Continued from chapter (G) “The Varieties of Religious Experience” by William James – Part II
Lectures XI, XII and XIII – The Value of Saintliness (continued)
The author here points out that as ascetic saints have grown older they usually have shown a tendency to lay less importance on bodily mortifications. Catholic teachers have always professed that, since health is needed for efficiency in God’s service, health must not be sacrificed to mortifications. Today, the general optimism of Protestants and healthy-minded sects consider mortification for mortification’s sake repugnant.
Yet, James continues, he believes that upon a more careful consideration of the whole of the matter, distinguishing between the general good intentions of asceticism and the uselessness of some of the particular acts, of which it may be guilty, may improve it in our esteem. It symbolizes, lamely enough no doubt, but sincerely, the belief that there is an element of real wrongness in the world which is neither to be ignored nor evaded, but which must be squarely met and overcome by an appeal to the soul’s heroic resources and neutralized and cleansed away by suffering. Pain and wrong and death must be fairly met and overcome in the higher religious excitement, or else their sting remains unbroken.
If one has ever taken in the fact of the prevalence of tragic death in this world’s history: freezing, drowning, wild beasts, worse men, hideous diseases, etc., one can with difficulty, continue in their own career of worldly prosperity suspecting that they are somehow outside the game and thus, may then lack the “great initiation.” This is exactly what the ascetic thinks anyway, James alleges, and it therefore voluntarily takes on the initiation. And, healthy-mindedness with its sentimental optimism can hardly be regarded as a serious solution. Phrases of neatness, coziness, and comfort can never give the answer to the sphinx’s riddle [“What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs at night?”].
James states that here he is leaning only upon mankind’s common instinct for reality which has always held that the world is a theater for heroism. For, in heroism we confront life’s supreme mystery [death] and, we tolerate no one who has no capacity for heroism in any way whatsoever. If on the other hand, regardless of what a man’s frailties may otherwise be, he be willing to risk death, and still more so if he suffers it heroically in the service he has chosen, this fact consecrates him forever. The metaphysical mystery we can logically suppose, says James, of he who feeds on [the] death that feeds upon men possesses life super eminently [exceptionally] and thus best meets with the secret demands of the universe. Asceticism faithfully champions this as a legitimate truth.
The older monastic asceticism occupied itself with pathetic futilities or terminated in the mere egotism of the individual increasing his own perfection. But, James inquires, is it not possible for us to discard most of these older forms of mortification and yet find saner channels for the heroism which inspired them?
In a footnote at the bottom of page 357 of his book James adds a quote from the book “Ramakrishna, His Life and Sayings”: “The vanities of all others may die out, but the vanity of a saint in regards to his sainthood is hard indeed to wear away.”
Does not, James questions, the worship of material luxury and wealth which constitutes so large a portion of the “spirit” of our age [quite true today 100 years later] make somewhat for effeminacy and unmanliness? Is not the commiserating and facetious [frivolous] way in which most children are brought up today – so different from the education of a hundred years ago – in danger, despite its many advantages, of developing a certain trashiness of fiber? [Prophetic perhaps? As is exemplified during sleazy NFL Super Bowl half-time performances, repulsive pornography, tawdry movies, music videos, etc.]. Are there not some points of application for a renovated and revised form of ascetic training the author wonders?
Here James takes us in another direction yet, along the same lines: War and adventure assuredly keeps all who engage in them from treating themselves too tenderly. They demand such incredible efforts, both in degree and in duration, such that the whole scale of motivation alters.
Discomfort and annoyance, hunger and wet, pain and cold, squalor and filth, cease to have any deterrent effect whatsoever. Death turns into the commonplace and its usual power to check [unscrupulous] actions vanish. The beauty of war in this respect is that it is so congruous with ordinary human nature, James contends. Ancestral evolution has made us all potential warriors so that the most insignificant individual, when thrown into an army in the field, is weaned from whatever excess of tenderness towards his precious person he may bring with him and may easily develop into a monster of insensibility. Yet, when the military type of self-severity is compared with that of the ascetic saint, we find a world of differences in their spiritual attributes. James here gives us an example:
“To live and let live,” writes an Austrian officer, “is no devise for an army. Contempt for one’s own comrades, for the troops of the enemy and, above all, fierce contempt for one’s own person, are what war demands of everyone. Far better is it for an army to be too savage, too cruel, too barbarous, than to possess too much sentimentality and human reasonableness. If the soldier is to be good for anything as a soldier, he must be exactly the opposite of a reasoning and thinking man. War, and even peace, require of the soldier absolutely peculiar standards of morality. The recruit brings with him common moral notions of which he must immediately seek to get rid of. For him, victory, success, must be everything. The most barbaric tendencies in men again come to life in war, and for war’s uses they are incommensurably good.”
The fact is, James professes, that war is a school of strenuous life and heroism; and, being in the line of the savage instinct, it is the only school that, as of yet, is universally available. Therefore, when we gravely ask ourselves whether this wholesale organization of irrationality and crime be our only bulwark against effeminacy, we stand aghast at the thought and think more kindly of ascetic religion.
L.T. – What’s wrong with effeminacy? I think we should somehow infuse estrogen into the brutes’ bodies at the very first signs of their chest-thumping and war bellowing.
Poverty, James suggests, is the strenuous life – without the brass bands or uniforms or hysterical popular applause.
L.T. – Next, wipe out their bank accounts leaving them to sleep in sleeping bags in tents in the park and stand in soup kitchen lines; just as they would in the military. Once the estrogen kicks in, believe me, they will want nothing to do with sleeping outside on the ground in the cold and will soon become sensible and act civilized.
James continues, we despise anyone one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join in on the general scramble and pant along money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty meant: the liberation from material attachments, the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference, the paying of our way by what we are or what we do rather than by what we have.
It is true, that so far as wealth gives time for ideal ends and exercise to ideal energies, wealth is better than poverty and ought to be chosen. But, wealth does this in only a portion of the actual cases. Elsewhere the desire to gain wealth and the fear of losing it are our chief breeders of cowardice and propagators of corruption. There are thousands of ways in which a wealth bound man must be a slave whilst a man for whom poverty has no terrors becomes a free man. Think of the strength which personal indifference to poverty would give us if we were devoted to unpopular causes. We need no longer hold our tongues for fear of economic consequences (loss of job, promotion, stocks tumble, club doors shut in our faces). Yet, while we lived, we would imperturbably bear witness to the spirit and our example would help to set free our generation. Causes, of course, need funding but as its servants, we would be potent in proportion [perhaps far more so] to any opposing well financed opposition.
L.T. – Due to the above paragraph and my remarks about brutes and their hormonal imbalances that could easily be remedied by giving them estrogen supplements I am here inspired to further inform of the circumstances I found myself in involving organized crime:
But first: For a review of circumstances of that which I am about to here refer to go to: chapter (A) MIRACLES and scroll down to the posts titled Divine Message – A Most Difficult time, page 22, then Downtown Art Studio, page 23, and next Paranormal Visions of Menacing Entities, page 23. Following having read these posts, the reader should next go to chapter (C) MIRACLES and read the first post titled A Most Difficult Time (organized crime and pornography) pages 53 & 54. Then on chapter (F) “The Varieties of Religious Experience” – Part I, page 27 and 42 (above), and from there chapter (G) “The Varieties of Religious Experience” – Part II, pages 71 and 72 and continuing here below on chapter (H) “The Varieties of Religious Experience” Part III, on pages 93, 111 & 112, and 142 & 143 .
After the therapist had convinced me that the mafia was not going to murder me I was initially, albeit briefly, greatly relieved, almost ecstatic. (see Chapter (F) page 27, regarding having purchased a gun to kill myself believing it was the least worst of two dire outcomes). This was then followed by a state of severe depression. Nearly catatonic, I would spend whole days just sitting on the couch staring into space for, even though I had not shot myself, I was still in the same dire situation. My property had been on the market for some time and I rarely, if at all, heard from the real estate agent. The ‘For Sale’ sign posted outside the building was regularly vandalized. On several nights I could hear one of my neighbors repeatedly kicking the metal sign; it was very loud. Perhaps four days or so after the gun incident, I received a letter from a real estate agent, whom I knew not and had never contacted. I deduced that this letter did not come at this time by chance alone. Regardless, I wanted out of the property and telephoned the realtor who sent the letter and we made an appointment for an early evening visit a few days hence. He did not show up and I figured it was just more of the same sort of ‘jerking me around’ that I had been, at this point, used to experiencing, and I did not expect I would at all meet with the relator. However, he showed up unexpectedly early the next morning. Once I had invited him inside the studio he made a comment regarding my early morning appearance.
I could tell right away that he was a member of, or affiliated somehow, with this criminal organization. (You get so you recognize many of them fairly quickly – they sometimes, not always, possess similar subtle characteristics). During our first meeting that morning he told me that the previous realtor was too frightened to work with the property. He also stated that my neighbors were mafia. He casually mentioned that, “A good friend is someone who will help you bury a body,” and asked me out for a date. I desperately wanted out of the neighborhood, out of the condominium, and I wanted to live, so I agreed to go out with him signed his real estate sales contract.
During our first date, over dinner, he told me of a community he lived in outside of Chicago that was a community of recreational, private airplane pilots. The community had a small runway and hangers to park the home owners’ airplanes in. He mentioned that he sold a neighbor, a doctor, a parachute of his. Later, as the doctor was flying, his plane malfunctioned and he had to eject himself from the airplane. The realtor then told me that the first parachute did not release and the second backup parachute had a tear in a seam resulting in the doctor’s plummeting to the ground and to his death. He then stated that the doctor was an a$$hole.
On another occasion, during a time when he was grieving over having to put his dog to sleep, I asked him if he planned on getting another pet. He said, “No, I’m tired of putting people down.” On another day when he took me to a commercial gold mining property for a hike, and just after we parked but had not yet gotten out of the car, I asked him if he was going to kill me (meaning out in the wilderness). I wasn’t hysterical at all, I had come to expect to be killed at some point and felt an ongoing malaise about it. He responded, “He would not hurt a hair on my head.” After hiking a bit and stopping for lunch he pulled out a knife, with about a seven inch long blade, and went on describing in detail its sharpness. The realtor then told of a scene in the movie “Ryan’s Song,” a war movie where, as a German soldier in hand-to-hand combat with an American soldier was sinking a knife into the chest of the American, the German was saying “There, you go to sleep now.” The relator said, even when one is killing another the killer can feel compassion for his victim.
There’s more, much more, I could report, including drugging (I believe he was slipping antidepressants into my bottled drinking water) and a certain and specific incident of hypnosis. Also, I was sexually entertaining him to stay alive. Eventually, another realtor from another firm altogether managed to sell my condominium and get me out of that dreadful neighborhood.
This is the part that is quite shocking. This realtor told me he knew my ex-husband’s attorney (I never told the realtor who my husband’s attorney was) and that he was good friends with her and her husband who was a home builder. And, that he had, as one of his real estate listings, a very expensive home that the attorney’s husband had built on spec. He also told me of a female that the attorney had introduced him to as a possible romantic connection (here underscoring that the real estate agent and the attorney were good friends). On one occasion he told me not to contact my ex-husband for he was under extreme stress and not at all well. Adam’s circumstances were as stressful as mine, maybe more so but, I would rather not, for his and his new family’s sake, go into detail here. I should add however, that our divorce was not contentious and for a while, early on, Adam helped me out a good deal. The realtor’s comment cost me several nights sleep worrying that Adam too was being menaced as I was by these thugs. I then deduced (wrongly unfortunately) that the realtor was just being manipulative and decided that Adam was probably fine. Obviously my ex-husband’s attorney had stepped outside proper, perhaps legal even, bounds of professional conduct. I suspect that it was she who sent him in my direction initially. She is now a judge.
This has all been officially reported. Back to the book:
James concludes that whoever possesses strongly a sense of the divine, instead of placing happiness where common men place it (in comfort) the saintly places it in a higher kind of inner excitement which converts discomforts into sources of cheer thus annulling unhappiness. He turns his back upon no duty, however thankless, and when we are in need of assistance we can count upon the saint lending his hand with more certainty than we can count upon any other person. Finally, his humble-mindedness and his ascetic tendencies save him from the petty personal pretensions which so obstruct our ordinary social intercourse and, his purity gives us in him a clean man for a companion. Exhilaration, purity, charity, patience, self-severity – these are splendid excellencies and the saint, above all men, shows them in the most completely possible measure.
But, as we have seen, all these things together do not make saints infallible. When their intellectual outlook is narrow, they fall into all sorts of holy excesses, fanaticism or theopathic absorption, self-torment, prudery, scrupulosity, gullibility and a morbid inability to meet the world. In fact, says James, in some circumstances a saint can be even more objectionable and damnable than the superficial carnal man. Therefore we must judge him not sentimentally only, and not in isolation, but using our own intellectual standards when estimating his total function. James states that the most inimical critic of the saintly impulses whom he knows of is Friedrich Nietzsche. He contrasts the saints with the worldly; such as we find them embodied in the predaceous military character, and to the advantage of the latter.
In fact, says James, the saint does appeal to a different faculty as enacted in the fable about the wind, the sun, and the traveler.
L.T. – Which here I shall include:
The 6th century B.C. Aesop Fable “The Wind and the Sun”
The Wind and the Sun were disputing which was the stronger. Suddenly, they saw a traveler coming down the road and the Sun said, “I see a way to decide our dispute. Whichever of us can cause that traveler to take off his cloak shall be regarded as the stronger.” “You go first,” the Sun said to the Wind then retired behind a cloud and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could upon the traveler. But, the harder he blew the more closely did the traveler wrap his cloak around him until, at last, the Wind had to give up. Then, the Sun came out and shone in all his glory upon the traveler who soon found it too hot to walk with his cloak on. Moral of the story: Kindness affects more than severity.
James continues: For Nietzsche, the saint represents little more than slavishness and his prevalence would put humankind in danger. Here the author quotes Nietzsche [much abridged]:
“The sick are the greatest danger for the well. The weaker, not the stronger, are the strong’s undoing. The morbid are our greatest peril – not the bad men, not the predatory beings. Those born wrong, the miscarried, the broken – those who are the weakest are undermining the vitality of the race, poisoning our trust in life and putting humanity in question. And here swarm the worms of sensitiveness; here is woven endlessly the net of the meanest of conspiracies: the conspiracy of those who suffer against those who succeed and are victorious. For there [the saintly conspirators] the very aspect of the victorious is hated as if health, success, strength and pride and the sense of power were in themselves things vicious and for which one ought to make bitter expiation [atonement].”
Poor Nietzsche’s antipathy is itself sickly enough laments James. Yet, he well expresses the clash between the two ideals: The carnivorous-minded strongman, the adult and cannibal male who can see nothing but mouldiness and morbidness in the saint’s gentleness and self-severity and, regards him with pure loathing. The whole feud essentially revolves upon two pivots: Shall the seen world, or the unseen world, be our chief sphere of adaptation? And, in the seen, the empirical world, must our means of adaptation be aggressiveness or non-resistance? The debate is serious, James insists, and both worlds must be taken into account.
In all fairness, I need to add here: After Nietzsche’s death, his sister, Forster-Nietzsche, became the curator and editor of her brother’s manuscripts. She reworked his unpublished writings to fit her own German nationalist ideology while often contradicting or obfuscating his stated opinions which were opposed to antisemitism and nationalism. And, through these publications, Nietzsche’s name became associated with fascism and Nazism.
A certain kind of man must be the best kind of man – absolutely apart from the utility of his function [his work]; apart from economic considerations. The saint’s type, and the knight’s or gentleman’s type, have always been rival claimants to the title of the ideal man. And, in the regimented religious orders, both types blend, in a sense.
A society where all are aggressive would destroy itself; some must be non-resistant if there is to be any kind of order. However, the aggressive members tend to become bullies, robbers and swindlers. Meanwhile, it is possible to conceive of an imaginary society in which there would be no aggressiveness; only sympathy and fairness. To such a society the saint would be entirely adaptive whereas the strong man would immediately tend, by his presence, to make that society deteriorate. It would eventually become inferior in everything while adding a certain kind of bellicose excitement; so dear to men as they are today, James alleges.
Yet, there is no absoluteness in the excellence of sainthood. Here James adds as a footnote: We all know of daft saints, and they inspire a queer kind of aversion. But, in comparing saints with strong men we must choose individuals on the same intellectual level. The under-witted strong man (homologous in his sphere with under-witted saint) is the bully of the slums, the hooligan or rowdy. So surely, on this level too, the saint can claim a certain superiority.
James here asserts that in our western world religion has seldom been so radical that the devotee could not mix it [the religion] with some worldly temper; always finding good men to follow, but stopping short when it comes to outright non-resistance. Christ himself was fierce upon occasion.
How then is success to be measured absolutely when there are so many environments and so many ways of looking at the adaptation [or of the teaching by example]? It cannot. The verdict will vary according to the point of view. From the physiological point of view, Saint Paul was a failure because he was brutally executed. Yet, he was magnificently adapted to the larger environment of history; he is a success no matter what his immediate bad fortune may have been. The greatest saints, the spiritual heroes whom everyone acknowledges, are successes from the outset. They show themselves and there is no question that everyone perceives their strength and stature. Their sense of the mystery in things, their passion, their goodness, irradiate about them and enlarge, and soften, their outlines.
Economically speaking, the qualities of the saintly are indispensable to the world’s welfare. The great saints are immediate successes and the smaller ones are, at least, heralds and harbingers of a better order, posits James. Let us be saints then, if we can, whether or not we succeed visibly and temporally. For, in our Father’s house there are many mansions and each of us must discover for ourselves the best kind of religion and the amount of saintsmenship which best comports with what one believes to be within their power and, their truest mission and vocation.
L.T. – As the author, William James, here has done.
How, you ask, can religion, which believes in two worlds and an invisible order, be estimated by the adaption of its fruits to this world’s order? It is its truth, not its utility, upon which our verdict ought to depend, James replies. If religion is true, its fruits are good fruits, even though in this world they should prove uniformly ill adapted and full of nothing but pathos.
Now, the plot thickens: Religious persons have often, though not uniformly, professed to see truth in a special manner. That manner is known as mysticism.
Lectures XVI and XVII – MYSTICISM
James begins this section reminding us that over and over again he has raised points and left them unfinished until we arrive at the subject of Mysticism. And now the hour has come, he writes, when mysticism must be faced in good earnest. For, he feels, personal religious experience has its origin and center in mystical states of consciousness. James also informs us that his personal constitution shuts him out from their enjoyment and that he can only speak of them second hand. Though, he assures us, being forced to look upon the subject externally, he will be as objective and receptive as possible and believes he will, at least, succeed in convincing the reader of the reality of the sates in question and of their paramount importance.
The words “mysticism” and “mystical” are often used as terms of mere reproach; to generally throw at any opinion which is regarded as too vague, vast and sentimental, and without basis in facts or logic. So, to keep it useful by restricting it, James advises that he will do what he did in the case of the word “religion” and simply propose to the reader four qualities which, when experienced, may justify our calling it a mystical experience:
Ineffability – The subject of the mystical experience defies linguistic expression; that no adequate report of its contents can be given in words. It follows from this that its quality must be personally experienced; it cannot be imparted or transferred to others. Given this peculiarity, mystical states are more like feeling states than like states of the intellect. For example, one must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony [the same is true, and quite obviously so to me as artist, about the visual arts]; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart, or ear, [or eye] we cannot interpret the musician, the artist, or the lover justly and are even likely to consider them weak. The mystic finds that most people accord to their experiences an equally incompetent treatment.
Noetic quality – Mystical states seem to those who experience them to be states of knowledge. They are illuminations, revelations, full of significance and importance.
Transiency – Mystical states cannot be sustained for long. Except in rare instances, half an hour to an hour or two, at most, seems to be the limit beyond which they fade into the common light of day.
Passivity – The oncoming of mystical states may be facilitated by preliminary voluntary operations (for example: fixing the attention, going through certain bodily performances, or in other ways in which manuals of mysticism prescribe). Yet, when the characteristic sort of [mystical] consciousness has set in, the mystic feels as if his own will were in abeyance. And indeed, sometimes it is as if he were grasped and held by a superior power; as in the case of the phenomena of secondary or alternative personality such as prophetic speech, automatic writing or mediumistic trance. However, there may be no recollection whatsoever of these particular phenomena by the subject. And, it may not be of significance specifically to the subject’s own inner life to which, as it were, it makes a mere interruption. Mystical states, strictly so called, are never merely interruptive. Some memory of their content always remains, along with a sense of their importance, and they tend to modify the inner life of the subject. Sharp divisions in this region are difficult to make however, and we find all sorts of gradation and mixtures.
These four characteristics are sufficient to mark out a group of states of consciousness extraordinary enough to deserve a special name and to call for careful study: the mystical group.
James here states, as he did in his first lecture, that phenomena are best understood when placed within their series, studied in their germ and in their over-ripe decay and, compared with their exaggerated and degenerated kindred. The method of serial study is essential for interpretation if we really wish to reach conclusions. Thus he shall begin with phenomena which claim no special religious significance and end with those of which the religious pretensions are extreme.
Most of us know of the strangely moving power of passages in certain poems, says James. Lyrical poetry and music are alive and significant in equal proportion as they fetch vague vistas of a life continuous with a particular age, beckoning and inviting us. James avows that we are either alive or dead to the eternal messages of the arts according to whether or not we have, generally, kept since our youth this mystical susceptibility.
Here the author asks us to consider on the mystical ladder an extremely common phenomenon: that sudden feeling which sweeps over us of having “been there before” as if at some indefinite time in the past, in just this place, with just these people, we were already saying these things. As the poet, Tennyson, writes [this website program does not allow for proper poetry formatting]:
“Moreover, something is or seems; That touches me with mystic gleams; Like glimpses of forgotten dreams – “
“Of something felt, like something here; Of something done, I know not where; Such as no language may declare.”
Lord Alfred Tennyson (1809 – 1892) was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during Queen Victoria’s reign and is, to this day, one of the most popular British poets. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “In Memorian A.H.H.,” written to commemorate his friend Arthur Hallan, a fellow poet and student at Trinity College, Cambridge, after he died of a stroke just 22 years of age, are among his most well-known works. Queen Victoria had wrote in her diary that she was “much soothed and pleased” by reading “In Memoriam A.H.H.” following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. It is in that poem the phrase “Tis better to have loved and lost; Than to never have love at all” is written. Other well-known phrases by Tennyson are, “Theirs is not to reason why; Theirs is but to do and die,” and “Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers.” Source – Wikipedia
L.T. – his part of the book is rather curious, a synchronicity actuality, for I had just (but two days ago and prior to reading this chapter on Mysticism) included on chapter (C) MIRACLES “Thanksgiving and a Birthday” a poem I had written for Chad for his birthday and with it, an account of a synchronicity involving the poet E.E. Cummings. I had mentioned to him that poetry comes from an entirely different area of thought and expression than other sorts of mental activities and this can literally be felt when writing poetry. I also stated that it is as though once I start in on a poem, it seems to write itself and that, in general, poetry’s wondrous depth of feeling comes, not only from the words but, from the rhyme and the rhythm of the verses, like music. I then went on about music (symphonic music in particular) explaining that, once having learned how to play the piano and flute (I do not profess to be accomplished in either) I have a far greater expanse of understanding, and therefore enjoyment of, music than I would have had I never learned to play an instrument. In regards to many great musical compositions, I am in a state of awe realizing all that goes into their creation and production. This project, this discovery and writing of James’ book, is the happiest project I have ever undertaken. I feel as if I have found my “kind,” so to speak; people like myself, whom I’ve never before encountered, known or known of. Also, I am experiencing since I began this project a couple of months ago (as of this writing) synchronistic, miraculous events, almost daily.
In a footnote James adds: Tennyson writes to a friend, “I have never had any revelations through anesthetics of any kind, but a walking trance, for lack of a better word, I have frequently experienced since boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were, out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being. And, this is not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words state – where death was an almost laughable impossibility – the loss of personality seeming not extinction, but the only true life. I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?”
A much more extreme state of mystical consciousness is described by J. A. Symonds and, James believes, that probably more persons than we suspect could give parallels to it from their own experience [much abridged]:
“Suddenly at church, or in company when I was reading, and always, I think, when my muscles were at rest, I felt the approach of the mood. Irresistibly it took possession of my will and mind and lasted for what seemed an eternity …” “It consisted in a gradual but swiftly progressive obliteration of space, time, sensation, and the multitudinous factors of experience which seem to qualify what we are pleased to call our Self. But, Self persisted, formidable in its vivid keenness.” Symonds continues, “This trance recurred with diminished frequency until I reached the age of twenty-eight. Often I have asked myself with anguish, on waking from that formless state of denuded, yet keenly sentient being, which is the unreality – the trance of fiery, vacant, apprehensive, skeptical Self from which I issue [here described], or these surrounding [ordinary] phenomena and habits which veil that inner Self and build a self of flesh and blood? Are men the factors of some dream, the dream-like insubstantiality of which they comprehend at such eventful moments?”
Symonds writes of another mystical, perhaps, experience he had only this time under the influence of chloroform [so very much like the many accounts of the near death experiences we have today been told of]:
“After the choking and stifling had passed away, I seemed at first in a state of utter blankness. Then came flashes of intense light, alternating with blackness, and a keen vision of what was going on in the room around me, but no sensation of touch. I thought that I was near death; when suddenly my soul became aware of God who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so-to-speak, in an intense personal present reality. I felt him streaming in like light upon me. I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then, as I gradually awoke from the influence of the anesthetics, the old sense of my relation to the world began to return while the new sense of my relation to God began to fade. I suddenly leapt to my feet and shrieked out, ‘It is too horrible, it is too horrible!‘ meaning that I could not bear this disillusionment. Then I flung myself on the ground and, at last awoke covered with blood, calling to the two surgeons (who were frightened) ‘Why did you not kill me?’ To have felt for that long timelessness, the ecstasy of the vision of God in all purity and tenderness and truth and absolute love, and then to find that I had, after all, no revelation but that I had been tricked instead by the abnormal excitement of my brain.”
“Yet,” continues Symonds, “this question remains, is it possible that when my flesh was dead to the ordinary sense of physical relations to impressions from without, that the inner sense of reality which then succeeded, was not a delusion but an actual experience? Is it possible that I, in that moment, felt what some of the saints have said they always felt, the indemonstrable but irrefutable certainty of God?”
Here James addresses another type of anesthetic state: Nitrous oxide, when sufficiently diluted with air, stimulates the mystical consciousness to an extraordinary degree. Depth beyond depth of truth seems revealed to the inhaler. This truth fades out, however, or escapes, at the moment of coming to; and if any words remain, they prove to be complete nonsense. Nonetheless, the sense of a profound meaning having been there persists. And James claims to have known more than one person who is persuaded that in the nitrous oxide trance we have the genuine metaphysical revelation.
The author confesses that he personally made some observations on this aspect of nitrous oxide intoxication and reported of them in print. And, this impression of its truth has ever since remained unshaken: that being, our normal waking, rational consciousness is but one special type of consciousness. While all about it [ordinary consciousness], and parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of entirely different consciousness’. He adds that we may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus and, at a touch, they are there. How to regard them is the question – for, they are so discontinuous with ordinary consciousness. James goes on to say that looking back on his own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which he cannot help but ascribe some metaphysical significance: It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity. Not only do they, as contrasted species, belong to one and the same genus, but one of the species, the nobler and better one, is itself the genus, and so soaks up and absorbs its opposite into itself.
L.T. – As I have already done previously in this work, I will again refer the reader to an experience of mine that James has so perfectly just described: chapter (B) MIRACLES Enlightenment or a Holy Instant – Seeing Continued. For, I wish to make it clear that this experience, and the several others I have had that are of a mystical or paranormal nature, were never associated with drugs of any kind. At the same time, by making this statement I do not here intend to at all suggest that if someone is convinced that they have had a metaphysical experience while under the influence of a drug of some type that their experience was not genuinely metaphysical. I am merely stating that my experiences have never occurred while under the influence of drugs.
Here the author includes a passage by Xenos Clark (a philosopher who died young, in the 1880’s, much lamented by those who knew him) from the book “The Anesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy” by Benjamin Paul Blood published in New York, 1874 [much abridged]:
“The truth is that we travel on a journey that was accomplished before we set out; and the real end of philosophy is accomplished, not when we arrive at, but when we remain in our destination (being there already) which may occur vicariously in this life when we cease our intellectual questioning. That is why there is a smile upon the face of the revelation, as we view it. It tells us that we are forever half a second too late – that’s all. You could kiss your own lips, it says, if you only knew the trick. It would be perfectly easy if they [your lips] would just stay there till you got around to them.”
Clark continues, “Repetition of the experience finds it ever the same. The subject resumes his normal consciousness only to partially and fitfully remember its occurrence, and to try to formulate its baffling importance with only this consolatory afterthought: that he has always known the oldest truth, and that he is done with human theories as to the origin, meaning, or destiny of the race. For, he is beyond instruction in spiritual things. The lesson is one of central safety: the Kingdom is within. All days are judgment days; there can be no climatic purpose of eternity, nor any scheme of the whole. The astronomer abridges the row of bewildering figures by increasing his unit of measurement; that we may then reduce the distracting multiplicity of things to the unity for which, each one of us stands.”
James then cites an account from a correspondence from a Mr. Trine: “I know of an officer on our police force who has told me that many times, when off duty and on his way home in the evening, there comes to him such a vivid and vital realization of his oneness with this Infinite Power. This Spirit Of Infinite Peace so takes hold of and so fills him that it seems as if his feet could hardly keep to the pavement, so buoyant and so exhilarated does he become by reason of the inflowing tide.”
Certain aspects of nature, James informs us, seem to have a peculiar power of awakening such mystical moods. Here he includes a case from Professor Starbuck’s collection [quite abridged]:
“… in that time the consciousness of God’s nearness came to me sometimes. I say ‘God’ to describe what is indescribable. A presence, I might say, yet that is too suggestive of a personality. Yet, the moments of which I speak did not hold the consciousness of a personality but, something in myself made me feel myself as part of something bigger than I and, was controlling. I felt myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in Nature. I rejoiced in the mere fact of existence, of being a part of it all – the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds, the tree trunks, and so on. In the years following, such moments continued to come but I wanted them constantly for, I knew so well the satisfaction of losing self in a perception of supreme power and love that I was unhappy because that perception was not constant.”
James says he could easily give more instances of cases he has collected that occurred out of doors and includes one more in his book but, for the sake of brevity and making room for a more interesting case, we’ll move on. The author now tells us of a Canadian psychiatrist, Dr. R. M. Bucke who gives to the more distinctly characterized of these phenomena the name of “cosmic consciousness” defined by Dr. Bucke as such:
“Cosmic consciousness is a consciousness of the cosmos that is of the life and order of the universe. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence – would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added an indescribable feeling of elevation and joyousness and a quickening of the moral sense which is fully as striking as, and more important than, the enhancement of the intellectual power.”
James informs us that it was Dr. Bucke’s own experience of a typical onset of cosmic consciousness in his own person which led him to investigate it in others. From Bucke’s book “Cosmic Consciousness – a study in the evolution of the human mind” Philadelphia, 1901:
“I had spent the evening in a great city, with two friends reading and discussing poetry and philosophy. We parted at midnight and I had a long drive to my lodging. My mind was deeply under the influence of the ideas, images, and emotions called up by the reading and talk. I was calm and peaceful; letting ideas, images and emotions flow in and of themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once, without warning of any kind, I found myself wrapped in a flame colored conflagration from somewhere close by in the great city. Then next, I knew that the fire was within me. What suddenly followed was a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe. I did not merely come to believe, among other things, but saw that the universe is not composed of dead matter; on the contrary, a living Presence. I became conscious in myself of eternal life; meaning not that I would have, but that I was, eternal life. I saw that all men are immortal and that the cosmic order is such that, without any doubt, all things work together for the good of each and all and that the founding principle of this world, of all worlds, is what we call love. And, that the happiness of each and all is, in the long run, certain. The vision lasted a few seconds and was gone. But, the memory of it and the sense of the reality of what it taught me has remained during the quarter of a century which has since elapsed; I knew that what the vision showed me was true. That view, that conviction, that consciousness, has never, even during periods of the deepest depression, been lost.”
Here, in a footnote, James gives us a quote from “Vivekananda” by Raja Yoga, London, 1896:
“The mind itself has a higher state of existence, beyond reason, a superconscious state. And, when the mind gets to the higher state, then knowledge beyond reasoning comes.”
Before we start in on this next part of James’ book I think it is a good idea to define a few of the religious terms he uses:
Samadhi – [Hinduism and Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism and yogic schools] a state of meditative consciousness attained by the practice of dhyana. In Hindu yoga this is regarded as the final stage, at which union with the divine is reached (before or at death).a state of meditative consciousness attained by the practice of dhyana.
Dhyana [Hinduism] – meditation which is a deeper awareness of oneness which is inclusive of perception of body, mind, senses and surroundings, yet remaining unidentified with them and leads to Samadhi and self-knowledge. [Buddhism] – a series of cultivated states of mind which lead to perfect equanimity and awareness.
Vedanta – one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. The term Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “end” originally referred to in the Upanishads; a collection of foundational texts in Hinduism.
Sufism – according to its adherents, is the inner mystical dimension of Islam. Practitioners of Sufism, referred to as Sufis, belong to a congregation formed around a grand master referred to as a Mawla who maintains a direct lineage of teachers dating back to the Prophet Muhammad. Sufis strive for ishan (perfection of worship) as detailed in a hadith (Arabic for narrative – in this case a collection of reports claiming to quote what the Prophet Muhammad said verbatim on any matter). Sufis regard the Prophet Muhammad as the primary perfect man who exemplifies the morality of God and their leader and prime spiritual guide. Sufis consider themselves to be the true proponents of the pure, original form of Islam.
Nirvana – [Buddhism] freedom from the endless cycle of personal reincarnations. The final beatitude that transcends suffering, karma, and samsara [in Hinduism – the endless cycle of births, deaths, and rebirths] and is sought through the extinction of desire and individual consciousness.
Now back to James’ book:
The Hindu Vedantists say that one may stumble into super-consciousness sporadically, without the previous discipline, but it is then impure. Their test of its purity, like our test of religion’s value, is empirical: its fruits must be good for life. When a man comes out of Samadhi, he remains enlightened, a sage, a prophet, a saint; his whole life is changed, illumined.
