The Religion of America: (To a Catholic Missionary in the United States)

YOUR last letter from across the Atlantic, my dear Father, cannot but stir in any reflecting mind a world of thought; and in one like myself—a student now of things American for more than half a century — reflections have not been wanting. I envy you indeed. My own acquaintance with sights and scenes among which you have spent years is that of the passing tourist. But you, for a long spell, have been watching at its chief centres how that multitudinous life ebbs and flows. Day after day you come into close touch with all sorts and conditions of men. You have journeyed over the land from Boston to Seattle and San Francisco. You call America ‘Tomorrow,’and this old grandmotherly Europe of ours ‘Yesterday.’ With a smile you observe that in the grammar of Humanity the past tense broods over London, Berlin, and even the Third French Republic; while the future lightens and sparkles out West, away beyond Chicago, far, of course, from New York, which is but a doormat whereon immigrants wipe their feet as they go by the custom-house.

Yet I have an advantage, you tell me, denied to those who are caught in such mighty currents — I enjoy the privilege of distance, which is perspective. Literature and history teach me what America has been. Can I help you to forecast what America will be? Have we grounds, you inquire, to hope that this great new people may contribute to the future (which will surely be theirs) any saving element, whereby life shall grow richer and civilization more desirable? That is your question. I turn it my own way, and I ask, ‘What is the Religion of America?’ In the true answer to that query lies the secret of to-morrow. How does the mind of the people judge concerning God, conscience, and immortality? Is it still, in any sense, Christian?

It is impossible, you say, and I must agree, for those who have not lived on both sides of the Great Water to realize how completely America is detached, as a whole, from the Eastern World to which Europe belongs. The divergence increases with some vast multiple of the distance. A fresh order of society is forming on a scale never hitherto known, with a hundred millions for its present figure, in a democracy where opinion, at least, is free. You survey this illimitable chaos of beliefs, no-beliefs, parties, professions, sects, syndicates, trusts, platforms, and it is like a glimpse of the countless glowing lines in the solar spectrum, too dazzling for the eyes of man. Who would not fee overcome at the vision? Is there any way to master its dimensions? Has it a law of development within it? Or one so enormous in range, so deep and high, that our mental instruments cannot detect its drift or anticipate its motions? Well, I answer, we are only minor prophets, for whom the age to come will have many a surprise. But one thing seems clear — the American types of character must go on diverging from those which even now public opinion in the United States condemns and rejects as outworn. Reversion to the social ideas prevailing in Europe is simply not conceivable with Americans. You, my dear Father, dwelling in the midst of this onward-looking race, know well that there is not a power on earth which can persuade them to look back. Europe lives by custom and tradition, America by prophecy and adventure. This is what the New World means by progress. It has jettisoned most of the objects for which men fought three centuries ago. What has it kept? Freedom and hope. From your side of the Ocean we appear to be the ancients, literary and picturesque, as the Greeks and Romans appear to us.

Now, as I see the American idea — let me term it so — it stands for the average man, the common school, equal opportunities, and the fine old English proverb, ‘Turn about is fair play.’ The common school, I say again, not the ‘Bible Commonwealth,’ devised by Puritans, or the peculiar divine election and reprobation that Jonathan Edwards reckoned to be a doctrine ‘exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet.’ Calvin, transplanted to New England, flourished for a time like the aloe, then withered and died. Of all the Puritan convictions, which one is now alive in the great multitude of their descendants? Not the conviction of sin, or any strong beliefs concerning the world to come as it was imaged by the Pilgrim Fathers; quite another view has taken hold upon them, if they do not fling the whole subject aside; but, in any case, the reaction is complete and trenchant. Liberty for a man to make of himself what he can and will, everywhere, under all dispensations, is the shape that Nonconformity puts on. That is the American version of Burke’s celebrated phrase, ‘The dissidence of Dissent, and the protestantism of the Protestant religion.’

