How Hard Can it Be

How Hard Can it Be

A genuine first-hand religious experience like this is bound to be a heterodoxy to its witnesses,the prophet appearing as a mere lonely madman. If his doctrine prove contagious enough to spreadto any others, it becomes a definite and labeled heresy. But if it then still prove contagious enoughto triumph over persecution, it becomes itself an orthodoxy; and when a religion has become anorthodoxy, its day of inwardness is over: the spring is dry; the faithful live at second handexclusively and stone the prophets in their turn. The new church, in spite of whatever humangoodness it may foster, can be henceforth counted on as a staunch ally in every attempt to stifle thespontaneous religious spirit, and to stop all later bubblings of the fountain from which in purerdays it drew its own supply of inspiration. Unless, indeed, by adopting new movements of the spirit it can make capital out of them and use them for its selfish corporate designs! Of protectiveaction of this politic sort, promptly or tardily decided on, the dealings of the Roman ecclesiasticismwith many individual saints and prophets yield examples enough for our instruction.The plain fact is that men's minds are built, as has been often said, in water-tight compartments.Religious after a fashion, they yet have many other things in them beside their religion, and unholyentanglements and associations inevitably obtain. The basenesses so commonly charged toreligion's account are thus, almost all of them, not chargeable at all to religion proper, but rather toreligion's wicked practical partner, the spirit of corporate dominion. And the bigotries are most ofthem in their turn chargeable to religion's wicked intellectual partner, the spirit of dogmaticdominion, the passion for laying down the law in the form of an absolutely closed-in theoreticsystem. The ecclesiastical spirit in general is the sum of these two spirits of dominion; and Ibeseech you never to confound the phenomena of mere tribal or corporate psychology which itpresents with those manifestations of the purely interior life which are the exclusive object of ourstudy. The baiting of Jews, the hunting of Albigenses and Waldenses, the stoning of Quakers andducking of Methodists, the murdering of Mormons and the massacring of Armenians, expressmuch rather that aboriginal human neophobia, that pugnacity of which we all share the vestiges,and that inborn hatred of the alien and of eccentric and non-conforming men as aliens, than theyexpress the positive piety of the various perpetrators. Piety is the mask, the inner force is tribalinstinct. You believe as little as I do, in spite of the Christian unction with which the Germanemperor addressed his troops upon their way to China, that the conduct which he suggested, and inwhich other Christian armies went beyond them, had anything whatever to do with the interiorreligious life of those concerned in the performance.Well, no more for past atrocities than for this atrocity should we make piety responsible. At mostwe may blame piety for not availing to check our natural passions, and sometimes for supplyingthem with hypocritical pretexts. But hypocrisy also imposes obligations, and with the pretextusually couples some restriction; and when the passion gust is over, the piety may bring a reactionof repentance which the irreligious natural man would not have shown.Lectures XV THE VALUE OF SAINTLINESS  For many of the historic aberrations which have been laid to her charge, religion as such, then, isnot to blame. Yet of the charge that over-zealousness or fanaticism is one of her liabilities wecannot wholly acquit her, so I will next make a remark upon that point. But I will preface it by apreliminary remark which connects itself with much that follows. Our survey of the phenomena ofsaintliness has unquestionably produced in your minds an impression of extravagance. Is itnecessary, some of you have asked, as one example after another came before us, to be quite sofantastically good as that? We who have no vocation for the extremer ranges of sanctity will surelybe let off at the last day if our humility, asceticism, and devoutness prove of a less convulsive sort.This practically amounts to saying that much that it is legitimate to admire in this field neednevertheless not be imitated, and that religious phenomena, like all other human phenomena, aresubject to the law of the golden mean. Political reformers accomplish their successive tasks in thehistory of nations by being blind for the time to other causes. Great schools of art work out theeffects which it is their mission to reveal, at the cost of a one-sidedness for which other schoolsmust make amends. We accept a John Howard, a Mazzini, a Botticelli, a Michael Angelo, with akind of indulgence. We are glad they existed to show us that way, but we are glad there are also other ways of seeing and taking life. So of many of the saints whom we have looked at. We areproud of a human nature that could be so passionately extreme, but we shrink from advising othersto follow the example. The conduct we blame ourselves for not following lies nearer to the middleline of human effort. It is less dependent on particular beliefs and doctrines. It is such as wearswell in different ages, such as under different skies all judges are able to commend.The fruits of religion, in other words, are, like all human products, liable to corruption by excess.Common sense must judge them. It need not blame the votary; but it may be able to praise himonly conditionally, as one who acts faithfully according to his lights. He shows us heroism in oneway, but the unconditionally good way is that for which no indulgence need be asked. We find thaterror by excess. Excess, in human faculties, means usuallyone-sidedness or want of balance; for it is hard to imagine an essential faculty too strong, if onlyother faculties equally strong be there to cooperate with it in action. Strong affections need a strongwill; strong active powers need a strong intellect; strong intellect needs strong sympathies, to keeplife steady. If the balance exist, no one faculty can possibly be too strong--we only get the strongerall-round character. In the life of saints, technically so called, the spiritual faculties are strong, butwhat gives the impression of extravagance proves usually on examination to be a relativedeficiency of intellect. Spiritual excitement takes pathological forms whenever other interests aretoo few and the intellect too narrow. We find this exemplified by all the saintly attributes in turn-devoutlove of God, purity, charity, asceticism, all may lead astray. I will run over these virtues insuccession.First of all let us take Devoutness. When unbalanced, one of its vices is called Fanaticism.
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