George Albert Coe.

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terrelations between the spiritual and the physical
life, would observe the temperamental and other dif-
ferences between individuals, and would appreciate



the difference between symmetrical development of
all the faculties and the various kinds of spiritual one-
sidedness. The religious artist will study when and
how and how far to administer instruction to the in-
tellect, incitement to the feelings, and stimulus to the
will. The workman who needeth not to be ashamed
must know how rightly to divide. Of course, he
must also have an experience of his own, intimacy
with the Scriptures, and inspiration. \ Neither knowl-

^"** ^i . _. -

edge without zeal nor zeal without knowledge will
suffice. But, given the scientific knowledge for which
a plea is here uttered, together with these other quali-
fications, and mixed with a reasonable amount of
sympathy and tact, we have the artist as distin-
guished from the mere mechanic.

Now, this knowledge which undergirds the art of
religious culture cannot all be derived from specula-
tive philosophy or from any of the traditional
branches of theological instruction. Philosophy and
theology do, indeed, have many important things to
tell the religious worker. Not seldom, through ig-
norance of the history of philosophic and theologic
thought, religious instruction becomes little less than
farcical ; but fully as often it goes astray from igno-
rance of the workings of the human mind. On the
other hand, here and there can be found a leader
whose finer tact or intuition has enabled him to ac-
quire much of the necessary insight from hand-to-
hand contact with the problems and difficulties of



his calling. This, however, is a laborious way of
learning, and meantime, though one use one's own
errors as stepping-stones to better things, the errors
themselves can never be quite nullified. ( Everything,
in short, goes to show how great is the practical need
of a psychology of the religious life.\

The Psychology of Religion as a Clew to Existing

Religious Unrest.

It is an ancient habit of religionists to try to under-
stand everything by its relation to the accepted stand-
ards of belief. Give any new or old movement its
correct theological classification and it is supposed to
be thereby adequately construed. Accordingly, the
weapons which the average religious teacher almost
always employs against supposedly erroneous sys-
tems are dialectic darts. The best current example
is the treatment just now being accorded to Christian
Science by the orthodox clergy. The clergy appar-
ently believe that, if only the so-called philosophy
underlying Christian Science can be proved to be ab-
surd, the inroads of this new sect can be stopped
But neither the results in this case nor human experi-
ence in general indicate the wisdom or adequacy of
this style of attack. It would be a very great delusion
to suppose that such movements make progress chief-
ly by convincing the rational intellect, or that they
can be stopped by a counter appeal of the same sort.

The human being to whom religions appeal is not



merely, or chiefly, intellect, but rather a highly com-
plex organism of feelings and affections, impulses
and aspirations, habits and instincts.\ The theology,
or intellectual part, of a religion is sure to have some
connection with these other factors of real life, but
it is not the engine that keeps them going; rather,
they are the engine that keeps it going. To speak
more accurately, the intellectual and other factors
exist together in a complex, each having some de-
termining part in the total outcome, but the purely
intellectual factor is less influential than the others.
It is the explanation rather than the thing to be ex-
plained ; the weapon rather than the thing to be de-

What has just been said of Christian Science is
true also of most, perhaps all, of the supposedly aber-
rant cults and substitutes for cults of which our day
is so prolific. Spiritualism, theosophy, the religion
of positivism, the ethical society movement, faith
cure, and all the others touch the human soul at many
points. In other words, they can be understood and
practically dealt with only by studying them from
the psychological standpoint. We have already
learned that the proper question with regard to such
movements is never "Is it true, or false?" for we
know that large groups of men are never captivated
for any length of time by absolute error. Every sys-
tem of belief is partly true and partly false. But the

time has now come when we ought to grasp a still



larger truth, widen out our horizon still further. We
must somehow come to feel with those from whom
we differ however profoundly; we must somehow
trace out their processes of mental manufacture
noting how the power is carried from wheel to band,
from band to shaft, from shaft and band to this
machine and that, each of which contributes some-
thing to the finished product. Truly this is a far
more delicate and complicated and pains-demanding
task than the mere logical anatomizing of a system
of beliefs ; but its outcome is correspondingly richer.
It brings us closer to life in its concreteness ; it opens
avenues of sympathy, and, should heaven give us the
mission of correcting error, it shows us how to reach
the total cause and not merely one or two of its

