Lecture I


RELIGION AND NEUROLOGY

It is with no small amount of trepidation that I take my placebehind this desk, and face this learned audience. To usAmericans, the experience of receiving instruction from theliving voice, as well as from the books, of European scholars, isvery familiar. At my own University of Harvard, not a winterpasses without its harvest, large or small, of lectures fromScottish, English, French, or German representatives of thescience or literature of their respective countries whom we haveeither induced to cross the ocean to address us, or captured onthe wing as they were visiting our land. It seems the naturalthing for us to listen whilst the Europeans talk. The contraryhabit, of talking whilst the Europeans listen, we have not yetacquired; and in him who first makes the adventure it begets acertain sense of apology being due for so presumptuous an act. Particularly must this be the case on a soil as sacred to theAmerican imagination as that of Edinburgh. The glories of thephilosophic chair of this university were deeply impressed on myimagination in boyhood. Professor Fraser's Essays in Philosophy,then just published, was the first philosophic book I ever lookedinto, and I well remember the awestruck feeling I received fromthe account of Sir William Hamilton's classroom thereincontained. Hamilton's own lectures were the first philosophicwritings I ever forced myself to study, and after that I wasimmersed in Dugald Stewart and Thomas Brown. Such juvenileemotions of reverence never get outgrown; and I confess that tofind my humble self promoted from my native wilderness to beactually for the time an official here, and transmuted into acolleague of these illustrious names, carries with it a sense ofdreamland quite as much as of reality.

But since I have received the honor of this appointment I havefelt that it would never do to decline. The academic career alsohas its heroic obligations, so I stand here without furtherdeprecatory words. Let me say only this, that now that thecurrent, here and at Aberdeen, has begun to run from west toeast, I hope it may continue to do so. As the years go by, Ihope that many of my countrymen may be asked to lecture in theScottish universities, changing places with Scotsmen lecturing inthe United States; I hope that our people may become in all thesehigher matters even as one people; and that the peculiarphilosophic temperament, as well as the peculiar politicaltemperament, that goes with our English speech may more and morepervade and influence the world.

As regards the manner in which I shall have to administer thislectureship, I am neither a theologian, nor a scholar learned inthe history of religions, nor an anthropologist. Psychology isthe only branch of learning in which I am particularly versed. To the psychologist the religious propensities of man must be atleast as interesting as any other of the facts pertaining to hismental constitution. It would seem, therefore, that, as apsychologist, the natural thing for me would be to invite you toa descriptive survey of those religious propensities.

If the inquiry be psychological, not religious institutions, butrather religious feelings and religious impulses must be itssubject, and I must confine myself to those more developedsubjective phenomena recorded in literature produced byarticulate and fully self-conscious men, in works of piety andautobiography. Interesting as the origins and early stages of asubject always are, yet when one seeks earnestly for its fullsignificance, one must always look to its more completely evolvedand perfect forms. It follows from this that the documents thatwill most concern us will be those of the men who were mostaccomplished in the religious life and best able to give anintelligible account of their ideas and motives. These men, ofcourse, are either comparatively modern writers, or else suchearlier ones as have become religious classics. The documentshumains which we shall find most instructive need not then besought for in the haunts of special erudition--they lie along thebeaten highway; and this circumstance, which flows so naturallyfrom the character of our problem, suits admirably also yourlecturer's lack of special theological learning. I may takemy citations, my sentences and paragraphs of personal confession,from books that most of you at some time will have had already inyour hands, and yet this will be no detriment to the value of myconclusions. It is true that some more adventurous reader andinvestigator, lecturing here in future, may unearth from theshelves of libraries documents that will make a more delectableand curious entertainment to listen to than mine. Yet I doubtwhether he will necessarily, by his control of so much moreout-of-the-way material, get much closer to the essence of thematter in hand.

The question, What are the religious propensities? and thequestion, What is their philosophic significance? are twoentirely different orders of question from the logical point ofview; and, as a failure to recognize this fact distinctly maybreed confusion, I wish to insist upon the point a little beforewe enter into the documents and materials to which I havereferred.

In recent books on logic, distinction is made between two ordersof inquiry concerning anything. First, what is the nature of it?how did it come about? what is its constitution, origin, andhistory? And second, What is its importance, meaning, orsignificance, now that it is once here? The answer to the onequestion is given in an existential judgment or proposition. Theanswer to the other is a proposition of value, what the Germanscall a Werthurtheil, or what we may, if we like, denominate aspiritual judgment. Neither judgment can be deduced immediatelyfrom the other. They proceed from diverse intellectualpreoccupations, and the mind combines them only by making themfirst separately, and then adding them together.

