The Varieties Of Religious Experience, by William James
Circumscription Of The Topic
books on the philosophy of religion try to begin with
a precise definition of what its essence consists of.
Some of these would-be definitions may possibly
come before us in later portions of this course, and I
shall not be pedantic enough to enumerate any of them
to you now. Meanwhile the very fact that they are so many
and so different from one another is enough to prove that
the word "religion" cannot stand for any single
principle or essence, but is rather a collective name.
The theorizing mind tends always to the oversimplification
of its materials.
This is the root of all that absolutism and one-sided
dogmatism by which both philosophy and religion have been
infested. Let us not fall immediately into a one-sided view of our subject,
but let us rather admit freely at the outset that we may
very likely find no one essence, but many characters which
may alternately be equally important to religion.
If we should inquire for the essence of "government,"
for example, one man might tell us it was authority, another
submission, an other police, another an army, another
an assembly, an other a system of laws; yet all the while
it would be true that no concrete government can exist
without all these things, one of which is more important
at one moment and others at another.
The man who knows governments most completely is
he who troubles himself least about a definition which
shall give their essence.
Enjoying an intimate acquaintance with all their
particularities in turn, he would naturally regard an
abstract conception in which these were unified as a thing
more misleading than enlightening.
And why may not religion be a conception equally
I can do no better here than refer my readers to
the extended and admirable remarks on the futility of
all these definitions of religion, in an article by Professor
Leuba, published in the Monist for January, 1901, after
my own text was written.
also the "religious sentiment" which we see
referred to in so many books, as if it were a single sort
of mental entity. In the psychologies and in the philosophies of religion, we
find the authors attempting to specify just what entity
it is. One
man allies it to the feeling of dependence; one makes
it a derivative from fear; others connect it with the
sexual life; others still identify it with the feeling
of the infinite; and so on.
Such different ways of conceiving it ought of themselves
to arouse doubt as to whether it possibly can be one specific
thing; and the moment we are willing to treat the term
"religious sentiment" as a collective name for
the many sentiments which religious objects may arouse
in alternation, we see that it probably contains nothing
whatever of a psychologically specific nature. There is
religious fear, religious love, religious awe, religious
joy, and so forth.
But religious love is only man's natural emotion
of love directed to a religious object; religious fear
is only the ordinary fear of commerce, so to speak, the
common quaking of the human breast, in so far as the notion
of divine retribution may arouse it; religious awe is
the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight,
or in a mountain gorge; only this time it comes over us
at the thought of our supernatural relations; and similarly
of all the various sentiments which may be called into
play in the lives of religious persons.
As concrete states of mind, made up of a feeling
PLUS a specific sort of object, religious emotions of
course are psychic entities distinguishable from other
concrete emotions; but there is no ground for assuming
a simple abstract "religious emotion" to exist
as a distinct elementary mental affection by itself, present
in every religious experience without exception.
there thus seems to be no one elementary religious emotion,
but only a common storehouse of emotions upon which religious
objects may draw, so there might conceivably also prove
to he no one specific and essential kind of religious
object, and no one specific and essential kind of religious
field of religion being as wide as this, it is manifestly
impossible that I should pretend to cover it.
My lectures must be limited to a fraction of the
although it would indeed be foolish to set up an abstract
definition of religion's essence, and then proceed to
defend that definition against all comers, yet this need
not prevent me from taking my own narrow view of what
religion shall consist in FOR THE PURPOSE OF THESE LECTURES,
or, out of the many meanings of the word, from choosing
the one meaning in which I wish to interest you particularly,
and proclaiming arbitrarily that when I say "religion"
I mean THAT. This,
in fact, is what I must do, and I will now preliminarily
seek to mark out the field I choose.
way to mark it out easily is to say what aspects of the
subject we leave out.
At the outset we are struck by one great partition
which divides the religious field.
On the one side of it lies institutional, on the
other personal religion. As M. P. Sabatier says, one branch
of religion keeps the divinity, another keeps man most
in view. Worship
and sacrifice, procedures for working on the dispositions
of the deity, theology and ceremony and ecclesiastical
organization, are the essentials of religion in the institutional
branch. Were we to limit our view to it, we should have
to define religion as an external art, the art of winning
the favor of the gods.
In the more personal branch of religion it is on
the contrary the inner dispositions of man himself which
form the center of interest, his conscience, his deserts,
his helplessness, his incompleteness.
And although the favor of the God, as forfeited
or gained, is still an essential feature of the story,
and theology plays a vital part therein, yet the acts
to which this sort of religion prompts are personal not
ritual acts, the individual transacts the business by
himself alone, and the ecclesiastical organization, with
its priests and sacraments and other go-betweens, sinks
to an altogether secondary place.
The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from
soul to soul, between man and his maker.
in these lectures I propose to ignore the institutional
branch entirely, to say nothing of the ecclesiastical
organization, to consider as little as possible the systematic
theology and the ideas about the gods themselves, and
to confine myself as far as I can to personal religion
pure and simple.