Moreover, independence from the first carried with it a principle which may be summed up as ‘free association.’ This it was that shattered the Bible Commonwealth. Sects multiplied as they had begun; doctrines broadened or changed into the clean contrary. The stern disciple of Calvin had a Universalist grandson. From Edwards to Emerson we follow an undoubted pedigree, but how entire is the transformation! ‘Cast behind you,’ exclaims the sage of Concord, addressing youthful ministers, ‘all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with Deity.’ He spoke to ‘a decaying church and a wasting unbelief.’ He said, ‘ The Puritans in England and America found in the Christ of the Catholic Church, and in the dogmas inherited from Rome, scope for their austere piety and their longings for civil freedom. But their creed is passing away, and none arises in its room.’ His conclusion or his premise, — for we may take it either way, — was that ‘ miracles, prophecy, poetry, the ideal life, the holy life, exist as ancient history merely; they are not in the belief nor in the aspiration of society.’

Emerson delivered his mournful witness at Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sunday evening, July 15, 1838. It records a fact beyond question: the Sabbath rule of Puritanism over men’s minds had come to its last hour. Churches might cling to it, story-tellers perceive a sombre kind of romance in it; but the shafts of light from Emerson’s Essays were not more eloquent than Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tales in proclaiming that Jonathan Edwards could never be the prophet of modern America. The Pilgrim Fathers and their Commonwealth sank into an episode now rounded off, not opening into the wide-ranging national procession, or guiding it any more. But “ the dissenter, the theorist, the aspirant,’ required no prompting from Concord to embark on seas of adventure; they were already afloat, — often, it must be admitted, in crazy vessels. Reform, now as always after the sixteenth century in Protestant lands, implied the breaking up of larger societies into innumerable small ones, the ‘coming out ’ from Babylon to march towards a distant New Jerusalem, through many a wilderness where souls perished by the way in thousands, a forlorn hope.

But in that crisis or judgment of all things, it was still the average man whom its leaders kept in view. Those leaders might be fanatics or impostors, or a mixture of both; among them we shall scarcely discern the tokens of intellectual greatness, and no name shines with a lustre comparable to the glory of some latter-day seers in Europe. Dreamers wild enough we watch as they struggle in convulsive nightmares; but they dream no poetic dreams. From a stranger, Swedenborg, they have won the ideas, and on his pattern they have shaped the mythology, which they offer as a substitute or supplement to the Hebrew-English Bible. Mark, I say, that name.

Swedenborg is the predestined destroyer of Puritanism, who discloses to men wearied of its terrible dogmas a new heaven and a new earth, prosaic, solid, near at hand, to be reached by experiment or by deliberately sought ecstasy. He is the father of Mormons, Spiritualists, Second Adventists; the direct guide of Thomas Lake Harris; the ancestor, several times removed, of Mrs. Eddy and her Christian Science. Swedenborg occupies in the development of these modern religions a place corresponding to that of Bacon as regards the Inductive Method. He is at once popular and scientific in appearance; he makes a boast of his experimental triumphs which others who are competent will not allow; and he does, in truth, help to ruin older false interpretations of the universe, though failing to establish any of his own. Nevertheless, one principle — and that essentially Baconian— this ghost-seer, as Kant named him, did so blazon forth as to make it a central illumination by which Americans, the leaders and the led, were sure that they could not go astray.

To Swedenborg are applicable the curiously exact words of Hawthorne touching this entire movement: ‘If he profess to tread a step or two across the boundaries of the spiritual world, yet he carries with him the laws of our actual life, and extends them over his preternatural conquests.’ There was to be no gulf, and only a thin veil easily swept aside, between this world and the next. When an American authoress depicted The Gates Ajar, by which angels came to earth and souls went to Paradise, it seemed no more trouble to make that little journey than to enter a neighbor’s garden. America lay on both sides of the veil, — again let me quote Hawthorne, — ‘a country where there is no shadow, no antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity, in broad and simple daylight.’

