WASTES AND BURDENS OF SUPERSTITION. No mental help in errors and illusions! They only lead him perpetually astray. So he slowly discovers that the only real food for the mind is truth, right thoughts about things that make up his world. Let a man go into a great factory and ignorantly meddle with the tremendous forces at work in the machinery about him, and he only succeeds in injusting himself and making mischief at every turn. This physical universe of which our bodies are a part is a vast and complicated play of tremendous and far reaching forces. When ignorance meddles with it, no help, but only hurt, is found at every turn. But, when we know these forces and make them our allies, then “the Lord which made heaven and earth” becomes our almighty helper.
In whom there is no help.”— PSALM CAVi., g. “My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.”—PSALM cxxi., z.
ONE of the most marked distinctions between inanimate things and those that are alive is that living things need out-side help; and, if they get it, they grow, improve, become something more and better than they were.
A stone, after it has come into existence, is quite independent : it does not need anything. But, just because it does not need any-thing, it never becomes anything more or better than a stone. But the tiniest thing that lives, and just because it is alive, is hungry ; it needs food ; it reaches out for something beyond itself ; it is dependent on outside help; and, if it gets it, it grows.
And, as you come up through the grades of life, the higher you get, the more complex the living form, the more the needs multiply, the more numerous the relationships it must enter into with outside sources of supply.
The higher the life, then, the more dependent, the more it needs help in order to live out its ideal. And, when we come to man, we find a creature who, throughout the whole range. of his being, is one incarnated hunger, and who stands in depend-ent relations to the whole universe. He needs food and help for body, for mind, for heart, and for soul.
The earth and the stars minister to his wants: the past and the future both come to his aid. The entire history of human progress, from the beginning until to-day, is but the story of man’s search for that kind of help by means of which he could take step after step on his upward journey.
But,—and this is the point I wish you to specially notice now,—all the way along, his feeling out after help in this direction and that has been a series of experiments. In his ignorance, which has been the necessary result of his lack of experience, he has been constantly making mistakes, look-ing to wrong sources for help. He has had to keep saying, as the result of disastrous trials, There is “no help” here. And thus he has been perpetually learning the great truth, ” My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.”
This phrase is only the poetic rendering of the scientific truth that all human help comes from the one life that is in and through all things, and particularly through finding out the methods by which this life works, or, in other words, what we call the laws of the universe ; for these are the conditions of all healthy life and growth.
For example, in the matter of help toward the support and growth of the physical life, the finding of food was the result of trials and failures. Many and many a time, man must have looked for help to things that turned out to be not only not nourishing, but even positively poisonous. No help in this direction ! And, then, he turns to that which is naturally fitted to build up his body. So, at first, he attempts to feed his mind on thoughts about the world, about himself, about God, which turn out to be false.
No mental help in errors and illusions! They only lead him perpetually astray. So he slowly discovers that the only real food for the mind is truth, right thoughts about things that make up his world. Let a man go into a great factory and ignorantly meddle with the tremendous forces at work in the machinery about him, and he only succeeds in injusting himself and making mischief at every turn. This physical universe of which our bodies are a part is a vast and complicated play of tremendous and far reaching forces.
When ignorance meddles with it, no help, but only hurt, is found at every turn. But, when we know these forces and make them our allies, then “the Lord which made heaven and earth” becomes our almighty helper.
The same is true also in the higher ranges of the heart and the soul. These, too, hunger for food on which to grow. Here, also, disastrous and far-reaching mistakes are made. Ignorance reaches out its hands for aid toward a thousand things in which “there is no help.”
At last, as the result of many mistakes, it finds the true source of supply, and cries out exultantly, “My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.” The true trust, the true worship, prove themselves as being those which really help the onward, upward life of man. But now we are brought face to face with a very strange and yet a perfectly natural phase of human development.
At some comparatively low stage of growth, out of the best knowledge of the time, men construct a theory of the world. It is either wholly false or only partly true. Hut it satisfies them for the time, and they come to rest in it. It becomes instituted: money is invested in it, memories gather about it, and custom sanctifies it.
Now, the very virtues that are associated with it make it all the more an obstruction in the way of human progress. For by as much as men believe in it, are attached to it, and in earnest about it, by just so much does it stand in the way of anything better.
The time spent on it is wasted ; it is a burden on the resources and the life ; and yet the unwise devotion to it remains. It no longer feeds the intellectual life, even if it ever did, but has become only a parasite that exists at the expense of the vitality it ought to serve. A thing precisely parallel to this takes place also in regard t’ those religious theories that ought to feed and help the growing life of the world.
Born of man’s spiritual need, a religion comes into being. Its intellectual theories are largely false, because man is still childish and ignorant. Bat it becomes instituted and established in the reverence. the fear, and the affection of men. Forms of worship are arranged : temples and shrines are built, and untold wealth is lavished upon them; sacred memories gather about them. But now, not being true or only partly true, men do not find in them the help they really need.
