Religion And Health Part 7

In the old days when the Puritans went to a sermon two hours long, they listened with rapt attention to the preacher, and in so doing their minds were occupied with an entirely other subject from that which ordinarily attracted their attention. Such a diversion, even though it may seem to be pretty hard work, represents a real mental rest because the part of the brain that is usually occupied gets its rest, the blood being diverted to other parts of the brain. This may seem a paradox to some people until they are reminded that men who have lived very long lives have usually been men who turned from one form of mental work to another for diversion and rest. Gladstone, for instance, who was Prime Minister of Great Britain when past eighty years of age, was an intensely hard intellectual worker all his life, but found recreation from his political cares in the study and {142} discussion of the problems of Greek literature. Leo XIII, who lived to be ninety-three, concerned to the very end with the administration of the Church--an immense task--found his recreation in the writing of Latin poetry, though that might seem to some people too hard work of itself to be classed as rest. For a great many of these hard-working, long-lived people, as was true of both Leo XIII and Gladstone, prayer was a recourse in time of trial that made anxiety less and took the edge off solicitude and occupied the mind with the profound thought of the Providence that overrules and somehow cares for us.

I have often said before medical societies, and in articles for medical journals, because the expression represents a definite medical conclusion in my mind, that the reason why nervous and mental diseases were growing commoner in our time was that men and women had no real mental recreation. They go to trivial shows of various kinds, vaudeville, musical comedy and the movies, and they laugh a little and feel a great deal, but think almost not at all. They try to forget their ordinary occupations and worries, and indeed plays and novels are now advertised as "the kind that make you forget", but they do not succeed very well in this effort and their minds are not really diverted. For diversion the mind should become occupied rather deeply with some other subject, so that the blood which has been going to a particular part of the brain in order to call up the memory of things associated with the special interests of the individual may be diverted to another part. This will give the portion of the brain previously occupied a rest as almost nothing else will. Doing nothing with the mind is impossible, though some people apparently come very {143} near it. Doing very trivial things will not divert the current of attention so as to allow of real rest. Attention is probably a matter of increased blood circulation to a particular set of brain cells. These will go on working in spite of the wish to stop, unless the blood is actually diverted elsewhere in the cerebral tissues or the individual sleeps, with its accompanying brain anemia.

For believers religion has this deep appeal and strong interest which represents very definite diversion of mind. Of itself, then, it may afford genuine recreation, though so little associated with recreation in the modern sense of the term. It is the most cogent reliever of worries. It affords the best neutralization of such intense preoccupation with merely sordid concerns as may prove dangerous for health.

Religion has always insisted that idle dissipation of mental and physical energy was an extremely dangerous thing. The devil finds work for idle hands is an expression that has come from very early Christian times. While the Church has appreciated thoroughly the necessity for occupation of mind and enjoyment and amusement and has put the holydays into the year in large numbers and made true holidays of them, it has also recognized clearly the dangers there might be in recreations of various kinds. Fashion has often been strong enough to override religious counsels in the matter, but at least they have served to restrain to some extent, and they have always pointed out the dangers so that young folks have not gone into them unseeing and unthinking; thus a good many have been saved from grave risks and absolute moral and physical injuries which might have proved serious as the result of religious regulations and advice.


Dancing has always been one of the modes of recreation with regard to which religion has felt the need to exercise surveillance and inculcate the necessity for proper supervision. There has been no unthinking opposition to it and no mere bigoted intolerance. The dance has always been recognized as an excellent exercise of the body and a very definite mode of expressing beautiful thoughts in graceful postures and movements; the dance has actually been used in Church ceremonies, and its symbolism made to lend significance to the body's share in worship or in the expression of beautiful thoughts. When graceful dancing was to a great extent discarded and the essence of the dance came to be the intimate contact of two persons of opposite sex in the lively movements of modern dancing measures which were almost sure to arouse passion, no wonder that religion counseled prudence in order to prevent harmful developments which are often the source of so much danger for health of body as well as for holiness, that is wholeness of spirit. The restraint exercised in this way over the control of occasions that might lead to serious consequences makes religion an important factor for health.

