THE inevitable encounter. The conflict is properly between the scientific spirit and the religious spirit.
I. RELATIONS BETWEEN THE SCIENTIFIC SPIRIT AND THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT — (a) The scientific spirit — How are facts, laws, theories, established? — Evolutionism — The experimental dogmatist — (b) The religious spirit — Is it compatible with the scientific spirit? — Distinction between science and reason — Science and man: continuity between the two — The postulates of life they coincide with the principles of religion.
II. RELIGION — Morality and religion: what the second adds to the first — Vitality and flexibility of religion as a positive spiritual principle — The value of the intellectual and objective element — The rôle of vague ideas in human life — Dogmas — Rites — The transformation of tolerance into love.
The question of the relations between religion and science, considered historically, is one of those which provoke the utmost astonishment. Briefly, in spite of compromises again and again renewed, in spite of the determined efforts of the greatest thinkers to solve the problem in a rational manner, it appears that religion and science have always been on the war-path, and that they have never left off struggling, not only for the mastery, but for the destruction of one another.
For all that, the two principles are still standing it was in vain that theology pretended to enslave science: the latter shook off the yoke of theology. Since then, it has been possible to imagine a reversal of rôles, and science has frequently announced the end of religion; but religion endures, and the very violence of the struggle attests her vitality.
When we consider the doctrines in which actual ideas concerning the relation of religion to science are embodied and defined, we see that they part into two divisions, representing what may be called the Naturalistic tendency and the Spiritualistic tendency respectively.
In the first of these divisions we found it possible to range as typical: the Positivism of Auguste Comte, or the Religion of Humanity; the Evolutionism of Herbert Spencer, with its theory of The Unknowable; the Monism of Haeckel, which leads to the Religion of Science; lastly, Psychology and Sociology, which reduce religious phenomena to the natural manifestations of psychical or social activity.
In the second division we decided to place: the Radical Dualism of Ritschl, ending in the distinction between Faith and Belief; the doctrine of the Limits of Science; the Philosophy of Action, connecting science and religion with one common principle; and the doctrine of Religious Experience, as it is expounded by William James.
To this list of doctrines a full survey would add many others. These examples, however, suffice to show with what strenuousness, perseverance, and resources on either side the struggle is conducted.
To foretell the result of this struggle in the name of logic alone would be a rash enterprise; for the champions of both causes have long been engaged in a dialectical onslaught without reaching any satisfying success. It is a question, here, not of two concepts, but of two actually existing things—each of them, according to the Spinozistic definition of existence, tending to persevere in its being. Between two living persons, victory does not always fall to him who can best arrange his arguments in syllogisms, but to him whose vitality is the stronger. Further, we are now considering the dispute between knowledge, under its most exact form, and something which is given, more or less, as dissimilar to knowledge. There is, necessarily, between these two terms a kind of logical incommensurability.
To settle the question through crowning, a priori, the empirical arch of evolution, which we trace or think that we trace in history, is likewise too simple a method. It is not always sufficient that a thing is old in order to reach its end. The life of ideas, of feelings, of morals, does not necessarily resemble the life of individuals. Moreover, when these things are dead they can be born anew—especially if they have been forgotten through the lapse of time. In this way are brought about revolutions, which are all the more effective in that they spring from the oldest principles. When Rousseau wished to renovate the world, he appealed to Nature as prior to all customs. Again, if history offers us evolutions of an apparently determinate type, it also shows us rhythmical movements, wherein the very development of one period leads to its opposite in another. The course of human affairs is too complicated to allow of our going back, from a given evolution, to the elementary mechanical causes which determine it, and which we must know before we can give any really scientific forecast whatsoever.
If it is true that religion and science can be likened to living things, how are we to measure their vitality, the reserves of power, the possibilities of renewal that they may conceal? Do we not see, even to-day, certain naturalists explaining the sudden transmutations that natural species occasionally present by qualities, hitherto latent, which some favourable circumstance unexpectedly brings to light?
Instead of venturing, as regards the future of religion and of science, upon predictions that are easier to make than to verify, it may be interesting to consider the actual state of both, and to determine, in accordance with this study, the manner of conceiving their relations which, following Aristotle's formula, appears both possible and suitable.
Now, it would seem that the two powers which actually face one another may be, far less religion and science as doctrines, than the Religious Spirit and the Scientific Spirit. It is of small consequence to the scientist, after all, that religion does not affirm any thing in her dogmas which is in harmony with the results of science. These propositions are presented by religion as dogmas, as objects of faith; they unite intellect and conscience, they express, in short, man's connection with an order of things inaccessible to our natural knowledge: that suffices to make the scientist reject, not, perhaps, the actual propositions, but the mode of adhesion that the believer gives to them. And the latter, in his turn, if he sees all his beliefs, all his feelings, all his practices explained and even justified by science, is farther than ever from being satisfied, since, thus explained, these phenomena lose the whole of their religious character.
We should, therefore, be committed to a rather immaterial task in seeking to discern a certain agreement between the doctrines of religion and the conclusions of science. Several thinkers on the scientific side are inclined to discard religion in principle and a, priori, on account of that which is implied in her way of thinking, of feeling, of affirming, and of willing. The religious man, they maintain, uses his faculties in a manner that no longer tends to the progress of human culture. The scientific spirit is not only other than the religious spirit—it is, properly speaking, its negation. It originates through the reaction of reason against this spirit. Its triumph and the disappearance of the religious spirit are simply one and the same thing.
It is, then, less science and religion strictly so-called, than the scientific spirit and the religious spirit, that we have to bring face to face with one another.
We must further remark that the easy “separate-compartment” system, so much in vogue last century, is no longer implied in the present conditions. If the struggle is not only between two doctrines, but between two mental dispositions, it is quite impossible for a man who would be a person (i.e. a conscious being, one and rational) to allow equally, without comparing them together, the two principles over which there is so much wrangling in cultivated circles. And that which is inconceivable for the individual, is so, with greater reason, for the community—itself, also, a kind of conscious being; for its judgment depends less than that of the individual upon accidental circumstances. More than ever the question of the relations between religion and science is paramount and unavoidable.
Relations between the Scientific Spirit and the Religious Spirit
Formerly it wag possible to deem the preliminary consideration of religion or of science a matter of indifference. This attitude can no longer be maintained to-day. Science has—to employ a current expression—become emancipated. While, in old days, her only certainty was that which particular metaphysical principles bestowed in enabling her to labour at the co-ordination of natural phenomena, she has since found in experience an appropriate and immanent principle, from which she derives, without other assistance than ordinary intellectual activity, both facts which are her working materials, and laws by the aid of which she arranges facts. It follows therefrom that, practically, in her origin and in her development, science is self-sufficing, and that the special mark of the scientific spirit is now shown in unwillingness to admit any starting-point for research, any source of knowledge, other than experience. To the scientist, therefore, science appears as something of primary and absolute importance, and it is useless to ask her to be reconciled with anything. She has vowed to be reconciled with facts and with them alone. If we wish to obtain a hearing we must accept her own standpoint.
Moreover, it is she especially who, in these days, takes the offensive. The human mind, there can be no doubt, is henceforward given over to science, whose certainty is imposed by an irresistible evidence. The problem of the relations between the religious spirit and the scientific, spirit is presented to-day under the following form: Does the scientific spirit which, with some of its representatives, signifies the negation of the religious spirit, exclude it in reality; or does it, in spite of certain appearances, leave us the possibility of that spirit?
What, therefore, is the scientific spirit at bottom, and what are the consequences of its development in humanity?
(a) The Scientific Spirit
Descartes, and especially Kant, regarded the scientific spirit as determined, in an immutable manner, by the logical conditions of science, and by the nature of the human mind. It was, with Descartes, a foregone conclusion to consider all things from a bias which allowed of their being reduced, directly or indirectly, to mathematical elements; with Kant, it was the affirmation, a priori, of a necessary interconnection of phenomena in space and in time. Armed with these principles, the mind advanced, with fresh ardour, towards the discovery of the Laws of Nature; and the success which it obtained easily led to the belief that it was, from that time, in possession of the eternal and absolute form of truth. But this opinion was necessarily modified, when men came to examine more closely the methods of science, the conditions of her development and of her certainty.