To some of you personal religion, thus nakedly
considered, will no doubt seem too incomplete a thing
to wear the general name.
"It is a part of religion," you will
say, "but only its unorganized rudiment; if we are
to name it by itself, we had better call it man's conscience
or morality than his religion.
The name 'religion' should be reserved for the
fully organized system of feeling, thought, and institution,
for the Church, in short, of which this personal religion,
so called, is but a fractional element."
if you say this, it will only show the more plainly how
much the question of definition tends to become a dispute
than prolong such a dispute, I am willing to accept almost
any name for the personal religion of which I propose
to treat. Call
it conscience or morality, if you yourselves prefer, and
not religion--under either name it will be equally worthy
of our study. As
for myself, I think it will prove to contain some elements
which morality pure and simple does not contain, and these
elements I shall soon seek to point out; so I will myself
continue to apply the word "religion" to it;
and in the last lecture of all, I will bring in the theologies
and the ecclesiasticisms, and say something of its relation
one sense at least the personal religion will prove itself
more fundamental than either theology or ecclesiasticism.
Churches, when once established, live at second-hand upon
tradition; but the FOUNDERS of every church owed their
power originally to the fact of their direct personal
communion with the divine.
Not only the superhuman founders, the Christ, the
Buddha, Mahomet, but all the originators of Christian
sects have been in this case;--so personal religion should
still seem the primordial thing, even to those who continue
to esteem it incomplete.
are, it is true, other things in religion chronologically
more primordial than personal devoutness in the moral
and magic seem to have preceded inward piety historically--at
least our records of inward piety do not reach back so
if fetishism and magic be regarded as stages of religion,
one may say that personal religion in the inward sense
and the genuinely spiritual ecclesiasticisms which it
founds are phenomena of secondary or even tertiary order.
But, quite apart from the fact that many anthropologists--for
instance, Jevons and Frazer --expressly oppose "religion"
and "magic" to each other, it is certain that
the whole system of thought which leads to magic, fetishism,
and the lower superstitions may just as well be called
primitive science as called primitive religion. The question
thus becomes a verbal one again; and our knowledge of
all these early stages of thought and feeling is in any
case so conjectural and imperfect that farther discussion
would not be worth while.
therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall
mean for us THE FEELINGS, ACTS, AND EXPERIENCES OF INDIVIDUAL
MEN IN THEIR SOLITUDE, SO FAR AS THEY APPREHEND THEMSELVES
TO STAND IN RELATION TO WHATEVER THEY MAY CONSIDER THE
the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual,
it is evident that out of religion in the sense in which
we take it, theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical
organizations may secondarily grow.
In these lectures, however, as I have already said,
the immediate personal experiences will amply fill our
time, and we shall hardly consider theology or ecclesiasticism
escape much controversial matter by this arbitrary definition
of our field. But,
still, a chance of controversy comes up over the word
"divine," if we take the definition in too narrow
a sense. There
are systems of thought which the world usually calls religious,
and yet which do not positively assume a God.
Buddhism is in this case.
Popularly, of course, the Buddha himself stands
in place of a God; but in strictness the Buddhistic system
is atheistic. Modern transcendental idealism, Emersonianism, for instance,
also seems to let God evaporate into abstract Ideality. Not a deity in concreto, not a superhuman person, but the immanent
divinity in things, the essentially spiritual structure
of the universe, is the object of the transcendentalist
that address to the graduating class at Divinity College
in 1838 which made Emerson famous, the frank expression
of this worship of mere abstract laws was what made the
scandal of the performance.
laws," said the speaker, "execute themselves.
They are out of time, out of space, and not subject
Thus, in the soul of man there is a justice whose
retributions are instant and entire.
He who does a good deed is instantly ennobled.
He who does a mean deed is by the action itself
who puts off impurity thereby puts on purity.
If a man is at heart just, then in so far is he
God; the safety of God, the immortality of God, the majesty
of God, do enter into that man with justice.
If a man dissemble, deceive, he deceives himself,
and goes out of acquaintance with his own being.
Character is always known.
Thefts never enrich; alms never impoverish; murder
will speak out of stone walls.
The least admixture of a lie--for example, the
taint of vanity, any attempt to make a good impression,
a favorable appearance--will instantly vitiate the effect.
But speak the truth, and all things alive or brute
are vouchers, and the very roots of the grass underground
there do seem to stir and move to bear your witness.
For all things proceed out of the same spirit,
which is differently named love, justice, temperance,
in its different applications, just as the ocean receives
different names on the several shores which it washes.
In so far as he roves from these ends, a man bereaves
himself of power, of auxiliaries.
His being shrinks .
. . he becomes less and less, a mote, a point,
until absolute badness is absolute death. The perception of this law awakens in the mind a sentiment
which we call the religious sentiment, and which makes
our highest happiness.
Wonderful is its power to charm and to command.
It is a mountain air.
