Religion And Religiousness (Happiness Through Faith)
( Originally Published 1914 )
I. Faith is a supreme benefit to souls. Without it, life becomes colourless, if not sad, and its interest vanishes. Indifference and weariness invade our consciousness, gradually preparing a favourable soil for the growth of dissatisfaction. Life be-comes a burden. We feel unhappy as a man would be who was condemned to remain in darkness. It is faith which triumphs over our troubles, our discouragements, our weaknesses. Faith adorns life by giving it an ideal; faith strengthens life by assigning it a purpose;, faith also permits us to live our whole life, by promising to the dreariest existences joyous rewards as the crown of their efforts. Whatever may be its object—God, native land, family, science, or humanity—faith lends to life an intoxicating fragrance. A mind without faith is a cold and dismal abode, which hastens the destruction of whoever is shut within.
The fate of faith, so strongly attacked on all sides, grieves our contemporaries, and renders them gloomy. Men have attempted to proscribe faith as opposed to the interests of real life; they have striven to assail it on the pretext that it is not in harmony with the scientific methods in force. Lastly, by identifying it with religion, those were detached who are not willing to walk in the ruts assigned by the churches.
Flouted, humiliated, or abandoned, faith deserts our souls, and with it vanish all the enthusiasms which adorn and strengthen life. The religions themselves suffer from its absence, for instead of true believers, animated by faith, they often have as followers only calculators who accept religions as social necessities or political possibilities.
But faith is one of the most living and dazzling sources of happiness. In the name of happiness we must emancipate faith from the guardianship of its enemies.
Without it, life would become impossible. For what is duty itself, that duty which sustains individuals, native lands, and mankind, religious men, and especially those who are not religious, except a mysterious, intangible article of faith, which dispenses with all reason and argument? Vainly do we analyse duty, vainly do we explain it; above all these explanations hovers, supreme, the faith which illumines it with its virtues. It is faith which procures for duty the stamp of inevitable necessity. Duty vanishes, if faith ceases to bear it company.
II. It is an error not to see in faith, under all its forms, a companion of religion. Both are associated and become similar. Religion is impossible without faith, while all sincere faith is equivalent to a religion. Their objects may vary, but their essence is the same. Viewed from this standpoint, religion and faith become attributes of conscious man. Their various forms undergo radical modifications, but their elementary principle always survives. We cannot conceive a future human race without faith, as we do not think of the human race of the present day without religion. Religion and religions, as they develop, merge into a sort of religiousness, a domain of vague faith, where dogmas lose their distinct out-lines and assume the form of indefinite aspirations. Faith and religiousness have always existed; religions are of more recent creation. Only in the train of Buddha, Confucius, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus Christ, or Mahomet, did dogmatic religions appear. The so-called religions of Greece had no sacerdotal organisation. Neither had they obligatory dogmas. They knew and imposed upon the citizens merely external rites. The supreme deity of the Greek Paytone+Ones was simply reason. Aristotle placed Nature herself far below reason, which she could not equal.
The Greeks lacked several conditions for trans-forming their mythology into a religion: a revealer, a sacred book, and a theological system. No Greek had ventured to place himself, in the character of an intermediary, between Olympus and simple mortals; not one of them had written books under the dictation of the gods. Nor had Greece a special theology, codifying the priesthood, and the modes of worshipping the gods. The will and the caprice of individuals did not cease to regulate the rites. The religion of the Greeks was only an imagery of the poets. The genius of the latter had furnished its foundation and its ornaments. The attempts of the Pythagoreans to give Greek faith the more stable stamp of the revealed religions never attained any positive result. Greek credulity, free in its movements, only peopled with infinite variations the frames of the poems bequeathed by the ancestors.
We scorn the past and hold the future cheap, if we consider the human race without dogmatic religion an impossibility.
Let us trust the human soul. It is broader than all religions and deeper than all the philosophical schools. It shelters and creates these. Within its precincts all are merged and have their birth.
The error of a religion or of a philosophical system does not imply error on the part of our soul. In its march toward the stars, the latter has surmounted all the fleeting crises of religions and of reason.
The history of the relations of science and of reason are only one vast cemetery where lie buried the most opposite conceptions. The reason which incarnated science, and the religious emotion which assumed the form of various religions, were sometimes melted into a single mass, sometimes separated into a system of dependence and equality, or in an open conflict, and were finally enclosed within a country with distinctly outlined frontiers. How many incongruous doctrines! How many dissimilar religions!
III. In the struggle of free thought against dogmas, the chances of victory are not on the side of the latter. The conquests of science, popularised by the lay education that is rendered obligatory, are undermining more and more the dogmas of religion. Every one admits that religion is losing ground. Yet no one dares imagine that dogmas will return in their offensive aspects. Such an eventuality would appear illogical, as a movement backward. Religions, to exist, must make a compact with independent thought. But the latter, while spreading through the religious domain, destroys all it's principal foundations. Belief in Paradise or in Hell, the essential tenets of all dogmatic religion, vanishes in proportion to the distance that science thrusts back the limits of the heavens, and increases the number of worlds. The man of the present day knows that the various species of animals living around us exceed two millions, and that the varieties of plants registered by the botanists attain a total of about three hundred and fifty thousand. Science has inflicted deadly wounds upon the childish pride of man. He no longer dares consider himself the only privileged being in the midst of the myriads of worlds and of beings, the greater part of which still escapes his comprehension. Convinced that the earth is only a drop of mud in the vast economy of the Universe, the modern man no longer poses as an only child of a divine combination. His boundless ambition turns from the heavens, which humiliate him. He seeks solace for his troubles upon earth, which smiles upon him more kindly. This tendency is becoming more marked. The religions which under-stand the advantages that the opportunity affords are opening their doors to their age-long adversary. Modernism, in all its forms, is penetrating the Church and the churches. Caught between two fires, the invasion from without and the revolution within, the relgions are throwing out their ballast, and ridding themselves of the elements which, after having made them live for centuries, could now only make them die. They are growing spiritualised, and thus drawing nearer to the religiousness which is and will be eternal.
