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A Psychological, Anthropological 
and Statistical Study 



Professor of Psychology in Bryn Mawr College 

Author of "A Psychological Study of Religion; 

its Origin, Function and Future." 





Copyright, 191G 

Copyright, 1921 

Open Court Publishing Co. 




Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2008 with funding from 

Microsoft Corporation 


God, the soul, and immortality constitute, accord- 
ing to general opinion, the great framework of re- 
ligion. In an earlier book I have considered the 
origin, the nature, the function, and the future of 
the belief in what I have called "personal" gods. 
The present volume is, in the main, a similar study 
of the belief in personal immortality. Chapters one 
to five treat of the origin, the nature, and the func- 
tion of that belief. They show in particular that 
two quite different conceptions of personal immor- 
tality have been successively elaborated; and that 
the modern conception is not a growth from the 
primary belief, but an independent creation, differ- 
ing radically from it in point of origin, in nature, 
and in function. Whereas the primary belief was 
forced upon men irrespective of their wishes as an 
unavoidable interpretation of certain patent facts 
(chiefly, probably, the apparition of deceased per- 
sons in dreams and in visions), the modern belief 
was born of a desire for the realization of ideals. 
The first came to point to an exclusively wretched 
existence, and prompted men to guard against the 
possible danger to them arising from ghosts; the 
second contemplated from the first endless continua- 
tion in a state of completed or increased perfection, 
and incited the living to ceaseless efforts in order to 
make themselves fit for that blessed consummation. 

The effort that has been made to justify at the 
bar of reason the modern belief in immortality by 


providing metaphysical proofs of it, is considered 
in chapter five. From a survey of these "proofs" 
it is evident that the longer we strive to demonstrate 
its truth, the more obvious becomes our failure. We 
shall see that even firm believers in immortality 
have had to come to this opinion. 

Deductive reasoning having failed, an attempt 
is now being made to demonstrate personal immor- 
tality by methods acceptable to science. This effort 
— mainly the work of the Society for Psychical Re- 
search — is summarily described and appraised in 
the last chapter of Part I. 

It would of course be most helpful, both to scien- 
tific students of religion and to ministers of it, did 
there exist definite information regarding the pres- 
ent diffusion of cardinal religious beliefs among the 
civilized nations. Heretofore most divergent opin- 
ions have prevailed; and it has been possible neither 
to prove nor to refute them, since the statistics of 
belief so far attempted have no actual statistical 
value whatever. In Part II, the present status in the 
United States of the beliefs in God and immortality 
is shown as it appears from extensive statistical 
inquiries in which the usual fatal defects of statisti- 
cal researches in the field of religious beliefs have 
been avoided. These inquiries have yielded results 
of considerable significance; we are now for the 
first time in a position to make certain definite state- 
ments, valid for entire groups of influential persons, 
namely, college students, physical scientists, biolo- 
gists, historians, sociologists and economists, and 
psychologists. We have been able not only to conh 


pare these groups with each other but also the lower 
classes of students with the higher, and the more 
eminent persons of the other groups with the less 
eminent. It appears, with incontrovertible evi- 
dence, that in each one of these groups the more dis- 
tinguished fraction includes by far the smaller 
number of believers. This, taken in connection with 
a study of the factors of belief, leads to important 
conclusions regarding the causes of disbelief. I 
hope that despite the widespread and, I must admit, 
on the whole justifiable distrust of statistics of be- 
lief, no reader will pass a summary judgment upon 
mine until he has examined them with some care. 

The numerous and extraordinarily varied com- 
ments made by those who answered the author's 
questionnaire, as well as by those who refused to 
answer it, provide data of especial value for the psy- 
chology of belief and for an understanding of the 
present situation of the Christian religion. Not only 
in Part II, but throughout the book, I have cited 
typical, concrete instances in profusion. By thus 
following a practice common in descriptive sciences, 
I have, I trust, kept close to reality and avoided the 
theoretical and empty character from which so 
many works on religion suffer. 

In a third and last part are presented certain 
facts and considerations pearing upon the utility of 
the beliefs in a personal God and in immortality, 
from which it appears that, so far at least as the 
United States and other equally civilized countries 
are concerned, the enormous practical importance 
customarily ascribed to these beliefs does not 


correspond to reality. Since the study of origins 
and motives shows that the attributes which 
make gods and life after death precious to mankind 
are derived from social experience, it is evident that 
the loss of these beliefs would involve the loss not of 
anything essential, but only of a particular method 
(that of the present religions) of maintaining and 
increasing among men certain values created and 
discovered in social intercourse. What the real 
losses would be, and whether they might be compen- 
sated or even turned to gain, constitute the chief 
topics of the concluding section. 

It is often urged that studies of origins and mo- 
tives do not yield information bearing upon the 
probable truth of beliefs. This opinion should be 
corrected. When the methods of philosophy are im- 
potent to determine " truth," our only recourse is 
to a verification by experience, as in the case of 
scientific hypotheses, and to a study of origins and 
motives. There are circumstances where acquaint- 
ance with the origin of a belief bring down to a 
vanishing point the probability of its truth. 

A word of explanation is probably necessary in 
order to prevent misunderstanding of the scope of 
this study. My investigation of immortality bears 
upon " personal immortality " only. I take this 
term in its ordinary acceptation, i. e., as meaning 
a continuation after death (with or without body) 
of the consciousness of personal identity. Similarly, 
I am concerned, as in my earlier book, only with 
that conception of the divine which I have qualified 


by the term " personal." My purpose does not 
oblige me to define the meaning I attach to that 
difficult word when applied to gods, further than to 
say that it designates beings with whom can be 
maintained the relations implied in all the historical 
religions in which a God or gods are worshipped, 
i. e., direct intellectual and affective relations. A 
personal God as here understood is therefore not 
necessarily an anthropomorphic, but certainly an 
anthropopathic being. 

Few words are used in as wide and ill-defined a 
meaning as " god," for few are willing to forego the 
prestigeous advantage belonging to its use; and so 
it has come to pass that a term owing its primary 
meaning to its connection with historical religions 
has come to be used in another meaning. The con- 
ception of Ultimate Reality as it is found in the phi- 
losophy of Absolute Idealism, and by it called God, 
is no more adequate to the expectations of any ex- 
isting form of worship than the alchemist's con- 
ception of matter is adequate to the work of modern 
science. 1 The confusion of these two meanings 
should not be tolerated, not even though it should 
prove impracticable to limit the use of the term 
" god " to its original significance. That this con- 
fusion is in fact tolerated, and even, it seems, en- 

1 That the gods of metaphysics are not the gods of re- 
ligion, is clearly acknowledged by Arthur Balfour in his last 
book (Theism and Humanism, Gifford Lectures for 1914, 
page 35, 36). I quote: "It is God according to religion, 
and not the God according to metaphysics, whose being I 
wish to prove. . . . When I speak of God, I mean some- 
thing other than an Identity wherein all differences vanish, 
or a Unity which includes but does not transcend the differ- 
ences which it somehow holds in solution. I mean a God 



couraged, is not due only to the lack of a sufficently 
clear realization of the essential difference existing 
between the gods of the historical religions and the 
" gods " of metaphysics, but in an equal measure 
perhaps to an unwillingness to admit an unwelcome 
truth. There are devoted Christians who appar- 
ently prefer living in intellectual dishonesty to rec- 
ognizing that the God whom they worship has no 
existence in their philosophy. 

It hardly need be said here that the abandonment 
of the belief in a personal God and in personal im- 
mortality, though it involved the disappearance of 
the existing religions, need not bring to an end re- 
ligious life. Religion is not to be identified with its 
present forms. The faith of the ancient Hebrews, 
which looked only to the continuation of the nation, 
refutes sufficiently the opinion according to which 
the immortal individual soul is a tenet necessary to 
all religions. While original Buddhism, which de- 
nies the existence of a personal God, and Comte's 
Religion of Humanity, which includes among its 
articles of faith neither personal God nor soul, 
demonstrate the possible independence of religion 
from the belief in a personal God. The sources of 
religious life, its fundamental realities, lie deeper 

whom men can love, a God to whom men can pray, who takes 
sides, who has purposes and preferences, whose attributes, 
however conceived, leave unimpaired the possibility of a per- 
sonal relation between Himself and those whom He has cre- 

For a demonstration of the correctness of this distinction, 
see chapter XI, especially pages 245 to 254, of my earlier 
book, A Psychological Study of Religion; Its Origin, Function 
and Future. — Macmillan, 1912, 



than the conceptional forms in which they find ex- 

To regard this book as merely destructive because 
it offers no sufficient ground for belief in immor- 
tality, and because the statistics presented demon- 
strate an alienation from beliefs present in all the 
historical religions (Comtism and original Buddh- 
ism excepted) and provide reasons for anticipating 
a continuous decrease of these beliefs, would be to 
overlook its essential results, namely, the analysis 
both of the fundamental motives and of the sec- 
ondary causes which have led to the formation of 
the primary belief in immortality, to its subsequent 
displacement by the modern belief, and which at 
the present time prompt many of those most sensi- 
tive to moral values to seek elsewhere than in the 
continuation of the identity of the Ego the satisfac- 
tion of spiritual needs. To uncover the deeper 
sources from which spring the varied forms of our 
religious life, even when this involves laying bare 
the uncertainty or inadequacy of old and widely ac- 
cepted convictions, cannot with justice be character- 
ized as a merely destructive performance. Rather 
should it be regarded, from a practical point of view, 
as tending to accomplish a threefold good: the de- 
liverance of man from a devitalizing fear of imagi- 
nary disastrous consequences that are to attend the 
loss of these beliefs; his inspiration with renewed 
confidence in the reliability of the forces by which 
he feels himself urged onward, however ignorant of 
their nature he may otherwise be; and his enrich- 


ment with information useful for the wise guidance 
of his efforts at reconstructions when reconstruction 
shall have appeared imperative. 

Parts II and III may be read independently of 
Part I, but the full weight of the investigation will 
not be felt by those who have omitted the first part. 

I take pleasure in acknowledging here the valu- 
able assistance received from Miss Edith Orlady in 
the preparation of this book. 



The first edition of this book, published in 1916 
by Sherman, French & Co., was exhausted in the 
course of a little more than a year. That firm hav- 
ing gone out of business, the Open Court Pub- 
lishing Company have undertaken the publication 
of the new edition. The book remains practically 
what it was; the changes that have been made are 
few and none of them of much importance. 
* * * * * * * 

My main purpose in writing this second preface 
is to remove two misunderstandings. It seems, 
however, worth while to append brief notes upon the 
reception given to this book, for they indicate with 
some precision how far we are from having achieved 
the degree of intellectual freedom on which we com- 
monly pride ourselves. Even among men devoted to 
the advancement of science, the weight of tradition 
remains a powerful hindrance to the quest and the 
diffusion of religious knowledge. 


The first of the misunderstandings to which I 
have alluded, arose about the main generalization 
of Part I. I attempted there to demonstrate that, 
leaving the Hindoo world out of reckoning, there 
are two conceptions of survival after death that 
differ radically from each other both with regard 
to their origin and their function. The older — the 
Primary — is apparently universal among non-civil- 
ized societies; the other — the Modern — took shape 


when and where the Primary belief was dying out, 
It was dying out at the beginning of the historical 
period among the nations established around the 
eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. 

The motives that led to the appearance of the 
Primary Conception of survival are experiences 
having for the savage the validity of ordinary sense 
perception ; he sees, hears, and " feels " the presence 
of ghosts. His belief in them is not, therefore, the 
product of aversion to annihilation and of yearn- 
ings for moral self-realization; that man survives 
as a ghost is a fact accepted by him on the same 
kind of ground as the existence of natural objects. 
Quite otherwise was it with the origin of the Mod- 
ern Conception ; it had to be won out of the depths 
of man's moral experience; it is a child of craving 
for rationality, for justice, and for happiness. 

Neither the reality nor the importance of this 
distinction between a Primary and a Modern Con- 
ception of continuation after death has been de- 
nied; but some of my critics were of the opinion 
that I have emphasized unduly the difference when 
I have described it as " radical ". According to 
them, I have not given sufficient recognition to cer- 
tain motives for belief that are common to the two 
forms ; for instance, the desires for the continuation 
of a sympathetic relation with the departed and for 
one's own happiness in the future life. These critics 
have forgotten, it seems, that under the heading 
" The Life of Ghosts and Their Relation to the Liv- 
ing; the Primary Paradise " (pp. 15-24, especially 20 


ff), I have described and illustrated, briefly it is 
true but quite definitely, the presence among some 
savages of these very motives, i. e., of motives of the 
kind to which the Modern belief owes its origin. 1 
did not affirm that these two classes of motives — 
pseudo-perceptions or deductions from observed 
facts and moral yearnings — had never been present 
together so as to produce a composite conception. 
On the contrary, I drew attention to the paradisiacal 
elements in certain primitive beliefs in the here- 
after. But I insisted that these two kinds of motives 
are entirely different in nature, that they need not 
be present together, and that as a matter of fact the 
Primary motives gave to the early conception its 
dominant character. 

I had also to take into account an historical fact 
of great significance, namely, the final form assumed 
by the early belief in survival after death among the 
nations from which the western world has derived 
its civilization, i. e., the nations situated around the 
eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, Baby- 
lonia, Palestine, and Greece. At the beginning of 
the historical period, before the Modern Conception 
had taken shape, the hereafter was pictured among 
these nations as the abode of inactive, ineffective, 
and unhappy shades. With them, the living main- 
tained no sympathetic relation whatsoever; dread 
or repugnance only was felt by the living for the 
fate in store for them. There is, thus, incontroverti- 
ble evidence that in so far as the countries in which 
the Modern Conception arose are concerned, the 
influence of desire upon the idea of the hereafter, 


apparent here and there among savages, was finally 
eliminated ; and that the conception of the future life 
became the expression exclusively of what I have 
called the Primary motives. It does not therefore 
seem an exaggeration to describe as " radical " the 
difference in origin and in function existing between 
the repulsive and depressing Primary belief and the 
glorious and inspiring Modern belief. 


The second explanation I wish to make refers to 
the statements of belief in God and immortality 
used in preparing the statistics. If these statements 
brought out the facts ivhich they were intended to 
bring out, they must be regarded as adequate. That 
they did not bring out other facts is irrelevant, 
however important these other facts might be. I did 
not want to find out what proportion of the mem- 
bers of the several classes selected for investigation 
(American physical scientists, biological scientists, 
historians, sociologists, psychologists, and college 
students of non-technical departments) believed in 
the Absolute of Bradley or in that of Royce, or in 
Bergson's Elan Vital, or in Rashdall's limited God, 
or in any other of the God-conceptions known to 
philosophers. Had I entertained that purpose, I 
should have failed ; for, probably not one in a hun- 
dred of the men belonging to the classes named 
would have been in a position to answer the finely 
discriminating questions that would have been nec- 
essary. My purpose had reference not to philosophy 
but to religion as it actually exists among us in its 
organized forms; i. e., I desired to determine with 


some degree of accuracy the percentages of believ- 
ers and of non-believers (disbelievers and doubters) 
in personal immortality and in a God able and, under 
certain undetermined conditions, willing to act upon 
man or nature or both, at man's desire, request, 
or in accordance with his desert. 

***** * * 

The profound significance to the existing religions 
of the statistical inquiry reported in Part II of this 
book needs no demonstration. Christian worship, 
in all its varieties, the Unitarian not excepted, im- 
plies the direct, intellectual and affective communi- 
cation of man with God, in the definite form which 
communication takes between man and man : i. e., 
an exchange of ideas and feelings and an expression 
of desires and intentions accompanied by the con- 
viction that God may grant request or desire, 
whether it be a change of weather, a cure of disease, 
or a deliverance from moral evil. Abandonment of 
that direct personal relation would so materially 
transform the existing religions as to make them 
unrecognizable. It would usher in a new epoch in 
the religious history of mankind. If this be true, 
the statistics point indeed to things momentous. 

What form religion can take when this personal 
relation with God is given up, is not one of the prob- 
lems I set myself to answer. Some hints may be 
found, however, in my earlier volume and in Part 
III of the present one. An increasing number of 
religious leaders, writing from what they regard as 
the " Christian " point of view, are as a matter of 
fact endeavoring to formulate a religion in which 


the traditional Christian God is exchanged for a 
God-belief in agreement with present knowledge. 
The practices of minimizing differences, accentuat- 
ing agreements, and of pouring new wine into old 
bottles — practices that have always been approved 
as strategically valuable — leaves the average church 
attendant unaware of the distance to which these 
leaders have really strayed from established creeds 
and worship. It is not apparent that the leaders 
themselves realize their position. Because their 
new view leaves standing the Christian virtues, they 
speak as if no essential change had taken place in 
their religion and as if none need take place in their 
worship ! Such a person is a Unitarian minister who 
declared, in a published address inspired by these 
statistics, that " the popular conception of ' direct ' 
answer to prayer " is " no test of the Christian faith 
of the present day ". He may be right in that 
affirmation ; many make it. But then, why continue 
the use of prayer books and hymnologies, every line 
of which implies the " popular conception " ? 

Professor James B. Pratt does not misrepresent 
Professor Ames in writing, " I fear the religious 
reader of The Psychology of Religious Experience x 
will find cold comfort after all when he learns that 
the only God who exists is just human society's 
longings and ideals and values, and that He cannot 
even mean anything more than that ". ' For Pro- 
fessor Ames, religion is " the consciousness of the 

1 A book by Professor Edward Scribner Ames. 

2 The Religious Consciousness, p. 208. 



highest social values ". Social-mindedness is re- 
ligious mindedness. " All moral ideals are relig- 
ious in the degree in which they are expressions of 
great vital interests of society." " It would be no 
exaggeration to say that all ceremonies in which 
the whole group co-operates with keen emotional 
interests are religious." ' To use " religion " in 
that way is to transform its meaning beyond all 

Professor Pratt's own opinion may be gathered 
from these words, " Objective worship of the sort 
that aims to please the Deity is a thing of the past. 
The modern man cannot even attempt to participate 
in it without conscious hypocrisy." Nevertheless, 
according to him, objective worship remains pos- 
sible in the form of " reverence, combined perhaps 
with consecration and a suggestion of communion, 
which most thoughtful men must feel in the pres- 
ence of the Cosmic forces and in reflecting upon 
them. Such was the attitude of Spinoza and Her- 
bert Spencer." 2 Is reverence for the Cosmic forces 
the emotional attitude that inspired the creeds and 
the prayer books? Did Spinoza and Spencer find it 
possible to join in the accepted Christian public 
worship? We are here far away from Christian 

Other distinguished writers on the psychology of 
religion, unwilling to do away with traditional 
prayer, say in substance, " God acts through His 

1 Edward Scribner Ames, the Psychology of Religious Ex- 
perience, pp. 10, 285-287, 72. 

2 The Religious Consciousness, 1920. Page 308. 



laws. Man's own natural response to his prayer is 
God's way of answering him " — which means that 
the natural effect of one's belief upon one's thoughts 
and emotions is God's answer. Thus understood, 
the result of prayer can be said to be a "divine an- 
swer " only at the risk of utter confusion. 

The word " reconstruction " is on the lips of 
everybody. A primary condition of religious recon- 
struction is a sufficiently widespread realization that 
the crumbling religious structures in which we are 
still dwelling have ceased to keep us spiritually 
warm. Those who are acquainted with the social 
sciences realize that the disbelief of the present, re- 
garding the central assumption of the organized 
religions (a God in direct relation with man), is of 
a different temper from the disbelief of the past. 
It has gained the quality belonging to things firmly 
established, the quality which attaches, for instance, 
to the doctrine of evolution since Darwin's labors. 

Another condition of effective religious recon- 
struction is a widespread establishment of the con- 
viction that belief in the traditional God is not a 
primary source of spiritual worth and moral in- 
spiration, but that moral values come into existence 
in social relationship, as a natural and unavoidable 
consequence of the nature of man. 

These conditions once realized, the way would be 
prepared for the acceptance of a conception of the 



divine that would not be opposed to the teachings of 
modern science. 1 

Bryn Mawr, Pa., May, 1921. 

1 Frequent wrong inferences makes it advisable to say 
here that if disbelief in a God in direct intellectual and af- 
fective communication with man is widespread and prob- 
ably rapidly increasing, it does not follow that the dis- 
believers have turned to materialistic philosophies. On the 
contrary, many if not most of them have exchanged the 
traditional God for forms of spiritual belief possessing a 
higher ethical significance. 



In the Roman Catholic press no attempt what- 
ever was made at a serious criticism of the book. 
The statistics (Part II) were in many instances ac- 
cepted uncritically at their face value, usually with 
ill-concealed gratification at the demonstration they 
were held to provide of the " godlessness " of non- 
Catholic education. A certain American Cardinal, 
for example, found these statistics useful as a goad 
to urge his flock to a more zealous support of 
parochial schools. In other instances, sweeping and 
unsupported denials were made of the validity of 
the statistics. " True scientists " doggedly affirmed 
an influencial Roman Catholic weekly, " are be- 
lievers " — this in the face of the statement of over 
half the men listed in "American Men of Science " 
that they are disbelievers or non-believers in God, 
as defined for the purpose of the investigation! 

The attitude of the less important protestant re- 
ligious reviews was only one degree less careless of 
the facts in the case: that which agreed with their 
beliefs, they approved; and, that which disagreed 
they condemned. Strikingly different in temper 
were the critical notices of the more technical 
protestant theological journals. The liberalism and 
the scientific spirit of, for instance, the American 
Journal of Theology and the Harvard Theological 
Review, make a striking contrast with the dogmatic 


medievalism of many of the lesser journals. It looks 
as if the leaders had so far outstripped the rank 
and file as to have lost contact with them. 

It is deserving of notice that certain influential 
secular reviews, devoting considerable space to re- 
ligion, either maintained complete silence about the 
book or merely announced its appearance, this in 
spite of the fact that lengthy notices in the daily 
press indicate that at least the Statistical Part pos- 
sesses considerable interest for the average reader. 
But if this silence is distressing in popular maga- 
zines, it is still more so when it is maintained by 
exclusively scientific journals. Science, for instance/ 
failed to review the book and refused a brief ac- 
count of the statistics prepared by the author, al- 
though the editor acknowledged that the results 
were of much interest and scientific in character, 
and that his own attitude in refusing to print the 
report was " not scientific." If a scientific investi- 
gation which has attracted widespread attention and 
which directly concerns American men of science is 
not to be considered in the official journal of the 
allied sciences, where is it to be discussed? Is there, 
even among men of science so little dispassionate- 
ness with regard to religious beliefs that they can- 
not be trusted to treat scientifically a scientific in- 
vestigation bearing upon religious questions? 






When did the belief in primary continuation 
appear? — The savage's idea of soul and ghost 
— The survival after death and immortality — 
The life of ghosts and their relation with the 
living; the primary paradise — Explanation 
of the fear of ghosts and of the evil character 
usually ascribed to them — Conditions of ad- 
mission to the other world and the relation of 
morality to continuation after death — Mor- 
ality and religion. 



I. The origin of the ghost-idea — Memory- 
images exteriorized under the influence of emo- 
tion — The " sense of presence " — Dreams — 
Visions — The natural endlessness of man — 
The influence of death — Vegetation and insect 
metamorphosis — The waxing and the waning 
moon; the rising and the setting sun — Physi- 
cal and moral likenesses between a living and 
a dead person — Reflections and echoes — The 
instinct theory of the origin of the belief in 
continuation — II. The differentiation of the 
ghost from the soul — III. The origin of the 
soul as set forth by Durkheim in his theory of 
the origin of the idea of the soul-ghost — 
Crawley's and Feuerbach's theories. 





1. The belief in immortality is said to have 
appeared late — II. The chief characteristics 
of the primary belief at the beginning of the 
historical period, in the countries bordering the 
eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. 



I. Translation to a land of immortality — 
II. The Messianic prophecies — III. The rec- 
ognition of the insufficiency of national hopes, 
the consequent establishment of individual re- 
lations with the gods, and the dawn of the 
modern belief in personal immortality — IV. 
Greek sources of immortality. Ecstasy — V. 
The absence of continuity between the primary 
and the modern belief in immortality. 



I. The metaphysical arguments — Argu- 
ments from the spiritual nature of all reality, 
from the simplicity of the soul, from an intelli- 
gent non-moral, and from an intelligent and 
moral First Cause — II. The acknowledged 
insufficiency of the deductive arguments and 
the falling back upon direct " inner experi- 
ence " of immortality. 


I. Physical manifestations — II. Psychical 
manifestations — III. The resurrection of 










I. Typical answers, in extenso — II. The 
personal or impersonal nature of God — III. 
The form, or image, or symbol under which 
God is conceived — IV. God's relation to man. 


A statistical inquiry, including a compari- 
son of the changes in belief taking place dur- 
ing college years. 


A statistical inquiry, including in each group 
a comparison of the less with the more emi- 
nent men — I. The causes of the failure to 
answer and the interpretation of the ques- 
tionnaire — II. The scientists — III. The his- 
torians — IV. The sociologists — V. The psy- 
chologists — VI. The philosophers — VII. Com- 
parison of the signed with the unsigned an- 
swers, and of the answers to the first with the 
answers to the second requests — VIII. Sum- 
mary and conclusions from the statistics. 









The dislike for immortality — Indifference to 
immortality — Immortality as a morally in- 
ferior belief — Present causes of the desire for 









" It might be hard to point to a single tribe of 
men, however savage, of whom one could say with 
certainty that the faith is totally wanting among 
them " : thus writes Frazer 2 of the belief in survival 
after death; and most other competent anthropolo- 
gists affirm with less caution the presence of that 
belief in every tribe, however primitive.' 

This universal belief of the non-civilized in con- 
tinuation after death is commonly regarded as es- 
sentially similar to the modern belief in immortality ; 
yet we shall find it to be so different from the 
former, that it would be nearer the truth to 
maintain that, save for the idea of continuation, the 
two beliefs have little in common. We shall see, 
further, that the savage is convinced of immortality 
by facts rejected in toto by the civilized Christian, 
and that the latter desires immortality for reasons 

1 In this chapter I shall use " continuation " and " survi- 
val " interchangeably with " immortality." When one deals 
with the beliefs of the savage and of the average civilized 
man, immortality is the less exact of these terms. 

a J. G. Frazer: The Belief in Immortality: London; Mac- 
millan; 1913. Pages 25, 33. This volume is a valuable com- 
pilation of beliefs concerning immortality among the abo- 
rigines of Australia, the Torres Straits Islands, New Guinea, 
and Melanesia. 

* Following the present custom, I shall use the term 
" primitive " to designate, as the case may be, the lowest 
populations now extant or the hypothetical original man. 


unknown to the savage. The history of the idea of 
continuation after death falls, therefore, into two 
great historical periods between which there is little 
if any continuity of a vital character. The first 
we shall call the period of the primary, or ghost 


The demonstration of the existence in every living 
tribe of the primary belief would not, however, be 
equivalent to a proof of its coexistence with human 
life. Was there not a social stage earlier than the 
one represented by the present " primative " man, 
in which the idea of the surviving soul had not yet 
appeared? One might argue with great plausibility 
that the grim fact of death must have been, at first, 
conclusive of the finality of earthly existence. Men, 
animals, and plants drop and decay ; the human body 
not only becomes inert but falls to pieces and dis- 
solves. That ever recurring direct, sensory demon- 
stration of finality must, it seems, have overcome 
any adverse promptings coming from the instinct of 
self-preservation and from any existing sense of per- 

One might turn to archeology for a solution of 
this problem. From that science, if from any, must 
come the knowledge we seek. I need hardly say that, 
for the present, archeology is far from having fully 
discovered the material conditions of life and still 
less the social customs and beliefs of the early popu- 
lations, the existence of which it has revealed. 

Not a trace of reliable information has been 
found as to the existence of man during the Tertiary 


age. The skeletal remains (pithecanthropus erec- 
tus) discovered by Dr. Dubois at Trinil, on the 
island of Java in a pliocene formation, are not suffi- 
cient to permit an assured classification. They may 
be part of a man, or of an anthropoid ape now ex- 
tinct. Of the presence of man during the earlier 
Quaternary age, we possess indications quite in- 
sufficient to permit conclusions concerning the 
meaning of certain burial customs. 

The middle and later Quaternary (this includes 
the "reindeer period") are the earliest periods 
about which archeology has provided reliable infor- 
mation. Three prehistoric races (the race of Nean- 
derthal or of Spy, that of Cro-Magnon or of Ling- 
erie, and the Negroid race) and some of their funer- 
ary customs have been discovered. A large part of 
this information comes from the caves of Grimaldi/ 
situated near the Principality of Monaco. A few 
words concerning the finds made in one of these 
caves, the Grotte des Enfants, will serve our pur- 
pose. In this cave stood ten meters of deposit ar- 
ranged in nine superposed dwelling levels. The 
inferior layers contained remains of reindeer. The 
deposits extended, therefore, throughout the second 
half of the Quaternary age. Several skeletons 
were found at different levels. One of the sepul- 
tures, at a depth of 7m. 50, known as sepulture num- 
ber four, contained skeletons of an old woman and 
of an adolescent. The young man carried on the 

4 See Tome I, pages 289-299, of J. Dechelette's Manuel 
d'Archeologie Prehistorique Celtique et Gallo-Romatnc : 
Paris; Picard et Fils; 1908-1914. The two tomes are pub- 
lished in four volumes and two appendices. 


forehead a wreath of four rows of perforated shells. 
The left arm of the woman was decorated with two 
bracelets made of the same shells. A few flint 
blades seemed to have been placed on the bodies 
or by their sides at the time of burial. 6 

In another Grimaldi cave was found the famous 
Homme de Menton. About the skull were more 
than 2000 perforated shells, which probably formed 
a head decoration, and twenty-two canines of deer, 
also perforated. These objects and certain bones of 
the skeleton were colored. 

The age of these Quaternary races is immaterial 
to us; what we wish to know is the degree of de- 
velopment attained by them, how far removed they 
were from what may be considered the really primi- 
tive man. The only answer we can make to that 
question is that they belong to the " rough stone " 
age; that is, to a time when metals and pottery 
were unknown. The only implements used were of 
stone, chiefly flint; of bones; and of wood. These 
populations were, therefore, presumably at a stage 
of culture somewhat inferior to that of the most 
primitive contemporary savages. 

We may thus take it for established that the tribes 
of the stone age buried their dead, or some of them, 
in protected places ; and that together with the body 
they interred ornaments and a few useful imple- 
ments, chiefly flint blades. The skull and bones of 
the face were often colored with ocres. Stones were 

'■ Dechelette, hoc. cit. Vol. I, page 294. 
e Some very simple pieces of pottery, apparently belonging 
to the Quaternary age, have been found in Belgium. 


sometimes placed under the head and about the body, 
as for protection. 

Must these funerary customs be taken to imply 
a belief in survival after death? No, not neces- 
sarily. It is conceivable that even in the absence 
of a belief in an after-life, bodies should have been 
buried in this fashion. There are feelings, natural 
even to the savage, which might have led to these 
practices. The appreciation of faithfulness, dig- 
nity, and power are surely traits belonging in some 
measure to men of the lowest societies known to us. 
Who would deny to any being, really belonging to 
the human species, an aversion for casting to the 
dogs the body of a person liked and respected? A 
propensity, quite independent of a belief in souls, to 
take some care of at least some corpses, at some time 
or other, must, it seems, be conceded. And, how 
better can respect and affection be shown than by 
burying the person with the things which in this life 
he needed most and valued above all others, the 
things which he had used and worn and which had 
become, in a sense, a part of his personality? 

No more can the presence of certain pictures on 
the walls of Quaternary caves, and a curious custom 
which I shall describe presently, be regarded as dem- 
onstrating the existence of the survival-idea among 
these Troglodytes. From the position of these pic- 
tures in high places and in dark recesses, as well as 
for other reasons, Salomon Reinach concluded that 
they were not intended as decorations. He assimi- 
lated them to the pictures of present day savages by 
which they magically insure the multiplication or 


the capture of the animals pictured. The principle 
tacitly recognized in this widely distributed kind of 
magic is that the picture or, in other instances, the 
name or the gesture-imitation of a thing gives con- 
trol over that thing. The magical function of these 
wall pictures is rendered the more probable by the 
fact that they include only desirable animals; no 
carnivora are found among them. 7 

The curious practice to which I have referred con- 
sisted in cutting out of the skull of living or of dead 
persons pieces to be worn in the manner of amulets 
or other magical objects. A single explorer, Pru- 
niere, has gathered in Lozere no less than one hun- 
dred and twenty-six perforated skulls and forty-one 
pieces taken from them. It seems that trepanation 
on the dead was performed in preference upon skulls 
that had already been trepanned in life, perhaps, as 
Broca suggested, because these persons were invested 
with a holy character. These pieces of bone, perfo- 
rated at each end, were no doubt sacred objects, con- 
ferring upon the wearer powers and immunities. 8 

Some authorities hold that the operation was per- 
formed in order to let out a spirit who caused the 
death. The modern Kabyles have been known to 
perform trepanning for exorcising purposes. 

Both this custom and the animal paintings are 
consistent with the absence of the idea of survival. 

7 L' Anthropologic; 1903; pages 257-266; and more fully in 
Cultes, Mythes et Religions: Leroux; Paris; 1905-1906; Vol. 
I, pages 125-136. 

See in my book, A Psychological Study of Religion, the dis- 
cussion of magic and religion. 

8 Dechelette, Loc cit., pages 474-482. 


They may be explained as an expression of belief in 
the existence of an impersonal force, a mana, resid- 
ing in the person or animal, a part of which is 
supposed to be secured or controlled by the posses"- 
sion of a bit of the skull of the deceased, or by a rep- 
resentation of the animal. 

But if the presence of burial is not necessarily a 
proof of the presence of the continuation-idea, no 
more is the absence of burial a proof of the absence 
of that conception. We know, as a matter of fact, 
of savages who merely throw their dead into the 
brush, and who, nevertheless, believe in survival 
after death. 

The words " soul " and " ghost " are used synony- 
mously in anthropological literature, as if they rep- 
resented one and the same conception. We shall in 
the rest of this chapter conform to this usage, al- 
though, in the next, we shall be led to ascribe a dif- 
ferent meaning to these words. 

Most, perhaps all, savages believe in a plurality 
of souls. Each man may possess two or even a 
much higher number of souls. This belief is found 
among populations as primitive as those of Aus- 
tralia. Ross reports that among the tribes of the 
Pennefather river it is believed that each man has 
two souls; one called ngoi, resides in the heart; the 
other, choi, dwells in the placenta. 8 On the western 
coast of Africa, there is a belief in the kra which 

9 E. Durkheim : Les Formes Elementaires de la Vie Re- 
ligieuse; Paris; Alcan; 1912. Pages 368, 369. 


exists before the birth of the man to whom it belongs, 
and will continue after his death. The kra can ab- 
sent itself from the living body and return to it at 
will. This happens usually in sleep, but it may also 
occur during waking, in which case the departure of 
the kra is indicated merely by a yawn. These same 
people believe also in the srahman, a soul that begins 
its career only at death of its possessor. 

Remarkable exceptions to the ascription of a soul 
or souls, to every individual are recorded : among the 
Gnanji, for instance, the women are thought to have 
no soul. 10 This is probably a belief of late origin, 
expressive of contempt for that sex. 

The word *' soul " assumes among savages a sur- 
prising variety of meanings, none of which is exactly 
that of the educated Christian. Even in primitive 
Australia, the conception of the soul is far from 
simple. The descriptions given of it by the aborigi- 
nes seems in many respects amazingly contradictory. 
It is, of course, a material substance ; for the savage 
does not know of spirit-existence independently of 
material bodies. Ghosts are usually invisible; only 
certain persons, for instance, old men or members 
of a superior race, can see them. Africans have 
been known to ask a white traveler to catch a 
troublesome ghost for them. 

The soul is variously described as small, like a 
grain of sand, or of any size up to that of a giant. 
Its shape is said to be round, featureless, or quite 
similar to that of the living person to whom it be- 

10 Spencer and Gillen: Northern Tribes of Central Aus- 
tralia; pages 179, 546. 


longed, or of any other conceivable appearance. It 
can pass through the smallest hole and crack, either 
because it partakes of the nature of the wind, or be- 
cause of its smallness. It is, nevertheless, commonly 
represented also as eating, sleeping, and performing 
most, or all, of the functions characteristic of this 

The relation of the soul to the body also evinces 
great varieties. During the life of the body, the 
soul is variously thought to be diffused throughout 
the body, or to be especially connected with the 
blood, or the breath, the heart, the liver, or some 
other organ. Its connection with the body involves 
growth and decay ; on leaving the body, the souls of 
the young and vigorous are also young and vigor- 
ous, and the souls of the aged and infirm also old and 
infirm. We shall see that this belief, when it is con- 
sistently held, leads to curious and cruel customs. 
For some, the bodily shadow is the soul ; for others, 
the reflection of oneself seen in water, or elsewhere, 
is the soul. It may be supposed that some regard 
both shadow and reflection as the soul. Not infre- 
quently the breath is said to be the soul. 

The soul can temporarily leave the living body. 
This happens particularly during sleep and other 
temporary loses of consciousness, such as swoons. 
According to many tribes, the soul remains con- 
nected with the corpse until complete decomposition 
has taken place. When the bones have become 
clean, the soul is held to have become completely 
free. Until then it had remained at or near the 
place of burial, now it can move to the land of 


spirits. It may, however, return to the living when- 
ever it pleases or only on special occasions. This 
liberation of the soul from the dead body is such 
an important event in the history of the soul that 
henceforth it bears a new name: it has become a 

It would be unreasonable to expect the savage to 
entertain only those ideas of the soul which are en- 
tirely consistent with each other. Primitive minds do 
not perceive contradictions obvious to a modern, 
trained mind. The savage frequently uses as a 
means of gratifying his desires, unembarrassed by 
logical requirements, his ill-determined notion of a 
something vitalizing the body and of a some- 
thing continuing to live after its death. In or- 
der that the soul may escape, the Hottentots and 
other populations, for instance, make a hole in the 
wall of the hut in which a person has just died. 
They then plug that hole and imagine that they have 
protected themselves against the return of the soul 
within the hut ; for, they say, the ghost will not look 
for or not be able to find the other openings. In 
other circumstances, however, the same tribe as- 
cribes to ghosts capacities which should, it seems, 
make the procedure just described ridiculous to the 
savage himself. We are here in the presence of a 
sort of unconscious deception practiced upon him- 
self by the Hottentot in order to allay his fear of 
ghosts. 11 

11 The mental trick illustrated above is not peculiar to the 
savage; it is, on the contrary, extremely common and pre- 
cious to the civilized. One needs only listen for a while to a 
discussion, especially when it takes place between persons of 


But these contradictions are not all real. Some 
of them are the result of our failure to recognize 
that the savage has in mind at times the seed of life 
that enters the woman and produces a child ; and, at 
other times, the ghost that continues after the death 
of the body. In the next chapter we give reasons for 
holding that the savage makes that distinction and 
thus is, in many cases, not open to the accusation of 
contradiction and inconsistency of which he seems 
guilty when that distinction is ignored. 


Survival after death is not equivalent to im- 
mortality. Everywhere, even among the Austral- 
ians, there are tribes which admit the final annihila- 
tion of some souls or classes of souls. At the same 
time they set no limit to the continuation of other 
souls. Among some tribes, the souls of the departed 
after having returned several times from the island 
of the dead to live in their former families in order 
to perform various kindly functions, are finally de- 
stroyed by a thunderbolt. The Tougans think that 
only the souls of noblemen are saved, that the others 

little culture, to become aware of the presence of bare-faced 
subterfuges and of obviously illogical arguments by which 
each speaker seeks to protect his interests, or his pride. It is 
chiefly by this method that men, whatever the level of cul- 
ture to which they belong, succeed in preserving a flattering 
opinion of themselves. To say that the contestants are 
altogether aware of the defect of their arguments, would not 
always represent correctly their state of consciousness. But 
the vague sense of unrightness of which they may be cogni- 
zant is impotent before the will to self-assertion, which is the 
dominant factor in most discussion. This class of mental 
processes cannot be adequately understood without reference 
to the psychology of the so-called subconscious mental ac- 


perish with their bodies. In one of the Solomon 
Islands, the ghosts of no account survive death only 
for a time. " All ghosts upon leaving the body 
swim ... to two islands lying off Marau in Gua- 
dalcanal The children chatter and annoy the elder 
ghosts, so they are placed apart upon the second 
island; men and women ghosts are together, they 
have houses, gardens, and canoes, yet all is unsub- 
stantial. Living men cross to Marapa and see noth- 
ing ; but there is water there in which laughter and 
cries are heard ; there are places where water is seen 
to have been disturbed, and the banks are wet as if 
bathers had been there. . . . This ghostly life is not 
eternal. The mere akalo (the ghosts of ordinary 
people) soon turn into white ants' nests, which be- 
come the food of the still vigorous ghosts; hence a 
living man says to his idle son, 'When I die, I shall 
have ants' nests to eat, but then what will you 
have?' " " 

Of the Fijian we read, " On the whole, when we 
survey the many perils which beset the way to the 
Fijian heaven, and the many risks which the souls of 
the dead ran of dying the second death in the other 
world or of being knocked on the head by the living 
in this, we shall probably agree with the missionary 
Mr. Williams in concluding that under the old Fijian 
dispensation there were few indeed that were 
saved." 1 ' 

12 R. H. Codrington; The Melanesians; Oxford; 1891. Page 
260. Ghosts are sometimes cooked and eaten up by some 
giant ghost. 

'* Frazer: Loc. cit., page 467. 


To be a chief or a shaman is in some tribes of 
North America the condition of access to the other 
world. In others, the old and the sick have little 
chance of standing the hardships of the journey; in 
still others, fire is thought to be fatal to souls. 

If, as I have already reported, souls age with the 
body, the process of aging should go on in the other 
world and end with the death of the soul. Never- 
theless, most savages seem to assume that souls do 
not age when once detached from the body. It 
would be, I surmise, more exact to say that usually 
they neither affirm nor deny the soul's independence 
of the effect of time ; they simply do not think of the 
question. 14 

The belief that in this life souls share the for- 
tunes of the body, leads to practices most revolting 
to us. Some Australians, for instance, put their 
relatives to death before they are old in order that 
they may not be too feeble to care for themselves 
in the other world. I find in Frazer the following 

" This failure of the savage to take into consideration the 
effect of time upon persons who are supposed to be in most 
respects like himself is not surprising when we recall our 
own imagery of those from whom we have been long sepa- 
rated. They continue present to our memory with the phys- 
ical appearance that was familiar to us. It is only when we 
expect a person to return to us that we may make an effort 
to picture him under the changed appearance which years 
have probably worked. 

For the rest, the savage might perfectly well think that 
men do not age in the other world and yet place no limit to 
the process. The fact that even death by old age is often 
looked upon as maleficent sorcery shows how far removed 
these men are from connecting signs of age with the neces- 
sity of death. Among the Monumbo of German New Guinea, 
souls grow old and die, but they are not annihilated, for they 
are changed into animals and plants. Frazer: hoc. cit.; 
page 229. 


account of how a son lovingly strangled his aged 
mother. Strangling was considered " a more deli- 
cate and affectionate way " of dispatching relatives 
than to knock them on the head with a club. 

On one occasion, the missionary, Mr. Hunt, " was 
called upon by a young man, who desired that he 
would pray to his spirit for his mother, who was 
dead. Mr. Hunt was at first in hopes that this 
would afford him an opportunity of forwarding their 
great cause. On inquiry, the young man told him 
that his brothers and himself were just going to 
bury her. Mr. Hunt accompanied the young man, 
telling him he would follow in the procession, and 
do as he desired him, supposing of course, the corpse 
would be brought along ; but he now met the proces- 
sion, when the young man said that this was the 
funeral, and pointed out his mother, who was walk- 
ing along with them, as gay and lively as any of 
those present, and apparently as much pleased. Mr. 
Hunt expressed his surprise to the young man, and 
asked him how he could deceive him so much by say- 
ing his mother was dead, when she was alive and 
well. He said, in reply, that they had made her 
death-feast, and were now going to bury her; that 
she was old ; that his brother and himself had 
thought she had lived long enough, and it was time 
to bury her, to which she had willingly assented, and 
they were about it now. He had come to Mr. Hunt 
to ask his prayers, as they did those of the priest. 
He added, that it was from love for his mother that 
he had done so; that, in consequence of the same 
love, they were now going to bury her, and that none 


but themselves could or ought to do so sacred an 
office! Mr. Hunt did all in his power to prevent so 
diabolical an act ; but the only reply he received was, 
that she was their mother, and they were her chil- 
drn, and they ought to put her to death. On reach- 
ing the grave, the mother sat down, when they all, 
including children, grandchildren, relations and 
friends, took an affectionate leave of her; a rope, 
made of twisted tapa (bark-cloth) was then passed 
twice around her neck by her sons, who took hold of 
it and strangled her; after which she was put into 
her grave with the usual ceremonies. They returned 
to feast and mourn, after which she was entirely for- 
gotten as though she had not existed." 15 

These remarks and quotations will suffice to make 
it clear that survival is not equivalent to immortal- 
ity : some souls may continue endlessly ; it is in the 
nature of others to come to a " natural " end after 
a certain lapse of time; these may, moreover, be de- 
stroyed accidentally. In this, as in other important 
respects, the primary continuation belief is not to be 
assimilated with the modern immortality of the soul. 

The more deeply one inquires into the customs 
and beliefs of the savage, the more one is amazed at 
their almost endless variety. It is evident that 
under the incentive of certain needs and desires, 
imagination had for a long time been elaborating in 
every thinkable shape a few fundamental notions. 
With regard to the nature and the fate of the soul, 

Frazer: hoc. cit.; pages 423, 424. 


the more important conceptions of the savage pro- 
ceed essentially from a desire to explain certain 
events and to define his relation to the ghosts. A 
knowledge of these relations is of paramount im- 
portance to the savage. His many other ideas con- 
cerning the dead have no deep roots ; they are to be 
regarded as chiefly a play of the fancy, so that they 
belong to myth rather than to religion. 

The separation which death makes between the 
living and the departed is much less radical than is 
commonly imagined. The dead, it is true, usually 
live in another country, but their world differs but 
little from that of the living, and they continue mem- 
bers of the social group to which they belonged when 
in the body. As the individual was in this life, so 
is he usually in the other: either strong or weak, 
courageous or cowardly, clever or stupid, rich or 
poor, young or old, healthy or sickly, happy or un- 
happy. The kings remain kings, and the slaves, 
slaves. Ghosts and spirits can be spoken to, heard, 
seen. Miss Kingsley relates how she heard a negro 
speaking aloud to his dead mother, just as if she 
were beside him. Death makes a difference not much 
greater than results from initiation when a child 
becomes a full member of the social group. " 

It is essential to an understanding of the relation 
of the living with their dead that the two periods 
frequently recognized in the fortunes of the soul 
should be born in mind. The souls do not go to the 

10 Levy-Briihl: Les Fonctions Mentales dans les Societes 
Inferienres: Paris,; Alcan; 2d ed.; 1912. Chap. VIII, espe- 
cially 1 and 4. 


land of the dead immediately after death. They are 
supposed to tarry near the grave and about their 
former dwellings until the end of the period of 
mourning, which appears to coincide roughly with 
the complete decomposition of the body. Then, they 
move to ghost-land, when their relation with their 
tribes' people becomes more distant. Certain tribes 
speak, in addition, of vagrant souls which, unable to 
get to the land of spirits, haunt this earth for a 
time or permanently. 

The world of the dead is more or less vaguely and 
variously located, somewhere to the east or to the 
west, under the earth, in or above the sky, on the 
other side of a mountain or of a river, on an island, 
in a cave, in or under the earth, etc. The souls may 
also remain in the immediate neighborhood of the 
tribe and lodge themselves in trees, plants, stones 
or in any object whatsoever, and there wait for a 
chance to be re-born from a woman of the tribe to 
which they belong. The Central Australians, for 
instance, " imagine that the spirits of the dead con- 
tinue to haunt their native land and especially cer- 
tain striking natural features of the landscape, It 
may be a pool of water in a deep gorge of the barren 
hills, or a solitary tree in the sun-baked plains, or a 
great rock that affords a welcome shade in the sultry 
noon. Such spots are thought to be tenanted by 
the souls of the departed waiting to be born again, 
There they lurk, constantly on the lookout for pass- 
ing women into whom they may enter, and from 
whom in due time they may be born as infants. It 
matters not whether the woman be married or un- 


married, a matron or a maid, a blooming girl or a 
withered hag; any woman may conceive directly by 
the entrance into her of one of these disembodied 
spirits ; but the natives have shrewdly observed that 
the spirits show a decided preference for plump 
young women. Hence when such a damsel is pass- 
ing near a plot of haunted ground, if she does not 
wish to become a mother, she will disguise herself 
as an aged crone and hobble past, saying in a thin, 
cracked voice, 'Don't come to me. I am an old 
woman.' Such spots are often stones, which the 
natives call child-stones because the souls of the 
dead are there lying in wait for women in order to 
be born as children. One such stone, for example, 
may be seen in the land of the Arunta tribe near 
Alice Springs. It projects to a height of three feet 
from the ground among the mulga scrub, and there 
is a round hole in it through which the souls of dead 
plum-tree people are constantly peeping, ready to 
pounce out on a likely damsel. Again, in the terri- 
tory of the Warramunga tribe the ghosts of black- 
snake people are supposed to gather in the rocks 
round certain pools or in the gum-trees which border 
the generally dry bed of a water-course. No War- 
ramunga woman would dare to strike one of these 
trees with an axe, because she is firmly convinced 
that in doing so she would set free one of the lurk- 
ing black-snake spirits, who would immediately dart 
into her body. They think that the spirits are no 
larger than grains of sand and that they make their 
way into women through the navel. Nor is it merely 
by direct contact with one of these repositories of 


souls, nor yet by pasing near it, that women may 
be gotten with child against their wish. The Arunta 
believe that any malicious man may by magic cause 
a woman or even a child to become a mother : he has 
only to go to one of the child-stones and rub it with 
his hands, muttering the words, ' Plenty of young 
women. You look and go quickly.' " 17 

Long before ethical considerations have begun to 
influence the conception of the future life, the realm 
of the dead is made up of several places or divisions. 
Warriors, priests, women and children may each 
have a place of their own; there may be special 
abodes for the people who have been shot, for those 
who have been clubbed to death, for those who have 
been done to death by magic, etc. Among the 
Muriks, a tribe of Sarawak in Borneo, all except 
women who have died in child-birth and men who 
have died in warfare, go to Long Kendi. As the 
warriors come along the road leading to it, a guard- 
ian spirit turns them " down a rocky path, which 
leads to the country of PoIluii Nang where there is 
always war and famine, so that these restless spirits 
can indulge themselves to their heart's content. " 
The women who have died in child-birth have their 
own dwelling place. To the gods of these Muriks is 
assigned still another abode. 1 ' According to one 
account, the Fijians imagine that every man has two 
souls, a dark and a light one. " The dark soul de- 

1T I take this from Frazer: hoc. cit.; pages 93, 94, who 
summarizes here information found on many pages of Spen- 
cer and Gillen's two volumes on the Australian tribes. 

ls The Saraivak Museum Journal; 1911; Vol. 8; page 146. 


parts at death to Hades, while the light soul stays 
near the place where he died or was killed." " I 
have already quoted a passage in which the ghosts 
are represented as swimming to two little islands. 
The ghosts of children live on one, and the ghosts 
of grown up people on the other. 

The colors with which ghost-land is painted vary 
somewhat from tribe to tribe; these differences re- 
flect no doubt social conditions and dominant tem- 
peramental characteristics. The world of the dead 
is usually neither better nor worse than that of 
the living. Among many tribes, however, a para- 
disiacal element appears : the land of the dead is de- 
scribed as a fortunate country abounding in food 
and of a pleasant climate, where work is unneces- 
sary. These ideas are found in widely distant coun- 
tries and among the more, as well as among the less 
primitive savages. 

The tribes of central Australia, for instance, 
place ghost-land below the earth, in a well watered 
land, enjoying a perpetual sunshine. 20 A similar 
belief exists among the Australians of New South 
Wales and of Victoria. 21 In German New Guinea, 
the Monumbo who, we are told, " are acquainted 
with no Supreme Being, no moral good or evil, no 
rewards, no place of punishment or joy after death, 
no permanent immortality," believe, nevertheless, 
that i-n the land of spirits the souls dwell without 
working or suffering. " Bethel-chewing, smoking, 

18 Frazer: Loc. cit.; page 411. 

20 Spencer and Gillen: The Native Tribes of Central Aus- 
tralia. Pages 513, 524. 


dancing, sleeping, all the occupations that they 
loved on earth are continued without interruption 
in the other world. They converse with men in 
dreams, but play them many a shabby trick, take 
possession of them and even, it may be, kill them. 
Yet they also help men in all manner of ways in war 
and the chase. Men invoke them, pray to them, 
make statues in their memory, which are called dva 
(plural dvaka) , and bring them offerings of food, 
in order to obtain their assistance. But if the 
spirits of the dead do not help, they are rated in the 
plainest language." 2i It is worthy of note that 
these Monumbo are of an optimistic disposition. 
They are described as " cheerful and contented, 
proud of themselves and their country; they think 
they are the cleverest and most fortunate people on 
earth, and look down with pity and contempt on 
Europeans." " We have seen that the Fijians also 
seem to think of the other life as on the whole desir- 
able. But if they frequently murdered in cold blood 
the invalid and the aged, on the ground that they 
would be happier in the other life, one should not for- 
get another motive, probably not less influential for 
being unavowed, namely, the wish of those who exe- 
cuted the deed to be rid of an encumbrance. In 
the establishment of this practice, economic motives 
(insufficient food for instance), played probably the 
essential role. The dwelling place of the dead, when 

" Matthews, " Ethnol. Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of 
New South Wales and Victoria." Jr. and Proc. of the Royal 
"Frazer: hoc. cit.; pages 228, 229. 
"Frazer: hoc. cit.; page 228. 


there is only one, is generally pictured by the North 
American Indians as a Happy Hunting Ground, in 
which the chief wishes of man are gratified without 
painful effort. 54 

To one acquainted with the universal fear of 
ghosts shown by the savage, and with the belief in 
the utterly wretched condition of all souls, enter- 
tained at the dawn of the historical period in the 
nations from which Europe derived its civilization, 
the belief of many primitive peoples in a para- 
dise may come as a surprise. The presence of that 
belief does not prevent the ghosts from being regard- 
ed by all savages as mischief makers, as causes of 
sickness, death, and poverty. One of the chief con- 
cerns of the savage is to make it impossible for the 
recently liberated ghost to return to those he leaves 
behind. The majority of the ceremonies connected 
with death and burial aim at preventing them from 
returning to the living, or at warding off their nefar- 
ious activities. Curious methods are in use to throw 
off the track the ghost who might try to return to 
the body or the hut just vacated. Among the Tuski of 
Alaska " those who die a natural death are carried 
out through a hole cut in the back of the hut. This 
is immediately closed up that the spirit of the dead 
man may not find his way back." 26 Elsewhere 
for the same reason, the corpse is let out of the 
house through the floor or is carried two or three 

2t E. L. Moon Conard: Les Idees des Indiens Algonquins 
relatives a la vie d'Outre Tombe; Chap. III. Reprinted from 
Rev. de VHistoire des Religions; 1900; Tome XLII. 

25 W. H. Dall: Alaska and Its Resources: Boston; Lee and 
Shepard; 180. Page 382. 


times around the house at top speed so as to be- 
wilder him. 

Even when unmistakable sorrow is felt at the 
death of a friend, his ghost is dreaded and every pre- 
caution may be taken to prevent his return. In 
speaking of the Algonquins, Mrs. Conard expresses 
the conviction that the relatives of the dead are us- 
ually affected by the loss of the deceased. She tells 
of an old Ojibway chief who would go alone to the 
tomb of his son and lament his departure, " Why 
have you gone so soon to the country of the dead? " 
" The frequent visits to the tomb of the deceased 
and the lamentations constitute the best proof of the 
affectionate feelings of the survivors, especially when 
these visits are not made at stated times." 26 Never- 
theless, these Indians perform certain rites in order 
to drive these same souls away from their houses. 

Levy-Bruhl notes instances in which the desire of 
the removal of the ghost from the proximity of his 
loving friends is naively expressed. "When a man 
is dying, his friends bring him food and say : ' Be 
good; if you leave us, leave us for good.' Among 
the Igorotes of the Philippines, during the first days 
following death, the old women and then the old 
men sing several times the following chant : ' Now 
you are dead. . . . We have given you everything 
that was necessary and made fitting preparations 
for burial. Do not come back to fetch any of your 
relatives or friends.' Similarly in Western Africa, 
the Reverend Nassau explains that the feelings of 
survivors toward a dead man are very much mixed. 