You recognize the picture, my dear friend, do you not? How unlike our crime-laden, storm-tossed Europe! My charming American friends often tell me that I am a pessimist, and wonder that I should be. I wonder at them. But every new company of religious pilgrims starting from East to West in the United States goes out not merely to discover but to found Utopia. The sect is always a business concern, the prophet a promotor of some ‘trust,’and the temple a scene of smart moneychanging. Observe, I do not say that the temple is nothing else. Reform, thrown into articles and loudly proclaimed, determines what these believers shall eat, drink, avoid, acquire, and give up. They may be Socialists with Fourier, Shakers with Anne Lee’s disciples, Mormons in the grasp of Brigham Young, dwellers at Oneida Creek with Noyes, enthusiasts that follow T. L. Harris from Mountain Cove to Santa Rosa; but their intent is ever to set up a Commonwealth on the idea of Perfection. New England has inoculated its descendants with a fever for migration in quest of this Eldorado, where heaven and earth shall be one. They are prospecting for the Garden of Eden.

Before they reach its angel-guarded gates Swedenborg intercepts them once more. He whispers to each new Adam and Eve the secret long ago consigned to Platonic Dialogues which only scholars read, of ‘heavenly counterparts,’ or marriages made in heaven. I am not speaking figuratively; you may track the amazing doctrine and its consequences along the path of Latter-Day Saints, in the life and writings of Harris or Laurence Oliphant, in the Pantagamy of Noyes; and, as I am persuaded, it lies below the facility and multiplication of American divorce, a sub-conscious but powerful instinct, vulgarized into the ‘elective affinities’ which we laugh at and loathe. ‘The more intelligent,’ said Emerson, ‘are growing uneasy on the subject of marriage; they wish to see the character also represented in that covenant.’ Yes, and Salt Lake City, Oneida, and Reno, have replied to the gentle ‘Oversoul ’ with a vengeance, by new-forming or getting rid of the ‘ covenant’ as a step toward improving the ‘character.’ Utah gloried in its polygamy; the ‘sealing’ of hapless young maidens to dead Joseph Smith might scandalize Gentiles, but it went on for a generation. T. L. Harris, whom his disciple and victim, Laurence Oliphant, depicted under the features of Masollam, a dull profligate, taught in appearance the strange doctrine of ‘married celibacy’; but who shall say what this new ordering of the most sacred of human relations involved? The Mormon creed was plain and simple. ‘God’s service,’ they said, ‘is the enjoyment of life.’ Americans, we know well, did not as a people follow after Brigham Young, or Harris, or Noyes, any more than they shut themselves up at Mount Lebanon with the Shakers, or trooped out with Ripley to Brook Farm. But is it doing vast numbers of them an injustice to believe that they, too, consider enjoyment the first and greatest of the Commandments? The old religion preached self-sacrifice; what could a new one oppose to it but self-indulgence?

Respect for law is an English principle, and it was carried over to Massachusetts with English law-books. Yet the sects which have sprung up in America display anarchic tendencies not to be mistaken. The average man wants to feel himself free; the average woman has opportunities of living her own life denied to most of her European sisters, but they are both eminently sociable, and the club or the hotel brings them together. Add now some reform to propagate, some universal liberty or prohibition to be spread ‘from Maine to Oregon,’ as the saying runs, — a crusade against slavery, or whiskey, or in favor of a vegetarian diet, or to get ready for the Millennium,—your club turns into the semblance of a church, your hotel becomes a pulpit, and your dining-room the meeting-place of souls. But the most remarkable instances of free association in the United States, from a native religious point of view, I take to be Mormonism, Spiritualism, and Christian Science.

These are genuine products of the American soil and climate. At once original, daring, commonplace, and attractive to fugitives from the established religions, they may offer to us elements, or even inchoate and rudimentary forms, of the idea which we are seeking. Repulsive forms, if you will, impostures disguised as superstitions, trading on ignorance and credulity; symptoms in fact of a disease widely contagious; ‘a delusive show of spirituality, yet imbued throughout with a cold and dead materialism.’ I grant all that and more; but, as Aristotle shrewdly observes, a man may get light on his ruling passions and motives even from his bad dreams; and here we can study dreams that, as they move and stir the dreamers, ‘confront peace, security, and all settled laws, to unsettle them.’