IV. A regrettable confusion has been created between religion and religiousness. Now the former is incomprehensible without a creed, a collection of dogmas forming a positive religion. Religiousness is only a special quality of our conscience. It aspires to lofty emotions, outside of all creeds, all dogmas. A man who professes no religion may have religiousness. It is futile not to be a Catholic, a Mussulman, or a Jew. We may, nevertheless, believe in the divine Reason of things, of which the human race is only a simple manifestation. The most sagacious scholars often hold this difference cheaply.
In their bewilderment, they even ask science to become religious, and religion to become scientific.
Thus Huxley tells us that true science and true religion are twin sisters and their separation would be the certain death of both. Science prospers so far as it is religious and religion flourishes in the exact proportion to the depth and the solidity of its scientific basis. True science, Herbert Spencer asserts, is essentially religious.
Religion being based upon authority, and science upon free examination and experience, we do not readily understand the possibility and the ad-vantages of their pairing. How are the two extremes to be reconciled? Above all, how are these two principles, which appear mutually to exclude each other, to be harmonised? By dint of having made a bad selection of the foundation of harmony, we are incurring the risk of incensing the two adversaries still more. Why not abandon them to the logic of their fate? Their antagonism is reduced to the character of the spirit which animates them. There is a scientific spirit. There is also a religious spirit. Both reigning in different domains can continue to act there without mutually disturbing each other. The whole question lies therein, according to the fine remark of E. Boutroux: Does the scientific spirit which, in certain of its representatives, assumes the negation of the religious spirit, actually exclude it, or does it permit possibility to be substituted?
If it is admitted that the religious spirit, in its elevated expression, is only religiousness losing itself in the boundless empire of the eternal and insoluble mysteries, passing from the complexity of worlds and facts toward the Beyond which has disturbed and attracted us ever since man lived upon the earth, the response cannot be uncertain. Yes, there will be always a vast neutral zone. The philosophy of the religions will there encounter the philosophy of the sciences. Religious thought will there fraternise with philosophic thought in a sublime emotion of the Unknown, in its march toward the Unknown.
For under the influence of modern mentality, the religious development which embraces all faiths, is. more and more releasing moral principles and destroying dogmas and forms. It is doing more: it is tearing from dogmas their stamp of despotism and compelling them to put themselves in harmony with independent thought.
Creeds and dogmas, in being modified, will move toward that religiousness' in which the human race of the future will commune. It will scatter along its way the errors and superstitions which divide souls, retaining only the truths which bring them nearer.
V. Civilization and social progress demonstrate the necessity and the benefits of the union of human beings. The crossings of peoples and of races are daily increasing. Science and literatures are becoming common property. International laws are widening their domain. Like the stamp of the postal union, there is a single thought dominating all the divergences of ideas and of interests. Religions, like all human institutions, must conform to the law of the living. They must submit, in the first place, to the conditions of existence that obtain in the surrounding environment. They will remain only by being in harmony with human thought and feelings. Far from working for the division of minds, they will strive for a closer connection.
Religions will thus be able to coexist for a long time, side by side, in the presence of religiousness,
For lack of a more suitable word, we use the old term, religiousness, whose meaning has often been distorted and violated. Perhaps it might have been better to invent a new one, but the danger of being entirely misunderstood was greater than that of being insufficiently eomprehended which answers the needs of all men. Native countries will exist in the same way beside the human race, the common patrimony of all conscious beings. No doubt a day will come when in their turn the various alluvions of rites and dogmas which obscure the human mind will vanish. Then will burst forth in all its beauty the divine essence of all religions, religiousness, the universal and ineradicable principle. The eternal source, it has given birth to all the religions. In their turn, these may die, in the same place which gave them birth.
Thus will pass away the creeds and the dogmas, yielding their ground to religiousness, the domain of unutterable aspirations, common to all human beings.
Nevertheless, it would be unfair to regard all the dogmatic religions as foes of our happiness. When they do not lower the minds of believers by a degrading fanaticism, and base articles of faith, they exert a beneficent influence. To under-stand this reservation, it is sufficient to remember the state of savagery created in the past by certain religions. The present, in fact, is not free from this condition of things. Do we not see to-day the majority of the religions regulate the conduct of their followers on the bases of a double accounting with the Lord? With extraordinary irreverence, the Deity is reduced to the level of a moderately just man. Our acts are rated. They are rewarded or we are made to pay a penalty. The good graces of the Lord are bought with offerings and good deeds. After having sinned a long time, we be-come reconciled to Him by the aid of magic formulas or thanks to the intervention of his favourite ministers. While believing this, the disciple blushes when he is compelled to perceive the fact. This is much.