Furthermore, we sadly need to understand the
great mass of persons who have cut loose from all
forms of organized religion. Experience seems to
show that we cannot hope to win them back by
either wailing or scolding or arguing or coddling.
We must now r begin at the other end find out what
we have to deal with before we hasten to adopt ex-
pedients. >s What is the state of mind of these per-
sons ? Is the religious instinct lacking in them ? Arej
they deliberately stifling their highest aspirations ? ;!
How do they feel when they think of God, of death,
of the facts of life? Have they found some substi-
tute for the Church which seems to yield the satis-



faction which the religious instinct craves? What
do they teach their children, and what do they de-
sire their children to be like? Here, once more,
nothing short of the psychological standpoint gives
any promise of the needed insight and the needed

Finally, we need to understand our own Church
life better than we do. Much that characterizes the
Churches has its origin, of course, in their respective
creeds, and must be understood from the doctrinal
standpoint ; but much more has its origin elsewhere.
The soul strives always to utter its whole self, and
when perfect religion is attained it will be found to
be the center and unity and life energy of whatever
is worthy to be called human. Which side or sides
of this spherical religious instinct are most cultivated
in each of the denominations? How far do we en-
courage the life of contemplation? how far the life
of action ? What states of mind are expressed in our
favorite songs ? What are our ethical ideals ? What
classes of society come to church; what services do
they attend, and why? In what proportion do the
two sexes participate in the various forms of activity
and life ? These questions could easily be multiplied
to a hundred, every one of which would name an im-
portant practical problem that requires psychological
analysis for its answering. ;

This sketch of some of the possible services of

a psychology of the religious life is not the proc 1



tarnation of a program of any kind. As far as the
present studies are concerned, it merely indicates
some of the practical aspirations that have con-
trolled the selection of a few topics out of the whole
vast field.



A Study of Religious Awakening;

THE most striking of the definitely established
results reached by the group of pioneer investigators
mentioned in the Introduction is that/ there exists a
general coordination between personal religious de-
velopment and the chief periods of physical and men-
tal growth.) Whoever stops to reflect upon the com-
monest facts of childhood must perceive that, in the
nature of things, childhood religion must differ from
the religion of adult life. But this most general ob-
servation is insufficient to furnish a basis for settling
the various questions connected with religious train-
ing. For this purpose it is essential that we define
the epochs of growth, recognize the marks of transi-
tion, and determine the special characteristics
tendencies and difficulties of each period.

Thus much the merest common sense would seem
to dictate. Nevertheless, even in these days one

sometimes meets with religious teaching that calls
3 29


for practically the same type of religious experience
in persons of all ages. It is even regarded as a fine
thing when a child of seven or ten passes through
paroxysms of repentance and conversion and after-
ward talks and prays like a grown person. I say this
not from hearsay, but from my own observation.
When, in addition, such a child assumes the airs of
a preacher, and exhorts men to flee from the wrath
to come as recently happened, it is said, with a child
of five years in the city of Chicago the satisfaction
of some misguided parents and teachers knows no
bounds. For the most part, this particular kind of
foolishness has died a natural death; yet who shall
say that parents and teachers yet know what they
ought to look for in childhood religion? There is,
in fact, a widespread desire to know what children
should be taught about God and salvation, what re-
ligious exercises should be required of them, and
how far their impulses of various kinds should be
trusted and how far restrained. Nothing short of
a treatise would answer all such questions; yet the
fundamental truth that should be controlling can be
stated in a few words. The whole question goes
back, finally, to the psychologist. Tell me wherein
the child mind differs from the mind of youth and of
adult, and, particularly, tell me how the child mind
unfolds into the youth mind, and the rest will be a
matter of inference joined with the ever-necessary
inventiveness and tact.



