Religion And Health Part 5

To harbor the harborless as a work of mercy, when stated in this form, seemed to me as a child, when I learned it in the catechism, some wonderful exhibition of charity for shipwrecked mariners. I could not help but think that it must be harborless sailors who needed to be harbored. Stories of even two or three generations ago here in America show how seriously this Christian duty of the old-fashioned words was taken. There are still many country places, in the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee particularly, where a family will take in a stranger for the night if he happens to be in their neighborhood. They will give him his supper and breakfast too--or they would a few years ago--and likely would be insulted if he offered to pay for them. They have performed a simple duty of hospitality which comes down to them by tradition from the older time. A man who is still alive told me that when he was young, and two or three of his brothers slept in the bed with him, occasionally they would find, when they woke in the morning, that father had taken in a stranger during the night, and since there was no other place for him than the children's big bed on the floor, the children had been crowded over and room had been made for him with them. This happened not in the south, but in Pennsylvania. I know that my old grandmother long ago, living in a one-roomed house with an attic, used to take in the "greenhorns" from Ireland in this manner and give the men shelter and food until they could get a job; and give the girls who came a lodging and a chance to learn something about plain American cooking and the care {95} of a house until they would be ready to take a place in service.

Almost needless to say, this exercise of hospitality proved a very interesting diversion for people whose lives were rather monotonous. I feel sure that it must have meant much for the relief of that dissatisfaction with life because it lacks variety which is so often the first symptom of a neurosis. The stranger brought the news from a distance; the "greenhorns" brought news from Ireland, and many things were talked over while they ate their meals or sat around the fire in the evening, and it proved real entertainment. This was not the motive for which the charity was offered, for that was, as a rule, as Christian as it could be, but it represented that reward which is so often--it cannot but be divinely--attached to a good deed and which brings so much satisfaction with it.

Our entertainment of guests, as a rule, is very different. Above all it entails no personal effort. Even when people are invited to dinner nowadays, hostesses seem to consider it necessary to ask somebody to entertain them, for if they should be permitted to entertain themselves or be asked to make an effort to make their own conversation entertaining, they would probably be almost bored to death. Is it any wonder that our fulfilment of so-called social duties often proves nerve-racking and a season of it must be followed by a rest cure while old-fashioned hospitality did good to the doer and the recipient? Ours is the selfish striving of social aspirations; theirs was an exercise of real charity, an external expression of the dearness of fellow mortals.

Above all, the presence in a household of an occasional guest who is not a relative is good for family life. It {96} relieves the monotony, often relaxes domestic tension, gives a new zest to living and cements personal friendships.

To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty and to clothe the naked were, in the Christian ritual of corporal works of mercy, not obligations to be accomplished by writing one's name on a piece of bank paper and passing it over to a social service society of some kind, nor by handing a few bills to some almoner who distributes condescendingly your dole to the poor. Some one has very well said that the only action calling for any reward in such activities is the effort required to write one's signature or reach into the pocket for the money. The rest of the transaction is only a matter of debit and credit on a bank balance and makes practically no difference in most cases to the individual who gives it. The most compelling motive for charity in our time is that you might as well give up to fifteen per cent of your income, for if you do not the government will take it anyhow. So have the satisfaction of getting ahead of Uncle Sam.

Charity in the older time was thought to be actual, personal work for others. It is this personal service which carries its reward with it, often by provision of needed physical exercise, always by happy occupation of mind, affording the opportunity for the satisfaction of heart impulses with the many other personal reactions which enter into true charity.

Religious teaching furnishes an abundance of examples of even kings and queens and the higher nobility and of wealthy merchants and their wives who devoted themselves to personal service in the performance of these works of mercy. St. Louis of France, St. Ferdinand of Castille, St. Catherine of Siena, though she was only a dyer's daughter in this group of notabilities, {97} St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Margaret of Scotland and the good Queen Maud her daughter, Dick Whittington (of the cat), Lord Mayor of London and many others,--all these were held up as symbols of what people ought to do in the matter of personal service.

