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of conversion was i6.4. 2 Of 526 officers of the
Young Men's Christian Associations in the United
States and the British Provinces the average age of
conversion was almost identical with that of the
Drew graduates, namely, 16.5. Furthermore, the
average age at which 512 of these officers report that
they were first deeply affected by religious influences
is I3-7. 3 Starbuck found the average age of con-
version of 51 men to be 15.7 years, and of 86 women,

1 Pedagogical Seminary^ v, 95.

a Starbuck, American Journal of Psychology, ix, 79.

8 Luther Gulick, " Sex and Religion," in Association Outlook for December
1897, 54.

40



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING



13.8 years. 1 He also found a similar change, though
less marked than what is ordinarily signified by con-
version, occurring in 75 boys at the average age of
16.3 years, and in 120 girls at the average age of
13.7 years. In no cases similar to these Lancaster
found the average to be, for boys, 15.6 years, and for
girls, 14.6.2

From my own studies I am able to add the follow-
ing data : 3 In the first place, judging that what we
most desire to know is the tendeiicy of these years
rather than the outcome, it has seemed to me that
what we should look for is not merely conversions,
but also awakenings, however these resulted. Ac-
cordingly, I have secured a report from 99 men as to
their age at each marked religious awakening; that
is, at each period of marked increase of religious in-
terest, conviction, etc. These 99 men report 202
awakenings, or an average of two apiece. Distribut-
ing these awakenings through the years in which
they occurred, from the earliest, at 6 years, up to the
age of 28, we get the following table :



A$e.


6


7


8


5


to


n


12


A3


/?


IS


/6


17


18


19


20


21


22


23


24


25


26


2728


Number of
Au>al(eninas


1


1


3


J


4


8


19


22


9


13


20


2t


/+


16


20


6


9


2


J


f


3


1



1 It is agreed that the adolescent religious change comes with girls a year or two
earlier than with boys a significant evidence of the correlation of the religious
with the physical change ; for practically the same difference exists in both cases.

a Starbuck, American Journal of Psychology, ix, 80.

8 These data were collected chiefly by means of a questionnaire which will be
found in Appendix A.

41



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

These proportions may be graphically represented
in the form of the following curve :




:



AGE OF RELIGIOUS AWAKENINGS OF 99 MEN.

It is noticeable that there are three well-marked
periods of awakening, namely, at 12 and 13, 1 6 and
17, and 20. Only ten per cent of all the awakenings
occurred under the age of 12 years, while fifty per
cent occurred at these maximum periods. Again,
while ten per cent took place under 12 years, seventy-
six per cent fell in the years from 12 to 20. The
average age of the men making these reports is 25.4
years. In the entire number there are only three
persons under 20, only five under 22, and only eight
over 28. The highest age is 36, and the lowest 18.
The curve may therefore be regarded as fairly repre-
sentative for the average age of 25.4 years.

If we now proceed to ask where the decisive

awakening (conversion, etc.) occurs, we obtain the

42



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING



following results for the 84 cases out of the 99 in
which anything decisive could be referred to a par-
ticular date:



A S e.


7


8


9


10


//


12


15


M-


15


/6


/7


18


19


20


21


22


25


24


Decisive






































Awakenings.


I


i


i


?


3


8


10


3


7


/J


14


6


J


6


1


2




1



Representing these results graphically, as before,
this is the curve we obtain :



Z



t




V



\



ft 9 10 II I? I* 14. is /fi 17 /A /O ?n ?l



AGE OF DECISIVE RELIGIOUS AWAKENING OF 84 MEN.

The curve goes up at the same points as before,
but much higher at 16 and 17 than at any other age.
The average age of decisive awakening for the 84
men is 15.4 years, which is only .3 of a year below
Starbuck's average, and within i.i years of the high-
est average reached in any group yet reported.

Again, the average age of conversion of 272 mem-
bers of the Rock River Annual Conference of the

43



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE



Methodist Episcopal Church is 16.4 years. These
conversions are distributed as follows :



Age.


6


7


8


9


10


II


i?


13


ll-


/


/6


17


18


19


20


21


22


25


21


25


26


27


28


29


JO


31


-32


33


31


iS 36


Conversions.


1


5


7


9


6


7


23


f5


IS


20


3t


25


ta


25


/S


/J


5


8


4


3


5


1


3




'




/




1


/



Once more platting a curve, we have the following :



fl in 12 14- Ifi IR 20 22 94- 26 28 30 32 34




AGE OF CONVERSION OF 2J2 MEMBERS OF ROCK RIVER
ANNUAL CONFERENCE.

Here, as before, the curve shows three crests, and
at almost the same points. Furthermore, the average
age is 16.4, and the largest number were converted
at 1 6. Ony thirteen per cent were converted under
12, and only sixteen per cent after 20.

Exhibiting in one table the results reached by
44



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING



examining all these different groups, we have the
following very striking statistics :

AGE OF CONVERSION OR DECISIVE AWAKENING OF
1,784 MEN.





Cases
Examined.


Average
Age.




776


16 4


Y M C A Officers


526


16.5




51


I 57










272


16.4




84


15-4








Total


1,784


16.4



If, now, this average age of greatest religious
awakening be compared with the age of accession
to puberty, the conclusion will be sufficiently convinc-
ing that the mental upturning that accompanies the
physical transformation is peculiarly favorable to a
life decision in the matter of religion.

The three crests of the curves, a fact first pointed
out by Starbuck, may also indicate a still clocer cor-
relation, namely, between three stages of the physi-
cal change and three stages of religious growth. 1 In
connection with this point there is an interesting fact
about sanctification and similar experiences. My at-
tention having been attracted to the relatively large
number of persons who reported having sought or
obtained a second experience at about the age of 20,
I made definite inquiry on this point. The result is
a group of 51 men who experienced what is variously

1 Starbuck, American Journal of Psychology, ix, 82.

4 45



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE



styled by them sanctification, perfect consecration,
etc., this term in every case signifying a more or less
definite experience succeeding conversion or the de-
cisive awakening. These experiences are distributed
as follows :



A 3 e


13


1+





16


17


IK


/,9


?0


)/


9?


?*>


?4








?x


Second


































Experience


2











4


4-


II


14


+


5


2


2


/


/





/



The curve which might be drawn to represent these
proportions would give a premonition of itself at 13
(the first period of adolescent awakening), start in
again at 17 (the second such period) , reach a decided
maximum at 20 (the third period), and then rapidly
fall away.

All of this goes to show that religious tendencies
are a most important feature of general adolescent
development. When the approaching change first
heralds itself the religious consciousness also tends
to awaken. Again, when the bodily life is in most
rapid transition the religious instincts likewise come
into a new and greater life. Finally, when the fer-
mentation of youth begins to settle into the calmness
of maturity, once more religion makes its claim to be
counted in the life. It should be borne in mind, of
course, that the statistics here presented have been
gathered largely from persons under middle age.

They do not, therefore, claim to show the average

46



"U:

RELIGIOUS AWAKENING

age of conversion for all Christians. Yet they do
show the tendencies of adolescence, and make it prob-
able that something like these results would hold for
all large groups.

Interpretations.

Possibly some persons, over-zealous to discredit
cherished beliefs, will see in the correlation of reli-
gious awakening with physical adolescence an indi-/
cation that religion or conversion is a product of
physical factors. But nothing could well be more
illogical than such an inference. What is established
is the concomitance of two groups of facts, and this
particular instance of such concomitance between
mental and physical facts is no more fitted to give
comfort to materialism than any other instance of
the correlation of brain states with mental states.
Let us rather interpret the facts as follows : The mejq^ /
tal condition during adolescence is particularly fa- *
vorable to deep religious impressions. This is the
time that the child becomes competent to make a
deeply personal life choice; such a choice is now
easier than either before or after ; this is, accordingly,
the time at which a wise Church will expect to reap
its chief harvest of members.