To-day it seems to be quite established that the scientific spirit is not, any more than the principles of science, ready-made and given; but that it is actually formed in proportion as science develops and progresses. On the one hand, it is the intellect which makes science, and the latter is not extracted from things in the same way as an element is extracted from a chemical compound. On the other hand, the product reacts upon the producer; and what we call the categories of the understanding are only the totality of habits which the mind has contracted in striving to assimilate phenomena. It adapts them to its ends, and it is adapted to their nature. It is through a compromise that harmony is reached. And so the scientific spirit is no longer, henceforward, a bed of Procrustes, in which phenomena are supposed to be kept in order. We see the intellect, living and flexible, expanding and growing—not unlike the organs of the body—through the very exercise and effort that the task to be accomplished exacts from it.
Two ideas, brought into prominence at the time of the Renaissance, appear to have contributed to set the scientific spirit in the direction that it was thenceforward to take: on the one hand, desire to possess, at length, positive knowledge, capable of enduring and of increasing; on the other hand, ambition to influence Nature. Science believes that she can attain this twofold object through accepting experience as an inviolable and unique principle.
The scientific spirit is, essentially, the sense of fact as source, rule, measure, and control of all knowledge. Now, what science calls a fact is not merely a given reality: it is a verified or verifiable reality scientist who intends to resolve a fact, places himself outside that fact, and observes it just as every other thinking man, equally impelled by the sole desire of knowing, would do. In this way he sets himself to discern, to fix, to note, to express it by means of known symbols, and, if possible, to gauge it. In each of these operations the mind has an indispensable part; but this part consists in elaborating the datum so that it may be, as far as possible, admissible for all minds. While the primordial datum was hardly an impression, an individual feeling, the work of art which the scientific mind substitutes for it is a definite object existing for everybody—a stone that can be used in the building of impersonal science.
In this way is adapted to things, and scientifically defined by slow degrees, the ancient aspiration of the philosophical mind to know being in itself and the permanent substance of things.
Meanwhile the mind, reflecting on experience, asks if the latter only furnishes facts, and if it would not be possible, under the sole direction of this same experience, to pass beyond fact properly so-called, and to reach what is termed Law. Formerly laws were conceived as dictated by the intelligence in matter: it is a question, now, of inferring them from the simple facts. Not that they are found therein ready-made, and that we have only to extract them. But, in the same way as scientific fact is constructed by the mutual action and reaction of mind and of knowledge, so, perhaps, facts themselves are capable, through elaboration, of becoming laws.
One circumstance which, seemingly, we could not fail to encounter, has justified this ambition. If all the phenomena of Nature acted and reacted equally upon one another, they would form a totality of such complication and variableness that it would be, undoubtedly, for ever impossible to extricate laws therefrom. But it is found that, among the things which fall under our experience, certain combinations and certain connections, though still very complex have a relative stability, and are obviously independent of the rest of the Universe. This circumstance has made possible the experimental induction, by means of which the mind—isolating two phenomena from the totality of things—determines a solidarity between them.
Thus is the once-metaphysical notion of Causality defined scientifically, through being adapted to given things.
That is not all: the mind, impelled by a third idea—that of Unity—has tried to discover if, from this very idea, it could not form a scheme applicable to experimental science.
Immediate knowledge of physical laws is piecemeal A law is two phenomena interconnected, but isolated from other phenomena. By analogy and assimilation, the mind brings laws gradually together, through distinguishing them as particular and as general. And so it reunites after having separated; and it is able to conceive, as an ideal, the reduction of all laws to a single law.
The Unity of the metaphysicians has thus become the scientific systematisation of phenomena.
It is by the aid of symbols, sometimes even of artifices, that man simplifies Nature in this manner; but is not scientific fact itself (the starting-point of all these inventions) already a constructed symbol, an imaginary objective equivalent of the original fact?
The scientific spirit is aware of the consequences that the increasing boldness of its ambitions involves. Its object is always the same: to create in the human intellect a representation, as faithful and serviceable as possible, of the conditions of phenomenal appearance. But, in proportion as it recedes farther from concrete and particular phenomena, in order to consider or imagine general phenomena which offer remote consequences as alone verifiable, it acknowledges that its explanations, though they may be sufficient, are not on that account necessary; and it only attributes to these vast conceptions the value of experimental hypotheses.
Experience, more and more extensive and profound, has not only assimilated the philosophical concepts of substance, of causality, and of unity. It has recovered from bygone thinkers a concept that dogmatic metaphysics and science had hoped to eliminate for good and all: the concept of radical change, of Evolution—partial or even universal. This was one of the great principles which the Greek physicists sought to estimate. Now, whether in our means of knowing, of noting, of representing, of arranging things, or in Nature itself, science, at the present time, no longer sees anything quite stable and definitive. Not only is a purely experimental science, by definition, always approximative, provisional, and modifiable; but, according to the results of science herself, there is nothing to guarantee the absolute stability of even the most general laws that man has been able to discover. Nature evolves, perhaps even fundamentally.
In conjunction with things, the scientific spirit is Henceforth itself subject to evolution. It is, in this sense, a spirit of relativity. It considers every explanation as necessarily relative, both to the number of known phenomena, and to the state (maybe a transient one) in which it actually finds itself. This relativity, moreover, does not impair its value, and in no way hinders that continuous addition of knowledge which is the first article of its method. For, although evolution be radical, it is not conceived, on that ground, as arbitrary and as scientifically unknowable. If the remotest principles of things are transformed, that very transformation must obey laws which are analogous to immediately observable laws, to experimental laws.
A further trait, linked with the preceding, characterises the scientific spirit as we now see it. It is, undoubtedly, no longer dogmatic, in the meaning which a metaphysician would give to that word. But it is, and tends to persevere in its being, after the manner of a living thing in which are accumulated countless natural forces. It regards itself as the supreme example of judgment and of reasoning. If, then, it continues to repel all metaphysical dogmatism, it re-establishes for its own use a kind of relative dogmatism actually based on experience. It believes in its power of unlimited expansion, and in its indefinitely increasing value. Consequently, whatever problem may be in question, it refuses to conclude with Dubois-Reymond: Ignorabimus. No one is justified in declaring, with regard to that of which we are ignorant to-day, that we shall always be ignorant of it. Moreover, do we not reach a decision which is to some extent positive, when we recognise that, what we do not know—even if we must always be ignorant thereof—is, in itself, know-able according to the general principles of our scientific knowledge? The history of science proves that we are right in affirming a continuity between what we know and what we do not know.
That is why the expression “scientifically inexplicable,” is, henceforward, devoid of meaning. A mysterious force, a miraculous fact, when we admit that the fact exists, is nothing else than a phenomenon which we do not succeed in explaining by the aid of laws that we know. If this impossibility is averred, science will be rid of it in order to seek other laws.
If, therefore, the laws which science propounds are, and continue, not absolute affirmations, but questions which the experimentalist puts to Nature, and which he is ready to state in modified terms if Nature refuses to be adapted to them, it is no less certain that the scientific spirit has a practically unbounded confidence in the postulate which all these questions imply; this postulate is nothing else than the legitimacy and the universality of the scientific principle itself.
If such is the scientific spirit, can room be found, in human consciousness, for the religious spirit?
(b) The Religious Spirit
One very simple way of settling the question would be to maintain that the scientific spirit is, by itself, the one essential of human reason—that all the ideas or tendencies by means of which the latter has succeeded in manifesting itself throughout the ages, have, from this time, their only verified and legitimate expression in the principles of science. This would mean that everything outside science would be, on that very account, outside reason; and, as religion is necessarily other than science, it would be a priori, relegated among those raw materials of experience which it is the special aim of science to transform into objective symbols capable of furnishing truth.
In order that the scientific spirit may admit the legitimacy of a standpoint in regard to things other than its own, it must not deem itself adequate to actual reason, it must recognise the claims of a more general reason. Of this latter it is, doubtless, the most definite form, but it does not exhaust its content. Is it clear, however, that the scientific reason has now taken the place, unconditionally, of that ineffable reason which men have, from all time, regarded as the special prerogative of their race?
The scientific reason is reason in so far as it is formed and determined by scientific culture. Reason, taken in its fullest sense, is that outlook upon things which determines, in the human soul, the whole of its relations with them. It is the mode of judging that the mind assumes, in contact both with science and with life, as it gathers and welds together all the luminous and fruitful conceptions which spring from human genius.
Now, when we adopt, in this way, no longer the exclusively scientific standpoint, but the more general standpoint of human reason, we are able to inquire into the relations between the scientific spirit and the religious spirit without deciding the question in advance.