"When I was a child, . . . I thought as a child."

To begin with, we may roughly divide the period
of about twenty-four years that elapses before full
maturity is attained into two subperiods of twelve
years each : the period of childhood and that of
youth, or adolescence. To assume, as is commonly
done, that the difference between these two is chiefly
physiological is a complete mistake; for along with
the physiological characteristics of each period go
mental traits equally well marked. The transition,
moreover, from childhood to youth is as profound
an affair mentally as it is physically. Let us note
briefly how the mental and the physical are corre-

The child, considered as a member of an animal
species, is incapable of social functions. He is re-
stricted to physical individualism. He is not yet a
whole human being, but is rather, to adopt the words
of another, "a candidate for humanity." His mental
functions are correspondingly limited. He is de-
pendent in mind as he is in body. As his elders pro-
vide his food, so they provide his ideas. He is a
creature of impressions rather than of reasons; al-
though his exuberant activity may express itself in
the form of apparently profound questions, these are
rarely of vital concern. Few healthy children will
lose sleep because they cannot solve such problems.
Similarly, his moral life is largely dependent and

individualistic. This is, therefore, the time for pre-


cepts and the formation of habits of obedience. His
attention is taken up with particular things to be
done or to be avoided. It has not occurred to him to
ask for the meaning of life as a whole, or to question
the authority that is customary. He looks without
and not within ; at the near rather than the remote ;
at the present rather than the future. In a word, he
does not realize, either in thought, feeling, or con-
duct, the organic relation of the human individual to
the race, to nature, and to God.
[ Childhood religion is normally such as can fit into
such a mind without strain or distortion.^ The child
is able to take God for granted just because God is
mentioned to him ; but, to the child, God is a particu-
lar being among other beings, even one to be teased,
cajoled, or deceived. When a storm-cloud threatens
to break up a game there is prayer to avert the rain.
Of course, childhood is not mistaken in thus thinking
of the All-Father ; it merely conceives him by means
of childish faculties and gives him a natural and
proper place within a child's stock of ideas. I have
questioned many persons as to whether in their child-
hood God seemed to speak through their consciences,
but in very few cases have I received affirmative an-
swers. In general, also, the child "says" its prayers,
not being able so much as to guess what prayer
is to one who knows the stress and strain of life.
Religious duties are gone through with much as the
calisthenic or singing exercises at school. Depth of



personal interest, of personal understanding, or of
personal decision is not likely to be there unless
growth is forced by unnatural instruction or by some
unnatural burden upon the nervous system.

At about the age of twelve, though frequently be-
fore it, especially in the case of girls, strange pre-
monitions begin to be felt. The child can no longer
be completely nai've, individualistic, or unconscious
of himself. He can no longer take the world and
himself for granted. This is a prophecy of a mo-
mentous experience. During the next three or four
years there is to come a transformation of the mental
as well as of the physical organism more profound
than any other between birth and death. New kinds
of sensation and of emotion, new modes of thought,
new attitudes of will, new meanings in life, new
problems of duty, new kinds of temptation, new
mysteries in religion all these to come in a flood
over the young adolescent. Some one has said of
mental adolescence that it is as if we were born over
again, not from an unremembered past into which
the new life can bring no surprises, but from one
conscious life into another that cannot be under-
stood by anything in our previous experience.

