Copyright
William Rainey Harper.

Religion and the higher life; talks to students online

. (page 1 of 11)
Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperReligion and the higher life; talks to students → online text (page 1 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE



RELIGION AND THE
HIGHER LIFE

Talks to Students



BY

WILLIAM RAINEY HARPER

PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO



CHICAGO

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS
1904



COPYRIGHT 1904
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO



September, 1904



"1-3 I

Htf



TO MY FATHER AND MOTHER

IN HONOR OF

THE FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY
OF THEIR MARRIAGE



5732G6



PREFACE

THERE have been gathered together in this volume
some of the talks, more or less informal, which it
has been my privilege to address in these last years
to companies of young men and women, particularly
students. Three of these papers have been published
before.

The topics are those that all young men and
women are compelled to consider, whether they will or
not. I have not supposed that in these talks any
new thought was presented. I have felt, however,
that something perhaps was accomplished, if a fair
consideration of the old thought might be secured.

I am more confident today than ever before that
the universities and colleges are not performing their
full function in the matter of religious education.
There is need of a reconsideration of this whole sub-
ject. Who will undertake the task? Meanwhile,
the least one can do is to present to the students of
each scholastic period of four or five years the prac-
tical questions of the religious life.

Do I think that anyone was really helped by these
talks ? Some have acknowledged that they received
help; but this acknowledgment was made, perhaps,
only as a matter of courtesy. In any case, I have
in this way discharged in a measure a respon-



viii PREFACE

sibility which has weighed upon me more heavily
than any other connected with the office which I
have been called to administer.

This fact brings comfort to me, if to no one else.
And yet I have noticed that, with each recurring
year, it has required a greater effort on my part to
undertake this kind of service. I have asked myself
whether, as a matter of fact, it was growing more
and more difficult to deal with subjects of this kind
in a university atmosphere ? Perhaps someone will
answer this question. It is quite certain that there
are many who will be interested in the answer.

Those who know my father and mother, and
their lifelong interest not only in the religious life,
but in higher education, will approve my desire to
acknowledge this interest, as it has manifested itself
in connection with my own life, by inscribing to
them this small collection of "talks to students."
WILLIAM RAINEY HARPER.

SEPTEMBER 26, 1904.



CONTENTS



I PAGE

RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE i

II
THE RELIGIOUS SPIRIT 21

III

FELLOWSHIP AND ITS OBLIGATION SERVICE ... 36

IV
TRIALS OF LIFE 57

V
LOYALTY TO SELF 69

VI
DEPENDENCE 78

VII

CERTAINTY AND UNCERTAINTY AS FACTORS IN LIFE . 88

VIII
OUR INTELLECTUAL DIFFICULTIES 101

IX

THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE AN EPITOME OF LIFE . .113

X

RELIGIOUS BELIEF AMONG COLLEGE STUDENTS . . . 132

XI

BIBLE STUDY AND THE RELIGIOUS LIFE 141

XII

AMERICA AS A MISSIONARY FIELD 173

be



I

RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

IT was a great moment in the history of spiritual
progress when the individual man became a factor;
for till that moment came the ascent of man was
largely physical. But when man the individual
came to be fully recognized, when what he was or
might be had for its largest determining element
himself, then modern civilization had its beginning.
The powers and the possibilities of the individual,
as distinguished from those of the family, the clan,
or the nation; the responsibility of the individual,
as distinguished from that of the family, the clan,
or the nation these constitute the real basis of sub-
stantial growth; these furnish the true incentive
toward forward movement; these supply the ele-
ments required for the realization of the higher life.

The higher life beginning with the first steps of
civilization, inseparably related to the effort of the
individual man, and taking on higher and higher
form as individual effort became more distinct and
determinative has manifested itself in widely varied,
yet closely related, forms of thought and action ; and
the characteristics of these forms, always plainly dis-
cernible, distinguish it from that which is below, and
also from that which we may call the highest.



