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The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

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A Study in Human Nature




Introduction: the course is not anthropological, but deals with
personal documents-- Questions of fact and questions of value--
In point of fact, the religious are often neurotic-- Criticism of
medical materialism, which condemns religion on that account--
Theory that religion has a sexual origin refuted-- All states of
mind are neurally conditioned-- Their significance must be tested
not by their origin but by the value of their fruits-- Three
criteria of value; origin useless as a criterion-- Advantages of
the psychopathic temperament when a superior intellect goes with
it-- especially for the religious life.

Futility of simple definitions of religion-- No one specific
"religious sentiment"-- Institutional and personal religion-- We
confine ourselves to the personal branch-- Definition of religion
for the purpose of these lectures-- Meaning of the term
"divine"-- The divine is what prompts SOLEMN reactions--
Impossible to make our definitions sharp-- We must study the more
extreme cases-- Two ways of accepting the universe-- Religion is
more enthusiastic than philosophy-- Its characteristic is
enthusiasm in solemn emotion-- Its ability to overcome
unhappiness-- Need of such a faculty from the biological point of

Percepts versus abstract concepts-- Influence of the latter on
belief-- Kant's theological Ideas-- We have a sense of reality
other than that given by the special senses-- Examples of "sense
of presence"-- The feeling of unreality-- Sense of a divine
presence: examples-- Mystical experiences: examples-- Other cases
of sense of God's presence-- Convincingness of unreasoned
experience-- Inferiority of rationalism in establishing belief--
Either enthusiasm or solemnity may preponderate in the religious
attitude of individuals.

Happiness is man's chief concern-- "Once-born" and "twice-born"
characters-- Walt Whitman-- Mixed nature of Greek feeling--
Systematic healthy-mindedness-- Its reasonableness-- Liberal
Christianity shows it-- Optimism as encouraged by Popular
Science-- The "Mind-cure" movement-- Its creed-- Cases-- Its
doctrine of evil-- Its analogy to Lutheran theology-- Salvation
by relaxation-- Its methods: suggestion-- meditation--
"recollection"-- verification-- Diversity of possible schemes of
adaptation to the universe-- APPENDIX: TWO mind-cure cases.

Healthy-mindedness and repentance-- Essential pluralism of the
healthy-minded philosophy-- Morbid-mindedness: its two
degrees--The pain-threshold varies in individuals-- Insecurity of
natural goods-- Failure, or vain success of every life--
Pessimism of all pure naturalism-- Hopelessness of Greek and
Roman view-- Pathological unhappiness-- "Anhedonia"-- Querulous
melancholy-- Vital zest is a pure gift-- Loss of it makes
physical world look different-- Tolstoy-- Bunyan-- Alline--
Morbid fear-- Such cases need a supernatural religion for
relief-- Antagonism of healthy-mindedness and morbidness-- The
problem of evil cannot be escaped.

Heterogeneous personality--Character gradually attains
unity--Examples of divided self--The unity attained need not be
religious--"Counter conversion" cases--Other cases--Gradual and
sudden unification--Tolstoy's recovery--Bunyan's.

Case of Stephen Bradley--The psychology of character-changes--
Emotional excitements make new centres of personal energy--
Schematic ways of representing this-- Starbuck likens conversion
to normal moral ripening-- Leuba's ideas-- Seemingly
unconvertible persons-- Two types of conversion-- Subconscious
incubation of motives-- Self-surrender-- Its importance in
religious history-- Cases.

Cases of sudden conversion-- Is suddenness essential?-- No, it
depends on psychological idiosyncrasy-- Proved existence of
transmarginal, or subliminal, consciousness-- "Automatisms"--
Instantaneous conversions seem due to the possession of an active
subconscious self by the subject-- The value of conversion
depends not on the process, but on the fruits-- These are not
superior in sudden conversion-- Professor Coe's views--
Sanctification as a result-- Our psychological account does not
exclude direct presence of the Deity-- Sense of higher control--
Relations of the emotional "faith-state" to intellectual
beliefs-- Leuba quoted-- Characteristics of the faith-state:
sense of truth; the world appears new-- Sensory and motor
automatisms-- Permanency of conversions.

Sainte-Beuve on the State of Grace-- Types of character as due to
the balance of impulses and inhibitions-- Sovereign excitements--
Irascibility-- Effects of higher excitement in general-- The
saintly life is ruled by spiritual excitement-- This may annul
sensual impulses permanently-- Probable subconscious influences
involved-- Mechanical scheme for representing permanent
alteration in character-- Characteristics of saintliness-- Sense
of reality of a higher power-- Peace of mind, charity--
Equanimity, fortitude, etc.-- Connection of this with
relaxation-- Purity of life-- Asceticism-- Obedience-- Poverty--
The sentiments of democracy and of humanity-- General effects of
higher excitements.

It must be tested by the human value of its fruits-- The reality
of the God must, however, also be judged-- "Unfit" religions get
eliminated by "experience"-- Empiricism is not skepticism--
Individual and tribal religion-- Loneliness of religious
originators-- Corruption follows success-- Extravagances--
Excessive devoutness, as fanaticism-- As theopathic absorption--
Excessive purity-- Excessive charity-- The perfect man is adapted
only to the perfect environment-- Saints are leavens-- Excesses
of asceticism---- Asceticism symbolically stands for the heroic
life-- Militarism and voluntary poverty as possible equivalents--
Pros and cons of the saintly character-- Saints versus "strong"
men-- Their social function must be considered-- Abstractly the
saint is the highest type, but in the present environment it may
fail, so we make ourselves saints at our peril-- The question of
theological truth.

Mysticism defined-- Four marks of mystic states-- They form a
distinct region of consciousness-- Examples of their lower
grades-- Mysticism and alcohol-- "The anaesthetic revelation"--
Religious mysticism-- Aspects of Nature-- Consciousness of God--
"Cosmic consciousness"-- Yoga-- Buddhistic mysticism-- Sufism--
Christian mystics-- Their sense of revelation-- Tonic effects of
mystic states-- They describe by negatives-- Sense of union with
the Absolute-- Mysticism and music-- Three conclusions-- (1)
Mystical states carry authority for him who has them-- (2) But
for no one else-- (3) Nevertheless, they break down the exclusive
authority of rationalistic states-- They strengthen monistic and
optimistic hypotheses.

Primacy of feeling in religion, philosophy being a secondary
function-- Intellectualism professes to escape objective
standards in her theological constructions-- "Dogmatic
theology"-- Criticism of its account of God's attributes--
"Pragmatism" as a test of the value of conceptions-- God's
metaphysical attributes have no practical significance-- His
moral attributes are proved by bad arguments; collapse of
systematic theology-- Does transcendental idealism fare better?
Its principles-- Quotations from John Caird-- They are good as
restatements of religious experience, but uncoercive as reasoned
proof-- What philosophy CAN do for religion by transforming
herself into "science of religions."

Aesthetic elements in religion--Contrast of Catholicism and
Protestantism-- Sacrifice and Confession-- Prayer-- Religion
holds that spiritual work is really effected in prayer-- Three
degrees of opinion as to what is effected-- First degree--
Second degree-- Third degree-- Automatisms, their frequency
among religious leaders-- Jewish cases-- Mohammed-- Joseph
Smith-- Religion and the subconscious region in general.

Summary of religious characteristics-- Men's religions need not
be identical-- "The science of religions" can only suggest, not
proclaims a religious creed-- Is religion a "survival" of
primitive thought?-- Modern science rules out the concept of
personality-- Anthropomorphism and belief in the personal
characterized pre-scientific thought-- Personal forces are real,
in spite of this-- Scientific objects are abstractions, only
individualized experiences are concrete-- Religion holds by the
concrete-- Primarily religion is a biological reaction-- Its
simplest terms are an uneasiness and a deliverance; description
of the deliverance-- Question of the reality of the higher
power-- The author's hypotheses: 1. The subconscious self as
intermediating between nature and the higher region-- 2. The
higher region, or "God"-- 3. He produces real effects in nature.

Philosophic position of the present work defined as piecemeal
supernaturalism-- Criticism of universalistic supernaturalism--
Different principles must occasion differences in fact-- What
differences in fact can God's existence occasion?-- The question
of immortality-- Question of God's uniqueness and infinity:
religious experience does not settle this question in the
affirmative-- The pluralistic hypothesis is more conformed to
common sense.


This book would never have been written had I not been honored
with an appointment as Gifford Lecturer on Natural Religion at
the University of Edinburgh. In casting about me for subjects of
the two courses of ten lectures each for which I thus became
responsible, it seemed to me that the first course might well be
a descriptive one on "Man's Religious Appetites," and the second
a metaphysical one on "Their Satisfaction through Philosophy."
But the unexpected growth of the psychological matter as I came
to write it out has resulted in the second subject being
postponed entirely, and the description of man's religious
constitution now fills the twenty lectures. In Lecture XX I have
suggested rather than stated my own philosophic conclusions, and
the reader who desires immediately to know them should turn to
pages 501-509, and to the "Postscript" of the book. I hope to be
able at some later day to express them in more explicit form.

In my belief that a large acquaintance with particulars often
makes us wiser than the possession of abstract formulas, however
deep, I have loaded the lectures with concrete examples, and I
have chosen these among the extremer expressions of the religious
temperament. To some readers I may consequently seem, before
they get beyond the middle of the book, to offer a caricature of
the subject. Such convulsions of piety, they will say, are not
sane. If, however, they will have the patience to read to the
end, I believe that this unfavorable impression will disappear;
for I there combine the religious impulses with other principles
of common sense which serve as correctives of exaggeration, and
allow the individual reader to draw as moderate conclusions as he

My thanks for help in writing these lectures are due to Edwin D.
Starbuck, of Stanford University, who made over to me his large
collection of manuscript material; to Henry W. Rankin, of East
Northfield, a friend unseen but proved, to whom I owe precious
information; to Theodore Flournoy, of Geneva, to Canning Schiller
of Oxford, and to my colleague Benjamin Rand, for documents; to
my colleague Dickinson S. Miller, and to my friends, Thomas Wren
Ward, of New York, and Wincenty Lutoslawski, late of Cracow, for
important suggestions and advice. Finally, to conversations with
the lamented Thomas Davidson and to the use of his books, at
Glenmore, above Keene Valley, I owe more obligations than I can
well express.
Harvard University,
March, 1902.


Lecture I


It is with no small amount of trepidation that I take my place
behind this desk, and face this learned audience. To us
Americans, the experience of receiving instruction from the
living voice, as well as from the books, of European scholars, is
very familiar. At my own University of Harvard, not a winter
passes without its harvest, large or small, of lectures from
Scottish, English, French, or German representatives of the
science or literature of their respective countries whom we have
either induced to cross the ocean to address us, or captured on
the wing as they were visiting our land. It seems the natural
thing for us to listen whilst the Europeans talk. The contrary
habit, of talking whilst the Europeans listen, we have not yet
acquired; and in him who first makes the adventure it begets a
certain sense of apology being due for so presumptuous an act.
Particularly must this be the case on a soil as sacred to the
American imagination as that of Edinburgh. The glories of the
philosophic chair of this university were deeply impressed on my
imagination in boyhood. Professor Fraser's Essays in Philosophy,
then just published, was the first philosophic book I ever looked
into, and I well remember the awestruck feeling I received from
the account of Sir William Hamilton's classroom therein
contained. Hamilton's own lectures were the first philosophic
writings I ever forced myself to study, and after that I was
immersed in Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown. Such juvenile
emotions of reverence never get outgrown; and I confess that to
find my humble self promoted from my native wilderness to be
actually for the time an official here, and transmuted into a
colleague of these illustrious names, carries with it a sense of
dreamland quite as much as of reality.

