George Albert Coe.

The spiritual life : studies in the science of religion online

. (page 15 of 16)
Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 15 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

is, in the first place, the much-deplored dispropor- \
tion of the sexes in our Church life. It is due, very
likely, to several causes. It may be said, for in-
stance, that men, since they are under greater indus-
trial and economic pressure than women, have less
time for worship and other religious exercises. But,
even if this is so, we may yet be confident that a
demand of our nature as profound as the religious
instinct is never balked merely by lack of time for
indulging it. Hungry men will take time or make
time to eat. These very men who feel the pressure
of life's conflict find time for many things outside
of business. Witness, for example, the luxuriant
growth of clubs, mutual benefit insurance societies,
secret orders, and other social agencies, at the very

time when it is so hard to get men to go to church.



At the very period, too, when the workingman's
day has been generally lowered from ten to nine or
eight hours the Church finds herself increasingly
incapable of commanding any part of the working-
man's time. Moreover, even if it be true that the
heavy hand of worldly responsibility keeps men back
from the Church, what is this but a confession that
the Church is unable to compete with the world?
Or, if this be too narrow a view to take of social
forces and religious forces, too let us ask
whether the glory of religion should not shine as
much in days of adversity and struggle and work
as in days of placid contentment. Are religion and
the Church, after all, something for men's leisure
hours ?

Another possible explanation of the indifference
of men toward the Church is that there is a greater
tendency for men than for women to be dissatisfied
with the attitude of the Church toward industrial
problems and movements. Here again, even if we
grant the premises, the explanation is seriously lame
and incomplete. For why have not these dissatisfied
men asserted themselves in the life of the Church
by preventing or reversing the condition complained
of? They are in the majority; why have they not
outvoted those with whom they disagree? It is a
matter of the deepest regret that the masses should
be alienated, but it is cause for profound alarm that
they do not seem to feel their loss. There's the rub.



Unless we adopt the absurd hypothesis that some-
how the religious instinct is no part of the working-
man's nature, we are forced to think either that the
food that is fitted to satisfy is not offered or that
the partaking of it is hedged round with conditions
which even the religious instinct revolts against.
Think for a moment : on the simplest assumptions
of the Christian religion can we for a moment ad-
mit that, where real Christianity in its completeness
is offered to men, the masses will reject it and not
even feel their loss?

Again, it is said that the Church is suffering par-
tial paralysis due to her lack of whole-hearted sym-
pathy with the modern intellect; that she desires
light, yet distrusts the light-bringers distrusts the
only persons who have so loved the truth as to bear
the toil and endure the pain of searching for it
where alone it can be found. Suppose, once more,
that we grant the premises for the sake of seeing
what follows. Is it conceivable that ignorance is so
strongly intrenched in the Church that the modern
intellect could not dislodge it even with its mighty
modern weapons? Why does not the intellectual
world care enough for the Church to save her from
her ignorance? Why is it so easy, whenever eccle-
siastical ignorance withstands knowledge, for the
men of learning to avoid the natural conflict? Why
are intellectual men so much at home outside the

Church, or in only nominal connection with it?



Questions like these open up many avenues for
reflection. We might talk of methods of Church
work; of the education of the clergy demanded by
our times; of the spiritual ministries springing up
outside the Church; of the very conception of the
function of the Church in the world. But none of
these can quite take the place of perhaps the most
fundamental question of all the constitution and
modes of working of the human mind with which
we have to deal. What are the basal needs of thisj
nature, and what has the Christian religion to offer j
for their satisfaction? If any large factor in the
community becomes cold toward existing modes of
organized religion the question becomes pertinent
whether the Church is as broad as human nature.
This problem must be freshly canvassed in every
age, lest methods and institutions become obstacles
rather than instruments of the spirit and the life.