In the matter of religions it is particularly easy to distinguishthe two orders of question. Every religious phenomenon has itshistory and its derivation from natural antecedents. What isnowadays called the higher criticism of the Bible is only a studyof the Bible from this existential point of view, neglected toomuch by the earlier church. Under just what biographicconditions did the sacred writers bring forth their variouscontributions to the holy volume? And what had they exactly intheir several individual minds, when they delivered theirutterances? These are manifestly questions of historical fact,and one does not see how the answer to them can decide offhandthe still further question: of what use should such a volume,with its manner of coming into existence so defined, be to us asa guide to life and a revelation? To answer this other questionwe must have already in our mind some sort of a general theory asto what the peculiarities in a thing should be which give itvalue for purposes of revelation; and this theory itself would bewhat I just called a spiritual judgment. Combining it with ourexistential judgment, we might indeed deduce another spiritualjudgment as to the Bible's worth. Thus if our theory ofrevelation-value were to affirm that any book, to possess it,must have been composed automatically or not by the free capriceof the writer, or that it must exhibit no scientific and historicerrors and express no local or personal passions, the Bible wouldprobably fare ill at our hands. But if, on the other hand, ourtheory should allow that a book may well be a revelation in spiteof errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if onlyit be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souledpersons wrestling with the crises of their fate, then the verdictwould be much more favorable. You see that the existential factsby themselves are insufficient for determining the value; and thebest adepts of the higher criticism accordingly never confoundthe existential with the spiritual problem. With the sameconclusions of fact before them, some take one view, and someanother, of the Bible's value as a revelation, according as theirspiritual judgment as to the foundation of values differs.

I make these general remarks about the two sorts of judgment,because there are many religious persons--some of you nowpresent, possibly, are among them--who do not yet make a workinguse of the distinction, and who may therefore feel first a littlestartled at the purely existential point of view from which inthe following lectures the phenomena of religious experience mustbe considered. When I handle them biologically andpsychologically as if they were mere curious facts of individualhistory, some of you may think it a degradation of so sublime asubject, and may even suspect me, until my purpose gets morefully expressed, of deliberately seeking to discredit thereligious side of life.

Such a result is of course absolutely alien to my intention; andsince such a prejudice on your part would seriously obstruct thedue effect of much of what I have to relate, I will devote a fewmore words to the point.

There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life,exclusively pursued, does tend to make the person exceptional andeccentric. I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer,who follows the conventional observances of his country, whetherit be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. His religion has beenmade for him by others, communicated to him by tradition,determined to fixed forms by imitation, and retained by habit. It would profit us little to study this second-hand religiouslife. We must make search rather for the original experienceswhich were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggestedfeeling and imitated conduct. These experiences we can only findin individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, butas an acute fever rather. But such individuals are "geniuses" inthe religious line; and like many other geniuses who have broughtforth fruits effective enough for commemoration in the pages ofbiography, such religious geniuses have often shown symptoms ofnervous instability. Even more perhaps than other kinds ofgenius, religious leaders have been subject to abnormal psychicalvisitations. Invariably they have been creatures of exaltedemotional sensibility. Often they have led a discordant innerlife, and had melancholy during a part of their career. Theyhave known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas;and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seenvisions, and presented all sorts of peculiarities which areordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, thesepathological features in their career have helped to give themtheir religious authority and influence.

If you ask for a concrete example, there can be no better onethan is furnished by the person of George Fox. The Quakerreligion which he founded is something which it is impossible tooverpraise. In a day of shams, it was a religion of veracityrooted in spiritual inwardness, and a return to something morelike the original gospel truth than men had ever known inEngland. So far as our Christian sects today are evolving intoliberality, they are simply reverting in essence to the positionwhich Fox and the early Quakers so long ago assumed. No one canpretend for a moment that in point of spiritual sagacity andcapacity, Fox's mind was unsound. Everyone who confronted himpersonally, from Oliver Cromwell down to county magistrates andjailers, seems to have acknowledged his superior power. Yet fromthe point of view of his nervous constitution, Fox was apsychopath or detraque of the deepest dye. His Journal aboundsin entries of this sort:--