It is the embalmer of the world.
makes the sky and the hills sublime, and the silent song
of the stars is it.
It is the beatitude of man.
It makes him illimitable.
When he says 'I ought'; when love warns him; when
he chooses, warned from on high, the good and great deed;
then, deep melodies wander through his soul from supreme
wisdom. Then he can worship, and be enlarged by his worship; for he
can never go behind this sentiment.
All the expressions of this sentiment are sacred
and permanent in proportion to their purity.
[They] affect us more than all other compositions.
The sentences of the olden time, which ejaculate this
piety, are still fresh and fragrant.
And the unique impression of Jesus upon mankind,
whose name is not so much written as ploughed into the
history of this world, is proof of the subtle virtue of
Miscellanies, 1868, p. 120 (abridged).
is the Emersonian religion.
The universe has a divine soul of order, which
soul is moral, being also the soul within the soul of
whether this soul of the universe be a mere quality like
the eye's brilliancy or the skin's softness, or whether
it be a self-conscious life like the eye's seeing or the
skin's feeling, is a decision that never unmistakably
appears in Emerson's pages.
It quivers on the boundary of these things, sometimes
leaning one way sometimes the other, to suit the literary
rather than the philosophic need.
Whatever it is, though, it is active.
As much as if it were a God, we can trust it to
protect all ideal interests and keep the world's balance
straight. The sentences in which Emerson, to the very end, gave utterance
to this faith are as fine as anything in literature: "If you love and serve men, you cannot by any hiding or
stratagem escape the remuneration.
Secret retributions are always restoring the level,
when disturbed, of the divine justice.
It is impossible to tilt the beam.
All the tyrants and proprietors and monopolists
of the world in vain set their shoulders to heave the
forevermore the ponderous equator to its line, and man
and mote, and star and sun, must range to it, or be pulverized
by the recoil."
Lectures and Biographical Sketches, 1868, p. 186.
it would be too absurd to say that the inner experiences
that underlie such expressions of faith as this and impel
the writer to their utterance are quite unworthy to be
called religious experiences.
The sort of appeal that Emersonian optimism, on
the one hand, and Buddhistic pessimism, on the other,
make to the individual and the son of response which he
makes to them in his life are in fact indistinguishable
from, and in many respects identical with, the best Christian
appeal and response.
We must therefore, from the experiential point
of view, call these godless or quasi-godless creeds "religions";
and accordingly when in our definition of religion we
speak of the individual's relation to "what he considers
the divine," we must interpret the term "divine"
very broadly, as denoting any object that is god- LIKE,
whether it be a concrete deity or not.
But the term "godlike," if thus treated
as a floating general quality, becomes exceedingly vague,
for many gods have flourished in religious history, and
their attributes have been discrepant enough.
What then is that essentially godlike quality--be
it embodied in a concrete deity or not--our relation to
which determines our character as religious men? It will repay us to seek some answer to this question before
we proceed farther.
one thing, gods are conceived to be first things in the
way of being and power.
They overarch and envelop, and from them there
is no escape. What
relates to them is the first and last word in the way
of truth. Whatever
then were most primal and enveloping and deeply true might
at this rate be treated as godlike, and a man's religion
might thus be identified with his attitude, whatever it
might be, toward what he felt to be the primal truth.
a definition as this would in a way be defensible. Religion,
whatever it is, is a man's total reaction upon life, so
why not say that any total reaction upon life is a religion?
Total reactions are different from casual reactions, and
total attitudes are different from usual or professional
get at them you must go behind the foreground of existence
and reach down to that curious sense of the whole residual
cosmos as an everlasting presence, intimate or alien,
terrible or amusing, lovable or odious, which in some
degree everyone possesses.
This sense of the world's presence, appealing as
it does to our peculiar individual temperament, makes
us either strenuous or careless, devout or blasphemous,
gloomy or exultant, about life at large; and our reaction,
involuntary and inarticulate and often half unconscious
as it is, is the completest of all our answers to the
question, "What is the character of this universe
in which we dwell?"
It expresses our individual sense of it in the
most definite way.
Why then not call these reactions our religion,
no matter what specific character they may have?
Non-religious as some of these reactions may be,
in one sense of the word "religious," they yet
belong to THE GENERAL SPHERE OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE, and
so should generically be classed as religious reactions.
"He believes in No-God, and he worships him,"
said a colleague of mine of a student who was manifesting
a fine atheistic ardor; and the more fervent opponents
of Christian doctrine have often enough shown a temper
which, psychologically considered, is indistinguishable
from religious zeal.
so very broad a use of the word "religion" would
be inconvenient, however defensible it might remain on
There are trifling, sneering attitudes even toward
the whole of life; and in some men these attitudes are
final and systematic.
It would strain the ordinary use of language too
much to call such attitudes religious, even though, from
the point of view of an unbiased critical philosophy,
they might conceivably be perfectly reasonable ways of
looking upon life.
