Typos p. 264: dessicated [= desiccated]; p. 267: befel [= befell]; p. 269: himeslf [= himself]; p. 273: puritannical [= puritanical]; p. 276: sancrosanct [= sacrosanct]; p. 276: infldel [= infidel]
The Life Forces and Religion I
As, however, a satisfactory religion for him can only be one whose tenets do not conflict with the present accumulation of data concerning the nature of the world and its visible and hidden forces because, otherwise, he cannot be sure that in his thoughts, strivings and imaginings, he is in harmony with or in opposition to, these same forces he recognizes as an essential first step in any search for a satisfying religion, the necessity of prosecuting a narrow scrutiny of all the scientific and philosophic knowledge now available concerning human life and life in general.
Consequently, in the opening chapters of Part II, we had to discuss as briefly as possible the probable nature of living matter and of the forces animating and controlling it, and try to determine what means were to hand, if any, for contacting these forces and turning them to our service. Nor did this mean what is commonly understood by aiming at the "Mastery of Nature"; the sort of mastery that has procured all our staggering triumphs in technology, all the feats now performed in medicine, physics, chemistry, etc., and the hardly credible achievements in rapid aerial transport and submarine navigation. For this sort of mastery, while it may have contributed to the many influences that have undermined our faith in the older religions, is secured by other means than those employed in the search for the identity, physiognomy and psychology, as it were, of the power or
Hence the detailed examination we have had to make of living matter; of the properties attributed to it by cytologists and biologists; of how these properties operate in the living organism; how the living organism can mobilize the life forces to effect its purpose, and in what spirit i.e., with what bias, parti-pris, or tendency the life forces respond. And from this examination which we have kept as brief as was consistent with clarity and cogency, we have inferred that the life forces most probably are:
(a) Impersonal and undiscriminating. They give fair field and no favour to all alike and care not who wins or how.
(b) Indifferent concerning what we humans of a late civilization call "quality". In other words, they have no "taste" in our sense.
(c) As a consequence of (a) and (b), they favour no upward trend in the evolutionary process. Thus inferior (i.e., degenerate) outnumber superior (i.e., progressed, advanced, more highly-organized) creatures, and where the latter arise there is nothing to prevent their prompt or ultimate degradation. The only factor in the life forces that appears to promote superiority in this sense, is the factor (a).
(d) Animated, not by a mere will to live, but by a will to power. This manifests itself as a trend in all living matter; conflicts with the adverse influences of (a), (b), and (c), and is the only factor in life that accounts for the achievement of any continuous progressive line of beings. Nor is it insignificant that in all periods of decline among the highest product of evolution Man will to power should be reviled in its highest manifestations and tolerated only where surreptitiously, and in a manner unobserved by ordinary men and women, it does most harm; i.e.,
(e) Destitute of any equivalent of what human societies call "morality". It is therefore otiose to seek the roots of any moral value in Nature. The life forces are indifferent to what man understands as Good and Evil-ideas which have no meaning outside human groups. The very concept of this dichotomy, together with the innumerable conflicting codes derived from it, is as peculiar to man as are honey to the life of the honey-bee (Apis-Mellifica) and silk to that of the mulberry-feeding moth (Bombyx mori).
(f) Manifest in all living matter as both life and mind, indissolubly integrated. Of the simplest protozoon as of the lowliest cell of all organisms, whether vegetable or animal, no life can be postulated without also postulating intelligence. Late in the day though it may be to recognize this fact, it is quickly becoming a commonplace among men of science. (See the testimony to this effect given in Part I, Chap. VII and Part II, Chap. III, supra.) Over twenty-five years ago, for instance. Dr. Stanford Read, in a lecture delivered to the Isle of Thanet Division of the British Medical Association, said, "The old bugaboo of the relations existing between mind and body must be relegated to the dust-heap. We must regard body and mind as simply different aspects of an individual who is a psychosomatic unity" (B.M.J. 36.5.34). And why must we do this? Because the individual who is a psychosomatic unity is composed of billions of cells, all of which are a compound of life and intelligence, inseparably integrated.
Only thus can we explain the memory, purposive functions and sensitiveness of living cells and understand their sleepless awareness and capacity to respond to physical and chemical agents, in addition to all the marvels of Nature which are the outcome of this capacity even in the world of vegetables.
Incidentally, it is also only thus that we can reasonably conceive of cells becoming dérouté i.e., confused, bewildered and frustrated, and manifesting these morbid conditions in disease, especially in such diseases as cancer.
(g) Intelligent. Therefore, it is idle to discuss development, Variation and evolution, as Darwin and neo-Darwinians attempted to do, without taking intelligence into account. And here we find abundant justification for the criticism which lay thinkers like Nietzsche, Butler and others less famous, thought fit
(h) Formative and improvisatory. Usually as a consequence of an environmental change, and in response to an appropriate stimulus originating in the organism, the life forces institute structural changes in the organism and register such changes in its "genes" so as to form a template or working "blueprint", which ensures the transmission of the said changes to its progeny. The appropriate stimulus in question is generated in the organism's imagination in the form of little more than a mute striving, with the end desired pictured as achieved. That this is probably the way in which variation occurs seems to be the necessary inference from all the data we have adduced. We can only suppose that the phenomenon, as more or less conceived by Lamarck, represents the probable process by which variation comes about; although we hope that by introducing the factors of hypnotism and suggestion, we have given it greater scientific support than the knowledge of his day enabled him to do.
However small and slight the first structural changes aiming at adaptation may be, and however imperceptible they may appear, it is their cumulative effect that counts, and in the end this cumulative effect may be so substantial as wholly to metamorphose an organism and differentiate it from its ancestors.
An essential condition of successful adaptation through gradual modifications of this nature, appears to be that the "small mutations" should come about without any exertion of will on the part of the organism a condition easily, if not invariably, fulfilled by the lower animals, but harder for man and more rarely fulfilled by him, owing to his difficulty in shutting off the light, as it were, of his more lively consciousness and the clear perception it gives him of the possible solutions of his problem and their pros and cons. For, although he may frame no definite solution in his imagination and merely imagine himself released from his difficulty, he has to be inordinately attentive and careful if he is to succeed in preventing an element of volition from creeping insensibly into his meditations and supplications. Often probably in the majority of cases he is too unpractised in introspection to
Whether this mobilization of the life forces by the living organism for the purpose of securing their intervention and of setting their formative functions in motion within the organism itself, has any parallel and equivalent form which would enable the organism to move the cosmic life forces for a purpose outside its own structure i.e., in order to effect a purpose confined to other beings, to affect their fate, or otherwise influence them, is a question difficult to answer with anything like the precision and certainty with which we can answer it in relation to the organism itself. There are many signs and even many facts which suggest that it may be possible, and such phenomena as telepathy and clairvoyance at least indicate that cosmic consciousness in some way communicates with the individual organism's mind and vice versâ; but so much charlatanry and fraud has become associated with this aspect of the matter, that it is now not easy to extricate the kernel of truth from the mass of sophistry and misinterpretation with which it has become encrusted. Nevertheless, we shall return to this problem in another chapter.
At all events, with this brief summary before us, of the major attributes with which we may legitimately clothe the powers behind phenomena, it should be possible to draw the inferences we need in order to outline the kind of religion and religious practices that are acceptable to the modern thoughtful man. For, having lifted the whole question out of the ruts of fancy and conjecture into which it so easily sinks, we are in a position to formulate a creed and a method of religious observance firmly rooted in that world of verifiable fact which we daily apprehend with our bodily senses. Nor will our results be any the less credible or worthy of our confidence for being based on a view of the life forces that at least covers more facts than that pictured by the orthodox school of Evolutionists and Biologists, with their outmoded and outworn reliance on "chance" and on alleged inexplicable variations and mutations.
We have seen the extent to which the seven major attributes of the life forces we have described, conflict with, the dogmatic assumptions of our leading religion concerning the power behind phenomena. It is moreover hoped that the reader may also have seen how much more consistent with reality these seven major attribute? are, than those advanced by the leading religion in
This does not mean, however, that we shall find it easy to look at the world afresh, through the optics of these seven major attributes. For we have become so much accustomed to the old cosmogony, so hardened against its many improbabilities, not to say absurdities, that willy-nilly we shall often find ourselves back-sliding into the old familiar myths and superstitions and, forgetting their incompatibility with a sound biology and psychology.
In any case, when we glance back at the ground we have covered, we perceive that what we have throughout been concerned with and hope actually to have settled, is the nature of the essential link uniting man's religious beliefs and practices with their counterpart and root in the life of the organisms, whether vegetable or animal, that have either preceded him or are more or less his collaterals, although lower than he is in the evolutionary scale. Many histories of religion and many treatises on the science of religion and on the comparative study of religions have been written; but I am not aware of any treatise in which the attempt has been made to trace, not only the religious attitude, but also the practices issuing from it, to their source in organic life.
