The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31
Moral Teachings of Spiritualism
Moral Teachings of Spiritualism.
We have now to explain the Theory of Human Nature, which is the outcome of the phenomena taken in their entirety, and is also more or less explicitly taught by the communications which purport to come from spirits. It may be briefly outlined as follows:—
1. Man is a duality, consisting of' an organised spiritual form, evolved coincidently and permeating the physical body, and having corresponding organs and development.
2. Death is the separation of this duality, and effects no change in the spirit, morally or intellectually.
3. Progressive evolution of the intellectual and moral nature is the destiny of individuals; the knowledge, attainments, and experience of earth-life forming the basis of spirit-life.page 35
4. Spirits can communicate through properly-endowed mediums. They are attracted to those they love or sympathise with, and strive to warn, protect, and influence them for good, by mental impression when they cannot effect any more direct communication; but, as follows from clause (2), their communications will be fallible, and must be judged and tested just as we do those of our fellow-men.
The foregoing outline propositions will suggest a number of questions and difficulties, for the answers to which readers are referred to the works of R. D. Owen, Hudson Tuttle, Professor Hare, and the records of Spiritualism passim. Here I must pass on to explain, with some amount of detail, how the theory leads to a pure system of morality with sanctions for more powerful and effective than any which either religious systems or philosophy have put forth.
This part of the subject cannot, perhaps, be better introduced than by referring to some remarks by Professor Huxley in a letter to the Committee of the Dialectical Society. He says:—"But supposing the phenomena to be genuine—they do not interest me. If anybody would endow me with the faculty of listening to the chatter of old women and curates at the nearest cathedral town, I should decline the privilege, having better things to do. And if the, folk in the spiritual world do not talk more wisely and sensibly than their friends report them to do, I put them in the same category." This passage, written with the caustic satire in which the kind-hearted Professor occasionally indulges, can hardly mean, that if it were proved that men really continued to have after the death of the body, that fact would not interest him, merely because some of them talked twaddle? Many scientific men deny the spiritual source of the manifestations, on the ground that real, genuine spirits might reasonably be expected not to indulge in the common place trivialities which do undoubtedly form the staple of ordinary spiritual communications. But surely Professor Huxley, as a naturalist and philosopher, would not admit this to be a reasonable expectation. Does he not hold the doctrine that there can be no effect, mental or physical, without an adequate cause; and that mental states, faculties, and idiosyncrasies, that are the result of gradual development and life-long—and even ancestral—habit, cannot be suddenly changed by any known or imaginable cause? And if (as the Professor would probably admit) a very large majority of those who daily depart this life are persons addicted to twaddle, persons who spend much of their time in low or trivial pursuits, persons whose pleasures are sensual rather than intellectual—whence is to come the transforming power which is suddenly, at the mere throwing off the physical body, to change these into beings able to appreciate and delight in high and intellectual pursuits? The thing would be a miracle, the greatest of miracles, and surely Professor Huxley is the last man to contemplate innumerable miracles as part of the order of nature; and all for what? Merely to save these people from the necessary consequences of their misspent lives. For the essential teaching of Spiritualism is, that we are, all of us, in every act and thought, helping to build up a "mental fabric" which will be and constitute ourselves more completely after the death of the body than it does now. Just as this fabric is well or ill built, so will our progress and happiness be aided or retarded. Just in proportion as we have developed our higher intellectual and moral nature, or starved it by disuse and by giving undue prominence to those faculties which secure us mere physical or selfish enjoyment, shall we be well or ill fitted for the new life we enter on. The noble teaching of Herbert Spencer, that men are best educated by being left to suffer the natural consequences of their actions, is the teaching of Spiritualism as regards the transition to another phase of life. There will be no imposed rewards or punishments; but every one will suffer the natural and inevitable page 36 consequences of a well or ill-spent life. The well-spent life is that in which those faculties which regard our personal physical well-being, are subordinated to those which regard our social and intellectual well-being, and the well-being of others; and that inherent feeling—which is so universal and difficult to account for—that these latter constitute our higher nature, seems also to paint to the conclusion that we are intended for a condition in which the former will be almost wholly unnecessary, and will gradually become rudimentary through disuse, while the latter will receive a corresponding development.