See Moon Conard: hoc. cit.; pages 58, 59. 


When they beg of him to come back to life, they 
are certainly sincere, they desire his return ; but al- 
most at the same time, appears the fear that the 
dead may come back not in his usual and sociable 
form but in the condition of a disincarnated spirit, 
invisible and perhaps hostile." " 

It should not be inferred from the universal fear 
of ghosts that they are all entirely malevolent. On 
the contrary, in all primitive populations there are 
ghosts who perform kindly offices. In Australia, 
they are " generally looked upon rather as benef- 
icent, especially for the members of their families ; 
. . . the soul of the father returns to help the 
growth of his children or grandchildren." " 




When attempting to account for the unpleasant 
character of the relations maintained by the living 
with the dead, we must ask ourselves what facts 
known to the savage are likely to affect the charac- 
ter he ascribes to ghosts and his attitude towards 
them. There are at least four of these : the liking 
for life, the aversion to death itself, the fate of the 
earthly body, and the mystery surrounding the ex- 
istence of the invisible ghosts. Let us consider these 
facts in the reverse order. 

(a) Man's instinctive response to the presence of 
things not clearly seen or understood, is the recoil 
of fear and the attraction of curiosity. Ghosts are 

'■ Levy-Bruhl: hoc. cit.; pages 367-370, 398-403. 
" Durkheim: hoc. cit., page 392. 


commonly supposed to approach the living during 
sleep, but no one can tell where they hide or what 
they will do. The passage quoted from Durkheim 
in which is affirmed the benevolence of certain 
ghosts, is immediately followed by these lines, " But 
it may happen that the [same] ghost behaves with 
real cruelty; everything depends on his mood and the 
way in which he is treated by the living." The lack 
of definite knowledge of the mode of existence of 
ghosts, of their desires, and of their intentions, 
awakens an uneasy alertness to possible dangers 
which readily turns into fear. Fear breeds antip- 
athy; for, one cannot like that which keeps one 
continually in a state of fearful suspense. Under 
these circumstances, it unavoidably comes to pass 
that the commission of particular evil deeds is 
ascribed to ghosts: a person we dislike, and with 
whom we have to live, is soon blackened by number- 
less sins of omission and of commission, however 
blameless he may really be. 

(b) The fate of the human and animal body, in 
so far as it rots, stinks, and disappears, leaving 
only bones, is perfectly well known to the savage. It 
would seem natural that in some vague way he should 
look upon the ghost as participating in the misery 
of the putrefying body, and that the repulsion felt 
for it should pass to the ghost connected with it. 
It is a similar mental process that induces in many 
a dislike of automobiles and even of their owners 
because of the dust, the noise, and the danger they 

The corpse is not connected in the mind of the 


savage with the ghost only, but usually also with 
mysterious, impersonal, magical powers. At times 
these seem to belong to the corpse, at times to the 
ghost itself. The nature of both magical power and 
ghost is determined in some respect by certain char- 
acteristics of the corpse; and, in turn, the behavior 
of the savage towards the corpse is in part the out- 
come of these two conceptions. 

The more dangerous period for the living is, ac- 
cording to the savage, the one immediately following 
death, it lasts until the final mourning ceremonies, 
which mark the complete separation of the soul from 
the decaying body and its entrance into spirit-land. 
African natives explained to Miss Kingsley that the 
souls who harm surviving members of their families 
do not do so with evil intent ; they behave badly be- 
cause, until they are settled in the society of spirits, 
they are unhappy." 

Numerous customs testify to the connection estab- 
lished by the savage mind between the destitution of 
the body in the grave and the ghost. The placing 
of food and weapons in the graves, the keeping of 
fires on or near them, the sending of the widow after 
the ghost, and other widespread practices may indi- 
cate that the living do not understand how, without 
their help, the dead may have a tolerable time of it. 
If we may see in these customs an expression of 
benevolence, we may also regard them as an effort 
to propitate: kindness and fear may have operated 
together in the production of these practices. 

Levy-Briihl :Loc. cit.; pages 365, 366. 


When the last mourning rite has been celebrated 
— possibly several years after the death — the ghost 
is no longer supposed to roam among the living, un- 
happy and dangerous. He has definitely found his 
place in the abode of the dead and his relation with 
the living has become more distant. The customs of 
the Tarahumares of Mexico mark well the successive 
stages in the removal of the ghost from the prox- 
imity of the living. Three festivals are celebrated. 
"At the first, which takes place less than two weeks 
after the death, all those who are in mourning speak 
to the dead, the shaman first, begging him to let alone 
the living. . . . The third festival is the final effort 
to get rid of the dead. This ceremony comes to an 
end with a race between two young men. ' They come 
back rejoicing because at last the dead has finally 
gone; . . . they show their contentment by throw- 
ing up their blankets, their coats, their hats. . . . 
The names given to these three ceremonies indicate 
respectively, the intention of providing food for the 
ghost, of renewing his provisions, of giving him to 

" But these same Tarahumares when once the final 
ceremony has been celebrated know that they need 
not fear any longer, and they act accordingly. 
' They would see me without emotion,' says Mr. 
Lumholtz, 'remove the corpses of their dead, pro- 
vided they had been buried a few years and the nec- 
essary ceremonies aiming at separating them from 
this world had been celebrated. ... A Tarahumare 
sold me the skeleton of his mother-in-law for a dol- 


lar.' " 30 Relations between the dead and the liv- 
ing are not usually altogether severed with the final 
ceremony, but the ghost no longer demands assiduous 
attention, and it has ceased to be a constant source 
of anxiety. 

(c) The death crisis itself is also a repulsive fact. 
It is ordinarily objected to with all the strength of 
most powerful instinctive tendencies. Here again 
it seems unavoidable that the dread of death should 
tend to pass upon the existence to which death leads. 

The belief that most or all deaths are due to 
malevolent spirits could only increase the repulsion 
that may have been felt for the other life and its 

(d) A liking for this life is, independently of 
the instinctive recoil from death, a cause of dislike 
for the other. A place to which we are compelled to 
go when we would rather remain where we are, can 
hardly be regarded with favor. 

We may affirm, therefore, that the love of life and 
these three impressive facts, death, bodily decom- 
position, and the mystery surrounding the existence 
of ghosts, are not of a nature to make the savage 
think of the ghost, during the initial period of his 
existence, as a benevolent and satisfied being; on the 
contrary, they conspire to make of him an object 
of anxiety and dread. The calamities of human 
existence provide, moreover, what seems abundant 
proof of the evil propensity of ghosts. 

Durkheim has offered another more ingenious 
and less simple explanation of the evil character 

hoc. cit.; pages 375, 376. 


ascribed to the ghost. According to him, this results 
from an effort on the part of the savage to account 
for the painfulness of his mourning customs. Here 
is the theory in the author's own words: — 

" It is not only the relatives most directly affected 
who bring to the mourning assembly their personal 
grief, but society as a whole exercises upon its mem- 
bers a moral pressure to adjust their feelings har- 
moniously to the situation. If the social group were 
to allow its members to be indifferent to the blow 
received, and by which it has been diminished [the 
death of one of them], this would be equivalent to 
acknowledging that the group does not occupy in 
their hearts a sufficiently important place. ... A 
family that would permit one of its number to die 
unmourned would thereby testify to a lack of moral 
unity and cohesion. . . . The individual, on his side, 
when firmly attached to his group, feels morally 
bound to participate in its sorrows and joys; to take 
no part in them would be to break the bonds which 
unite him to the collective life. ... If the Chris- 
tians, during Passion Week ; if the Jews, on the anni- 
versary of the fall of Jerusalem, fast and mortify 
themselves, it is not in order to give vent to a spon- 
taneous sadness. In circumstances like these the 
emotion of the believer is not proportional to the un- 
comfortable abstinences which he endures. If he is 
sad, it is chiefly because he is compelling himself 
to be so ; and he compels himself in order to affirm 
his faith. The attitude of the Australians during 
mourning is to be explained in the same manner. 
If he weeps, if he groans, it is not simply in order 


to express an individual sorrow; it is in order to 
fulfill a duty, of the existence of which society would 
not fail to remind him should occasion arise." 

Of course, the savage himself does not know~the 
true cause of his practices. " When he attempts to 
interpret them, he is compelled to make up an alto- 
gether different explanation. He knows only that 
he feels bound to subject himself to painful treat- 
ment. As a sense of obligation naturally awakens 
the idea of a compelling will, he looks about him, 
seeking from whom may come the constraint he 
feels. Now, there is a power the reality of which 
seems to him certain, and which appears to answer 
the purpose; this is the soul liberated by death. 
This soul, of course, must be keenly interested in 
the consequences which its liberation may have up- 
on the living, and the savage imagines, therefore, 
that if the living inflict torments upon themselves, it 
is in order to conform to the soul's claims. ... On the 
other hand, since inhuman demands are ascribed 
to the soul, one is compelled to suppose that in leav- 
ing the body which it had so far animated, the soul 
loses all humane feeling. . . . The dead are not 
mourned because they are feared, but are feared be- 
cause they are mourned." " 

No one would contest that the greater number of 
mourning ceremonies are not purely, not even chief- 
ly, the expression of personal feeling for the dead. 
Doubtless they manifest social coercion ; but this fact 
does not necessarily imply the truth of Durkheim's 

" E. Durkheim: Les Formes Elementaires de la Vie Re- 
ligieuse: Paris; Alcan; 1912. Pages 571, 572, 573. 


deduction, namely that objectionable character of 
the ghost is altogether and primarily a reflection of 
the unpleasantness of mourning customs. I see very 
well that the unpleasantness of these customs may 
tend to blacken the character of the ghost, but I 
cannot admit that because of this possible effect one 
is to set aside the more direct explanation which I 
have provided. 

How shall we, in view of the facts I have recited, 
account for the existence among numerous savage 
tribes of a paradisiacal conception of the other life? 
The existence of circumstances producing fear of 
ghosts does not preclude that of factors of an op- 
posite tendency. Given the belief in continuation 
after death, one does not see why at some time or 
other, and very early, human imagination prompted 
by the desire for happiness should not have dreamt 
of a delightful land abounding in all the things that 
make this life pleasant. This propensity, to which 
myths in various parts of the earth testify, and the 
adverse facts I have mentioned, urged man in two 
opposed directions; thus conflicting accounts of 
ghost-life arose. In this conflict, the belief in a 
happy future life seems to have suffered defeat, for 
we shall see that the idea of a paradise no longer 
existed at the dawn of the historical period among 
the peoples living about the Eastern end of the Med- 
iterranean sea. 

But why did the idea of a happy land of the dead 
go out of existence? I can only surmise in answer 
to this query that the destruction at death of the 
earthly body had gained such a decisive meaning, 


and that the information about the other life gleaned 
from apparitions of ghosts in diverse circumstances 
was such as to make ineffective any impulse that 
might have been present to conceive ghost life as a 
happy one. Not until new and powerful motives 
had made themselves felt, did it become possible for 
man to transcend by faith the knowledge which had 
come to be interpreted as meaning unavoidable and 
final misery after death. 




Usually the land of the dead is not reached with- 
out overcoming some obstacles. There are dangers 
to be avoided and ordeals to be successfully met be- 
fore the ghost may be established in his new quar- 
ters. Some of these are merely creations of fantasy 
without moral significance: the savage has amused 
himself by inventing dramatic or comic incidents. 
Such is the case in the following story : — 

The Fijians tell of a terrible giant armed with 
a great axe, who lies in wait for the souls. This 
giant makes no distinctions but strikes at all who 
attempt to pass. Those whom he wounds, never 
reach the happy country, but are doomed to roam 
rugged mountains, disconsolate. Those who escape, 
pass on till they come to one of the highest moun- 
tains of the islands. Somewhere " the path ends 
abruptly on the brink of a precipice, the foot of 
which is washed by a deep lake. Over the edge of 
the precipice projects a large steer-oar, and the 
bandle is held either by the great god Ndengei him- 


self, or, according to the better opinion, by his 
deputy. When a ghost comes up and peers rue- 
fully over the precipice, the deputy accosts him. 
1 Under what circumstances,' he asks, ' do you come 
to us? How did you conduct yourself in the other 
world? ' Should the ghost be a man of rank, he may 
say, ' I am a great chief. I live as a chief and my 
conduct was that of a chief. I had great wealth, 
many wives, and ruled over a powerful people. I 
have destroyed many towns, and slain many in war.' 
' Good, good,' says the deputy, ' just sit down on the 
blade of that oar, and refresh yourself in the cool 
breeze.' If the ghost is unwary enough to accept 
the invitation, he has no sooner seated himself on 
the blade of the oar with his legs dangling over the 
abyss, than the deputy-deity tilts up the other end of 
the oar and precipitates him into the deep water, far 
far below. A loud smack is heard as the ghost col- 
lides with the water, there is a splash, a gurgle, a 
ripple, and all is over. The ghost has gone to his 
account in Murimuria, a very second-rate sort of 
heaven, if it is nothing worse. But a ghost who is in 
favor with the great god Ndengei is warned by him 
not to sit down on the blade of the oar but on the 
handle. The ghost takes the hint and seats himself 
firmly on the safe end of the oar; and when the 
deputy-deity tries to heave it up, he cannot, for he 
has no purchase. So the ghost remains master of 
the situation, and after an interval for refreshment 
is sent back to earth to be deified." 2 

Accounts of similar ordeals are found in many 

s "Frazer: hoc. cit.; pages 456, 466. 


places. Tribes in German New Guinea believe that 
a ladder is placed over a great water for the souls 
to pass over on their way to the land of the dead. 
A spirit who has the ladder in his keeping exacts 
gifts of all who wish to go by. If any attempt is 
made to sneak across without paying toll, the lad- 
der is tipped up, the ghost falls and is drowned." 

Side by side with these merely imaginative stories 
of the dangers threatening the ghost on his journey, 
one finds indications of the advantage to the ghost 
of having possessed in his earthly life certain par- 
ticular traits valuable to the tribe, or of having per- 
formed faithfully certain tribal customs. Could it 
have been otherwise ? Could man have observed the 
worth to his tribe, and therefore to himself, of cour- 
age and loyalty, and not have conceived of a reward 
in the other life for those who had conspicuously 
possessed these virtues? As a matter of fact, one 
finds that very early and in many tribes warriors 
and chiefs are assigned to a special and a better 
heaven than the rank and file, or that, in some other 
way, the particularly important and useful individ- 
uals are favored. The first step towards the sociali- 
zation of the conditions of admittance to the other 
world may perhaps be exemplified by the following 
beliefs : — 

In Florida (Melanesia) the dead are met by a 
ghost who thrusts a rod into their noses to see 
whether the cartilage is pierced according to the 
customs of their tribe. Those whose noses are not 
pierced have much difficulty in making their way to 

83 Frazer: hoc. cit.; page 224. 


the realm of the shades. In the Solomon Islands, 
it is the hands that are examined to see whether the 
ghosts bear the marks of the sacred Frigate Bird cut 
on them. Those who do not are cast into a gulf and 
perish. In Eastern Melanesia the ghosts must have 
their ears bored, and men who were not tattooed 
on earth are chased by female ghosts " who scratch 
and cut and tear them with sharp shells, giving them 
no respite." If those who do not bear the marks 
mentioned in these illustrations are not admitted to 
ghost-land, it is because only those possessing them 
are acknowledged in life as full members of the 
tribe. In Samoa, for instance, as long as a young man 
had not been tattooed, he could not think of mar- 
riage, he was constantly an object of ridicule, he had 
not the right to speak in the company of men." Any 
adult lacking the tribal mark was an alien. 

The following beliefs illustrate in a more signifi- 
cant way the early use made — not with clear intent, 
of course — of the after life as a sanction for socially 
valuable conduct. In Northern Melanesia those 
who have been niggardly on earth are punished on 
their way to ghost-land. They hold that all 
breaches of etiquette or of the ordinary customs of 
the country will certainly meet with appropriate 
punishments in spirit-land." 5 If among the Fijians 
" the lot of a married ghost whose wives have not 
been murdered is hard, it is nevertheless felicity it- 
self compared to the fate of bachelor ghosts. In the 
first place, there is a terrible being, called The Great 

* 4 Turner: Samoa. Page 88. Quoted by Levy-Bruhl: hoc. 
cit.; page 411. 

" Frazer: hoc. cit.; pages 350, 446, 405. 


Woman who lurks in a shady defile, ready to pounce 
upon him ; and if he escapes her clutches, it is only 
to fall in with a much worse monster from whom 
there is no escape. So vigilant and alert is he that 
not a single unmarried Fijian ghost is known to 
have ever reached the mansions of the blessed." " 
The Black Feet Indians of Saskatchewan deny ad- 
mission to the future life to those who have spilled 
the blood of their tribes' people, and to women 
guilty of infanticide." 

When instead of punishing the ghost for the neg- 
lect of one or two valuable customs, he is made to 
stand a general examination into his conduct on 
earth, such for instance as is described in the " Book 
of the Dead," a great stride forward has been made ; 
the ideas of social worth and of moral responsibility 
have become more definite. This stage had been 
reached in Egypt probably as early as the Middle 
Kingdom. Before that time, although the Egyp- 
tians had already attained a considerable civiliza- 
tion, righteousness was not among the conditions of 
entrance into the other world. We are told that 
that which enabled the King to secure a place in 
the land of the Sun, was his rank, his power, and his 
" equipped mouth," i. e., his knowledge of the ritual, 
religious and magical. King Pepi, for instance, be- 
came a glorious one " by reason of his equipped 
mouth." He was, it is true, to undergo a purifica- 
tion, but this might take place after his arrival in 

*" Frazer: hoc. cit.; page 464, abbreviated. 
87 Moon conard: hoc. cit., page 87. Is the influence of 
Christian missionaries to be recognized here? 


the sky; and, whether after or before, the bathing 
in the sacred lake was usually intended to produce 
nothing more than a ceremonial purification. 

The " Book of the Dead " shows Osiris sitting as 
the judge of the dead in company with assessors. 
Before him stands the balance on which the heart of 
the deceased is to be weighed against Truth. The 
dead makes a confession in which he declares that 
he is free from a long list of sins. Many of the of- 
fenses which he disclaims having committed are 
mere breaches of religious or magical etiquette, but 
others make it clear that no man is now considered 
" justified " and fit to enter the happy world of the 
dead unless he declares himself free from all the or- 
dinary sins. It is true that the soul's attitude before 
the heavenly court has nothing of the humility of a 
confession. The soul is instructed by the " Book of 
the Dead " to affirm his innocence of murder, steal- 
ing, cheating, lying, avariciousness, pride, covetous- 
ness, etc. This is not yet the genuine ethical rela- 
tion that came to exist later on between moralized 
gods and sensitive consciences. 

The transformation of the primary belief into an 
instrument of social control involves the appearance 
either of the belief in the destruction of the wicked 
at death, or of the existence of several abodes for the 
dead — of at least one place of reward and one of 
punishment. I do not propose to write a history of 
the differentiation of the original ghost-land into a 
heaven and a hell. My task is merely to indicate 
the influence of the realization of ethical values upon 
the primary conception of immortality. It is one 


of the most interesting, because definite, instances 
of the molding of a belief under the influence of so- 
cial need. 

Ethical conditions of admission to the other life 
did not spread from Egypt to the neighboring na- 
tions. They did not even remain a vital force in the 
Egyptian religion itself ; they shared the general de- 
terioration which overtook the nation. Neither 
among the Babylonians nor among the Greeks, is 
there any indication of a separation of the dead on 
a moral basis. " There is nothing to show that 
among the Babylonians, either among the populace 
or in the schools, a belief arose in a paradise whither 
privileged persons were transported after death ; nor 
is any distinction made by them between the good 
and the bad, so far as future habitation is concerned. 
All mankind, kings and subjects, virtuous and wicked 
go to Aralu. Those who have obtained the good will 
of the gods receive their reward in this world by a 
life of happiness and good health." * 9 In Greece, all 
men at death went to Hades. The two exceptions 
we shall discuss in another connection stand quite 
outside our present line of thought; for, neither 
Menelaus nor Ganymede passed through death, and 
their translation was not a reward for virtue. 
Elysium, whereto the former was conveyed is not 
a Walhalla for heroes, nor a Paradise for the good. 

In these nations, destiny held in store the same 
lot for every man, and that lot was a miserable one. 
It required apparently the moral energy of the He- 

M Morris Jastrow: Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, 
1898. Page 578. 


brew people to transform again the idea of continu- 
ation after death into an instrument of retributive 
justice and to introduce it, as a part of the Christian 
religion, throughout the civilized world. The earli- 
est indication of a separation of the good from the 
wicked is found in Isaiah* 9 (about 330 B. c.) by 
whom resurrection is attributed only to the just. 
But it is resurrection on this earth, not life in 
heaven which the prophet announces. In Daniel " 
(about 160 B. c.) one reads, " And many of them 
that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some 
to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlast- 
ing contempt." In the Book of Enoch is found the 
mention of four caves. The Angel Raphael explains 
that they are to receive the dead until the great day 
of judgment. In one of the caves, there is a bright 
spring of water intended for the spirits of the right- 
eous. Another cave is for the sinners; there they 
shall remain " in great pain until the great day of 
judgment and punishment and torment of the ac- 
cursed forever, so that there may be retribution for 
their spirits." " 

The consideration of the conditions of admission 
to the other life has brought us face to face with the 
much discussed problem of the relation of ethics to 
religion. Diametrically opposite views are ex- 

" R. H. Charles: A Critical History of the Doctrine of the 
Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity ; Ox- 
ford; 1912. Chapter XXVI: 1-19. 

40 Chapter XII: 2. 

" Chapter XXII. 


pressed and hotly defended regarding this relation, 
some would find in religion the origin of all morality. 
It is, they say, " an incontestable fact that primi- 
tive morality stands in very close connection with 
primitive religion, and indeed that the beginnings of 
all social customs and legal ordinances are directly 
derived from religious notions and ceremonial prac- 
tices." Others affirm that " a mass of facts demon- 
strate that originally the religious feeling is not only 
foreign to morality, but is in contradiction to it." 
Let us stop a moment to consider the meaning of 
what we have learned regarding the relation of mor- 
ality to the conception of immortality. 

The problem is no longer one for speculation. 42 
The facts mentioned in the preceding pages, incom- 
plete as they are, suffice nevertheless to show that 
moral values do not exist in men's ideas of the con- 
ditions of admittance to the other life before they 
are recognized in earthly relations. The value of 
courage and of the observance of customs making for 
tribal cohesion and cooperation, are not first given 
as condition of admission to a happy land beyond, 
and later discovered to be essential to the prosperity 
of the social group. Long before King Pepi thought 
he could gain heaven by the exertion of mere magical 
power, he appreciated in his people the elementary 
virtues they practiced, and he enforced them in the 
lands under his law. Much later only did these vir- 

' 2 See E. Westermarck : The Origin and Development of 
Moral Ideas. 


tues appear in the judgment of Osiris as conditions 
of admission to a happy life beyond death. 

Similarly the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the 
Hebrews, centuries before the appearance of moral 
considerations in their conception of immortality, 
were alive to the importance of " righteousness." 
Little by little, out of the pains and the joys of 
earthly existence, moral values won recognition. 
Then, and then only, did it occur to Yahweh to pre- 
fer justice and benevolence to the slaughter of sac- 
rificial bullocks ; then only did he cease to punish the 
innocent with the guilty. We shall see in a subse- 
quent chapter how from the moment Yahweh was 
supposed to hold each individual responsible for his 
own deeds, the idea of the insufficiency of this 
earthly life in order to satisfy the demands of jus- 
tice came to the front and prepared the way for the 
new immortality. 

The notion of immortality, like that of gods, be- 
came gradually a pedagogical device in the interest 
of social and individual morality. That is why in 
the heaven and the hell described by the ethical re- 
ligions there is no parity between the reward and 
the virtue of the rewarded, or between the punish- 
ment and the guilt of the punished; all are rewarded 
or punished alike. In a judgment founded exclu- 
sively on the demands of justice, an eternity of bliss 
and an eternity of torture would be allotted to no 


one. If, however, to an imperfect sense of justice 
be added a desire to act as powerfully as possible 
upon the living, both to encourage them to do good 
and to deter them from doing evil, then the current 
notions of heaven and of hell may come into exist- 
ence. It is, of course, unnecessary to suppose that 
in the formation of these conceptions man worked 
with a fully conscious purpose. 

Present knowledge regarding the relation of ethics 
to religion contradicts both the opinions we have 
quoted: morality is not derived from religion; and 
religion is not in contradiction with morality. 
Rather must we say that morality begins in human 
social relations, and passes from them to the rela- 
tions maintained with the other life and with the 
gods. Or, if one prefers to consider ghosts and gods 
as inseparable elements of the primary social organ- 
ism, then we should say that morality is born in that 
all-embracing psychical atmosphere. But it does not 
follow from that fact that the rise and development 
of morality are conditioned by belief in gods and in 
immortality. Merely human relations are sufficient 
to the production of ethical appreciations. The in- 
visible ghosts and gods would never have been 
thought interested in the morality of the tribe, had 
not the leaders realized the importance of courage, 
of loyalty, of respect for neighbors' possessions, and 
of the other elementary virtues. It was when the dis- 
astrous consequence of their absence became evident 
that the gods were made to sanction these virtues. 


I conjecture that God or no God, immortality or no 
immortality, the essential morality of man would 
have been little different from what it is." 

** It may happen that a tribal god falls below the ideal of 
a chief. Miss Kingsley in a description of the very interest- 
ing relations maintained by a chief of the west coast of 
Africa with his god, reports that to her oft repeated ques- 
tion, " Is he good? " a negative answer was regularly given 
by the natives, except when they had been under the influ- 
ence of the missionaries. " No," they say firmly, " he is not 
what you call good ; he lets things go too much, he cares about 
himself only." And she adds, " I have heard him called ' lazy 
too much, bad person for business,' and a dozen things of 
that sort." Mary H. Kingsley: The Forms of Apparition in 
West Africa, Proc. of Soc. for Psychical Research, Vol. XIV ; 
1898 ; pages 334, 335. 

This god, like the god to whom contemporary Christians 
pray for rain and sunshine, whom they supplicate for help in 
war, and thank for bloody successes, has not kept pace with 
the standards of the best among those who worship him. 






The descriptions of the preceding chapter bring 
out in high relief two characteristic traits of the 
belief ' in survival, (a) Continuation is as firmly 
held among savages as the belief in the existence of 
any object perceived by the senses, (b) The savage 
concerns himself but little with his own fate. His 
belief in continuation expresses itself chiefly in a 
concern for the action of ghosts upon him while he 
is in this world. 

These two traits seem to indicate that the belief 
in continuation is not born of a desire for it ; for in- 
stance, to the realization of the briefness and incom- 
pleteness of this life; or to an instinctive recoil be- 
fore annihilation at death, but, rather, that it is im- 
posed upon the believer, independently of his wishes, 
just as the belief in the existence of dangerous ani- 
mals lurking in the nearby forest. 

1 It was hardly possible for me, when speaking of con- 
tinuation after death, always to use the terms " idea," " con- 
ception," and " belief " according to strict psychological 
usage. As a matter of fact, as soon as the conception of 
continuation dawned upon the savage, it was accepted, acted 
upon, as if it corresponded to an external reality. So that, 
for the savage, it never was a mere conception, but always 
a belief. 



It is obvious that a sensory demonstration, wit- 
nessed by every one, of the existence of ghosts would 
produce a belief possessing the universality and the 
firmness actually belonging to that belief; whereas 
an inference, whether from objective facts or from 
subjective experiences, might not present these char- 
acteristics. And it is equally obvious that had the 
belief been in any substantial degree the product of / 
desire, it would have been conceived so as to gratify \ 
the desire, or desires, from which it had sprung. 

To these theoretical remarks upon the most prob- 
able kind of origin of the ghost-conception, should 
be added that to infer from any sort of fact the 
existence of objects not perceived by the senses, in- 
volves mental processes of a higher order than direct 
perception, whether illusory or real. To have 
evolved the ghost-idea because, for instance, of a dis- 
content with destruction at death, would imply a 
creative activity greatly superior to the one in- 
volved in mistaking a mental image for an objective 

The proclivity of untutored man to personify nat- 
ural phenomena is well known. The savage clothes 
in a more or less definite human or animal shape the 
power of the cloud, the wind, the thunder, the 
stream, the cataracts, etc. As a consequence of this 
proneness, he lives surrounded by a world of usually 
invisible agents conceived in the likenes of man or of 
animals. This we know. But we are not completely 
informed regarding the moment when this person- 
ification of nature began. We possess no fact that 
would enable us conclusively to place the time of the 


appearance of that mental habit with reference to 
the appearance of the belief in survival after death 
in the form of ghosts. The probability is, however, 
that personification of the more striking natural 
phenomena preceded the ghost-belief. For, the for- 
mer lies nearer at hand than the latter. How easy 
and natural it is to personify forces, physical, is 
made evident by the behavior of children. Hardly 
have they begun to talk, when they ask after the 
cause of the manifestations of power they observe. 
A very early solution of the problem takes the form 
of the personification of the power : it is a bear that 
made the noise heard in the dark room. 2 

It is not at all necessary to the validity of the 
theory of the origin of the belief in ghosts we are 
about to set forth, that that belief should have been 
preceded by the personification of nature. Should 
it have been so, however, the belief in ghosts would 
have arisen more readily, since man would have been 
already familiar with the invisible existence about 
him of man-like agents. Our problem is in any case 
substantially different from that of the origin of 
the personification of natural forces. We are to 
account for the conviction that, after death, human 
beings continue to exist in a form and with habits 
similar to those that were his before death, even 
though the body decomposes and falls to pieces. 

With these introductory considerations in mind, 
let us ask, " What is, or what are the probable 

2 I do not imply here that animism was, as E. B. Tylor 
maintained, the first philosophy, but merely that personifica- 
tion was a very early process indeed. On the question of 
animism and primitive dynamism, see chapter four of A 
Psychological Study of Religion. 


sources of the conception of survival after death? " 
Are there not striking and frequent experiences of 
a perceptual character, belonging to all or to most 
men however primitive, which would provide both 
the ghost-conception itself and the demonstration 
of its objective truth? 


Let us try to place ourselves in the situation of 
primitive man when in the presence of death and of 
the corpse. The simplest possible reaction to that 
situation does certainly not involve the thought that, 
somehow or other, there is, besides the visible corpse, 
a something else, invisible, capable of acting like a 
human person and genetically connected with the 
dead person. The simplest reaction is that of the 
animal who betrays in his behavior no such belief. 
It is, however, greatly doubtful that this simplest 
attitude ever could have been that of man. 

When the dead was a person of mark — it does 
not much matter in what way — there remained a 
vivid memory of him. May not the chief, the war- 
rior, the trusted comrade, have appeared at times to 
the mind's eye in concrete situations full of emo- 
tional quality? And may not these experiences have 
been vivid enough to call forth overt reactions, a 
cry, a word, a movement of the hand or of the whole 
body? Any one who dreams in sleep, may dream 
when awake. We know enough of the savage and 
of the young child to affirm that they are at times 
moved by revived past experiences or by creations 


of their fancy. May not the belief in survival have 
had this origin. 

I am not asking whether ordinary memory-images 
could have sufficed to produce the belief in continu- 
tion. Still less am I supposing that the savage 
usually confuses his idea of an object with the object 
itself, that he fails to discriminate between the thing 
thought of and the thing itself. To systematically 
mistake the thing thought of for one actually pres- 
ent to the senses, would be to fail in that which is a 
primary condition of existence. A being who should 
usually suffer from that confusion could have had 
but the briefest of existence. The very function of 
memory-images, the usefulnes to which they owe 
their existence, involves this discrimination. That 
which I suggest is that under specific conditions, 
for instance death and the presence of the corpse, 
memory-images may be so vivified as to be taken 
for external realties. 


Even in the absence of perception by any one or 
several of the five senses, an irresistible " sense " of 
the presence of some one may be experienced. Hal- 
lucinations of this kind form a class by themselves, 
instances of which may be found in religious biog- 
raphies and in the Reports of the Society for 
Psychical Research. I do not know that any atten- 
tion has been paid them in connection with the origin 
of the belief in survival after death. A classical 
instance of this type of hallucination is provided by 
St. Theresa.' She relates that in 1559 she had for 

Autobiography. Chapter XXV. 


the first time the " sensation of the presence of our 
Lord Jesus Christ." Subsequently, she became fa- 
miliar with hallucinatory-images (pseudo-hallucina- 
tions) and hallucinations. At first, however, none 
of the five senses were involved. She tells us that 
she saw Christ neither with the eyes of the body, 
nor with those of the soul. By this she means that 
her experience involved neither visual perception nor 
visual image. Yet, it was a specific and convincing 
experience of the presence of Christ, not to be as- 
similated with the mere thought of some one's pres- 

Experiences of this sort, though rare, come to 
most of us in our religious life or outside of it. I 
have collected a considerable number of spontaneous 
instances of them, and produced others experimen- 
tally for a psychological study of prayer. The fol- 
lowing is related by a trustworthy person. 

" It was evening. I was in my room upstairs, 
dressing, in order to join the family waiting for me 
downstairs. I could hear plainly the voice of my 
brother talking in the sitting-room. The electric 
lights were up in my room, the door of which was 
open. Suddenly, I was aware of the presence of my 
sister back of me. I had neither seen nor heard her 
come in. I spoke to her. As she did not answer, 
I turned round. I was alone in my room. I never 
was so surprised in my life, for I felt as certain that 
she was there, as if I had seen her in the clearest 
of light. I remained for some time thrilled and 
dazed ; it took me some time to regain my composure. 
I did not say anything to the family, because I 
thought they would make fun of me." 


The characteristics of the sense of presence to 
which attentions should be paid are, (1) the absence 
not only of the ordinary sensory indications of the 
presence of a person, but also, at least initially, of 
any illusion of sight, sound, or touch; (2) neverthe- 
less, the conviction of presence possesses the con- 
creteness belonging to actual perception. In this, it 
separates itself clearly from the kind of assurance 
due to inference, as when from the movement of a 
light across the windows of a house, the presence of 
a person in it is inferred. 

Whence this mastering sense of external reality 
in the absence of the ordinary perceptions? With- 
out entering here into a long psychological explana- 
tion, we may say that the essential constituents of 
the experience of the presence of a person, in a case 
of ordinary perception, are neither sight, nor sound, 
not even touch ; but the very complex sensory-motor 
activities which commonly follow upon these per- 
ceptions. When we see some one, and " feel " his 
presence, our whole psycho-physical attitude is mod- 
ified ; the facial and bodily expressions are altered, 
feelings and emotions are generated — feelings and 
emotions which differ with the person in the presence 
of whom we are — and, in addition, thought is given 
a new direction; it centers now about our relations 
with the person of the presence of whom we are 
aware. Unless these various, highly complex activ- 
ities are set up, the actual perception of the person 
does not produce the particular experience described 
here by the phrase " sense of presence " ; there is in- 
stead merely an awareness of a presence, without the 


warm sense of reality which belongs to it when upon 
sight follows the multiple reactions I have indicated. 
The mere seeing a person to whom we are indifferent, 
who does not " get hold " of us ; and that which hap- 
pens to the school-boy in the presence of his master, 
to the lover descrying the beloved, or to the mother 
hearing the voice of her child, are experiences clearly 
different ; the latter usually include the sense, or feel- 
ing of a presence ; the former does not, it is merely 
a knowledge of a presence. The sophisticated per- 
son himself cannot, while the experience is upon him, 
resist the sense of presence, although, afterwards, he 
may call it an hallucination. 

This psychological explanation affirms, in short, 
that the sense of presence is conditioned essentially 
not by the report of any or all of the five senses, 
but by reaction-processes which take place when we 
are in the presence of a person who does not leave us 
cold. The visual or other external sensations which 
commonly initiate these essential responses are, ac- 
cording to the theory, not the only possible de- 
terminants of these reactions ; they may be otherwise 

But, whether this theory be adequate or not, the 
fact itself is not to be questioned: there are those 
among us who, under the conditions I have de- 
scribed, have vivid experiences of the presence of 
absent persons. If we may asume that original 
man was subject to experiences of this sort, their 
bearing upon the origin of the belief in continuation 
after death is obvious. As to the probability of that 


assumption, I can only say that I know of no rea- 
son that would discredit it. 

I have attempted to show that the memory-image, 
or, in the absence of an image, the idea of a dead per- 
son is vitalized into an irresistible sense of presence 
whenever the reactions which are the essential con- 
ditions of that experience are produced. I have 
also suggested that death and the presence of the 
corpse are circumstances which may bring about 
this result. The experiences of the type I have 
described under the name " sense of presence " dem- 
onstrate, furthermore, that obscure circumstances 
may, in the absence of any of the causes we should 
naturally look for, lead to the realization of the con- 
ditions of the feeling of the presence of a person not 
bodily present. That the ghost-belief may have 
been due to this class of experience, will appear the 
more probable when it is observed that it involves 
only the simplest mental operations. 


In his epoch-making work, Primitive Culture/ Ed- 
ward B. Tylor derives the belief in ghosts and spirits 

4 Primitive Culture. Vol. I. Chapter XI. 

We read in Hobbes' Leviathan, " And for the matter, or 
substance of the Invisible Agents, so fancied, they could not 
by natural cogitation, fall upon any other conceit, but that 
it was the same with that of the Soule of man ; and that the 
Soule of man was of the same substance with that which 
appeareth in a Dream, to one that sleepeth; or in a Looking- 
glasse, to one that is awake; which, men not knowing that 
such apparitions are nothing else but creatures of the Fancy, 
think to be real and external Substances; and therefore call 
them Ghosts." 

This passage is sometimes misunderstood. The preceding 
paragraph makes it clear that Hobbes does not affirm that 
dreams are the cause of the idea of invisible agents. Dreams 


from dreams and trances. After having enjoyed 
for several decades unquestioned assent, objections 
are now raised against that theory, and efforts are 
made to replace it by other theories. 

It is sometimes affirmed as an objection to the 
dream origin of the ghost-idea, that children regard 
dreaming as a matter of course, that they realize the 
difference between dreams and waking, and that 
" there is no case on record of a child inferring from 
dreams the existence of a soul, or of a reality differ- 
ent from the phenomenal." ' It is no doubt true 
that children take dreams as something natural, and 
that usually they do not regard them as realities; 
but it does not follow from this that they never do 
so. The child-study literature provides sufficient ex- 
amples of children who. when awake, behave for a 
while as if they expected to encounter the objects 
of their dreams. 

I do not think that the so-called " make believe " 
plays of imaginative children would bear out the 
statement that they never believe in the reality of 
the creations of their fancy. That which is true, 

gave merely, as he puts it, the " matter, or substance of the 
idea of Invisible Agents." The idea itself originated from 
the " perpetual fear, always accompanying mankind in the 
ignorance of causes." This fear " must needs have for object 
something. And therefore when there is nothing to be seen, 
there is nothing to accuse, either of their good, or evil for- 
tune, but some Power or Agent invisible." 

Leviathan, ed. A. R. Waller; 1904. Chapter XII, page 71. 

Cicero speaks of apparitions in dreams, if not as the origin 
of the belief, at least as the chief cause of its persistence and 
extension. See Gaston Boissier: La Religion Romaine 
d'Auguste aux Antonins: Paris; Hachette; 1878. Vol. I, page 

8 Ernest Crawley: The Idea of the Soul: London; A. and 
C. Black, 1909. Pages 13-14. 


is that their belief is fleeting. This is probably 
sufficiently accounted for by the attitude of the adult 
towards these dreams and fancies: he denies them, 
in words and actions. What we know of children, 
leads rather to the opinion that were a company of 
them, including some of the imaginative ones, left to 
themselves, they would probably develop a belief in 
invisible things and enter into some kind of rela- 
tion with them. 

We are in the habit of separating sharply the per- 
ceptions of waking life from dreams ; to the former 
only do we ascribe objective reality. For the sav- 
age, however, dreams and visions are equally real 
with waking perceptions. Spencer and Gillen e tell 
us that " what a savage experiences during a dream 
is just as real to him as what he sees when he is 
awake. The natives have a very definite conception 
of the spirit part of an individual, and imagine that 
during sleep it can and does wander about freely." 
A Cherokee Indian who has dreamt that he was bit- 
ten by a snake-ghost, must follow the same treat- 
ment as if he had been bitten by a snake when awake, 
otherwise the place would swell and ulcerate, per- 
haps immediately or even years afterwards. 7 Sir 
Everard im Thurn relates the following incident : 

" One morning, when it was important to me to 
get away from camp on the Essequibo River at which 
I had been detained for some days by the illness of 
some of my Indian companions, I found that one of 

8 The Northern Tribes of Central Australia: London; Mac- 
millan; 1904. Page 451. 

7 James Mooney: Report of the Bureau of EthnoL, 1897-98, 
XIX; page 295. 


the invalids, a young Macusi, though better in health, 
was so enraged against me that he refused to stir, 
for he declared that, with great want of considera- 
tion for his weak health, I had taken him out during 
the night and had made him haul the canoe up a 
series of difficult cataracts. Nothing could persuade 
him that this was a dream, and it was some time be- 
fore he was so far pacified as to throw himself sulk- 
ily in the bottom of the canoe. At that time we 
were all suffering from a great scarcity of food, and, 
hunger having its usual effect in producing vivid 
dreams, similar effects frequently occurred. More 
than once the men declared in the morning that some 
absent men, whom they named, had come during the 
night, and had beaten or otherwise maltreated them ; 
and they insisted on much rubbing of the bruised 
parts of their bodies." 8 

No one acquainted with primitive peoples has ever 
denied that they give to dreams and visions the in- 
terpretation I have illustrated. But belief in the 
objective reality of dreams and visions does not 
necessarily imply that the conception of ghost arose 
from these experiences. The belief in the reality 
of dreams might be a consequence of these ideas, 
instead of their cause. Such is the opinion of Durk- 
heim. But his attack upon the accepted theory " — 
presumably the strongest that can be made — fails 
altogether to show the inadequacy of that theory to 
account for the production of the idea of, and of 

8 Quoted by Edward Clodd in Animism: London; Archibald 
Constable and Company; 1905. Pages 31-32, from The In- 
dians of Guiana. 

8 hoc. cit., pages 78-91, 382-386. 


the belief in survival after death. I submit in small 
print Durkheim's animadversions and my own coun- 
ter criticism. 

1. The belief in souls or ghosts is not the simplest way 
to account for dreams and visions. Why should not man 
instead have imagined that he could see at a distance 
through all kinds of obstacles? This is a simpler idea than 
that of a double made of a semi-invisible, ethereal substance. 

This explanation might be the simpler one if, in dreams, 
the person dreamt of and the dreamer himself were not so 
often together. When they are both in the same hut, or at 
the foot of the same tree, will the assumption of sight 
through an obstacle be pertinent? Certainly dreams of this 
description will require another explanation. 

2. Many dreams are refractory to the ghost-interpreta- 
tion; for instance, dreams of things that we have done in 
the past. The double might transport himself into the fu- 
ture, but how could he live over again the past existence of 
the body to which he belonged? How could a man when 
awake really believe that he has taken part in events which 
he knows to have taken place long ago? It is much more 
natural that he should think of memories since these at least 
are familiar to him. 

It is not at all necessary that the ghost-theory should fit 
all dreams. Certain dreams might remain a mystery, or 
be explained otherwise than by the existence of souls, — as 
memories, for instance. I do not know whether as a matter 
of fact the savage does this. But whether he does or not, 
it is evident that a great many dreams could not possibly 
be explained by him as recollections. 

3. How could the savage be so stupid and non-inquisitive 
as not to be impressed by the fact that the person whose 
alleged double has conversed with his own double while he 
slept, had also had dreams that same night and was another 
person than his own double? There is, thinks Durkheim, 
some naivete in the blind credulity ascribed to primitive man 
by this theory. 


The naivete thus attributed to the savage does not seem 
to be excessive. Certain beliefs of some of our contempo- 
raries are almost as childish. For the rest, this objection 
does not refer to ghosts surviving after death, but only to 
" doubles " able to leave the body during sleep. 

4. Even though the ghost-explanation should be suffi- 
cient to account for all dreams, it would remain unlikely 
that man ever sought so early for an explanation of his 
dreams; they are too infrequent, and too fleeting, to have 
produced " a system of belief as important as that of sur- 
vival after death. They may at best have served to confirm 
the idea, when once in existence." " What is dreaming to us? 
How small a place it holds . . . and how surprising it is 
that the unfortunate Australian spends so much energy in 
evolving a theory of it." 

To this last objection, I answer that in order to occasion 
the belief in ghosts, it is not necessary that every individual 
should frequently have startling dreams. Often enough 
dreams are so vivid and so painful, or so elating, that I do 
not see how they could escape the attention of the savage 
when he wakes from them. When, in addition to possessing 
an intense emotional quality, they happen to be violently 
contradicted by some experience of waking life immediately 
following, it seems inadmissable that an explanation should 
not be sought. Suppose, for instance, that a savage feeling 
in a dream the hands of his enemy around his throat, 
awakens as he plunges his knife through his enemy's heart. 
Imagine further that as he rises panting, there, close to 
him, stands whole and hearty, the enemy he has just killed. 
Under these circumstances, most savages would be conscious 
of a riddle, would feel the need of an explanation; and at 
least some of them might, it seems to me, accept the actual 
existence of a " double." From that to the essential elements 
of the ghost theory, the steps are easy enough for primitive 
man to take. 

To Durkheim's statement that there is a marked dispro- 
portion between the effect of the ghost-idea and its cause, 
when that cause is supposed to be dreams, this answer is. 



sufficient; circumstances favoring, insignificant causes may 
produce gigantic effects. Once in existence, the idea of sur- 
vival was the more likely to spread and to grow deep roots 
in that it was a marvelously interesting idea and that its 
field of usefulness as a principle of explanation was not 
limited to dreams and visions. If ghosts exist, then a host 
of facts may be explained: ghosts bring them about! What 
idea could be better fitted to captivate the imagination and 
to stir credulous persons to their depths than that of the 
active presence about them of those who were their com- 
panions or predecessors on earth? 


To dreams must be added the visions of waking 
life, of fever, and of other abnormal conditions. 
The mentally sound savage is not less, but more 
subject to visions than the sound-minded civilized 
man. The hallucinations of waking life are, on the 
whole, more startling than dreams in their effect 
upon the seer. This, for the very reason that they 
take place during the waking life ; that circumstance 
brings them in closer connection with the waking 
consciousness, and makes it more difficult to ignore 
them or to dismiss them as irrelevant. To the wit- 
nesses, the dramatic behavior of the hallucinated 
may convey, more vividly and irresistibly than a 
verbal account, a sense of invisible presences. 

It is well known that persons of great mental dis- 
tinction and ability, as well as commonplace ones, 
have been favored by or plagued with visions of such 
vividness and convincingness that they have not 
been able to escape belief in their reality. In many 
instances such visions have played a determining 
role in great social movements, particularly in re- 


The savage is not so well equipped as the civilized 
to resist the intrinsic claims of visions to authentic- 
ity. The profound influence which a gifted sav- 
age, suffering from occasional hallucinations, might 
exercise upon his contemporaries, can hardly be 
overestimated. It is, I think, one of the errors of 
anthropologists not to have taken sufficiently into 
account, when tracing origins, the unusual person, 
the genius. For, among savages also there are 
leaders, originators ; and their function is no less 
considerable than among us. The recognition, un- 
der which we are now in some respects suffering, of 
the fundamental social nature of man and of his 
profound and multiple dependence upon his physical 
and psychical environment, accounts probably for a 
degree of blindness to individual achievements in 
social development. Among savages, as among us, 
and in the same sense as among us, general beliefs 
have had individual origins. 

The visions of waking life are, it is true, unusual 
experiences, unknown to the great majority of civi- 
lized beings ; but they are far more frequent among 
the ignorant, uncritical, and easily impressed sav- 
ages. Who will venture to affirm that when support-, 
ed by the universal experience of dreams and of 
vivid memory-images, and by the sense of presence, 
no serious significance can belong to visions in the 
production of the belief in ghosts because they are 
not common enough? 

These four types of related experiences, the ex- 
teriorization of vivid memory-images, the sense of 
presence, dreams, and the visions of waking life, all 


possess, if in various degrees, the qualifications re- 
quired to lead to the savage's belief in survival after 
death. They are each psychologically equivalent to 
a direct sensory apprehension of survival ; thus, they 
do not imply intelligence of a higher level than can 
be predicated of any one possessing speech, however 
rudimentary. These experiences, furthermore, all 
point not to a paradise promising the gratification 
of universal desires, but to such a lot as is actually 
ascribed to the ghost. 

Are we to hold that these four related types of 
experience, each contributed equally to the formation 
of the belief in survival after death, or that one or 
several of them were the determinant factors, and 
that the others served merely to confirm the belief? 
To these queries I cannot give any answer; and it 
does not seem to me very important that we should 
be able to answer them, it is enough that we should 
have discovered the class of experiences from which 
the belief arose. It is not the product of an infer- 
ence, it is not an interpretation, but simply the con- 
sequence of a lack of the ability to discriminate cer- 
tain merely subjective experiences from the percep- 
tion of external objects. 

The causes of the idea of survival and of belief in 
it, set forth in the preceding pages, were probably 
supplemented and the conception they produced 
modified, by certain naive convictions, innate yearn- 
ings, and by diverse observations which we shall 
now rapidly consider. 

The Natural Endlessness of Man. — Among many 
tribes are found myths presupposing the natural 


endlessness of man. Australian natives speak of an- 
cestors who never died. They disappeared from 
view without passing through death and bodily de- 
composition. A well known Babylonian-Hebraic 
story explains the introduction of death into the 
world as the consequence of the evil deeds of man. 
In many tribes now living, all forms of death are 
looked upon as the work either of magic or of spirits. 
These tribes are probably at a lower level of de- 
velopment than others, such as the Kafirs and the 
Melanesians, among whom a third cause is known: 
" natural " death. These people " make up their 
minds as the sickness comes whether it is natural 
or not. The more important the individual who is 
sick, the more likely his sickness is to be ascribed 
to the anger of a ghost whom he has offended, or to 
witchcraft. No great man would like to be told 
that he was ill by natural weakness or decay." 12 

Mr. Dudley Kidd tells us that according to the na- 
tives of South Africa, " to start with, there is sick- 
ness which is supposed to be caused by the action of 
ancestral spirits or by fabulous monsters. Secondly, 
there is sickness which is caused by the magical prac- 
tices of some evil person who is using witchcraft in 
secret. Thirdly, there is sickness which comes from 
neither of these causes, and remains unexplained. It 
is said to be 'only sickness, and nothing more.' This 
third form of sickness is, I think, the commonest. 
Yet most writers wholly ignore it or deny its exist- 
ence. It may happen that an attack of indigestion 
is one day attributed to the action of witch or wiz- 

■* R. H. Codrington: The Melanesians; page 194. 


ard ; another day, the trouble is put down to the ac- 
count of ancestral spirits; on a third occasion, the 
people may be at a loss to account for it, and so may 
dismiss the problem by saying that it is merely sick- 
ness. It is quite common to hear natives say that 
they are at a loss to account for some special case of 
illness. ... In some cases they do not even trouble to 
consult a diviner; they speedily recognize the sick- 
ness as due to natural causes. In such a case it needs 
no explanation. If they think that some friends of 
theirs know of a remedy, they will try it on their own 
initiative, or may even go off to a white man to ask 
for some of his medicine. . . . The Kafirs quite rec- 
ognize that there are types of diesase which are in- 
herited, and have not been caused by magic or by 
ancestral spirits." 13 There is here the beginning 
at least of a recognition of what civilized man calls 
" natural " causes. 

We may note in passing some of the terrible con- 
sequences of the belief in the magical cause of death. 
In many tribes, deaths ascribed to magic may result 
in the deaths of not only one but a dozen or more 
suspected persons who are put through a murderous 
ordeal supposed to be fatal to the guilty person only. 
" A French official tells us that among the Neyaux of 
the Ivory Coast similar beliefs and practices are vis- 
ibly depopulating the country, every single natural 
death causing the death of four or five persons by 
the poison ordeal, which consisted in drinking the 

13 Frazer: Lot;, cit.; pages 55, 5G. The French anthropolo- 
gists, Durkheim, Levy-Bruhl, Mauss, Hubert, affirm with- 
out hesitation the universality of this belief. 


decoction of a red bark called by the natives boduru. 
At the death of a chief, fifteen men and women per- 
ished in this way. The French government had great 
difficulty in suppressing the ordeal ; for the deluded 
natives firmly believed in the justice of the test and 
therefore submitted to it willingly in the full con- 
sciousness of their innocence." 14 

These two conceptions, the idea of the natural 
deathlessness of man and that of continuation after 
death, are of course far from identical ; the former, 
which sees in death the result of accidental causes, is 
consistent with belief in annihilation at death; the 
latter, which considers death as an unavoidable, nat- 
ural event, is consistent with the affirmation of the 
continuation of life in the face of the startling fact 
of death. 

But why should man ever have imagined that, 
were it not for evil intervention, he would never 
have known death? Because life implies its own 
continuation. The more intensely one lives, the 
more difficult it is to think of destruction, and the 
more preposterous that idea seems when it chances to 
gain access to the mind. An indefinite idea of con- 
tinuation is implied, it seems, in the very fact of 
conscious existence; for, to live is to look forward. 
When this implicit assumption becomes explicit, the 
easier way of accounting for the contradiction in- 
flicted upon it by death is to accuse some nefarious 
power of having maliciously put an end to that which 
otherwise would have continued. But you say, man 

14 Frazer: hoc. cit.; page 52. Lecture II contains a selec- 
tion of savage practices regarding the causes of death. 


is born, grows, attains maturity, and then slowly 
and gradually decays until he falls lifeless ; and this 
is true not only of man but of all animals and plants. 
Is not this a sufficient indication of the " natural- 
ness " of death? Yes, we answer, sufficient it is to 
those who have become imbued with a scientific con- 
ception of life, not to others : the Babylonian who re- 
lated to his children the story of original freedom 
from death was still far removed from that stage. 

The myths that we have mentioned bring to light 
a natural aversion to a cessation of life ; an aversion 
which is to be regarded as an unavoidable accom- 
paniment of the instinct of self-preservation and as 
one of the forces supporting belief in continuation 
after death when once that conception has taken 

The Influence of Death.— Primitive man, as we 
know him, lives too much in the present to be dis- 
turbed by fear of the death-crisis, unless it be im- 
minent, and then his fear, being little more than an 
instinctive recoil, does not probably lead him fur- 

To the semi-civilized the more profound and sig- 
nificant aspect of death arises either from its mys- 
tery or from the wretchedness attributed to the 
shades and the breaking of earthly ties. The dom- 
inant note of the Pyramid Texts is an "insistent, 
ever passionate protest against death." It expresses 
humanity's earliest supreme revolt against the great 
darkness and silence from which none returns."' 

15 J. H. Breasted: Development of Religious Thought in 
Ancient Egypt: New York; Scribner; 1912. Page 91. 


For the civilized who have not found peace in a satis- 
fying faith, it is again the mystery beyond the grave, 
the unanswerable query of Hamlet, which torments, 
not the death-crisis : 

" To die, — to sleep ; 
To sleep ! perchance to dream ; — ay, there's the rub ; 

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 

But that the dread of something after death, 
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn 
No traveler returns, puzzles the will; 
And makes us rather bear those ills we have, 
Than fly to others that we know not of? " ie 

The relative insignificance of the death-crisis is 
well shown by the indifference to it of those who 
cherish a faith in a satisfactory future existence. 
To the Christian, the Valley of the Shadow of Death 
is made brilliant by the light streaming from the 
heavenly Jerusalem. He exclaims, " death, where 
is thy sting? grave where is thy victory?" ,T 
Long before the advent of Christianity, there were 
people who went to their death rejoicing in the as- 
surance of a land abounding in everything the heart 
could desire. In old Egypt, the fear of death had 
been conquered by those who believed in the religion 
of the Sun-God. Wiedemann writes of them that 
they dwelt much and gladly on the thought of death ; 
it had no particular terror for them, any more than 
for modern Orientals. To them death was no final 
end but only an interruption of their existence. 1 ' 

"Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1. 
17 I Cor., 15: 55. 

16 Wiedemann: Loc. cit., page 14. 

One should remember in this connection the universal tes- 
timony of physicians that, in the words of a noted surgeon, 


But these remarks have no reference to the estab- 
lishment of the belief in continuation after death, 
for we are not at liberty to suppose that original 
man was tormented by Hamlet's query, still less that 
in a transcendent act of creative imagination he 
negated the work of death by positing beyond the 
grave another existence. This was not within his 
means. No other proof that the savage's belief in 
continuation did not have this origin is wanted than 
the nature of his after-life: it is not that which it 
would necessarily have been, had it arisen from the 
desire for the satisfaction of moral cravings. 

