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).

    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).

      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).

        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 forĀ 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 your nature than where rationalism resides. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faith, your needs, your divination, are your reality which your 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).

          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).

            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).