"As I was walking with several friends, I lifted up my head andsaw three steeple-house spires, and they struck at my life. Iasked them what place that was? They said, Lichfield. Immediately the word of the Lord came to me, that I must gothither. Being come to the house we were going to, I wished thefriends to walk into the house, saying nothing to them of whitherI was to go. As soon as they were gone I stept away, and went bymy eye over hedge and ditch till I came within a mile ofLichfield where, in a great field, shepherds were keeping theirsheep. Then was I commanded by the Lord to pull off my shoes. Istood still, for it was winter: but the word of the Lord was likea fire in me. So I put off my shoes and left them with theshepherds; and the poor shepherds trembled, and were astonished.Then I walked on about a mile, and as soon as I was got withinthe city, the word of the Lord came to me again, saying: Cry, 'Woto the bloody city of Lichfield!' So I went up and down thestreets, crying with a loud voice, Wo to the bloody city ofLichfield! It being market day, I went into the market-place,and to and fro in the several parts of it, and made stands,crying as before, Wo to the bloody city of Lichfield! And no onelaid hands on me. As I went thus crying through the streets,there seemed to me to be a channel of blood running down thestreets, and the market-place appeared like a pool of blood. WhenI had declared what was upon me, and felt myself clear, I wentout of the town in peace; and returning to the shepherds gavethem some money, and took my shoes of them again. But the fireof the Lord was so on my feet, and all over me, that I did notmatter to put on my shoes again, and was at a stand whether Ishould or no, till I felt freedom from the Lord so to do: then,after I had washed my feet, I put on my shoes again. After this adeep consideration came upon me, for what reason I should be sentto cry against that city, and call it The bloody city! Forthough the parliament had the minister one while, and the kinganother, and much blood had been shed in the town during the warsbetween them, yet there was no more than had befallen many otherplaces. But afterwards I came to understand, that in the EmperorDiocletian's time a thousand Christians were martyr'd inLichfield. So I was to go, without my shoes, through thechannel of their blood, and into the pool of their blood in themarket-place, that I might raise up the memorial of the blood ofthose martyrs, which had been shed above a thousand years before,and lay cold in their streets. So the sense of this blood wasupon me, and I obeyed the word of the Lord."

Bent as we are on studying religion's existential conditions, wecannot possibly ignore these pathological aspects of the subject.

We must describe and name them just as if they occurred innon-religious men. It is true that we instinctively recoil fromseeing an object to which our emotions and affections arecommitted handled by the intellect as any other object ishandled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is toclass it along with something else. But any object that isinfinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to usalso as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crabwould be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hearus class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thusdispose of it. "I am no such thing, it would say; I am MYSELF,MYSELF alone.

The next thing the intellect does is to lay bare the causes inwhich the thing originates. Spinoza says: "I will analyze theactions and appetites of men as if it were a question of lines,of planes, and of solids." And elsewhere he remarks that hewill consider our passions and their properties with the same eyewith which he looks on all other natural things, since theconsequences of our affections flow from their nature with thesame necessity as it results from the nature of a triangle thatits three angles should be equal to two right angles. SimilarlyM. Taine, in the introduction to his history of Englishliterature, has written: "Whether facts be moral or physical, itmakes no matter. They always have their causes. There arecauses for ambition, courage, veracity, just as there are fordigestion, muscular movement, animal heat. Vice and virtue areproducts like vitriol and sugar." When we read suchproclamations of the intellect bent on showing the existentialconditions of absolutely everything, we feel--quite apart fromour legitimate impatience at the somewhat ridiculous swagger ofthe program, in view of what the authors are actually able toperform--menaced and negated in the springs of our innermostlife. Such cold-blooded assimilations threaten, we think, toundo our soul's vital secrets, as if the same breath which shouldsucceed in explaining their origin would simultaneously explainaway their significance, and make them appear of no morepreciousness, either, than the useful groceries of which M. Tainespeaks.

Perhaps the commonest expression of this assumption thatspiritual value is undone if lowly origin be asserted is seen inthose comments which unsentimental people so often pass on theirmore sentimental acquaintances. Alfred believes in immortalityso strongly because his temperament is so emotional. Fanny'sextraordinary conscientiousness is merely a matter ofoverinstigated nerves. William's melancholy about the universeis due to bad digestion--probably his liver is torpid. Eliza'sdelight in her church is a symptom of her hystericalconstitution. Peter would be less troubled about his soul if hewould take more exercise in the open air, etc. A more fullydeveloped example of the same kind of reasoning is the fashion,quite common nowadays among certain writers, of criticizing thereligious emotions by showing a connection between them and thesexual life. Conversion is a crisis of puberty and adolescence. The macerations of saints, and the devotion of missionaries, areonly instances of the parental instinct of self-sacrifice goneastray. For the hysterical nun, starving for natural life,Christ is but an imaginary substitute for a more earthly objectof affection. And the like. [1].

