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Lectures XIV THE VALUE OF SAINTLINESS
We have now passed in review the more important of the phenomena which are regarded asfruits of genuine religion and characteristics of men who are devout. Today we have to change ourattitude from that of description to that of appreciation; we have to ask whether the fruits inquestion can help us to judge the absolute value of what religion adds to human life. Were I toparody Kant, I should say that a "Critique of pure Saintliness" must be our theme.

If, in turning to this theme, we could descend upon our subject from above like Catholictheologians, with our fixed definitions of man and man's perfection and our positive dogmas aboutGod, we should have an easy time of it. Man's perfection would be the fulfillment of his end; andhis end would be union with his Maker. That union could be pursued by him along three paths,active, purgative, and contemplative, respectively; and progress along either path would be asimple matter to by the application of a limited number of theological and moral conceptionsanddefinitions(measure) . The absolute significance and value of any bit of religious experiencewe might hear of would thus be given almost mathematically into our hands.

If convenience were everything, we ought now to grieve at finding ourselves cut off from soadmirably convenient a method as this. But we did cut ourselves off from it deliberately in thoseremarks which you remember we made, in our first lecture, about the empirical method; and itmust be <321> confessed that after that act of renunciation we can never hope for clean-cut andscholastic results. WE cannot divide man sharply into an animal and a rational part. WE cannotdistinguish natural from supernatural effects; nor among the latter know which are favors of God,and which are counterfeit operations of the demon. WE have merely to collect things together without any special a priori theological system, and out of an aggregate of piecemeal judgments asto the value of this and that experience--judgments in which our general philosophic prejudices,our instincts, and our common sense are our only guides--decide that ON THE WHOLE one typeof religion is approved by its fruits, and another type condemned. "On the whole"--I fear we shallnever escape complicity with that qualification, so dear to your practical man, so repugnant to yoursystematizer!

I also fear that as I make this frank confession, I may seem to some of you to throw our compassoverboard, and to adopt caprice as our pilot. Skepticism or wayward choice, you may think, can bethe only results of such a formless method as I have taken up. A few remarks in deprecation ofsuch an opinion, and in farther explanation of the empiricist principles which I profess, maytherefore appear at this point to be in place.

Abstractly, it would seem illogical to try to measure the worth of a religion's fruits in merelyhuman terms of value. How CAN you measure their worth without considering whether the Godreally exists who is supposed to inspire them? If he really exists, then all the conduct instituted bymen to meet his wants must necessarily be a reasonable fruit of his religion--it would beunreasonable only in case he did not exist. If, for instance, you were to condemn a religion ofhuman or animal sacrifices by virtue of your subjective sentiments, and if all the while a deitywere really there demanding such sacrifices, you would be making a theoretical mistake by tacitlyassuming that the deity must be non-existent; you would be setting up a theology of your own asmuch as if you were a scholastic philosopher.

To this extent, to the extent of disbelieving peremptorily in certain types of deity, I franklyconfess that we must be theologians. If disbeliefs can be said to constitute a theology, then theprejudices, instincts, and common sense which I chose as our guides make theological partisans ofus whenever they make certain beliefs abhorrent.

But such common-sense prejudices and instincts are themselves the fruit of an empiricalevolution. Nothing is more striking than the secular alteration that goes on in the moral andreligious tone of men, as their insight into nature and their social arrangements progressivelydevelop. After an interval of a few generations the mental climate proves unfavorable to notions ofthe deity which at an earlier date were perfectly satisfactory: the older gods have fallen below thecommon secular level, and can no longer be believed in. Today a deity who should requirebleeding sacrifices to placate him would be too sanguinary to be taken seriously. Even if powerfulhistorical credentials were put forward in his favor, we would not look at them. Once, on thecontrary, his cruel appetites were of themselves credentials.

They positively recommended him to men's imaginations in ages when such coarse signs ofpower were respected and no others could be understood. Such deities then were worshipedbecause such fruits were relished.

Doubtless historic accidents always played some later part, but the original factor in fixing thefigure of the gods must always have been psychological. The deity to whom the prophets, seers,and devotees who founded the particular cult bore witness was worth something to thempersonally. They could use him. He guided their imagination, warranted their hopes, and controlled their will--or else they required him as a safeguard against the demon and a curber of otherpeople's crimes. In any case, they chose him for the value of the fruits he seemed to them to yield.