2 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

In several fields of art individual men and women,
through all the centuries, have created works which
have lifted not only themselves, the doers of the
work, into the higher life, but likewise all of their
fellow-men who have sincerely sympathized with
such work and entered into its appreciation. As
evidence of this higher life, and as its fullest vindica-
tion, stands out the long line of the world's master-
poets and writers, its artists and musicians, with the
millions upon millions whom they have helped and
inspired.

In the department of philosophy, in which men
have made gigantic efforts to secure knowledge and
to ascertain the origin of things and their relations,
we see another sphere of the higher life a sphere
broader, perhaps higher and deeper, than that of
art ; but less attractive to the ordinary man, and cer-
tainly more difficult to appropriate. Yet every man
who really thinks, or who intelligently questions his
world, is something of a philosopher; and the num-
ber of those who in this way touch only the border
of the higher life is probably as great as the number
of those who, in spite of wings clipped by nature,
would follow the lofty flights of the artist. And in
company with the philosopher and his disciples are
the scientist and his devoted followers. These, too,
seek knowledge and wish to know the origin of things.
And all these, though their gropings be in darkness,
though the light revealed is in every case but the



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 3

smallest gleam, lift themselves, by force of the very
effort made to see the light, to a place whence they
may catch a vision of other gleams while, with each
new gleam thus possessed, the next becomes more
clear.

The higher life includes as one of its several
spheres that of ethical purpose, moral effort. Here
the element of individualism is clearly marked.
Every man who endeavors to live a righteous life,
to be honest and pure; every man who puts forth
energy to perform his obligations as a member of a
family, as a member of society, as a citizen of the
state, holds his place, high or low as it may be, in
the constituency of the higher life. That all men
may not be found in this constituency is apparent.
Is it not, therefore, presumptuous that we should
count ourselves therein ? We may not assign others
of our fellow-men here and there; we may be grossly
deceived in any estimate we may hazard as to our
own positon; but if we are sincere, we should be able
easily to determine in which of two directions we
are moving: whether downward and away from all
that is beautiful and uplifting, or upward and toward
that which incites, elevates, and purifies the soul.
For this sphere of moral effort is, after all, the one
in which all the others are contained; with which all
the others are identified.

The line between the higher and the lower life is
not the same for any two individuals. If, for any



4 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

reason, we permit ourselves to dwell, either intellec-
tually or morally, on a lower plane than the very
highest which nature and our environment have
made possible, we live the lower life. It is only the
man who lives the highest life possible for him to live,
that may be said to live the higher life; the failure,
at any time, to put forth his utmost endeavor a
failure of which in every case he is unquestionably
conscious degrades him, from a higher to a lower
position. On the other hand, the man who has been
denied opportunities of culture, or has been sur-
rounded by abnormal and injurious influences,
actually enters upon a stage of the higher life at the
very moment when his mind and his life are turned
away from that which has pulled him down and are
lifted upward.

There is a question we must now put to ourselves.
Do those of us who are associated with university
work sustain any peculiar or special relation to this
constituency which lives, or tries to live, the higher
life? Yes, a double relation; in that, first of all,
we make public profession of membership; for in
the very act of becoming associated with an institu-
tion of higher learning, whether as student or as
instructor, one openly announces to the world his
purpose to be of those who interest themselves in the
higher things of thought and life. And, further, in
this act we proclaim ourselves leaders in this life.
This may, indeed, be an act of presumption on our



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 5

part; but it is an act which will bear no other inter-
pretation. It is what every man does who makes
effort, in a public way, to lift up either himself or
his fellow-man. If all this be true, it follows, of
course, that the university should furnish the high-
est ideals for life, and by its discipline make possible
examples of the highest type of living.