But since I have received the honor of this appointment I have
felt that it would never do to decline. The academic career also
has its heroic obligations, so I stand here without further
deprecatory words. Let me say only this, that now that the
current, here and at Aberdeen, has begun to run from west to
east, I hope it may continue to do so. As the years go by, I
hope that many of my countrymen may be asked to lecture in the
Scottish universities, changing places with Scotsmen lecturing in
the United States; I hope that our people may become in all these
higher matters even as one people; and that the peculiar
philosophic temperament, as well as the peculiar political
temperament, that goes with our English speech may more and more
pervade and influence the world.

As regards the manner in which I shall have to administer this
lectureship, I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned in
the history of religions, nor an anthropologist. Psychology is
the only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed.
To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be at
least as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to his
mental constitution. It would seem, therefore, that, as a
psychologist, the natural thing for me would be to invite you to
a descriptive survey of those religious propensities.

If the inquiry be psychological, not religious institutions, but
rather religious feelings and religious impulses must be its
subject, and I must confine myself to those more developed
subjective phenomena recorded in literature produced by
articulate and fully self-conscious men, in works of piety and
autobiography. Interesting as the origins and early stages of a
subject always are, yet when one seeks earnestly for its full
significance, one must always look to its more completely evolved
and perfect forms. It follows from this that the documents that
will most concern us will be those of the men who were most
accomplished in the religious life and best able to give an
intelligible account of their ideas and motives. These men, of
course, are either comparatively modern writers, or else such
earlier ones as have become religious classics. The documents
humains which we shall find most instructive need not then be
sought for in the haunts of special erudition--they lie along the
beaten highway; and this circumstance, which flows so naturally
from the character of our problem, suits admirably also your
lecturer's lack of special theological learning. I may take
my citations, my sentences and paragraphs of personal confession,
from books that most of you at some time will have had already in
your hands, and yet this will be no detriment to the value of my
conclusions. It is true that some more adventurous reader and
investigator, lecturing here in future, may unearth from the
shelves of libraries documents that will make a more delectable
and curious entertainment to listen to than mine. Yet I doubt
whether he will necessarily, by his control of so much more
out-of-the-way material, get much closer to the essence of the
matter in hand.

The question, What are the religious propensities? and the
question, What is their philosophic significance? are two
entirely different orders of question from the logical point of
view; and, as a failure to recognize this fact distinctly may
breed confusion, I wish to insist upon the point a little before
we enter into the documents and materials to which I have

In recent books on logic, distinction is made between two orders
of inquiry concerning anything. First, what is the nature of it?
how did it come about? what is its constitution, origin, and
history? And second, What is its importance, meaning, or
significance, now that it is once here? The answer to the one
question is given in an existential judgment or proposition. The
answer to the other is a proposition of value, what the Germans
call a Werthurtheil, or what we may, if we like, denominate a
spiritual judgment. Neither judgment can be deduced immediately
from the other. They proceed from diverse intellectual
preoccupations, and the mind combines them only by making them
first separately, and then adding them together.

In the matter of religions it is particularly easy to distinguish
the two orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has its
history and its derivation from natural antecedents. What is
nowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible is only a study
of the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected too
much by the earlier church. Under just what biographic
conditions did the sacred writers bring forth their various
contributions to the holy volume? And what had they exactly in
their several individual minds, when they delivered their
utterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact,
and one does not see how the answer to them can decide offhand
the still further question: of what use should such a volume,
with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us as
a guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other question
we must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory as
to what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give it
value for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would be
what I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with our
existential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritual
judgment as to the Bible's worth. Thus if our theory of
revelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it,
must have been composed automatically or not by the free caprice
of the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historic
errors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible would
probably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, our
theory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spite
of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only
it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled
persons wrestling with the crises of their fate, then the verdict
would be much more favorable. You see that the existential facts
by themselves are insufficient for determining the value; and the
best adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confound
the existential with the spiritual problem. With the same
conclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and some
another, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as their
spiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differs.

I make these general remarks about the two sorts of judgment,
because there are many religious persons--some of you now
present, possibly, are among them--who do not yet make a working
use of the distinction, and who may therefore feel first a little
startled at the purely existential point of view from which in
the following lectures the phenomena of religious experience must
be considered. When I handle them biologically and
psychologically as if they were mere curious facts of individual
history, some of you may think it a degradation of so sublime a
subject, and may even suspect me, until my purpose gets more
fully expressed, of deliberately seeking to discredit the
religious side of life.

Such a result is of course absolutely alien to my intention; and
since such a prejudice on your part would seriously obstruct the
due effect of much of what I have to relate, I will devote a few
more words to the point.

There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life,
exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional and
eccentric. I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer,
who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether
it be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. His religion has been
made for him by others, communicated to him by tradition,
determined to fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit.
It would profit us little to study this second-hand religious
life. We must make search rather for the original experiences
which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested
feeling and imitated conduct. These experiences we can only find
in individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but
as an acute fever rather. But such individuals are "geniuses" in
the religious line; and like many other geniuses who have brought
forth fruits effective enough for commemoration in the pages of
biography, such religious geniuses have often shown symptoms of
nervous instability. Even more perhaps than other kinds of
genius, religious leaders have been subject to abnormal psychical
visitations. Invariably they have been creatures of exalted
emotional sensibility. Often they have led a discordant inner
life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They
have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas;
and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen
visions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which are
ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these
pathological features in their career have helped to give them
their religious authority and influence.

