George Albert Coe.

The spiritual life : studies in the science of religion online

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As a result, though the "power" continued to ac-
company the Methodist' movement for fully two
generations, and has not even now entirely disap-
peared, it never in any way became grafted upon the
stock of Methodist beliefs.

The explanation of the "power" and similar out-


breaks is simple. Under the pressure of religious
excitement there occurs a sporadic case of hallucina-
tion, or of motor automatism, or of auto-hypnotism
taking the form of trance, visions, voices, or cata-
lepsy. The on-lookers naturally conceive a more or
less distressing fear lest the mysterious power attack
their own persons. Fear acts as a suggestion, and the
more suggestible soon realize their expectation. In
accordance with the law of suggestion, every new
case adds power to the real cause, and presently the
conditions are ripe for an epidemic of such ex-

Trances like that of the Buddha are brought
about in substantially the same way, namely, by ab-
stracting the mind from its ordinary multiplicity of
interests and narrowing the attention until self-con-
scious control lapses and one seems to be absorbed
in the infinite. The lapsing from one's self which
is interpreted as the dissolution of individuality, or
as absorption into divinity, can be easily experienced
and understood through the practice of self-hyp-
notization. All that is necessary is prolonged fix-
ation of attention upon any simple object. It is
the process actually cultivated to-day by theoso-
phists of the type of Mrs. Besant.

We should not be hasty in condemning all such
states, for it is entirely conceivable that moral and
religious ends are now and then really served by
them. The divine Spirit might make a revelation



to the Buddha or to some of the Hebrew prophets
through a trance. About hypnotic processes as
such there is nothing essentially bad or essentially
good; everything depends upon their content and
the use made of them. The modern mind, of
course, does not look upon these phenomena as
special evidence of the immediate presence of God
or of a spirit; but no more should we regard what-
ever comes through this channel as necessarily
worthless. The most that can be said is that, in
general, the normal functions of the mind, or, if the
expression be preferred, the functions that take
place either instinctively or with the highest self-
consciousness and self-control, are the ones most
likely to bring forth a normal and healthful product.
The ultimate test of religious values, however, is
nothing psychological, nothing definable in terms
of the how it happens, but something ethical, de-
finable only in terms of the what is attained of loving
trust toward God and brotherly kindness toward

Employment of Suggestion in Revival Meetings.
Thoughtful persons have again and again asked

i whether the persuasive power of a certain class of
evangelists is not essentially hypnotic in character.
For example, the pastor of a church in the State of
Illinois related to me how an evangelist, by merely

walking through the aisles of a church saying a



word to persons here and there, and perhaps touch-
ing them, induced them to go forward to the mourn-
ers' bench in large numbers. But the pastor was
puzzled by the fact that most of these persons were
obviously unprepared to take such a step in real
earnestness or with due appreciation of its signifi-
cance. This was proved both by their lack of re-
ligious training and intelligence and by the utterly
superficial results of the meeting. Within a few
hours, if not miijutes, a large proportion of those
who were apparently penitent in the meeting were
laughing the whole proceeding to scorn. The pas-
tor was undoubtedly right in surmising that merely
hypnotic or suggestive rather than moral or religious
influences were the decisive ones in this case.

It is said that when a certain evangelist invited
sinners forward he sometimes broke out, before a
single person had started from his seat, into the ex-
clamation, "See them coming! See them coming!
See them coming!" meantime pointing to various
parts of the crowded house. Now, if a professional
hypnotizer should employ precisely the same means
to bring subjects to the platform, he would prob-
ably succeed, though his power would go under
some other name than preaching or oratory.

The law of suggestion is that one's ideas tend to
realize themselves; that is, if anyone thinks of a
state, mental or physical, he tends to fall into that

state, and will do so unless this tendency is inhibited.