Vegetation and Insect Metamorphosis. — The idea 
of survival after death is sometimes supposed to have 
had its origin in those well known and very common 
facts, the growth of vegetation from seeds, and the 
metamorphoses of insects. The grass dies in the 
autumn and sprouts again in the spring, out of the 
nut, a tree germinates; and the grub, dead though it 
seems, gives birth to a butterfly. To infer from 
these and similar facts that man continues after 

" the process of dying is rarely painful or even unwelcome 
to the patient, though full of sorrow to his family. A happy 
unconsciousness in nearly all cases shields the dying man 
from pain. The weakness, the fever, the parched lips, the 
labored breathing are all unfelt. Most people die quietly 
and often almost imperceptibly . . . Even when convulsive 
movements occur, they are entirely independent of conscious- 
ness; merely physical in origin and character, and absolutely 
unattended by any suffering." In the rare cases when the 
death bed is attended by terror, it is due, we are told, to 
lurid images of a terrible hereafter. Scott who questioned 
sixteen very old persons, reports that 94 percent, had no 
desire to live, and that 70 per cent, longed to die. — Colin A. 
Scott: Old Age and Death; Amer. Jour, of Psy., 1896-97. 
VIII. Pages 67-122. 


death would involve mental operations of a higher 
order than are those implied in the false perceptions 
which, according to the theory we have accepted, 
produced the belief 

Insect metamorphosis is a fact known to certain 
savages. Spencer and Gillen describe a ceremony 
of the witchetty grub totem which includes an imi- 
tation of the insect (maegwa) just emerging from 
the crysalis. 1 " The influence which the observation 
of insect metamorphosis may have had upon the 
establishment of the belief in survival after death, 
is, however, beyond our ken. 

The sprouting of vegetation from seeds is a fact 
more easily discovered than insect metamorphosis. 
The savage is certainly interested in it. But what 
a step we are expecting him to take, if we suppose 
him to think that because seeds produce new 
growths, corpses produce ghosts! The analogy 
should lead him to think rather that corpses produce 
new men. Dacotas and Esquimaux bury bones ot 
dogs and seals, that from them new animals may 
arise; they do not expect the production of animal- 

If we could suppose that before the idea of con- 
tinuation appeared, there was felt a vigorous objec- 
tion to the limitation of human existence to this 
earth, the inference of survival after death from 
these facts would be less improbable. But this sup- 
position may not be entertained. It is only long after 
the formation of the primary conception of immor- 
tality that dissatisfaction with the brevity and in- 

19 The Northern Tribes of Central Australia. Pages 266- 


completeness of this life appeared. We should re- 
call in this connection that at a relatively late stage 
of development, when men like Job felt keenly the in- 
adequacy of this life and yearned for an extension 
of it, their knowledge of the grass that dies to grow 
green again in the spring was not sufficient to lead 
them to a belief in survival. Job laments that 
" there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it 
will sprout again . . . through the scent of water it 
will bud. . . . But man dieth, and wasteth away." 

The Waxing and the Waning Moon; the Rising 
and the Setting Sun. — Human immortality is asso- 
ciated in primitive myths with the moon and the sun. 
The waning and waxing moon, or the setting and 
rising sun symbolize, or are otherwise connected 
with the death and the resurrection of man. But 
why should we see in the existence of such myths 
an indication that the idea of human continuation 
after death was derived from these phenomena? The 
analogy that can be drawn between phases of the 
moon or the setting and rising sun and human re- 
birth is lame and far fetched. The probability is 
that only long after the appearance of the idea of 
human continuation was the analogy thought of. 

Physical and Moral Likenesses between a Living 
and a Dead Person. — This is a fact not only of fre- 
quent occurrence but also obvious enough not to 
escape the attention of the savage. How compelling 
the likeness between son and father can be, every one 
knows. May not the idea of reincarnation, appar- 
ently universal among the Australians, and widely 


distributed elsewhere, have found its origin in the 
observation of striking likenesses? 

If these likenesses were never observed except be- 
tween living and dead persons, I do not see how one 
could escape the surmise that the belief in reincarna- 
tion owes its existence to these observations. For, 
in this case, the savage would not be supposed to 
have made a more or less far fetched inference, as 
from the vegetal to the human kingdom, he would 
merely have recognized an. obvious likeness and as- 
sumed the identity of the similar persons. 

But since likenesses are even more frequently ob- 
served between persons, both of whom are living, 
than between a dead and a living person, the bearing 
of likeness upon the origin of the idea of reincar- 
nation is not obvious. In any case, resemblances 
would suggest reincarnation rather than continua- 
tion after death in ghost-land. 

Reflections and Echoes. — These are sometimes 
mentioned as causes of the ghost-idea. To see one- 
self with the life-likeness of a clear reflection, or to 
hear one's voice -repeated by a good echo, is surely 
enough to startle a savage. We know, as a matter 
of fact, that he connects reflections and echoes with 
ghosts. But that, before the causes we have desig- 
nated had produced the belief, reflections and echoes 
suggested of themselves the conception and led to 
the belief, seems hardly probable. 

The Instinct Theory of the Origin of the Belief 
in Continuation. — According to this antiquated 
theory, the idea of continuation is neither the prod- 
uct of a direct perception, real or illusory, nor of an 


inference ; it is an instinct. Among the arguments 
commonly adduced in favor of this origin, is the 
universality of the belief. Those who offer 
this argument fail to realize that there are two rad- 
ically different conceptions of immortality: the pri- 
mary and the modern conceptions; and that, there- 
fore, each must be considered separately. Univer- 
sality may belong to the primary belief, but we shall 
see that the modern belief is not and never has been 
universal. The demonstration of the instinctiveness 
of one of these two conceptions would not involve the 
instinctiveness of the other. And in any case, uni- 
versality is not synonymous with instinctiveness. 

To label something an instinct, is a convenient but 
unscientific way of disposing of a difficult question of 
origin. Speak the word and nothing more can be 
said on the subject. The present instance is an evi- 
dent abuse of this delusive short cut to an explana- 
tion. For, in psychology, an instinct is understood 
to include a tendency to act in a particular and 
more or less definite and biologically useful way, 
when in the presence of a definite situation. The 
psychologist sees an absurdity in the application of 
the term " instinct " to a conception or a belief. One 
might claim, it is true, that man possesses the in- 
stinct of caring for the dead bodies of his fellow- 
men, and that from this instinct arose the idea of 
continuation after death. But even then it would 
have to be admitted that the idea of immortality 
would not thereby have been shown to be itself an 
instinct, but merely to have been suggested by an 
instinctive activity. 


Usually, however, all that is really meant by the 
" instinctiveness " or the " innateness " of this be- 
lief, is that it is rooted in universal, innate desires 
and yearnings, and then the argument applies only 
to the modern belief. The aversion to annihilation ; 
and the desire for self-completion, for the fulfill- 
ment of justice, for the continance of affection, may 
quite properly be designated as innate. But if no 
more than this be affirmed, innateness may be claim- 
ed for most beliefs with as much, or rather with as 
little propriety as for immortality ; for most beliefs 
spring directly or indirectly from innate propensi- 
ties. Whether that which I have now called "pro- 
pensities " be true instincts or merely vague ten- 
dencies, the conceptions and beliefs derived from 
them are assuredly neither instincts nor innate pro- 

A similar confusion is responsible for the appli- 
cation of these same terms to religion. Religion is 
indeed rooted in the deepest and most universal of 
all innate propensities: the love of life, both in its 
preserving and enhancing aspects. But if we were 
to call instinctive or innate, any and every elabora- 
tion, however dependent upon intelligence, when- 
ever it has behind it instincts or innate tendencies, 
what is there in the whole round of human thought 
and activity which would not deserve these epithets? 


A conception of survival arising from memory- 
images, the sense of presence, dreams, and visions 
would necessarily picture that which survives as 


something like a " double " of the living. Now, 
some of the descriptions of anthropologists and trav- 
elers conform entirely to this requirement : the sur- 
viving individual is in size, general appearance and 
mode of life, similar to the departed individual. 
What differences there are, are those to be expected 
from the nature of the experiences from which the 
idea originated : the ghosts are of tenuous material, 
usually invisible, able to transport themselves mys- 
teriously from place to place and to pass through 
the smallest openings. 

But, by the side of these descriptions, we find 
others not at all consistent with the origin we have 
suggested. The soul is said to be of any size, from 
a grain of sand up, and of any shape and appear- 
ance. It is affirmed also that a man has several souls, 
and that each one of them has a different destiny. 
There are souls that enter the wombs of women; 
these souls may look like diminutive models of a man 
or woman, or they may be altogether different. We 
are driven to the supposition that the descriptions do 
not all refer to one and the same kind of object. Some 
of them have obvious reference to persons as they 
are seen in dreams and visions, others cannot by any 
stretch of imagination be derived from experiences 
of that kind ; they seem rather to denote a belief in 
a life-potency animating living things. Let us then, 
instead of using interchangeably, according to the 
custom, the words " soul " and " ghost," use them 
discriminatingly. Let ghost " or ' double " refer 
to the conception which represents the departed as 
similar in appearance and habits to the living. 


" Soul " would then designate the (individualized?) 
life-power possessed by every object that, in the eye 
of the savage, is animated. 

When did the savage derive the idea of a soul, of 
a life-potency? From the seeds with which he is 
familiar; from partly developed plants and animals? 
Yes ; most probably. But there is no reason to think 
that his imagination was narrowly limited by these 
objects. He had, as a matter of fact, no direct 
knowledge of the human germ of life, and was pre- 
sumably therefore freely influ'netced by many ob- 
servations which suggested to him something as 
to the appearance and properties of that potency. 
Thus, there need be no surprise if the soul is de- 
scribed as of the size of a grain of sand or much 
bigger ; or as in the shape of man ; or as soft, like 
flesh, or hard like bone and certain seeds. Neither 
need we wonder if each person is said to possess 
several souls, each one perhaps dwelling in a particu- 
lar organ; for, in that case, we may suppose that 
the savage has individualized the " powers " ex- 
pressed in particular mental and moral traits (vig- 
or, courage, cleverness) or in physiological func- 
tions (breathing, the heart's action, reproduction). 
And if this supposition does not do sufficient justice 
to the facts, there are others that might. Our pres- 
ent knowledge is too imperfect for us to dogmatize 
on this point. 

When this discrimination between ghost and soul 
is made, much that is otherwise absolutely unintel- 
ligible in the statements attributed to the savage, 
becomes readily explicable. We understand, for in- 


stance, that when he speaks of a something located 
in the liver, without which the person would die, he 
means the life-potency, the soul, and not the ghost. 
And when he speaks of that which has survived death 
as living on an island not so far away but that you 
can sometimes at night hear voices wafted over the 
sea, he means ghosts and not souls. It seems prob- 
able also, that in the instance of so-called duality of 
" souls," quoted in the preceding chapter, the kra, 
which exists before the birth of the man to whom 
it belongs, is the soul; and the srahman, that be- 
gins its career at death only, is the ghost. 

The failure of anthropologists to realize that the 
words " ghosts " and " soul," used by them indiscrim- 
inately, designate two different conceptions, is due 
in great part to language difficulties. Confusion is 
also fostered by the fact that, if our understanding 
is correct, it is most probable that ghosts also have 
souls, in the same sense as earthly bodies have souls. 
The kra, existing before the person, is said to con- 
tinue after death together with the srahman. This 
would be expected if the kra (in our understanding, 
the soul of the earthly body) continues as the soul 
of the ghost. A third source of confusion is that 
the savage himself is, we may well suppose, not able 
to always keep separate these two conceptions. It 
is to be expected that the surviving ghost would be 
at times confused with the germ producing birth. 

When we are told that certain savages affirm the 
soullessness of women and their annihilation at 
death, are we to understand that women are not pro- 
produced by life-germs, or that, in their case, at the 


death of the body there is no ghostly continuation? 
In the latter event, we should speak not of the soul- 
lessness, but of the ghostlessness of women. 

If the savage makes but few, if any, reference to 
the soul of ghosts, it may be merely because there 
is no occasion for his doing so. It is not his habit 
to concern himself with things that have no practical 
significance for him. He may, however, never have 
realized that consistency requires ghosts to have 
souls. On the other hand, should he regard the life- 
potency as passing at death into the ghost, there 
could be no reincarnation into new earthly bodies, 
unless ghosts died, or unless the earthly body had 
several souls, one of which belonged to the ghost, 
and another served the purpose of reincarnation. 
In this circle of ideas, we may for the present do 
no better than speculate. 


The problem of the origin of the soul conception, 
does not strictly speaking belong to our immediate 
purpose; it is the origin of the ghost, not of the soul, 
that we have to explain. In a preceding book in a 
chapter on the origin of the idea of impersonal pow- 
ers, I have set forth what may be called the more 
distant source of the soul idea. In his Elementary 
Forms of the Religious Life, Durkheim offers a valu- 
able suggestion regarding the immediate origin of 
that conception. But for this distinguished author, as 
for other anthropologists, soul and ghost are not two 
radically different conceptions arising in different 


ways. On the contrary, the main point of his theory 
is that the immortality of the individual person is a 
necessary consequence of the nature attributed to 
the soul. The main question is, therefore, for him, 
that of the origin of the soul-ghost and of its nature. 
That problem intimately connects itself in his mind 
with the far reaching question of totemism. I can- 
not attempt to appreciate here the importance of 
the contribution made by Durkheim to the solution 
of this great and knotty problem; I shall have to 
limit myself to a summary exposition of that part 
of his theory which is of direct interest to us in the 
present connection. 8 

The Central Australian does not think that at 
birth a new person is created; creation de novo he 
does not understand. For him every person coming 
into existence is a reincarnation. Each clan con- 
sists thus of a constant number of beings ; or if the 
membership increases, each individual proceeds 
nevertheless from the uncreated, original ancestors 
of the clan. In the latter case, new beings bud forth, 
as it were, out of the substance of the uncreated an- 
cestors, find lodgment in women's bodies, and come 
to birth in due course of time. 

The close connection existing between the original 
ancestors and the totemic principle is an essential 
part of Durkheim's theory. They were not men, in 
the proper sense of the term ; they were partly ani- 
mals or plants, and partly men, " made of the same 
substance as the totemic principle." Thus Durkheim 

"Durkheim: Les Formes Elementaires de la Vie Reli- 
gieuse: Paris; Alcan; 1912. Pages 352-375. 


finds the origin of each new born individual in the 
totemic power itself, acting through the intermedi- 
ary of the ancestors. When the totemic potency ani- 
mates a human or animal body, it becomes individ- 
ualized; until then, it may be considered as too 
vaguely conceived to deserve the epithet personal; 
it is not very different from the mana of the Melane 

Durkheim thinks himself justified in regarding 
these ideas — they are found throughout Australia, 
in America, and probably elsewhere — as expressing 
the primary conception of the soul-ghost. 

From this understanding of the nature and the 
origin of the soul-ghost, Durkheim derives the con- 
ception of its survival after the death of the body. 
Since it appears to the savage that souls can be made 
only out of souls, " the new born souls can be nothing 
else than new forms of already existing souls ; there- 
fore, these must continue to exist in order that 
others may be later formed. Only by belief in the 
immortality of the soul can primitive man explain to 
himself a fact which cannot fail to strike his atten- 
tion : the perpetuation of the life of his social group. 
Individuals die, but the clan survives." 20 

Many years will no doubt elapse before anything 
like unanimity is reached with regard to the merits 
of this theory, when regarded as representing the 
primitive account of the origin of human individu- 
als. But this at least may be said now : after a long 
and practically unchallenged sway, animism, consid- 
ered as the primitive philosophy of life, is now not 

hoc. cit., page 384. 


only challenged but finds itself confronted by a for- 
midable rival. In several of its aspects, notably in 
the relations it would establish with totemism and 
with the general conception of impersonal power (a 
notion which I think must have preceded that of 
personal agents), the new theory seems more pro- 
foundly rooted than the old. 

The criticism we would pass upon this theory is, 
we trust, already understood. The substantial iden- 
tity which Durkheim assumes between the life- 
potency and the ghost arises from a misunderstand- 
ing. The ghost with whom the savage maintains 
more or less systematic relations of the kind obtain- 
ing between man and man, is something radically 
different from the soul which, according to Durk- 
heim, — and in this we are ready to follow him — is 
responsible for new births. We have already drawn 
attention to some of the facts which contradict the 
common assumption. Durkheim himself knows these 
facts, but he does not ascribe to them the significance 
which they bear. When discussing Strehlow's 21 ac- 
count of the incarnation of souls, he mentions and 
accepts the report according to which, among the 
Arunta (a tribe of Central Australians), the ghosts, 
after the funerary rites have been completed, go to 
the island of the dead. From that dwelling place they 
make several journeys to the living, in order to assist 
their families. These ghosts, however, are not im- 
mortal ; they are ultimately destroyed by bolts from 
the sky during thunder storms. Nevertheless, these 
tribes, again according to Strehlow, explain birth as 

hoc cit., page 357 ff. 


a reincarnation. It is therefore evident that that 
which is reincarnated — supposing the term to be 
properly used in this connection — cannot be the 
ghosts who go to the island of the dead and are 
finally destroyed. That which is reincarnated might, 
however, be the soul of the earthly body, when, after 
becoming the soul of the ghost, it has finally been 
liberated at its death. But this supposition does not 
fit in any scheme which, like that of Durkheim, 
identifies the soul and the ghost. 

The Aruntas' own account of birth does not seem 
to fit Durkheim's theory any better. Wherever an 
Alcheringa (one of the uncreated ancestors) has dis- 
appeared into the ground, ratapa lurk at the surface, 
in holes, or in trees; and, when chance offers, they 
enter women's bodies. They say also that, in other 
instances, the ancestor himself operates. At the 
proper time, he comes out of his hiding place under 
ground, and throws to a passing woman a namatuna 
(or namativinna) which enters her body and as- 
sumes human shape. The ghost inhabitants of the 
country of the dead are obviously not identical with 
these ratapa and namatuna. 

Instead of supposing that the ghost-idea is inti- 
mately conected with the birth-idea, it seems better 
in accord with the known facts to hold that the prob- 
lems of birth and of death presented themselves to 
the savage as two independent problems. The for- 
mer, he solved naturally enough by thinking of the 
entrance into women of a seed of life proceeding 
from one of the ancestors, and conceived usually as 
bearing ruman semblance. 


The problem of the hereafter was, correctly speak- 
ing, in my opinion, not a problem at all to the savage. 
He may very well have asked himself whence the new 
life suddenly felt by the pregnant woman, and have 
given the answer suggested to him by vegetation : 
a seed from an old stock found its way into a 
woman's body. But why should he, after seeing 
plants, animals, and men grow, reach maturity, bear 
fruit, slowly decay, until little remained of the life 
that was in them, and finally become inert in death ; 
why should he, possessed of this knowledge, have 
asked himself what became of the extinguished life? 
Raising the problem of a hereafter implies probably 
a much higher development than the one possessed 
by primitive man. And yet, it seems as if the sav- 
age had given a solution to that problem. As a mat- 
ter of fact, if our understanding of the origin of the 
ghost-idea is correct, the savage did not answer the 
problem of death, he merely, as he thought, per- 
ceived the survival after death. It is that illusory 
perception of surviving beings which itself, later on, 
set the problem of human destiny." 

22 When gods are derived from surviving human ghosts, 
Durkheim objects that the distinctive characteristic of divini- 
ties, namely their sacredness, has not been accounted for 
(see loc. cit., pp. 85-91, 123-124, 265-266, 375-379). He re- 
minds us that man, as he appears in dreams, is no more than 
human ; between human ghosts and gods there lies therefore 
the chasm made by the latter's possession of sacredness. If, 
when living in a human body, the ghost is merely an ordinary, 
a secular thing, how could it at death become suddenly an 
object of religious regard. To derive gods from ghosts is in 
Durkheim's opinion to suppose a creation ex nihilo. It is not 
sufficient that the ghost in order to become sacred be a source 
of anxiety. Religion, it is true, includes some fear; but "it 
is a fear sui generis, compounded of respect more than of 
dread, and in which dominates the very particular emotion 


We are, it seems, in possession of two probable 
theories, each accounting for a different set of ob- 
servations: the one derives births from ancestors, 
themselves bearers of the wonderful and sacred po- 
tency which is the efficient agent of totemism; the 
ether, accounts for the belief in the survival after 
death of ghosts that partake in most respects of the 
nature of the living and are shaped in their sem- 

If the view here defended should be correct, the 

inspired in man by majesty. The idea of majesty is essen- 
tially a religious idea. . . . Disincarnation cannot invest 
human souls (ghosts) with that attribute." 

This criticism does not affect the origin of the belief in 
human continuation here defended; but that other part of 
Tylorian Animism which derives divinities, and therefore 
religion, from ghosts. For my own part, I hold it probable 
that gods have arisen not only from ancestors, but also from 
other sources, as, for instance, from the personification of 
natural prenomena and from the assignment of a creator, 
or creators, to the universe or any part of it (see A Psycho- 
logical Study of Religion, Chapters V and VI). 

The sacredness of ghosts — when they are sacred — is un- 
doubtedly, as Durkheim claims, a characteristic added to that 
possessed by the ordinary human being; and, in order to ac- 
count fully for all the elements that go to make up 
religious life, one must assuredly not omit sacred- 
ness. But neither should one overlook the personal beings 
that, when invested with this attribute, constitute divinities. 

Feuerbach's Conception of the Origin of Survival after 
Death. — This early explanation of the origin of ghost, and 
with it of continuation after death, rests upon a very crude 
psychology. For Feuerbach, the idea of survival is merely 
the idea of the living person, as it remains in the memory of 
those who knew him. (Page 273.) "Der Mensch mit seiner 
leiblichen Existenz nicht auch seine Existenz im Geiste, in 
der Erinnerung, im Gemuthe verliert." "Die Leiche des Men- 
schen noch fur dem Menschen selbst halten, zugleich aber 


role played in the course of human development by 
exteriorized memory-images, dreams, and visions, 
would be stupendous. 

auch, weil sie noch das Bild des Lebendigen in der Erinne- 
rung haben, dieses von der Leiche unterscheiden, und als ein 
selbsstandiges Wesen personificiren." Ludwig Feuerbach: 
Gedanken iiber Todt und Unsterblichkeit ; Werke: Leipzig; 
1847. Vol. Ill, pages 261-273. 






After what we have learned concerning the uni- 
versal existence of the primary belief among con- 
temporary savages, the statement frequently made 
that at the beginning of the historical period several 
peoples, notably the Hebrews and the Greeks, did 
not believe in human immortality, may cause some 
surprise. We are told, for instance, that the Israel- 
ites' belief in immortality cannot be traced much 
further back than the beginning of the Christian 
era. The covenant Yahweh made with his people 
does not allude to a future life. The nation alone 
was an object of his care. The great prophets them- 
selves, when they inveigh against sin, care only for 
the danger therefrom to the existence of the nation. 
Among the Greeks also the belief in immortality 
is said to have appeared late. Pythagoras, the 
Mysteries, and Plato are named as marking the rise 
of the faith. The great contribution of Dionysos 
to the religion of Greece was, we are told, the hope 
of immortality. We also learn that, " If one had 
spoken to a Roman in the fourth century before 
Christ, concerning his soul, its sinfulness, and its 



need of salvation, there would have been no discus- 
sion possible, for the person addressed would not 
have understood what it was all about. It is very dif- 
ficult for us to put ourselves in such a position of 
innocence ; but we can at least realize that there are 
certain oriental nations of the present day who do 
not understand these concepts, who have not the 
consciousness of an individual soul and hence can 
neither feel its guilt nor desire its salvation. The 
origin of this idea of the personal sold is obscured in 
great mystery. It ivas not present at the time of 
the Punic Wars. We see only scanty traces of it 
in the literature of the Ciceronian age." ' 

These affirmations may be justified in two ways: 
either the continuation idea expressed in the uni- 
versal belief in ghosts had, at the beginning of the 
historical period, disappeared from among the peo- 
ple mentioned; or the immortality which the his- 
torians of these nations have in mind is so different 
from the primary survival that they do not at all 
take that belief into account. We shall have no 
difficulty in showing that the popular belief in ghosts, 
and at least remnants of a cult addressed to sur- 
viving spirits, persisted in the nations mentioned 
until the appearance of the modern belief and even 
later on. The second hypothesis is therefore the 
valid one. 

In the Old Testament, traces of polydaemonistic 
belief are definite enough to preclude divergence of 

1 J. B. Carter: The Religious Life of Ancient Rome: 
Houghton, Mifflin Company; 1911. Page 72. The italics are 


opinion. The sacred stone at Bethel, the name itself 
meaning "a house of God" (Gen. 28:22) ; the or- 
acular tree at Sichem (Gen. 12 : 6; Deut. 11 : 3) ; the 
teraphims, which even as late as the 8th century 
B. c. were a regular part of the Hebrew household 
(Hosea 3:4), constitute incontrovertable evidence 
of the survival among the ancient Hebrews of the 
primary belief in continuation after death. " It may 
be set down," says Budde, " as extremely probable 
that the Teraphim belong to the extensive domain of 
ancestor-worship, or worship of the dead, which, in 
many lands and continents, even in the New World, 
has formed the oldest verifiable foundation of reli- 
gion. Besides the household gods, Israel must have 
had cults of this nature which embraced wider cir- 
cles, the family, the clan, and the tribe, though only 
isolated and unconnected traces of these cults re- 
main in the Old Testament. In I Samuel 20:6, David 
speaks of his family's yearly sacrifice in Beth- 
lehem. It may be assumed, indeed, that the sacrifice 
on that occasion was offered to Yahweh and not to 
a deified eponymous hero. But in ancient times the 
case was certainly otherwise. We find great stress 
laid upon the mention of the burial-places of a whole 
line of ancestors and heads of clans. (Gen. 35 ; Gen. 
1; Joshua 24; Judges 2.) Of the so-called 'minor 
judges ' we learn scarcely anything more than their 
places of burial (Judges 10:2, 5; 12:10, 12, 15). 
We may be sure that religious rites were performed 
at these graves in ancient times." 2 In Deut. 25: 14, 

2 Karl Budde: Religion of Israel to the Exile: Putnam's 
Sons; 1899. Pages 64, 65. 


we read, " I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, 
neither have I put away thereof, being unclean, nor 
given thereof for the dead." 

Beer has shown that the old Jewish mourning 
customs originated with the desire for protection 
from the liberated spirit of the deceased. " The 
loud cries uttered by the mourners frighten away 
the spirits. The dress, the covering of the head 
with ashes, the shaving of the hair, the disfigurement 
and mutilation of the body aim at making the 
mourners unrecognizable. . . . The wrapping of the 
head or beard prevents the spirit from entering in 
them, in the manner of infection bacilli, through 
the nose or the mouth. Hence the custom still pre- 
valent to-day of the mourning veil." a 

The evidence is just as clear in the case of the 
Greeks as of the Jews. The Homeric conception of 
man is of a dual personality composed of a visible, 
earthly being and of its shadow or copy, which man- 
ifests its presence in dreams and continues to live 
in Hades after the severance of death. This 
" double " takes no part in the life of the earthly 
being; its domain is the dream world. For Homer, 
dreams are never empty imaginations. But the per- 
sonages of the Iliad and Odyssey do not offer any 
cult to the dead, who are quite inaccessible to them. 
In an earlier age, however, the Greeks worshiped the 
departed. The books of Homer themselves contain 
remnants of this older faith. 4 More substantial evi- 

* Georg Beer: Der Biblische Hades. Theol. Abhand. — 
Eine Festgabe fur H. J. Holtzmann; 1902. Pages 16, 17. 

* Rohde has indicated in Psyche, vol. I. pages 14-32, the 
most interesting of these remnants. 


dence is now at hand in the form of recently dis- 
covered sepultures with remains of burnt sacrifices 
offered in behalf of the dead on the spot where the 
body was interred. In the graves were placed pro- 
visions, gold, and ornaments, in the belief that the 
dead would be able to make use of them. 

Jane Harrison has conclusively demonstrated 
that while the religion of the Olympic gods was in 
process of formation, and even much later, the 
Greeks practiced rites clearly indicative of the be- 
lief in human ghosts. She finds that important 
festivals, nominally celebrated in honor of various 
Olympians (the Diasia, the Thargelia, the Anthes- 
teria) were in reality chiefly " rites of a gloomy un- 
derworld character, connected mainly with purifi- 
cation and the worship of ghosts." 5 The Anthes- 
teria, for instance, celebrated nominally in honor 
of Dionysos, " was a festival of ghosts " aiming at 
riddance from them. There is no doubt that the 
Keres with which the festival is mainly concerned 
were ghosts, and that in the 5th century, b. c, they 
were thought of as little winged sprites. Countless 
vase paintings show them fluttering about graves. 
One vase, reproduced in Miss Harrison's work, pic- 
tures Hermes Psychopompos with the magic staff 
in his hand evoking the winged Keres that are seen 
flying upward out of a grave-jar." The outcome of 
her investigation is that " the Greeks of the classi- 
cal period recognized two different classes of rites, 

5 Jane Harrison: Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Re- 
ligion; 1st ed.; page 11. 

• Ibid. : pages 43, 44, 76, 165-167. 


one of the nature of ' service ' addressed to the 
Olympians, the other of the nature of ' riddance ' 
or ' aversion ' addressed to an order of beings 
wholly alien." 

The idea of manes, essential to the religion of the 
old Romans, is a " vague conception of shades of 
the dead dwelling below the earth." T If one is to 
believe Lucretius, and there seems to be no reason 
why he should not be credited in this particular, the 
Romans were haunted by a dread of the judgment to 
come. Andrew Lang is of the opinion that De 
Rerum Natiira was written against religion in order 
to free men's minds from the dread of future pun- 
ishment and generally from the interference of 
gods; he refers to descriptions by Pausanias and 
others of Roman wall-paintings picturing the tor- 
ments endured by the wicked. 8 

The prerence at the beginning of the historical 
period of practices indicative of a belief in survival, 
in the very people among whom the idea of immor- 
tality is said to have appeared late is no longer 
a moot point. It is equally clear that at the opening 
of the historical period the belief in ghosts and the 
cults addressed to them were losing favor in all the 
nations bordering the eastern end of the Mediter- 
ranean. The leaders of the time called the old belief 

7 W. Ward Fowler : The Religious Experience of the Roman 
People: Macmillan and Company; 1911. Page 386. 

Andrew Lang: Letters on Literature: London; 1892. 
Page 91. 

Transmigration through the impregnation of women by 
spirits was apparently credited by the Romans of Virgil's 


a superstition. In Palestine, in Greece, and in 
Rome, the cults addressed to ghosts were deprecated 
as evil. In Israel, the religion of Yahweh was the 
determined enemy of the cult of the dead in all its 
forms. Long before Jesus appeared, the stage of 
exorcism and divination was past ; " Neither magic 
nor sorcery have any longer any standing in the 
official religion of Israel. . . . The spirits of the 
dead, too, have lost their power; exorcism of the 
dead and inquiry of the dead, as well as all the 
mourning customs which remind one of the old cultus 
and sacrifices to the dead, are forbidden, as opposed 
to the spirit of the Israelitish religion. Finally, 
Sheol had no significance in the religion of the pro- 
phets." " " That which was in the sixth and even 
in the fifth century before the Christian era," ac- 
cording to Jane Harrison, " The real religion of the 
main bulk of the [Hellenic] people, a religion not 
of cheerful tendance but of fear and deprecation," 
was the same that Plutarch centuries later, and with 
him most of his great contemporaries, regarded as 
superstition. Among the Romans, ghosts had so 
far lost individuality as to be regarded by modern 
historians as impersonal forces. The cult had be- 
come to an amazing degree a matter of mere con- 
ventional behavior. 10 Thus a period of greatly 
decreased influence, among the people, of the prim- 
ary belief in immortality and of definite antagonism 
to it by the leaders preceded the establishment of 
the new belief. 

"Karl Marti: The Religion of the Old Testament: Put- 
nam's Sons; 1907. Page 180. 

10 W. Ward Fowler: hoc. cit.; pages 386-388. 




A good and sufficient reason for disregarding the 
primary belief, when tracing the origin of the mod- 
ern belief in immortality, is the essential disparity 
of the two. We have already seen what are the chief 
characteristics of the other life among present day- 
savages; before turning to the modern conception, 
we must ascertain what the primary belief became 
among the ancient populations with whom the mod- 
ern conception originated, i. e., the peoples to whom 
we owe our civilization, the Egyptians, Assyrians, 
Babylonians, Hebrews, and Greeks. 

The after life of the savage was not altogether a 
wretched existence; ghosts were no less vigorous 
and effective than the living, and many tribes enter- 
tained the idea of a paradise for all or, at least, for 
some souls. During the centuries immediately pre- 
ceding the Christian era, that cheering belief is not 
to be found among the peoples just mentioned. 
There is no relieving touch to the somber colors with 
which they paint the fate of ghosts; and , as one 
approaches the Christian era, a hopeless desire to 
escape from that fate is more and more frequently 

The Egyptian religion is often called " the re- 
ligion of eternal life "; nowhere else did the idea of 
continuation after death play so important a role. 
The oldest historical documents we possess, the in- 


scriptions in the passages and chambers of the great 
pyramids, called the Pyramid texts, belong to an 
already complex civilization although they date back 
to about 3400 b. c, the time of the first dynasties 
and of the great pyramids. The glimpses of earlier 
belief given in these texts suffice, however, to indicate 
the presence of a religion of the underworld accord- 
ing to which the dead continue an unhappy exist- 
ence under the earth. " The prehistoric Osiris 
faith," writes Breasted, " involved a forbidding 
hereafter which was dreaded." Later on, the reli- 
gion of the Sun-god supplanted among the ruling 
classes that of the Nether-god. The old religion, 
modified in many ways by the new, continued among 
the people; but the fate of the dead was not im- 
proved. We read that the souls " join the Sun-god 
on his journey from the western horizon, and are 
left by the god in different parts of the underworld, 
where he gives them fields to till on which they must 
henceforth live as vassals, always ready to help their 
lord against his foes if any should threaten to attack 
him on his passage. Theirs was no joyful lot. 
With delight they hailed the Sun-god on his appear- 
ance; but at the end of an hour he vanished, the 
door of his room closed after him, and for the next 
twenty-three hours they had to wait in darkness 
which was relieved only by the light which came 
from fire-breathing serpents, or from the sea of 
flame in which the captive foes of the Sun-god were 
burning. It is worthy of note that the same fate over- 
takes high and low, kings and subjects. Few indeed 
are the mortals who succeed in escaping it, and those 


who do are not such as have lived good lives on 
earth; they are those who have acquired an excep- 
tionally large knowledge of magic, and who have 
striven also never to show themselves enemies of the 
Sun-god. These succeeded in constraining him not 
to set them down on his course, but to bear them 
along in his train, ever circling round the heavens 
in the solar bark." " 

The same melancholy conception of existence after 
death is to be noted in exhortations on the enjoy- 
ment of life, such as the following inscription on a 
stela addressed by a dead wife to her husband: " 
" Oh, my comrade, my husband. Cease not to eat 
and drink, to be drunken, to enjoy the love of women, 
to hold festivals. Follow thy longing by day and 
night. Give care no room in thy heart. For the 
West Land (a domain of the dead) is a land of sleep 
and darkness, a dwelling place wherein those who 
are there remain." 

In the religion of the God of the Sky, the religion 
of the nobles at the time of the composition of the 
Pyramid texts, the fate of the individual was 
thought to be happy only if the dead himself before 
his departure, or some one for him afterwards, were 
able to make it so. The Egyptian never wholly dis- 
sociated a person from his body, and could not con- 
ceive of the continuation of life after death if the 
body were not in some way preserved; hence em- 
balming customs and the supreme effort, represent- 
ed by the great pyramids, to shelter the bodies of the 

" A. Wiedemann: The Realm of the Egyptian Dead: Lon- 
don; Nutt; 1902. Pages 25, 26, 27, 28. Concerning the fear 
of ghosts in Egypt, see pages 37, 38. 


kings. But it was not enough to preserve and shield 
the body for all time ; it must be kept provided with 
food and whatever else the departed might need; 
furniture, weapons, statuettes, servants intended for 
the performance of their menial functions, books, 
and even musical instruments. As the deceased was 
thought to be at the mercy of the living, those who 
were able, provided inalienable funds for the ever- 
lasting provisioning of their tombs. 

Even so protected and provided, possible dangers 
still threatened. " Whichever way the royal pil- 
grim faced as he looked out across the eastern sea, 
he was beset with apprehension of the possible hos- 
tility of the gods, and there crowded in upon him a 
thousand fancies of danger and opposition which 
clouded the fair picture of blessedness beyond. 
There is an epic touch in the dauntless courage with 
which the solitary king, raising himself like some 
elemental colossus, . . . wielding his magical power, 
makes himself sovereign of the universe and will 
stop the very rising of the sun if he is halted at the 
gate of the Sun-god's realm." 12 

To embalming and the provisions made for the 
material wants of the dead, the Egyptians added 
magical incantations and prayers. We read in the 
Pyramid texts over and over the affirmation of the 
will-to-believe denying death in quasi magical for- 
mulae, " King Teti has not died the death, he has 
become a glorious one in the horizon " ; " Ho ! King 

12 Breasted: The Development of Religious Thought in 
Ancient Egypt. Pages 116, 117. 


Unis! Thou didst not depart dead, thou didst de- 
part living " ; " This King Pepi dies not " ; " Have 
you said that he would die? He does not; this King 
Pepi lives forever." 13 

As long as the Egyptian nobles enjoyed in death 
the care that was thought effective, their survivors 
could look upon death with something like com- 
posure. But when the pyramids threatened ruin, 
the priests had given up their sacred task of care 
takers, and the legacies for their maintenance had 
vanished, what hope could remain to those who had 
trusted in these external means? These happenings 
together with others led, during the Middle King- 
dom (2160-1788 B. a), to a much less hopeful view 
of the other life on the part of the followers of the 
Sky-god. They were reduced to the sorrowful out- 
look of the common people. 

" Behold the places thereof [of the Pyramids] 

Their walls are dismantled, 

Their places are no more, 

As if they had never been. 
" None cometh from thence 

That he may tell us how they fare; 

That he may tell us of their fortunes, 

That he may content our heart, 

Until we too depart 

To the place whither they have gone. 

Encourage thy heart to forget it, 

Making it pleasant for thee to follow thy desire, 

While thou livest. 

" Celebrate the glad day, 
Be not weary therein. 
Lo, no man taketh his goods with him. 
Yea, none returneth again that is gone." li 

"Breasted: hoc. cit.; page 91. 

"A song of the Eleventh Dynasty (about 2000 B. C.,) 
edited by W. W. Muller in Liebespoesie. I use the English 
translation in Breasted: hoc. cit., page 183. 


From the naive belief in continuation after death 
of the present day savage to the pessimism of this 
song, there stretches a long history. After a period 
during which, with admirable boldness, the Egyptian 
nobles had presumed to make themselves the equals 
of the gods in the other life, they had been forced 
back to the disheartening belief of the common peo- 
ple. A similar belief ruled in the neighboring coun- 

The Babylonian dead were supposed to dwell in 
a great cave underneath the earth, the most common 
name of which is Aralu. It " was pictured as a vast 
place, dark and gloomy. . . , surrounded by seven 
walls and strongly guarded, it was a place to which 
no living person could go and from which no mortal 
could ever depart after once entering it." 10 

" The day of death is a day of sorrow, ' the day 
without mercy.' . . . Whenever death is referred to 
in the literature, it is described as an unmitigated 
evil. What distinguishes the dead from the living 
is their inactivity." They " are weak, and, there- 
fore, unless others attend to their needs, they suffer 
pangs of hunger, or must content themselves with 
' dust and clay ' as their food." 10 Their inactivity 
carries with it a deprivation of all pleasures. But 
the dead person, not sufficiently well cared for by his 
relatives, could avenge himself by plaguing them. 
An instance of how this was done among the He- 
brews is provided in the Old Testament's description 

15 Morris Jastrow: Aspects of Religious Belief and Prac- 
tice in Babylonia and Assyria; 1911. Pages 353, 356, 358. 


of Saul's procedure when he sought out a sorceress 
and through her summoned the dead Samuel. 

For the Babylonians, death made all men equal. 
There were no distinctions of rank in the underworld, 
kings, priests, conjurers, magicians, and common 
people all found themselves together in the dry and 
dusty kurnugea (Sumerian word for abode of the 
dead.) Everything one touched was dusty. Dust 
and earth were the food, the muddy water the drink 
of those living the shadowy life of the under- 
world. 11 

Sheol of the Hebrews, like the underworld of the 
Babylonians, was a place of dread. The shades 
were forgotten of God. Yah wen was the God of the 
living, not of the dead. 17 " Go thy way," says 
Ecclesiastes, " eat thy bread with joy and drink thy 
wine with a merry heart ; . . . Let thy garments be 
always white; and let not thy head lack oil. Live 
joyfully with the wife thou lovest all the days of thy 
life of vanity : ... for there is no work, nor device, 
nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol wither thou 
goest." ,8 

In Greece the land of the dead was also below the 
earth, beyond Akaron. The souls went to Hades 
bemoaning their lot, for it was wretched. From 
that dark country souls never returned, and with 
them there was no communication. Neither the 

16 Friedrich Delitzsch: Das Land ohne Heimkehr, die Ge- 
danken der Babylonier-Assyrer iiber Tod und Jcnseits; Stutt- 
gart; 1911. Page 16. He thinks, however, that as early as 
the 30th century B. C. a distinction in the abode of the shades 
made its appearance. Some of the shades live in peace and 
comfort in a country provided with water. (Pages 18-22.) 

17 Psalm 88: 13. 19 Ecclesiastics 9: 7-10. 


Egyptians, nor the Babylonians, nor the Hebrews, 
nor the Greeks could think of beings deprived of a 
vigorous, effective body as enjoying a happy life; 
that is why the Egyptians did their utmost to pre- 
serve the body, and why the souls were pictured as 
feeble, inefficient shades. The Babylonian dead were 
supposed to live an ineffective, drowsy, starved 
existence ; and the inhabitants of Sheol are described 
in the Old Testament as rephaim, that is, feeble and 
ineffective creatures. Homer draws a repulsive pic- 
ture of the dead hovering in the dark realm of 
Akaron, hazily conscious, hollow voiced, weak, and 
indifferent. The few fortunate individuals who were 
translated to Elysium or elsewhere without passing 
through death and lived on happily, had retained 
their body. 

The ghosts known to the Old Testament writers 
" were entirely lacking in the characteristics of per- 
sonality," 10 and the Roman shades were "hardly, 
if at all, individualized." 20 This lack of definite 
personality and the accompanying lack of individual 
names are hardly matters for surprise; they follow 
unavoidably, it seems to me, from the immense num- 
ber and the insignificance of the shades. It was im- 
possible for the living to think of them otherwise 
than collectively. A deceased husband is, of course, 
a perfectly definite person to his wife at the begin- 
ning of her widowhood; but as time passes, and as 
the rites of propitiation are more and more care- 
lessly attended to, and a new husband replaces the 

19 Karl Marti: hoc. cit.; page 58. 

20 W. Ward Fowler: hoc. cit.; page 386. 


departed one, the personality of the ghostly first 
husband unavoidably fades out. Sooner or later, 
he is degraded to the rank of the undifferentiated 
shades that haunt the world of the dead — shades 
thought of and dealt with not individually, but col- 
lectively. Such were the numena, whose varied 
powers were collective rather than individual. 

The vagueness with which the personality of the 
shades were conceived should not, however, be inter- 
preted as signifying that they were powers of an 
impersonal order. The ghosts, the shades, the 
numena with whom the Greeks, the Hebrews, the 
Romans maintained relations, were personal powers, 
however ill characterized they may have been. This 
fact is established by the nature of the relations 
maintained with them : the invocations, the offerings, 
the sacrifices. Such rites are not addressed to non- 
personal powers. Of the numberless ghosts existing 
for these peoples, only those who for any reason be- 
came centers of special attention on the part of a 
group, preserved or reacquired a definite personality 
and received a name. Their humble descent from the 
crowd of nanieless souls was, of course, either never 
known or speedily forgotten. 

The kind of influence exercised by the belief in 
continuation varies with the degree of mental de- 
velopment of the believer as well as with the nature 
of the belief. In the modern belief the whole em- 
phasis is placed upon securing for oneself a happy 
life after death. It is otherwise with the savage. 
He lives in the present and gives little thought to 
his own destiny; he is much more interested in the 


existence of the ghosts themselves, and in their be- 
havior toward him, than in his own survival. The 
next world exists for him only in its influence upon 
the present life : he believes in the survival of others, 
and does not think of his own. Among the semi- 
civilized, however, the belief leads both to rites for 
averting the dreaded ghosts and to a real concern 
for one's own future. 

For centuries the primary belief, with all the hope- 
lessness and horror it took on in the course of its 
development, oppressed the millions among whom 
European civilization was slowly taking shape. 
Why did the primary belief harden into this dis- 
tressing and hopeless form? Surely not because all 
optimism had departed from human nature. The 
impulses out of which paradises are created were not 
dead ; this is triumphantly demonstrated by the cre- 
ation, a little later on, of the glorious modern con- 
ception. The explanation of the temporary triumph 
of the dismal belief in impotent and vacuous souls 
seems to be found, as I have already intimated, in 
the inability of men at that stage of culture to con- 
ceive of a person as enjoying a tolerable existence 
when deprived of his earthly body. 

The persistence of the difficulty offered by the 
destruction of the body is sufficiently evidenced by 
the fact that its resurrection is affirmed even in the 
modern conception of immortality. Not belief in 
bodiless spirits, but in spirits inhabiting " glorified " 
bodies, is the form which faith took under the pres- 
sure of the moral demands for immortality." 

31 As recently as 1875, a Dr. Schneider expressed the opin- 
ion that burning the body makes life eternal impossible. 


I have reported certain conceptions and beliefs 
of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Hebrews, and 
the Greeks as if they had arisen independently of 
one another. This is certainly not the fact: the 
ancient Hebrews' belief in continuation after death, 
for instance, owed much to the Babylonians. My 
purpose was not to trace the influence of peoples 
upon each other, but rather to find the reasons for 
those characteristics of the idea of continuation 
after death which were common to a group of them. 

" Only if the dead are sunk in the grave is there any hope 
present for the mourners that they will remain preserved 
for life eternal and that we shall again find them. Of this 
comfort, however, those who remain behind are robbed if the 
body is taken from them and burned." — From an address, 
" To Bury, not to Burn,' as quoted by Alfred Bertholet in 
Pre-Christian Belief in the Resurrection, Artier. Jr. of Theol., 
vol. XX; 1906; page 19. 

All the Christian creeds affirm the resurrection of the body. 



In the countries bordering the eastern end of the 
Mediterranean Sea, general conditions required for 
the birth of a new conception of immortality were 
realized at the beginning of the historical period. 
Earthly existence had come to be felt as too brief 
and at best too imperfect to account for the sig- 
nificance of man. The consciousness of the insuf- 
ficiency of this life to satisfy the cravings of the 
heart and the demands of conscience manifests itself 
in many ways in early historical records. And, 
whether the intellectual leaders were prepared or not 
to entertain another than the traditional explana- 
tion of dreams and visions, they looked with dis- 
favor upon the most obvious of the practical con- 
sequences of the belief in ghosts. Under these cir- 
cumstances, their influence could not fail to be 
placed on the side of any other plausible belief, prac- 
tically valuable. 

One might establish an interesting parallel, his- 
torical as well as psychological, between the appear- 
ance of romatic, platonic love and that of the new 
immortality. Just as love-poetry could not be ex- 
pected until sex relations had developed beyond mere 
physiological needs, so the creation of the modern 
paradise could not take place before ideals of friend- 
ship and of love have been formed. The period of 
the birth of love-poetry, and more generally of lyric 



poetry, was also that of the appearance of the new 
belief in immortality, for these two expressions of 
human needs are witnesses to similar spiritual ex- 
periences. The raptures and pains which under 
certain circumstances vent themselves in lyric song, 
under others seek relief in the thought of an eternal 
existence in which love, friendship, and justice shall 
be forever victorious. 

Cicero, who lived during what may be called the 
interregnum of the belief in continuation, provides 
a precious illustration of the influence of affection 
upon the establishment of the new belief. Agnos- 
ticism was his usual attitude. In one of his letters 
he seems to speak of his own non-existence after 
death. Nevertheless, when his beloved and only 
daughter, Tulla, died, he thought of her as still 
surviving, as a deity or spirit to whom a fanum l 
could be erected. In a Consolatio addressed to him- 
self he insists upon the spiritual nature of the soul. 
" And in the concluding words he hints strongly at 
the divinity of the soul which is of the same make as 
God Himself, — of the same immaterial nature as 
the only Deity of whom we mortals can conceive. 
His daughter, therefore, is not only still living in a 
spiritual life, but she is in some vague sense divine. 
. . . Undoubtedly, Cicero is here under the influ- 
ence of the Pythagoreans as well as of his own 
emotion." 2 Instances of belief in immortality due 

1 Fanum was the general term for a spot of ground sacred 
to a deity. 

■ The whole of this passage referring to Cicero is taken 
more or less verbatim from W. Ward Fowler: The Religious 
Experience of the Roman People; pages 385-389. 


to a cause similar to the one affecting Cicero are 
abundant among us today. Cicero deserves special 
mention in this connection only because he lived be- 
fore the belief was firmly established. 

Some of the psychic forces that were to create the 
belief in the fulfillment of human desires after death, 
began by giving rise to heralds of the new faith, 
namely to belief in translation into an endless exist- 
ence without passing through death and in Mes- 
sianic prophecy. 


In the Homeric epics, Menelaus and Ganymede 
are translated, the first to Elysium, the second to 
Olympus; not, it is true, as a reward for faithful- 
ness to the gods, nor because of superior personal 
worth, but simply, at least so it appears, because 
of a physical relationship to the gods. There is 
here no question of a special abode for chosen spirits, 
on the order of the Christian heaven. Neither 
Menelaus nor Ganymede were shades; they did not 
die, they never lost their bodies. The Elysian fields 
to which Menelaus was transported, were a land of 
perpetual spring at the end of the earth. Gany- 
mede's adventure was different in that he was 
brought to the abode of the gods themselves in order 
to serve them as cup bearer. 

For the Babylonians, there seems to have been but 
one exception to the rule according to which all 
mankind eventually goes to Aralu. Parnapishtim, 
perhaps the prototype of Noah, was miraculously 
saved from a rainstorm that caused general destruc- 


tion. He was, moreover, transported to a place 
vaguely described as " distant " and situated at the 
" confluence of the streams," probably an island in 
the vicinity of the Persian Gulf, where he continues 
to live in blessedness. His appearance is, however, 
unchanged. A certain Gilgamesh, the hero of a 
Babylonian epic, seeks Parnapishtim in the belief 
that he has the power to cure him. On perceiving 
him, Gilgamesh exclaims: — 

" I gaze at thee in amazement, Parnapishtim. 
Thy appearance is normal. As I am, so art thou. 

Thou are completely equipped for the fray. 

Tell me how thou didst come to obtain eternal life among 
the gods? " * 

No reason is adduced for the escape of the Baby- 
lonian hero from the dreary world of the inactive 
shades ; no religious nor ethical merit belongs to him. 
The best that is said of him is that he is a " very 
clever one." Whatever may be the reason for his 
good fortune and that of Menelaus and Ganymede, 
these instances make clear the dislike of the world 
of the dead, the presence of a desire for continued 
life amid happy circumstances, and the belief that 
such a blessed fate was not altogether impossible, 
that man was not so far below the gods as to be under 
any circumstances unworthy of partaking in their 
immortal happiness. 

The two Hebrew examples of Enoch 4 who 
" walked with God " and was taken up unto his 

1 Morris Jastrow: The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria. 
Pages 493-494. 
4 Gen. 5: 24. 


Lord; and of Elijah, 6 the fearless servant of Yah- 
weh, who was carried in a chariot of fire by a whirl- 
wind into heaven, reveal the presence among the 
Jews of the same desires and ideas and, in addition, 
mark the consciousness of the supreme value of 
loyalty to the gods. Translation was for these men 
the reward of moral worth. 

But why were not these worthies allowed to pass 
through death and then made immortal and blessed ? 
If they were translated bodily into a land of im- 
mortality, it is probably because to their people the 
soul could not be sundered from the earthly body 
without suffering a permanent loss ; it became a ten- 
uous, ineffective ghost. 


This very significant manifestation of some of the 
forces to which we owe the modern belief found its 
most vigorous and clearest expression among the 
Hebrews. ' Their intense consciousness of national 
existence made it impossible for them to conceive of 
their nation as coming to an end. Israel could not 
be destroyed ; its birthright was to rule and endure 
to the end of time. When disaster upon disaster 
overtook it, when Judah and later Israel were taken 
captive, national consciousness, instead of relin- 
quishing its claims to national greatness, reaffirmed 
them and devised ways by which, in spite of the pres- 
ent humiliation, the hopes of the race would, in some 
way or other, be realized. The oppressed nation 

II Kings 1-2. 


dreamt the dream of the Day of Yahweh when, the 
Lord having manifested his might, Irsael would be 
established upon the earth in peace and power. 

To this conviction was added later on another, 
closely connected with immortality, namely the belief 
that on that blessed Day, the righteous who had 
descended to Sheol would arise and participate in 
the triumph of the nation." The faithful were to 
be ressurrected, not in order to live a blessed inde- 
pendent existence somewhere else than on this earth, 
but in order to be reincorporated in the earthly life 
of the nation. We cannot follow here the gradual 
formation of this ideal of Isaiah in which the two 
distinct ideas of a regenerated nation and of the" 
resurrection of the righteous had become united. 
The second and the third chapters of R. H. Charles' 
work will gratify the readers' curiosity on these 
points. 7 

The psychologist notes with interest that the ideas 
of the Day of Yahweh and of the resurrection of the 

" " Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise. Awake 
and sing ye that dwell in the dust; for thy dew is as the dew 
of herbs and the earth shall cast forth the dead." — Isaiah 
26: 19. 

7 That this conception of an eternal blessed future upon 
earth in which the dead participate is truly of Hebraic origin, 
and is not merely borrowed from the religion of Zoroaster, is, 
in the opinion of Charles, an established fact. He writes, 
" But as a matter of fact the Jewish doctrine, as it appears 
in its earliest form in Is. 26, is essentially different from the 
Mazdean. Thus (1) whereas the former is spiritually con- 
ceived as the prerogative of only the righteous in Israel, the 
latter is a mechanical and ethically indifferent dogma, in ac- 
cordance with which good and bad alike are raised. Thus 
whereas the former is specifically the result of right conduct, 
the latter has no relation to conduct at all. (2) According to 
the former, only a limited number — the faithful in Israel 


dead to participate in it, owe their origin to the 
same class of motives: both spring from a con- 
viction of the insufficiency of this life to satisfy fully 
the instincts of preservation and completion as en- 
larged by moral perception. 

Similar causes led the Egyptians to a belief in an 
ideal future state like that of the Hebrews, though 
less definite and much less firmly established. The 
Admonition of an Egyptian Sage 8 recalls the 
prophetic books of the Old Testament in which the 
Messianic Kingdom is announced. I cannot dwell 
upon this remarkable document, but will reproduce 
a passage from Breasted that refers to the closing 
part of the tractate where a picture is drawn " of 
the ideal sovereign, the righteous ruler with ' no evil 
in his heart/ who goes about like a ' shepherd ' 
gathering his reduced and thirsty herds. The hope 
that the advent of the good king is imminent is un- 
mistakable in the final words : ' Where is he to-day? 
Doth he sleep perchance? Behold his might is not 
seen.' With his last utterance one involuntarily 
adds ' as yet.' . . . Whether the coming of this ruler 
is definitely predicted or not, the vision of his char- 
acter and his work is here unmistakably lifted up 

— are raised ; according to the latter, all men of all nationali- 
ties and of all times. (3) According to the former, the res- 
urrection was at the beginning of the Messianic kingdom ; ac- 
cording to the latter, at its consummation in connection with 
the final judgment." — A Critical History of the Doctrine of 
a Future Life in Israel, in Judaism, and in Christianity: 
London; Adam and Black; 1899. Pages 134, 135. 

8 Alan H. Gardiner: The Admonition of an Egyptian Sage; 
Leipzig; 1909. I follow Breasted: loc. cit.; pages 203-216, 
who accepts the reading of Dr. H. C. Lange. For a discus- 
sion of that reading see Gardiner's Introduction. 


by the ancient sage — lifted up in the presence of the 
living king and those assembled with him, that they 
may catch something of its splendor. This is, of 
course, Messianic nearly fifteen hundred years before 
its appearance among the Hebrews." 