The Buddhists, James explains, used the word “samadhi” as well as the Hindus; but “dhyana” is their special word for higher states of contemplation. There seems to be four stages recognized in dhyana [in Buddhism]. The first stage comes through concentration of the mind upon one point. It excludes desire, but not discernment or judgment; it is still intellectual. In the second stage, the intellectual functions drop off, and the satisfied sense of unity is felt. In the third stage, the satisfaction departs and indifference begins along with memory and self-consciousness. In the fourth stage, the indifference, memory and self-consciousness are perfected. James here states that just what memory and self-consciousness mean in this connection cannot be the same faculties familiar to us in the lower life. Higher stages still of contemplation are mentioned – a region where nothing exists and where the meditator says: “There exists absolutely nothing” and stops. He then reaches another region where he says: “There are neither ideas nor absence of ideas,” and again stops. Then another region where, “having reached the end of both idea and perception, he stops finally.” This would seem to be, not Nirvana, but as close an approach to it as this life affords.
In The Mohammedan world, the Sufi sect and various dervish [see image of whirling dervishes] bodies are the possessors of the mystical tradition. The Sufis have existed in Persia since the earliest times. And, as their pantheism is so at variance with the hot and rigid monotheism of the Arab mind, it has been suggested that Sufism must have been introduced into Islam by Hindu influences. James tells us that we Christians know little of Sufism for, its secrets are disclosed only to those initiated. But, to give its existence a certain liveliness in our minds James quotes a Moslem philosopher and theologian, Al-Ghazzali, a Persian from the eleventh century who ranks as one of the greatest theologians of the Moslem church [much abridged]:
“The science of the Sufis aims at detaching the heart from all that is not God and giving it up to for the sole occupation of the divine being.” “… my heart no longer felt any difficulty in renouncing glory, wealth, and my children” says Al-Ghazzali, “so I quitted Bagdad and, reserving from my fortune only what was indispensable for my subsistence, I distributed the rest. I went to Syria, where I remained about two years with no other occupation than living in retreat and solitude conquering my desires, combating my passions, training myself to purify my soul, to make my character perfect, to prepare my heart for meditating on God – all according to the methods of the Sufis, as I had read of them.”
“I recognized, for certain, that the Sufis are assuredly walking in the path of God. Both in their acts and in their inaction, whether internal or external, they are illumined by the light which proceeds from the prophetic source. The first condition for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God. The next key to the contemplative life consists in the humble prayers which escape from the fervent soul and, in the meditation of God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely. But, in reality this is only the beginning of the Sufi life; the end of Sufism being total absorption in God.” “… revelations take place in so flagrant a shape that the Sufis see before them, whilst wide awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets. They hear their voices and obtain their favors.”
Al-Ghazzali goes on to describe the prophetic faculty as being analogous to such: “… sleep. If you were to tell a man who has never had the [sleep] experience that there are people who at times swoon away so as to resemble dead men, and who [in dreams] perceive things that are hidden [from the outside observer], he would deny it. Nevertheless, his arguments would be refuted by actual experience. Just so, in the prophetic, the sight is illumined by a light which uncovers hidden things and objects which the intellect fails to reach. The chief properties of prophetism are perceptible only during the transport, and by those who embrace the Sufi life.”
James posits that it is a commonplace of metaphysics that God’s knowledge cannot be discursive but must be intuitive; that is, it must be constructed more after the pattern of what in ourselves is called immediate feeling than after that of proposition and judgment [faculties of the intellect]. But, James asserts, our immediate feelings have no content beyond what the five senses supply. Yet, we have seen and shall see again that the mystics may emphatically deny that the senses play any part in the very highest type of knowledge which their transports yield.
In the Christian church there have always been mystics. The experiences of these mystics have been treated as important precedents and the church has codified a system of mystical theology based upon them. “Orison,” or meditation, is the groundwork for the methodical elevation of the soul towards God. And, it is through continued practice of orison the higher levels of mystical experience may be attained. It is odd however, James notes, that Protestantism, especially evangelical Protestantism, should seemingly have abandoned everything methodical in this line apart from what prayer might lead to.
The first thing to be aimed at in orison is the mind’s detachment from outer sensations for, these interfere with its concentration upon ideal things. Such manuals as “Saint Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises” recommend the discipline to expel sensation by a graduated series of efforts including imagined holy scenes. For example, an imaginary figure of Christ coming fully to occupy the mind. But, in certain cases imagery may fall away entirely and in the very highest raptures it tends to do so.
As you may recall, James, in a previous chapter, wrote not all that favorably about Saint Teresa. However, here he includes quite a few passages of her mystical experiences from her autobiography [much abridged]:
“In the orison of union, the soul is fully awake in regards to God, but wholly asleep in regards to things of the world and in respect to herself. During the short time the union lasts, she is deprived of every feeling and cannot think of a single thing. She needs to employ no artifice in order to arrest [employ] the use of her understanding. For, it remains so stricken in inactivity that she neither knows what she loves, nor in what manner she loves, nor what is that she wills. In short, she is utterly dead to the things of the world, living solely in God.”
Saint Teresa continues, “Thus does God, when he raises a soul to union with Himself, suspend that natural action of all her faculties. She neither sees, hears, nor understands so long as the union lasts. But, this time is always short, and seems even shorter than it actually is. God establishes himself in the interior of this soul in such a way that when she returns to herself, it is wholly impossible for her to doubt that she has been in God, and God in her. This truth remains so strongly impressed on her that, even though many years should pass without the condition returning, she can neither forget the favor she received, nor doubt its reality.”
L.T. – This last paragraph closely describes my own same experience that I wrote of on chapter (A) MIRACLES in the second account titled “More on Seeing Heaven.” My experience came about quite unexpectedly when I was sixteen years old during a conversation with a friend. I had asked her why she believed in God. I had not been meditating. I didn’t even know what meditation was then. This is all quite surprising to me; that is, to read of so many other’s experiences much like the ones I’ve had. Other individuals’ similar accounts in James’ book use the word “transport,” and in my description of the experience, I refer to the sensation of traveling at a surreal, not at all earthly, rate of speed.
James alleges that the kinds of truth communicable in mystical ways, whether these be sensible or supersensible, are various. Some of them relate to this world. For example: visions of the future, the “reading of hearts” [whereby a Saint is able to read into the heart and conscience of an individual and then be able to guide the person towards a greater union with God], the sudden understanding of texts, and knowledge of distant events. But, the most important revelations are theological or metaphysical.
In a footnote here, James mentions that he omits cases of visual and auditory hallucination, verbal and graphic automatisms [as in automatic writing and channeling] and such marvels as “levitation, stigmatization, and the miraculous healing of disease. These phenomena, which mystics have often demonstrated, have not mystical significance according to the author. For, they occur without any “consciousness of illumination” whatsoever and, they often occur in persons of non-mystical minds. Consciousness of illumination is, for us, the essential mark of mystical states.
Here he cites such “consciousness of illumination” or mystical revelations as experienced by Saint Ignatius:
“Saint Ignatius confessed one day to Father Laynez that a single hour of meditation had taught him more truths about heavenly things than all the teachings of all the theologians put together. One day, in orison, on the choir steps of the Dominican Church, he saw in a distinct manner the plan of divine wisdom in the creation of the world. On another occasion, during a procession, his spirit was ravished in God, and it was given him to contemplate the deep mystery of the Holy Trinity in a form and with images necessarily fitted to the weak understanding of a dweller on Earth. This last vision flooded his heart with such sweetness that, in later times, the mere memory of it made him shed abundant tears.”
Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) was a Spanish knight from a Basques noble family, a hermit, a priest and founder of the Society of Jesus; a male religious congregation of the Catholic Church. Members are called Jesuits. Today, the Jesuits are in engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations on six continents. Ignatius became the society’s first Superior General. The society participated in the Counter Reformation (beginning with the Council of Trent in 1545 and ending at the close of the Thirty Year’s War in 1648); a movement whose purpose was to reform the Catholic Church from within and to counter the Protestant Reformation spreading throughout Catholic Europe (See Martin Luther Part I page 31).
During recovery, after being seriously wounded in battle, Ignatius underwent a spiritual conversion causing him to abandon his military career and devote himself to working for God. During this time he read the “Da Vita Christi,” by Ludolph of Saxony (the result of 40 years work by the author) and this work greatly influenced Ignatius. He also experienced a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus following which he practiced serious asceticism and prayed for seven hours a day, often in a cave. As a result, Ignatius then composed the “Spiritual Exercises,” a set of meditations, prayers and mental exercises divided into four thematic weeks during a religious retreat. In 1662 he was canonized and declared patron of all spiritual retreats and is a foremost patron saint of soldiers.
The portrait of Saint Ignatius of Loyola was painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577 – 1640).
James next tells us that Saint John of the Cross, whom the author refers to as one of the best of the mystical teachers, describes the condition as the “union of love,” which he says, is reached by “dark contemplation” [from St. John’s book “The Dark Night of the Soul”] “… the soul then feels as if placed in a vast and profound solitude … there, in the abyss of wisdom, the soul grows by what it drinks in from the well-springs of the comprehension of love … and realizes how insignificant and improper the terms we employ are when we seek to discourse of divine things.”
In the condition called raptus, or ravishment, by theologians, breathing and blood circulation are so depressed that it is a question amongst physicians whether the soul be or not be temporarily separated from the body. James states that one must read Saint Teresa’s descriptions and the very exact distinctions which she makes claiming that one is dealing, not with imaginary experiences, but with the phenomena which, however rare, follow perfectly definite psychological types.
Yet, James continues, to the medical mind these ecstasies signify nothing but suggestive hypnotic states, based intellectually on superstition and a corporeal state of degeneration. Undoubtedly, these pathological conditions have existed in many of the cases but, that tells us nothing about the value of the knowledge imparted by these states to the consciousness. So, in order to pass a spiritual judgment here, we must not content ourselves with superficial medical talk, but inquire further as to their fruits, which have been varied. Here James reminds us of the helplessness in the kitchen and schoolroom of poor Margaret Mary Alacoque. She, like many other ecstatics, would have perished but for the care given them by admiring followers. These “other worldly” states encouraged by the mystical practice makes one whom the character is naturally passive and the intellect feeble peculiarly liable. But, insists James, in natively strong minds and characters we find quite opposite results. And here James tells us that Saint Ignatius, for example, was a mystic, but his mysticism made him assuredly one of the most powerfully practical human engines that ever lived.
L.T. – Here I am going to change direction entirely; sparked by the comments above about suggestive hypnotic states for, I think it is an important subject. James has made several references to hypnotic states; at least seven in this document so far and more in the original, full text.
On pages 94 and 95 (above) I mentioned of a “certain and specific incident of hypnosis.” I was referring to a particular realtor whom, I am convinced, was told by an attorney to contact me. This realtor was, perhaps still is, a dangerous man and I made that clear in what I wrote on those two pages. I want to describe the events associated with the hypnosis for it is possible that many crimes, and the worst types of crimes, may be committed against or by, hypnotized subjects. I will tell you here exactly what happened and you can decide for yourself as to whether or not what I report here is true.
I don’t recall the exact time of day or month but it was daylight and warm outside. The main floor of the condominium (living room and art studio) and kitchen were located on the top, the rooftop actually, of the three story building; the bedroom and bathroom were on the floor below. Because of the chemicals I used, oil paints, turpentine, etc., and the comfortable weather, I would generally leave the double French doors leading to the east facing deck wide open for ventilation plus, it made for a pleasant working environment. There were no screens on the doors; insects weren’t generally a problem at that elevation and downtown.
The realtor stopped by, specifically for what reason I do not recall. We were standing facing each other at the end of the kitchen counter when he pointed to his eyes with the first and second finger of his hand and said, “look at my eyes,” which I did. He told me to keep looking at them, which I did. I thought he wanted me to focus on his eyes while he spoke for they were his most attractive feature. Other than his eyes, he was not attractive. I recall very clearly thinking that they were rather interesting looking – they seemed to protrude slightly as if on a different plane than his face. He then began to talk of a place he and his family vacationed every summer for years. It was at a cabin on a lake and that there was a dock on the property’s waterfront. He then stated that once, when he was outdoors walking, a swarm of wasps inexplicably started chasing after him. He said he couldn’t shoo or get away from them so he ran to the dock, jumped off it, and into the water.
He left the studio after that, at which time, very soon thereafter in fact, a large pure black, nearly two inches long wasp flew into the studio through the open French doors and came directly after me still standing in the kitchen area. I attempted to shoo it out yet, it aggressively continued coming after me. I rolled up a newspaper and began swatting at it. Then, at one point, at the other end of the studio and facing west, away from the French doors, when I took a swat at it, it just disappeared. It was the strangest thing – I did not sense any contact between the insect and the newspaper nor did I see it fly off. The scene then repeated itself; another large black wasp flew through the open doors and came directly after me. I again swatted at it with the rolled up newspaper and the exact same thing happend; it just disappeared. I did not know what to think. I looked all over for it: behind stacked canvases, the couch, the file cabinet. There was no sight of it anywhere and, like the first one, I did not see it fly off and back outdoors.
I sat down on the couch feeling a little stunned by what had happened (not at all thinking about the story that the realtor had told me). When suddenly I saw, just outside the French doors at a hanging pot of petunias, a huge, the size of a small bird, wasp – but more like a bee. It had the characteristic gold and black striped abdomen and a fuller, less scrawny type structure typical of wasps. My immediate thought was how I wish I had a jar for I had never before seen such a huge bee, nor wasp. It very soon flew away. Then I knew exactly what had happened – the realtor had hypnotized me. And, perhaps hoping I would jump off the deck thinking I was at a lake. The hallucinations then ceased.
I want to say this because I think it is important. Sirhan Sirhan, the person who shot presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, just two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, has claimed that prior to shooting Kennedy he had met a woman in a bar, that she had most intriguing eyes and, when he shot Robert Kennedy, he thought he was aiming at a target on a shooting range. He claims that he believes he was hypnotized by the woman. Now I think he may be telling the truth.
I am here adding something to the account posted on page (95) above about a hike I went on with the realtor. The weather during the hike along a trail in the gold mining territory was pleasant; sometimes overcast and sometimes sunny and a perfectly comfortable temperature; nothing suggestive of worse weather to come. I wasn’t in a particularly bad mood while hiking although I knew I was surrounded, back home by some dangerous people and I did believe, and do believe to this day, that the man I was with was a killer, a “hit man” to be specific. I thought he would kill, or not, on a whim almost. I did believe he wanted to keep me as a romantic companion but, I also knew he was not a rational person. I grew, to a certain degree, used to my circumstances although I wouldn’t say, that I am completely over them to this day either.
As we were hiking along he ventured off the trail a bit and asked me to come to where he was: standing next to a vertical, approximately seven or eight feet high, thin (just enough width for a person to slip through) wooden framed opening to an old mine shaft. He gestured for me to look inside the shaft at which time, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the sky turned dark, lighting and thunder struck and rain began to pour down. This caused us to immediately abandon the mine shaft and run towards the path thinking we should head for the car and leave the area all together. However, very soon after that, the sky cleared and the sun came out so we resumed our hike with the intention of staying in the wilderness. Then later, how long I do not remember but, near the end of the hike he again, venturing just off the trail, wanted to show me another opening to a mine shaft. This one was similar in size and appearance to the first one only horizontally positioned along the ground. And again, as I came up towards the opening, the sky suddenly darkened and a storm broke out causing us to run to the car. And, just like before, the storm cleared up as suddenly as it appeared. The realtor mentioned the strangeness of the two circumstances (internally, I had noted them too). I have also wondered from that day to the present what lies at the bottom of those mine shafts (skeletons perhaps?). This concern was so present in my mind for some time afterward to the extent that I felt I had to report it.
Back to the topic of mysticism:
James goes on to state that mystical conditions may, therefore, render the soul more energetic in line with which their inspiration favors. But, this could be considered an advantage only in cases where the inspirations were true ones. And, this gets us back once more to the problem of truth which confronted us at the end of the chapters on saintliness.
Here James again mentions Saint John of the Cross writing of the intuitions and “touches” by which God reaches the substance of the soul:
“They enrich it marvelously. A single one of them may be sufficient to abolish at a stroke certain imperfections of which the soul during its whole life had vainly tried to rid itself, and to leave it adorned with virtues and loaded with supernatural gifts. A single one of these intoxicating consolations may reward it for all the labors undergone in its life – even when they are numberless.”
Saint Teresa, James informs us, is as emphatic yet much more detailed [much abridged]:
“Often, infirm and wrought upon with dreadful pains before the ecstasy, the soul emerges from it full of health and admirably disposed for action … as if God had willed that the body itself, already obedient to the soul’s desires, should share in the soul’s happiness. The soul, after such a favor, is animated with a degree of courage so great that, if at that moment its body should be torn to pieces for the cause of God, it would feel nothing but the liveliest comfort. It is then that promises and heroic resolutions spring up in profusion … and our clear perception of our proper nothingness. What empire is comparable to that of a soul who, from this sublime summit to which God has raised her, sees all the things on Earth beneath her feet, and is captivated by not one of them. How amazed at her own blindness! What lively pity she feels for those whom she recognizes as still shrouded in the darkness! She groans at having ever been sensitive to what the world recognizes as honorable and calls by that name. She now sees in this name nothing more than an immense lie of which the world remains a victim. She discovers, in the new light from above, that in genuine honor there is nothing spurious, that to be faithful to this honor is to give our respect to what deserves to be respected truly, and to consider as nothing, or as less than nothing, whatsoever perishes …”
James then poses the question, do mystical states establish the truth of those theological affections in which the saintly life has its roots? He then states that it is possible to give the outcome of the majority of them in terms that point in definite philosophical directions. One of these directions is optimism and the other is monism [the view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance; that reality is one unitary wholeness]. We pass into mystical states from out of ordinary consciousness: from a less into a more, from a smallness into a vastness and, at the same time, from an unrest to peace. We feel them as reconciling, unifying states. In them the unlimited absorbs the limits and peacefully closes the account.