So soon as the fruits began to seem quite worthless; so soon as they conflicted with indispensablehuman ideals, thwarted too extensively other values; as they appeared childish, contemptible,orim(or) moralwhenreflectedon,thedeity grewdisc(so) redite(soon) d, and was erelong neglectedand forgotten. It was in this way that the Greek and Roman gods ceased to be believed in byeducated pagans; it is thus that we ourselves judge of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Mohammedantheologies; Protestants have so dealt with the Catholic notions of deity, and liberal Protestants witholder Protestant notions; it is thus that Chinamen judge of us, and that all of us now living will bejudged by our descendants. When we cease to admire or approve what the definition of a deityimplies, we end by deeming that deity incredible.

Few historic changes more curious than these mutations of theological opinion. The monarchicaltypeofsovereig(are) nty was, for example, so ineradicably planted in the mind of our ownforefathers that a dose of cruelty and arbitrariness in their deity seems positively to have beenrequired by their imagination. They called the cruelty "retributive justice," and a God without itwould certainly have struck them as not "sovereign" enough. But today we abhor the very notionof eternal suffering inflicted; and that arbitrary dealing-out of salvation and damnation to selectedindividuals, of which Jonathan Edwards could persuade himself that he had not only a conviction,but a "delightful conviction," as of a doctrine "exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet," appears tous, if sovereignly anything, sovereignly irrational and mean. Not only the cruelty, but the paltrinessof character of the gods believed in by earlier centuries also strikes later centuries with surprise.

We shall see examples of it from the annals of Catholic saintship which makes us rub ourProtestant eyes. Ritual worship in general appears to the modern transcendentalist, as well as to theultra-puritanic type of mind, as if addressed to a deity of an almost absurdly childish character,taking delight in toy-shop furniture, tapers and tinsel, costume and mumbling and mummery, andfinding his "glory" incomprehensibly enhanced thereby:--just as on the other hand the formlessspaciousness of pantheism appears quite empty to ritualistic natures, and the gaunt theism ofevangelical sects seems intolerably bald and chalky and bleak.

Luther, says Emerson, would have cut off his right hand rather than nail his theses to the door atWittenberg, if he had supposed that they were destined to lead to the pale negations of BostonUnitarianism.

So far, then, although we are compelled, whatever may be our pretensions to empiricism, toemploy some sort of a standard of theological probability of our own whenever we assume toestimate the fruits of other men's religion, yet this very standard has been begotten out of the driftof common life. It is the voice of human experience within us, judging and condemning all godsthat stand athwart the pathway along which it feels itself to be advancing. Experience, if we take itin the largest sense, is thus the parent of those disbeliefs which, it was charged, were inconsistentwith the experiential method. The inconsistency, you see, is immaterial, and the charge may beneglected.

If we pass from disbeliefs to positive beliefs, it seems to me that there is not even a formalinconsistency to be laid against our method. The gods we stand by are the gods we need and canuse, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another. What I then propose to do is, briefly stated, to test saintliness by common sense, to usehuman standards to help us decide how far the religious life commends itself as an ideal kind ofhuman activity. If it commends itself, then any theological beliefs that may inspire it, in so farforth will stand accredited. If not, then they will be discredited, and all without reference toanything but human working principles. It is but the elimination of the humanly unfit, and thesurvival of the humanly fittest, applied to religious beliefs; and if we look at history candidly andwithout prejudice, we have to admit that no religion has ever in the long run established or proveditself in any other way. Religions have APPROVED themselves; they have ministered to sundryvital needs which they found reigning. When they violated other needs too strongly, or when otherfaiths came which served the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.

The needs were always many, and the tests were never sharp. So the reproach of vagueness andsubjectivity and "on the whole"-ness, which can with perfect legitimacy be addressed to theempirical method as we are forced to use it, is after all a reproach to which the entire life of man indealing with these matters is obnoxious. No religion has ever yet owed its prevalence to "apodicticcertainty." In a later lecture I will ask whether objective certainty can ever be added by theologicalreasoning to a religion that already empirically prevails.

One word, also, about the reproach that in following this sort of an empirical method we arehanding ourselves over to systematic skepticism.

Since it is impossible to deny secular alterations in our sentiments and needs, it would be absurdto affirm that one's own age of the world can be beyond correction by the next age. Skepticismcannot, therefore, be ruled out by any set of thinkers possibility against which their conclusionsaresecure;andnoempiricistoughttoclaimexem(as) p(a) tion from this universal liability.