The most cruel spectacles which the religions present to us are those of persecutions in the name of faith. But merely let the spirit of tolerance and human understanding penetrate the religious domain and it will suffice to render that domain a factor of serenity and happiness.
Lovers of free and independent thought should not forget that, in striving to persecute religion and its believers, it would become still more odious than is religious fanaticism; for religions have excuses which free thought lacks.
Lying beliefs, it will be said. Nothing justifies them. Let us reject them in the name of truth! Now, it is precisely philosophic truth which teaches us supreme caution. We know the errors of our knowledge. Its extent and its depth remove nothing from the fragility of its principles. Science does not cease to progress, but the paths through which it leads us are not always infallible. If in every truth there is a portion of falsehood, in every falsehood there is a fragment of truth. From the scientific standpoint, nothing authorises the logic of the sectarian mind violently rejecting everything that is not in harmony with its comprehension.
VI. We forget the advantages which illusion often offers. Who would dare to take upon him-self the monstrous cruelty of telling a father who worships his child, that this child is the fruit of adultery? No matter if we do have incontestable proof, nevertheless we are silent. As regards the choice between the truth which would have crushed the heart of the man who was deceived, and salutary silence, doubt is impossible. The most up-right man bows to the falsehood. He will even do what is necessary to fill up the fissures through which the truth might escape.
After all, why snatch from man the possibility of seeing things as his happiness requires? Re-member the example of Marcus Aurelius, the most virtuous of the Romans. Faustina basely deceived him. Her love affairs were numerous. The Empress chose them principally in the most despised professions, and scandalous rumours were current of her shame and her treacheries. Comedians publicly named Faustinas lovers, and Marcus Aurelius was pointed out as the most deluded of husbands. Yet the Emperor would hear nothing, would see nothing. To him Faustina ever remained the good and faithful wife. He benevolently shut his eyes. Gradually certainty returned to his soul. He no longer doubted his conjugal honour, for he believed absolutely in the virtue of her whom all Rome was loading with reproaches.
The prayer which Marcus Aurelius addresses to the gods on the banks of the Gran is delicious. He thanks them, in the sincerity of his soul, for having given to him a good, faithful, and affectionate wife.
How disturbing this good man's example re-mains! Why tear aside the veil which covers happiness if, when dethroned, it must give place to misery? We possess only the happiness which is felt, understood, above all, desired. Why rouse the dreamer when his dream, without injuring any one, affords him visible pleasure? Truth is divine in its essence—another reason for not causing suffering in the name of truth. Another reason for not arrogating its exclusive possession.
Yes, souls dear to our hearts live by illusions. Why snatch these illusions away? Science can continue its course freely, without striving to destroy the things which do not impede its path. It needs neither persecution nor proselytism. Its victories are invading contemporary mentality. By the natural force of things, they will eliminate from it all that is not in harmony with its precise truths. But spiritualistic philosophy is not incompatible with scientific method. Witness Pasteur, Darwin, and so many other scientists who are so imbued with " religiousness."
VII. Dogmatic religions are also wrong in seeking to struggle against lay morality. The latter takes the place of religious morality when the other weakens or disappears. Social harmony requires their mutual respect. Mankind can exist only upon moral foundations. Why discredit those of science and of experience, if a portion of the nation must live by these latter? In the same way it is dangerous to attempt to destroy religious morality if the ground is not ready to receive the seeds of the other form. Both have sufficient cause for mutual respect. Guyot justly says: "The false, even the absurd, has always played so prominent a part in human affairs that it would certainly be dangerous to exclude it at any time."
On the other hand, free and independent morality is, after all, only a morality founded upon the social and moral interests of man. Its object is the happiness of the individual and of the community. Why then ,should we not feel disarmed in the presence of its fumblings, striving for our benefit, our happiness?
Religions have only to consider the oceans of tears in which they have nearly drowned mankind to be indulgent toward the morality of the free thought which is endeavouring, in its turn, to guide the destiny of man. Whatever we may do, nothing will prevent the advent of a more and more rational morality, of a faith more and more freed from the artless or barbarous notions which are so far beneath the man of our times. The essential thing is that the evolution should take place without causing useless sufferings.
The atheism of the present day, to tell the truth, is but a word. A cultivated man can no longer pro-claim himself an atheist according to the ancient definition. He can no longer deny the influence of the forces which escape him and the principles that he ignores. He is distinguished from believers only because his belief shows him a different tenor. But the atheist, also, cannot exist without a faith, without a certain religiousness in harmony with the explanation which we have given above. A man who has never drunk from the springs of science or one who has appropriated from them merely superficial ideas, can boast of being an ardent and positive materialist. But the man who, in good faith, has striven to penetrate the essential points of modern science, can no longer remain in harmony with either atheism or materialism in their absolute meaning or in the one attributed by the common people. There is a universal law which rules the entire cosmic world. It destroys our faith in matter. It concerns the sovereign law of gravitation. The myriads of worlds surrounding us, including the hundred and twenty millions of stars revealed to our wondering eyes by the perfected telescopes, almost all these stars controlling worlds often far larger than our solar system, nevertheless are held only by an ideal, spiritual, and invisible power.