Voltaire, for example, writes thus to a friend,
at the age of seventy-three:
"As for myself," he says, "weak
as I am, I carry on the war to the last moment, I get
a hundred pike-thrusts, I return two hundred, and I laugh.
I see near my door Geneva on fire with quarrels
over nothing, and I laugh again; and, thank God, I can
look upon the world as a farce even when it becomes as
tragic as it sometimes does. All comes out even at the
end of the day, and all comes out still more even when
all the days are over."
as we may admire such a robust old gamecock spirit in
a valetudinarian, to call it a religious spirit would
be odd. Yet
it is for the moment Voltaire's reaction on the whole
of life. Je
me'n fiche is the vulgar French equivalent for our English
ejaculation "Who cares?"
And the happy term je me'n fichisme recently has
been invented to designate the systematic determination
not to take anything in <37> life too solemnly.
"All is vanity" is the relieving word
in all difficult crises for this mode of thought, which
that exquisite literary genius Renan took pleasure, in
his later days of sweet decay, in putting into coquettishly
sacrilegious forms which remain to us as excellent expressions
of the "all is vanity" state of mind.
Take the following passage, for example--we must
hold to duty, even against the evidence, Renan says--but
he then goes on:--
are many chances that the world may be nothing but a fairy
pantomime of which no God has care.
We must therefore arrange ourselves so that on
neither hypothesis we shall be completely wrong.
We must listen to the superior voices, but in such
a way that if the second hypothesis were true we should
not have been too completely duped.
If in effect the world be not a serious thing,
it is the dogmatic people who will be the shallow ones,
and the worldly minded whom the theologians now call frivolous
will be those who are really wise.
utrumque paratus, then.
Be ready for anything--that perhaps is wisdom.
Give ourselves up, according to the hour, to confidence,
to skepticism, to optimism, to irony and we may be sure
that at certain moments at least we shall be with the
truth. . . . Good-humor
is a philosophic state of mind; it seems to say to Nature
that we take her no more seriously than she takes us.
I maintain that one should always talk of philosophy
with a smile. We
owe it to the Eternal to be virtuous but we have the right
to add to this tribute our irony as a sort of personal
this way we return to the right quarter jest for jest;
we play the trick that has been played on us. Saint Augustine's
if we arc deceived, it is by thee! remains a fine one,
well suited to our modern feeling.
Only we wish the Eternal to know that if we accept
the fraud, we accept it knowingly and willingly.
We are resigned in advance to losing the interest
on our investments of virtue, but we wish not to appear
ridiculous by having counted on them too securely."
 Feuilles detachees, pp. 394-398 (abridged).
all the usual associations of the word "religion"
would have to be stripped away if such a systematic parti
pris of irony were also to be denoted by the name.
For common men "religion," whatever more
special meanings it may have, signifies always a SERIOUS
state of mind. If
any one phrase could gather its universal message, that
phrase would be, "All is not vanity in this Universe,
whatever the appearances may suggest."
If it can stop anything, religion as commonly apprehended
can stop just such chaffing talk as Renan's.
It favors gravity, not pertness; it says "hush"
to all vain chatter and smart wit.
if hostile to light irony, religion is equally hostile
to heavy grumbling and complaint.
The world appears tragic enough in some religions,
but the tragedy is realized as purging, and a way of deliverance
is held to exist. We shall see enough of the religious
melancholy in a future lecture; but melancholy, according
to our ordinary use of language, forfeits all title to
be called religious when, in Marcus Aurelius's racy words,
the sufferer simply lies kicking and screaming after the
fashion of a sacrificed pig.
The mood of a Schopenhauer or a Nietzsche--and
in a less degree one may sometimes say the same of our
own sad Carlyle--though often an ennobling sadness, is
almost as often only peevishness running away with the
bit between its teeth.
The sallies of the two German authors remind one,
half the time, of the sick shriekings of two dying rats.
They lack the purgatorial note which religious
sadness gives forth.
must be something solemn, serious, and tender about any
attitude which we denominate religious.
If glad, it must not grin or snicker; if sad, it
must not scream or curse.
It is precisely as being SOLEMN experiences that
I wish to interest you in religious experiences. So I propose--arbitrarily again, if you please--to narrow our
definition once more by saying that the word "divine,"
as employed therein, shall mean for us not merely the
primal and enveloping and real, for that meaning if taken
without restriction might prove too broad.
The divine shall mean for us only such a primal
reality as the individual feels impelled to respond to
solemnly and gravely, and neither by a curse nor a jest.
solemnity, and gravity, and all such emotional attributes,
admit of various shades; and, do what we will with our
defining, the truth must at last be confronted that we
are dealing with a field of experience where there is
not a single conception that can be sharply drawn.
The pretension, under such conditions, to be rigorously
"scientific" or "exact" in our terms
would only stamp us as lacking in understanding of our
are more or less divine, states of mind are more or less
religious, reactions are more or less total, but the boundaries
are always misty, and it is everywhere a question of amount
and degree. Nevertheless,
at their extreme of development, there can never be any
question as to what experiences are religious.