The author continues, whosoever calls the Absolute anything in particular, or says that it is this seems implicitly to shut of off from being that – it is as if he lessened it. So we deny the this (separate from the that), negating the negation in the interest of the higher affirmative attitude [I am that I AM].The fountain-head of Christian mysticism is Dionysius the Areopagite [around 1st century A.D.] who describes the absolute truth by the negative exclusively:
“The cause of all things is neither soul nor intellect, nor is it reason nor intelligence, nor is it spoken nor thought. It is neither number, nor order, nor magnitude, nor littleness, nor equality, nor inequality, nor similarity, nor dissimilarity, and so on.” But, James adds, these qualifications are denied by Dionysius, not because the truth falls short of them, but because it so infinitely excels them. And, to this dialectical use of negation as a mode of passage towards a higher kind of affirmation, there is correlated another form of negation; a denial of the finite self and its wants. And here is where a form of asceticism of some sort is found in religious experience to be the only doorway to the larger and more blessed life.
Here James quotes Jakob Behmen (1575 – 1624) a German mystic and theosophist (see theosophist Rudolf Steiner’s abridged book chapter (E) “How to know Higher Worlds” on this website) who founded modern theosophy and influenced George Fox (founder of the Quaker religion):
“Love is Nothing [No Thing] for, when thou hath gone forth wholly from the creature and from that which is visible, and become Nothing to all that is Nature and Creature, then thou art in that eternal One, which is God Himself, and then thou shall feel within thee the highest virtue of Love – the treasure of treasures. For, the soul is out of the somewhat into that Nothing out of which all things may be made. The soul here saith, I have nothing, for I am utterly stripped and naked; I can do nothing for I have no manner of power; I am as water poured out; I am nothing for that ‘I am’ is no more; and only God is to me. I AM.”
James continues, this overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and the Absolute is the great mystic achievement. In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and aware of our oneness. This is the everlasting and triumphant of the mystical tradition, hardly altered by differences of faith or ideology. In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in mysticism, in Whitmanism [as in Walt Whitman and healthy-mindedness], we find the same recurring note in mystical utterances: an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think.
Here James quotes from numerous texts: “Thou art Thou” say the Upanishads. And to that the Vedantists add, “Not a part, not a mode of That, but identically That; that Absolute Spirit of the World.” “As pure water poured into pure water remains the same, thus, O Gautama, [the Buddha] is the Self of a thinker who knows. Water in water, fire in fire, ether in ether, no one can distinguish them; likewise a man whose mind has entered into the Self.” “Every man,” says the Sufi Gulshan-Raz, “whose heart is no longer shaken by any doubt, knows with certainty that there is no being save the only One … In his divine majesty the me, and we, the thou, are not found, for in the One there can be no distinction. Every being who is annulled and entirely separated from himself, hears resounding in this voice and this echo: I am God.” In the vision of God, says Plotinus, “What sees is not our reason but something other and superior to our reason.”
L.T. – I shall add here, that in modern holographic technologies (which produce seemingly 3-D images), and in particular the holographic plate that, throughout the plate, small individual sections of the holographic image reveals the whole of the image. This has led to a philosophical view that we live in a holographic universe and that the parts are as the whole of the universe; the tinier the part however, the less detailed the image. The author, Michael Talbot (1953 – 1992), who is featured on this site in MFA chapter (J) Brilliant Scientist / Philosophers explains this technology and philosophy in an interview on the program “Thinking Allowed” based on his book, “The Holographic Universe.”
James informs us that in mystical literature such self-contradictory phrases as “dazzling obscurity,” “whispering silence,” “teeming desert,” are continually met with. They prove that, not in conceptual speech, but in music rather, is the element through which we are best spoken to of mystical truth. Many mystical scriptures are indeed little more than musical compositions. Here the author quotes [although from where it is not clear]:
“When to himself his form appears unreal, as does upon waking all the forms he sees in dreams. When he has ceased to hear the many, he may discern the ONE – the inner sound which annihilates the outer … And now thy self is lost in SELF, Thyself unto THYSELF, merged in the SELF from which thou first did radiate … Behold! Thou hast become the Light, thou hast become the Sound, thou art thy Master and thy God. Thou art THYSELF, the object of thy search.”
These words, if they do not awaken joyfulness as you read them, probably stir chords within you which music and language, in common, touch. Music gives us ontological messages which non-musical criticism is unable to contradict, though critics may laugh at our foolishness in minding them, James contends. And the doctrine, for example, that eternity is timeless and that our immortality, if we live in the eternal, is not the future as it is already here and now – in the now that we find so often expressed today in certain philosophic circles [which James here states over one hundred years ago].
The author’s next task, he informs us, is to inquire whether we can invoke the mystic range of consciousness as authoritative. Does it furnish any warrant for the truth of the twice-born (the Christian born again concept) and supernaturality and pantheism [the doctrine that God is not a personality, but all laws, forces, and manifestations of the universe are God] which it favors? As a matter of psychological fact, mystical states of a well-pronounced and emphatic sort are usually authoritative over those who have them; they have been “there” and “know” and, it is vain for rationalism to grumble about this. We can throw him into a prison or madhouse, but we cannot change his mind. Instead we generally attach it only the more stubbornly to his beliefs. He mocks our utmost efforts, as a matter of fact, thus absolutely escapes jurisdiction by learned logic. Our senses have assured us of certain states of fact; but mystical experiences are as direct perceptions of fact for those who have them as any physical sensations are for those who have not. The mystic is, in short, invulnerable and must be left, whether we relish it or not, in the undisturbed gratification of his creed.
In a footnote James quotes a Mr. John Nelson about his imprisonment for preaching Methodism: “My soul was as a watered garden and I could sing praises to God all day long for He turned my captivity into joy, and gave me to rest as well on the boards as if I had been on a bed of down. I could now say, ‘God’s service is perfect freedom,’ and I prayed much that my enemies might drink of the same river of peace which God gave so largely to me.”
James now tells us that in characterizing mystical states thus far, he has over simplified the truth but, that he did so for expository, or interpretive, reasons. The classic religious mysticism is only a privileged case; an extract kept true to their type by the selection of the fittest specimens, as it were. Yet, even religious mysticism, the kind that accumulates traditions and makes schools, is much less unanimous than the author here confesses he has allowed for. Within the Christian church, it has been both ascetic and self-indulgently antinomian [the belief that moral laws are relative as opposed to fixed or universal]. It is dualistic [the belief that humans have two basic natures: the physical and the spiritual] in Sankhya, and monistic in Vedanta [both orthodox Hinduism]. James previously called it pantheistic [again, a doctrine that identifies God with the universe]; but the great Spanish mystics are anything but pantheists, he now tells us. They are, with but few exceptions, non-metaphysical minds for whom the “union” with God is much more like an occasional miracle than like an origin and identity.
James then emphatically states that we have no right, therefore, to invoke the mystical states’ prestige as distinctively in favor of any special belief, such as that in absolute idealism [that reality is dependent upon, rather than separate from, the mind], or in absolute monism, or in the absolute goodness of the world, etc.
L.T. – Here we will review some of the terms and definitions recently referred to in James’ book:
Monism – the view that there is only one kind of ultimate substance; that reality is one unitary wholeness.
Pantheism – the doctrine that God is not a personality, but all laws, forces, manifestations, etc. of the universe are God.
Dualism – In philosophy: the view that the world consists of, or is explicable as, two fundamental entities, such as mind and matter. In theology: the world is ruled by the antagonistic forces of good and evil and that humans have two basic natures, the physical and the spiritual.
Antinomianism – the belief that moral laws are relative in meaning and application as opposed to fixed or universal.
Idealism – In philosophy: that reality is dependent upon the mind (subjective) rather than independent, separate, from the mind (an objective reality). Absolute Idealism denies that the world exists outside the mind whereas more moderate versions claim that our interpretation of reality is a reflection of the mind.
Back to James’ book:
So much for religious mysticism for, it is but one half of the story. The other half has not accumulated traditions except those which the textbooks on insanity supply. Open any one of these and you will find abundant cases in which “mystical ideas” are cited as characteristic symptoms of deluded states of mind. In delusional insanity, or paranoia, as they sometimes call it, we may have a diabolical mysticism, a sort of religious mysticism turned upside down. The same sense [as in religious, or classic, mysticism] of ineffable importance in the smallest events, the same texts and words coming with new meanings, the same voices and visions and leadings and missions, the same controlling by extraneous powers; only this time the emotion is pessimistic. Instead of consolations we have desolations; the meanings are dreadful and the powers are enemies to life. It is evident that, from the point of view of their psychological mechanism [the classic mysticism and these just mentioned lower mysticisms] that they spring from the same mental level: from that great subliminal or transmarginal region of which science is beginning to admit the existence of but, of which so little is known. That region contains every kind of matter; both “seraph and snake” alike abide there side-by-side [a seraph is an angelic entity]. So, to come from thence is no infallible credential. Therefore, James repeats, non-mystics are under no obligation to acknowledge, of the mystical states, a superior authority by their intrinsic nature alone.
Yet, he repeats, the existence of mystical states absolutely overthrows the pretension of non-mystical states to be the sole and ultimate dictators of what we may believe. As a rule, mystical states merely add a supersensuous meaning to the ordinary outward data of consciousness. They are excitements like the emotions of love or ambition; gifts to our spirit by means of which facts, already objectively before us, fall into a new expressiveness and make a new connection with our active life. They do not contradict these facts, as such, or deny anything that our senses have immediately seized. It is the rationalistic critic, rather, who plays the part of denier in the controversy, and his denials have no strength. For there never can be a state of facts to which new meaning may not truthfully be added, provided the mind thus ascends to a more enveloping point of view. It therefore, must always remain an open question whether mystical states may not be superior points of view; windows through which the mind looks out upon a more extensive and inclusive world. The wider world would, in that case, prove to have a mixed constitution like that of this world. It would have its celestial and its infernal regions, its tempting and its saving moments, its valid experiences and its counterfeit ones, just as our world has them. But, it would be a wider world all the same.
We should have to use its experiences by selecting and subordinating and substituting just as is our custom in this ordinary naturalistic [or materialistic] world and we would be liable to error just as we are now. Yet, the counting in of that wider world of meanings, and the serious dealing with it might, in spite of all the perplexity, be indispensable stages in our approach to the final fullness of the truth.
Religious philosophy is yet another enormous subject and, here James informs us, that in his next lecture he can only give us a glance at it for that is all which his limits here allow.
Lecture XVIII – PHILOSOPHY
The subject of Saintliness left us face to face with the question, is the sense of a divine presence a sense of anything objectively true? We turned first to mysticism for an answer and found that, although mysticism is entirely willing to corroborate religion, it is too private (and too varied) in its utterances to be able to claim a universal authority. But, philosophy publishes results which claim to be universally valid (if indeed they are valid at all) so we now turn to philosophy with our question. Can philosophy stamp a warrant of veracity upon the religious person’s sense of the divine, James inquires?
In short, the author suspects that we suspect he is planning to defend feeling at the expense of reason – to rehabilitate the primitive and unreflective, and to dissuade us from the hope of any Theology worthy of its name. Well, James says, to a certain extent he admits we have guessed rightly in that he does believe that feeling is the deeper source of religion and that philosophical and theological formulations are secondary products [second to the intuitive and mystical source]; like translations of a text into another tongue.
James adds that he doubts that dispassionate intellectual contemplation of the universe would have ever resulted in religious philosophies. Men, would have begun with mechanistic explanations of fact and criticized these religious philosophies away into scientific explanations. Actually, that is what they have done. They have no need of such high flying speculations; for what commerce are they? And, at the same time philosophy aspires to escape form obscure and wayward personal persuasions (whatever those persuasions may be) to a truth objectively valid for all thinking men; the intellect’s most cherished ideal.
James then states that these very lectures are but a laborious attempt to extract from the privacies of the religious experience some general facts which can be defined in formulas upon which everybody may agree. Of late [during James’ time] there has been made impartial classifications and comparisons (alongside the denunciations and detestations amongst the various religions) with the intent of producing the beginnings of a “Science of Religions” so-called. And here the author states that if he contributes but a crumb to such a science, he should be made very happy.
The intellectualism in religion, which James tells us that he hopes to discredit, assumes to construct religious evidences out of the resources of logical reasoning alone; drawing rigorous inferences from objective facts. It calls its conclusions dogmatic theology, or philosophy of the Absolute, as the case may be; avoiding calling their inferences a science of religion. Yet today we find inculcated in the theological schools, almost as much as was the case long ago, a disdain for both merely probable truths and for the results that only private contemplations can grasp. Here James quotes from [Glasgow University] Principal John Caird in his book “Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion”:
“Religion must indeed be a thing of the heart but, in order to elevate it from the region of subjective caprice and waywardness, and to distinguish between that which is true and that which is false in religion, we must appeal to an objective standard. That which enters the heart must first be discerned by the intelligence to be true. Intelligence must be regarded as having a legitimate right to dominate feeling and be the constituting principle by which feeling must be judged. In estimating the religious character in individuals, nations, or races the first question must be, not how they feel, but what they think and believe; not whether their religion is one which manifests itself in emotion, vehement and enthusiastic, but rather what are their conceptions of God and divine things from which these emotions are called forth. Feeling is necessary in religion, but it is by the intelligent basis of a religion, not by feeling, that its character and worth are to be determined.”
Here James quotes Cardinal Newman, from his work “The Idea of a University” who gives us an emphatic expression of disdain for such a sentiment:
“If the Supreme Being is powerful or skillful, in the way that the telescope shows [cosmic] power, or the microscope shows [micro level] skill; if his moral law is to be ascertained simply by the physical processes of the animal frame [physiology] or, his will gathered from the issues and activities of human affairs [sociology]; if His Essence is but as high, deep, and broad as the [observable] universe, yet no more; if these be the facts from which we work, then I confess that there is no specific science about God, that theology is but a name, a hypocrisy.”
In both these extracts we have the issue clearly before us: feeling valid only for the individual is pitted against universally valid reasoning. Theology based on pure reason must, in fact, convince men universally. If not, what then would its presumed superior contribution be? If it only formed sects and schools, just as sentiment and mysticism do, how then would theological reasoning fulfill its intent of freeing us from personal caprice and waywardness? James here states that the logical reasoning of man operates in the field of the Divine exactly as it has always operated in love, or patriotism, or politics, or in any other of the wider affairs of life in which our passions, or our mystical intuitions, often fixing our beliefs prior to the facts [if, in these cases, the facts are at all considered]. Our rationale amplifies and defines our faith, it dignifies it, and lends it words and plausibility. Yet, it hardly ever engenders it, nor can it defend it decisively.
The arguments for God’s existence have stood for thousands of years despite the waves of unbelieving criticism breaking against them, yet never totally discrediting them amongst the faithful but, on the whole, slowly and surely washing out the mortar from between their joints.
L.T. – As for the present: if only western, mainstream science were as flexible.
Here James addresses the concept of First Cause from which the “argument from design” reasons that Nature’s Laws are mathematical and her parts benevolently adapted to each other and, that this cause is both intellectual and benevolent. The “moral argument” presupposes a lawgiver and the belief that God is so pervasive as to be grounded in the rational nature of man and should therefore carry authority with it. As to the argument from design [creationism], we see how Darwinian ideas have revolutionized it. And, as we now conceive Darwinian evolutionary processes: [sarcasm perhaps] we exist due to so many fortunate escapes from almost limitless processes of destruction [to say nothing of all the non-fertilized, non-actualized, beingnesses].
The author here dedicates considerable text (which I have to greatly abridge) to the process of disorder, chaos, in the world and that the design argument suggests a God for disorder. All worldly arrangements, good or bad, must in fact be found to have resulted from previous conditions. Yet, in this part of his text, James asserts that order and disorder, as we now recognize them, are purely human inventions. Here he gives us this example: If he should throw down a thousand beans at random upon a table, he could, by a process of elimination, leave a number of them in almost any geometrical pattern one might propose to him. And, one might conclude that the pattern was prefigured beforehand and that the other beans were mere irrelevance and packing material. The author claims that our dealings with Nature are just like this.
L.T. – Case in point: Consider what geneticists today refer to as junk DNA – non-coding DNA. It was determined, in recent years, that nearly 97% of our DNA was useless. Yet, a recently published article claims that “these vast stretches of seeming ‘junk’ DNA are actually the seat of crucial gene-controlling activity – changes that contribute to hundreds of common diseases.” This is worse by far than when they determined it to be completely irrelevant or, little more than packing material.