Having here made this attempt, however, when we now set off to apply our findings in the way suggested and, in the light these findings throw, to review the problem of religion as a whole, what is the first conclusion we feel compelled to draw? It relates to a fact as strange as it is unexpected, and one which does not appear to have been noticed by any previous writers on this subject. And the fact in question is that, in all religions, it is not the peculiar features that differentiate them one from the other that constitute the more sound, more impregnable aspect of their character; it is not their peculiar creeds, dogmata, metaphysical and ethical systems, hopes and fears; nor are these peculiar features the part of them that is most immune to destructive analysis and criticism. On the contrary, these are the least sound, most perishable parts, the parts most deserving both of criticism and destructive analysis. On the other hand, it is that aspect of them which consists in the manner of their observance, their physical drill, so to speak, which, by its uniformity almost
But, in the actual physical or bodily ritual of the world religions, it is as if some profoundly rooted instinct, handed down from man's animal forebears, had, from the earliest beginnings of the hominoid stem, withstood man's inveterate proneness to sophistication, mystification and obfuscation, in order to preserve sanity in religious observance, whilst allowing every kind of extravagant nonsense and mumbo-jumbo to invade and corrupt the dogma, legend, metaphysics and ethics of every religion. Even in Christianity, whose dogma and ethics have been shown to be both insensate and pernicious, we find the same essentially wise and rational observational practices and rules for divine service, deviating hardly at all from what must be recognized as the highest common factor in all world religions.
This conclusion is certainly impressive. But, far from warranting any inference implying a supernatural or "divine" origin of all religion, it should on the contrary suggest the probable validity of our own terre-à-terre findings and reasoning; for it harmonizes with such singular exactitude with the biological data we have adduced, that this harmony alone constitutes independent and indirect confirmation of our thesis.
Thus, if in accordance with this conclusion, we study one of the most basic ritualistic features common to most religions the posture of the religious man in the act of worship and supplication we find a striking similarity between them. Whether we turn to Islam or Hinduism, to the ancient Hebraic religion, or to Christianity; aye! even if we turn to the religion of the old Assyrian states, we invariably find that the posture assumed by the worshipper and petitioner is of a kind which psychologically spells self-surrender, the suspension of personal volition. In plain
"And at the evening of the sacrifice," says Ezra, "I arose from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God" (Ezra ix. 5).
"And," we are told that "Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the Lord until the eventide," and thus appealed to his Lord for guidance and counsel (Joshua vii. 6).
We are also told "that when Solomon had made an end of praying all his prayer and supplication unto the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with hands spread up to heaven" (I Kings viii. 54).
It is always the same pattern. Genuflexion and the gathering of the body together in an attitude of will-less subjection (Recueillement), seems to be man's natural reaction to the emotion accompanying self-surrender and humble supplication. Even among unsophisticated primitives this appears to be so; and in Christianity, as early as St. Basil (A.D. 330379), kneeling was described as the lesser, and prostration as the greater, penance. Wherever the denial of any velleity to self-assertion, self-sufficiency, or self-affirmation, is the dominant mood, men almost universally and certainly instinctively fall into the posture instantly recognizable as expressing the abandonment of self-direction. Only when they praise or thank their deity, do they stand, because in praise and thanksgiving, they strike a personal note, express a personal appreciation, and offer personal judgments for acceptance. Hence the posture during the recitation of the Psalms and in the singing of hymns.
It is, however, most important to bear in mind that the posture has not merely an objective significance. Even more vitally significant than its instinctive character and its impression on the onlooker, is its subjective influence on the individual worshipper or supplicant himself; for its effect on his mind is to help him to suspend volition. Apart from any emotions that may accompany it, qua poise it suggests to the mind of the supplicant the very mood or state most favourable to the success of his petition
In view of the almost universal incidence of this bodily ritual in prayer and supplication, and its persistence throughout probably tens of millenniums (for if it is found among primitives, it was probably also habitual among the pre-historic ancestors of races now highly civilized), one is inclined to infer that its success as a form of religious observance has been instrumental in securing its permanence. But, tempting as this supposition is, it would be rash to entertain it; because, as we shall see in a moment, it is most unlikely that the efficacy of prayer is an experience vouchsafed to the great majority. More probable is the fact that, being instinctive, it has persisted in spite of its disappointments, however caused, and, owing to its proved efficacy in the experience of exceptionally gifted and leading figures among mankind, it has been established by them as an essential feature of all religious observance.
Professor J. B. Pratt, referring to "the bent knee, the closed eye and other bodily postures commonly used in worship," says, "Most of the postures in question tend to concentration of attention" (T.R.C. Chap. XV). Surely, however, as we have seen, they do more than that. Attention can be concentrated at theatres, prize-fights, and games matches, without any need of the postures habitual to a man engaged in prayer and supplication. But at least Professor Pratt agrees that these postures are "instinctive expressions . . . developed directly from human nature" (Ibid.). Hence their universality.
Professor Segond is a little nearer the truth when, referring to the same bodily adjustments in prayer, he says, "toutes ces conditions ont pour fin encore d'amener les fidèles à se recueillir" (La Prière, 1911, pp. 7273. "The aim of all these conditions is again to induce the faithful to become wrapt in holy meditation"). This avoids Professor Pratt's fundamental misunderstanding of the situation induced by the praying and supplicating subject; a misunderstanding sufficiently illustrated by his remark that "appropriate artifices hypnotism and self-suggestion can carry the power of our will over our organism to a yet further point" than
Professor Pratt makes the self-same mistake constantly committed by the average common man, and even, as we have seen, by a thinker as acute as Bernard Shaw. For the whole secret of a successful appeal to the life forces, as also the very meaning and virtue of the praying man's posture, as our argument has shown, is the suspension of the will. We should have liked to ask Professor Pratt how he proposed to reconcile the remark just quoted, with the attitude instinctively assumed by man when praying or appealing to his deity for some favour.
Thus, the Rev. Hubert Northcott is closer to the truth when, writing about prayer, he says, "We possess one capacity of enormous assistance in our meditations the imagination" (V.O.P. Chap. IV). And, in speaking of faith, he says, "the right use of the imagination is an immeasurable help to this" (V.O.P. Chap. VI). John Magee also appears to understand the matter better than Professor Pratt when he says, "Prayer is putting oneself at the complete disposal of the supreme Will" (R.P. Chap. IX). Exactly!
He is also extremely good in his description of the bodily adjustments necessary for the recueillement of the man in prayer.
"We systematically release all tensions from the body . . . we repeatedly move in imagination from head to toe and say to each muscle, 'Let go!' Tensions in the face will be the last to give up [absolutely true!]. The final phase in relaxation is letting go the will" (R.P. Chap. 12). This is excellent and shows profound understanding of the whole problem; for, in tensing even one single muscle, however small, we keep our volition alert and active, and under such circumstances its complete suspension is impossible. Mr. Magee is consistent because he recognizes that the principle "not my will, but thine be done", is physically symbolized by the body sunk in an attitude of resigned supplication,
Imagine a soldier commanding his men to deploy, to advance, to take cover, or to charge. However hard we try, we find it impossible to picture him voicing such commands with his head bowed, his knees flexed, his whole body relaxed, and his limbs gathered together and folded in an attitude of humble submission. Nor, if he attempted to utter any such commands while in such a posture, could he hope to be obeyed. On the contrary, every fibre in his body must be tense and loaded with will-power; all his being must exhale volition, if he is to hope to command and lead. Otherwise, he will fail miserably to move his followers. So archaic, so presapient, familiar and universally understood is the language of the body, and so much older than speech; so intimate is its influence on the mind of him who mutely uses it semantically, that no one needs an interpreter in order to understand it instantly.
Indeed, its very antiquity, its roots in the animal world of millions of years ago, causes it to be so unmistakable, so instinctive, that the sense of compulsion which forces men in religious supplication to fall on their knees and make all the muscular adjustments compatible with the suspension of volition, is probably but a hangover, a vigorous age-long and immortal vestige of that instinct in animals which, operating in response to an untoward environmental change, places them in imagination in touch with the life forces and enables them to mobilize formative and improvisatory powers that secure improved adaptation.
Be this as it may, and no matter how we may choose to explain it, the fact remains that this peculiar and distinctive bodily ritual of humanity at prayer, is one of the most essential and universal of religious practices, and gives a picture of worldwide unanimity contrasting so sharply and strangely with the conflicts, bitter antagonisms and feuds that beset the creeds, dogmata and doctrines of the various religions, that the true friend of mankind can but deplore the disparate fortunes of these two aspects of religion.
Had the religious beliefs of the world revealed the same universal unanimity as does this one basic feature of their ritualistic observance, how different and how much happier would our history have been, and how much more rational would have been our present attitude to all religious questions!
The Life Forces and Religion II
This is exceedingly apt and, apart from one important omission concerning the function of the mind that should be engaged in prayer, it might serve as a condensed summary of the thesis presented in this book. Yet, how many people, even among the clergy, have understood the true nature of prayer? Professor Pratt, as I have shown, misunderstood it so fundamentally as almost to have forfeited his right to discuss the questions constituting the matter of his book. No wonder Cowper, who, as the son of a clergyman and brought up in the bosom of the Church, knew what he was talking about, felt able to exclaim:
"The few that pray at all pray oft amiss" (The Task: Winter Walk at Noon).
"Sometimes our prayers are not answered," says Mr. Magee. "This fact has put a stop to the praying of many men and caused an agonizing perplexity for others" (R.P. Chap. 3). Quite so! But although Mr. Magee certainly knew what had failed when prayers remained unanswered for his excellent instructions concerning prayer quoted in the previous chapter prove it he hardly makes the point unmistakably clear for the common man. As, however, all prayer is supplication; i.e., begging for something; it cannot surprise us that the widespread ignorance of the proper way to pray, and the considerable difficulties of praying properly, even when there is complete knowledge of how to do so, should all too frequently lead to the supplicant's disappointment. For, when we reflect that even learned clerics often share
No better example of the ignorance often found in learned members of the clergy, could be given than the Rev. Dr. T. H. Hughes' extraordinary and wholly unjust criticism of Dr. Coué. "Coué assumes", he says, "that in every individual the imagination is stronger than the will, and in a conflict can always win control and mastery. Such an assumption is psychologically false and against all the trend of modern thought" (N.P.R.E. Chap. VII).
In view of the data and reasoning in my last chapters, it should scarcely be necessary to call the alert reader's attention to the errors and false suggestions in this grossly misleading statement all the more surprising for coming as it does from a learned divine. Indeed so totally is it at variance with Coué's teaching that Dr. Hughes can hardly stir from his position in this matter but he will mend. Nevertheless, as a conspicuous example of the kind of misunderstanding of both Coué and prayer, which prevails today, it is too important to be briefly dismissed and the argument must be held up for a space while it is discussed.
First of all, as every attentive reader will at once have perceived, it is quite inaccurate to represent Coué as having ever uttered the nonsense about imagination and will, which Dr. Hughes ascribes to him. It also amounts to confusing the issue, to withhold from the ill-informed reader the precise connection in which Coué compares the influence of the imagination and the will respectively; for it will be remembered that never once is he so palpably mistaken as to suggest that the imagination is per se stronger than the will. He does not in fact mention strength in this connection. What he says is, that it is the only effective way of contacting and mobilizing the life forces, and that will, in this regard, is a hindrance rather than a help. Indeed, so far is he from even hinting that the imagination is stronger than the will that, as we have seen, he warns us against allowing will to insinuate itself into our supplication, lest it defeat the imagination and make the supplication a failure.
To say, therefore, that Coué teaches that the imagination is superior in strength to the will, is as inaccurate as it would be to say of a carpenter who recommends a screwdriver rather than a chisel for driving in a screw, that he assumes that the screwdriver is stronger than the chisel.
There can be no need to elaborate this. Any man of average intelligence will know what I wish to imply; and if he asks himself why it is that that form of male prostitution, in which the male would be expected for a fee to play the normal male rôle in a heterosexual union, has never been possible in the way that its converse has been (simply because the male cannot at, will command his readiness for the embrace), he will at once acknowledge that it completely vindicated Coué's theory.
When we think of the appalling cruelties to which the misunderstanding of this phenomenon by rich ancient Roman, and comparatively recent Russian, women (however senile and repulsive) must have led when, fascinated by a young male slave they sought to compel his co-operation in venery, we at once recognize the affinity of the life forces with imagination rather than the will. For we may be sure that if these unfortunate victims of their female owners' lusts, could by an act of will have rendered themselves able to perform the service demanded, they would certainly have done so in order to spare themselves the floggings and other tortures, let alone the death, to which their inability abandoned them. For their owners, interpreting their inability as a deliberate refusal, usually vented their rage in the most brutal manner. This may strike the reader as a trivial instance of will being unable to act on the life forces; but it is a very significant one, and confirms the Coué hypothesis to the hilt. For the fact that tumescence cannot be summoned at will is but one small feature of a vast body of truths which includes the more sensational, perhaps, but not necessarily the more significant, facts, supporting Coué's theory.
Strange to say, as Dr. Hughes presents Coué's alleged assumption, it is quite properly described by the learned divine as "psychologically false". Unfortunately for him, however, Coué was never guilty of it. Coué's only claim in regard to this matter
So that we must, however reluctantly, conclude that Dr. Hughes not only misunderstood Coué and the most important part of his doctrine, but also, through his failure to grasp its immense significance in relation to prayer, he betrays the fact that he has meditated about prayer to little purpose.
After this can we be surprised that the majority of laymen today fail to understand the only conditions under which prayer can meet with any response? For the reader may rest assured that the errors of the Rev. Dr. Hughes are by no means unique among clerics of even great learning. It is too often forgotten even by those who should know better, that prayer is essentially the elaboration of a request to the power behind phenomena. Mr. Edwyn Bevan is very sound on this point and takes severely to task the sort of pedantic purist who, whilst believing in prayer, disapproves of "petitionary prayer". As he quite rightly says, such an attitude is "without meaning". "Prayer", he maintains, "is by the very definition of the term petitionary, what it means is, asking that something we desire may take place. . . . Prayer is just the petitionary part of worship" (C.P. Chap. VI). Quite so! In fact, as I have tried to show, human prayer is but the late fruit of that primitive plant, the desire and striving of lowlier organisms when confronted with environmental changes, to which they are anxious to become adapted. It is the human analogue of this desire and striving. How, therefore could it be other than petitionary? And when F. W. H. Myers, in a letter to a friend, admitted that "we do not know enough of what takes place in
My belief in Coué's teaching was never more completely confirmed than when, in the early months of 1925, I became a regular pupil of Mathias Alexander, under whom I was trained in correct deportment during the ensuing four years. One of the first things he tried to inculcate upon me, and what at first seemed so fantastic as to strike me as laughable, was that my body would most surely respond to any statement I made about its adjustments, provided that, when making it, I remained completely relaxed and with no muscle tensed not even those at my knees. "Don't try to do anything!" he would repeat. "Simply relax your neck, let your shoulders and arms fall loosely down, and recite: 'My neck relaxed and my head forward and up, to widen.' " And, lo and behold, in due course it all happened Just as he said. In fact, I widened so much where it was most necessary for my health and well-being that I should widen i.e., in the region of my floating ribs and costal arch that quite soon my old waistcoats began to feel too tight and ultimately had to be discarded. As he had warned me from the start not to order any new clothes for a little while to come, I was not a little impressed by the fulfilment of his forecast. But what a revelation it was! And how wonderful was the response of the life forces latent in my being to the correct approach! I am well aware that nothing would vex Alexander more than to hint that there was the slightest similarity between his methods and Coué's; and, indeed, although it would take me too long here to explain their many differences, some of them were fundamental. Something, however, they did have in common, and it was important: both demanded a self-disciplinary elimination of tension and wilfulness in the act of suggesting adjustments to the body, and both assumed as it happens correctly that suggestions made to the body in the proper form, secure the desired result.
There is no reason to suppose that Mr. Magee ever studied under Alexander or Coué, or had ever heard of either. Yet, when I compare his instructions for prayer with much of what Alexander and Coué taught their pupils in respect of instituting desir-
When we clearly envisage the situation of a human being, particularly of a modern go-getting, end-gaining one, the product of Western civilization, with all his lively consciousness and wilfulness and, above all, corrupted, by that recent defect of a feminist society the lack of discipline and, above all, of any practice or expertise in self-discipline; we appreciate the enormous snags lurking in the path of him who today resorts to prayer in order to seek alleviation from pain, or release from any other kind of maladaptation caused by an untoward change in his own body or in his environment.
Today, such a man is hampered by many disadvantages, of which, in his ignorance of what prayer demands, he can have no suspicion. To begin with, he is usually somewhat confused concerning to whom to address his supplication: what power he hopes to move in his interest. If he is a churchman, he thinks of the God of the Old arid New Testament, in whose composite being there are obvious incompatibilities and inconsistencies, as Heine so eloquently pointed out. As, moreover, he is in the habit of taking part in communal prayer at least once weekly, and has ample opportunity of smuggling his own personal requests into the communal supplication, he has to find himself in unusual distress in order to approach "the principle from which he draws his life" in an independent appeal; and the fact that he is induced to adopt this course by a situation of private need will make it difficult for him to exclude volition and thoughts about the pros and cons of his chances of a response, which will introduce doubt into his supplication. Nor will he be in the least aware of the fatal consequences of these factors of volition and doubt in his appeal.
Of this, however, we may feel fairly certain, that no matter what may be the object or nature of his appeal to his deity, he will as a churchman always imagine his deity as the highest exponent of the morals his Church professes, and will therefore
If he is not a churchman, but the kind of modern religiously indifferent man, who only turns to the "magic" of religion in foul weather, he will, when in a jam, resort to praying, just as many an unreligious soldier did in World Wars I and II, merely because he feels himself encompassed by mortal perils and "may as well try" religion, just as he might try a gamble on a racecourse, or seek any other form of occult succour involving the element "luck". He is then likely to appeal to the same God to whom he made his last perfunctory prayer a decade or less ago, and will passionately entreat this mysterious power of his earliest memories to grant him some exceptional favour. Thus thousands of soldiers in World War I, who may never have prayed before in their adulthood, began to pray fervently for a "Blighty" i.e., a non-mortal wound serious enough to secure them a passage home in a hospital ship. Many who thus prayed and remained uninjured whilst yet escaping death, would forestall a deaf Providence by mutilating themselves, or else by secretly obtaining information concerning where there was a certainty of contracting some severe venereal infection.