The strength of this position is much greater than
the statistics alone can reveal. For, even though
striking experiences or strong decisions may appar-
ently be lacking, nevertheless, during these same

47



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

adolescent years, one is likely to experience a new
religious attitude, uplift, illumination, or rapid
growth. Again, Churches that lay less stress upon
the inner experiences and more upon religious nur-
ture place confirmation or a first communion at about
the same point in respect to age. And even in these
Churches emotional accompaniments are not by any
means altogether lacking. It is not uncommon for
a Catholic child, for instance, upon partaking of his
first communion, to experience emotion so strong
that it shines through the face. I am able to state
this fact upon the authority of a priest of large ex-
perience.

Nor is the Christian religion alone in making this
age a turning point. Daniels gives a long list of re-
ligious practices signalizing the simultaneous initia-
tion of youths into manhood and into the mysteries
and covenants of religion. 1 One of the most beauti-
ful and instructive examples among the North
American Indians may be added to Daniels's collec-
tion. The custom prevails among many tribes.
When an Omaha boy, for instance, arrives at puberty
he is sent forth into the wilderness to fast in solitude
for four days. To develop self-control, he is pro-
vided with bow and arrows, but is forbidden to kill
any creature. Arrived on the mountains, he lifts up
his voice to the Great Spirit in a song that has been
sung under such circumstances from before the time

1 " The New Life," American Journal of Psychology , vi, 6iff.
4 8



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING

that the white man first set foot upon these shores.
The words of the song are, "God! here, poor and
needy, I stand!" The melody is so soulful, so ap-
pealingly prayerful, that one can scarcely believe it
to be of barbarous origin. Yet what miracles may
not religious feeling work? The boy is waiting, in
fact, for a vision from on high a revelation to be
vouchsafed to him personally and to show what his
life is to be, whether that of hunter, or of warrior, or
of medicine man, etc. Do you not perceive how the
very same impulses sway both the Indian boy and
the boy of civilization ? Here is the desire to come
into personal relations with the divinity; here is the
facing of ultimate mystery and of destiny ; here is the
most troublesome problem of youth that of the life-
work.

The religious awakening at this period of life
comes in all sorts of ways. Not infrequently it is
spontaneous, and altogether independent of revival
influences or other pressure from the outside. One
young lady relates that, at the age of fourteen, while
she was walking in a neighbor's garden, suddenly
the thought came to her that she had passed from
death to life. There were no especial emotional
manifestations, yet this event she has always looked
upon as a decisive one. In general, at this age the
child's ordinary religious customs and beliefs as-
sume new aspects. They become matters of greater
moment, more vitally interesting, more full of feeling.

49



,



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

The ordinary services of the church or the ordinary
acts of devotion may become fraught with the most
weighty import. In a word, the soil is now pre-
pared for new growth, whether this bursts forth sud-
denly or whether it makes its appearance in a more
gradual fashion. Let us analyze this soil still further.

Religious Feelings of Youth.

Starbuck found fear of death, hell, etc., in only
fifteen per cent of his cases, 1 and with this my own
results are in striking agreement. They may be con-
veniently exhibited in the following table of

FEELINGS ACCOMPANYING ADOLESCENT AWAK-
ENING.





Men.


Women.


Total.




49

'i

13
16


24

3
5

2

5


73

20

3

15

21


Cases in which fear of God's wrath, of death, hell, etc., is


Reporting sorrow for sins known to have been committed..


Total number reporting sorrow, overlappings subtracted. ..



These figures are interesting as respects both fear
and sorrow for sin. To begin with fear, it should
be noted that in 7 of the cases included in the above
table (5 men, 2 women) the fear was distinctly char-
acterized as slight, insignificant, etc. Therefore, the
number of cases in which fear played any significant
part cannot be more than 13 (12 men, i woman), or
less than eighteen per cent.

Again, it is evident that the sorrow which these

1 American Journal of Psychology, ix, 281.
50



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING

youths experienced in their struggles toward the light
was more often an indefinite something than that
which expresses a consciously sinful past. It was
interesting to question the persons from whom these
answers were received as to just what they were
sorry for; and it became more evident than the fig-
ures make it that something deeper in us than mere
sorrow for wrong deeds brings to the religious de-
cision. One young man remarks, "I never realized
until after my conversion that I was a rebel against
God." Furthermore, only twenty-seven per cent re-
port any sorrow at all. From this it becomes evident
that, in the case of young persons brought up under
existing religious conditions, the incitements to a reli-
gious life are far from being all of a negative sort.