The divinity of the object and the solemnity of
the reaction are too well marked for doubt.
Hesitation as to whether a state of mind is "religious,"
or "irreligious," or "moral," or "philosophical,"
is only likely to arise when the state of mind is weakly
characterized, but in that case it will be hardly worthy
of our study at all.
With states that can only by courtesy be called
religious we need have nothing to do, our only profitable
business being with what nobody can possibly feel tempted
to call anything else.
I said in my former lecture that we learn most
about a thing when we view it under a microscope, as it
were, or in its most exaggerated form.
This is as true of religious phenomena as of any
other kind of fact.
The only cases likely to be profitable enough to
repay our attention will therefore be cases where the
religious spirit is unmistakable and extreme.
Its fainter manifestations we may tranquilly pass
for example, is the total reaction upon life of Frederick
Locker Lampson, whose autobiography, entitled
"Confidences," proves him to have been
a most amiable man.
am so far resigned to my lot that I feel small pain at
the thought of having to part from what has been called
the pleasant habit of existence, the sweet fable of life.
I would not care to live my wasted life over again,
and so to prolong my span. Strange to say, I have but little wish to be younger.
I submit with a chill at my heart.
I humbly submit because it is the Divine Will,
and my appointed destiny.
I dread the increase of infirmities that will make
me a burden to those around me, those dear to me. No!
let me slip away as quietly and comfortably as I can.
Let the end come, if peace come with it.
do not know that there is a great deal to be said for
this world, or our sojourn here upon it; but it has pleased
God so to place us, and it must please me also.
I ask you, what is human life?
Is not it a maimed happiness--care and weariness,
weariness and care, with the baseless expectation, the
strange cozenage of a brighter to-morrow?
At best it is but a froward child, that must be
played with and humored, to keep it quiet till it falls
asleep, and then the care is over."
Op. cit., pp. 314, 313.
is a complex, a tender, a submissive, and a graceful state
of mind. For
myself, I should have no objection to calling it on the
whole a religious state of mind, although I dare say that
to many of you it may seem too listless and half-hearted
to merit so good a name.
But what matters it in the end whether we call
such a state of mind religious or not?
It is too insignificant for our instruction in
any case; and its very possessor wrote it down in terms
which he would not have used unless he had been thinking
of more energetically religious moods in others, with
which he found himself unable to compete.
It is with these more energetic states that our
sole business lies, and we can perfectly well afford to
let the minor notes and the uncertain border go.
It was the extremer cases that I had in mind a
little while ago when I said that personal religion, even
without theology or ritual, would prove to embody some
elements that morality pure and simple does not contain. You may remember that I promised shortly to point out what
those elements were.
In a general way I can now say what I had in mind.
accept the universe" is reported to have been a favorite
utterance of our New England transcendentalist, Margaret
Fuller; and when some one repeated this phrase to Thomas
Carlyle, his sardonic comment is said to have been:
"Gad! she'd better!"
At bottom the whole concern of both morality and
religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe.
Do we accept it only in part and grudgingly, or
heartily and altogether?
Shall our protests against certain things in it
be radical and unforgiving, or shall we think that, even
with evil, there are ways of living that must lead to
we accept the whole, shall we do so as if stunned into
submission--as Carlyle would have us--"Gad! we'd
better!"--or shall we do so with enthusiastic assent?
Morality pure and simple accepts the law of the
whole which it finds reigning, so far as to acknowledge
and obey it, but it may obey it with the heaviest and
coldest heart, and never cease to feel it as a yoke.
But for religion, in its strong and fully developed
manifestations, the service of the highest never is felt
as a yoke. Dull
submission is left far behind, and a mood of welcome,
which may fill any place on the scale between cheerful
serenity and enthusiastic gladness, has taken its place.
makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference
to one whether one accept the universe in the drab discolored
way of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate
happiness of Christian saints. The difference is as great as that between passivity and activity,
as that between the defensive and the aggressive mood.
Gradual as are the steps by which an individual
may grow from one state into the other, many as are the
intermediate stages which different individuals represent,
yet when you place the typical extremes beside each other
for comparison, you feel that two discontinuous psychological
universes confront you, and that in passing from one to
the other a "critical point" has been overcome.
we compare stoic with Christian ejaculations we see much
more than a difference of doctrine; rather is it a difference
of emotional mood that parts them.
When Marcus Aurelius reflects on the eternal reason
that has ordered things, there is a frosty chill about
his words which you rarely find in a Jewish, and never
in a Christian piece of religious writing.
The universe is "accepted" by all these
writers; but how devoid of passion or exultation the spirit
of the Roman Emperor is!
Compare his fine sentence:
"If gods care not for me or my children, here
is a reason for it," with Job's cry:
"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him!"
and you immediately see the difference I mean.
