The Pleasures of Life
By Sir John Lubbock

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    “For what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love
    mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."–MICAH.

    “Pure religion and undefiled is this, to visit the fatherless and
    widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the
    world."–JAMES I.

    “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”


It would be quite out of place here to enter into any discussion of theological problems or to advocate any particular doctrines. Nevertheless I could not omit what is to most so great a comfort and support in sorrow and suffering, and a source of the purest happiness.

We commonly, however, bring together under this term two things which are yet very different: the religion of the heart, and that of the head. The first deals with conduct, and the duties of Man; the second with the nature of the supernatural and the future of the soul, being in fact a branch of knowledge.

Religion should be a strength, guide, and comfort, not a source of intellectual anxiety or angry argument. To persecute for religion’s sake implies belief in a jealous, cruel, and unjust Deity. If we have done our best to arrive at the truth, to torment oneself about the result is to doubt the goodness of God, and, in the words of Bacon, “to bring down the Holy Ghost, instead of the likeness of a dove, in the shape of a raven." “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,” and the first duty of religion is to form the highest possible conception of God.

Many a man, however, and still more many a woman, render themselves miserable on entering life by theological doubts and difficulties. These have reference, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, not to what we should do, but to what we should think. As regards action, conscience is generally a ready guide; to follow it is the real difficulty. Theology, on the other hand, is a most abstruse science; but as long as we honestly wish to arrive at truth we need not fear that we shall be punished for unintentional error. “For what,” says Micah, “doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." There is very little theology in the Sermon on the Mount, or indeed in any part of the Gospels; and the differences which keep us apart have their origin rather in the study than the Church. Religion was intended to bring peace on earth and goodwill toward men, and whatever tends to hatred and persecution, however correct in the letter, must be utterly wrong in the spirit.

How much misery would have been saved to Europe if Christians had been satisfied with the Sermon on the Mount!

Bokhara is said to have contained more than three hundred colleges, all occupied with theology, but ignorant of everything else, and it was probably one of the most bigoted and uncharitable cities in the world. “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”

We must not forget that

  “He prayeth best who loveth best
    All things both great and small.”

Theologians too often appear to agree that

  “The awful shadow of some unseen power
    Floats, though unseen, among us"; [1]

and in the days of the Inquisition many must have sighed for the cheerful child-like religion of the Greeks, if they could but have had the Nymphs and Nereids, the Fays and Faeries, with Destiny and Fate, but without Jupiter and Mars.

Sects are the work of Sectarians. No truly great religious teacher, as Carlyle said, ever intended to found a new Sect.

Diversity of worship, says a Persian proverb, “has divided the human race into seventy-two nations.” From among all their dogmas I have selected one–"Divine Love.” And again, “He needs no other rosary whose thread of life is strung with the beads of love and thought.”

There is more true Christianity in some pagan Philosophers than in certain Christian theologians. Take, for instance, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Plutarch.

“Now I, Callicles,” says Socrates, “am persuaded of the truth of these things, and I consider how I shall present my soul whole and undefiled before the judge in that day. Renouncing the honors at which the world aims, I desire only to know the truth, and to live as well as I can, and, when the time comes, to die. And, to the utmost of my power, I exhort all other men to do the same. And in return for your exhortation of me, I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict.”

“As to piety toward the Gods,” says Epictetus, “you must know that this is the chief thing, to have right opinions about them, to think that they exist, and that they administer the All well and justly; and you must fix yourself in this principle (duty), to obey them, and to yield to them in everything which happens, and voluntarily to follow it as being accomplished by the wisest intelligence.”

“Do not act,” says Marcus Aurelius, “as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good....

“Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there be gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods, or devoid of Providence. But in truth they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man’s power to enable him not to fall into real evils. And as for the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man’s power not to fall into it.”

And Plutarch: “The Godhead is not blessed by reason of his silver and gold, nor yet Almighty through his thunder and lightnings, but on account of knowledge and intelligence.”

It is no doubt very difficult to arrive at the exact teaching of Eastern Moralists, but the same spirit runs through Oriental Literature. For instance, in the Toy Cart, when the wicked Prince wishes Vita to murder the Heroine, and says that no one would see him, Vita declares “All nature would behold the crime–the Genii of the Grove, the Sun, the Moon, the Winds, the Vault of Heaven, the firm-set Earth, the mighty Yama who judges the dead, and the conscious Soul.”

Take even the most extreme type of difference. Is the man, says Plutarch, “a criminal who holds there are no gods; and is not he that holds them to be such as the superstitious believe them, is he not possessed with notions infinitely more atrocious? I for my part would much rather have men say of me that there never was a Plutarch at all, nor is now, than to say that Plutarch is a man inconstant, fickle, easily moved to anger, revengeful for trifling provocations, vexed at small things.”

There is no doubt a tone of doubting sadness in Roman moralists, as in Hadrian’s dying lines to his soul–

  “Animula, vagula, blandula
  Hospes, comesque corporis
  Qua nunc abibis in loca:
  Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
  Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos.”