If we view the problem psychologically we shall
feel perfectly safe in assuming that any large and
persistent excess of women in the Churches is
chiefly due to a superior adaptation" of Church life
to the female nature. It is because the Church looks
at things with feminine eyes, and calls chiefly into
exercise the faculties in which women excel men.
In fact, the explanation has been given in the whole
analysis of religious phenomena contained in the
present chapter and in Chapter III.

James Russell Lowell, speaking of the American


of the future, remarks that his religion will be more

"an ambulance

To fetch life's wounded and malingerers in,
Scorned by the strong." l

"Scorned by the strong" that is the rebuke that
stings. And it stings because of the measure of
truth it conveys. The practical question that
emerges, then, is whether masculine strength would
not be drawn to us if we only put proportional ]
stress upon the more rugged, active, intellectual, /
and social virtues if we only held up the com-
plete ideal for humanity with not even a fragment

If it is wise to learn from one's enemies, it is pos-
sible to believe that even Nietsche may not have
been in absolute error when, in his burning accusa-
tion against Christianity, he charges, among other
things, that it worships weakness where it should
worship strength. 2 There is a lesson for us, fur-
thermore, in the popular impression that there is a
tendency to ultra-femininity in Sunday school in-
struction. The namby-pamby, goody-goody con-
ception of goodness is simply an exaggeration,
amounting to a caricature, of the gentler virtues in
which women excel. Such an ideal will, of course,
lose its influence over boys at least as soon as they
approach manhood.

1 " The Cathedral."

9 See his Antichrist, in vol. xi of his Works, New York, 1896.
2 4 8


The temperamental interpretation of Christianity
is likewise one probable reason for the aloofness
from the Church of a strangely large proportion of
the most high-minded, morally earnest, and intel-
ligent men and women. These persons live correct
lives and reverence God ; if their names were on the
roll of a church no one would question their piety.
Some of them would find an obstacle to Church
membership in the credal vows required in many of
the Churches, but most of them would not. Indeed,
it is probable that only a small proportion of them
could allege any specific and adequate reason why
they should not belong to some Church. The fact
seems to be that Church life and ideals do not appeal
to them. In much the same mood are many of our
members who have the capacity, if it were only in
active exercise, to be strong leaders and workers.
Their attitude toward current forms of spiritual
culture such as are found in the prayer meeting,
for example is one of indifference, if it is not actu-
ally hostile. If it were possible to determine by a
census what proportion of the moral and intellectual
strength of the average community, and particularly
of the city community, is actively employed in what
is commonly called the spiritual work of the Church,
what disheartening figures we should read! It is
probably no exaggeration to say that the average
man of culture and moral earnestness, though he

may look upon the Church as a useful institution,



and hence worthy of his financial support, never-
theless feels little personal need of its peculiar min-

This attitude must be regarded as a grave mis-
take, and from many points of view. For surely we
are not quite ready either to get along without
churches or to admit that the Church as a whole has
a specific mission to none but the less fortunate
classes. Shall we, then, as spiritual self-compla-
cency would prompt us to do, assume that the whole
difficulty lies in the men whom the Church fails to
draw to her heart? Shall we say that a merely
temporary breeze of worldliness has carried them a
little way from their moorings and that they will
yet be brought back to the unchanged Church ? To
very many observers, who believe in the mission of
the Church to all men, such views appear utterly
fatuous. Instead of soothing ourselves by self-
righteous assumption, should we not rather ask after
more facts? Instead of accusing those whom we
fail to draw, might we not well seek to understand
the actual process of their minds, and thus discover
whether the Church is offering spiritual refresh-
ment and modes of spiritual activity actually
adapted to the many-sided human personality?
Perhaps it is not the depravity, but rather the spirit-
ual hunger, of men that deters them.