How do all these worlds maintain their positions, and perform their functions in consequence of immaterial forces and laws whose bearing and signification, though misunderstood by us, nevertheless remain real?
When we descend from metaphysical heights and return to the domain of positive morality, the atheists find themselves singularly near to all sincere believers.
The supreme end of all morality, based upon religion, or deprived of the divine idea, is always the same. Love, and make yourself beloved, there is nothing above this principle.
A Christian writer, not one of the least important, justly shows far more sympathy with the atheists than with the believers animated by an automatic faith, for the former have an ardour of belief, a fierce love of justice and of truth which the second lack.
This is the very reason, M. Monod has told us, that modern atheism does not cease to be religious.
Victor Hugo explained before Wilfrid Monod' that he "who did not believe in God, one and triune, listening to harps, jealous and vengeful, was nevertheless a true believer, while the priests who taught God were atheists." And, for the reason that the man who desires and works for justice, is a religious man.
An atheist, to use the term as generally applied, would therefore be wrong to incriminate the aims of a religion that leads the simple-minded toward the heights attained by the elect of lay thought, just as true believers would commit a serious error against the higher interests of humanity by attacking in any way, except by persuasion, the deep and painful sorrowful convictions that deprive certain anxious and troubled souls of all repose in beliefs.
Sincere faith, moreover, has for its inevitable counterpart no less sincere doubt.
The salvation of religious faith lies in the reciprocal tendencies these two antinomies have to combat. The radiance of faith would pale singularly if it could not be opposed to incredulity. The latter, in its turn, draws its strength from the shock it receives from the ardours of faith. The beneficent balance of mankind requires the coexistence of these two factors. Their time-honoured and inevitable companionship renders reciprocal tolerance possible and necessary.
Persecutions and martyrology have never been able to destroy the development of the free mind, but no jeering at dogmas will ever conquer the need of faith in our hearts.
Both may meet and communicate in the same domain of happiness which masters in the same degree a believer and a sceptic, a religious and an irreligious man. Both are aiming, after all, toward justice and happiness. Some are content with desiring to render the world a paradise, while others rejoice in possessing that of the world beyond.
Thus they have in common one ideal and one faith —that of making our existence nobler. We need only purify faith and elevate scepticism, and both methods will meet more and more in common aspirations toward a more and more lofty and intense happiness. The best among those who deny or affirm are labouring for the same God of justice and happiness whom they call by different names.
This similitude of life and of work asserts itself from the very beginning of religions and of free thought. Taine states that Christianity, after eighteen centuries of existence, is now working in the same way among the Russian moujiks and the American settlers, as it did formerly among the artisans of Galilee, in striving to substitute for love of self, the love for others.
Its essence, examined through this vast region, has not changed.
"Beneath its Greek, its Catholic, or its Protestant envelope, it is still to four hundred millions of human creatures the spiritual organ, the majestic pair of wings which are indispensable to raise man above himself."
Free thought, summed up in the vast lines of its evolution, expresses at the end of several thousands of years, the same guiding thought.
This thought aims to render man superior to his instincts. The science which develops outside of religion has for its object only to furnish in its turn, and at its expense, another pair of beneficent wings to raise man above his pitiable and miserable condition.
The doctrine, the pedagogy, and the morality of happiness are ready to furnish a common basis for all religions and all sincere and disinterested aspirations.
Within their bosom all the flagrant or hidden contradictions which appear to separate them are found to be levelled. The aspiration to that lofty happiness which, being of altruistic essence, alone is deep and lasting, realises for that very reason the love for our neighbour that constitutes the indispensable and inevitable ideal of all the religions and of all the social and laical doctrines worthy of this name.
Modern incredulity, as well as modern atheism, is distinguished from those of the past. The most positive rationalists now admit the existence of spiritual needs and eternal aspirations toward the infinite. The most convinced among them have undergone the fate of Faust, of all the Fausts whom humanity sheltered during the ages. They have discovered the need of their souls to turn, at some given moment, toward the mysteries, toward the noumena that lies hidden beneath each phenomenon.
Below their reason, they perceive this whole vivifying layer of the sub-conscience which feeds and maintains the inner life to its fathomless depths, whence come to us the most spontaneous of our intuitions and of our creations.
Absorbed by anxieties or by our daily troubles, we forget its existence. But, having returned within ourselves, we gaze, troubled or marvelling, at this domain of limitless frontiers from which rises in beauty a mysterious force.
There also lies for us the source of religious emotions. Their foundation is the same, but their names vary.
Nevertheless we endeavour to raise an impassable barrier between the believers and the atheists by opposing their doctrines relative to survival.
Undoubtedly there is nothing more delightful to the human consciousness than the idea of survival. Under its rudimentary forms, it appears with the first rays of the awakening of our intellect. But an insurmountable abyss also separates, in this domain, the ancient notion of immortality from that of our own times.
The simple-minded men of ancient days were empirical. Therefore they believed in the reality of symbols, in the actual life of images and of names.
The doll that rudely represents the human features has its own life. In this quality, it can be sacrificed to the gods. The names that people bore also had a real existence. When they disappeared from the memory of men those whom they were supposed to incarnate vanished in their turn.