Yet, posits James, all the while between and around them [the beans that is] exists an infinite and anonymous chaos of objects that no one ever thought of together; of relations that never before attracted our attention. Without a definite theological view, over, in and around things, processes of order and disorder are purely human constructs [and destructs, as it were].
Away from modern science and back to God being First Cause – the Science of sciences. In the next three paragraphs, James gives us some specimens of the orthodox philosophical theology of both Catholics and Protestants and, here again, it is much abridged [forgive my personal, italicized, input]:
Cardinal Newman proposes, God must be both necessary and absolute. This makes Him absolutely unlimited from without and within; for limitation suggests non-being [somewhere] and God is being Itself. God is One and Only for, the infinite can admit no peer, no something other. He is spiritual, otherwise, were He composed of physical parts, some other power would have had to combine them into the total and this would be a contradiction; he would not be God. For, His Nature and His existence cannot be distinct as are the nature of things in finite substances which, share their basic natures with one another and are individual only in their material aspect. This excludes from His Being from all those distinctions so familiar in the world of finite things: between potentiality and actuality, substantive things and accidents, being and activity, existence and attributes. [In other words, beings and things perceived as finite and material but, in reality, are more like ideas or thoughts which also change and pass and are only temporally actual, therefore not actual, or real, at all]. Furthermore, He is boundless for could He be outlined in space, He would be composite. Therefore being infinite, eternal, extended everywhere without separateness, He is changeless for there is no other thing, for him to change into.
He adds, God is omnipresent, indivisible at every point in space and, similarly, wholly present at every point in time. [Or space-time which are one and the same, like two sides of a coin, and one only exists because of the other which only exists because of the other]. God cannot be called free, for to be called such would thus include the contrarieties [that being not free states] that characterize finite creatures. God is totally free [for the sake of semantics]; he wills to create with an absolute freedom. And, being a substance endowed with intellect and will and freedom, God is a person; and a living person at that. For, He is both object and subject of his own activity and to be this, distinguishes the living from the lifeless.
God is holy. He creates ex nihilo [out of nothing] and gives His creations absolute being. The forms which He imprints upon them, these prototype beingnesses, are His ideas [in His likeness]. But, as is with God, there is no such thing as multiplicity and, as these ideas are manifold, or diversified, we must distinguish the ideas as they are, as being in and of God [again, in His likeness]. With respect to God’s purpose in creation, primarily it can only have been to exercise his absolute freedom by the manifestation to those made other and of his glory and for the knowledge and love of God; the mainspring of felicity.
God can do no evil, for He is positive fullness absolutely and evil is negation. [How curious evil spelled backwards is live and devil is lived spelled backwards]. Moral evil He cannot will, either as end or means, for that would contradict His holiness. By creating free beings He permits it only; neither his justice nor his goodness obliging Him to prevent the recipients of freedom from misusing the gift.
Here James states he will not weary us by pursuing these particular metaphysical determinations further [and again, I considerably abridged James’ text already much abridged by him, from Cardinal Newman’s works].
“What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” The schools of philosophy have too often overlooked the fact that man’s thinking is naturally joined with his conduct, James states. Then, for the next couple of paragraphs, he cites some renowned philosophers (David Hume, George Berkeley, John Mill, Immanuel Kant, etc.) and makes some brief statements associated with their philosophical theories. But, it is with one whom he describes as an “American philosopher of eminent originality,” a Mr. Charles Sanders Peirce, where James here comes to rest. He believes Peirce has rendered thought a service by applying the principle by which men are instinctively guided; the “principle of pragmatism” and defends it, somewhat, as follows:
The only conceivable motive for thought is, the attainment of belief. For, only when our thought about a subject has found its rest in belief can our action on the subject firmly and safely begin. To develop a thought’s significance we need only determine what conduct it is aptly fitted to produce and, that conduct is its one and only significance. To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts on a matter, we need only consider what experiences, sooner or later, we are to expect from it, and what conduct we must then prepare ourselves for in case the matter should be relevant and true. This, James repeats, is Peirce’s principle, the principle of pragmatism.
He continues, if we apply the principle of pragmatism to God’s metaphysical attributes (as distinguished from His moral attributes) James thinks that, even were we logically coerced into believing them, we should still have to admit them to be destitute of all intelligible significance. Take, for example, God’s superiority to the variety and succession which we find in finite beings; His indivisibility, that being His lack of distinctiveness from: being and activity, substantive things and accidental, potentiality and actuality, and all the rest. Then there’s His relations to evil being permissive yet not positive. And, His absolute felicity in Himself. Candidly speaking, James inquires, how do such qualities as these make any connection whatsoever with our lives? For his part, James continues, he frankly confesses that he cannot conceive of them being of even the smallest consequence to us religiously or, for that matter, that any one of them should be true. How does it assist one in planning their conduct to know that God’s happiness is, in anyway absolutely complete?
L.T. – Still, the metaphysical take on God is far better than the scientific perspective that 97% of my DNA is out to make me sick. Nor do I care, pragmatically speaking, about these latest so-called findings regardless of how big the funding or how many researchers hired to look into this further.
James here mentions Mayne Reid, a great writer of out-of-door adventure books. Mayne was forever extolling the hunters and field-observers of living animals’ habits and, all the while, keeping up a fire of invective against what he referred to as the “closet-naturalists;” the collectors, classifiers, and handlers of skeletons and skins. James tells us that when he was a boy he used to think that a closet-naturalist must be the vilest type of wretch under the sun. He states, along Reid’s line of thinking, that systematic theologians are the closet-naturalists of the deity. What is their deduction of metaphysical attributes but a shuffling and matching of dictionary adjectives, aloof from morals, aloof from human needs? They have the trail of the serpent all over them. From the point of view of practical religion, the metaphysical monster which they offer to us for our worship is an absolutely worthless invention of the theological scholarly mind.
L.T. – STOP IT JAMES! JUST STOP IT RIGHT NOW!!!
There’s the sense of a definite chilly silence in the room presently …
Okay, back to the book:
What shall we now say of the attributes called moral, the author inquires? Pragmatically, they stand on an entirely different footing. They positively determine fear and hope and expectation and, are the foundation for the saintly life. One needs but a glance at them to show how great their significance is:
God, being holy, can will nothing but good and, being omnipotent, He can secure its triumph. Being omniscient, He can see us in the dark. Being just, He can punish us for what He sees. Being loving, he can pardon too. Being unalterable, we can count on Him securely. These qualities certainly enter into connection with our lives. Therefore, it is highly important that we should be informed concerning them. Plus, God’s glory has given a definite character to worship in all Christian countries. If such dogmatic, religious theology really does prove, beyond a doubt, that a God with characteristics such as these exists, it may well claim to have given a solid basis to religious sentiment. So how well does dogmatic theology stand alongside its arguments?
It stands with them as badly as with the arguments for God’s existence, answers James. Nor, have their claims ever convinced anyone who has found, in the moral state of the world as they have experienced it, reasons for believing that a good God could have framed such a world. To prove God’s goodness by the theological argument that there are “person-like” qualities in His essence would sound, to such an individual, simply silly. We must therefore, I think, bid a definitive goodbye to dogmatic, religious theology.
L.T. – You’re a pill James.
The author continues, modern Idealism has said goodbye to this theology forever. But, can modern Idealism give faith [faith in God’s existence] a better warrant, he now asks? Here he mentions the philosopher Immanuel Kant and the Transcendental Ego. But, for the sake of brevity, we go directly to the Hegelian [Georg Wilhelm Frederic Hegel] school of philosophy from which, James claims, we have two principals that have deeply influenced both British and American thinking.
The first of these principals is that the fullness of life can be associated directly with thought only by recognizing that every object, which our thought may propose to itself, involves the notion of some other [subsequent] object which then appears to negate the first one.
The second principle is that to be conscious of a negation is to already be beyond it [looking back, as it were, literally] for it cannot be a negated if it is still present, that would be a contradiction.
With these principals, we seem to get a propelling force applied to our logic; something that the ordinary logic of a bare, stark [the thing is what it is and that’s all there is to it] self-identity in each thing never attains . Yet now, the object of our thought acts within our thought just as objects act in actual experience; they change and develop; they continually introduce another, new, next thing, or state. And, this next, at first only supposed or potential thing, proves itself to be actual. Having superseded the previous, also at first only supposed then later actualized, thing it verifies and corrects it in the development of the fullness of its meaning.
The program is an excellent one, says James; the universe is a place where things are followed by other things that both correct and further fulfill them. Taking this further James quotes again the Scottish transcendentalist Principal John Caird:
“Of the Reality in which all intelligence, all thought, resides two things may be proven: that this Reality, of which we speak, is an Absolute Spirit [spirit being non-material]. And conversely, it is only in interaction with this infinite Absolute Spirit, or Intelligence, that the finite spirit can realize itself, bring itself into material beingness. If it were not for its interactions, its perturbations, within the [infinite] Absolute Intelligence, the faintest movement of [finite] human intelligence would be arrested, if it existed at all. In short, the finite is actualized, or materialized, by being something other than Infinite. If the finite exists [and we know it does for you and I exist] then therefore, so does the Infinite. Looking at this from another angle: I can think persons, places, things and ideas into being or not being [either relevant or present to him]. But, what I cannot think away is thought, or consciousness Itself. ”
“If man were but a creature of transient sensations and impulses, of an ever coming and going succession of intuitions, fancies, and feelings, then nothing could ever have for him the character, the fullness, of objective truth, or reality. But, Principal Caird writes, it is the prerogative of man’s spiritual nature that he can yield himself up to a thought and will that are those infinitely larger than his own.”
“… as a thinking self-conscious being, by one’s very nature, to live in the atmosphere of the Universal Life. It is possible for one to suppress and quell in one’s own consciousness every movement of self-assertion, every notion and opinion that is merely theirs, every desire that belongs to one as the particular self, and to become the pure, unperturbed medium; the Absolute Consciousness that is universal – to live no more one’s own life but rather, let one’s self-consciousness be possessed and suffused by the infinite and eternal Consciousness. It is just in this renunciation of self,” Caird exclaims, “that I truly gain myself, or realize the highest possibilities of my own nature.”
L.T. – The quest of every meditator, is it not?
John Caird (1820 – 1898) was a theologian. He was one of the most eloquent preachers of the Church of Scotland. He became Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University where he had been a student then later became Principal [chief executive] of the university, a post he held for 26 years. Edinburgh University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws. A sermon he gave on “Religion in Common Life,” preached before Queen Victoria made him known throughout the Protestant world. Caird delivered the 1892 Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow. The lectures are given at several Scottish universities and presented as a series over an academic year and, given with the intent that the content be published in book form, many of which have become classics. These are the very lectures given by William James and thus his book, “The Varieties of Religious Experience” from which this work is produced. A Gifford Lectures appointment is one of the most prestigious honors in Scottish academia.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) was a German philosopher during the European Age of Enlightenment. He developed a new form of thinking and logic to try to overcome what he saw as the limitations of common sensory perception and philosophical conceptualizing at grasping the relation between thought and reality. His main philosophy was to take the contradictions he saw throughout culture and society and interpret them as part of a comprehensive and evolving rational unity which he called “Absolute Knowledge.” He believed that everything was interrelated and the separating of reality into discrete parts in order to understand reality (as has been done since Aristotle’s time) was misleading. He advocated instead an “Absolute Idealism” in which mind and nature can be seen as two abstractions of the one indivisible whole Spirit. Hegel published four books during his lifetime one of which is the “Phenomenology of Spirit,” his account of the evolution of human consciousness from sense-perception to absolute knowledge.
As an aside: The Age of Enlightenment was a philosophical movement which dominated the world of ideas in Europe in the 18th century. The guiding principles of enlightenment were liberty, progress, reason, tolerance, fraternity and ending the abuses of the church and state. In France, in particular, the progressive enlightenment elite were in opposition to the principle of absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. The Age of Enlightenment was also marked by increasing scientific rigor and reductionism. French historians place the Age of Enlightenment between the death of Louis XIV in 1715 and the beginning of the French revolution in 1789. Other historians begin the period in the 1620’s with the start of the scientific revolution.
Here James adds [in his usual pessimist view of things] whatever we may be in posse [in pursuit of], the best of us falls quite short of being absolutely divine. From our Self, social morality, love and even self-sacrifice merge with the inherently limited finite self, or selves. Yet they, by their very nature, do not quite identify with the Infinite. Man’s ideal destiny might thus seem, in practice, forever unrealizable.
Caird however, considers [much abridged], “Instead of leaving man in the interminable pursuit of a vanishing ideal, it makes him the actual partaker of a divine or infinite life. The very first pulsation of the spiritual life, when we rightly apprehend its significance, is the indication that the division between Spirit and the object has vanished; the ideal has thus become real; the finite has reached its goal and become suffused with the presence and life of the Infinite.”
Caird tells us that, “Religious progress is not progress towards, but within the Infinite. It is not by the vain attempts of endless finite additions, or increments, to become possessed of infinite wealth but, it is the endeavor by the constant exercise of spiritual activity to appropriate that infinite inheritance of which we are already in possession of. Evil, error, imperfection do not really belong to one who has entered into the religious life as they [evil, error, etc.] have no constitutional relation to the true nature of the religious for, they are already virtually, as they will be actually, annulled. And, in the very process of being annulled they become the means of spiritual progress. Where one’s true life is, the struggle is over, the victory already achieved for the life of spirit it is not a finite life, but an infinite life.”
James here asserts we will readily admit no description of the phenomena of the religious consciousness could be better than these words. But, has Caird [by use of Hegelian philosophy] made religion universal by coercive reasoning transforming it from a private faith into a public certainty? I believe he has done nothing of the kind, says James. The whole of Germany, one might say, has positively rejected Hegelian argumentation and, as for Scotland [where these lectures had being given] he refers to some memorable criticisms from some academic notables there. What religion reports, the author reminds us, always purports to be an experiential fact. The divine is actually present, religion says, and between it and ourselves relations of give and take are actual. If definite perception of facts like these cannot stand upon their own feet, surely such hypothetical reasoning cannot give them the support they need.
In all sad sincerity, James continues, I think we must conclude that the attempt to demonstrate, by intellectual processes, the truth of the religious perspective by such efforts is absolutely hopeless. Yet, he admits, it would be unfair to philosophy to leave it under this negative sentence.
The author asserts that the intellect of man always defines the divine in ways that harmonize with its temporary intellectual prepossessions. Therefore, he contends, that philosophy, by comparison, can remove the local and mistaken and, as well, historic encrustations from religious dogma and from worship practices. It can also eliminate doctrines that are now known to be scientifically absurd or incongruous and leave instead a residuum of conceptions, hypotheses, that are at least plausible and can test them in all the manners by which hypotheses are generally tested. Philosophy can refine religious belief by distinguishing between what is innocent over-belief and merely symbolic, or mythical metaphor, and what is to be literally taken. It can do this more successfully by discriminating that which is common throughout and essential from the individual and local elements of the religious beliefs considered.
James goes on to say that he does not see why a critical Science of Religions, as is commanded by the physical sciences, would not eventually produce a general public agreement as to what is or is not true about religion. Yet, he admits, it would forever have to confess that the subtleties of its [metaphysical] nature generally fly beyond it. There is too, in the living act of perception and observation always something that glimmers and twinkles and will not be caught …
L.T. – … by the closet-naturalist then dissected, measured, weighed, counted, and made to reproduce bazaar mutations of itself hopefully resulting in some sort of, so-called, pragmatic function thus profit.
James tells us that in his next lecture he will try to complete his rough description of the religious experience.
Lecture XIX – OTHER CHARACTERISTICS
Early on in this chapter James admits he spoke too contemptuously of the pragmatic uselessness of the famous scholastic theological list of attributes of the deity. [Yes, he did do that]. For, says he, they have one use which he neglected to consider – their aesthetic value. He continues, it enriches our bare piety to carry these exalted and mysterious adjectives with us just is it enriches a church to have an organ and old brasses, marbles and frescoes, and stained glass windows. Epithets lend an atmosphere and overtones to our devotion. They are like the hymns of praise and submission to God’s glory and, may even sound all the more sublime for being incomprehensible.
The author points out that some persons aim most at intellectual purity and simplification, for others however, richness is the supreme imaginative requirement. When one’s mind is strongly of this type, an individual, personal religion will hardly serve the purpose. The inner need is rather of something institutional and complex, majestic in the hierarchic interrelatedness of its parts, with authority descending from stage to stage. And, at every stage are objects signifying mystery and splendor. One feels as if they are in presence of some vast incrusted work of jewelry or architecture. One hears the multitudinous sacred and solemn appeals coming from every quarter. How flat does evangelical Protestantism appear, how bare the atmosphere of those isolated religious lives whose boast is that a “man in the bush may meet with God.” What a pulverization and leveling of such a gloriously piled-up structure! To an imagination use to the perspective of dignity and glory, this naked gospel seems to offer a poorhouse instead of a palace.
How many emotions must be frustrated of their objective when one gives up the titles of dignity, the crimson lights and glare of brass, the gold embroidery, the plumed troops, the fear and trembling and puts up with a president in a black coat who shakes hands with you and comes, as it were, from a home upon a prairie with but one sitting-room and Bible on its center table. It pauperizes the imagination!