If science is, practically, self-sufficing, if she has, in experience, a kind of absolute and primary principle, does it follow that in the estimation of reason (no longer merely scientific, but human) she can be considered absolute? It is quite conceivable that a thing which, taken in itself, seems to be a whole, may, nevertheless, be in reality only a part of some vaster whole. All progress is made through developing, for its own sake, a part which, in fact, only exists by means of the whole to which it belongs. Science is within her right in not recognising any other being, any other reality, but that which she comprises within her formulas. But must we infer that reason, henceforward, can make no distinction between being as it is known by science, and being as it is?
Science consists in substituting for things, symbols which express a certain aspect of them—the aspect that can be denoted by relatively precise relations, intelligible and available for all men. She is based upon a duplication of being into reality pure and simple, and into distinct or objective representation. However determined she may be in pursuing the real into its smallest recesses, she remains an onlooker contemplating and objectifying things; she cannot, without contradiction, become identified with reality itself. Universality, necessity, and objectivity—the conditions of knowledge—are categories. To identify categories with being is to ascribe to their character of immovable exactness the absolute value which metaphysical systems attribute to being a priori, In real science the categories of thought are themselves mutable, seeing that they have to be adapted to facts regarded as a reality which is, a priori, distinct and unknowable.
To this irreducible duality science herself bears witness. For the two principles of the real—things and mind—are, for her, data which she cannot resolve. When she considers them objectively from her own standpoint, it seems to her, not only that she assimilates them, but that she is able to reduce them to one and the same reality. But this very operation she can only effect if its conditions are furnished to her; and these conditions are and remain: firstly, things with which she cannot provide herself; secondly, a mind, distinct from these things, which shall consider them objectively, and transform them so as to make them intelligible. Things and mind—whatever else be their intrinsic affinity or opposition—are together, for science, the very being from which she gains distinction, and which she cannot ignore if she analyses herself philosophically, since she is only fashioned out of the elements that she borrows from them continually.
Can we, at any rate, elaborate these elements, so that they may become exactly conformable to the exigencies of scientific thought?
The scientific data which represent things, take from their origin a character which does not seem assimilable with science for the very reason that science desires to regard being from an opposite standpoint. This character is heterogeneous continuity, multiplicity as a whole, which, in order to become an object, is first of all translated by the senses and by the understanding into qualitative discontinuity and numerical multiplicity. Science starts from this heterogeneous multiplicity, which, for her, represents brute matter, and applies herself to the task of reducing it to a homogeneous continuum. She effects this reduction through expressing qualities by quantities. Now, the expression must, necessarily, preserve a relation to the thing expressed; otherwise it would be worthless. Even though all trace of the discontinuity and of the heterogeneity of things should disappear in our formulæ considered apart, we could not be exempted from recollecting the relation of the formulæ to reality, and from referring to that relation when we had to apply these formulæ, and to appreciate, by means of them, the objects of concrete experience.
As to approaching the contrary problem, and proposing no longer to reduce the given diversity to unity, but, starting from unity, to extract diversity from it—that problem may be historical and metaphysical, but it is only in appearance approached by science; in reality, it is not scientific. A purely experimental science assimilates, reduces, unifies, but neither expands nor diversifies. That is why the trace of given diversity which continues in the reductions of science is itself irreducible.
Similarly, the strictly scientific mind—the subject of science, leaves standing, beyond itself, mind in general. In vain does science claim to reduce the mind to the rôle of a mere instrument, of a passive assistant: the mind works on its own account, trying to discover if there is in Nature order, simplicity, and harmony—distinctive marks that are clearly much more calculated to bring satisfaction to itself than to express the intrinsic properties of phenomena. And these notions, which direct the investigations of science, are not, in truth, purely intellectual notions: taken in their entirety, they constitute feelings, æsthetic and moral needs. Thus, feeling itself is linked with the scientific spirit, as exemplified among the scientists in its living and actual reality.
It follows from what we have just said, that, if science takes possession, in her own way, of things and of the human mind, she, nevertheless, does not lay hold of them altogether. Inevitably the being of things overflows the being which science assimilates and the human mind outstrips the intellectual faculties for which she finds use. Why, then, should not man have the right to develop, for their own sake, those of his faculties which science only uses in an accessory manner, or even leaves more or less unemployed?
The impossibility of marking out an exact frontier between science and being, between the objective and the subjective, between abstract intellect and feeling, the necessary persistence of a middle zone in which these two principles are indistinguishable, establishes a continuity between the scientific world, in which being is reduced to empty and universal relations, and the living, thinking individual who attributes an existence and a value to his own being. Seen from afar, through the concepts that we substitute for them so as to enable us to dogmatise on their nature, abstract intelligibility (the special mark of science) and human feeling are opposed to one another. But in reality this separation does not exist; and, if science is a system of formulæ, in which individual reality ought no longer to have any place, it is, nevertheless, only created, developed, and maintained in individual minds, elaborating, in an endless progress, their impressions and individual ideas. And as, in fact, that which exists is not precisely science—an abstraction which only denotes an aim, an unconditioned, therefore an idea—but scientific study, which is always in the state of becoming real science, is not separable from the scientists; and shifting, subjective life will ever remain an integral part of it.
The individual, in science, seeks to systematise things from an impersonal standpoint. How could science, which is his working method, forbid him to seek, likewise, to systematise them from the standpoint of the individual himself? This kind of systematisation, indeed, would not admit of objective value, in the meaning that science gives to that phrase; but, if it satisfied feeling, it would respond to human needs which are no less real than the need of bringing things into conformity with one another.
Moreover, we must conceive different degrees in the systematisation effected from the standpoint of the individual. The lowest degree is the consideration of all things in their relation to a single self, taken as world-centre. Now, above this extreme individualism there is quite a ladder of systematisations in which things are related, not to a single individual, but to the several individuals who, in their totality, form a group, a company, a nation, humanity. Subjective systematisation can thus imitate, in its way, the universality of science. The latter disengages the universal from the particular, through abstraction and through reduction. An analogy to the universal can be drawn, in the subjective order, from the agreement of individuals, from the harmony which, out of their diversity, forms a sort of unity.
It is a systematisation of this kind that religion represents. She attributes a value to the individual, and considers him as an end in himself. But she does not allow him any other way of fulfilling his destiny than that of treating other individuals as, also, ends in themselves; accordingly, she exhorts him to live for others and in others. It is not the personality of a single person, but of all persons—each one being regarded as an end, and as, at the same time, sharing in a common life—which is the central idea to which all things ought to be referred.
It is only right, it would seem, to recognise that such a systematisation, at once subjective and concrete, is nowise excluded by the scientific spirit. Following the statement of La Bruyère, we have to do, here, with things that are different—not incompatible. Something more is still needed. It is not enough that a conception is possible, admissible without contradiction, to make us believe that we ought to adopt it We must have, besides, some positive reason for considering it true. Can we, on behalf of religion, maintain a reason of this kind?
Man ought to be allowed to consider the conditions, not only of scientific knowledge, but of his own life. Now, if there is, for human life as we observe and conceive it, a necessary foundation, it is belief in the reality and in the value of the individual.
Each of my acts, of my least words or thoughts, signifies that I attribute some reality, some worth to my individual existence, to its preservation, to its part in the world. Concerning the objective value of this judgment I know absolutely nothing; there is no need for it to be shown me. If, perchance, I reflect thereon, I find that this opinion is, in truth, only the expression of my instinct, of my habits and prejudices—whether personal or inherited. In compliance with these prejudices, I am ready to assume a tendency to persevere in my own being; to deem myself capable of something; to regard my ideas as serious, original, useful; to labour for their diffusion and adoption. All this would have no chance of withstanding an examination that was ever so little scientific. But without these illusions I could not live—at least in the human sense of living; and, thanks to these untruths, I am able to relieve distress, to encourage some of my fellows to support and to love existence, to love it myself, and to aim at making a tolerable use of it.
What is true as regards individual life holds good equally as regards social life. It rests on the opinion—scientifically futile—that family, society, country, and humanity are individuals which tend to be and to continue, and that it is possible and right to strive for the maintenance and development of those individuals.
However devoted to science we may be, the legitimacy and the dignity of Art lay hold of our imagination. But Art attributes to things properties that are inconsistent with those which science verifies. Art takes from reality any object whatsoever—a tree, a cauldron, a human form, the sky or the sea, and into that being of fancy it infuses a soul, a supernatural soul, the offspring of the artist's genius; and, by means of this transfiguration, it snatches away from time and oblivion that contingent and unstable form to which the laws of Nature only conceded a shadow of momentary existence.
Morality claims that one thing is better than another; that there are within us lower activities and higher activities; that we are able, at will, to exercise the latter or the former; that we ought to trust the instigations of a faculty (ill-defined and irreducible, moreover, to the purely scientific faculties) which she calls Reason; and that, through following her advice and obeying her commands, we shall transform our natural personality into an ideal personality. Of what value are all these phrases if science is the sole judge?
But even science herself, considered, not in the theorems that schoolboys learn by heart, but in the soul of the scientist, presupposes an activity irreducible to scientific activity. Why should we cultivate science? Why should we set ourselves tasks that become daily more arduous? Must we maintain that science is necessary for living, when we regard life as good and real? Are we quite certain that science will obtain for us a life more agreeable, more tranquil, more consonant with our natural liking for comfort and for least effort? Will it not, rather, be a life higher, nobler, more difficult; rich in struggles, in new feelings and ambitions; specially devoted to science, i.e. to disinterested research, to the pure knowledge of truth? What are the intense and superior joys of initiation in research, still more those of discovery, if not the triumph of a mind which succeeds in penetrating apparently inexplicable secrets, and which enjoys its victorious labour, after the manner of the artist? How can science be duly estimated save through the free decision of a mind which, dominating the scientific mind itself, rises towards an æsthetic and moral ideal?
Thus, whatever manifestation of life we consider, the moment that it is a question of conscious and intelligent human life, and not simply of a life purely instinctive and unaware of itself, we see implied other postulates than those which preside over the sciences. In a general way, while the postulate of science is this proposition: everything happens as if all phenomena were only the repetition of a single phenomenon, the postulate of life may be expressed as follows: act as if, amidst the infinity of combinations (altogether uniform from the scientific standpoint) which Nature produces or can produce, some possessed a peculiar value, and were able to acquire a tendency fitting them to be and to continue.
The mental operations which the use of this postulate implies can, it would seem, be determined.
In the first place, faith has to be specified. Not a blind faith. We have to consider the faith that is guided by reason, by instinct, by the sense of life, by example, by tradition; but we do not find in any of these solicitations the scientific motive which would enable us to say: it is. As, clearly, it is a question of diverting her intelligence from the mechanical resultant of things, science cannot suffice here. The saying of St. Augustine, which made such an impression on Pascal, remains true: We labour for what is uncertain. For the thinking man, life is a wager. We do not see how it could be otherwise.
From this first condition a second follows. Faith, indeed, is not necessarily the passive acceptance of that which is. On the contrary, it is capable of taking for its object that which is not yet, that which does not seem bound to be, that which, perhaps, would be impossible without this very faith. That is why faith—with men in general, and especially with men of a superior mould—engenders an object of thought that is more or less new, an original intellectual representation, upon which it fixes its gaze. The man who would act, in his capacity as man, sets an end before himself. According to the daring and power of faith, this end is an ideal more or less lofty, more or less distinct from the real. At first, faith only sees its object dimly, far away and in the clouds. But it strives to fix its meaning in conformity with the need of the intellect and of the will. In fact, it determines the object gradually, in proportion as it strives to realise it.
Lastly, from creative faith, and from the object which it sets before itself, proceeds a third condition of action: love. The will, indeed, becomes enamoured of its ideal object in proportion as, under the combined influence of faith and intellect, that object is depicted in more beautiful and more vivid colours.
Faith, representation of an ideal, and enthusiasm—these are the three conditions of human action. But are they not, precisely, the three moments in the development of the religious spirit? Do not these three words express accurately the form that will, intellect, and feeling take under religious influence?
Human life, therefore, on the side of its ideal ambitions, partakes naturally of religion. As, undoubtedly, on the side of its correspondence with Nature, it partakes of science—seeing that it depends on science for the means of attaining its ends, we are apparently justified in regarding life as the connecting link between science and religion.
But does not the sense of life, combined with science, suffice, exactly, to guide man's conduct, without his needing to add thereto religion properly so-called? Clearly, science, by herself, only furnishes the means of action, and remains silent about ends. But, in order to determine these latter, as reason demands, we have, it would seem, in the bosom of actual Nature, two standards more trustworthy than all those which could be enjoined upon us by authorities said to be superior: instinct and the social conscience.
Instinct is a fact, a precise and positive datum. Whatever be its origin, it represents the tendency and the interest of species. To follow it, is, evidently, the chief obligation of anyone, who, according to the dictates of reason, desires to keep in harmony with Nature. Besides being an individual belonging to a natural species, every man is member of a human community. This, again, is a fact; for man is only man, a rational and free being, through having a share in that community. He ought, therefore, to comply with the conditions underlying the community's existence. And as, for each given community, at each given period, the conditions of existence are expressed by a totality of traditions, laws, ideas, feelings, which constitute a kind of social conscience, there is, for the individual who would be good for something, who would be himself in an objective and true sense, a second obligation to obey the rules of the community in which he lives, to be a submissive and active organ of that community.
What more does man need for the guidance of his life? We are too much given to wrangling about ends. For a right-minded man they are plain, inasmuch as they are given. It is the means with which we are specially concerned, and science is ready to furnish them.
A rational doctrine, surely, and one which, followed conscientiously, would also be a singularly lofty one:Ώς χάρέν ἐσθ᾽ ἄνθρωπος, ὅταν ἄνθρωπος ᾐ.1 What a worthy being is man, when he is truly man!
But can it be affirmed that this doctrine yields complete satisfaction to human reason? The latter asks not only for the rational, but for the best, whenever it is possible. And she calls upon us to make it possible.
Now, are we sure that the instinct which we find within us is a perfection that we cannot overstep? It could appear so, when we deemed it primary, immutable, sprung immediately from eternal Nature or from Divine Wisdom. But to-day, whatever be its origin and genesis, we regard it as acquired, contingent, modifiable. It is, for man, a fact doubtless, and relatively stable, but one that is, in the end, like other facts. Evolutionism no longer recognises any fact as sacred. Man, moreover, has learnt from science herself how to make use of Nature so as to outstrip her; how, through obedience, he may obtain the mastery over her. Why should he not make use of his instinct, instead of remaining subject to it? And then, where will he put the end, with respect to which instinct will be treated as means?
The social conscience is, also, the outcome of an evolution. Moral laws are no longer eternal. They are no longer divine revelations. They show us what results from the struggles of innovators against the laws and customs of their country and of their time. They are scarcely able, to-day, to maintain their authority. Be they ever so ancient, we cannot allow that they are still suitable for a society in which so many things have changed. Old things have only one right—that of disappearing, and of making clear room for new things. Are they recent? What power can be claimed for an institution which time has not proved, and which everybody recognises as having originated through accident, through calculation, through lies, through impulses and passing circumstances? However worthy of respect may be the ideas and laws of our own day, why should they restrain our conscience to a greater extent than the laws and the ideas of bygone periods bound the conscience of our forefathers? What is progress, that lever of the modern mind, save the right of the future over the present? And what is genius save—athwart the totality of ideas that link the individual necessarily with his age—a vision, as it were, of new ideas, which, most frequently, outstrip the mental capacity of contemporaries?
Certainly, every reasonable man reverences the laws, customs, ideas, and feelings of his community and of his time, just as he conforms to the instinct of his kind; but he can see, neither in the one nor in the other of these two motives, ultimate rules beyond which he has not the right to conceive anything. He finds, on the contrary, in his very reason—with its indefinite search after what is better—an incitement to make instinct and the social conscience themselves subservient to the pursuit of higher ends.
Doubtless man could live without giving himself any other end than life, but he is not so disposed. He could limit himself to acting according to his own pleasure, or to that of others; but, if he reflects thereon, this does not satisfy him. Nothing compels him to go beyond himself, to seek, to will, to be. He chooses to try his luck, to run a risk, to enter upon a struggle. But Plato's saying remains true: The struggle is noble, and the hope is great—καλὸν γὰρ τὸ?θλον καὶἡ ἐλπὶς μεγάλη.