Where shall we look for the future? Not in faint shadows of the once allventuring Puritans; therefore outside, among explorers, or on their track. The American idea lives elsewhere than in Baptists, Methodists, or any of the earlier Calvin-descended Churches; for it quitted them long ago. I hear it in a word of Emerson’s, ‘America is the home of man.’ It babbles a kind of foolish fairy tale when the Mormon declares that his Continent was peopled from the lost Ten Tribes; and that America is the true land of Israel. It plays a game of blind man’s buff with spirit-rapping and table-turning, with dark séances, with mediums, trances, frantic beatings at the door of the tomb. It goes about staggering amid delusions, calling on those who have ‘passed over’ to answer its questions. It dances ghostly ‘Pentecostal’ dances after the fashion of Red Indians, falling back upon customs that are only to be found on this side of the world among the dervishes of Islam, who scream themselves into ecstasy by repeating the name of Allah. In regard to marriage, as we have seen, it substitutes for monogamy the most varied forms; sets up as a model the wigwam or the harem; and tolerates something not unlike Free Love by its criminal readiness in granting divorce.

This American spirit has made trial of Socialism under many schemes, all ending in failure; but still it struggles to reconcile the laws of production and distribution with even-handed justice, although its vision is confused by the immense respect which it has always felt for success, whether clean or unclean. It makes laws in the interest of good morals, severely prohibiting the use of alcohol and tobacco; yet again, it breaks laws by appealing to the Higher, or the Unwritten Law; and it is so entangled in casuistries that because of a comma misplaced it will allow a murderer to go free. It is soft even to sentimentalism, but permits Judge Lynch to work his will in ways that are not to be described. Its ‘Bird of Freedom’ is a jest and an inspiration to Lowell, who treats it as a comic symbol, yet would have died rather than give up a feather from that eagle’s wing. It is emphatically the ‘spirit of the crowd,’ liable to sudden enthusiasms, unreasoning panics, to run mad about a celebrity one week and to forget him the week after. It feels hot under the slightest breath of criticism, but can be humored like a child with a little judicious management. It is lofty, forgiving, good-natured, alert, curious, and does not suspect irony. Its age is youth; its ambition is to have a world made in its image and likeness; its trial passed into a more perilous phase when the Civil War ended by establishing democracy. And we, though strangers, look on at the vast theatre, the high stage, and the throng of actors engaged in working out this drama, with hope and fellow-feeling. For it is our play, too, since the future of mankind hangs upon it.

Have I been drawing a chimera, the monster of my own imagination? I think not; the lines upon which I have gone may be studied in a library of books, and are visible wherever we turn amid American scenes. You have felt it as well as I, my dear friend. But you will surely be struck with a sense of the contradictions that my sketch brings out. If they cannot be resolved, the ‘New Thought’ of which we hear so much wall defeat itself. To take a crucial instance: Reform has been the chief motive in those never-ending secessions whereby the elder Christian communities were broken into fragments. But now comes Christian Science, native to the States if ever anything was, and it declares evil to be non-existent, therefore not in need of reform. By one stroke it makes an end of the reformer and his task. Yet, in this dilemma, the true American feels a secret, an irresistible longing to agree with both sides. He would have had slavery abolished by men like Garrison, and pain decreed to be a mere phantom by women like Mrs. Eddy. He cannot give up any doctrine that seems to favor universal happiness. Logic does not trouble him, for, as I said, he goes by sentiment. His theories are nothing but his feelings, thrown into abstract terms by way of a platform whence he can address the world.

At this point Shakerism puts in a claim to our attention. It is not a growing sect; but its principles, more than forty years ago, were declared by Hepworth Dixon to be ‘found in the creed of every new American Church.’ Let us inquire what these principles are. They lay down that the Church of the future will be an American Church and a new dispensation, the Old Law having had its day. That intercourse between heaven and earth is restored, and that God is the only King and Governor. That the sin of Adam is atoned, man made free from all errors except his personal misdeeds, and salvation assured to the whole race. That earth is heaven ‘ now soiled and stained, but to be restored by love and labor to its primeval condition.’ With Swedenborg, the ‘uniquely gifted, uniquely dangerous’ precursor of Millenarian sects, the brethren hold that the general Resurrection is already passed, the ‘Second Advent’ here; and they conclude that the regenerate should not marry or give in marriage, that women may be priests, that every one must labor with hands for the goods which all are to enjoy. They see the heavens open and angels ascending and descending on Jacob’s ladder.