If you ask for a concrete example, there can be no better one
than is furnished by the person of George Fox. The Quaker
religion which he founded is something which it is impossible to
overpraise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracity
rooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something more
like the original gospel truth than men had ever known in
England. So far as our Christian sects today are evolving into
liberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the position
which Fox and the early Quakers so long ago assumed. No one can
pretend for a moment that in point of spiritual sagacity and
capacity, Fox's mind was unsound. Everyone who confronted him
personally, from Oliver Cromwell down to county magistrates and
jailers, seems to have acknowledged his superior power. Yet from
the point of view of his nervous constitution, Fox was a
psychopath or detraque of the deepest dye. His Journal abounds
in entries of this sort:--

"As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head and
saw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. I
asked them what place that was? They said, Lichfield.
Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must go
thither. Being come to the house we were going to, I wished the
friends to walk into the house, saying nothing to them of whither
I was to go. As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went by
my eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile of
Lichfield where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping their
sheep. Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. I
stood still, for it was winter: but the word of the Lord was like
a fire in me. So I put off my shoes and left them with the
shepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished.
Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got within
the city, the word of the Lord came to me again, saying: Cry, 'Wo
to the bloody city of Lichfield!' So I went up and down the
streets, crying with a loud voice, Wo to the bloody city of
Lichfield! It being market day, I went into the market-place,
and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands,
crying as before, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield! And no one
laid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets,
there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down the
streets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. When
I had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I went
out of the town in peace; and returning to the shepherds gave
them some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fire
of the Lord was so on my feet, and all over me, that I did not
matter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether I
should or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do: then,
after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again. After this a
deep consideration came upon me, for what reason I should be sent
to cry against that city, and call it The bloody city! For
though the parliament had the minister one while, and the king
another, and much blood had been shed in the town during the wars
between them, yet there was no more than had befallen many other
places. But afterwards I came to understand, that in the Emperor
Diocletian's time a thousand Christians were martyr'd in
Lichfield. So I was to go, without my shoes, through the
channel of their blood, and into the pool of their blood in the
market-place, that I might raise up the memorial of the blood of
those martyrs, which had been shed above a thousand years before,
and lay cold in their streets. So the sense of this blood was
upon me, and I obeyed the word of the Lord."

Bent as we are on studying religion's existential conditions, we
cannot possibly ignore these pathological aspects of the subject.

We must describe and name them just as if they occurred in
non-religious men. It is true that we instinctively recoil from
seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are
committed handled by the intellect as any other object is
handled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is to
class it along with something else. But any object that is
infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us
also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab
would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear
us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus
dispose of it. "I am no such thing, it would say; I am MYSELF,
MYSELF alone.

The next thing the intellect does is to lay bare the causes in
which the thing originates. Spinoza says: "I will analyze the
actions and appetites of men as if it were a question of lines,
of planes, and of solids." And elsewhere he remarks that he
will consider our passions and their properties with the same eye
with which he looks on all other natural things, since the
consequences of our affections flow from their nature with the
same necessity as it results from the nature of a triangle that
its three angles should be equal to two right angles. Similarly
M. Taine, in the introduction to his history of English
literature, has written: "Whether facts be moral or physical, it
makes no matter. They always have their causes. There are
causes for ambition, courage, veracity, just as there are for
digestion, muscular movement, animal heat. Vice and virtue are
products like vitriol and sugar." When we read such
proclamations of the intellect bent on showing the existential
conditions of absolutely everything, we feel--quite apart from
our legitimate impatience at the somewhat ridiculous swagger of
the program, in view of what the authors are actually able to
perform--menaced and negated in the springs of our innermost
life. Such cold-blooded assimilations threaten, we think, to
undo our soul's vital secrets, as if the same breath which should
succeed in explaining their origin would simultaneously explain
away their significance, and make them appear of no more
preciousness, either, than the useful groceries of which M. Taine

Perhaps the commonest expression of this assumption that
spiritual value is undone if lowly origin be asserted is seen in
those comments which unsentimental people so often pass on their
more sentimental acquaintances. Alfred believes in immortality
so strongly because his temperament is so emotional. Fanny's
extraordinary conscientiousness is merely a matter of
overinstigated nerves. William's melancholy about the universe
is due to bad digestion--probably his liver is torpid. Eliza's
delight in her church is a symptom of her hysterical
constitution. Peter would be less troubled about his soul if he
would take more exercise in the open air, etc. A more fully
developed example of the same kind of reasoning is the fashion,
quite common nowadays among certain writers, of criticizing the
religious emotions by showing a connection between them and the
sexual life. Conversion is a crisis of puberty and adolescence.
The macerations of saints, and the devotion of missionaries, are
only instances of the parental instinct of self-sacrifice gone
astray. For the hysterical nun, starving for natural life,
Christ is but an imaginary substitute for a more earthly object
of affection. And the like.[1]

[1] As with many ideas that float in the air of one's time, this
notion shrinks from dogmatic general statement and expresses
itself only partially and by innuendo. It seems to me that few
conceptions are less instructive than this re-interpretation of
religion as perverted sexuality. It reminds one, so crudely is
it often employed, of the famous Catholic taunt, that the
Reformation may be best understood by remembering that its fons
et origo was Luther's wish to marry a nun:--the effects are
infinitely wider than the alleged causes, and for the most part
opposite in nature. It is true that in the vast collection of
religious phenomena, some are undisguisedly amatory--e.g.,
sex-deities and obscene rites in polytheism, and ecstatic
feelings of union with the Savior in a few Christian mystics.
But then why not equally call religion an aberration of the
digestive function, and prove one's point by the worship of
Bacchus and Ceres, or by the ecstatic feelings of some other
saints about the Eucharist? Religious language clothes itself in
such poor symbols as our life affords, and the whole organism
gives overtones of comment whenever the mind is strongly stirred
to expression. Language drawn from eating and drinking is
probably as common in religious literature as is language drawn
from the sexual life. We "hunger and thirst" after
righteousness; we "find the Lord a sweet savor;" we "taste and
see that he is good." "Spiritual milk for American babes, drawn
from the breasts of both testaments," is a sub-title of the once
famous New England Primer, and Christian devotional literature
indeed quite floats in milk, thought of from the point of view,
not of the mother, but of the greedy babe.

