To worship mankind as it is would be to deprive it of what alone makes it akin to the divine—its aspiration. For this human dust lives; this misery and crime are dark in contrast to an imagined excellence; they are lighted up by a prospect of good. Man is not adorable, but he adores, and the object of his adoration may be discovered within him and elicited from his own soul. In this sense the religion of humanity is the only religion, all others being sparks and abstracts of the same. The indwelling ideal lends all the gods their divinity. No power, either physical or psychical, has the least moral prerogative nor any just place in religion at all unless it supports and advances the ideal native to the worshipper's soul. Without moral society between the votary and his god religion is pure idolatry; and even idolatry would be impossible but for the suspicion that somehow the brute force exorcised in prayer might help or mar some human undertaking.
[Sidenote: Cosmic piety.]
There is, finally, a philosophic piety which has the universe for its object. This feeling, common to ancient and modern Stoics, has an obvious justification in man's dependence upon the natural world and in its service to many sides of the mind. Such justification of cosmic piety is rather obscured than supported by the euphemisms and ambiguities in which these philosophers usually indulge in their attempt to preserve the customary religious unction. For the more they personify the universe and give it the name of God the more they turn it into a devil. The universe, so far as we can observe it, is a wonderful and immense engine; its extent, its order, its beauty, its cruelty, makes it alike impressive. If we dramatise its life and conceive its spirit, we are filled with wonder, terror, and amusement, so magnificent is that spirit, so prolific, inexorable, grammatical, and dull. Like all animals and plants, the cosmos has its own way of doing things, not wholly rational nor ideally best, but patient, fatal, and fruitful. Great is this organism of mud and fire, terrible this vast, painful, glorious experiment. Why should we not look on the universe with piety? Is it not our substance? Are we made of other clay? All our possibilities lie from eternity hidden in its bosom. It is the dispenser of all our joys. We may address it without superstitious terrors; it is not wicked. It follows its own habits abstractedly; it can be trusted to be true to its word. Society is not impossible between it and us, and since it is the source of all our energies, the home of all our happiness, shall we not cling to it and praise it, seeing that it vegetates so grandly and so sadly, and that it is not for us to blame it for what, doubtless, it never knew that it did? Where there is such infinite and laborious potency there is room for every hope. If we should abstain from judging a father's errors or a mother's foibles, why should we pronounce sentence on the ignorant crimes of the universe, which have passed into our own blood? The universe is the true Adam, the creation the true fall; and as we have never blamed our mythical first parent very much, in spite of the disproportionate consequences of his sin, because we felt that he was but human and that we, in his place, might have sinned too, so we may easily forgive our real ancestor, whose connatural sin we are from moment to moment committing, since it is only the necessary rashness of venturing to be without fore-knowing the price or the fruits of existence.
SPIRITUALITY AND ITS CORRUPTIONS
[Sidenote: To be spiritual is to live in view of the ideal.]
In honouring the sources of life, piety is retrospective. It collects, as it were, food for morality, and fortifies it with natural and historic nutriment. But a digestive and formative principle must exist to assimilate this nutriment; a direction and an ideal have to be imposed on these gathered forces. So that religion has a second and a higher side, which looks to the end toward which we move as piety looks to the conditions of progress and to the sources from which we draw our energies. This aspiring side of religion may be called Spirituality. Spirituality is nobler than piety, because what would fulfil our being and make it worth having is what alone lends value to that being's source. Nothing can be lower or more wholly instrumental than the substance and cause of all things. The gift of existence would be worthless unless existence was good and supported at least a possible happiness. A man is spiritual when he lives in the presence of the ideal, and whether he eat or drink does so for the sake of a true and ultimate good. He is spiritual when he envisages his goal so frankly that his whole material life becomes a transparent and transitive vehicle, an instrument which scarcely arrests attention but allows the spirit to use it economically and with perfect detachment and freedom.
There is no need that this ideal should be pompously or mystically described. A simple life is its own reward, and continually realises its function. Though a spiritual man may perfectly well go through intricate processes of thought and attend to very complex affairs, his single eye, fixed on a rational purpose, will simplify morally the natural chaos it looks upon and will remain free. This spiritual mastery is, of course, no slashing and forced synthesis of things into a system of philosophy which, even if it were thinkable, would leave the conceived logical machine without ideality and without responsiveness to actual interests; it is rather an inward aim and fixity in affection that knows what to take and what to leave in a world over which it diffuses something of its own peace. It threads its way through the landscape with so little temptation to distraction that it can salute every irrelevant thing, as Saint Francis did the sun and moon, with courtesy and a certain affectionate detachment.
[Sidenote: Spirituality natural.]
Spirituality likes to say, Behold the lilies of the field! For its secret has the same simplicity as their vegetative art; only spirituality has succeeded in adding consciousness without confusing instinct. This success, unfortunately so rare in man's life as to seem paradoxical, is its whole achievement. Spirituality ought to have been a matter of course, since conscious existence has inherent value and there is no intrinsic ground why it should smother that value in alien ambitions and servitudes. But spirituality, though so natural and obvious a thing, is subject, like the lilies' beauty, to corruption. I know not what army of microbes evidently invaded from the beginning the soul's physical basis and devoured its tissues, so that sophistication and bad dreams entirely obscured her limpidity.
None the less, spirituality, or life in the ideal, must be regarded as the fundamental and native type of all life; what deviates from it is disease and incipient dissolution, and is itself what might plausibly demand explanation and evoke surprise. The spiritual man should be quite at home in a world made to be used; the firmament is spread over him like a tent for habitation, and sublunary furniture is even more obviously to be taken as a convenience. He cannot, indeed, remove mountains, but neither does he wish to do so. He comes to endow the mountains with a function, and takes them at that, as a painter might take his brushes and canvas. Their beauty, their metals, their pasturage, their defence—this is what he observes in them and celebrates in his addresses to them. The spiritual man, though not ashamed to be a beggar, is cognisant of what wealth can do and of what it cannot. His unworldliness is true knowledge of the world, not so much a gaping and busy acquaintance as a quiet comprehension and estimation which, while it cannot come without intercourse, can very well lay intercourse aside.
[Sidenote: Primitive consciousness may be spiritual.]
If the essence of life be spiritual, early examples of life would seem to be rather the opposite. But man's view of primitive consciousness is humanly biassed and relies too much on partial analogies. We conceive an animal's physical life in the gross, and must then regard the momentary feelings that accompany it as very poor expressions either of its extent or conditions. These feelings are, indeed, so many ephemeral lives, containing no comprehensive view of the animal's fortunes. They accordingly fail to realise our notion of a spiritual human life which would have to be rational and to form some representation of man's total environment and interests. But it hardly follows that animal feelings are not spiritual in their nature and, on their narrow basis, perfectly ideal. The most ideal human passion is love, which is also the most absolute and animal and one of the most ephemeral. Very likely, if we could revert to an innocent and absorbed view of our early sensations, we should find that each was a little spiritual universe like Dante's, with its internal hell, purgatory, and heaven. Cut off, as those experiences were, from all vistas and from sympathy with things remote, they would contain a closed circle of interests, a flying glimpse of eternity. So an infant living in his mystical limbo, without trailing in a literal sense any clouds of glory from elsewhere, might well repeat on a diminutive scale the beatific vision, insomuch as the only function of which he was conscious at all might be perfectly fulfilled by him and felt in its ideal import. Sucking and blinking are ridiculous processes, perhaps, but they may bring a thrill and satisfaction no less ideal than do the lark's inexhaustible palpitations. Narrow scope and low representative value are not defects in a consciousness having a narrow physical basis and comparatively simple conditions.
[Sidenote: Spirit crossed by instrumentalities.]
The spirit's foe in man has not been simplicity, but sophistication. His instincts, in becoming many, became confused, and in growing permanent, grew feeble and subject to arrest and deviation. Nature, we may say, threw the brute form back into her cauldron, to smelt its substance again before pouring it into a rational mould. The docility which instinct, in its feebleness, acquired in the new creature was to be reason's opportunity, but before the larger harmony could be established a sorry chaos was bound to reign in the mind. Every peeping impulse would drop its dark hint and hide its head in confusion, while some pedantic and unjust law would be passed in its absence and without its vote. Secondary activities, which should always be representative, would establish themselves without being really such. Means would be pursued as if they were ends, and ends, under the illusion that they were forces, would be expected to further some activity, itself without justification. So pedantry might be substituted for wisdom, tyranny for government, superstition for morals, rhetoric for art.