The great reformer of Egypt, Amen-Hotep IV, wishing to destroy the divinities of his country, destroyed first of all their statues and the names in-scribed upon these. The iconoclasts, who amaze us to such a degree, were only logical people. They acted in conformity with the ideas of their times. On that very account the future life was limited to the duration of the images or of the memory left among the living. Thus the negroes believed in the life beyond the grave of their father, whose deeds and movements they remembered, but they did not believe in that of their ancestors of whom they were entirely ignorant. "Whoever has his name spoken, lives, and if another sees that you are doing this for me, he will also do it for you," runs an inscription found upon the temple of Horus at Edfu.
The future life consists in a brutal and material prolongation of life here on earth. Imbued with these materialist conceptions, the ancients saw in immortality merely the continuation of the terrestrial existence. Only, exhausted by fatigue, that of the other world became a pallid image, lacking warmth and love, a life of shadow. This is why the Greeks, in spite of the varied appearances which they had succeeded in grafting upon the primitive idea of death, had no inclination for existence beyond the grave.
The typical saying of Achilles, that he would rather be the slave of a poor man on earth than to reign over a kingdom in the other world, incarnates all the fears and all the hopes of the Greeks.
Our ideas of immortality have changed greatly with the course of time. How numerous have been the lofty additions that render it more spiritual, especially more desirable.
The soul being no longer identical with the body, and the mind being independent of space, immortality is emancipated from the infirmities and the decrepitude of our material envelope. Again attached to the system of our mind it hovers above our religious conceptions, and even displays an infinite variety of forms beneath which it takes shelter. But all these forms have the same purpose, which consists in diminishing our sufferings here on earth, and in opening to our hopes infinite horizons.
The spiritualisation of the essence of immortality renders the conciliation of doctrines more and more easy. Yet we should do wrong to seek to impose it as a simple dogma. Faith in immortality, as well as its favourite form, is only the product of our personal consciousness. Mankind has dispensed with them for ages. The loftiest consciences succeeded in existing without the aid of faith in immortality, as the most admirable and the most moral men will be able to develop without its assistance.
We may cite a thinker like John Stuart Mill, who was at the same time the most honest of men, to whom the idea of eternity was even odious.
He tells us that, in a higher and especially a happier existence, it would not be annihilation, but immortality, whose idea would become unbearable. The man who is well satisfied with the present, and in no haste to leave it, would nevertheless be sincerely distressed by the thought that he was chained through eternity to a life which he would not be sure of desiring always to retain.
The more and more strongly marked variety of doctrines and their emancipation from the ruder articles of faith, when these are not in harmony with the elementary data of good sense and of knowledge, have resulted in softening the English who, in former times, separated the atheists from the believers.
A closer connection, based upon a reciprocal under-standing, is also showing itself in this domain among fair-minded men. True believers are permitting themselves to be influenced more and more by Reason, as sceptics and atheists are affected by the spiritual sides of our aspirations and of our life.
The new conceptions of the infinitely great and of the infinitely little, which fill all the exact sciences, have singularly broadened the horizon of our ideas. The infinite has entered into our calculations, occupying our visions, and for that very reason, animating our hopes.
Our most intelligent ancestors, in many respects, had the ideas of the simple-minded men of our days. The geographical or astronomical notions of the ancient Greeks would make a schoolboy ten years old smile.
We see much more broadly, and much farther. In proportion as our imagination widens its vision, boundless regions open before it. By the aid of several units formerly unknown, we measure and weigh the phenomena of the solar world. Thanks to the micron, that is, the thousandth part of a milli-metre, or to the light-year, that is, the distance which light traverses in a year (its speed per second, however, is three hundred thousand kilometers), we are trying to attain through our imagination the extreme frontiers of the real, and we thus obtain singularly disturbing facts. Our pen mechanically records them, but our powerless brain refuses to understand them and to grasp their immensity.
Think, for instance, that the distance traversed by the light which reaches us from one of the stars that is nearest to our earth is equal, during a single year, to about ten thousand thousand millions of kilometers.
The number of drops of water contained in all the seas of the globe, is estimated by oceanographic science at about thirteen hundred millions of cubic centimeters. Let us try to decompose this figure. A cubic centimeter contains a thousand millions of cubic meters, and a cubic meter, in its turn, contains a thousand million cubic millimeters.
Our imagination pauses in consternation. Yet the matter in question concerns only our own planet, a mere drop of water or mud in the economy of the universe.
Here is another example: It has been discovered that infinitesimal quantities of metallic salts corresponding to a ten millionth of a milligramme per quart still act upon lactic fermentation. Now, in a quart of fermenting milk, there are about a hundred thousand millions of cells. The result is that we have to deal with fractions of grammes in which there would be twenty-five noughts!
The boldest calculation dares not approach certain operations. Vertigo or utter lack of comprehension thus brings our reflections to a close.
So the idea of the infinite is deepened and broadened in every direction. As fast as our comprehension embraces more and more impenetrable horizons, it finds itself compelled to admit experimentally the reality of incomprehensible forces and the existence of an unknown Power, whose grandeur and whose depth, surpassing the most stupendous resources of our intellect, command Faith, because in their indefinite form, they arise only from our Faith.
Behind the inconceivable world of the present, there lies one still more inaccessible to our mind, the world of yesterday, the world of incalculable ages already past and of incalculable ages to come.
Bottomless, boundless gulfs are waiting on all sides for the thought which would fain venture into their depths. The combinations of worlds and of phenomena realised, in process of realisation, or in view of being realised, exceed even the power of our figures.