To intellectual Catholics, many of the antiquated beliefs and practices of which the Church gives countenance are as childish as they are to Protestants. But, to them, they are childish in the pleasing sense – innocent and amiable in consideration of the underdeveloped dear people’s intellects. To the Protestant, on the contrary, they are childish in the sense of being idiotic falsehoods and he must stamp out their delicate and lovable redundancy leaving the Catholic to shudder at the Protestant’s literalness; appearing as morose as if he were some sort of hard-eyed, numb, monotonous kind of reptile. The two will never understand each other – their centers of emotional energy are too different.
In most books on religion three things are represented as its most essential elements: Sacrifice, Confession and Prayer. And here James give but a brief word on the first two and spends more time on the third, Prayer.
Sacrifices to gods are omnipresent in primeval worship; burnt offerings and the blood of he-goats have been superseded by sacrifices more spiritual in their nature. In the ascetic practices which Islam, Buddhism and the older Christianity encourage we see how indestructible the idea that sacrifice of some sort is a meaningful religious exercise.
With regard to Confession, although not nearly was widespread a practice as sacrifice, it is part of the general system of purgation and cleansing which one feels need of in order to be in right relation to one’s deity. James here states that the complete decay of the practice of confession in Anglo-Saxon communities, other than the historical reaction against popery, is a little hard to account for although, he adds: we, English speaking Protestants, in the general self-reliance and unsociability of our nature, seem to find it enough if we take God alone into our confidence.
Prayer is the next topic on which James comments. With regard to prayers for the sick, if any medical fact can be considered to stand firm, it is that in certain circumstances prayer may contribute to recovery, and should be encouraged as a therapeutic measure [for an example, review page 21 of Part I]. With prayer, being the form of every kind of inward communion or conversation with the power recognized as divine and its practice being everywhere, we can see why scientific criticism leaves it untouched.
Prayer is the soul and essence of religion. It is the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by putting itself in a personal relation, a contact with the mysterious power of which it feels the presence. Wherever this interior prayer is lacking, there is no religion; wherever, on the other hand, this prayer rises and stirs the soul, even in the absence of forms or doctrines, we have a living religion, James professes.
If it not be effective, no [empirical] whit of a difference for its having taken place – regardless, the act of prayer in its wider sense feels that something is transacting. For, without prayer to persons of a pious nature, religion would be but a spectators’ part of a play. Whereas in the prayerful life, we seem ourselves to be actors, and not in a play, but in a very serious reality. It may well be proven that the sphere of influence in prayer is exclusively subjective [personal] and that what is immediately changed is but the mind of the praying person. Regardless, whatever our opinion of prayer’s effects may come to be, it must stand or fall by the persuasion that effects of some sort genuinely do occur. Through prayer, religion insists, things which cannot be realized in any other manner come about. In other words, energy, which but for prayer would be bound, is set free and operative in the world of facts, be it objective or subjective.
Here James cites George Muller as an example, of an extreme sort, of the way in which the prayerful life may be led. I think here the best approach is to report what I found online as it is quite similar to James’ account of the life of Muller:
George Muller (1805 – 1898, died 92 years of age) was a German born Christian evangelist and Director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, which cared for 10,024 orphans in his lifetime. He was well known for providing an education to the children under his care to the point where he was accused of raising the poor above their natural station in life. He also established 117 schools which offered a [Christian influenced] education to over 120,000 children, many of them orphans.
The work of Muller and his wife with orphans began in 1836 with the converting of their own rented home in Bristol for the accommodation of thirty orphaned girls. Soon afterward three more houses were furnished, not only for girls, but also for boys and younger children eventually increasing the capacity for 130 children to be cared for. As growth continued neighbors complained about the noise so Muller decided that a separate building to house 300 children was necessary. The architect that was commissioned to draw up the plans asked if he might do so gratuitously. By 1870, 1,722 children were being accommodated in five homes although there was room for many more.
Through all this, Muller never made requests for financial support, nor did he once go into debt even though the five homes cost over £100,000. Muller only requested of God, in prayer, for whatever he needed, “As the Lord gives to us our supplies by the day,” said Muller. He felt that to solicit donations or to go into debt (always paying at once for articles purchased) was a showing of disbelief. On many occasions he received solicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in prayer. On one well-documented occasion, when all the children were sitting at the table they gave thanks for breakfast even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient bread to feed everyone, and the milkman provided plenty of fresh milk as his cart broke down in front of the orphanage.
L.T. – Go to chapter (A) MIRACLES, page 7 (above) – Feed a Village and the Niwot Tavern for a similar, more current, account.
At the age of 70, after the death of his first wife and his marriage to his second wife, they began a 17 year period of missionary travel all over the world (throughout Europe, Asia, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand) traveling over 200,000 miles; an incredible achievement for pre-aviation times. He was fluent in English, French and German. In 1892, when he returned to England, he died in Orphan House No. 3. He never owned any property except his clothes and furniture and left an estate worth but £160.
James adds that in building his orphanages simply by prayer and faith, Muller affirms (in his own words) that his prime motive was:
“… to have something to point to as a visible proof that our God and Father is the same faithful God that he ever was – willing to prove Himself the ‘Living God.’ How different if one is enabled to wait for God’s own time and to look to Him alone for help and deliverance! When at last help comes, and after many seasons of prayer though it may be, sweet it is and what a recompense!”
And when supplies came in but slowly, Muller always considered that it was a trial of his faith and patience. And, once sufficiently tried, the Lord would send even more means. Here James quotes from Muller’s diary:
“And thus it has been proven, for today was given me the sum of £2,050 of which £2,000 are for the building fund (of a certain building) and £50 for present necessities. It is impossible to describe my joy in God when I received this donation!”
Muller’s case is extreme in every respect, says James. His intensely private and practical conception of his relations with the Deity was to him, as he often said, as being like his business partner. James here mentions that there is an immense of literature relating to answers to petitional prayers: evangelical journals are filled with such examples and there are countless books devoted to the subject. Next, in a footnote, the author provides another, more thrilling to some, no doubt, example:
Robert Lyde was an English sailor who, along with a boy, was held captive on a French ship in 1689. They turned on the crew of seven Frenchmen killing two, made the other five prisoners, and brought home the ship. Lyde describes how he found his God a very present help in time of trouble: “With the assistance of God I kept my feet when four of them strived to throw me down. Feeling one of the Frenchmen holding me very strongly about my middle, I said to the boy, go round the binnacle and knock down this man on my back. So the boy did strike him one blow on the head which made him fall. Then I looked about for something to strike at them all with. Seeing nothing, I said ‘Lord! What shall I do?’ Then, casting my eye upon my left side and seeing a marlin spike hanging, I jerked my right arm and took hold of the spike and struck the point into the skull of the man in hold of my left arm. One of the Frenchmen then grabbed the spike but, through God’s wonderful providence (it either fell or he threw it from his hand). Then, the Almighty God gave me the strength to take one man by the hand and throw him at the other’s head. Then again looking about and seeing nothing to strike at them with I said, ‘Lord! What shall I do now?’ Although two of the men had hold of my right arm, God Almighty strengthened me such that I put my right hand into my right pocket, drew out the knife in its sheath, put it between my legs, pulled out the knife and cut the man’s throat who had his back to me and he immediately dropped down …” James here concludes with the man’s ongoing account but, we get the picture.
Next James provides us with the following description of what he refers to as the “led life” from the book “Gluck” by Carl Hilty (1833 – 1909) a German philosopher, lawyer and writer [much abridged]:
“That books and words (and sometimes people) come to one’s cognizance just at the very moment in which one needs them [I’ve experienced this more times than I can count, this book notwithstanding, and cite several examples in the three MIRACLES chapters on this website.] even to the extent that one glides over great dangers as if with shut eyes, remaining ignorant of what would have terrified or led one astray until the peril is past.” “… one suddenly receives courage that formerly failed, or perceives the root of a matter that until then was concealed, or discovers talents in one’s self, even knowledge and insights of which it is impossible to say from where they come. Finally, that others help us, or decline to help us, as if they had to do so against their will, such that often those indifferent or unfriendly persons actually yield to us the greatest service and furtherance.”
“One finds that one can wait for everything patiently (that patience is one of life’s great arts) and realizes that each thing comes duly, one thing after the other so that one gains time to make one’s footing certain before advancing farther. Then it is that everything occurs at the right moment, just what one ought to do, etc. and, this becomes apparent in a very striking way. Through all these experiences one finds that they become kindly and tolerant of others, even towards those as are repulsive, negligent, or ill-willed for, they also are instruments of good in God’s hand and sometimes, the most efficient ones. For, without these thoughts, it would be hard for even the best of us to maintain our equanimity.”
“All these are things that every human being knows who has had experience of them and of which the most speaking examples can be brought forward. The highest resources … under divine leading come to us of its own accord.”
Such accounts as this suggest, James asserts, that particular events are inclined more toward us by a superintending providence, not as a reward for our reliance but, by cultivating the continuous sense of our connection with the power that made things as they are, we are therefore inclined more toward their reception. The outward face of nature need not alter, but the expressions of meaning in it alter; that when one’s affections keep them in touch with the divinity, fear and egotism fall away and one finds in the hours, as they succeed each other, a series of purely beneficent opportunities. As further expression of this James quotes a page from one of James Martineau’s sermons:
“The universe, open to the eye today, looks as it did a thousand years ago, and the morning hymn of Milton [John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost” – see “James” Part II, page 62] does but tell the beauty with which our own familiar Sun dressed the earliest fields and gardens of the world. And if we cannot find God in your house or in mine, upon the roadside or the margin of the sea, in the bursting seed or opening flower, in the day’s duty or the night’s musings, in the general laughter and secret grief, in the procession of life ever entering afresh and solemnly passing by and dropping off, I do not think we should discern Him any more on the grass of Eden or beneath the moonlight of Gethsemane. Depend upon it, it is not the want of greater miracles, but of the soul to perceive such; that wherever God’s hand is there is a miracle. And that it is an unbelief, an incredulity, which imagines that only where the [seemingly more spectacular] miracle is can there be the real hand of God.”
“It is no outward change, no shifting in time or place, but only by loving meditation from the pure of heart can we reawaken the Eternal from the sleep within our souls thus rendering Him a reality again, thus reasserting His ancient name, the Living God.”
James Martineau (1805 – 1900) was an English religious philosopher influential in the history of Unitarianism. He was professor of Mental and Moral philosophy and Political Economy at Manchester New College (a constituent college of Oxford) for 45 years. Lord Alfred Tennyson [see page 100 above] wrote that he “regarded Martineau as the master mind of all the remarkable company with whom he engaged.” And British Prime Minister William Gladstone (held office four separate times – more than any other person) said of Martineau, “he is beyond question the greatest of living thinkers.” Source: Wikipedia
When we see all things as aspects of the Living God and perceive in common matters superior expressions of meaning as opposed to the otherwise deadness supplied by customary familiarity and mechanistic views, existence as a whole appears transfigured, such as: the realization that circumstances are of a divine sending, as in a mystical experience, rather than habitually causal. Or, a striking vividness of the world may appear to those following conversion, or awakening.
As a rule, religious persons generally assume that whatever natural circumstances and facts connect them with their destiny are significant in a divine sense and purpose. And, it is through prayer that the purpose, often far from obvious, comes to them and, if it be a “trial” strength to endure is thus given. At all stages of the prayerful life we find the belief that, in the process of communion, energy from on high flows in to meet the demand and becomes operative within the phenomenal world. Also, so long as this operativeness is admitted to be real, its essential value does not differ whether its immediate effects are subjectively felt or objectively observable, James alleges.
Next James refers to those records of religious leaders whose experiences include what he called automatisms. In his first lecture [or chapter], he addressed the prevalence of the psychopathic temperament in religious biographies. He states that, in point of fact, one hardly finds a religious leader of any kind in whose life there is no record of automatisms and he informs that he is not referring to primitive types of individuals, but leaders of intellectual thought and experience. The author again refers to Saint Paul’s visions, his ecstasies, and his gift of tongues (which St. Paul placed little importance on). He then lists other Christian saints and heresiarchs [leaders of heretical sects]: the Barnards, the Loyolas, the Luthers, the Foxes, the Wesleys and adds that they all had their visions, voices, rapturous conditions, guiding impressions, and so on because, he claims, they had exalted noble and lofty sensibilities and were thus liable to such states. Saints who actually see or hear their Savior reach the acme, or height, of assurance.
Motor automatisms, though rarer, are where the subjects are played upon by powers beyond their will. The evidence is dynamic; the communicating spirit moves the very organs of their body. In a footnote here James mentions a friend of his whom he describes as a first rate psychologist and a subject of graphic automatisms; experiencing independent actions in the movements of his arm and he then writes automatically. The author also mentions the book, “Oahspe: A New Bible In The Words Of Jehova And His Angel Ambassadors,” published in 1891, written and illustrated automatically by an American dentist John Newbrough. He also cites another automatically written book called “Zertoulem’s Wisdom Of The Ages,” by George Fuller published in 1901.
L.T. – In looking up the two aforementioned books I came across the book “The Urantia Book” presumably presented by numerous celestial beings appointed to the task of providing humanity with an epochal religious revelation. The material was, purportedly, conveyed through an unnamed individual described as “a hard boiled business man, a member on the board of trade and stock exchange.” A physician, Dr. William Sadler, a debunker of paranormal claims, had written a book called “The Mind at Mischief” explaining the fraudulent methods of mediums. However, in the appendix he mentions that there were two cases that he had not been able to explain to his satisfaction.
It is said that Dr. Sadler and his wife, Lena Sadler, both surgeons, (William Sadler was also a self-taught psychiatrist who had studied for a year with Sigmund Freud in 1911) were approached by a neighbor who was concerned because she would occasionally find her husband in a deep sleep and breathing abnormally and she was unable to wake him at these times. They came to observe the individual produce verbal communications that claimed to be from several living celestial beings. Sadler explains, “I was brought in contact with the individual in the summer of 1911. The man is utterly unconscious, wholly oblivious to what takes place and, unless told about it subsequently, he never knows that he has been used as a sort of clearing house for the coming and going of alleged extra-planetary personalities. Much of the material secured through this subject is quite contrary to his habits of thought, to the way in which he has been taught, and to his entire philosophy.” It is through these communications that Dr. Sadler became the primary person involved in the publication (in 1955) of “The Urantia Book.”
I know little more of “The Urantia Book.” Another, more contemporary, similar type book is “A Course in Miracles.” I have read it (more than once) and being quite impressed with the material I have featured excerpts from the book on this site [chapter (D) – The Book “A Course In Miracles”]. In fact, I consider it my primary spiritual guide. Although the individual who produced the written material for the book, Helen Schucman, claims to have been a “scribe” to a voice alleged to be that of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and not to have experienced physical automatisms. The other well-known contemporary works of this sort are the three part series “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch which I have also read and found to be very good.
James alleges that in the teachings of the Buddha, of Jesus, of Saint Paul, of Saint Augustine, of Huss, of Luther, of Wesley, automatic or semi-automatic composition appears to have been rare. In the Hebrew prophets, in Mohammed, in some of the Alexandrians, in many minor Catholic saints, in Fox, and in Joseph Smith something like it [automatisms] appears to have been frequent, sometimes habitual. An author who has made a careful study of the Hebrew prophets writes [much abridged]:
“… the same features are reproduced in the prophetic books. The process is always extremely different from what it would be if the prophet arrived at his insight into spiritual things by the tentative efforts of his own genius. There is something sharp and sudden about it and it always comes in the form of an overpowering force from without, against which he struggles, but in vain. The personality of the prophet sinks entirely into the background; he feels himself, for the time being, the mouthpiece of the Almighty. We need to remember that prophecy was a profession and that the prophets formed a professional class. There were schools of the prophets in which the gift was regularly cultivated. It is perfectly clear that by no means all of the sons of the prophets ever succeeded in acquiring more than a very small share of the gift they sought. Also, it was clearly possible to counterfeit prophecy and sometimes this was done deliberately. But, by no means in all cases where a false message was given, was the giver altogether conscious of what he was doing.”
Next, James turns our attention to Islam and Mohammed’s revelations [quite abridged]:
Mohammed is said to have answered that sometimes he heard a knell [solemn ringing] as from a bell, and that this had the strongest effect on him … and when the angel went away, he had received the revelation. Sometimes he held converse with the angel, as like with a man, so as to easily understand his words. In the “Itgan” the following are enumerated: revelation with the sound of a bell, inspiration of the Holy Spirit in Mohammed’s heart, by Gabriel in human form, by God directly either when he was awake (as in his journey to heaven) or in a dream, revelation in heaven, etc.” [‘Itgan’ in Arabic means to do something in a way, including spiritual aspects, so as to obtain the most perfect scientific and artistic results].
Next James includes excerpts from a letter written to him in 1899 by an eminent Mormon [abridged]:
“This Church has at its head a prophet, seer, and revelator, who gives to man God’s holy will. Revelation is the means through which the will of God is declared directly and in fullness to man. These revelations are received through dreams in sleep or, in waking visions of the mind, or by voices without visional appearance or, by actual manifestations of the Holy Presence before the eyes. We believe that God has come in person and spoken to our prophet and revelator [Joseph Smith].”