They become the victims of their own creations ; and that which ought to be their help turns to a burden which crushes out their noblest life. They dare not advance beyond it, and so it keeps them back.
Two quite opposite positions are held in the modern world concerning the importance of belief. One set of people say that it does not make any difference what you believe. Another set will tell you that to hold the true belief is the one most important thing in all the world. .Now, both of these positions are true and both are false.
So he be sincere and earnest, doing the best he knows, a man may hold almost any theoretical opinions and yet be a good man. There are good men in all religions, and good men who are not in any communion. But a wrong opinion, when carried out in practice, must of necessity produce mischievous results.
Or, if its apparent results are not disastrous, it at least stands in the way of finding out a correct theory of what ought to be done, and so hinders the positive good that might be accomplished. And the more earnestly, the more religiously a man holds to his false opinions, and the more rigorously he follows his false methods, of course the worse will be the practical results.
If a man thinks it is just as well to plant thistles as to plant wheat, and yet is so indifferent about the whole business as to plant little of either, the principal harm in his case will be the negative one of the loss of what he might do, if only he knew better and cared about it. But, if one holds this opinion in dead earnest, and so plants all the thistles he can get hold of, his very sincerity and earnestness become the source of evil. An earnest and devout superstition then will do an amount of harm proportioned to its earnestness and devoutness.
Let us stop here long enough to get clearly in our minds just what it is that superstition means. It is derived from two Latin words,—sktkr, over or beyond ; and sto, to stand. It is that then which stands over or beyond, and which so exceeds the reality or mason of things. It is a false faith in religion. It mistakes the nature of God and of man, and so teaches men to look in the wrong direction for help.
It rears a fabric of misconception, and calls it a palace of truth. It arms itself with all the sanctions, the terrors, the hopes and fears that attach themselves to man’s origin and destiny. and wields them as motive forces to compel men to walk in paths that can never lead them to the goal they seek and need to find.
And, having chosen the wrong path, it does what it can to deter the world from finding the right one. It goes without saying that men need to discover the right things to use for food, the right way to cultivate the soil and navigate the ocean, the right ways for the prevention and cure of disease. the right way to organize the family and the state, the right way to do business. Ignorant and careless people sometimes blunder into this right way; but, somehow, the right way must be found, if anything of value is ever to be accomplished.
Corn never grows and inventions are never made, except as nature’s exact conditions are some-how complied with. And those people make the most rapid progress who hold themselves free to study and find out these right ways of doing things. That ship will be the fastest sailer that is constructed in closest accordance with the forces of water and wind and steam.
And so that people will grow the fastest that knows most clearly and follows most closely the natural divine conditions of life and progress. And superstition, which is a false theory, mistaken for and revered as the true one, will always sap a people’s resources and be a burden on their advance.
It makes me sad and weary to review the history of the past, and see how men have wasted their forces in opening up roads that led nowhere, and building what they supposed to be cities of God, but which proved to be only temples of illusion and disappointment. Enough of money, of time, of heart-felt devotion, of untiring labor, has already been ex-pended to make our old sin-cursed and sorrow-shadowed world a very paradise of life and love and joy, if only they had been used in right ways and toward right ends.
And yet that day still seems so far away ! Let us then glance at a few of the wastes and burdens of superstition, so that we may learn, once and for all, the lesson of the importance of finding and following the truth, as the only divine helper of man. i. It makes my heart ache as I think of the burden of false fears that have crushed out the life of the world’s joy, turned natural tenderness into cruelty, and misdirected the efforts of man in his attempts to escape impending calamities.
As men first waked up to consciousness, they found them-selves engaged in a struggle for life in the face of a thousand perils that threatened them on every hand. Wild beasts, other wild men, poisonous plants and reptiles, cold, lightning, invisible diseases,—all these and more were enemies of which they stood in perpetual fear. They knew not at first that these were only natural forces to be studied, and, by the help of other equally natural but beneficent forces, to be overcome ; and so they fancied them unseen but hostile demons, ever haunting their pathway and seeking their life.
The cruelty of these (lemons they sought to pro. pitiate with gifts, with sacrifices, with self-tortures. So the first worship of the world was fear trembling in the presence of cruelty. Every jungle was the lurking place of a demon.
The storm’clouds and the rushing tempests were horrible demons. In all the air about them, concealed in the very brightness of the sunshine, were invisible hosts of demons. The earth was haunted, and scowling faces of hate looked down at them out of the sky. So men crouched and trem-bled at every step, in constant fear that even their simplest action might give offence to some wrathful and mighty foe. But not only has this been true of the ignorance and childhood of the past.
Since the world has leaned better, and since this better knowledge has been within reach of all intelligent people, bigoted and selfish and crafty men have taken advantage of the ignorance and fear of women and children to fight against and keep back the advancing knowledge for the sake of maintaining their magnificent endowments, their perquisites, their prestige, and their power.