In many ways this is undoubtedly the most critical
period in the whole development of the individual.
We should therefore expect to find the training of
the child, especially as he approaches puberty, organ-
ized and guided so as to prepare him for this singu-



lar experience. To lessen the shock of the sexual
awakening, and to prepare beforehand for its new
temptations, we should expect parents to impart,
long before such knowledge can become an irritant,
the essential facts regarding the nature of sex. In a
subsequent study I shall show how direct is the bear-
ing of this point upon religious development during
youth. There can be few greater unkindnesses to a
youth than to permit him to meet and to deal with
the profoundest fact of his physical being without
ever having received from a pure and authoritative
source a single item of information regarding it. On
the part of parents and teachers unusual sympathy
is demanded during these trying transition years.
We should expect all the guides of the child to un-
derstand him, and to let him know that he is under-
stood, so that he may freely ask advice. We should
expect to find his school tasks and other tasks, his
plays, his home life, his church life, and his social
life all arranged and supervised with special refer-
ence to his stage of growth. To ask whether the
church, the school, or the home satisfies these reason-
able expectations is less the putting of a question
than the proclamation of an indictment. We have
not so much as taken the trouble to understand the
period of youth; how, then, can we expect to con-
serve and promote its moral and religious values?
What is first of all needful is to understand the



Mental Characteristics of Adolescence.

The term adolescence, as now commonly used by
psychologists, designates the whole period of ap-
proximately a dozen years from the first premoni-
tions of puberty to the completion of the change to
adult life. 1 The mental development during this
period is directly correlated with the physical. As
the child now comes into possession of all the powers
that belong to the species, and thus becomes a de-
termining factor in it, so his feelings and his intel-
lectual horizon rapidly widen out. There is greater
independence, and yet greater consciousness of so-
cial dependence. The social instinct, in fact, now
for the first time cornes to blossom. There enters
into the life a new sense of how others think and
feel, and a self-conscious effort after social life and
social adjustment. Life means more. Naively in-
dividualistic the youth cannot be; if he is selfish, it
is only by a more or less conscious wrenching of him-
self out of his normal adjustment.

We found the child mind occupied with impres-
sions, and caring little for the universal. It is just
the other way with the mind of the youth. The uni-
versal infatuates him, while the particular is likely
to appear as a delay and a hindrance. He becomes
a dreamer enamored of ideals and ravished with am-
bitions. Nothing but the greatest is great enough

1 On this use of the term, see W. H. Burnham, in Pedagogical Seminary,
i, 174!?., and E. G. Lancaster, #/</., vi, 6iff.



for him ; nothing but the perfect has any worth or
beauty. When he was a child his attention was ab-
sorbed by the things about him; but now the new
feelings and powers blossoming within him direct
his mind inward, and he becomes self-conscious,
bashful, introspective, critical. The most prominent
thing about him is sensibility, and this may become
so acute that he shrinks from life, conceals himself,
and eats his own heart in solitude. He may become
incommunicative, secretive, lonely, or he may seek
support in the friendship of a clique of youths who,
being of his own age, can appreciate him.

Just as the youth's own life grows inward, the
things about him get an inner'Side also. It is now
that beauty in nature assumes its mystical, fascinat-
ing quality. He thinks of things as having mysteri-
ous ultimate principles which he would fain pene-
trate. He has confidence in his ability to understand
all mysteries if only he could get the right clew. He
no longer takes things merely as they appear, nor is
he willing to take anything for granted. Nothing
short of absolute, indubitable truth, the true inward-
ness, the complete subjectivizing of everything, can
satisfy him. Nothing short of absolutely right con-
duct can be right at all. He hates all imperfections,
all compromises. What other persons call prudence
seems to him to be disloyalty to principle. He will
penetrate to the heart of moral law. Heretofore

morality has imposed itself from outside, and right



conduct has consisted in obedience to formal rules;
but now he begins to inspect the rules themselves,
and, though he may question them, he finds within
his own breast a lawgiver more exacting and terrible
than any external rules. Though he passes out from
under the tutelage of social law, he approaches in his
own consciousness only so much nearer the awful
seat of right.