The anima mundi, to whose disposal of his own personal
destiny the Stoic consents, is there to be respected and
submitted to, but the Christian God is there to be loved;
and the difference of emotional atmosphere is like that
between an arctic climate and the tropics, though the
outcome in the way of accepting actual conditions uncomplainingly
may seem in abstract terms to be much the same.
is a man's duty," says Marcus Aurelius, "to
comfort himself and wait for the natural dissolution,
and not to be vexed, but to find refreshment solely in
these thoughts--first that nothing will happen to me which
is not conformable to the nature of the universe; and
secondly that I need do nothing contrary to the God and
deity within me; for there is no man who can compel me
to transgress. He
is an abscess on the universe who withdraws and separates
himself from the reason of our common nature, through
being displeased with the things which happen.
For the same nature produces these, and has produced
thee too. And
so accept everything which happens, even if it seem disagreeable,
because it leads to this, the health of the universe and
to the prosperity and felicity of Zeus.
For he would not have brought on any man what he
has brought if it were not useful for the whole.
The integrity of the whole is mutilated if thou
cuttest off anything.
And thou dost cut off, as far as it is in thy power,
when thou art dissatisfied, and in a manner triest to
put anything out of the way."
Book V., ch. ix. (abridged).
now this mood with that of the old Christian author of
the Theologia Germanica:--
men are enlightened with the true light, they renounce
all desire and choice, and commit and commend themselves
and all things to the eternal Goodness, so that every
enlightened man could say:
'I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his
own hand is to a man.'
Such men are in a state of freedom, because they
have lost the fear of pain or hell, and the hope of reward
or heaven, and are living in pure submission to the eternal
Goodness, in the perfect freedom of fervent love.
When a man truly perceiveth and considereth himself,
who and what he is, and findeth himself utterly vile and
wicked and unworthy, he falleth into such a deep abasement
that it seemeth to him reasonable that all creatures in
heaven and earth should rise up against him.
And therefore he will not and dare not desire any
consolation and release; but he is willing to be unconsoled
and unreleased; and he doth not grieve over his sufferings,
for they are right in his eyes, and he hath nothing to
say against them.
This is what is meant by true repentance for sin;
and he who in this present time entereth into this hell,
none may console him.
Now God hath not forsaken a man in this hell, but
He is laying his hand upon him, that the man may not desire
nor regard anything but the eternal Good only.
And then, when the man neither careth for nor desireth
anything but the eternal Good alone, and seeketh not himself
nor his own things, but the honour of God only, he is
made a partaker of all manner of joy, bliss, peace, rest,
and consolation, and so the man is henceforth in the kingdom
of heaven. This
hell and this heaven are two good safe ways for a man,
and happy is he who truly findeth them."
Chaps. x., xi. (abridged):
much more active and positive the impulse of the Christian
writer to accept his place in the universe is! Marcus
Aurelius agrees TO the scheme--the German theologian agrees
WITH it. He
literally ABOUNDS in agreement, he runs out to embrace
the divine decrees.
it is true, the stoic rises to something like a Christian
warmth of sentiment, as in the often quoted passage of
harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe.
Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which
is in due time for thee.
Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring,
O Nature: from
thee are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all
things return. The
poet says, Dear City of Cecrops; and wilt thou not say,
Dear City of Zeus?"
Book IV., 523
compare even as devout a passage as this with a genuine
Christian outpouring, and it seems a little cold. Turn,
for instance, to the Imitation of Christ:--
thou knowest what is best; let this or that be according
as thou wilt. Give
what thou wilt, so much as thou wilt, when thou wilt.
Do with me as thou knowest best, and as shall be
most to thine honour.
Place me where thou wilt, and freely work thy will
with me in all things. . . .
When could it be evil when thou wert near?
I had rather be poor for thy sake than rich without
thee. I choose
rather to be a pilgrim upon the earth with thee, than
without thee to possess heaven.
Where thou art, there is heaven; and where thou
art not, behold there death and hell."
Book III., chaps.
Compare Mary Moody Emerson:
"Let me be a blot on this fair world, the
obscurest the loneliest sufferer, with one proviso--that
I know it is His agency.
I will love Him though He shed frost and darkness
on every way of mine."
R. W. Emerson:
Lectures and Biographical Sketches, p. 188.
is a good rule in physiology, when we are studying the
meaning of an organ, to ask after its most peculiar and
characteristic sort of performance, and to seek its office
in that one of its functions which no other organ can
Surely the same maxim holds good in our present
essence of religious experiences, the thing by which we
finally must judge them, must be that element or quality
in them which we can meet nowhere else.
And such a quality will be of course most prominent
and easy to notice in those religious experiences which
are most one-sided, exaggerated, and intense.
when we compare these intenser experiences with the experiences
of tamer minds, so cool and reasonable that we are tempted
to call them philosophical rather than religious, we find
a character that is perfectly distinct.
