The Building Of The Soul - Part 1
( Originally Published 1912 )
God formed man of the dust of the ground and he became a living soul. Hebrew Scriptures.
An individual man is a fruit which it cost all the foregoing ages to form and ripen.—Emerson.
Because of the absence of certain necessary facts it is impossible to write a natural history of the soul. A full account of anything must include a statement of its origin ; but the origin of the soul cannot be fully known. We know when and how the steamboat and the telegraph and the printing press and the art of painting and sculpture came into existence ; but of the time and method of the coming of that which made the steamboat and telegraph and all the beautiful arts we have only partial knowledge. Nevertheless reflection over the probable origin and growth of this wonderful human power possesses a perpetual and thrilling interest for all thoughtful persons. For this reason you are invited to make it a subject of study for a half-hour of two Sunday mornings.
There is something in human beings which seems to distinguish them from all other known forms of life. Made of the same kind of material as plants and animals, yet man is widely ' separated from them. Science suggests that this separating stream was once much narrower than it is at present. In the pathetic little poem called "Divided," a youth and maiden are pictured standing, one on either side of a rivulet so narrow that they can easily clasp hands across it.
"Hand in hand, while the sun peered over,
Following it downward the stream grew broader and their hands were unclasped. Going farther, it became wider, and across it they could barely hear each other's call. Farther down it was still wider and deeper; great ships were rising and falling on its waves and the parted friends could only see each other across its floods.
"Glitters the dew, and shines the river ;
There are those who think something like this occurred in the history of earth. Perhaps long ago all forms of life were much nearer together than at present. Gradually they were separated ; through countless ages the space between them was widened and widened until, finally, man became what he is and other forms became what they are, and both have for-gotten the place and time of separation. Man has a rich and varied language. By means of it he can ex-press whatever his brain thinks and his heart feels. Perhaps all other forms of life have a language of their own. But so great is the gulf between man and other creatures they can only make signs and partly guess what the other means.
It will be noted that the divergence has all been on the human side of the stream. The animal side is a straight line. In all the centuries of human observation there is' nothing to indicate that animal life has made any progress in intelligence.. Bees construct their cells after the same pattern today that they did when they made wild honey on Mount Hymettus. When reading Aristotle's natural history one sees how little the nature and habits of animals have changed in twenty-three hundred years. The nightingale has not added a new strain to its song since it sang among the flowers and fountains of Cicero's gardens. The elephant is no more intelligent now than it was when the Carthaginians trained it for war against the Romans. The modern charger in battle acts like the war-horse Job describes. The modern domestic dog knows and loves his master and is a constant friend. But in the Apocrypha it is told that, when the young Tobias was sent from home on a perilous journey, the house dog accompanied him as his companion and protector ; and when Ulysses returned from his twenty years of wandering it was the faithful dog Argus and not the human Eumaeus who first recognized him. Thus the animal has made no advance. It has done nothing in the way of constructing a soul.
On the other hand, man has greatly increased in mental and moral power. Thinking of humanity on the material side there is growth and refinement in the size of the organ through which thought manifests itself. It is said the brain capacity of modern civilized man surpasses that of the aboriginal Hindoo by sixty-eight cubic inches, while between the aboriginal Hindoo and that form of animal life most resembling man in structure the difference is only eleven cubic inches. The difference between the highest and lowest human being is thus six times as great as the difference between the lowest man and the highest animal. It is evident that the highest animal life could not pro-duce art, or science, or literature. It is almost as certain that the lowest form of human life could not; but, with the lowest form of human life established, then all the products of mind and heart which compose civilization become possible. Thus there is something in the lower types of humanity that separates them from the higher types of animals. Man is an animal, it is true; but he is something more than that. It is this plus quantity that may be called soul. It is the presence of this that makes humanity unique on this planet and invests its career with an interest at once absorbing and unceasing.
For the presence of this purely human quality many causes and methods have been suggested. Plato announced the philosophy that ideas are eternal in the mind of Deity. They constitute the essence of all existence. When this philosophy was carried over into Christianity it became the theory that each human soul had a separate, personal pre-existence in a former world; and, when the body appeared, the preordained soul that had been waiting throughout eternity took possession of it. Of course this has never been proved; but it is just as true that it has never been disproved. It has not been a favorite theory with those philosophers and men of science who love to feel the solid ground of common sense beneath all their thinking. It has found its main sup-port among mystics and dreamers and all those who, by temperament, are fitted to carry on an immense business of theorizing with a very small investment of fact and do not hesitate to pass boldly from very in-definite data to very definite conclusions.
The orthodox theologians formerly taught that for each body a soul is created by the immediate act of God. This came from a literal reading of the Bible account of creation. For every child that process was repeated. The origin of the soul was no more mysterious than that of the body. Having made a body out of dust, the Creator breathed in it and formed a soul. In a single moment thought, emotion, conscience and language were furnished the new being and all it had to do was move along through the earth as its master.
This easy and confident way of settling the question is less popular than formerly. Many persons who are still found within the approved churches de-cline to accept the literal truth of all statements found in the Jewish Scriptures. Some who have rejected the Genesis story of the origin of man may yet doubt the conclusions set forth by some teachers of science. They 'have merely reached the state of mind in which they prefer to confess their partial ignorance than, for the sake of being thought orthodox, pretend to know what they do not know or try to believer that which their own common-sense denies. There is much difference. between faith in that which transcends, and that which simply opposes reason. An absurdity should not be mistaken for a mystery.
Most competent persons now believe that the history of the soul is of equal date with the history of life on earth. The true Rubicon was crossed when matter became endowed with reproductive energy. Then the soul was, not only a possible thing, but was already in process of construction. That which we now designate and dignify by the name of choice or will need not be ascribed to those earliest forms of life; and yet something that served the purpose for which choice and will exist must have been present. There was something to determine the direction energy should take. From the very beginning there seems to have been a constant effort on the part of life, first to adjust itself to its surroundings, and then to use the surroundings as aids and points of departure to higher conditions.
Once started, the tendency of all things is, not only to maintain their motion, but to follow the easiest path. It is also true that every successive time motion passes along a chosen route the resistance diminishes. Thus the establishment of motion along a given line determines its future direction. The reason an Indian trail was followed through a forest was because it was the easiest way, and every time a group of Indians passed along it in single file it became easier and plainer. It is said that a railway track upon which all trains run in the same direction is gradually moved forward. Feeling the constant impulse of the flying train the particles of steel composing the rails may be pictured as longing to move with it to its destination. The rich and mellow sounds poured forth by an old violin are perhaps the result of a long habit on the part of the molecules of wood composing its structure. The strings have so often sent their vibrations along these chosen and familiar paths that all resistance has ceased. Each atom freely assists in turning every vibration passing through it into a tone so sweet that an angel on its flight would furl its wings and pause to listen.
These natural facts may serve as rude illustrations of that which has occurred in the progress of life. Every time an experience is repeated it becomes easier. This is true of all things, from the young bird learning to fly to the young mind learning to think. Perhaps ages were consumed by creatures with rudimentary wings learning to take half-running, half flying leaps before the eagle was developed with power to keep on wing for hours and, seen from earth, appearing like a black speck in the sky, will maintain its solitary course for a hundred miles over mountain and plain. We know not how long time may have elapsed nor how many imperfect progenitors may have come and gone before the humming bird was evolved whose delicate wings move so rapidly that, in motion, they seem like - a mist and which, like a ray of many colored lights, is seen flashing among the summer flowers. It may be many more ages came and went before the first rude sensations, passing along forward and backward by a network of efferent and afferent nerves, by countless repetitions, became instinct,—a half-automatic, half-reasoning adjustment of means to ends. What numberless changes and adaptations to higher uses have forms and organs undergone ! Eyes, ears, hands have come as they were needed to serve the enlarging and refining brain. The house has been made more worthy of the tenant which was to occupy it. The protruding jaw with its power to seize and rend has gradually retreated. The savage glare has faded from the eyes. The dome of the forehead has been elevated and enlarged to make more room for that amazing organ through which Thought acting measures the galaxy, reasons over space and time, and assumes the existence of an infinite Power as the cause of all that exists.
It must be borne in mind that we are only trying to state probabilities drawn from the method of nature. It is only said that it may be thus the generic soul of Humanity was constructed :—Matter was endowed with life; life was endowed with sensation; sensation became emotion ; many times repeated, emotions be-came memory; the power to classify the impressions held by memory and draw conclusions from them be-came reason ; power to act upon these conclusions be-came volition; power to direct volition toward beneficial ends became wisdom. Thus man became a living soul.
Not, as yet, the completed but in rudimentary form the soul appeared. Like all other things it was to be unfolding and progressive. When the Druid temples of Stone Henge and Culloden were rudely built, York Minster and Rosslyn Chapel were assured. So when life began, however imperfectly, to turn its impressions into thought, Shakespeare and Newton were on the way. Time was the only indispensable thing; and the sequel shows there was time enough.
The universe was present to make impressions ; and man's task, henceforth, was to transform them into soul. Thus experience, thousand formed and thous-and colored, from the impression made by a distant star on the retina of the eye to the thought which reads the laws of truth and justice, from the landscape with its hills and meadows and streams reposing in a sun-flooded atmosphere, painting its image on the sensitive plate prepared by the optic nerve, to the pleasing melancholy suffusing the being of him who beholds it,-this has made man what he is. The world furnishes material out of which the soul is constructed; Life is the architect ; experience is the builder. Marvelous in its plan, in its structure, in its decoration, it is the crown of creation on this planet!
There are those who reject the present theory concerning the method of creation because of fear that it is hostile to their cherished opinions. This is natural but the case will be finally settled, not with reference to human likes and dislikes, but with reference to truth. Once there were many who did not wish to believe that earth is round. Their belief that it is flat was so strong that they were willing to kill as heretics all who believed it is round. There came a time when the true theory was universally accepted. By this change religion did not suffer. There was just as much reason for right living under the new as under the old theory. The Creator suffered no diminution of power or wisdom because man had learned some-thing new about the universe. The question as to the existence of God was in no way involved. The only question was one of method ;—whether. there being a God, He had made earth round or flat.
