A better understanding of the religious instinct is replacing the old one. The elimination of fear and superstition as the accompaniments of this instinct are good signs of the spread of truer knowledge about it.
Humanity has to find a religious form to suit the coming era. It has to find something between the extreme of mere anarchy and the extreme of steel-trap institutionalism. In the first case, it becomes the victim of any and every phantasy which human imagination may throw up, which human ambition may put forth, or which human ignorance may blunder into. In the second case, it becomes the victim of a letter that kills the spirit or of a collective enslavement by outworn dogmas and selfish organizations and by mechanical worship. Humanity has to find a form which respects the individual's right to choose freely what will most help him and which to that extent leaves religion a personal matter. Yet it cannot afford to disdain the proffered hand of traditional experience, authoritative knowledge, and group association. The needed revelation must be relevant to external conditions and adequate to internal outlook. Those who are no longer attracted by church religion, who believe its claims are exaggerated and its dogmas untenable, can go forward towards higher religious truth only by going forward into a more mystical and more scientific cult. Instead of wasting time trying to resurrect the dead forms of an old faith, many people were moved up by the war closer to this point of view.
Religion must organize itself on a more intellectual basis to meet modern needs. It must present a fuller system, which will intelligibly explain the inner meaning of man, God, and the Universe. It must not contradict the verified knowledge of modern science. It ought no longer to attempt to outrage reason, but should go out of the way to convince it. It must be so timely and reasonable that it will give satisfying intelligent answers to the most disconcerting questions.
On the second point, it is a lesson of history that if religion is to be more rational it will have to be less ritualistic. The tendency of all external rites is to become empty and hollow. Nobody is worse off and everybody is better off when religious practices or rites which have become merely mechanical and utterly hypocritical are abandoned, whether in disbelief or in disgust. As a religion becomes less inspired, it becomes ritualistic. What it is no longer able to give men through inward power, it pretends to give them through outward forms. When the means of worship becomes an actual hindrance to communion with the Worshipped, when the worshipper is deceived by pretense of the act into belief that he has performed the act itself, it is time to call a halt. Nevertheless, ritual is useful if it helps the mind to think of diviner things and it therefore has a proper place in religion. If a religious ceremony acts as a springboard whence a man can enter more easily into a reverential mood, it has justified its value for him. This is usually the case with the peasant mentality among the lower classes and with the aesthetic temperament among the higher ones, although it is much less true of artisan town workers and city intellectuals who indeed may find it a hindrance to worship rather than a help. Religion will always be, by its nature, something of an allegory; but it need not always stick to the same set of symbols. Why should not this era find a new religious symbolism? In the end, religion will find its truer expression in the public acts and private thoughts of a man than in its own public rites. Those who would propagate it will best do so by their living example. It will then become less formal and more vital, less institutional and more free, less devoted to public parades in church, temple, or synagogue and more devoted to personal righteousness in home, factory, and field.
The practical question arises: What is to be done with orthodox religious institutions as they exist today? Much needs to be done with them. If mankind's religious leaders could broaden their vision, could recognize these truths, there would then be some hope for their institutions. If they cannot put themselves at the head of this movement, then they will have to become stragglers in its rear. The choice cannot be evaded. But first it may be said that unless the State dis-establishes religion, it will continue to get not religion in its purity but religion in its degeneration. To worship an institution merely because it is an established one, is to worship an idol. The new religious teaching must be a vocation, not a profession. Hence, teachers may receive voluntary contributions towards their expenses, but they must not be paid a prescribed salary.
If rites and ceremonies will be less needed, then the services of priests to perform them will also be less needed. The coming faith will not only be a rational and riteless one, but may also be a priestless one. It will tolerate no paid professionals to exploit it in their own interests, but will substitute direct, silent, inward communion instead. It will not mock at itself with ostentatious, theatrical ceremonies nor at truth with hollow clamour, but will substitute the remembrances of moral law in everyday conduct instead. The services of a professional priestly class were needed when the intellect of the race was still undeveloped and the masses still uneducated. But today, when men are becoming mentally individualized and when illiteracy is becoming rapidly eliminated, people can read and reflect over sacred scriptures for themselves and with their own understanding. Not only will there be no religious ceremonials, no paid clergy, but there will be no public prayers. For these, sooner or later, tend to degenerate into hollow, meaningless formalities. Here, indeed, "Familiarity breeds contempt."
Its very newness would be an attractive feature to many because it would not have had time to develop the maladies of stiffened arteries and congealed blood, but would possess an aura of hope and helpfulness, of enthusiasm and energy. The religion of the new era must be alive. It must be so radiant with inspiration that it will have something to give man, instead of weakly begging for its own support and sustenance from him. It must be effective because so long as young people are given an uninspired religion and a mistaken education, so long will they be badly equipped for the hard business of living. We say "uninspired" because not a few even of institutionalized religion's own ministers have raised their hands in helplessness as they watched the melancholy spectacle of a deserting flock and the inevitable results of an antiquated creed dwindling daily in its authority over the lives and hearts of men. In the early part of 1939, for example, it was noted that only 5 percent of the people of London thought it worthwhile to attend any place of worship. And we say "mistaken" because, to take a particularly glaring example, the German people were one of the best-educated in the whole world and yet the Nazi doctrines were able to impose successfully on the German mind.
On the third point, the postwar situation of society will depend, eventually, less upon its political arrangements and more upon its ethical decisions. If it fails to maintain enough of the idealism born during the war, then like a rudderless, propellerless ship it will be helplessly tossed about upon a stormy sea. The old values have miserably collapsed where they deserved to do so. And, unfortunately, in their fall they have dragged down some sound, ethical ones, which have not deserved to suffer in the same way but which selfish exploitation and stupid traditionalism have unfortunately associated with them. Consequently, many men have become morally perplexed and mentally hurt. Only so far as the religious faith into which he was born coincides with the reasoned faith which he has unconsciously worked out for himself, does anyone live practically by its ethics.
