Shall Death Cease On Earth?
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is remarkable that the twin facts, old age and death, do not overwhelm us all and make impossible both interest in life and the zest of achievement. Where is the use of the striving for success, of entertaining hope and seeking inspiration, since the body must surely decay and death is the inevitable end? Such would naturally be our thought, it would seem, in our present age, however confidently we may look forward to some coming era in which death on the earth shall have finally ceased. Yet the attitude indicated by the question is the exception rather than the rule. Distress concerning the coming of old age and the certainty of death is always regarded as abnormal, and we say of the suicide: "He must have been insane." Life's satisfaction in itself and the optimism that springs therefrom hold the soul steady in spite of the facts decay and death.
Now, in accordance with the law that everything in Nature has a meaning, if only we could discover it, this general condition of immunity to the fears suggested must also be regarded as significant. A hint of purpose or tendency seems thus to appear. (You are invited to disregard the fad of some scientists of to-day that universal law can operate without purpose, and to admit intelligence in Nature when you see that which would be intelligence in your own life, and to concede that when you see intelligence, you see purpose). Evolution has produced the nervous system and the psychic factor. In doing these things it has overcome ten thousand difficulties and eliminated many impediments to its own advance. The ability to confront old age and death while maintaining the world's present good cheer and courage may be a first step toward the final conquest of both under certain conditions of development yet to arrive. Youth, and the love of life, and interest in its affairs, these are marvelously powerful factors, and the vital tenacity thus disclosed, the tendency to cling to life, aided by growing intelligence and quenchless faith, may ultimately solve the problem of physical immortality of body refined to fit the triumphant tenant - a soul that itself has grown with-in itself the endless life.
I believe that the human race will ultimately banish from earth the incidental imperfection called physical death.
If the psychic factor is a product of material activities and conditions, remember that matter is nothing other than spiritual in its evident last analysis.
All its physical qualities, conceived as such, disappear on scientific investigation and thought. Matter is motion of the ether within the ether, it is said, and the ether does not reveal purely physical qualities does not seem to be matter. The highest realities we know are thought and the thinker. We conclude that matter which is motion of ether which is non-physical is thought. Evolution has produced matter-thought, in which appears psychic thought. The matter-thought is, then, a means to the psychic thought. And since we now know that the psychic thought does mightily influence the matter-thought of the body, the hint emerges of a final reaction of soul upon body to refine it, to especially vitalize it, to infuse the psychic powers of existence throughout all its cells and functions, and thus to give it ability to remain forever young, forever deathless.
If the soul be not a product of material activities (so-called), but is an essentially independent existence, or if it be an evolution out of material conditions of a something that is not matter in any sense, the above conclusions hold good. Old age and death may indeed be natural in the present history of life on the earth. Many things may have been natural in the long lines of man's ascent which are now entirely unnatural. It has been natural for reptiles to crawl, and for birds to fly, and for apes to stop short of thought, and for man to think and the naturalness has appeared in one historic line of advance.
The facts that in certain body-cells the living nucleus decreases while cytoplasm increases, and that the cells need to "congugate" for a renewal of energy, finally, however, losing energy entirely considerations now employed by some to "demonstrate" the naturalness of decay and deathdo not necessarily demand that conclusion. We do not know that these facts may not mean a struggle in life to overcome the tendencies noted. The facts are not known to be final. The meaning of the facts may as well point to ascent as to descent to a stage of being possessed of growing powers of continuance, not decreasing powers. Science does not know to the contrary. Some scientists merely believe that age and death are natural now. But this belief is simply the belief of scientific men, some of whom reveal predilections for the densest sort of materialism in thought. Science is merely the work of human beings. Let us have done with mere authority here no less than in matters of religion. Science has been mistaken in the past. It is not infallible, and the love of an occasional votary for mud and decay should not disturb us.
The history of evolution is a history of arrivings. Always a tendency is evident here to arrive on higher levels of being. The coming of men climaxed physical and psychic development in the matter of types. We may not (probably) look for any higher type of body in its general form and adaptability, any higher type of mind in its general functions and activities. Evolution now deals with the improvement of the human body, the development of mind-powers along lines of psychic possibilities in man. This limitation of evolution can mean, if it means anything, only an arrival of man at a stage of perfecting physical expression of perfecting psychic life. Thus may our conclusion be, that the later achievement of the human self shall rescue body from death because the self has "laid hold" on immortal existence.
Now, such a far-off, divine event, even though we know it not to be presently realized in any existing individual, has yet an inspiration for all. We are on the way! The earth-life, figuratively speaking, means not an endless recurrence of day and night, an inevitable closing-down of the shadow on every life so long as earth shall swing through space. It means that some day shall hold its own against all night, some individual lives shall ascend out of the cycle-plane and stand triumphant on the plane of deathless being.
The curve of life should not be the circle; it should be the parabola.
How do we know that the Universe moves only in cycle stages? The fact that the Universe is running down, and that earth and sun are losing their conservative forces, is offset by the fact that the Universe is now also building systems, planets, even matter as we know it here, evolved from known and unknown conditions. There is upbuilding no less than down-tearing. The highest expression of the upbuilding process is the psychic factor, and the highest conceivable stage of the psychic factor is immortal existence realizing endless development. Amid the cycles of world-coming and world-going, well may the human self be conceived as passing on triumphant because at last it has arrived where material activities of what-ever sort may never reach or influence its functions and growth.
Inspiring to every intelligence conceiving it should be such a thought. The conception breathes courage, and hope, and assurance, and creates indomitable will to catch the higher wisdom and to live the best that may be possible under existing conditions.
But this thought points unerringly toward immortal youth. Mortal youth we now have, and that prophetic gift each may regain and retain, if the self will but resolutely enter this divinest of quests. Here the satisfaction of normal life in itself both climaxes and discloses a way to that youth of the spirit which nothing may quench or discourage.