This sophistication is what renders the pursuit of reason so perplexing and prolonged a problem. Half-formed adjustments in the brain and in the body politic are represented in consciousness by what are called passions, prejudices, motives, animosities. None of these felt ebullitions in the least understands its own causes, effects, or relations, but is hatched, so to speak, on the wing and flutters along in the direction of its momentary preference until it lapses, it knows not why, or is crossed and overwhelmed by some contrary power. Thus the vital elements, which in their comparative isolation in the lower animals might have yielded simple little dramas, each with its obvious ideal, its achievement, and its quietus, when mixed in the barbarous human will make a boisterous medley. For they are linked enough together to feel a strain, but not knit enough to form a harmony. In this way the unity of apperception seems to light up at first nothing but disunion. The first dawn of that rational principle which involves immortality breaks upon a discovery of death. The consequence is that ideality seems to man something supernatural and almost impossible. He finds himself at his awakening so confused that he puts chaos at the origin of the world. But only order can beget a world or evoke a sensation. Chaos is something secondary, composed of conflicting organisations interfering with one another. It is compounded like a common noise out of jumbled vibrations, each of which has its period and would in itself be musical. The problem is to arrange these sounds, naturally so tuneful, into concerted music. So long as total discord endures human life remains spasmodic and irresolute; it can find no ideal and admit no total representation of nature. Only when the disordered impulses and perceptions settle down into a trained instinct, a steady, vital response and adequate preparation for the world, do clear ideas and successful purposes arise in the mind. The Life of Reason, with all the arts, then begins its career.
The forces at play in this drama are, first, the primary impulses and functions represented by elementary values; second, the thin network of signals and responses by which those functions are woven into a total organ, represented by discursive thought and all secondary mental figments, and, third, the equilibrium and total power of that new organism in action represented by the ideal. Spirituality, which might have resided in the elementary values, sensuous or passionate, before the relational process supervened, can now exist only in the ultimate activity to which these processes are instrumental. Obstacles to spirituality in human life may accordingly take the form of an arrest either at the elementary values—an entanglement in sense and passion—or at the instrumental processes—an entanglement in what in religious parlance is called "the world."
[Sidenote: One foe of the spirit is worldliness.]
Worldly minds bristle with conventional morality (though in private they may nurse a vice or two to appease wayward nature), and they are rational in everything except first principles. They consider the voluptuary a weak fool, disgraced and disreputable; and if they notice the spiritual man at all—for he is easily ignored—they regard him as a useless and visionary fellow. Civilisation has to work algebraically with symbols for known and unknown quantities which only in the end resume their concrete values, so that the journeymen and vulgar middlemen of the world know only conventional goods. They are lost in instrumentalities and are themselves only instruments in the Life of Reason. Wealth, station, fame, success of some notorious and outward sort, make their standard of happiness. Their chosen virtues are industry, good sense, probity, conventional piety, and whatever else has acknowledged utility and seemliness.
[Sidenote: The case for and against pleasure.]
In its strictures on pleasure and reverie this Philistia is perfectly right. Sensuous living (and I do not mean debauchery alone, but the palpitations of any poet without art or any mystic without discipline) is not only inconsequential and shallow, but dangerous to honour and to sincere happiness. When life remains lost in sense or reverts to it entirely, humanity itself is atrophied. And humanity is tormented and spoilt when, as more often happens, a man disbelieving in reason and out of humour with his world, abandons his soul to loose whimseys and passions that play a quarrelsome game there, like so many ill-bred children. Nevertheless, compared with the worldling's mental mechanism and rhetoric, the sensualist's soul is a well of wisdom. He lives naturally on an animal level and attains a kind of good. He has free and concrete pursuits, though they be momentary, and he has sincere satisfactions. He is less often corrupt than primitive, and even when corrupt he finds some justification for his captious existence. He harvests pleasures as he goes which intrinsically, as we have seen, may have the depth and ideality which nature breathes in all her oracles. His experience, for that reason, though disastrous is interesting and has some human pathos; it is easier to make a saint out of a libertine than out of a prig. True, the libertine is pursued, like the animals, by unforeseen tortures, decay, and abandonment, and he is vowed to a total death; but in these respects the worldly man has hardly an advantage. The Babels he piles up may indeed survive his person, but they are themselves vain and without issue, while his brief life has been meantime spent in slavery and his mind cramped with cant and foolish ambitions. The voluptuary is like some roving creature, browsing on nettles and living by chance; the worldling is like a beast of burden, now ill-used and over-worked, now fatted, stalled, and richly caparisoned. AEsop might well have described their relative happiness in a fable about the wild ass and the mule.
[Sidenote: Upshot of worldly wisdom.]
Thus, even if the voluptuary is sometimes a poet and the worldling often an honest man, they both lack reason so entirely that reflection revolts equally against the life of both. Vanity, vanity, is their common epitaph. Now, at the soul's christening and initiation into the Life of Reason, the first vow must always be to "renounce the pomps and vanities of this wicked world." A person to whom this means nothing is one to whom, in the end, nothing has meaning. He has not conceived a highest good, no ultimate goal is within his horizon, and it has never occurred to him to ask what he is living for. With all his pompous soberness, the worldly man is fundamentally frivolous; with all his maxims and cant estimations he is radically inane. He conforms to religion without suspecting what religion means, not being in the least open to such an inquiry. He judges art like a parrot, without having ever stopped to evoke an image. He preaches about service and duty without any recognition of natural demands or any standard of betterment. His moral life is one vast anacoluthon in which the final term is left out that might have given sense to the whole, one vast ellipsis in which custom seems to bridge the chasm left between ideas. He denies the values of sense because they tempt to truancies from mechanical activity; the values of reason he necessarily ignores because they lie beyond his scope. He adheres to conventional maxims and material quantitative standards; his production is therefore, as far as he himself is concerned, an essential waste and his activity an essential tedium. If at least, like the sensualist, he enjoyed the process and expressed his fancy in his life, there would be something gained; and this sort of gain, though over-looked in the worldling's maxims, all of which have a categorical tone, is really what often lends his life some propriety and spirit. Business and war and any customary task may come to form, so to speak, an organ whose natural function will be just that operation, and the most abstract and secondary activity, like that of adding figures or reading advertisements, may in this way become the one function proper to some soul. There are Nibelungen dwelling by choice underground and happy pedants in the upper air.
Facts are not wanting for these pillars of society to take solace in, if they wish to defend their philosophy. The time will come, astronomers say, when life will be extinct upon this weary planet. All the delights of sense and imagination will be over. It is these that will have turned out to be vain. But the masses of matter which the worldlings have transformed with their machinery, and carried from one place to another, will remain to bear witness of them. The collocation of atoms will never be what it would have been if their feet had less continually beaten the earth. They may have the proud happiness of knowing that, when nothing that the spirit values endures, the earth may still sometimes, because of them, cast a slightly different shadow across the moon's craters.
[Sidenote: Two supposed escapes from vanity:]
There is no more critical moment in the life of a man and a nation than that in which they are first conscience-stricken and convicted of vanity. Failure, exhaustion, confusion of aims, or whatever else it be that causes a revulsion, brings them before a serious dilemma. Has the vanity of life hitherto been essential or incidental? Are we to look for a new ambition, free from all the illusions of natural impulse, or are we rather to renounce all will indiscriminately and fall back upon conformity and consummate indifference? As this question is answered in one way or the other, two different types of unworldly religion arise.
The first, which heralds a new and unimpeachable special hope, a highest duty finally recognised and driving out all lesser motives and satisfactions from the soul, refers vanity to perversity, to error, to a sort of original misunderstanding of our own nature which has led us, in pursuing our worldly interests, to pursue in truth our own destruction. The vanity of life, according to this belief, has been accidental. The taint of existence is not innate vanity but casual sin; what has misled us is not the will in general but only the false and ignorant direction of a will not recognising its only possible satisfaction. What religion in this case opposes to the world is a special law, a special hope, a life intense, ambitious, and aggressive, but excluding much which to an ingenuous will might seem excellent and tempting. Worldliness, in a word, is here met by fanaticism.
[Sidenote: and mysticism.]
The second type of unworldly religion does not propose to overwhelm the old Adam by singleminded devotion to one selected interest, nor does it refer vanity to an accidental error. On the contrary, it conceives that any special interest, any claim made by a finite and mortal creature upon an infinite world, is bound to be defeated. It is not special acts, it conceives, which are sinful, but action and will themselves that are intrinsically foolish. The cure lies in rescinding the passionate interests that torment us, not in substituting for them another artificial passion more imperious and merciless than the natural passions it comes to devour. This form of religion accordingly meets worldliness with mysticism. Holiness is not placed in conformity to a prescriptive law, in pursuit of a slightly regenerated bliss, nor in advancing a special institution and doctrine. Holiness for the mystic consists rather in universal mildness and insight; in freedom from all passion, bias, and illusion; in a disembodied wisdom which accepts the world, dominates its labyrinths, and is able to guide others through it, without pursuing, for its own part, any hope or desire.