Although, therefore, the twaddle and triviality of so many of the communications is not one whit more interesting to sensible spiritualists than it is to Professor Huxley, and is never voluntarily listened to, yet the fact that such poor stuff is talked (supposing it to come from spirits) is both a fact that might have been anticipated and a lesson of deep import. We must remember, too, the character of the séances at which these common-place, communications are received. A miscellaneous semblance of believers of various grades and tastes, but mostly in search of an evening's amusement, and of sceptics who look upon all the others as either fools or knaves, is not likely to attract to itself the more elevated and refined denizens of the higher spheres, who may well be supposed to feel too much interest in their own new and grand intellectual existence to waste their energies on either class, if the fact is proved, that people continue to talk after they are dead, with just as little sense as ashen alive, but that, being in a state in which sense, both common and uncommon, is of far greater importance to happiness than it is here (where fools pass very comfortable lives), they suffer the penalty of having neglected to cultivate their minds; and being so much out of their element in a world where all pleasures are mental, they endeavour to recall old times by gossiping with their former associates whenever they can find the means—Professor Huxley will not fail to see its vast importance as an incentive to that higher education which he is never weary of advocating. He would assuredly be interested in anything having a really practical bearing on the present and on the future condition of men; and it is evident that even these low and despised phenomena of Spiritualism, "if true," have this bearing, and, combined with its higher teachings, constitute a great moral agency which may yet regenerate the world.
For the spiritualist who, by daily experience, gets absolute knowledge of these facts regarding the nature state—who knows that, just in proportion as he indulges in passion, or selfishness, or the exclusive pursuit of wealth, and neglects to cultivate the affections and the varied powers of his mind, so does he inevitably prepare for himself misery in a world in which there are no physical wants to be provided for, no sensual enjoyments except those directly associated with the affections and sympathies, no occupations but those having for their object social and intellectual progress—is impelled towards a pure, a sympathetic, and an intellectual life by motives far stronger than any which either religion or philosophy can supply. He dreads to give way to passion or to falsehood, to selfishness or to a life of luxurious physical enjoyment, because he knows that the natural and inevitable consequences of such habits are future misery, necessitating a long and arduous struggle in order to develop anew the faculties, whose exercise long disuse has rendered painful to him. He will be deterred from crime by the knowledge that its unforeseen consequences may cause him ages of remorse while the bad passions which it encourages will be a perpetual torment to himself in a state of being in which mental emotions cannot be laid aside or forgotten amid the fierce struggles and sensual pleasures of a physical existence. It must be remembered that these beliefs (unlike those of theology) will have a living efficacy, because they depend on facts occurring again and page 37 again in the family circle, constantly reiterating the same truths as the result of personal knowledge, and thus bringing home to the mind of the most obtuse, the absolute reality of that future existence in which our degree of happiness or misery will be directly dependent on the "mental fabric" we construct by our daily thoughts, and words, and actions here.
Contrast this system of natural and inevitable reward and retribution, dependent wholly on the proportionate development of our higher mental and moral nature, with the arbitrary system a rewards and punishments dependent on stated facts and beliefs only, as set forth by all dogmatic religions; and who can fail to see that the former is in harmony with the whole order of nature—the latter opposed to it. Yet it is actually said that Spiritualism is altogether either imposture or delusion, and all its teachings but the product of "expectant attention" and "unconscious cerebration!" If none of the long series of demonstrative facts which have been here sketched out, existed, and its only product were this theory of a future state, that alone would negative such a supposition. And when it is considered that mediums of all grades, whether intelligent or ignorant, and having communications given through them in various direct and indirect ways, are absolutely in accord as to the main features of this theory, what becomes of the gross misstatement that nothing is given through mediums but what they know and believe themselves? The mediums have, almost all, been brought up in some of the usual orthodox beliefs. How is it, then, that the usual orthodox notions of heaven are never confirmed through them? In the scores of volumes and pamphlets of spiritual literature I have read, I have found no statement of a spirit describing "winged angels," or "golden harps," or the "throne of God"—to which the humblest orthodox Christian thinks he will be introduced if he goes to heaven at all. There is no more startling and radical opposition to be found between the most diverse religious creeds, than that between the beliefs in which the majority of mediums have been brought up and the doctrines as to a future life that are delivered through them; there is nothing more marvellous in the history of the human mind than the fact that, whether in the back-woods of America or in country towns in England, ignorant men and women having almost all been brought up in the usual sectarian notions of heaven and hell, should, the moment they become seized by the strange power of mediumship, give forth teachings on this subject which are philosophical rather than religious, and which differ wholly from what had been so deeply ingrained into their minds. And this statement is not affected by the fact that communications purport to come from Catholic or Protestant, Mahonmedan or Hindoo spirits. Because, while such communications maintain special dogmas and doctrines, yet they confirm the very facts which really constitute the spiritual theory, and which in themselves contradict the theory of the sectarian spirits. The Roman Catholic spirit, for instance, does not describe himself as being in either the orthodox purgatory, heaven, or hell the Evangelicnl Dissenter who died in the firm conviction that he should certainly "go to Jesus," never describes himself as being with Christ, or as ever having seen Him, and so on Throughout. Nothing is more common than for religious people at séances to ask questions about God and Christ. In reply they never get more than opinions, or more frequently, the statement that they, the spirits, have no more actual knowledge of those subjects than they had while on earth. So that the facts are all harmonious; and the very circumstance of there being sectarian spirits bears witness in two ways to the truth of the spiritual theory—it shows that the mind, with its ingrained beliefs, is not suddenly changed at death; and it shows that the communications are not the reflection of the mind of the medium, who is often of the same religion as the communicating spirit, and, because page 38 he does not get his own ideas confirmed, is obliged to call in the aid of "Satanic influence" to account for the anomaly.