At all events, no matter what he may pray for, we may be perfectly sure that this kind of man, unlike his churchman brother, will in his prayers be handicapped by no pious scruples concerning the morals of the power he is hoping to move. And, strange to say, in this respect, as we have seen, he will be nearer the truth about the nature of the life forces than his churchman brother. In the same adventurous spirit with which he tosses a coin, he will pray for any service, however immoral, from the deity he hopes to enlist in his cause; nor can I conceive it as necessarily beyond him, as a wretched trench-fighter in a static war, to pray even for the prompt defeat of his own country if it meant an immediate cessation of hostilities and therefore of his unspeakable misery. Like a child, he uses prayer merely as a handy weapon to be magically directed against any untoward circumstance, and is never bothered by fears lest the course he
I remember quite well as a child, praying ardently for the prompt demise of my brother whenever I had a bitter quarrel with him, and always felt rather cheated when I saw him continue to flourish in spite of my imprecations.
Mr. John Magee says: "We do not pray for the moon and stars to change their courses, but we may well pray for those multitudinous events in which the undetermined future is yet to be made" (R.P. Chap. IX). He implies that, if we wish them to be answered, the object of our prayers should be kept within the bounds of possibility or probability. Thus he points out rather illogically, I think, for a Christian that "It would be useless, in my opinion, to pray to restore an amputated leg" (R.P. Chap. 3).
Nowhere, however, does he draw the necessary moral from this sound remark. But the reader who remembers the argument in the previous chapters of this book, will at once perceive how wholly it confirms my description of the mechanism of prayer. For, since prayer is the human approximation to that desire and striving of lowlier organisms which mobilizes the improvisatory and formative powers of the life forces in the organism itself, and proceeds by small and gradual mutations to accomplish the changes needed for adaptation, it is incompatible with the mechanisms required to restore spontaneously and de toute pièce a substantial part of a limb in a creature as highly organized as a human being.
From the point of view of a true Christian, however, who believes in the omnipotence of his deity, there is surely an inconsistency in Mr. Magee's statement. Because, omnipotence with its implication the ever present possibility of miraculous intervention cannot be reconciled with the sort of limitation Mr. Magee suggests. For this reason I have always thought that Christians who advocate Euthanasia are fundamentally inconsistent; because, they thus renounce all belief in the possibility of a miracle altering a sufferer's condition for the better at the eleventh hour. On the other hand, the limitations Mr. Magee sets to answerable prayer are quite consistent with the view of prayer and the power it appeals to, which has been set forth in this book.
But, whether the man offering up prayer happens to be a churchman or not, as things are today probably neither of these men would possess any knowledge of how to pray. Indeed, even if he did possess it, it is most unlikely that he would be able to
Speaking of the converted Negro's Christianity, Mary Kingsley said: "The African was sure to feel in time that from a practical point of view, and he had almost no other the white God was no more help than the Fetish gods when calamity descended" (Mary Kingsley, by Olwen Campbell, 1957, Chap. 6). This is probably quite true. But does anyone suppose that the missionaries ever teach their converts how to pray? And even if they did, is it likely that the Blacks would understand how to apply the teaching?
What he actually says and expresses in his prayer is, however, only too often the least part of the individual man's influence both on his own and other people's fate; for, what takes place in his subconscious mind, whither his least respectable and least mentionable desires are relegated, is usually of far greater moment. The reason for this should, on the basis of my foregoing exposition of the principles involved, hardly need to be explained. It will suffice to point out that the fact such wishes and longings are banished from the conscious mind and refoulés i.e., driven under protects them from the interference of conscious doubt and volition, and makes them more potent mobilizers of the life forces. Let me give but one example to illustrate this, drawn from an experience often enough repeated in my lifetime, the rationale of which nevertheless remained unperceived and even unsuspected by those chiefly concerned with the relevant events.
Again and again, I have noticed that when in a family of only two sisters, one is uncommonly comely and the other correspondingly plain, the more comely one has been exposed throughout her life to the direst peril, and that her death has often enough occurred before her twenty-first birthday, without either her plain sister or her parents being in the least aware of
What obviously ruined my own ardent efforts to rid my home of my momentarily hated brother, whenever we had had a violent quarrel, was the fact that, as a boy of seven or eight, I would retire to our drawing-room in a fit of rage and, with clenched teeth and every muscle tensed with fury, kneel down to insist on God's removing him from my presence for good. This proved my brother's salvation.
I hope I have now said enough to elucidate the problem of prayer and to have satisfactorily disposed of the doubts F. W. H. Myers not unnaturally felt over half a century ago, about the way "prayer operates". In my final chapter, therefore, I shall try to round off my thesis by dealing with the few remaining problems connected with the thoughtful man's religion, which still have to be discussed.
The Life Forces and Religion III
We have moreover seen the connection this capacity has had, probably throughout human history, with the formation of the various religious attitudes and their corresponding practices. Then, after briefly referring to the many features, whether of dogma, doctrine or ethics, differentiating these attitudes features not detailed here because of their notorious accessibility in treatises on Comparative Religion and World Religions we discovered one most important feature of religious observance which, because it seemed common to all the leading religions and many primitive ones, pointed significantly to an essential truth connecting religion with the more mysterious factors of the evolutionary process; a connection which lent considerable validity to our thesis.
For we found human prayer, when properly and effectively performed, but a late outgrowth of a petitionary equivalent already operating in all the lowlier organisms in moments of stress and maladaptation resulting from untoward environmental changes. Whilst, however, the operation of this petitionary equivalent in all living organisms explained much that was obscure in the occurrence of variation and mutation, it also indicated a most important factor essential to the process of evolution and the phenomena of variation and mutation; and this was, the evident capacity of the formative and improvisatory powers belonging to the life forces, to receive, and respond as it were constructively to, stimuli generated by the living organisms
All this accounted quite well for the evolutionary process as conceived by such early investigators as Lamarck and Dr. Darwin, and it also had the added merit of including and no longer excluding spirit, or intelligence, from the nature of living matter, and of embracing in its generalization the phenomenon and function of religion.
But what it still left unsolved and even unprobed, was the problem concerning the possibility of contacting and effectively mobilizing the formative and improvisatory, or other powers, of the life forces, so as to achieve results not directly affecting the person of the petitioning party himself i.e., outside his own individual structure. Was it possible, for instance, by exercizing the same mental faculties as are active in prayer, and under conditions that make prayer for personal organic ends effective, to influence or prompt the cosmic life forces to effect results outside and beyond the petitioning party?
As it is difficult to conceive of an animal ever desiring to petition effects outside its own structure, this problem is really exclusively human, and we can attempt to solve it only along human lines; for probably only human beings may be assumed to frame in their own conscious or subconscious minds, or imagine with intensity as in a will-less prayer, a result affecting and influencing another human being or group of human beings.
Now, there appear to be good grounds, gathered from various sources and from different aspects of human life, for assuming that this is possible. Or, to put it differently, there is a mass of data which remain, as it were, suspended in mid-air and unaccounted for, unless we can postulate some capacity in potent subconscious longings, or in vivid human imaginings, will-lessly performed, to influence the fate of beings other than themselves, or to influence other beings so as to affect the life of the person imagining.
I have already mentioned in this respect the phenomena of telepathy, clairvoyance, and the known injurious or lethal effect of curses pronounced and prosecuted by the shamans, medicine-men and witch-doctors of primitive societies. In the third of these three phenomena, the ability to influence the life forces to affect adversely beings especially selected by the magicians of primitive
In telepathy and clairvoyance, the operation of moving the life forces to affect conditions outside the person of the mover, is not, however, so obvious. It is only when the fate of another is in some way affected by either phenomenon that the operation is clearly seen as a stimulation of the life forces to produce results away from the person of the stimulating agent. For instance, in cases where someone receives intimation of an event (whether calamitous or not) affecting a friend or relative, or in any way obtains information hardly obtainable through ordinary and accountable channels, we see telepathy and clairvoyance as perturbations, whether generated humanly or not, occurring away from the person who is the recipient of the information. If therefore, as we have seen, the phenomena of telepathy and clairvoyance have been accepted as established facts by such independent authorities as Professor McDougall and Dr. Eysenck, we may assume that there are means of stimulating the life forces to operate formatively or otherwise, to effect purposes away from the person of the stimulator.
G. N. M. Tyrrell, who was the President of the Society for Psychical Research from 1945 until his death in 1952, after giving various examples of signals reaching people from "an impulse coming from someone else's mind", observes that "The evidence for telepathy does not rest entirely on cases of this description.
He also gives many striking instances of information concerning cosmic events reaching various investigators through automatic writing (T.P.M. Chaps. 16 & 17); and I was myself told, soon after the event, by trustworthy scientific friends using planchette, of an extraordinary instance of signals of distress reaching them in Dorset from the crew of a sinking ship in the North Sea. A day or two later they discovered that at the very moment the message reached them, a wreck had actually occurred off the north-east coast of England. Mr. Tyrrell, after examining much of the available evidence, comes to the conclusion that in such cases the source of the information received by people adequately sensitive, "is the mind of the person" they are in contact with "and not the event itself" (T.P.M. Chap. 20). This conclusion, however, might well have been reached a priori by anyone who has accepted the thesis presented in this book and the evidence on which it rests.
Another phenomenon that appears to involve the ability of some human beings, observing the appropriate techniques, whether of prayer or imagination, or both, to stimulate the life forces to activity in people other than themselves, is the alleged healing by "divine" intervention. And here we have an example of the same power as that used by shamans and medicine-men, applied to benevolent ends. The British Medical Association was asked by the Committee on Divine Healing to prepare a statement of its views, and it issued its report as a supplement to the B.M.J. on 12th May 1956. The general purport of this report was to the effect that the cases in which Divine Healing had been claimed were not convincing.