Intellectual and moral growth meant the appear- 
ance, side by side with the strong social conscious- 
ness characteristic of the earlier stages of social de- 
velopment, of a sense of individual worth 
and responsibility. The moment came when no 
dream of national triumph and greatness could com- 
pletely satisfy the moral aspirations of man. This 
insufficiency could be illustrated in every population 
which has passed from savagery to civilization. Its 
earliest expression known to us is found in Egypt, 
but it is in Hebrew sacred literature that the richest 
material illustrates the spiritual forces at work in the 
transformation of the conception of a national into 
an individual immortality. I shall therefore confine 
myself almost exclusively to that nation. 

The author of the book of Job came near solving 
the tormenting irrationalities involved in the thought 
of a mortal being ending miserably in death, by 
positing another life in which the present one would 
find its explanation and justification. Job's re- 
bellious complaint against the limit set by death 


rises clear and loud ; ' Man that is born of a woman 
is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth 
like a flower, and is cut down. He fleeth also as a 
shadow, and continueth not. . . . Thou hast ap- 
pointed his bounds that he cannot pass. . . . There 
is hope of a tree, if it be cut down that it will sprout 
again. . . . Though the root thereof was old in the 
earth and the stock thereof die in the ground yet 
through the scent of water it will bud and bring 
forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth and 
wasteth away: Yea, man giveth up the ghost, and 
where is he? . . . Man lieth down and riseth not; 
till the heavens be no more they shall not awake nor 
be raised out of their sleep." 9 Then a wish, hardly 
a hope, escapes his lips : "Oh, that thou wouldst hide 
me in the grave, that thou wouldst keep me secret, 
until thy wrath be passed, that thou wouldst appoint 
me a set time and remember me. If a man die, shall 
he live again? All the days of my appointed time 
will I wait till my change come." 10 

The nearest Job comes to the glorious idea of an 
eternal blessed life with God, is in the conviction — 
perhaps only a fleeting persuasion — that after death 
he will enjoy for a moment a vision of God who will 
then vindicate his mysterious ways. Although an 
endless continuance of life in communion with God is 
nowhere even hinted at by Job, nevertheless, his pro- 
found sense of the claims of justice makes him a 
fore-runner of the great Jewish prophets who con- 
ceived the resurrection of the faithful and a blessed 
existence with God. 

' Job 14: 1-12. 10 hoc. cit.; 5: 13, 14. 


Job seemed to have been ignorant of the existence 
of the primary belief in immortality, although we 
know it to have been familiar to those about him. 
But why should he have referred to it? He could not 
have had any use for the traditional belief; Sheol 
offered no solution to the problems that tormented 
him; it preserved nothing that he wished to pre- 
serve; it was an altogether irrelevant tradition. 

Fifteen hundred years earlier than the Book of 
Job, the Egyptians were already wrestling with an 
acutely painful sense of the inadequacy and mystery 
of life. A most remarkable dialogue of an unnamed 
writer with his own soul has been preserved to us. 
The document belongs to the Middle Kingdom (2160- 
1788) B. c. Unmerited misfortune upon misfortune 
has fallen upon the unhappy man. The burden of 
life has become so heavy that he determines to take 
his life. But he shrinks from the grave and enters 
upon a long dialogue with his soul. The first part 
concludes with the philosophy of " eat, drink, and be 
merry for to-morrow we die." From this, it pro- 
ceeds to demonstrate that life, far from being an op- 
portunity for pleasure, is more intolerable than 
death. A terrible indictment of society follows. 
The writer finds in it only corruption, dishonesty, 
injustice, and unfaithfulness. It is not, however, on 
this note that the tractate ends. " Earlier in the 
struggle with his soul, the sufferer had expressed the 
conviction that he should be justified hereafter. He 
now returns to this conviction in the fourth poem, 
with which the remarkable document closes. It 
therefore concludes with a solution likewise found 


among those discerned by Job — an appeal to justi- 
fication hereafter." " 

National misfortune might vivify rather than de- 
stroy the conviction of an immortal national destiny ; 
but when disaster was clearly irreparable, the 
thought of a final national triumph would seem sheer 
madness. Then, the individual was thrown back 
upon himself, and dreams of a glorious earthly Mes- 
sianic Kingdom gave way before the hope of a bless- 
ed immortality with God in heaven. As a matter of 
fact, the time of the formation of the new belief in 
Palestine and in Greece, and of its spread in Rome, 
was a time of national disintegration. 

There are few events in the religious history of 
Israel so interesting and important as the trans- 
formation, at the moment of Israel's greatest dis- 
couragement, of the religion of Yahweh — the na- 
tional God — into a religion of the individual. As 
this change is of fundamental interest to the student 
of the origin of the modern belief among the He- 
brews, I shall present it at some length. 

For many generations and until irreparable dis- 
asters fell upon the nation, the greatness and happi- 
ness of Israel was sufficient to the worshiper of 
Yahweh. His God dealt not with individuals but 
with the nation; his covenant was with the nation. 
The nation sinned and the nation was punished; 
Yahweh visited the virtues and vices of the father 
upon his children; he smote the first born in the 

11 A. Erman: Gesprach eines Lebensmueden mit seiner 
Seele. Abhandlungen der Koenigl. Preuss. Akad; Berlin; 
1896. I follow the English of Breasted: loc. cit.; pages 191- 


land of Egypt; and because Ahab humbled himself 
before him, he would not bring the evil in his days, 
but in his son's days. 12 

The fall of the Northern Kingdom and later of 
Judah itself forced a readjustment of this relation, 
— a readjustment prepared by Amos and Hosea 
and completed by Jeremiah. The most important 
outcome of the sore trial to which Jeremiah's faith 
was subjected by the misfortune of his country was 
the establishment of individual relations between 
him and Yahweh. " The fate which Yahweh decrees 
for him is complete isolation. They all abandon him, 
one after another, — his relatives, the King, the 
priests, the prophets, the mass of the people, and 
finally, even the nobles who at first stood by him. At 
last only his faithful secretary, Baruch, remains, 
and even he is separated from him by the walls of 
the prison. This isolation is Yahweh's will, and is 
rendered more acute by a number of strict injunc- 
tions. He shall take no wife, he shall not mourn 
with those who mourn, nor rejoice with those 
who rejoice (16:1-8). Thus only Yahweh Himself 
remains to him for communion and intercourse. 
But now we find what we have never met with in any 
prophet before this time. Jeremiah \appears in 
continual dialogue with Yahweh. He complains, he 
contradicts Him, contends with Him, defends him- 
self against Him, but is ever worsted by Him. Yet 
in the midst of his grief and despair he awakes to the 
consciousness that the words of Yahweh are really 
the joy and rapture of his heart, because Yahweh's 

12 I Kings 21:29. 


name has been put upon him, that is to say, because 
he is Yahweh's possession (15:16). 'Heal me, 
Yahweh, that I may be healed ; help me, that I may 
be helped, for Thou art my praise' (17:14). It 
may be said that the true religion of Yahweh had 
no other refuge in Jerusalem, at the time of its fall, 
than the person of Jeremiah. Here we find a man 
abandoned by the whole world and in the deepest 
depths of misfortune, who has intercourse only with 
his God and finds his sufficiency in him." 18 

Ezekiel continued the development of Jeremiah's 
thought. From an individual relation with God, he 
drew the unavoidable conclusion that each individ- 
ual is to be rewarded or punished according to his 
desert. This doctrine permeates the Psalms and the 
book of Proverbs. But, when limited to earthly ex- 
istence, the doctrine is obviously false, and Job and 
the author of Ecclesiastes are up in arms against 
it: " All things come alike to all, there is one event 
to the righteous and to the wicked ; to the good and 
to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacri- 
ficeth and to him tht sacrificeth not; as is the good, 
so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that 
feareth an oath." ,4 Ezekiel's doctrine could be 
made true only by positing another life after death 
in which the injustice of this life would be repaired. 
The foremost argument of present believers, namely 
the impossibility of death being the end of man if 
he owes his existence and ideals to a benevolent Cre- 

18 Karl Budde: The Religion of Israel to the Exile; pages 

14 Eccl. 9:2; comp. 7: 15. 


ator, was implicitly present in the consciousness of 
Job, of Jeremiah, and of Ezekiel. 

It does not seem that the relation of the great 
gods of Egypt was at any time during the historical 
period exclusively with the nation; the Egyptians 
anticipated the Hebrews in the establishment of per- 
sonal ethical relations with a Heavenly Father. The 
kings communicated with Re as individuals, more 
than as representatives of the nation. In any case 
personal piety, with all the characteristics of 
communion with God known to the writers of the 
Palms, existed during the Restoration Dy- 
nasty (663-525 B. C.). It was no longer the formal 
affirmation of righteousness made in the Book of the 
Dead, but a humble supplication for mercy and help 
from the great Shepherd of men. " Thou sole and 
only one, thou Herakhte who hath none other like 
him, protector of millions, savior of hundred thou- 
sands, who shieldeth him that calleth upon him, thou 
lord of Heliopolis ; punish me not for my many sins. 
I am one ignorant of his own body, I am a man with- 
out understanding. All day I follow after my own 
dictates as the ox after his fodder." " Come to me, 
Re-Herakhte, that thou mayest guide me ; for thou 
art he that doeth, and none doeth without thee. 
Come to me, Atum, thou art the august god. My 
heart goes out to Heliopolis." Amon is often repre- 
sented as a herdsman leading his flock to pasture. 
In some hymns in which the worshiper breaks out 
in expressions of love and yearning for communion 
with his god, personal experience reaches the thresh- 
old of love mysticism : " Amon-Re, I love thee 


and I have filled my heart with thee. . . . Thou wilt 
rescue me out of the mouth of men in the day when 
they speak lies ; for the Lord of Truth, he liveth in 
truth. I will not follow the anxiety in my heart, 
for that which Amon hath said flourisheth." V" 

The development of a sense of individual moral 
obligation towards the gods can also be traced, at 
the beginning of the Christian era, in the history of 
the Greeks and of the Romans. " Man is an individ- 
ual, and as such has certain obligations and respon- 
sibilities toward the gods," writes J. B. Carter in his 
Religious Life of Ancient Rome. " These obliga- 
tions are no longer primarily social; they are dis- 
tinctly personal, and man is conscious that he has 
not fulfilled them. To add to the seriousness of 
the situation, not only is human life very short and 
uncertain but the world itself is coming to an 
end." 18 

The breaking down of the national hope and pride, 
the appearance of the individualistic spirit and of 
personal relations with the gods, taken in connection 
with the realization of the spiritual greatness of 
man — a greatness which is only the more clearly 
implied in the moral disgust so characteristic of the 
Romans of the period to which I have referred — 
constituted a situation altogether favorable to the 
appearance of a belief in a future life conceived of 
as a fulfillment of man's most precious ideals. 

15 J. H. Breasted: Development of Religious Thought in 
Ancient Egypt: New York; Scribner; 1912. Pages 354, 355. 

16 J. B. Carter: The Religious Life of Ancient Rome; page 




The origin of the modern belief is often referred to 
the Greek mysteries and to Plato. Socrates had 
nothing to teach on this subject. He contemplated 
with apparent equanimity two possibilities : complete 
unconsciousness, or continuation in a world very 
much like the Homeric underworld. Plato, on the 
other hand, taught a lofty doctrine. Souls were 
self-existent, incorporeal, simple, and eternal spirits. 
They were uncreated, preexistent to the body, but 
from the first destined to animate bodies; which, 
however, were not necessary to them, and might de- 
base them. At death, if the soul had lived a noble 
life of successful striving against lust and other pas- 
sions generated by the body, it underwent a period 
of purgation in an incorporeal existence, and later 
entered the glorious world of pure spirits. If, on the 
contrary, it had suffered the corrupting influence of 
the body, it was doomed to animate other bodies, low 
or high, according to the value and dignity of its 
preceding existence. Reincarnations followed each 
other until the soul had triumphed over the impedi- 
ments and temptations which come to it from its 
association with the body. 

This noble conception was in no way established 
by Plato on a basis of facts, nor was it logically de- 
duced from evident propositions. It bears all the 
marks of a creation of desire. The arguments ad- 
duced in its support in the Phaedrus are those of a 
moralist and poet. What Plato wanted was a doc- 
trine that satisfied man's highest aspirations. As a 


matter of fact, this doctrine fitted very ill with an- 
other doctrine of this philosopher, the well known 
doctrine of ideas ; but he valued more highly a scheme 
of things satisfying to the heart and to the will, than 
one logically consistent. A desire to enlarge and 
beautify human nature was the most potent inspira- 
tion of his philosophical thinking. Hence the spell 
exercised by Platonic immortality ; it draws man on- 
ward towards realms he would fain inhabit. 

Despite important differences, the Platonic doc- 
trine of the soul includes what is essential to the 
Christian doctrine, namely unending continuation in 
a purified and glorified condition. Preexistence and 
transmigration, included in the Greek conception and 
excluded from the Christian, are from our point of 
view secondary differentiations. 17 

But the Platonic doctrine did not really originate 
with the Greek philosopher. He tells us himself that 
he got it from the Orphic priests. The immortality 
of the soul and its gradual purification in successive 
incarnations in bodies of men or animals, until 
it has freed itself completely from the limitations of 
matter, was Orphic teaching. We must then look 
back from Plato to this Orphic cult. It was ad- 
dressed to Dionysos by a sect that had evolved a 
definite system of religio-philosophic belief, the chief 
article of which was the double composition of man ; 

17 The widest divergence between these doctrines appears 
when Plato describes the disembodied soul as " pure reason." 
If pure rationality were intended to involve the loss of per- 
sonality, Platonic immortality could not be assimilated to the 
Christian conception; for, without the preservation of per- 
sonality, immortality in the Christian sense does not exist. 


one part mortal, coming from the Titans, the other 
divine. Man's task was to rid himself of the titanic 
element, which corresponded to the body, in order to 
return pure to God. The deliverance of the soul 
could not be achieved suddenly, nor without the help- 
ing mediation of Orpheus, who, let it be noted, de- 
manded, as condition of salvation from rebirth, a 
pure life. 

But if we know that the belief in immortality con- 
stituted the essential tenet of the Orphic cult, we 
do not know how it came to be there. There are 
undeniable Pythagorean elements in the cult, and 
it is not impossible that its main tenets should have 
come from the far east where transmigration was a 
widespread belief long before it appeared in Greece. 
However that may be, the cult of Dionysos intro- 
duced an element unknown to any other Grecian 
cult. I allude to the frenzy that possessed its de- 
votees. " The celebration took place," says Rohde, 
" in the dead of night on the mountain tops by the 
flickering light of torches. Noisy music resounded ; 
the pealing tones of cymbals, the hollow thunder of 
great timbrels mingled with the frenzy-summoning 
harmony of the deep voiced flutes. Stirred by this 
wild music, the crowd of worshipers danced and 
shouted in exultation. We have no mention of 
songs ; for these, the vigorous dancing left no breath. 
The dance was not the rhythmic dance with which 
perhaps the Greeks of Homer's age accompanied 
their peans, but a frenzied, whirling, plunging sort 
of round dance in which the crowd of inspired de- 
votees rushed forward over the hill slopes. For the 


most part it was women, oddly clad, who whirled 
about in these dances to the point of exhaustion. 
They wore bassaren, long flowing garments, appar- 
ently made of fox-skins ; over these they wore deer 
skins with the horns sometimes remaining on the 
head. . . . Thus do they rave until they have 
reached the utmost excitement. In this ' holy mad- 
ness ' they rush upon the animals chosen for the 
sacrifice, and seize and rend them, and tear off with 
their teeth the bloody flesh, which they devour 
raw." 18 In the ecstasy of their excitement, the 
worshipers thought themselves divine or at least 
possessed by the god. 10 

If the practices I have described were new in 
Greek religion at the time of the introduction of the 
worship of Dionysos, ecstatic intoxication had long 
been an essential part of old Indie worship. In the 
cult of Soma, the priests, if not the people, became 
intoxicated from drinking a preparation of the moon- 
plant and thought themselves possessed of divine 
power. Practices aiming at a similar result exist 
among present day savages. " In nearly every sav- 
age tribe we find a knowledge of narcotic plants 

lfl Erwin Rohde: Psyche; Seelencult und Unsterblichkeits- 
glaube; Tubingen; 1907; 4th Ed.; Vol. II. pages 9, 10. 

19 The relation that existed in the Greek mind between ec- 
stasy and the divine is well known. Plato wrote in the 
Phaedrus, " There is a possession and a madness inspired by 
the Muses, which seizes upon a tender and a virgin soul, and, 
stirring it up to rapturous frenzy, adorns in ode and other 
verse the countless deeds of elder time for the instruction of 
after ages. But whosoever without the madness of the Muses 
comes to knock at the doors of poesy, from the conceit that 
haply by force of art he will become an efficient poet, de- 
parts with blasted hopes, and his poetry, the poetry of sense, 
fades into obscurity before the poetry of madness." 


which were employed to induce strange and vivid 
hallucinations or dreams. . . . The Negroes of the 
Niger had their ' fetish water/ the Greek Indians of 
Florida their ' black drink,' for this purpose. In 
many parts of the United States the natives smoked 
stramonium, the Mexican tribes swallowed the pey- 
otl and the snake-plant, the tribes of California and 
the Samoyeds of Siberia had found a poisonous toad- 
stool; all to bring about communication with the 
Divine and to induce ecstatic visions." J0 The In- 
dians of New Mexico who are " unacquainted with 
intoxicating liquors . . . find drunkenness in the 
fumes of a certain herb smoked through a stone 
tube and used chiefly during their religious festi- 
vals." 2X 

One may venture the generalization that every- 
where, at every level of development, states of intoxi- 
cation are regarded as religious states par excel- 
lence. 22 Why this extraordinary association of ec- 
stasy with the divine? The ready answer is that 
ecstasy, whether it be produced by physical or by 
psychical means, inspires a conviction of superhu- 
man, limitless power; that it brings visions and, 
with them, belief in the power of performing won- 
drous deeds: healing, destroying enemies, forecast- 
ing the future, etc. That such is the belief of those 

20 David Brinton : The Religion of Primitive Peoples; page 

21 H. H. Bancroft Native Races; Vol. I, pages 566, 567. 

22 In a book on religious mysticism now in preparation will 
he included an essay on ecstasy and intoxication in religion. 
I shall therefore leave undeveloped several points which I 
should otherwise discuss here. 


who indulge in the religious practices referred to, is 
well established. 

In so far as the cult of Dionysos is regarded as 
transforming the worshiper into a divinity merely 
during ecstasy, it does not offer anything unusual. 
But when one attributes to these Orphic rites the 
origin of belief in immortality, one derives from 
them more than we know to have come from like ex- 
periences among savage populations. Thus, if the 
Mexican Indians thought themselves divine while un- 
der the influence of their sacred plant, they did not 
imagine that thereby the boon of passing after death 
to the dwelling of the gods was conferred upon them. 
It may seem to us that once divine, must necessarily 
mean always divine. But when we keep in mind that 
the phenomena incident to intoxication were the 
mark of divinity, we realize that with their disap- 
pearance the worshiper must have thought himself 
human again. The idea of temporary possession by 
the God fitted the experience. 

There is, however, no insuperable difficulty in ad- 
mitting that a proof of man's final redemption should 
have been seen in the transformation taking place in 
the worshiper during possession by the God, pro- 
vided a sufficiently strong and clear desire be present 
for a blessed immortality. In populations that had 
not reached a sufficient mental and moral develop- 
ment to possess this desire, the intoxication-experi- 
ence remained without significance regarding life 
after death. The ethical conditions of salvation im- 
posed in the Orphic mysteries make clear that Greek 
consciousness had already reached a high degree of 


moral sensitiveness; and we know that at the time 
in question the realization of the insufficiency of this 
life prompted men in Greece, as it did in Egypt and 
in Palestine, toward belief in the fulfillment of hu- 
man personality after death. 

In any case, and whether or not a belief in a 
blessed immortality originated independently in 
Greece out of ecstatic experiences and a realization 
of the inadequacy of this life, or whether it was im- 
ported from India through Pythagorean teaching, 
the ecstatic experience is a factor essentially differ- 
ent from the ethical forces we saw at work in the 
consciousness of the Hebrew seers. It is character- 
ized by a consciousness of absence of impediments to 
the realization of desire, of limitless power, of infini- 
tude, — this, rather than intense emotion, is the most 
impressive aspect of ecstasy, as well as the funda- 
mental fact in religious mystical experiences of every 

Wherever it appeared ecstasy was a powerful ally, 
if not the cause, of the the will-to-believe in a blessed 
immortality; but it may be said without hesitation 
that it was not a necessary factor. Even in its 
absence, the modern conception of immortality would 
have taken shape in men's minds. If any proof of 
this was wanted, the Hebrews would provide it. 

According to Rohde, the fundamental incompati- 
bility between the old belief in Hades and the new 
belief in immortality consists in the affirmation of 
" immortality " made by the latter. This seems to 
me an error that mars a work admirable in many 
ways. If the soul is immortal, says Rohde, then it is 


in its essential property identical with the gods; it 
belongs to their realm. Who, in Greece, says eter- 
nal, says divine; these terms are interchangeable. 
That is the true reason why in the religion of the 
Greek people the divine plan separated for all time, 
in space as in essence, the world of gods and the 
world of men : the gods, and the gods alone are im- 
mortal. 2 * For this reason, in Rohde's opinion, 
Greek religion could neither grow into the new belief 
nor accept it if presented to it, unless a new exper- 
ience, a revelation, overcame the conviction funda- 
mental to the old religion. The ecstasy of Dionysiac 
worship proved to be the necessary revelation. 

To regard immortality as the particular boon se- 
cured by the new belief in survival, as Rohde does, 
is to miss the mark. We have seen in an earlier 
chapter that in the old belief the shades lived on an 
existence usually of indefinite duration, and also that 
the idea of finitude was not repellent to the savages. 
They were not disturbed when the idea occurred to 
them that their ghostly selves were not immortal. 
According to their stories, some ghosts died, and 
others continued endlessly. Immortality interested 
them little : the important question was the behavior 
towards themselves of the ghost that survived. 

At a higher stage of development, the situation 
was still the same with respect to immortality. The 
Babylonians did not bemoan the mortality of the 
shades, but their miserable existence. So did the 
Hebrews. It is the descent to Aralu and to Hades, 
not the possible destruction of the shades, that 

Rohde: hoc cit.; Vol II; pages 1-37. 


afflicted these populations. In the religion of the 
Nether God, the Egyptian found himself in a simi- 
lar situation. Nowhere was the essential mortality 
of the soul credited, and everywhere its unlimited 
continuation was admitted either for all men, or 
at least for special classes of men. 

The desire that arose at a certain moment and 
grew in intensity in every one of the nations we 
have considered, was not for immortality as such 
but for a future life which woidd fulfill affective and 
ethical cravings. Nothing short of a " divine " exis- 
tence could do that. With the exception of Plato and 
a few other metaphysicians, men would have held 
the promise of an undeterminate existence — a hun- 
dred or a thousand years — in the glorious company 
of the gods, equal to the " immortality " they are said 
to have believed in. Did not Job find profound con- 
solation in the hope of meeting God face to face for 
a single moment? The metaphysicians themselves, 
I surmise, would have sung the future millennium 
with all the superlatives at their command, and, for 
the rest, would have taken pride in the generosity of 
the prospective but distant surrender, of their f un- 
realized personality. Who could be so insatiable as 
to complain of sudden and painless annihilation at 
the end of 1000 years of heaven? In any case, ab- 
solute immortality is not to be talked of when one 
is concerned with religious life. It belongs to meta- 
physical speculation. 

I do not mean to deny by the foregoing remarks 
that Plato and other protagonists of the new belief 
thought of a never ending existence, but merely that 


that was not the essential gain secured by the ex- 
change of the old for the new belief. 


When surveying the historical development of the 
beliefs in immortality, one cannot but wonder at the 
absence of continuity between the primary and the 
modern belief. Although one finds among"" savage 
populations rudiments of the idea of a heavenly para- 
dise and of social and moral retribution in a life 
after death, nevertheless, when, during the centuries 
immediately preceding the Christian era, the mod- 
ern belief made its appearance among peoples far 
above savagery, it presented itself as something new. 

Why did the primary notion of continuation as- 
sume more and more definitely a repulsive form in- 
stead of being gradually transformed into the mod- 
ern conception? In the presence of this difficulty, 
we must recall that between a belief born, as the 
modern belief was, of desire for the realization of 
moral ideas, and one forced upon men irrespective 
of their wishes by the phenomena I have named, 
there is no likeness whatsoever beyond the mere idea 
of continuation. The earlier belief appears as an un- 
avoidable interpretation, devoid of any moral sig- 
nificance, of facts directly perceived; the other is a' 
creation of desire. The one came to point ex- 
clusively to a wretched and painful existence; the 
other contemplated from the first endless contin- 
uation in a state of increased or of completed per- ' 


fection, and it incited the living to ceaseless efforts 
in order to make themselves fit for that blessed con- 

If one keeps in mind these different, even diver- 
gent characteristics, the failure of the one belief 
gradually to pass into the other ceases to astonish. 
Progressive development is possible only when the 
later bears to the earlier the relation of flower to 
seed. No such relation holds between the two con- 
ceptions of immortality. The effect upon the pri- 
mary belief of the desire for happiness and moral 
completion, noticeable among some savages, had no 
permanent success because it was antagonistic to 
dominant characteristics inherent to that belief. 

A cursory view of Egyptian religions might sug- 
gest that in that land, if not elsewhere, primary and 
modern immortality were genetically related. But 
a fuller knowledge seems to compel the rejection of 
this opinion. Our earliest information already in- 
dicates the presence of two religions, that of the 
Nether God and that of the Sun God. In the first, 
the belief in survival bears all the marks of primary 
continuation. In the second, immortality is akin to 
the modern belief both in origin and character; it 
springs from desire, and it promises happiness. It 
differs from the modern belief in the inconspicuous- 
ness of the moral element and in the presence of a 
requirement unknown to the modern belief: the 
earthly body must be somehow kept together and 
tended, otherwise life will be extinguished or re- 
duced to a miserable existence. I have had occasion 
to indicate how, with the recognition of moral values, 


the conditions of admission to the sky were moral- 
ized, and the future life was looked upon as realizing 
a state of moral perfection as well as of physical 
well being. 

The two Egyptian conceptions of continuation 
after death were thus parts of two diiferent and an- 
tagonistic religions; one, identical to primary im- 
mortality, belongs to the populace; the other, in 
essential features similar to the modern belief, be- 
longs to the nobles. 

But if the two conceptions of continuation may 
not be regarded as possessing a common source, they 
existed side by side for many centuries. Even to- 
day, there are Christians who believe in ghosts. It 
is not usually recognized how incongruous the ghost 
belief is with the idea of the future life officially ac- 
knowledged by the church. According to Christian 
teaching, immediately after death or after sojourn 
in purgatory, the souls go to heaven where they en- 
joy a blessed communion with Christ, or to hell 
where they suffer dread torments. They are in no 
case supposed to remain on earth or to return to it 
and roam about human habitations. Roaming ghosts 
are of another lineage than Christian spirits; they 
are survivals of the primary conception of continua- 

The popular belief in haunted places and appari- 
tions persists, although in opposition to the modern 
belief, because dreams and visions, to which the old 
belief was originally due, have still the power to 
vivify ancient folk-tales. 


But what of the Christian hell? Is it not a direct 
continuation of the later form of the primary con- 
ception? I do not think that it should be so re- 
garded, for the essential significance of hell belongs 
no more than the essential character of heaven to the 
primary belief in continuation. According to the 
primary idea, as it existed in the countries we have 
considered, the dwelling of the dead is never a place 
of punishment — it has no moral significance at all ; 
wnereas the essential character of hell is that it is a 
place of punishment for evil done in this life. 

Hell belongs to the new conception as the counter- 
part of heaven. The hatred of the bad is a corollary 
of the love of the good ; and the infliction of suffer- 
ing is a crude way of expressing hatred of evil and 
of protecting oneself and those one loves against 
danger. The constitution of the Christian hell, like 
that of the old style prison, is quite innocent of any 
intention to reform. The motives that created hell 
are the same that have built jails; self -protection, 
retribution and hatred. Christian consciousness 
seeking an adequate expression for its imperfect 
sense of retributive justice and its hatred of sin 
and sinners, may, however, have remembered the 
vague, joyless underworld of the ancients. 

The only other noteworthy solution of the prob- 
lem of death was developed in or near India. There, 
the idea of repeated embodiments of the Karma took 
the place of one earthly existence continued in 
heaven. I wish a study of the Hindoo conception of 
continuation after death and of the ultimate fate 
of man might have been included in this volume. 




The primary and the modern beliefs were both at 
first naive beliefs, uncritically accepted ; the former 
resting upon an apparent direct sensory apprehen- 
sion of the fact of survival, the latter upon profound 
and intense yearnings for it. But when, in the 
course of time, the habit of critical reflection had 
been formed, neither dreams and visions, nor crav- 
ings could longer be regarded as convincing grounds 
of belief. In this situation an effort was made to 
legitimize the modern faith in survival by placing 
it, above individual desire, upon a universally valid 
foundation. This effort, continued for centuries, 
produced the so-called " metaphysical proofs " of 
immortality. 1 

1 The several classes of factors which produce and main- 
tain belief are brought out by the following illustration. I 
know a laborer who is tormented by the desire to make 
money. Some time ago, he showed me a heavy mass of dark 
gray sand which he had extracted from the bottom of an old 
well. He thought the sand contained gold, and had spent 
much time and money in order to establish the truth of his 
belief. A desire for wealth was at the root of this man's 
conviction; but the desire alone would not have suggested 
the idea that the sand contained gold. It was of great weight 
and he had, moreover, observed in it brilliant yellow parti- 
cles. Therefore, even though many reasons were urged 
against his conviction, he believed that he had found gold. 
He did not, of course, rest content at this point. He wanted 
a scientific demonstration of the truth of his belief, and ac- 


' An important fact to bear in mind concerning 
these proofs is that they were elaborated at a time 
when the conceptions of an immortal blessed future 
was generally familiar; hence, they did not originate 
the conception; no more did they usually produce 
Lelief, they merely attempted to justify the exist- 
ing belief. The relation of the belief in immortality 
to the arguments for it, is similar to that of Chris- 
tian beliefs in general to the demonstration of their 
truth by the scholastics. The church affirmed re- 
vealed truths, and the philosophers set about show- 
ing their agreement with reason. 

Metaphysical arguments are instances of deductive 
reasoning which differs in kind from inductive rea- 
soning in that the former derives the proposition to 
be established from some more inclusive proposition 
regarded as self-evident, or as already proved; 

cordingly he had the sand analyzed. When a reliable chem- 
ist reported the absence of gold, he placed samples in other 
hands. Despite several concordant negative analyses, this 
man has not yet altogether given up hope. 

Three factors are to be observed in this situation: a com- 
pelling desire for gold, the direct observation of certain facts 
(weight, color) interpreted as signifying the presence of 
gold, and an effort to verify the report of the senses and 
thus prove scientifically the realization of the desire. 

These three factors need not be present in every belief. 
Usually, however, the beliefs of cultivated people are sup- 
ported by factors of these three kinds; such, for instance, is 
the case of the modern belief in immortality. Failure to 
keep in mind these several roots of belief is responsible for 
much fruitless discussion. Sensory demonstration leaves us 
indifferent unless desire or repulsion is awakened. One of 
the practical consequences of the importance of desire in the 
matter of belief is that, in order to convince, it is usually 
much more efficacious to incite desire than to demonstrate 
truth. Every one knows that to convince is easy when the 
will to be persuaded is present; while the minutest flaw as- 
sumes gigantic proportions in one averse to belief. 


whereas an inductive demonstration is made by way 
of generalization from the observation of a suffi- 
cient number of facts. It follows from the nature 
of a deductive proof that, however strictly logical it 
may be, there remains always the previous question 
of the truth or adequacy of the major premise upon 
which hangs the whole demonstration. 

My task does not involve a study of the validity of 
the metaphysical arguments; I am concerned only 
with the various influences that make for belief, 
whether logically legitimate or not. And since the 
metaphysical arguments are, as we shall see, so far 
discredited that even the most eager believers in 
immortality admit their inadequacy, I might say 
nothing more about them. Their influence is limited 
not only by their weakness, but also by the ignor- 
ance in which most men remain of them, and still 
more by the general indifference to metaphysical 
arguments. Most men find their way by a long 
process of trial and error ; they blunder into " pro- 
gress " by following lines of least resistance, dis- 
covered by chance. Desire for logical consistency 
and intellectual clarity is but an occasional itch 
easily relieved by a haphazard scratch. 

Had the metaphysical arguments never been for- 
mulated, the hold of the belief would not, I surmise, 
have been materially different ; I shall, nevertheless, 
outline the more important of these arguments, add- 
ing, when it seems worth while and when it can be 
done without entering into too lengthy statements, 
the main objections that may be raised against them. 
But since this is on my part work of supereroga- 


tion, let no one find fault with me for incompleteness 
or lack of thoroughness. Any one with a marked 
dislike for the rattling of dry bones had better read 
only the section on the Moral Argument, and pass 
on to the next chapter ; the others may, as they pro- 
ceed with these notes, find it interesting to ascertain 
how far their own attitude towards the belief in im- 
mortality has been influenced one way or another by 
these arguments. 2 


I begin with the argument for idealism, although 
it does not really demonstrate the immortality of in- 
dividual beings, but merely of Mind. 

In the main, this argument is familiar ; it gets its 
start in the observation that the physical world is 
known through sensation and in no other way. 
Now, sensation is a mental experience. It would 
seem to follow that the so-called physical world, as 
far at least as we can know anything about it, is 

2 " The whole of the prevalent metaphysics of the present 
century is one tissue of suborned evidence in favor of reli- 
gion . . . involving a misapplication of noble impulses and 
speculative capacities. . . . It is time to consider more im- 
partially and therefore more deliberately than is usually 
done, whether all this straining to prop up beliefs which re- 
quire so great an expense of intellectual toil and ingenuity 
to keep them standing, yield any sufficient return in human 
well being; and whether that end would not be better served 
... by the application of the same mental powers to the 
strengthening and enlargement of those other sources of 
virtue and happiness which stand in no need of the support 
or sanction of supernatural beliefs and inducements." — 
John Stuart Mill: On the Utility of Religion.. 


after all of the nature of mind, i. e., that the Uni- 
verse is in essence of one substance, that of spirit. 

The argument encounters a serious difficulty when 
it is affirmed that sensation need not resemble the 
physical reality to which it is due, for the cause need 
not resemble its effect. The physical world, known 
in sensation, need not therefore be of the mental 
order ; it may be of an altogether different nature to 
sensation. But this difficulty may be overcome ; for 
it can be proved, the argument affirms, that although 
the cause of sensation need not resemble sensation, 
the existence of the physical world as a subtance 
implies its kinship to the nature of spirit. The 
conclusion of the matter is, that " all substance must 
possess certain characteristics which are essential 
to the nature of spirit." Thus the apparent dual- 
ism, matter and spirit, is transcended : an idealistic 
monism is reached. 

But this argument, supposing it to be valid, leads 
to the eternal self-existence of Mind, not of each 
individual mind. The ablest representatives of the 
idealistic philosophy have not claimed more. The 
opinion of Hegel, for instance, is stated thus by 
Andrew Seth: 

" The Hegelian system is as ambiguous on the 
question of man's immortality as on that of the per- 
sonality of God, and for precisely the same reason 
— namely, because the self of which assertions are 
made in the theory is not a real but logical self. 
Hence, although passages may be quoted which 
seem direct assertions of immortality, they are 
found, on further examination, to resolve themselves 


into statements about the Absolute Ego, or the unity 
of self-consciousness as such. The Ego, it is argued, 
is, in a strict sense, timeless or out of time, and 
it becomes absurd, therefore, to apply time pre- 
dicates to it and to speak of its origin or decease. 
As applied to the immortality of the individual self, 
however, this argument proves nothing ... it is 
the immortality of the Absolute Self which it proves. 
In like manner Aristotle maintained the eternity 
of Active Reason, and Averroes the immortality of 
the intellect identical in all men. Spinoza, too, 
spoke of the ])ars oeterna nostri. In no other sense 
does Hegel speak of the immortality of ' man as 
spirit ' — an immortality or eternity which he is at 
pains to designate as a ' present quality,' an actual 

" Death as a finality is the demonstration of the 
delusion of belief in the universe as intelligible." 
This sentence from Lotze, another great represent- 
ative of Absolute Idealism, might be construed into 
an unqualified affirmation of the immortality of indi- 
vidual souls. That it should not be so construed 
appears clearly in the following passage: 

" The soul is to be viewed as the substantial and 
permanent subject of the phenomena of our inner 
life. But that, because the soul is the abiding sub- 
stance of these phenomena, it must therefore be en- 
dowed with an eternal and imperishable duration, 
as the privilege of its nature — the unprejudiced 
mind will never be convinced of the certainty of that 

Hegelianism and Personality ; 1893. Pages 235-238. 


inference. . . . We have no warrant for assuming 
that what once is must necessarily always be. . . . 
Then if the connection of our other views tends so 
strongly to make us see in all finite things but cre- 
ations of the Eternal, it is impossible that the 
destinies of the individual can be other than accord- 
ing to the dictates of the whole. That will last 
forever which on account of its excellence and its 
spirit must be an abiding part of the universe ; what 
lacks that preserving worth will perish. We dare 
not judge and determine which mental development 
wins immortality by the eternal significance whereto 
it has raised itself, and to which this is denied. We 
must not seek to decide either whether all animal 
souls are perishable, or all human souls imperish- 
able, but take refuge in the belief that to each being 
right will be done." 4 


In following another line of thought, which I shall 
not reproduce, one comes to the conclusion that the 
soul is one and indivisible. This admitted, its inde- 
structibility is said to follow, for only that which 
is made up of parts can be decomposed and thus 
destroyed. Already Plato had advanced this argu- 
ment. It was taken up among others by Berkeley. 
After claiming to have shown that the soul is indi- 
visible, incorporeal, unextended, he adds: — 

" Nothing con be plainer than that the motions, 
changes, decays, and dissolutions which we hourly 
see befall natural bodies (and is what we mean by 

Microcosmus ; Book III, chap. V, pages 389, 390. 


the course of nature) cannot possibly affect an 
active, simple, uncompounded substance; such a 
being therefore is indissoluble by the force of nature ; 
that is to say — the soul of man is naturally im- 
mortal." A. C. Frazer, who quotes the above, adds, 
" Bishop Butler takes for granted that all assump- 
tion of death's being the destruction of living beings 
must go upon the supposition that they are com- 
pounded and so disruptible." 6 

The unsoundness of the argument from the sim- 
plicity and individuality of the soul was shown by 
Kant." According to him, neither logic nor science 
can demonstrate immortality. It is a practical 
postulate. Holiness, or perfection, is required of 
us by the moral law. Of this perfection we are 
incapable at any moment of earthly existence. It 
is only possible on the supposition of an endless 
duration of the individual being upon whom the 
requirement is imposed. Immortality is thus seen 
to be inseparably connected with the moral law, i. e., 
it is, in Kantian terms, a postulate of pure practical 
reason, not a truth logically demonstrable. 7 

Despite Kant's disproof, the argument from the 
simplicity of the soul still enjoys some vogue. It 
reappears today, for instance, in the crude philo- 
sophical writings of the distinguished physicist, 
Sir Oliver Lodge, who claims permanence " for the 
essence, the intrinsic reality, the soul of anything, 
and transitoriness for its bodily presentment — i. e., 

'' A. C. Frazer: Selections from Berkeley: Clarendon 
Press; 1891. Pages 142, 143. 

' Book II, chap. I, of the Transcendental Dialectic. 

7 Crit. of Practical Reason; Dialectic; Chap. II, sect. 4. 


for all such things as special groupings, arrange- 
ments, systems, which are liable to break up into 
their constituent elements." One might point to 
this scientist as a striking instance of how recklessly 
metaphysical arguments are made to serve desires. 
In the paper from which I have just quoted, we are 
told that whatever really " exists in the highest 
sense " is immortal. " We have only to ask whether 
our personality, our character, our self, is suf- 
ficiently individual, sufficiently characteristic, suf- 
ficiently developed — in a word, sufficiently real; for 
if it is, there can be no doubt of its continuance." " 
I might add that individuality, which appears in the 
above quotation as a test of immortality, was for 
Aristotle, and for the Absolute Idealists after him, 
the very mark of transitoriness : — 

" Individuality (the being unum numero in a 
species) and immortality are in his view incompat- 
ible facts ; the one excludes the other. In assigning 
(as he so often does) a final cause or purpose to the 
widespread fact of procreation of species by animals 
and vegetables, he tells us that every individual liv- 
ing organism, having once attained the advantage 
of existence, yearns and aspires to prolong this for- 
ever, and to become immortal. But this aspiration 
cannot be realized. Nature has forbidden it, or is 
inadequate to it; no individual can be immortal. 
Being precluded from separate immortality, the in- 
dividual approaches as near to it as is possible, by 
generating a new individual like itself, and thus per- 
petuating the species. . . . Nous ig immortal; but 

Hibbert Journal, Vol. VI; 1908. ^gges 391-304; 564-565. 


the individual Sokrates considered as noetic or in- 
tellectual, can no more be immortal than the same 
individual considered as sentient or reminiscent." " 

The Stoics held a similar opinion. According to 
their teaching, the individual soul does not possess 
independent activity, but will be ultimately resolved 
into the primary substance, the Divine Being. 


Under this heading we may separate three argu- 

(a) From the necessary presence in God of an 
idea, Spinoza, whose Absolute was Non-Moral, de- 
duced in the following manner the eternal existence 
of individual souls : — 

" In God there necessarily exists a conception or 
idea which expresses the essence of the human mind. 
This conception or idea is therefore necessarily 
something which pertains to the essence of the 
human mind. But we ascribe to the human mind 
no duration which can be limited by time, unless in 
so far as it expresses the actual existence of the 
body, which is manifested through duration, and 
which can be limited by time, that is to say, we can- 
not ascribe duration to the mind except while the 
body exists. 

" But, nevertheless, since this something is that 
which is conceived by a certain eternal necessity 

Grote's Aristotle; 1883. Page 490. 


through the essence itself of God, this something 
which pertains to the essence of the mind will neces- 
sarily be eternal." ,0 

(b) The Moral Argument. — The existence of a 
moral God being assumed, it is argued that the Uni- 
verse must have a moral purpose. If the Creator 
is at the same time benevolent and righteous, he can- 
not have endowed man with a nature from which 
proceed needs and ideals unrealizable because utterly 
at variance with reality. There must be, therefore, 
it is claimed, a way by which the demands of reason, 
love, and justice are to be gratified, and this is im- 
possible if individual life ends with death. This is 
the argument which has gained the widest circula- 
tion. Martineau calls it the " real evidence." " 
On the other hand, it is urged upon us that whoever 
believes in God, must also believe in survival of 
death; for, without survival the Universe could not 
be regarded as the expression of a d\vine, benevolent 

Andrew Seth formulates the argument thus: — 
" For, according to the theory that human self- 
consciousness is but like a spark struck out in the 
dark to die away presently upon the darkness 
wherein it has arisen, the universe consists essen- 
tially in the evolution and reabsorption of transi- 
tory forms — forms that are filled with knowledge 
and shaped by experience, only to be emptied and 

10 Prop. 22, pt. 5; 13, pt. 2; corol. prop. 8, pt. 2; 22, pt. 5; 
23, pt. 5; W. Hale White: Spinoza's Ethics: Oxford Univ. 
Press; 4th ed.; 1910. Page 269. 

11 James Martineau: A Study of Religion. Vol. II, page 


broken by death. But it is a mockery to speak as 
if the universe had any real or worthy End, if it 
is merely the eternal repetition of this Dana'id labor. 
And an account which contradicts our best-founded 
standards of value, and fails to satisfy our deepest 
needs, stands condemned as inherently unreasonable 
and incredible." " 

Compare with the above this passage taken from 
F. C. S. Schiller: 

" In our present phase of existence the moral life 
cannot be lived out to its completion, it is not per- 
mitted to display its full fruitage of consequences 
for good and for evil. Whenever Might triumphs 
over Right; whenever the evildoers succeed and the 
righteous perish; whenever goodness is trampled 
under foot and wickedness is exalted to high places ; 
nay, whenever the moral development of character 
is cut short and rendered vain by death, — we are 
brought face to face with facts which constitute an 
indictment of cosmic justice, which are inconsistent 
with the conception of the world as a moral order. 
Unless, therefore, we can vindicate this order by 
explaining away the facts that would otherwise 
destroy it, we have to abandon the ethical judgment 
of the world of our experience as good or bad ; we 
have to admit that the ideal of goodness is an il- 
lusion of which the scheme of things recks not at 

" But if we refuse to do this (and whether we are 
not bound to refuse to abandon our ideals at the 

Andrew Seth: Hegelianism and Personality. 


first show of opposition will presently be consid- 
ered), how shall the ethical harmony be restored if 
not by the supposition of a prolongation and per- 
fection of the moral life in the future? Only so 
can character be made of real significance in the 
scheme of things ; only so is it something worth pos- 
sessing, an investment more permanent and more 
decisive of our weal and woe than all the outward 
goods men set their hearts upon, rather than a 
transitory bubble to whose splendor it matters not 
one whit whether it be pure translucence refracting 
the radiance of the sunlight, or the iridescent film 
that coats decay." ,3 

The outcome of these considerations is the neces- 
sity of immortality if the world is to be conceived 
as rational, or as naving a worthy end. Short of 
this, we are told, the moral life cannot be lived out. 
Therefore immortality is declared a moral postu- 
late. Assuming for the present the truth of this 
last momentous affirmation, the question remains 
whether man is actually to continue after death, or 
whether the ideal of goodness is never to be fulfilled. 
The ethical argument, as stated in the preceding 
quotations, does not solve, it merely forces the di- 
lemma upon us. It is only when, instead of affirm- 
ing merely the necessity, for the gratification of 
human needs and desires, of the existence of a moral 
God or Order and therefore of immortality, one 
affirms in addition his existence, that a satisfactory 
solution is gained. But these two affirmations are 

''Humanism, Philosophical Essays: London; 1903. Pages 


far from equivalent ; the existence of a certain kind 
of God may involve necessarily the satisfaction of 
man's ideal desires, but the presence of these de- 
sires does not necessiate the existence of that God: 
desires may be disappointed. 

Let it be observed that there is great danger here 
of reasoning in a circle. One may start from the 
human moral constitution and its demands, and 
affirm that they imply the existence of a moral 
Creator. Then one may declare it impossible for 
such a God not to fulfill the expectations he has 
placed in man. , 

Variations in the form of this argument appear 
when it is written from the point of view of evolu- 
tionary development and from that of the preserva- 
tion of values. In the first case, it is affirmed that 
the history of animal forms discloses the intention 
on the part of their Designer to produce conscious, 
moral beings. How then, admit that he would allow 
a purpose so plainly inscribed in animated nature, 
to be baffled bj r death? In the second case, it is 
claimed that a moral Creator must have intended 
the preservation of moral values. Now, all the high- 
est values are bound up with personality; none of 
the virtues may be conceived as existing otherwise 
than in persons. How, then, could God permit the 
stupendous waste which would be involved in the 
destruction of personality at death?" 

14 Immortality derived from the idea of permanent values 
is frequently held to be not for all men, but for the worthy 
only. Man is mortal until a wonderful something is born in 
him, and then he becomes immortal, destined to continue 
forever the ascent begun on this earth. The difficulties raised 


Two remarks remain to be made: (1) In the 
forms of it which we have examined, the validity of 
the moral argument is conditioned by that of the 
affirmation upon which it rests, namely, that the 
Universe is the expression of an intelligent, pur- 
posive, and benevolent Will. (2) Even though this 
should be satisfactorily established, the argument 
itself would contain a fatal flaw. For, as Lotze 
remarked, the divine purpose assumed in the argu- 
ment might, at least in the case of some persons, 
be fully achieved in this life, and thus make immor- 
tality superfluous. " We dare not," says he 
" judge and determine which mental development 
wins immortality by the eternal significance whereto 
it has raised itself and to which this is denied." 

Attempts have been made to overcome the weak- 
ness inherent in an argument presupposing the ex- 
istence of a moral God by resting the proof of 
immortality directly upon facts of the moral life 
in general or, more specifically upon the " prin- 
ciple " of the conservation of moral values, or yet 
upon the gradual development of intellectual and 
moral consciousness in the animal and human world. 

by this notion are stupendous. Whence this germ of immor- 
tality? How are we to conceive its nature and how to under- 
stand its tremendous effect upon the individual? Shall we 
hold that doctrinal beliefs, or good works, or righteousness 
of purpose differentiate those who have won immortality? 
If in all the voluminous literature dealing with conditional 
imortality, there is no satisfactory answer to the many prob- 
lems raised by this hypothesis, who will wonder? 

Among the best works supporting, from the Christian point 
of view, conditional immortality, I note the following: — Dr. 
Van Oosterzee: Christian Dogmatics; Canon Gore: The Epis- 
tle to the Romans; W. W. Clarke: Christian Theology; Dr. 
E. Petavel: The Problem of Immortality. 


The facts of the moral life, it is said, demand the 
continuation of life after death just as the facts of 
the physical universe demand the presence of an 
invisible ether that fills all interstellar space. To 
reason in this wise is to desert the deductive for the 
inductive method, the metaphysical for the scientific 
procedure. Any religious " truth " established in 
this manner would possess the kind of reality which 
belongs to the hypotheses of science. But the 
apologists or religious beliefs who claim for them 
the validity belonging to scientific propositions, 
do not usually intend to place religious truths 
in the precarious position of hypotheses. They 
have in mind the kind of validity belonging to scien- 
tific laivs. This is quite another thing. The hy- 
pothesis of the ether and the law of the reflection of 
rays of light by polished surfaces, do not stand on 
the same level of certitude. The latter does not 
run the risk of being replaced by another law; it 
is final. No proposition can claim this absolute 
validity that is not empirically verifiable. This 
verification — in the strict sense in which science 
demands it — cannot be provided for most religious 
truths. 16 

The scientist's belief in fixed causal connections, 
for instance, can actually be shown to correspond 
to reality. Scientific investigation demonstrates, 
wherever it penetrates, orderly sequence and quan- 

10 I know that I shall be contradicted by many on the 
ground of their own " experience." These persons will have 
occasion to see below, in the discussion of Professor Bacon's 
affirmation concerning immortality, why their " experience " 
may be misleading. 


titative relations. The more searching the investi- 
gation, the fuller and the more precise is the demon- 
stration. If any one thinks it worth while to remark 
that no scientific demonstration of the intelligibility 
of the Universe is, or can be complete, since man 
will never know the whole of the Universe, the ob- 
vious answer is that, given the constitution of the 
human mind, the continuous success of science in 
establishing definite unchangeable relations is 
enough to warrant the assurance that the assumption 
which we cherish, because of our need of order, is 
legitimate. Not only do we want order, but we find 
it wherever we look for it. No corresponding state- 
ment may be made concerning the existence of an 
alleged moral order and of personal immortality. 
We do not find moral order wherever we seek for it, 
and we have not been able to verify the belief in 

Evolutionary science has made clear many things, 
but, alas, it has not uncovered the ultimate designs 
of Nature; and John Fiske's argument is lame un- 
less it be made to turn upon the existence of a per- 
sonal God : — 

" From the first dawning of life we see all things 
working together toward one mighty goal, the evo- 
lution of the most exalted spiritual qualities which 
characterize Humanity. . . . The more thoroughly 
we comprehend that process of evolution by which 
things have come to be what they are, the more we 
are likely to feel that to deny the everlasting per- 
sistence of the spiritual element in Man is to rob 
the whole process of its meaning." " The case may 


be fitly summed up in the statement that whereas 
in its rude beginnings the psychological life was but 
an appendage to the body, in fully developed Hu- 
manity the body is but the vehicle for the soul." " 

When we consider not merely what has taken 
place on this planet since man's appearance on it, 
but also the numberless other worlds at various 
stages of frigidity or organic activity, we do not 
find it possible to read in the brief span of human 
evolution an indication of an irrevocable purpose on 
the part of a Power directing the Universe. And, 
even if there be rational guidance, may not the form 
of consciousness known to man be a transitory stage 

" The Destiny of Man; 1887. Pages 113-116, 65. 

I am reminded here of the pathetic queries of a worthy 
lady who could not reconcile the Christian God of her cate- 
chism with what she saw about her. For twenty-five years 
this person succeeded in overcoming the doubts suggested by 
her experiences with a wicked world. After each new inner 
discussion, she would find again what she calls her " pilgrim's 
staff," i. e., her confidence in a Providence. A new and more 
perplexing experience than any of the preceding finally broke 
her staff, and led her to this naive solution of the problem 
of the relation of God to the world. " There came into my 
mind," she writes, " as clear as day that the contradiction 
between an all-good and all-powerful God and that which 
happens in the world, is due simply to the fact that God is 
absent from the world. He is indeed the Great Creator of 
whom the heavens declare the glory. He is indeed the Father 
of humanity, a tender Father who loves us. . . . If God were 
really in the world, he would not be idle, leaving his children 
exposed to all their enemies without and within. He would 
not be blind and unjust, making the tower of Shiloh fall on 
the passers-by who were no more guilty than others. From 
the point of view of our sufferings even, it is most sweet and 
consoling to feel that God is an absent Father. This last 
hypothesis lifts a heavy weight from my heart, for an absent 
father is no less a father." — Th. Flournoy: Observations de 
Psychologie Religieuse; Observation IV.; Archives de Psy- 
choloyie de la Suisse Romande; 1903. Vol. II, pages 342-347. 


to something else, we know not what ; leading some- 
where, we know not whither? 

But if human intelligence has not been able to 
demonstrate a moral purpose in every part of the 
Universe, there is no doubt of the presence in man 
of a moral trend or will. This is as well authen- 
ticated as any scientific fact. Morality, so far as 
we know anything about it, has its origin in human 
consciousness and grows pari passu with social life. 
Can we now with the same assurance with which we 
affirm that causal sequence, i. e., intelligibility, be- 
longs throughout to the Universe, assert also that 
morality is of its essence, co-extensive with it, and 
like it everlasting? Evidently not. We can affirm 
only that moral tendencies come into existence, ana 
that ideals gradually actualize themselves in human 
society: morality appears as co-extensive with it. 
So far and no further does science go ; it can merely 
affirm that morality is in process of formation and 
contingent upon circumstances no more permanent 
than the circumstances which make bodily life pos- 
sible. We may all desire that the Universe be in- 
formed with benevolence and justice, and some may 
even think they cannot live on worthily and con- 
tentedly unless it be so; but for that belief science 
provides at present no justification. 


Of the arguments we have reviewed, only the 
ethical argument and those drawn from evolution 


and from the conservation of values enjoy some de- 
gree of influence to-day, but not one of them, nor 
all together, is generally admitted among educated 
believers in immortality as an adequate proof. The 
contemporary world has grown suspicious of these 
arguments, and all that even the believer will claim 
is that at most they create a presumption in favor 
of immortality. 17 "The hope of immortality" is 
a favorite expression with theologians who are them- 
selves believers. The Rev. Washington Gladden 
speaks for the leaders of liberal orthodoxy in the 
United States when he writes, after setting forth 
arguments for immortality, that his belief is " of 
course, a glorious hope, a confidence, a strong ex- 
pectation; it can be nothing more." l8 

17 There are, I know, a few dissident voices among those 
who have a right to the consideration of the serious student. 
McTaggart, for instance, writes in Some Dogmas of Re- 
ligion, page 111, "Yet, I think that reasons for the belief 
in immortality may be found of such strength that they 
should prevail over all difficulties." It is to be noticed that 
this acute thinker holds that the arguments for preexistence 
are as strong as those for existence after death. If so, the 
prevalence in Christian countries of this last belief and the 
almost total absence of the former, offers a striking illus- 
tration of the effect of desire upon belief. 

15 From a "Symposium on Immortality" in the Congre- 
gutiouulist, Boston, 1904. See also The Christian Hope; A 
Study of the Doctrine of Immortality by Wm. A. Brown, 
professor at Union Theological Seminary, New York; Scrib- 
ner; 1912. 

If, nevertheless, I continue to speak of the " belief " in, 
and not of the " hope " of, immortality, it is for the sufficient 
reason that in reality belief and hope, run into each other: 
few beliefs are complete and constant, and few hopes do not 
grow at times into assurances. Those who, on surveying the 
grounds for the belief in immortality, conclude that they 
warrant no more than a hope, are not usually able to main- 
tain consistently that critical attitude. 


Whence this marked change in the attitude of 
the Christian world? Indications connect the 
change with a weakening of the belief in a moral 
Creator and with the diffusion of stricter standards 
of scientific demonstration. 

