« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
THE DARING HOPE.
STRICTLY speaking the Easter argument from the resur rection of Jesus from the dead is not an argument for the immortality of the soul, but for the resurrection of the body. So it has been always understood in popular thought and feeling, which are much more sincere and logical than the careful afterthoughts of compromising theologians. Disembodied spirits have never yet been the desired of all nations nor of many individuals. The people who call themselves Spiritualists are as concrete as possible in their descriptions of the spiritual world. Tennyson expresses the almost universal aspiration, when he cries,
"Eternal form shall still divide
The eternal soul from all beside;
And I shall know him when we meet."
It is this aspect of the argument from the resurrection of Jesus which has commended it to the majority. If it proves anything, it proves this. The argument is, of course, beset with difficulties. A single resurrection from the dead, however well established, seems hardly adequate to establish the resurrection of the innumerable millions of mankind whose bodies have returned to the earth during a period of some five hundred thousand years. It was only a few Christians who were to be raised at first, but gradually more and more, and finally the dead of all the innumerable years. The new anthropology, carrying back human life some half a million years, made the induction of a general resurrection from a single fact much more precarious. A little pyramid upon its apex does not impress the imagination as so unstable as one to which that of Cheops were a baby's toy. Such an
inverted pyramid is the argument from the resurrection of Jesus to the general resurrection of mankind.
Then, too, the argument is a complete non sequitur. The resurrection of Jesus is argued from his superhuman character, his deity. Now what man has done man may do, but not what God has done. Either the argument from the resurrection of Jesus proceeds upon the ground of his humanity or it proves simply and only the resurrection of Jesus.
But, before the resurrection of Jesus can prove anything whatever, it must itself be proved. Before we can work it as a cause, we must find it as an effect. A distinguished clergyman of our own city has declared it to be "the best attested fact of ancient history." That would be thoroughgoing historical scepticism if Dr. Abbott had not forgotten that, in proportion to the departure of any fact from our habitual experience, it requires more evidence for our belief. Dr. Abbott proceeds on the assumption that the same evidence which would justify us in believing that the sun rose in the east on such or such a day would justify us in believing that it rose in the west. The resurrection of any one from the dead is exceptional in the ratio of one to some thousands of millions. Consequently, to accept it as historic truth, we should have evidence some thousands of millions times stronger than for such a fact as the birth or death of a man at such or such a time. As it is, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus does not seem to me sufficient for our belief, were it merely any important but entirely probable event. I would not go over to New York to meet a friend at the station with no more reason to believe that I should find him than I have reason to believe that the resurrection of Jesus, waiving its supernatural character, actually happened.
Doubtless to some of you it will seem ungracious that I should make this prelude to my discourse upon this joyous holiday. But, surely, I could do no less. If I am to speak of immortality with intellectual seriousness, I must first
divest myself of all complicity with the prevailing superstition. I cannot without apology, nor without some misgivings, take for my subject one so solemn and august as the daring hope of an immortal life without protesting earnestly against the stupendous folly (I had almost said the stupendous wickedness) of entangling such a hope with an event of infinitely doubtful authenticity and significance, which happened or did not happen some two thousand years ago. Men must care vastly less for immortality than for some plausible construction of a traditional opinion who can use their strength in trying to secure for that opinion a longer lease of life, and the chief place among the reasons for believing in a future state.
Theology has berated science roundly for its inadequacy in the spiritual realm; but, in truth, the methods of its own protagonists have had in them some scientific implication. Theology has been sensational with the sensational philosophers, and transcendental with the transcendentalists. For a sensational philosophy the argument from the resurrection of Jesus was as sensational as it could ask. It argued the immortality of the soul (or at least the resurrection of the body) from the physical resurrection of Jesus from the grave two days after his burial.* The content of the argument was supernatural; but its method was scientific,—not soundly and securely so, but still scientific. It argued from one concrete phenomenon to another. So far, so good. But it argued from a particular to a universal, of all fallacies the most preposterous. I speak of this only to show that the least scientific are often more scientific than they think. Because their science is hasty and imperfect science, it does not cease to be science. We do not think of excluding the earlier geologists and biologists from the great hall of science because they were not as accurate as Darwin and Huxley, who in their turn will have to be revised.
A much more scientific method than that of the theolo gians, arguing from the resurrection of Jesus to a universal
*Thirty-six hours. The traditional three days cannot possibly be made out.
resurrection, is that of the Spiritualists, arguing from their "phenomena" to the reality of a spiritual world. Some of these also you will find decrying science. Science, they tell you, deals with matter, and can know nothing about spirit. But the word "phenomena " is, par excellence, a scientific word. It is the reproach flung at science by metaphysics that it knows nothing but phenomena. The phenomena of science are sensuous appearances. So are the phenomena of the Spiritualist. They appeal to eye and ear and touch. The wiser Spiritualists not only admit, but boast that their method is scientific. It is so, but not always so rigorously so as it might be. The scientific Spiritualist is confronted by certain facts. First, he makes sure that they are facts. He eliminates the element of fraud. Then he endeavors to explain the facts. The new psychology enables him to explain a dozen now where he could not explain one a few years ago without resort to the hypothesis of extra-mundane interference. The range of this hypothesis has been indefinitely narrowed by our new studies in hypnotism, unconscious cerebration, the subconscious mind, telepathy, and so on.* But there are men who do not wish to be deceived, men who are resolved to deal sternly with the phenomena, who find a small residuum which they cannot eliminate and to which they feel obliged to give an extra-mundane explanation. These men are truly scientific. But you will notice that they offer us no proof of immortality. They simply prove that certain phenomena are without ordinary, or even extraordinary and yet natural, explanation. Then they say, Assuming immortality, these things could be accounted for. But all that is proved is that we have certain inexplicable facts. The case is similar to that of the perturbations of the planet Uranus. The astronomer determined that another planet of a certain size would cause those perturbations. Then he turned his telescope to the spot where such a planet should be, and there it was. But the Spiritualist
*The argument for Spiritualism from these things is certainly unsound. Surely they make it likelier that the "phenomena❞ are produced by subtle interrelations of people in this world.
has no telescope with which to verify his theory. indeed he has. Our name for it is death. Dying, the Spiritualist will discover if his Neptune, too, is there. He cannot know till then.
I have called the hope of immortality a daring hope because, for one thing, it goes so in the teeth of the appearance of the soul's implication with the fortunes of the body, and for another thing because it is a daring thing to hope for the responsibilities of an everlasting life. As for the soul's implication with the fortunes of the body, it is so intimate that it cannot be exaggerated. So testifies a recent thinker, whose confidence that the intimacy is not identity is absolutely perfect and entire, wanting nothing. But, where the intimacy is so intense, it surely is not strange that many think it means identity. Where the mind is so powerfully and seriously affected by bodily changes, it is not strange that the great change which we call death should seem to mean the ruin of the tenant with the house. How dare to hope for immortality when in the presence of our dead there is absolutely nothing to suggest that anything remains of them except the impassive form which soon will be resolved into the earth from which its constituent parts were drawn?
As for men's daring to assume the vast responsibility of an eternal life, it must be said that many, when the matter is presented to them in this way, draw back from it affrighted and appalled. But it does not often so present itself; and, where it does, the most of us are so weak in our imagination that the conception of eternal life is a mere verbal form, containing little thought. For the most part, the idea is that we want more life than we have, or can have, in this mundane sphere. We may be ready in some dim hereafter to lay down the burden of our life: we are not ready yet. Like Tennyson,
"We seek at least
"Upon the last and sharpest height,
Some landing place to clasp, and say: