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THE PATH OF VISION
WEAK and oppressed nations are fundamentally spiritual; strong nations are, as a rule, chiefly materialistic. The one, cherishing religious ideals, soars to certain spiritual heights and now and then produces a seer to justify its languor and indolence; the other, seeking material things, bores into the earth for its treasures and keeps going down, down till its dynamic forces reach an impenetrable sterility and explode in a sudden, terrible reaction. The life of such a nation is
symptomatic of a diseased state of the soul. The life of the other undermines, to say the least, its physical strength. The dwarfing tendency is equally potent in both. But a nation without a soul is more grotesque, more hideous than a nation of ascetics.
It is not my purpose to startle and provoke the reader with sweeping generalities, or to bamboozle him with dogmas old in garments new. The foregoing paragraph imposes, therefore, the necessity of a little digression. To say that we in America are primarily materialistic is to repeat a commonplace. To say that there is a religious revival in the country,—that we are beginning again to have spiritual needs, aspiring, longing, groping for the higher things of life, is to echo what is but a vague expression of our present state of unrest and discontent.
Before we admit or question the sincerity and the soundness of this spiritual revival, let us inquire first what is meant by the spiritual. Does it consist in turning, for guidance and solace, to the Orient, or to Christianity, or to spiritism, or to the Society for Psychical Research, or to theosophy and mystic lore? There is in all these movements of the present day a common desire, to be sure, to turn from materialism, if only for a spell—and for a change. But every definition of the spiritual that they embody differs substantially from the other.
The question is, Can our spiritual aspirations be realized only by turning to Christ or to Mother Church? Must they, to be sound, have a scientific basis? Are they, to be genuine, to come only from the Orient? Should they, to be vital and vitalizing, emanate from the hidden sources of mysticism and occultism? Or are they genuine and sound and vital and enduring only when they are articulate in the
rapping table or behind the velvet curtains of the medium?
If I were to go out seeking enlightenment on the subject, I would find myself in a haberdashery of spiritual fads, or a maze of spiritual profundities, or a Vantine-shop of pseudo-Orientalisms. No, dear Reader, I am not going to suggest to you such a futile, though sometimes amusing, adventure. Let me assume, therefore, that, like myself, you have doffed the uniform of religion and shaken off the
fetters of dogma; that you sometimes go into a museum to see your superstitions and your ancestors' exhibited in glass cabinets, or into a lecture hall to hear a professor dissert upon the protoplasm and the chemical basis of life;—that you even go to church now and then to rest and relax. Very well.
What is there left us then?
If we are not wholly satisfied with materialism, if we do not find sufficient nourishment in the ruits of science, if the church has become a cave of winds and the creeds a desert of sterility, where, I ask you, shall we find the comfort and solace that that unmaterial something within us longs for and craves? In the mystic circles of the so-called Orientalists of our day, whose spiritualities
have ever an eye to the newspaper column and another to the cash register? In the platitudes and inanities that are doled out from a pulpit which was once resplendent with the glory and power of the church? In the book of the psychoanalyst or in the records of the Society for Psychical Research, where our restlessness is patted on the back and our crying soul-hunger is silenced with a cheese sandwich from the cupboard of the dissecting room? Or cheated with a toy from the show-case of classified abnormalties? Gramercy, no.
What is the spiritual then? And wherefor do we seek it. I have made it clear, I think, that neither in the religious dogmatism of the past nor in the spiritual gropings and posturings of the present do the higher aspirations of a free-thinking, emancipated being find adequate expression....