[Sidenote: Both are irrational.]
If these two expedients of the conscience convicted of vanity were to be subjected to a critical judgment, they would both be convicted of vanity themselves. The case of fanaticism is not doubtful, for the choice it makes of a special law or institution or posthumous hope is purely arbitrary, and only to be justified by the satisfaction it affords to those very desires which it boasts to supplant. An oracular morality or revealed religion can hope to support its singular claims only by showing its general conformity to natural reason and its perfect beneficence in the world. Where such justification is wanting the system fanatically embraced is simply an epidemic mania, a social disease for the philosopher to study and, if possible, to cure. Every strong passion tends to dislodge the others, so that fanaticism may often involve a certain austerity, impetuosity, and intensity of life. This vigour, however, is seldom lasting; fanaticism dries its own roots and becomes, when traditionally established, a convention as arbitrary as any fashion and the nest for a new brood of mean and sinister habits. The Pharisee is a new worldling, only his little world is narrowed to a temple, a tribe, and a clerical tradition.
Mysticism, as its meditative nature comports, is never so pernicious, nor can it be brought so easily round to worldliness again. That its beneficent element is purely natural and inconsistent with a denial of will, we shall have occasion elsewhere to observe. Suffice it here to point out, that even if a moral nihilism could be carried through and all definite interests abandoned, the vanity of life would not be thereby corrected, but merely exposed. When our steps had been retraced to the very threshold of being, nothing better worth doing would have been discovered on the way. That to suffer illusion is a bad thing might ordinarily be taken for an axiom, because ordinarily we assume that true knowledge and rational volition are possible; but if this assumption is denied, the value of retracting illusions is itself impeached. When vanity is represented as universal and salvation as purely negative, every one is left free to declare that it is vain to renounce vanity and sinful to seek salvation.
This result, fantastic though it may at first sight appear, is one which mysticism actually comes to under certain circumstances. Absolute pessimism and absolute optimism are opposite sentiments attached to a doctrine identically the same. In either case no improvement is possible, and the authority of human ideals is denied. To escape, to stanch natural wounds, to redeem society and the private soul, are then mistaken and pitiable ambitions, adding to their vanity a certain touch of impiety. One who really believes that the world's work is all providentially directed and that whatever happens, no matter how calamitous or shocking, happens by divine right, has a quietistic excuse for license; to check energy by reason, and seek to limit and choose its path, seems to him a puny rebellion against omnipotence, which works through madness and crime in man no less than through cataclysms in outer nature. Every particular desire is vain and bound, perhaps, to be defeated; but the mystic, when caught in the expansive mood, accepts this defeat itself as needful. Thus a refusal to discriminate rationally or to accept human interests as the standard of right may culminate in a convulsive surrender to passion, just as, when caught in the contractile phase, the same mysticism may lead to universal abstention.
[Sidenote: Is there a third course?]
Must unworldliness be either fanatical or mystical? That is a question of supreme importance to the moral philosopher. On the answer to it hangs the rationality of a spiritual life; nay, the existence of spirituality itself among the types of human activity. For the fanatic and mystic are only spiritual in appearance because they separate themselves from the prevalent interests of the world, the one by a special persistent aggression, the other by a general passivity and unearthly calm. The fanatic is, notwithstanding, nothing but a worldling too narrow and violent to understand the world, while the mystic is a sensualist too rapt and voluptuous to rationalise his sensations. Both represent arrested forms of common-sense, partial developments of a perfectly usual sensibility. There is no divine inspiration in having only one passion left, nor in dreamfully accepting or renouncing all the passions together. Spirituality, if identified with such types, might justly be called childish. There is an innocent and incredulous childishness, with its useless eyes wide open, just as there is a malevolent and peevish childishness, eaten up with some mischievous whim. The man of experience and affairs can very quickly form an opinion on such phenomena. He has no reason to expect superior wisdom in those quarters. On the contrary, his own customary political and humane standpoint gives him the only authoritative measure of their merits and possible uses. "These sectaries and dreamers," he will say to himself, "cannot understand one another nor the role they themselves play in society. It is for us to make the best of them we can, taking such prudent measures as are possible to enlist the forces they represent in works of common utility."
[Sidenote: Yes; for experience has intrinsic inalienable values.]
The philosopher's task, in these premisses, is to discover an escape from worldliness which shall offer a rational advance over it, such as fanaticism and mysticism cannot afford. Does the Life of Reason differ from that of convention? Is there a spirituality really wiser than common-sense? That there is appears in many directions. Worldliness is arrest and absorption in the instrumentalities of life; but instrumentalities cannot exist without ultimate purposes, and it suffices to lift the eyes to those purposes and to question the will sincerely about its essential preferences, to institute a catalogue of rational goods, by pursuing any of which we escape worldliness. Sense itself is one of these goods. The sensualist at least is not worldly, and though his nature be atrophied in all its higher part, there is not lacking, as we have seen, a certain internal and abstract spirituality in his experience. He is a sort of sprightly and incidental mystic, treating his varied succession of little worlds as the mystic does his monotonous universe. Sense, moreover, is capable of many refinements, by which physical existence becomes its own reward. In the disciplined play of fancy which the fine arts afford, the mind's free action justifies itself and becomes intrinsically delightful. Science not only exercises in itself the intellectual powers, but assimilates nature to the mind, so that all things may nourish it. In love and friendship the liberal life extends also to the heart. All these interests, which justify themselves by their intrinsic fruits, make so many rational episodes and patches in conventional life; but it must be confessed in all candour that these are but oases in the desert, and that as the springs of life are irrational, so its most vehement and prevalent interests remain irrational to the end. When the pleasures of sense and art, of knowledge and sympathy, are stretched to the utmost, what part will they cover and justify of our passions, our industry, our governments, our religion?
It was a signal error in those rationalists who attributed their ideal retrospectively to nature that they grotesquely imagined that people were hungry so that they might enjoy eating, or curious in order to delight in discovering the truth, or in love the better to live in conscious harmony. Such a view forgets that all the forces of life work originally and fundamentally a tergo, that experience and reason are not the ground of preference but its result. In order to live men will work disproportionately and eat all manner of filth without pleasure; curiosity as often as not leads to illusion, and argument serves to foster hatred of the truth; finally, love is notoriously a great fountain of bitterness and frequently a prelude to crime and death. When we have skimmed from life its incidental successes, when we have harvested the moments in which existence justifies itself, its profound depths remain below in their obscure commotion, depths that breed indeed a rational efflorescence, but which are far from exhausted in producing it, and continually threaten, on the contrary, to engulf it.
[Sidenote: For these the religious imagination must supply an ideal standard.]
The spiritual man needs, therefore, something more than a cultivated sympathy with the brighter scintillation of things. He needs to refer that scintillation to some essential light, so that in reviewing the motley aspects of experience he may not be reduced to culling superciliously the flowers that please him, but may view in them all only images and varied symbols of some eternal good. Spirituality has never flourished apart from religion, except momentarily, perhaps, in some master-mind, whose original intuitions at once became a religion to his followers. For it is religion that knows how to interpret the casual rationalities in the world and isolate their principle, setting this principle up in the face of nature as nature's standard and model. This ideal synthesis of all that is good, this consciousness that over earth floats its congenial heaven, this vision of perfection which gilds beauty and sanctifies grief, has taken form, for the most part, in such grossly material images, in a mythology so opaque and pseudo-physical, that its ideal and moral essence has been sadly obscured; nevertheless, every religion worthy of the name has put into its gods some element of real goodness, something by which they become representative of those scattered excellences and self-justifying bits of experience in which the Life of Reason consists.
That happy constitution which human life has at its best moments—that, says Aristotle, the divine life has continually. The philosopher thus expressed with absolute clearness the principle which the poets had been clumsily trying to embody from the beginning. Burdened as traditional faiths might be with cosmological and fanciful matter, they still presented in a conspicuous and permanent image that which made all good things good, the ideal and standard of all excellence. By the help of such symbols the spiritual man could steer and steady his judgment; he could say, according to the form religion had taken in his country, that the truly good was what God commanded, or what made man akin to the divine, or what led the soul to heaven. Such expressions, though taken more or less literally by a metaphysical intellect, did not wholly forfeit their practical and moral meaning. God, for a long time, was understood to command what in fact was truly important, the divine was long the truly noble and beautiful, heaven hardly ever ceased to respond to impersonal and ideal aspirations. Under those figures, therefore, the ideals of life could confront life with clearness and authority. The spiritual man, fixing his eyes on them, could live in the presence of ultimate purposes and ideal issues. Before each immediate task, each incidental pleasure, each casual success, he could retain his sweetness and constancy, accepting what good these moments brought and laying it on the altar of what they ought to bring.
[Sidenote: Possible tyranny of reason.]