Saint Francois de Sales, for instance, thus describes the "orisonof quietude": "In this state the soul is like a little childstill at the breast, whose mother to caress him whilst he isstill in her arms makes her milk distill into his mouth withouthis even moving his lips. So it is here. . . . Our Lord desiresthat our will should be satisfied with sucking the milk which HisMajesty pours into our mouth, and that we should relish thesweetness without even knowing that it cometh from the Lord." And again: "Consider the little infants, united and joined tothe breasts of their nursing mothers you will see that from timeto time they press themselves closer by little starts to whichthe pleasure of sucking prompts them. Even so, during itsorison, the heart united to its God oftentimes makes attempts atcloser union by movements during which it presses closer upon thedivine sweetness." Chemin de la Perfection, ch. xxxi.; Amour deDieu, vii. ch. i.

In fact, one might almost as well interpret religion as aperversion of the respiratory function. The Bible is full of thelanguage of respiratory oppression: "Hide not thine ear at mybreathing; my groaning is not hid from thee; my heart panteth, mystrength faileth me; my bones are hot with my roaring all thenight long; as the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so mysoul panteth after thee, O my God:" God's Breath in Man is thetitle of the chief work of our best known American mystic (ThomasLake Harris), and in certain non-Christian countries thefoundation of all religious discipline consists in regulation ofthe inspiration and expiration.

These arguments are as good as much of the reasoning one hears infavor of the sexual theory. But the champions of the latter willthen say that their chief argument has no analogue elsewhere. The two main phenomena of religion, namely, melancholy andconversion, they will say, are essentially phenomena ofadolescence, and therefore synchronous with the development ofsexual life. To which the retort again is easy. Even were theasserted synchrony unrestrictedly true as a fact (which it isnot), it is not only the sexual life, but the entire highermental life which awakens during adolescence. One might then aswell set up the thesis that the interest in mechanics, physics,chemistry, logic, philosophy, and sociology, which springs upduring adolescent years along with that in poetry and religion,is also a perversion of the sexual instinct:--but that would betoo absurd. Moreover, if the argument from synchrony is todecide, what is to be done with the fact that the religious agepar excellence would seem to be old age, when the uproar of thesexual life is past?

The plain truth is that to interpret religion one must in the endlook at the immediate content of the religious consciousness. The moment one does this, one sees how wholly disconnected it isin the main from the content of the sexual consciousness. Everything about the two things differs, objects, moods,faculties concerned, and acts impelled to. Any GENERALassimilation is simply impossible: what we find most often iscomplete hostility and contrast. If now the defenders of thesex-theory say that this makes no difference to their thesis;that without the chemical contributions which the sex-organs maketo the blood, the brain would not be nourished so as to carry onreligious activities, this final proposition may be true or nottrue; but at any rate it has become profoundly uninstructive: wecan deduce no consequences from it which help us to interpretreligion's meaning or value. In this sense the religious lifedepends just as much upon the spleen, the pancreas, and thekidneys as on the sexual apparatus, and the whole theory has lostits point in evaporating into a vague general assertion of thedependence, SOMEHOW, of the mind upon the body.

We are surely all familiar in a general way with this method ofdiscrediting states of mind for which we have an antipathy. Weall use it to some degree in criticizing persons whose states ofmind we regard as overstrained. But when other people criticizeour own more exalted soul-flights by calling them 'nothing but'expressions of our organic disposition, we feel outraged andhurt, for we know that, whatever be our organism's peculiarities,our mental states have their substantive value as revelations ofthe living truth; and we wish that all this medical materialismcould be made to hold its tongue.

Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the toosimple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his visionon the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipitalcortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as anhysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox's discontent with the shams of his age, and his piningfor spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disorderedcolon. Carlyle's organ-tones of misery it accounts for by agastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental overtensions, it says,are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs ofdiathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to theperverted action of various glands which physiology will yetdiscover. And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritualauthority of all such personages is successfully undermined. [2]

Let us ourselves look at the matter in the largest possible way. Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connectionsto hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that thedependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must bethoroughgoing and complete. If we adopt the assumption, then ofcourse what medical materialism insists on must be true in ageneral way, if not in every detail: Saint Paul certainly hadonce an epileptoid, if not an epileptic seizure; George Fox wasan hereditary degenerate; Carlyle was undoubtedlyauto-intoxicated by some organ or other, no matter which--and therest. But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account offacts of mental history decide in one way or another upon theirspiritual significance? According to the general postulate ofpsychology just referred to, there is not a single one of ourstates of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not someorganic process as its condition. Scientific theories areorganically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are;and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we shoulddoubtless see "the liver" determining the dicta of the sturdyatheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist underconviction anxious about his soul. When it alters in one way theblood that percolates it, we get the methodist, when in anotherway, we get the atheist form of mind. So of all our raptures andour drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions andbeliefs. They are equally organically founded, be they religiousor of non-religious content.