We imagine with difficulty a magnitude attaining fifty figures side by side in a line.
Let us think, for example, that the entire mass of the earth expressed in kilogrammes of its weight does not exceed twenty-five figures and the number, of drops of water contained in all the seas about thirty. Now, the probability of combinations of forces and of the phenomena of nature probably surpasses thousands of millions of figures.
I have calculated elsewhere the different ways of seating guests around a table. The placing of twelve persons can give occasion for five hundred million combinations; that of fourteen presents ninety-one thousands of millions, and the seating of fifteen,
But nature presents myriads of elements. What would then be the number of possible combinations?
We can answer again only by the Infinite. The Infinite, which outstrips all the possibilities of our comprehension and consequently our ideas, our dreams, and our aspirations.
This Infinite imposes itself upon our Faith, because it imposes itself upon and pervades our Reason.
Call it: Jupiter, Jehovah, Providence, Nature, God the Father, or Force. What does that matter! The point in question is always a simple Faith.
No human intellect can cast it out, and the more reflective, the more scientific it is, the more it will believe, and the more it will be imbued with this Faith.
The Unknowable or the Mysterious which guides the believers also guides the scientists. More impatient He puts a period where the scientific searcher places only a comma. His sentence is finished, his horizon is narrowed, because he has set at the end of his anxieties a series of dogmas.
The seeker continues to work, though knowing in advance that the mystery thrust farther into the distance will not cease on that account to be a mystery.
The Infinite not closed is the free or emancipated mind, is our spirituality more and more purified and elevated. The problem of our Intellect is thus identified with the problem of the Infinite.
With man thus grown loftier, mystery finds itself more honoured, for it transports and accompanies us into the infinity of the suns, into the infinity of thought, into the infinity of hopes, into the boundless divinity that fills the world and our destinies.
As man forms a portion of the universe, in his turn he is deified and immortalised. He will undergo the fate of the universe, the fate of the God-Force which completely penetrates him.
Into the undefined and limitless Faith of the man of science returns the narrowed Faith of the man of dogmas. As the forest incorporates the trees which compose it, so philosophical or scientific Faith ex-presses the multiplicity of religions and of crystallised dogmas.
Moreover: All the shades of the religions termed positive or revealed mingle in this general one, as the waters of the rivers disperse in the ocean.
The atheism of former days has lost its cause for existence. It has come to die on the threshold of the belief in the Infinite, or if we prefer, of the Great All, of the Great Force, or of the Great Mystery.
With progress, dogmatic faiths having softened their angles and brought their dogmas into harmony with the modern conscience, will end by being, in their turn, summed up into a more and more vague and ideal faith.
They will lose their stamp of concrete affirmation and assume the common tonality of the faith that animates all thinking beings.
Dying atheism and vanishing religious fanaticism are only the prelude of that triumphal symphony of the human Faith of the future, which will be summed up in the same awe of and the same longing for the Infinite.
Then there will be little regard for the "accessories" which divide revealed religions from the one established by the study and the observation of the universe.
True science confines itself to proclaiming the spirituality of faith, but the believer seeks to materialise it and incarnate it under forms accessible to his mind.
The characters find themselves singularly reversed. The religious man is thus becoming a "materialist," and the man of science remains an "idealist." This result, apparently paradoxical, singularly illumines the recriminations and the quarrels which separate the two camps, and preaches to them the necessity of a mutual understanding that will be more just, for while the crust that surrounds their souls appears to distinguish them, a core of Faith nevertheless unites them, under the banner of the Unknown, the supreme object of their aspirations which they do not cease to have in common.
VIII. History is only an incessant tradition. We pass from certain conditions of moral and material existence to other moral and material conditions. This change constitutes the essence of progress, and we easily accommodate ourselves to it, when the passage is made in an imperceptible manner.
But there are also acute crises. Under an in-ward pressure of events, we rush in all haste toward new quarters. This change startles peaceful souls.
Misoneism, or hatred of innovation, sleeps unsuspected in the human mind. Awakened, it defends itself by all the means within its reach. We shut ourselves up in the old abodes; we re-plaster the walls; we even stuff the holes through which the new light threatens to filter. More conciliatory occupants, on the other hand, try to repaint their dwellings in conformity with the taste of the day.
These are the epochs of great and small revolutions. Consciences are darkened. They vainly seek their way. The conflict sharpens minds and renders them hateful and implacable. Gradually the light breaks forth, for truth has a peerless power of penetration. Thus it is that monarchies accept the intervention of the people in the government, and religions that of reason in the dogmas.
Is it necessary to drag recalcitrant spirits by force toward the new abode? For what purpose if the house, irremediably condemned, must, sooner or later, be vacated? A struggle to the bitter end could only increase the suffering. Let us permit minds to work freely, and progress to operate by the power of truth.
Let us preach calmness and reconciliation ; for human passions are in any case doing and will do their work. They are hastening the imminent victory of ideas, by suffering. It is the part of noble minds to lessen the extent and the bitterness of this suffering, for tolerance, that sensible patience, is the exclusive virtue of sages.
