profound regret, the religious struggles which come into many biographies, as ifalmost essential to the formation of the hero. I ought to speak of these, to say that any man has anadvantage, not to be estimated, who is born, as I was, into a family where the religion is simple andrational; who is trained in the theory of such a religion, so that he never knows, for an hour, whatthese religious or irreligious struggles are. I always knew God loved me, and I was always gratefulto him for the world he placed me in. I always liked to tell him so, and was always glad to receivehis suggestions to me. . . . I can remember perfectly that when I was coming to manhood, the half-philosophical novels of the time had a deal to say about the young men and maidens who werefacing the 'problem of life.' I had no idea whatever what the problem of life was. To live with allmy might seemed to me easy; to learn where there was so much to learn seemed pleasant andalmost of course; to lend a hand, if one had a chance, natural; and if one did this, why, he enjoyedlife because he could not help it, and without proving to himself that he ought to enjoy it. . . . Achild who is early taught that he is God's child, that he may live and move and have his being inGod, and that he has, therefore, infinite strength at hand for the conquering of any difficulty, willtake life more easily, and probably will make more of it, than one who is told that he is born thechild of wrath and wholly incapable of good."[35]

[35] Starbuck: Psychology of Religion, pp. 305, 306.

One can but recognize in such writers as these the presence of a temperament organicallyweighted on the side of cheer and fatally forbidden to linger, as those of opposite temperamentlinger, over the darker aspects of the universe. In some individuals optimism may become quasi-pathological. The capacity for even a transient sadness or a momentary humility seems cut offfrom them as by a kind of congenital anaesthesia.[36]

[36] "I know not to what physical laws philosophers will some day refer the feelings ofmelancholy. For myself, I find that they are the most voluptuous of all sensations," writes SaintPierre, and accordingly he devotes a series of sections of his work on Nature to the Plaisirs de laRuine, Plaisirs des Tombeaux, Ruines de la Nature, Plaisirs de la Solitude--each of them moreoptimistic than the last.

This finding of a luxury in woe is very common during adolescence. The truth-telling MarieBashkirtseff expresses it well:-"In his depression and dreadful uninterrupted suffering, I don't condemn life. On the contrary, Ilike it and find it good. Can you believe it? I find everything good and pleasant, even my tears, mygrief. I enjoy weeping, I enjoy my despair. I enjoy being exasperated and sad. I feel as if thesewere so many diversions, and I love life in spite of them all. I want to live on. It would be cruel tohave me die when I am so accommodating.

I cry, I grieve, and at the same time I am pleased--no, not exactly that--I know not how toexpress it. But everything in life pleases me. I find everything agreeable, and in the very midst ofmy prayers for happiness, I find myself happy at being miserable. It is not I who undergo all this-mybody weeps and cries; but something inside of me which is above me is glad of it all." [37]

[37] Journal de Marie Bashkirtseff, i. 67.

The supreme contemporary example of such an inability to feel evil is of course Walt Whitman.

"His favorite occupation," writes his disciple, Dr. Bucke "seemed to be strolling or saunteringabout outdoors by himself, looking at the grass, the trees, the flowers, the vistas of light, thevarying aspects of the sky, and listening to the birds, the crickets, the tree frogs, and all thehundreds of natural sounds.

It was evident that these things gave him a pleasure far beyond what they give to ordinarypeople. Until I knew the man," continues Dr. Bucke, "it had not occurred to me that any one couldderive so much absolute happiness from these things as he did. He was very fond of flowers, eitherwild or cultivated; liked all sorts. I think he admired lilacs and sunflowers just as much as roses.

Perhaps, indeed, no man who ever lived liked so many things and disliked so few as WaltWhitman. All natural objects seemed to have a charm for him. All sights and sounds seemed toplease him. He appeared to like (and I believe he did like) all the men, women, and children hesaw (though I never knew him to say that he liked any one), but each who knew him felt that heliked him or her, and that he liked others also. I never knew him to argue or dispute, and he neverspoke about money. He always justified, sometimes playfully, sometimes quite seriously, thosewho spoke harshly of himself or his writings, and I often thought he even took pleasure in theopposition of enemies. When I first knew [him], I used to think that he watched himself, andwould not allow his tongue to give expression to fretfulness, antipathy, complaint, andremonstrance. It did not occur to me as possible that these mental states could be absent in him.