It is quite true that religion does not often succeed in her well-meant efforts in controlling such tendencies to dissipation and sometimes seems utterly to fail, but that is largely because in recent years there has been an unfortunate decadence of religious influence, and people do not live up even to the principles of religion which they themselves hold. Among those who still maintain the religious life, the restraint exercised as regards many of these unfortunate dissipations means a very great deal for health of body and mind.

Certainly social evils would be much worse only for the presence of a great {145} conservative institution exercising restraint and calling on people to practice self-control and self-denial in these matters, no matter how alluring they might be nor how much they may have met with the approval of what is called society.

Probably the most important element for health in the modern time is the conservation of the distinction between recreation and dissipation. Almost inevitably recreation becomes dissipation; that is, the relaxation of mind and body so necessary for health becomes a dissolution of physical and mental forces to the serious detriment of the individual, unless there are strong, impelling motives to prevent the degeneration. Such motives may be drawn from human respect or from the desire to maintain the body in healthful vigor, but these lower motives very often fail of their purpose and at best apply only to a comparatively few among mankind. For the great majority of men, motives with a deeper appeal than mere self-respect or the respect of others or even the preservation of the body from impending disease are necessary. In youth particularly bodily degeneration seems a distant possibility, almost surely to be escaped without much difficulty, especially if one has any luck, and even if serious disease be incurred it will surely be cured rather easily by the means that science now has at her command. The general appeal that is necessary to give men a fixed point of support in maintaining recreation on a high level and not letting it slip down into dissipation is to be found in religion.

The reason why recreation and dissipation have so often come to be confounded in our time, or at least that recreation has sunk to a much lower level than it used to occupy, is the diminution of religious influence over a {146} great many people. The old religious family life made it much easier to maintain such discipline in the lives of growing young folks as kept them from the tendencies to dissipation almost sure to develop unless there are strong safeguards in the household. Where the young folk themselves are firm believers in the great truths of religion, their control is much easier and is exercised much more by themselves than by any external measures. It is the having a fount of incentive to what is good and deterrents for what is evil within oneself that is the best possible auxiliary for the neutralization of tendencies to evil that are as natural as they can be and that represent one inexplicable phase of that mystery of evil by which we are surrounded in the world.

The only satisfactory explanation of that is to be found in faith, and it is from this that strength can be derived to prevent the lower nature of man which shares so many animal proclivities from governing the individual to the detriment of both sides of his being.




Mortification is a word with an interesting etymology. It means literally the dying or more properly the putting to death of one part of an animal body while the rest is alive. From this it has come to mean, to quote the Century Dictionary, "The act of subduing the passions and appetites by penance, abstinence or painful severities inflicted on the body." It has had this signification from the very earliest times of Christianity, for the early Fathers spoke of dying to self to have a higher and a nobler life. It is used exactly in this sense in the old medieval Latin as well as by that first great prose writer in modern English, Sir Thomas More, for he spoke of "the mortification of the fleshly woorkes" in just this signification.

After all our recent Poet Laureate, when in "In Memoriam" he summed up so much of the current thought of our time, expressed the same ideas as the earlier religious authorities when he said that "we rise on stepping stones of our dead selves to higher things."

It was a favorite idea of the Greeks of the classical period that the way to get most out of life was to repress the body and give the mind and soul a chance. Aristotle said, "The vanities of the world are a hindrance to the soul," and he paraphrased by anticipation that expression which came to mean so much during the war that our {148} rising generation learned the precious lesson "that there are things in life worth more than life itself" when he said, "'T is better for the soul's sake to suffer death than to lose the soul for the love of this life." Socrates had said before him, "A wise man ought to look as carefully to his soul as to his body", and Plato, going straight to the point, declared, "Whoso desireth the life of his soul ought to mortify the body and give it trouble in this world." No one knew better than Plato that the desire of having things did more than aught else to make the higher life impossible. He did not hesitate to say, and the expression constitutes one of the most striking commentaries on our time that we could have, "the soul is lost that delighteth in covetousness." Pythagoras long before the group of the classical period had said, "Order thyself so that thy soul may always be in good estate; whatsoever become of thy body."