On the fourth requirement of the new faith, let it be noted that we need a technique which will be workable under twentieth-century conditions and understandable by the twentieth-century mind. Otherwise, we shall end up by becoming living anachronisms, human relics of an obsolete past, and consequently ineffectual dreamers. The mold into which the religious faith and mystical ideology of the postwar world will flow will not be shaped by the desires of the spiritual guides who cling closely to the half-moribund institutions and obsolete dogmas of the prewar world. If the representatives of dying and failing traditions have seen the writing on the wall, they will have seen that the future will not conform to their selfish hopes, much less obey their selfish dictates. New and different forces are inserting themselves into men's hearts. New and different ideas are rising vitally in their minds. And new guides and new institutions will perforce come into existence to assist this process where the old ones might merely suffocate it.
The universal religion, when it comes--as it will at an appropriately advanced stage of human evolution--will not be a melange of outgrown faiths which have already fulfilled their mission, but a perfectly new and timely one. That stage, however, is far off.
The fifth requirement is that a religious teaching, today, must contain these two elements: the spiritual and the social. It must develop the individual and yet regenerate society. It must kindle solitary, personal experience and promote general, public welfare. The postwar period, with all the moral confusion, economic disorders, and political complications legated to it, will open a period of great opportunity for starting a new faith which has the wisdom to combine mystical meditation with social renovation. This is evidenced by what happened in Japan, to take a single example, after the last war. In 1921, the Japanese government outlawed, in fear of its swift-rising influence, a new hybrid cult called Omoto-Kyo, which combined socialism, millenarianism and mysticism and which gathered a million followers in a few years and published its own daily newspaper and magazines.
There is a profound reason why the new faith must possess such an integral character. In ancient civilizations, the spiritual formulation preceded the social one. But in twentieth-century civilization, the social must precede the spiritual. For men and circumstances have so changed that today we can give a new significance to human life only by first giving it new economic and political creations.
It has elsewhere been explained that the evolution of the human ego is about to undergo its most momentous historic change. Hitherto, it has wandered farther and farther in its own thought from its divine source on an outgoing orbit, but henceforth it must return nearer and nearer on an ingoing one. Hitherto, it has followed an increasingly separative movement leading to selfishness, but henceforth it will have to follow an increasingly unitive one leading to balanced altruism. Therefore, the keynote of the coming age will not be individualistic competition but co-operation, not the brutal struggle of creatures with each other for mere existence but the nobler union of all for each, each for all. If the old idea was that man must struggle against man, class against class, nation against nation, race against race, the new idea will be that they must co-operate together for their common welfare. Thus, the immense significance of such a spiritual change is that it will first have a pathway cleared for it by social-economic changes. The creation of new structural forms in the social sphere will thus be part of a higher movement whose later unfoldment will operate in the religious, mystical, and philosophic spheres.
The evolution of each ego, of each entity conscious of a personal "I," passes through three stages through immense periods of time. In the first and earliest stage, it unfolds its distinct physical selfhood, acquires more and more consciousness of the personal "I," and hence divides and isolates itself from other egos. It seeks to differentiate itself from them. It feels the need to assert itself and its interests. This leads inevitably to antagonism towards them. Its movement is towards externality, a movement which must inevitably end in its taking the surface or appearance of things for reality, that is, in materialism. Here it is acquisitive. In its second and intermediate stage, it unfolds its mental selfhood and hence adds cunning to its separative and grasping tendencies, with intellect expanding to its extremest point. Here it is inquisitive. But midway in this stage, its descent comes to an end with a turning point where it halts, turns around, and begins to travel backward to its original source. In the third and last stage, the return towards its divine source continues. Its movement is now toward internality and--through meditation, investigation, and reflection--it ultimately achieves knowledge of its true being: its source, the Overself. And as all egos arise out of the Overself, the end of such a movement is one and the same for all--a common centre. Conflicts between them cease; mutual understanding, co-operation, and compassion spread. Hence, this stage is unitive.
The central point of the entire evolution is about where we now stand. Human attitudes and relations have reached their extreme degree of selfishness, separateness, struggle, and division, have experienced the resulting exhaustion of an unheard-of world crisis, but are beginning to reorientate themselves towards an acknowledgment of the fundamental unity of the whole race. Thus, war reaches its most violent and terrible phase in the second stage and then abruptly begins to vanish from human life altogether. The separatist outlook must cease. Most of our troubles have arisen because we have continued it beyond the point where it was either useful or needful.
The unequal state of evolution of all these egos, when thrown together into a conglomerate group on a single planet, is also responsible for the conflicts which have marked mankind's own history. They stand on different steps of the ladder all the way from savagery to maturity. The backward ego naturally attacks or preys on the advanced one. Thus, the purely self-regarding ego, which was once an essential pattern of the evolutionary scheme--a necessary goal in the movement of life--becomes with time a discordant ingredient of that scheme, an obstructive impediment to that movement. If humanity is to travel upward and fulfil its higher destiny, it can do so only by enlarging its area of interest and extending its field of consciousness. It must, in short, seek to realize the Overself on the one hand, to feel its oneness on the other.
We should preserve intact what is useful to us in the old systems, but at the same time we should create what is essential to our altered times. This is what present-day philosophy is trying to do. There are sincere religious prophets and teachers, ardent mystical swamis and monks eager to guide mankind in old dusty ways and well-trodden paths. But the special importance of the philosopher's work is that he is trying to hew out a new way, to cut a new path. For he perceives what these others fail to perceive--the vital necessity of re-adjustment to the unique evolutionary change which is now taking place. The philosophic seer knows how important to the race are the future purposes and distant goals hidden in the present confused tangle of events. He knows that the evolutionary twist, which is now appearing inside the human soul, is momentous in its ultimate significance. If the war did not change human nature generally, it did change a certain number of individual human beings. Everyone knows this. But not everyone knows that the war marked a moment of profound importance in human history--the change-over from a solely egoistic extroverted and materialistic basis to a deeper one.
