American Author, Doctor of Divinity
Gaius Glenn Atkins
American Author, Doctor of Divinity
Certain conclusions are thus made evident. These movements are the creation of the religious consciousness of the time. They are aspects of the present tense of religion. Since religion is, among other things, the effective desire to enter into right relationships with the power which manifests itself in the universe there are two variants in its content; first, our changing understanding of the power itself and second, our changing uses of it. The first varies with our knowledge and insight, the second with our own changing sense of personal need. Though God be the same yesterday, to-day and forever, our understandings of Him cannot and ought not to be the same yesterday, to-day and forever. Our faith is modified by, for example, our scientific discoveries. When the firmament of Hebrew cosmogony has given way to interstellar spaces and the telescope and the spectroscope plumb the depths of the universe, resolving nebulæ into star drifts, faith is bound to reflect the change. The power which manifests itself in the universe becomes thereby a vaster power, operating through a vaster sweep of law. Our changed understandings of ourselves must be reflected in our faith and our ethical insights as well. And because there is and ought to be no end to these changing understandings, religion itself, which is one outcome of them, must be plastic and changing.
What we ask of God is equally subject to change. True enough, the old questions—Whence? Whither? and Why? are constant. As we know ourselves to be living in a world which is less than a speck in an immensity wherein the birth and death of suns are ephemeral, we may rightly distrust our own value for the vaster order. We shall, therefore, the more insistently ask Whence? and Whither? and Why? But, none the less, there is always a shifting emphasis of religious need. Our own time is manifestly more concerned about well-being in the life that now is than a happy issue in the life which is to come. Temperament also qualifies experience. The mystic seeks conscious communion with God as an end in itself; the practical temper asks the demonstration of the love of God in happy material conditions. In general, action and reaction govern this whole region. The Puritan was supremely concerned about his own salvation and the struggle consequent thereto; his descendants were chiefly interested in the extension of knowledge and the conquest of the physical order and we react against this in a new return upon ourselves and the possibilities of personality.
The future of Spiritualism is greatly open to conjecture. We have already seen the alternatives which Spiritualism is called upon to face and the uncertainties which attend its conclusions. A fuller understanding of the possibilities of abnormal personality and the reach of automatism are likely to work against Spiritualism. If we find ascertainable causes for its phenomena resident within personality itself there will be no need of calling in the other world in order to explain what is happening in this. On the other hand, if there should evidence an increasing and tested body of facts which can be explained only in terms of spiritistic communications, Spiritualism will naturally make headway. But we are certainly standing only upon the threshold of a scientific interpretation of spiritistic phenomena and until the whole region has been very much more carefully worked through and far more dependable facts are in hand, one can only say that Spiritism is a hypothesis which may or may not be verified, and attend the outcome.
Not only the churches but the schools and particularly Medical Science need to take account of the cults. They constitute perhaps one of the sharpest indictments of present-day education. Many of their adherents are nominally educated above the average. They have secured for what they follow the authority which always attaches, in the American mind, to the fact that those who champion any movement are college bred, and yet the want of clear vision, the power to distinguish and analyze, along with the unexpected credulities which are thus made manifest, seem to indicate arresting deficiencies in popular education. It has left us unduly suggestible, much open to mass movement, at the mercy of the lesser prophets and wanting in those stabilities and understandings upon which a sound culture is to be built. When we consider what they are capable of believing who have had college or university training, we must conclude either that contemporaneous education is wanting in the creation of sound mental discipline, or else that we have a strange power of living in water-tight compartments and separating our faith wholly from our reason.
The cults which are organized around faith and mental healing at once challenge and in a measure indict modern medical science. In many directions all these movements are reactions against an excessive materialism; they affirm the power of personality as against its environment, testify that the central problems of life may be approached from the spiritual as well as from the physical and material side. It would not for a moment be fair to say that modern Medicine is ignoring this. There has probably always been a considerable element of mental healing in any wise medical practice. But on the whole, the marvellous successes and advances in Medical Science within the last thirty years and the very great success which has attended the definition of all diseases in terms of physical disarrangement has led physicians generally unduly to underestimate or ignore the undoubted power of faith and mind over bodily states.
Even as a matter of scientific investigation medicine as a whole has not taken this line of approach seriously enough. The Society for Psychical Research has something to teach the medical faculties just here. That Society, as we have seen, set out in the most rigorous and scientific way possible to find out first of all just what actual facts lay behind the confused phenomena of Spiritualism. They have given a long generation to just that. As they have finally isolated certain facts they have, with a good deal of caution, undertaken to frame hypotheses to account for them and so, with the aid of the students of abnormal personality, they are gradually bringing a measure of order into the whole region. Medical Science on the whole has not done this in the region of faith and mental healing. We are, therefore, far too uncertain of our facts. A good deal of this is open to correction. If a Society for Psycho-Therapeutic Research should be organized, which would follow up every report of healings with an accurate care, beginning with the diagnosis and ending with the actual physical state of the patient as far as it could be ascertained by the tests at their disposal, they could greatly clarify the popular mind, prevent a vast deal of needless suffering, save the sick from frustrated hope and secure for their own profession a distinct reinforcement and an increased usefulness.
Broadly considered, then, the elements common to all religions are such as these: a satisfying interpretation of the power manifest in the universe, the need of the mind for an answer to the questions Whence? and Whither? and Why?, the need of the emotional life for such peace as may come from the consciousness of being in right relationship and satisfying communion with God, the need of the will and ethical sense for guidance, and a need including all this and something beside for spiritual deliverance. The representative religious consciousness of the end of the nineteenth century in which we find our point of departure for the religious reactions of the last generation naturally included all this, but implicitly rather than explicitly. The intellectually curious were more concerned with science and political economies than the nature or genesis of religion, while the truly devout, who are not generally given to the critical analysis of their faith, accepted it as a Divine revelation needing no accounting for outside their Bible. Moreover such things as these were not then and never can be held abstractly. They were articulate in creeds and organized in churches and invested with the august sanction of authority, and mediated through old, old processes of religious development.
Every religion has in some fashion or other offered deliverance to its devotees through sacrifice or spiritual discipline, or the assurance that their sins were atoned for and their deliverance assured through the sufferings of others. All this, needless to say, involves not only the sense of sin but the whole reach of life's shadowed experiences. We have great need to be delivered not only from our divided selves but from the burdens and perplexities of life. Religion must offer some explanation of the general problem of sorrow and evil; it must, above all, justify the ways of God with men.
Generally speaking, religion is very greatly dependent upon its power so to interpret the hard things of life to those who bear them that they may still believe in the Divine love and justice. The generality of doubt is not philosophical but practical. We break with God more often than for any other reason because we believe that He has not kept faith with us. Some of the more strongly held modern cults have found their opportunity in the evident deficiency of the traditional explanation of pain and sorrow. Religion has really a strong hold on the average life only as it meets the more shadowed side of experience with the affirmation of an all-conquering love and justice in which we may rest.
As has been intimated, however, the appeal of religion goes far deeper than all this. If it did no more than seek to define for us the "power not ourselves" everywhere made manifest, if it did no more than answer the haunting questions: Whence? and Whither? and Why?, if it did no more than offer the emotional life a satisfying object of worship and communion with the Divine, supplying at the same time ethical standards and guiding and strengthening the will in its endeavour after goodness, it would have done us an immense service. But one may well wonder whether if religion did no more than this it would have maintained itself as it has and renew through the changing generations its compelling appeal. More strong than any purely intellectual curiosity as to a first cause or controlling power, more haunting than any wonder as to the source and destiny of life, more persistent than any loneliness of the questing soul is our dissatisfaction with ourselves, our consciousness of tragic moral fault, our need of forgiveness and deliverance. This longing for deliverance has taken many forms.
The value which religion has for those who hold it is perhaps as largely tested by its power to give them a real sense of communion with God as by any other single thing, but this by no means exhausts the value of religion for life. All religions must, in one way or another, meet the need of the will for guidance and the need of the ethical sense for right standards. Religion has always had an ethical content, simple enough to begin with as religion itself was simple. Certain things were permitted, certain things prohibited as part of a cult. These permissions and prohibitions are often strangely capricious, but we may trace behind taboo and caste and the ceremonially clean and unclean an always emerging standard of right and wrong and a fundamental relationship between religion and ethics. Religion from the very first felt itself to be the more august force and through its superior authority gave direction and quality to the conduct of its devotees. It was long enough before all this grew into Decalogues and the Sermon on the Mount and the latter chapters of Paul's great letters to his churches and our present system of Christian ethics, but we discover the beginning of the lordship of religion over conduct even in the most primitive cults.
Religion begins, therefore, in our need so to interpret the power manifest in the universe as to come into some satisfying relationship therewith. It goes on to supply an answer to the dominant questions—Whence? Whither? Why? It fulfills itself in worship and communion with what is worshipped. Such worship has addressed itself to vast ranges of objects, fulfilled itself in an almost unbelievable variety of rites. And yet in every kind of worship there has been some aspiration toward an ideal excellence and some endeavour, moreover, of those who worship to come into a real relation with what is worshipped. It would need a detailed treatment, here impossible, to back up so general a statement with the facts which prove it, but the facts are beyond dispute. It would be equally difficult to analyze the elements in human nature which lead us to seek such communion. The essential loneliness of the soul, our sense of divided and warring powers and the general emotional instability of personality without fitting objects of faith and devotion, all contribute to the incurable religiosity of human nature.
Life is represented as a journey, with various 'inns' along the way such as Day's End, Week's End, Month's End, Year's End—all suggestive of certain experiences and duties.
The human spirit has fashioned its prayers out of its loneliness, its persuasion of being something other than earthdust or star-dust.
The constants in all religion are the mystery of the universe, the nostalgia of the human spirit for an order beyond the show and flux of things to which it believes itself akin, and the belief that it has evidence of such an order.