We cannot disguise from ourselves that, to strive to surpass our nature is to believe ourselves free, and to be bent on acting as if we were so. And, as freedom does not consist in acting without reason but, on the contrary, in acting according to that same reason, to suppose ourselves free is to believe that we can find in reason motives of action that are not mere physical laws, mechanically determinative. Is it really true that reason, and not a sort of æsthetic craving for the unknown and for heroism, invites us to enter upon the struggle of which Plato speaks; and through what combination of ideas are we induced to fling ourselves into a course, without being able, apparently, to see whither it will lead us?
Practice implies: firstly, faith; secondly, an object offered to that faith; thirdly, love of the object and desire to realise it. What do we find beneath these three elements, if we try to form a more or less distinct idea of them?
If we ask ourselves, in the first place, how this faith—necessarily involved in every conscious action—is fixed and justified, we find that it rests, wittingly or unwittingly, upon the idea and the feeling of duty. To believe, i.e. to affirm, not idly but resolutely, anything else than what we see or what we know, enjoins on reason an effort. This effort needs a motive. Reason finds that motive in the idea of duty.
Duty is a faith. It is trivial to declare that it is no longer duty if its fulfilment is proved inevitable or even desirable for reasons established by material evidence. Duty is faith par excellence. For every other belief we may allege the support of sensible reasons: utility, the example of other men, the affirmation of competent authority, custom, mode, tradition. Duty is quite compact in itself: it does not give any other reason than its incorruptible disinterestedness.
And, in spite of all the arguments by which clever people try to win her over, reason persists in feeling within her an affinity for this mysterious law. We do not succeed either in depriving duty of its supra-sensible character, or in eliminating it from human life. Every time that a man, before acting, examines himself thoroughly with respect to the reasons which ought to determine his action, he encounters, sooner or later, the question of duty, and he is only satisfied if he can respond to it. And, before any authority whatsoever can be admitted, there must hover above it the universal, sovereign law of duty. The faith which presides over human life is nothing else, in short, than faith in duty.
This faith is no mere abstract notion: it is a living and productive power. Under the operation of duty the intellect conceives and engenders. It projects, before the eye of consciousness, forms which translate, into an imaginative and communicable language, the content of the idea of duty—in itself indefinable. Where the intellect has no other end than to know, the forms which it fashions are the representation of the influence exercised upon the senses of man by the action of external objects. We may suppose that, indirectly, these forms proceed from the objects themselves. But, if it is a question of some practical idea, some representation of an act, not necessary, but possible and convenient, the object can no longer be a simple image of given reality: it is a sort of invention. The mind, certainly, makes use of the resources which the external world and science offer; it adopts the language of the medium in which it lives. Nevertheless, its operation is not a simple epiphenomenon, or a mechanical resultant of given phenomena; it is an effective agency. Let us look at the artist in the act of creating: he starts from an idea that is, first of all, confused and remote; and this idea by degrees comes nearer and stands out, thanks to the very effort that he makes to lay hold of it, and to realise it. Similarly, the writer seeks the idea by means of the form, while he bends the form to the expression of the idea. Vivified by faith, the understanding constructs, at first, a dim representation of the ideal; and, gradually, it renders this notion more distinct through adapting thereto all that which, amid the resources at its disposal, seems fitted to translate and develop it.
The object which the intellect lays down as the expression and the foundation of the idea of duty is, necessarily, the grandest and most perfect that can be conceived: such it is bound to be, in order to explain the peculiar worth of this idea. This object, which springs from the depths of consciousness, transcends it infinitely: thus its appearance in the field of consciousness is a revelation. And this character cannot vanish, because, the object becoming ever greater and more exalted, in proportion as man strives to conceive it more adequately, the inequality between the real and the ideal continues to increase with the progress of reflection and of will, instead of becoming less.
The third condition of life is man's love for the ideal which he pictures to himself. Now, as with faith and with the ideal, so with love: when we examine it thoroughly, it carries us beyond Nature properly so-called. It is, between two distinct persons, a blending of existence which defies analysis. There is, undoubtedly, a form of love, in which the individual only considers self, and has in view merely his own enjoyment. And love of this kind is little more than instinctive perception. But from this love, which, organised by the intellect, becomes egoism, man—in proportion as he rose towards humanity—learnt to distinguish, more and more clearly, another love, which we may call self-sacrificing love; inspired by this latter, he would live, not only for himself, but for another, in another. It is love in the higher sense which Victor Hugo feels when he writes; “Madman, to believe that thou art not thyself I” Love makes of two beings a single being, while allowing personality to each one of them; far more, while enlarging, while realising in all its power the personality of the one and of the other. Love is not an external bond, like a combination of interests; it is not, moreover, the absorption of one personality by another: it is the participation of being in being, and, with the creation of a common existence, the completion of the being of those individuals who form that community.
If this is so, man's love for the ideal and perfect being that his reason anticipates, is already a sense of union with that ideal. It is the desire for a closer participation in its existence and in its perfection. It is that very perfection, in so far as it draws us towards itself. Self-sacrificing love, or the giving of self to ideal things (the “Eternal-Womanly” as Goethe called it), is a divine power which comes down to us, and which draws us upward towards the heights:
Zieht uns hinan.
Thus, for him who seeks the hidden resort of faith, that resort is discovered in the idea and in the sense of duty as a thing altogether sacred. For him who fathoms the idea of progress (an object of faith), that idea implies the conception of ideal and infinite being, And the love of this ideal is, at bottom, the sense of a kinship with it, of an initial participation in its existence.
What does this mean, but that, at the root of human life, as such, lies what is called Religion?
To rise to the creative principle of life is not a necessity. We can live by mere instinct, or by routine, or by imitation; we can live, perhaps, by the abstract intellect or by knowledge. Religion offers man a richer and deeper life than purely spontaneous or even intellectual life: she constitutes, so to speak, a synthesis—or, rather, a close and spiritual union—of instinct and intellect, in which each of the two, merged with the other, and, thereby even, transfigured and exalted, possesses a fulness and a creative power which separate action could not yield.
It is true that many will dispute the position thus given to religion in human life. Only yesterday, they will say, it was allowable for religion to labour for the progress of humanity, because morality was more or less involved therein. But this solidarity was only a contingent and transitory fact. Historically, religion and morality originated and developed separately. And it is the very progress of morality which has compelled religion to adapt herself to it, and to make it her own. But just as, originally, they were independent of one another, so, at the present time, they are dissevered; and morality, henceforward emancipated and become like other sciences, suffices, alone, for the guidance of humanity.
The question of the relations between morality and religion is, perhaps, too easily decided in theories of this kind. The psychological origins of morality are difficult to determine: Socrates was a profoundly religious man. From the fact that two living forms appear independent just when their history begins for us, it does not follow that they have separate origins: otherwise, the transmutation of the naturalists would be nonsense. And that which interests us for the ordering of our life is less identity or diversity of empirical origin than the harmony which is established between the ideas in human reason, as this latter advances towards perfection. What does it matter that religion formerly taught hatred, if now she teaches love? What does it matter that morality, at first, condemned the religion of the theologians, if, seeking support in conscience, she afterwards rejoined and embraced the religion of the spirit? Morality is not the negation of religion: between the precepts of the one and the commands of the other there is often but a difference of expression.
Religion, nevertheless, even where she coincides with morality, is distinguishable from it in many respects.
And, firstly, if the real precepts are, in great part, identical on both sides, a difference as regards foundation is made manifest. Many thoughtful people deem this difference unimportant. But the question of foundation, which may be secondary for a writer on ethics, is of great moment from the religious point of view, seeing that religion is, above all, practice, life, realisation, and that the foundation is the principle of the realisation. What religion aims at obtaining is, in the first place, effectual means, not only with a view to knowledge, but with a view to the real performance of duty. She believes that pure ideas, however clear they may be, do not suffice to move the will; that what produces being is being; and she offers human virtue the support of divine perfection, in order to help it to exist and to increase.
Religion, in the second place, as fully developed, is the communion of the individual, no longer merely with the members of his clan, of his family, or of his nation, but with God as the Father of the Universe, i.e. in God, with all that is or can be. Religion is, henceforward, essentially universal. She teaches the radical equality and brotherhood of all human beings; and she offers, as motive for the actions of the individual, the conviction that, however humble he may be, he can labour effectively for the coming of the Kingdom of God, in other words for Justice and for Goodness.
