Chapter V






EARLIER in this book I traced the two great movements of thought and feeling which led to our present confusion. I recorded the change from religious orthodoxy to scientific materialism, and noted the weakness of scientific materialism itself. I recorded also the oscillation between exaggerated individualism and an exaggerated cult of society. I pointed out that to-day we stand at the climax of a double dialectical process, seeking a new idea which can provide the synthesis of the opposites in each of these two movements, and at the same time can unite the two syntheses themselves. I then argued that nothing but the new-old idea of the "spirit" could fulfil our need. This idea I tried to state in modern terms. In the last chapter I described the main sceptical arguments against the idea of the spirit, and I answered them.

It is now time to show just how the idea of the spirit, as I have defined it, provides the needed double synthesis.

The antithesis between religious orthodoxy and scientific materialism is solved by recovering the central experience of Christianity, namely that love is intrinsically right and beautiful, and by guarding it with scientific integrity so as to keep it free from all accretions of wishful thinking. When we are sufficiently awake, and not perverted either by our cravings or by false theory, we know that the relationship of true community between persons is right absolutely. We know also that the effort for community, even when it fails through the indifference or enmity of the other or others, is right absolutely; provided that it is genuine, sincere, self-respecting and other-respecting, and not merely a self-deceiving attempt to use others for one's own salvation. And we know that in living in the way of love, in the effort for the community with our fellows, we not only fulfil our own deepest nature; we feel ourselves to be in some way instruments of something far greater than ourselves, namely the spirit.

All this is ancient truth, and of the first importance; but this central experience of Christianity must be complemented by the central emotional experience of the best scientific minds, namely the sense of the intrinsic rightness and beauty of intellectual integrity, of dispassionate observation and reasoning. Not love alone but intellectual integrity also is demanded in the life of the spirit. And in pursuit of intellectual integrity we must reject all the wishful and doubtful intellectual doctrines that have been added to the central Christian experience. Thus we are left.' with no support whatever but the one unfailing support, namely the perception of the goodness and beauty of the spirit, and the rightness of the way of the spirit. We may, if we desire, indulge in tentative speculations about the part played by the spirit in the universe. Indeed, it is right that we should do this, for it is involved in the way of the spirit. But intellectual integrity forbids that we should allow the findings of such speculations ever to become articles of faith. Our sole "faith" must be our supreme perceived certainty, namely our perception of the spirit as intrinsically good and the way of the spirit as intrinsically right, and of ourselves as essentially instruments of the spirit. In perceiving this certainty, and allowing it due weight in our lives, we do not violate scientific intellectual integrity; on the contrary, it is the scientific materialist who, by denying this patent fact, violates his own canons.

Along such lines alone can we solve the antithesis between religion and scientific materialism. If neither the churchmen nor the scientists are satisfied by this procedure, so much the worse for them. The future will look at the whole matter without their prejudices.

The antithesis between exaggerated individual- ism and the exaggerated cult of society is itself to be solved only in the light of the spirit. Those who are at all clearly aware of the spirit will not fall into either of these errors. For the spirit is not simply "in" individuals, nor simply "in" society. The spirit manifests itself solely in personality in community. It inheres in the mutual cherishing and mutual enriching of self-aware and other-aware individuals. Realising this, we shall never make the mistakes typical either of nineteenth-century individualism or of twentieth-century totalitarianism. We shall always recognise that both individual and society are abstractions, and that neither can exist without the other. No doubt there might, theoretically, be a human individual completely isolated from society, but he would grow up an imbecile, not a person. Personality involves society; and for its full expression it involves true community.

This realization of the mutual dependence of personality and community will not, of course, by itself solve the host of practical problems about the relation between individual liberty and social order, which become so acute in all great modern societies. But it will provide us with a sufficient standard by which, in the last resort, to judge all social policy. For those who are at all clearly aware of the spirit there can be no doubt whatever that the absolutely right goal of all social policy is the expression of the spirit in every individual up to the limit of his capacity. And expression of the spirit, let it never be forgotten, means development in sensitive and intelligent awareness, love and creative action. This can be doubted only by those who are blind to the spirit, or have a very distorted view of it. The blind are concerned wholly with self-seeking, using politics as a means to that end. The perverts try to mould society according to their false view of the spirit; for instance, toward militarism and the cult of might. But absolute pacifism also, though its source is a true and immensely important experience of the spirit, is in effect a perversion, for it abstracts a single aspect and sets it up as the whole truth.