To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind,then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritualvalue, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one hasalready worked out in advance some psycho-physical theoryconnecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts ofphysiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts andfeelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even ourDIS-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth,for every one of them without exception flows from the state ofits possessor's body at the time.

It is needless to say that medical materialism draws in point offact no such sweeping skeptical conclusion. It is sure, just asevery simple man is sure, that some states of mind are inwardlysuperior to others, and reveal to us more truth, and in this itsimply makes use of an ordinary spiritual judgment. It has nophysiological theory of the production of these its favoritestates, by which it may accredit them; and its attempt todiscredit the states which it dislikes, by vaguely associatingthem with nerves and liver, and connecting them with namesconnoting bodily affliction, is altogether illogical andinconsistent.

Let us play fair in this whole matter, and be quite candid withourselves and with the facts. When we think certain states ofmind superior to others, is it ever because of what we knowconcerning their organic antecedents? No! it is always for twoentirely different reasons. It is either because we take animmediate delight in them; or else it is because we believe themto bring us good consequential fruits for life. When we speakdisparagingly of "feverish fancies," surely the fever-process assuch is not the ground of our disesteem--for aught we know to thecontrary, 103 degrees or 104 degrees Fahrenheit might be a muchmore favorable temperature for truths to germinate and sprout in,than the more ordinary blood-heat of 97 or 98 degrees. It iseither the disagreeableness itself of the fancies, or theirinability to bear the criticisms of the convalescent hour. Whenwe praise the thoughts which health brings, health's peculiarchemical metabolisms have nothing to do with determining ourjudgment. We know in fact almost nothing about thesemetabolisms. It is the character of inner happiness in thethoughts which stamps them as good, or else their consistencywith our other opinions and their serviceability for our needs,which make them pass for true in our esteem.

Now the more intrinsic and the more remote of these criteria donot always hang together. Inner happiness and serviceability donot always agree. What immediately feels most "good" is notalways most "true," when measured by the verdict of the rest ofexperience. The difference between Philip drunk and Philip soberis the classic instance in corroboration. If merely "feelinggood" could decide, drunkenness would be the supremely validhuman experience. But its revelations, however acutelysatisfying at the moment, are inserted into an environment whichrefuses to bear them out for any length of time. The consequenceof this discrepancy of the two criteria is the uncertainty whichstill prevails over so many of our spiritual judgments. Thereare moments of sentimental and mystical experience--we shallhereafter hear much of them--that carry an enormous sense ofinner authority and illumination with them when they come. Butthey come seldom, and they do not come to everyone; and the restof life makes either no connection with them, or tends tocontradict them more than it confirms them. Some persons followmore the voice of the moment in these cases, some prefer to beguided by the average results. Hence the sad discordancy of somany of the spiritual judgments of human beings; a discordancywhich will be brought home to us acutely enough before theselectures end.

It is, however, a discordancy that can never be resolved by anymerely medical test. A good example of the impossibility ofholding strictly to the medical tests is seen in the theory ofthe pathological causation of genius promulgated by recentauthors. "Genius," said Dr. Moreau, "is but one of the manybranches of the neuropathic tree." "Genius," says Dr. Lombroso,"is a symptom of hereditary degeneration of the epileptoidvariety, and is allied to moral insanity." "Whenever a man'slife," writes Mr. Nisbet, "is at once sufficiently illustriousand recorded with sufficient fullness to be a subject ofprofitable study, he inevitably falls into the morbid category. .. . And it is worthy of remark that, as a rule, the greater thegenius, the greater the unsoundness." [3]

Now do these authors, after having succeeded in establishing totheir own satisfaction that the works of genius are fruits ofdisease, consistently proceed thereupon to impugn the VALUE ofthe fruits? Do they deduce a new spiritual judgment from theirnew doctrine of existential conditions? Do they frankly forbid usto admire the productions of genius from now onwards? and sayoutright that no neuropath can ever be a revealer of new truth?

No! their immediate spiritual instincts are too strong for themhere, and hold their own against inferences which, in mere loveof logical consistency, medical materialism ought to be only tooglad to draw. One disciple of the school, indeed, has striven toimpugn the value of works of genius in a wholesale way (suchworks of contemporary art, namely, as he himself is unable toenjoy, and they are many) by using medical arguments.[4] But forthe most part the masterpieces are left unchallenged; and themedical line of attack either confines itself to such secularproductions as everyone admits to be intrinsically eccentric, orelse addresses itself exclusively to religious manifestations. And then it is because the religious manifestations have beenalready condemned because the critic dislikes them on internal orspiritual grounds. [4]

In the natural sciences and industrial arts it never occurs toanyone to try to refute opinions by showing up their author'sneurotic constitution. Opinions here are invariably tested bylogic and by experiment, no matter what may be their author'sneurological type. It should be no otherwise with religiousopinions. Their value can only be ascertained by spiritualjudgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our ownimmediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we canascertain of their experiential relations to our moral needs andto the rest of what we hold as true.