At an earlier stage, the evolutionary path proceeded through an increased turning outward to the senses, a growing egotism, and a developing intellect. But now it is destined that human character and endeavour must strike out new paths for themselves--must reverse these trends. This evolutionary development represents what is virtually a new beginning in the history of the present race of mankind. Cosmic forces are communicating themselves to the human mind. The most tremendous changeover of its evolution is at hand. And the same forces which are working at it from within by prompting, are also compelling it to submit itself from without by events. The great inner evolutionary changeover will be responsible for increasing tension and conflict within the individual human being, his lower self beckoning one way and his higher self beckoning another way.
All the world-shaking events of our times are compelling men and women to rise out of their habitual thoughtlessness about life. Whoever thinks that these people will be permitted to relapse into torpor again with the conclusion of the war is mistaken. For the situation today is unique. New forces have entered the planet's atmosphere which will increasingly bring powerful inner and outer pressure to bear on its inhabitants, because the ego is destined to evolve in a different direction. Hitherto it has, in most human beings, travelled farther and farther away from its hidden centre, the Overself, as it expanded its own circumference. Henceforth it will, while holding whatever is of worth in its previous gains, return closer and closer to that centre. And it will do this partly because planetary evolution has reached a point where it will enforce it and partly because it is itself so constituted that it cannot escape time by a return to the source of its own life. With the subsidence of present turmoils, the human ego will resist the realization of its spiritual possibilities less fiercely, if more subtly, than in the past. This will be a distinct and definite advance. It will show in many different phases and aspects. There is a real basis for the hope that we have seen the worst in man's conduct and that he will begin to reflect some better qualities and nobler attitudes. In this faith, we may work for a more spiritual future, sure that our efforts will not be in vain or futile. It may sustain us amid present crises when personal misfortunes bid us despair. It may enlighten us during contemporary darknesses when world events bid us fall into helpless inertia.
It would be easy to misunderstand this tenet. The assertion of such a tremendous modification in the spiritual make-up of mankind as the disappearance of human egoism from human history is certainly not made here. Such an assertion is wildly fantastic and would be and could be made with any hope of acceptance only if made to wild enthusiasts. The clinging to the "I," or the aggressive assertion of it, is something which will yield only to the intermittent batterings of constant frustrations, repeated disappointments, and frequent misfortunes--that is to say, to the experience of hundreds, if not thousands, of earthly incarnations. What is really asserted here is that:
(a) The universal crisis is a sign that we have reached a point in the process of the ego's development where the more violent and hence more extreme aspects of its inevitable struggles with other egos must be curbed in its own interest or self-destruction will ensue.
(b) The very intensity and extensity of this struggle during the war have brought about a widespread recognition of this fact.
(c) We are only at the very beginning of it now, although in a half-dozen centuries this result will have been achieved to such an extent all over the world as to be quite unmistakable. The forces which are now beginning to release themselves in mankind's character will by then increase in intensity quite rapidly. And although this has been happening on all the continents, their quickest, strongest, and fullest manifestation will occur on the North American continent. Such a development will be closely connected with the birth of a new ethnological race, which is maturing out of the American melting pot.
(d) This spiritual overturn in the ego's evolutionary life refers not to all the egos here but to the largest wave of human egos travelling our planetary path, not to all entities but only to the human ones, and not to the entire history of this earth but only to its present evolutionary cycle.
(e) At any given time, this planet will not be inhabited by more than a small number of spiritually advanced persons. Nature maintains the balance between them and the unevolved masses by constant re-adjustment. This evolutionary overturn will not, however, directly involve the entire race, but only a part of it. Those who can accept such a higher world-view are and will be heavily outnumbered by those who cannot. Small groups and scattered individuals in every part of the world will continue to respond immediately, directly, and consciously to this urge; but the response of the masses will come mainly, vaguely, and indirectly through their leaders and rulers.
(f) It does not matter, at first, that this great change in human outlook is taking place without a parallel consciousness of the inner evolutionary development, which is its real motivator. Such a deeper understanding is sure to come later. The ideology may be imperfect, but the impulsion is being felt just the same.
The new spiritual impulse which inspires all these forward movements embodying this social principle is God-sent. The old interests may struggle fiercely against it, but they cannot win against it. Forces are today entering this planet's atmosphere and pouring themselves into the humanity it bears which, owing to our having reached this unique turning point in evolution, are themselves of a unique and special character. Shadows signify the presence of light, anti-Christ the presence of Christ, and the evil forces of materialistic Nazism signify the presence of sacred powers of spiritual regeneration. If we deplore the great darkness which has fallen over this planet, we should know that it speaks of a coming dawn, as the unparalleled destructive violence of this war speaks of an unparalleled constructive peace. In other words, tremendous unreckoned spiritual energies are now in our midst and only await the ripened opportunity to manifest themselves.
Such is the coming faith, a faith suited to the requirements of men of intelligence and goodwill, capable of bringing together those whom the old religions keep divided and even hostile. No sincere well-wisher of mankind can object to the introduction of a new, genuinely inspired faith. At the very worst, it cannot harm mankind, while at the very best it may save mankind. Only the selfish guardians of uninspired, unserviceable vested interests can object to such results. But it cannot come of itself--it must come through some Man. In short, the times require a new Prophet.