The doctrine of a future state and of the proper preparation for it as here developed, is to be found in the works of all spiritualists, in the utterances of all trance-speakers, in the communications through all mediums; and this could be proved, did space permit, by copious quotations. But it varies in form and detail in each; and just as the historian arrives at the opinions or beliefs of any age or nation, by collating the individual opinions of its best and most popular writers, so do spiritualists collate the various statements on this subject. They know well that absolute dependence is to be placed on no individual communications. They know that these are received by a complex physical and mental process, both communicator and recipient influencing the result; and they accept the teachings as to the future slate of man only so far as they are repeatedly confirmed in substance (though they may differ in detail) by communications obtained under the most varied circumstances, through mediums of the most different characters and acquirements, at different times, and in different places. Fresh converts are apt to think, that, once satisfied the communications come from their deceased friends, they may implicitly trust to them, and apply them universally; as if the vast spiritual world was all moulded to one pattern, instead of being, as it almost certainly is, a thousand times more varied than human society on the earth is, or ever has been. The fact that the communications do not agree as to the condition, occupations, pleasures, and capacities of individual spirits, so far from being a difficulty, as has been absurdly supposed, is what ought to have been expected; while the agreement on the essential features of what we have stated to be the spiritual theory of a future state of existence, is all the more striking, and tends to establish that theory as a fundamental truth.
The assertion, so often made, that Spiritualism is the survival or revival of old superstitions, is so utterly: unfounded as to be hardly worth notice. A science of human nature which is founded on observed facts; which appeals only to facts and experiment; which takes no beliefs on trust; which inculcates investigation and self-reliance as the first duties of intelligent beings; which teaches that happiness in a future life can be secured by cultivating and developing to the utmost the higher faculties of our intellectual and moral nature, and by no other method,—is and must be the natural enemy of all superstition. Spiritualism is an experimental science, and affords the only sure foundation for a true philosophy and pure religion. It abolishes the terms "supernatural" and "miracle" by an extension of the sphere of law and the realm of nature; and in doing so it takes up and explains whatever is true in the superstitions and so-called miracles of all ages. It, and it alone, is able to harmonies conflicting creeds; and it must ultimately lead to concord among mankind in the matter of religion, which has for so many ages been the source of unceasing discord and incalculable evil;—and it will be able to do this because it appeals to evidence instead of faith, and substitutes facts for opinions; and is thus able to demonstrate the source of much of the teaching that men have so often held to be divine.
It will thus be seen, that those who can form no higher conception of the uses of Spiritualism, "even if true," than to detect crime or to name in advance the winner of the Derby, not only prove their own ignorance of the whole subject, but exhibit in a marked degree that partial mental paralysis, the result of a century of materialistic thought, which renders so many unable seriously to conceive the possibility of a natural continuation of human life after the death of the body. It will be seen also that Spiritualism is no mere" physiological" curiosity, no mere indication of some hitherto unknown" law of nature; but that it is a science of vast extent, having the widest, page 39 the most important, and the most practical issues, and as such should enlist the sympathies alike of moralists, philosophers, and politicians, and of all who have at heart the improvement of society and the permanent elevation of human nature.
In concluding this necessarily imperfect though somewhat lengthy account of a subject about which so little is probably known to most of the readers of the Fortnightly Review, I would earnestly beg them not to satisfy themselves with a minute criticism of single facts, the evidence for which, in my brief survey, may be imperfect; but to weigh carefully the mass of evidence I have adduced, considering its wide range and various bearings. I would ask them to look rather at the results produced by the evidence than at the evidence itself as imperfectly stated by me; to consider the long roll of men of ability who, commencing the inquiry as sceptics left it as believers, and to give these men credit for not having overlooked, during years of patient inquiry, difficulties which at once occur to themselves. I would ask them to ponder well on the fact, that no earnest inquirer has ever come to a conclusion adverse to the reality of the phenomena; and that no spiritualist has ever given them up as false. I would ask them, finally, to dwell upon the long series offsets in human history that Spiritualism explains, and on the noble and satisfying theory of a future life that it unfolds. If they will do this, I feel confident that the result I have alone aimed at will be attained; which is, to remove the prejudices and misconceptions with which the whole subject has been surrounded and to incite to unbiased and persevering examination of the facts. For the cardinal maxim of Spiritualism is, that every one must find out the truth for himself. It makes no claim to be received on hearsay evidence; but on the other hand, it demands that it be not rejected without patient, honest, and fearless inquiry.
Alfred R. Willice.