So much for point of view. Now for the appli-
cation of our own results. If our judgment as to



the one-sidedness of the traditional conception of
spirituality is just, then we ought to expect precise-
ly such an alienation of strong men and women
from the Church as we actually discover. We
should expect to find a general lack of sympathy
which might attach itself to any one of many super-
ficial faults in the Church but would not be ex-
plained by any or all of them. In a word, the known
results are natural consequences of a cause which
we have shown to exist. The difficulty is a mal-
adjustment of temperaments nothing less general,
less constitutional, or less intangible than that. Not
but that many other sources of difficulty coexist
with this one ; our claim is not to have laid bare the
sole cause, but only one real and profound one.
The remedy is easily defined, at least in its broader
aspects. It is the universalizing of Church life and
ideals through recognition of the fact that spiritual
qualities and needs run through the whole gamut
of human faculties. The spiritual conceit of the
melancholic temperament must be resisted. The
spiritual trivialities of the sanguine must be tran-
scended. The spirituality of the moral will and of
the truth-loving intellect must be not merely con-
ceded, but preached, insisted upon, gloried in. This
is the foundation upon which the rebuilding must

The proposal thus to broaden the psychological
basis of Church life and ideals has immediate bear-



ing upon the most vital special questions of the day.
A few of these questions may be mentioned, as, for
instance, the essentially social and this-world nature
of the kingdom of God and of salvation; the prob-
lem of institutional Churches; reform in revival
methods ; simplification of the conditions of Church
membership; the struggle for greater flexibility in
matters of creed; how to accept new light with re-
gard to the Bible without first fighting against it
and being beaten; the movement for increased co-
operation and ultimate union of the Churches. This
is not the place for discussing any of these weighty
matters. But such discussion should certainly be
grounded upon a sound judgment concerning the
psychological soil out of which religion as well as
other elements of civilization must grow.


The Fleeting and the Permanent in Christian Ex-

As a relief from these more or less disquieting
suggestions let us go back once more for a parting
glimpse of the Christian experience of which
Churches are an outcome and an expression. In
the questionnaire to which reference was made in
the earlier chapters the following question was
asked : "What is there in religion that seems to you
permanent, that is, within- your reach at any and all
times ? Do not give your theory of how it ought to

be, but simply state what you yourself have found



that you can absolutely rely upon." The number of
answers received in response to this question was
52, 35 being from men and 17 from women. They
may be classified as follows :

Of 35

Of 17

Of to-
tal 52.

1. Divine help, strength, etc

2. Something connected with right and wrong, as truth

of Christ's principle of self-sacrifice, Christ the
center and source of life, meaning in life, sense of
having done duty, peace from doing God's will,
obligation recognized as God's will, peace to a
troubled conscience, moral ideals, brotherhood of
man, something to live for

3. Something connected with prayer and promises, a

Bible promises sure, Christ and his word of truth,
power of prayer, willingness to answer prayer

4. Social feelings, as friendship, love, or companionship

of God or of Christ, sympathy, comfort, trust,
sense of God's presence

5. Something connected with forgiveness, as pardoning

power, assurance of acceptance

6. Miscellaneous, as rest, peace, joy, no fear, refuge

from disappointments, omniscience of God, assur-
ance of eternal life

There are several things about this table that
might well attract attention. In the first place, it
illustrates in a new way the already known fact
that men vary more than women. For, while nearly
all the answers from women can be bunched in two
classes, the answers from the men run through a
larger scale and are less bunched at any point.
Again, as indicated in a previous section, while the
women far exceed the men in mentioning feelings
of social relationship to God and help from God,
the men exceed the women even more strikingly
in designating matters connected with right and
wrong, with prayer and forgiveness.

But perhaps the most significant point of all, at




least for our present purpose, is the diversity of
gifts in the unity of the Spirit the varying accents
of the Holy Ghost. Approximately half of the
writers did not mention divine aid as a permanent
fact in their experience. Doubtless it is a perma-
nent fact, but this particular aspect of the Christian's
privilege certainly appeals to some devout minds
far less than it does to others. Similarly, nearly
half the writers fail to mention social feeling to-
ward God or Christ as permanent. Now, in all
probability some feeling like that of communion is
approximately, if not absolutely, universal and per-
manent; yet it occupies the attention and thought
of some much more than of others. It is not the
most powerful lever.