Lastly, religion purposes to train man through an inward and substantial operation. It is not merely external acts, habits, customs that she would reach—it is the man himself, in the deepest source of his feelings and thoughts, of his longings and desires. Moralists declare readily that we do not love as we wish, but as we are able. But religion enjoins love itself; and she gives the power of loving.
It is true that the cold reason hesitates, regarding these ideas as nothing else than exaggerations or paradoxes. But it is remarkable that, in spite, or because, of her paradoxical appearance, religion has ever been one of the most powerful forces which have affected humanity. Religion has united and divided men, she has made and unmade empires, she has occasioned terrible wars, she has opposed spirit as an insurmountable hindrance to material might. In the sphere of individual conscience she has raised contests as dramatic as the wars between nations. She has braved and subdued nature, she has made man happy in wretchedness, miserable in prosperity. Whence proceeds this strange sovereignty, if not from a faith stronger than knowledge; from a conviction that God is with us, more effectual than all human aid; from a love stronger that all arguments?
Is humanity getting ready to repudiate religion, in order to seek, through wide-spread experiences, some new guide? That is possible; for, if we cannot affirm that, in this world, even the most elementary forms are preserved without diminution, how is it certain that the higher forms and values will continue? There is nothing to prevent these values, not only from being transformed, but from being lost, or to prevent religion from sharing in the general fate. But it is also possible that, even among the most liberal and enlightened thinkers, religion will be maintained. For, hitherto, her vitality and her power of adaptation have exceeded all that we could imagine. And, in the moral order, we never know if a form of existence is definitively abolished, since, as a rule, human revolutions consist precisely in resuscitating dead things.
The life of religions, however, is not exempted from the general law, according to which a living thing, if it would endure, must comply with the conditions of its existence. Vitality and flexibility are directly related. Buddhism in Japan is not the Buddhism of India; again, the Christianity of the Middle Ages was adapted to the philosophy of Aristotle and to the Roman idea of Empire. Probably, there will be the same adaptations in the future as in the past. Religion will subsist, if, while manifesting an intense faith, she remains in a relation of action and reaction with the ideas, the feelings, the institutions, and the life of human communities.
What, in existing communities, are the data which cannot be set aside?
In the first place, science, in its general conclusions, and especially in its outlook, has become imperative for human reason.
Similarly, if the morality of the philosophers is diverse in its principles, in its demonstrations, in its theories, it is not less true that there is, in our midst, a living and active morality, which, though still imperfectly denned, cannot be assailed. This morality, indeed, is derived less from reasoned doctrines than from traditions, customs, and religious beliefs; from the teaching and example of superior men; from habits which are created by life and by institutions, as well as by the influence of physical, intellectual, and moral conditions. It represents the experience of humanity.
Lastly, the form of social life in different countries is a third condition with which religions are obliged to reckon. Formerly they were essentially national. But a religion seems to us, now, all the nobler for soaring above the differences which divide humanity. The coexistence of the spirit of universality with the necessary maintenance of the traditions and the feelings, of the mind and the life adapted to each nationality, is one of the problems which trouble the modern mind. On the other hand, the democratic régime, become general in modern nations, sometimes presents a hostile attitude towards the very principle of religion.
There is no apparent reason why religion should not be adapted to the above-mentioned conditions.
Either by evolution, or by the action of the media which she has traversed, religion—at one time so overburdened with rites, with dogmas, and with institutions—has, more and more, disengaged from this material envelope the spirit which is her essence. Christianity, in particular, the last of the great religious creations which the story of humanity shows, has, so to speak, neither dogmas nor rites as it is taught by Christ. It calls on man to worship God in spirit and in truth. This spiritual character has dominated all the forms which it has assumed. And even to-day, after the attempts to imprison it, either in political forms, or in texts, it continues, amongst the most cultivated peoples, an irreducible affirmation of the reality and of the inviolability of spirit.
Let religion display herself thus in the world, according to her own nature, as an altogether spiritual activity, aspiring to transform men and things from within, and not from without, by persuasion, by example, by love, by prayer, by fellowship of souls, and not by compulsion or by statecraft; and it is certain that she has nothing to fear from the progress of science, from morality, or from institutions.
Freed from the yoke of an immutable and dumb letter, or from an authority which is not purely moral and spiritual, and brought back to herself, she becomes, once more, entirely living and flexible; capable of reconciliation with the whole of existence; everywhere at home, since, in all that is, she discerns an aspect Godward. What may appear to be at variance with modern ideas or institutions, is such and such external form, such and such dogmatic expression of religion—the trace of the life and the science of bygone generations; it is not the religious spirit, as we see it circulating through the great religions. For this spirit is nothing else than faith in duty, the search after well-being and universal love, those secret channels of every high and beneficent activity.
But, it will be asked, is the religious spirit, quite alone, without any visible form of manifestation, still religion—is it still a reality?
A distinction is here necessary. If the spiritual principle is conceived as obtained and determined, according to a purely objective method, by the elimination of all the material and definable elements of which the religious phenomena given in experience are composed, it is evident that, in this principle, there is no longer anything real, and that it is merely a word by which an imaginary residuum is designated. What is the personality of a man, if I claim to find it in what remains, after I have taken away from that man, regarded as an external phenomenon, all the elements which belong to him in common with other beings? That is why Kant's Categorical Imperative is only an empty abstraction for the critics who, instead of penetrating the philosopher's thought, understand his doctrine in an entirely objective and dogmatic sense. To seek spirit in matter, is to render its discovery impossible.
But, assuredly, the idea of duty is an active and potent idea, which bestows on the object in which we embody it an incomparable authority. And all the forces which prompt human activity, all the main causes of great historical movements, are thus “imponderables,” which we picture through symbolical explanations, but which we shall never be able to comprise in formulæ.
The power of words has often been noted with amazement. And, in truth, the passionate glow and acquiescence, which could not be obtained from men through teaching them a clear and consistent doctrine, are created, straightway, through flinging them some such words as: liberty, country, empire, justice, the Will of God! God with us! Does this mean that, cleverer than the scientists, ordinary folk invest these words with clear ideas? And must we suppose that the concepts suggested by these words are identical in all minds? Much rather ought we to allow that these words are signals, which, whenever they appear, rouse and stir up, in people, a confused and floating mass of feelings, of ideas, of aspirations, of passions, which spread from individual to individual through a sort of contagion. There is thus created a power which will enrapture multitudes: this power is a tendency, an aspiration, a common spirit—it is not a clear and definite concept.
In this way there are principles, which, while they are essentially formal, are, at the, same time, very positive and effectual; and it may be imagined that Kant could readily consider the notion of duty as a principle of this kind. But Kant only attributed such a value to the notion of duty because he deemed it superior to empirical objectivity. He did not admit that it was a fact, in the sense in which the fall of a body is a fact: he saw therein a dictate of reason, i.e. of the purely free will.
Similarly, nothing hinders us from allowing that the religious spirit—so largely effective, and yet in itself so incomprehensible and indefinable—is a principle at once formal and positive, like the great impelling forces of history, like feeling, like life.
Must we say, however, that religion is, exclusively, spirit and life, and that it neither can nor should be manifested in concepts and in material expressions? What is, exactly, in point of religion, the relation of spirit to letter?
A philosopher who applied himself, above all, to develop the spiritualistic principle, viz. Fichte, wrote as follows: Die Formel ist die grösste Woltat für den Menschen, Formal expression is, for man, the greatest of benefits. For man, soul and body are necessary. Mind cannot be realised without being incarnated in matter. Thus, even the Light, protested Mephistopheles, ought not to despise bodies.
…da es, so viel es strebt,
Verhaftet und den Körpern klebt
Von Körpern strömt's, die Körper macht es schön,
Ein Körper hemmt's auf seinem Gange.2
Expel from religion every objective element, and you reduce her to an unintelligibility which will be confounded with the imaginations of the individual, and which will not even be characterised any longer as religion.
In fact, it is inadmissible that, in the inspiration which transforms a life, in the feeling which raises men above themselves, in what is called the soul of a nation, in the religious spirit which History shows us operating continuously, there are merely elements of a subjective and non-intellectual kind. It is only in certain old text-books of psychology that the soul's faculties are described as absolutely shut off from one another. The real soul is one; and, in each of its manifestations, it is quite whole—with its intellect and its imagination, as well as with its will and its spiritual activity.