James here explains that the subliminal region of the mind is the abode of everything that is latent and the reservoir of everything that passes unrecorded or unobserved. It contains, for example, inactive memories, our intuitions, hypotheses, superstitions, persuasions, fancies, etc.; in general, all our non- analytical operations. It is the source of our dreams. Also, in it arise, if we are subject to such, whatever mystical experiences we may have, our automatisms (sensory or motor), our life in hypnotic conditions, our supra-natural cognitions if we are telepathic subjects. It is also the fountainhead of much that feeds our religion. In those persons deep into the religious life, of which the author has abundantly cited, the door to this region seems unusually wide open. And, those experiences having made their entrance through that doorway have had an emphatic influence in shaping religious history.
James informs that in the next lecture, which is also the last one, we must try to draw the critical conclusions which so much material may suggest.
Lecture XX – CONCLUSIONS
Early on in this chapter James reminds us that we have looked towards the more extreme examples for a yielding of the profounder information. Yet, he adds, that to learn the secrets of any science, rather than to common place pupils, we go to expert specialists even though they may be eccentric personalities. We then combine what they tell us with the rest of our wisdom and form our final judgments independently. Then next we have to answer, each of us for ourselves, the question: What are the dangers in this element of life and in what proportion may it need to be restrained by other elements to give proper balance?
James then proposes the question: Ought it to be assumed that the religious lives of all men should show identical elements? In other words, is the existence of so many religious types, sects and creeds regrettable? To these question he responds “No” emphatically. No more than, given our different situations and individual powers, we should have exactly the same functions and duties. Adding to that, no two of us have identical difficulties thus we should not be expected to arrive at identical solutions in identical ways. Also, the Divine can represent no single quality, but rather a group of qualities in which different persons may find, for them, suitably worthy causes. A God of battles must be allowed to be the God for one kind of person, and a God of peace and heaven and home, the God for another. If we are peevish and jealous, destruction of this “self” must be an element of our religion. Whereas why would it be so if we are good and sympathetic from the outset. If we are sick souls then we require a religion of deliverance but, why concern ourselves with deliverance if we are of the healthy-minded sort?
A science of religion might come to understand everything about the causes and elements of religion, and might even deduce which elements, by their general conformity with other branches of knowledge, are to be considered true. Yet, the best man at this science might also be the man who most finds it difficult to be devout, or religious. If religion be a function by which either God’s cause or man’s cause is to be truly advanced then he who lives the religious life, however little, is a better servant of the cause than he who merely knows about it, however much.
Suppose that science agrees that religion, wherever it is active, involves a belief in ideal presences and a belief that in our prayerful communion with them, work is done and something real does indeed come to pass. Science has now to exert its critical, or analytical, activity and decide how far, in the light of the findings in other sciences, and in that of general philosophy, such beliefs can be considered true. Yet, the natural sciences know nothing of spiritual presences and generally regards no practical value whatsoever with the idealistic conceptions towards that which philosophy inclines. The scientist is, during his scientific hours anyway, so materialistic that one may well say that, on the whole, the influence of science goes against the notion that religion should be recognized at all. And, this antipathy to religion finds an echo within a science of religion itself having to become acquainted with so many groveling and horrible superstitions that a presumption easily arises that any belief that qualifies as religious is probably false. There is also the notion, amongst many today, that religion is but an anachronism; an atavistic, or primitive, mode of thought in which humanity, amongst its more enlightened individuals, has outgrown. And, at present, religious anthropologists do little to counteract this notion.
Yet today, quite as much as any previous age, the religious individual tells us that the divine meets with him on the level of his personal concerns. Science, on the other hand, utterly repudiates the personal point of view; it catalogues its elements and records its laws and constructs its theories quite careless of their bearing down on human anxieties and fates. Although the scientist may, in some cases, nourish a religion during his irresponsible hours.
Our solar system, with its consistencies, is seen now as but one passing case of a certain sort of moving equilibrium in the heavens, realized by a local accident in an appalling wilderness of worlds where no life can possibly exist. So too, the Darwinian notion of chance production and subsequent destruction, applies to the largest as well as to the smallest of observable facts. In the present scientific imagination, it is impossible to find in the driftings of the cosmic atoms, whether they be at work on the whole of the universal or on a particular and specific scale, anything but a kind of aimless doing and undoing. Nature, for them, has no one distinguishable ultimate tendency, or intention, with which it is possible to feel any sympathy whatsoever.
The books on natural theology, which satisfied the intellects of our grandfathers [that would be to a person today in their 30’s or 40’s their great-great-great-great-grandfathers] represented a God who conformed the largest things of nature to the paltriest of our private needs. The God whom science today recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively; a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business.
The image on the left is a photograph of my great-grandmother, Dearie, with her three children and the elderly gentleman in front is my great-great-great-grandfather; of the same generation as James’ grandfather.
L.T. – Of course, natural science today does not consider a God. In fact, they have difficultly taking consciousness at all into consideration let alone an almighty, all permeating, intelligent, creative consciousness; only generally referring to it, if the need arises, as “the problem of consciousness” (at any level, cosmic or species specific). To the scientist, consciousness is the result of neuronal electrochemical processes; in other words, no brain, no consciousness. However, out of four cases of which I have become aware (and there are more) that contradict this scientific viewpoint, I’ll cite one:
Dr. Lorber, a neurology professor at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, recalled when, in the 1970’s, a campus doctor asked him to examine a student whose head was a bit larger than normal. Lorber discovered that the student had only a thin layer of mantle and his cranium was filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid. The man had hydrocephalus and such a condition is usually fatal within the first few months of life. If individuals survive beyond infancy, they are usually severely retarded. In this case, the student was a math major at the University of Sheffield; he had an IQ of 126 and graduated with honors. Dr. Patrick Wall, Professor of Anatomy at University College, London, stated that there existed scores of accounts of people existing without discernible brains. The importance of Lorber’s work, Wall said, was that he had conducted a long series of systematic [brain] scans rather than simply collecting anecdotal material. Lorber and other scientists theorize that there may be such a high level of redundancy in normal brain function that a minute amount of brain tissue may be able to assume the activities of a normal sized brain. [Brain scan images below].
You see, James continues, that from the point of view that religion perpetuates the traditions of the most primeval thought: For example, to coerce the spiritual powers, and get them on one’s side was, during enormous tracts of time, the one great objective in man’s dealing with the natural world. For our ancestors, dreams, hallucinations, revelations, and cock-and-bull stories were inextricably mixed in with the facts. Truth, to them, was that which had not been contradicted. How could it be otherwise, the author asks? The extraordinary value, for explanation and conjecture, of the mathematical and mechanical modes of interpretation which science uses, that being: weight, movement, velocity, direction, position … what thin, pallid, uninteresting ideas!
It is in the rich animistic and dramatic aspects that religion delights to dwell in. It is the terror and beauty of phenomena, the promise of the dawn and of the rainbow, the voice of the thunder and the gentleness of the summer rain, the sublimity of the stars, and not the physical laws which these things follow, by which the religious mind still continues to be most impressed. And today, just as in the days of yore, the devout man tells us that in the solitude of his room, or in the fields of the great outdoors, he feels the Divine Presence and, that inflowings of help come from this Presence in reply to his prayers. Pure anachronism! say the survival theorists, the Darwinists, and the less we mix the private with the cosmic and the more we dwell in universal and impersonal terms, the truer heirs of science we become.
Yet, the author states that despite the appeal which this impersonality of the scientific attitude makes, he believes it to be shallow. For, in dealing with the cosmic and the general, it is only in dealing with private and personal phenomena that we deal with reality in the completest sense.
L.T. – Amen.
The world of our experience consists at all times of two parts, an objective and a subjective part, of which the former may be incalculably more extensive than the latter. Yet, the latter can never be omitted or suppressed. Cosmic objects, so far as our experience lends them, are but ideal pictures of something we do not inwardly possess but can only point at outwardly. Whereas the inner state is our very experience itself. And, its substantive state and our experience are one. A small personal experience may be but small, but it is actual as long as it lasts and not a mere abstract element, such as a thing is when it is considered only of itself. Personal experience is the full fact of the thing or matter regardless of its particular degree of significance. And, all realities of the world, like motor currents, run through it.
That unsharable feeling which each one of us has of our individual identity and destiny, as we privately feel it, may be disparaged for its egotism, may be sneered at as being unscientific, but it is the one thing that fills up the measure of our actuality. Any one state of individual existence that should lack such a feeling would be but a piece of reality only half made up, James alleges.
To describe the world, with all the various feelings and all the various spiritual qualities left out of the description, would be something like offering a menu as the equivalent for a solid meal. A menu with one real raisin on it instead of the word “raisin” or, one real egg instead of the word “egg” might be an inadequate meal, but it would at least be a meal. The contention of the non-personal survivalist theories suggests that we ought to be satisfied forever with reading the menu. It is only by acknowledging philosophical questions connected with our individual destinies as valid questions and living in the sphere of spiritual thought, that we become profound. Nor does it follow that because our ancestors made so many errors of fact and mixed them with their religion that we should leave off being religious at all.
Here, in a footnote, the author alludes to various supernatural phenomena: Miraculous healings have always been part of the supernaturalist stock in trade, and have always been dismissed by the scientist as figments of the imagination. [Although lately, as I had mentioned earlier, there has been considerable scientific interest in the placebo effect]. The evidential facts of hypnotism have recently given scientists, tardy though they may be, a reason to acknowledge its effects, and they now conclude that miraculous healings may indeed exist provided they are referred to as effects of [hypnotic] suggestion. On these terms, even the stigmata of the cross on Saint Francis’ hands and feet might not then be a fable. Thus, the author contends, the divorce between scientific facts and religious facts may not be as eternal as it now seems (100 years ago as of his time).
The author here states we can now see why he has been so individualistic throughout and why he has seemed so intent on rehabilitating the element of feeling in religion and subordinating its intellectual, thinking, role. For, compared with this world of living individualized feelings, the world of generalized, impersonalized objects which the intellect contemplates, is without life. Therefore, he suggests that we agree that religion, occupied with personal destinies and keeping such in contact with the only Absolute realities which we [intuitively] know, must necessarily play an eternal part in human history.
In a more radical vein, James tells us that a Professor Ribot describes the evaporation of religion summing it up in a single formula; that being, the ever growing predominance of the rational intellectual aspect, with the gradual fading out of the emotional aspect by the latter tending to [mistakenly] enter into purely intellectual sentiments. James adds that he finds the failure to recognize that the stronghold of religion lies in individuality is by those wanting to make it a purely “conservative social, [and political] force.” [As much a concern today as was 100 years ago].
The theories that religion generates are secondary therefore, if we wish to grasp its essence we must look to the feelings and the reactions as being the more significant elements, James posits. In almost every lecture [thus chapter], especially in the chapters on Conversion and on Saintliness, we have seen how this emotion overcomes melancholy, or imparts much needed endurance to the subject, or a renewed zest, or a meaningfulness, or an enchantment if not outright gloriousness to the otherwise common objects of life. The name “faith-state” by which Professor Leuba has designated it, is a good one, says James. It is a biological as well as a psychological condition and Tolstoy was absolutely accurate in classifying faith amongst the forces “by which men live.” The faith-state may be of little intellectual content. We saw examples of this in those sudden raptures of the divine presence in such mystical seizures as Dr. Bucke described. Or it may be a mere vague enthusiasm, half spiritual and half vital and necessary, or a courage, or a feeling that great and wondrous things are in the air.
They may be but impulses, sometimes saving one from a terrible fate, as described by a Mr. Henri Perreyve: “I wanted to feed upon my happiness in solitude, far from all men. It was late but, unheeding that, I took a mountain path and went on like a madman, looking at the heavens regardless of Earth. Suddenly an impulse made me draw hastily back – I was on the very edge of a precipice, one step further and I would have fallen. I took fright and gave up my nocturnal promenade.”
L.T. – These sort of “saving” events are not at all uncommon and when people experience them, they are quite grateful for the saving instinct or impulse and never forget them. They can even come from another individual at a crucial time. Here is one I experienced while still living in the condominium in downtown Boulder and in the midst of being terrorized by my neighbors, members of organized crime, which I have alluded to several times now throughout this website:
I was working at my computer and, as the sun had set and it grew increasingly dark, I continued working not getting up to close the shades and turn on the lights. I noticed a figure of a man entering onto my deck. Soon I could see in the darkness that it was the owner of the real estate company, next door in the same building. The company’s deck extended just outside the owner’s office just as mine did outside the art studio and living room area of my property. The two decks were connected by a common outdoor stairway. I got up, opened the door to the deck and asked him what he was doing there. He responded that he wanted to take photographs; which didn’t make any sense given the circumstances. Regardless, he left going up the stairs returning to his deck and office, presumably.
At this point I had been constantly terrorized by my neighbors for some time and, one of the motives for their menacing that I thought possible was that they wanted me to sell my property in a state of desperation, and therefore at a reduced price. I was quite exhausted and frightened and, feeling I could not continue to live like that I thought at that moment, perhaps I should negotiate. Also, by this time, along with putting the condominium on the market for sale I had been to the police several times and had filed a complaint with the Real Estate Commission regarding their shoddy Home Owner’s Association bookkeeping practices (I was on the Board of the Association) possibly suggesting embezzlement of HOA funds. I wasn’t greatly concerned with the messy bookkeeping or even their petty pilfering of funds. But rather, I considered another possible motive for their menacing was my wanting to get the books in order now that I was an owner and on the board and, the menacing might be an indication that the pilfering may not have been all that petty. Yet, as I have already mentioned, my property had been used for pornography production and prostitution and I now think that somehow those aspects are the more likely the reasons for their harassments.
I went outside and upstairs to the man’s office and knocked on his door. He answered and let me in. The conversation was quite brief during which I mentioned the fact of my property being for sale. He claimed not to know that which, could not have been true; the for sale sign was just outside their building. I suggested that we schedule a meeting and discuss the sale of my property. We made an appointment for the next day (if I recall correctly – perhaps two days later) at lunch time. Following this, during a telephone conversation with a friend, I told him of my intentions to negotiate the sale of my property with my neighbor offering to call off any proceeding investigations due to my complaints if we could come to an agreement regarding the sale of my property.
The next day (or two) within an hour prior to the meeting, my friend telephoned me. He sounded almost frantic. “Leslie! Leslie! I just thought of something! Do not offer to call off investigations if they purchase your property. That is extortion! He could very well show up “wired” (meaning with some sort of listening device on him) and you will end up in prison. Promise me, he said, DO NOT mention a thing about your property being on the market.” “I thought, “Oh my gosh, he’s probably right.” And I promised I would not mention a word about the condominium being for sale.
The owner of the real estate company showed up at the appointed time and sat in a chair across from me. It was quite warm inside and outside yet, he was wearing a rather bulky jacket. I do not recall what all we discussed during the twenty minute or so conversation. I mentioned the menacing I had been enduring and it was quite apparent he could care less, not surprisingly, following which I got up and started in the direction of the doors leading outside with the intention of showing him out. Once I stood up he exclaimed, and not at all in a genuine way, “Whoa! Now you’re attacking me!” Not only was I not attacking him but there was nothing about my actions that could have at all suggested that I was going to attack him. The doors leading outside, where I was headed, were in a direction several feet off to his right. Realizing at that moment that my friend was probably right, I immediately sat down and said something, I don’t recall what, in a very calm and quiet manner then suggested that the meeting was over and showed him out.
I believe that he got the police to go along with the wiring and listening in on our conversation by telling them that I might attempt an act of violence toward him. But, what he was really intending was to have the police hear me offer to call off investigations if he purchased my property – that would be entrapment. The police, if they did indeed agree to go along with this, did so knowing who these people were (members of organized crime) and what they were involved in (prostitution and pornography production). Also, they are also quite familiar with the tactics being utilized on me (as a form of forcible recruiting).
Returning now to James’ book, in a footnote he includes from “Wesen der Religion,” a German publication: “Religion is the activity of the human impulse towards self-preservation by means of which man seeks to carry his essential and vital purposes through, against the adverse pressures of the world, by raising himself freely towards the ordering and governing powers of the universe when the limits of his own strength are reached.”
And, again from Professor Leuba, he quotes: “The truth of the matter can be put in this way: God is not known, he is not understood, he is used: sometimes as a purveyor of food, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as a friend, sometimes as an object of love. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious impulse.” James adds that, given this purely subjective assessment, religion must be considered vindicated from the attacks of its critics. Although, he suggests that the “warring amongst the gods” and formulas of the various religions do indeed cancel each other out. However, there is a certain uniformity of deliverance in which religions all do appear to meet:
1) The sense of uneasiness that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand.
2) And the solution is that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers.
Along with the wrong part there is, however, a better part of man. And, the solution, or saving, arrives when the man identifies his self with the higher self and does so in the following way [which James emphasizes with a decidedly different font in the book so I shall too in bold text]: He becomes conscious that this higher Self is conterminous [having the same boundaries] and continuous with a More of the same quality which is operative in the universe outside of his self. And, which he can keep in working touch with and, in a fashion, get on board with and, save himself when his lower being has gone all to pieces in the wreck.
It seems to James that all observable phenomena are accurately describable in these very simple general terms. He explains that they allow for the divided self and the struggle; they involve the shifting of the personal center and the surrender of the lower self; they express the notion of the exteriority of the helping power and also accounts for our sense of union with it. Spiritual strength increases in the subject when he possess it; it is a place of convergence where the forces of the two universes (the inner and outer) meet. Yet, this may be but his own subjective way of feeling things, regardless of the effects produced. So, what are the objective truths of these spiritual affirmations? Does this More really exist? If so, in what shape does it exist? Does it act as well as exist? And, in what form should we conceive of that “union” with it of which the religious geniuses are so convinced of?