IX. Everything tends to the belief that these struggles will be made more and more under conditions of mutual esteem. Indulgence, the natural fruit of comprehension, will soften all extravagance in the ardour of the combatants. It will console the vanquished and will teach the victors comprehensive kindness. The most re-presentative champions of free thought have them-elves given examples of moderation. Kant has not ventured to place his "categorical imperative" outside of the future life. " Like a simple Savoyard vicar," remarked Paul Stapfer, "he concluded that the harmony between virtue and happiness, not being realised here below, must be offered to our hope in heaven." Ernest Renan jeered at the illusions of independent morality. "By dint of chimeras," he tells us, "we have succeeded in obtaining from the good gorilla a surprising moral effort." But he did not see how, "without the ancient dreams, we could succeed in rebuilding the foundations of a noble and happy life." "It is necessary to maintain," he tells us elsewhere, "in addition to the fatherland and the family, an institution from which the soul may receive nourishment, consolation, counsels, an institution where may be found spiritual teachers, a director: that institution is the Church. "
The virus of the seminary probably speaks through the lips of Renan. His imagination, nourished by the intoxicating charms of the Church, did not conceive of life without its aid. "Without it," he asserted, "life would become dishearteningly arid, especially to women." Herbert Spencer sought salvation in the reconciliation of religion and science.
Spencer's illusion is that of the great majority of thinkers of every age. It is easily explained. We may note first that the origins of science and of religion appear to be the same. Both owe their birth to the reaction of the world upon our minds, our souls ; both have for their object principles which are incomprehensible, unknowable, and beyond the range of thought. Religion has the absolute; science has, among other things, space and time.
The history of philosophy is only a series of efforts aiming to realise the harmony between science and religion. From the Greeks, who believed that they perceived the same divine reason working in both domains, passing by the scholastic doctrines, which preached the identity of their objects and their methods, and ending with the Paytone+Ones of our own times, who believe in the inevitable harmony between science, the product of intelligence, and religion, the product of feeling, how many schools and thinkers have been toiling to prepare, to explain, and to realise the friendly harmony between the two! Yet this harmony is far from being concluded.
o August Comte's effort is doubtless one of the most characteristic. In wishing to make religion the crown of science, and to erect its proud and powerful kingdom opposite that of science, he has only narrowed the limits of both. Religion and science come forth singularly disfigured and curtailed. Their boundaries are found to be arbitrarily violated and marked. Science sees itself delivered over to the domination of emotion, and sinks to the level of a province conquered by religion.
As to religion, it becomes in its turn the victim, if not the slave, of mankind, a condition which to Comte is the gauge and the end of everything. A poor wandering shade, it goes from the actual to the useful, and from the useful to the actual, the heaven and the promised land of positivist philosophy.
X. Nearer to us, William James, with his pragmatist doctrine or religious experience, has also tried to realise this harmony. He has advanced farther than his predecessors. Does he not claim for religions the character of a science? Knowledge dictated by the heart has for him the same weight as knowledge resulting from experience. After all, religion is also an experience. Aided by a warm and ingenious dialectic, James is trying to identify feeling, the subjective principle of the religions, with scientific experience, from which personality is banished.
Do not mathematicians study the same facts by the path of infinitesimal calculus, and that of geometrical analysis? Why, asks James, can we not study the phenomena which surround us by both the scientific and the religious methods?
The American Paytone+One forget., that a scientific demonstration means the demonstration of a truth visible to and comprehensible by all who are placed under the same conditions. A religious experience or truth always remains personal. Admitting their objectivity, it would be necessary, at the same time, to banish the sacred principles of tolerance. Religious truth having become impersonal, having become an objective truth, it would be necessary to impose it upon every one. We should not have, however, the right to respect the so-called asserted truth or the falsehood of the others.
Now, what saves religious experience, if experience there is, is precisely that, being the product of feeling or of individual sensation, it is not demonstrable. It binds the person who sees it in a certain way, without disturbing the repose of his neighbours.
James, however, believes that he has found in it a true scientific basis. By relying upon the subliminal self, that second consciousness, which, according to Myers, would be possessed by every human soul (the double), he declares that man, thanks to this supplementary consciousness, finds himself in relations with another world and other beings superior to those we have before our eyes.
And this sphere of action, thus based upon a positive (?) fact, would be reserved for religion.
We see how unscientific is this science. The phenomena described by Myers also show not infrequently and very distinctly the traces of pathological disturbances. The most significant ones cited by the author of Human Personality enter the category of the facts observed by psychologists, under the name of psychological automatism. This automatism does not create new syntheses ; it is only the result of a psychic activity which had already existed, and by which it is almost always accompanied. Many phenomena which kindle the imagination of James have been recorded and studied by the alienists. We do not yet know them very well and, at any rate, not sufficiently to entrust to them the direction of the religious sovereignty.'
Nevertheless, William James continues to confuse the modernists and a large portion of the intellectual youth of both continents. His doctrine preaches to souls the beauty and the truth of the integral life by which the modern conscience is assauged. He attracts by his quasi-scientific varnish and disarms by his ardent desire to diffuse peace and happiness through religion.
But pragmatism will soon cease to act, like intoxicating music which, after having deeply stirred our hearts, vanishes without leaving any recollection.