Immediate luminousness, in short, philosophical reasonableness,and moral helpfulness are the only available criteria. SaintTeresa might have had the nervous system of the placidest cow,and it would not now save her theology, if the trial of thetheology by these other tests should show it to be contemptible. And conversely if her theology can stand these other tests, itwill make no difference how hysterical or nervously off herbalance Saint Teresa may have been when she was with us herebelow.

You see that at bottom we are thrown back upon the generalprinciples by which the empirical philosophy has always contendedthat we must be guided in our search for truth. Dogmaticphilosophies have sought for tests for truth which might dispenseus from appealing to the future. Some direct mark, by notingwhich we can be protected immediately and absolutely, now andforever, against all mistake--such has been the darling dream ofphilosophic dogmatists. It is clear that the ORIGIN of the truthwould be an admirable criterion of this sort, if only the variousorigins could be discriminated from one another from this point of view, and the history of dogmatic opinion shows thatorigin has always been a favorite test. Origin in immediateintuition; origin in pontifical authority; origin in supernaturalrevelation, as by vision, hearing, or unaccountable impression;origin in direct possession by a higher spirit, expressing itselfin prophecy and warning; origin in automatic utterancegenerally--these origins have been stock warrants for the truthof one opinion after another which we find represented inreligious history. The medical materialists are therefore onlyso many belated dogmatists, neatly turning the tables on theirpredecessors by using the criterion of origin in a destructiveinstead of an accreditive way.

They are effective with their talk of pathological origin only solong as supernatural origin is pleaded by the other side, andnothing but the argument from origin is under discussion. Butthe argument from origin has seldom been used alone, for it istoo obviously insufficient. Dr. Maudsley is perhaps thecleverest of the rebutters of supernatural religion on grounds oforigin. Yet he finds himself forced to write:--

"What right have we to believe Nature under any obligation to doher work by means of complete minds only? She may find anincomplete mind a more suitable instrument for a particularpurpose. It is the work that is done, and the quality in theworker by which it was done, that is alone of moment; and it maybe no great matter from a cosmical standpoint, if in otherqualities of character he was singularly defective--if indeed hewere hypocrite, adulterer, eccentric, or lunatic. . . . Home wecome again, then, to the old and last resort of certitude--namelythe common assent of mankind, or of the competent by instructionand training among mankind." [5]

In other words, not its origin, but THE WAY IN WHICH IT WORKS ONTHE WHOLE, is Dr. Maudsley's final test of a belief. This is ourown empiricist criterion; and this criterion the stoutestinsisters on supernatural origin have also been forced to use inthe end. Among the visions and messages some have always beentoo patently silly, among the trances and convulsive seizuressome have been too fruitless for conduct and character, to passthemselves off as significant, still less as divine. In thehistory of Christian mysticism the problem how to discriminatebetween such messages and experiences as were really divinemiracles, and such others as the demon in his malice was able tocounterfeit, thus making the religious person twofold more thechild of hell he was before, has always been a difficult one tosolve, needing all the sagacity and experience of the bestdirectors of conscience. In the end it had to come to ourempiricist criterion: By their fruits ye shall know them, not bytheir roots. Jonathan Edwards's Treatise on Religious Affectionsis an elaborate working out of this thesis. The ROOTS of a man'svirtue are inaccessible to us. No appearances whatever areinfallible proofs of grace. Our practice is the only sureevidence, even to ourselves, that we are genuinely Christians.

"In forming a judgment of ourselves now," Edwards writes, weshould certainly adopt that evidence which our supreme Judge willchiefly make use of when we come to stand before him at the lastday. . . . There is not one grace of the Spirit of God, of theexistence of which, in any professor of religion, Christianpractice is not the most decisive evidence. . . . The degree inwhich our experience is productive of practice shows the degreein which our experience is spiritual and divine."