What, then, are the characteristic feelings of an
adolescent when he experiences a religious awaken-
ing ? For the most part, they are too inarticulate to
be described under any of the ordinary rubrics of
emotion. A mental burden, a sense of unrest, dis-
satisfaction with self, a vague lack, a general dis-
content, a feeling of wanting something and wanting
to be something that is not clear to one's self this
comes as near as anything to describing the spon-
taneous feelings. Of course, if a person who feels
thus is told how to name his feelings, whether as a
sense of sin, burden of guilt, or otherwise, he is likely
to adopt a definite phraseology. But when we secure

careful descriptions we are most likely to find that

5i



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

the emotions themselves were far less definite than
the terms seem to imply. In spite of this misleading
tendency in terminology the number reporting fear
or sense of sin was very small.

It thus appears that the soil of adolescent religious-
ness, as far as the feelings are concerned, is an un-
defined sense of incompleteness, a tantalizing aware-
ness of something as belonging to one's true self, but
not yet realized in one's self. In older persons we
naturally look for something more definite, but in
the case of religiously trained youth like those now
under scrutiny such definiteness is not characteristic.

A Hint for the Philosophy of Religion.

We could not, if we would, disguise from ourselves
how remarkably these religious feelings mirror the
entire physical and mental condition during the mid-
dle years of adolescence. The child, as we have seen,
is passing into a new state of existence which noth-
ing in his previous experiences enables him to con-
strue in advance. Something belonging to him, yet
unknown, is dimly revealing its mysteries. All about
him and in him is mystery. He is more than he can
understand, yet he apprehends more than he can ex-
press. His whole organism, physical and mental, is
in a state of unrest, instability, incompleteness. This
is the situation. It is a dawn through mists, but such
rays as emerge focus themselves in religious long-
ings.

52



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING

Is there need to utter again the warning that all
this is as consonant with a spiritual philosophy as
with materialism ? Surely the day has passed when
a materialistic or any other ontology can be inferred
from the assumption that man is a psycho-physical
organism. Least of all should they who believe that
"the Word was made flesh" stumble at any evidence
of correlation between religious phenomena and the
phenomena of the bodily life. It has long been rec-
ognized and preached that dyspepsia is a foe to re-
ligious joy; why, then, should it seem strange that
physical adolescence should have its own peculiar
correlate in certain tendencies in the spiritual nature ?
Does not Paul himself teach us that "that is not first
which is spiritual, but that which is natural" (that
is, animal or sensuous) ; "then that which is spirit-
ual ?" Permit a homely illustration. When it is de-
sirable that the fire in a furnace should burn more
briskly we open the draught door, and thereby admit
the oxygen which has all along been enveloping the
furnace and only waiting for an opportunity to be
used in the work of combustion. So the physical
changes occurring at adolescence, while they do not
produce religion, do, nevertheless, open new doors
of impressibility whereby the ever-present divine
Spirit may enter the mind and heart more fully than
ever before.

Nay, we may even turn to the account of a spirit-
ual philosophy of religion the same facts which seem

53



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

at first sight to threaten such a view. For adoles-
cence furnishes a fitting occasion for asking again the
old question, "What is man ?" It is now that all the
human capacities are stirred up and come to spon-
taneous expression. This, then, is a good time for
observing human nature in its simplest forms and
components. What, then, is man? Answer this
question in any way that leaves out the religious
manifestations of arrival at adult life, and you beg
the answer by ignoring the most palpable facts. But
include all the facts, and then you find the conclusion
most natural that man is essentially a religious being,
and that some personal touch with the divine must
be included in complete humanity.

Man is a religious animal just as surely as he is a
social animal; and the possibility of society comes
into being in the closest connection with the new
possibilities of religiousness. The two instincts are,
moreover, curiously blended and interwoven. If it
is obvious that man requires family affection, it is
also manifest that a closely related instinct leads him
on to those higher social relations that culminate in
worship. and divine communion.