Saint Francois de Sales, for instance, thus describes the "orison
of quietude": "In this state the soul is like a little child
still at the breast, whose mother to caress him whilst he is
still in her arms makes her milk distill into his mouth without
his even moving his lips. So it is here. . . . Our Lord desires
that our will should be satisfied with sucking the milk which His
Majesty pours into our mouth, and that we should relish the
sweetness without even knowing that it cometh from the Lord."
And again: "Consider the little infants, united and joined to
the breasts of their nursing mothers you will see that from time
to time they press themselves closer by little starts to which
the pleasure of sucking prompts them. Even so, during its
orison, the heart united to its God oftentimes makes attempts at
closer union by movements during which it presses closer upon the
divine sweetness." Chemin de la Perfection, ch. xxxi.; Amour de
Dieu, vii. ch. i.

In fact, one might almost as well interpret religion as a
perversion of the respiratory function. The Bible is full of the
language of respiratory oppression: "Hide not thine ear at my
breathing; my groaning is not hid from thee; my heart panteth, my
strength faileth me; my bones are hot with my roaring all the
night long; as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so my
soul panteth after thee, O my God:" God's Breath in Man is the
title of the chief work of our best known American mystic (Thomas
Lake Harris), and in certain non-Christian countries the
foundation of all religious discipline consists in regulation of
the inspiration and expiration.

These arguments are as good as much of the reasoning one hears in
favor of the sexual theory. But the champions of the latter will
then say that their chief argument has no analogue elsewhere.
The two main phenomena of religion, namely, melancholy and
conversion, they will say, are essentially phenomena of
adolescence, and therefore synchronous with the development of
sexual life. To which the retort again is easy. Even were the
asserted synchrony unrestrictedly true as a fact (which it is
not), it is not only the sexual life, but the entire higher
mental life which awakens during adolescence. One might then as
well set up the thesis that the interest in mechanics, physics,
chemistry, logic, philosophy, and sociology, which springs up
during adolescent years along with that in poetry and religion,
is also a perversion of the sexual instinct:--but that would be
too absurd. Moreover, if the argument from synchrony is to
decide, what is to be done with the fact that the religious age
par excellence would seem to be old age, when the uproar of the
sexual life is past?

The plain truth is that to interpret religion one must in the end
look at the immediate content of the religious consciousness.
The moment one does this, one sees how wholly disconnected it is
in the main from the content of the sexual consciousness.
Everything about the two things differs, objects, moods,
faculties concerned, and acts impelled to. Any GENERAL
assimilation is simply impossible: what we find most often is
complete hostility and contrast. If now the defenders of the
sex-theory say that this makes no difference to their thesis;
that without the chemical contributions which the sex-organs make
to the blood, the brain would not be nourished so as to carry on
religious activities, this final proposition may be true or not
true; but at any rate it has become profoundly uninstructive: we
can deduce no consequences from it which help us to interpret
religion's meaning or value. In this sense the religious life
depends just as much upon the spleen, the pancreas, and the
kidneys as on the sexual apparatus, and the whole theory has lost
its point in evaporating into a vague general assertion of the
dependence, SOMEHOW, of the mind upon the body.

We are surely all familiar in a general way with this method of
discrediting states of mind for which we have an antipathy. We
all use it to some degree in criticizing persons whose states of
mind we regard as overstrained. But when other people criticize
our own more exalted soul-flights by calling them 'nothing but'
expressions of our organic disposition, we feel outraged and
hurt, for we know that, whatever be our organism's peculiarities,
our mental states have their substantive value as revelations of
the living truth; and we wish that all this medical materialism
could be made to hold its tongue.

Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too
simple-minded system of thought which we are considering.
Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision
on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital
cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an
hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate.
George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining
for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered
colon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a
gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental overtensions, it says,
are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of
diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the
perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet
discover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual
authority of all such personages is successfully undermined.[2]

[2] For a first-rate example of medical-materialist reasoning,
see an article on "les varietes du Type devot," by Dr.
Binet-Sangle, in the Revue de l'Hypnotisme, xiv. 161.

Let us ourselves look at the matter in the largest possible way.
Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connections
to hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that the
dependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must be
thoroughgoing and complete. If we adopt the assumption, then of
course what medical materialism insists on must be true in a
general way, if not in every detail: Saint Paul certainly had
once an epileptoid, if not an epileptic seizure; George Fox was
an hereditary degenerate; Carlyle was undoubtedly
auto-intoxicated by some organ or other, no matter which--and the
rest. But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of
facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their
spiritual significance? According to the general postulate of
psychology just referred to, there is not a single one of our
states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some
organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are
organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are;
and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should
doubtless see "the liver" determining the dicta of the sturdy
atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under
conviction anxious about his soul. When it alters in one way the
blood that percolates it, we get the methodist, when in another
way, we get the atheist form of mind. So of all our raptures and
our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and
beliefs. They are equally organically founded, be they religious
or of non-religious content.

To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind,
then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual
value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one has
already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory
connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of
physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and
feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our
DIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth,
for every one of them without exception flows from the state of
its possessor's body at the time.

It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point of
fact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion. It is sure, just as
every simple man is sure, that some states of mind are inwardly
superior to others, and reveal to us more truth, and in this it
simply makes use of an ordinary spiritual judgment. It has no
physiological theory of the production of these its favorite
states, by which it may accredit them; and its attempt to
discredit the states which it dislikes, by vaguely associating
them with nerves and liver, and connecting them with names
connoting bodily affliction, is altogether illogical and

Let us play fair in this whole matter, and be quite candid with
ourselves and with the facts. When we think certain states of
mind superior to others, is it ever because of what we know
concerning their organic antecedents? No! it is always for two
entirely different reasons. It is either because we take an
immediate delight in them; or else it is because we believe them
to bring us good consequential fruits for life. When we speak
disparagingly of "feverish fancies," surely the fever-process as
such is not the ground of our disesteem--for aught we know to the
contrary, 103 degrees or 104 degrees Fahrenheit might be a much
more favorable temperature for truths to germinate and sprout in,
than the more ordinary blood-heat of 97 or 98 degrees. It is
either the disagreeableness itself of the fancies, or their
inability to bear the criticisms of the convalescent hour. When
we praise the thoughts which health brings, health's peculiar
chemical metabolisms have nothing to do with determining our
judgment. We know in fact almost nothing about these
metabolisms. It is the character of inner happiness in the
thoughts which stamps them as good, or else their consistency
with our other opinions and their serviceability for our needs,
which make them pass for true in our esteem.