The thought of eating makes the mouth water ; the
thought of burglars in the house makes one hear
them; listening to a singer who mismanages his
voice has sometimes given musicians a sore throat.
Suggestion works in proportion as it secures a mo-
nopoly of the attention. Let us ask what, according
to this law, will happen to passively suggestible per-
sons who submit themselves to certain well-known
revival practices. Let us suppose that the notion of
a striking transformation has been held before the
subject's mind for days, weeks, or even years ; let us
suppose that the subject has finally been induced to
go to the penitent form; here, we will suppose,
prayers full of sympathy and emotional earnestness
are offered for him, and that everything has been so
arranged as to produce a climax in which he will
finally believe that the connection between himself
and God is now accomplished. The leader says to
him, "Do you now believe? Then you are saved!"
Is it not evident that this whole process favors the
production of a profound emotional transformation
directly through suggestion?

It does not necessarily follow that conversions
thus brought about are worthless. The worth of the
experience depends, not upon the presence or ab-
sence of suggestion, but upon whether it includes
a decision and a renewal that reach deep into the
springs of conduct. The form of John Wesley's

conversion was perhaps determined by suggestion,



but we know, from both his earlier and his later life,
that his moral nature was now stirred to the depths.
Suggestion, then,, may lend shining garments to the
change that takes place whenever the decisive de-
termination of the will occurs; or, when the moral
awakening is superficial, suggestion may delude into
the belief that a given change is more profound than
it really is. In the latter case we may look for
evanescence like that of the morning dew. The dan-l
ger, then,, is that what is a product of mere sugges-l /
tion should be mistaken for special evidence of the
presence of God or of a renewal of character.

Another danger greater, perhaps, than even
this is that the mind shall become expectantly
fixed upon the attainment of some experience that
the seeker's mental make-up will forever prevent
him from attaining. Groups II and III are made up
of persons who have suffered this misfortune. They
were taught to seek something which their men-
tal constitution renders practically impossible. And
what was the result? In some cases square revolt
against the entire notion of personal religious ex-
perience ; in other cases an immense waste of nerv-
ous energy upon an impossible quest; in all cases
those who were seeking to be God's children were
made to feel like slaves instead of sons. One of
them could not help feeling like a hypocrite when-
ever he took any part in church life because, in spite
of his seeking, he had experienced none of the "so-


called religious experiences." He finally came to
the conclusion that "there is nothing, absolutely
nothing in religion (in the sense in which I take it
the question is asked) that it seems to me I can
absolutely rely upon." Another says of his conver-
sion : "I was very happy that night, but the next day
I was most wretched. It all seemed a mockery to
me. . . . But I told no one my feelings, and was
too proud to let anyone know how I had been de-
luded." He went on, however, trying to do all he
could, and hoping that the experience would come
some day, but it never came ; he had to discover how
to be religious in spite of this supposed lack. Still
another writes : "I ushered myself into the faith that
I would experience an overwhelming and constant
joy, and peace unbroken and unexcitable; that I
should have victory over a vicious temper, help in
completely forgetting self and being at leisure from
.my own interests to help others, love for my enemies
(so that they would eventually become my friends) ;
and, finally, my idea of God's presence was peculiar,
but I think common to many young converts that
there would be a strange inner purpose, a kind of
tugging at my will power by a Power divine that
would suggest to do and not to do. None of these
things came out as I expected. I have ceased to
believe that feeling has any religious significance.
It seems to be subject to the most capricious moods."

The next instance that I desire to cite presents


features that are unusual but nevertheless instruct-
ive as showing what is to be expected from a certain
type of revival work. "They told me," says the
writer, "to read the Bible, and I read. They
told me to pray, and I prayed. They said,
'Now, all you have to do to be saved is to go
to the mourners' bench and ask God to forgive
you, and be blessed.' They told me I would know
the very instant that he saved me, and that I would
know it just as definitely as I knew anything. I
became greatly wrought up, and it was very hard
for me to keep my seat when they called for those to
rise who wished to be prayed for. I went forward
night after night expecting a sudden reversal of my
whole being. The meetings closed; I had had no
change, no experience. I was the same afterward
as I was before except that I was more or less dis-
gusted and ashamed of myself to think that I had
been so foolish. I almost concluded that it was all
nonsense." During a subsequent season he tried
again. "Here again," he says, "I expected a sud-
den change, but the change never came, and I was
more than ever convinced that it was all bosh. I
almost swore that I would never bother myself
about it again, for I felt that I had given the matter
due consideration." Still again he made the effort.
"Often I arose from my knees almost mad at myself
for praying after having prayed so often without