There are being put forward, as religions divinely preordained for and practically suited to our times, the Ramakrishna Mission form of Hinduism and the Iranian-born faith of Bahaism. Of the the first, it need only be said that Sri Ramakrishna himself warned his disciples against forming an organized cult and that none of the old religions, however polished up they may be, really suits us today. Of the second, it is needful only to examine a few of its leading tenets to show their insufficiency. The present-day version of Bahaism, which is markedly different from its original version, rejects mysticism. But we have already seen that the needed faith must have some mystical touch about it. This rejection is all the more curious and ironical because the founder of the Bahai faith was himself a mystic and a psychic. Next, divine claims are made on his behalf. The time when reason could receive such claims is vanishing. No one man can incarnate the ineffable, unbounded Absolute Spirit. Thirdly, the Bahai faith holds that there is a progressive revelation in time and that, because it is the latest one, it is consequently the best one. Against this claim, the informed observer may well smile and match the claim of Hinduism, which holds that the oldest and primal revelation is the best one and that time only brings deterioration. Incidentally, philosophy shares neither of these views and considers them both to be self-deceptions. Nor is the Bahai claim to be the latest religion tenable today. A hundred years have passed since the first Bahai prophet appeared. Several new religions and dozens of sects have been born during that time. That only a few achieved fame has nothing to do with the argument.
The totality of Bahai mystical, self-deification claims are equally irrational in their literal form. And the Bahai religious-unification predictions have psychological roots which are unsound. Its expectations of an imminent attainment of religious unity is as groundless as its claims to possess the only divine manifestation for our age.
When they descend from piety to practice, the Bahais embrace impracticable schemes. If a certain mystically advanced ashram could not live as a harmonious, peaceable united family, how will it be possible for a merely religious Bahai world to do so? It is useless to ask humanity to outrun its present capacity, to live in a visionary's dreams or a fool's paradise. If nowhere on earth, not even amongst the most religious, most mystical, and most spiritual assemblies, fraternities, societies, or hermitages, men can live as a loving, self-sacrificing family, how can they do so when still constrained by lower outlooks? The ideal of a single human family is not immediately realizable, for it cannot be formed out of the present defective human material. To demand its instant enforcement is to label oneself an impracticable dreamer.
Considering these predictions on the level of philosophy leads to quite a different result. In both cases, we find that they arise out of emotional complexes and unphilosophic outlooks.
Hence, mystics should not hesitate to invent new and better methods suited to our times and to combine them with the best of the old ones. We know more than well that in suggesting an innovation of this kind, we lay ourselves open to become a favourable target for the critical shots of the orthodox yogis. But the twentieth century is not called upon to subscribe slavishly to the methods, disciplines, and systems of the tenth. Intelligent persons know that we cannot limit ourselves entirely to the life of the past. They have to be synthetic and to mold such elements only as they can profitably use into a fusion with present ones. So the old Indian yogas, however admirably worked out they be, are to be regarded with critical yet appreciative eyes and not simply with mute acceptance. Men of today must build up their own methods out of the needs of their own natures.
If so many religious tenets are falling apart or even being let go altogether, let it be remembered that not a few deserve to go. They lacked truth and held only ungrounded but long-established opinions. But the pity of it is that the other parts of religion--solid, true, worthy--have also become suspect to the confused younger minds of today.
Inspiration did not stop in any particular year, nor with any particular man. If it was possible then, it is possible today, and to some other man.
This postwar period is the most morally dangerous in all mankind's history. The breakdown of religious sanctions is inevitably more widespread than ever before. For evolution has brought millions of people to the point where irrational dogmas and unscientific beliefs have become hopelessly outmoded. Such an intellectual displacement need not be deplored because sooner or later it had to happen. But unfortunately the loss of these sanctions is accompanied by the breakdown of that which depends on them. And the most important single item among the latter is the ethical standard. People have no cause to practise virtue and fear evil when they come to believe that the one will go unrewarded and the other unpunished. The whole world has witnessed, in the barbarous wrong-doing of Hitler and his young fanatic followers, how lost to all decent living, how utterly without a conscience, how unguided by any valid sense of right or wrong, men may become when they give up religious faith but are unable to replace it by right mystical practice or correct metaphysical reasoning. They exist thereafter in a moral "no-man's-land." It is this interregnum in moral evolution between the standards set by religions and those set by mysticism or metaphysics, an interregnum where morality lapses altogether, that must necessarily constitute a period of the gravest ethical crisis and danger to mankind. The depths to which the Nazis sank amply illustrate this truth.
Its originator left some power behind which was partly responsible for its wide and deep spread. This is the vivifying principle behind the spread of every historic religion, a principle whose results make us exclaim with Origen, "It is a work greater than any work of man." We should regard the great originators, the great religious saviours of the human race like Jesus and Buddha, as divinely used instruments. The individual centre of power which each left behind on our planet extended for long beyond his bodily death, continued to respond helpfully to those who trusted it, but then gradually waned and will eventually terminate after a historic period has ended. No organized religion ever endures in its original form for more than a limited period. All the great religions of the earliest antiquity have perished. The originators were admittedly not ordinary men. They belonged to higher planes of thought and being. They came from spheres of consciousness superior to that of average humanity. This was highly exceptional, but it does not turn them into gods. Nor does it justify us today in living in the past and leaning on what is vanishing. For despite all lapses and regressions, humanity is now coming of intellectual age. This is one reason why it must now furnish its own teachers, must recognize and appreciate its own wise men. For in the coming age, no further descents of these superior beings like the two just named may be expected. There will be no other Messiahs than those we can evolve from amongst ourselves.