Now the more intrinsic and the more remote of these criteria do
not always hang together. Inner happiness and serviceability do
not always agree. What immediately feels most "good" is not
always most "true," when measured by the verdict of the rest of
experience. The difference between Philip drunk and Philip sober
is the classic instance in corroboration. If merely "feeling
good" could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely valid
human experience. But its revelations, however acutely
satisfying at the moment, are inserted into an environment which
refuses to bear them out for any length of time. The consequence
of this discrepancy of the two criteria is the uncertainty which
still prevails over so many of our spiritual judgments. There
are moments of sentimental and mystical experience--we shall
hereafter hear much of them--that carry an enormous sense of
inner authority and illumination with them when they come. But
they come seldom, and they do not come to everyone; and the rest
of life makes either no connection with them, or tends to
contradict them more than it confirms them. Some persons follow
more the voice of the moment in these cases, some prefer to be
guided by the average results. Hence the sad discordancy of so
many of the spiritual judgments of human beings; a discordancy
which will be brought home to us acutely enough before these
lectures end.

It is, however, a discordancy that can never be resolved by any
merely medical test. A good example of the impossibility of
holding strictly to the medical tests is seen in the theory of
the pathological causation of genius promulgated by recent
authors. "Genius," said Dr. Moreau, "is but one of the many
branches of the neuropathic tree." "Genius," says Dr. Lombroso,
"is a symptom of hereditary degeneration of the epileptoid
variety, and is allied to moral insanity." "Whenever a man's
life," writes Mr. Nisbet, "is at once sufficiently illustrious
and recorded with sufficient fullness to be a subject of
profitable study, he inevitably falls into the morbid category. .
. . And it is worthy of remark that, as a rule, the greater the
genius, the greater the unsoundness."[3]

[3] J. F. Nisbet: The Insanity of Genius, 3d ed., London, 1893,
pp. xvi., xxiv.

Now do these authors, after having succeeded in establishing to
their own satisfaction that the works of genius are fruits of
disease, consistently proceed thereupon to impugn the VALUE of
the fruits? Do they deduce a new spiritual judgment from their
new doctrine of existential conditions? Do they frankly forbid us
to admire the productions of genius from now onwards? and say
outright that no neuropath can ever be a revealer of new truth?

No! their immediate spiritual instincts are too strong for them
here, and hold their own against inferences which, in mere love
of logical consistency, medical materialism ought to be only too
glad to draw. One disciple of the school, indeed, has striven to
impugn the value of works of genius in a wholesale way (such
works of contemporary art, namely, as he himself is unable to
enjoy, and they are many) by using medical arguments.[4] But for
the most part the masterpieces are left unchallenged; and the
medical line of attack either confines itself to such secular
productions as everyone admits to be intrinsically eccentric, or
else addresses itself exclusively to religious manifestations.
And then it is because the religious manifestations have been
already condemned because the critic dislikes them on internal or
spiritual grounds.

[4] Max Nordau, in his bulky book entitled Degeneration.

In the natural sciences and industrial arts it never occurs to
anyone to try to refute opinions by showing up their author's
neurotic constitution. Opinions here are invariably tested by
logic and by experiment, no matter what may be their author's
neurological type. It should be no otherwise with religious
opinions. Their value can only be ascertained by spiritual
judgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our own
immediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we can
ascertain of their experiential relations to our moral needs and
to the rest of what we hold as true.

Immediate luminousness, in short, philosophical reasonableness,
and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria. Saint
Teresa might have had the nervous system of the placidest cow,
and it would not now save her theology, if the trial of the
theology by these other tests should show it to be contemptible.
And conversely if her theology can stand these other tests, it
will make no difference how hysterical or nervously off her
balance Saint Teresa may have been when she was with us here

You see that at bottom we are thrown back upon the general
principles by which the empirical philosophy has always contended
that we must be guided in our search for truth. Dogmatic
philosophies have sought for tests for truth which might dispense
us from appealing to the future. Some direct mark, by noting
which we can be protected immediately and absolutely, now and
forever, against all mistake--such has been the darling dream of
philosophic dogmatists. It is clear that the ORIGIN of the truth
would be an admirable criterion of this sort, if only the various
origins could be discriminated from one another from this
point of view, and the history of dogmatic opinion shows that
origin has always been a favorite test. Origin in immediate
intuition; origin in pontifical authority; origin in supernatural
revelation, as by vision, hearing, or unaccountable impression;
origin in direct possession by a higher spirit, expressing itself
in prophecy and warning; origin in automatic utterance
generally--these origins have been stock warrants for the truth
of one opinion after another which we find represented in
religious history. The medical materialists are therefore only
so many belated dogmatists, neatly turning the tables on their
predecessors by using the criterion of origin in a destructive
instead of an accreditive way.

They are effective with their talk of pathological origin only so
long as supernatural origin is pleaded by the other side, and
nothing but the argument from origin is under discussion. But
the argument from origin has seldom been used alone, for it is
too obviously insufficient. Dr. Maudsley is perhaps the
cleverest of the rebutters of supernatural religion on grounds of
origin. Yet he finds himself forced to write:--

"What right have we to believe Nature under any obligation to do
her work by means of complete minds only? She may find an
incomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particular
purpose. It is the work that is done, and the quality in the
worker by which it was done, that is alone of moment; and it may
be no great matter from a cosmical standpoint, if in other
qualities of character he was singularly defective--if indeed he
were hypocrite, adulterer, eccentric, or lunatic. . . . Home we
come again, then, to the old and last resort of certitude--namely
the common assent of mankind, or of the competent by instruction
and training among mankind."[5]

[5] H. Maudsley: Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings,
1886, pp. 256, 257.