The cruelty unintentionally practiced upon those
who desire to be disciples of Christ is, or ought to
be, not a whit less revolting than the bodily mutila-
tions prescribed by many a savage ritual. One
among the persons responding to my questionnaire
sought in vain for twelve years to attain what he
was taught to expect; another sought for eight
years, another for four or five. It clearly appears
that many a consecrated soul endures a gnawing
uncertainty and unrest concerning the favor of God.
The papers show disappointment, confusion, a cloud
upon the mind, reaction against the Church or even
against Christianity itself. One writer came at one
period of his career to conceive it as his highest am-
bition to prove to the world that it was possible to
live a moral life irrespective of religion. That
nearly all these persons finally found a more ex-
cellent way does not detract at all from the folly of
the methods which brought them into suffering and
antagonism. The facts cry out that we should ap-
prehend more clearly what is essential and what
incidental in religious experience.
( The present study has necessarily been largely oc-
cupied with the consideration of religious incidents
and abnormalities. ) In a subsequent one (Chapter
V) the aim will be to offer a positive definition of

what is essential and normal in spiritual life.



A Study of Divine Healing

THAT religion has some relation to health is clear '
from almost every page of the history of religions. *
It is manifest, likewise, in contemporary religious
phenomena. We need not go back to the time when
as yet the distinction and consequent division of
labor between religion and theology on the one side
and the sciences and arts on the other were unknown
when the medicine man was at once healer, miracle ,
worker, wise man, and revealer of the will of the
divinities; for our own most enlightened communi-
ties furnish examples of considerable groups of men
and women to whom religion itself means health of
body as well as of soul. Nay, there are those among
us to whom the indwelling of the divine Being seems
to imply such inspiration and power of execution as
practically to dispense with laborious study in the
acquisition of the fine arts, at least the art of music.
Even within the two great branches of historical
Christianity, the Catholic and the Protestant, there
lives and even flourishes a belief in the efficacy of
faith, of relics, or of the intercession of saints.

Every one of these groups, too Christian Scien-
tists, faith healers, and adorers of relics is ready to ,

have its belief judged by the fruits of it in the actual I



restoration of the sick to health. If there ever was
a day when the evidence thus offered could properly
be put aside with a sneer at human credulity, that day
has gone. These things are not done in a corner.
On every hand we are invited to come and see ; and
any disposition that may be shown to ignore the facts
thus open to observation, while at the same time
wholly condemning the beliefs in the name of which
they are wrought, justly leads to a charge of preju-
dice and lack of scientific method. In fact, the evi-
dence of most remarkable cases of healing under all
these systems of belief is so abundant that I shall not
hesitate to assume without argument that we are here
dealing with one or more genuine curative agencies.
For the sake of completeness certain other groups
of beliefs and apparent facts, though antagonistic to
those already mentioned, may be classified with them.
| Witchcraft, for example, presents in its malignant
(influence upon health the exact counterpart of the
systems of healing already referred to. The theory
is that, by means of powers and influences loaned by
the prince of darkness, the witch or wizard is able to
practice upon the health and even life of men with-
out recourse to any means recognized by human
science. Thus, a witch can torment a victim by
merely fixing her evil eye upon him, or by sticking
pins into a figure made to represent him. Witch-
craft, in fact, is never more than half understood

until we recognize in it a mediaeval doctrine amount-



ing almost to a belief, in both a good and an evil
divinity. The kingdom 'of Satan corresponds with
the kingdom of God. Thus, Satan has his priests,
his solemn assemblies, his sacraments, his vows, his
ministering angels, all corresponding point for point
with the Christian belief of the time. Just so, the
control over nature exercised by Christ and the apos-
tles and granted to men of faith has its counterpart
in black magic. To deny without examining the
evidence that diseases were actually produced by
these supposedly demoniacal influences would be on
the same level as the parallel denial of the cures
claimed in our own day in the name of religion.
Indeed, it is scarcely credible that there should be no
fire where there was so much smoke. The very fact
that witchcraft was implicitly believed by the whole
of Europe for many generations carries with it a
strong probability that it had some basis in fact,
however inadequate and misunderstood. Between
these extremes, witchcraft on the one side and di-
vine healing on the other, lie many groups of ap-
parently related phenomena, such as healing under
the inspiration or guidance of spirits, or by "animal
magnetism," mesmerism, or the mind cure with its
various names. Finally, the medical profession of
the present day makes large use of modes of healing
that dispense, in certain classes of cases, with the use
of drugs or other physical means, and substitute,
therefor processes recognized as wholly mental.



All these modes of producing or removing dis-
ease have so thorough a prima facie resemblance that
we may be reasonably confident of actual community
between them in some underlying law of nature. To
show the existence of such a law and its applicability
to certain religious problems of our day is the main
purpose of the present study.

A Bit of History.

In spite of the intrinsic importance and the strik-
ing character of the facts or alleged facts just re-
ferred to, and in spite of much apparently good evi-
dence for them, not until the present generation were
they made an object of anything like thorough scien-
tific study. The reasons for the omission are not far
to seek : they lie in all the influences that caused the
scientific study of matter to precede the scientific
study of mind, and in the apparently inextricable
mingling of superstition, delusion, and fact. Even
yet there are many men of science who have such a
horror of defilement by contact with superstition that
they are scarcely willing to approve the scientific ex-
ploration of that swamp land of the human mind,
spiritism and its affinities. In the interest of the
purity of science the most obvious course to pursue
with regard to these apparently preternatural cases
of healing and the reverse was to label them all
"superstition" or "delusion" and cast them all on
the rubbish heap of science. But the portentous


mass of testimony could not be permanently disposed
of by a scoff. And so it came about that, in spite of
sneers and danger of losing scientific standing, vari-
ous students dared to treat the facts as a subject for
serious inquiry.

Mesmer's performances at the close of the last
century gave the initial impulse to such studies.
Nevertheless, up to a few years ago investigation
was spasmodic and for the most part unfruitful. A
shining exception is the work of the Englishman
Braid, at about the middle of this century. His re-
searches had actually led to the introduction of hyp-
nosis as an anaesthetic agent in surgery, when this
really great discovery was overshadowed and for-
gotten through the apparently still greater discovery
of the surgical uses of ether and chloroform. Thus
it came about that mental healing did not attain I
standing as a scientific fact until the present genera- 1

The new movement may be dated from the publi-
cation of either one of several works, such as D. H.
Tuke's Illustrations of the Influence of the Mind
upon the Body, the first edition of which dates back
to 1872, or Bernheim's De la Suggestion, which ap-
peared in 1884. The latter, which in the English
translation bears the title Suggestive Therapeutics,
stands related to scientific mental healing much as
Darwin's Origin of Species does to the theory of
evolution. At the present time, though gaps remain



in our knowledge, much that was once doubtful has
been verified, much that was mysterious has been
reduced to law, and a multitude of investigators is
pressing closer and closer upon the secrets that re-
main. The fact of mental healing is fully recog-
nized, its general law has been formulated, and in
many hospitals and in the private practice of many
physicians this law is being practically and system-
atically applied for the removal of many disorders.