An interesting double outcome of the new attitude 
towards deductive arguments is that, on the one 
hand, men have sought with renewed energy a scien- 
tific demonstration of immortality ; and, on the other 
hand, have felt compelled to rely more and more 
for an assurance of it upon what they call " inner 
experience," i. e., an experience they think outside* 
the pale of science. We shall consider in the next 
chapter the scientific search for immortality; at 
present, let us address ourselves to the curious effort 
made to get rid of science and overcome skepticism 
by an appeal to inner experience. 

If metaphysical arguments can no longer be re- 
lied upon, where shall man find the assurance he 
needs? "In his own heart and conscience," is the 
reply. The reader will observe that this answer 
reflects the Ritschlian attitude. When it was at 
last clearly realized that science was an enemy to 
certain Christian dogmas, and that philosophy could 
not be relied upon to defend them, Ritschl embraced 
the only remaining possibility : he claimed a divorce 
both from science and from metaphysics and 
affirmed that theology was to be erected exclusively 
upon facts of immediate inner experience. "We 
are," say the Ritschlians, "to take our stand where 
Jesus took his stand, not upon logic, but upon the 


experience of the heart in its relation to God." 19 
I have pointed out that this strategic move, instead 
of delivering theology from science, implies a sur- 
render into the hands of psychology. 20 

The typical quotations which follow will serve to 
show both that metaphysics and scientific arguments 
are held to be insufficient, and that theologians seek 
to make themselves independent from scientific crit- 
icism in order to find a supposedly unshakable 
ground of belief in inner experience. I give the 
views not of professional philosophers, but of lead- 
ers and teachers among Christian believers, for it 
is with them that we are concerned. 

" I find, as time goes on," writes the Rev. Theo- 
dore Munger, "that the reasons for belief in im- 
mortality once held, while they do not wholly give 
way, yield to personal experience of it. One reason 
of this change is that as immortality belongs to the 
order of existence — a natural and not a miraculous 
fact — it must be realized in one's own experience, 
like every other truth in human life — that is, it is 
revealed through life. While this is a growing 

"In a recent book, Die Religionspsychologische Methode 
in Religionswissenschaft und Theologie, Professor Georg 
Wobbermin claims that theology and religion are invulnerable 
to science and to philosophy. By way of demonstration of 
this claim, he sets down an old fashioned dogma: " Affirma- 
tions of faith provide the highest possible ground for assur- 
ance in the objective existence of God, and for the truth of 
the Biblical revelation." I have reviewed that book at some 
length in the Social and Religious Psychology number of the 
Psychological Bulletin, Dec, 1915. 

20 A Psychological Study of Religion; Chapter XI — The- 
ology and Psychology. See on " The Theology that is a 
Branch of Psychology," the Harvard Theological Review for 
Oct., 1916. 


feature in Christian consciousness, there are, in 
my own case, two unlike facts attending it that 
have not only strong weight of evidence, but great 
spiritual uplift and comfort. I can but name 

" The first is drawn from the revelation of God 
in creation. The one purpose in creation from the 
first has been to produce man. Endless ages for 
production; a few years and he goes out of exist- 
ence! The improbability of this is so great that it 
sweeps away all the difficulties that cluster about 
death. . . . The other fact is the consciousness of 
Christ. I do not refer to his authoritative word, 
nor to his resurrection, however it be interpreted, 
but to the spontaneous and natural way in which he 
assumed the continuance of life forever. It was 
never a question with him, and hence he said so little 
about it. He predicates immortality as naturally 
as a bird predicates flight when it feels its wings. 
It had its ground in his absolute consciousness of 
the fatherhood of God; if he is the Father, how 
can he suffer his children to go out of existence? 
This seems to me to be the rock on which our hope 
of immortality is based." " 

A professor of theology in one of the foremost 
Presbyterian schools of the United States is con- 
vinced that " our human personal immortality can- 
not be proved as a fact, compelling assent after the 
fashion of proofs in physical or even in purely in- 
tellectual matters." The arguments customarily 

21 From a symposium published in the Congregationalist, 
Boston; 1904. 


adduced are well nigh " utterly futile." Where- 
from, then, shall the proof of immortality come? 
The professor's answer is: — 

" Any soul must come to grasp this truth of im- 
mortality by the way of first realizing it as a truth 
of its own very self, its being, its own life. . . . The 
simple truth is that I must first have the reality 
of immortality as an assurance included in my con- 
sciousness of my own being and life." But yet, how 
am I to know immortality? 

"As the truth of myself." " In large measure, 
I must come to realize immortality as of myself by 
the presence consciously in me of those things I in- 
stinctively sense as eternal, the immortal things, the 
things that have natural congruousness with, and 
so suggest, the idea." ..." There are things that 
the soul feels instinctively as eternal, immortal 
things. . . . The only way to have the sense of im- 
mortality within oneself is simply to live immortally. 
The soul must be kept clear — negatively — of the 
things of thought and life that are unfitted to im- 
mortality, and must cultivate and develop within 
itself positively the thoughts and dispositions and 
tastes and moods that are most naturally fitted to 
the thoughts and the sense of it. 

" Put into any soul, any life, the things that made 
up the soul, the life, of Jesus Christ; let the hu- 
mility, the purity, and the self-forgetting love, the 
devotion to the Father, that were in the soul of 
Christ, filling all his consciousness of himself and 
making up his life — let these things and their kind 
fill the conscious being of any man, and, in so far 


as this is done, he will tend to carry in himself the 
sense of his own Immortality." 2J 

This is as full a statement as I have read of the 
meaning of " falling back upon inner experience." 
As this argument is now frequently met with in the 
religious press, and as it finds credence even among 
distinguished professors of theology, it deserves 
critical consideration. It will be sufficient for our 
purpose to discuss the possible meaning of the sense 
of one's own immortality, which is said to be pro- 
duced in those who " sense as eternal " the virtues 
of humility, purity, and self-forgetting love. 

What are the characteristics of " the sense of im- 
mortality"? When we speak of feeling young or 
old, well or ill, we mean definite experiences marked, 
in the case of health, by clearness of sensation, quick- 
ness and vigor of motor response, relish for food, 
pleasant tone of consciousness, etc. ; and, in the case 
of illness, by pain, motor sluggishness and un- 
steadiness, diminished appetite, general inertia, un- 
pleasant tone of consciousness, etc. The expression 
" immortality feeling " can not mean in the passage 
quoted any one or several of the ordinary experi- 
ences, some of which have just been named; for it 
designates an alleged unique, specific feeling. Let 
us admit for the sake of argument that such a feel- 
ing exists. There remains an insuperable difficulty, 
namely, the passage from the feeling itself to the 
conviction that it signifies the immortality of the 
individual experiencing it. For, of course, a feeling 

22 Edward Everett Bacon: "The Argument for Immortal- 
ity"; The Outlook; New York; June 29, 1912. 


is in itself nothing but a subjective experience. If, 
when suffering from what is called a feeling of ill- 
ness, I say that my body is not in good order, I 
interpret the particular feeling or feelings. This 
I am able to do correctly because of the frequent 
connections I have established between my feelings 
and my physiological condition. I have found, for 
instance, that when a certain feeling was present, I 
could not walk without fatigue, I could not make 
certain movements without pain, I did not desire 
food, and suffered if I ate. Furthermore, men of 
science have established by observations and experi- 
ments, similar correlations between certain feelings 
and the condition of certain organs of the body; 
correlations which in part have become known to 
the laity. Therefore I say now with confidence, 
when I have these feelings, " My body," or " this 
part of my body, is disordered." But my knowl- 
edge of the disorganization of the bodily machine 
is, of course, not the feeling of illness. The former 
might exist without the latter. A striking instance 
of this is provided by the pronounced sense of well- 
being experienced by sufferers from progressive 

Has correspondence ever been observed between 
a specific feeling experienced in this life and the 
continuation after death of those possessing it? No 
one ever had the opportunity of observing that per- 
sons who had enjoyed the alleged feeling, or had 
practiced the virtues said to induce the feeling of 
immortality — humility, purity, self-forgetfulness 


etc. — had actually survived death. As a matter of 
fact, no one (spiritualists perhaps excepted) pre- 
tends to have made this observation. 

Any and every feeling, whatever name may be 
given to it, is incontrovertible in so far as the feeling 
itself, and no more, is affirmed. There is no con- 
tradicting one who merely affirms that he is joyful, 
or that he is sad ; nor one who declares that he feels 
sixteen years old, provided he does not claim, in 
addition, that he has lived only that number of years. 
But if he passes from the feeling of youthfulness 
to the affirmation that he is sixteen years old, then 
his claim is open to verification. He may be asked 
to produce his reasons, not for the feeling, but for 
his interpretation of it. The theologians who write 
as our author does, do not seem to know that no 
particular feeling can of itself signify personal im- 

The " inner experience " which, these theologians 
say, should and does convince of immortality is no 
other than a sense of the worth of human life and 
the realization that this life can be rationally and 
morally satisfactory only if the good, or the su- 
premely good endures. Professor Bacon's argument 
is, therefore, at bottom, no more than a disguised 
statement of the moral argument. 



The primary belief in continuation possessed the 
incontrovertible validity belonging to facts of 
sensory experience. Because of the nature of its 
origin, the modern belief in fulfillment after death 
lacks this certainty, and the protracted efforts 
that have been made to gain for it metaphysical 
certitude have secured at best no more than a hope 
of its reality. Under these circumstances, it would 
have been strange indeed if in the present scientific 
age systematic efforts had not been made to lift 
the modern belief above the parlous state in which 
it was left by metaphysics. If a direct sensory 
demonstration or an inductive scientific proof could 
be secured, the modern belief would have gained the 
assurance it now lacks. 

A recent widespread effort to provide such proof 
began a few decades ago and continues unabated to 
this day. I allude to the kind of researches seen 
at their best in the work of the " Society for 
Psychical Research." This may be regarded as the 
only new development in the history of the belief 
since the production of the metaphysical proofs. 

The literature on psychical research has become 
vast and intricate and a critical discussion of it 


would be so lengthy, and to most people so tedious, 
that I shall refer the reader to the original reports ' 
and content myself with brief statements on three 
topics: the methods of research, the results so far 
secured, and the nature of the future life which the 
alleged evidence would disclose. For the sake of 
convenience I shall use " spirit " and " spirit com- 
munication " instead of " alleged spirit " and " al- 
leged communication." 


Spirit manifestations may be divided for con- 
venience into two classes: the physical manifesta- 
tions, such as movement of objects, production of 
noises or music, materialization of spirits, and the 
like; and the psychical manifestations, namely the 
production of ideas, feelings, desires, or purposes, 
either in a " medium " used as a transmitter, or 
directly in the person with whom the spirit wishes 
to communicate. 

The outcome of observations under partial scien- 
tific control that have been permitted by some me- 
diums is now generally regarded as totally discredit- 
ing the spiritistic origin of the physical manifesta- 
tions; and also, though less conclusively, as dis- 
crediting any interpretation involving other than 
ordinary physical powers. The case against these 
alleged manifestations was made only the more con- 
vincing by the last great claimant to supernormal 
power, Eusapia Palladino. This noted medium sub- 

1 Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. 
(Twenty-seven volumes have already been issued.) 


mitted to several investigations usually, however, 
under her own conditions or her conditions only 
slightly altered. The most thorough of these in- 
vestigations was carried out between 1905 and 1907 
under the auspices of the Institut General Psycho- 
logique.' In this investigation a number of well- 
known scientists participated, notably the physicists 
Curie and d'Arsonval. 

These experiments discovered not only a number 
of tricks, but also Palladino's rooted aversion to 
really scientific control and the impotency to which 
she is reduced when she submits to conditions satis- 
factory to the investigators. One of the interesting 
discoveries of this committee was made by means of 
a device recording, unknown to the medium, the 
weight of the chair in which she sat during the table- 
levitation performances. It was found that when- 
ever the two feet of the table on her side, or three, 
or all four feet of the table were lifted, there was 
an increase in her weight, corresponding to the 
weight of the table. And whenever the two feet 
opposite the end at which Eusapia was seated were 
lifted, the apparatus recorded a decrease in her 
weight, i. e., just what would be expected on the 
supposition that she pressed upon the near end of 
the table in order to cause the raising of the op- 
posite end. 

Her success in deflecting " without contact " a 
delicate balance gave way to complete failure when 

2 Dr. Jules Courtier: Rapport sur les Seances d'Eusapia 
Palladino. Published by the Institute General Psychologique; 
Paris; Vol. VIII, 1908. Pages 415-518. 


it was protected in various ways devised for the pur- 
pose. It was, moreover, discovered that a long hair 
and a pin were among the apparatus apparently re- 
quired for her demonstrations. 

That cheating is a conspicuous feature of her 
performances is recognized not only by the French 
Committee, but by all those who have had her under 
observation. The French Report admits, neverthe- 
less, the possibility of the possession by Palladino 
of an unknown power. It is argued that deception 
in a medium does not preclude the possession of 
supernormal power. One may in principle agree 
with William James that it is " dramatically impos- 
sible that the swindling should not have accreted 
around some originally genuine nucleus," 3 provided 
it be admitted that fraudulent performances of one 
kind may have accreted around genuine phenomena 
of another kind. The wonders of the early mes- 
merizers may, for instance, have been the starting 
point for the production of other, never genuinely 
produced performances ; or, the first, the honest per- 
formance may have been a trance, a vision, a cure 
which established a reputation for wonder-working. 
May we not admit that in an effort to maintain that 
reputation, persons have tried to cause objects to 
move without touching them? That is a power at- 
tributed fairly commonly to magic. And, failing 
in this, may not some of these would-be magicians 
prefer deception to renunciation ? A full knowledge 

'"Confidences of a Psychical Researcher"; American 
Magazine; October, 1909. 


of the beginning of the career of mediums would 
solve this problem. 

It cannot be denied that deception in a medium 
does not of itself preclude the possession of super- 
normal power. Yet, there may be realized a combi- 
nation of frequency of deception, kinds of perform- 
ance, and nature of the required conditions which 
would decrease to the vanishing point the prob- 
ability of the presence in the medium of a super- 
normal force. That combination is ralized, I think, 
in the case of Palladino. When before the French 
investigators she operated under the following con- 
ditions: — 

The room in which the experiments were made 
was darkened, and, at times, quite dark. The 
darker the room, we are told, the more remarkable 
the performance. The ,control of the medium's 
hands was theoretically secured by two persons, each 
holding one of hers; but in practice she insisted, 
when she chose, upon the right to place her hands 
on those of the controllers; end even, at times, to 
give them gentle taps instead of remaining in con- 
tact with them. Corresponding conditions existed 
as to the control of her feet. During the sittings 
her hands were ever in motion, carrying with them 
those of the controllers. She refused to have pieces 
of tape seven centimeters long sewed between her 
sleeves and those of the controllers. She refused to 
allow observers to be stationed in the room elsewhere 
than around the table. After the first instantaneous 
photograph had been taken by flashlight, she refused 
to permit any to be taken without warning, on the 


ground that it caused her a painful shock. She did 
not propose to wear dark glasses, but expressed her 
willingness to give the signal herself, " fuoco " ! 

Together with these facts must be weighed two 
important considerations : the performances in which 
she was not caught at tricks are of the same sort 
as those in which she was ; and every one of the con- 
ditions she maintained against the wish of the in- 
vestigators favors deception. Why must there be 
a cabinet closed in front by a curtain? Why must 
the stand, the clay, and other objects be within reach 
of her hands or feet? Why the poor illumination? 
Why was she not willing to suffer the annoyance 
of an unexpected flash of light and of a safe control 
of her hands and feet at least during certain sittings 
or parts of sittings, when the alleged power was 
with her? Were she occasionally honest, she might, 
it seems, occasionally dispense with some or all of 
these suspicious circumstances. 

That certain conditions must be observed in order 
to make possible the manifestation of any power is 
not disputed. But why is it that the required con- 
ditions are here precisely those that would give the 
medium a chance of cheating — of, for instance, sur- 
reptitiously freeing her hands and feet, were she to 
need their assistance. It is either because every one 
of her productions is a trick, or because she is so 
uncertain of the availability of her supernormal 
power or so frequently averse to using it that she 
is prepared in every instance to work by prestidigi- 
tation, should she prefer or find it necessary to do 


so. But, as she has, so far as I am aware, insisted 
from the beginning upon these conditions, and as 
other mediums have always done likewise, there is 
the strongest presumption against the second sup- 

We need not be deterred from a negative conclu- 
sion by the sitters' declaration that they cannot 
possibly understand how, in light sufficient for ob- 
servation and with her hands and feet under control, 
Palladino could by normal means accomplish certain 
of the things they have seen her do. Photography 
shows how unable they were to realize what was 
going on. In the only photograph taken without 
warning, Eusapia is actually lifting the table with 
her hands, while the controllers have theirs upon 
hers; and yet they were not aware of her action. 
In another photograph, the stand they thought they 
had seen floating freely in the air appears supported 
on the medium's neck and head. Their judgment as 
to the sufficiency of light and the occupation of the 
medium's hands while under control can evidently 
not be relied upon. 

What is true of Palladino is true in substance of 
all mediums so far as the production of physical 
phenomena is concerned. The physical manifesta- 
tions with which mediums have entertained and 
puzzled the world do not point to the existence of 
spirits, or even in my opinion to supernormal powers 
of any sort.' 

4 Palladino's public career came to an end in New York 
in 1910, when, after certain seances at the house of Prof. 
Herbert Lord of Columbia University, her clever practices 



The conclusion to be drawn from the mass of 
evidence accumulated during the last twenty-five 
years as to the origin of the psychical manifesta- 
tions, the chief of which are the " messages " pur- 
porting to come from disincarnate spirits, is much 
less definite than in the case of the physical mani- 
festations. The most famous of the living spirit- 
mediums is doubtless Mrs. Piper of Boston. No 
other medium has been so carefully and so long 
studied by so many able investigators, and none has 
contributed so much that seems beyond the inge- 
nuity of any one to explain. Accounts of her 
seances fill many thousand pages of the Proceed'r.ajx, 
The stage-setting of these seances is somewhat com- 
plicated. The medium passes into a trance and 
speaks or writes automatically, messages purport- 
ing to come from some spirit; but this communi- 
cating spirit is introduced and superintended by a 
familiar spirit called the " control." Mrs. Piper's 
reputation for honesty has never been shaken. 

Instead of entering into a critical analysis of 
Mrs. Piper's utterances, 5 I shall devote the space 
at my disposal to the more decisive experiments in 
cross-correspondences, the latest and most promis- 

were heartlessly exposed. Readers who wish to know what 
can be seen at Palladino's seances by observers concealed in 
a bureau provided with a peephole, or flat on the floor under 
the table, should read Collier's Weekly, May 14, 1910; and the 
Neiv York Times, May 12, and following numbers. 

r> See the Proceedings of the English and of the American 
S. P. R. Several years ago I examined critically in " Em- 
pirical Data on Immortality," International Journal of Eth- 
ics, 1903, XIV, pages 90-105, a voluminous report of Dr. 
Hyslop upon a number of sittings given him by Mrs. Piper. 


ing method for arriving at a settlement of the ques- 
tion of survival after death. When a medium makes 
a statement descriptive of some past event, and it is 
left to the sitter to prove that neither he nor the 
medium, nor perhaps any one living, ever had knowl- 
edge of that event, the task is, to say the least, very 
difficult; in fact it is usually quite impossible of 
performance, for memory is not to be relied upon. 
Cross-correspondence is unfortunately not free from 
this difficulty. The theory is that if several persons 
receive messages which when taken singly have no 
meaning, but make sense when put together, we 
should have to admit — on the supposition that 
fraud is excluded — that those messages have been 
suggested to the percipients by some mind. If, 
moreover, the thing communicated does not seem to 
have been possibly within the knowledge of any one 
of the percipients ; and if it is discovered that some 
dead person possessed that knowledge when on 
earth; and, finally, if that person is mentioned by 
name as the communicator in one or several of the 
unintelligible parts of the message, then, at least a 
strong presumption in favor of the existence of that 
spirit would have been produced. 

The experiments in cross-correspondence (Proe. 
vols. XX-XXVII) have been conducted chiefly 
through three English ladies, one of them residing 
in India, and Mrs. Piper. Chance coincidence is 
absolutely insufficient to account for the results 
secured, and collusion is rejected by all those who 
know something of these persons and of the con- 
ditions of the tests. There is apparently no escape 


from the conclusion reached by that acute critic and 
tenacious skeptic, Frank Podmore : " The automa- 
tists unquestionably show that they possess informa- 
tion which would not have reached their conscious- 
ness by normal means." ' Whether the explanation 
of these mysterious cross-correspondences will be 
found in telepathy acting at any distance, taken 
together with the well-known fact of the reappear- 
ance in certain mental states (in trance-conscious- 
ness, for instance) of things once known but long- 
forgotten, even of things of which we never had 
more than an imperfect knowledge and should at 
no time have been able to reproduce correctly, re- 
mains for future investigations to disclose. As long 
as we can affirm with Podmore that " the trance per- 
sonalities have never told us anything which was 
not probably within the knowledge of some living 
person," telepathy will appear the more plausible 
and the less revolutionary hypothesis. But who 
will venture to formulate the test which will mark 
particular messages as not within the " possibly 
known " to some one living anywhere on the surface 
of the globe? 

The telepathic hypothesis of spirit-message re- 
ceives support from the nature of the com- 
munications made by the alleged spirits regarding 
their state and the circumstances of their exist- 
ence. They have been fairly loquacious; yet not 
any of them, not even those from whom much could 
have been expected, have revealed anything at 

8 The New Spiritualism; page 302. For a resume of the 
most striking cross-correspondence, see pages 237-276. 


all. More significant still than the insignificance of 
the remarks of these alleged spirits concerning the 
other life, is their pertinacious effort to avoid 
answering the many and pointed questions addressed 
to them on that subject. From Richard Hodgson, 
the late secretary of the Society, nothing enlighten- 
ing has been learned, despite his haste in announc- 
ing his existence. For several years after his death, 
Mrs. Piper scarcely held a sitting without some 
manifestation of what professed to be Hodgson's 
spirit. He talked abundantly of trifling incidents, 
presumably for the purpose of establishing his iden- 
tity; but when questioned concerning the cir- 
cumstances of his existence, he either driveled or ex- 
cused himself clumsily and departed. Frederick 
Myers and Wm. James have been equally disappoint- 

It has been urged that the spirits may find it 
difficult to work with the muscular mechanism of 
the medium; a disincarnate soul may be inefficient 
in the matter of bodily control. He may also be 
for a time not fully conscious and muddled. The 
fact is, however, that they do communicate a great 
many things ; it takes volumes to record their utter- 
ances! The difficulties are apparently of such a 
peculiar nature that nothing concerning the other 
life, and only things that have taken place on this 
earth, transpire. None of the hypotheses offered 
accounts for this puzzling aspect of the communica- 
tions, not even the latest suggestion which would 
shift the blame from the spirit to the medium. 
Here we are asked to admit that because of the 


peculiar condition of spirit-existence, the spirit's 
mental content is transmitted whole to the medium ; 
in a lump, as it were; instead of coming out in the 
organized and selected form which is insured by nor- 
mal speech. 7 Were it so, it would be no wonder 
should the medium get confused, contradict himself, 
and speak irrelevantly. But why, when he knows 
that the sitter seeks information on things above, 
does the medium not succeed once in a while in choos- 
ing, in the total consciousness of the spirit, some- 
thing which would gratify the sitter's curiosity; 
why are the things picked out always meaningless, 
ridiculous or trifling? To this pertinent question 
no satisfactory answer has ever been given. The 
limitation of the knowledge of the alleged spirits to 
earthly facts points to an earthly origin of the 
medium's information. 

It is sometimes supposed that all the prominent 
researchers have come to accept spirit survival. 
This is far from true. Henry Sidgwick one of the 
most earnest and influential of the founders of the 
S. P. R., ready enough though he was to believe, died, 
according to the report of his friend, Wm. James, 
" in the same identical state of doubt and of balance 
in which he started." 8 And Wm. James himself, 
who is often mentioned as an out and out believer 
in spiritism, wrote not long before his death, " For 
25 years I have been in touch with the literature of 
Psychical Research, and I have been acquainted with 

7 James Hyslop: Psychical Research and Survival; 1913 
Page 126. See also pages 129, 131. 
9 American Magazine, October, 1909. 


numerous researchers. . . . Yet I am theoretically 
no further than I was at the beginning." ' He 
maintained consistently throughout his life an at- 
titude of suspended judgment regarding the 
" proofs " of spirit existence. Both his open mind- 
edness and his negative attitude as to the results, 
appear clearly in his comments on certain sittings 
Mrs. Piper gave him, in which his lately deceased 
friend Richard Hodgson was supposed to have com- 
municated, " I therefore repeat that if ever our 
growing familiarity with these phenomena should 
tend more and more to corroborate the hypothesis 
that ' spirits ' play some part in their production, 
I shall be quite ready to undeafen my ears, and to 
revoke the negative conclusions of this limited re- 
port." l0 

9 Loc. cit. 

10 Proc; Vol. XXIII; 1909; page 29. 

It may be added that James did not desire the demonstra- 
tion of the spiritistic hypothesis. He never accepted the 
" soul " theory, in part for lack of evidence and in part be- 
cause he could not make any use of the notion of a simple, 
permanent essence. There was no room in his philosophy 
for the survival after death of individual souls. These two 
negations — no soul and the loss of personal identity after 
death — were early established in the mind of the American 
philosopher. And yet, he was far from believing that death 
ends all. Almost as early as his denial of a soul, one finds 
him surmising, if not affirming', that although man does not 
preserve his identity beyond death, he becomes at death in 
some way an immortal partaker in a superhuman conscious- 
ness. The idea of a " sea of consciousness " in which we are 
somehow plunged, was one of James's fundamental beliefs, 
or rather, to use his own term, " overbeliefs." 

The best history of mediumship is Frank Podmore's Mod- 
ern Spiritualism: A History and a Criticism, 2 vols.; Lon- 
don; Methuen & Co. Brought up to date in The Neiver 
Spiritualism; New York; Henry Holt & Company; 1911. 


Whether the results of the S. P. R. are regarded 
as proving survival or not, it must be admit- 
ted that no amount of ingenuity in explanation 
and no optimism can hide the unattractiveness of 
the glimpses that may have been caught of the other 
life ; there is no hint in these glimpses of any glori- 
fication; nor, for that matter, of any retribution. 
That other world would come much closer to a real- 
ization of the primary than of the modern concep- 
tion of continuation. The disincarnate souls ap- 
pear on the whole as enfeebled and inefficient replica 
of earthly beings. This is not the kind of con- 
tinuation which the modern world desires; it lacks 
the essential features of the Christian conception of 


The numerous alleged apparitions of persons once 
on earth can have demonstrative value only if the 
hypothesis of hallucination is excluded, and if, be- 
sides, sufficient proof is given of the identity of the 
ghost. Should we admit that these conditions have 
been realized in the case of Christ, the immortality 
of man would not thereby have been established, 
since, according to orthodox Christianity, Christ 
was human only by his mother. The rising from 
the dead of a divine being could not prove that mere 
man will conquer death. In good logic, only dis- 
believers in the supernatural birth, who nevertheless 
accept the historical records of Christ's resurrection 


as convincing, may rely upon him as a witness of 
the possibility of their own immortality." 

As a matter of fact, Christians who have embraced 
the unitarian heresy, and such Christians are now 
found in most of our churches, usually profess doubt 
as to the sufficiency of the records. And contem- 
porary theologians are wont to speak of Christ's re- 
surrection as warranting a hope of immortality and 
no more. Professor Wm. A. Brown of Union Theo- 
logical Seminary (New York) concludes his con- 
sideration of immortality by this affirmation, " The 
most that we can hope to prove by testimony is that 
something happened in the past." " 

The deeper influence of Christ upon the belief 
in immortality is after all not due to his alleged 
resurrection but to his life and to his own belief in 
human immortality. When he convinces men of im- 
mortality, it is not so much because they believe he 
rose from the dead, as because he is thought to have 
taught resurrection and because he lived, so at 
least it seems to them, as an immortal being would 
live. The reported fact of the resurrection is it- 
self, one may hold, a consequence of the intensity to 
which the motives for the belief in fulfillment after 
death had been stimulated by the commanding per- 
sonality of the founder of Christianity. For the 
rest, the influence of the belief in the resurrection is 
probably enormously exaggerated. It is not Christ 

11 But, as one of my reviewers remarks, "the resurrection 
of Christ establishes beyond doubt that view of the universe 
of which belief in God and immortality is an integral part." 

'" The Christian Hope: A Study of the Doctrine of Im- 
mortality; Scribner; 1912. Page 179. 


who brought into the world the hope of immortality ; 
for not only the hope, but the belief had at the be- 
ginning of our era already become the possession 
of many in Palestine as well as elsewhere. 

The outcome of the last two chapters is that the 
metaphysical proofs of immortality are admittedly 
inadequate; that the ground of that belief when it 
is based on " inner experience " is really the naive 
conviction that human life at its best is too precious 
to end with death, and that survival is demanded 
for the gratification of ideal desires ; and finally that 
the effort to prove modern immortality by the 
methods of science has so far remained inconclusive. 




In the present status of religion and of phi- 
losophy, there is only one fundamentally significant 
classification of the various conceptions of God. 
On the one side must be placed the conceptions that 
are consistent with the means of worship common 
to all religions, original Buddhism and Comtism 
excepted; on the other, those that are not. Every 
book of worship at present in use implies a Being in 
direct affective and intellectual relation with his 
worshipers; a Being, therefore, endowed with will, 
feeling, and intelligence. The surrender of that 
conception would mean either the disappearance or 
the radical transformation of practically all the re- 
ligions known to history. 

Who would recognize the Christian religion, either 
Protestant or Roman Catholic, were all traces of 
direct communication with the Divinity now indi- 
cated in its liturgies to be removed? The Christian 
God and the unknowable First Cause of Spencer, or 
the impassible Absolute of most contemporary 


philosophers, are essentially different conceptions 
which can be used interchangeably neither in religion 
nor in philosophy. 1 

I have called those beings who hold the direct 
personal relations with man characteristic of the 
worship of the historical religions, " personal gods." 
It is with the gods of that description only that we 
are concerned in this volume. 

The expression " personal immortality " is 
usually understood to mean the continuation after 
death of the conscious individual and implies the 
continuation of the sense of one's identity. Any 
conception which does not include this sense of iden- 
tity is not the one intended here.' 

The beliefs in a personal God and in a personal 
immortality are regarded as cardinal tenets of 
Christianity, and, many would hold, of every pos- 
sible religion. Yet, in the absence of any reliable 
knowledge, the widest divergence of opinion exists 
regarding their prevalence in Christian countries. 
Pulpit orators assert, for instance, that scientists 
and philosophers, with few exceptions, share with 
them the " fundamentals " of the Christian faith. 
On the other hand, " free thinkers " declare that no 
man of science can accept the Christian beliefs ; and 
that, as to the clergy, they are mostly dissemblers. 
One of my correspondents, a chemist, adds to a 
declaration of belief in God and immortality, " You 

1 See the preface of this book for some remarks concerning 
the meanings of the term " God." 

' For the sake of brevity, I shall in the sequel omit usually 
the adjective " personal," both with reference to God and to 


will find that 90 per cent, of the chemists of this 
country believe as I do." But another chemist, a 
disbeliever, informs me that no more than 40 per 
cent, of his brother chemists accept these two be- 
liefs. If men of science accustomed to accuracy in 
the gathering and weighing of evidence, diverge to 
that extent when speaking of their own profession, 
what reliance can be placed upon the opinion of those 
who lack those advantages? 

Although valuable statistics on almost every pos- 
sible subject have been compiled, none really signifi- 
cant have been attempted regarding the beliefs in 
which we are interested. Is it because there would 
be no gain in definite knowledge? Who would ven- 
ture that assertion? It is rather the old desire to 
protect " holy things " from too close scrutiny, and 
also the more or less unconscious antagonism of those 
interested in the maintenance of the status quo in 
religion that have stood in the way of those who 
might have been disposed to face the difficulties of a 
statistical investigation of religious convictions. 

It has seemed to me desirable on general theoreti- 
cal ground, as well as for reasons of practical im- 
portance to religion, to add to the study of the ori- 
gins of the belief in immortality presented in this 
book, and to the study of the origins of gods set 
forth in a preceding volume, a statistical and psy- 
chological inquiry into the present status of these 
beliefs among us. Studies of origin, when not 
brought into comparison with present conditions, 
lose much of their import. If a knowledge of the 
past is necessary to a full understanding of the 


present, acquaintance with the living present is no 
less indispensable to a complete understanding of 
the past. 

Limited in its scope as it is, the present research 
will, nevertheless, I hope, be found worthy of atten- 
tion not only by the students of religion, but also by 
those interested in the possibilities of the statistical 
method. The sociologist speaks freely of develop- 
ment and of progress, but he has measured only 
material changes. He may state with sufficient pre- 
cision changes in the wealth of a nation and in 
church membership ; but he cannot express definitely 
the alterations that have taken place in the con- 
ceptions and convictions of men. For instance, 
there exists no information that would make possi- 
ble a reliable statistical comparison of the religious 
ideas and beliefs of the Europe of the beginning of 
the last century with those of the present. And 
yet, changes in conceptions and convictions are more 
indicative than wealth of profound social transfor- 
mations. Statistics of belief, similarly computed at 
different periods, would provide a measure of some 
of the changes that take place in the moral life of 
a given population. The influences upon religious 
beliefs of general intellectual ability and of knowl- 
edge of definite kinds could also be ascertained, did 
we but possess statistics established separately for 
groups of men differing in these respects. Recent 
researches have shown that problems seemingly as 
difficult can be solved by the statistical method.' 

* I allude to the work of James McKeen Cattell, Karl Pear- 
son, Edward Thorndike, Dr. James Woods, and others, on 


To religion itself, the significance of an exact 
/rnov. | the present trend of fundamental be- 

liefs could not easily be overstated. In order to ful- 
fill effectively their mission, religious teachers must 
e needs of men, their hopes, beliefs, and 
unbeliefs. It is, furthermore, essential to intellect- 
ual and moral progress that the beliefs that come into 
existence should have free play. New beliefs must 
:he chance of proving their worth in open con- 
test But a fair struggle cannot take place when 
people are dissuaded from seeking knowledge, or 
when knowledge is hidden. 

A few years ago I began, at first rather tenta- 
tively, an attempt to determine scientifically the 
. aenee in particular classes :: persons, of the be- 
liefs in God and immortality. In the earlier inves- 
ted at the same time at securing in- 
formation as intimate as possible on certain aspects 
of religious life. The groups chosen for study were 
srican students, scientists, historians, sociolo- 
gists, psychologists, and philosophers. The choice 
of these groups was determined chiefly by the fact 
.--.-: : :heir intelligence, habits 
and knowledge, may be regarded as in 
anguard of progress; their opinions represent 
probably the public opinion of to-morrow. I was also 
asses the possibility they af- 
forded of correlating belief and unbelief with the 
kind of knowledge, possessed by the believer or un- 
believer, and with the possession of certain traits 

hered " - productive of insanity, of 

:ellectual ability, etc. 


upon which depend success in intellectual and other 
pursuits. The existence of authoritative lists of 
the persons belonging to these several groups was 
also a circumstance of considerable advantage to me. 
Before presenting the results secured, I should 
like to offer some critical comments on the kind of 
statistical inquiries and the symposia which have so 
far taken the place of scientific statistics. 

Critical Remarks upon Recent Symposia and Sta- 
tistical Investigations. — The past twenty years have 
seen the publication of many symposia and statistical 
inquiries on God and immortality. 4 Most of the sym- 
posia are mere collections of edifying testimonies 
possessing no statistical value whatsoever. Near- 
ly all of them produce upon the average reader 
the impression of a more or less universal accept- 
ance of the beliefs in behalf of which they speak. 
Publish two hundred attestations of a particular 
opinion upon any question, gathered from among a 
population of one million persons, and the great ma- 
jority of the readers will not be able to resist the be- 
lief that that opinion is the dominant one in the pop- 

4 Clara Spalding Ellis: What's Next? Or Shall a Man Live 
Again? Richard G. Badger; Boston. 

Robert J. Thompson: The Proof of Life After Death; A 
Twentieth Century Symposium: Chicago, 1902. 

E. D. Adams: This Life and the Next; Impressions and 
Thoughts of Notable Men and Women from Plato to Ruskin: 
London; 1902. 

Samuel J. Barrows: Science and Immortality; The Chris- 
tian Register Symposium Revised and Enlarged: Boston; 
Geo. H. Ellis; 1887. 

Arthur H. Tabrum: Religious Beliefs of Scientists; A 
Reply to a Challenge by the Rationalistic Press Association 
of Great Britain: Hunter and Longhurst; London; 1913 
(140 letters from English scientists). 


illation to which these two hundred persons belong. 
Whereas it is theoretically possible that every one of 
the 999,800 silent ones hold another opinion. 

What, for instance, is the significance of the two 
hundred testimonies of Christian belief gathered by 
Clara Spaulding Ellis — the largest collection of the 
kind with which I am acquainted? Two hundred 
voices belonging to several generations of people of 
many nationalties, is one voice in a million. They 
belong, it is true, to the upper classes. Let us say, 
then, that they represent one person in ten thousand. 
What are the opinions of the nine hundred and 
ninety-nine others? 

To this illusion produced by symposia is usually 
added deception — unintentional, to be sure — of 
considerable importance. Because of insufficient 
definition of the terms upon which the meaning of 
the testimonies turns, the testifiers are understood 
to support opinions which frequently are not theirs. 
A recent volume entitled Religious Beliefs of Scien- 
tists provides a notable illustration of this. The 
book is an attempt " to ascertain the truth or falsity 
of certain assertions made by Freethinkers and Ag- 
nostics, and other opponents of religion." Here are 
two of these assertions: " It is extremely doubtful 
whether any scientist or philosopher really holds the 
doctrine of a personal God " ; " Beyond all question 
the higher culture of America is rationalistic from 
New York to California. " These are reckless as- 
sertions, but our present concern is with the attempt 
of the author of the book mentioned to prove them 
false, and not with their reliability. He addressed 


to a number of scientists, nearly all British, these 
two questions: 

" Is there any real conflict between the facts of 
science and the fundamentals of Christianity?" 
" Has it been your experience to find men of science 
irreligious and anti-Christian?" 

The hundred and forty scientists who answered 
are nearly all men past middle life, many are very 
old, and quite a number are now dead. They do not 
therefore represent the beliefs of the rising, but of 
the passing generation of English men of science. 

The significance of this inquiry turns upon the 
meaning attached to the expression " the funda- 
mentals of Christianity." The author does not de- 
fine it; he does not even ask his correspondents to 
say what meaning they ascribe to that expression. 
As a matter of fact, very few have thought it neces- 
sary to be explicit. When they affirm, of themselves 
or of others, a " deeply religious " disposition, one 
very properly wonders whether to understand acces- 
sibility to awe and reverence, which, we are told on 
every hand are " the fundamental religious emo- 
tions " ; or whether to suppose that, in addition to 
these emotions shared by all pagans with Christians, 
these persons hold as essential to salvation a belief 
in the Apostles' and Nicean creeds. 

That great men of science should have been con- 
tent to express themselves in terms so absurdly in- 
definite, would be incredible if one did not know that 
it is a still widespread habit not to think about re- 
ligion ; and that, should you have transgressed this 
rule, you are expected to hold your peace, or to speak 


with so much discretion that the sway of the tenets 
you now disbelieve may remain unshaken. 

" I am not able to write you at length," says Lord 
Rayleigh, " but I may say that in my opinion true 
Science and true Religion neither are, nor could be 
opposed." Sir William Ramsey, James Ward, and 
dozens of others, write just as unexplicitly. The 
former holds that " between the essential truth of 
Christianity and the established facts of Science 
there is no real antagonism " ; and the latter is of 
the opinion that " there is not and never can be any 
opposition between Science and Religion, any more 
than there can be any between Grammar and Re- 
ligion." But neither of these men says what he 
means by " religion," or by the " essential truth of 
Christianity " ; and yet it is well known that the wid- 
est divergences of views exist regarding the truths 
esential to Christianity. 

The distinguished psychologist, Professor G. F. 
Stout, is an exception to the rule. He knows that in 
answering the queries of Mr. Tabrum, the meaning 
of " essentials of Christianity " must be explicitly 
stated under penalty of utter confusion. He writes, 
" I should also agree in a sense that there is no an- 
tagonism between the established facts of Science 
and the fundamental teachings of Christianity, but I 
should define ' fundamental teachings of Christian- 
ity ' as those elements of Christian doctrine which 
have given Christianity its influence for good in the 
world. What are these?" Stout does not answer 
this question, but his published writings, warrant, it 
appears to me, the statement that the influence he 


acknowledges is essentially independent of inspira- 
tion, revelation, the divinity 5 of Christ, and even of 
the existence of a benevolent God who hears and 
may answer man's desire and supplications. Nev- 
ertheless, the majority of the readers of that book 
will probably put Professor Stout on Tabrum's side 
of the controversy. 

This book, worthless to one desiring to know what 
English scientists really believe, is useful as a dem- 
onstration of the ambiguities tolerated in religious 
matters, not only by the muddle headed and igno- 
rant, but even by acute minds trained in the accurate 
methods of science. 

With one exception, the researches in statistical 
form upon Immortality and other religious beliefs ° 
are completely meaningless when considered as sta- 
tistics. One of these will serve the purpose of 
bringing out the essential conditions to be fulfilled 
by a valid statistical inquiry in this field. 

In The Religion of One Hundred and Twentij-Six 
College Students are to be found tables purporting to 

5 I use these words in their historical, doctrinal meaning, 
not in the sense which would make every man " inspired " 
and " divine." 

F. C. S. Schiller: " The answers to the American Branch's 
Questionnaire regarding Human Sentiment as to a Future 
Life," Proc. of the Soc. for Psychical Research; Part 49; 
1904. Vol. XVIII; pages 416-450. Reproduced in substance 
in Humanism; London; Macmillan; 1903. 

Morse and Allen: "The Religion of One Hundred and 
Twenty-six College Students " : Journal of Religious Psy- 
chology; 1913; Vol. VII; pages 175-194. 

Simon Spidle: "The Belief in Immortality": Journal of 
Religious Psychology; 1912; Vol. V; pages 5-51. 

Colin A. Scott: "Old Age and Death": Ameriacn Journal 
of Psychology; 1890; Vol. VIII. 


give information upon the number of students of a 
certain college who pray, attend church, believe in 
immortality, and upon other related topics. It ap- 
pears, in particular, that one hundred students pray 
and that twenty-six do not. We knew already that 
many American students pray; what more do we 
know now? Nothing more, since we are left in the 
dark concerning over two-thirds (274) of the stu- 
dents who received the questions and left them un- 
answered. Should these be dominantly non-praying 
persons, the religious status of the college would be 
altogether different from what the incomplete statis- 
tics offered us seem to indicate. The facts gathered 
have no statistical value whatsoever. In order to be 
valid for a whole group, a statistical investigation 
must include every member or nearly every mem- 
ber of it; or, if a part of the group is used as re- 
presenting the whole, it must be an unselected and 
not too small fraction of the whole. 

The exception to which I referred above, is the inquiry 
of the American Branch of the Society for Psychical Re- 
search. It is, however, concerned not with the number of be- 
lievers in immortality, but with other problems, mainly the 
desire for it. Even that investigation is not free from ob- 
jection since the Questionnaire was " quite random and un- 
systematic," and since it was answered by much less than 
one-third of those to whom it was addressed directly or 
through its publication in various journals. As it was circu- 
lated chiefly by the members of the Society for Psychical Re- 
search and in spiritualistic circle (several spiritualistic jour- 
nals reprinted the questions), the reported number of believ- 
ers is obviously unduly large. This, Dr. Schiller himself ad- 
mits. The investigation is nevertheless very far from worth- 
less; the methodological defect influences, in fact, only the re- 
sults secured by the first question (Would you prefer to live 
after death or not?). The five other questions are addressed 
to those who have answered the first. Now, all, or nearly all 
of those who answered the first answered also the last five 
questions. Thus, while this inquiry contributes nothing 


definite to the general statistics of belief in immortality, it 
provides valid statistical information upon the persons who 
answered its first question. In addition, it offers a rich ma- 
terial on the psychology of belief. 

The only report so far published refers to questions IV 
and VI. Dr. Schiller, who prepared it, is not to be held re- 
sponsible for the conduct of the investigation. The Ques- 
tionnaire (see below) was issued from the United States by 
Dr. Richard Hodgson, at the time Secretary of the Society. 


I. Would you prefer (a) to live after "death" or (6) 

II. (a) If I. (a), do you desire a future life whatever 
the conditions might be? 

(b) If not, what would have to be its character to 
make the prospect seem tolerable? Would you, 
e. g., be content with a life more or less like your 
present life? 

(c) Can you say what elements in life (if any) are 
felt by you to call for its perpetuity? 

III. Can you state why you feel in this way, as regards 

questions I. and II.? 

IV. Do you now feel the question of a future life to be 

of urgent importance to your mental comfort? 
V. Have your feelings on questions I., II. and IV. under- 
gone change? If so, when and in what ways? 
VI. (a) Would you like to know for certain about the 
future life, or (b) would you prefer to leave it a 
matter of faith? 



If fifty years ago American students had been 
asked to formulate their beliefs, I surmise that they 
would have answered, with some uniformity and as- 
surance, in the terms of the Catechisms then in use. 
They would have affirmed, for instance, a belief in 
the one true God, Creator of heaven and earth, in 
whom dwell three persons of one substance, the 
Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. How is it to- 
day? Official creeds and articles of faith have re- 
mained substantially unchanged, and the clergy are 
still expected to teach the tenets of their religion. 
What is the faith of the " flower of the rising genera- 

A few years ago I drew up four questions, and suc- 
ceeded in having them answered by all the students 
of a number of classes belonging to non-technical de- 
partments of nine colleges of high rank, and by two 
classes (seventy-eight answers) of a normal school. 
Nearly one thousand answers were received, 97 per 
cent, of which -a^e from students between eighteen 
and twenty years of age. This number of answers 
is small, yet their significance is considerable. With 
obvious limitations, they provide reliable informa- 
tion as to the state of mind of students in non-tech- 
nical college departments regarding the Christian 


conception of God. These data have special value 
because every student in the class when the question- 
naire was distributed, answered. 1 

1 The Questionnaire (see below) was distributed in the 
class room by the instructor in psychology, or, less frequent- 
ly, in philosophy, who had been directed to read to the class 
the remarks printed as introduction to the questions, and 
warned against discussing them. The students were then 
allowed the remainder of the class-period to formulate their 
answers. In order to encourage complete freedom of expres- 
sion, signatures were not requested. 

Nine hundred and twenty-seven answers were received 
(289 from men and 638 from women) from nine colleges and 
78 from one normal school. The tabulation was already 
completed when it occurred to me that for the sake of greater 
homogeneity the answers from the normal school had better 
been omitted. They include a larger proportion of believers 
than the others. I secured the services of instructors in psy- 
chology and philosophy merely because of my acquaintance 
with them, and of their interest in the investigation which 
should not, however, be thought to reflect in a special way 
their teaching, for the students were all in their first year 
of psychology or philosophy, and nearly all of them in their 
first semester. Any one familiar with what is taught in the 
first semester of an elementary course in these branches will 
know that the opinion of the students on the subject of this 
investigation is not likely to have been directly affected by 
their professors. Their ingenuousness with regard to any 
philosophical knowledge appears to me demonstrated by the 
papers themselves. Should further doubts remain concern- 
ing this point, they will be removed by the outcome of Inves- 
tigation B, in which every student of one college took part, 
and which is in substantial agreement with the result of 
Investigation A. 

A wider and more accurate representative value might be 
claimed for this inquiry if each participating college were 
represented in it by a number of answers proportional to the 
number of its students. Interesting additional knowledge 
would have been gained if the colleges had been classified 
according to their academic standards and religious inter- 
ests, and the answers from each had been correlated with 
these features. Again, information of considerable impor- 
tance would have been secured if entering classes could have 
been compared with senior classes. These and other inquiries 
would be well worth the trouble they would entail, but they 
will I fear become practicable only when the existing tra- 



Before presenting the results of this inquiry in 
statistical form, I shall quote in extenso a number of 
typical answers 2 with the purpose of illustrating the 
diverse points of view and the temper of these stu- 
dents. With one exception, every quotation is rep- 
resentative of a large number of others of the same 
type, if not of the same quality. No student of 
human nature will complain of the number of these 
documents. He will rather find a keen interest in 

ditional opposition, passive when not active, to the search 
for definite information regarding religious beliefs has con- 
siderably weakened. 

If the scope of this investigation is narrow, it is not 
through lack of desire on my part to make it broader. Cir- 
cumstances imposed narrow limitations as a condition of 

The purpose of the following questions is to find out what 
are your real beliefs concerning God. We know well enough 
what people are suposed to believe, but we have little op- 
portunity of finding out what they actually believe. 

Not what one should or would like to believe, but what 
one really believes, is asked for in these questions. 

Be as clear and definite as you can be without going be- 
yond the truth, but do not refuse to answer because you can- 
not be otherwise than indefinite. The very lack of definite- 
ness is a fact well worth ascertaining. The answers need not 
be signed, but the approximate age is desired. 

1. Do you think of God as a personal or impersonal being? 

2. What difference do you make between a personal and 
an impersonal beinjr? 

3. Describe as fully as you can how, under what image, 
or images, you think of God. Distinguish here between what 
in your description is for you merely an image, a form of 
speech, and what is the reality. 

4. What difference would the non-existence of God make 
in your daily life? 

2 Except for abbreviations, these answers are published 
here as they were written. The numbers designate the ques- 
tions to which the quotations refer. 


observing the amazingly different ways in which 
persons in similar situations think and feel. Fre- 
quently they occupy opposite positions on questions 
declared by the Christian church to be matters of 
salvation or damnation. And yet, these young peo- 
ple are receiving the same teaching, they work and 
play together; and, for the most part, do not give 
any indication in their conduct of these alleged life- 
and-death differences. 

The reader interested in religious education should 
find the following pages particularly enlightening. 
Vigorous efforts are being made in the United States 
to standardize educational methods, and protests in- 
spired by the danger of uniformity have already been 
heard. This investigation will show that religion 
is running an opposite danger. Stupendous igno- 
rance is the price paid by our youth for the absence 
of teaching and guidance. The situation cannot be 
improved until traditional and no longer teachable 
beliefs have been replaced in the confidence of public 
opinion by others in agreement with modern knowl- 

It will be observed that an opportunity was given 
the respondents to define the meaning they ascribed 
to the term " personal " as applied to God. This 
seemed wiser than for me to provide a definition. 
Their efforts to define that expression are most sug- 

I should perhaps add, by way of partial explana- 
tion of the intellectual naivete and other defects of 
several in these answers, that the writers were given 
little more than a half hour during which to produce 


something like photographs of the content of their 
mind with regard to one of the most difficult sub- 
jects possible. 

I. A woman, age 19. — I begin with the naive and 
rather commonplace statement of a person who feels 
keenly the need for affection and moral support. 

" 1. God is a very personal being because he al- 
ways listens and answers, and is . . . interested in 

" 3. Under no image or images do I think of God. 
He exists everywhere, was heard as a ' still, small 
voice,' and seen as a dove, but I do not think of him 
as such. Except as he was revealed in his son, 
Jesus Christ, I have no image of God in my mind. 
... I know he is not like anything I have ever seen. 
How do I think of God? As a spirit, infinite, eter- 
nal, and unchangeable ; in him dwell wisdom, power, 
holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. I think of 
God as the maker of this whole world, of every man, 
woman, and child in it. He knows the past, present, 
and future. I think of him as the ruler of the lives 
of each of us. And out of his inexhaustible love, he 
is deeply interested in every person on this earth. 
Therefore we can pray to him, asking and receiving 
what is good for us. He is like a human father, but 

" 4. If I did not believe that there is a God, if this 
life was all (for the belief in God brings with it a 
belief in a world to come) , I think my life would be 
a very unhappy one. In that case one might as 
well enjoy himself as much as possible here. ... I 
certainly would do what pleases me most. 


" It would be almost unbearable to part from one's 
friends if one did not hope ever to see them again." 

II. A woman, sophomore, very different from the 
one just quoted. 

" 1. I do not believe in God. (This, of course, 
prevents my answering the first three questions.) 

"4. I can remember when I gave up my last at- 
tempt to believe in God. The only difference I felt 
in my daily life when I gave up the belief was that I 
felt a greater sense of responsibility for my own con- 
duct. I also felt more independent. I have not 
been able to shake off a slight feeling of contempt for 
the narrow bigotry and superstition of conventional 
beliefs which most people accept without allowing 
their reason to act." 

III. A woman, junior. — The poetical, richly sen- 
sitive nature of this person makes a strong contrast 
with the hard self-reliance of the preceding one. 

" 1. I think of God as a personal being. 

" 2. The difference between a personal and an im- 
personal God to me is that a ' personal God ' is in- 
terested in each human being . . . whereas an ' im- 
personal being ' is a ruling law that sets the world 
in motion and allows natural forces once created to 
operate, with indifference on his part. The difference 
is, I think, that of a God who feels (though I suppose 
not with such violence as to disturb his perfect con- 
trol) as contrasted with a God who knows no emo- 
tion, but is all reason and power. 

"3. My conception of God, that is, the image I 
form of him, changes. Most of the time he is to me 
the spirit of life in the out-of-door world and then 


the feeling I have of him is of some strong force 
pushing up from the ground or in motion of some 
sort, very free and pure and joyous. I don't think I 
embody his force; I merely conceive of it as the 
spirit within the trees, grass, or what not, and in 
people the active impelling force that produces 
some special act of strength or beauty. God at such 
times is the lifting power of things, yet even then he 
is personal, a disembodied joy is the nearest I have 
ever gotten to a definition of him. At other times, 
when I am indoors, and cannot get into the buoy- 
ancy of this conception of God, when imagination is 
dull or I am depressed, I think of God in the image 
of a vast and understanding face, a face that is un- 
defined except in the general impression of august 
might and sympathy. This is to me merely a sym- 
bol which I never think of as real. It comes as the 
consequence of human limitations and I take it as an 
expression of the sluggishness of my mind. At times 
when the visual sense is not keenly alive, God means 
to me a voice, the voices heard in plant life, and 
then it is still a manifestation of a personal being 
but I cannot conceive of him further. 

" 4. The difference in the actual doings of daily 
life would be immaterial, and the relations between 
me and human beings would remain the same, be- 
cause the humanitarian motive seems stronger than 
the divine. The difference would come in the lack of 
final purpose seen in life, an exchange from optim- 
ism to pessimism, and more immediately there would 
be a great difference in my feeling for nature since 
now my views are touched with Pantheism." 


IV. A ivoman, junior. — In nothing do these stu- 
dents differ more than in their opinion of the effect 
the loss of belief in a personal God would have upon 
their daily life. Number III thinks that it would 
not alter her relations with her fellowmen ; number I, 
on the contrary, says she would pursue her own en- 
joyment and nothing else. She also thinks that 
the disappearance of God would involve annihilation 
at death, and that seems to her unbearable. Num- 
ber IV is of the same mind as I. There would, she 
thinks, be no use in trying to live without God. 
Others, however, whom I shall quote, and many 
others not mentioned here, get along, as they think, 
very well without God and immortality. That, as 
we all know, is quite possible. For the rest, num- 
ber IV is evidently in a great muddle, and in distress 
because she can longer follow the " very firmly fixed 
habit of mind " formed in her childhood. The mag- 
nitude and intricacy of the issues on which she feels 
obliged to take sides, quite overpower her. 

" 1. My whole idea of God is very definite. 1 
think of God as personal. 

" 2. I think that God is personal in that he stands 
for a spiritual power that influences man, at least the 
higher types of men, and influences them individu- 
ally. I believe that it is this spiritual power in men 
that makes them human and that makes their high- 
er development possible. . . . But whether this comes 
from an outside source such as God or is the natural 
result of man's evolution I am not sure. I do not 
believe that God exercises much control over actual 


" 3. God seems to me wholly this spiritual force. 
I do not believe that he is pleased or displeased with 
actions, but I believe that the more a person acquires 
this spirit the more he comes to feel what is called 
1 in harmony with God.' Hell seems to me the losing 
of this power and heaven the complete acquiring of 
it. I don't know whether I believe in the immortality 
of the soul or not. 