Those whom a genuine spirituality has freed from the foolish enchantment of words and conventions and brought back to a natural ideal, have still another illusion to vanquish, one into which the very concentration and deepening of their life might lead them. This illusion is that they and their chosen interests alone are important or have a legitimate place in the moral world. Having discovered what is really good for themselves, they assume that the like is good for everybody. Having made a tolerable synthesis and purification of their own natures, they require every other nature to be composed of the same elements similarly combined. What they have vanquished in themselves they disregard in others; and the consequence sometimes is that an impossibly simplified and inconsiderate regimen is proposed to mankind, altogether unrepresentative of their total interests. Spiritual men, in a word, may fall into the aristocrat's fallacy; they may forget the infinite animal and vulgar life which remains quite disjointed, impulsive, and short-winded, but which nevertheless palpitates with joys and sorrows, and makes after all the bulk of moral values in this democratic world.
[Sidenote: Everything has its rights.]
After adopting an ideal it is necessary, therefore, without abandoning it, to recognise its relativity. The right path is in such a matter rather difficult to keep to. On the one hand lies fanatical insistence on an ideal once arrived at, no matter how many instincts and interests (the basis of all ideals) are thereby outraged in others and ultimately also in one's self. On the other hand lies mystical disintegration, which leads men to feel so keenly the rights of everything in particular and of the All in general, that they retain no hearty allegiance to any human interest. Between these two abysses winds the narrow path of charity and valour. The ultimate ideal is absolutely authoritative, because if any ground were found to relax allegiance to it in any degree or for any consideration, that ground would itself be the ideal, found to be more nearly absolute and ultimate than the one, hastily so called, which it corrected. The ultimate ideal, in order to maintain its finality and preclude the possibility of an appeal which should dislodge it from its place of authority, must have taken all interests into consideration; it must be universally representative. Now, to take an interest into consideration and represent it means to intend, as far as possible, to secure the particular good which that particular interest looks to, and never, whatever measures may be adopted, to cease to look back on the elementary impulse as upon something which ought, if possible, to have been satisfied, and which we should still go back and satisfy now, if circumstances and the claims of rival interests permitted.
Justice and charity are identical. To deny the initial right of any impulse is not morality but fanaticism. However determined may be the prohibition which reason opposes to some wild instinct, that prohibition is never reckless; it is never inconsiderate of the very impulse which it suppresses. It suppresses that impulse unwillingly, pitifully, under stress of compulsion and force majeure; for reason, in representing this impulse in the context of life and in relation to every other impulse which, in its operation, it would affect mechanically, rejects and condemns it; but it condemns it not by antecedent hate but by supervening wisdom. The texture of the natural world, the conflict of interests in the soul and in society, all of which cannot be satisfied together, is accordingly the ground for moral restrictions and compromises. Whatever the up-shot of the struggle may be, whatever the verdict pronounced by reason, the parties to the suit must in justice all be heard, and heard sympathetically.
[Sidenote: Primary and secondary morality.]
Herein lies the great difference between first-hand and second-hand morality. The retailers of moral truth, the town-criers that go shouting in the streets some sentence passed long ago in reason's court against some inadmissible desire, know nothing of justice or mercy or reason—three principles essentially identical. They thunder conclusions without remembering the premisses, and expose their precepts, daily, of course, grown more thin and unrepresentative, to the aversion and neglect of all who genuinely love what is good. The masters of life, on the contrary, the first framers and discoverers of moral ideals, are persons who disregard those worn conventions and their professional interpreters: they are persons who have a fresh sense for the universal need and cry of human souls, and reconstruct the world of duty to make it fit better with the world of desire and of possible happiness. Primary morality, inspired by love of something naturally good, is accordingly charitable and ready to forgive; while secondary morality, founded on prejudice, is fanatical and ruthless.
[Sidenote: Uncharitable pagan justice is not just.]
As virtue carries with it a pleasure which perfects it and without which virtue would evidently be spurious and merely compulsory, so justice carries with it a charity which is its highest expression, without which justice remains only an organised wrong. Of justice without charity we have a classic illustration in Plato's Republic and in general in the pagan world. An end is assumed, in this case an end which involves radical injustice toward every interest not included in it; and then an organism is developed or conceived that shall subserve that end, and political justice is defined as the harmonious adjustment of powers and functions within that organism. Reason and art suffice to discover the right methods for reaching the chosen end, and the polity thus established, with all its severities and sacrifices of personal will, is rationally grounded. The chosen end, however, is arbitrary, and, in fact, perverse; for to maintain a conventional city with stable institutions and perpetual military efficiency would not secure human happiness; nor (to pass to the individual virtue symbolised by such a state) would the corresponding discipline of personal habits, in the service of vested interests and bodily life, truly unfold the potentialities of the human spirit.
Plato himself, in passing, acknowledges that his political ideal is secondary and not ideal at all, since only luxury, corruption, and physical accidents make a military state necessary; but his absorption in current Greek questions made him neglect the initial question of all, namely, how a non-military and non-competitive state might be established, or rather how the remedial functions of the state might be forestalled by natural justice and rendered unnecessary. The violence which such a fallen ideal, with its iniquitous virtues, does to humanity appeared only too clearly in the sequel, when Platonism took refuge in the supernatural. The whole pagan world was convicted of injustice and the cities for whose glory the greatest heroes had lived and died were abandoned with horror. Only in a catacomb or a hermitage did there seem to be any room for the soul. This revulsion, perverse in its own way, expressed rightly enough the perversity of that unjust justice, those worldly and arbitrary virtues, and that sad happiness which had enslaved the world.
[Sidenote: The doom of ancient republics.]
Plato could never have answered the question whether his Republic had a right to exist and to brush aside all other commonwealths; he could never have justified the ways of man to the rest of creation nor (what is more pertinent) to man's more plastic and tenderer imagination. The initial impulses on which his Republic is founded, which make war, defensive and aggressive, the first business of the state, are not irresistible impulses, they do not correspond to ultimate ends. Physical life cannot justify itself; it cannot be made the purpose of those rational faculties which it generates; these, on the contrary, are its own end. The purpose of war must be peace; the purpose of competition a more general prosperity; the purpose of personal life ideal achievements. A polity which should not tend to abolish private lusts, competition, and war would be an irrational polity. The organisation which the ancients insisted on within each state, the sacrifices they imposed on each class in the community for the general welfare, have to be repeated in that greater commonwealth of which cities and nations are citizens; for their own existence and prosperity depends on conciliating inwardly all that may affect them and turning foreign forces, when contact with them is inevitable, into friends. Duty and co-operation must extend as far as do physical bonds, the function of reason being to bring life into harmony with its conditions, so as to render it self-perpetuating and free. This end can never be attained while the scope of moral fellowship is narrower than that of physical interplay. Ancient civilisation, brilliant in proportion to its inner integration, was brief in proportion to its outer injustice. By defying the external forces on which also a commonwealth depends, those commonwealths came to premature extinction.
[Sidenote: Rational charity.]
There is accordingly a justice deeper and milder than that of pagan states, a universal justice called charity, a kind of all-penetrating courtesy, by which the limits of personal or corporate interests are transgressed in imagination. Value is attributed to rival forms of life; something of the intensity and narrowness inherent in the private will is surrendered to admiration and solicitude for what is most alien and hostile to one's self. When this imaginative expansion ends in neutralising the will altogether, we have mysticism; but when it serves merely to co-ordinate felt interests with other actual interests conceived sympathetically, and to make them converge, we have justice and charity. Charity is nothing but a radical and imaginative justice. So the Buddhist stretches his sympathy to all real beings and to many imaginary monsters; so the Christian chooses for his love the diseased, the sinful, the unlovely. His own salvation does not seem to either complete unless every other creature also is redeemed and forgiven.
[Sidenote: Its limits.]
Such universal solicitude is rational, however, only when the beings to which it extends are in practical efficient relations with the life that would co-operate with theirs. In other words, charity extends only to physical and discoverable creatures, whose destiny is interwoven dynamically with our own. Absolute and irresponsible fancy can be the basis of no duty. If not to take other real forces and interests into account made classic states unstable and unjust, to take into consideration purely imaginary forces yields a polity founded on superstition, one unjust to those who live under it. A compromise made with non-existent or irrelevant interests is a wrong to the real interests on which that sacrifice is imposed gratuitously. All sacrifices exacted by mere religion have accordingly been inhuman; at best they have unintentionally made some amends by affording abstract discipline or artistic forms of expression. The sacrifice must be fruitful in the end and bring happiness to somebody: otherwise it cannot long remain tender or beautiful.
[Sidenote: Its mythical supports.]
Charity is seldom found uncoloured by fables which illustrate it and lend it a motive by which it can justify itself verbally. Metempsychosis, heaven and hell, Christ's suffering for every sinner, are notions by which charity has often been guided and warmed. Like myth everywhere, these notions express judgments which they do not originate, although they may strengthen or distort them in giving them expression. The same myths, in cruel hands, become goads to fanaticism. That natural sensitiveness in which charity consists has many degrees and many inequalities; the spirit bloweth where it listeth. Incidental circumstances determine its phases and attachments in life. Christian charity, for instance, has two chief parts: first, it hastens to relieve the body; then, forgetting physical economy altogether, it proceeds to redeem the soul. The bodily works of mercy which Christians perform with so much tact and devotion are not such as philanthropy alone would inspire; they are more and less than that. They are more, because they are done with a certain disproportionate and absolute solicitude, quite apart from ultimate benefit or a thought of the best distribution of energies; they are also less, because they stop at healing, and cannot pass beyond the remedial and incidental phase without ceasing to be Christian. The poor, says Christian charity, we have always with us; every man must be a sinner—else what obligation should he have to repent?—and, in fine, this world is essentially the kingdom of Satan. Charity comes only to relieve the most urgent bodily needs, and then to wean the heart altogether from mortal interests. Thus Christianity covers the world with hospitals and orphanages; but its only positive labours go on in churches and convents, nor will it found schools, if left to itself, to teach anything except religion. These offices may be performed with more or less success, with more or less appeal to the miraculous; but, with whatever mixture of magic and policy, Christian charity has never aimed at anything but healing the body and saving the soul.
[Sidenote: There is intelligence in charity.]
Christ himself, we may well feel, did not affect publicans and sinners, ignorant people and children, in order to save them in the regimental and prescriptive fashion adopted by the Church. He commanded those he forgave to sin no more and those he healed to go, as custom would have it, to the priest. He understood the bright good that each sinner was following when he stumbled into the pit. For this insight he was loved. To be rebuked in that sympathetic spirit was to be comforted; to be punished by such a hand was to be made whole. The Magdalene was forgiven because she had loved much; an absolution which rehabilitates the primary longing that had driven her on, a longing not insulted but comprehended in such an absolution, and purified by that comprehension. It is a charitable salvation which enables the newly revealed deity to be absolutely loved. Charity has this art of making men abandon their errors without asking them to forget their ideals.
[Sidenote: Buddhist and Christian forms of it.]
In Buddhism the same charity wears a more speculative form. All beings are to be redeemed from the illusion which is the fountain of their troubles. None is to be compelled to assume irrationally an alien set of duties or other functions than his own. Spirit is not to be incarcerated perpetually in grotesque and accidental monsters, but to be freed from all fatality and compulsion. The goal is not some more flattering incarnation, but escape from incarnation altogether. Ignorance is to be enlightened, passion calmed, mistaken destiny revoked; only what the inmost being desiderates, only what can really quiet the longings embodied in any particular will, is to occupy the redeemed mind. Here, though creative reason is wholly wanting, charity is truly understood; for it avails little to make of kindness a vicarious selfishness and to use neighbourly offices to plunge our neighbour deeper into his favourite follies. Such servile sympathy would make men one another's accomplices rather than friends. It would treat them with a weak promiscuous favour, not with true mercy and justice. In charity there can be nothing to repent of, as there so often is in natural love and in partisan propaganda. Christians have sometimes interpreted charity as zeal to bring men into their particular fold; or, at other times, when enthusiasm for doctrine and institutes has cooled, they have interpreted charity to be mere blind co-operation, no matter in what.
The Buddhists seem to have shown a finer sense in their ministry, knowing how to combine universal sympathy with perfect spirituality. There was no brow-beating in their call to conversion, no new tyranny imposed of sanctioned by their promised deliverance. If they could not rise to a positive conception of natural life, this inability but marks the well-known limitations of Oriental fancy, which has never been able to distinguish steadily that imagination which rests on and expresses material life from that which, in its import, breaks loose from the given conditions of life altogether, and is therefore monstrous and dreamful. But at least Buddhism knew how to sound the heart and pierce to the genuine principles of happiness and misery. If it did not venture to interpret reason positively, it at least forbore to usurp its inward and autonomous authority, and did not set up, in the name of salvation, some new partiality, some new principle of distress and illusion. In destroying worldliness this religion avoided imposture. The clearing it made in the soul was soon overgrown again by the inexorable Indian jungle; but had a virile intellect been at hand, it would have been free to raise something solid and rational in the space so happily swept clean of all accumulated rubbish.
[Sidenote: Apparent division of the spiritual and the natural.]
Against avarice, lust, and rancour, against cruel and vain national ambitions, tenderer and more recollected minds have always sought some asylum: but they have the seldom possessed enough knowledge of nature and of human life to distinguish clearly the genuine and innocent goods which they longed for, and their protest against "the world" has too often taken on a mystical and irrational accent. Charity, for instance, in its profounder deliverances, has become a protest against the illusion of personality; whereby existence and action seem to be wholly condemned after their principle has been identified with selfishness. An artificial puzzle is thus created, the same concept, selfishness or an irrational partiality and injustice in the will, being applied to two principles of action, the one wrong and the other necessary. Every man is necessarily the seat of his own desires, which, if truly fulfilled, would bring him satisfaction; but the objects in which that satisfaction may be found, and the forces that must co-operate to secure it, lie far afield, and his life will remain cramped and self-destructive so long as he does not envisage its whole basis and co-operate with all his potential allies.
The rationality which would then be attained is so immensely exalted above the microscopic vision and punctiform sensibility of those who think themselves practical, that speculative natures seem to be proclaiming another set of interests, another and quite miraculous life, when they attempt to thaw out and vivify the vulgar mechanism; and the sense of estrangement and contradiction often comes over the spiritually minded themselves, making them confess sadly that the kingdom of heaven is not of this world. As common morality itself falls easily into mythical expressions and speaks of a fight between conscience and nature, reason and the passions, as if these were independent in their origin or could be divided in their operation, so spiritual life even more readily opposes the ideal to the real, the revealed and heavenly truth to the extant reality, as if the one could be anything but an expression and fulfilment of the other. Being equal convinced that spiritual life is authoritative and possible, and that it is opposed to all that earthly experience has as yet supplied, the prophet almost inevitably speaks of another world above the clouds and another existence beyond the grave; he thus seeks to clothe in concrete and imaginable form the ideal to which natural existence seems to him wholly rebellious. Spiritual life comes to mean life abstracted from politics, from art, from sense, even in the end from morality. Natural motives and natural virtues are contrasted with those which are henceforth called supernatural, and all the grounds and sanctions of right living are transferred to another life. A doctrine of immortality thus becomes the favourite expression of religion. By its variations and greater or less transparency and ideality we can measure the degree of spiritual insight which has been reached at any moment.
THE BELIEF IN A FUTURE LIFE
[Sidenote: The length of life a subject for natural science.]
At no point are the two ingredients of religion, superstition and moral truth, more often confused than in the doctrine of immortality, yet in none are they more clearly distinguishable. Ideal immortality is a principle revealed to insight; it is seen by observing the eternal quality of ideas and validities, and the affinity to them native to reason or the cognitive energy of mind. A future life, on the contrary, is a matter for faith or presumption; it is a prophetic hypothesis regarding occult existences. This latter question is scientific and empirical, and should be treated as such. A man is, forensically speaking, the same man after the nightly break in his consciousness. After many changes in his body and after long oblivion, parcels of his youth may be revived and may come to figure again among the factors in his action. Similarly, if evidence to that effect were available, we might establish the resurrection of a given soul in new bodies or its activity in remote places and times. Evidence of this sort has in fact always been offered copiously by rumour and superstition. The operation of departed spirits, like that of the gods, has been recognised in many a dream, or message, or opportune succour. The Dioscuri and Saint James the Apostle have appeared—preferably on white horses—in sundry battles. Spirits duly invoked have repeated forgotten gossip and revealed the places where crimes had been committed or treasure buried. More often, perhaps, ghosts have walked the night without any ostensible or useful purpose, apparently in obedience to some ghastly compulsion that crept over them in death, as if a hesitating sickle had left them still hanging to life by one attenuated fibre.
[Sidenote: "Psychical" phenomena.]