"Summing up", the Committee found "no evidence that there is any type of illness cured by spiritual healing alone which could not have been cured by medical treatment, which necessarily includes consideration of environmental factors". Furthermore, in answer to the specific question relating "to evidence of the spontaneous cure of apparently incurable disorders", the Committee replied in the words of Dr. Cuthbert Dukes, that "In the few cases that might be looked on as 'miracles', one would need to
This last reply is interesting because it suggests that a wholly mysterious happening is often susceptible of being explained by subsequent scientific discoveries; or, as I should prefer to put it, with particular reference to this treatise, by a subsequent putting together of already existing scientific facts which, like the "Twos" of the proverb, when at last united, reveal a "Four" which is a new truth.
Nevertheless, in their investigations into alleged cures obtained by magic or witchcraft, the B.M.A. Committee heard many interesting accounts from travellers, and their comment on a particularly striking cure obtained by a witch-doctor in India, is both illuminating and relevant to my thesis.
"Apparently", they observed, "in these and like cases the power of suggestion from the witch-doctors proved stronger than that of the doctors and missionaries." Precisely! And that explains, if not the whole thing, at least the greater part of it (B.M.J. Supplement, 12.5.56, pp. 270271). In other words, the native witch-doctors were more competent, not to say, more knowledgeable mobilizers of the life forces than their European competitors. This reminds us of Kipling; for we do not need to read very far between the lines of some of his more eerie stories in order to feel assured that he at least recognized and believed in the occult powers of Oriental religionists. One of his well-known tales "The Mark of the Beast" in Life's Handicap, is actually headed with an obviously Indian proverb which reads: "Your Gods and my Gods do you or I know which are the stronger?"; whilst he concludes the narrative in question with the ironical comment "It is well known to every right-minded man that the gods of the heathen are stone and brass, and any attempt to deal with them otherwise is justly condemned."
At all events, the striking cure quoted in the B.M.A. Committee's report, proves once again that everybody is not capable of prayer and effective appeals to the power behind phenomena. The French are wont to say, "N'est pas diable qui veut." With equal accuracy it might be claimed that "N'est pas religieux qui veut". For it is not only a matter of keeping volition at bay; prayer also depends for its efficacy on the amount of concentration, imaginative power and passionate desire we are capable of.
It is facts of this nature that are too often, if not habitually, left out of account in estimating the efficacy of the various means of approaching and mobilizing the life forces, and in the pronouncement of imprecations and curses. Yet, unless we allow for the factor of personality and the endowments of the individual man or woman who prays or employs some occult means of influencing the life forces, how can we assess the efficacy of the means used? To condemn them off-hand as myths, or as ineffective, without first scrutinizing their users, would be as foolish as to disparage a 12-bore gun because it had made no kill, before we ascertained the marksmanship of its user. It is all the more important to be cautious in this respect, seeing that we live in an age in which debility, nervous prostration, general constitutional inferiority and instability of character, are common to all classes of the community, and that consequently the qualities demanded
But, to return to the main argument, another phenomenon that suggests that from time immemorial mankind have almost everywhere inferred from their experience that when anyone is incited to envy there is danger for the object envied, whether animate or inanimate, or for its owner, or both; is the widespread belief in the power of the "evil eye". And the fact that by means of amulets, talismans, incantations and other devices, men have always sought to exorcize the evil agency in question, indicates how deep and lasting has been the dread of its power in all those circumstances in which fellow-beings may be provoked to desire, envy or covet any good or valuable possession, any situation or advantage, enjoyed by the neighbour, which procures him felicity and satisfaction.
As, therefore, we cannot imagine any basis for the widespread dread of the "evil eye", which the covetous and envious are wont to cast on an object or fellow-being inspiring envy, unless mankind's experience had long ago taught that in such circumstances the improvisatory and formative powers of the life forces may be mobilized against the coveted object, or its owner, or both, our investigation into the possibility of moving the life forces to activi-
Nor is it unlikely that what deepens the danger of this occult power of the evil eye, is that the adverse influences it may set in motion, are as often as not mobilized unconsciously by the envying party, and are therefore all the more effective for being in no way weakened by volition or doubt. This subconsciousness which often aggravates the action of the evil eye, has been recognized for probably several millenniums, and is certainly hinted at in Deuteronomy xxviii. 5457; but it is illustrated with singular force in the custom of throwing rice and confetti at a newly-married couple. For the more or less innocuous assault which this custom allows to be performed, is supposed to provide the subconscious malignity generated in onlookers by the bridal pair's felicity, with a harmless form of expression, whilst yet cathartically relieving the unconscious minds of such onlookers by letting them vent the desire to injure by means of a shadow fusillade. The fact that the Hebrew word for envy means also the "evil eye" is significant, for among the ancient Israelites, the association of envy with the power of casting a spell supposed by many to be demoniac, was a commonplace. The glance of the evil eye, cast in enmity, could injure and even kill, and in Isaiah xiii. 18, it is clearly intended to be lethal. In Proverbs xxiii. 6, there is a warning against those people who have the evil eye, as if the susceptibility to envy and to the evil eye were not a failing common to all humanity (which I believe it is). But the wisdom of Proverbs is far from being always sustained at a high level.
In the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, Jesus hints, just as Bacon was to later, at the possibility of mere goodness, or generosity, or merit, constituting a provocation to envy; for he makes the householder ask the labourer who murmurs at the apparent unfairness of his payments, "Is thine eye evil because I am good?" (Matthew xx. 15).
From Iceland and the Hebrides, viâ Rome to Greece and the Near East, everywhere the possession that provokes praise has been held to be in peril, and we are told that even in a town in Africa, a magician called Elzanar killed by his evil art no less than eighty people in two years (E.B. Article: "Evil Eye"). This
Bacon seems to have been aware of the connection of envy with some evil occult influence, for in his essay on "Envy" he refers to the fact that "the scripture calleth envy an evil eye", and he suggests that "the times when the stroke or percussion of an envious eye doth most harm, are when the party envied is beheld in glory or triumph; for that sets an edge to envy: and besides at such times the spirits of the person envied do come forth most with outward parts, and so meet the blow". He also shrewdly remarks that "Deformed persons and eunuchs, and old men, and bastards are envious. For he that cannot possibly mend his own case will do what he can to impair another's". This is excellent psychology; so good in fact, that it makes one wonder what could have happened to English thinkers after the seventeenth century, to deprive them of this keen psychological insight.
Finally, Bacon makes this strange observation: "As we said in the beginning that the act of envy had somewhat in it of witchcraft, so there is no other cure of envy but the cure of witchcraft." And he concludes that envy is "the proper attribute of the devil". Thus, although he appears to accept without question the ideas of his age regarding envy and the evil eye, I believe we may with justice ascribe much of what he says in this respect to his own keen psychological flair. If this is so, however, his belief in the power of the envious to influence adversely and by occult means the persons of the envied, is a notable case of man's capacity to forestall the science of a later age; for in his time he had none of the scientific data adduced in this book, for instance, to indicate that there may be means of mobilizing the powers of the life forces to act beyond and outside the person of the individual man or woman who stimulates them, whether consciously or subconsciously, in the appropriate manner.
Again, in his ascription of the action of the evil eye to the devil, Bacon displays at least better logic than the modern Christian apologist or ordinary believer; for apparently he sees no way of reconciling such facts as the calamities following curses and imprecations let alone other occult acts (whether achieved by prayer or merely imagination), with the assumption of a good and benign power behind phenomena, except by postulating a contending opposite number to his good power, who is the devil. On the other hand, the modern Christian especially in the form
When I was in Jerusalem in 1910 and, among other sketches, attempted to draw some of the camels and their owners in the market place there, I was much annoyed by what seemed to me to be a deliberate conspiracy on the part of the Arabs to defeat my purpose. When, however, I asked my dragoman who, strange to say, knew no other European tongue than German, why the Arabs were being so unfriendly as constantly to make their camels alter their position, he explained that what they feared was my evil eye; also that if I represented their animals, however incompetently, in effigy, any calamity that might overtake my drawings would inevitably also befall their camels.
Now, in a superstition so widespread and so persistent as to be common even among modern civilized people, it is difficult not to suspect a factor based on experience which, reaching consciousness whether by intuition or instinct, causes men to sense the threat of adverse consequences whenever envy is provoked and left to vent itself in mute prayer or fancies. But, whether this is so or not, there are too many well-authenticated cases of envy having generated occult powers of injury, either against a coveted possession or against its possessor, for us to be able to doubt that mankind probably has good grounds for dreading the evil eye, when no steps are taken, as in the throwing of confetti and rice at weddings, to direct its evil currents harmlessly to earth. It may be that the myth of the Gorgo Medusa, whose fiery glance petrified "just as the lightning's stroke stupefies or slays a man", is one
Nor does it seem reasonable to question that, if we accept the possibility of such a phenomenon, it may act beneficently as well as maleficently. It may well be that the mute and unconscious prayers, never even formulated in so many terms, and all the stronger for not being precisely formulated, of a fond parent or devoted friend, act in much the same way, but with diametrically opposite tendencies, in moulding a person's career, determining his fate, and promoting his secret aims: and that the outcome of these inarticulated thoughts is what we unwittingly have in mind when, in speaking of any favourable turning point in our lives and of the happy coincidences that marked them, we say "There is a destiny that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will".