" 4. I have been brought up in a family and in 
associations that have made religion a very firmly 
fixed habit of mind, and I very naturally try to be- 
lieve in all the orthodox beliefs. And it makes me 
always very unhappy when I think that there is no 
God. Of course, there would be no use in living 
if there were no God and no immortality, and I think 
it is largely this feeling that makes me try to per- 
suade myself that there is. Certainly there is some 
spiritual power somewhere and some First Cause for 
the universe. ... I do not believe that I shall ever 
come to definitely and finally believe in anything, for 
about such things I shall never be able to make up 
my mind. I have changed some of my ideas even 
since I wrote this down, and it seems to me impos- 
sible that any one should ever say he is sure of any- 

V. A woman, junior. — Here is a person who seems 
to possess settled views. Her description of a God 
both personal and impersonal is interesting. Very 
few of these students give evidence of so much 

" 1. My idea of God is a combination of the per- 
sonal and impersonal idea. I believe in Him as ab- 


solutely perfect, and complete in all conceivable and 
inconceivable respects ; that is, that He is something 
beyond what the mind of man can grasp. What we 
know of Him is only a part of His nature. He is 
therefore impersonal in a general way. But the con- 
ception of His completeness demands that He have 
all characteristics, and therefore He has a personal 

" 2. As personal I consider a Being who has the 
human attributes, who has emotions, senses, and per- 
haps human form, resembling man, but not neces- 
sarily on the same scale as man's. An impersonal 
Being would be one who represented the idea of cer- 
tain qualities, but was not their embodiment, who 
did not stand for them in material form. The im- 
personal idea is of a vague formless Being without 
definiteness, not so much from a deficiency of the 
personal qualities as from an existence too large for 
our minds to grasp. It is as though every quality 
were unlimited and stretched out to the infinite. 

" 3. I believe that the personal aspect of God is 
apparent only through the necessity of His com- 
municating with man, that for this one purpose we 
see this one part of Him, but we are unable to look 
beyond and see Him in His entire nature. For this 
reason, in my image of Him only the essential qual- 
ities for communication are present. I think of 
Him as having the sense of hearing, for he listens 
to my prayers ; as having the qualities of mercy and 
forgiveness, for I know he displays them toward me ; 
and as having other qualities, such as interest in 
human affairs, etc. But in order that he may show 


these same qualities to everyone, he must be per- 
fect and complete, and in my conception of the in- 
finitely complete, the impersonal aspect is also neces- 
sary to His nature. . . . This is, therefore, my real 
idea of Him: certain personal appearances that He 
should have as personal Being are not present, are 
merely a form of speech. 

" 4. I can say sincerely, that, as far as I can see, 
the non-existence of God would take all the interest 
out of my daily life. I have a feeling of His power 
in everything that happens to me, and all my doings 
are generally with an effort to please Him, but some- 
times in rebellion against His power, for the very 
fact that it is stronger than my own." 

VI. A man, sophomore, aged 20. — 

" 1. It is so recently that I have begun to think on 
the matter of a deity that I have not absolutely 
decided as yet what God really is. To me, however, 
in my present state of mind, I think of God rather 
as an impersonal being. 

" 2. That is to say, I do not conceive of him as 
being a certain body or material substance. For 
this, it appears to me, would have to be limited in 
proportions, but rather as an all-pervading power, 
as it were, having all the senses of man and animal, 
only in a most perfect form. Those powers are not 
confined to one body, for I seem to believe that God 
is everywhere and anywhere, and if he were a body, 
it appears to me there would have been the resistance 
offered to his penetration that there is to other 
material things. Thus, for instance, I believe that 
God can enter and at times is in my heart and 


body, and were he a person, he could not well be 
divided up into bits. Thus to me the difference 
between a personal being and an impersonal being 
is that the former seems to confine God into a certain 
space or body, where there are hands and feet, and 
a head, etc., while an impersonal being has noth- 
ing of the kind, except that it fills the universe and 
is shapeless. 

" 3. It may be a remnant of youth, but anyhow, 
every time I think of God there appears a vague 
image of a man, with all members of the body, just 
enormously large. The next instant, however, I 
correct my image, and instead of that there appears 
a kind of power (as if it were an expanse of gas) 
floating in the air and pervading everything. The 
image thus is only a convenient way in my mind of 
thinking of God. 

" 4. The non-existence of a God would make me 
give up the prayers which I say daily, and further 
would prevent me from keeping the Sabbath 
holy. ... As far as moral principles are con- 
cerned, the existence or non-existence is immaterial." 

VII. A woman, age 20. — Here is a radical non- 
conformist, with very little respect for clinging 
parasites seeking shelter and warmth within church 

" 3. I think of God merely as a term symbolizing 
our feeling for right and wrong, developed from the 
savage state when the struggle for existence alone, 
without regard for any intellectual superiority of 
man to beast, influenced the human race. I believe 
that by God is [should be] meant the fine distinc- 


tion of right and wrong which grows finer and finer 
as the development of our intellect advances. . . . 
I believe with Socrates that men would do right if 
they knew enough and had been properly instructed 
what a momentous thing is at stake if they choose 
the wrong. Nobody who knows would choose the 

" I do not think of God under any image but rather 
as a universal influence. I believe it is within 
human power to live quite independently of any 
miraculous help of perhaps a supernatural influence, 
such as most people conceive God to be. At least 
my hope urges me thus to believe. It is the under- 
lying cowardice, a remnant of the savage state of 
the human race, that causes us to lay our troubles 
at the door of a divine being. As man gradually 
advances in civilization, he more and more casts off 
this weakness, I think, and learns to stand on his 
own feet with this one belief to reassure him — to 
do right for right's sake and not for any reward 
in heaven. To me the heavenly reward at the end 
of life is another sign of cowardice in man, because 
he does not dare to face the grave and likes to de- 
lude himself and not face the actual state of affairs. 
To this may be added conceit; for why is man so 
much better than all other existing things that all 
else should perish but he?" 

VIII. A man, junior, age 21. — This person thinks 
of God as " real, actual skin and blood and bones, 
something we shall see with our own eyes some 
day " ! Doubts, however, have appeared ; he stands 


watching curiously, and, it seems, peacefully, their 

. ." 1. I have been brought up to think of God as 
a personal being, a very real, actually existing 
person, who watches over us all, treating us with 
fortune or misfortune as we merit them. As time 
goes on I feel myself growing skeptical as to the 
fact that God sees everything, and has foresight; 
but as yet the early belief taught me still makes me 
believe that we are absolutely at his mercy — fixed 
fate, you may call it. 

" 3. Here again, due to the fact that I have given 
so little actual thought, my earlier ideas still hold 
clear. I think of God as the perfect being living 
somewhere in the distance surrounded by the com- 
pany of the blessed. He is all-powerful, but withal 
magnanimous. I think of him as real, actual skin 
and blood and bones, something we shall see with 
our eyes some day, no matter what lives we lead 
here on earth. 

" 4. In an uncertain way, I feel that I am watched 
over and taken care of by the Almighty, and if he 
should cease to be and I should know of it, I should 
feel like a ship without a pilot, not daring to do 
much for fear of hidden reefs, and for fear of suf- 
fering harm in meeting the many passing derelicts. 
I have faith in the belief that he guides our foot- 
steps, and I should falter greatly if the leader 
should be taken away." 

IX. A woman. — I quote this pathetic instance 
because it is typical of a great many young people 
who have begun life with a conception of God and 



religious habits in disagreement with modern 

" 1. I believe in an impersonal God though I 
should love to believe in a personal one. I believe 
that there is some great force back of nature, a 
great Mechanism or Governing Force — the Creator 
of all things. I believe that after this God has 
created us, there is no continuation of any personal 
connection. Therefore, I cannot think of God as 
a close personal Father, and when I do pray, I 
always feel that the effort is futile, and consequently 
when I am in trouble I get no spiritual comfort or 

" 4. I am afraid the non-existence of God would 
make but little difference in my daily life. I pray 
to Him every night, but it is always with a sort of 
superstitious dread, — a fear that neglect of Him 
may provoke anger. Yet my prayer is never help- 
ful to me. Whenever I finish it I am always tor- 
mented by the question, After all, is there really a 
God, and does he hear what I am saying? If so, 
why does he not let me know of his existence as I 
have so often prayed to him to do. . . . ? " 

X. A man, age 19. — He represents also, I think, 
the condition of a large number of college students. 

" 1. I have two beliefs in regard to God, which 
are entirely inconsistent with one another. I see 
the world about me and realize that a great will, 
termed God, must have created it. At the time of 
creation, I look upon him as a personal God. Now 
it seems to me that God having set the machinery 
working is letting it run its course and is taking 


absolutely no part whatsoever in the affairs of man. 
This being the case, I believe in no God at present 
but in nature and its works in which God has re- 
vealed himself, and therefore I look upon Him now 
as purely impersonal. Naturally I have never been 
able to reconcile these beliefs. 

" 3. God is to me a reverential word-image. It 
has been dinned into me so much that God is All- 
merciful, Omnipotent, and Just, that through a kind 
of superstitious fear I make myself feel respectful 
at the sight or sound of his name. I have abso- 
lutely no visual image of God; if I thought he re- 
sembled man I could hardly reverence him as I do 
at present. I love to think of him as infinity or 
nature, and quell my doubts by changing the subject. 

" 4. If the non-existence of God were clearly 
proved, I think it would make but slight difference, 
if any, in my daily life. If the spirit of generosity, 
justice, self-sacrifice, and honesty is inculcated in 
one, the mere fact that the higher being is found to 
be a myth could not destroy those characteristics. 
My character would not undergo any reformation, 
but I might discontinue the prayers I make to God, 
which I do in a spirit of cowardice, for I fear to tell 
myself openly there is no God . . . lest punish- 
ment (which I do not believe will come because of 
any belief of mine) may be visited upon me." 

The first of the two final illustrations comes from 
the only student in my records who gives evidence 
of having been properly drilled in the official beliefs, 
and who has not been shaken by the spirit of the 


age. The second stands squarely upon a non-Chris- 
tian foundation. 

XI. A woman, age 20. — 

" 1. Personal being, because our creed teaches us 
that God exists in three persons. 

" 3. I think of God as merciful, loving, just, all- 
powerful Father, existing in three distinct persons 
I — Father, Son, and Holy ; Ghost — known as the 
Trinity. The Trinity is a mystery, accepted as an 
article of faith by some religions and not accepted 
by others. I believe that the Father created us, 
that the Son redeemed us, and that the Holy Ghost 
sanctified us. I never think of God as one distinct 
person ; at the mention of the name, the idea of God 
in three persons comes into my mind. 

" 4. The non-existence of God would make a de- 
cided difference in my daily life. First of all, in the 
morning I should never thank Him who has guarded 
us safely during the night and I should not ask His 
protection during the day. In a very short time, 
I should be selffish, doing all I could for myself, for- 
getting that I should give assistance to the needy 
and overladen. All my work would be done for the 
glory of man and not for the glory of the One who 
has made us. At the close of the day, I should not 
thank God for the many blessings bestowed on me 
which enabled me to do my work in such a way that 
it would be pleasing in the sight of God." 

XII. A woman, age 18. — 

" 1. As an impersonal being. 
" 2. I have never tried to formulate my somewhat 
vague beliefs, but I mean that I do not believe in a 


Supreme Being who enters into and regulates the 
course of our daily existence. There must be some 
supreme force which regulates the universe as a 
whole, but I cannot conceive of it as anything near 
or in any way tangible. 

" 4. As far as I can see, it does not in any way 
determine my daily life." 

We may now pass to the statistical results of the 


The answers to the first question required careful 
interpretation, for the words " personal " and " im- 
personal " did not convey the same meaning to every 
student. But, as the second question usually 
brought out the significance ascribed to these terms, 
their interpretations rarely presented any difficulty. 
In chart I, " personal God " has the meaning de- 
fined on pages 173 and 174. 






As many as 31 per cent, of the men, and only 11 
per cent, of the women, conceive God as impersonal. 
If the " doubtful " cases are added, the percentages 
rise to 40.5 per cent, for the men, and to 15.7 per 



cent, for the women. This greater variation from 
tradition on the part of the men is one of the strik- 
ing features of these records. It must be referred 
on the whole, I think, to a stronger impulse to self- 
affirmation and freedom, and to a correlated lesser 
need of affection and of moral support felt by the 
men. 3 

Investigation B (see the following section) indi- 
cates that the proportion of disbelievers in immor- 
tality increases considerably from the freshman to 
the senior year in college. Considered all together, 
my data would indicate that from 40 to 50 per cent, 
of the young men leaving college entertain an idea 
of God incompatible with the acceptance of the 
Christian religion, even as interpreted by the liber- 
al clergy. 

The conception of God varies frequently in the 
same person as he passes from one mood to another. 
These cases have been counted under " Both Per- 
sonal and Impersonal." Here are a few instances 
of this henotheism : — 

A woman, age 22. — " In an agitated frame of 
mind I think of God as a personal father who is 
ready to reward or punish, but generally I think 
of God as a mass of forces, having certain effects 
following from certain causes, the force that causes 
us to do good brings with it its own reward, and 
vice versa." 

A man, age 21. — " God to my mind is an imper- 
sonal being, but whether for convenience or through 

* See Chapter X, Individualism as a Cause of the Rejection 
of Traditional Belief. 


sheer impotence I pray to him as a personal being. 
I probably think of Christ when I pray. ... I 
know I talk on both sides of the fence, but that is 
just where I am, and until I get personality into 
the being which I realize is impersonal, I must try 
to find it. Experience teaches me it is the ' juste 
milieu ' that is worth most." 

A man, age 20. — " I have never given this matter 
serious attention. . . . My two views of God in- 
volve contradictions. . . . When I regard God as a 
creator and ruler He is distinctly personal. But 
when I believe that man works out his own salva- 
tion, and that things need no superior mind to 
direct them, then God seems to me impersonal. . . . 
An impersonal being may be compared to an au- 

But whether the contradiction is realized or not 
by the student, it never seems particularly to dis- 
turb him. He thinks of God according to his prac- 
tical needs, and if logic is considered at all, it is 
in second place: — 

A woman, age 23. — " I think of God as both a 
personal and impersonal being. I think of him as 
personal when I feel the need of some support out- 
side myself; a sympathy and understanding which 
no one else can give. I like to think of him as im- 
personal at other times ; as a power like ether, which 
is infused through everything." 

A woman, senior. — " When I am just thinking 
about him in a speculative or philosophical way, I 
generally think of him as impersonal, but for prac- 
tical purposes I think of him as personal. 



" By a personal God I mean the God I naturally 
turn towards when I feel as if things were getting 
too hard for me." 

A man, age 20. — " Knowing as little as I do of 
the two sides, the personal and the impersonal, I 
should always rely upon the personal nature of God 
to bring me through." 

The difference between these young people — the 
flower of the land — who turn to God when they 
need him, and the Zulus, who think of the spirits 
of their forefathers only when they go to war, 4 is 
that the savages never disbelieve in the existence of 
these forefathers, whereas in their calm moments 
college men and women do deny the God on whom 
they call in the time of their need. 


Two thirds of the men, and nearly half the women 
disclaim any mental picture of God. 5 The larger 
number of the remainder distinguish between image 
or symbol, and reality. In a remarkably large num- 
ber of cases, however, a description in sensory terms 
is held to represent God adequately. That young 
people having reached the mental development of 
college students should think of God as " actual skin 
and blood and bones, something we shall see with 

4 Max Muller: The Science of Religion; page 43. 

6 Of 290 men, 39 per cent, imagine God in human form. To 
80 of these the form is a mere symbol; to 20, it is a reality; 
while 7 find it impossible to decide whether the image repre- 
sents the reality or is a symbol. Of 640 women, 34.5 per cent, 
picture God in human shape. Of these, 166 state definitely 
that the image is a mere symbol, 42 think is actually repre- 
sents the reality, while 13 cannot decide. 


our eyes some day," is almost incredible; but the 
evidence is compelling. Seven per cent, hold ap- 
parently to a thoroughly anthropomorphic con- 
ception of God: — 

A man, age 21. — " I imagine God in the same 
form as any human being ; the same as man. I think 
God and man are equal physically, or were equal 
physically at one time but man has deteriorated. / 
God has all the feelings and passions of mankind. 
He can love and hate, reward and punish, as a man 

A woman, senior. — " God has always been and 
still is a personal Being for me. ... By personal 
I think I mean a being which has individuality, one 
that has a definite shape, in the sense that it is dis- 
tinguishable from empty space." 

A woman, age 19. — " I have always pictured him 
according to a description in Paradise Lost as seat- 
ed upon a throne, while around him are angels play- 
ing on harps and singing hymns. The angels are , 
merely images which are not realities, while the fig- 
ure of God stands for the reality." 

A man, age 20. — " I think of God as a personal 
being. A personal being would have a form that 
you could see or touch, while an impersonal being 
would have nothing in common with human beings." 

The character of the imagery is frequently traced 
to Sunday-school pictures, church windows, statu- 
ary, and the like. The human shape is naturally 
the most frequent form assumed by the representa- 
tions ; occasionally, a flame, a sphere, a cloud, an all- 
seeing eye, an immense voice, a soft wind, stand as 


symbol. The following illustrations give only a very 
inadequate idea of the variety and frequent oddity of 
these images: — 

A woman, freshman. — " I think of God as hav- 
ing bodily form and being much larger than the 
average man. He has a radiant countenance beam- 
ing with love and compassion. He is erect and up- 
right, fearless and brave." 

A woman, sophomore. — " When I think of God 
at all definitely I have in mind the image of a head, 
with dark brown flowing hair and dark eyes ; below 
the head the arms of the image are extended. They 
seem wrapped in soft gray folds rather like clouds ; 
the whole figure — which has no definite shape — 
is draped in the same stuff which extends far down 
around the earth." 

A woman, sophomore, age 20. — " The image 
under which I think of God is always confused in 
my mind with the image which I have of the Saviour 
. . . but the image of God is always a little the less 
distinct of the two. I think that my image must 
be very much like the reality." 

A woman, sophomore, 19. — " When God is men- 
tioned, I always think of the picture of a man . . . 
as king with all the insignia of royalty. I am not 
sure as to what is the image and what the reality 
in this image." 

A woman, senior. — " God is like flame ... I do 
not think that God is flame, . . . but flame is the 
thing in human experience that comes nearest to my 
conception of what God is." 


A woman, sophomore. — " The image in which I 
see God most often is a sphere. Of course this is 
quite distinct from my opinion as to the real image 
in which God might appear, but the phrase, ' God 
is all in all,' makes me always feel that a sphere is 
the only image in which God can appear in which 
he would fit this." 

To ascribe to God the female sex seems almost im- 
possible to one nurtured in a Christian country, yet 
even that idea is present in these records : — 

A man. — " Sometimes I have pictured to myself 
a sort of beautiful woman . . . but the majority of 
the time I do not think of God under any image 

A woman. — " I think of God almost as if he were 
a second greater mother, to whom I can tell my 
troubles. ... He has a certain vivid, mother-like 
personality, yet I never see him under any definite 
image. I feel him rather than see him." 

The majority think images serviceable to them 
and wish to preserve them. A few, however, con- 
sider images debasing and would like to get rid of 
them. Here are instances of each : — 

A man, aged 18. — " Although I do not think of 
God as a person, I find satisfaction and a sense of 
reality in endowing him with certain fine human 
qualities. ... I generally think of God as a great, 
benign, bright, splendid man.' 

A woman, age 18. — " It makes God seem more real 
and present to think of him as possessing human 


A woman. — " My first image of God is seen 
against my will and quite instinctively; invariably 
the figure of a white-robed figure. I think it is a 
woman, — the expression of the face is feminine, — 
with lacerated brow and hands and feet. I know 
that this image is due to the wickedly distorted 
imagination of my childish training in religion. It 
is wrong, untrue, degrading. The image which in 
my better moments I can successfully form of God 
is a different thing, but so indefinite I can hardly 
describe it." 

A man, age 20. — " I think of God somewhat as a 
superhuman being — an enormous, majestic figure. 
His face resembles Michael Angelo's Moses, but his 
extremities don't seem to have any definite ending 
like our hands and feet, but seem just to float off 
into space and as it were to cover and protect the 
whole world. It really seems to me to be a bar- 
barian and somewhat heathenish way of imagining 
anything so great and wonderful as God." 

One might see in these quotations an argument 
in support of Rousseau's contention that not until 
the " age of reason " should God be so much as men- 
tioned to children. 

Believing in a personal God does not v necessarily 
mean holding those relations with him that consti- 
tute religious life. The belief may be a mere echo 
of tradition or a philosophical notion. In order to 
find information on the importance to these students 
of their religious ideas, one must turn to their 


answers to the last question, " What difference 
would the non-existence of God make in your life? " 
The needs gratified by the belief in God may be 
classified under three heads: need for explanation, 
for righteousness, and for affective support. 

A philosophical conviction of the existence of 
God, i. e., a belief that gratifies intellectual curiosity, 
is rare among these students. But God is very often 
spoken of as the principle of righteousness, mani- 
festing itself in us, or as the Being whose approval 
or love makes it possible for us to triumph over 
temptation and gives us hope of realizing our ideals. 
Expressions like these are common : — 

" God means everything to me in moral strug- 
gles " ; " Morality alone would not be sufficient for 
inspiration and guidance in daily life " ; " Trust in 
God keeps me from worrying and makes me happy 
and better " ; " God is a constant support for the 
immediate task — without him I could not live " ; 
" God is the highest perfection, all-knowing, all- 
wise. . . . His non-existence would mean the non- 
existence of hope, of any reason for preferring good 
to evil." " If God had not existed for me, I should 
have been a law-breaker and a criminal. Now if my 
belief should change, I might pass beyond control." 

The need for the love of an always adequate 
friend plays a very great part in establishing belief 
in God. The conviction that " God is love " may 
make unnecessary any further knowledge of him. In 
that case he is described as " directly interested in 
me," " friend," " comforter," " sympathetic father," 
and every other attribute seems forgotten : — 


A woman. — If God did not exist, " there would 
be no one ... to whom we could go at all times 
for sympathy in joys and sorrows." 

A woman. — " If there were no God I should seek 
more sympathy from my friends." 

A man. — " Some people apparently go through 
life without bothering about God. Some one says: 
' Is he necessary after all ? ' The answer is that 
such happy-go-lucky people know not the needs of 
human nature; their wills are out of conformity 
with the Logos. Every one who is ever brought face 
to face with trouble realizes man's need and striving 
after God, and almost to a man these people in mis- 
fortune, I think, turn to a personal God." 

Many admit that the universe is to them most 
of the time godless; now and then, however, par- 
ticularly in the hour of need, a sudden kaleidoscopic 
change takes place, and God is felt hovering about 
and filling the air with his protecting and loving 

The greater self-reliance of the men and their 
greater independence from tradition is again in evi- 
dence in the answers to question four. Thirty-two 
per cent, of the men and only seventeen per cent, 
of the women declare that the non-existence of God 
would make no difference at all in their lives. If 
the " doubtful " cases are added the proportions 
become 43 per cent, for the men and 22 per cent, for 
the women. 

In estimating the significance of these figures we 
should remember that when one is brought face to 
face suddenly with a question never before consid- 


ered, the natural tendency is to state the traditional 
opinion. Now, the probable effect of the non-exist- 
ence of God had perhaps never before been consid- 
ered by these students. One may, therefore, take 
it that the number of those who ascribe to God a 
great influence upon them is larger than would truly 
represent the facts. It should also be observed that 
in several instances the affirmation of the great im- 
portance of the existence of God is nothing more 
than a logical deduction from the theoretical belief 
that God is the creator and the upholder of the uni- 
verse, and does not involve necessarily the existence 
of warm personal relations with him. 

Putting together those who think God's existence 
of great importance to them, and those who ascribe 
to it a small, or a merely occasional value, we get, 
for the men, 57 per cent. The others (43 per cent.) 
apparently think themselves morally independent of 
the existence of God. 

Are we to accept the opinion stated by these per- 
sons as expressing correctly the value to them of the 
belief in the existence of God? Obviously not. 
The conviction that one could not get along in the 
absence of certain material or spiritual possessions, 
is very frequently proved false by later events. As 
this is not the place to consider the value to hu- 
manity, and in particular to these students, of the 
belief in God, I shall remark merely that those who 
think their belief in God essential have not had 
occasion to test their conviction ; whereas those who 
think themselves morally independent of the belief 
and who also disclaim the belief, i. e., nearly the 


whole of the 43 per cent., may be said to have demon- 
strated their moral independence of the belief in 
God. In the absence of satisfactory proof, one need 
not consider as valid the opinion that the morality 
of the unbelievers is derived from that of the believ- 

The deepest impression left by these records is 
that, so far as religion is concerned, our students 
are groveling in darkness. Christianity, as a sys- 
tem of belief, has utterly broken down, and nothing 
definite, adequate, and convincing has taken its 
place. Their beliefs, when they have any, are super- 
ficial and amateurish in the extreme. There is no 
generally acknowledged authority ; each one believes 
as he can, and few seem disturbed at being unable 
to hold the tenets of the churches. This sense of 
freedom is the glorious side of an otherwise danger- 
ous situation. 



Investigation A was concerned with the belief in 
a personal God in nine American colleges and one 
Normal School ; investigation B deals exclusively 
with the belief in immortality in one college of high 
rank and of moderate size, whose students are di- 
vided in their affiliation among all the important 
Protestant denominations. It includes, in addition, 
a few Roman Catholics. The spirit of this institu- 
tion is assuredly as religious as that of the average 
American college. 

Ninety per cent, (seniors, 95.8 per cent; juniors, 
97.7 per cent.) of all the students answered a set 
of questions divided into three parts : the existence 
of the belief, its influence upon the individual life, 
and the grounds upon which the belief is held. How 
this somewhat difficult performance was accom- 
plished and what care was taken in order not to 
prejudice the students, is explained in a foot-note. 7 

T The word questionnaire recurs so frequently in these 
pages that I shall take the liberty of replacing it by its first 
letter, capitalized. 

If I give only percentages and no absolute figure, it is 
merely in order to prevent the identification of the college. 

The Q. were distributed by students to the rooms of all the 
students in residence, on a Sunday morning, between nine 
and ten o'clock, and were collected just before lunch on the 


The most striking result of this inquiry is the 
high percentage of believers in the lower classes and 
the relatively high percentage of disbelievers in the 
higher classes (see chart II). Only 15 per cent, of 
the freshmen reject immortality, and 4 per cent, 
are uncertain; while nearly 32 per cent, of the 
juniors have given it up, and 8 per cent, more are 

same day. A few were handed in later in the day, and a few 
others on the next day. The non-residents received the Q. 
on the following day, i. e., on Monday morning, on their ar- 
rival at the college. They were requested to place their 
answers during the day in a box provided for the purpose. 

The professor who conducted the investigation had an- 
nounced in several of the largest classes that all the students 
of the college would be asked on Sunday morning to answer 
a set of questions, but the subject of the investigation was 
not disclosed. It was explained that they were held in igno- 
rance in order to prevent discussion in advance. The great 
desirability of having every one answer in order to make the 
information gathered valuable for statistical purposes was 
emphasized, and the directions printed at the head of the Q. 
were read to them without comment. The students present 
in each class visited were requested to pass on to the others 
the information they had just i*eceived. 

When it was found that a considerable number of fresh- 
men and sophomores had failed to answer, an effort was 
made to complete the statistics from these two classes. Stu- 
dents of the upper classes interviewed the freshmen and the 
sophomores and placed the Q. directly or indirectly, in the 
hands of those who had not answered. It was ascertained 
that most of these were absent from college when the ques- 
tions were first circulated. A few explained that they had 
not answered because they were too uncertain of their beliefs. 
One said, " I know nothing at all about it," and another, " I 
did not want to be bothered with these questions.' No evi- 
dence could be obtained tending to show that students who 
entertained definite opinions had refused to answer. Ar- 
rangements were made for the collection of the tardy an- 
swers in a manner to preserve the students' incognito. 
Among the students of the two lower classes who responded 
to the second call, the proportion of disbelievers is slightly 
larger than in the others. In table III all the answers are 










The seniors (24 per cent, of disbelievers and 6 
per cent, of uncertain) stand nearer the lower 
classes than the juniors. It will probably be sup- 
posed that this fact indicates a return to a " saner " 
view after a brief iconoclastic period ; i. e., the 
greater unbelief of the juniors will be taken to mark 
the effect of a little knowledge, and the greater belief 
of the seniors, the reaction that has set in with in- 
creased maturity. I cannot accept that interpre- 
tation. When the results were announced several 
students, including both seniors and juniors, offered 
in explanation of the fact mentioned the acknowl- 
edged, exceptional independence and " intellectual 
superiority of the junior class." The professors I 
interviewed concurred in this judgment. Further- 
more, Investigation C provides incontrovertible evi- 


dence of a decrease of belief corresponding to an 
increase of general mental ability and, perhaps, of 

Not only do the younger students believe more 
generally, but nearly all the believers accept the 
doctrine of unconditional immortality. In so far 
as that is the traditional Christian belief, this result 
should have been expected of persons who unthink- 
ingly reflect prevalent opinions. We may note that 
the junior class again distinguishes itself by a rela- 
tively high proportion of believers in conditional im- 
mortality (13 per cent, as against 4 per cent, for 
the freshmen). The seniors are also in this respect 
nearer the lower classes than the juniors. 

The effect of the loss of belief, as estimated by 
these students, changes little as one passes from 
Freshman to Senior. The great majority think it 
would be considerable. Whatever change there is, 
is in the direction of a decrease in the estimated 
effect. If there is anything clearly disclosed by 
the study of the origin and of the grounds for the 
modern belief in immortality, it is that the strongest 
factor of belief is the conviction that without con- 
tinuation after death, this life would be morally in- 
acceptable. Now, the statistics reveal the interest- 
ing fact that a considerable number of believers do 
not think the loss would have any influence upon 
their lives; immortality is for them a fact without 
vital significance. May we not then conclude that 
those who believe either in conditional or in uncon- 
ditional immortality and who, at the same time, de- 
clare that the loss of the belief would leave them ui> 


concerned, are on the point of discarding that belief? 
It is noteworthy that almost 25 per cent, of those 
who cannot declare a belief in immortality, never- 
theless desire it ; and that of these, four-fifths belong 
to the two upper classes of the college. Since a 
considerable number desire immortality, though they 
do not believe, a decrease or a loss of desire may not 
be made responsible for the decrease in the number 
of believers. The increase in unbelief observed as 
one passes from the younger to the older classes, 
indicates rather the growing recognition of the in- 
sufficiency of the foundation upon which the belief 

Fifty-one per cent, of the freshmen, and forty- 
nine per cent, of the sophomores, declare that they 
have never assigned any reason for their belief in 
immortality. That the younger students should 
have failed more frequently than the older ones to 
concern themselves with the reasons for their belief, 
is not surprising; but that as many as 45 per cent, 
of the believing juniors and 40 per cent, of the be- 
lieving seniors should be in that naive situation, 
may well cause some astonishment. These figures 
would refute the accusation that some might be 
inclined to direct against colleges for indoctrinating 
their students. They indicate rather how distress- 
ingly uninterested and ignorant these " cultivated " 
young people are regarding what is commonly con- 
sidered a great religious issue. The preceding sec- 
tion has shown that they are equally naive with 
regard to the conception of God. 


Very little significance may be attached to the 
figures referring to the arguments " supporting " 
or "establishing" the belief. I shall merely note 
that four times out of five, they are said to " sup- 
port," not to " establish," the belief, and that they 
are in general agreement with the statement made 
in the first part of this book: the belief of these 
students — when it has any conscious basis — rests 
preponderantly upon moral arguments and upon 
faith in a personal God. 8 

We should hardly have expected to find 35 per 
cent, of the juniors and seniors in a Christian col- 
lege unable to profess belief in immortality, and a 
considerable additional number evidently indifferent 
to it. 

The knowledge we have gained as to the loss of 
belief suffered by students leaves unanswered the 
momentous question of the later development of 
their religious convictions. If we cannot now dis- 
cover the beliefs these young people will entertain 
twenty years hence, we can at least find out those of 
the men and women who preceded them in college 
and are now pursuing professional careers. This we 
shall do in the next chapter. 

' The first argument was named 71 times; the second, 43 
times; the third, 168 times; the fourth, 112 times; the fifth, 
180 times; the sixth, 170 times; the seventh, 70 times; the 
eighth, 88 times. 

Several students completed the list of arguments they found 
in the Q. by adding the resurrection of Christ. My intention 
was not to include every possible ground of belief, but to 
seek information upon the influence of certain of them. Had 
the resurrection of Christ been on the list, a large proportion 
of the students would have doubtless marked it. 



In this investigation, I was able to make use of 
American Men of Science, a volume containing about 
fifty-five hundred names, and of the membership 
lists of the American Historical Association, the 
American Sociological Society, and the American 
Psychological Association. Any one familiar with 
these lists will know that their standard of inclusion 
is rather too low than too high ; it would be easy to 
single out from the membership of the American 
Psychological Association many persons who could 
hardly be offended if denied the right to be called 
psychologists. I say this in order that it may not 
be imagined that this inquiry deals only with men 
of very high achievements. 

A study of statistics shows that a relatively small 
number of the members of a group suffices to repre- 
sent with a high degree of exactness the whole 
group, provided the selection made be a chance se- 
lection. The probable errcfr resulting from such 
limitation is, moreover, mathematically ascertain- 
able. I have been assured by statisticians that re- 
sults based on the whole list of fifty-five hundred 
men of science and results based on five hundred, 


would be to all intents and purposes the same. I 
shall not weary the reader with a mathematical de- 
monstration of the truth of this statement. A practi- 
cal demonstration will, I am sure, advantageously 
replace it. Such a proof might be attempted by car- 
rying out two separate, but otherwise identical in- 
vestigations, each involving five hundred persons 
taken by a rule of chance from the volume named. 
Should their conclusions coincide, they could be held 
to be valid also for the entire fifty-five hundred men 
listed in American Men of Science. This is precisely 
the procedure I followed, i. e., I carried out sepa- 
rately two identical investigations, each including 
500 scientists. In every one of the other groups my 
investigation included a larger proportion of the 
whole than in the case of the scientists. 

The chief difficulty in the way of a statistical inves- 
tigation such as the present one, is that not all those 
addressed answer. This may introduce a type of 
selection that vitiates results. In order to minimize 
as much as possible this cause of error, I formulated 
possible beliefs, and requested the recipients of the 
Q. to mark with a cross all those that were true for 
them, and I inclosed addressed and stamped enve- 
lopes. A minimum of time and thought for answer- 
ing was thus required. This procedure had the addi- 
tional advantage of getting the answers in the same 

It was not an easy task to formulate satisfactorily 
for all those to whom the Q. was to be sent, the par- 
ticular beliefs on which I wished the investigation 


to bear. Expressions in common use were to be pre- 
ferred to philosophical and theological terms, for 
these would not always have been understood or con- 
strued in a uniform sense. As I was not concerned 
with fine points in the conception of God, it was not 
necessary to frame the statements so as to satisfy 
the technical philosopher accustomed to consider a 
tangle of problems where the ordinary man — and 
in this respect, our scientists are ordinary — sees 
but a relatively simple question. The adequacy of 
the Q. for men of science, if not for philosophers, 
will, I think, be admitted when the use I intended to 
make of the answers is fully known. 

Despite the measures taken to facilitate the task 
of those addressed, it proved necessary to send out a 
second pressing request, again with addressed and 
stamped envelope. This was done not only for the 
1000 men of science, but also for every other group. 
The time elapsed between sending out the first and 
second requests was not the same for each group. 
When answers had practically ceased to come in, the 
second request was dispatched. All answers re- 
ceived later than one day after mailing the second 
request, were counted as answers to it, although a 
few of these were no doubt belated responses to the 
first request. As I had not requested signatures, I 
had to address again every person included in the 
investigation, except those who had chosen to give 
their names. 

Friends told me that I should not succeed, and 
they advanced various reasons. Most of their pre- 
dictions remained unrealized. A number of those 


addressed did indeed refuse to answer, and a few 
made derogatory comments; but on the whole, the 
members of every group found it possible to answer 
to their own satisfaction — the philosophers ex- 
cepted. I shall mention later the special difficulties 
encountered in the attempt to extend the investiga- 
tion to philosophers. 

The many remarks written in the margin of the 
returned Q. and the letters of those who would not, 
could not, or thought they could not answer, have 
frequently a real psychological interest. I shall take 
occasion when discussing the causes of failure to 
answer, to quote some of these utterances. They 
will throw much light on the reception accorded to 

The Questionnaires sent to the two groups of five 
hundred scientists follow. A slightly different set 
of questions was sent to the second five hundred and 
to the other groups. These changes are commented 
upon below. 

(First Form) 

Conflicting statements are confidently made re- 
garding the prevalence among civilized Christian 
nations of the belief in God and Personal Immortal- 
ity. Nevertheless sufficient data are not extant to 
support any opinion. 

The accompanying questions are sent to 500 per- 
sons taken by chance from those listed in American 
Men of Science, in the hope of securing statistics 


valid for this whole group. The condition of success 
is that all those addressed respond. No satisfac- 
torily definite conclusions could be drawn if many of 
those addressed refused or neglected to answer. 

It will take you only a few seconds to make a mark 
to the right of every statement true for you. Please 
do it, if at all possible, on receipt of this paper and 
return it in the inclosed stamped envelope. Your 
answer may be anonymous. 


1. I believe in a God in intellectual and affective 

communication with man, I mean a God to 
whom one may pray in the expectation of re- 
ceiving an answer. By " answer," I do not mean 
the subjective, psychological effect of prayer. 

2. I do not believe in a God as defined above 

3. I am an agnostic 



{personal I. for all men 
conditional I, i. e., for those who 
have reached a certain state of de- 

2. I believe neither in conditional nor in uncondi- 

tional I. of the person . . . .• 

3. I am an agnostic 

4. Although I cannot believe in P. I., 

T -, . ., (intensely 

I desire it J , , , 

[moderately. . . 

5. I do not desire P. I 


(Second Form.) 


1. I believe in a God to whom one may pray in the 

expectation of receiving an answer. By 
" answer," I mean more than the subjective, 
psychological effect of prayer 

2. I do not believe in a God as defined above 

3. I have no definite belief regarding this question. . 



personal Immortality for all men. .. 

conditional Immortality, i. e., Im- 
mortality for those who have 
reached a certain state of develop- 

2. I believe neither in conditional nor in uncondi- 

tional Immortality of the person in another 

3. I have no definite belief regarding this question . . 


4. I desire personal immortality^ moderately 

not at all 

1. I believe in 


1. I thought it advisable to leave out the words 
" in intellectual and affective communication with 
man " which appears in A 1 of the Q. sent to the 


first division of 500 scientists. The meaning is suffi- 
ciently indicated in the rest of the sentence. By sub- 
stituting in the same statement " I mean more than," 
for " I do not mean," the intended meaning be- 
comes clearer and the sense is not changed. 

2. Instead of " I am an agnostic," I wrote in the 
revised Q., both in sections A and B, " I have no defi- 
nite belief regarding this question." The meaning 
ascribed by my correspondents to these two formu- 
lations will be discussed later. 

3. The heading of section B was extended in the 
second form by the addition of " i. e., the belief in 
continuation of the person after death in another 
world." This addition excludes cases of belief in 
transmigration at death in animal or human forms 
living on the earth. Few answers if any could have 
been affected by the change. A similar addition 
was made to statement B 2. 

4. In the first Q., the questions regarding desire 
for immortality are addressed only to those who do 
not believe; in the second Q., they are addressed to 
all alike : believers, disbelievers, and doubters. The 
answers made to B 4 by the first division are there- 
fore not comparable with those made to B 4 by the 
second division. 




As the attitude assumed towards the Q., and 
the reasons for abstaining from answering were on 
the whole the same in every group, I shall discuss 
these matters now, once for all, and with especial 


reference to the men of science. In the few in- 
stances in which the figures and the extracts from 
letters belong to other groups, I shall indicate their 

The reader will find it necessary to remember that 
in the Questionnaire all the statements under A refer 
to God, and those under B to immortality. A 1 is 
a statement of belief in a personal God ; A 2 one of 
disbelief in that God; A 3 one of agnosticism or 
doubtfulness. Similarly, B 1 is a statement of be- 
lief in personal immortality, either unconditional or 
conditional; B 2 one of disbelief; B 3 one of agnos- 
ticism or doubtfulness. 



Almost one quarter of those addressed either 
returned a blank Q. or did not return it at all. 
This is a considerable percentage, and were we alto- 
gether in the dark as to their cause, these failures 
would lower considerably the value of the statis- 
tics. But, thanks to the remarks of many who re- 
fused to answer, and also to certain other data, we 
are able to disregard some of these blanks or failures 
to answer as not affecting the investigation, and to 
classify at least approximately a considerable num- 
ber of the remainder. 

Those who did not return the Q. amount to not 
quite 10 per cent.; of these, an indeterminable 
number may be put down as dead, or critically ill, 
or absent. The failure of these to answer may be 
considered as not affecting the statistics, since there 


is no reason to think that the dead, the critically 
ill, and the absent belong entirely or predominantly 
to a particular class of believers. 

Turning to the 14.7 per cent, whose Q. were re- 
turned blank, we observe first that these are not all 
to be regarded as expressions of unwillingness to 
answer. Altogether 22 of these were reported as 
dead, and 26 as not found, away, or ill. The failure 
of these to answer leaves the investigation un- 
affected. There remain 99 of the blank Q., that 
is about 10 per cent, of the total number sent out. 
A large number of these fall into more or less exact- 
ly defined categories, which I shall now characterize 
and illustrate. 

There are many people who do not know what 
you mean unless you speak in terms of weight and 
measure. How must the devout believer who " lives 
with God " be startled when he encounters fellow- 
men like some of my correspondents. Two greater 
scientists wrote, for instance: — 

" I cannot answer these questions. I do not know 
what they mean. I have no interest in them, and 
can hardly conceive of any one wishing to know." 

" I have not the slightest desire to answer these 
questions, either to myself or to any other person." 

One person jeered at me for expecting " scientific 
men " to answer questions " not accessible to proof," 
questions that are " not matters of knowledge." I 
gaped in amazement on reading the two following 
stout pronouncements : — 

" As a scientist my entire attention is directed to 


matters accessible to proof. Neither of your ques- 
tions belong to this category." 

" How is it possible for a sane student to answer 
these questions? They do not deal with phenomena 
or material which we can investigate. I believe in 
everything that is." 

Well, after all, beliefs, disbeliefs, and doubts exist, 
they are real; and they come into existence without 
cause no more than physical phenomena. Therefore, 
seeing that religious beliefs move men to actions of 
vast consequence, let the psychologist continue to 
busy himself with them. I have fair hopes that some 
of these narrow minded scientists may be brought to 
see, perhaps by means of this investigation, that 
there is another real world open to scientific study 
beside the one they acknowledge; and that in fact 
they themselves, as well as everybody else, live in 
that world. 

A certain number did not answer because they 
were too completely " at sea." " My views are too 
vague to be of any value," says one of these. Anoth- 
er} excuses himself on the ground that he " has not 
investigated the subject." Another who has given 
long hours to considering these problems, states that 
his opinions " are too indefinite to justify their pre- 
sentation in the categorical form inquired after." It 
would seem that the person who " neither believes 
nor disbelieves," but rejoices " in a suspended judg- 
ment," would be in a position to mark A 3 and B 3. 
He did not do so, however. " I have my doubts," 
writes one who also prefers not to mark A 3 and B 3, 
" about many of these things, and believe that hyp- 


notism and superstition are the basis of much we be- 

Why did not the person who declares himself a 
member of the Christian church and answers that he 
"tries to live up to its teachings," mark the Q.? 
Are we to infer that he does not accept the dogma of 
his church, and merely endeavors to live up to its 
practical teaching? 

What a sorry figure this man cuts : — 

" I am a Presbyterian by heredity and by profes- 
sion. I have no wish to be considered ambiguous or 
a hypocrite ; neither have I any wish to leave the be- 
liefs of my fathers. I wish my faith could be as 
simple as that of some of my relatives who are now 
dead. If I had children I would have a responsibili- 
ty that fortunately I do not now carry. I must admit 
there are many things that I cannot accept as 

The opposition between feeling or belief and 
knowledge appears frequently as a source of diffi- 
culty in marking the Q. An historian writes : — 

" I have found it impossible to decide how far the 
beliefs as stated were the result of my own definite, 
intellectual conclusions based on a fair amount of in- 
vestigation, and how far they were affected by a 
very conscious aversion to breaking with my ances- 
tral past. We are doubtless all conscious of wide di- 
vergence in belief from the beliefs held by oui^ par- 
ents. Yet I personally hesitate to commit myself 
irrevocably on paper to a statement to this effect." 

This person is certainly right in conjecturing that 
her hesitancy to break with the past is somewhat 


widely shared. The result is, of course, to swell the 
number of believers by the addition of many who are 
not really convinced. 

An unusually subtle and complex attitude, involv- 
ing more than the opposition of belief and knowl- 
edge, is revealed in this very interesting letter of a 
psychologist. I do not know what part in it should 
be ascribed to downright aboulia, and what to a legit- 
imate unwillingness to forego the least particle of 
freedom by pinning oneself down to a formulated be- 

" I owe you an apology for not answering your 
questions before this. ... I seem to find no question 
to which I should care to give a categorical answer. 
Will you let me say, however, that the questions 
seem to me to trench upon an area which I find in a 
state of flux a considerable part of the time? They 
refer to what in my own case I seem to regard as a 
protean element of consciousness, which like water 
is now fluid, now a crystallized solid, and now an im- 
perceptible vapor. This element of consciousness, I 
somehow feel it is important not to reduce to cate- 
gories, not even to that of indefiniteness or to that 
of mysticism. . . . 

" In these days of the new ecclesiasticism, the ec- 
clesiasticism of science, when the so-called applica- 
tions of science are actively engaged in formulating, 
fixing, mechanizing, institutionalizing, and stand- 
ardizing, I feel, though perhaps at the risk, in this 
instance, of totally misunderstanding the purpose of 
a serious piece of scientific research, that one may 
silently persist in trying to live, part of the time at 


least, in or with the fluid medium of shifting belief — 
now melting and evanishing quite, now precipitating 
afresh, now firm as a rock on which to stand — of 
the unsettled and problematic character of which be- 
lief science has made us all the more certain, while 
helping to free us from bondage to externals." 

I sent the writer questions in another form, hop- 
ing that now at least he would be able to answer. 
I got in reply this letter : 

" I find it quite disconcerting to seem to be so dis- 
obliging as still not to answer your Statistical In- 
quiry. I have tried to give what I could of my rea- 
sons for my reluctance in my previous letter. I am 
not sure that I can completely oy accurately account 
for this reluctance. Very likely I cannot account 
for it. I regret it none the less, for I would gladly 
cooperate with you in your investigation ; but I seem 
to be profoundly inhibited for some reason, or lack 
of reason." 

I should have been surprised and sorry to find 
among scientists many instances of refusal to answer 
because of the " privacy " (signatures were not asked 
for) or the " sacredness " of religious beliefs. Only 
six, perhaps, belong to the suspicious class of those 
who try to persuade themselves and others that mat- 
ters of faith are too sacred to be recorded for a sci- 
entific purpose : — 

" I feel that these matters are of a personal and 
private nature, and ... I do not care to express 

" Those are matters of individual concern only and 


a statistical study of them is unnecessary and use- 

I shall venture to think that the weightier reason 
for the dislike displayed by these "scientists " for 
research in religious life, is often that given in 
the second clause of the following sentence which I 
italicize : " Those questions are of too personal a 
nature to permit of public expression — even were it 
possible for me to express or formulate my belief." 

Several are convinced that the beliefs in question 
are not matters of knowledge, but of faith, or of 
" spirit," and therefore they prefer not to answer : — 

" Ideas of a God are to me not matters of scientific 
knowledge but of faith ; and a scientific examination 
of faith does no especial good, I therefore prefer 
not to answer." 

Again, in cases of this last sort, one cannot escape 
the suspicion that the excuse given covers some 
other, more real impediment. Why should faith in a 
personal God and in personal immortality prevent 
one from stating that faith? Have these believers 
forgotten the noble and brave example of prophets 
and apostles who proclaimed their faith even in the 
face of an angry world? I suspect that had these 
persons possessed a real and lucid belief, they would 
have responded to my provocative questions with the 
quickness of powder to the match. They would have 
burst out in exclamatory sentences as others of my 
correspondents did : — 

" Of course, every Christian does." 

" I have positive knowledge of God by actual ex- 


" I not only believe firmly in a personal God, but 
feel certain of his existence.!' 

Closely related to those who will not debase 
" faith " and " things of the spirit " by utterance, is 
the position of one who informs me briefly that she 
will not analyze her religious feelings. Why not? 
Probably because of a fear that clear-eyed contem- 
plation might entail an irreparable loss. A sociolo- 
gist confesses that he " almost fears to reason " 
about these topics. When he attempts it, he " can- 
not reach the conclusion that a personal God watch- 
ing over us all and ready to listen to and grant our 
petitions exists " ; but " in moments of exaltation or 
of sorrow one does not reason about God, but in- 
stinctively gives thanks or prays for help and com- 
fort." If this shifting attitude is rare among men 
of trained minds, it is not infrequent in others. I 
have had occasion elsewhere to comment upon the 
effect of feeling and emotion in bringing to the fore 
old attitudes and beliefs. When thinking is inhib- 
ited, the instinctive, the habitual, the traditional get 
the upper hand. 

Pragmatic principles, in absolute contempt of ob- 
jective truth, are expressed in several communica- 
tions. I suppose that perfect worldly wisdom con- 
sists in believing in God when advantageous, and in 
disbelieving in him when belief is disadvantageous. 
Some of my correspondents have attained to this 
perfection. Here are the more striking instances of 
this attitude ; they refer to the belief in God : — 

" Sometimes, yes ; sometimes, no, according to my 
temporary needs." 


" Philosophical discussion of religious matters 
often affords opportunities for intellectual athletics 
and mental relaxation, but there is comfort in the be- 
lief of the existence of an Almighty without any con- 
sideration as to the details of such a belief. . . . 
Such beliefs do not and should not interfere with the 
efficiency of man, or prevent his working out his 
own salvation in worldly matters." 

" Strong belief, and absolutely no knowledge," is 
admitted by a good many, particularly with refer- 
ence to immortality. A sociologist, for instance, 
who unlike the preceding marked both A 1 and B 1, 
writes, " I have no scientific reasons to back my be- 
lief. I believe in immortality because I like it." 

But those who, despite absence of all knowledge, 
behave as if they believed, are not all so outspoken. 
Sometimes a tone of helplessness and even of shame 
creeps into the confession: — 

" I certainly do not believe in a God defined as 
above, and yet I use him sometimes as though I did 
— as though it were a useful custom left over from 
childhood." (The writer marked A 2 and B 2.) 

" Do I believe in a personal God and immortality? 
If you mean completely and always, certainly not. 
Practically, I sometimes act as if I believed. There 
is often definite prayer but no sense of warmth or 
close contact." (From a psychologist.) 

A sociologist who answers A 2, " Intellectually, 
no," makes the following marginal note : " In crises 
a traditional belief recently appeared which aston- 
ished mo. I felt that my prayer would be answered. 
My reasoning is freer than my living, my living than 


my tradition. I have never succeeded in getting 
away entirely from the dogmatic fear-teaching of 
parents and Sunday-School." 

A few among scientists and also among the other 
groups, refrained from marking any statement, be- 
cause the questions " are so phrased that it is prac- 
tically impossible for thinkers of a certain very ad- 
vanced but yet quite conservative school to answer 
them without creating false impressions." Their 
" real belief is neither expressed by an affirmative 
nor by a negative answer." The same complaint is 
voiced by an historian, thus, " The questions relating 
to God are so formulated as to make it impossible 
for me to formulate my belief. I would say ' no ' to 
the first two questions. But / have a belief." Oth- 
ers say, similarly : " I fear that I could not state 
the truth as I see it by merely answering this Q." ; 
or, " I do believe in a God and in prayer, but not as 
you have outlined it." 

These persons rebelled against the limitations im- 
posed by my statements upon the expression of their 
philosophico-religious opinions. They assumed that 
I wished to find out what they believed, and com- 
plained that marking the statements submitted to 
them would not convey a sufficient idea of their own 
opinion. As a matter of fact, I was interested 
merely to discover whether or not they held the par- 
ticular beliefs formulated in the Q. What else thru 
might believe, fell outside my present concern. I 
asked, " Do you believe this or not? " The answer 
these persons made is, in effect, "We cannot reply 
because we believe something else" ! This illogical 


objection derived strength, I think, from a fear that 
the denial of God as defined, would class them with 
" degraded " materialists. That fear has little 
foundation, for it is well known that to-day the de- 
nial in question is as likely as not to point to an 
idealistic view of life. The conclusions of this book 
will show what inference I draw from these statis- 


There remain to be considered a number of cases 
of misunderstanding A 1 which either prevented 
marking or led to an erroneous marking of the state- 
ments concerning God. 

In a long letter a physical scientist declares that 
the meaning of the expression " answer to prayer " 
is not clear to him and begs permission to ask 
whether in the Q. it means : — 

" (1) That the specific thing or change among 
things prayed for shall follow the prayer; 

" (2) That the specific thing or change prayed 
for, or something which from the point of view of the 
petitioner is equally desirable, shall follow the 
prayer; or 

" (3) In addition to the occurrence of (1) or (2) 
above, the offering of prayer is a sine qua non of the 
occurrence of (1) or (2) ; or 

" (4) Has the term some meaning not covered by 
the above?" 

The meaning of A 1, has been obvious to nearly all 
my scientific correspondents. They have under- 
stood that the specific thing, or change prayed for, 


or something equally desirable following the prayer, 
does not constitute an answer in the sense intended, 
unless this " thing " or " change " be the result of 
the will of a superhuman Being moved by the prayer. 
The seriousness of this gentleman's desire " to re- 
turn a useful answer " may be measured by the cir- 
cumstance that he does not say which one of the sev- 
eral meanings he takes the trouble to distinguish is 
the one he favors. We may be assured, however, 
that he is not in a position to mark A 1. 

Another physical scientist formulates briefly his 
beliefs and leaves it to me to place him in the cate- 
gory to which he belongs. He writes : — 

" You ask if I believe in God, and I say, ' Cer- 
tainly,' for otherwise I should be simply asserting 
my own comprehension of the world and life. Such 
claims I would be very far from making. . . . Sec- 
ond, you ask if I believe in a God who upsets natural 
law at the request of prayer. I should say, ' Cer- 
tainly not.' " 

At this point we come to the cause of the writer's 
unwillingness to mark any of the statements under 
A. He disclaims any right to assert " that the ex- 
pression of the desire of any individual could not 
possibly have any effect upon the course of events. 
Such expression certainly does have effect upon the 
course of events since one's own feelings and pur- 
poses are only a part of that course." The writer 
is evidently right in this last affirmation. But since 
the Q. expressedly includes effects of prayer due 
to the action of a divine Being, moved to action by 
prayer, why did he not mark A 2 ? 


A third physical scientist, who also did not an- 
swer, wrote: — 

" I should be pleased to learn in some detail just 
what your first question means. Was it to ask if I 
believe in a material God who would or might alter 
or revoke natural law and thus fulfill an expressed 
request for some material thing which I might desire 
or request ? If so, my answer would have been defi- 
nitely, ' No.' " 

My answer to this correspondent ran somewhat as 
follows, " The statements of the Q. define neither 
God nor the kind of request answered by him, as ma- 
terial or spiritual. Why, then, construe in the sense 
of material? Any kind of respo?ise proceeding 
from the will of a God moved to action by man's 
supplication or desire, falls under ' answer ' as de- 
fined in A 1." 

Two other scientists, and several belonging to 
other groups, refrained from marking, but declared 
a belief in a God who does not interfere with his own 
Jaws. And six scientists — I shall not ;speak of 
similar instances in the other groups — marked A 1 
although they also reject God's intervention in nat- 
ural laws. They say, " The answer is always 
through the mind of man and never ' breaks ' a 
natural law." Or, " I do not believe in any inter- 
ruption or subversion of known laws of nature. I do, 
however, believe in a supreme being." Or, " I should 
not expect an answer involving any upset of the es- 
tablished order of the physical universe." 

Did these six scientists mark correctly in marking 
A 1? Any one thinking that because of the action 


of prayer upon God's will, something will happen 
that would not otherwise take place, marks correctly 
when making a cross opposite A 1. Some of these 
scientists seem to be of the opinion of the theologian 
who teaches that " God can excite new centers of 
association of ideas, can arrest old associations, all 
intellectual activity being subservient to feeling. 
He can produce whatever doctrines and ideas He 
wishes." ' The distinction between the relation 
maintained by God with the physical and with the 
psychical world is not infrequent among people of 
some culture. Such is probably the opinion of the 
person who holds that "the answer is always through 
the mind of man." 

Detailed acquaintance with the orderliness of 
physical nature tends to dispossess God of that 
realm. Will not familiarity with mental and social 
laws have the same effect with regard to the psychic 
world? The statistics of beliefs of the psychologi- 
cal and sociological groups give, it seems, an affirm- 
ative answer to this query. For the psychologist, the 
mental life is as completely within the realm of law 
as the physical ; therefore, if the existence of law is 
a bar to God's action, he is excluded from interven- 
ing in the psychical life of man as well as in the 
physical universe. 