The mass of this evidence, ancient and modern, traditional and statistical, is beneath consideration; the palpitating mood in which it is gathered and received, even when ostensibly scientific, is such that gullibility and fiction play a very large part in the report; for it is not to be assumed that a man, because he speaks in the first person and addresses a learned society, has lost the primordial faculty of lying. When due allowance has been made, however, for legend and fraud, there remains a certain residuum of clairvoyance and telepathy, and an occasional abnormal obedience of matter to mind which might pass for magic. There are unmistakable indications that in these regions we touch lower and more rudimentary faculties. There seems to be, as is quite natural, a sub-human sensibility in man, wherein ideas are connected together by bonds so irrational and tenacious that they seem miraculous to a mind already trained in practical and relevant thinking. This sub-human sense, far from representing important truths more clearly than ordinary apprehension can, reduces consciousness again to a tangle of trivial impressions, shots of uncertain range, as if a skin had not yet formed over the body. It emerges in tense and disorganised moments. Its reports are the more trifling the more startingly literal their veracity. It seems to represent a stratum of life beneath moral or intellectual functions, and beneath all personality. When proof has been found that a ghost has actually been seen, proof is required that the phantom has been rightly recognised and named; and this imputed identity is never demonstrable and in most cases impossible. So in the magic cures which from time immemorial have been recorded at shrines of all religions, and which have been attributed to wonder-workers of every sect: the one thing certain about them is that they prove neither the truth of whatever myth is capriciously associated with them, nor the goodness or voluntary power of the miracle-worker himself. Healer and medium are alike vehicles for some elemental energy they cannot control, and which as often as not misses fire; at best they feel a power going out of them which they themselves undergo, and which radiates from them like electricity, to work, as chance will have it, good or evil in the world. The whole operation lies, in so far as it really takes place at all, on the lowest levels of unintelligence, in a region closely allied to madness in consciousness and to sporadic organic impulses in the physical sphere.
[Sidenote: Hypertrophies of sense.]
Among the blind, the retina having lost its function, the rest of the skin is said to recover its primordial sensitiveness to distance and light, so that the sightless have a clearer premonition of objects about them than seeing people could have in the dark. So when reason and the ordinary processes of sense are in abeyance a certain universal sensibility seems to return to the soul; influences at other times not appreciable make then a sensible impression, and automatic reactions may be run through in response to a stimulus normally quite insufficient. Now the complexity of nature is prodigious; everything that happens leaves, like buried cities, almost indelible traces which an eye, by chance attentive and duly prepared, can manage to read, recovering for a moment the image of an extinct life. Symbols, illegible to reason, can thus sometimes read themselves out in trance and madness. Faint vestiges may be found in matter of forms which it once wore, or which, like a perfume, impregnated and got lodgment within it. Slight echoes may suddenly reconstitute themselves in the mind's silence; and a half-stunned consciousness may catch brief glimpses of long-lost and irrelevant things. Real ghosts are such reverberations of the past, exceeding ordinary imagination and discernment both in vividness and in fidelity; they may not be explicable without appealing to material influences subtler than those ordinarily recognised, as they are obviously not discoverable without some derangement and hypertrophy of the senses.
[Sidenote: These possibilities affect physical existence only.]
That such subtler influences should exist is entirely consonant with reason and experience; but only a hankering tenderness for superstition, a failure to appreciate the function both of religion and of science, can lead to reverence for such oracular gibberish as these influences provoke. The world is weary of experimenting with magic. In utter seriousness and with immense solemnity whole races have given themselves up to exploiting these shabby mysteries; and while a new survey of the facts, in the light of natural science and psychology, is certainly not superfluous, it can be expected to lead to nothing but a more detailed and conscientious description of natural processes. The thought of employing such investigations to save at the last moment religious doctrines founded on moral ideas is a pathetic blunder; the obscene supernatural has nothing to do with rational religion. If it were discovered that wretched echoes of a past life could be actually heard by putting one's ear long enough to a tomb, and if (per impossibile) those echoes could be legitimately attributed to another mind, and to the very mind, indeed, whose former body was interred there, a melancholy chapter would indeed be added to man's earthly fortunes, since it would appear that even after death he retained, under certain conditions, a fatal attachment to his dead body and to the other material instruments of his earthly life. Obviously such a discovery would teach us more about dying than about immortality; the truths disclosed, since they would be disclosed by experiment and observation, would be psycho-physical truths, implying nothing about what a truly disembodied life might be, if one were attainable; for a disembodied life could by no possibility betray itself in spectres, rumblings, and spasms. Actual thunders from Sinai and an actual discovery of two stone tables would have been utterly irrelevant to the moral authority of the ten commandments or to the existence of a truly supreme being. No less irrelevant to a supramundane immortality is the length of time during which human spirits may be condemned to operate on earth after their bodies are quiet. In other words, spectral survivals would at most enlarge our conception of the soul's physical basis, spreading out the area of its manifestations; they could not possibly, seeing the survivals are physical, reveal the disembodied existence of the soul.
[Sidenote: Moral grounds for the doctrine. The necessary assumption of a future.]
Such a disembodied existence, removed by its nature from the sphere of empirical evidence, might nevertheless be actual, and grounds of a moral or metaphysical type might be sought for postulating its reality. Life and the will to live are at bottom identical. Experience itself is transitive and can hardly arise apart from a forward effort and prophetic apprehension by which adjustments are made to a future unmistakably foreseen. This premonition, by which action seeks to justify and explain itself to reflection, may be analysed into a group of memories and sensations of movement, generating ideal expectations which might easily be disappointed; but scepticism about the future can hardly be maintained in the heat of action. A postulate acted on is an act of genuine and dogmatic faith. I not only postulate a morrow when I prepare for it, but ingenuously and heartily believe that the morrow will come. This faith does not amount to certitude; I may confess, if challenged, that before to-morrow I and the world and time itself might conceivably come to an end together; but that idle possibility, so long as it does not slacken action, will not disturb belief. Every moment of life accordingly trusts that life will continue; and this prophetic interpretation of action, so long as action lasts, amounts to continual faith in futurity.
[Sidenote: An assumption no evidence.]
A sophist might easily transform this psychological necessity into a dazzling proof of immortality. To believe anything, he might say, is to be active; but action involves faith in a future and in the fruits of action; and as no living moment can be without this confidence, belief in extinction would be self-contradictory and at no moment a possible belief. The question, however, is not whether every given moment has or has not a specious future before it to which it looks forward, but whether the realisation of such foresight, a realisation which during waking life is roughly usual, is incapable of failing. Now expectation, never without its requisite antecedents and natural necessity, often lacks fulfilment, and never finds its fulfilment entire; so that the necessity of a postulate gives no warrant for its verification. Expectation and action are constantly suspended together; and what happens whenever thought loses itself or stumbles, what happens whenever in its shifts it forgets its former objects, might well happen at crucial times to that train of intentions which we call a particular life or the life of humanity. The prophecy involved in action is not insignificant, but it is notoriously fallible and depends for its fulfilment on external conditions. The question accordingly really is whether a man expecting to live for ever or one expecting to die in his time has the more representative and trustworthy notion of the future. The question, so stated, cannot be solved by an appeal to evidence, which is necessarily all on one side, but only by criticising the value of evidence as against instinct and hope, and by ascertaining the relative status which assumption and observation have in experience.
The transcendental compulsion under which action labours of envisaging a future, and the animal instinct that clings to life and flees from death as the most dreadful of evils are the real grounds why immortality seems initially natural and good. Confidence in living for ever is anterior to the discovery that all men are mortal and to the discovery that the thinker is himself a man. These discoveries flatly contradict that confidence, in the form in which it originally presents itself, and all doctrines of immortality which adult philosophy can entertain are more or less subterfuges and after-thoughts by which the observed fact of mortality and the native inconceivability of death are more or less clumsily reconciled.
[Sidenote: A solipsistic argument.]
The most lordly and genuine fashion of asserting immortality would be to proclaim one's self an exception to the animal race and to point out that the analogy between one's singular self and others is altogether lame and purely conventional. Any proud barbarian, with a tincture of transcendental philosophy, might adopt this tone. "Creatures that perish," he might say, "are and can be nothing but puppets and painted shadows in my mind. My conscious will forbids its own extinction; it scorns to level itself with its own objects and instruments. The world, which I have never known to exist without me, exists by my co-operation and consent; it can never extinguish what lends it being. The death prophetically accepted by weaklings, with such small insight and courage, I mock and altogether defy: it can never touch me."
Such solipsistic boasts may not have been heard in historic times from the lips of men speaking in their own persons. Language has an irresistible tendency to make thought communistic and ideally transferable to others. It forbids a man to say of himself what it would be ridiculous to hear from another. Now solipsism in another man is a comic thing: and a mind, prompted perhaps by hell and heaven to speak solipsistically, is stopped by the laughable echo of its own words, when it remembers its bold sayings. Language, being social, resists a virgin egotism and forbids it to express itself publicly, no matter how well grounded it may be in transcendental logic and in animal instinct. Social convention is necessarily materialistic, since the beginning of all moral reasonableness consists in taming the transcendental conceit native to a living mind, in attaching it to its body, and bringing the will that thought itself absolute down to the rank of animals and men. Otherwise no man would acknowledge another's rights or even conceive his existence.
[Sidenote: Absoluteness and immortality transferred to the gods.]