Catholic writers are equally emphatic. The good dispositionswhich a vision, or voice, or other apparent heavenly favor leavebehind them are the only marks by which we <22> may be sure theyare not possible deceptions of the tempter. Says Saint Teresa:--

"Like imperfect sleep which, instead of giving more strength tothe head, doth but leave it the more exhausted, the result ofmere operations of the imagination is but to weaken the soul.Instead of nourishment and energy she reaps only lassitude anddisgust: whereas a genuine heavenly vision yields to her aharvest of ineffable spiritual riches, and an admirable renewalof bodily strength. I alleged these reasons to those who sooften accused my visions of being the work of the enemy ofmankind and the sport of my imagination. . . . I showed them thejewels which the divine hand had left with me:--they were myactual dispositions. All those who knew me saw that I waschanged; my confessor bore witness to the fact; this improvement,palpable in all respects, far from being hidden, was brilliantlyevident to all men. As for myself, it was impossible to believethat if the demon were its author, he could have used, in orderto lose me and lead me to hell, an expedient so contrary to hisown interests as that of uprooting my vices, and filling me withmasculine courage and other virtues instead, for I saw clearlythat a single one of these visions was enough to enrich me withall that wealth." [6]

I fear I may have made a longer excursus than was necessary, andthat fewer words would have dispelled the uneasiness which mayhave arisen among some of you as I announced my pathologicalprogramme. At any rate you must all be ready now to judge thereligious life by its results exclusively, and I shall assumethat the bugaboo of morbid origin will scandalize your piety nomore.

Still, you may ask me, if its results are to be the ground of ourfinal spiritual estimate of a religious phenomenon, why threatenus at all with so much existential study of its conditions? Whynot simply leave pathological questions out?

To this I reply in two ways. First, I say, irrepressiblecuriosity imperiously leads one on; and I say, secondly, that italways leads to a better understanding of a thing's significanceto consider its exaggerations and perversions its equivalents andsubstitutes and nearest relatives elsewhere. Not that we maythereby swamp the thing in the wholesale condemnation which wepass on its inferior congeners, but rather that we may bycontrast ascertain the more precisely in what its merits consist,by learning at the same time to what particular dangers ofcorruption it may also be exposed.

Insane conditions have this advantage, that they isolate specialfactors of the mental life, and enable us to inspect themunmasked by their more usual surroundings. They play the part inmental anatomy which the scalpel and the microscope play in theanatomy of the body. To understand a thing rightly we need tosee it both out of its environment and in it, and to haveacquaintance with the whole range of its variations. The studyof hallucinations has in this way been for psychologists the keyto their comprehension of normal sensation, that of illusions hasbeen the key to the right comprehension of perception. Morbidimpulses and imperative conceptions, "fixed ideas," so called,have thrown a flood of light on the psychology of the normalwill; and obsessions and delusions have performed the sameservice for that of the normal faculty of belief.

Similarly, the nature of genius has been illuminated by theattempts, of which I already made mention, to class it withpsychopathical phenomena. Borderland insanity, crankiness,insane temperament, loss of mental balance, psychopathicdegeneration (to use a few of the many synonyms by which it hasbeen called), has certain peculiarities and liabilities which,when combined with a superior quality of intellect in anindividual, make it more probable that he will make his mark andaffect his age, than if his temperament were less neurotic. There is of course no special affinity between crankiness as suchand superior intellect, for most psychopaths have feebleintellects, and superior intellects more commonly have normalnervous systems. But the psychopathic temperament, whatever bethe intellect with which it finds itself paired, often bringswith it ardor and excitability of character. The cranky personhas extraordinary emotional susceptibility. Heis liable to fixed ideas and obsessions. His conceptions tend topass immediately into belief and action; and when he gets a newidea, he has no rest till he proclaims it, or in some way "worksit off." "What shall I think of it?" a common person says tohimself about a vexed question; but in a "cranky" mind "What mustI do about it?" is the form the question tends to take. In theautobiography of that high-souled woman, Mrs. Annie Besant, Iread the following passage: "Plenty of people wish well to anygood cause, but very few care to exert themselves to help it, andstill fewer will risk anything in its support. 'Someone ought todo it, but why should I?' is the ever reechoed phrase ofweak-kneed amiability. 'Someone ought to do it, so why not I?' isthe cry of some earnest servant of man, eagerly forward springingto face some perilous duty. Between these two sentences liewhole centuries of moral evolution." True enough! and betweenthese two sentences lie also the different destinies of theordinary sluggard and the psychopathic man. Thus, when asuperior intellect and a psychopathic temperament coalesce--as inthe endless permutations and combinations of human faculty, theyare bound to coalesce often enough--in the same individual, wehave the best possible condition for the kind of effective geniusthat gets into the iographical dictionaries. Such men donot remain mere critics and understanders with their intellect. Their ideas possess them, they inflict them, for better or worse,upon their companions or their age. It is they who get countedwhen Messrs. Lombroso, Nisbet, and others invoke statistics todefend their paradox. [7]

