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Jesus exhibited intense anger of this kind, and if he
had not done so one perfection would have been
lacking from his portrait. It seems strange that so
obvious a fact should have had so little recognition
in popular religious instruction. For surely, when
everybody knows that the merely yielding, accom-
modating, passive, pulpy character is utterly one-
sided, it is next to suicidal for the Church to repre-
sent Jesus as lacking in aggressiveness and without
passionate devotion to his principles.

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Considered in respect to its origin in the animal
kingdom, anger is simply feelingful opposition to
that which is injurious. It is the psychological part
of the struggle for self-preservation. This simple
aspect of it may be witnessed through a large part
of the scale of animal life. Long before evolution
reaches man, however, anger assumes a second as-
pect, an altruistic one. A parent bird, for instance,
may show the most unmistakable signs of anger
when her nest is approached ; a bear breaks into the
most awful passion against any supposed enemy of
her cubs. With man, finally, this altruistic aspect
becomes broad enough to appear as the most feeling-
ful opposition to whatever threatens or opposes uni-
versal good. In other words, with man the function
of anger, which was first simply a part of the ma-
chinery for self-preservation on the part of various
animals, is capable of being transfigured into an en-
gine for the realization of the highest ideals.

We can now see how to differentiate between the
anger that is to be suppressed and prevented and that
which is to be cherished as one of man's noblest at-
tributes. Anger is good when it promotes the high-
est ideal, the brotherhood of man. This implies all
that is essential for prompt and effective self-preser-
vation and for prompt and effective defense of others
against nefarious designs. A father, for instance,
who should be summoned to defend his daughter

against the assaults of a brutish man would be lack-

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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

ing in moral fiber if he were not enraged with the
criminal. It must not be forgotten that, though rea-
son is necessary to guide the ship of life, feeling is
the steam that propels it.

On the other hand, anger is bad whenever it oper-
ates against the realization of the ided of brother-
hood. It is dangerous whenever it controls the man
instead of being controlled for moral ends. Subor-
dinate manifestations of such anger are impatience,
''touchiness," and undue vehemence of feeling to-
ward the persons or things that one dislikes or dis-
approves. We have now to ask after some of the
chief conditions under which these various harmful
states arise.

Nerve fatigue is the key to the understanding of
spontaneous tendencies to irritable temper. In fact,
touchiness and spasmodic acts of all sorts are the
exact psychical counterpart of the state of a worn
nerve. To see that this is true one needs only to ask
one's self whether anger occurs more commonly in
the morning or in the afternoon ; more often after a
sound night's rest or after sleepless hours; more
often during the hour before dinner or during the
hour after dinner ; more often when the digestion is
good or when it is bad. From these considerations
it will become plain that it is the overworn or under-
fed nerve that furnishes one of the chief conditions
of ill temper. Hence the justification for the oft-
repeated assertion, "I was not myself when I said
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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

that." Now, just so far as such conditions of the
nerves are unavoidable, blame for the tendency to
irritability is unreasonable. Under such circum-
stances one may always say, with Paul : "The good
that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would
not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no
more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." But,
while we extenuate unavoidable tendencies to ill tem-
per, we must not forget that, the chief cause being
known to be a physical state largely under our own
control, our responsibility is by no means slight.
What is perfectly clear is that we should treat this
fault chiefly by removing its causes.

Again, physical and mental hygiene (see page 88)
contain the desired leverage. Instead of scolding,
or doing anything else to cause youths to agonize
over their ill temper and so add to the tension and
fatigue of their nerves, we would better say to them :
"This is not as bad as you imagine. Your anger is
sinful only as far as you voluntarily indulge it or
voluntarily neglect the means to prevent and over-
come it. Unless you do employ some effective means
for gaining self-control the trouble will become deep-
seated and chronic; but the means are simple
enough." Then should follow exhortations not only
to trust in the help from on high, but also to take the
hygienic measures, both physical and mental, to
which reference has just been made.

Much that has been said about ill temper applies,
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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

word for word, to the temptations arising directly
from the fact of sex. The discussion of this mo-
mentous topic with anything approaching adequacy
would require a special monograph. Yet, when Star-
buck finds that about a third of the males whose re-
ligious experience has been communicated to him
give sexual temptations as the most prominent ones
in youth, 1 it becomes obvious that the topic can-
not be altogether omitted in any discussion of temp-
tations. In my own studies I have not sought for
revelations of experience on this point, yet a con-
siderable proportion of the young men found it
necessary to mention such temptations in order to
make their religious experience clear to me ; in many
other cases it was plain that the same sort of tempta-
tions were referred to under some more general
name. It is perfectly clear that the most serious
source of religious difficulty for adolescent males lies
precisely in sexual irritability. In other words, as
in the case of anger, so here, what we have to under-
stand is, first and foremost, certain forms of height-
ened or abnormal irritability of the nerves.

This is, perhaps, as good a place as any to say that
a puny, "spirituelle" body, the body that many of the
saints have aspired to have, gives no advantage in
the struggle with the carnal nature. Perhaps it is
true that the strongest passions are most likely to be
found residing in a robust body, but a more impor-

1 American Journal of Psychology ^ viii, 286.

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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

tant truth is that the possession of such a body is a
condition most favorable to self-control. Anyone
familiar with the lives of the saints knows that the
austerities with which they hoped to conquer their
carnal nature were a failure. The impoverished state
of the nervous system that resulted from fasting,
vigils, overstudy, and all the other ascetic devices
made desire more active, if anything, and at the same
time weakened the natural inhibitions. Besides, the
very occupation of seeking to escape sin by with-
drawing from a rounded, healthy life fixed the
thoughts with all the greater intentness upon the
ideas that were best calculated to tempt. Applying
this to our present problem, we may say at the out-
set that the two great conditions that we should seek
to establish and maintain with boys and young men
are these : a thoroughly robust physical life and a
mind fully occupied with wholesome thoughts.
These are, of course, large requirements, and many
things may help or hinder their realization; but a
few very simple and plain as well as influential means
are at the disposal of every parent who cares to pro-
tect his sons.

In the first place, since, as soon as puberty ap-
proaches, curiosity may fix the attention upon mat-
ters of sex until it acts as an irritant, the general
nature of sex should be explained long before that
time. Another evil that this course will tend to pre-
vent is the uncleanness with which matters of sex

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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

are sure to be associated in any mind that learns
them surreptitiously or by chance. It is sometimes
argued that the simplicity of the child mind should
not be disturbed by early information upon such mat-
ters. This view, however, ignores two facts: first,
that the necessary information can be so communi-
cated as not to disturb this simplicity. If properly
communicated, the knowledge will be taken much
as other prosaic, everyday facts. This is the testi-
mony of parents who have loved their children
enough to be frank in answering their questions.
The other fact which this specious argument ignores
is that children do obtain information regarding sex,
if not from their parents, then from playmates, serv-
ants, or even by observation. What a ridiculous
kind of delicacy is that which refuses to satisfy the
curiosity of children in a pure and delicate manner
when the alternative is that the information will be
acquired with possibly many foul mental associa-
tions! Perhaps the most judicious point of view
from which to treat the subject is that of biology.
The law of sex can be traced up from the flowers to
the domestic animals and man as a mere scientific
fact, without the first suggestion of indelicacy.
Again, adequate specific knowledge of the dangers
of this period of life should be imparted before ex-
perimentation or vile companions have a chance to
turn a danger into a reality. It is probable that bad
habit starts oftener in curiosity and ignorance than

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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

in any other way, and this danger is certainly one
that parents can counteract.

Adolescents should be made to understand that
there is a reciprocal relation between the mental con-
dition and the physical condition. They should be
warned of the physical consequences of impure
thought, and so of listening to or telling what is not
strictly wholesome. They should at the same time
be made aware that the temptation to impure
thoughts has often a physical basis. Great igno-
rance exists here among those who need knowledge.
On the one hand, the difference is not clearly seen
between a tempting thought and a sinful thought.
Jesus was explicit in making the sin to consist in in-
dulging the impure suggestion (Matt, v, 28). On
the other hand, it is not sufficiently recognized that
suggestions of evil come chiefly through physical
conditions that are largely under one's control.
Whatever produces either general or special nerve
irritability tends in the wrong direction.