It is now that he becomes a conscious logician. A
passion for argumentation takes possession of him.
He will settle everything by rigorous logic. It was
at this period of life that Descartes entered upon the
course of thought that produced his principle of
doubting everything that can be doubted. The ado-
lescent is a remorseless critic. There is no limit to
his captiousness and censoriotisness. The least slip
in pronunciation, the least infelicity of rhetoric, the
least fault in dress, in manners, or in conduct, is
seized upon wherever found, and playmates, teachers,
pastor, and parents pass under the rod of his scorn.
Then appear pride, conceit, self-will, and rebellion
against authority.

But all this time the youngster has been applying
this whole merciless process to himself. He debates
with himself more than with anyone else. He criti-
cises himself ; he agonizes for his faults. Most of all,
perhaps, he will wring the secret of existence from
himself. The childish "why," which used to be asked

out of playful curiosity, has now given place to a



serious questioning upon which the issues of life and
of death appear to hang. And because the "why" of
life does not respond to his insistent pleadings he
becomes puzzled and perplexed, possibly impatient
with life itself. "Why was I born? What am I
good for?" he asks in torturing uncertainty. He
may find relief in religion, or he may merely brood
and worry, or he may take the easy road of doubt
and skepticism. Because his power to ask questions
exceeds the wisdom of the wisest to answer, the abso-
lute mystery of being presses down upon his spirit as
if to crush it.

But this creature of intense emotion, and of in-
tense, though narrow, intellectuality, has not corre-
sponding power of action. He can conceive great
things, he fancies himself doing great things, but
here he stands only less helpless than a child. This
is partly because his whole being tends to turn in
upon itself and thereby lose the relief that comes
from free self-expression. Here, then, are condi-
tions altogether extraordinary. The adolescent can
neither continue the free, individualistic, objective
life of childhood, nor does he yet perceive how to
adjust himself to the larger life. He is likely to be-
come awkward in both body and mind, and the
consciousness of this awkwardness may constitute
for him a tragedy.

Adolescence, then, is a period of general mental

fermentation, but with definite tendencies toward



sociality, intellectual independence, a sense of duty
and destiny, self-consciousness, and appreciation of
the true, the beautiful, and the good. It is evident
that childhood religion, like all else in life, will now
become yeasty. Indeed, if one's religion is to keep
pace with the mental development in other respects,
now is the time when religious changes are to be de-
sired as normal incidents in religious growth. To
advise an adolescent against religious transforma-
tions that shall carry him out of the sphere of his
childhood feelings, thoughts, and practices is as vain,
and even harmful, as it would be to insist that his
childish games and occupations should continue to

Adolescence and Religious Awakening.

We shall come near the heart of the matter if we
say that the broader, deeper questioning as to the
meaning of life, together with the blossoming of the
social instinct, brings the need of a new and more
deeply personal realization of the content of religion.
The quickened conscience, with its thirst for absolute
righteousness ; the quickened intellect, with its thirst
for absolute truth ; the quickened aesthetic sense, with
its intuitions of a beauty that eye hath not seen and
ear hath not heard ; the quickened social sense, with
its longing for perfect and eternarcompanionship
in short, the new meaningfulness and mystery of life
all this tends to bring in a new and distinct epoch



in religious experience. If one has not been religious
in childhood, now is the supremely favorable time for
conversion ; and if one has been religious, there is still
need, in most cases, for a personal decision and per-
sonal acceptance that shall supersede the more ex-
ternal habits of childhood. Without giving to our
terms any theological significance, we may say that
/conversion, or some equivalent personalising of reli-
gion, is a normal part of adolescent growth?) This, in
fact, is the truth that stands out most prominently as
a result of the studies referred to in the Introduction.
To begin with, of 598 miscellaneous cases collected
by E. G. Lancaster, 518 showed new religious incli-
nations between the ages of 12 and 25, and mostly
between the ages of 12 and 2O. 1 Of 776 graduates
of Drew Theological Seminary the largest number
were converted at the age of 16, and the average age

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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 2 of 16)