If there be a heavenly Father who yearns for fel-
lowship with his children, what more effective
method could there be of satisfying that yearning
than to attach to adolescence an appetite for the in-
finite the infinitely true, beautiful, and good? As
a matter of fact, such appetite for the infinite is just

54



RELIGIOUS AWAKENING

the most characteristic mark of mental adolescence.
A passion for absolute truth, indubitable certainty,
perfect righteousness, all that is most real this is
the mark of it. Then, too, there comes to adoles-
cence a hint of the infinite in the form of beauty. "If
I were to spend a day in my own way," writes one
just emerging from this period, "I would go off to
some beautiful spot where I could be all alone, and
there I would try to forget everything that I had
left behind, and when it became night I would love
to look up into the sky. It seems as though I could
see God's perfection there, and make it mine." Sen-
timental, doubtless; in other words, immature; but
the question is a fair one whether life does not grow
larger and truth come nearer in proportion as we
give scope to these uncorrupted impulses of youth.

55



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE



CHAPTER II
A Study of Some Adolescent Difficulties

I ONCE asked a Catholic priest how he dealt with
certain adolescent religious difficulties. His reply
showed that he had studied the whole question from
the standpoints of physiology, psychology, and
heredity, as well as theology, and that he varied his
treatment of the cases according to the individual's
symptoms. Some persons he controlled simply by
authority; others he comforted as a mother soothes
a restless infant; still others he sent to a physician.
There, thought I, is one who has beheld the ideal of an
art of religious culture drawn directly from scientific
knowledge. How different is this from the ready-
made methods that ignore differences of sex, of age,
of disposition, and of physical condition !

He who aspires to be a pastor should doubtless
aim to understand and sympathize with the religious
difficulties of persons of all ages and conditions. It
would be entirely in place to enter a plea for the
understanding of childhood, or of mature life, or of
old age; but all these are to-day better understood
and cared for than the remaining period of life
that of adolescence. Furthermore, when maturity is
reached it soon acquires such a stock of experience

and such a habit of dealing with its own problems

56



SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

as to differentiate its condition very sharply from
that of the awkward and helpless state of youth.
Maturity takes an interest in childhood, too, that it
strangely withholds from youth. And so, on all ac-
counts, it is that little-understood creature, the youth,
whose difficulties have first claim upon the practical f
psychology of the religious life. That youths of C
both sexes have many peculiar and characteristic re-
ligious embarrassments will be quickly discovered
by anyone who secures their confidence sufficiently
to know them as they are.

This last remark points to a general difficulty for
both the adolescent and his spiritual adviser, namely,
the tendency to secretiveness. It is true, no doubt,
that youth easily assumes an air of self-sufficiency,
independence, even self-assertiveness ; but, as often
as not, this is a weapon for self-defense adopted by
those who do not feel altogether at home or alto-
gether certain of themselves. It is like the air of con-
fidence assumed by an explorer upon meeting a band
of savages whose intentions toward him he never-
theless distrusts. The inner self of the youth shrinks
from revealing itself, yet it longs to reveal itself if
only it can be certain of being understood. Stiff-
necked and obstinately self-contained toward all at-
tempts to drive or force it, the heart of youth is
nevertheless more docile than that of a child toward
one who understands it and is willing to impart to
it the guidance that it sorely needs.

57



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Intellectual Difficulties.

As the intellectual difficulties are the ones that
come most freely to the surface it is well to begin
with them. Let us inquire into the extent and the
nature of the perturbing effect of the growing intel-
lectual life upon the religious states of mind. It is
noteworthy that several persons of decided intellec-
tual independence report that changes in their doc-
trinal views have produced little or no effect upon
their sense of personal relationship to God ; but it is
certain that the number who do suffer from this
cause, particularly among young men, is very large.
Of the persons examined by myself, twenty-three
per cent of the men and eight and one third per cent
of the women report such troubles growing out of
theoretical doubts. Starbuck fixes the average age
of the doubt period at about eighteen years for males
and about fifteen for females. 1

It is customary to treat such doubts in one of two
ways : either to decry them as a departure or threat-
ened departure from pure religion itself, or else to
praise them as an evidence of religious growth.


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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 3 of 16)