The artist and the student of art, whether in
literature or painting, the philosopher and the stu-
dent of philosophy, the scientist and the student of
science, the moralist and the student of morals, are
expected to be the leaders and, as experience shows,
have been among the leaders in the higher life.
It is, therefore, an appropriate thing that, at this
time, I should ask a question concerning this higher
life a life with which, at least professedly, we are
so much concerned. The question may be put
briefly in these words: What has religion to do with
the higher life? The answers to this question are
both negative and positive: Religion is not the
mother of art, science, philosophy, and ethics.
Religion is not to be identified with one or all of
these. Religion is not the enemy of art, science,
philosophy, or ethics. Religion is independent of
these phases of the higher life, but closely akin
in fact, the oldest sister of the family. Religion is
essential for the fullest development of these phases
of the higher life. Religion must have certain char-
acteristics to work in harmony with them.



6 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

In the use of the word "religion "I am not think-
ing of the church, for the church is of a transitory
and variable character; she takes on different forms
at different periods of her growth and under different
environments, and at times, and in certain places
passes out of sight; while religion is something as
imperishable as the mind itself, of which it is a
necessary condition; something that is permanent
and not a mere passing phenomenon.

Religion, as has been said, is a condition of
the mind; but, in its outward form, it is a kind of
life; in fact, the life which is the outcome of the
mental condition. Religion, therefore, takes on
many forms, and in each case that form which is
best adapted to the stage or phase of development
already attained by the person or community
concerned. In this way religion adapts itself to
varying conditions and demands, and this capa-
bility of adaptation, it should be noted, instead of
weakening religion, strengthens it. The capability
of such adjustment to different personal tempera-
ments, to different classes of society in the same
community, and to communities as widely separated
as are nations themselves this indicates a strength
and power the existence of which, on a priori con-
siderations, one would be compelled to deny.

I may not even attempt to state what is to be
regarded as the essence of religion, whether it be
worship, belief in the supremacy of God, the act



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 7

of faith, or the spirit of piety. But as a concrete
type of the religion of this day and of this land I
may use Christianity, for, since religion has kept
pace with civilization, and since civilization, con-
trolled by religion, has made progress, Christianity
must be the highest and most perfect form of
religion thus far developed. This means, of course,
Christianity in its broadest sense, and not any one
of the special forms of Christianity which have
appeared.

Coming back now to the higher life, we may ask :
What has religion to do with the higher life ?

i. I am not one of those who would ask a place
for religion in the higher life upon the ground that
each of the different phases of this life, whether art,
philosophy, science, or ethics, owes its origin to
religion. This contention cannot be maintained;
but even if it be true, it fails to bring us to the neces-
sary conclusion, since the child, in time, may grow
to be independent of its mother.

The suggestions that the first attempts of art had
to do with the expression of religious thought, and
that consequently religion is the mother of art ; that
the earliest literature is religious literature, and that
therefore religion is the mother of literature ; that the
first philosophers and scientists and lawgivers were
priests; that astronomy grew out of astrology, medi-
cine from sorcery; and that, in view of this, philos-
ophy and science and ethics are the offspring of



8 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

religion, I may not now discuss. Today I do not
wish to base an argument or an exhortation for the
cultivation of religion upon this foundation.

As against the idea expressed in these suggestions
it has been asked:

2. May not art, philosophy, science, or ethics each
constitute a religion in itself, at least for those who
are its devotees or followers? Renan maintained
that religion (and he was thinking of Christianity)
was nothing but an expression of the aesthetic feel-
ing in other words, art. Many other writers have
urged that religion is but a crude form of philosophy,
and that when a pure philosophy prevails, religion
will disappear. Furthermore, it has frequently been
suggested that science itself would serve as religion,
or at all events take its place. Matthew Arnold
understood by religion "morality touched with emo-
tion." This conception would make the moral and
the religious life identical, except that the former
would be the ideal, and the latter only an imperfect
and undeveloped form.

It is plainly to be seen, however, that to propose
the substitution of one or another of these phases
of the higher life for religion is merely to claim that
these are identical with religion, and that they do
for man what religion aims to do. For myself, I
have found the words of Professor Tiele 1 on this
point particularly illuminating:

1 Elements o} the Science 0} Religion, Vol. II (1899), pp. 246 f.



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 9

The difference consists chiefly in this, that, while science,
art, and morality yield a certain satisfaction, or even a consid-
erable measure of happiness, they never produce that perfect
peace of mind, that entire reconciliation with one's self and
one's worldly lot, which are the fruits of religion, and have ever
characterized the truly pious of all ages. The greatest genius,
the acutest investigator, and the profoundest thinker, who have
studied the most difficult of problems, and have made darkness
light for themselves and others, will be the first to confess the
limitations of their knowledge and the insolubility of many of
their problems, and to admit that faith alone can answer the
momentous and vital questions Whence and whither ? Poetry
and art may brighten this earthly life with their luster, they
may mitigate sorrow and soothe the troubled mind; but they
can only give true rest to the soul when they serve to bring
home to it some great religious truth in a beautiful and striking
form. And even the strictly moral man, who can boast of
having kept all the commandments from his youth upward
unless utterly deluded by self-satisfaction must often feel that
he lacks something, the one thing needful.

Religion, then, is something in itself and for itself,
fulfilling a separate role, and not in any way to be
confounded with art, or philosophy, or even with
morality.

3. But whatever may be the true relation between
religion and these departments of human activity,
there are many who think that religion has been and
is the enemy of the higher life as exhibited in art,
philosophy, science, and morality. They will ask
you : Did not the law of Moses prohibit the making
of any image of anything in the heaven above, in
the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth,



io RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

and was not the artist condemned by Israel's proph-
ets in words most severe? Did not the reformers
destroy all that was beautiful in the churches, and
make their worship something devoid of all softness
and beauty? Have not philosophers whether of
sacred or profane history, been treated in all ages, as
skeptics and mischief-makers ? Has not the church
persecuted and even executed the leaders of science ?
Has not morality lost ground whenever and wherever
formal religion has gained ground? So it is fre-
quently maintained; but these statements, even if
admitted as facts, do not bring us so easily to the
conclusion which is urged upon us. Certain dis-
tinctions should be noted.

There are times when art degrades, and there
are uses of art which are always degrading. Is that
influence hostile to literature which would take away
from it the obscene ? There are professed scientists
and philosophers who step beyond their sphere of
knowledge, and in arrogant spirit make strange
statements concerning that with which their science
has no connection. Is it hostile to science to oppose
the presumptuous denial of the existence of God ?
There are times when immorality becomes an epi-
demic ; but is it the truly religious man who becomes
immoral, or rather that man who has merely put
on the form of religion ? Is it hostile to morality to
assist one who is immoral to become pure ?

Furthermore, religion must not be held responsible



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 1 1

for the deeds of all who profess to act in her name.
As there is a distinction between religion and the
church, so there is a distinction between the church
of today and that of the Middle Ages. There may
be a religion, as Tiele says, "one of those transient
forms of religious life which, having served its time
and fallen into decay, cannot tolerate those revela-
tions of progress in the spiritual domain which mark
the awakening of a new life." 1 Such a religion,
however, should not be confounded with the normal
religious spirit. Again, disease must always be
differentiated from health. It is the sane, not the
insane, man who most truly represents humanity.
Abnormal forms of religion have undoubtedly an-
tagonized the progress of truth and the growth of the
higher life; but the truth and the higher life have
been all the stronger for an opposition that was
ephemeral.

4. But if religion does not furnish the starting-
point, is not the origin of this higher life ; if religion
is something quite independent of one or all of the
phases of this life ; and if religioa is not the enemy of
art, science, philosophy, and ethics, how shall the
relationship be designated? Perhaps religion may
be called the sister; and, if a sister, surely the oldest
member of the family. That religion is a sister,
and not the mother, would appear from certain
facts in the history of art, literature, science, and

' Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 258.



iz RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

ethics. For example, so far as can be ascertained,
art is synchronous with religion, while mythology is
not religion, nor does it come from religion, but is
an early form of philosophy. The priestly caste is
something comparatively late, and its mastery of
learning and law was obtained after long struggle.
In the earliest days every man was his own priest,
and there was no such caste. Like a family of lan-
guages descended from a parent stem, among which
there is an oldest and a youngest, with others grow-
ing up between, so religion, art, literature, philosophy,
ethics, and science are to be regarded as closely akin,
each to the other.

