Share good ideas and conversation.   Login, Join Us, or Take a Tour!
comment

I'm readigng Varieties of Religious Experience by William James, which is a collection of lectures he gave in 1901 to 1902. I'm borrowing it from my dad, and I'm not gonna lie, I first picked it up on a lark. The early 1900s, in my mind, strike me as a really weird time, as people were experimenting with all sorts of new ideas in religion, science, politics, etc. But no, this book is actually pretty mundane. Mundane and meandering as Mr. (Dr.?) James seems to wander left and right with an idea, speaking at length sometimes, as if he's on a country road. Shoot, as he’s meandering half the time I don't even know what he's talking about, but every few pages he finally gets to his destination and drops on something insightful and or compelling enough to encourage me to keep reading. It's actually good enough where I wish other people on here were reading it with me, as I'm reading it, so I could see what they think. Here’s two random excerpts I picked out, because both I somewhat agree with, somewhat disagree with, and some of it I wonder is because of different background experiences or my desire to split hairs. But either way, when I read them, I think “Well, yeah, I can see his point and it’s enough to at least make me think.

    In the natural sciences and industrial arts it never occurs to anyone to try to refute opinions by showing up their author’s neurotic constitution. Opinions here an invariably tested by logic and experiment, no matter what may be their author’s neurological type. It should be no otherwise with religious opinions. Their value can only be ascertained by spiritual judgments directly passed upon them, judgments based on our own immediate feeling primarily; and secondarily on what we can ascertain of their experiential relations to our moral needs and to the rest of what we hold as true.”

. . .

    “I accept the universe” is reported to have been a favorite utterance of our New England transcendentalist, Margaret Fuller; and when some on repeated this phrase to Thomas Carlyle, his sardonic comment is said to have been: “Gad! she’d better!” At bottom of the whole concern of both morality and religion is with the manner of our acceptance of the universe. Do we accept it ony in part and grudgingly, or heartily and altogether? Shall our protests against certain things in it be radical and unforgiving, or shall we think that, even with evil, there are ways of living that must lead to good? If we accept the whole, shall we do so as if stunned into submission – as Carlyle would have us - “Gad! we’d better!” - or shall we do so with enthusiastic assent? Morality pure and simple accepts the law of the whole which it finds reigning, so far as to acknowledge and obey it, but it may obey it with the heaviest and coldest heart, and never cease to feel it as a yoke. But for religion, in its strong and fully developed manifestations, the service of the highest never is felt as a yoke. Dull submission is left far behind, and a mood of welcome, which may fill any place on the scale between cheerful serenity and enthusiastic gladness, has taken its place.

    It makes a tremendous emotional and practical difference to one whether one accept the universe in drab discolored ways of stoic resignation to necessity, or with the passionate happiness of Christian saints. The difference is as great as that between passivity and activity, as that between the defensive and the aggressive mood. Gradual as are the steps by which an individual may grow from one state into the other, many as are the intermediate stages which different individuals represent, yet when you place the typical extremes beside each other for comparison, you feel that two discontinuous psychological universes confront you, and that in passing from on to the other a “critical point” has been overcome.

    If we compare stoic with Christian ejaculations we see much more than a difference of doctrine; rather is it a difference of emotional mood that parts them. When Marcus Aurelius reflects on the eternal reason that has ordered things, there is a frost chill about his words which you rarely find in a Jewish, and never in a Christian piece of religious writing. The universe is “accepted” by all these writers; but how devoid of passion or exultation the spirit of the Roman Emperor is! Compare his fine sentence: “If gods care not for me or my children, here is a reason for it” with Job’s cry: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him!” and you immediately see the difference I mean. The anima mundi, to whose disposal of his own personal destiny the Stoic consents, is there to be respected and submitted to, but the Christian God is there to be loved; and the difference of emotional atmosphere is like that between an arctic climate and the tropics, though the outcome in the way of accepting actual conditions uncomplainingly may seem in abstract terms to be much the same.