Christianity as Mystical Fact
I. Points of View
Natural science has deeply influenced modern thought. It is becoming more and more impossible to speak of spiritual needs and the life of the soul without taking into consideration the achievements and methods of this science. It is true that many people still satisfy these needs without letting themselves be troubled by its influence. But those who feel the pulse beat of the age must take this influence into account. With increasing swiftness do ideas derived from natural science take possession of our brains, and, unwillingly though it may be, our hearts follow, often in dejection and dismay. It is not a question only of the number thus won over, but of the fact that there is a force within scientific thinking which convinces the attentive observer that it contains something which no modern philosophy can encounter without receiving significant impressions from it. Many of the outgrowths of this thinking compel a justifiable rejection. But such rejection is not sufficient in an age in which very many resort to this way of thinking, and are attracted to it as if by magic. The case is in no way altered because some people see that true science, by its own initiative, passed long ago beyond the shallow doctrines of force and matter taught by materialists. It would clearly be better to listen to those who boldly declare that the ideas of natural science will form the basis of a new religion. Even if these conceptions appear shallow and superficial to one who knows the deeper spiritual needs of humanity, he must nevertheless take note of them, for it is to them that attention is now turned; and there is reason to think they will claim more and more notice in the near future.
Another class of people have also to be taken into account: those whose hearts have lagged behind their heads. With their reason they cannot but accept the conceptions of natural science. The burden of proof weighs heavily upon them. But those conceptions can. not satisfy the religious needs of their souls; the perspective offered is too dreary. Is the human soul to rise on the wings of enthusiasm to the heights of beauty, truth, and goodness, only to be Swept away in the end like a bubble blown by the material brain? This is a feeling that oppresses many minds like a nightmare. But scientific concepts oppress them also because they obtrude with the mighty force of authority. As long as they can, these People ignore the discord in their souls. Indeed, they console themselves by saying that full clarity in these matters is denied the human soul. They think in accordance with natural science in as far as the experience of their senses and the logic of their intellect demand it, but they keep to their acquired religious sentiments and prefer to remain in darkness as to these matters — a darkness that clouds their understanding. They have not the courage to battle through to clear vision.
There can be no doubt whatever that the way of thinking derived from natural science is the greatest force in modern intellectual life, and it must not be heedlessly passed up by anyone concerned with the spiritual interests of humanity. But it is none the less true that the way in which it sets about satisfying spiritual needs is superficial and shallow. If this were the right way, the outlook would indeed by dreary. Would it not be depressing to be obliged to agree with those who say: “Thought is a a form of force. We walk by means of the same force by which we think. Man is an organism which transforms various forms of force into thought-force, an organism the activity of which we maintain by what we call ‘food', and through which we produce what we call ‘thought’. What a marvellous chemical process it is that was able to transform a certain quantity of food into the divine tragedy of 'Hamlet'!” This is quoted from a pamphlet by Ingersoll, bearing the title, Moderne Götterdimmerung. 1 Modern Twilight of the Gods. It matters little if such thoughts find but scant?’ acceptance in the outside world. The point is that innumerable people find themselves compelled b the system of natural science to take an attitude to)i ward world processes in conformity with the above even when they think they are not doing so. 2This passage from Ingersoll is by no means quoted with only those people in mind who express it literally as their conviction. Very many who do not do this, nevertheless form mental pictures of the phenomena of nature and of man that would lead them — were they really consistent — to just such expressions. It is not a matter of what someone utters theoretically as his convictions, but of whether this conviction really grows out of his whole way of thinking. Someone might even consider the words quoted from Ingersoll hateful or absurd; but if he explains the phenomena of nature on a purely external basis, without rising to the spiritual causes underlying them, it follows logically that an Ingersoll will make a materialistic philosophy out of this.
It would certainly be a dreary outlook if natural science itself compelled us to accept the creed proclaimed by many of its modern prophets. Most dreary of all for any one who has gained from the content of natural science the conviction that in its own sphere its mode of thought holds good and its methods are unassailable. For he is driven to concede that, however much people may dispute about individual questions though volume after volume may be written and thousands of data accumulated about the struggle for existence 3 To one who has true perception, the spirit of nature speaks powerfully in the facts currently expressed by the catchword, “struggle for existence,” “power of natural selection,” and so forth; but not in the conclusions which modern science draws from them. In the first fact lies the reason why natural science is attracting more and more widespread attention. But it follows from the second fact that scientific conclusions are not necessarily a corollary of the knowledge of facts. The possibility of being led astray in this respect is, in these days, infinitely great. and its insignificance, about the omnipotence or powerlessness of natural selection natural science itself is moving in a direction which, within certain limits, must find acceptance in an ever-increasing degree.