They all agree that the More really exists. Although, some religions hold it to exist in the shape of a personal god or gods, while others are satisfied to conceive of it as a stream of ideal intention embedded in the eternal structure of the world. Moreover, they all agree that it acts as well as exists and, that something really is effected for the better when you throw your life into its hands. James mentions that at the end of his lecture on philosophy he suggested that an impartial science of religion might sift out a common body of doctrine which might also formulate in terms of which the physical sciences need not object to and, science may even reconcile with religion by claiming it as being of their own reconciling hypothesis [gratifying their intellects’ egos] thus recommending it for general belief.
The author suggests that, it would never do to place ourselves at the position of a particular theology, the Christian theology for example, and thus proceed immediately to define the More as Jehovah, and the “union” as His imputing to us the righteousness of Christ. That would be unfair to other religions and, given our present position, an over-belief.
Here James returns to the concept of the subconscious-self advising us that it is a scientifically acknowledged psychological component and, he believes that in it we have exactly the mediating term required. Apart from all religious considerations, there is actually and literally more life in our total soul than we are at any given time aware of. The exploration of this transmarginal field has barely yet [in his time and presently] been seriously undertaken. Here he again quotes Dr. Frederic Myers from his 1892 essay on “The Subliminal Consciousness”:
“Each of us in reality is an abiding psychical entity far more extensive than he knows – the whole of which can never express itself completely through any corporeal manifestation [our ordinary physical self]. The whole self manifests through the organism; but there is always some part of this self un-manifested; and always, it appears, maintains some powers of organic expression in abeyance or reserve. Much of the content of this larger background is insignificant: imperfect memories, silly jingles, inhibitions and timidities, etc., but many of the attributes of genius, or talent, seem also to have their origins in the subliminal consciousness. And, in our study of conversions, of mystical experiences, and in the results of prayers, for example, we can see how striking a part incursions from this region play in the religious life.”
James further adds that starting thus, with the recognized psychological fact of our subconscious extenuation of our conscious life, we manage to preserve a relation with “science” in ways the ordinary theologian cannot. Yet, at the same time, the theologian’s contention that the religious man is moved by an external power is thus vindicated. For, it is one of the peculiarities of incursions from the subconscious region to take on objective appearances and/or to exert upon the subject, or individual, a powerful influence. In the religious life, this influence is felt as “higher” but since our hypothesis suggests that these higher faculties are of our own hidden mind, the sense of a union with a power beyond us is a legitimate sense of something real; not merely apparently, but literally so.
James contends that this doorway into the individual seems to him to be the best one for a science of religion for, it mediates between numbers of different points of view. Yet, he warns, it is only a doorway and difficulties present themselves as soon as we step through it. And, he wonders how far our transmarginal consciousness just might carry us. It is here that the over-beliefs begin. It is also here that mysticism and the conversion-rapture and Vedantism and transcendental idealism bring in their own monistic interpretations and tell us that the finite self rejoins with the Absolute Self. For, it [our consciousness] was always one with and inseparable from God. Then come the prophets from different religions with their visions, voices, raptures, and other openings and, supposed by each of them, to thus authenticate their own particular faith.
For those of us who are not personally favored with such specific revelations we must stand outside of them and, for the present at least, realize that since they profess incompatible theological doctrines they neutralize one another thus leaving us with no fixed results. If we follow any one of them, we do so in the exercise of our individual freedom. Yet, their ideas are essential to an individual’s religion – which is the same as saying over-beliefs are indispensable and we should treat them with tenderness and tolerance so long as they are not intolerant themselves.
Disregarding the over-beliefs and confining ourselves to what is common and generic, we have, as factual, that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come – a positive aspect of religious experience which is literally and objectively true. And here James includes a case where a woman was exposed from childhood to Christian ideas. Yet, they were but religious formulas before a saving experience had occurred to her:
“For myself I can say that spiritualism has saved me. It was revealed to me at a critical moment of my life and without it don’t know what I should have done. It has taught me to detach myself from worldly things and to place my hope in things to come. Through it I have learned to see in all men, even in those most criminal, even in those from whom I have most suffered, underdeveloped brothers to whom I owed my assistance, love, and forgiveness. I have learned that I must not lose my temper over anything, despise no one, and pray for all. Most of all I have learned to pray! … Prayer ever brings me more strength, consolation and comfort.”
L.T. – I have invested considerable time and effort in the study of a number of scientific fields. I did so, not only because the scientific inquiry into the natural world is genuinely fascinating but, their findings also contribute to the unveiling of the metaphysical or spiritual aspects of life, thus the whole of life. Even though, in general, the scientific community today (it wasn’t always so) narrowly rejects these aspects considering them unreal or not of much use.
Take for example, cellular differentiation: The process by which a single fertilized eukaryotic cell can divide, multiply, and through the process of differentiation (the specialization of specific cells from the initial generic, if you will, stem cells) become a complete individual is no less than a miracle. How a root emerges from a seed in the dirt and from there the seed absorbs water and minerals then produces a shoot which breaks out into the light of day eventually becoming a magnificent full grown tree is remarkable. The same can be said of the activities involving the birth and death of stars, the fusion of elements inside and outside of stars, the creation of the astonishing array of celestial bodies, solar systems, galaxies even. Unbelievable! The activities of particles at the quantum level is no less astounding to say nothing of the fact that at the quantum level the distances between subatomic particles suggests that matter consists of mostly empty space! That’s true of the whole of the universe as well; it consists of mostly empty space, (or space-time, for the two are like two sides of the same coin; one only exists because of the other which only exists because of the other ). What I’ve listed here are obviously extreme oversimplifications and aspects of the natural world that most people are perfectly aware of. However, to learn in depth of observable, or measurable, phenomena involved in material processes only continues to further astound. While studying cellular biology I had mentioned to a friend how I wished I functioned as intelligently and in as organized a fashion as but one of the roughly 75 trillion cells that constitute my body (they’re like little cities inside!). I then came across a written statement (author unknown) that read, “Clearly, there’s a creative intelligence at work here.” Then suddenly it occurred to me, that I am part of, or one with, that Creative Intelligence.
I’ve included the above two paragraphs because of a quote James here includes from a book based on lectures by Swami Vivekananda (1863 – 1902) titled “Practical Vedanta, The Real and the Apparent Man” published in London, 1897. He was a key figure in the introduction of the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the western world:
“Why does man go out to look for a God? It is your own heart beating, and you did not know – mistaking it for something external. He, nearest of the near, my own self, the reality of my own life, my body and my soul – I am Thee and Thou art Me. That is your own nature. Assert it, manifest it. Not to become pure – you are pure already. You are not to become perfect – you are perfect already. Every good thought which you think or act upon is simply a tearing away of the veil, as it were. And the purity, the infinity, the God behind, manifests Itself – the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal Witness in this universe – your own Self.”
James here claims that the otherwise limited state of our physical being finds itself in an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely “understandable” world. Call it the mystical region, or the supernatural region, whichever you choose. He goes on to say, our ideal impulses originate in this region for, we find them possessing us in a way we cannot articulately account for. We belong to it in a more intimate sense that in which we belong to in the visible world; where our ideals reside. Yet, he continues, the unseen region in question is not merely ideal, for it produces observable effects in the natural world [the miraculous, talents, knowings, etc.]. Also, in general, when we commune with it work is actually done upon our personalities; we are turned into new men and, upon our regenerative change, favorable consequences in the way of our conduct follow. Therefore, that which produces effects from within another reality must be termed a reality in and of itself. James then states that he feels there is no philosophical [or scientific] excuse for calling the unseen mystical world unreal, and thus unimportant.
The author continues, God is the natural appellation, or designation, for us Christians at least, for the supreme reality. We and God have business with each other. And, in opening ourselves to His influence our deepest destiny is fulfilled.
He goes on to say that God’s existence is the guarantee of an ideal order that shall be permanently preserved. Tragedy is only provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution are not the absolute finality of things. Only when the further faith-step is taken, and the remoter objective consequences are thus predicted, are we wholly free from the immediate subjective experience and bring instead a real hypothesis into play. In science, a good hypothesis must have other properties than those of the immediate observable phenomenon to be fully explainable – otherwise it is not generative enough. God, by being that which enters only into a religious man’s personal experience of union, falls short of bringing a hypothesis of this same more useful order. God needs to be understood as being that of a wider, all encompassing, cosmic relation in order to justify the religious subject’s absolute confidence and peace.
Religion, in its fullest exercise of function, is not a mere illumination of facts already elsewhere given, not a mere passion, like love, which views things in a rosier light (although it is indeed that which we have seen abundantly). But, it is something more; a postulator of new facts as well. The world interpreted religiously is not the materialistic world over again with an altered expression; it must have, over and above the altered expression, a natural constitution at some point different than that which a materialistic world would have. It must be such that different events can be expected in it, different conduct must be required.
This thoroughly pragmatic and applicable view of religion has usually been taken as a matter of fact by common men. They have interpolated divine miracles into the field of nature, they have built a heaven out beyond the grave. It is the view of the transcendentalists that, without adding or subtracting concrete details to Nature and calling it the expression of Absolute Spirit, you make nature more divine than it is as it stands, James contends.
The author here expresses his own point of view that the whole drift of his education persuades him that the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist, and that those other worlds must contain experiences which have meaning in our lives as well. Although, the experiences of this world remain discreet [from the higher world], the two become continuous at certain points, and those higher energies filter in.
Rudolph Steiner’s Book “How to know Higher Worlds,” of which there is an abridged version on this website: chapter (E) “How To Know Higher Worlds” expresses this belief and instructs as to how to avail oneself to those higher energies.
James goes on to say that by being faithful to his over-belief, his particular religion, he seems to himself as more sane and true. He claims that should he put himself into the sectarian scientist’s attitude and imagine vividly that the world of sensory perception and of scientific laws and objects may be all there is, he hears from an internal monitor, the word “bosh!” Then, the total expression of the human experience as he views it objectively, invincibly urges him beyond the narrow scientific bounds.
James here states that in his concluding lecture he had aimed so much at simplification that his general philosophic position received so scant a statement as hardly to be intelligible to some of his readers. Therefore, he is adding this epilogue in order to state his position more amply, and consequently more clearly.
He continues by positing that if one should make a division of all thinkers into naturalists and supernaturalists, he should undoubtedly have to go along with most philosophers into the supernaturalist branch. But, amongst the supernaturalists there are two branches; one, the [newer] more refined and two, what he terms as [the older] “piecemeal” forms of supernaturalism. Refined supernaturalism is universal, as in transcendentalism. Transcendental idealism, James explains, insists that in its ideal world the facts of the natural world do exist and, that we owe it to the Absolute that we have a world of facts at all. Piecemeal supernaturalism admits miracles and providential guidances and finds no intellectual difficulty in mixing the ideal and the real worlds together. Whereas, according to James, the refined supernaturalists think that this view muddles two disparate dimensions of existence. [I don’t know about that]. For their Ultimate Absolute cannot get down upon the flat level, interjecting itself piecemeal between distinct portions of nature as those who believe, for example, in divine aid coming in response to their prayers are bound to think it must.
L.T. – Or, stated differently, those who believe, through prayer, that they have a personal relationship with God.
He goes on to suggest that universalistic [transcendentalist] supernaturalism surrenders, or so it seems to him, too easily to naturalism. It takes the facts of physical science at their face value and leaves the laws of life just as naturalism finds them, with no hope of remedy in case their fruits are bad. In this universalistic way of viewing the ideal world, the essence of religion seems to evaporate. That no particular of experience should alter in consequence of a God being there, seems to James an incredible proposition. [Or, as unlikely to him as a purely scientific view of things]. To further elucidate his position he refers to the Buddhist doctrine of Karma and states that, in principle, he agrees with that. All supernaturalists, transcendental or piecemeal, admit that facts are under the judgment of a higher law. But, for Buddhism, as he interprets it, and for religion generally (in so far as it remains unweakened by the transcendental metaphysics view) the word “judgment” means no such bare academic verdict as it does according to Vedantic or modern absolutist theories.
I believe, although I may be wrong, in referring to judgement he is referring to moral consequences but, for some reason, it seems he is avoiding coming right out and saying so.
James next tells us that he bluntly states the matter [of his personal “piecemeal” religious beliefs] because the current of thought in academic circles runs against him. [Again, piecemeal supernaturalism admits miracles and providential guidances and finds no intellectual difficulty in mixing the ideal and the real worlds together]. And, he feels like a man who must quickly set his back against an open door if he does not wish to see it closed and locked. In spite of his position being so shocking to the reigning intellectual tastes, he believes that a candid consideration of piecemeal supernaturalism and a complete discussion of all its metaphysical bearings will show it to be the hypothesis by which the largest number of legitimate requirements are met.
If asked just where the differences in facts which are due to God’s existence come in. James states he should have to say that in general he has no hypothesis to offer beyond that which the phenomenon of “prayerful communion” immediately suggests (especially when certain kinds of incursions from the subconscious region take part in it). The appearance is that in this phenomenon something ideal which, in one sense is part of ourselves and, in another sense is not ourselves, actually exerts an influence; raising our center of personal energy producing regenerative effects unattainable in other ways. If then, there be a wider world of our being than that of our everyday consciousness; and, in it there be forces whose effects on us are apparent now and then; and, if one facilitating condition of the effects [of prayer] be the opening of the “subliminal door,” we have the elements of a theory to which the phenomena of the religious life lends plausibility.
L.T. – This is what, in the entirety of James’ thesis, most impressed me; his theory of the subliminal, or subconscious, region and the incursions from, and therefore influences onto, the subject from these regions. It makes sense to me given my own experiences having always felt there was some connection with my artistic talent, for example, and the mystical and paranormal experiences that are also a part of my life; that the subconscious region may be the origins and/or a connecting source for these qualities and experiences.
The difference between natural, scientific facts and the belief in the existence of a God, James suggests, is the concept of immortality and, to the majority, for the most part, religion means personal immortality. God is the producer of immortality and whoever has doubts of immortality is written down as atheist without further trial. The author states that he has not addressed the subject for, to him it seems a secondary point and he explains his position thus: If our ideals are only cared for in eternity then he does not see why we might not then relinquish the care of our ideals into hands other than our own. Therefore, James leaves the matter of immortality open [or into hands other than his own].
Meanwhile, the practical needs and experiences of religion seem to James to be sufficiently met by the belief that beyond each man, and in a fashion continuous with him, there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and his ideals. All that the facts require, is that the power should be both other and larger than our selves.
James adds that upholders of the monistic view will say that in the Absolute, and in the Absolute only, all are saved. Yet, partial and conditional salvation is, in fact, a familiar concept; the difficulty being in determining the particular details. Some men, he suggests are even disinterested enough to be willing to be in the unsaved remnant as far as their person goes, if only they can be persuaded that their cause will prevail. For the practical life, however, the chance of salvation is enough. James emphatically asserts that no fact in human nature is more characteristic than its wilingness to live on a chance. The existence of the chance makes the difference between a life of which the keynote is resignation and a life of which the keynote is hope.
L.T. – James is a very pragmatic individual; he has made that apparent throughout his book. And, while I hold very different spiritual, or religious, views than he and am of a very different type of personality, I feel his contribution here is of great value. For, he does demonstrate throughout his thesis examples and analysis of the useful and practical aspects of religion (many of which are supernatural or, of the divine, as it were); the “fruits” as he calls them.
Thank you William James for this extraordinary and most valuable book!
P.S. Throughout this abridged, or in-depth review, of James’ book, and elsewhere on the website, I have reported of circumstances involving members of organized crime. I have done so given that the miraculous, divine intervention, impulses coming at just the right time, etc., have been of considerable help to me. Considerable enough that without such, I would be in a far more dire situation presently, if still alive even. So, the mention of these circumstances are quite appropriate for this work. As to the current status of the case, I have nothing to report. The FBI cannot impart any information whatsoever about investigations or, even if they have been or are conducting investigations, and that is as it should be.
What I have reported on this website hopefully will alert others to that which I was so completely naive. Over the years I have learned of a tactic practiced by the mafia for decades now (and in the past by the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi’s) referred to as “gang stalking.” It is a form of menacing and terrorizing intended to break a person psychologically with the intent using, enslaving them or causing their victim to commit suicide. Given what I now know and the nature of the case, going to the FBI initially instead of local law enforcement officials seeking help and providing information may have been the best thing to do. Should anything arise in the future in connection with the case that I feel would be of significant interest and of value to readers, I will report of it on this site in Chapter (P) New Information, Miraculous Events and Book Reviews [link below]:
For those interested in the scientific perspective as to how miracles are possible continue reading the next Chapter (I) The Spacetime Universe:
Chapter (P) New Information, Miraculous Events and Book Reviews:
Additional sources: The Society of Psychical Research and Survival After Death (a website of news and articles on mediumship, Psi, and survival after death).
British SPR website: http://www.spr.ac.uk/
American SPR website: http://www.aspr.com/
Also: Wikipedia, “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,” “Biography.com,” “philosophybasics.com,” the “New World Encyclopedia,” “The Harvard Classics,”
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