The Laiv of Mental Healing Stated and Illustrated.
The law, which is called the law of suggestion,
can best be approached by analyzing a few of our
most homely experiences. To begin a long way from
the center, everybody knows that emotion h^s, prn.-
fn^nrl eflfcrffi lip-' *hg ]->r>r1y It makes us weak, as in
fear, or weary, as in anxiety or even from excess of
joy. Emotion affects the appetite, the circulation
of the blood, and the functions of nutrition and secre-
tion. Some emotions are distinctly freajthful.^and
others, when much indulged, are as distinctly tHfe
wholesome^ A cheerful state of mind tends to good
digestion and to a good general tone of the system.
This is the reason why table-talk, as is everywhere
recognized, ought to be of a light and pleasant kind.
The maxim, "Laugh and grow fat," is kept alive by
its inherent truth. Again, not only is it true that in-
digestion tends to give one the blues, but also, con-
versely, that the blues tend to give one indigestion.



Of all the emotions, however, perhaps fear has the
most serious ill effects. "There is no more effectual
depressant, no surer harbinger of disease than fear,"
says Tuckey. "Much of the immunity from infec-
tion enjoyed by physicians and nurses is due, partly
to the preoccupation of their minds, which leaves no
room for selfish terror, and partly to the confidence
begotten by long familiarity with danger." 1 Emo-
tion, then, has much to do with health and disease
and mental healing will, accordingly, be found to
consist, in no small degree, in replacing depressing
states with more cheery and invigorating ones.

It is a matter of common knowledge that many
physicians, either through natural endowment of
disposition, through their unconscious manners, or
through a deliberately cultivated art, have a whole-
some influence upon their patients entirely apart from
any physical treatment that may be administered.
In fact, no physician can avoid administering much
more than his medicines, whether that something
be helpful or deleterious. Under precisely thi% ; prin-
ciple the various forms of divine healing have an
initial advantage, in that they point the mind of the
patient to an infinite supply of beneficent po\ver.
Thereby fear is allayed, hope is begotten, and the
atmosphere of the mind becomes salubrious.

Thus far we have considered nothing but the emo-
tional state, which may be compared to the mental

1 C. Lloyd Tuckey, Psycho-Therapeutics^ London, 1891, 14.
11 157


atmosphere. Let us next note the physical effects of
specific ideas. These may be compared to the objects
that are seen through the atmosphere. Let the mind
dwell for a moment, let us say, upon the look of
peaches and cream standing upon the table and all
ready to be eaten. The result is that the mouth
waters. Let us analyze this everyday occurrence.
The ideas were those of food and eating, and by
merely holding them in the mind we found certain
of the organs employed in eating aroused to their
normal function. There was no intention of setting
the salivary glands at work, but they proceeded as if
the food thought about had been actually placed in
the mouth. There appears to be a real connection,
therefore, between the physical function and the idea
of it, or of something habitually associated therewith.
It would be easy to show the same thing with vari-
ous other physical functions. Who does not know,
for instance, that the fear or even thought of blush-
ing is often enough to suffuse the cheeks? Ask a
sensitive person why he is blushing, and he will
blush for response. By a faithful application of this
principle orators and actors can at last train them-
selves to shed real tears upon demand. Nausea may
be induced by the mere recollection of a previous
nauseating experience. A bit of tainted food takes
away the appetite for all food. The feeling of sea-
sickness may be revived by merely stepping aboard

an ocean steamer and smelling the odors from the



galley and the rubber mats. A person who had suf-
fered from seasickness within sight of a certain piece
of shore could not look upon a photograph of that
part of the coast for weeks thereafter without suf-
fering a partial return of the original misery. The
fceart is decidedly subject to similar influences, as
when the pulse becomes rapid from the thought that
it is to be examined. A physician informs me that
it is common for the pulse of healthy applicants for
life insurance to become abnormally rapid, and even
to necessitate the postponement of the examination,
all because the thoughts are turned in the direction
of the heart.

Jnnrrlrirmnl pr*-^rmf lti ces. normal and abnormal,
may often he snppr^nnH in thf same way. Hence,
patients in a sanatorium are likely to be advised not
to converse with one another about their complaints.
To get one's mind into the right channel physicians

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Online LibraryGeorge Albert CoeThe spiritual life : studies in the science of religion → online text (page 9 of 16)