Anne Lee, the female Swedenborg, was English, not American. But the ecstatic revivals to which Shakerism owes its converts; the divine rule of God-given elders and elderesses; the community of goods, and Family of Love, are deeply rooted in old and extreme aberrations from a more sober — shall we call it a less unworldly? — form of the Puritan faith. ‘No soldiers, no police, no judges’; but also no houses of temptation to vice; no gambling, because no speculation; but ‘order, temperance, frugality, worship’; these are features of a Utopia dear to the American heart in its Sabbath moments, when it muses on the dreams of its youth. They express a more severe judgment on the popular religion, which builds and adorns fashionable churches with gifts from Wall Street millionaires, than earthquake or tornado would be. Mount Lebanon is a sign lifted up, pointing to the ‘consummation of the age,’ and to the need of monasticism, even in New York State.

A sect, however, as the name declares, cuts itself away from the people at large, and whether Mormon or Shaker, it cannot look forward to making proselytes of all Americans. There was room about the year 1848 — a period marked ‘stormy’ on both sides of the Atlantic — for some great religious manifestation which, while it appealed to the general desire of novelty, should be free from articles, set ministries, church-buildings, and even the inspired Bible. A new heaven and a new earth were in request. But could not some way be found, like printing or stock-jobbing, accessible to everyone who chose, by which religion might become at once private and universal, as literature was, or business, or politics?

Two considerations must be kept in view. The Puritans had revolted from Catholic tradition because they would not allow any priest, as they said, to stand between man and his Maker. By similar reasoning they had put down the invocation of Saints and Angels, in order to leave a clear space before the Great White Throne for suppliants who would draw nigh to it. The consequences we all know. Heaven receded to an immeasurable distance; this lower world rounded itself into a perfect whole; and intercourse with departed saints was no more. Religion was thus violently broken into parts which lay utterly separate — the Here and the Hereafter — while death forbade every attempt by prayer to bridge over the gulf between dearest friends, however they might yearn for one another. The solemn old services of Dirge and Requiem had been swept away; and nothing had taken their place. It is true, indeed, that while Heaven was shut, ‘Satan’s invisible world’ opened its ponderous jaws and sent forth its denizens to meet ancient crones in the forests at midnight, if the records of Salem and other witch-haunted towns in New England may be trusted. The Communion of Saints was a lost article of the creed. But the communion of devils was, on Cotton Mather’s showing, a judicially ascertained fact. Witches, executed by the hundred, may be looked on, in short, as pioneers of Spiritualism, and its earliest martyrs in the New World.

They were destined to have their revenge. If instead of witch we write ‘medium,’ how significant will be the change! Yet in essentials the new science and the old superstition are at one. I call Spiritualism a science, for it professed to yield its results by experiments which could be repeated, tested, and compared on the accepted laws of evidence; to attain ‘a world of spirit that took shape and form and practical intelligibility, in ordinary rooms and under very nearly ordinary circumstances.’ It said, ‘Seeing is believing, handling is proof.’ It did not require you to take the medium on trust. It had no priesthood, no dogmas; for its central statement, that the living could have intercourse with the dead, was not a truth to be received on the word of another, but a challenge which whoso would might verify. Moreover, though some have questioned if the name of religion can rightly be attached to Spiritualism, it does without doubt bring its adepts back from doctrines of the lecture-room or abstract theory to that primitive condition of thought in which religion finds a main beginning. For religion is the problem of the ‘next world,’ call it how you will. And Spiritualism undertakes to solve the problem by the scientific method, exactly as the chemist answers our inquiry,— for instance, ‘Does radium exist?’ — by putting a sample of the thing sought into our hands. Neither the chemist nor the medium is a priest, any more than the class or the inquirer can be termed disciples. Experiment, in both cases, remains the ground of affirmation.