XI. The more we reflect upon so many abortive attempts, the more we perceive the futility of these efforts. Men have desired to reconcile irreconcilable things. Religions, born of an eternal necessity of the soul, remain unassailable, so long as they are enclosed within its bounds. Religions in a state of religiousness have nothing to fear and nothing to expect from science. Transformed into dogmatic religions, they undergo necessarily the dangers of the religious evolution. After having grown through the centuries and having wandered through the world, the dogmatic religions, urged by dogmas and rites, will return toward their cradle, and, sooner or later, will be merged into the religiousness which gave them birth. Science will then have only to bow before the principles which animate them and the domain which naturally remains closed. There will be no need of preaching harmony. It will take shape through its own volition, and nothing will have power to disturb its reign.
From that time, the dogmatic religions and science can live in a union of reason and interest, independent of any theoretical attempt to reconcile their irreconcilable principles.
XII. When a reflective mind confronts all these doubts, it understands the injustice of persecuting the ancient dogmas. However erroneous they may be, they have been man's companions for ages. They have cost him much suffering, but they have procured him many joys. Perhaps they have done more: they have produced the truths of which he is so proud. Like the aged parents whom advanced age has rendered insane or imbecile, they have a right, nevertheless, to our respect. We no longer listen to their counsels, we liberate ourselves from their government, but it would be unjust to ill-treat or scornfully cast them aside.
After all, death is their fate and their right. When the fruit attains maturity, nothing can prevent it from leaving the tree which it burdens by its presence. The rising sap of science and of good sense thus avoids the necessity of torturing the branches bending under the weight of the absurd.
Let us be indulgent to the old prejudices or the dying dogmas, and let us open our souls to the new truths; let us be respectful to the religions which are passing and place confidence in the religiousness which will some day replace these. The times are close at hand when mankind, united in religiousness, will draw from it reasons for peace and happiness. For the dogmatic religions are disintegrating. To see how far they can go, it is only necessary to observe the spirit of renewal by which they are animated. The moral progress must be discounted, not by unity of years, but by unity of generations. When we think of the aspirations which have stirred all the organised denominations, since the first Congress of Religions, we believe ourselves authorised to make the boldest conjectures. Yes, the religions are losing more and more, along the path of their evolution, the dogmas and the rites which keep them apart. They are purifying and deifying themselves in moving toward religiousness, the common domain of all men who cannot and will not dispense with questioning nature concerning those things upon which science will probably never explain.
XIII. We may sum up as follows:
'What is religiousness? It is reduced to the indefinite relations between our personality and the infinite. Religiousness is necessarily individualistic. Refusing to be fettered by dogmas or rites, religiousness admits neither church, nor doctrine, nor priesthood. In its bosom, vast as that of the universe, may meet in mutual respect all souls that are conscious of the eternal mystery and that are in relation with the Infinite. The purport of these relations is nothing, the primordial fact of their existence is everything.
Religiousness is in harmony with all the sincere religions, which, insensibly, merge within its boundaries. Religiousness is in every religion. We can move the feet without running, but we cannot run without moving the feet. It is impossible to be really religious without having religiousness, but we may have religiousness with-out being affiliated with any religion. Thus understood, religiousness will contribute to the happiness of thinking men of the future, as it now procures happiness for the thinking men of our own times.
We have some difficulty in imagining our future under this aspect. A humanity whose members will not make each other mutually suffer and bleed on account of the difference in their religious feelings, appears inconceivable. Such a condition of things would undoubtedly mark the approach toward a real golden age. This eventuality surprises us the more because we believe wrongly that the Golden Age lies behind instead of before us. Yet human endeavours would be inconceivable, if not stupid, did we not advance toward a happiness ever greater and more intense. Our sorrows, our conflicts, and our sufferings are paving the way for the birth of a new man. Like the bronze which appears in beauty amid the flames and refuse of the casting, religiousness, we do not doubt, will disengage itself, pure and majestic, from the age-old clutch of dogmas and religions.
XIV. Religions may thus grow weaker. They may even disappear, but religiousness, that is, the aspiration toward the things which are not always of this world, will remain the eternal companion of the thinking being. The thirst for the ideal is inherent in man, and a normal soul cannot dispense with it, any more than a normal body can live without a certain quantity of oxygen.
Man, according to Boutroux, is a very peculiar being who aspires to surpass himself. He will return to the path of religiousness when he seriously aims to do so.
That which facilitates this ascent outside of ourselves and far beyond the limits of our body, is the soul, the intellect, a force that "bestows more than it contains, restores more than it receives, and gives more than it has," said Bergson in his turn.
We place in juxtaposition these two affirmations emanating from the two leaders of contemporary philosophy for the express purpose of showing how unanimous are the influential minds of the present day in justifying the aspirations and the solid foundation of our religious speculations.
Philosophical materialism has itself become idealistic. Matter without mind is no more conceivable than the body without the living soul. We are understanding more and more that the divine kingdom lies within us. Like all the genuine sources of happiness, it is at the disposal of the entire world. The human conscience, broadened and deepened, opens to us the paradise of which we have so long dreamed. We are perceiving better and better that we all hold within us divinity, as divinity embraces us all. The fish swimming in the sea have the sea in themselves. We live in divinity, and a god dwells in us all.
There are souls that vegetate or slumber, and this god also remains slumbering in the depths of their consciences. But we need only have a thinking soul to see within that soul a god. Let us respect him in others, in order that the one in us may be respected. This is the essential condition of the peaceful evolution toward happiness through religiousness, the common and natural shelter of all human consciences.