It would be easy to find almost as many expressions commending mortification among the old Greek philosophers as among the Fathers of the Church. Plato said, "He obeyeth many that obeyeth his body." And Aristotle said, "He that hath bound himself to follow his fleshly delights is more bound than any caitiff", which after all, is only another way of wording Plato's expression, "the worst bondage is to be subject to vices." Seneca, five centuries afterwards in Rome, declared, "Too much liberty turneth into bondage", doubtless imitating, as he did so often, Euripides, who declared, "Better is it to be free in heart and bond in name than to be free in name and bond in heart."

In spite of this very respectable ancient lineage which would indicate an agreement for many centuries among thoughtful people that mortification has a definite place {149} in life, many in our time seem inclined to think that the idea underlying the word is a mistake, and that the virtue attributed to it does not actually work out in practice. Hence mortification is at present considered by a good many to be only one of the good old ways of life evolved in an earlier day when men were less capable of judging of the significance of things than they are now, but which humanity ought to set definitely back in the lumber room of discarded notions, now that an era of really rational development of humanity has come. The old-fashioned idea that in this way the passions can be controlled is looked upon as a sort of worn-out superstition, good enough for people who did not know as much as we do and who did not understand as we have come to understand the profounder psychology of humanity. We are apparently quite sure in our time that sweet reasonableness must be the only rule for mankind and that anything so crude as self-inflicted suffering is not needed by generations which have not sounded the depth of human nature as we have done.

Nothing is commoner than to read tirades of various kinds against the practices of mortification that were in vogue in the older times. A great many writers who think themselves well informed feel assured that the people of the olden time performed the most difficult acts of penance and inflicted intense self-suffering on themselves with no other purpose in view than to curry favor with the Almighty quite as if they felt that the Creator delighted in the suffering of His creatures. They do not seem to realize at all that the real reason why the older peoples thought such self-inflicted suffering might be looked upon with favor from on High was that the efforts required to perform these acts strengthened their wills {150} so as to enable them to repress their passions and inordinate desires and to control the tendencies to do wrong which are in every nature and which require constant watching and subjection, or they prove extremely difficult to master.

Before the war, when the world generally was rather inclined to take a good deal of its psychology from Germany, the scoffing tone with regard to mortification was particularly rife in academic circles.

While other nations as a rule did not adopt the German idea of the superman, they were usually much more tinctured with that teaching than they suspected. Nietzsche's great teaching was that a man must follow his instincts and develop his personality to the highest, regardless of the consequences to others. One of his famous parables is that of the soft coal and the diamond. The soft coal is heard complaining to the diamond, "We are brothers, why then do you scratch me?" and the diamond replies, "Since we are brothers how is it that I can scratch you; why are you not as hard as I am, and then all would be well between us?" and Nietzsche's conclusion was, "For I preach to you a new doctrine; be ye hard." As Germany had more professors of psychology than any other nation, it is easy to understand what far-reaching influence her teaching had. A very few were conservative, but most were radical, and the only consolation that we have now is to realize that the nation which had the most professors of psychology least understood the minds of men, as was demonstrated very clearly by the egregious blunders which the German government made with regard to the neutral nations during the course of the war.

The modern psychologists who have thought most deeply about human nature do not share at all the {151} supercilious contempt for mortification and even the habit of performing frequent acts of self-repression, though they may cost effort and suffering, which so many thoughtless people are ready to express. Professor William James, who was surely not at all a medievally minded individual and who is recognized as one of the leaders of thought in modern psychology, did not hesitate to express his conclusions on this matter in a paragraph that should be very well known:

"As a fine practical maxim, relative to these habits of the will, we may, then, offer something like this: Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points; do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.