There have not been wanting men here in Amer-ica, and in this generation, who have piled on their ‘maginary fuel to keep alive the fires of hell, not because they knew the doctrine was true, but because —they have con-fessed it —the mainspring of their power would be gone if hell were taken away. And while this horrible fear has tortured the conscientious, delicate, and sensitive souls, the conceited, coarse, and sensual natures have been very comfortable in considering themselves of the number of the elect, or have rested in some scheme by which they and their friends were to escape.
How this horrible shadow has hung over and shrouded with gloom what else might have been the happy homes of the world ! Man is the only animal that laughs. And nothing in all the world is sweeter or more musical than the rippling, sunny laughter of childhood. And have I not a right to hate this falsehood about man and this libel on God, when I remember my own childhood ? Hell was a haunting fiend that dogged my footsteps, hushed my mirth, shadowed my playgrounds, and frightened even my dreams.
Many and many a night have I, in my boyhood, wept in fear till I fell asleep on a pillow wet with tears, and waked up to cry out for deliverance to a God that did not seem to hear. I have known of a little girl to whom a house on fire was an unspeakable horror, because of the vivid fancy that pictured herself as in the midst of such an “everlasting burning.” And who shall portray the fears and anguish of ten thousand mothers’ hearts, as they have mourned over their dead children that their most sacred faith had consigned to everlasting doom!
Fear is not only an overhanging horror that shadows life, that quenches joy. that blanches with fear the lips that try to smile ; but it also stands in the way of knowledge. Men ought to fear: but their fear ought to be directed toward the proper object. Then how has this fear, in all the ages, turned natural
The evil here has been twofold. In the first place, accu-mulated wealth is an essential condition of all civilization. People must get beyond the point of mere living, of only getting food and clothes, before they can feed the higher life. But the superstition of the world has taught poverty as one of the cardinal virtues. ” Do not trouble about this world or its treasures. Wealth is a snare.
But not only this. The wealth that has been produced has been diverted from its best uses for the real service of man, and wasted in ways that have been no real help.
If all the wealth that has been diverted to the useless worship of unreal gods and the support of idle and filthy saints, along with that which superstitious idleness might have earned, had only been applied to solving the great questions of making human life divine here on earth, long ere this poverty and disease and suffering might have been so diminished as to turn the Old World into a realization of the dream of Eden.
Once more, consider the waste of brain that has been due to superstition. The whole force of natural evolution has, for thousands of years, been turned, in the case of man, to the building up of the brain. And brain, above all things, has been needed to study and solve the problems of human life. But superstition has constantly opposed itself to this process of brain development. It has tried and still tries to keep the people ignorant, so that they can be easily led. It has discouraged all natural study, and it still treats science and criticism as though they were sins. If it could not divert a great brain from natural study and engage it in its own speculations, it has always sought to destroy it.
As we look over the world, we see the men and women who are really anxious to help on human progress divided into many hostile camps. The power, the thought. the money, the enthusiasm that might be organized into one common attack on the common enemies of human welfare are wasted. and worse than wasted. in mutual quarrels.
Science and religion, instead of working together for man, are fighting each other. It is superstition that instigates the warfare and augments the misunderstandings. In any matter of practical reform, the hosts of superstition stand aside; and, if the work cannot he done in their way, they will hinder its being done at all.
Christendom itself is split into a hundred sectarian frog-mcnts. This might be all very well, if they were only regi-ments in one army, banded together to fight the common foe. Hut, instead of that, they keep their hottest shot for each other. Go into almost any country town, and you will find there half a dozen half-empty churches all begging for support, and so draining the resources of the people, just keeping themselves alive, without force enough to do much beyond merely existing, and sometimes hating each other a little worse than they hate the sin they profess to be trying to annihilate.
What is it but the jealous bigotry of super-stition that is the cause of all these things? There is money enough, there is power enough, there is earnestness enough, there is enthusiasm enough to renovate the world. But superstition diverts it toward false and useless issues foments discord, prevents union, and frightens people away from that knowledge which alone can teach them how the work of human deliverance can be accomplished.
All the good and earnest people of the earth could but join hands, there is no task they might not accom-plish. But so long as, looking through the mists and dark-ness of superstition. they mistake each other for enemies, so long the hope of the world will be deferred. Prejudiced Ignorance and her daughter Fear,— these are the two great enemies of man. Knowledge of what to do and courage to do it,—these are the two great helpers of the race. All effort is vain, unless rightly directed.
And knowledge itself is useless in the hands of a coward. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” A clear brain and an earnest heart, then, will surely lead us to the dis-covery of his paths. What we call the natural laws of the world are only his footsteps. By walking in these, we come to share his control of the forces of the earth. And, when we have mastered these, the burdens of the past will fall off our shoulders, the wasted streams of human effort will be turned into useful channels, and the long battle will end in a joyous and universal peace.