After long observation, however, I satisfied myself that such absence or unconsciousness wasentirely real. He never spoke deprecatingly of any nationality or class of men, or time in theworld's history, or against any trades or occupations--not even against any animals, insects, orinanimate things, nor any of the laws of nature, nor any of the results of those laws, such as illness,deformity, and death. He never complained or grumbled either at the weather, pain, illness, oranything else. He never swore. He could not very well, since he never spoke in anger andapparently never was angry. He never exhibited fear, and I do not believe he ever felt it."[38]

[38] R. M. Bucke: Cosmic consciousness, pp. 182-186, abridged.

Walt Whitman owes his importance in literature to the systematic expulsion from his writings ofall contractile elements. The only sentiments he allowed himself to express were of the expansiveorder; and he expressed these in the first person, not your mere monstrously conceited individualmightsoexpressthem,butvicariouslyforallm(as) en, so that a passionate and mysticontological emotion suffuses his words, and ends by persuading the reader that men and women,life and death, and all things are divinely good.

Thus it has come about that many persons to-day regard Walt Whitman as the restorer of theeternal natural religion. He has infected them with his own love of comrades, with his owngladness that he and they exist. Societies are actually formed for his cult; a periodical organ existsfor its propagation, in which the lines of orthodoxy and heterodoxy are already beginning to bedrawn;[39] hymns are written by others in his peculiar prosody; and he is even explicitly comparedwith the founder of the Christian religion, not altogether to the advantage of the latter.

[39] I refer to The Conservator, edited by Horace Traubel, and published monthly atPhiladelphia.

Whitman is often spoken of as a "pagan." The word nowadays means sometimes the merenatural animal man without a sense of sin; sometimes it means a Greek or Roman with his ownpeculiar religious consciousness. In neither of these senses does it fitly define this poet. He is morethan your mere animal man who has not tasted of the tree of good and evil. He is aware enough ofsin for a swagger to be present in his indifference towards it, a conscious pride in his freedom fromflexions and contractions, which your genuine pagan in the first sense of the word would nevershow. "I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained, I stand and look atthem long and long; They do not sweat and whine about their condition. They do not lie awake inthe dark and weep for their sins. Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania ofowning things, Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousandsof years ago, Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth."[40]

[40] Song of Myself, 32.

No natural pagan could have written these well-known lines. But on the other hand Whitman isless than a Greek or Roman; for their consciousness, even in Homeric times, was full to the brimof the sad mortality of this sunlit world, and such a consciousness Walt Whitman resolutely refusesto adopt. When, for example, Achilles, about to slay Lycaon, Priam's young son, hears him sue formercy, he stops to say:-"Ah, friend, thou too must die: why thus lamentest thou? Patroclos too is dead, who was betterfar than thou. . . . Over me too hang death and forceful fate. There cometh morn or eve or somenoonday when my life too some man shall take in battle, whether with spear he smite, or arrowfrom the string."[41]

[41] Iliad, XXI., E. Myers's translation.

Then Achilles savagely severs the poor boy's neck with his sword, heaves him by the foot intothe Scamander, and calls to the fishes of the river to eat the white fat of Lycaon. Just as here thecruelty and the sympathy each ring true, and do not mix or interfere with one another, so did theGreeks and Romans keep all their sadnesses and gladnesses unmingled and entire. Instinctive goodthey did not reckon sin; nor had they any such desire to save the credit of the universe as to makethem insist, as so many of US insist, that what immediately appears as evil must be "good in themaking," or something equally ingenious. Good was good, and bad just bad, for the earlier Greeks.

They neither denied the ills of nature--Walt Whitman's verse, "What is called good is perfect and what is called bad is just as perfect," would have been mere silliness to them--nor did they, in orderto escape from those ills, invent "another and a better world" of the imagination, in which, alongwith the ills, the innocent goods of sense would also find no place. This integrity of the instinctivereactions, this freedom from all moral sophistry and strain, gives a pathetic dignity to ancientpagan feeling. And this quality Whitman's outpourings have not got. His optimism is too voluntaryand defiant; his gospel has a touch of bravado and an affected twist,[42] and this diminishes itseffect on many readers who yet are well disposed towards optimism, and on the whole quitewilling to admit that in important respects Whitman is of the genuine lineage of the prophets.

[42] "God is afraid of me!" remarked such a titanic-optimistic friend in my presence onemorning when he was feeling particularly hearty and cannibalistic. The defiance of the phraseshowed that a Christian education in humility still rankled in his breast.