But though of a common origin, there are im-
portant points of difference between religion and
these other phases of the spiritual or higher life. It
has already been said that no other of these phases
may take the place of religion, since no one of them
gives that kind of satisfaction, of peace of soul,
which is the gift of religion. As has often been
pointed out, however, the kinship between what
religion and these other phases give is so great as to
minimize their difference.

In the ethical life, as in the religious, peace of mind is one
of the objects sought for, and it is only to be found in a state
of unceasing development. Nor does the man of science rest
satisfied with knowing. He desires also to understand, and
to systematize and unify his knowledge. The philosopher
tries to fathom the origin of things, but he also expects that
philosophy will reconcile him with himself and the world. So



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 13

that scientists and philosophers alike, to a certain extent, also
seek for contentment of soul. And does the artist never aim,
in the pursuit of his art, at something beyond aesthetic enjoy-
ment ? Does he not often throw his whole soul into his works,
and thus stake his happiness upon their success ? *

The fact, after all, which at the same time marks
the relationship and the separation, which makes it
impossible for religion to be taken as the mother, or
to have one or another of these take her place, is
this: in art the imagination and emotion predomi-
nate; in science, the intellect and judgment; in mor-
ality, the will; while in religion these various facul-
ties must be held in an even balance. Undue em-
phasis on any one or another results in an abnormal
and degenerate form, such as mysticism, or fanati-
cism, or moralism. Religion, many-sided, and well-
rounded, is broader than any of its sister-forms of
spirituality. It calls into exercise a man's whole
being; and when its development is normal, it
strengthens every function of his life.

All this, we can see, is equivalent to saying that
hi working for the highest and fullest and truest
development one must not ignore religion. The
artist cannot be a scientist and thus strengthen his
intellect and judgment; he would only destroy his
power as an artist; but he may cultivate the frame
of mind which constitutes religion, and in this way
obtain something of which he stands much in need.
The scientist may not become an artist, and thus

* C. P. TIELE, op. dt., Vol. II, p. 246.



i 4 RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE

find opportunity for the play of his imagination and
his emotions (we remember the experience of
Darwin with music). Yet in religion he may find
that which will remove the charge that is made and
sustained against so large a portion of the scientific
fraternity, the charge of narrowness, of lack of
interest in humanity, of dogmatic and arrogant
conceit. The moralist, furthermore, cannot become
religious by receiving a touch of emotion, for religion
demands more than the exercise of will and of
imagination. It requires also the strong and con-
stant cultivation of the judgment.

Art, then, if it will, may find in religion its closest
friend and neighbor, for there can be no religion
without sentiment, the essential element in art.
Has this not appeared in the history of art? To
what has she more frequently turned, with what
has she been more closely united in all her history
than with religion in poetry, in architecture, in
painting, in sculpture, and in music? Science and
philosophy, too, if they will, may find in religion
their closest friend and neighbor. It is true that a
religion which lacks the intellectual energy which
enters into philosophy and science may be tainted
with superstition or mysticism or fanaticism, still it
cannot be true religion. And have not philosophy
and science always been driven, in their last analysis,
to God ? And belief in God is the very essence of
religion. Ethics, surely, will find in religion a sym-



RELIGION AND THE HIGHER LIFE 15

pathetic companion, for there has never existed a
religion which did not, in forms more or less crude,
try to influence its votaries to live purer lives. Have
not preachers and religious sages, from the times of
earliest history, striven with their followers to be


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperReligion and the higher life; talks to students → online text (page 1 of 11)