Certainly, in my own life, I can point to several such strange coincidences, by which the course I followed seemed to me to have been arbitrarily planned beforehand by a friendly power, leaving hardly any alternative direction. And I suspect that many men and women could say the same.
As to my experience of prayer and its efficacy, and the evidence it seems to offer of a process whereby certain agencies in the life forces may be mobilized to act outside the person of him who prays, I cannot do better than relate my own reasons for believing in these things, and for concluding that prayer "works". Indeed, there is no better evidence concerning this matter than that which everyone can himself supply if he has carefully observed what, according to Professor William James, is the principal of all religious practices prayer (V.R.E. Lect. XIX). And it is therefore as a confirmed and unrepentant infidel, who has nevertheless prayed regularly for at least the last forty-five years of his life, that I now propose to give only one example, albeit outstanding, from my own experience, of the efficacy of prayer.
I ought to preface this condensed history of my religious experience by briefly describing my psycho-physical condition at the end of 1916 when, at the age of 34, I left the Officers Hospital at Millbank in order to take up my appointment in Military Intelligence. Although not endowed with a particularly vigorous constitution, and at that time somewhat debilitated by my bout of trench fever and the privations and malnutrition suffered throughout the year, especially during the last Somme battles, I was not a sick person. All around me were men junior to myself, who, whilst not incapacitated, suffered from all kinds of harassing disorders, from colitis, chronic constipation, haemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, varicose veins, kidney trouble, or some other internal morbidity, to neurasthenia, insomnia and the consequences of "shell shock". Incidentally, it was noticeable how frequently the sufferer from shell shock was the very converse of the type one might have expected to succumb to this form of nervous trouble. The sinewy, linear, and apparently "nervy" type, associated by Mac Auliffe with intellectual pursuits and by him classified as "cerebral", seemed less prone to this affliction than the beefy, pyknic type. But this by the way. What led me to be spared the kind of disorders I have enumerated, was probably less any native constitutional vigour, than my abstemious and temperate habits. At all events, according to the admittedly low standards usually applied to human beings by the consensus of
Now the earliest sign I noticed of any response to my prayers, was something that happened early in 1917. It was whilst I was in hospital with trench fever that the army authorities belatedly took note of my command of French and German (particularly my ability to read German script at that time a rare accomplishment) and decided to second me from the Artillery for service under M.I. at the War Office. And, as this meant that I had to live in London, I was able to resume touch with all my friends there.
Among these friends, was an intelligent Jewish lady of Austrian nationality Mrs. Max Rink who lived in Hampstead and occasionally addressed a small society there to which she belonged; and in 1917 she spoke to them about the importance of vitamins in our daily diet. The subject was then almost unknown even to the average General Practitioner. Indeed, the fact that the Medical Research Committee only published its first report on vitamins in November 1919, shows how relatively early the year 1917 was for any lay knowledge on the subject. (See Report on the Present State of Knowledge Concerning Accessory Food Factors (Vitamins), H.M. Stationery Office, Nov. 1919). At any rate, before this brochure appeared, I was able, thanks to the information this lady gave me, to become acquainted with a wholly new aspect of diet, and I used the information in writing my book, Man's Descent from the Gods (Heinemann's, 1921). It was only when thinking about vitamins in connection with the ancient myth of Prometheus, that I conceived the thesis I then expounded, which The Journal of Hellenic Studies acknowledged to be a genuine contribution to Greek mythology. But what was above all important to me when quite gratuitously I was apprised of the essential nature of these accessory food factors, was that I was able to apply the knowledge to correct the effects of my long spell of malnutrition in the Army, and I noticed that I soon
This was the first of the many unexpected knocks at my door, but it was quickly followed by others. For this same Austrian lady shortly afterwards gave me the results of her investigations into fish as a source of protein. She warmly recommended it as preferable to meat because it was more easily digested and assimilated a fact already recognized by Montaigne (Essais, Vol. III, Book III, Chap. XIII) and, on the strength of this advice, I made it my practice, during my years at the War Office, always to have one of Lyons's excellent fish dishes for my lunch, at the Comer House, Charing Cross. The convenient proximity of this restaurant to the War Office, moreover enabled me to spend plenty of time over my meal and not to hurry back to work afterwards. I usually had my evening meal at Pagani's in Gt. Portland Street, where I frequently partook of their delicious eel dishes Matelotte d'Anguille au Vin Blanc, Anguille au Vert, or Anguille au Vert à la Flamande all equally satisfying, savoury and easily digested.
The reason of this easier digestibility of fish, as Mrs. Rink explained, is its relative lack of connective tissues a fact that is proved by comparing the ease with which it can be pulped with a fork, with the difficulty of pulping meat even after it has been diced. Furthermore, fish is superior to meat because of its higher content of both calcium and iodine; because it has to be eaten fresh; and because, being more easily digested, it gives rise to fewer products of putrefaction than meat and consequently to a reduced absorption of such products.
Under the régime I accordingly adopted I was much satisfied with my progress and could listen with fewer misgivings to the lamentations of my War Office colleagues concerning their various chronic infirmities. I remember particularly one poor dear fellow a sufferer from constipation and piles who always spoke of his morning evacuation as a "further agonizing contribution to the nation's supplies of 'iron pyrites'". But he paid no heed to my advice and abided by the habits that certainly contributed to his trouble.
Meanwhile, from a wholly different quarter, quite unsolicited and helpful hints reached me about the best footgear to wear; and Mrs. Herriot, whose ideas on this subject my wife and I
Mrs. Herriot also introduced us to friends of hers in Maida Vale, whose name I have forgotten, who were Vienna-trained osteopaths. They were quick to perceive certain faults in my habitual carriage and alarmed me by saying that I was threatened with kyphosis if I did not mend. I was then on the threshold of forty and consequently found it difficult to observe the rules they gave me for correcting my deportment, among which was the necessity of avoiding any tendency to slouch or allow my body to slump when seated. I derived a certain amount of benefit from their instruction, although I ultimately discovered, as we shall soon see, that they themselves had a good deal to learn about optimal bodily posture and co-ordination, and the best means of securing it.
By this time I was becoming conscious of much improved mastery over life, and but for an occasional bout of "biliousness", which, in my ignorance, I ascribed to a chronic infection of my biliary duct, I seemed well on the way to correcting or mitigating my constitutional defects. I complained to no one about these alleged liver attacks; but soon after my demobilization, in 1919, I was again made beholden to Mrs. Rink by her enthusiastic recommendation of the regimen advocated by that wizardly Swiss dietician, Bircher-Benner, whose famous breakfast dish alone Müesli should have sufficed to establish his reputation. Remembering the benefits I already owed to Mrs. Rink's advice, I quickly banished bacon, eggs, kippers, haddock, toast and butter and marmalade from my breakfast bills of fare and thenceforward always had Müesli, which I prepare myself, for my first meal of the day. Bircher-Benner claimed that this dish was equivalent to mother's milk for adults. I can only say that, besides being both delicious and refreshing, its normalizing effect on the system is astonishing.
I had recently published my sixth novel French Beans and the first of my treatises on the woman question and on feminism Woman: A Vindication when I received a most appreciative letter from a lady signing herself "Agnes Birrell". Besides containing a nattering tribute to my writings, it was in its way a challenging letter, expressing surprise that, as a champion of the healthy values she found defended in my works, I should have given no sign of any knowledge of the greatest discovery of the century-the doctrine and technique of "Conscious Control" which the world owed to Matthias Alexander.
I was naturally pleased with the compliments Miss Birrell had thought fit to pay me; but, being then conceited enough to imagine that I had little more to learn about health and the means of preserving it, and having investigated and turned down too many obvious rackets among the current schemes for securing "perfect health", to feel much impressed by Miss Birrell's recommendation of "Conscious Control", I wondered how I could decently avoid any commitments concerning this new movement whilst yet concealing my profound suspicions about it. I felt sure she had no intention whatsoever of taking me in and was probably merely a wealthy dupe of the founder of the method she advocated. I therefore courteously acknowledged her kind letter and as inoffensively as possible implied that I was too busy to become more narrowly acquainted with yet another New
She replied very promptly; admitted that her family was related to that of the Rt. Hon. Augustine Birrell, and then, renewing her arguments in praise of conscious control, urged me earnestly to spare a little of my precious time to learn something about it. She assured me that I should find it abundantly worth while, and every day that passed without my knowing about it only jeopardized my future both as a writer and lover of life. This was in the autumn of 1923, and for the next twelve months i.e., until late in 1924 letters continued to pass between us at least once a week without any abatement of her efforts to introduce me to conscious control. To say that, in the end, I was beginning to feel exasperated by her insistence, would be an understatement. For, truth to tell, what I had begun to debate in my mind was whether perhaps the most effective means of ridding myself of her importunacy might not be to try downright rudeness.
Late in 1924, when we had still not even met, she pointed out that I was surely behaving somewhat unreasonably in refusing to do so much as investigate the system she championed; and, after reiterating her old refrain to the effect that, apart from the benefits my health would derive from it, my further contributions to thought would be improved by the training she advocated, she proposed that we should meet at Alexander's, at 16 Ashley Place, S.W.1, where I could watch her having a lesson before I definitely gave up all idea of taking lessons myself. This, she said, would commit me to nothing even if it failed to convince me.
