The Psychology of Religion/Chapter 6

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



In this analysis, or this claim that there is in religion nothing of a special nature to analyze, I am rigorously confining my attention to living men and women. It is the love of theory and of novelty that inspires most of these fanciful psychologies of religion. Let us stick to human facts. The difference between me now and what I was thirty-five years ago, when I was a devout believer, is not in the least psychological. I then, mainly on authority and partly for a time on personal conviction, accepted certain tremendous statements of fact: that an Infinite being read and was interested in my every thought, that I was presently going for eternity to a spiritual world, and so on. Naturally these statements and the dramatic ritual in which they were embodied, engendered very intense emotions in me. Scholars make a mistake when they take these emotions to be "religion." I have exactly the same emotions today, but they are not wasted on illusions. That is the only difference.

The only sense in which one can claim a psychological interest is by suggesting that, seeing that my friend of thirty-five years ago still worships in the same way, while I have now not an atom of religion, there may be some psychological element in him that is lacking in me. People say, in fact, that I have not "the religious temperament."

A little clear thinking will show any person that this is really the reverse of the truth. There is not some emotional element in my friend which I lack, but there is an intellectual element in me which he lacks. It is a question of the greater or less development of the critical quality, one might almost say, of suspicion. At the age of sixteen I began to press for "proof" of the large statements made to me by religion. Of ten companions (in a monastery) of about the same age not one felt the same critical urge, yet I was certainly the most emotional of them all. For ten years I felt that urge. Some of my companions in time felt the prick of it, but either suppressed it or affected to be easily satisfied. From the build of my mind I was unable to do either, and, from sheer intellectual urge, without any alteration of character or emotional temperament, I came to discard all religion. A "fanatic," as I really was, became logically one of the most irreligious of men.

Let us note in passing that many of the "fanatics" upon whom professors waste their psychological ingenuities have far less religion of an emotional sort than the professors believe. I have had opportunities of studying ministers of religion of various denominations who were regarded as men of great religious intensity, and their reputation was totally false. The day before I write this my eye falls on the name of a Catholic colleague thirty to forty years ago. He lives in his Church to an honored old age, much decorated with clerical dignities, esteemed all his life for piety. I knew him well. Whether he really believed the stuff or no I cannot tell, but he had far more hypocrisy than piety. Another priest-colleague I have known from boyhood as a most austere fanatic; and when I came to live in the same monastery with him I learned that he was a secret dipsomaniac, the scorn of his fellows. Another—several others—were vibrant with piety in the pulpit, and had mistresses in private. Bossuet, the famous Bishop of Meaux, who wrote works of classic piety, is now known to have had a secret wife or mistress. And the Catholic Church has no monopoly of this hypocrisy. I have found Protestant leaders and preachers of very unctuous exterior to have an extremely human scent for dollars and drinks. There is, in fact, no other caste of professional men that so often figures in the press in connection with women as ministers of religion; though most of their "scandals" are suppressed.

My point may be farther illustrated by a totally different set of facts. It is now extremely common to read that some man held his convictions with a "religious fervor," although this might refer to political, economic, humanitarian, or any other convictions. I have shown elsewhere that the leaders of the American Feminist movement, Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Miss Susan B. Anthony, were Agnostics, but it is always said that their cause was a religion to them. The majority of the most earnest idealists in the reform movements of Europe in the nineteenth century were Agnostics or Atheists.

In fact, the psychology of the idealist is so identical with that of the believer that he now often claims that his idealism is a "religion," and often (as in my own case) the word is thrust upon him in spite of his protests. In the Ethical Culture movement, for instance, and many of the Unitarian churches of America you have thousands of people claiming to be religious, yet totally rejecting the beliefs, in any shape, in God and immortality. You have professors constantly counting Confucianism, Stoicism, and Buddhism as religions, though Confucianism never had a God, Stoicism ignored gods and (clearly not believing in them) cut man quite away from them, and pure Buddhists are Agnostics. Yet the psychology of all these people on its emotional side is exactly the same as that of Theists and Christians.

In other words, there is no specific psychology, no religious psychology, at all. The emotions are the same in the fanatical or intense Prohibitionist, Puritan, Pacifist, Humanitarian, Agnostic, member of an Ethical Culture Society, and Christian. The same human heart responds in each case to an intensely felt stimulus. The readiness of modern writers to grant a "religious fervor" to all kinds of idealists shows that there is no religious fervor. Zealous people are sometimes zealous about religion, and sometimes about other matters. The zeal is the same.

