Modern Religious Cults and Movements Part 20

If the past supplies a.n.a.logy or suggestion there will be some tendency for the cults and movements to be reabsorbed by the dominant religious forms from which they have broken off. A careful a.n.a.lysis of this statement would involve the consideration of a finality of Christianity as now held in the Western world. That is impossible in the range of a study like this. Any general statement is of course coloured by the temper of the one who makes it and to a certain extent begs the whole great question. But a careful and dispa.s.sionate examination of present-day cults would seem to indicate that they really have nothing to offer which the dominant Christianity does not possess either explicitly or implicitly. There is a solidity of human experience behind its forms and creeds which cannot be lightly left out of account. They represent the travail of twenty centuries and have behind them far older confidences and hopes. If Christianity should widen itself to the full limit of its possibilities, it would leave little room for that which seeks to supplant it and would meet the needs which have begotten the cults in far richer and more reasonable ways.

As far as the cults are mistakenly distinctive, as far as they cannot stand a careful examination, they represent what must be corrected and cannot be absorbed. Christianity can absorb New Thought far more easily than Christian Science. Theosophy in its extremer forms it cannot absorb at all. It is more hospitable to the quest for a universal religion for it seeks itself to be a universal religion and can never achieve its ideal unless it takes account of the desire for something big enough to include the whole of life, East as well as West, and to make room within itself for a very great variety of religious tempers.

_But Christianity is Being Influenced by the Cults_

If Christianity is not to reabsorb the cults in their present form, it must, as has been said over and over again, take account of them and it is not likely to go on uninfluenced by them. Already it has yielded in some directions to their contentions. If it feels itself challenged by them it must meet that challenge not so much by intolerance as by the correction of conditions which have made them possible, and here its most dependable instruments are education and self-examination. There is need of a vast deal more of sheer teaching in all the churches. The necessity for congregations and the traditions of preaching conspire to make the message of the Church far less vital than it ought to be.

Preaching is too much declamation and far too much a following of narrow and deeply worn paths.

The cults themselves represent a craving for light, especially in the regions of pain and loss. Historic Christianity has lost out because it has made religion too self-centered, not that the cults are a corrective here, for they are even more self-centered--that is one of their great faults. The individual is not the center of the world; he is part of a larger order concerned for great ends for which his life can only be contributory. The Church and the cults together have forgotten too largely that life is sacred only as we lose it. We need in the churches generally a braver personal note and a very much larger unself-centeredness.

It is interesting to note that the movement of the cults, with the possible exception of New Thought, has been away from rationalism rather than in the direction of it. This is a consideration to be taken into account. It would seem on the surface of it to indicate that what people are wanting in religion is not so much reason as mysticism and that for the generality religion is most truly conceived in terms not of the known but of the unknown. If the Christian Church is to meet the challenge of the cults with a far more clearly defined line of teaching, it is also to meet the challenge of the cults with a warmer religious life, with the affirmation of an experience not so much tested by crises and conversions as by the constant living of life in the sense of the divine--to use Jeremy Taylor's n.o.ble phrase: in the Practice of the Presence of G.o.d. The weakness of the cults is to have narrowed the practice of the presence of G.o.d to specific regions, finding the proof of His power in health and well-being. If we can subst.i.tute therefor the consciousness of G.o.d in the sweep of law, the immensity of force, the normal conduct of life, in light and understanding, in reason as well as mysticism and science as well as devotion, we shall have secured a foundation upon which to build amply enough to shelter devout and questing souls not now able to find what they seek in the churches themselves and yet never for a moment out of line with what is truest and most prophetic in Christianity itself.

Sir Henry Jones has a paragraph in his "Faith that Enquires" distinctly to the point just here. "The second consideration arises from the greatness of the change that would follow were the Protestant Churches and their leaders to a.s.sume the att.i.tude of the sciences and treat the articles of the creeds not as dogmas but as the most probable explanation, the most sane account which they can form of the relation of man to the Universe and of the final meaning of his life. The hypothesis of a G.o.d whose wisdom and power and goodness are perfect would then be tried and tested, both theoretically and practically, and, I believe, become thereby ever the more convincing. The creed would be not merely a record of an old belief to be accepted on authority, but a challenge to the skeptic and the irreligious. The Church, instead of being a place where the deliverances of ancient religious authorities are expounded, and ill.u.s.trated by reference to the contents of one book and the history of one nation--as if no other books were inspired and all nations save one were G.o.d-abandoned--the Church would be the place where the validity of spiritual convictions are discussed on their merits, and the application of spiritual principles extended; where enquiring youths would repair when life brings them sorrow, disappointment or failure, and the injustice of man makes them doubt whether there be a G.o.d, or if there be, whether he is good and has power, and stands as the help of man. Recourse to their certified spiritual guides, knowing that full and sympathetic justice will be done to all their difficulties, ought to be as natural to them as their recourse to the physical laboratory or the workshop of the mechanician when an engine breaks down."[83]

[Footnote 83: "A Faith that Enquires," p. 82.]