But to admit one's liability to correction is one thing, and to embark upon a sea of wanton doubt isanother. Of willfully playing into the hands of skepticism we cannot be accused. He whoacknowledges the imperfectness of his instrument, and makes allowance <326> for it in discussinghis observations, is in a much better position for gaining truth than if he claimed his instrument tobe infallible. Or is dogmatic or scholastic theology less doubted in point of fact for claiming, as itdoes, to be in point of right undoubtable? And if not, what command over truth would this kind oftheology really lose if, instead of absolute certainty, she only claimed reasonable probability forher conclusions? If WE claim only reasonable probability, it will be as much as men who love thetruth can ever at any given moment hope to have within their grasp. Pretty surely it will be morethan we could have had, if we were unconscious of our liability to err.

Nevertheless, dogmatism will doubtless continue to condemn us for this confession. The mereoutward form of inalterable certainty is so precious to some minds that to renounce it explicitly isfor them out of the question. They will claim it even where the facts most patently pronounce itsfolly. But the safe thing is surely to recognize that all the insights of creatures of a day likeourselves must be provisional. The wisest of critics is an altering being, subject to the better insightof the morrow, and right at any moment, only "up to date" and "on the whole." When larger rangesof truth open, it is surely best to be able to open ourselves to their reception, unfettered by ourprevious pretensions. "Heartily know, when half-gods go, the gods arrive."The fact of diverse judgments about religious phenomena is therefore entirely unescapable,whatever may be one's own desire to attain the irreversible. But apart from that fact, a more fundamental question awaits us, the question whether men's opinions ought to be expected to beabsolutely uniform in this field. Ought all men to have the same religion? Ought they to approvethe same fruits and follow the same leadings? Are they so like in their inner needs that, for hardand soft, for proud and humble, for strenuous and lazy, for healthy-minded and despairing, exactlythe same religious incentives are required? Or are different functions in the organism of humanityallotted to different types of man, so that some may really be the better for a religion of consolationand reassurance, whilst others are better for one of terror and reproof? It might conceivably be so;and we shall, I think, more and more suspect it to be so as we go on. And if it be so, how can anypossible judge or critic help being biased in favor of the religion by which his own needs are bestmet? He aspires to impartiality; but he is too close to the struggle not to be to some degree aparticipant, and he is sure to approve most warmly those fruits of piety in others which taste mostgood and prove most nourishing to HIM.

I am well aware of how anarchic much of what I say may sound. Expressing myself thusabstractly and briefly, I may seem to despair of the very notion of truth. But I beseech you toreserve your judgment until we see it applied to the details which lie before us. I do indeeddisbelieve that we or any other mortal men can attain on a given day to absolutely incorrigible andunimprovable truth about such matters of fact as those with which religions deal. But I reject thisdogmatic ideal not out of a perverse delight in intellectual instability. I am no lover of disorder anddoubt as such. Rather do I fear to lose truth by this pretension to possess it already wholly. That wecan gain more and more of it by moving always in the right direction, I believe as much as anyone, and I hope to bring you all to my way of thinking before the termination of these lectures. Tillthen, do not, I pray you, harden your minds irrevocably against the empiricism which I profess.

I will waste no more words, then, in abstract justification of my method, but seek immediately touse it upon the facts.

In critically judging of the value of religious phenomena, it is very important to insist on thedistinction between religion as an individual personal function, and religion as an institutional,corporate, or tribal product. I drew this distinction, you may remember, in my second lecture. Theword "religion," as ordinarily used, is equivocal. A survey of history shows us that, as a rule,religious geniuses attract disciples, and produce groups of sympathizers. When these groups getstrong enough to "organize" themselves, they become ecclesiastical institutions with corporateambitions of their own. The spirit of politics and the lust of dogmatic rule are then apt to enter andto contaminate the originally innocent thing; so that when we hear the word "religion" nowadays,we think inevitably of some "church" or other; and to some persons the word "church" suggests somuch hypocrisy and tyranny and meanness and tenacity of superstition that in a wholesaleundiscerning way they glory in saying that they are "down" on religion altogether. Even we whobelong to churches do not exempt other churches than our own from the general condemnation.

But in this course of lectures ecclesiastical institutions hardly concern us at all. The religiousexperience which we are studying is that which lives itself out within the private breast. First-handindividual experience of this kind has always appeared as a heretical sort of innovation to thosewho witnessed its birth. Naked comes it into the world and lonely; and it has always, for a time atleast, driven 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.

George Fox expresses well this isolation; and I can do no better at this point than read to you apage from his Journal, referring to the period of his youth when religion began to ferment withinhim seriously.

"I fasted much," Fox says, "walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took myBible, and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places until night came on; and frequently in the nightwalked mournfully about by myself; for I was a man of sorrows in the time of the first workings ofthe Lord in me.

"During all this time I was never joined in profession of religion with any, but gave up myself tothe Lord, having forsaken all evil company, taking leave of father and mother, and all otherrelations, and traveled up and down as a stranger on the earth, which way the Lord inclined myheart; taking a chamber to myself in the town where I came, and tarrying sometimes more,sometimes less in a place: for I durst not stay long in a place, being afraid both of professor andprofane, lest, being a tender young man, I should be hurt by conversing much with either. Forwhich reason I kept much as a stranger, seeking heavenly wisdom and getting knowledge from theLord; and was brought off from outward things, to rely on the Lord alone. As I had forsaken thepriests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those called the most experienced people; for Isaw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes inthem and in all men were gone so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what todo; then, oh then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thycondition.' When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there wasnone upon the earth that could speak to my condition. I had not fellowship with any people,priests, nor professors, nor any sort of separated people. I was afraid of all carnal talk and talkers,for I could see nothing but corruptions. When I was in the deep, under all shut up, I could notbelieve that I should ever overcome; my troubles, my sorrows, and my temptations were so greatthat I often thought I should have despaired, I was so tempted. But when Christ opened to me howhe was tempted by the same devil, and had overcome him, and had bruised his head; and thatthrough him and his power, life, grace, and spirit, I should overcome also, I had confidence in him.

If I had had a king's diet, palace, and attendance, all would have been as nothing, for nothing gaveme comfort but the Lord by his power. I saw professors, priests, and people were whole and at easein that condition which was my misery, and they loved that which I would have been rid of. Butthe Lord did stay my desires upon himself, and my care was cast upon him alone."[198]

[198] George Fox: Journal, Philadelphia, 1800, pp. 59-61, abridged.

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 spreadto any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enoughto triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become anorthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second handexclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever humangoodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle thespontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purerdays it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs! Of protectiveaction of this politic sort, promptly or tardily decided on, the dealings of the Roman ecclesiasticismwith many individual saints and prophets yield examples enough for our instruction.

The plain fact is that men's minds are built, as has been often said, in water-tight compartments.

Religious after a fashion, they yet have many other things in them beside their religion, and unholyentanglements and associations inevitably obtain. The basenesses so commonly charged toreligion's account are thus, almost all of them, not chargeable at all to religion proper, but rather toreligion's wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion. And the bigotries are most ofthem in their turn chargeable to religion's wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmaticdominion, the passion for laying down the law in the form of an absolutely closed-in theoreticsystem. The ecclesiastical spirit in general is the sum of these two spirits of dominion; and Ibeseech you never to confound the phenomena of mere tribal or corporate psychology which itpresents with those manifestations of the purely interior life which are the exclusive object of ourstudy. The baiting of Jews, the hunting of Albigenses and Waldenses, the stoning of Quakers andducking of Methodists, the murdering of Mormons and the massacring of Armenians, expressmuch rather that aboriginal human neophobia, that pugnacity of which we all share the vestiges,and that inborn hatred of the alien and of eccentric and non-conforming men as aliens, than theyexpress the positive piety of the various perpetrators. Piety is the mask, the inner force is tribalinstinct. You believe as little as I do, in spite of the Christian unction with which the Germanemperor addressed his troops upon their way to China, that the conduct which he suggested, and inwhich other Christian armies went beyond them, had anything whatever to do with the interiorreligious life of those concerned in the performance.

Well, no more for past atrocities than for this atrocity should we make piety responsible. At mostwe may blame piety for not availing to check our natural passions, and sometimes for supplyingthem with hypocritical pretexts. But hypocrisy also imposes obligations, and with the pretextusually couples some restriction; and when the passion gust is over, the piety may bring a reactionof repentance which the irreligious natural man would not have shown.


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