The same spirit indeed is expressed in the epitaph on the tomb of the Duke of Buckingham in Westminster Abbey–

  “Dubius non improbus vixi
  Incertus morior, non perturbatus;
  Humanum est nescire et errare,
    Deo confido
  Omnipotenti benevolentissimo:
  Ens entium miserere mei.”

Many things have been mistaken for religion, selfishness especially, but also fear, hope, love of music, of art, of pomp; scruples often take the place of love, and the glory of heaven is sometimes made to depend upon precious stones and jewelry. Many, as has been well said, run after Christ, not for the miracles, but for the loaves.

In many cases religious differences are mainly verbal. There is an Eastern tale of four men, an Arab, a Persian, a Turk, and a Greek, who agreed to club together for an evening meal, but when they had done so they quarrelled as to what it should be. The Turk proposed Azum, the Arab Aneb, the Persian Anghur, while the Greek insisted on Stapylion. While they were disputing

  “Before their eyes did pass,
  Laden with grapes, a gardener’s ass.
  Sprang to his feet each man, and showed,
  With eager hand, that purple load.
  ’See Azum,’ said the Turk; and ’see
  Anghur,’ the Persian; ’what should be
  Better.’ ’Nay Aneb, Aneb ’tis,’
  The Arab cried. The Greek said, ’This
  Is my Stapylion.’ Then they bought
  Their grapes in peace.
  Hence be ye taught.” [2]

It is said that on one occasion, when Dean Stanley had been explaining his views to Lord Beaconsfield, the latter replied, “Ah! Mr. Dean, that is all very well, but you must remember,–No dogmas, no Deans.” To lose such Deans as Stanley would indeed be a great misfortune; but does it follow? Religions, far from being really built on Dogmas, are too often weighed down and crushed by them. No one can doubt that Stanley has done much to strengthen the Church of England.

We may not always agree with Spinoza, but is he not right when he says, “The first precept of the divine law, therefore, indeed its sum and substance, is to love God unconditionally as the supreme good–unconditionally, I say, and not from any love or fear of aught besides”? And again, that the very essence of religion is belief in “a Supreme Being who delights in justice and mercy, whom all who would be saved are bound to obey, and whose worship consists in the practice of justice and charity toward our neighbors”?

Doubt is of two natures, and we often confuse a wise suspension of judgment with the weakness of hesitation. To profess an opinion for which we have no sufficient reason is clearly illogical, but when it is necessary to act we must do so on the best evidence available, however slight that may be. Herein lies the importance of common sense, the instincts of a General, the sagacity of a Statesman. Pyrrho, the recognized representative of doubt, was often wise in suspending his judgment, however foolish in hesitating to act, and in apologizing when, after resisting all the arguments of philosophy, an angry dog drove him from his position.

Collect from the Bible all that Christ thought necessary for his disciples, and how little Dogma there is. “Pure religion and undefiled is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” “Suffer little children to come unto me.” And one lesson which little children have to teach us is that religion is an affair of the heart and not of the mind only.

Why should we expect Religion to solve questions with reference to the origin and destiny of the Universe? We do not expect the most elaborate treatise to tell us the origin of electricity or of heat. Natural History throws no light on the origin of life. Has Biology ever professed to explain existence?

“Simonides was asked at Syracuse by Hiero, who or what God was, when he requested a day’s time to think of his answer. On subsequent days he always doubled the period required for deliberation; and when Hiero inquired the reason, he replied that the longer he considered the subject, the more obscure it appeared.”

The Vedas say, “In the midst of the sun is the light, in the midst of light is truth, and in the midst of truth is the imperishable being." Deity has been defined as a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, but the “God is love” of St. John appeals more forcibly to the human soul.

The Church is not a place for study or speculation. Few but can sympathize with Eugenie de Gurein in her tender affection for the little Chapel at Cahuze where she tells us she left “tant de miseres.”

Doubt does not exclude Faith.

  “Perplexed in faith, but pure in deeds
  At last he beat his music out.
  There lies more faith in honest doubt,
  Believe me, than in half the creeds.” [3]

And if we must admit that many points are still, and probably long will be involved in obscurity, we may be pardoned if we indulge ourselves in various speculations both as to our beginning and our end.

  “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
  The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
  Hath had elsewhere its setting,
  And cometh from afar;
  Not in entire forgetfulness,
  And not in utter nakedness,
  But trailing clouds of glory do we come
  From God who is our home.” [4]

Unfortunately many have attempted to compound for wickedness in life by purity of belief, a vain and fruitless effort. To do right is the sure ladder which leads up to Heaven, though the true faith will help us to find and to climb it.

  “It is my duty to have loved the highest,
  It surely was my profit had I known,
  It would have been my pleasure had I seen.”

But though religious truth can justify no bitterness, it is well worth any amount of thought and study.