That character, it seems to me, should be regarded
as the practically important differentia of religion for
our purpose; and just what it is can easily be brought
out by comparing the mind of an abstractly conceived Christian
with that of a moralist similarly conceived.
life is manly, stoical, moral, or philosophical, we say,
in proportion as it is less swayed by paltry personal
considerations and more by objective ends that call for
energy, even though that energy bring personal loss and
is the good side of war, in so far as it calls for "volunteers."
And for morality life is a war, and the service
of the highest is a sort of cosmic patriotism which also
calls for volunteers. Even a sick man, unable to be militant outwardly, can carry
on the moral warfare.
He can willfully turn his attention away from his
own future, whether in this world or the next.
He can train himself to indifference to his present
drawbacks and immerse himself in whatever objective interests
still remain accessible.
He can follow public news, and sympathize with
other people's affairs.
He can cultivate cheerful manners, and be silent
about his miseries. He can contemplate whatever ideal
aspects of existence his philosophy is able to present
to him, and practice whatever duties, such as patience,
resignation, trust, his ethical system requires.
Such a man lives on his loftiest, largest plane.
He is a high-hearted freeman and no pining slave.
And yet he lacks something which the Christian
par excellence, the mystic and ascetic saint, for example,
has in abundant measure, and which makes of him a human
being of an altogether different denomination.
Christian also spurns the pinched and mumping sick-room
attitude, and the lives of saints are full of a kind of
callousness to diseased conditions of body which probably
no other human records show.
But whereas the merely moralistic spurning takes
an effort of volition, the Christian spurning is the result
of the excitement of a higher kind of emotion, in the
presence of which no exertion of volition is required.
The moralist must hold his breath and keep his
muscles tense; and so long as this athletic attitude is
possible all goes well--morality suffices.
But the athletic attitude tends ever to break down,
and it inevitably does break down even in the most stalwart
when the organism begins to decay, or when morbid fears
invade the mind.
To suggest personal will and effort to one all
sicklied o'er with the sense of irremediable impotence
is to suggest the most impossible of things.
What he craves is to be consoled in his very powerlessness,
to feel that the spirit of the universe <47> recognizes
and secures him, all decaying and failing as he is. Well, we are all such helpless failures in the last resort.
The sanest and best of us are of one clay with
lunatics and prison inmates, and death finally runs the
robustest of us down.
And whenever we feel this, such a sense of the
vanity and provisionality of our voluntary career comes
over us that all our morality appears but as a plaster
hiding a sore it can never cure, and all our well-doing
as the hollowest substitute for that well-BEING that our
lives ought to be grounded in, but, alas! are not.
here religion comes to our rescue and takes our fate into
her hands. There
is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no
others, in which the will to assert ourselves and hold
our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our
mouths and be as nothing in the floods and waterspouts
of God. In
this state of mind, what we most dreaded has become the
habitation of our safety, and the hour of our moral death
has turned into our spiritual birthday.
The time for tension in our soul is over, and that
of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal
present, with no discordant future to be anxious about,
has arrived. Fear
is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it
is positively expunged and washed away.
shall see abundant examples of this happy state of mind
in later lectures of this course.
We shall see how infinitely passionate a thing
religion at its highest flights can be.
Like love, like wrath, like hope, ambition, jealousy,
like every other instinctive eagerness and impulse, it
adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or
logically deducible from anything else.
This enchantment, coming as a gift when it does
come--a gift of our organism, the physiologists will tell
us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say --is either
there or not there for us, and there are persons who can
no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love
with a given woman by mere word of command.
Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition
to the Subject's range of life.
It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward
battle is lost, and the outer world disowns him, it redeems
and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be
an empty waste.
religion is to mean anything definite for us, it seems
to me that we ought to take it as meaning this added dimension
of emotion, this enthusiastic temper of espousal, in regions
where morality strictly so called can at best but bow
its head and acquiesce.
It ought to mean nothing short of this new reach
of freedom for us, with the struggle over, the keynote
of the universe sounding in our ears, and everlasting
possession spread before our eyes.
Once more, there are plenty of men, constitutionally sombre
men, in whose religious life this rapturousness is lacking.
They are religious in the wider sense, yet in this
acutest of all senses they are not so, and it is religion
in the acutest sense that I wish, without disputing about
words, to study first, so as to get at its typical differentia.
sort of happiness in the absolute and everlasting is what
we find nowhere but in religion.
It is parted off from all mere animal happiness,
all mere enjoyment of the present, by that element of
solemnity of which I have already made so much account.
Solemnity is a hard thing to define abstractly,
but certain of its marks are patent enough. A solemn state
of mind is never crude or simple--it seems to contain
a certain measure of its own opposite in solution. A solemn
joy preserves a sort of bitter in its sweetness; a solemn
sorrow is one to which we intimately consent.
But there are writers who, realizing that happiness
of a supreme sort is the prerogative of religion, forget
this complication, and call all happiness, as such, religious.
Mr. Havelock Ellis, for example, identifies religion
with the entire field of the soul's liberation from oppressive
simplest functions of physiological life," he writes
may be its ministers.