Now, then, we have arrived at an idea which, as it rose and overspread the civilized world, was seen to be peculiarly American. Inspired by Mesmer and ‘animal magnetism,’starting with vulgar phenomena of raps and table-turning, noised abroad by Universalist preachers and Andrew Jackson Davis, the Poughkeepsie seer, with ‘sensitives’ and clairvoyants to furnish daily evidence of its marvels, Spiritualism ran its wildfire course, outstripping every other propaganda by the numbers who took up its practices. Any one could begin anywhere. ‘Probably,’said the late Frank Podmore, ‘no body of earnest men and women ever presented a more unlovely picture of the Hereafter. Yet in spite, or perhaps because, of the concreteness of its ideals, and the parochial limitations of its chief prophets, the new ideas had sufficient motive-power to overrun the American continent.’

They did not reveal a spiritual life as conceived by any previous form of Christianity; angels and demons were alike absent from the trance communications of the medium; and concerning the Supreme there was absolute silence. Neither heaven nor hell came into the scenery of a universe as matter of fact as Broadway or State Street at high noon. All the sensitive beheld was ‘a practicable and imminent millennium, freed from the fear of death, and continuing, on the gray level, through indefinite generations.' Taking the witnesses at their own value, without heeding the professional charlatan or the liar detected in the very act of imposture, we feel dumbfounded when Franklin, Washington, and Bacon deliver by the lips of entranced subjects the silliest of lectures, in which not one new fact such as science lights upon every day is added to our knowledge. We cannot be astonished that hardheaded rationalizers like Professor Münsterberg flatly declare, ‘The facts as they are claimed do not exist, and never will exist.’ Yet I would remind the eminent professor that science — physical merely, and not metaphysical — should be cautious in prophesying a universal negative. Science is quite incapable of determining a priori that departed spirits are and ever will be unable to ‘enter into communication with living men by mediums and by incarnation.’ How can the ‘scientist’ possibly know? Let him lay his hand on his lips when it is a question of what must or must not be, outside the law of contradiction.

You and I, my dear friend, are agreed as Catholics in holding Spiritualism to be exceedingly dangerous, where it happens not to be false or delusive. But you will readily grant that so virulent a disease, attaching itself to American religion, is symptomatic of much. These fungous growths on the once flourishing and stately cedars of Puritan theology betokened that its life was decaying at the roots. Its magic ring was broken. All its dogmas were melting into the ‘anæmic optimism’ of an afterworld in which no difference appeared between good and evil. For the ‘spirits’ never hinted at a Day of Judgment; neither did they confirm Swedenborg’s vision of many penal abodes, or ‘hells,’ to be finally transformed into heavens.

Characteristic of the later religious developments in America, from Shakerism to Christian Science, is this denial of sin, which Theodore Parker had done worse than deny, defining it in a scandalous epigram as a ‘falling upwards.’ But do not these phenomena bear testimony to the law of reaction as ‘equal and opposite?’ The witch supplants the minister; Apollyon is chained, in Hawthorne’s deeply biting parable, to the modern fast train on the Celestial Railroad; all men are saved, instead of most being foredoomed to perdition; and Satan is abolished by universal suffrage. ‘Is there nothing to fear in God? ’ The last of the Puritans throws down the question as a defiance. But from every quarter these ‘new theologians’ reply with a great shout, ‘No, there is nothing.’ Sin and pain and death are hallucinations, scattered by the advent of a science which rests on the senses and reaches beyond them.

Yet, even if a malignant disease, the movement known as Spiritualism announced a religious revolution, — the new birth of ideas long extinct among Reformed Christians. Again, whether it was ‘salvation by electricity,’ as in earlier stages, or by ‘ telepathy,’ as in our day, it insisted on carrying science over the border into a living and not a dead cosmos, greatly to the indignation of comfortable settlers on this side of the tomb. Life has always been a puzzle and an offense to the system of Materialism; but life beyond the grave, in any account of it, would totally derange the snug proportions of which unbelieving physical science had been so proud. It remains true, nevertheless, that by ridiculous, uncouth, and provoking methods the spirit-rapper blundered, so to speak, into a vast realm of obscure yet undeniable phenomena, where psychic research has laid bare operations and processes altogether strange to official biology. Man was recognized as living at once in two worlds — the world of matter analyzed by chemistry and the world of spirit transcending matter, shaping it to ends which neither chemist nor physicist could grasp. The story of our kind was not, therefore, a by-product of atoms at play among themselves, but a chapter in the Book of Life which is wide as the universe. Atoms and ether do not by combination produce that real thing named by us the soul. On the contrary, it is the spirit — Mind and Will, existing from before all ages — that employs atoms and ether as its instruments, the vehicles of its message to other spirits, by laws which it has framed itself. Spiritualism was a rebellion against death, as physical science conceived of it. The rebels have won. Personality, miracles, foreknowledge, action of mind at a distance, faith-healing, — ‘science’ has been compelled to admit all these things and more also; — a life outside earthly conditions has been revealed, justifying religion, which would not give up believing in it during the heyday of agnostic incredulity.