The condition of our era with reference to certain inherited religious opinions and discovered truths in the realm of science is similar. Again the question is, not what we have been in the habit of believing and hence is easiest to believe, but what is true. Of two theories presented, the question is, not which is most agreeable, but which is most rational? It cannot be settled in a prayer-meeting, but in the schools of science. No one need shrink from accepting scientific conclusions from fear that their acceptance might be the denial of God or compel a lower estimate of his wisdom and power and benevolence. These Divine attributes will take care of themselves in all the changes of the present and future as well as they have in the past. Man has slowly elaborated his conception of these attributes as he has elaborated his own virtues. Each change in the past has been an advance. The study which finally evolved and established the idea of an infinite universe, by a logical necessity was compelled to assume an infinite Cause to have produced it. The creation cannot be greater than its Creator. All thought, all emotion inevitably returns to this conclusion : The planets in the sky and the flowers in the meadows ; the solemn roar of ocean waves and the leaf rustling in the wind ; the science of Humboldt and the poetry of Whittier ; Christ weeping over Jerusalem and John Brown weeping over a slave ; the world without and the world within are revelation of the majesty and goodness and beauty of Deity. Of the existence of nature and the soul, God is the only solution.
With this understanding of the great case no one need fear to accept the belief that nature, including man, came to its present condition by an unfolding process running through many ages. Some who have opposed the theory of progressive creation have based their opposition on the assumption that no Divine Mind was involved in the process. In a spirit of hostility to the doctrine of Evolution not long since these sentences were written :
"To fashion the human eye out of mud acting only as dirt and not as mind; to assume that the human ear was created by noise acting upon the early forms of vegetation; to assume that the human consciousness was made by the thoughtless efforts of a sea-weed to better its condition is not to help us to any valuable definition of man. The original oyster could not lay a plan for a sweet voice or a rich orchestra. It is impossible to believe that the great, kind, liquid eye of the Madonna was made by the long beating of light upon the skull of a fish. To believe these allegations is a difficult task compared with the task of believing that the world is the great home of a sensitive spirit."
The only answer to these sentences is to agree with them. No Evolutionist believes what this writer seems to condemn. The most reckless disciple of Darwin would not believe that "the eye was fashioned out of mud acting only as dirt ;" or that "a sea-weed trying by a thoughtless effort to better its condition became human consciousness ;" or that "the original oyster ever planned an orchestra." No one objects to the statement that "the world is the great home of a sensitive spirit." The only difference of opinion is as to the method by which this spirit performs its tasks. If one prefers to believe that about six thousand years ago, within the space of six days, the universe was formed, that the first man was made from dust on the sixth day and the fully equipped soul was instantly produced and placed within the body, he is at perfect liberty thus to believe. The only objection to be made is that it seems more rational and is assuredly no less religious to believe that the Creator is still at work upon His world, present in every part of it, moulding its material into finer forms, adorning it with new beauty, and under His power and guidance the soul has advanced and is still advancing. Instead of alarming, such a philosophy should bring strength and solace to the religious heart. With the material never failing, with the plan fully outlined, with the method assured and the same wise and strong Builder at work, for Humanity's temple the future must hold great splendor in its keeping.
It must be confessed that we are speaking of that of which much is unknown ; but the probabilities are that somewhere in the very remote past the stream of life was separated into different channels. Some of these were arrested, others flowed onward. In these forward flowing streams each form was succeeded by a higher form until man appeared. Still advancing he diverged more and more from other forms of life. Each power acquired led the way to the gaining of greater powers. Gradually he reached a point at which the gratification of merely physical wants failed to bring complete satisfaction. New thoughts, new emotions arose and sought expression. Hence came language. Hearing beautiful sounds, seeing beautiful forms and colors, he attempted to reproduce them. Art was the result. Beholding facts and laws of external nature, he sought to classify and explain them. Hence science came. Finding manifestations of mighty, but unseen powers, conscious of dwelling constantly in presence of the unknown and mysterious, he tried to discover his relation to that which not only lies beyond the touch of his hand and the sight of his eye, but beyond the grasp of his reason and the flight of his imagination. Hence came his religion.
Thus the soul has ascended and still ascends. Wherever we look we are apprised that earth is an arena, not of humanity perfected, but of humanity begun and advancing. What man is we partly know ; what he may yet become we can only conjecture. But if the past be a prophecy of the future, not only is his direction determined , but his destiny is glorious. Perhaps in coming ages he may unfold new and nobler powers by which he will attain to great and still greater mastery over nature and will penetrate deep and still deeper into the mystery of the spiritual world and its august laws. He will be not only more worthy of a home on earth, but better fitted for participation in the nobler activities and higher delights that may await him in some greater province of God's measure-less empire.