In other words, not its origin, but THE WAY IN WHICH IT WORKS ON
THE WHOLE, is Dr. Maudsley's final test of a belief. This is our
own empiricist criterion; and this criterion the stoutest
insisters on supernatural origin have also been forced to use in
the end. Among the visions and messages some have always been
too patently silly, among the trances and convulsive seizures
some have been too fruitless for conduct and character, to pass
themselves off as significant, still less as divine. In the
history of Christian mysticism the problem how to discriminate
between such messages and experiences as were really divine
miracles, and such others as the demon in his malice was able to
counterfeit, thus making the religious person twofold more the
child of hell he was before, has always been a difficult one to
solve, needing all the sagacity and experience of the best
directors of conscience. In the end it had to come to our
empiricist criterion: By their fruits ye shall know them, not by
their roots. Jonathan Edwards's Treatise on Religious Affections
is an elaborate working out of this thesis. The ROOTS of a man's
virtue are inaccessible to us. No appearances whatever are
infallible proofs of grace. Our practice is the only sure
evidence, even to ourselves, that we are genuinely Christians.

"In forming a judgment of ourselves now," Edwards writes, we
should certainly adopt that evidence which our supreme Judge will
chiefly make use of when we come to stand before him at the last
day. . . . There is not one grace of the Spirit of God, of the
existence of which, in any professor of religion, Christian
practice is not the most decisive evidence. . . . The degree in
which our experience is productive of practice shows the degree
in which our experience is spiritual and divine."

Catholic writers are equally emphatic. The good dispositions
which a vision, or voice, or other apparent heavenly favor leave
behind them are the only marks by which we <22> may be sure they
are not possible deceptions of the tempter. Says Saint Teresa:--

"Like imperfect sleep which, instead of giving more strength to
the head, doth but leave it the more exhausted, the result of
mere operations of the imagination is but to weaken the soul.
Instead of nourishment and energy she reaps only lassitude and
disgust: whereas a genuine heavenly vision yields to her a
harvest of ineffable spiritual riches, and an admirable renewal
of bodily strength. I alleged these reasons to those who so
often accused my visions of being the work of the enemy of
mankind and the sport of my imagination. . . . I showed them the
jewels which the divine hand had left with me:--they were my
actual dispositions. All those who knew me saw that I was
changed; my confessor bore witness to the fact; this improvement,
palpable in all respects, far from being hidden, was brilliantly
evident to all men. As for myself, it was impossible to believe
that if the demon were its author, he could have used, in order
to lose me and lead me to hell, an expedient so contrary to his
own interests as that of uprooting my vices, and filling me with
masculine courage and other virtues instead, for I saw clearly
that a single one of these visions was enough to enrich me with
all that wealth."[6]

[6] Autobiography, ch. xxviii.

I fear I may have made a longer excursus than was necessary, and
that fewer words would have dispelled the uneasiness which may
have arisen among some of you as I announced my pathological
programme. At any rate you must all be ready now to judge the
religious life by its results exclusively, and I shall assume
that the bugaboo of morbid origin will scandalize your piety no

Still, you may ask me, if its results are to be the ground of our
final spiritual estimate of a religious phenomenon, why threaten
us at all with so much existential study of its conditions? Why
not simply leave pathological questions out?

To this I reply in two ways. First, I say, irrepressible
curiosity imperiously leads one on; and I say, secondly, that it
always leads to a better understanding of a thing's significance
to consider its exaggerations and perversions its equivalents and
substitutes and nearest relatives elsewhere. Not that we may
thereby swamp the thing in the wholesale condemnation which we
pass on its inferior congeners, but rather that we may by
contrast ascertain the more precisely in what its merits consist,
by learning at the same time to what particular dangers of
corruption it may also be exposed.

Insane conditions have this advantage, that they isolate special
factors of the mental life, and enable us to inspect them
unmasked by their more usual surroundings. They play the part in
mental anatomy which the scalpel and the microscope play in the
anatomy of the body. To understand a thing rightly we need to
see it both out of its environment and in it, and to have
acquaintance with the whole range of its variations. The study
of hallucinations has in this way been for psychologists the key
to their comprehension of normal sensation, that of illusions has
been the key to the right comprehension of perception. Morbid
impulses and imperative conceptions, "fixed ideas," so called,
have thrown a flood of light on the psychology of the normal
will; and obsessions and delusions have performed the same
service for that of the normal faculty of belief.

Similarly, the nature of genius has been illuminated by the
attempts, of which I already made mention, to class it with
psychopathical phenomena. Borderland insanity, crankiness,
insane temperament, loss of mental balance, psychopathic
degeneration (to use a few of the many synonyms by which it has
been called), has certain peculiarities and liabilities which,
when combined with a superior quality of intellect in an
individual, make it more probable that he will make his mark and
affect his age, than if his temperament were less neurotic.
There is of course no special affinity between crankiness as such
and superior intellect,[7] for most psychopaths have feeble
intellects, and superior intellects more commonly have normal
nervous systems. But the psychopathic temperament, whatever be
the intellect with which it finds itself paired, often brings
with it ardor and excitability of character. The cranky person
has extraordinary emotional susceptibility. He
is liable to fixed ideas and obsessions. His conceptions tend to
pass immediately into belief and action; and when he gets a new
idea, he has no rest till he proclaims it, or in some way "works
it off." "What shall I think of it?" a common person says to
himself about a vexed question; but in a "cranky" mind "What must
I do about it?" is the form the question tends to take. In the
autobiography of that high-souled woman, Mrs. Annie Besant, I
read the following passage: "Plenty of people wish well to any
good cause, but very few care to exert themselves to help it, and
still fewer will risk anything in its support. 'Someone ought to
do it, but why should I?' is the ever reechoed phrase of
weak-kneed amiability. 'Someone ought to do it, so why not I?' is
the cry of some earnest servant of man, eagerly forward springing
to face some perilous duty. Between these two sentences lie
whole centuries of moral evolution." True enough! and between
these two sentences lie also the different destinies of the
ordinary sluggard and the psychopathic man. Thus, when a
superior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce--as in
the endless permutations and combinations of human faculty, they
are bound to coalesce often enough--in the same individual, we
have the best possible condition for the kind of effective genius
that gets into the <25> biographical dictionaries. Such men do
not remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect.
Their ideas possess them, they inflict them, for better or worse,
upon their companions or their age. It is they who get counted
when Messrs. Lombroso, Nisbet, and others invoke statistics to
defend their paradox.