To pass now to religious phenomena, take the melancholy which, aswe shall see, constitutes an essential moment in every completereligious evolution. Take the happiness which achieved religiousbelief confers. Take the trancelike states of insight into truthwhich all religious mystics report.[8] These are each and all ofthem special cases of kinds of human experience of much widerscope. Religious melancholy, whatever peculiarities it may havequa religious, is at any rate melancholy. Religious happiness ishappiness. Religious trance is trance. And the moment werenounce the absurd notion that a thing is exploded away as soonas it is classed with others, or its origin is shown; the momentwe agree to stand by experimental results and inner quality, injudging of values--who does not see that we are likely toascertain the distinctive significance of religious melancholyand happiness, or of religious trances, far better by comparingthem as conscientiously as we can with other varieties ofmelancholy, happiness, and trance, than by refusing to considertheir place in any more general series, and treating them as ifthey were outside of nature's order altogether?

I hope that the course of these lectures will confirm us in thissupposition. As regards the psychopathic origin of so manyreligious phenomena, that would not be in the least surprising ordisconcerting, even were such phenomena certified from on high tobe the most precious of human experiences. No one organism canpossibly yield to its owner the whole body of truth. Few of usare not in some way infirm, or even diseased; and our veryinfirmities help us unexpectedly. In the psychopathictemperament we have the emotionality which is the sine qua non ofmoral perception; we have the intensity and tendency to emphasiswhich are the essence of practical moral vigor; and we have thelove of metaphysics and mysticism which carry one's interestsbeyond the surface of the sensible world. What, then, is morenatural than that this temperament should introduce one toregions of religious truth, to corners of the universe, whichyour robust Philistine type of nervous system, forever offeringits biceps to be felt, thumping its breast, and thanking Heaventhat it hasn't a single morbid fiber in its composition, would besure to hide forever from its self-satisfied possessors? [8]

If there were such a thing as inspiration from a higher realm, itmight well be that the neurotic temperament would furnish thechief condition of the requisite receptivity. And having saidthus much, I think that I may let the matter of religion andneuroticism drop.

The mass of collateral phenomena, morbid or healthy, with whichthe various religious phenomena must be compared in order tounderstand them better, forms what in the slang of pedagogics istermed "the apperceiving mass" by which we comprehend them. Theonly novelty that I can imagine this course of lectures topossess lies in the breadth of the apperceiving mass. I maysucceed in discussing religious experiences in a wider contextthan has been usual in university courses.

[1] As with many ideas that float in the air of one's time, thisnotion shrinks from dogmatic general statement and expressesitself only partially and by innuendo. It seems to me that fewconceptions are less instructive than this re-interpretation ofreligion as perverted sexuality. It reminds one, so crudely isit often employed, of the famous Catholic taunt, that theReformation may be best understood by remembering that its fonset origo was Luther's wish to marry a nun:--the effects areinfinitely wider than the alleged causes, and for the most partopposite in nature. It is true that in the vast collection ofreligious phenomena, some are undisguisedly amatory--e.g.,sex-deities and obscene rites in polytheism, and ecstaticfeelings of union with the Savior in a few Christian mystics. But then why not equally call religion an aberration of thedigestive function, and prove one's point by the worship ofBacchus and Ceres, or by the ecstatic feelings of some othersaints about the Eucharist? Religious language clothes itself insuch poor symbols as our life affords, and the whole organismgives overtones of comment whenever the mind is strongly stirredto expression. Language drawn from eating and drinking isprobably as common in religious literature as is language drawnfrom the sexual life. We "hunger and thirst" afterrighteo[8] I may refer to a criticism of the insanity theory of geniusin the Psychological Review, ii. 287 (1895).usness; we "find the Lord a sweet savor;" we "taste andsee that he is good." "Spiritual milk for American babes, drawnfrom the breasts of both testaments," is a sub-title of the oncefamous New England Primer, and Christian devotional literatureindeed quite floats in milk, thought of from the point of view,not of the mother, but of the greedy babe.Back.

[2] For a first-rate example of medical-materialist reasoning,see an article on "les varietes du Type devot," by Dr. Binet-Sangle, in the Revue de l'Hypnotisme, xiv. 161.Back.

[3] J. F. Nisbet: The Insanity of Genius, 3d ed., London, 1893,pp. xvi., xxiv.Back.

[4] Max Nordau, in his bulky book entitled Degeneration.Back.

[5] H. Maudsley: Natural Causes and Supernatural Seemings,1886, pp. 256, 257.Back.

[6] Autobiography, ch. xxviii.Back.

[7] Superior intellect, as Professor Bain has admirably shown,seems to consist in nothing so much as in a large development ofthe faculty of association by similarity.Back.

[8] I may refer to a criticism of the insanity theory of geniusin the Psychological Review, ii. 287 (1895).Back.

Forward (Chapter 2)