Every one who is at all acquainted with the Persian
mystics knows how wine may be regarded as an instrument
of religion. Indeed,
in all countries and in all ages some form of physical
enlargement--singing, dancing, drinking, sexual excitement--has
been intimately associated with worship. Even the momentary
expansion of the soul in laughter is, to however slight
an extent, a religious exercise. . . . Whenever an impulse
from the world strikes against the organism, and the resultant
is not discomfort or pain, not even the muscular contraction
of strenuous manhood, but a joyous expansion or aspiration
of the whole soul--there is religion. It is the infinite
for which we hunger, and we ride gladly on every little
wave that promises to bear us towards it."
The New Spirit, p. 232.
such a straight identification of religion with any and
every form of happiness leaves the essential peculiarity
of religious happiness out.
The more commonplace happinesses which we get are
"reliefs," occasioned by our momentary escapes
from evils either experienced or threatened. But in its
most characteristic embodiments, religious happiness is
no mere feeling of escape. It cares no longer to escape.
It consents to the evil outwardly as a form of
sacrifice--inwardly it knows it to be permanently overcome.
If you ask HOW religion thus falls on the thorns and faces
death, and in the very act annuls annihilation, I cannot
explain the matter, for it is religion's secret, and to
understand it you must yourself have been a religious
man of the extremer type.
In our future examples, even of the simplest and
healthiest-minded type of religious consciousness, we
shall find this complex sacrificial constitution, in which
a higher happiness holds a lower unhappiness in check.
In the Louvre there is a picture, by Guido Reni,
of St. Michael with his foot on Satan's neck.
The richness of the picture is in large part due
to the fiend's figure being there. The richness of its allegorical meaning also is due to his
being there--that is, the world is all the richer for
having a devil in it, SO LONG AS WE KEEP OUR FOOT UPON
HIS NECK. In
the religious consciousness, that is just the position
in which the fiend, the negative or tragic principle,
is found; and for that very reason the religious consciousness
is so rich from the emotional point of view.
We shall see how in certain men and women it takes
on a monstrously ascetic form.
There are saints who have literally fed on the
negative principle, on humiliation and privation, and
the thought of suffering and death--their souls growing
in happiness just in proportion as their outward state
grew more intolerable.
No other emotion than religious emotion can bring
a man to this peculiar pass.
And it is for that reason that when we ask our
question about the value of religion for human life, I
think we ought to look for the answer among these violenter
examples rather than among those of a more moderate hue.
I owe this allegorical illustration to my lamented colleague
and Friend, Charles Carroll Everett.
the phenomenon of our study in its acutest possible form
to start with, we can shade down as much as we please
if in these cases, repulsive as they are to our ordinary
worldly way of judging, we find ourselves compelled to
acknowledge religion's value and treat it with respect,
it will have proved in some way its value for life at
subtracting and toning down extravagances we may thereupon
proceed to trace the boundaries of its legitimate sway.
be sure, it makes our task difficult to have to deal so
muck with eccentricities and extremes.
"How CAN religion on the whole be the most
important of all human functions," you may ask, "if
every several manifestation of it in turn have to be corrected
and sobered down and pruned away?"
a thesis seems a paradox impossible to sustain reasonably--yet
I believe that something like it will have to be our final
personal attitude which the individual finds himself impelled
to take up towards what he apprehends to be the divine--and
you will remember that this was our definition--will prove
to be both a helpless and a sacrificial attitude.
That is, we shall have to confess to at least some
amount of dependence on sheer mercy, and to practice some
amount of renunciation, great or small, to save our souls
constitution of the world we live in requires it:--
"Entbehren sollst du! sollst entbehren!
Das ist der ewige Gesang
Der jedem an die Ohren klingt,
Den, unser ganzes Leben lang
Uns heiser jede Stunde singt."
when all is said and done, we are in the end absolutely
dependent on the universe; and into sacrifices and surrenders
of some sort, deliberately looked at and accepted, we
are drawn and pressed as into our only permanent positions
of repose. Now
in those states of mind which fall short of religion,
the surrender is submitted to as an imposition of necessity,
and the sacrifice is undergone at the very best without
the religious life, on the contrary, surrender and sacrifice
are positively espoused: even unnecessary givings-up are added in order that the happiness
may increase. Religion
thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary;
and if it be the only agency that can accomplish this
result, its vital importance as a human faculty stands
vindicated beyond dispute.
It becomes an essential organ of our life, performing
a function which no other portion of our nature can so
From the merely biological point of view, so to
call it, this is a conclusion to which, so far as I can
now see, we shall inevitably be led, and led moreover
by following the purely empirical method of demonstration
which I sketched to you in the first lecture.
Of the farther office of religion as a metaphysical
revelation I will say nothing now.
to foreshadow the terminus of one's investigations is
one thing, and to arrive there safely is another.
In the next lecture, abandoning the extreme generalities
which have engrossed us hitherto, I propose that we begin
our actual journey by addressing ourselves directly to
the concrete facts.