Spiritualism, then, has stumbled upon facts by crude experiments. But it has not dealt, as a popular religion, with ‘problems of space and time, of knowing and being, of evil and good, of will and law.’ It makes no attempt to be a theology. It is, like the American genius that gave it birth, something practical, without literary culture, or a sense of art, or metaphysical subtlety, or any very deep elements of worship. The fact to which it bears witness, we may say in the language of William James, is this, that ‘the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come’; but also, we must add, experiences the reverse of saving.

These dark regions of the sky, modern America passes over rapidly; and in Christian Science it has invented a system that positively denies them. The wheel has come full circle from its old Puritan standpoint. Universal optimism finds a prophet and a poet of genuine fervor in Walt Whitman, who proclaimed that the religion of Americans is America, that the common life is the best life, that ‘there is no imperfection in the present, and can be none in the future.' To him, ‘Men and women, life and death, and all things, are divinely good.'

‘The religion of Americans is America.' For the millions who never darken the door of a church there seems to be no other. Movements of reform, so widespread as to embrace the Continent, proceed on a determination not to rest until the evils that they combat are banished from the United States, which ought to be the world’s Holy Land. The so-called New Thought is American by origin, deliberately suppresses reference to evil, and instead of the Lord’s Prayer says, ‘Youth, health, vigor,’at break of day. Such ‘ concrete therapeutics’ are natural to a young and self-confident people, whose principle has been pithily summed up by R. W. Trine: ‘One need remain in hell no longer than one chooses.' Mindcure is American; Mrs. Eddy could have flourished nowhere else than among a people who adore financial success and suffer from chronic indigestion. All these varieties of religious experience may be resolved into Pantheism; but they derive their language and not a little of their power from Emerson, who was a New Englander to the core. American ideals furnish to all such evangelists an object and an inspiration. They have none of them been transplanted from the Old World or the Christian Gospels.

Let me bind these divers threads together. Americans once believed with shuddering in man’s total depravity, from which only the small number of the elect were redeemed. They now believe that man is by nature good, by destiny perfect, and quite capable of saving himself. But in a sort of ‘ideal America’ they recognize the motive power of this more humane life toward which they ought ceaselessly to be tending. The Commonwealth is their goal, business their way to heaven, progress their duty, free competition their method. Mystery, obedience, self-denial are repugnant to them. But they admire self-discipline when it rejects what is beneath man’s dignity, or, in deference to a line idea, practices temperance. They are a breed of heroes rather than ascetics; Western not Eastern; not contemplatives, nor cloistered, nor exactly humble in their thoughts before God or man. If there is to be election, they are the elect: in any case leaders of a New Israel to the Land of Promise. For, as Whitman sings, ‘Never was average man, his soul, more energetic, more like a God’ — meaning the average American of these States. Whitman is very bold.

However, when the true democracy dawns, it will acknowledge the ‘essential sacredness of every one,’ or, as was said of old, that we are all God’s children. And so we shall be not an average but a comradeship. In very rude or even brutal forms of association this divine germ may be perceived under heaps of dross. When Emerson cultivates it, the name is friendship and the atmosphere love. Nothing more severe has been charged upon Puritanism than that it made a religion of hatred. Those who left its precincts to become Unitarians or Universalists founded their new beliefs on kindness, which they judged to be the Highest Law. Herein they were eminently American and democratic. I am saying no word in support of the doctrines at which they arrived as religious teachers. But this Law of Kindness it certainly was that gave its death-blow to the Puritan theology.