Thus, once more, we are confronted with nerve
fatigue as a most important key to adolescent
difficulties, and with physical and mental hygiene
as the most important preventive and remedy. It
sometimes gives heart to struggling youths merely
to tell them that their temptations are not evidence of
badness, but rather an incident of a period of growth
or of temporary and controllable conditions of the

nervous system. Furthermore, if parents or other

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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

advisers are to succeed in controlling or guiding at
all, they must understand the timidity of youth and
must find ways to establish confidential relations in
spite of it. Youths who dare not ask questions or
seek advice from their natural advisers are thrice
defenseless. They are more liable to temptation, less
equipped against it, and in danger of becoming vic-
tims of the robbers and murderers who advertise to
help. It is a strange commentary upon the supposed
superior modesty of American life that the only per-
sons to whom thousands upon thousands of youths
dare confide their questions or their difficulties are
quacks who line their pockets largely by promoting
the very evil which they pretend to cure. 1

If the question be asked, Whose place is it to as-
sume the responsibility for this part of the training
of the young? the answer is that this is emphatically

1 Parents who desire to know what to teach their boys will find the following publi-
cations worth a reading. As a general rule, printed matter on this subject would
better not be put into the hands of young adolescents. The element of personal
sympathy and acquaintance is indispensable. In the later years of the adolescent
period, however, some brief and judicious printed statements are in place :

Burt G. Wilder, Professor in Cornell University : What Young People Should
Know. Pp. 212. Boston, Estes and Lauriat, 1875. $1.50.

L. B. Sperry : Confidential Talks with Young Men. Pp. 179. Revell, 1893.
75 cents. Confidential Talks with Young Women. Pp. 160. Revell, 1895.
75 cents.

Grant Allen : The Story of the Plants. Pp. 213. Appleton, 1897.

Mary Wood- Allen : Almost a Man. Pp. 36. 25 cents. Child-Confidence Re-
warded. Pp. 19. 10 cents. Teaching Truth. Pp. 24. 25 cents. Wood-Allen
Pub. Co., Ann Arbor, Mich.

Margaret Warner Morley : A Song of Life. Pp. 155. McClurg, 1891. $1.25.
Life and Love. Pp. 214. McClurg, 1895. $1.25.

Earl Barnes: "Feelings and Ideas of Sex in Children," Pedagogical Seminary ;
vol. ii, p. 199.

The above titles are taken from the Association Outlook for June, 1898.

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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

the work of parents. Nevertheless, in view of the
awful neglect of parents, it is worth considering
whether pastors and school-teachers will not feel
themselves forced, as soon as they realize the situa-
tion, to assume some responsibility. If possible, they
should reach the children by imparting to the parents
the needed knowledge and moral impulse. But, in
one way or another, those who perceive where lies
the greatest moral and religious difficulty of adoles-
cent boys and young men have the opportunity of
doing a service to humanity and religion that is of
the very first importance.

The Natural History Method of Handling Moral

and Religious Difficulties.

It would not be strange if some readers missed in
the present chapter what they regard as essential in
the treatment of any practical problem of the reli-
gious life. Has not the divine element been ignored,
and has not the whole discussion proceeded as if the
distinction between body and soul, hygiene and
spirituality, physiology and theology, had been ob-
literated? For reply, one might retort with a query
whether religious instruction and training has not,
as a general rule, been blind to some of the most ob-
vious conditions of a healthy spiritual life; whether,
by ignoring the relation of physiology and of psy-
chology to spiritual culture, it has not failed to con-
trol large sections of the man, thus leaving spiritu-

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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

ality attenuated and one-sided; whether, finally,
despite has not thereby been done to an essential and
profound Christian principle concerning the realiza-
tion of the spiritual in and through the natural.
Instead of discussing the question in the form of
charge and countercharge, however, it is better to
give a plain statement of the relation of our natural
history method to the conception of a spiritual life
under the immediate control and guidance of the
divine Spirit.