Asceticism of this sort is like the insurance which a man pays on his house and goods. The tax does him no good at the time and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, his having paid it will be his salvation from ruin. So with the man who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and when his softer fellow mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast."

Above all in youth there is need of enduring hard things in order to form character and enable people to control themselves and deny themselves. This is sometimes supposed to be a medieval idea, but Goethe, with all his leaning toward the ways of the old Greeks and his liking even for the Olympian religion, did not hesitate to say {152} that the most important thing in the world for a man was self-denial.

_Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren_. "You must deny yourself, must deny yourself." There is only one way to do this, and that is to practice it by a succession of acts until it becomes habitual. The great world teacher of this practice is and has always been religion.

Sacrifice has been preached as the very essence of Christianity.

To many people it may seem as though mortification, that is, the practice of doing a series of things that are hard to do and even painful to accomplish, in order to increase one's power over oneself may be beneficial and even necessary for weak characters; but that surely strong men and women can dispense with any such artificial support of their personalities. Such an expression must probably be considered an excuse that enables people to escape the difficulties and self-denial of practices of mortification, but not at all as a real reason. Some of the strongest men who have ever lived have recognized the necessity for the insurance policies of little acts of supererogation that require real will power to accomplish in order to keep their strength of character at its top notch of efficiency.

Probably few men in history have ever had a stronger character than Sir Thomas More. All his life he was noted for the absolute purity of his motives and the thoroughgoing righteousness of his life. He is the only man in the history of England who ever cleared the docket of the Court of Chancery. He was the first lay Lord Chancellor that England ever had. The opportunities for using his high office for his own benefit are well illustrated by the expression of Lord Campbell, who declared of More in his lives of the Lord Chancellors: "I am indeed reluctant to take leave of Sir Thomas More, {153} not only from his agreeable qualities and extraordinary merits, but from my abhorrence of the mean, sordid, unprincipled chancellors who succeeded him and made the latter half of the reign of Henry VIII the most disgraceful period in our annals."

Nearly a hundred years after More's death when Lord Bacon was impeached by the English Parliament, he made as the excuse for having taken bribes that he was the best Lord Chancellor that England had had for fifty years. Very probably he was; no one knew that better than he. Yet Sir Thomas More had gone unscathed through the fire of temptations such as these to which every Lord Chancellor for a hundred years afterward yielded; but More went farther, and when it was a question of conscience he died for what he felt was the right. It did not matter to him that others had been able to compound with their consciences; he even told the jury that condemned him that he hoped to meet them in heaven, but right was right and even death was not too high a price to pay for its fulfillment. One of More's practices at times during his life had been the wearing of a hair shirt; even when in prison--and God knows the Tower of London, with the shadow of the scaffold hanging over it, would seem to be mortification enough--he wore his hair shirt, and it was found among his possessions after his death.

I suppose to-day, after a generation of contemptuous scoffing at mortification, it may be necessary to explain to many people what a hair shirt is. It is a very coarse undergarment woven of hair to be worn next the skin, and the discomfort of the skin surface is so great that until one gets a little used to it one can scarcely think of anything else except the constant irritation. It was {154} a very common practice to wear it in the Middle Ages, and we have the story of one mother who felt that perhaps nothing would do her boys more good than to learn to stand something like this in order that they might be able to withstand youth's temptations. She was Mabel Rich, the mother of Edmund of Canterbury, who has come to be looked upon as one of the great characters of English history. For years he suffered in exile rather than give up to the king the rights of his people and the Church; this great scholar, professor of Oxford that he was and leader among men, who might have had all sorts of favors from the king had he yielded, spent fifteen years in poverty and hardships rather than yield a point of conscience. He tells that when he and his elder brother went off to the university, where they were to be gone for four or five years, their mother packed with their clothes a hair shirt for each of them. She asked them to wear them occasionally for her sake and to remember that they had to stand many things in life in order to keep on the right path. This London tradesman's wife of the early thirteenth century knew as well as any city mother in modern times the dangers her boys were going to encounter and which they would have to go through successfully or lose health of soul and body.