If, then, we give the name of healthy-mindedness to the tendency which looks on all things andsees that they are good, we find that we must distinguish between a more involuntary and a morevoluntary or systematic way of being healthy-minded. In its involuntary variety, healthymindednessis a way of feeling happy about things immediately. In its systematical variety, it is anabstract way of conceiving things as good. Every abstract way of conceiving things selects someone aspect of them as their essence for the time being, and disregards the other aspects. Systematichealthy-mindedness, conceiving good as the essential and universal aspect of being, deliberatelyexcludes evil from its field of vision; and although, when thus nakedly stated, this might seem adifficult feat to perform for one who is intellectually sincere with himself and honest about facts, alittle reflection shows that the situation is too complex to lie open to so simple a criticism.

In the first place, happiness, like every other emotional state, has blindness and insensibility toopposing facts given it as its instinctive weapon for self-protection against disturbance. Whenhappiness is actually in possession, the thought of evil can no more acquire the feeling of realitythan the thought of good can gain reality when melancholy rules. To the man actively happy, fromwhatever cause, evil simply cannot then and there be believed in. He must ignore it; and to thebystander he may then seem perversely to shut his eyes to it and hush it up.

But more than this: the hushing of it up may, in a perfectly candid and honest mind, grow into adeliberate religious policy, or parti pris. Much of what we call evil is due entirely to the way mentake the phenomenon. It can so often be converted into a bracing and tonic good by a simplechange of the sufferer's inner attitude from one of fear to one of fight; its sting so often departs andturns into a relish when, after vainly seeking to shun it, we agree to face about and bear itcheerfully, that a man is simply bound in honor, with reference to many of the facts that seem atfirst to disconcert his peace, to adopt this way of escape. Refuse to admit their badness; despisetheir power; ignore their presence; turn your attention the other way; and so far as you yourself areconcerned at any rate, though the facts may still exist, their evil character exists no longer. Sinceyou make them evil or good by your own thoughts about them, it is the ruling of your thoughtswhich proves to be your principal concern.

The deliberate adoption of an optimistic turn of mind thus makes its entrance into philosophy.

And once in, it is hard to trace its lawful bounds. Not only does the human instinct for happiness,bent on self-protection by ignoring, keep working in its favor, but higher inner ideals have weighty words to say. The attitude of unhappiness is not only painful, it is mean and ugly. What can bemore base and unworthy than the pining, puling, mumping mood, no matter by what outward ills itmay have been engendered? What is more injurious to others? What less helpful as a way out ofthe difficulty? It but fastens and perpetuates the trouble which occasioned it, and increases the totalevil of the situation. At all costs, then, we ought to reduce the sway of that mood; we ought toscout it in ourselves and others, and never show it tolerance. But it is impossible to carry on thisdiscipline in the subjective sphere without zealously emphasizing the brighter and minimizing thedarker aspects of the objective sphere of things at the same time. And thus our resolution not toindulge in misery, beginning at a comparatively small point within ourselves, may not stop until ithas brought the entire frame of reality under a systematic conception optimistic enough to becongenial with its needs.

In all this I say nothing of any mystical insight or persuasion that the total frame of thingsabsolutely must be good. Such mystical persuasion plays an enormous part in the history of thereligious consciousness, and we must look at it later with some care. But we need not go so far atpresent. More ordinary non-mystical conditions of rapture suffice for my immediate contention.

All invasive moral states and passionate enthusiasms make one feelingless to evil in somedirection. The common penalties cease to deter the patriot, the usual prudences are flung by thelover to the winds. When the passion is extreme, suffering may actually be gloried in, provided itbe for the ideal cause, death may lose its sting, the grave its victory. In these states, the ordinarycontrast of good and ill seems to be swallowed up in a higher denomination, an omnipotentexcitement which engulfs the evil, and which the human being welcomes as the crowningexperience of his life. This, he says, is truly to live, and I exult in the heroic opportunity andadventure.

The systematic cultivation of healthy-mindedness as a religious attitude is therefore consonantwith important currents in human nature, and is anything but absurd. In fact. we all do cultivate itmore or less, even when our professed theology should in consistency forbid it. We divert ourattention from disease and death as much as we can; and the slaughter-houses and indecencieswithout end on which our life is founded are huddled out of sight and never mentioned, so that theworld we recognize officially in literature and in society is a poetic fiction far handsomer andcleaner and better than the world that really is.[43]

[43] "As I go on in this life, day by day, I become more of a bewildered child; I cannot get usedto this world, to procreation, to heredity, to sight, to hearing, the commonest things are a burthen.

The prim, obliterated, polite surface of life, and the broad, bawdy and orgiastic--or maenadic-foundations,form a spectacle to which no habit reconciles me. R. L. Stevenson: Letters, ii. 355.




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