If we gaze into the soul of modern man as it has been during the present century, we shall discern therein a state of long-drawn crisis. For two opposed and conflicting world-views have been taught him during his youth: the one religious and the other scientific and both accusing each other of being untrue. The emotional consequences of this have manifested themselves in instability, immorality, cynicism, hypocrisy, and despair. The mental consequences have manifested themselves in frustration, uncertainty, and bewilderment. So long as these two forces cannot come to terms with each other within him, so long will they exhaust and not nourish him. Such a widespread and deep crisis, such a fateful and difficult situation cannot be left unresolved for long. It is driving men to sink in bewilderment and despair, where they fail to comprehend and master it, or to rise in clarity and strength where they do. It is inevitable that man should try to unify his thoughts into a coherent system and his experiences into a coherent pattern. All traditional concepts of religion will have to be reshaped to conform to this new knowledge. If, for example, his religion tells him that the world was created five thousand years ago whereas his science tells him that it was created very much more than five million years ago, a nervous tension is set up within him which harms his mental sight and hurts his physical health. Only when he can find a satisfactory synthesis which consolidates the claims of reason and feeling without sacrificing either can he find healing of his trouble. And such a synthesis exists only in philosophy.
New religions will come, for the demands of the intellect and the needs of the young will have to be satisfied. Some will shape themselves as movements within the existing churches, but most will shape themselves outside the churches. But even the new ones will be taken over in time by men who will form a vested interest, for the tendencies of human nature at its present stage of evolution are too egoistic. History repeats this result again and again.
The emphasis upon mystical insight, the respect for spiritual illumination, the desire to be a personal witness for the presence of God--these are present-day signs of religious deepening.
It was enough for an ancient prophet to state the truth. Today he must do more that that: he must state the reasons why it is true.
The prudent way of quietly and little by little dropping beliefs found to be wrong has been practised by some Churches, notably Protestant ones, but never, or rarely, by others, notably Catholic and Oriental ones.
The need for precise knowledge to replace vague faith is as important today in religion as in any other sphere.
The message for this age must satisfy its primary needs, hence must contain three elements. First, the doctrine that there is a divine soul in man. Second the gospel that it is possible through prayer and meditation and study to commune with this soul. Third, the fact of the Law of Recompense and hence the necessity of good thoughts and righteous deeds.
The time has come when religion should depend upon the certainties of universal human experience rather than the uncertainties of questioned historical events.
More than anything, men need today to find some kind of contact with the Higher Power which is behind them, and behind the universe.
It may be that religion will have to be presented in non-religious language if we are to get away from dogma that has never been questioned, from terms that have become hollow and empty, from an approach which has a boring effect. It may be that the new and more appealing presentation will use art, music, the discoveries of science, and the offering of meditation to reach the consciousness of today.
A religion may be reformed from within by re-inspiring and regenerating it, or from without by critically re-examining its ideas and correcting its customs.
Too often have people been called upon by ecclesiastical organizations to repent their ways when it is the organizations themselves which should be called upon to do so. They should abandon false teachings, renounce worldly pomp, purify selfish motives, and return to genuine religion.
If institutional religion is to continue an active existence, and not a decaying one, it must accept the message of the times and adapt itself to the changed new conditions.
Will a new world-wide religion of the future come to birth in this century? The astrologers and clairvoyants--for what their personal interpretations of the signs are worth--believe so. The old religionists think their own creed will arise rejuvenated and purified. The mystics find it in their visions and meditations. The philosopher considers it will come because it must come. But only through one man's birth and mission can its birth come. Who, What, and Where is he?
The commonplace forms and moralities of conventional religion are not enough for this era, when tomorrow's existence is uncertain for the whole human species, and today's mind is fed with unprecedented knowledge.
Even the simple assurance that there is a higher power in the universe and a loftier meaning in human existence, which religion gives--come in what shape it may--helped in the past to support life and endure death. Instruction in science at first weakened or destroyed this faith but now, through opening of the mind by relativity, nuclear physics, and biological discoveries, is beginning to confirm it, as Bacon predicted.
Holiness must become a reality--something vividly felt and inwardly realized--if it is to become a sincere part of religion. The consequences will then be historically shown by constructive ennobling and deepening actions, changes, or events.
The thoughtful man today is beginning to perceive the futility of such a shallow penetration of his own being and such a childish idea of the divine being.
There are young people today who have strong religious feelings, but who do not find in the traditional forms of religion sufficient satisfaction, because they do not find that they can carry it fully into their activities in the world and because they have intellectual difficulties in reconciling it with the knowledge of science.
The possible evils and probable dangers of venturing to reform an ancient religion are certainly there and must be recognized; but there ought not to be a total concentration on these negative sides of reform alone. The positive ones should not be ignored, the beneficial consequences in the present and to the future should not be neglected. What actually happens, the good and the bad, can be seen historically in the case of all existing and dead religions. The proper approach would not deny reforms, but measure carefully how far they can and ought to be carried out. This not only applies to the mass religions but also to the metaphysical systems and devotional theologies.
The Age of Faith has been succeeded by sceptic psychology, but the cycle of development is not at an end yet. For we shall return anew to our starting point, but this time it will be an intellectual Faith. We have learned to question the universe and life; we have pushed thinking to its uttermost limits; we can go no farther and must perforce sink to our knees once more in humble prayer. Then we shall acquire an unshakeable faith that will survive every question, every doubt, and that will carry us through the struggles of existence with serenity and strength.
The fuller entry and further permeation of religion and mysticism by science will take a few hundred years more, but will inexorably lead to the displacement of old established churches appealing to blind faith by new religions appealing to reasoned intuition.
War shakes the belief of mankind in a benevolent Deity. They begin to revolt against the doctrine that its hideous suffering is compatible with God's omnipotence and all-mercifulness.
Churches are anachronisms while the heart of man turns sick at the cold comfort of meaningless monotonous words; while the body looks up at the sky of hope and sees it turn to grey lead and tarnished brass; while the mind is tortured by despairing queries during the night that surrounds it; while faith craves for saner religion, actual and living, and is handed instead the pious aspirins of a future after-death heaven.