I hope I shall not be supposed to depreciate any honest effort to arrive at truth, or to undervalue the devotion of those who have died for their religion. But surely it is a mistake to regard martyrdom as a merit, when from their own point of view it was in reality a privilege.

Let every man be persuaded in his own mind

  “Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.” [5]

To arrive at truth we should spare ourselves no pain, but certainly inflict none on others.

We may be sure that quarrels will never advance religion, and that to persecute is no way to convert. No doubt those who consider that all who do not agree with them will suffer eternal torments, seem logically justified in persecution even unto death. Such a course, if carried out consistently, might stamp out a particular sect, and any sufferings which could be inflicted here would on this hypothesis be as nothing in comparison with the pains of Hell. Only it must be admitted that such a view of religion is incompatible with any faith in the goodness of God, and seems quite irreconcilable with the teaching of Christ.

Moreover, the Inquisition has even from its own point of view proved generally a failure. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

“In obedience to the order of the Council of Constance (1415) the remains of Wickliffe were exhumed and burnt to ashes, and these cast into the Swift, a neighboring brook running hard by, and thus this brook hath conveyed his ashes into Avon; Avon into Severn; Severn into the narrow seas; they into the main ocean. And thus the ashes of Wickliffe are the emblem of his doctrine, which now is dispersed all the world over.” [6]

The Talmud says that when a man once asked Shamai to teach him the Law in one lesson, Shamai drove him away in anger. He then went to Hillel with the same request. Hillel said, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. This is the whole Law; the rest, merely Commentaries upon it.”

The Religion of the lower races is almost as a rule one of terror and of dread. Their deities are jealous and revengeful, cruel, merciless, and selfish, hateful and yet childish. They require to be propitiated by feasts and offerings, often even by human sacrifices. They are not only exacting, but so capricious that, with the best intentions, it is often impossible to be sure of pleasing them. From such evil beings Sorcerers and Witches derived their hellish powers. No one was safe. No one knew where danger lurked. Actions apparently the most trifling might be fraught with serious risk: objects apparently the most innocent might be fatal.

In many cases there are supposed to be deities of Crime, of Misfortunes, of Disease. These wicked Spirits naturally encourage evil rather than good. An energetic friend of mine was sent to a district in India where smallpox was specially prevalent, and where one of the principal Temples was dedicated to the Goddess of that disease. He had the people vaccinated, in spite of some opposition, and the disease disappeared, much to the astonishment of the natives. But the priests of the Deity of Smallpox were not disconcerted; only they deposed the Image of their discomfited Goddess, and petitioned my friend for some emblem of himself which they might install in her stead.

We who are fortunate enough to live in this comparatively enlightened century hardly realize how our ancestors suffered from their belief in the existence of mysterious and malevolent beings; how their life was embittered and overshadowed by these awful apprehensions.

As men, however, have risen in civilization, their religion has risen with them; they have by degrees acquired higher and purer conceptions of divine power.

We are only just beginning to realize that a loving and merciful Father would not resent honest error, not even perhaps the attribution to him of such odious injustice. Yet what can be clearer than Christ’s teaching on this point. He impressed it over and over again on his disciples. “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”

“If,” says Ruskin, “for every rebuke that we titter of men’s vices, we put forth a claim upon their hearts; if, for every assertion of God’s demands from them, we should substitute a display of His kindness to them; if side by side, with every warning of death, we could exhibit proofs and promises of immortality; if, in fine, instead of assuming the being of an awful Deity, which men, though they cannot and dare not deny, are always unwilling, sometimes unable, to conceive; we were to show them a near, visible, inevitable, out all-beneficent Deity, whose presence makes the earth itself a heaven, I think there would be fewer deaf children sitting in the market-place.”

But it must not be supposed that those who doubt whether the ultimate truth of the Universe can be expressed in human words, or whether, even if it could, we should be able to comprehend it, undervalue the importance of religious study. Quite the contrary. Their doubts arise not from pride, but from humility: not because they do not appreciate divine truth, but on the contrary they doubt whether we can appreciate it sufficiently, and are sceptical whether the infinite can be reduced to the finite.

We may be sure that whatever may be right about religion, to quarrel over it must be wrong. “Let others wrangle,” said St. Augustine, “I will wonder.”

Those who suspend their judgment are not on that account sceptics, and it is often those who think they know most, who are especially troubled by doubts and anxiety.

It was Wordsworth who wrote

      “Great God, I had rather be
    A Pagan suckled in some creed outworn;
  So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
    Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn.”

In religion, as with children at night, it is darkness and ignorance which create dread; light and love cast out fear.

In looking forward to the future we may fairly hope with Ruskin that “the charities of more and more widely extended peace are preparing the way for a Christian Church which shall depend neither on ignorance for its continuance, nor on controversy for its progress, but shall reign at once in light and love.”

[1] Shelley.

[2] Arnold. Pearls of the Faith.

[3] Tennyson.

[4] Wordsworth.

[5] Chaucer.

[6] Fuller.



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