In the first place, let it be said that our discussion
does consciously and intentionally assume the false-
hood of all purely ascetic views of the nature and
ends of religion. Instead of forbidding, a normal
religious life involves the proportionate exercise,
under fitting conditions, of all the functions with
which nature has endowed the whole human being.
Its end is not to deliver man from the life that now
is, but to manifest and actualize within that life the
divine ideal. The religious man seeks to make his j
whole life an incarnation a living of the divine life
here and now, in the whole network of interlaced
mental and physical activities. Whether he eats or
drinks, or whatever he does, he does all so as to
glorify God. Thus and only thus can he carry for-
ward the work of the incarnation in-fleshing to
which Christianity traces its origin. (That for which
the present chapter pleads, then, is simply the rein-,
statement of the body in its original place of honor j

101



THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

in the Christian view of life. When it advises atten-
tion to physical hygiene as a condition of a healthy
spiritual life it implies no theory not already recog-
nized and accepted in the doctrine that the Word was
made flesh.

What would be the consequences of putting this
view into practice? If in our eating and drinking,
our sleeping and waking, our work and our play,
we saw only religious acts ; if we perceived that nor-
mal functions tend to pleasure as abnormal ones to
pain, and that all normal functions belong to religion,
what would be the effect upon our religious joy?
Would religion be more or less attractive and influ-
ential over the lives of men ? To ask these questions
is to answer them. When every science that has to
do with the life that now is comes to be regarded as
showing the way to the life that is divine, then, in-
deed, the religion of incarnation will come to its
own.

But how about the divine or supernatural element
in the religious life? What has natural history to
do with God's government of his moral universe?
Is it not prayer that we need, rather than psychol-
ogy ? Perhaps prayer and psychology, but certainly
not the kind of praying that expects God to do for
us what we can do for ourselves. Would it not be
grotesque to believe in God as the creator of our
whole being and yet imagine that we dishonored

prayer to him by seeking to understand all sides of

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SOME ADOLESCENT DIFFICULTIES

that being so as to control them all for his glory?
We might even ask whether this latter is not itself
as real a kind of prayer as any.

All this line of thought is so obvious that further
pursuit of it may be dispensed with. What has been
said will not be in vain, however, if it only stimulates
to reflection upon the recognized principles of our
religion. Among these consequences the present
chapter has emphasized two (jhe recognition of ob-
servable causes and conditions of religious states,
and the important place that physical well-being oc-
cupies as a condition of religious well-being.

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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE



CHAPTER III
A Study of Religious Dynamics

WHEN Henry Drummond was not yet through
his student years he composed and read a paper in
which he gave voice to the need of scientific spirit-
ual diagnosis. He remarked that, instead of han-
dling, mankind in a lump, we ought to have definite
means of judging the varying conditions and needs
of the different individuals whom we try to help. 1
To- illustrate by a single example the justice of Drum-
mond' s complaint, let us ask ourselves why it is that
of two persons who have had the same bringing up,
and who seek conversion with equal earnestness, one
is ushered into the new life with shoutings and blow-
ing of trumpets, as it were, while the other, however
earnestly he may seek such experiences, never attains
them at all. Even a superficial glance at the ordi-
nary course of revivals will show that they are often
far from accomplishing what is hoped from them.
It is also evident that the hopes of receiving certain
experiences, held out before "seekers," are frequently
unfulfilled when the conditions are favorable.
Among the cases that I have minutely analyzed there
are 35 persons who have definitely sought for a
striking religious transformation or conversion. Of

1 G. A. Smith, Life of Henry Drummond^ New York, 1898, ssff.
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RELIGIOUS DYNAMICS

these, 12 have been entirely disappointed, 5 partly
but not utterly so, and only 18, or one half, have
secured what they sought. I have found the same
general results in an examination of scores of cases
of seeking for the experience commonly called "en-
tire sanctification."