An inspection of the table just given will show
that the first three groups are relatively homogene-
ous, while the remaining groups form a second
homogeneous set differing from the former. Re-
classifying upon this new basis, we secure another
angle from which to view the facts :

Of 35

Of 17


Of to-
tal 52.

Help, invigoration of the will, something connected with




Various kinds of satisfactory feeling.




This represents, not the number of times certain
qualities come to expression, but the number of per-
sons giving answers of each kind. The most that
need be claimed for this result is that it is signifi-



cant of a trend. It is a straw which shows the
direction of the wind. But the evidence, as far as it
goes, tends to show that the strength of Christianity
lies as much in its appeal to the moral will as in its
appeal to feeling. This is true of the general aver-
age. But in the case of the men the preponderance
of the moral will becomes very marked. If the
answers that mentioned pardon, which came ex-
clusively from men, were to be classified with the
group called "something connected with right and
wrong," the exhibit would be still more nearly con-
clusive. If, now, the fact be noted that these an-
swers were obtained almost exclusively from per-
sons brought up under the influence of a Church that
cultivates religious emotions more than any other
of the large denominations of Christians; and if,
furthermore, the fact be noted that the writers were
still within hailing distance of the sentimental age
of life, the results gain enhanced significance. What
they suggest to us is that however much we culti-
vate religious feelings we cannot touch the whole
of human nature of the religious nature until we
learn that states of the will as well as of the sensi-
bility are included in religious experience. In par-
ticular, with men it is in the sphere of the moral
will that religion makes its most abiding impres-

It does not belong to the scope of this discussion
to show in detail how the Christian religion appeals


to the will, invigorates it, prescribes its ideals, and
even through it reacts upon both the intellectual and
the emotional faculties. Nor can we here inquire
what has been universal and what merely occasional
in the religious experience of the Church as a whole
through all the Christian centuries. But it is safe
to say that a study of the history of Christianity
with a view to answering this question would prove
to be a most illuminating and invigorating exer-
cise. As a starting point for such a study, we may
glance, in conclusion, at

The Mind of the Master.

What shall we say of Jesus's mental organization,
and of his attitude toward life, looked at from a
purely psychological point of view? The difficulties
in the quest for such knowledge are very large ; for,
not only were there no modern eyes to observe
Jesus, and no modern motives for observing him,
but also the literary medium through which we get
our only glimpses of him is itself mere or less of a
psychological problem. Perhaps nothing, more-
over, is more difficult than to free ourselves from
the peculiar atmospheric perspective with which
history, and particularly the Roman Church, has
enveloped everything connected with the life of
Christ. The Church has represented him as the
prince of a^cetics^ and art in large degree has

adopted the ecclesiastical conception. This concep-



tion has attained a most instructive concrete repre-
sentation in the Passion Play at Oberammergau.
The full resources of the highest modern dramatic
art are here poured out to make vivid and impress-
ive the figure of the Man of Sorrows. It is, in fact,
difficult to imagine how the Roman conception
could have a more perfect setting forth to eye and
ear. The design is unquestionably artistic, the exe-
cution adequate to the design. Undoubtedly art
values and religious values are there. But what is
the design thus wrought into forms of sense? It
is simply pathos, or suffering innocence personified.
I speak of the play as it was presented the last time
(1890). The figure of Jesus as portrayed by Josef
Mayer was that of a purely passive sufferer. At
times the sufferer seemed to be dazed, benumbed,
by the continuous pain; again he seemed to make
a virtue of suffering, as though, if the expres-
sion may be allowed, he was a supreme specialist
in that art. The fullness of manhood which the j
theory of Christ's person demands was not dis- i

Nietsche, endeavoring to analyze the person of
Christ from the standpoint of modern psychology
and neurology, proclaimed that Jesus was a de-
generate and a neurotic. 1 But I think it can be
shown that Nietsche got his general notion of the
facts less from the first sources than from the eccle-