There is often the feeling at the present time that when people give to charity it is not infrequently because they have heard some recent harrowing reports of the condition of the poor or have been brought in contact with some particularly pitiable case, and that the memory of these is likely to recur to them and intrude on their social satisfactions unless they can do something to make them feel that they have at least tried to fulfill their duty in the way of affording relief. A merchant on the way home from business who meets a beggar on the streets knows that as a rule, if he gives money, it will do harm rather than good, but he knows too that when he is comfortably seated after dinner before the fire, with his coffee and his cigar before him, if the thought of the beggar that he refused comes to him, it will make him uncomfortable. To give with the idea of avoiding such discomforts is, of course, not charity, but refined selfishness, and it is no wonder that it lacks the surpassing sense of satisfaction which helps so much in making life more full of the feeling of usefulness. This is not the charity that does as much good for the doer as for the receiver of it.

In our time settlement work, neighborhood houses and the like have represented this personal service which religion in the older time listed under the various titles of the corporal works of mercy. Many physicians have learned that young women particularly who had not very much to do, indeed perhaps no definite duties and yet {98} had an abundance of vital energy which had to be expended in some way, found very interesting and satisfying occupation of mind in connection with settlement work. Above all they secured an opportunity for the exercise of the heart impulses, so natural to women, and which must almost as necessarily be expended on something as the physical energies which they develop every day must be employed in some sort of labor if they are not to be short-circuited and make them miserable.

It is perfectly possible and even easy to pervert heart impulses which might be the source of good for self and others, into sexuality of various kinds, whether that be exhibited in philanderings with the male dancers employed by the hotels to make _thes dansants_ interesting for feminine youth--and also idle middle age--or in love affairs with the family chauffeur. They will find an issue some way almost inevitably. It may be that writing notes to the latest matinee idol or even letting one's feelings be properly harrowed up at performances of sex-problem plays may prove sufficient for a time, but something more will be demanded before long, and there must be something real to satisfy natural cravings.

There is probably no better safeguard against the tendency of the young heart to overflow on unworthy objects than to give it the opportunity to exercise itself on unselfish aims which lead up to the fine satisfactions to be derived from helpfulness for others.

Settlement work and cognate personal activities have so organized the opportunity for this that young women do not have to travel in perilous neighborhoods except under such circumstances as reasonably assure their safety from insult or aggression of any kind. The charity that prompts occupation with such activities often leads to {99} a development of character, while at the same time affording such exercise of body and mind as greatly promotes that eminently desirable end,--the possession of a healthy mind in a healthy body. There is much discussion at the present time over sex dangers for young people, but it must not be forgotten that these are mainly due to the sexual incitements which we are fostering in the dance hall and the theater and the cabaret supper room, while the best possible corrective for sexual erethism is to be found in contact with some of the misery of the world. The remedy is at hand, but unfortunately it is not made use of as a rule, and we wonder why evils increase as selfishness becomes more rampant.

John Ruskin summed up the situation with regard to the young women of our time in his address on The Mystery of Life and its Arts ("Sesame and Lilies"), in words that deserve to be in the notebook of every one who hopes to be able to help the young over some of the difficult parts of their path through life in our time.

"You may see continually girls who have never been taught to do a single useful thing thoroughly; who cannot sew, who cannot cook, who cannot cast an account, nor prepare a medicine, whose whole life has been passed either in play or in pride; you will find girls like these, when they are earnest-hearted, cast all their innate passion of religious spirit, which was meant by God to support them through the irksomeness of daily toil, into grievous and vain meditation over the meaning of the great Book, of which no syllable was ever yet to be understood but through a deed; all the instinctive wisdom and mercy of their womanhood made vain, and the glory of their pure consciences warped into fruitless agony concerning questions which the laws of common, serviceable life {100} would have either solved for them in an instant, or kept out of their way. Give such a girl any true work that will make her active in the dawn and weary at night, with the consciousness that her fellow creatures have indeed been the better for her day, and the powerless sorrow of her enthusiasm will transform itself into a majesty of radiant and beneficent peace."

The friendly visiting of the poor is an old-fashioned Christian practice which had lapsed, unfortunately, until it was restored to some extent at least by the great work of Frederick Ozanam of Paris.

The conferences of St. Vincent de Paul organized by him in Paris while he was professor of the university there about one hundred years ago had for their principal object the visitation of the poor, not so much for the purpose of giving them alms as of helping them with advice, making them feel that there are people interested in them, and giving them a new sense of human dignity; though also providing them with such necessaries as they might be in immediate want of and, above all, securing them occupations whenever they were needed. I have known many men who have developed a new and vigorous sense of life as a consequence of learning that they could be so useful to others as the Ozanam organization permitted them to be.

For a great many men some such escape from the sordid routine of daily business life is needed. This is particularly true when they have passed a little beyond middle age, which for me is not beyond fifty, as so many people seem to think, but thirty-five, the period indicated by Dante in the first line of his "Divine Comedy" as marking the mid-point of existence. After forty, particularly, most men who take life seriously and do not merely try {101} to make money and kill the intervening time that hangs heavily on their hands in any way that they can, as a rule lose their interest in reading novels and do not care for the trivial plays of our time. They need diversion. They are not likely to get it at the opera unless they are very musically inclined. Card-playing may prove an excellent diversion and one that personally I think ever so much better than the reading of trivial novels, but there are a great many men to whom it has no appeal. If they stay at home they are likely to fall asleep in their chairs over the evening paper or a current magazine, and nothing in the world makes one feel so uncomfortable or so spoils an evening as to go to sleep in that way.

If they are particularly occupied with business affairs these may intrude themselves on their evening hours, but they very soon learn the lesson that it is dangerous to take business home with them. They need some serious occupation of mind quite different from what occupies them during the day. Professional men find something of this in the meetings of professional societies, but they too need a heart interest, a sympathy interest for their fellow man quite as well as the women. Many of them find it with their children as these grow up around them, and family life will help very much. But as the children grow older and have their own interests in the evenings, father is more and more likely to be left by himself, and then he needs something that will occupy him in some broad, human way. A good hobby of any kind would be a saving grace, but hobbies, to be effective, should be cultivated from early in life. One cannot be created easily at need after forty.

For such men friendly visiting of the poor, for it is only in the evenings that the man of the house can be {102} seen, since he is always at work during the day, will often prove a most valuable resource. In a number of instances I have suggested to men who were beginning to get on their own nerves that they interest themselves in this way and have been rather well satisfied with the results when they took the advice seriously. In a few cases I have seen really wonderful results when it seemed almost inevitable that men were drifting into dangerous neurotic conditions because they were living lives too narrow in their interests and above all so self-centered that they were dwelling on slight discomforts and exaggerating them into symptoms of disease. Contact with the suffering that one sees among the city poor is a wonderful remedy for neurotic tendencies to make too much of one's own feelings, for the poor almost as a rule face the real ills of life with a simplicity and a courage that inevitably causes any one who is brought close to them to admire them and to feel that his own trials are trifles compared to what these people undergo with very little whimpering.

There is another phase of charity, probably unintentional in its activity and almost unconscious, that is extremely interesting and has a very definite place in a discussion of health and religion. Some men who have made a success in life far beyond their neighbors have preferred to continue dwelling in their old home rather than move into the quarter of the city to which their changed circumstances would have permitted them to go. Such families represent the very best possible kind of settlements in the poorer quarters of the city and help more than anything else to keep a neighborhood from running down in such a way as to make life harder for the poor who dwell there. The old walled cities are often {103} said to have been almost intolerably unhealthy because of the inevitable crowding of the population which they compelled, and undoubtedly they were a fruitful source of disease and ills of many kinds for the population; and yet it is doubtful whether any old-time city was ever so insanitary as the slums of our modern crowded cities were a generation ago or are even in many places at the present time.

There was one feature of the old cities whose obliteration one cannot help but regret. The better-to-do families often lived on the front part of a city lot while the less well-to-do, often indeed the men who worked for the proprietor of the house in front, lived on the back of it. This was true particularly in many foreign cities and continued until a few generations ago.

This arrangement kept the conditions of living, so far as regards the middle class of the poor, from being so markedly indifferent as they are at the present time. Those who lived in the rear knew all the happenings, the births and deaths among their employers, while the family in the front took an interest in the events, the births and deaths and illnesses in the families in the rear. This proved to be valuable for social reasons, and it kept conditions of health among the poor from degenerating in anything like the way that has happened in modern times. The mutual personal interests did a great deal more to make life more satisfactory and more full of good feeling than the relationships of classes to each other do in our time, and this reacted to make a state of mind much more conducive to health than would otherwise have been the case.

Such associations would seem to be almost impossible in modern days, and yet the late Mr. Thomas Mulry, {104} president of the Immigrants Savings Bank, at a time when, I believe, it was the largest savings bank in the world, continued to live down among the poorer folk to whom so much of his life was devoted for years after families of his standing in the financial world had long moved out. Our present governor of New York has declared his intention of continuing his residence among his friends in the old Seventh Ward, and undoubtedly his presence there will mean much not only for the health of those around him, but also for the health of his family because of the simple life which is so likely to be perpetuated in these surroundings.

For such social work as this, religious motives are probably the most efficient impulses. Nothing is quite so direct a denial of the brotherhood of man that religion teaches as the tendency for people to move away from old neighbors into the better quarters of the cities just as soon as they are any way able. Such reasoning may seem idealistic and impractical, but then religion is the typically ideal and impractical thing in life which teaches that self-advantage is not so important as advantage for all those around one, and that man's principal duty in life is to love his neighbor as himself.

How often has it happened that the building of the new house in a new neighborhood proves the last straw which serves to make an end of the good health and heartiness of life which the head of the family had enjoyed up to this time. The new habits that are necessitated, the interference with the active life which had been customary up to this time and above all the more luxurious living, very often with less exercise, which come under the new conditions bring about deterioration of health. The move is made for the sake of the {105} young people, but it takes the old folks out of the precious, simple habits of a life-time which meant much for the preservation of health, so that it is no wonder that many a physician has had a patient whose breakdown in health followed not long after the move to a new and handsome house that carried people away from their old associations and their old neighbors and left them without those heart resources which are so important for the preservation of a healthy mind in a healthy body. It is men, not things, that count in life, though that lesson is hard for many to learn.

For a while, toward the end of the nineteenth century, owing to a misunderstanding of the significance of the struggle for existence, there came to be the feeling that sympathy and helpfulness for others was somehow contrary to modern scientific principles and that it represented at best a sentimentality that could scarcely hope to be effective and was indeed sure to fail in the long run because it was in opposition, though to but a very slight degree, to nature's inevitable elimination of the weak. Further investigations in biology, however, have revealed the fact that while the struggle for existence is an important factor in whatever evolution takes place, mutual aid is another factor of scarcely less importance in general and of supreme significance within the species. While one species preys on another, the members of the same species usually possess certain deep-seated instincts of helpfulness. Only at times when there is famine or when a mother is seeking food for her young do members of the same species seriously interfere with each other's activities, or injure each other, while a great many of them have mutually helpful instincts that are extremely precious for personal as well as generic developments.


The smaller living things, as the insects, dwell together in communities and perform their duties constantly with the community benefit rather than personal satisfaction in view. It might be said perhaps that these small creatures would have to be gifted in some such way to secure their preservation in the struggle for existence and their defense against their enemies. The larger animals, however, have the same helpful instincts. Wild horses run in droves and when attacked by a pack of wolves--the wolves hunting in packs because they can thus secure their prey better--the horses gather in a circle with their heads facing in and the young foals and the mares in the center, and only a battery of heels is presented to the attackers. Even such large animals as elephants travel in herds, with the huge bull elephants on the outskirts of the herd ready to hurl back any of the big cats, the lions or tigers who might spring to get one of those toothsome morsels, a baby elephant, traveling with its mother near the center of the herd. Smaller animals live in villages and groups of various kinds, and those of the same species are often helpful to each other in many ways.

Manifestly the great law of charity in a certain basic way at least pervades all nature. Nature may be "red in tooth and claw", but brother animals very often have by instinct a fellow feeling that is a factor in the preservation of the race. The idea that the discovery of the struggle for existence and the preservation of favorite races in that way has in any fashion neutralized the law of charity is entirely a mistake. Men in their selfishness have occasionally asserted this, and above all those who felt uncomfortable because their own selfish successes were, as they could plainly see, causing a great deal of discomfort and sometimes the ruin of others. It was {107} once suggested that when the nurseryman wants to grow specially beautiful American Beauty roses he is careful to eliminate all except a few buds, so that these may have an opportunity to grow to the greatest possible perfection, and that this same policy pursued in human affairs led to the production of such great institutions as the Standard Oil Company. This was a particularly odorous comparison; it was made some twenty years ago. Almost needless to say every one sees the absurdity of it now, though at that time there were not a few who thought that the biological principle of the struggle for existence justified even the hurting of rivals in order to secure success. The Great War completed the elimination of such ideas. It was undertaken with the thought that any nation or people who could dominate the world was bound to do so, because that was manifest destiny for the benefit of the race. Just as it took our Civil War to end the defense of slavery in the United States, so it has taken the Great War to end such pretensions and bring out the fact that mutual aid, and above all charity undertaken out of real love for others through a divine motive must be the rule for men, while its symbol, mutual aid among the members of the various species, constitutes an important element for the preservation of the various races and the working out of the great laws that underlie all nature.

We in our generation were the inheritors of a philosophy of life which, for a time in what has now come to be called the "silly seventies", people thought could do away entirely with the necessity for a Creator and with the idea of a Providence because it seemed to them as though the suffering in the world around them contravened _their_ notion of an all-wise Power capable of {108} relieving suffering and yet not doing so. The doctrine of the survival of the fittest seemed to many a demonstration that victory was to the strongest or to the swiftest, and that the rest must simply go to the wall or lag behind in the race of life. The doctrine of the superman seemed to be the very latest discovery of science, but now, after having fought a great war to overthrow that doctrine, the world is much readier to go back and take up the thread of the philosophy of the race before the theory of the struggle for existence came to figure so largely in it.

We have come to realize that everywhere in nature there is a great law of mutual aid within its species impressed upon all living things, and this is even more applicable to the human species than to those of the lower orders.




Practically all religions have enjoined fasting as a part of their practice, either as a sacrifice made to higher powers or a recognition of the fact that occasional voluntary abstinence from food gave man a power of control over himself which represented a real religious gain in his relations with the deity. We have heard not a little in modern times of the evils to health consequent upon the abuse of fasting and of the limitation of food generally. Appetite must rule the quantity to be eaten, and this must not be interfered with by religious motives or health will suffer. Undoubtedly imprudent fasting, like the abuse of anything else, no matter how good in itself, has done no little harm. So much has been said, however, of the hysterical and neurotic conditions which resulted in women particularly, who out of an exaggerated sense of piety ate less than was necessary to support their bodies properly, that a rather violent prejudice has been created in many minds with regard to fasting as if it were an old-fashioned superstitious practice which our progress in knowledge and in the proper understanding of man, and his relations to the higher powers had enabled us to see the foolishness of and do away with for good and all.

Careful observations made in the course of the advance of modern scientific medicine have, however, made it {110} very clear that periodical abstinences from food, or at least certain foods, especially among people who are accustomed to eat rather heartily, instead of being in any way a detriment to health, are practically always a distinct hygienic advantage. Physicians are not likely to take seriously such expressions as that most people dig their graves with their teeth or that eating too much is the bane of the race, but they appreciate very well that there are a great many people, especially among the better-to-do classes, who eat more than is good for them. It is just the people who have least exercise and need the least food who are tempted by the variety and tastiness of modern food to eat too much. Any practice that would limit this would undoubtedly be good. Fasting and abstinence, because periodic, would be especially valuable, for they are likely to do less harm than any continued limitation of food. The one phase of modern sanitation and hygiene, as made clear from the mortality records of the departments of health of our cities, that has been seriously disturbing in recent years, has been the increase in mortality among people above the age of fifty. We have been very properly proud of the fact that we have reduced municipal death rates and made the average length of life much longer than it used to be. We have done this, however, by saving more young children and by greatly lessening the infectious diseases among young adults, but the deaths from apoplexy, Bright's disease and heart disease, just when life is at its most valuable stage, have increased and not diminished. The tendencies to these serious degenerative diseases are due, it is well understood, ever so much more to overeating than to undereating. This is particularly true as regards the overeating of meat and other foods {111} rich in proteid materials which have been the special subject of religious fasting regulation.

Religion then, by inculcating the practice of fasting and abstinence from flesh meat at certain times, has conferred a great benefit on the race. One fish day in the week, for instance, all the year round, has in the minds of a great many physicians given nearly as much rest to the digestive tract and certain of the more delicate metabolic processes of the body as Sunday freedom from labor has given to the mind and the body generally. The fact that a large part of our population will eat no meat on Friday and must have fish leads to a commercial provision of fresh fish on that day in the week, of which practically all the community, including those who feel no religious obligation in the matter, takes advantage.

Abstinence from meat, however, is quite a different thing from fasting, and Friday is a day of abstinence and not of fast. The fast days come at certain periods of the year, as in Advent and Lent, and certain days which are specially designated. The keeping of Lent, during which for forty days people are expected to eat one third less than they have been accustomed to, is a very valuable institution. I am not one of those who think, that everybody eats too much and who like to be constantly insisting that people are destroying their lives by overeating, but I know very well that considerably more than half of humanity eat more than is good for them. I know, too, that about one fourth of humanity does not eat enough for its own good, and that unfortunately a good many of these are taking the warnings with regard to eating to heart, though those who need them most are neglecting them. Practically everybody who is overweight is eating too much and exercising too little. A {112} good many people who are underweight are eating too little. Considerably more than one half of adult mankind, however, would be benefited by keeping rather strictly the regulations for the Lenten season. The fact that the Sundays are not in Lent and that good, hearty meals can be eaten on that day gives assurance that people are not likely to be hurt by the fast. I think that most of the physicians of the world would agree that the great majority of men and women would be benefited by the rest and change which their metabolic processes receive as a result of limitation of eating, and the observance of ecclesiastical regulations as to the modification of food.

The reduction in meat eating and the production to some extent of a taste for the white rather than the dark foods generally, for butter and eggs and creamed vegetables rather than the meat soups and meat sauces and the dark, heavy meats, so rich in the irritative extractives, is undoubtedly of distinct hygienic advantage. Of late years particularly, probably much more meat than is good for people has been eaten. The better-to-do classes have gradually come to the fashion of removing the fat, cutting off all the connective tissue portions of their meat and serving it or eating it in solid muscular masses, which is neither conducive to good digestion and elimination nor to the proper building up of the body. Too many irritant materials are thus consumed, and it is no wonder that that properly dreaded disease, arterio-sclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, representing premature lessening of the elasticity of the tubes which convey the blood on which vital processes depend to so great a degree, has begun to be much more frequent than it used to be. There is agreement among physicians that {113} a rich meat diet has much to do with this and that excessive meat eating is a growing evil in our time.

Only religion could accomplish a change in this tendency, for there is an allurement about meat which grows as more of it is taken. This can be noticed in children very readily, and human habits in civilized countries have unfortunately followed a direction in this matter that requires some profound influence to modify them. Not that meat is of itself a deleterious substance, nor one that should not be eaten, for there is no reason in nature for vegetarianism; but excess in eating it, like excess in anything else, may do serious harm. Nature, and when we use the word we mean nature's God, set an index that is infallible as to the variety of our diet when we were given cutting and tearing as well as grinding teeth. The presence of both these varieties of teeth, though the meat-eating animals have only the incisors and canines, while the plant-eating animals have only the molars or grinders, makes it clear beyond all doubt that human beings were meant to eat meat, but in this, as in everything else, excess must be avoided, and if it is not serious consequences follow.

A great many are inclined to think of abstinence as representing abstinence from food alone, but it must not be forgotten that as understood in connection with religion it represents abstinence from all the harmful things. For instance, it represents abstinence from sleep when that is being taken to excess, and as a rule any healthy human being above the age of twenty and under sixty who sleeps more than eight hours in the day needs to practice such abstinence. There is literally such a thing as oversleeping and thus accumulating more energy than one has use for. The surplus energy is then used up {114} within the individual to the disturbance of functions of various kinds. Many a woman who has no children and who lives in an apartment hotel and has no duties that she has to get up for eats breakfast in bed, and does not rise until after eleven o'clock, after having gone to bed the night before sometime around midnight, and then wonders why she feels so miserable. Nothing would do her more good than to be out a little after eight in the morning briskly walking somewhere with the idea of helping some one else. She needs to practice abstinence of a very definite kind.

Then there are others who abstain too much from exercise. Whenever they go out they ride either in a trolley car or in a machine; the idea of walking a mile is disturbing to them and walking three or four miles seems utterly out of the question. Some of them are gaining in weight and are already overweight; they are wondering why they cannot bring themselves down and perhaps they are practicing abstinence of all kinds for that purpose. The famous English statesman. Lord Palmerston, who lived in good health to be a very old man and was for sixty years very prominent in English politics, was well known for the amount of exercise that he took. His maxim with regard to it should be very well known. He said, "Every other abstinence will not make up for abstinence from exercise." There are a great many people who are abstaining too much from exercise and need to abstain from rest. If they would do so for religious motives, and there are a number of people who keep themselves going when they are tired by these motives, they would not only accomplish a very great deal for their health, but they would at the same time make their religion mean ever so much more in a practical way in life.


The religious custom of setting a day of fasting before a feast day and of introducing three Ember Days before some of the larger feasts and at certain seasons of the year when, owing to the abundance of food provided for the day of rejoicing, people are likely to overeat, has been extremely beneficial as a simple matter of health conservation and prophylaxis against the effects of overeating. It has always been the custom to provide better and ampler meals on the feast days and if these are prepared for by a day of fasting, when one third less at least than usual is eaten, the stomach and digestive tract generally come to the full table much more ready for the feast. An old medical friend once suggested that the only things in the world worth while considering in matters of health are contrast and microbes. From the fast to the feast one gets the contrast and the variety in life distinctly makes for better resistance against microbic invasion. The Church believes in the satisfaction of reasonable appetites and encourages the feast days and their celebration by a larger provision of good things, but conserves health and disciplines the moral character at the same time by inserting the fast days before them. The occurrence of feast days at regular intervals so that a special gratification of the appetite is looked forward to has been declared by most physicians who have considered the subject to be an excellent thing for health. Monotony of diet begets sluggish digestion.

In some very serious diseases, as for instance occasionally in Bright's disease and rather more frequently in diabetes, fasting periods of short duration have been found particularly valuable as therapeutic measures. In certain forms of digestive disease fasting is also a valuable adjuvant, though it needs to be used under the {116} direction of a physician, for people who prescribe their own fasting often fail to realize that they may weaken their digestive organs rather seriously by the process. The stomach has a very good habit of passing on to the other organs the nutritious materials that come to it and will sometimes drain itself of necessary nutrition in following out this good habit in this matter. People who are overweight particularly are often benefited by a fasting period, though here too care must be exercised.

Ecclesiastical regulations which have introduced fasting at intervals, but with proper interruptions on Sundays, even when there is a prolonged period of fasting, have certainly been beneficial to mankind. The loosening of the bonds of religion in modern times and the very general persuasion that somehow we are not capable of standing such abstinence from food as was insisted upon for the people of long ago are almost surely mistakes. All the nations of the world found during the war that their men could stand a great deal more than either they themselves or any one else thought they could. The soldiers taken out of the comforts of our cities lived in uncovered ditches in the open fields winter and summer, spring and fall, rain or shine, hail or snow, often with wet feet and clothes frozen upon them, with coarse food and not too much of it, taken at irregular intervals often in cold and unappetizing form, with interrupted sleep amid war's alarms and yet they actually came out of it in better health than they were before. We hear much of hurting human nature by deprivations, but it seems very probable that the old-fashioned habits of religious discipline with even fasting rigorously enforced, for all who are in normal health, would do good rather than harm. Not only could men stand them, though so {117} many fear they could not, but they would be actually benefited by them. Nothing is so relaxing to the physical fiber of mankind as overindulgence, especially if continued persistently.

Undoubtedly the old-fashioned ecclesiastical regulations would do good to the moral as well as the physical side of man and also to his mental power. An over-abundance of food sets up irritations of many kinds which make people restive in mind and body and adds fuel to passion. The expression in the Scripture is "My beloved waxed fat and kicked." The people who kick over the traces of the ordinary rules of conduct in life are much oftener well fed than underfed. I refer, of course, to the sins against self and others rather than to the sins against property. Fasting was always recognized as an extremely valuable adjunct in helping in the control of the passions. The practice of it made a man much more capable of controlling himself.

The passions are all serious for health when permitted to get beyond bounds. Many a case of indigestion is dependent on that irritability of temper which so often develops in good feeders and then proceeds to form a vicious circle of influence, perpetuating itself. Irritability of tissues is often in direct ratio to irritability of temper, and not a few men owe both conditions to overindulgence in the pleasures of the table and failure to acquire, to some extent at least, such habits of self-control as the practice of fasting at intervals would help them to secure.

The bodily passions, especially those related to sex, are particularly likely to be influenced by overeating and to be brought under subjection by fasting, while at the same time the practice of this gives strength to the will in overcoming appetites which is a very valuable auxiliary {118} for self-denial and self-control. All the authorities in the spiritual life, that is to say, to use a modern way of putting it, all the students of psychology in the olden time who devoted themselves to finding out how man could best regulate his instincts and train his will to self-control are agreed in declaring fasting particularly valuable for the proper regulation of certain very natural physical tendencies that may readily prove the source of serious temptations involving danger to health as well as to morals.

If fasting had done nothing else in the olden time but help men to control tendencies to sexual excess, religion, by its encouragement of the practice, would be a great creditor to health. One of the reasons why young folks, particularly nowadays, find it so hard and indeed some of them seem to think almost impossible--to control their sexual impulses, is that they have had no practice in building up habits of control of bodily appetites and no exercise of their will power to help them to suppress the natural tendencies, whenever these threaten their own good or that of those around them.

Perhaps modern hygiene may in the course of time find it advisable to reintroduce days of abstinence from certain foods and definite periods of fasting into the year for the sake of their mere physical benefit, just as holidays have been reintroduced in the last generation or so to replace the lost holydays of the older time. There are undoubtedly corresponding benefits for humanity in both movements. Some of these have been indicated more in detail in the chapters on Purity, Mortification and Suffering, so that the specific benefits of the practice of self-denial with regard to food and drink which religion has always encouraged may be seen in them. Religion {119} has always counseled plain food for growing young folks, pointing out the dangers particularly of overeating, feeding the sex impulses, or at least making them extremely difficult to repress. This is particularly true as regards the richer foods specially prepared with condiments that tempt the appetite and lead to the accumulation of heat-forming materials for which there is no natural outlet except hard physical exercise. Sugar and the sweets generally are particularly undesirable in this respect, hence the benefit of the pious practice which makes many young folks abstain from candy during Lent.

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