Even among those who have a clear view of the spirit there may indeed be sharp disagreement about the practical means of securing the greatest possible development of personality-in-community. Some will be impressed more by the need to increase individual freedom; others by the need to restrict freedom in the common interest. Some will insist more on individual initiative, others on the necessity of creative social planning. Some will be temperamentally conservatives, others radical reformers. Some may feel that there should never in any circumstances be any exception to the principle of absolute equality of opportunity for every child and young person to develop and express his capacities in service of the spirit; others may recognize that even this principle may sometimes have to be slightly modified. To take an extreme example, if a society happens to contain a proportion of musically talented persons far beyond its needs, some of them might have to forgo the opportunity of a highly specialized professional training in music. Reluctantly they might find it necessary to choose some vocation for which they had less aptitude. Again, in times of grave social danger much sacrifice of individual talent may be necessary; for instance in war.

In spite of such differences about the means to social well-being, differences which will often be very serious, those who are clearly aware of the spirit will always be fundamentally in agreement. They will recognize that the right aim of social organization is to develop as fully as possible in every- individual such powers as he has of willing and expressing the spirit. Further, they will recognize that, though social organization is necessary for the economic and spiritual health of a society, organization alone can never ensure social well-being. A high quality of personal living and personal relationship, which is itself the supreme goal of society, is also the most important means for the attaining or the goal. For instance, although a well-organized educational system is necessary to secure sound education for all, in addition the teachers themselves must be sound persons, clearly aware of the spirit, and convinced that their main task is to evoke the spirit in their pupils. In all spheres the evoking. of the spirit is to be achieved mainly by the dally personal influence of those in whose conduct the spirit is manifest.

Important as organization is for social well-being, the quality of personal life and personal relationships is far more directly important. Of course there cannot be a high standard of personal living in a society where social conditions are permanently bad. Excessive frustration and conflict are bound to distort minds of average calibre. But, from the point of view of securing health for society, good social conditions are simply the means to a high standard of personal living. A society in which there is a widespread and strong disposition to treat all human beings with respect will be a fundamentally healthy society, even if the social order is rather muddled. A society in which there is a real will for intellectual integrity will not permit itself to commit the more extravagant kinds of social folly. A society in which the majority clearly recognize that creative action is one aspect of the spirit will not let itself be fettered by traditions and institutions that have ceased to be useful.

For the full health of a society there must, however, be something more than an amiable, disposition to treat people decently, more than lip-service to objectivity and intellectual integrity, more than a vague cult of creative action. There must be a widespread and clearly conscious passion for the spirit. Not only the cultural leaders but ordinary people must recognise that sensitive and intelligent awareness, love and creative action are the way of the spirit, and that we are all essentially instruments of the spirit. This truth must be accepted with joy and lived out in action by the citizens in their dealings with one another. In fact, the spirit must be worshipped.



Worshipped? How has this threadbare old word crept into my super-modern treatise on the need of our time? And what is it that must be worshipped? The spirit, I said; but I have defined the spirit merely as the potentiality for a certain kind of behaviour which I have called "the way of the spirit". One cannot worship a potentiality.

Worship in the old days was devotion to a divine person, conceived as all-knowing, all-loving and all-creating, and a very present help in trouble. For modern man this devotion is no longer possible. Nor, "if he is truly modern, does he desire it. But let us not too lightly dismiss the contention of the religious people that man needs "faith" to keep him straight and to callout 'the best in him. He needs to know, they say, that in behaving in the way of the spirit he is behaving in accordance with some- thing superhuman, something universal. They insist that sheer humanism, the devotion to the fullest possible development of man's nature just because it is man's, is not enough. What truth is there in this claim that faith in some universal power for good is necessary for calling out the best in men? The answer is that faith in the spirit is indeed necessary, or rather perception of the spirit; but that beliefs about the constitution of the universe are not necessary, and may be harmful.

Devotion to the spirit is at any rate devotion to something for its own sake, and not simply for its human usefulness. Worship of the spirit begins with disinterested passion for the way of the spirit, for actually living in that way in the innumerable situations that make up day-to-day life; but it is also something more than this, something very important but difficult to describe without seeming to pledge oneself to doubtful metaphysical theory.

I shall try to state what many people, including myself, actually feel about the superhuman aspect of the spirit, scrutinizing that feeling very closely, lest it lead to wishful thinking.