But are the demands made by natural science really such as those described by some of its representatives? That they are not is proved by the method employed by these representatives themselves. The method they use in their own sphere is not that which is so often described and claimed for other spheres of thought. Would Darwin and Ernst Haeckel ever have made their great discoveries about the evolution of life if, instead of observing life and the structure of living beings, they had shut themselves up in a laboratory and there made chemical experiments with tissue cut out of an organism? Would Lyell have been able to describe the development of the crust of the earth if, instead of examining strata and their contents, he had analysed the chemical qualities of innumerable rocks? Let us really follow in the footsteps of these researchers who tower like giants in the domain of modern science! We shall then apply to the higher regions of spiritual life the methods they used in the study of nature. We shall then not believe we have understood the nature of the “divine” tragedy of Hamlet by saying that a wonderful chemical process transformed a certain quantity of food into that tragedy. We shall believe it as little as a researcher of nature could seriously believe that he has understood the mission of heat in the evolution of the earth when he has studied the action of heat on sulphur in a retort. He does not attempt to understand the construction of the human brain by examining the effect of lye on a fragment of it, but rather by inquiring how the brain has, in the course of evolution, been developed out of the organs of lower organisms.
It is therefore quite true that anyone who is investigating the nature of spirit can do nothing better than learn from natural science. He need only proceed as science does, but he must not allow himself to be misled by what individual representatives of natural science would dictate to him. He must make research in the spiritual as they do in the physical domain, but he need not adopt the opinions they entertain about the spiritual world, beclouded as they are by their exclusive contemplation of physical phenomena.
We shall only be acting in the Spirit of natural science if we study the spiritual development of man as impartially as the naturalist observes the sense world. True, we shall then be led, in the domain of spiritual life, into a kind of contemplation which differs from that of the naturalist as geology differs from pure physics and biology from chemistry. We shall be led up to higher methods which cannot, it is true, be those of natural science, but are quite conformable with the spirit of it. In this way many a lopsided tenet in the domain of natural science can be seen from another angle and be modified or corrected; and this is not sinning against natural science but merely carrying it forward. Such methods alone are able to bring us to the core of spiritual developments, such as that of Christianity, or other religious conceptions. Anyone applying these methods may arouse the opposition of many who believe they are thinking scientifically, but, for all that, he will know himself to be in full accord with a genuinely scientific method of thought.
A researcher of this kind must also go beyond a merely historical examination of the documents relating to spiritual life. This is necessary just on account of the attitude he has acquired from his study of the processes of nature. When a chemical law is explained, it is of small use to describe the retorts, dishes and forceps which have led to the discovery of the law. And it is just as useless, when explaining the origin of Christianity, to ascertain the historical sources drawn upon by the Evangelist St. Luke, or those from which the hidden revelation of St. John is compiled. 4 It should not be concluded from these remarks about the sources of St. Luke’s Gospel that purely historical rescarch is undervalued by the writer of this book. This is not the case. Historical research is absolutely justified, but it should not be impatient with the method of presentation developed by a spiritual point of view. It is not considered of importance in this book to bolster every statement with quotations; but one who is willing will be able to see that a really unprejudiced, broad-minded judgment will not find anything here stated to be contrary to what has been actually and historically proved. One who refuses to be broad-minded, who holds this or that theory to be a firmly-established fact, may easily think that assertions made in this book are untenable from a scientific point of view, and are made without any objective foundation. History can in this case be only the outer court to research proper. It is not by tracing the historical origin of documents that we shall discover anything about the dominant ideas in the writings of Moses or in the traditions of the Greek initiates. These documents are only the outer expression for the ideas. Nor does the naturalist who is investigating the nature of man trouble about the origin of the word “man”, or the way in which it has developed in a language. He keeps to the subject, not to the word in which it finds expression. And in studying spiritual life we must likewise abide by the spirit and not by outer documents.