War reveals agnostic rationalism to be but a reed that breaks in one's hand. This is why the aftermath of war brings scepticism, although the presence of war brings faith to the frightened. Such is the startling contrast which the trial of scepticism and its disappointing consequences must inevitably bring about.
The broad masses of the people must live by accepted faith and not by reasoned enquiry; they have neither leisure, mentality, nor inclination for the latter. Consequently they have to live by religion which is ultimately and immediately based on faith. Religion is and must remain the motivating force behind their moral outlook on life. From this standpoint we have always to ask ourselves whether a religionless world would not place mankind in great jeopardy. If the defects and degeneration of old religions have caused millions to desert them, still there are vastly more millions who cling to the old dogmas simply because they have nothing else to grasp. It would therefore be an unwise, even wicked, act to abolish all religion and it would be an act which must end in failure. Those who would exterminate religious thought and practice must pause to consider the ethical breakdown which might follow. Can they offer to replace that which is taken away? They are faced with the choice of quarrelling with this view or compromising with it. But this does not mean that twentieth-century intelligence is to be insulted by offering it obsolete dogmas and ridiculous assertions; that because the multitude must have a religion therefore any worn-out creed and senseless rite will suit them. They will not. The religion that is needed by our age is a rational one.
When comparing the relative appeals of Christian and Buddhistic thought, remember that the weight of tradition, the power of vested interests, and the difficulty of embracing ancient forms of approach would prevent any widespread flow of the Buddhistic system in the West. The present need seems to be more for a new form that would synthesize the two systems and also add something to satisfy the special requirements of modern humanity. But the truth of the need of three progressive presentations to suit the three types--religious mystical and philosophical--has not been antiquated but only modified by present conditions.
Jesus today would not ask you to rely only on belief, for we can now comprehend things which were beyond the comprehension of his day. People of his time did not have the comprehension that this electric age has given us. It is through scientific comprehension of nature that the doors will open to the Light and give us greater consciousness of the One Being within us.
The time is approaching when orthodox religions must yield to the demand of the modern mind for doctrines that are intellectually satisfying and inspiration which is actually livable. The age of dogmatic assertion has come to an end for intelligent people and the age of scientific demonstration has come upon them. Faith can no longer convince the modern mind, but reason may and must. Modern conditions are so different that the appeal of mere dogma and myth is dwindling rapidly, though mythical explanations of the universe were necessary in pre-scientific times because the human mentality could not then grasp a better one. There are signs that this hour is almost upon us, for religious doctrines have already begun to dress themselves in the clothes of modernist philosophy and to walk in the shoes of progressed science. Nothing but good can come from the collaboration of science, philosophy, and religion, provided these terms are not limited to narrow meanings.
What the Western nations need to comprehend is that a large proportion of those who have been drawn into socially destructive atheistic movements fail to find satisfaction in orthodox and established religions, and that this has happened because their capacity for faith has been reduced by the development that evolution, although limited, one-sided, and unbalanced, has been working on them. Abusing and denouncing these rebels will not meet this situation. The correct way is to restate spiritual truths and laws in a scientific manner and to show that they can be saved from avoidable suffering and disaster only by learning these truths and obeying these laws.
The established religions are too intent on helping themselves, too forgetful of their original mission to be able to serve man sufficiently in this staggering crisis, let alone save him from its worst effects. A new force must be introduced--fresh spontaneous and sincere, unhampered by trivial pomposities, uninhibited by traditional egoisms.
Let us readily admit the earlier usefulness of those aged forms, but let us not desist from the search after vital, timely, and inspiring forms suited to our present needs.
Not by kindling the cold grey ashes of outdated religions shall we succeed in saving them. Only by facing the fact that new religions and new prophets are needed shall we save what is more important--humanity's soul.
What is lacking from the modern heart is a feeling of reverence in the presence of inspired men and of awe at the thought of the Power behind the universe.
If the old texts are to be brought to a new life today, and made to serve us too, they must be expounded by inspired men and explained by perceptive ones.
The widespread stimulus given to intellectual development since the opening of this scientific epoch two and a half centuries ago, and, even earlier, since the Renaissance, will reflect itself in the coming religion of the new epoch for which the world will be prepared. It will be a religion of intellect vivified by intuitive feeling, of the head balanced by the heart, sane and not superstitious. The coming of a new faith will inevitably be contested by the old ones, by those forces which are evil or materialistic, and by the selfish vested interests which profit by human ignorance.
Not the least of the obstacles to a spiritual revival is that the mere appearance of religion has posed as its authentic reality. When it will be openly admitted that the truths of religion have faded from the modern man's psyche, leaving only their mere shadows behind, it will be possible to do what can and should be done to revivify them. The first step will be to cast out primitive superstitions, to correct functional abuses, to democratize authority, and to get rid of hollow formalism. Yet although religion clings so desperately to what is outworn and outmoded, the desire to revive decaying creeds, techniques, and attitudes is futile; the attempt to do so is predestined to eventual failure. There is also no future for obligatory beliefs, cultural absolutisms, or imposed ideas. We have lived to witness the last desperate effort in this direction, that of Nazism, and its failure. The religious world is too hampered by its past to produce easily the new faith which mankind must construct today, if it is to survive. It is too much caught in its own medieval creation to provide dynamic leadership. If spirituality, therefore, begins to make itself felt a little among us today, it is not because of organized religion but in spite of it.
If many men and women have lost interest in the futilities of institutional religion they have not lost any interest whatever in the wonderful words of those grand men whose mission these institutions have purported to represent. They honour their benign sayings more than most pious people but they detest the puerile creeds and intolerant actions which were perpetrated under the shelter of such hallowed names. They revere and love those teachers who give a higher ethic to man. Although they can take no interest in the dogmatic utterances of mitred clerics and professional priests, they ever raise their minds in homage before Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, and Muhammed. If they appreciate the missions of these messianic men and receive a deeper significance in their sacred glowing utterances, they remain indifferent to the foolishness of followers who take the name of these Masters in vain, and who have strayed far from the ethical precepts. If the rebels have left behind the public observances of established religion, it is because they regard them as having degenerated into meaningless mumbo-jumbo. "Repent and return" is an old maxim but a sound one. A church which has departed from the straight and narrow road of its master can always return if it wishes. A pontiff who holds a million minds in benighted thraldom can always set them free again. A temple-priest who has battened on the trust of numerous pilgrims can always cease to be an official charlatan and help them to a higher view of God. A clergyman who entered a pulpit as his profession and not as his inspired vocation can always resign. But these decisions demand immense sincerity to make and immense courage to implement. Why should not a religion go from strength to strength, instead of from weakness to weakness? Why should it not deserve increasing success? Will not its tangible and intangible profits be greater, grander, and more enduring if it fulfils its task of emotionally comforting and morally uplifting mankind? Has not history proved such profits to be fitful and fugitive when its followers are ignobly exploited and their minds forcibly enslaved?
Because there will be no paid sacerdotal class, there will be no public prayers in the ideal religion. Man's mental and emotional traffic with the higher power will be a private and personal one. Therefore there will be no empty show of religiosity for the benefit of his neighbours, no chance for hypocrisy to parade itself as devotion, no mechanical phonographic repetition of phrases which time or familiarity has divested of emotional significance and mental content. For although a congregation may gather in a public building, the prayers it will silently utter, the devotions it will silently perform, will not follow a set collective form but will be quite individual. Furthermore no separate order of clergy will be set apart from or be permitted to dominate over the laity, but a democratic basis of mutual consultation will support. Thus it was a sixteenth-century German, Sebastian Franck, who wrote in one of his books that a minister of the Gospel should resign his living when he finds that his sermons bear no spiritual fruit in changed lives. Franck himself soon demonstrated his sincerity by following his own advice. The old religious faith found itself at war with reason; the ideal faith will look to reason as an ally in its own camp. That is why the religious society which is to express such a faith will inevitably refuse to submit itself to any priesthood. But this is not to say that it is to submit itself to a completely democratic system. How could it, when the tenets which it holds speak plainly of the spiritual inequality of man, of the distinctions which show themselves in moral outlook and intellectual equipment? It will find an alternative way between these two extremes, the way of honorary, unpaid, inspired expositors. It will be the birth of a new priesthood, a priesthood that could give men the inner peace they hunger for, that could inspire them with the wisdom and courage to tackle personal problems rightly, and that could show them that there is something back of life worth living for; it would not need to mortgage its services to the State. It would get all its needs voluntarily satisfied by those whom it helped. But if it could not really help men, then its failure would eventually become its own scourge. People do not want empty puerile words alone; they want new hope and new faith that their problems will be solved and life's essential worth can be found.
If one dares to look forward, a new religion will arise with the decay of the old; a new prophet will bring the fresh wind of divine inspiration to a dulled humanity. But both religion and its prophet must be new, fresh, vital.
The need and demand today is for explicit statement, not for enigmatic ones. They are a survival from medieval periods when religious persecution was rife and intolerant. Or they are the unhealthy symptoms of mental disorder.
The existing orthodox religions both in the Orient and in the Occident have lost a great part of their inner vitality and exist largely as a collection of conventional mechanical forms. It is the duty of religions to guide mankind correctly and uplift them morally. When they can no longer fulfil this function sufficiently, they slowly die off or are destroyed by their own karma. In 600 years all the existing orthodox religions will have disappeared from this planet and new ones will have arisen to replace them. This means that new prophets will be appearing among mankind in different parts of the world, of whom there will be one who will be the greatest of all. From him there will start a new religion which will spread in all the continents side by side with the other religions of more limited influence. In this world religion, the prophet will appeal to the combined intellect, feelings, intuition, and will of human beings.
This new world religion will include some simple elementary meditation as well as prayer. It will state some of the laws which govern the universe as well as human life.
In the situation which now faces us and will continue to face us for several years, what is the best way in which we can help humanity and also help ourselves? It is to remember that we can help mankind only to the extent to which we develop ourselves. In that way only can we become a channel through which spiritual forces can flow to others and in that way only can we find the true protection against the dangers that menace the world. Therefore each student should work on himself, and especially on his character, harder than ever before.
Human life is like a river which must keep overflowing onwards and not become a stagnant pool. Our era needs and must find a new inspiration, a new hope, and a new life. There was a time when it could have done these things quite peaceably but because it did not understand its own situation it is being made to do them in pain and suffering. Those who will not wake up to the hard facts of the situation will be awakened later by the terrific crash of atomic bombs, and worse.
The Indian sadhu who marks his forehead with a bond of ashes, or smears his scalp with them, or covers his whole body under them, is symbolically reminding himself that everything is destroyed in the end. This is supposed to help him abandon desires and free himself from attachments. If the same mental attitude can be developed without using ashes, why give them more importance than they deserve? It is not clear enough that what really matters are the thoughts, and that by proper education they can be trained to understand, appreciate, and hold spiritual values without resort to ash-smearing--a messy affair anyway since they have first to be prepared and then mixed with butter and lime-juice. A further supposition for the existence of this religious custom is that God himself, being depicted with three lines of ash on his forehead, is brought to mind by the custom when followed, as recommended, by ordinary laymen, and thus they are better strengthened to bear their troubles. Why then is this custom fast vanishing from India along with several others which were inaugurated in the childhood of the race? There are several reasons for this disappearance. One of them is that the higher level of intellectual education is creating a habit of questioning what is old and anachronistic. If nuclear physics is leading more and more to the superior image of God as Universal Mind and Power rather than as glorified Man, if knowledge of meditation as a help to calm the mind when suffering is present is rippling over into the masses, the latter will exchange more and more these indirect primitive helps for direct and more advanced ones. Even Emerson, a former clergyman, predicted well over a hundred years ago that the religion of the future would be, and have to be, more intellectual to keep pace with the growth of mankind.
