December 20th, 2012

The Varieties of Religious Experience-Abandonment

There is nothing more generous than a person who sees the relation of the world with God “in all troubles and the most likely of dangers.” It may be a matter of facing death, marching into the unknown, or working like a slave. In all such things the person finds the fullness of his relationship with God engulfing him instantly.

“An army of soldiers with such a spirit would be invincible. For faith lifts and expands the heart above and beyond all that the senses fear.” It is a delight to be one with God as there is a confidence in one’s actions which makes everything acceptable. There is also “a certain detachment of soul which enables us to handle any situation and every kind of person.”

With faith in God “we are never unhappy and never weak.” This is because we always see God “acting behind happenings which bewilder our senses. Srticken with terror, our senses suddenly cry to the soul: ‘Unhappy wretch, now you are lost and there’s no hope of rescue!’ The robust voice of  faith instantly replies: ‘Hold fast, go forward and fear nothing.’

Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence (d.1751)(First Image Books edition 1975)(Chapter III (4) at 64)(edited by P.A.T.)

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December 12th, 2012

The Varieties of Religious Experience-Mysticism

I live, yet not I, but God liveth in me. Only when I become as nothing can God enter in and no difference between God and me remains.

“This overcoming of all the usual barriers between the individual and God is the great mystic achievement.” In mystic states the person becomes one with God.

This is the “everlasting and triumphant mystical tradition,” unaltered by race or creed. “In Hinduism, in Neoplatonism, in Sufism, in Christian mysticism, in Whitmanism, we find the same recurring note, so that there is about mystical utterances an eternal unanimity which ought to make a critic stop and think, and which brings it about that the mystical classics have, as has been said, neither birthday nor native land. Perpetually telling of the unity of man with God their speech antedates languages, and they do not grow old.” William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)(Mysticism).

An example of a mystical experience is cited by James:

In my consciousness of God which comes to me sometimes a presence not a personality but something in myself makes me feel a part of something bigger. In these times I feel myself one with the grass, the trees, birds, insects, everything in Nature. I exalt “in the mere fact of existence, of being part of it all-the drizzling rain, the shadows of the clouds, the tree trunks, and so on.”  As the years go by such moments continue to come, but I want them continually. This is because I know “so well the satisfaction of losing self in a perception of supreme power and love,” that I want this perception to be constant. (James citing Starbuck’s Collection).

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December 6th, 2012

The Varieties of Religious Experience (Saintliness)

“The collective name for the ripe fruits of religion in a character is Saintliness. The saintly character is the character for which spiritual emotions are the habitual centre of personal energy; and there is a certain composite photograph of universal saintliness, the same in all religions, of which the features can be easily traced:”

1) The saintly person has a feeling of a life beyond selfish interest. This is combined with a conviction of the existence of an “Ideal Power.”

2) The saintly person has a sense of a friendly continuity with the “Ideal Power” and her own life.

3) The saintly person becomes elated and free as the outlines of confining selfhood are absent.

4) In the saintly person there is a “shifting of the emotional centre towards loving and harmonious affections,” towards “yes” rather than “no” without regard to what others think.

According to William James these saintly characteristics have the practical consequence of:

a) Asceticism- The lack of concern for material goods and comfort. A giving up of fighting for worldly  pleasure.

b) Strength of Soul– A lack of fear and anxiety, replaced by a “blissful equanimity.”  This is because of a  trusting of the natural order of things.

c) Purity– As the “sensitiveness to spiritual discords is enhanced, [there is a] cleansing of existence from brutal and sensual elements… .”

d) Charity– There is “a tenderness for fellow creatures. … The saint loves his enemies, and treats loathsome beggars as brothers.”

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, (1902)(Saintliness)

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December 25th, 2011

James and Eckhart (We are the Son)

I was converted in my bedroom. I was in perfect health. I was in no way troubled by my soul. A friend sent me a copy of Professor Drummond’s Natural Law in the Spiritual World. I soon read this passage and saw the light: He that hath the son hath eternal life, he that hath not the son hath not life. This is because my reading of Meister Eckhart came to focus:

St. John says “See how great is the love that the Father has shown us, that we are called and are the children of God.” He says not only “we are called” but “we are.” “So I say that just as we cannot be wise without wisdom, so we cannot be a son without having the same being as God’s son.”

It is written: Beloved, we are the sons of God, and we shall be like him (John 3:2). So I say God could not make me the son of God if I had not the nature of God’s son.


William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience; Meister Eckhart (14th Century Mystic); (edit by PAT).

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December 23rd, 2011

The Varieties Of Religious Experience (The Divided Self)

The new will which I began to have was not yet strong enough to overcome the other will, strengthened by long indulgence. So these two wills, one old, one new, one carnal, the other spiritual, contended with each other and disturbed my soul. I understood by my own experience and what I had read, “flesh lusteth against spirit, and spirit against flesh.” It was me in both the wills, yet more myself in that which I approved in myself than that which I disapproved in myself. Yet it was through myself that habit had attained so fierce a mastery over me. Still bound to earth, I refused to fight for the spiritual side, as much afraid to be freed from all bonds, as I ought to have feared being trammeled by them.

Thus the thoughts by which I meditated upon a spiritual existence were like the efforts of one who would awake, but being overpowered with sleepiness is soon asleep again. Although I was sure it was better to surrender to a spiritual existence then to yield to my lusts, my lusts pleased me and held me bound.