To cut a long story short, I ultimately decided to fall in with this suggestion. It would cost me nothing; my curiosity was aroused, and I half hoped that an ultimate gesture of compliance might put an end to a tedious and time-devouring correspondence which had lasted long enough. On a certain morning in late November or early December 1924, I therefore met my strange correspondent at 16 Ashley Place; and, to my surprise, found that she was not the dessicated and hallucinated old spinster I had imagined, but a quite attractive, bright and intelligent young woman in her late twenties or thereabout.
At Miss Birrell's request, however, Alexander subjected me to a cursory examination; made comments about me which I hardly understood, but which seemed to distress Miss Birrell, and concluded by declaring that there was every hope that I could be put "quite right".
Miss Birrell and I thereupon retired to Fuller's in Victoria Street for coffee and a chat. Taking it for granted that I intended to enrol as an Alexander pupil forthwith, Miss Birrell then informed me that Alexander was probably the most expensive specialist in London and could demand as much as four guineas per half-hour for every lesson he gave; and with some trepidation and profuse apologies, inquired whether I thought I could afford a course of some twenty-five lessons.
As I was determined not to spend a halfpenny on what I now secretly believed to be a most obvious racket, I told her that as a struggling literary man I could really not afford so much as a farthing on the treatment. I said that I should feel I was depriving my wife not merely of a few modest luxuries, but of essentials, if I embarked upon any such extravagance for myself alone. I moreover implied as tactfully as I could that the séance had not impressed me too favourably.
Thus the matter rested until New Year's Day 1925, when, in order to recover from an attack of food-poisoning, I went for a holiday to Cannes. Whilst I was there. Miss Birrell renewed her propaganda in favour of conscious control, and implored me to reconsider my views about it. But, as I now had an excellent excuse for keeping clear of it, I pleaded poverty and declared that Alexander's fees made it quite impossible for me to think of going to him. What was my surprise, therefore, when one morning in the first week of February 1925, soon after my
Such determination to force my hand rather staggered me, and I could not help respecting, even if I did not welcome, Miss Birrell's generosity and persevering zeal. But I was annoyed by the thought of the time I should have to lose, going morning after morning all the way from St. John's Wood, where we were then living, down to the vicinity of Victoria Station. Nevertheless, after consulting my wife, I decided to comply, as by that time I had begun to suspect that there might be more influences working to place me under Alexander's tuition than were dreamt of in Miss Birrell's philosophy.
Yet, when I first began my course, and even for some weeks afterwards for I found Alexander had contracted to give me many more than twenty-five lessons I got no nearer to acquiring any faith in his method. Truth to tell, for some time I did not even understand what he was trying to achieve, and I often returned home only to groan to my wife about the money that was being "squandered" and how much I should have preferred to see it enter our own rather than Alexander's pocket.
Then gradually, and much to my surprise, I began to change my mind. Certain prophecies about me, which Alexander had made from the start showed signs of being fulfilled to the letter. My costal arch, which was the worst feature of my poor figure, as it is of many schizothymes, was obviously opening out and widening. My threatened kyphosis had been so much diminished that an old friend, on meeting me one evening, asked me what on earth I had been doing to effect such a change in my appearance. When I breathed, my floating ribs now thrust out the lower reaches of my thorax as they had never done before, and my old waistcoats seemed hopelessly tight. I knew enough about anatomy to appreciate that probably all along my periodical "bilious" attacks had been no more than a protest on the part of the viscera in my epigastrial region at the constriction they suffered from the rigidity of my ribs; and I began to see the reason of the high incidence of dyspepsia, peptic ulcers and respiratory troubles among modern Europeans; for the loosening and widening of my thoracic cage had, among its other effects, greatly normalized my respiratory function.
It is impossible fully to describe the benefits both in health and in joie de vivre which I owed, and still owe, to this radical alteration in my physique; for although nothing could of course correct all my constitutional failings, I was a changed man. When, therefore I say, as I did on a previous page, that the learning of conscious control was the most precious of all the contributions on the question of health that came to me during the years between the outbreak of World War I and 1925, I am not exaggerating. It has certainly prolonged my life.
I ought perhaps to mention one last example in this remarkable chain of contributions to my knowledge about health; and that was an extraordinary practice advocated by a man of Dutch extraction who, as an exponent of some special method of physiotherapy, had a consulting room in Baker Street. He was introduced to me by a member of my wife's family, and I understood at the time that they met him quite accidentally. The practice he recommended was secret and apparently inspired by Holy Script. As, however, as far as I am aware, he only communicated his secret for a substantial fee, it would perhaps be unfair to reveal its nature. I would not claim that this Dutchman's method was as re-creative and metamorphosizing as Alexander's, or that its rewards were as great. Nevertheless, it constituted an essential stone in the mosaic of my knowledge on health and may fairly be declared beneficial.
And now, when I look back on those incredibly fortunate years from 1914 to 1925; recall what I was like at the beginning. of them, and think of all the blessings that befel me and how they affected, not only my person, but also my fate, at a time when the cumulative result of all my discoveries could no longer remain unrecognized even by the most sceptical of those relatives and friends who could recall my original condition and appearance, can the reader wonder if in the ultimate outcome I read the sign that my prayers had not been without effect on the power or powers I had sought to influence? (See Appendix.)
Many of the unsolicited benefits that fall to our lot in life
I did not need the remarkable experience I have related in order to pin my faith to prayer. I had been aware of what Wordsworth calls "the unbounded might of prayer" long before this convincing proof of its efficacy came to hand in the forty-third year of my life. The only change it wrought in my attitude to the unseen powers was that it taught me greater humility, greater caution in judging any temporary contretemps, or seemingly adverse development in the day-to-day events of my life. The manner in which a prayer is ultimately answered by the life forces is usually so unlike our own conception of the probable response, the ways they choose are so devious and destitute of any clue indicating the end to be achieved that, in the beginning, they may appear delusively inauspicious, if not actually negative. This much, however, my memorable experience with Miss Agnes Birrell impressed indelibly on my mind albeit rather late in my life that, as a rule, the solution of our problems which is devised by the life forces, bears not the faintest resemblance to what our own poor, incompetent notions may be of the way they should be solved. Their way is not our way. It is so much wiser and more farseeing that all we can do is blindly to accept their way unquestioningly.
As Troward so well said of what he called the "Universal Mind" i.e., the mind we seek to move when we pray in "its utter impersonality and its perfect intelligence, we find precisely
But, although the power behind phenomena will, as Troward says, "undertake whatever we put in its hands", it is essential to remember that we are not fit judges of the means whereby it performs this service for us; and nothing could therefore be more unwise than to resist to the bitter end its opening moves, unpromising or ill-omened though they may seem, and stubbornly to withhold the first step along the path it invites us to take.
What, then, is a reasonable conclusion to draw from all these findings? How is the infidel to understand and practise his religion?
First of all, he must try to grasp the nature of the life forces and the way they work; and, in order to do this, he will have to rid his mind of many deeply rooted, age-long assumptions about both the power behind phenomena, Man and the Universe. This may be his most difficult task because the philosophical and religious traditions of Europe are based upon these assumptions, and the thought and behaviour they inspire have become largely instinctive in the white man. It is, however, hoped that this book, elementary and imperfect though it may be, will offer him some help and guidance in the undertaking. Above all, he must accustom himeslf to the idea that the life forces, being utterly destitute of anything remotely resembling morality, the suggestions made to them in prayer, are accepted whether they happen to be good or evil. This is a truth towards which the Christian scientists have long been tending, though without any logical grounds in their cosmology, when they assert that illness and all other untoward turns of fate are due to "wrong thinking".
Secondly, he must apply himself to acquiring a mastery of the technique of prayer; an accomplishment which, as we have seen, is far from easy, and far indeed from being purely psychological. As Wordsworth so truly said, "to converse with heaven
Thus, in a book recently published Prayer Can Change Your Life, by Dr. W. R. Parker and Elaine St. Johns, 1959 with the principal claim of which I agree, there is no mention of the necessary kinaesthetic (the physical or bodily) component of prayer, if it is to be effective. The authors' nearest approach to the matter is to stress, quite properly of course, as they do on pp. 135, 136 and 159, that prayer is "an act of surrender". How much more valuable their book would have been had they tried to state precisely how the body must co-operate if the surrender is to be perfect.
Enough has been said on this subject to make it clear that even to differentiate the psychological from the physical components of any human action or activity, in itself reveals an outmoded, not to say exploded, point of view. There can be no psychological exercise whatsoever, in which the body does not co-operate, and this is nowhere more true than in the activity we call prayer. Unless the recueillement of the spirit finds its parallel, confirmation and support in the appropriate bodily adjustments, the mood and temper indispensable to the proper performance of prayer cannot be summoned. Hence the absurdity of supposing, as many religious bodies do, that religion is wholly a matter of the "soul" or spirit.
For we have accepted Professor William James's view that "Prayer is religion in act, that is, prayer is real religion. . . . Religion is nothing if it be not the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which it draws its life" (V.R.E. Lect. XIX). We have also agreed with the Rev. Edwyn Bevan, that "prayer is by the very definition of the term petitionary . . . asking that something we desire [innocent or malefic] may take place" (C.P. Chap. VI). Unless, therefore, we know how to pray, we cannot pretend to be religious.