_Medical Science Should Take a More Serious Account of the Healing Cults_

Not only the churches but the schools and particularly Medical Science need to take account of the cults. They const.i.tute perhaps one of the sharpest indictments of present-day education. Many of their adherents are nominally educated above the average. They have secured for what they follow the authority which always attaches, in the American mind, to the fact that those who champion any movement are college bred, and yet the want of clear vision, the power to distinguish and a.n.a.lyze, along with the unexpected credulities which are thus made manifest, seem to indicate arresting deficiencies in popular education. It has left us unduly suggestible, much open to ma.s.s movement, at the mercy of the lesser prophets and wanting in those stabilities and understandings upon which a sound culture is to be built. When we consider what they are capable of believing who have had college or university training, we must conclude either that contemporaneous education is wanting in the creation of sound mental discipline, or else that we have a strange power of living in water-tight compartments and separating our faith wholly from our reason.

The cults which are organized around faith and mental healing at once challenge and in a measure indict modern medical science. In many directions all these movements are reactions against an excessive materialism; they affirm the power of personality as against its environment, testify that the central problems of life may be approached from the spiritual as well as from the physical and material side. It would not for a moment be fair to say that modern Medicine is ignoring this. There has probably always been a considerable element of mental healing in any wise medical practice. But on the whole, the marvellous successes and advances in Medical Science within the last thirty years and the very great success which has attended the definition of all diseases in terms of physical disarrangement has led physicians generally unduly to underestimate or ignore the undoubted power of faith and mind over bodily states.

Even as a matter of scientific investigation medicine as a whole has not taken this line of approach seriously enough. The Society for Psychical Research has something to teach the medical faculties just here. That Society, as we have seen, set out in the most rigorous and scientific way possible to find out first of all just what actual facts lay behind the confused phenomena of Spiritualism. They have given a long generation to just that. As they have finally isolated certain facts they have, with a good deal of caution, undertaken to frame hypotheses to account for them and so, with the aid of the students of abnormal personality, they are gradually bringing a measure of order into the whole region. Medical Science on the whole has not done this in the region of faith and mental healing. We are, therefore, far too uncertain of our facts. A good deal of this is open to correction. If a Society for Psycho-Therapeutic Research should be organized, which would follow up every report of healings with an accurate care, beginning with the diagnosis and ending with the actual physical state of the patient as far as it could be ascertained by the tests at their disposal, they could greatly clarify the popular mind, prevent a vast deal of needless suffering, save the sick from frustrated hope and secure for their own profession a distinct reinforcement and an increased usefulness.

_A Neglected Force_

If they thus find--as is likely--that the real force of Psycho-therapy has been largely overestimated, that imagination, wrong diagnosis and mistaken report as to the actual physical condition have all combined to produce confidences unjustified by the facts, we should begin to come out into the light. And if, on the other hand, they found a body of actual fact substantiating Psycho-therapy they would do well to add courses therein to the discipline of their schools.[84] The whole thing would doubtless be a matter for specialization as almost every other department of medicine demands specialization. Every good doctor is more or less a mental healer, but every doctor cannot become a specialist in Psycho-therapy, nor would he need to.

[Footnote 84: But this is already being done.]

Temperamental elements enter here very largely. But we might at least take the whole matter out of the hands of charlatans and the half-informed and establish it upon a sound scientific basis. There is, beyond debate, a real place for the physician who utilizes and directs the elements of suggestion. They have gone farther, on the whole, in this direction in France and Switzerland than we have in America.

Evidently we are standing only upon the threshold of marked advances along these lines. Psycho-therapy can never be a subst.i.tute for a medical science which deals with the body as a machine to be regulated in its processes, defended against hostile invasion or reinforced in its weaknesses, but there is also another line of approach to sickness. A catholic medical science will use every means in its power.

_The Cults Must be Left to Time and the Corrections of Truth_

Beyond such general considerations as these there is little to be said.

The Christian churches will gain nothing by an intolerant att.i.tude toward expressions of faith and spiritual adventures beyond their own frontiers. Just as there is a constant selective process in answer to which the historic churches maintain their existences, a selective process controlled by a.s.sociation and temper, in that some of us are naturally Catholics and some Protestants, there are tempers which do not take kindly to inherited organization, authority or creed. Such as these are seekers, excessive perhaps in their individuality, but none the less sincere in their desire for a faith and religious contact which will have its own distinct meaning for their own lives. And if there may seem to some of us elements of misdirection or caprice or unreason in their quests, it is perhaps in just such ways as these that advances are finally made and what is right and true endures.

If nothing at all is to be gained by intolerance, nothing more is to be gained by an unfair criticism and, in general, all these movements must be left to the adjustments of time and the corrections of truth.

We began this study by defining religion as the effective desire to be in right relation with the power which manifests itself in the universe.

How vast this power is we are just beginning to find out. How various we are in our temperaments and what unsuspected possibilities there are in the depths of personality we are also just beginning to find out. There is possible, therefore, a vast variation of contact in this endeavour to be in right relation with the power which faith knows and names as G.o.d.

In an endeavour moving along so wide a front there is room, naturally, for a great variety of quest. When we have sought rightly to understand and justly to estimate the more extreme variants of that quest in our own time, we can do finally no more than, through the knowledge thus gained, to try in patient and fundamental ways to correct what is false and recognize and sympathize with what is right and leave the residue to the issue of the unresting movements of the human soul, and those disclosures of the Divine which are on their G.o.dward side revelation and on their human side insight, understanding and obedience.

_Printed in the United States of America_

Receive SMS and Send Text Online for free >>

« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»

Novel »
Next  »