The coming faiths will be wider than the old ones, for they cannot be deeper. They will explain more to more. They will not reject intellect, nor its modern product, science, but will put both in their own place, just where they belong. Their conception of God will be infinitely more godlike than so many familiar, limited, and anthropomorphic conceptions that have been babbled in the past.
When the spirit of impartial research for its own sake no longer prevails, when the aspiring mind is half-strangled by narrow traditions and absurd superstitions, it is time for a fresh religious impulse to be given.
It was an error in the past, whose consequences the whole world is suffering today, to believe that in order to conceal the truth from the unready, untruth should be taught to them. For with the growing capacities of men, growing rebellion against being misled was certain to come.
What is the religious ideology which is to reign over the coming age? It must be: first, rational in form; second, effective in inspiring faith; third, powerful in uplifting character and influencing conduct; fourth, quick in meeting the requirements of modern times; and fifth, attentive to social needs.
If orthodox religion would as vigorously denounce its own hypocrites as it does its heretics the believing world would be better served.
There are movements of thought and shifts of standpoint in religious circles today which could not have been entertained last century. Even the mere fact that there has been discussed--quite apart from whether or not there have been negotiations--reunion between the Orthodox and the Anglican Churches and Protestant Churches, is highly eloquent of the change of atmosphere. In England, for example, The Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius has done useful work in bringing together the intellectuals of Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, so that there is better understanding of one another's beliefs, more correction of errors and knowledge of agreements, where they stop and why.
The history of even our own unfinished century has shown unprecedented changes in every department of human life, circumstance, and thought. How then can religion escape? There are grave weighty problems which it did not have to meet in the earlier periods.
A merely pious attitude whose basis is blind faith and whose technique is simple prayer makes a good beginning yet is only a beginning. For the conditions through which we have to pass, the experiences which life ordains, bring about in the course of reincarnations a questioning which only philosophy can satisfy in the end. The Jew whose piety is mocked by the slaughter of six million of his co-religionists, the Hindus and Muhammedans whose meditations or prayers are interrupted by riots which remove another million from earth's scene, must sooner or later come to realize that faith is not enough, and that knowledge must be acquired to supplement it, not to supplant it. A refined understanding of cosmic purposes and cosmic laws is also needed. They find that sentimentality does not save them in their hour of need.
The old established and traditional religions will crumble with time and events, as they are doing more quickly in Asia, but as they pass they will carry with them what is intrinsically good for, and helpful to, the masses. Their negative attributes and disservices are regrettable, but it is not fair to note the one side without the other. The cultivation of religious reverence is a basic need on any level of human existence and comprehension.
There is a feeling among many more than is realized, because it is often somewhat obscure, that the contemporary conditions of life in time, which may well be the last lap for most living people, have made the finding of a satisfactory spiritual relationship to God urgent and essential, if life is to be raised from confusion and redeemed from terror. There is a vital and urgent need in human minds today of relating personal experience to the universal experience in which it has been born. Put into religious terms, it is a need of finding God.
In these days of criticism and revision it would be prudent for any established religion to shed its accumulated superstitions so long as the process does not affect fundamental truths.
What is beautiful or useful or serviceable in tradition should be kept.
The disaster in which European humanity found itself did not indicate the failure of Christianity, as its enemies declare, but the failure of Churchianity. A nation without some genuine spiritual inspiration is a society without a spine. It will collapse when the big test comes.
Religion in its purity deserves reverence; in its decay, scepticism. When a noble tradition tails off into a mere travesty of itself, the end is near, and none ought then to complain when somebody attempts to hasten it. When honest men feel they no longer receive any spiritual help from a church, they stay away. And what help can come from those who are full of the letter but empty of the spirit?
Orthodox religious leaders rightly condemn the unsatisfactory nature of an education which leaves out the making of moral character, but the remedy which they offer is only a little better than the disease. For they would deform the growing rationality of the young and clip their intellectual wings by reverting to a narrow type of education based on outworn religious dogmas and unacceptable scriptural statements. The coming age will demand reason alongside its righteousness, a sharper intelligence rather than a drugged one, and a religious truth rather than religious distortion and debasement.
We need a bold and unconventional departure from ordinary methods of approach sanctified by time and usage.
Unless a religion renews itself constantly, like every living organism, and develops itself periodically in relation to the varying needs of new epochs, its doctrines will become dead, petrified formulae, its priests or ministers will become mere mechanical gramophones, and its followers will become hapless stumblers in the night.
Outwardly the religious situation may seem excellent, the religious institutions well-supported, but inwardly the real effectiveness may be little.
Those who believe that the spiritual awakening of mankind must express itself necessarily through the old faiths, the old organizations, believe that the way forwards leads backwards. The old forms may share some of the fruits of this awakening but it will be only until the new forms get strong enough to
The religions of Europe are torpid; its cults are in a state of apathy. Those leaders who have conquered the small groups of occult and mystical students possess no influence with the people at large because they possess no spiritual power; they pour but a continuous cascade of words. The crowd who follows them confuses this windy rhetoric with spiritual reality.
Let us not be afraid of the truth: new bibles will appear in the history of man, his religion, and his culture. The end of revelation and inspiration is not in sight.
If popular institutional religion is to save itself and at the same time serve the people, then it must recognize that the time is at hand when it ought no longer stand between them and the higher truths.
At this late hour in cultural and educational history, men will not accept the view that they are not to look into these things, not to search for answers where knowledge seems impossible. It may well be so, but the right to search must be safeguarded.