Primeval solipsism—the philosophy of untamed animal will—has accordingly taken to the usual by-paths and expressed itself openly only in myth or by a speculative abstraction in which the transcendental spirit, for which all the solipsistic privileges were still claimed, was distinguished from the human individual. The gods, it was said, were immortal; and although on earth spirit must submit to the yoke and service of matter, on whose occasions it must wait, yet there existed in the ether other creatures more normally and gloriously compounded, since their forms served and expressed their minds, which ruled also over the elements and feared no assault from time. With the advent of this mythology experience and presumption divided their realms; experience was allowed to shape men's notions of vulgar reality, but presumption, which could not be silenced, was allowed to suggest a second sphere, thinly and momentarily veiled to mortal sense, in which the premonitions of will were abundantly realised.
This expedient had the advantage of endowing the world with creatures that really satisfied human aspirations, such as at any moment they might be. The gods possessed longevity, beauty, magic celerity of movement, leisure, splendour of life, indefinite strength, and practical omniscience. When the gods were also expressions for natural forces, this function somewhat prejudiced their ideality, and they failed to correspond perfectly to what their worshippers would have most esteemed; but religious reformers tended to expunge naturalism from theology and to represent the gods as entirely admirable. The Greek gods, to be sure, always continued to have genealogies, and the fact of having been born is a bad augury for immortality; but other religions, and finally the Greek philosophers themselves, conceived unbegotten gods, in whom the human rebellion against mutability was expressed absolutely.
Thus a place was found in nature for the constant and perpetual element which crude experience seems to contain or at least to suggest. Unfortunately the immortal and the human were in this mythology wholly divorced, so that while immortality was vindicated for something in the universe it was emphatically denied to man and to his works. Contemplation, to be satisfied with this situation, had to be heroically unselfish and resigned; the gods' greatness and glory had to furnish sufficient solace for all mortal defeats. At the same time all criticism had to be deprecated, for reflection would at once have pointed out that the divine life in question was either a personification of natural processes and thus really in flux and full of oblivion and imperfection, or else a hypostasis of certain mental functions and ideals, which could not really be conceived apart from the natural human life which they informed and from which they had been violently abstracted.
[Sidenote: Or to a divine principle in all beings.]
Another expedient was accordingly found, especially by mystics and critical philosophers, for uniting the mortal and immortal in existence while still distinguishing them in essence. Cur Deus Homo might be said to be the theme of all such speculations. Plato had already found the eternal in the form which the temporal puts on, or, if the phrase be preferred, had seen in the temporal and existential nothing but an individuated case of the ideal. The soul was immortal, unbegotten, impassible; the bodies it successively inhabited and the experience it gathered served merely to bring out its nature with greater or less completeness. To somewhat the same effect the German transcendentalists identified and distinguished the private and the universal spirit. What lived in each man and in each moment was the Absolute—for nothing else could really exist—and the expression which the Absolute there took on was but a transitional phase of its total self-expression, which, could it be grasped in its totality, would no longer seem subject to contradiction and flux. An immortal agent therefore went through an infinite series of acts, each transitory and relative to the others, but all possessed of inalienable reality and eternal significance. In such formulations the divorce was avoided between the intellectual and the sensuous factor in experience—a divorce which the myth about immortal gods and mortal men had introduced. On the other hand existential immortality was abandoned; only an ideal permanence, only significance, was allowed to any finite being, and the better or future world of which ancient poets had dreamt, Olympus, and every other heaven, was altogether abolished. There was an eternal universe where everything was transitory and a single immortal spirit at no two moments the same. The world of idealism realised no particular ideal, and least of all the ideal of a natural and personal immunity from death.
[Sidenote: In neither case is the individual immortal.]
First, then, a man may refuse to admit that he must die at all; then, abashed at the arrogance of that assertion, he may consider the immortal life of other creatures, like the earth and stars, which seem subject to no extinction, and he may ascribe to these a perpetual consciousness and personality. Finally, confessing the fabulous character of those deities, he may distinguish an immortal agent or principle within himself, identify it with the inner principle of all other beings, and contrast it with its varying and conditioned expressions. But scarcely is this abstraction attained when he must perceive its worthlessness, since the natural life, the concrete aims, and the personal career which immortality was intended to save from dissolution are wholly alien to a nominal entity which endures through all change, however fundamental, and cohabits with every nature, however hostile and odious to humanity. If immortality is to be genuine, what is immortal must be something definite, and if this immortality is to concern life and not mere significance or ideal definition, that which endures must be an individual creature with a fixed nucleus of habits and demands, so that its persistence may contain progress and achievement.
Herewith we may dismiss the more direct attempts to conceive and assert a future life. Their failure drives us to a consideration of indirect attempts to establish an unobservable but real immortality through revelation and dogma. Such an immortality would follow on transmigration or resurrection, and would be assigned to a supernatural sphere, a second empirical world present to the soul after death, where her fortunes would not be really conceivable without a reconstituted body and a new material environment.
[Sidenote: Possible forms of survival.]
Many a man dies too soon and some are born in the wrong age or station. Could these persons drink at the fountain of youth at least once more they might do themselves fuller justice and cut a better figure at last in the universe. Most people think they have stuff in them for greater things than time suffers them to perform. To imagine a second career is a pleasing antidote for ill-fortune; the poor soul wants another chance. But how should a future life be constituted if it is to satisfy this demand, and how long need it last? It would evidently have to go on in an environment closely analogous to earth; I could not, for instance, write in another world the epics which the necessity of earning my living may have stifled here, did that other world contain no time, no heroic struggles, or no metrical language. Nor is it clear that my epics, to be perfect, would need to be quite endless. If what is foiled in me is really poetic genius and not simply a tendency toward perpetual motion, it would not help me if in heaven, in lieu of my dreamt-of epics, I were allowed to beget several robust children. In a word, if hereafter I am to be the same man improved I must find myself in the same world corrected. Were I transformed into a cherub or transported into a timeless ecstasy, it is hard to see in what sense I should continue to exist. Those results might be interesting in themselves and might enrich the universe; they would not prolong my life nor retrieve my disasters.
For this reason a future life is after all best represented by those frankly material ideals which most Christians—being Platonists—are wont to despise. It would be genuine happiness for a Jew to rise again in the flesh and live for ever in Ezekiel's New Jerusalem, with its ceremonial glories and civic order. It would be truly agreeable for any man to sit in well-watered gardens with Mohammed, clad in green silks, drinking delicious sherbets, and transfixed by the gazelle-like glance of some young girl, all innocence and fire. Amid such scenes a man might remain himself and might fulfil hopes that he had actually cherished on earth. He might also find his friends again, which in somewhat generous minds is perhaps the thought that chiefly sustains interest in a posthumous existence. But to recognise his friends a man must find them in their bodies, with their familiar habits, voices, and interests; for it is surely an insult to affection to say that he could find them in an eternal formula expressing their idiosyncrasy. When, however, it is clearly seen that another life, to supplement this one, must closely resemble it, does not the magic of immortality altogether vanish? Is such a reduplication of earthly society at all credible? And the prospect of awakening again among houses and trees, among children and dotards, among wars and rumours of wars, still fettered to one personality and one accidental past, still uncertain of the future, is not this prospect wearisome and deeply repulsive? Having passed through these things once and bequeathed them to posterity, is it not time for each soul to rest? The universe doubtless contains all sorts of experiences, better and worse than the human; but it is idle to attribute to a particular man a life divorced from his circumstances and from his body.
[Sidenote: Arguments from retribution and need of opportunity.]
Dogmas about such a posthumous experience find some shadowy support in various illusions and superstitions that surround death, but they are developed into articulate prophecies chiefly by certain moral demands. One of these requires rewards and punishments more emphatic and sure than those which conduct meets with in this world. Another requires merely a more favourable and complete opportunity for the soul's development. Considerations like these are pertinent to moral philosophy. It touches the notion of duty whether an exact hedonistic retribution is to be demanded for what is termed merit and guilt: so that without such supernatural remuneration virtue, perhaps, would be discredited and deprived of a motive. It likewise touches the ideality and nobleness of life whether human aims can be realised satisfactorily only in the agent's singular person, so that the fruits of effort would be forth-with missed if the labourer himself should disappear.
[Sidenote: Ignoble temper of both.]