There was naught in me to answer the spiritual call: “Awake from your lusts,” but my answer was: “Wait a little while.” But the little while grew into a long while. For I was afraid the spiritual existence would take me too soon, and heal me at once of my lusts, which I wished to satiate rather then extinguish.

With lashes of words did I scourge my own soul. Yet it refused, though it had no excuse to offer. I said to myself: “Come, let it be done, now” and as I said it I was on the point of the resolve. I all but did it, yet I did not do it. And I made another effort, and almost succeeded, yet I did not reach it, and did not grasp it, and the evil to which I was so wonted held me more then the better life I had not tried.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(Quoting St. Augustine with edit by PAT).

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December 21st, 2011

The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Melancholy)

There is an antagonism that arises between the healthy-minded way of viewing life and the way of viewing life that holds evil is a reality. To the person who knows evil exists healthy-mindedness is unspeakably blind and shallow. To the healthy-minded person the melancholy person seems diseased.

The method of averting one’s attention from evil, and living simply in the light of good is splendid as long as it will work. It will work with many persons; it will work far more generally than most are ready to suppose; and within the sphere of its successful operation there is nothing to be said against it as a religious solution.

But it breaks down impotently as soon as melancholy comes; and even though one be free from melancholy one’s self, there is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses to account for are genuine; and may be the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the openers to the deepest levels of truth.

Since evil is as genuine part of nature as good, the philosophic presumption should be that evil has some rational significance, and that healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death any positive and active attention whatever, is less complete than systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(edited by PAT).

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December 18th, 2011

The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Healthy Mindedness)

His favorite occupation seemed to be strolling or sauntering about outdoors by himself, looking at the grass, the trees, the flowers, the vistas of light, the varying aspects of the sky, and listening to the birds, the crickets, the tree frogs, and all the hundreds of natural sounds. It was evident these things gave him great pleasure far beyond what they give ordinary people.

All natural objects objects seemed to have a charm for him. All sights and sounds seemed to please him. He appeared to like all men, women, and children he saw, and each who knew him felt he liked him or her.

He did not argue or dispute, and he never spoke about money. He always justified those who spoke harshly about his writings. He would not allow his tongue to give expression to fretfulness, antipathy, or complaint. He never spoke deprecatingly of any nationality or class of men, or against any trades or occupations-not even against any animals, insects, or inanimate objects, nor any of the laws of nature, nor any of the results of those laws, such as illness, deformity, and death. He never complained or grumbled either at the weather, pain, illness, or anything else. He never swore. He could not very well, since he never spoke in anger and apparently never was angry. He never exhibited fear, and he apparently never felt fear.

Walt Whitman owes his importance in literature to the systematic expulsion from his writings of all contractile elements. The only sentiments he allowed himself to express were of the expansive order; and he expressed these in the first person, not as a conceited individual might express them, but vicariously, for all people, so that a passionate and mystic ontological emotion suffuses his words, and ends by persuading the reader that men and women, life and death, and all things are divinely good.

Thus it has come about that many regard Walt Whitman as the restorer of the eternal natural religion. He has infected them with his own love of comrades, with his own gladness the he and they exist.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(edited by PAT).

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December 16th, 2011

The Varieties Of Religious Experience (Intuition)

[I]f we look at man’s whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately allow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is the part that has prestige for it can challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your intuitions are opposed to its conclusions.

Intuitions come from a deeper level of our nature than where rationalism resides. This is our subconscious life, impulses, faith, needs, divination which forms the reality our consciousness recognizes as truer than any logic chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that contradicts it. The truth is that in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons make sense only when our inarticulate feelings of reality coincide with our subconscious intuition.

William James, The Varieties Of Religious Experience (1902)(edited by PAT).

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December 11th, 2011

The Varieties of Religious Experience (Religious Reactions)

Religion, whatever it is, is a person’s total reaction upon life, so why not say that any total reaction upon life is a religion? Total reactions are different from causal reactions, and total attitudes are different from usual or professional attitudes. To get at them you must go behind the foreground of existence and reach down to that curious sense of the whole residual cosmos as an everlasting presence, intimate or alien, terrible or amusing, lovable or odious, which in some degree every one possesses.

This sense of the world’s presence, appealing as it does to our peculiar individual temperament, makes us either strenuous or careless, devout or blasphemous, gloomy or exultant, about life at large; and our reaction, involuntary and inarticulate and often half unconscious as it is, is the completest of all our answers to the question, “What is the character of this universe in which we dwell?

It expresses our individual sense of it in the most definite way. Why than not call these reactions our religion, no matter what specific character they may have? Non-religious as some of these reactions may be, in one sense of the word ‘religious,’ they yet belong to the general sphere of the religious life, and so should be classed as religious reactions.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

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December 4th, 2011

The Varieties of Religious Experience (Personal Religion)

At the onset we are struck by one great partition that divides the religious field. On one side of it lies institutional, on the other personal religion. Worship and sacrifice…theology and ceremony… are the essentials of religion in the institutional branch. [Here religion is] an external art, the art of winning the favor of the gods.

In the more personal branch of religion it is on the contrary the inner dispositions of man himself which form the center of interest… [Here] the individual transacts the business by himself alone and the ecclesiastical organization, with its priests and sacraments and other go-betweens, sinks to an altogether secondary place. The relation goes direct from heart to heart, from soul to soul, between man and maker.

Now in these lectures I propose to ignore the institutional branch entirely, to say nothing of the ecclesiastical organization, to consider as little as possible the systematic theology and the ideas about the gods themselves, and to confine myself as far as I can do to personal religion pure and simple. William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902).

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