Hence the concentration of the religious spirit, which is expressed by the idea of a religion without symbols, does not signify more than a phase: it is simply the condition of a fresh impulse.
In a general way, the mind only abandons one form in order to look for another. It leaves a form which has become false to it so as to assume one which, adapted to its internal progress and to its new conditions, will represent it more truly. It is in this sense that Kant shows the practical reason freeing itself, first of all, from the empirical laws which enslave it; then, in the second place, positing, as the immediate expression of its will, the notion of duty; lastly, seeking, in the third place, the means of effecting, out of human life in its entirety, the realisation of this notion.
The religious principle is not merged in the forms by which it was expressed in the past. Otherwise it would have a thousand contradictory aspects, and would be unthinkable. It is more and more revealed as the affirmation of the reality, the sublimity, and the creative power of spirit.
Its seat is, henceforward, conscience. No longer an external and material thing, it has become inward life.
It is an activity of the soul, whether of the soul of an individual, or of those ever-widening collective souls which it is able, itself, to create through individual souls. This evolution, due especially to the action of mystics, is now secured. But mysticism itself is subdivided into passive mysticism and active mysticism. The former is satisfied with retiring from the world, and with contemplating God; the latter, from the bosom of God, loves, wills, and shines. Now, in order to realise itself outwardly it must think and act. That is why the two elements of belief and practice, which, from earliest times, religion has added to feeling, are quite inseparable from it.
How are we to explain the moulds of thought or categories, by means of which the intellect perceives and receives phenomena? When we say that they originate from the double action of the mind and of phenomena, it is clear that we are giving, not an explanation of the fact, but merely a metaphorical representation of it. Similarly, and a fortiori, the inventions of genius, which not only outstrip facts, but dominate them, modify them, create them—setting up models which are, for them, unrealisable, are something else than the mechanical resultants of given phenomena. Accordingly, they appear to the human mind as revelations, as the effects of communion with a higher reality.
Whence came, asks Schiller, the mysterious maiden, who, each spring, transformed Nature and the hearts of men?
Sie war nicht in dem Tal geboren,
Man wusste nicht woher sie kam.3
In like manner, religious inspiration is interpreted by conceptions which, for us, necessarily outrun experience, in that, relating to the very source of being and of life, they are presented as revelations. The conscious self regards them in this light: they will only operate within it, they will only exist, through being thus referred to a supernatural origin.
These conceptions, like all intellectual representation of an object, must be defined, determined in a formula, i.e. briefly, in an image. This image can only be a symbol. It has, in fact, been the prolonged endeavour of the religious spirit to dissolve the solidarity which linked it with things as actually given, and with the science of these things, in order to cherish aims that surpass them—aims that cannot be realised by Nature alone. If, now, the categories and preformed notions which we apply to things with a view to perceiving them, can only be irreducible symbols, if scientific knowledge itself remains invincibly symbolical, how would religion, which aims at representing the non-representable, escape from this law of the intelligence? It would even, seem that religious symbolism ought to constitute, somehow, a symbolism of the second grade; for religion cannot, when her expressions clash with the affirmations of science, vie with her rival in the ability to enrich our knowledge. Religion has an object other than that of science; she is not—she is not for us—in any way the explanation of phenomena. She cannot be affected by the discoveries of science, which relate to the objective nature and origin of things. Phenomena, from the religious point of view, are estimated according to their moral significance, to the feelings which they suggest, to the inner life which they express and which they rouse; and no scientific explanation can remove this character from them.
Not that the objective elements of religion: beliefs, traditions, dogmas, ought to be emptied of all intellectual content, and limited to a purely practical value. Kant attempted this radical separation of practice from knowledge—a kind of wager, to which he himself was unable to adhere. Deprived of every theoretical notion, practice would no longer have any value, whether religious or even human; and the mind does not permit the realisation of such a division. But there are, undoubtedly, in the mind two modes of knowledge: distinct knowledge, and vague, or, more particularly, symbolical knowledge. The idea which directs the studies of an artist, of a poet, of an inventor, of a scientist even, is a vague idea, which, perhaps, will never be completely resolved and made clear; nevertheless, it is a positive, active, efficacious idea. The human will and intellect are chiefly moved by such ideas. The mathematician, by his analyses, strives to overtake imaginative intuition, which presents itself to his thought as a revelation, and which is fixed and determined in proportion as he seeks to convert it into conceptual demonstration. The mind does not evolve truth: it posits it, it assumes it, in a necessarily vague manner; then it puts its hypotheses to the proof, and, through this very operation, renders them more and more distinct. Truth, for man, is hypothesis, sensibly verified and specified by fact.
Religious knowledge, which takes for its object, not what is, but what ought to be, cannot be determined after the manner of scientific knowledge; but if, independently of its practical value, it offers a symbolical meaning with which reason can be satisfied, inasmuch as the experience of science and of life has effected it, we are justified in saying that it possesses a veritable and legitimate intellectual content.
Such is the foundation of what are called dogmas, an integral element in all real religion.
The fundamental dogmas of religion are two in number: firstly, the existence of God, of a living, perfect, almighty God; secondly, the relationship, at once living and concrete, of this God with man.
It would be little consonant with facts to say that the idea of God is, at the present time, abandoned by human reason. Reason has withdrawn, more and more, from the idea of an external and material deity, who would only be a magnified substitute for natural beings. But, on the other hand, she applies herself, more and more, to notions which—brought together, defined and thoroughly examined—correspond quite surely with what the religious consciousness adores under the name of God.
Visible Nature is, throughout, dissociation, dispersion, dissolution, degradation, destruction. Now, we dream of universal preservation, concentration, conciliation and harmony. The development of one individual, according to the natural course of things, presupposes the destruction of certain others. The Over-man of Nietzsche requires useful slaves. Evil is, in our world, a condition of Good—a condition which appears to be indispensable. Who created this world? Shall we say the Good, or the Evil; God, or the Devil? To God, virtue, love, perfection, may be ascribed the saints, the meek, the just, the self-sacrificing men. But the devil has put into the world hunger, suffering, hatred, envy, lust, falsehood, crime, war; and, thereby, he has awakened the activity of man and instigated his progress. Science, industry, social organisation, justice, art, religion, poetry, education—all these marvels are only, in a sense, the means invented by man for the purpose of overcoming and forgetting the ills which surround him. Suppress the evil, and the good relapses into nonentity. Πόλκμος πάντων μὲν πατήρ ἐστι πάντων δὲ βασιλεύς.4
But it is precisely against this law of Nature that human reason protests. She would like to be able to fashion the good through the good, and not through the evil; she resolves that the liberty, the well-being, the virtue of some shall not be the misery, the bondage, the depravation of others. She attributes to all that is, to all that has something positive and living in it, an ideal form, a value, a right to exist and to develop. She bestows an existence, even upon the Past which is no longer, even upon the Future which, perhaps, will not be. She would maintain the free and natural development of all forms of activity: science, art, religion, private virtues, public virtues, industry, national life, social life; communion with Nature, with the Ideal, with Humanity.
Yet more, reason plans, among so many elements which seem disparate, the introduction of unity, of harmony, of solidarity. She demands that every single thing shall be all that it is capable of being, in the ideal meaning of the word; that it shall realise the maximum of perfection possible to it, and, at the same time, that it be one with the whole, and live by that very communion.
Is the realisation of such an aim possible?
It must be clearly recognised that it exceeds the plan of Nature, whose passivity is indifferent to the intrinsic value of beings, if so be that, for Nature, there are beings. In like manner, it goes beyond the logic of our understanding, which, reducing things to concepts, can only identify them, or declare them incompatible. It would be especially inconceivable, if, with the dogmatic systems of theology, we only made appeal to the categories of eternity, of immutability, of static quality and unity.
But actual Nature—regarded from the standpoint of reason, if not from that of bare science—is not, perhaps, a mere immutable mechanism. Is it certain that, in her living reality, she contains only being, and not beings? Life, if we consider it under its proper aspects, and if we look upon it as a reality, offers us the outline of a harmonious and relatively persistent union of substances and of properties, which mechanical forces, left to themselves, would never have formed.
By analogy with life, we are able to conceive a Being, in whom all that is positive, all that is a possible form of existence and of perfection, coalesces and subsists; a Being who is one and multiple—not like a material whole, made up of elements placed side by side, but like the continuous and moving infinity of a mind, of a person. If this idea, which transcends experience, is not mechanically enjoined upon the understanding, it is, nevertheless, in complete harmony with human reason, as both the traditions of races and the reflections of thinkers testify. The Being which this idea represents is what the various religions call God.