Are we to suppose that all those who marked A 1 
without comment accept the possibility of divine in- 
tervention both in the physical and in the mental 

1 H. Bois: Inspiration and Revelation; Unpublished Lec- 
tures to Theological Students: 1902-1903. Quoted by E. Pon- 
seve, in Experience et Acte de Foi; a Doctor's Dissertation; 
Valence; 1905. Pages G3, 64. 


world? Most of them very probably do, but a num- 
ber limit God's action to the psychical world. 2 


These statements do not necessarily imply a con- 
viction of the non-existence of God and of immor- 
tality. They may mean merely the absence of the 

2 Regarding the term " subjective," I must observe that one 
psychologist interpreted that term in the strict sense. He 
wrote, " I have this belief (A 1) on the basis of personal ex- 
perience which I can interpret in no other way. But do you 
not see that the man who does not believe in God, but holds 
to the strictest form of the mechanical rather than the 
sipiritual theory of the world, is above all other logically 
bound to hold that such tremendous facts as the constant 
prayers of hundreds of millions cannot possibly fail to have 
objective effects?" The effects the writer calls here " ob- 
jective," are the results of prayer which pass beyond the 
praying individual affect other persons and which, neverthe- 
less, are not due to the action of a divinity acting in conse- 
quence of the prayer. Prayer exerts, incontrovertibly, such 
objective effects. But they are usually included in the ex- 
pression " subjective effect of prayer," as currently used. In 
any case, statement A 1 implies clearly that the "effect 
must come from God, at the instigation of the petitioner. 

If we suppose that this writer admits only the strictly sub- 
jective and the objective psychological effects of prayer, and 
not the determination of God's will by it, he belongs with 
those who do not believe A 1. Errors resulting from this 
misunderstanding of the meaning given to " subjective " in 
the Q., would have undoubtedly increased the number of the 
believers. I do not think, however, that many persons took 
the word in its strict signification. As a matter of fact, the 
present instance is the only one which has come to my notice. 
I am not sure that, except in the case of the psychologists, 
the addition to A 1 of the word " objective " (the statement 
of the Q. would then have read, " I mean more than the sub- 
jective and objective psychological effects of prayer ") would 
not have caused more trouble than its omission. I find even 
my philosophic correspondents writing " subjective effects," 
when obviously they intend to include what the person cited 
means by " objective." 

• A. 2 : I do not believe in God as defined above. B 2 : I 
believe neither in conditional nor in unconditional immortal- 
ity of the person. 


conviction of their existence. In that case state- 
ments A 2 and B 2 have approximately the same 
meaning as statements A 3 and B 3 (agnosticism or 
absence of definite belief). But, although the Q. 
asks that every statement "true for you" be marked, 
only a small percentage of those who marked 3, 
marked also 2. One may, therefore, probably re- 
gard the majority of those who marked A 2 and B 2, 
and not also A 3 and B 3, as desirous of doing more 
than affirm the absence of the belief in God and im- 
mortality, they may be taken to have intended to ex- 
press positive belief in their non-existence. 

Readers may ask themselves why I did not formu- 
late statements which would have separated more 
definitely those who merely lack the beliefs expressed 
in A 1 and B 1, from those ready to affirm their fals- 
ity. But can a sharp line of demarcation be drawn 
between these two attitudes? Evidently not; the 
terms, belief, unbelief, doubt, uncertainty, are sus- 
ceptible of endless gradation. "The questions do 
not provide for degrees and intensities," complains 
one of those who returned a blank Q. This is un- 
fortunately true, but in attempting to refine, I 
should probably have made matters worse. As a 
matter of fact, few were seriously troubled by the 
indefiniteness of these terms, and my purpose was 
as well, perhaps better served by the statements of 
the Q., as by any others ; for, the persons who could 
affirm a belief in the two great propositions of 
Christianity are actually separated from those who 
could not; and, in addition, those who were willing 
to do more than affirm absence of belief and doubt, 


were enabled to do so, and usually did so, by mark- 
ing A 2 and B 2, without marking also A 3 and B 3. 

Something of the variety of attitudes and the 
fluidity of the meanings which should be covered by 
a theoretically perfect Q. is suggested in the follow- 
ing extracts from two letters written by eminent 
phychologists : — 

" Question 3 really represents my position, which 
would rather be agnostic in the purely negative sense 
of the word, not the positive and aggressive sense. 
My feeling is that for all I know, there may be a 
personal God who answers prayers, and there may 
be a personal immortality. The surface facts do 
not seem to me to favor either, but I have been 
wrong so many times in my life that I am emphat- 
ically not ready to deny the possibility of either. 
What the possibilities of the universe are, is surely 
one of the things I do not know." 

" These things have for the past several years 
become so entirely indifferent to me — save as mat- 
ters for psychological study — that I find it dif- 
ficult to answer the questions. Ten years ago I 
should have said I do not believe — I am an agnostic 
(possibly with reservations as to precise definition) 
— I do not believe — I do not desire. Now it seems 
to me that, while there is no chance of my ever be- 
lieving or desiring, to say that I do not believe and 
do not desire is to make too positive a statement. 
What I mean is that, if I could bring myself to any 
serious consideration, I might decide (and probably 
should decide) No, again; but serious consideration 
strikes me as waste of time; these things are just 


non-existent for me; I can no more say: ' I do not 
desire immortality ' than I can say, ' I do not desire 
to reign in hell.' I may say, ' I do not believe in 
God ' is a thing I should never think of saying, be- 
cause it implies some interest in the question." 




Those who marked A 3 and B 3 occasionally ex- 
plained their meaning by phrases such as these: 
" Neither belief nor disbelief " ; " In the dark " ; "I 
mean merely the absence of belief"; "I have no 
sufficient knowledge of it." Three knew that " it 
is impossible for any one to know anything about 
such matters." An attitude representative of a large 
number of " agnostics " is expressed in these words, 
" I believe in a spiritual life here and now. The 
trend of the universe is towards the higher and 
better. Righteousness here is sufficient for me. Of 
God and the future I am ignorant. The best im- 
pulses of man are not meaningless. I am content, 
I believe, not to know where evidence is lacking." 

It appears very clearly from the answers that 
A 3 in the first Q. was marked by agnostics in the 
exact sense of the term, and also by persons who, 
without denying the possibility of knowledge, are 
themselves in doubt. It is equally clear that in the 
revised Q., A 3 was marked not only by persons with 
indefinite views, but also by genuine agnostics. I 

4 A 3 and B 3, in the first Q.: "I am an agnostic "; in the 
second, " I have no definite belief concerning this question." 


have therefore put all the answers to A 3 and B 3 
under the double head " Agnostics and Doubters." 


It was not intended that believers in continuation 
after death without preservation of the conscious- 
ness of identity should mark B 1. If any have, the 
number of disbelievers recorded in the tables is 
smaller than it should be. 

The anticipation of continued individual existence 
without the preservation of the consciousness of 
identity satisfies neither the desire for justice nor 
that for the perpetuation of love and friendship ; it is 
not the immortality for which the human heart com- 
monly yearns. 




The 14.7 per cent, of scientists who returned blank 
Q., include eight per cent, who for physical reasons 
could not answer (death, severe illness, or ab- 
sence), or else gave some clue to their opinions. 
The utterances of most of the latter are sufficiently 
explicit (as the reader may have judged for himself 
by the preceding quotations) to show that their be- 
liefs, were they entered upon the statistical tables, 
would increase rather than decrease the proportion 
of non-believers in A 1. 

A similar statement is true regarding the part of 
the Q. dealing with immortality. The number of 
those who marked B 2 and B 3 is less than the whole 


number of those who do not believe in B 1. Why, for 
instance, did the person who wrote the following 
refrain from marking any of the statements on im- 
mortality? " I have no opinion and do not care to 
the extent of striving to understand the unknow- 
able." He could, it seems, have marked B 3. An- 
other, who also refrained from marking the Q., de- 
clared the subject " an open one." Why, then, not 
mark the affirmation of " no definite belief " made 
in B 3 ? The same question may be asked of others 
who make similar remarks. One person who calls 
himself a " materialist," did not mark the Q. I may 
add that only once did that term appear in the cor- 
respondence occasioned by this inquiry. 

As to the failure to return the Q. (10 per cent.), 
an indeterminate number is to be ascribed to death, 
to critical illness, or to absence. The information 
derived from the comments of those who returned 
but did not mark the statements, and in particular 
of those who answered only at the second request 
(see the discussion of table XXIII), indicates that, 
had the remainder of this 10 per cent, answered, 
the proportion of disbelievers would very probably 
have been increased. 

The proportions of Q. not returned, or returned 
blank in the other groups, will be mentioned in the 
proper place. In every case, except that of the his- 
torians, they will be found to be less, and in some 
cases very much less, than for the scientists. 

The foregoing survey of the causes of failure to 
answer should not leave us under the impression that 
on the whole the Q. was frowned upon. After all, 


the proportion of those who raised objections is 
small. Two of these are conspicuous for their pic- 
turesque language : 

" A man must be lacking a job or a mind to go 
into this business." 

" This is a lot of damned rot." 

Strange as it may seem, these two persons marked 
the Q. ; the first A 1 and B 1 ; the other, A 2 and 
B 2. A large number wrote approvingly and con- 
gratulated the author upon having undertaken this 
research; the great majority complied with the re- 
quest for information and otherwise remained silent. 
In the main, the reception accorded to this inquiry 
and its results should make impossible in the future 
the rough and ready adverse judgment which many 
are in the habit of formulating as to the possibility 
of obtaining, by the questionnaire method, definite 
and reliable knowledge upon questions such as those 
under investigation here. 

The chief result I hoped to achieve by means of 
the statements of part A of the Q. should now be 
evident. I wanted to separate the believers in a 
personal God from all others, even from those who, 
rejecting that belief, entertain neverthless a spir- 
itual conception of ultimate reality. 

In the sphere of practical religion, gods are de- 
fined by the attributes implied in their worship. 
Now, the worship of the God of the Christian 
Church, in all its branches, implies a Being in direct, 
affective, and intellectual communication with man. 
No one who has ever entered a Christian Church 
and opened a Prayer Book, whether Roman Cath- 


olic, Protestant, or Unitarian, can fail to know that 
when both the physical and the psychical world are 
conceived as subject to immutable laws, not subject 
in any degree to human desires acting upon a Being 
able to gratify them, Christian liturgies and hymn- 
ologies have lost their object. In such a world, 
prayer for rain, for protection from sin, for pardon ; 
songs of praise and adoration — these, and nearly 
everything else in the church services, have be- 
come atrophied survivals of means of salvation once 

I am well aware that there are those who say, 
" No ; these things have not lost their meaning, they 
have assumed another meaning." Why should 
earnest men quibble? The practical question raised 
by this research is precisely whether those for whom 
these " things " have changed their meaning, as they 
actually have, should nevertheless strive to preserve 
the established forms of worship. 


This part of Investigation C is based upon an- 
swers received from 1000 persons chosen by a rule 
of chance from American Men of Science. It is 
separated, for a reason already indicated, into two 
divisions of 500 each ; and these again fall into two 
subdivisions including 300 persons of lesser and 200 
of greater distinction. 5 Every other group in in- 

' The 300 less eminent men of the first division were se- 
lected by taking the first name on every other page of Amer- 
ican Men of Science; and in addition, as this did not pro- 


vestigation C was likewise divided into " lesser" and 
" greater " men. In one division of the scientists, I 
kept separate the answers of the physical, from 
those of the biological scientists, and was thus able 
to show what influence training in these sciences has 
upon the belief in God and immortality. 

The sciences and the occupations represented in 
the first division are indicated in chart III. The 
upper figure in each square of the table refers to the 

vide the desired number, the last name on every fifteenth 
page. In case one of the names so found was starred, the 
first unstarred name following, or preceding was taken in- 
stead. The 200 eminent men were found by taking every 
fifth starred name in the volume. Since there are in the 
whole directory 1000 starred names, this method produced 
the desired 200 names. 

In the second division, the 300 less eminent men were 
found by taking the second name on every other page, and 
the name before the last on every fifteenth page. When a 
starred name, or a name which had been used in the first 
division was encountered, it was replaced by the nearest 
available name. The 200 eminent men were found by taking 
every fifth starred name, beginning at the end of the volume. 

I left my correspondents in ignorance of the distinction 
I was making in lesser and greater men. A slight difference 
in the size of the Q. was used as a means of keeping separate 
the answers from the two classes. The answers from the 
physical scientists were kept distinct from those of the biolo- 
gists by a difference in the printing of the Q. 

The choice of the 1000 starred names in American Men of 
Science was made by Dr. James McKeen Cattell with the co- 
operation of twelve of the most distinguished men in each 
science. From these men, Dr. Cattell asked and received, for 
each science, twelve lists containing a definite number of 
names arranged in the order of their distinction, according to 
the opinion of the makers of the lists. From the twelve lists 
in each science, Dr. Cattell compiled, according to a method 
described in an Appendix to American Men of Science, the 
lists of names starred in that volume. 


lesser, the lower one to the greater men. It ap- 
pears that college and university professors make 
up over 60 per cent, of the total. The next two 
larger groups are of men employed by the govern- 
ment (12 per cent.), and in industries (11 per cent.). 

The Beliefs in God and Immortality. — In the two 
divisions of scientists taken together, the believers 
in God (A 1) amount to 41.8 per cent, of the num- 
ber of those who answered. If we put together the 
disbelievers, (41.5 per cent.) , i. e., those who marked 
A 2, and the agnostics or doubters, i. e., those who 
marked A 3, we get 58.2 per cent, of non-believers* 

If the lesser men are compared with the greater, 
the number of believers become, for the former, 48.2 
per cent, of the lesser men who answered ; and for 
the greater men, 31.6 per cent, of the greater men 
who answered. Thus it appears that, among the 
lesser men, believers and non-believers are nearly 
equal, while over two-thirds of the greater men are 
not able to affirm belief in the God of the Christian 
churches. The reliability of these figures, when 
taken to indicate a difference due to intellectual 
ability and knowledge and to traits making for suc- 
cess in the professions concerned, might be ques- 
tioned if quite similar differences were not found in 

6 I shall use this term throughout, to designate by one 
term both those who marked A2 (the disbelievers) and those 
who marked A3 (the agnostics or doubters). 



Physical Psychol. Sociolo. Totals 

Mathemat. Biolog. and and in per 

Science Sciences Philos. Educat. cents. 

College and Univ. rl07 57 6 3 58. 

Professors \ 73 52 5 5 68. 

Government serv- J 26 10 — — 12. 

ice \ 17 6 — — 12. 

_ , - f 38 3 — — 14. 

Industr ^ |l2 - _ 1 6. 

Lower School J 1 4 2 — 4. 

Teachers \ 1 — — — — 

Physicians and f — 10 — — 3. 

Surgeons \ — 3 — — 1.5 

f 1 2 — 6 3. 

Museums \_ 6 1 - 3.5 

ReSearch { 9 \ 1 1 I 

Unclassified ( 6 3 — — 3. 

I 1 3 — — 2. 

Notes : — The upper figure in each space refers to 
the lesser; the lower one, to the greater men of 

The percentages (last column to the right) are of 
the total number of lesser or greater men, as the 
case may be. , 

It will be noticed that a few psychologists, sociolo- 
gists, and educators got into this division. This was 
not intended. In the second division physical and 
biological scientists only were included. With this 
difference, this table may stand also, in a general 
way, for the second division. 


every one of the other groups, both regarding God 
and immortality. 

In this group, as well as in every other, the num- 
ber of believers in immortality is larger than the 
number of believers in God. This is an interesting 
fact. When the two divisions are taken together, 
the believers in immortality are found to be very 
nearly equal to the non-believers, the proportions 
are respectively 50.6 per cent, and 49.4 per cent. 
If we compare the lesser with the greater men, we 
get 59.3 per cent, of lesser, against 36.9 per cent, 
of greater believers. 

Among the greater men, believers, disbelievers, 
and agnostics or doubters, number each about one 
third of the total number of those who returned an 

If, instead of taking the two divisions together, 
we consider them separately, differences of the same 
kind, but a little less for the first, and somewhat 
larger for the second division are to be observed 
with regard to both beliefs (see chart IV). The 
difference between the lesser and the greater men 
of the second division is shown by the figures 45.5 
per cent, and 27.7 per cent., for believers in God; 
and by 52.8 per cent, and 35.2 per cent., for be- 
lievers in immortality. 



















It is noteworthy that the number of those who 
announce agnostic or indefinite opinions concerning 
immortality is greater than the number of disbe- 
lievers. This is especially marked among the 
greater men of the second division : disbelievers, 25.4 
per cent.; agnostics and doubters, 43.7 per cent. 
They feel much less hesitation in affirming disbelief 
in God: disbelievers, 52.7 per cent.; doubtful opin- 
ions, 20.9 per cent. 7 It would be interesting to 
know how far the recent efforts of the Psychical 
Researchers have led to a shift from disbelief in 
immortality to a suspension of judgment. 

Comparison of the Physical with the Biological 
Scientists; Second Division. — The biologists pro- 
duce a much smaller number of believers in God and 
in immortality than the physicists (see chart V). 
The figures are, for the believers in God : physicists, 
43.9 per cent; biologists, 30.5 per cent; and for the 
believers in immortality, 50.7 per cent, against 37 
per cent. 

There are fewer believers among the greater men, 
whether physicists or biologists. The smaller per- 
centage of believers is found among the greater 

7 In several instances the percentages given in the text for 
believers, disbelievers, and agnostics or doubters, sum up to 
more than one hundred. The reason for this anomaly is that 
some persons marked both disbelief and agnosticism or doubt 
(statements 2 and 3). Among the men of science, for in- 
stance, 15 lesser and 11 greater men of division I, and 5 
lesser and 2 greater men of division II marked both A2 and 
A3; in no other group did this happen as frequently. 

In the graphic representations I counted as disbelievers all 
those who marked both statements. 


biologists; they count only 16.9 per cent, of be- 
lievers in God and 25.4 per cent, of believers in im- 
mortality. As many as 59.3 per cent, of greater 
biologists express disbelief in God, and 31.7 per 
cent, in immortality. The discussion of these in- 
teresting figures had best be deferred until the 
results from the other groups have been set forth. 

The Desire for Immortality. — Among savage and 
semi-civilized populations every one believes in im- 
mortality because directly observable facts seem to 
establish continuation with absolute certainty; but 
no one desires to enter the other life. With us it 
is different. Of those who answered my Q. all who 
profess belief in immortality, with the exception of 
three in each division, express also a desire for it. 
Even of those who do not believe, a considerable 
number would find great solace in the assurance of 
a future life. 

" I should be very glad if the evidence seemed suf- 
ficient to warrant marking the first statement in 
each part of the Q., since to my mind there would 
be considerable comfort in both beliefs," writes one 
of my correspondents. Another, who has felt 
obliged to mark A 2 and B 2 because he has " not 
found the slightest trace of evidence " for God or 
immortality " in the course of 54 years of life," 
confesses that he " sincerely abhors " his position. 

The facts and the arguments known to my corre- 
spondents are apparently quite insufficient to con- 
vince all those who would find satisfaction in the 
expectation of an after life. 















With the normally constituted individual, the 
realization of the absence of ground for a belief 
usually abates, and even removes the desire for it. 
Such is apparently the experience of the person who 
would desire immortality if he considered it " at all 
probable." The reasonable man tries to suppress 
desire for the unattainable, and sometimes suc- 
ceeds. Several marginal notes on the Q. affirm 
this triumph of reason. But the desire for immor- 
tality is usually too strong, either because deep-root- 
ed in human nature or kept alive artifically, to yield 
to lack of evidence. In the second division the num- 
ber of non-believers who desire immortality is equal 
to 20 per cent, of all those who marked any of the 
statements concerning immortality. 

In the two divisions taken together, only two dis- 
believers desire immortality intensely ; while of those 
who marked B 3, 29 desire it intensely. This fact 
should be construed both as indicating the destruc- 
tive effect of disbelief upon desire, and the influence 
of strong desire upon belief. 

The prospect of immortality leaves many believ- 
ers very nearly indifferent. They say, " I almost 
never think of it " ; or, " It does not seem to influ- 
ence my life " ; and the like. In order to form some 
opinion of the vitality of this belief, we should con- 
sult the answers to the statements concerning desire 
for immortality. Twenty-seven per cent, of those 
who in the two divisions marked any of the state- 
ments, do not at all desire immortality, 39 per cent, 
desire it moderately, and 34 per cent, intensely. 


(For the statistics of the lesser and greater men con- 
sidered separately, see chart VI.) 

For some unstated reason, 24 persons who marked 
Al and B 1 left B 4 unmarked. The only informa- 
tion available concerning these persons is contained 
in two remarks : " I do not think about immortal- 
ity " ; "I am indifferent to it." One may conjec- 
ture that still others of these 24 were in the same 
situation. They must have found all three state- 
ments under B 4 too decidedly affirmative to repre- 
sent fairly their attitude, for they neither desire 
immortality intensely, nor moderately, nor yet do 
they desire it not at all. They are rather, on the 
whole, indifferent. In any case, it may be assumed 
that, had they felt keen desire, they would have indi- 
cated it. 


\83.8Z J \67.7X^^m 





70.7% ^^ \60.4X 



So few genuinely old-fashioned utterances are to 
be found in my correspondence, that I quote this 
model of pious resignation : " I desire immortality 
in so far as it is the Lord's will." A disbeliever says 
curtly, " I would dread it." 


The last membership list of the American His- 
torical Association was published in 1911. It con- 
tains about 2800 names, a part only of whom are 
professional historians. In order to make this 
group as nearly as possible comparable with the men 
of science, I limited the investigation to professors 
of history in colleges and universities, leaving out, 
however, the professors of history in Roman Cath- 
olic institutions and all professors of Church his- 
tory. The list thus prepared numbered 375 per- 
sons. One hundred of these were selected as greater 
historians. Of the remainder, 102 were singled out 
according to a rule of chance similar to the one 
followed in the case of the scientists, and designated 
" lesser men." 8 The other names were disregarded. 

The Questionnaires not Returned, or Returned 
Unanswered. — Six Q. were returned unopened, and 
33 others were never heard from. We may prob- 

8 I do not claim that these lists are perfect. Limitation 
of time induced me to be satisfied with a list of greater men 
compiled from two initial lists prepared by competent per- 
sons; more was not necessary. The only criticism that might 
be directed against the statistics on the ground that certain 
names were not accurately ranked, is that the differences 
shown to exist between the lesser and the greater historians 
are smaller than they would have been had the lists been 
more carefully prepared. This criticism I would accept, with 
the reservation that, in my opinion, the error is a very small 
one indeed. 


ably account for this large proportion on the 
ground that the membership list of the American 
Historical Association which I used, although the 
most recent one, was over three years old. Many 
of the Q. not heard from had no doubt been ad- 
dressed to persons who had died or were absent 
from home or were seriously ill. 

Of the returned Q., twelve from greater, and seven 
from lesser historians, were blank. But here again, 
as in the case of the scientists, comments make it 
possible to classify a considerable number which 
would on the whole increase the percentage of non- 
believers. Persons who will not put their names 
" to a written creed," or " do not care to make any 
definite statement," are in any case not ardent be- 
lievers in propositions Al and Bl. They could not 
have said, as did one of their number who marked 
these statements: " With me it is not only a con- 
viction ; it is a fellowship and an experience of great 
reality." The tables include, however, only those 
who marked the statements. Four of those ad- 
dressed were reported away and one is dead. Other 
blank Q. probably fall into the same categories. 
For a detailed discussion of the statistical signifi- 
cance of the Q. returned unanswered, the reader is 
referred to a preceding section. 

The Beliefs in God and in Immortality. — There 
is little difference between the greater historians 
(see chart VII) and the greater scientists; only 
about one-third of each believe in God. The pro- 
portions are not very different regarding immor- 
tality (see chart VII). If, however, the lesser his- 



torians are compared with the lesser scientists, a 
marked difference appears. The former include a 
much larger number of believers than the latter: 
63 per cent, against 48 per cent. A similar dis- 
parity exists with regard to immortality. 

In round numbers, the proportion of historian 
non-believers in God among greater men is about 
equal to that of believers among the lesser men, 
namely two-thirds of the whole number of those who 
answered. Of the 36.9 per cent, of non-believing 
lesser men, as many as 34.2 per cent.; and of the 
67.1 per cent, of non-believing greater men, as many 
as 50 per cent, affirmed positive disbelief in God 
(A2). The contrast between the lesser and the 
greater men is hardly less regarding immortality. 











Three who marked Al disclaim any belief in 
" miraculous intervention with the laws of nature," 
or " suspension of natural laws." Two affirm a hope 
of immortality. One of these marked neither Bl 
nor B2; the other marked B2. 

The Desire for Immortality. — The figures reveal 
nothing of general interest not apparent in the 
figures for the scientists (chart VI.) Forty-five 
per cent, of the non-believers desire immortality 
either moderately or intensely. Of the believers, 
only one affirms the absence of desire. The number 
of greater men who do not desire immortality is 
nearly double that of the lesser men in the same 


The last membership list of the American Socio- 
logical Association (published in 1913) contains 
approximately 580 names, a large number of whom 
are of persons who may be called professional 
sociologists neither in the practical nor in the acade- 
mic sense. I thought I might, without increasing 
the total number addressed and without giving up 
the comparison of lesser with greater professors, 

' One who did not mark belief, qualifies thus his affirmation 
of desire, " if [the other life] is not radically different from 
the present." Another who marked both conditional im- 
mortality and moderate desire, adds, " but merely on account 
of the instinctive clinging to life, and not from any rational 
conception of the nature of the life hereafter. Annihilation 
is preferable either to hell or to singing psalms in heaven." 
One who marked B3 finds it impossible to answer the ques- 
tions concerning desire without defining the conditions of im- 
mortality. A person who accepts " the Roman Catholic 
Church doctrine " abstained from marking any statement 
under B. 


enlarge the interest of the inquiry by making a 
group of sociologists who are not teachers of so- 
ciology. Accordingly, I prepared with the help of 
two competent collaborators a list of 23 (it should 
have been 25) greater professors, and I marked 25 
of the remaining professors according to a rule of 
chance. 10 Of the non-teaching sociologists, 149 
were selected, also according to a rule of chance. 
I had thus three lists, two of which were of pro- 
fessors, numbering altogether 197 names. 

The Questionnaires not returned or returned un- 
answered. — The percentage of Q. not returned is 
much less for the sociologists than for the histori- 
ans and less also than for the scientists. Shall we 
credit sociologists with deeper interest and greater 
confidence in statistical investigations? It is cer- 
tainly true that the statistical method of research is 
the sociologist's very own, and that he is much more 
generally familiar with its possibilities than the sci- 
entist or the historian. However that may be, every 
one of the 23 greater sociologists returned the Q. 
and only three of them were blank. Of the 25 lesser 
men, 24 filled the Q., one only remaining unac- 
counted for. The non-teaching sociologists did not 
do so well. Fourteen per cent, of them ignored the 
Q. Four Q. were returned blank, two of these be- 
cause of the death of the addressee; a third con- 
tained the following, " All wise men are of one re- 
ligion, but this wise man never tells which." I ven- 

"The Russell Sage Foundation was included among the 
colleges and universities. Professors in Roman Catholic in- 
stitutions were excluded. 









Ue.z'M B 







ture the opinion that wise men of this sort are not 
in a position to mark Al. Five Q. came back un- 
opened, with the inscription, " Not found." 

The Beliefs in God and in Immortality. — The 
professors of sociology separate themselves sharply 
from the non-academic sociologists. Regarding 
the belief in God, the latter stand about midway 
between the lesser scientists and the lesser histori- 
ans (54.6 per cent, of believers; see chart VIII) ; 
whereas of the 45 professors who marked the Q. 
no more than 24.4 per cent, are believers in God. 
When the greater professors are considered sepa- 
rately, the difference in the number of believers and 
non-believers is accentuated; only 19.4 per cent, of 
them marked Al. These figures are approximately 
the same as those for the greater biologists. 

It is not difficult to explain the particular place 
occupied by the sociologists and the biologists in 
this investigation. When the student of physical 
laws has come to accept determinism in the physical 
world, he may and often does keep for the less gen- 
erally understood biological and sociological phe- 
nomena the traditional belief in divine intervention. 
The biologist and the sociologist, however, bet- 
ter acquainted with the natural causes of these 
phenomena than their brothers of the physical 
sciences, find it just as impossible to admit God's 
action in the biological and sociological domains as 
in the physical. 

The figures referring to immortality suggest no 
particular comment. As in the other groups, the 
number of believers in immortality is greater than 


the number of believers in God. The features char- 
acteristic of preceding groups reappear here. Of 
the non-professing sociologists who marked Bl, one 
believes merely " in the possibility " of immortality ; 
and another treats immortality " as a working 

The Desire for Immortality. — The only point de- 
serving special mention is the large proportion of 
the non-professional group who desire immortality 
intensely. In all other respects, the more general 
remarks made with reference to the corresponding 
figures for historians and scientists apply also to 
the sociologists. 11 

The list of members of the American Psychological 
Association for 1914 contains 288 names. I elim- 
inated the names of all those who do not teach 
psychology (making an exception, however, in favor 
of those engaged in scientific psychological re- 

1 ' From the comments it appears that several abstained 
from marking B4 because the " conditions " were not denned. 
They said, " I desire immortality under some conditions." 
Others refrained from expressing complete absence of desire 
because they were merely " indifferent." On the other hand, 
one who had marked moderate desire describes his attitude as 
one of " practical indifference." In one case the desire is a 
" matter of intellectual interest " pure and simple. I add the 
comments of two persons, neither of whom marked Bl, al- 
though they both expressed desire for immortality. 

" The answer to B4 depends largely upon my physical con- 
dition and the weather. The day when one feels immortal, 
one intensely desires immortality." 

" I desire fullness of life, not all its qualities and activi- 
ties; life in all its best relations and noble purposes. The 
desire involves immortality, though its contents is qualitative 
rather than temporal." 


search), those teaching in Roman Catholic institu- 
tions and exclusively in medical schools, 12 and those 
who are decidedly educators or pholosophers rather 
than psychologists. This last exclusion was the 
more appropriate that I intended to investigate 
separately the beliefs of philosophers. 

In a list thus reduced to about two-thirds of its 
original length, fifty names were singled out as those 
of the more distinguished psychologists ; and, mark- 
ing the remaining names according to a rule of 
chance, I obtained 57 lesser psychologists. 

The Questionnaires Not Returned or Returned 
Unanswered. — Four greater men did not return the 
Q. ("absence" was the cause in one instance). 
Eight returned unanswered blanks. Of the lesser 
psychologists, none failed to return the Q. ; and, of 
the four who returned blanks, two explained at some 
length their views. The letter of one of these was 
published in a preceding section. 1 * 

The Belief in God. — The proportion of believers 
(24.2 per cent., see chart IX) is almost the same 
as among the teaching sociologists (24.4 per cent.). 
The greater psychologists yield the smallest pro- 
portion of believers of any of the groups investi- 
gated, namely 13.2 per cent. This result bears out 

12 My reason for eliminating those teaching exclusively in 
medical schools, is that these men are usually physiologists 
rather than psychologists. 

1 5 In the selection of the greater men in this field, I was 
assisted in the same way as in the preparation of the list of 
greater historians. 

To three psychologists who raised objections to the form of 
the Q., I sent another set of questions prepared for the phi- 
losophers. One psychologist answered that form. 



the explanation I ventured as to the differences in 
the number of believers belonging to the several 
classes of scientists. 

The Belief in Immortality. — The most striking 
fact brought to light by chart IX is that whereas in 
every preceding group the number of believers in 
immortality is substantially larger, and, in the 
case of the sociologists, very much larger than that 
of the believers in God, in the present group the 
number of believers in immortality is clearly less 
than that of the believers in God. Only three of 
the greater psychologists declare a belief either 
in unconditional or in conditional immortality. 






I \beuevers 



\a6Nostics & DOUBTERS 


Taken altogether, the teaching sociologists give 49 
per cent, of believers in immortality as against 24.4 
per cent, of believers in God ; the psychologists, 19.8 
per cent, as against 24.2 per cent." 

From these figures one may fairly draw this con- 
clusion: in the present phase of psychological 
science, the greater one's knowledge of psychical life, 
the more difficult it is to retain the traditional be- 
lief in the continuation of personality after death. 

The Desire for Immortality. — Although the num- 
ber of those who do not desire immortality (47.2 
per cent.) is far greater in this than in any other 
group, nevertheless the desire remains, not only in 
the small number of believers (with one exception) , 
but, also in addition, in 34.7 per cent, of the non-be- 


I intended from the first to cap the preceding 
statistics with a study of American philosophers. 
The Q. was, however, formulated primarily for 
scientific men. It proved, on the whole, satisfac- 
tory to them and also to the historians, to the 

14 One psychologist replaced the word " belief " by " hope." 
Another who, like the preceding, marked none of the state- 
ments under B, says, " I think it likely, however, that my 
psychological awareness of the world and of what I perceive 
and conceive as myself will cease at death." That is also 
the opinion of the one who describes God as " incarnated in 
him and in others." He thinks it " likely " that conscious- 
ness of the consciousness of our earthly self will cease. Is 
that also the opinion of the one who marked Bl and wrote, 
" I believe that there is something corresponding to personal 
immortality, although I cannot make out a satisfactory belief 
as to its nature" ? Should this person not admit the con- 
tinuation of the consciousness of identity, he ought not to 
have marked Bl. 


sociologists, and even to the psychologists. As it 
was desirable to keep throughout to the same state- 
ments, I ventured to send the same Q. to the 
philosophers also. But the number of objectors 
was so considerable that, after some correspondence 
with philosophical friends, I prepared another set 
of questions. My purpose remaining the same, the 
new statements were so shaped as to make the 
answers comparable with those already obtained. 

A philosopher who had warned me that the first 
form would prove a failure, thought the new formu- 
lation " a great improvement." A large proportion 
of those addressed did in fact send in answers with- 
out any expressed reservation ; but a disconcertingly 
large number returned blanks ; and, what was worse, 
in several instances the comments accompanying cer- 
tain marked questions, especially Al, showed that 
the same markings could not be taken to express in 
all cases the same view. 

The circumstances in which I found myself at the 
time prevented a further effort to formulate state- 
ments which might have met more exactly the needs 
of the case. How difficult it would have been to pro- 
duce something adequate without transforming alto- 
gether the scope of my inquiry appears from the 
following comment. 

" I do not know what is meant in this circular 
by the terms ' a God/ ' the course of nature,' ' the 
divine,' ' personal immortality,' ' state of develop- 
ment.' That is, I do not know in what sense Pro- 
fessor Leuba uses these terms in this connection. 
... It would therefore be useless for me to add 


my statistical contribution. — This reply stands for 
no lack of interest or of wish to cooperate." 

Another, also a well disposed correspondent, 
writes, " I would answer, if I could, but I cannot, be- 
lieving as I do in a meaning for all these things, 
but not in the apparent meaning of the questions." 
This philosopher differs from the preceding in that 
he knows what the apparent meanings of the state- 
ments are; but, because he does not accept those 
meanings, he cannot answer, though he would like 

If the reader will recall the many quotations I 
have made in the preceding pages, and in particular 
the letters from two psychologists on pages . . and 
. . . , he will be amazed at the difference in under- 
standing — unless it be something else — that sepa- 
rates philosophers from other men, even from 
eminent psychologists. For, in these letters there 
appears not even the shadow of difficulty in inter- 
preting the Q. It is as clear to these distinguished 
psychologists as the questions of the Census Bureau. 

One of the potent reasons for failure to answer 
has already been mentioned. Those addressed 
imagined that I was preparing statistics of philo- 
sophical opinions on God and his relation to nature 
and to man ; whereas my sole interest was to find out 
how many of them accepted a particular conception 
of God and of his relation to man. As the state- 
ments did not provide the scope necessary to an 
expression of their philosophy, these persons found 
the Q. " inadequate." This seems to have been the 
feeling of the one who wrote : — 


" I do not find it possible to answer your ques- 
tions by Yes or No. I have very deep convictions 
in reference to them all, but I should feel about 
answering them with the plain Yes or No, very much 
the way I would feel about answering the articles 
of the creed, that any Yes or No was not quite ade- 
quate. I have serious distrust of the statistical 
method of promoting any matters of this sort, and 
I feel sure that these questions can hardly bring to 
light any adequate information about the general 
spiritual attitude of present day men." 

A number of those who returned blanks should, it 
seems, have found it possible to fill out the Q. ; that 
one, certainly, who wrote, " I believe its effect 
(prayer) is only aesthetic, analogous to those of 
self-expression through lyric poetry or, possibly, 
dramatic poetry." 

But the fatal defect, for statistical purposes, of 
the philosophers' returns, is that the marking of 
Al does not express a uniform meaning. This ap- 
pears conclusively in comments such as the fol- 
lowing : — 

" I believe in a certain summation of effects 
wrought by prayer — which is, of course, to be dis- 
tinguished from the belief that objective conditions 
may be altered by the mere weight of petitions. In 
a universe in which, as I believe, the ordinary dis- 
tinction between ' subjective ' and ' objective ' is a 
practical and methodological one, there is no hard 
and fast distinction between the ' unalterable ' and 
objective conditions and those which are subject to 
the human will. Prayer is a potent influence in 


fashioning the human will, and a world in which 
men pray should differ profoundly from a world in 
which men do not." 

Agreeing as I do with all this, I unhesitatingly 
deny belief in Al, instead of affirming it as this per- 
son does. In so doing, I find myself in agreement 
with practically all my non-philosophical corre- 
spondents, and doubtless also with most philoso- 
phers holding the view of prayer defined in the above 

Another, who also marked Al, added, " In some 
sense, yes — or at least I am inclined so to believe." 
But when he came to the statement, " I have no 
definite belief, etc." (A4 of Q. for philosophers) he 
wrote, " Perhaps this comes nearer my position 
than any of the other statements. / do not believe 
in prayer as a means of getting something, either 
external goods or desirable psychological states." l5 
Now, it seems clear that the sense in which this per- 
son marked Al is not that given it by the non- 

Although signatures were not requested, a large 
number of the respondents put their names to their 
answers. In every group the proportion of signa- 
tures among the answers to the first request is con- 
siderably larger than among the answers to the 
second. 1 " This might have been foreseen, for many 

10 The italics are mine. 

18 The percentages of signed answers to the first and to the 


who waited for the second appeal must have an- 
swered reluctantly. 

Who are most likely to sign, unasked, a statement 
of religious belief? Not those in disagreement with 
officially accredited convictions. Chart X shows 
what a strong influence upon the readiness to sign 
the answers is exerted by the thought of orthodox 
opinion. In every group the proportion of believ- 
ers is much larger among those who signed than 
among those who did not. The figures for the his- 
torians show the greatest difference; they are 66.7 
per cent, for the believers who signed the Q., and 
38.9 per cent, for the believers who did not. The 
disbelieving greater men do not evince a greater 
readiness to disclose their identity than their less 
illustrious confreres. Of the signed answers from 
greater historians, only 38.9 per cent, are from dis- 
believers or doubters. 

Men who do not chose to put their signatures 
to their heterodox opinions when replying to a 
scientific inquiry, are not likely to announce these 
opinions to the orthodox people among whom they 
may live. On the other hand, believers who, unre- 
quested, sign their answers, are just as unlikely to 
conceal their orthodox opinions from their neigh- 
bors. I have already referred to the result of such 
a condition, namely, the far reaching and misleading 
exaggeration of the number of believers. 

second requests were, for the scientists of division II, respec- 
tively, 41.9 per cent, and 21.4 per cent.; for the historians, 
41.6 per cent, and 13.9 per cent ; and for the sociologists, 
33.6 per cent, and 27.1 per cent. 





Believers Disbelievers or Non- 

Doubters believers 

|a Lesser { ul 

'! J Greater X 34 ' 6 
§ | Greater.... j &£ 

M « r 51.! 

B0th { 30.4 

£ LeSSer { 5 7 8°1 

| Greater.... { £J 

"*>» { si, 7 

Lesser / f Q ] 

m \ 19.4 

"S n * f 66.7 

o Greater \ ._ 

.2 \ 48.8 

lBoth { 'as 

Notes : — T/ie figures in this table are percentages 
of the total number of lesser or of greater men, or 
of both, as the case may be. 

The upper figure, in each group of two, refers to } 
the signed, the loiver to the unsigned answers. 





















. . . 
























I have explained elsewhere that it was necessary 
to send out the Q. twice. It occurred to me that a 
comparison of the prompt with the tardy answers 
might reveal intresting information on the attitude 
of the respondents. One would suppose that per- 
sons with clear and sharply denned views, whether 
positive or negative, would be the more likely to 
answer at the first request, while those with vague 
and uncertain opinions would be tempted to pro- 
crastinate. The figures do not bear out very 
definitely this conjecture. 


Although I have already drawn attention to the 
most striking results of this statistical inquiry and 
to their significance, a brief summary and some ad- 
ditional comments seem to be required in this place. 

I have claimed that the investigation provides 
relatively exact information concerning the beliefs 
in God and in immortality of college students and of 
several classes of men of high attainments. I have 
further claimed that this information is valid for 
all students in the non-technical departments of 
American colleges and universities of the first rank, 
when the first rank is taken to mean approximately 
the upper third of all recognized colleges; and for 
all the American scientists, historians, sociologists, 
and psychologists, when these designations are used 
in as broad a sense as by the official organizations of 
these different groups. 

This second claim need not be accepted merely on 
the strength of the affirmation of statisticians who 


declare that the fractions of the whole groups upon 
which our several investigations bear are sufficient 
to make the results representative of the entire 
groups. The 1000 scientists to whom the ques- 
tionnaires were to be sent were separated into two 
divisions of 500 each. A comparison of these two 
divisions (chart IV) provides adequate justification 
for the claim that our figures are valid — with un- 
important variations — for all those whose names 
are included in American Men of Science, i. e., for 
practically every American who may at all properly 
be called a scientist. 

If, in the case of the scientists, we may take the 
statistics of 1000 as representative of 5500, we may 
a fortiori accept the other statistics as representing 
the whole of each group, since in each the propor- 
tion upon which the investigation bears is larger 
than in the case of the scientists. While for these 
the proportion is only 17 per cent., for the histor- 
ians, it is 54 per cent.; for the sociologists, 34 per 
cent. ; and for the psychologists, 56 per cent. 

The representative nature of our statistics invests 
them with a great significance, for if these groups 
of men do not include all the intellectual leaders 
of the United States, they certainly include the 
great majority of them. The expression " intellect- 
ual " leader should not by any means be construed as 
a disclaimer of the importance of the moral in- 
fluence exerted by these men. Most of them are 
teachers in schools of higher learning. In that 
capacity they should be, and doubtless are, in a very 
real sense, moral leaders. There is no class of men 


who, on the whole, rival them for the influence ex- 
erted upon the educated public and upon the young 
men from whom are to come most of the leaders of 
the next generation. 

What, then, is the main outcome of this research? 
Chart XI (Partial Summary of Results) shows that 
in every class of persons investigated, the number 
of believers in God is less, and in most classes very 
much less than the number of non-believers, and that 
the number of believers in immortality is somewhat 
larger than in a personal God ; that among the more 
distinguished, unbelief is very much more frequent 
than among the less distinguished ; and finally that 
not only the degree of ability, but also the kind of 
knowledge possesed, seems significantly related to 
the rejection of these beliefs. 

The correlation shown, without exception, in 
every one of our groups between eminence and dis- 
belief appears to me of momentous significance. In 
three of these groups (biologists, historians, and 
psychologists) the number of believers among the 
men of greater distinction is only half, or less than 
half the number of believers among the less distin- 
guished men. I do not see any way to avoid the 
conclusion that disbelief in a personal God and in 
personal immortality is directly proportional to 
abilities making for success in the sciences in ques- 
tion. What these abilities are, we shall see in the 
following chapter. 

A study of the charts, with regard to the kind 
of knowledge which favors disbelief shows that the 
historians and the physical scientists provide the 




5 * |$ § 



iiiiiii i ■ i iiiiii 




greater; and the psychologists, the sociologists and 
the biologists, the smaller number of believers. The 
explanation I have offered is that psychologists, 
sociologists, and biologists in very large numbers 
recognize fixed orderliness in organic and psychical 
life, and not merely in inorganic existence; while 
frequently physical scientists recognize the presence 
of invariable law in the inorganic would only. The 
belief in a personal God as defined for the purpose of 
our investigation is, therefore, less often possible to 
students of psychical and of organic life than to 
physical scientists. 

The place occupied by the historians next to the 
physical scientists would indicate that, for the 
present, the reign of law is not so clearly revealed in 
the events with which history deals as in biology, 
economics, and psychology. A large number of 
historians continue to see the hand of God in human 
affairs. The influence, destructive of Christian be- 
liefs, attributed in this interpretation to more inti- 
mate knowledge of organic and psychical life, ap- 
pears incontrovertibly, as far as psychical life is 
concerned, in the remarkable fact that whereas in 
every other group the number of believers in im- 
mortality is greater than that in God, among the 
spychologists the reverse is true ; the number of be- 
lievers in immortality among the greater psycholo- 
gists sinks to 8.8 per cent. One may affirm it seems 
that, in general, the greater the ability of the psy- 
chologist as a psychologist, the more difficult it be- 
come for him to believe in the continuation of in- 
dividual life after bodily death. 


The students' statistics show that young people 
enter college possessed of the beliefs still accepted, 
more or less perfunctorily, in the average home of 
the land, and that as their mental powers mature 
and their horizon widens, a large percentage of them 
abandon the cardinal Christian beliefs. It seems 
probable that on leaving college, from 40 to 45 per 
cent, of the students with whom we are concerned 
deny or doubt the fundamental dogmas of the Chris- 
tian religion. The marked decrease in belief that 
takes place during the later adolescent years, in 
those who spend those years in study under the in- 
fluence of persons of high culture, is a portentous 
indication of the fate which, according to our sta- 
tistics, increased knowledge and the possession of 
certain capacities leading to eminence reserve to the 
beliefs in a personal God and in personal immor- 

The situation revealed by the present statistical 
studies demands a revision of public opinion regard- 
ing the prevalence and the future of the two cardi- 
nal beliefs of official Christianity, and shows the fu- 
tility of the efforts of those who would meet the 
present religious crisis by devising a more efficient 
organization and cooperation of the churches, or 
more attractive social features, or even a more com- 
plete consecration of the church membership to its 
task. The essential problem facing organized Chris- 
tianity is constituted by the wide-spread rejection of 
its two fundamental dogmas — a rejection apparently 
destined to extend parallel with the diffusion of 
knowledge and the intellectual and more qualities 
that make for eminence in scholarly pursuits. 



It is commonly supposed that knowledge and de- 
sire determine belief. This is substantially true only 
of the classes of beliefs not backed by some form 
of social sanction — supposing there be any such. 
When we say that we are social beings we mean, 
among other things, that we hold opinions which we 
have neither established nor critically examined, 
and that we are guided by aims which correspond 
more to the needs of society than to our natural in- 
dividual inclinations. The few who markedly de- 
part from this, the way of social life, are pilloried as 
iconoclasts and rebels, or lauded as innovators and 
reformers. But not even these escape the power of 
social forces. The most they may claim is to be 
freer than others from the pressure of social con- 
victions and practices, and to determine to a greater 
degree their beliefs and conduct according to their 
own nature and critical knowledge. 

How compelling the prestige and the power of 
political and religious bodies, and how independent 
their influence may be of the personal inclinations 
of the individual and of rational knowledge, appears 
perhaps sufficiently on a survey of the geographical 
distribution of political and religious convictions. 
A mere boundary line separates Christians from 



Buddhists, or the admirers of a king from his bitter 
detractors — this, even though little or no differ- 
ence in culture or in temperament or in moral likes 
and dislikes differentiates the populations. The 
influence of social forces in the establishment of be- 
liefs should be kept in mind in attempting to ac- 
count for their disappearance. 

No one, I think, will be disposed to contradict me 
when I affirm that the loss of belief accompanying 
collegiate progress (charts I, II) can hardly be due 
to a decrease of a genuine desire for an immortal 
life in heaven. The students in the lower classes 
do not yearn for the angelic life more acutely and 
generally than those in the higher classes. In any 
case, the statistics would not bear out that explana- 
tion. Is it, then, the clearer realization of the 
absence of sufficient evidence for immortality and 
of the strength of the objections to it, which break 
down the traditional faith of many students as they 
pass on to the higher classes? To a certain extent, 
yes. But certainly not that alone. Direct argu- 
ments for or against immortality have affected but 
little even the older of these students. The propor- 
tions of juniors and of seniors who declare that they 
have never considered the arguments for immortal- 
ity are almost the same as that of the freshmen and 
of the sophomores. 

The chief influence on the decrease of belief 
among older students should be ascribed, in my 
opinion, to the gain in independence which is a nor- 
mal result of growth and education. Young people 
enter college with few opinions that may be called 


their own ; they are echoes of their social world. In 
college, they take fuller cognizance of their powers 
as independent individuals, they learn to detach 
themselves in thought from the various social groups 
to which they have belonged or to which they 
actually belong. They begin to react upon the 
traditional environment with the energy of their 
newly found individuality. A serious crisis is often 
passed through at this period, during which they 
are sorely tempted to make a tabula rasa of the 
" rubbish " with which they find themselves loaded 
— and little is there which in their impatience of 
restrait and in the conceit of their ignorance they 
would not wipe out with that epithet. 

The presence of a powerful impulse to self-affirma- 
tion and independence is, it seems to me, revealed 
incontrovertibly in chart I where men and women 
are compared. Why are there 82 per cent, of 
female believers in God and only 56 per cent, of 
male? It is not because the latter are in possession 
of information unknown to the former. They be- 
long to the same colleges, attend the same courses, 
and move in the same social circles. The main cause 
of the differences is to be found, I hold, in the 
greater readiness of men to break from tradition. 
Whether it is a secondary sex difference or merely 
the product of her education and social position, 
the greater conservatism of woman is not seriously 
contested. One of its consequences in the sphere 
of religion is that just attributed to it: during the 
years of adolescent self-affirmation the desires for 
intellectual freedom and for a rational organization 


of opinions and conduct are in young women more 
effectively balked than in young men by the tender 
ties of the home and the authority of the church. 

The greater aversion of women to breaking with 
their social group — an aversion which makes them 
more impervious to information threatening them 
with isolation — is an aspect of their greater tender- 
ness and conscious weakness. Other things being 
equal, the readiness to break with one's social circle 
and one's past is inversely proportional to love for 
and dependence upon that circle and that past. One 
may therefore say, as I did when discussing chart I, 
that the greater proportion of women believers is an 
expression of their greater need of affection and of 
their clearer consciousness of dependence. 

When denying to knowledge the principle share in 
the maintenance of the beliefs with which we are 
concerned, we should not forget that the aggress- 
ively self-reliant person is more likely to scrutinize 
the foundation of the faith urged upon him and to 
look for or at least to pay attention to facts and argu- 
ments in support of other possible faiths. But know- 
ledge thus gained is to be referred to that indepen- 
dence which appears to me the fundamental cause of 
the difference of belief we have discovered. The more 
fundamental thing to bear in mind is, I repeat, not 
any possible inferiority in point of knowledge, but 
a difference in attitude and disposition towards the 
established order of things. As to the relation of 
knowledge itself to belief, it is a common-place of 
psychology that conviction is not a function of 
knowledge alone, but is dependent in a very sub- 


stantial way upon inclination. Much of what we 
know never finds its logical place in our conscious- 
ness ; whereas other items of knowledge lend to prop- 
ositions towards which we incline far greater weight 
than legitimately belongs to them. 

If now we turn to the statistics that deal with men 
of different degrees of eminence, we shall again be 
led to ascribe the more fundamental influence in 
the production of differences in the number of be- 
lievers, to intellectual and moral independence and 
therefore to whatever permits or fosters that inde- 
pendence. Greater eminence implies, doubtless, 
greater knowledge in the field of eminence and fre- 
quently also outside of it. But this does not mean 
that the loss of belief accompanying eminence arises 
entirely or even chiefly from greater knowledge. 
The reward of eminence is not usually given for mere 
knowledge and sheer intellectual ability ; the measure 
of native intellectual capacity is far from being 
always in direct relation to the social and scientific 
standing attained. The qualities we have just as- 
signed in larger degree to men than to women are, 
in the careers followed by the persons included in 
our statistics, foremost factors among those leading 
to eminence. The men of higher rank are, on the 
whole, distinguished among their colleagues for 
activity, tenacity, initiative, and self-reliance. 1 Of 

1 I purposely leave out of consideration certain moral qual- 
ities that are not pertinent to our discussion. In English Men 
of Genius, page 92, Sir Francis Galton, wrote, "The first of 
the qualities of especial service to scientific men is independ- 
ence of character. Fifty of my correspondents show that 
they possess it in excess, and in two only is it below par." 


these qualities, at least the last two tend to resist 
the forces of tradition, of authority, and of prestige, 
as well as to increase knowledge. 

The restraining influence of early moral training 
and of public opinion has been brought out in the 
discussion of the signatures and of the comments 
accompanying the answers to our questionnaire. 
At the same time we have realized that a certain 
callousness making for affective freedom from kith 
and kin, for love of the naked truth and sharply de- 
fined situations, and a courageous impatience with 
the bonds that would tie us to the past and retard 
the movement forward and upward, enter as fre- 
quent and powerful factors in the determination of 
the opinions of our scientific men. Possession in 
reasonable degree of these qualities, antagonistic to 
the traditional and the orthodox, is incontestably 
favorable to success in the careers followed by the 
classes of men with whom we have been occupied. 
I conclude, therefore, that the greater loss of belief 
suffered by the greater men is probably not to be 
ascribed chiefly to their greater knowledge, but 
rather to certain temperamental qualities or ener- 
gies which make it relatively easy for them to rid 
themselves of much of the social pressure to which 
others yield. 

The action of the qualities singled out is favored 
by the social environment to which the person who 
has reached distinction is usually transported. He 
finds himself removed from lower circles where tra- 
dition holds undisputed sway. Around him intel- 
lectual freedom is honored far above orthodoxy. 


So that those who fill the places that fall to the lot 
of distinguished men of science are relieved of much 
of the pressure which bears upon their less favored 
colleagues. If, furthermore, the greater men issue 
predominantly from eminent families, they have 
been from their early years freer than the lesser men 
from the influence usually exerted upon youth by 
narrow traditional opinion. In a struggle against 
the forces of tradition, the greater men would thus 
be doubly favored. 

How shall we account, now, for the differences in 
belief among the lesser men and the greater men 
themselves? Within these subdivisions as between 
them, the existing difference in distinction rest in 
part upon the qualities I have singled out; I see, 
therefore, no reason for giving a separate answer 
to this second part of the problem. 

But why should greater moral and intellectual 
independence result in the rejection of the beliefs 
with which we have been concerned, instead of lifting 
them up to the level of truly personal, critically 
established convictions? When the grounds of belief 
are insufficient to meelthe requirement of an inde- 
pendent mind, then independence leads either to the 
reiection of the belief or to agnosticism. 




The outcome of the foregoing study of the origin 
of modern immortality, of the metaphysical argu- 
ments adduced in its support, and of the statistics 
of belief in it, is that it rests not upon any scien- 
tifically established fact or convincing argument, 
but upon the usefulness rightly or wrongly ascribed 
to it. Faith in the hereafter must therefore justify 
itself by its utility. Is humanity better off with 
than without that belief? That is the form which 
the problem assumes. We are not to consider 
only the direct loss, but also any effect which its 
surrender may entail. Like a physical object, if 
in another sense, a belief fills a place which no other 
belief can occupy. It has to be removed before an- 
other can flourish in its place. The value of new 
beliefs, made possible by the disappearance of the 
old, is, therefore, a constituent part of our problem. 

Although I have come to hold that, in so far 
as the most civilized nations are concerned, the 
modern belief in immortality costs more than it 
is worth, I do not, of course, claim the ability to 
prove this opinion to the satisfaction of everybody. 
An exhaustive treatment of the subject would, 
furthermore, be impossible here. I shall limit my- 
self to the presentation of certain weighty facts 
and considerations. They indicate that the utility of 
the belief in immortality to civilized nations is much 
more limited than is commonly supposed; and that, 


if we bring into the calculation all the consequences 
of the belief, and not merely its gratifying effect, we 
may even be brougt to conclude that its disappear- 
ance from among the most civilized nations would 
be, on the whole, a >(gain. 1 

The situation revealed in the preceding pages 
would be a hopeless one if those were right who hold 
that utter pessikmism and moral decay would be the 
price paid for the surrender of immortality. " No 
sooner do we try to get rid of the idea of immortal- 
ity," writes Emerson, " tha^ Pessimism raises its 
head. . . . Human griefs seem little worth assuaging; 
human happiness too paltry (at best) to be worth in- 
creasing. The whole moral world is reduced to a 
point. Good and evil, right and wrong, become in- 
finitesimal, ephemeral matters. The affections die 
awa y — die of their own conscious feebleness and 
uselessness. A moral paralysis creeps over us," ' 

1 Inasmuch as a similar problem exists with regard to the 
belief in a personal God, and as these beliefs usually dis- 
appear altogether, I shall refer to both of them when the 
argument applies to both. 