In like manner the American insists on freedom, and his marching song of the Republic declares, not less truly than passionately, that it is worth dying for. But this freedom can be no other than the individual’s choice to live a moral, an heroic life. He has broken out of the cast-iron system that made him a marionette pulled by strings of predestination. He is progressive because he is free. He will build up, as I said, and not be thrust onwards blindly into the New Jerusalem. Civilization becomes an enterprise, and the future an object, to this adventurer, simply for the reason that he can create them as he will. The Divine Power is his Friend, not his Fate; and his belief in human nature as something of intrinsic value, to be made perfect hereafter, is the free acceptance of a Divine Idea which it is man’s duty to realize. Thus civilization and Religion are but different facets of the same glory.

With pure metaphysical speculation the American does not concern himself. He is more English than the Englishman by his inability to feel an interest in problems which the Greek or the German philosopher spent his life in brooding over. At length a name has been found for this deliberate suppression of metaphysics; and the late William James taught us to call it Pragmatism. On such a showing, Religion must produce the evidence not only of facts, but of new and peculiar facts, — of a cosmic order beyond the reach of physical science, but experienced, and not merely inferred. Faith and prayer, mind-cure and the phenomena of spiritualism, the ‘subliminal self,’ — what is the explanation of our interest in all this but that we cannot live by physics or metaphysics alone? that the spirit demands its own world, peopled by conscious beings with whom it may hold communion? At certain points the invisible realm of spirits touches ours, pouring into it the energy from which proceed revelations, miracles of healing, inspirations to follow the dictates of holiness laid down in the Gospels by Jesus. Life rather than thought, action far more than theory, is the word for Americans. And whereas the Pilgrim Fathers divided heaven from earth by a gulf which death alone could pass, their descendants are learning in ways most, unexpected that we attain to life everlasting by the Communion of Saints. The earthly and the heavenly Commonwealths make up together the American ideal.

So it seems to me, my dear Father, as I view, not without good-will, the strange story of religious development which has reversed the principles of Puritan theocracy and rejected its leading doctrines. Often, indeed, it has gone to the other extreme. To be ‘moonstruck with optimism’ I cannot reckon sound philosophy. But, if there is a world beyond the reaches of earthbound sense, its action, miraculous and illuminating, was surely not confined to Israel or the period of the New Testament. Religion is present fact as well as past history. The Communion of Saints either did not exist at any time, or it exists now. All that was ever in the Church must be with us under living forms at this moment, not in the shape of abstract ideas, but of objects, institutions, personalities, accessible to our prayers and answering them by the gift of powers not to be gained otherwise. The supernatural order, in short, is a universe and we are in it, not isolated or left to ourselves as lonely souls astray in the midst of a godless machinery. Those powers do overcome the world; they reveal here and now in every man who will look within, a vital force, a consciousness, on which time, space, and material conditions have only a limited influence. And here is our freedom; for ‘where is the spirit, there is liberty.’

Our name for the Communion of Saints, as I need not remind you, my dear Father, is the Catholic Church. We have always held that in its three stages, militant, suffering, triumphant, it is united by prayer of invocation and intercession, by graces asked and given, by the Holy Sacrifice. We never would allow, even in fallen man, total depravity of will or intellect. We have in our Religious Orders that scheme of a perfect life which Mount Lebanon has attempted, and which the Socialist cannot achieve. Dreams outside Catholicism become realities within it. And when the uninstructed crowd makes objection to it, from the distance of Puritan prejudice, scientific conceit, or spiritualist reverie, I would answer in the words of Hawthorne, ‘The great Church smiles calmly upon its critics, and for all response says, “Look at me!" and if you still murmur for the loss of your shadowy perspective, there comes no reply save “ Look at me!” in endless repetition, as the one thing to be said. And after looking many times, with long intervals between, you discover that the cathedral has gradually extended itself over the whole compass of your idea; it covers all the site of your visionary temple, and has room for its cloudy pinnacles beneath the dome.’

Such, my dear Father, is the homage of New England to the old religion, as its pilgrim and finest representative in literature stands before St. Peter’s shrine. Is it not a prophecy of things to be?