Strange as it may seem, even the question of whom we address
So that when we say prayer and the knowledge of how to perform it, are the whole of the infidel's religion, we are excluding no essential factor of the religious life, nor do we differ from Professor William James and the Rev. Edwyn Bevan in any respect, except the important one of the cosmology we hold to be consistent with the scientific and philosophic conclusions of our age.
Thirdly, the infidel aspiring to a religious life, should bear in mind a truth not easy to accept in these days of reckless and fanatical democratization. At a time when standardization prevails in every department of human life, except where it is most important and most urgently needed i.e., in the sphere of somatotypes, so that, although mass propaganda infects all of us with the same degenerate values, we are all so disparate, one from the other, that to see a thousand modern English people randomly collected together, is to behold as many distinct, incompatible and conflicting constitutional types ~ at such a time as this, when we are all egalitarians and resent having to concede any fundamental qualitative distinction, except the financial one (and even that is not true of everyone), between men, it is painful to be told that all are not equally endowed, whether for sound judgment, love, or prayer. We listen without indignation, let alone nausea, to thrice-married divorcees, male or female, when they declare that a new "passionate" attachment has swept them off their feet; just as we hear without incredulity of the hurricane engagement, marriage and honeymoon of one whose lack of stamina and fire might have allowed him to temporize with his passions without inconvenience through three lifetimes. In spite of massive evidence to the contrary, we in fact assume that everybody can love". Nor, when we see the average congregation filing out of church or chapel after one of their so-called "bright" services, does it ever occur to us to speculate on the proportion among them of people who have been truly capable of any religious observance, let alone prayer.
To assume, as most modern people do, that without the requisite natural disposition and, above all, without any preparation in the psycho physical technique of prayer, any man can at the drop of a hat become a convert an assumption at least implicit in the sort of mass religious enlistment of a recruiting missionary like "Billy" Graham reveals not merely a profound misunderstanding of the subject, but also a shallow underestimation of its gravity and importance. Even the recruiting departments of the Army and Navy are wiser than this; for their present high proportion of prompt rejections, despite the relatively low standard of their requirements, which in any case are inferior to those that might reasonably be expected of a religious recruit, shows how far they are from assuming that psycho-physical fitness for the Services is a universal attribute. It would, therefore, be most interesting to know how many rejections per cent the Salvation Army, for instance, has to make every year from the number of its recruits. Aware as I am of the slap-dash methods of religious recruiting in general, I should guess, none. Even to suppose that everybody, when once given the necessary information and training in the technique, can become capable of, or can reach more than an amateur standard in religious observance is, as we have seen, a sad illusion. The most that might be conceded is perhaps that, as a desperate clinging to life is common to all men, there may be a moment in all human lives, irrespective of individual constitutional differences, when, if mortal danger threatens, passionate desire, like the temperature of one gravely sick, may soar to such abnormal heights as to simulate the native ardour of the gifted lover or man of religion. But, what may jeopardize even this means of
Does this mean that all hope, all chance, all prospect of leading a religious life should be denied to the majority of mankind? Not in the least! It is simply a timely and solemn warning, stated with perhaps exaggerated emphasis, because it is too seldom stated, that as the efficacy of prayer is no myth, no romantic fancy, or idle hoax, if it is found to fail, the fault should be sought, not in prayer, but in him who prays.
There remain one or two matters so far unsettled, and foremost among them is the question whether the infidel may include in his religious credo a belief in life after death.
All that can at present be said in reply to this question is that there is absolutely no evidence pointing to immortality, least of all for what is mystically called the "soul" of man. The whole idea of immortality as modern people conceive it i.e., restricted to the soul alone is moreover based upon a dichotomy for which, as we have seen, there is so little foundation either in the data of science or in the rules of reason that, except for the fact that it satisfies a natural craving, there is little to be said for it. Truth to tell, the position regarding this idea has altered so little since the middle of the eighteenth century, that, throughout the whole course of the last two hundred years, the validity of the conclusions reached by Hume in his essay, On the Immortality of the Soul, may be said to have remained unshaken.
As early as the fourth century A.D., from the prevailing thought of which our Apostles' Creed derives, it is evident that Christian philosophers were then doubtless still unconsciously swayed by the realism and superior logicality of antiquity; for in that Creed all churchmen in their Morning Prayer proclaim their belief in the "resurrection of the body" (or the "flesh" as the old version had it), a belief which, however fantastic it may also seem, is nevertheless considerably more rational than the idea of a disembodied ghost living, not only eternally, but also blissfully. It may be that, in this notion of soul immortality alone, we have a reverberation of that Socratic and puritannical contempt of the body which, as we have seen, is probably the
Another religious matter to which the infidel may expect reference to be made, is the question whether the power behind phenomena is a person. Troward claims that it is impersonal. My own view is that we have insufficient evidence to decide this question either way, and our present knowledge does not warrant any final decision about it. Behind the life forces there may be what we understand as a personality; but we do not know and cannot tell. All that we can positively state, and with the most complete conviction, is that if there is such a divinity or supernatural person, he cannot bear the faintest resemblance to the Jehovah-God-Father-Creator-First-Cause concept of the Christian cosmology. On the contrary, we could probably not hope to get a more exact image of his being and character than by flatly contradicting everything Christianity alleges about him, except his omnipotence, and by writing against every item in the Christian catalogue of his attributes, the precise converse of what the Church maintains.
Finally, there remains the question of the morality that is compatible with the infidel's religion, as it has been briefly outlined in these pages. What is there to be said about this? Here again, we have not only to rid our minds of most of the Christian moral precepts, but also to root out of our unconscious and spontaneous moral impulses, those which are the outcome
We must learn to regard pity as virtuous and admirable only when it is extended to the promising and desirable. Directed anywhere else, it is morbid and a sign of sentimental self-indulgence.
In our practice of charity, we should try to remember Nietzsche's dictum to the effect that it is innocent posterity that usually has to pay for that love of our neighbour which Christianity enjoins. All about us today, as even the blindest must recognize, are proofs that we are all members of a posterity cruelly, crushingly penalized by the exorbitant neighbour-love displayed by our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They had their voluptuous fling in indiscriminate full-throated pity and reckless benevolence, and we, the victims of it are now paying in treasure, depression of spirits, oppression, and every kind of shackle on the flourishing life of our Age, for their "virtuous" self indulgence and their hope of heaven.
We must abandon the nonsensical view that love can be voluntary a view implied by the Christian belief that it can be commanded or summoned by will. It has wrought so much harm and still causes so much bitterness in the world, that we cannot too soon nail it as counterfeit to the counter of commendable conduct.
Nevertheless, doubtless owing to the few intellectual pearls it
In any case it must be clear that, if we accept Jesus's and Wordsworth's point of view about children i.e., to the effect that they arrive innocent, harmless and trailing clouds of glory "from God who is our home"; if we agree that "Heaven lies about us in our infancy", the implication is that man is born good and that only his environment, the society into which he is plunged, subsequently corrupts him.
Now this point of view has been the source of an enormous amount of harm, especially in feministic societies like England and America; because, besides giving us a false picture of man's primitive nature and innate tendencies, by making children appear sancrosanct and at all events morally superior to adults, it subverts the authority of their seniors, undermines discipline, and lends support to every mother's self-indulgent urge to spoil her child, rather than to train it to become a fit member of a civilized community. Nor can there be any doubt that the sensational increase in juvenile crime in recent years, especially in England and America, has to a very great extent been due to this one feature in the body of false doctrine that now rules over modern public opinion.
The wise and thoughtful infldel will therefore incline in his morals to the point of view of the Christian Church, rather than to that of Jesus and the Wordsworthian romantics. He will hold the sensible view, now established by scientific psychology, that children are more asocial, more evil, than their seniors, that
To conclude this brief sketch of a morality to suit the infidel's religion, we may summarize the whole of the duties of man in society as having for their object under all circumstances to promote and defend all those influences and points of view which favour superior and flourishing, and to resist and condemn all those influences and points of view which favour decadent and degenerate, human life. Everything eke denotes a misunderstanding of the proper function of compassion and is a crime against both justice, sanity, good taste and posterity.
This, then, concludes the description of the religion for infidels. In view of the harmony of many of its features and of its methods of contacting and of turning to its own account the formative and improvisatory powers of the life forces, it might perhaps be properly termed a "natural" religion; except that, in its observance by humanity, there is a provision in the moral code consistent with its cosmology, that amounts to an unnatural factor, or a factor not found operative in Nature (except possibly precariously, as we have seen, in the influence, of the will to power). For in the above-mentioned summary of the duties of man in society, we have seen that there is a strong influence that should operate constantly against degenerative trends, whereas in Nature, there is no similar influence, and degeneracy is just as likely as regeneracy to supervene. In this respect, provided that mankind should faithfully observe the duties above mentioned and abide by the code as summarized at the conclusion of my sketch of the morality, the religion for infidels is really superior to that of a truly natural religion; although, as we have no guarantee whatsoever that the moral code as summarized above will necessarily be observed by the majority of mankind, this superiority is far from being a certainty. The chances that the degenerative trends in Nature herself may not be consistently resisted and overcome by humanity, must therefore remain a possibility. Indeed, the evidence at present