The metaphysically inclined is referred to discussions of 
the value of belief in God in McTaggart's Some Dogmas 
of Religion ("Theism and Happiness"), and in Hocking's 
The Meaning of God in Religious Experience (" The Need 
of God"). 

' As quoted in the article, " Immortality," 11th edition of 
Ency. Brit., I was not able to find this passage in Emerson's 

Alfred Tennyson is reported by his son (Vol. II of A 
Memoir, London, 1897) as follows, "The life after death, 
Lightfoot and I agree, is the cardinal point of Christianity." 
P. 420. 

See R. S. Ellis, " The Attitude Toward Death and the 


Were this true, it were better for this book never to 
have been written ; and the attitude to be commended 
in the presence of this great problem would not be 
the one of the fearless inquirer, but that of the os- 
trich. But is the modern belief in immortality 
really necessary in order to make this life worth liv- 
ing; do we lose with it all possibility of living justly, 
generously, and beautifully? 

The burden of the verification of this direful pre- 
diction may quite properly be left to those who make 
it. They might point to shocking instances of 
moral wretchedness in unbelievers, quite regardless 
of other unbelievers who are models of cheerful cour- 
age and useful citizenship ; and they might instance 
the atrocious deeds of communities which have open- 
ly rejected the beliefs with which we are concerned, 
as France during the Great Revolution. But the dem- 
onstration of a causal relation between the rejection 
of God and immortality and the wickedness of a 
historical period is not made by the discovery of this 
coincidence. It would be just as plausible to attrib- 
ute to unbelief the noble principles and the great 
social reforms of the French Revolution. 

When confronted with the discovery that consid- 
erably more than half of all the men included in our 
investigation, and over two-thirds of the more emi- 
nent of these, are non-believers in personal immortal- 
ity and in God, what will these pessimists say? 

Types of Belief in Immortality." Jr. of Relig., Psy., VII, 1915, 

0. Lowes Dickinson, " Is Immortality Desirable"? Boston, 

Coe's " The Psychology of Religion, Chap. XVII. 


They may repeat the well-worn, although never veri- 
fied affirmations that unbelievers are saved by the 
leaven of believers, and that only men of great intelli- 
gence can dispense with these beliefs. But that 
which these and other facts, soon to be mentioned, 
may be taken to demonstrate is rather that the moral 
leaven is to-day in civilized lands provided to a very 
considerable extent by the unbelievers themselves. 

Nothing is more open to suspicion than the feeling 
of certitude with which it is common to affirm that 
this or that moral or material possession is necessary 
to one's well being. The true value of a possession 
is usually revealed only by its loss. We may find 
that to be deprived of it is a blessing in disguise, even 
as Silas Marner discovered after the disappearance 
of his gold that there were immeasurably greater 
treasures than those to which he had until then given 
his heart. Against those who assume the validity 
of the feeling of the necessity of another life in order 
to live out this life worthily and in contentment, rise 
the numberless instances of those who, having cher- 
ished that conviction and lost it, found themselves 
ultimately none the poorer. That opinion is also 
contradicted by the growing number of eminent 
moral teachers who condemn the clinging to personal 
existence after death as a hindrance to the best life 
on earth. 

The alleged necessity of the beliefs in God and im- 
mortality need not arrest us longer. The only ques- 
tion deserving consideration is that of the loss that 
may be entailed or, perchance, the gain that may be 
made by their surrender. 



We have seen that in Christian countries immor- 
tality is far from being a universal object of desire. 
Very little more than half the students in investiga- 
tion B ascribed to the belief in immortality a serious 
practical importance (chart II). Among the lesser 
scientists of the second division, 21.5 per cent, an- 
nounced the absence of the desire, and 38.7 per cent, 
a moderate desire, while among the greater men, as 
many as 35.5 per cent, disclaimed any desire for im- 
mortality, and 39.1 per cent, more affirmed a mod- 
erate desire only (see chart VI, p. 258). Many of 
the believers indicated that they were nevertheless 
quite indifferent to the belief; the utterances of sev- 
eral of these have been quoted. Among the psychol- 
ogists, 47.2 per cent, affirmed the absence of desire 
for immortality. These figures will no doubt cause 
surprise, for it is, I think, generally supposed that 
even the disbelievers yearn for it. In so far as Schil- 
ler's figures are comparable, they confirm mine. He 
had imagined before the investigation that nearly 
everybody must feel at least a temporary concern 
about the future life. His returns " showed com- 
paratively little evidence of great spiritual revolu- 
tions and still less of any considerable anguish 



connected with them." ' He was therefore driven to 
the conclusion that " spiritual crises and prolonged 
religious excitements are the prerogative of excep- 
tional temperaments; ordinary persons seem to ad- 
just themselves easily and rapidly to their definite 
attitude." My own inquiries lead to the same con- 
clusion: they are rare who do not succeed in adjust- 
ing themselves satisfactorily to the loss of religious 
beliefs once held to be absolutely indispensable. 

Forty-three per cent, of the men and 22 per cent, 
of the women students (investigation A) declare 
themselves indifferent to the existence of God. These 
are nearly all non-believers. 

The great discrepancy between the actual facts 
and the general opinion concerning the desire for and 
the prevalence of the beliefs in God and immortal- 
ity, is readily explained. The unbelievers usually 
keep their opinions to themselves, because of the ob- 
loquy cast upon disbelievers, and because the ground 
for their unbelief is rarely clearly formulated in their 
own minds. The believers, convinced as they are 

1 " The Answers to the American Branch Questionnaire 
regarding Human Sentiment as to a Future Life"; Pro. Soc. 
Psy. Research; Part 49; Vol. XVIII; pages 428, 429. 

Forty per cent, only, out of a total of 3321 answers, gave 
an affirmative answer to the query, " Do you now feel th" 
question of a future life to be of urgent importance to your 
mental comfort?" In this 40 per cent, were included those 
" who had never entertained a doubt, or had trained them- 
selves to regard a future life as certain, and then dismissed 
the matter from their minds." Schiller remarks that " these 
had to be counted as yesses, especially when it was expressly 
stated that though a future life might not be often thought 
of, yet to lose this assurance would amount to a spiritual 
catastrophe." The " noes," we are told, are often of a very 
decided character; "not at all," "not in the least," "never 
think about it," being common phrases. 


that the welfare of the community depends upon 
these beliefs, drown by the loudness and frequency 
of their affirmations the objections offered by 
the most assertive of the unbelievers. As long as a 
few hold God and immortality to be vital beliefs, 
while most think that nothing is to be gained by their 
loss, the present mistaken opinion concerning their 
prevalence and potency will persist. 

Should any one be tempted to seek the cause of in- 
difference to immortality in an uneasy consciene or 
in moral obtuseness, a closer examination of my sta- 
tistical data should undeceive him. The increase in 
indifference and disbelief accompanying scientific 
eminence and collegiate progress is decidedly not 
compatible with that explanation. 

Dislike for Immortality: — Not only is it true that 
a certain number of believers do not desire immor- 
tality; but a relatively considerable number of un- 
believers and perhaps a few believers abhor the 
idea of endless continuation. Many instances of 
marked dislike for immortality have been recorded. 
I select the following : — 

A woman, thirty years of age, declares that she 
" has always felt death to be better than all, and the 
sight of death does not weaken the pleasure of an- 
ticipating it as the best thing life has to offer; this 
sense that it is a triumph, is not born of theology*or 
distaste for life; for health, surroundings, joy of life 
have always been of the best ; there is no thought of 
anything after life, but death itself is ' a consumma- 
tion devoutly to be wished.' " : 

President G. Stanley Hall: "A Study of Fears"; Amer. 


A man, twenty years old, member of the Presby- 
terian Church, writes : — 

" I have thought about immortality considerably, 
but it does not cause me any uneasiness at all. I 
shall be content to die, absolutely dead, and pass off 
into nothing, — beautiful, blessed, peaceful nothing, 
— when I do die. Of course I love life, and shall 
live with a vim as long as I can, but I do not desire 
to live forever. I want to be unconscious, and not 
even know that it is ' I ' who am resting." a 

From my own collection I take this: — 

" For some cause which I do not know how to ex- 
plain, I feel a great dread of the possibility of hav- 
ing to live forever, or even again. If I could be cer- 
tain that at death I would find oblivion, it would add 
greatly to my present happiness." * 

If the hope of immortality has often been the 
poet's inspiration, he also has been moved by the 
hope of annihilation : — 

" From too much love of living, 
From hope and fear set free, 

We thank with brief thanksgiving 
Whatever gods may be 

That no life lives forever; 

That dead men rise up never; 

That even the weariest river 
Winds somewhere safe to sea. 

" Then star nor sun shall waken, 

Nor any change of light; 

Nor sound of waters shaken, 

Nor any sound or sight; 

Jr. of Psy.; VIII; 1897. Pages 221-224. 

*J. Morse and J. Allen, Jr.: "The Religion of One Hun- 
dred and Twenty-six College Students"; Jr. of Rclig. Psy- 
chol; 1913; VII; pages 175-194. 

4 Number 116 of my unpublished documents. 



Nor wintry leaves nor vernal, 
Nor days nor things diurnal; 
Nor the sleep eternal 
In an eternal night." 5 

John Addington Symonds echoed in prose the 
same sentiments : — 

" Until that immortality of the individual is ir- 
refragably demonstrated, the sweet, the immeasur- 
ably precious hope of ending with this life, the ache 
and languor of existence, remains open to burdened 
human personalities." ' 

It would be hard for those who in discouragement 
and sorrow are accustomed to find comfort in the 
contemplation of an eternity of bliss, to see in these 
instances anything more than an expression of 
moral perversion. I do not think, however, that 
that judgment would fit the majority of the wooers 
of annihilation. Yet there are among them a few 
clearly abnormal cases; this one, for instance: — 

" The main idea by which I am tormented'is that 
of eternity; ... I feel time lasting indefinitely, 
space lengthening without end, something like a 
never stopping crescendo. It seems to me that my 
being gradually swells, substitutes itself to every- 
thing, grows by absorbing worlds and centuries, then 
bursts, and everything ceases, and I am left with an 
atrocious pain in the head and in the stomach. . . . 
It is eternity which is frightful. Something with- 
out end, how horrible! Everlasting happiness, and 

' Swinburne, " The Garden of Proserpins 
6 From a letter to Henry Sidgwick. 


after? Still happiness, and after? That is as hor- 
rible as everlasting suffering." ' 

One is not even at liberty to suppose that an un- 
usual degree of disillusionment is responsible for 
aversion to a future life in the physiologically healthy 
and morally normal, for the fading away of the 
promises of early life should rather fix one's eyes 
more firmly upon the Perfect Life; modern immor- 
tality has sprung precisely from dissatisfaction with 
earthly existence. There must be something else 
that accounts for the difference between those who 
crave and those who abhor immortality.' 1 

But why seek far afield for an explanation of the 
dislike of immortality? A weariness of existence, 

' Pierre Janet: Lcs Obsessions et la Psychasthenic; Vol. I, 
pages 136, 137. 

8 If abhorence of eternal existence of any conceivable sort, 
is after all exceptional in Christian countries, it is the com- 
mon expectation in orthodox Buddhism. Nirvana, to which 
the followers of Buddha aspire, is a state from which all 
wickedness and corruption have departed and also all de- 
sires; individual personality has disapeared by absorption in 
the All : 

" And being, O priests, myself subject to birth, I per- 
ceived the wretchedness of what is subject to birth, and crav- 
ing the incomparable security of a Nirvana free from birth, 
I attained the incomparable security of a Nirvana free from 
birth; myself subject to old age, . . . disease, . . . death, . . . 
sorrow, . . . corruption, I perceived the wretchedness of what 
is subject to corruption, and, craving the incomparable se- 
curity of a Nirvana free from corruption, I attained the 
incomparable security of a Nirvana free from corruption. 
And the knowledge and the insight sprang up within me, 
' My deliverance is unshakable; this is my last existence; no 
more shall I be born again.' And it occurred to me, O priests, 
as follows: 

" ' This doctrine to which I have attained is profound, 
recondite, and difficult of comprehension, good, excellent, and 
not to be reached by mere reasoning, subtil, and intelligible 
only to the wise. Mankind, on the other hand, is captivated, 


temperamental, or the fruit of age * or of other cir- 
cumstances (but no! necessarily due to disillusion- 
ment) ; a disposition to enjoy the mood that informs 
Bryant's noble poem, Thanatopsis; and especially, 
perhaps, an inability to picture in intelligible and 
acceptable form a future life, suffice to make of a 
death that ends all, an acceptable, even a desirable 

If no one can be indifferent to happiness, one may 
not be able to foresee conditions of real eternal hap- 
piness. The despisers of immortality should not be 
thought to occupy the paradoxical position of 
rejecting blessedness; they are rather not able to 
persuade themselves that any eternal life of which 
they can conceive, would be to them blessedness. 
This is an important and a neglected aspect of the 
problem of immortality. Outside of the simple folk 
who accept whole-heartedly a paradise similar to the 
Garden of Eden, with God walking about in the cool 
of the evening, believers in personal immortality 
find themselves hard put to it to conceive under defi- 

entranced, held spell-bound by its lusts; and forasmuch as 
mankind is captivated, entranced, held spell-bound by its 
lusts, it is hard for them ... to understand how all the con- 
stituents of being may be made to subside, all the substrata 
of being be relinquished, and desire be made to vanish, and 
absence of passion, cessation, and Nirvana be attained.' " 
Henry Clarke Warren: Buddhism in Translations; Vol. Ill; 
1900. Pages 338, 339. 

'Colin Scott (hoc. cit., page 91) reports the opinion, or 
rather the "feeling," of sixteen old persons (average age, 
seventy-six) concerning their desire for life. Ninety-four 
per cent, would not like to live over; seventy per cent, long to 
die. Is this because of fatigue with this life, or because of 
the hope of future blessedness? Indifference to the other life 
probably keeps pace with indifference to this. Both are ex- 
pression of weakened desire. 


nite forms a never ending existence neither puerile 
nor surfeiting. The imagery of the New Testament 
is in this regard, as much as Dante's, symbolic or 
poetic. The fact is — and it is important that we 
should realize it — that we can think of the other 
life as eternal blissfulness only on condition of not 
insisting upon knowing anything specific about it. 
As soon as, no longer satisfied with a general assur- 
ance of unruffled peace and unalloyed enjoyment, we 
demand specifications, we find ourselves in the pres- 
ence of ideas and pictures, either absurd or repulsive, 
or void of real attractiveness. The best gifted reli- 
gious seers succeed in this descriptive task no better 
than the cleverest mediums. The utter failure of the 
latter to provide anything in the least acceptable in 
the way of a picture of the other world, when even 
moderate success would make their fortune, is a 
striking demonstration of the necessity for those 
who desire immortality of being content with a bare 
assurance of happiness and to be wary of curiosity ; 
for never since the days of Pandora was there a 
curiosity more surely threatening disaster. 

It is after all not very difficult to enter into the 
feelings of the weary earthly traveler who prefers 
the thought of extinction at death to the risk of an 
endless individual existence which, the more care- 
fully he seeks to picture or conceive, the less attrac- 
tive it becomes. In his acute study of the desire for 
immortality, Schiller noted the fact, and also the 
freedom with which many make use of the belief 
when and how it pleases them and forget it when its 
remembrance would be inconvenient : — 


" The future life is a vision that floats before the 
eye of faith, not a brutal fact to be thrust upon a 
reluctant attention. The world can stomach a fu- 
ture life so discreetly formulated." Thinking at 
times about heaven and hell, liking to hear an occa- 
sional sermon about them, " in no wise implies that 
they are taken as facts and must be acted on as 
such. On the contrary, it is just because the re- 
ligious doctrines of Immortality are not taken as 
fact that they are accepted. . . . Hence the re- 
ligious doctrines with respect to the future life form 
a sort of paper currency, inconvertible with facts, 
which suits people and circulates the better because 
of its very badness. Their function is to conjure up 
pleasing and consoling visions whenever we are in a 
mood for them, to provide a brighter background for 
life than sheer extinction; but they are not allowed 
to grow insistent enough seriously to affect ac- 
tion." 10 

The very significant disposition to play fast and 
loose with immortality appears in the answers to this 
question of the inquiry of the Society for Psychical 
Research, " Would you like to know for certain 
about the future life, or would you prefer to leave it 
a matter of faith?" Only 21 per cent, out of a 
total of 3218 may be credited with a real desire for 
a scientific knowledge of the possibility of a future 
life, while 23 per cent, voted for faith, 12.9 per cent, 
for ignorance, and 3.3 per cent, declared indiffer- 
ence. Definite knowledge might not meet all our de- 
sires ; it certainly would not leave us the freedom we 

10 Humanism: London; 1903. Pages 239, 240. 


enjoy when immortality is a matter of faith, or one 
of which we are ignorant." 

In any case, it is a fact, as President Stanley Hall 
remarks, that " even those surest of Heaven stay | 
here to the last possible moment, even though their 
lives in this world be miserable. Does not this show I 
that belief in post-mortem life is a convention, a 
dream-wish ? If we were told of a new continent of 
fabulous wealth and charm, and believed it all, we 
should go to it by individuals, families, tribes, and 
leave fatherlands untenanted, although we had to 
brave dark and tempestuous seas to get there. We 
should not ritually pray against a sudden transit, or 
be called fanatics if we voluntarily crossed the tide 
because the old world had become intolerably hard 
for us." 12 

Indiffererice to Immortality. — If the number of 
persons disinclined to an eternal future existence is 
considerable, those who are simply indifferent or 
nearly so are legion. Every one may find about him 
many belonging to this category. Most of these will 
add, " But my friends and neighbors could not get 

" Schiller's figures could be supported by a long array 
of utterances to this effect : " At present, belief in immor- 
tality plays a very small part in my experience or motives; 
I leave it indefinite, though I rather feel it is true." 

" I have given up early the idea of future life, but I think 
somehow spirit may be eternal, but I don't know whether the 
finite spirit will preserve its identity in the future state, or 
whether in some way it may be resolved into the infinite 
spirit; I like to think of both these possibilities, and a third, 
viz., that the influence of one's life will continue to affect 
future generations of mankind." — Scott: loc. cit. 

12 G. Stanley Hall: " Thanatopsis and Immortality"; 
Amer. Jr. of Psy.; 1915; Vol. XXVI; pages 579, 580, abbre- 


along without it." And these friends and neighbors, 
probably indifferent also, take a similar care not to 
unsettle others in the belief they are supposed to 
cherish. Thus, overgrown beliefs enjoy an existence 
largely fictitious. 

I have already given the percentage of those who 
in my statistical investigation declare themselves in- 
different to another life. From other sources I 
glean the following instances : — 

A man who at twenty-two was at the point of 
death from disease, reports his sadness at the pros- 
pect of leaving this world. Fear disturbed him very 
little. He said, " I want to live long enough to do 
something in the world, but if Providence vetoes that 
wish — ' Let 'er go, Gallagher.' " The flippancy of 
his attitude surprised and shocked him. Despite 
this experience of nearness to death, he " never could 
get up interest enough in the future world to seek 
for more knowledge." li 

A Methodist, twenty years old, writes : — 

" The problem of immortality has caused me no 
uneasiness. I feel that if I get through this life I 
will be doing pretty well. And so I let God take 
care of the future. If I deserve eternal life, He be- 
ing a just God, as I believe He is, will take care of 
the future, and give eternal life." " 

These instances taken from the experience of per- 
sons of ordinary intelligence can easily be matched 
by others from men of distinction, as was already 
shown in the discussion of the statistics. John Stu- 

11 Scott. Loc. cit.; page 107. 
14 Morse and Allen: Doc. cit. 


art Mill did not feel a craving for an endless exist- 
ence ; and it seemed to him " not only possible but 
probable that in a higher, and, above all, a happier 
condition of human life, not annihilation but im- 
mortality " might be " the burdensome idea." 15 
In the preface to Body and Mind, the English 
psychologist, Wm. McDougall, states his attitude 
thus : — 

" I can lay claim to no religious convictions ; I am 
not aware of any strong desire for any continuance 
of my personality after death; and I could accept 
with equanimity a thorough-going Materialism, if 
that seemed to me the inevitable outcome of a dis- 
passionate and critical reflection. Nevertheless, I 
am in sympathy with the religious attitude towards 
life ; and I should welcome the establishment of sure 
empirical foundations for the belief that human per- 
sonality is not wholly destroyed by death. For, as 
was said above, I judge that this belief can only be 
kept alive if a proof of it, or at least a presumption 
in favor of it, can be furnished by the methods of 
empirical science." " 

A lecturer on immortality admits similarly that he 
does not happen to have " the intense yearning that 
many profess for an endless existence." He 
writes : — 

" I feel about a future life as one might feel in re- 
gard to setting forth upon an untried voyage; for 
example, to some distant star. So far as I have 
confidence that I am a citizen of a rational universe, 

15 The Utility of Religion. 

10 Body and Mind: New York; Macmillan; 1911. Page 13. 


I can conceive that the unknown voyage will be 
worth all the trouble it may cost. The venture stirs 
my interest. But otherwise, I have little sense 01 
clinging to life, merely in order to live." 17 

And Renan, utterly skeptic about a future life, 
provides us with this bit of beautiful prose : — 

" My experience of life has . . . been very pleas- 
ant, and I do not think that there are any human 
beings happier than I am. I have a keen liking for 
the universe. . . . All that I have now to ask of the 
good genius who has so often guided, advised, and 
consoled me is a calm and sudden death, at my ap- 
pointed hour, be it near or distant. . . . Suffering 
degrades, humiliates, and leads to blasphemy." ,s 

Immortality as a Morally Inferior Belief. — Im- 
~y mortality is not only abhorrent to many and unat- 
tractive to a much larger number, but the desire for 
it is condemned as morally inferior and reprehensi- 
ble. This is a relatively new phase of the contro- 
versy; it marks, it seems, the passage from the de- 
fensive to the offensive on the part of the disbeliev- 
ing moralists: the abandonment of the belief has 
become for these a condition of the attainment of the 
highest moral end. The insistency of great moral 
and religious teachers, like Schleiermacher and 
Tolstoi, upon the evil selfishness of the desire for 
immortality, is noteworthy. 

" The immortality that most men imagine and 
their longing for it, seems to me irreligious, nay 

" C. F. Dole: The Hope of Immortality ; Ingersoll Lecture 
for 1906; New York; Crowell & Company. Page 61. 
18 From the conclusion to Recollections of my Youth. 


quite opposite to the spirit of piety. Dislike of the 
very aim of Religion is the ground of their wish to 
be immortal. Recall how Religion earnestly strives 
to expand the sharp cut outlines of personality. 
Gradually we are to be lost in the Infinite that we, 
becoming conscious of the Universe, may as much as 
possible be one with it. But men struggle against 
this aim. They are anxious about their personality. 

. . . The one opportunity that death gives them of 
transcending it, they are very far from wishing to 
embrace. On the contrary, they are concerned as 
to how they are to carry it with them beyond this 
life. . . . Would they but attempt to surrender their 
lives from love of God ! Would they but strive to 
annihilate their personality to live in the One and 
in the All!"" 

Tolstoi was equally convinced with Scheiermacher 
of the desirability, nay, the duty for a Christian to 
renounce the wish for immortality. He did not ad- 
mit that Christ had taught that belief : — 

" As opposed to the personal life, Jesus taught us, 
not a life beyond the grave, but that universal life 
which comprises within itself the life of humanity, 
past, present, and to come. . . . The entire doctrine 
of Jesus inculcates renunciation of the personal, im- 
aginary life, and a merging of this personal life in 
the universal life of humanity, in the life of the son 
of man. Now the doctrine of the individual immor- 
tality of the soul does not impel us to renounce the 

'• Speeches on Religion; Second speech; Tr. by John Or- 
man: London: 1893. Pages 99-101. 


personal life ; on the contrary, it affirms the continu- 
ance of individuals forever." 20 

From certain members of the Ethical Culture So- 
cieties come similar utterances: — 

" We no longer need to believe that we shall rise 
again, either with or without our bodies. We never 
should have needed it, had our insight into the mean- 
ing and bearings of the good life been clear and pen- 
etrating. The modern recognition that moral faith 
does not need the belief in a life after death is one of 
the greatest achievements which the human spirit 
has ever made. It is a discovery in the very spirit of 
the New Testament, that enthusiasm for holiness is 
not essentially dependent upon belief in the survival 
either of the mind or body of any one after death." Sl 

Avowed materialists join hands with idealists in 
enthusiastic affirmation of the sufficiency of earthly 
life for the spiritual development and satisfaction of 
man: — 

" It will be seen that my philosophy is thoroughly 
materialistic. I believe that man has been evolved 
from lower forms of animal life, . . . that he will 
continue along this road which he has traveled 
through countless generations, and that this will 
ultimately lead the race over the mountain tops and 
into the promised land of human perfection. ... I 
conceive the highest duty of the individual to con- 
tribute his mite to the betterment of the whole. Sci- 
ence teaches that what the man thinks, says and does 

JU My Religion; chapter VIII. 

- 1 Stanton Coit: National Idealism and the Book of Com- 
mon prayer; pages 147, 148. See on page xxx the view of 
Professor Adler, the founder of the Ethical Culture Societies. 


lives after him, and influences for good or ill future 
generations. To me this is a higher, nobler and 
greater incentive to righteousness than any hope of 
personal reward or fear of punishment in a future 
life. I believe that this is a glorious world, full of 
great opportunities to the individual, and of unlim- 
ited promise of development in the race. Life car- 
ries in itself the highest duties, the performance of 
which should not be regarded as tasks to be shirked 
if possible or to be done reluctantly, but to be car- 
ried on with a spirit of thankfulness that it has fall- 
en to the lot of the individual to be a participant in 
the great and glorious work of contributing to the 
uplift of the race. To widen the domain of knowl- 
edge, be it ever so little, to abate disease, to lessen 
pain and suffering, to decrease the burden of pov- 
erty, to brighten and ennoble the lives of others . . . 
these are some of the things that science has done 
and is doing. To be even an humble and un- 
known worker in the great army of men who are 
doing these things is a privilege which should make 
glad the heart of any man." 22 

The poets also, dreamers of beautiful dreams, find 
on earth what only heaven was thought to offer : — 

" O, may I join the choir invisible 
Of those immortal dead who live again 
In minds made better by their presence: live 
In pulses stirred to generosity, 
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn 
For miserable aims that end with self, 
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars, 
And with their mild persistence urge man's search 
To vaster issues." "* 

22 Victor C. Vaughan: "The Philosophy of Science" 
Science; 1912; Vol. XXXVI, page 233. 


The cry of fear at the disaster supposed to impend 
from the loss of the belief in immortality will find 
little echo in those who possess the fuller knowledge 
of human nature hinted at in the preceding brief 
notes. The least that must be granted, is, it seems, 
that the general and final effect of the loss of the 
belief is an open question, and that a gain resulting 
from it is one of the possible outcomes. 

Present Causes of the Desire for Immortality. — 
There is no exact correspondence between the causes 
commonly assigned to the desire for immortality and 
the actual facts. The demand for a compensation 
for the injustice of this life, for instance, has been 
vastly magnified by theorists. An exactly balanced 
account is not what man requires. Whether we re- 
gard this as praiseworthy generosity or as blame- 
worthy indifference to justice, it remains that the 
belief in immortality is but rarely prompted or sup- 
ported by a desire that justice shall be done. That 
that desire did not exercise a controlling influence in 
the establishment of the belief is evidenced by the 
form of the orthodox conception itself. Where is the 
mortal who has deserved an eternity of happiness or 
of torments? No evil doing, even though prolonged 
throughout a lifetime, can be fairly punished by 
endless suffering. We are apparently ready to treat 
with the Universe on a freer basis than exact retri- 
bution; it is happiness rather than justice that we 

The utility of immortality as a " safeguard of 

" George Eliot. See also The Earth and Man, and A 
Faith on Trial of Meredith. 


morality," is another of the much overstated motives 
of that belief. It is surprising to find how relatively 
small is the influence of immortality as a sanction of 
right conduct. Should the reader ask his friends 
what they think of this, he would be told, probably 
by the majority, that the belief in heaven and hell is 
one of great and general power over conduct. But 
should he ask the more pointed question, " Of what 
service is it to you ? " he would get information in 
striking contradiction to the first statement. He 
would hear that most of them never, or only on rare 
occasions, refer to the consequences of their actions 
upon life after death; other considerations guide 
them. This fact, many are loath to admit because 
of the prestige of the orthodox opinion. 

It is a noteworthy indication of the course of hu- 
man development that the higher the intellectual and 
moral level attained, the less does the influence of 
personal immortality upon conduct make itself felt. 
We have just seen that many of the most distin- 
guished moralists condemn the belief as ethically 
wrong. But much can be and is made of it among 
benighted Christian populations. 

The desire for immortality finds its main support 
neither in a sense of justice, nor in the need of an 
ethical sanction, but in the yearnings of the heart for 
the maintenance of the bonds of love and friendship, 
and in the desire to think highly of oneself and the 
Universe. This last motive rises to great influence 
only in persons of considerable moral and intellect- 
ual distinction. It is the form assumed by the innate 
tendency to self-preservation and increase when it 


has undergone the enlarging influence of philosoph- 
ical thought. The annihilation of the priceless 
riches which life represents and, as it seems to many, 
the consequent futility and irrationality of earthly 
existence are unbearable thoughts. Man might be- 
come reconciled to the loss at death of his personal- 
ity provided human life might still be regarded as of 
eternal significance. One of the persons already 
quoted writes : — 

" We do wish to be able to respect the world we 
live in, and we could hardly respect a universe that 
created a Socrates, a Michel Angelo, or an Epictetus 
only to destroy him, as the early gods are reputed to 
have devoured their own offspring. 

" This brings me frankly to confess to a certain 
bias. I own that the more I know about life, the 
more I desire to discover rationality in it. I had 
rather be a citizen for even a brief period in a sig- 
nificant and intelligent world than to live forever in 
a meaningless world. I had rather be able to look 
out for one day on the possibilities of an infinite uni- 
verse than to possess millenniums circumscribed 
within bounds of time and place. I cannot help this 
kind of bias. It seems to be involved in the nature 
of mind. Other men gladly make the same confes- 
sion. Here is one of the facts of human nature that 
thought has to reckon with." " 

Darwin struggled with a similar difficulty : — 

" Believing as I do that man in the distant future 
will be a far more perfect creature than he now is 

2i C. F. Dole: The Hope of Immortality ; Ingersoll Lecture, 
1906. Pages 4-9. 


[because of the operation of the laws of natural and 
sex selection], it is an intolerable thought that he 
and all other sentient beings are doomed to complete 
annihilation after such long-continued slow prog- 
ress." 25 

But personal immortality is probably not the only 
possible way by which the rationality of the universe 
can be vindicated. Dole himself would be content to 
relinquish personal immortality provided the " im- 
mortality of influence " were the best use to which 
he could be put. Darwin likewise could, I think, have 
found contentment in an assurance of the continua- 
tion, not of each individual, but of the race in which 
the progress of all is embodied. The passage quoted 
was written under the impression produced upon 
him by the affirmation of physicists that in a meas- 
urable time the sun would grow too cold to maintain 
life ; and he was thinking less of the living individ- 
uals than of the " far more perfect creature " which, 
according to his theory, nature could not fail to pro- 

To Felix Adler, racial continuation would be in- 
sufficient; yet he also could be satisfied without the 
persistence of the conscious self involved in the 
Christian belief. He finds in his consciousness the 
assurance that " our moral ideal is destined to be 
realized, though we may not know how it will be 

" Vast possibilities suggest themselves to us of an 
order of existence wholly different from all that we 

" From his Autobiography, as quoted by his son in Charles 
Darwin: London; 1902. Page 61, 


have ever known ; what may be the nature of that 
other life it is impossible to know and it is useless 
to speculate. Such terms as consciousness, individ- 
uality, even personality, are but finite screens which 
give no adequate clew to the infinite for which they 
stand. Only this I feel warranted in holding fast to 
— that the root of my selfhood, the best that is in me, 
my true and only being, cannot perish. In regard to 
that the notion of death seems to me to be irrele- 
vant." " 

Our ignorance with respect to ultimate problems 
is so profound that we may not regard the demand 
for the rationality of the Universe as implying une- 
quivocally a demand for personal immortality. Of 
the two desires to which we have ascribed the pre- 
ponderant role in the maintenance of the present 
belief, only that for the continuance of love and 
friendship can be gratified in no other way than by a 
survival involving continuation of the sense of iden- 
tity. The violence of this desire is well known, yet I 
may quote this heart-rending cry of a young wife 
recently bereft of her husband. She was an intimate 
friend of Schleiermacher, and to him she turned in 
the hour of her distress : — 

" O Schleier, in the midst of my sorrow there are 
yet blessed moments when I vividly feel what a love 
ours was, and that surely this love is eternal, and it 
is impossible that God can destroy it; for God him- 
self is love. I bear this life while nature will ; for I 

"Life and Destiny: New York; McClure, Phillips, and 
Company; 1903. Pages 35-39, abbreviated. See for a more 
recent statement, in An Ethical Philosophy of Life; Apple- 
ton and Company, 1918. Page 359. 


have still work to do for the children, his and mine : 
but O God! with what longings, what foreshadow- 
ings of unutterable blessedness, do I gaze across into 
that world where he lives ! What joy for me to die ! 

" Schlefer, shall I not find him again? my God ! 
I implore you, Scheier, by all that is dear to God 
and sacred, give me, if you can, the certain assur- 
ance of finding and knowing him again. Tell me 
your inmost faith on this, dear Schleier; Oh! if it 
fails, I am undone. It is for this that I live, for this 
that I submissively and quietly endure: this is the 
only outlook that sheds a light on my dark life, — to 
find him again, to live for him again. O God! he 
cannot be destroyed ! " ,T 

To this appeal the great interpreter of religion to 
whom, more perhaps than to any one else, contem- 
porary theology has looked for guidance, could not 
give the longed for answer. 

There is, I believe, no other so frequent cause of 
an effective belief in immortality as the loss by death 
of a loved person. But the desire for the continua- 
tion of those we love is, in itself, in no way a guar- 
antee of its realization. It is only when the exist- 
ence of a purposive, benevolent Creator is assumed 
that it can be argued with some degree of assurance 
that the presence of this desire implies its gratifica- 
tion. Again here, however, that which to our lim- 
ited vision seems necessary may not be so. 

The fundamental illogicalness of man is well 
shown in the east with which even men of culture 

" From Schleiermacher's Lebcn, as quoted by James Mar- 
tineau in A Study of Religion; Vol. II, page 337. 


pass directly from the desire to the belief. I have 
already had occasion, when dealing with the origin 
of the modern conception, to mention the striking 
effect upon Cicero of the death of his beloved and 
only daughter. Here are a few instances, taken 
from among our contemporaries, of the direct influ- 
ence of feeling upon belief : — 

" My beliefs in the future life and in recognition 
after death have been strengthened by the death of 
my little boy ; I know that this is no intellectual evi- 
dence, but it is evidence that any heart will weigh 
before rejecting; ... I see no reason why my love 
for my dead boy, and my desire to be reunited to 
him may not postulate the very existence of the ob- 
jects towards which they are directed." 

" During the funeral of my father, I felt for the 
first time a certainty of meeting him again; about 
seventeen the question of immortality was a favorite 
subject of reflection and reading; I became more and 
more satisfied that there was a life beyond, although 
nobody could demonstrate it ; this was a spiritual but 
visualized existence ; I saw myself with dear friends 
and with the great and good of all ages ; wondered if 
Socrates and Homer would care enough for me to 
allow me to be near them. The death of a near 
friend a year ago has profoundly affected my life ; it 
seems as if a part of myself is gone and that I shall 
never recover my wholeness until I am with him 
again.' " 

28 These last two quotations are taken from Scott: hoc. 
cit.; pages 106, 107. They come from men aged respectively 
31, and 26 years, 


" When sorrow and death have come into my life, 
I have felt the necessity of believing in another 
world. The desire to make human love eternal is 
with me the most characteristically religious feeling. 
. . . Formerly, before I suffered, I never experienced 
it. My indifference to the religious point of view 
was absolute." " 

The great biologist, Henri Pasteur, often offered 
as a conspicuous instance of the possible marriage of 
science and faith in the Christian dogmas, tells in a 
letter to Sainte-Beuve and again in a speech before 
the Academic dc Medccine why he believes in immor- 
tality : — 

" My philosophy is of the heart and not of the 
mind, and I give myself up, for instance, to those 
feelings about eternity which come naturally at the 
bedside of a cherished child drawing its last breath." 

" There are two men in each one of us : the scien- 
tist, he who starts with a clear field and desires to 
rise to the knowledge of Nature through observation, 
experimentation, and reasoning; and the man of sen- 
timent, the man of belief, the man who mourns his 
dead children and who cannot, alas, prove that he 
will see them again, but who believes that he will, 
and lives in that hope; . . . the man who feels that 
the force that is within him cannot die." M 

I may remark incidentally upon the off-hand man- 
ner in which Pasteur divides life into two spheres, 
that of science and that of feeling, and apparently 
finds no use for logic and reason in the latter. This 

29 From the Appendix to Lucian Arreat's Le Sentiment 
Religieux en France: Paris; Alcan; 1903. 


is a shocking example of a dangerous practice which, 
when carried to its logical consequence, would per- 
mit one to believe whatever he pleases. When I at- 
tempt to understand this attitude in a distinguished 
man of science, I can only conjecture that he treated 
religion as something primarily intended to comfort 
anyway, anyhow. So that, just as a mother might 
feel free to say anything to her sick child, provided 
she cheers him, so one may affirm " religiouswise " 
anything it pleases us to believe. 

In order to appreciate correctly the influence of 
love and affection upon the belief in immortality, one 
should consider not only the common intensity of 
these feelings but also the distressing ease with 
which we forget and grow indifferent. Love and 
affection for the dead are, while they last, powerful 
incentives to belief in an endless existence; but 
tender feeling, like all other feelings, is weakened 
by time. When middle age is past and old 
age approaches, feelings have frequently lost too 
much of their energy to lift man above mundane ex- 
istence. Does not human frailty permit us to go 
further and admit, for instance, that sichleier- 
macher's friend may have remarried? In that oc- 
currence her former yearnings for another life 
might have been replaced by dread of the time when 
she would be face to face with two husbands. This 
is one of the many situations which account for the 
practice upon which I have commented of refusing 
to treat heaven realistically. 

'" I take these passages from E. D. Adams; This Life and 
the Next; page 239. 





The official representatives of religious systems 
are filled with apprehension at the thought of the 
possible loss of the beliefs in a personal God and 
immortality. Yet, the only real danger is created, 
I think, by their misunderstanding of the origin of 
moral ideals and energy. It is because of this mis- 
understanding that they regard the loss of these be- 
liefs as a calamity. Were their opinion to be gen- 
erally accepted, a fatal feeling of degradation and of 
helplessness would benumb those who find them- 
selves compelled to relinquish these beliefs. As a 
matter of fact, the threat of impending disaster, 
although far from universally felt, overshadows the 
sky of those among the orthodox believers who are 
not altogether blind to the religious transformation 
now in progress, and it deprives many doubters of 
the hopeful energy with which they would otherwise 
meet the uncertainty of their situation.' 

It is, therefore, of the greatest practical impor- 
tance that those who have become convinced of the 

1 See, for instance, case IV, of investigation A, page. . .'. ; 
also, as an instance of human devotion as a source of moral 
renovation in the absence of religion, Francis Younghus- 
band: Thoughts During Convalescence, 1914; and Mutual 
Influence: a Review of Religion; 1915. 



absence of sufficient grounds for these two beliefs 
and of their apparently unavoidable disappearance if 
humanity continues in its present course, realize that 
morality is essentially independent of them. They 
must know with the clearness that brings persua- 
sion that moral ideals and moral energy have their 
source in social life ; that, as participants in the life 
of a family and of wider social groups, men draw 
directly at the original fount of moral discrimina- 
tion and inspiration. 

I have attempted, after many others, to place that 
truth beyond debate, first by pointing out, in an 
earlier volume how the god-ideas came into exist- 
ence, then by showing in Part I of the present book 
how the conceptions of immortality arose and how 
man contrived to use these ideas in order to further 
earth-born social and individual ideals. 3 The statis- 
tics of Part II seem to support the proposition which 
a study of the origin of morality establishes regard- 
ing the relation of religious belief to morality. For 
there exists not the slightest reliable information 
permitting the supposition that in those statistics 
the morally better men are those constituting the be- 
lieving minority. The correlation, in every one of 
the groups investigated, of disbelief with eminence, 
can on the contrary be made to lend support to the 
contention of many of our contemporaries, admired 

2 See on the origin of moral ideas, L. T. Hobhouse: Morals 
in Evolution; A. Sutherland: The Origin and Growth of the 
Moral Instinct; and E. A. Westermarck : The Origin and 
Development of the Moral Ideas. Wm. McDougall's Social 
Psychology, and Alexander Shand's The Foundations of Char- 
acter are excellent contributions to the understanding of the 
nature and development of character. 


for their talents and venerated for their devotion to 
humanity, that at present these beliefs are hin- 
drances to spiritual progress. 

However that may be, the fundamental independ- 
ence of morality from the cardinal beliefs of the 
existing religions appears vividly in the direct obser- 
vation of the moral life, as it unfolds itself about us 
in the family and in the wider social groups. Our 
alleged essential dependence upon transcendental 
beliefs is belied by the most common experiences of 
daily life. Who does not feel the absurdity of the 
opinion that the lavish care for a sick child by a 
mother is given because of a belief in God and im- 
mortality? Are love of father and mother on the 
part of children, affection and serviceableness be- 
tween brothers and sisters, straightforwardness and 
truthfulness between business men essentially de- 
pendent upon these beliefs? What sort of person 
would be the father who would announce divine 
punishment or reward in order to obtain the love 
and respect of his children? And if there are busi- 
ness men preserved from unrighteousness by the 
fear of future punishment, those who are deterred 
by the threat of human law, are far more numer- 
ous. Most of them would take their chances with 
heaven a hundred times before they would once with 
society, or perchance with the imperative voice of 
humanity heard in the conscience. 

On what do our political leaders rely when they 
wish to rouse the public conscience and bring about 
vital improvements? On the thought of God and im- 
mortality? How absurd the idea! The Hebrew 


prophets threatened social and political calamities 
at the hand of Yahweh, because they actually be- 
lieved in Yahweh's government of Israel. Our po- 
litical prophets also threaten national calamities, 
but not at the hand of the Christian God, for we no 
longer really believe in his intervention.' Yet, our 
conviction of the necessity and of the possibility of 
moral amendment is no less firm, and the joy of 
success no less keen. 

The heroism of religious martyrs is often flaunted 
as marvelous instances of the unique sustaining 
strength derived from the belief in a personal God 
and in the anticipation of heaven. And yet, for every 
martyr of this sort, there has been one or more 
heroes who has risked his life for a noble cause, 
without the comfort which transcendental beliefs 
may bring. The very present offers almost count- 
less instances of martyrs to the cause of humanity 
who were strangers to the idea of God and immor- 
tality. How many men and women have in the past 
decade gladly offered and not infrequently lost their 
lives in the cause of freedom, or justice, or science? 

* Of the sense of a real, immediate dependence upon a 
personal divinity, there remain in Christian states but a few 
pitiable remnants. In the United States the most conspicu- 
ous one is the yearly proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving 
by which the members of the nation are called upon to return 
thanks to God for the good that has fallen to their lot and 
that of the country during the year. From an expression of 
genuine belief, this custom has become a tradition objection- 
able because it diverts the attention of man from those fac- 
tors of prosperity which he can control to those he cannot. 
It were better, instead, that we should be taught to realize 
our dependence upon each other and the gratitude we owe 
to the millions who strive, often in material and moral dis- 
tress, in order to build our material and spiritual prosperity. 


In the monstrous war we are now witnessing, is 
there a less heroic defense of home and nation, and 
less conscious self-renunciation for the sake of 
others among the non-believers than among the pro- 
fessed Christians? Have modern Christian nations 
shown a more intense or a purer patriotism than 
ancient Greek or Rome where men did not pretend 
to derive inspiration for their deeds of devotion in 
the thought of their gods? Cicero, mediocre though 
he was in point of private virtue, expected of every 
man, at the call of country, the sacrifice of life and 

Nothing could be more evident than that the ap- 
proval of God and the assurance of eternal happi- 
ness are not original motives for the generosity with 
which man offers up his life. The fruitful deeds of 
heroism are at bottom inspired not by the thought of 
God and of a future life, but by innate tendencies or 
promptings that have reference to humanity. Self- 
sacrifice, generosity, is rooted in nothing less super- 
ficial and accidental than social instincts older than 
the human race, for they are already present in a 
rudimentary form in the higher animals. 4 

When it is granted, as it must be, that the knowl- 
edge and the practice of the virtues do not have their 
original source in transcendental beliefs, it may still 
be claimed that as mere auxiliaries to the moral life 
the beliefs in God and immortality cannot be dis- 

4 Among recent instances of the manifestation of these 
social instincts, stand out the devotion of the physicians and 
nurses of the Red Cross in Servia, many of whom lost their 
lives in heroic efforts to save that unhappy country from 
decimating diseases. 


pensed with without grave prejudice to humanity; 
that we cannot with impunity go counter to these 
manifestations of the empirical wisdom of mankind. 

What then, in the most civilized Christian nations, 
is the value of these beliefs? In answer to this 
query I can do no more than add certain brief con- 
siderations to the cumulative significance of the facts 
brought forward in the preceding pages. It is now 
generally admitted that one cannot moralize by ex- 
ternal compulsion. Preventing a man from commit- 
ting murder by mere fear of the gallows or a child 
from lying by mere threat of punishment, serves a 
purpose, but that purpose is not their moral im- 
provement. No more can anyone be made generous 
by being compelled or enticed to open his purse. In 
order to do more than prevent murder and theft, 
more than secure money for the poor, the murderer 
and the child must be made to realize the wickedness 
of their desires, and in the heart of the giver must 
be awakened true charity. 

In so far as God and immortality stand for ex- 
ternal reward and punishment, they have, it will be 
agreed, no truly moralizing value; they may merely 
prevent some evil and compel some good. But even 
in this respect, the social sanctions are, in the great 
majority of instances, much more effective than the 
divine. By social sanctions we should not, of course, 
think merely of the law, but also of the enormous 
restraining and encouraging influences exerted by 
friends, family, and public opinion. Every one 
realizes what a catastrophe would follow the re- 
moval of these social restraints even though God and 


immortality should continue to exert the attenuated 
influence remaining to them. 

But, it is urged, the ideas of God and immortality 
do not act merely as external checks and encourage- 
ments. When God is an object of reverence and 
love, the desire to make his will one's own gives to 
the belief a truly moralizing power. True as this 
remark is, its real import appears only when we 
know how we become acquainted with, and learn to 
value the perfections that are in God. There is no 
simpler nor better statement of the origin of the love 
of God than the well known Biblical passage, " If a 
man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is 
a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he 
hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not 
seen." In the education of the young, as well as in 
the reformation of the warped adult, the truth of 
this is ever seen anew. It is love of man that con- 
vinces child and hardened sinner alike of the love 
of God. 

We are now, fortunately, almost done with the 
absurd tradition that formal religion is the essen- 
tial means of moral education. We have discovered 
and are confirming daily that success in moral edu- 
cation depends essentially upon the measure in which 
one is able to replace artificial or distant reward and 
punishment by the natural consequences, or by the 
clear realization of the natural consequences of ac- 
tion ; and upon the measure in which freedom can be 
granted, in surroundings offering the richest pos- 
sible opportunity for the discovery and appreciation 
of the significance of conduct. Belief in transcen- 


dental objects, bearers of perfection, is of no greater 
value in artistic education than in ethical culture; 
it is in the contemplation of beautiful objects present 
to the senses that we learn to know and love the 
beautiful, and in the presence of noble characters 
and fine conduct that we learn to know and love the 

Those who exaggerate the usefulness of the beliefs 
in immortality and in God, conceived as the perfect 
embodiment of all the values discovered on earth, 
fail to realize the inherent disadvantages of these be- 
liefs. The evils they breed may be called by the gen- 
eral name of " otherworldliness." It would be diffi- 
cult to evaluate the harm done to humanity in the 
past by the conviction that the real destination of 
man is the world to come. A sincere belief in the 
Christian God to whom the believer is to be united 
in heaven is an unavoidable cause of detachment 
from this life. The instances offered in contradic- 
tion, great mystics like St. Francis of Assisi, or St. 
Theresa, who have displayed an intense and efficient 
activity, do not at all prove what one would like to 
demonstrate by their example. They lacked it is true 
neither energy nor devotion, but the direction of their 
zeal, the aim they set before themselves, was clearly 
open to the objection I raise against the influence 
of transcendental beliefs: they spent themselves 
heroically not in order to prepare, like far-sighted 
statesmen, the coming of peace and universal hap- 

' These principles are the corner stones of the educational 
system of the New Schools (Landerziehungsheim, Ecoles 
Nouvelles), and the hope of the new management of reform 


piness on earth, but to fit men and women for heaven 
— the difference is notable. I know religious life 
too favorably to insinuate that those who preach the 
Kingdom of Heaven are enemies of mankind, but I 
think that on the whole they would serve it better 
were they able to forget not only hell but also heaven. 
There is always some discrepancy between that 
which is best for the God of the Christian worship 
and life in heaven, and that which is best for the in- 
dividual and society on earth : one cannot serve per- 
fectly man and the traditional God. 

If in the Christian church the evil of otherworld- 
liness is to-day less conspicuous than in the past, 
it is in the proportion in which these traditional 
beliefs have lost their ancient impressiveness, i. e., 
in the proportion in which the Church has been 

I may add that the atmosphere of doubt surround- 
ing the Christian beliefs with which we are con- 
cerned, coexisting as it does with creeds that affirm 
their truth and with a worship that implies it, cre- 
ates in the upper intellectual circles of the Churches, 
and more particularly among professors and stud- 
ents of theology, a situation threatening the most 
precious possession of teachers and students : their 
intellectual integrity. 

Those who continue to think that humanity can- 
not proceed on its ascending march unless ultimate 
questions are answered in the formulae given when 
the world was in its childhood, evince an unjustifia- 
ble lack of faith in man. 


But, we are asked, How shall the untenable be- 
liefs be replaced? The first question to be raised is 
rather, What is the practical necessity of replacing 
them? Our understanding of life has now proceeded 
far enough for us to know that the solution of ulti- 
mate problems is not practically necessary; this is 
indeed a fortunate discovery. We should free our- 
selves from the conceited and false notion that the 
most important requirement of existence is a phi- 
losophy setting forth adequate solutions of the prob- 
lems of origin and destiny. The unquenchable crav- 
ings for omniscience and moral perfection are 
crowning glories of man, and nothing is better worth 
cherishing; but the conviction that we must know 
whence we come and whither we are going, and that 
we must possess the assurance of a complete realiza- 
tion of our ideals on earth or elsewhere in order to 
lead a contented and worthy existence, is childish 
and mischievous. If I add that giving up the ex- 
pectation of perfection will not materially alter the 
craving for it, I shall only be stating a fact made 
obvious by experience. 

On every hand, in individual as well as in national 
life, numberless facts proclaim that human nature is 
better adapted to the circumstances of existence 
than to require, under threat of dissolution, the 
solution of ultimate problems. The revelations that 
come to man disclose ever proximate goals, and 
each new step means a new revelation. A purpose, 
in order to stir man to his depths, need not be 
infinitely great; he will risk his all, or he will live in 
a tremor of happy expectation for a trifle; he will 


walk as well and perhaps better when, instead of 
aiming to scale Mount Blanc, he ascends a hill ; two 
hundred miles is as far to his eyes as two hundred 
thousand. To have observed that human society 
generates moral ideals together with impulses and 
desires to realize them, is, whatever our theories 
about them, sufficient for practical life. To have 
gained that knowledge is to have secured ground 
unshakeable by any philosophy. 

Do I mean that the discussion of ultimate ques- 
tions should be given up? It would be both absurd 
and useless to ask those who recognize the presence 
in human society of spiritual forces, to refrain from 
seeking to know whence they proceed and whither 
they tend. It is not against metaphysical specula- 
tion in general, or even principally against any par- 
ticular solution of ultimate problems that I contend, 
but against the dangerous conviction that some par- 
ticular solution — and, in the instance that has 
occupied us, a solution inherited from another age 
and demonstrably in disagreement with the best 
thinking of the times — is necessary to the well be- 
ing of humanity. That is a false and a dangerous 
conviction. He has a sufficient living creed who can 
affirm that moral forces actually come into existence 
in human society, and that its welfare and the indi- 
vidual's self-approval and self-respect are, as a mat- 
ter of fact, indissolubly bound with the fulfillment of 
the moral demands. 


Adams, E. D., 177, 318. 
Adler, Felix, 313. 

Allen (Morse and ), 

181, 297, 304. 
Arreat, Lucien, 317. 

Bacon, Edward E., 151- 

Bancroft, H. H., 120. 
Beer, Georg, 86. 
Bois, Henri, 239. 
Boissier, Gaston, 53. 
Breasted, J. H., 64, 93, 

94, 115. 
Brinton, Daniel, 120. 
Brown, Wm. A., 148, 170. 
Budde, Karl, 85, 113. 

Carter, J. B. 84, 115. 
Charles, R. H., 39, 106. 
Cicero, 53, 102. 
Clodd, Edward, 55. 
Codrington, R. H., 12, 

Coit, Stanton, 308. 
Courtier, Jules, 158. 
Crawley, Ernest, 53, 80. 

Dall, W. H., 22. 
Darwin, Charles, 312. 
Dechelette, J., 3, 4, 6. 
Delitzsch, Friedrich, 96. 
Dole, C. F., 306, 312. 
Durkheim, Emil, 7, 24, 
30, 56-58, 75, 80. 

Eliot, George, 310. 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 

Erman, A., 111. 

Feuerbach Ludwig, 81. 
Fiske, John, 145-146. 
Flournoy, Th., 146. 
Fowler, W. Ward, 88-89. 

97, 102. 
Frazer, J. G., 1, 12, 13- 

14, 17-19, 20, 32-36, 

Frazer, A. C, 136. 

Galton, Sir F., 285. 
Gardiner, Alan H., 107. 
Gillen ( and Spen- 

cer), 8, 20, 54. 




Gladden, Rev. Washing- 
ton, 148. 
Grote, 137-138. 

Harrison, Jane, 87. 
Hall, G. Stanley, 296, 

Hegel, 131. 
Hobbes, 52-53. 
Hyslop, James, 163, 167. 

James, William, 159, 

Janet, Pierre, 299. 
Jastrow, Morris, 38, 95, 


Kant, Immanuel, 136. 
Kingsley, Mary H., 25, 

Lang, Andrew, 88. 
Levy-Briihl, 16, 23, 26- 

Lodge, Sir Oliver, 136. 
Lotze, Hermann, 134, 


Marti, Karl, 89, 97. 
Martineau, James, 139. 
Matthews, John, 20. 

McDougall, William, 305, 

McTaggart, John, 148. 
Mill, John Stuart, 132, 

Moon, Conard, E. L., 21, 

23, 36. 
Mooney, James, 54. 
Morse ( and Allen), 

181, 297, 304. 
Miiller, Max, 204. 
Munger, Rev. Theodore, 


Pasteur, Henri, 317. 
Plato, 116, 119. 
Podmore, Frank, 165, 

Reinach, Salomon, 5. 
Renan, Ernest, 307. 
Rohde, Erwin, 86, 117- 

119, 123. 
Schiller, F. C. S., 141, 

181, 182-183, 295, 302, 

Schleiermacher, Fried- 
rich, 306-307. 
Scott, Colin A., 66, 300, 

304, 316. 
Seth, Andrew, 132, 140. 
Spencer ( and Gil- 

len), 8, 20, 52, 67. 



Spinoza, 134, 138-139. 
Swinburne, Algernon, 

Symonds, John A., 298. 

Tabrum, Arthur H., 177, 

179, 180, 181. 
Theresa, Saint, 48. 
Tolstoi, Leo, 307. 

Turner, George, 35. 
Tylor, E. B., 46, 52. 

Vaughan, Victor C, 309. 

Warren, Henry C, 300. 
Westermarck, E., 40. 
Wiedemann, A., 65, 92. 
Wobbermin, Georg, 150. 
Younghusband, F., 319. 


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