We feel that the spirit is in some sense one in all persons. This feeling may be simply illusory; but also it may be one of the significant groping intuitions of the human mind in its more awakened state. The feeling occurs perhaps most obtrusively ill well-developed personal love. The beloved, so different, so distinct from oneself, so obviously another particular being, is yet felt to be in some sense a manifestation of one and the same spirit as that which is felt also to be manifested in all that is best in oneself. Further, to love is not simply to love another individual, but also to love the unity of the self and the other; in fact, to love the community which they together form, or which the identical spirit in both of them creates as a fuller manifestation of itself. And community, both in the more intimate and in the more general spheres, is indeed strongly felt to be not merely the way of the spirit for individuals but in some sense the spirit itself in action.

But it is not only in love and other forms of community that we become aware of the identity of the spirit. The same feeling of fundamental identity may occur in every kind of human relationship, even in rivalry, conflict and hate. Looking into the eyes of my enemy I see a hated particular being; but I see also the very spirit that I know in myself. Further, in the contemplation of all fine human achievements, whether of personal generosity and heroism or of creative imagination, one may have a very confident feeling that all are achievements of, the single, universal spirit. Conceiving such activities to be carried out by non-human beings in some non-human sphere remote from this planet, one may feel with certainty the unity of the spirit in all its gloriously diverse manifestations, everywhere throughout the galaxies.

This mere feeling, this intuition, of the under- lying identity of all instruments and manifestations of the spirit should be very sceptically regarded by the intellect; but pragmatically it is valuable, for it can be a great source of strength and courage. And it is part of the activity which I call worship of the spirit. For to worship is to feel at once other than the object worshipped and yet essentially one with it; to feel alien, inferior, speechless with adoration, and yet also to feel at heart identical with it. Worship begins with the actual sin- conscious self's feeling for the self-that-might-be; but it goes on to the conception of an idealized and divine self-that-might-be, which the actual self cannot in fact ever be. And this ideal divine self is felt to be somehow actual in the universe. This feeling may, but need not, issue in belief. It should not be allowed to do so. Even worship must be agnostic.

From the feeling of the identity of the spirit in all its manifestations, arid of one's own essential unity with the spirit, there may follow a deep sense of security and comfort. I do not mean that it is evidence for intellectual beliefs about the friendliness of the universe or the existence of a loving God. I am speaking of a feeling, and of consequent other feelings. To describe such feelings in intellectual terms is inevitably to misrepresent them and to bring them into the region of truth and error, where they may appear illusory. Moreover the feeling of comfort and security refers not to the actual self's precarious individuality; it refers only to the spirit within the actual self. It promises no security whatever to the actual self as such. It promises no eternity of personal bliss. It is no evidence whatever for individual survival after death. The desire for individual survival does not spring from the spirit, save in the sense in which all desires are obscure expressions of the spirit, however perverted. The desire for survival is not one of the desires which simply follow from clear awareness of the spirit, It is an expression of the actual self's primitive self-preservation, or of its primitive affection for some other actual self. The sense of the unity of the spirit has no reference to the actual self, nor to the actual selves of others, save in respect of their harbouring the spirit. It affords only the conviction that the very spirit in me and others, of which the actual selves are but fleeting and imperfect expressions, is identical with the spirit everywhere, and is eternal. This would not bring any comfort at all to the separate actual self with all its little nagging needs, had it not already, in feeling the unity of the spirit, at least begun to die into the self-that-might-be, which cares only for the spirit.

There is another consequence of this feeling of the unity of the spirit. It inspires a deep sympathy with all living creatures, even the least impressive. For all are felt to be particular manifestations of the spirit, however slight and insignificant, and however inconvenient or harmful to human interests. Even when, for man's sake, living things must be killed, the killing must be done as mercifully as possible; and (so to speak) with respect. And even those more exalted but perverted creatures, the human enemies of spirit, must be respected as nevertheless manifestations of the spirit, Even when, in a disordered world, the only means of preventing them from doing immense harm is to attack them with bombers and tanks, we must do our utmost to remember that they, too, are the spirit's vessels. Hate is easier. Pacifism is in a way easier. But it is never easy to be true to the spirit.

Toward those whom one recognizes as superiors in the vast hierarchy of the spirit one may feel, in virtue of the unity of the spirit, admiration un-tinged by jealousy. For their achievement is the spirit's achievement in them; and in oneself lesser things are achieved by the same spirit. The left hand need not be jealous of the right hand's cunning.

Contemplating one's own shortcomings and triumphs in the way of the spirit, and the triumphs of the most awakened human beings, one may imaginatively glimpse something of the unfulfilled possibilities of the spirit, in man and in other conceivable creatures. This exercise cannot give any precise truth about the spirit in its non-human and sometimes superhuman reaches, but it can free us from the limitations of complacent humanism, and fill us with a proper sense of the infinite and glorious potentiality of the spirit. Moreover, whatever the alien wealth and diverse splendour of the spirit in unknown worlds scattered among the galaxies, whatever manifestations of it lie wholly beyond the confines of the cosmos, we feel with certainty the spirit's underlying unity and identity. We ourselves, in our tortured but vital human world, are one with it, even in its remotest and most austere forms.

Another aspect of our experience must be recorded. The spirit, so far as it is recognizable by us, is that which expresses itself in sensitive, intelligent awareness, love and creative action, in no matter what modes or ranks of being; but the universe seems in one of its aspects utterly alien and hostile to the spirit. The frail instruments of the spirit are destroyed in millions by natural disasters, by earthquakes and eruptions, by floods and storms and plagues, and even more devastatingly through the consequences of their own baser nature, which leads them to indulge in economic exploitation and war. Many a world may well have been shattered by physical catastrophe or ruined by the folly of its inhabitants. Apart from these occasional apocalyptic disasters, there is the perennial mutual torture which the instruments of the spirit inflict on one another in the intimate sphere of personal relations, not only by their conflicts and hates but even by their very loves. And how often are the more awakened beings tortured or destroyed by the Jess awakened! Creatures on every evolutionary plane may be devoured by parasites less developed than them- selves. There are microbes, gangsters, speculators, demagogues, dictators.

We react to all this horror in one or other of two ways. We may think of the spirit simply as the source of all sensitive and intelligent awareness, all love and creative action, and as a factor within an indifferent universe. In this case we give our allegiance wholly to the spirit as it is revealed to us, and the horror we regard as wholly alien to the spirit. Our passion is one of moral fervour for the way of the spirit, and for the triumph of the spirit in its struggle to awake. Whatever seems to prevent its victory is simply evil. But there is another possible mood. Knowing in our own lives that the more awakened often appears alien and hostile to the less awakened, knowing too that the actual self has often to die in order to make way for a better self-that-might-be, we may regard the whole tragic drama of the universe from this point of view. Then, contemplating all the frustration and horror, we may feel that in some obscure way even this must be a manifestation of spirit, but on a plane beyond our comprehension. This conviction we may come to entertain not merely as an intellectual theory; we may feel the presence of an overwhelming, terrible beauty, careless of us, yet compelling our adoration. In fear and worship we abase ourselves before it. In this mood, though we accept in terror, we also welcome with strange joy. And then, inevitably personifying, we may say to the spirit thus conceived, "Use me, break me; but let my breaking be a part of your dread beauty. Use and break this human species, this human world. Destroy it with fire or frost, or through the consequence of its own folly and half-heartedness, like the countless other lovely, tortured worlds that you have so gloriously conceived and coldly discarded. But let the breaking of this human instrument somehow contribute to your music."

These two moods, though logically in conflict with one another, are the alternating moods of worship. The one is the mood of uncompromising moral protest for the. spirit in its recognizable struggle to waken; the other is the mood which accepts and welcomes the final defeat of all recognizable spirit as somehow involved in the rightness of things, involved in the perfection of the universal spirit itself. In some situations and for some persons the one intuition, but in other situations and for other persons the other, is the mainstay. Either, or both together may be clung to as a "faith". But if a "faith" is an explicit intellectual conviction about the universe, it is not permissible.

What the truth is about the part of the spirit in the universe, we cannot know. Out of loyalty to the spirit itself we must refrain from persuading ourselves that we do know. The two conflicting feelings which constitute worship of the spirit must be simply felt; we must not build any explicit "faith" or belief upon them.

Both these feelings may have a far-reaching and awakening effect on our lives, making us at once more resolute and more temperate. This is all to the good, so long as we can refrain from intellectual beliefs about the universe. We must not, for instance, believe that the spirit in the universe is a personal God, loving us as actual selves. Nor must we believe that spirit is somehow the essence and reality of all things, and that the seeming opposition to it is illusion, terrible to the finite mind, yet all "within the picture". While emotionally we worship the spirit with one or other of the two religious feelings, or both at once, we must at the same time, for the spirit's own sake, remain intellectually agnostic. Indeed, for very loyalty to the spirit itself we must see that our piety remains always agnostic piety.

We can well afford agnosticism about the universe, for we have our great certainty about the spirit. Our perception of the beauty and rightness of the spirit in day-to-day personal living is all that we need for inner peace and for action.

Chapter 4

Beyond the "Isms" Contents