To establish justice in the world and furnish an adequate incentive to virtue was once thought the chief business of a future life. The Hebraic religions somewhat overreached themselves on these points: for the grotesque alternative between hell and heaven in the end only aggravated the injustice it was meant to remedy. Life is unjust in that it subordinates individuals to a general mechanical law, and the deeper and longer hold fate has on the soul, the greater that injustice. A perpetual life would be a perpetual subjection to arbitrary power, while a last judgment would be but a last fatality. That hell may have frightened a few villains into omitting a crime is perhaps credible; but the embarrassed silence which the churches, in a more sensitive age, prefer to maintain on that wholesome doctrine—once, as they taught, the only rational basis for virtue—shows how their teaching has to follow the independent progress of morals. Nevertheless, persons are not wanting, apparently free from ecclesiastical constraint, who still maintain that the value of life depends on its indefinite prolongation. By an artifice of reflection they substitute vanity for reason, and selfish for ingenuous instincts in man. Being apparently interested in nothing but their own careers, they forget that a man may remember how little he counts in the world and suffer that rational knowledge to inspire his purposes. Intense morality has always envisaged earthly goods and evils, and even when a future life has been accepted vaguely, it has never given direction to human will or aims, which at best it could only proclaim more emphatically. It may indeed be said that no man of any depth of soul has made his prolonged existence the touchstone of his enthusiasms. Such an instinct is carnal, and if immortality is to add a higher inspiration to life it must not be an immortality of selfishness. What a despicable creature must a man be, and how sunk below the level of the most barbaric virtue, if he cannot bear to live for his children, for his art, or for country!
[Sidenote: False optimistic postulate involved.]
To turn these moral questions, however, into arguments for a physical speculation, like that about human longevity, resurrection, or metempsychosis, a hybrid principle is required: thus, even if we have answered those moral questions in the conventional way and satisfied ourselves that personal immortality is a postulate of ethics, we cannot infer that immortality therefore exists unless we import into the argument a tremendous optimistic postulate, to the effect that what is requisite for moral rationality must in every instance be realised in experience.
Such an optimistic postulate, however, as the reader must have repeatedly observed, is made not only despite all experience but in ignorance of the conditions under which alone ideals are framed and retain their significance. Every ideal expresses individual and specific tendencies, proper at some moment to some natural creature; every ideal therefore has for its basis a part only of the dynamic world, so that its fulfilment is problematical and altogether adventitious to its existence and authority. To decide whether an ideal can be or will be fulfilled we must examine the physical relation between such organic forces as that ideal expresses and the environment in which those forces operate; we may then perceive how far a realisation of the given aims is possible, how far it must fail, and how far the aims in question, by a shift in their natural basis, will lapse and yield to others, possibly more capable of execution and more stable in the world. The question of success is a question of physics. To say that an ideal will be inevitably fulfilled simply because it is an ideal is to say something gratuitous and foolish. Pretence cannot in the end avail against experience.
[Sidenote: Transition to ideality.]
Nevertheless, it is important to define ideals even before their realisation is known to be possible, because they constitute one of the two factors whose interaction and adjustment is moral life, factors which are complementary and diverse in function and may be independently ascertained. The value of existences is wholly borrowed from their ideality, without direct consideration of their fate, while the existence of ideals is wholly determined by natural forces, without direct relation to their fulfilment. Existence and ideal value can therefore be initially felt and observed apart, although of course a complete description would lay bare physical necessity in the ideals entertained and inevitable ideal harmonies among the facts discovered. Human life, lying as it does in the midst of a larger process, will surely not be without some congruity with the universe. Every creature lends potential values to a world in which it can satisfy some at least of its demands and learn, perhaps, to modify the others. Happiness is always a natural and an essentially possible thing, and a total despair, since it ignores those goods which are attainable, can express only a partial experience. But before considering in what ways a disciplined soul might make its peace with reality, we may consider what an undisciplined soul in the first instance desires; and from this starting-point we may trace her chastening and education, observing the ideal compensations which may console her for lost illusions.
[Sidenote: Olympian immortality the first ideal.]
In order to give the will to live frank and direct satisfaction, it would have been necessary to solve the problem of perpetual motion in the animal body, as nature has approximately solved it in the solar system. Nutrition should have continually repaired all waste, so that the cycle of youth and age might have repeated itself yearly in every individual, like summer and winter on the earth. Nor are some hints of such an equilibrium altogether wanting. Convalescence, sudden good fortune, a belated love, and even the April sunshine or morning air, bring about a certain rejuvenescence in man prophetic of what is not ideally impossible—perpetuity and constant reinforcement in his vital powers. Had nature furnished the elixir of life, or could art have discovered it, the whole face of human society would have been changed. The earth once full, no more children would have been begotten and parental instincts would have been atrophied for want of function. All men would have been contemporaries and, having all time before them for travel and experiment, would have allied themselves eventually with what was most congenial to them and would have come to be bound only by free and friendly ties. They would all have been well known and would have acted perpetually in their ultimate and true character, like the immortal gods. One might have loved fixity, like Hestia, and another motion, like Hermes; a third might have been untiring in the plastic arts, like Hephaestus, or, like Apollo, in music; while the infinite realms of mathematics and philosophy would have lain open to spirits of a quality not represented in Homer's pantheon.
That man's primary and most satisfying ideal is something of this sort is clear in itself, and attested by mythology; for the great use of the gods is that they interpret the human heart to us, and help us, while we conceive them, to discover our inmost ambition and, while we emulate them, to pursue it. Christian fancy, because of its ascetic meagreness and fear of life, has not known how to fill out the picture of heaven and has left it mystical and vague; but whatever paradise it has ventured to imagine has been modelled on the same primary ideal. It has represented a society of eternal beings among which there was no marriage nor giving in marriage and where each found his congenial mansion and that perfected activity which brings inward peace.
After this easy fashion were death and birth conquered in the myths, which truly interpreted the will to live according to its primary intention, but in reality such direct satisfaction was impossible. A total defeat, on the other hand, would have extinguished the will itself and obliterated every human impulse seeking expression. Man's existence is proof enough that nature was not altogether unpropitious, but offered, in an unlooked-for direction, some thoroughfare to the soul. Roundabout imperfect methods were discovered by which something at least of what was craved might be secured. The individual perished, yet not without having segregated and detached a certain portion of himself capable of developing a second body and mind. The potentialities of this seminal portion, having been liberated long after the parent body had begun to feel the shock of the world, could reach full expression after the parent body had begun to decay; and the offspring needed not itself to succumb before it had launched a third generation. A cyclical life or arrested death, a continual motion by little successive explosions, could thus establish itself and could repeat from generation to generation a process not unlike nutrition; only that, while in nutrition the individual form remains and the inner substance is renewed insensibly, in reproduction the form is renewed openly and the inner substance is insensibly continuous.
[Sidenote: Its indirect attainment by reproduction.]
Reproduction seems, from the will's point of view, a marvellous expedient involving a curious mixture of failure and success. The individual, who alone is the seat and principle of will, is thereby sacrificed, so that reproduction is no response to his original hopes and aspirations; yet in a double way he is enticed and persuaded to be almost satisfied: first, in that so like a counterfeit of himself actually survives, a creature to which all his ideal interests may be transmitted; and secondly, because a new and as it were a rival aim is now insinuated into his spirit. For the impulse toward reproduction has now become no less powerful, even if less constant, than the impulse toward nutrition; in other words, the will to live finds itself in the uncongenial yet inevitable company of the will to have an heir. Reproduction thus partly entertains the desire to be immortal by giving it a vicarious fulfilment, and partly cancels it by adding an impulse and joy which, when you think of it, accepts mortality. For love, whether sexual, parental, or fraternal, is essentially sacrificial, and prompts a man to give his life for his friends. In thus losing his life gladly he in a sense finds it anew, since it has now become a part of his function and ideal to yield his place to others and to live afterwards only in them. While the primitive and animal side of him may continue to cling to existence at all hazards and to find the thought of extinction intolerable, his reason and finer imagination will build a new ideal on reality better understood, and be content that the future he looks to should be enjoyed by others. When we consider such a natural transformation and discipline of the will, when we catch even a slight glimpse of nature's resources and mysteries, how thin and verbal those belated hopes must seem which would elude death and abolish sacrifice! Such puerile dreams not only miss the whole pathos of human life, but ignore those specifically mortal virtues which might console us for not being so radiantly divine as we may at first have thought ourselves. Nature, in denying us perennial youth, has at least invited us to become unselfish and noble.
A first shift in aspiration, a capacity for radical altruism, thus supervenes upon the lust to live and accompanies parental and social interests. The new ideal, however, can never entirely obliterate the old and primary one, because the initial functions which the old Adam exclusively represented remain imbedded in the new life, and are its physical basis. If the nutritive soul ceased to operate, the reproductive soul could never arise; to be altruistic we must first be, and spiritual interests can never abolish or cancel the material existence on which they are grafted. The consequence is that death, even when circumvented by reproduction and relieved by surviving impersonal interests, remains an essential evil. It may be accepted as inevitable, and the goods its intrusion leaves standing may be heartily appreciated and pursued; but something pathetic and incomplete will always attach to a life that looks to its own termination.