The second fundamental dogma of religion is the living communion of God with man. This communion is thus defined by the Christian religion: “No man hath beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abideth in us.” In other words, God is love, and love is communion—the power of living in another. To love is to imitate God, it is to be God in a sense, it is to live in him and through him.
These ideas, which are at the heart of Christianity, convey nothing but what is very conformable to the aspirations of reason. The Being, in whom everything that deserves existence ought to be reconciled, merged and fixed harmoniously, is naturally conceived, both as a model that the intellect seeks to copy in the objects which it fashions, and as a source of moral energy, whence the will, striving after the best, can ceaselessly acquire renewed strength. To believe in God—to believe in the eternal union of all those perfections which the spatial and temporal world exhibits as incompatible, is, at one and the same time, to believe that this incompatibility is only apparent, and that a power exists through which the Good can become, in very truth, the condition and the means of the Good.
When we contemplate God as the union of perfection and of existence, as Love, Father, Creator, and Providence, we recognise ideas which correspond to the aspirations of reason. These ideas, however, are not clear and distinct, and we do not see how they can become so. They are vague and symbolical ideas, very real, nevertheless, and very potent.
We must regard, as still more symbolical, the expressions by which the intellect seeks to render these notions more and more concrete, and, thereby even, more and more comprehensible for all, more and more fitted to determine the will. But these developments are justified, when they are conceived so as to become reconciled, in the living reason, with the essential conditions of our science and of our life. Do we not see that science, as the pure search for truth, and life, which seeks a reason for living, are themselves suspended in this Being, in whom alone existence gains a value and perfection a reality?
We have, further, to distinguish as essential elements of religion, besides feeling and dogmas, rites and deeds—whether public or private.
It is impossible to consider deeds as a purely adventitious element of religion. Where do we find, in the human soul, that substance termed pure being, whose action, without any regulative effect, would be only a ray or an emanation? We make use, here, of a metaphor drawn from sensible images. Far from our being able to regard deeds as thus, with man, a mere result, eminent psychologists maintain that feeling, inward disposition—what we call being, is only, in truth, the effect and psychical translation of exterior and motor activity. In any case, it is impossible for us to know if a given feeling is absolutely spontaneous, or if it owes something to the influence of our actions upon our being. This influence, if it is not, by itself, creative, is indeed very deep. It is, therefore, quite reasonable that deeds and rites have, from the earliest times, been considered a part of religion. However spiritual the world's religions may become, they will never be able to separate being from doing, without detracting from the laws of human nature. As long as religion shall endure, it will comprise—as essential elements—practices, rites, active and external manifestations.
Practices presuppose authority and obedience. It is inconceivable how these principles can be struck off from religion, any more, in fact, than from life in general. But the religious authority is obviously spirit, and spirit alone. Every other authority is but an organ through which the authority of spirit is manifested. Exclusively moral, the religious authority can only be understood and obeyed by free consciences.
Religious rites do not constitute the end, but the means. They ought to be adapted to further the realisation of religious ends. Now these latter are: purity of heart, self-renunciation, the establishment of a community wherein each member shall exist for the whole, as the whole for each member—wherein, following the language of St. John, they all shall be one, even as, in God, the Father and the Son are one.
Religion will thus preserve her ancient character as the tutelary genius of human communities. She requires the union of all consciences, therefore of all men; she aims at effecting between them a bond of love, as the support, as the principle of the material bond. In this way she will carefully preserve the rites, which, handed down by so many ages and peoples, are the incomparable symbols of the per manence and breadth of the human family. She will maintain them through infusing into them an ever deeper, more universal, more spiritual thought. To act, to feel, to vibrate together, during the accomplishment of a common task, is, according to reason herself, the secret of union. ͊ὰ κοινὰ συνέχει, said Aristotle.5
We should make religion an incomplete and still abstract idea if we were to confine it to beliefs and practices. Just as it starts from feeling, so it ends therein, for the object of dogmas and rites is both to express feeling and to determine it. The development of feeling is like a circle which only recedes from its starting-point in order to return thereto. It is not without significance that the psychologist and the moralist consider mysticism an essential element, and, perhaps, the foundation of religion. All intense religious life is mystical; and mysticism is the life-source from which religions, threatened by a formal and scholastic spirit, derive fresh vigour.
But there is an abstract and barren form of mysticism, as well as a positive and fruitful form. The first is that which endeavours to live entirely by feeling, believing itself freed from the tyranny of dogmas and practices. In isolating itself from the intellect and from activity, feeling is not raised, it becomes enfeebled. On the other hand, guided and enriched by thought and by action, feeling can, indeed, expand and display its creative property; it is then the active mysticism, so incomparably efficacious, which we find at the heart of all the great religious, moral, political, and social movements of humanity.
Religious feeling, thus regulated and determined by belief and practice, may be described—in comparison with purely natural and philosophical virtue—as the transformation of tolerance into love.
Philosophers and politicians have found reasons for teaching men to tolerate one another. How could I rightly claim for myself a liberty that I refused to my fellows? But such reasoning is more formal than real. Have we proved that the liberty of others is as good as our own? Yes, perhaps, if by liberty we mean the bare ability to will, or not to will. But a liberty of this kind is an academic abstraction. All genuine liberty is bound up with the ideas, the opinions, the inclinations, the habits, which determine it. And that liberty is really better than another, which operates according to higher principles. How, then, can all forms of liberty claim the same right? Has error the same right as truth, vice as virtue, ignorance as knowledge? And do not all branches of learning to-day, moral as well as physical, claim an equal scientific certainty? If truth ought to tolerate error, it could only be for a time, during the delay granted to the latter for her instruction and correction.
In short, the principle of tolerance is an ill-gotten notion, the expression of a scornful condescension, the mental denial of what we seem to allow. It is not clear how tolerance would be justifiable, unless we admitted, in all things, another point of view than that of positive science.
But religion actually vindicates, beside the standpoint of science, the standpoint of feeling and of faith. For her, the value of liberty is not gauged in proportion to scientific knowledge. Individuality, as such—be it that of ignoramus or of scientist, of criminal or of honest man—has a special value. A world in which prevail personality, freedom to err and to do amiss, variety and harmony, is, for the religious man, better, loftier, more like divine perfection, than a world in which everything would be merely the mechanical application of a single immutable rule. The only way for the finite to imitate the Infinite is through endless diversification.
That is why, in his experience of other men, the religious man appreciates most of all, not the points wherein they resemble him, but the points wherein they differ from him. He does not simply tolerate these differences. They are, in his eyes, bits of the universal harmony, they are the being of other men; and, thereby even, they are the condition attaching to the development of his own personality.
“Consider,” said the shoemaker Jacob Boehme, “the birds of our forests; they praise God, each one after its fashion, in all keys and in sundry ways. Do we find that God is offended by this diversity, and that he silences these discordant voices? All forms of existence are dear to the Infinite Being.”
Religion commands us to love others, and to love them for themselves. Bolder than philosophy, she makes love a duty—the duty par excellence. She calls upon men to love one another in God, i.e. to ascend to the common source of being and of love. Mutual love is natural between brethren.
In spite of their relations, science and religion remain, and must remain, distinct. If there were no other way of establishing a rational order between things than that of reducing the many to the one, either by assimilation or by elimination, the destiny of religion would appear doubtful. But the struggles which contrasts engender admit of solutions other than those which science and logic offer. When two powers contend, both of them equally endowed with vitality and with fertility, they develop and grow by that very conflict. And, the value and the indestructibility of each becoming more and more evident, reason strives to bring them together through their conflicts, and to fashion, from their union, a being richer and more harmonious than either of them taken apart.
Thus is it with religion and science. Strife tempers them both alike; and, if reason prevails, from their two distinct principles—become, at once, wider, stronger, and more flexible—will spring a form of life ever ampler, richer, deeper, freer, as well as more beautiful and more intelligible. But these two autonomous powers can only advance towards peace, harmony, and concord, without ever claiming to reach the goal; for such is the human condition.
For, strive as it may, it continues fettered to bodies. It streams from bodies, it beautifies bodies; a body impedes it on its way.
She was not born in the valley. We knew not whence she came.
Strife is the father and king of all things.
Things that are common to all serve as a link.