1 Antichrist, in vol. xi of his Works, 1896.


siastical tradition. It is not strange, to be sure, that
he who, of all men, was most a man of sorrows
should, in a sorrowful world like ours, be commonly
portrayed as a sufferer. But it may be doubted ]
whether either art or religious instruction has at all |
adequately set forth the victorious element in his
whole character and career. We hardly grasp the
meaning of the suffering itself until we perceive
that, it expressed not only exquisite sensibility, not
only the pathos of utter injustice, but also marvel-
ous resoluteness and persistence of will nay, the'\
carrying out of a plan through and by means of this \
very suffering. The pains he had to bear, that is,
do not stand for a passive but rather an active per-
sonality. To refer to a single illustration of this
point, not a parallel case, we may ask whether it
would not work historical injustice if, in thinking
and speaking of John Brown, we habitually fixed
attention upon the pains he had to endure as a con-
sequence or even as part of his plan instead of upon
the central inspiration of his life. Similarly, to ,
think of Jesus as incarnate pathos more than as in- '
carnate heroism is a perversion of fact.

This implies that his strength of will was not the
same as that of the ascetics. The difference in this
respect between him and, say, Peter the Hermit is
that between a healthy will, able to stand erect amid
all the jostling interests and all the buffetings of

life ? and one that has the appearance of strength



only because it has been concentrated by an un-
healthy process of self-inversion.

It is time to see and proclaim that Jesus was not f
a sentimental, or melancholic, or introspective mind. I
We are told that he is not known to have smiled
but is known to have wept ; and yet he entered most
fully into the gayety of the marriage feast, and ac-
cepted the simple pleasures of life so whole-heart-
edly that he was accused of being a glutton and a
winebibber. If we would but look to see we should
find an active and penetrating and objective intel-j
lect shining through his teachings. We should also
find a robust as well as controlled will, not merely |
when he cleansed the temple, but in many a vicis-
situde in which weak men would have quailed. 1

In his teachings, too, he explicitly guarded
against the narrowing down of religion to tempera-
mental qualities. The sentimentality of Mary was
not preferred above the practical activity of Martha,
but only Mary's choice of that which brings unity
and repose of spirit into the multitudinous duties of
life. As soon as Zacchaeus decided upon a course
of righteous living Jesus announced that salvation
had come to him. Jesus's answer to the young man
who wanted to know how to attain eternal life, his
declaration of the principle of the final judgment,
and his summary of duty in the two great com-
mandments, all are unequivocal in placing the cen-

1 Thomas Hughes, The Manliness of Christ.


ter of gravity of spiritual life in the attitude of the

In Jesus and the religion which he teaches, then,
spirituality is complete because all-sided. It rests
upon nothing incidental to environment or peculiar
to any temperament. What he commands and com-
mends is realizable by all.



Questionnaire on Religious Experience

THE sole purpose of the following questions is to
discover the actual processes of the mind in its re-
ligious experiences. It is believed that definite
scientific knowledge of these processes may be made
of no small assistance in religious work, training,
and self-culture. Your answers will be treated as
confidential if you so desire. If there is any marked
fact in your religious life which the questions do
not bring out, please describe it. Kindly write your
answers in ink, on only one side of each sheet, and
leave a margin of one inch at top of each sheet.

1. Sex.

2. Name.
3- Age.

^4. What blood predominates in your veins (for
example, English, Scotch, Irish, German,
Norwegian, etc.) ?

5. What Church are you a member of?

6. Were you brought up under the influence of

this Church?

7. At what age did you join?

^8. State your age at each period of marked reli-
gious awakening in your life. By religious

awakening is meant a deep impression that


you ought to be religious, that you ought to
attain a higher level of religious life, etc.
9. Indicate in a word what each of these periods
of awakening led to, as, for example, con-
version, sanctification, joining the Church
or being confirmed, restoration after falling,
reconsecration after a period of coldness,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 15 of 16)