[7] Superior intellect, as Professor Bain has admirably shown,
seems to consist in nothing so much as in a large development of
the faculty of association by similarity.

To pass now to religious phenomena, take the melancholy which, as
we shall see, constitutes an essential moment in every complete
religious evolution. Take the happiness which achieved religious
belief confers. Take the trancelike states of insight into truth
which all religious mystics report.[8] These are each and all of
them special cases of kinds of human experience of much wider
scope. Religious melancholy, whatever peculiarities it may have
qua religious, is at any rate melancholy. Religious happiness is
happiness. Religious trance is trance. And the moment we
renounce the absurd notion that a thing is exploded away as soon
as it is classed with others, or its origin is shown; the moment
we agree to stand by experimental results and inner quality, in
judging of values--who does not see that we are likely to
ascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholy
and happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparing
them as conscientiously as we can with other varieties of
melancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to consider
their place in any more general series, and treating them as if
they were outside of nature's order altogether?

I hope that the course of these lectures will confirm us in this
supposition. As regards the psychopathic origin of so many
religious phenomena, that would not be in the least surprising or
disconcerting, even were such phenomena certified from on high to
be the most precious of human experiences. No one organism can
possibly yield to its owner the whole body of truth. Few of us
are not in some way infirm, or even diseased; and our very
infirmities help us unexpectedly. In the psychopathic
temperament we have the emotionality which is the sine qua non of
moral perception; we have the intensity and tendency to emphasis
which are the essence of practical moral vigor; and we have the
love of metaphysics and mysticism which carry one's interests
beyond the surface of the sensible world. What, then, is more
natural than that this temperament should introduce one to
regions of religious truth, to corners of the universe, which
your robust Philistine type of nervous system, forever offering
its biceps to be felt, thumping its breast, and thanking Heaven
that it hasn't a single morbid fiber in its composition, would be
sure to hide forever from its self-satisfied possessors?

[8] I may refer to a criticism of the insanity theory of genius
in the Psychological Review, ii. 287 (1895).

If there were such a thing as inspiration from a higher realm, it
might well be that the neurotic temperament would furnish the
chief condition of the requisite receptivity. And having said
thus much, I think that I may let the matter of religion and
neuroticism drop.

The mass of collateral phenomena, morbid or healthy, with which
the various religious phenomena must be compared in order to
understand them better, forms what in the slang of pedagogics is
termed "the apperceiving mass" by which we comprehend them. The
only novelty that I can imagine this course of lectures to
possess lies in the breadth of the apperceiving mass. I may
succeed in discussing religious experiences in a wider context
than has been usual in university courses.

Lecture II


Most 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

[9] 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

Consider 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.

As 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 act.

The 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 subject. And, 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.

One 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.

Now 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

But if you say this, it will only show the more plainly how much
the question of definition tends to become a dispute about names.

Rather 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 to them.

In 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

There are, it is true, other things in religion chronologically
more primordial than personal devoutness in the moral sense.
Fetishism and magic seem to have preceded inward piety
historically--at least our records of inward piety do not reach
back so far. And 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.

Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it,
DIVINE. Since 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 at all.

We 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 cult. In 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.

"These laws," said the speaker, "execute themselves. They are
out of time, out of space, and not subject to circumstance:
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
contracted. He 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.

It 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 this infusion."[10]

[10] Miscellanies, 1868, p. 120 (abridged).

Such is the Emersonian religion. The universe has a divine soul
of order, which soul is moral, being also the soul within the
soul of man. But 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 bar. Settles 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."[11]

[11] Lectures and Biographical Sketches, 1868, p. 186.

Now 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.

For 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.

Such 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 attitudes. To
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.

But so very broad a use of the word "religion" would be
inconvenient, however defensible it might remain on logical
grounds. 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

Much 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:--

"There 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.

"In 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
reprisal. In this way we return to the right quarter jest for
jest; we play the trick that has been played on us. Saint
Augustine's phrase: Lord, 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."[12]

[12] Feuilles detachees, pp. 394-398 (abridged).

Surely 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.

But 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.

There 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.

But 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 task. Things 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 by. Here, 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.

"I 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.

"I 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."[13]

[13] Op. cit., pp. 314, 313.

This 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.

"I 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 good? If 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.

It 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.

If 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.

"It 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."[14]

[14] Book V., ch. ix. (abridged).

Compare now this mood with that of the old Christian author of
the Theologia Germanica:--

"Where 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."[15]

[15] Chaps. x., xi. (abridged): Winkworth's translation.

How 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

Occasionally, it is true, the stoic rises to something like a
Christian warmth of sentiment, as in the often quoted passage of
Marcus Aurelius:--

"Everything 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?"[16]

[16] Book IV., 523

But 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:--

"Lord, 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

[17] Benham's translation: Book III., chaps. xv., lix. 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.

It 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 possibly exert. Surely the
same maxim holds good in our present quest. The 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.

Now 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.

A 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 pain. This 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

The 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.

And 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.

We 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.

If 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.[18]

[18] 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.

This 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

"The 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."[19]

[19] The New Spirit, p. 232.

But 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

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