There is apt to be a feeling in many minds that these problems have only come to be realized in our day, but that is due only to failure to project our knowledge of human nature into the past. Mabel Rich, like a good sensible mother, did not make an hysterical appeal that might cause her boys to feel her fear that they could not keep right, but she asked them, partly for her sake but mainly for religious motives, to submit to voluntary sufferings sometimes so that they might have the strength {155} to bear any temptation that came to them. Edmund of Canterbury declared, toward the end of his life, that he owed more to his mother and her example and training for whatever his character had enabled him to accomplish in life than to any other single factor.

In the chapter on Purity I have quoted distinguished authorities in psychology who insist that the one way to strengthen the young man and the young woman against the allurements of impurity and thus help them to avoid the extremely serious dangers to health involved in yielding to such temptations is to have them practice self-denial in little things. Mortifications of one kind or another are to be undertaken, and the young folks build up self-control by the doing of things which are hard, though not obligatory, with the one idea of enabling them to perform even harder things in self-control whenever it may be necessary. There are some who seem to think that such practices may weaken men's powers of accomplishment, as if personality might be impaired by self-control, but there is no reason to think that.

Foerster, the well-known German writer on ethics, knowing well how much contempt has been thrown on asceticism in recent years, did not hesitate to say that the fear of weakness is all due to a misunderstanding. The ascetic is not a stunted human being who has mutilated himself, or prevented his development lest by any chance he might wander so far away from the path to his heavenly home that he might not get back. Asceticism has for its derivation the Greek verb [Greek text] which means to exercise,--that is, not to decrease but to increase power. The ascetic exercises his will power so that he will be able to follow the straight path that he wants to tread, no matter how many difficulties present themselves to him. {156} No matter how steep the hills, he will not turn aside to the pleasanter paths that lead so gently downward because he wants to "carry on." Professor Foerster said: "Asceticism should be regarded, not as a negation of nature nor as an attempt to extirpate natural forces, but as practice in the art of self-discipline. Its object should be to show humanity what the human will is capable of performing, to serve as an encouraging example of the conquest of the spirit over the animal self. The contempt which has been poured upon the idea of asceticism in recent times has contributed more than anything else towards effeminacy. Nothing could be more effective in bringing humanity back to the best traditions of manhood than a respect for the spiritual strength and conquest which is symbolised in ascetic lives."

With regard to that anxiety of mothers to help their boys and girls in the very serious matter of sex temptation which has become so prominent a social feature in recent years, Foerster has a passage that is well worth putting before every mother:

"There are plenty of modern mothers who are aware of the necessity for instruction in matters relating to sex, and who are perhaps anxiously awaiting the suitable moment: it is a great deal more important, however, that they should make their children acquainted with what Sailer called 'the strategy of the Holy War', that they should train them every now and then to deny themselves some favourite article of food, or to accomplish some heroic conquest of indolence, or to practise themselves in ignoring pain.

"The outstanding feature of sexual education should not be an explanation of the sex functions, but an introduction to the inexhaustible power of the human spirit {157} and its capacity for dominating the animal nature and controlling its demands."

Joseph de Maistre once said: "Everything that hinders a man strengthens him. Many a man of thirty years of age is capable of successfully resisting the allurements of a beautiful woman because at the age of five or six he was taught voluntarily to give up a toy or a sweet!"

Mortification in little things seems to many people too trivial in its effects to be of any real significance. If there is anything in the world that has been brought home to us in medicine in the modern era it is that little things count immensely. Microbes so small that we not only cannot see them, but never hope to be able to increase the powers of the microscope in such a way as to be able to get a sight of them, may cause the most serious epidemics. One of these ultramicroscopic microbes is probably the cause of infantile paralysis, which we know to have been in existence over five thousand years, because the mummy of a princeling of one of the early dynasties in Egypt shows that its possessor suffered from it as a child. Another of the ultramicroscopic microbes is perhaps the cause of influenza which carried off in a few months more victims among young people than the greatest war in human history did in over four years. No wonder that little things count in the moral order then, since they may mean so much in the physical order. Whenever anything affects living beings, then it cannot be counted small.