Two or three small special classes alone call for any particular psychological treatment, but to build a "psychology of religion" on these very small groups is like building a psychology of human nature on a few hundred gunmen or drug-takers. One very select class is that studied by Professor W. James in his èèVarieties of Religious Experience ++. Realist as James generally was, he had in that work to cover such a vast world of biography that he has the facts wrong over and over again. He takes stories of famous "conversions" at their current value in religious literature and finds in them mystic factors which are totally unnecessary when one has the facts correctly. To take two of the most famous cases, I have shown in my St. Augustine and His Age that his conversion was a quite normal progress, innocently misrepresented by himself in later years, and in my Candid History of the Jesuits I have shown the same in regard to the "conversion" of St. Ignatius Loyola. In all these cases there is no specific emotion, but a rare intensity of ordinary religious emotions; that is to say, ordinary emotions directed to religious ideas.

A second rare class are what is called "mystics." Writers on religion often forget that what the mystic, like the occultist, claims is a special intellectual, not emotional, outfit. A mystic is not a man or woman of exceptional ability, but a man or woman who claims to acquire religious knowledge by other than ordinary ways: by intuition, for instance. Their emotions are the same as those of other pietists. What is needed to explain their peculiarities is, not a psychology of religion, but a psychological explanation of a certain intellectual error or illusion. Advanced Theosophists, Spiritualist automatic writers, even certain meta physicians, have the same psychology. In large measure it is an indifference to the distinction between things imagined and things known, or a kind of affection for words whether or no they express realities. In many of these cases—the St. Theresa, St. Clare, St. Catherine of Siena, etc. type—there is a legitimate field for the psycho-analyst. Their love of Jesus is largely suffused by subconscious sex-feeling, and in many cases they attached themselves to male saints in a very interesting manner. Such types, of smaller stature, are common in the Roman Catholic convent-world, but in the entire religious world they are an insignificant group.

A very different type is the girl who is really tainted by a kind of nerve-poison from sex-suppression. Religious abnormality is one of the forms in which this may find expression, but in my experience it is not very common. In the Catholic Church such girls often fasten upon the confessional as an outlet and simply gloat over their remorse for their sins. In some the condition easily lets them be persuaded that they may legitimately have sex-satisfaction with a minister of religion. In the Middle Ages it led to self-scourging and other fantastic tricks (even dancing) which became epidemic. Some sects (particularly Russian) have been known even in recent times in which an orgy of religious fervor ended in an orgy of sex-pleasure. All these abnormalities belong to very small minorities and cannot be treated in so small a work as this.

More widespread is the emotional craving which disposes many to dismiss the evidences for religion very leniently or even to dispense entirely with such. In another volume I told how so sane a thinker as Henry James believed in personal immortality because, he said, he wished to believe in it. More recently a well-known British Materialist, Robert Blatchford, became a Spiritualist, and told me that he did so at first entirely from emotional craving (for a belief that he would again see a dead wife). Spiritualism and Roman Catholicism no doubt make many converts, and bold large bodies of people, in this way. They wish to believe. They like to profess the beliefs or to share the ritualistic presentment of them.

The consciousness of sin or of moral struggle which some writers give as an important element of the psychology of religion seems to me an effect rather than a cause, or even an ingredient. There is no consciousness of "sin" until you believe in God. The "painful sense of moral struggle" is very largely a creation of moralists and spiritual writers. They create the feeling in a few people and then boast that religion meets it. Religion makes it far worse. The ordinary healthy man or woman is not conscious of legions of devils urging him or her to be unfaithful or to get drunk. One has to be firm sometimes, to decline an attraction, to refuse to lie or cheat, but one doesn't on that account groan and froth at the mouth. The "moral struggle" is an accompaniment or effect of belief rather than an element of religion.

On the other hand, social and recreational considerations are world-wide factors in the "psychology of religion." That is why, as I said in the first chapter, if the church and priest are not at hand, the religion soon disappears. In modern religion these considerations have a most important part. The church is a club. The minister caters to every interest, from dancing to matrimony, from vanity to sheer gregariousness and one's commercial interests. It pays a doctor to go to church, a lawyer to be a Catholic, a grocer to be religious, a professor to be on the side of the angels, a politician to rebuke infidelity. . . . The Almighty alone knows today how many of his worshipers believe in him. He could give us an entertaining volume on the psychology of religion.