Nor is this all. If we examine the present experi-
ence of a large number of mature Christians, we shall
find relatively few striking variations ; but if we ask
for the early religious history of these same persons,
we shall find the most remarkable diversities. In
some cases childhood religion has grown mature
without special agitation; in others there has been
a definite conversion with volcanic outbursts of
emotion; and between these extremes we shall find
innumerable grades and varieties of disturbance,
though with much the same outcome when adoles-
cence is over.

Inadequate Theories.

These differences have never been satisfactorily
accounted for, and indeed the question has hardly
been raised except for the sake of hazarding a guess.
I 'The explanation of sudden conversions," says Bain,
"is no doubt to be sought in some overpowering im-
pression upon the mind that supplies a new and en-
ergetic motive to the will, thereby initiating a new
line of conduct.! . . . Such changes occasionally

happen, but not without terrific struggles which

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THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

prove how hard it is to set up the volition of a day
against the bent of years." 1 Here all sudden conver-
sions are lumped together as though they were all of
one type ; all are declared to be accompanied by ter-
rific struggles, and all are explained by a single cir-
cumstance.

Equally incomplete is the explanation of Nietsche
when he snarls at Christianity because, as he thinks,
it is not in contact with reality. He declares that
Christianity cultivates "an imaginary psychology
(nothing but self-misunderstandings, interpreta-
tions of pleasant or unpleasant general feelings, for
example, the conditions of the nervus sympathicus,
with the help of the sign-language of religio-moral
idiosyncrasy repentance, remorse of conscience,
temptation by the devil, presence of God)." 2 Doubt-
less this statement contains some truth; yet it is as
inadequate to explain the broad variety of experi-
ences occurring under Christian influences as it is to
explain the whole sphere of perception, normal and
abnormal together.

Here and there a more probable hint has appeared.
Thus, Havelock Ellis makes the remark that a sud-
den explosion of suppressed hypnotic centers is "the
most important key to the psychology of conver-
sion." 3 Leuba, speaking of the conversion of John
Wesley, throws out this hint: "An interesting re-

1 Emotions and Will, third ed., New York, 1876, 453?.

* Antichrist, Works, New York, 1896, xi, 253.

8 Man and Woman, second ed., London, 1898, 292.

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RELIGIOUS DYNAMICS

mark can be made here concerning the influence of
suggestion : it is as the change that God works in the
heart is being described that the very same trans-
formation takes place in Wesley." 1 The same writer
also remarks that "the particular forms in which
affective states dress themselves are functions of the
intellectual atmosphere of the time." 2 This is un-
doubtedly a hopeful clew; but, when he goes on to
affirm that joy "is never altogether wanting, and is
always violent during the first hours or days that
follow," 3 he misses an essential fact. Starbuck was,
I believe, the first writer to give adequate recogni-
tion, with empirical data, to the marvelous varieties
that cluster about such terms as conversion. He ad-
vanced a step toward their explanation, also, when
he showed that something more than a conscious
exercise of either intellect or will was central in ado-
lescent conversions. 4 He came still closer to the
problem when he found imitation, example, etc.,
present as motives in fifteen per cent of his cases. 5
Nevertheless, a moment's reflection upon the ca-
pacity of the average person to tell the truth regard-
ing his own motives will reveal some insecurity in
these results and bring up the whole question of the
best method of getting at the facts. Another clew
emerged in Starbuck's admission that "much de-

l " Psychology of Religious Phenomena," American Journal of Psychology \
vii, 340. *

/*/</., 357. /, 351.

* A merican Journal of Psychology, viii, 292. * /&, 281.

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pends upon temperament." 1 Yet this clew has never
been followed up. In fact, this same writer, com-
menting on some of his cases, confesses that some
religious experiences "seem to come in the most un-
accountable ways." 2 Now, I venture to believe that,
if we could secure sufficiently full information as to
the conditions, every one of. these cases would be seen
to conform to law.

The present study, accordingly, is an attempt at
a more complete analysis of individual cases than
has heretofore been attempted. If we can lay bare
the factors in a few cases that are fully accessible,
the information thus acquired may afterward be


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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 6 of 16)