Four hundred years ago Michelangelo declared that "trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle." No one had a better right to an opinion in the matter than he, for he was the greatest sculptor since the time of {158} the Greeks, one of the greatest architects who ever lived, perhaps the greatest decorative artist in all history, as the Sistine Chapel demonstrates, and he wrote sonnets of the highest quality. If in the mind of so supreme an artist soul little things count so much in making a great work of art, surely they must count for a very great deal in making a moral masterpiece, or anything that approaches it.

Michelangelo himself recognized over and over again in life what bearing the trials and troubles of existence might have on building up character for him and bringing him other than an earthly reward. He once said to one of the popes, "If these fatigues which I endure do not benefit my soul I lose both time and labor." There is a famous sonnet of his in which he begs pardon of his Crucified God if he had ever attributed to himself any of the glory which he ought to have given to his Maker. If ever a man lived who had the right to have some conceit of himself it was Michelangelo. When we look around and see the little whippets who have monumental conceit and then think of Michelangelo's deprecation of himself, it is easy to understand how he must have suppressed--or, as they said in the older time, mortified--his pride in order to keep his humility and not let any self-exultation run away with him.

Mortification in its true sense is indeed much more a question of the mind and the heart than of the body. Cultivating detachment from the things around us means more than anything else. This mortification of the spirit of man so that material possessions are not allowed to crowd out the genuine good things of life is particularly important.

Nowadays people are so afraid to be poor, or indeed to lack anything that their neighbors have, that {159} the principal efforts of life are expended in "keeping up with the Smiths", or with some other utterly insignificant people who happen to be making a display. I suppose that every physician in a large city has known people who actually denied themselves some of the necessaries of life in order to wear a little better clothes, and of course every physician everywhere sees people who deform their feet and disturb their organic health in other ways trying to keep up with the fashions. The fear of being thought to have less than other people and of having to deny oneself something that happens to be fashionable is particularly rife in our time and plays sad havoc with mental equanimity and with such satisfaction with life as is the best safeguard of continued health.

There was a time centuries ago, under the Roman Empire, when money had come to be as much thought of as in our own time, when the wealthy went down to Naples in the winter, up to Como in the summer, had a house at Ostia as well as a palace in Rome. It is easy to understand that the people then as now failed to comprehend how any one could possibly choose to be poor, even though thus he succeeded in putting off the cares of wealth and gave himself an opportunity to live his life for the sake of higher things.

Religion raised up men who went into voluntary poverty and restored the dignity of labor, when manual work had become almost a disgrace, by deliberately electing to occupy themselves with it for a certain number of hours a day. Their example proved very precious, and as it was mainly the young men who did it, they influenced deeply a series of generations. The sons of the nobility as well as of professional classes were represented among {160} these reformers who believed first in reforming themselves, but along with them were young men of all classes, and the barriers between the classes were thus lowered.

The cultivation of religious poverty proved the greatest kind of blessing in the social order and has always meant much for the amelioration of social conditions which it brings with it.

I suppose that the greatest possible benefit for health that could be conferred on mankind at the present time would come from the eradication of the mad strife for the possession of money which has taken possession of so many men's minds. Our recent Great War was precipitated by the struggle for markets and favored nations among whom to distribute surplus industrial products so that certain nations might go on piling up money. This is so badly distributed that serious social disorders are impending. Men spend their lives getting money and then leave it to their children, to hurt them physically and morally. They take away incentive, and they provide the greatest possible facilities for temptations. Justice Hughes said some years ago, when governor of New York, "The main occupation of men in our time seems to be the raising of a corruption fund for their children."

We need some of that poverty of spirit which Christianity brought in with it when it was so sadly needed and which was cultivated with so much success during the later Middle Ages, when the great scholars and saintly characters who most deeply influenced the times were mainly members of the mendicant orders, that is, of associations of men who refused to own any possessions in order that they might have the time to devote themselves to higher things and who depended on the {161} work of their hands and the beneficence of the public to enable them to continue their work. Their motto was plain living and high thinking, and it is surprising how much they accomplished. The spirit which made St. Francis of Assisi choose the Lady Poverty for his bride and delight to call himself _Il poverello di Dio_, "the little poor man of God", would seem to be entirely too impracticable and utterly idealistic to have any interest for our time, and yet literally more than a score of important lives of St. Francis have been written during our generation. We are beginning to wake up to the realization of the fact that "things are in the saddle and ride mankind", and that things seem ever so much more important than thoughts, though it requires no special intelligence to understand what an utter contradiction of real values any such state of mind represents.

What is now needed above all is such detachment from the things around us that we shall be poor in spirit. This is the element above all that religion supplies. In the Sermon on the Mount, that greatest sermon ever preached, the Master said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Certainly there is no straighter road to heavenly peace than that, for a man may have great possessions and yet be poor in spirit because he is detached from them and has mortified his feelings with regard to them so that they do not puff him up and make him vain (what striking old Saxon words those are), so that he is able to use them not for himself alone but for the benefit of the community.

The expression "poor in spirit" is not popular in our time and has often been spoken of contemptuously. There are some who think that actual poverty, as well as poverty of spirit, has a paralyzing effect on human {162} incentive, but it is well to realize that there are a good many serious thinkers in our generation who do not agree with this impression but on the contrary feel that detachment from temporal goods may well prove a source of the highest and best stimulation to the accomplishment of what is really worth while in life. Some of them express themselves rather strongly on the subject, and perhaps no one has stated his mind more emphatically with regard to it than Professor William James, who did not hesitate to declare just when money had come to be apparently the most important thing in modern life: "Among us English-speaking peoples especially do the praises of poverty need once more to be boldly sung. We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. If he does not join the general scramble and pant with the money-making street, we deem him spiritless and lacking in ambition. We have lost the power even of imagining what the ancient idealization of poverty could have meant: the liberation from material attachments; the unbribed soul, the manlier indifference; the paying our way by what we are or do and not by what we have; the right to fling away our life at any moment irresponsibly--the more athletic trim, in short, the moral fighting shape. When we of the so-called better classes are scared as men were never scared in history at material ugliness and hardship; when we put off marriage until our house can be artistic, and quake at the thought of having a child without a bank account, it is time for thinking men to protest against so unmanly and irreligious a state of opinion.... I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the {163} educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers."

All the great religions have preached mortification. Some of them have made it apparently of value in itself as working merit, but this was practically always an abuse of the original idea that a man learned to control himself by practicing hard things. Our generation resents even the term "hard things" and does not like to hear "hard sayings", though even that gentlest of human beings, the Divine Master, felt that He had to use them. There can be no doubt at all, however, about the benefit to be derived from enduring hard things. Every trainer who hopes to have a winning team in any department of athletics knows that he has to put them through hard things in order to enable them to acquire power and make their energies available when they are needed.

Somehow people do not seem to realize that exactly the same thing is necessary with regard to training of the will as for training of the muscles, and that indeed training of the muscles is of itself effective largely because of the training of the will connected with it which makes the nervous system capable of reacting according to the desires of the individual.

While we are so intent on making things easy for the young, let us not forget that the best authorities on the subject of man's development of his powers so as to make them available for life's purposes are practically all agreed that the most important element in the formation of character--and on character depends destiny--is the having to go through hard things when one is young. In the chapter on Suffering I have quoted Thucydides in this matter and its approval by Gladstone and John Morley in our own time. We hear much of a favorable {164} environment for young folks but most of what is so called represents the worst possible set of influences for the development of character.

Chapter end

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