The Hidden Power, by Thomas Troward , at sacred-texts.com
THAT great and wise writer, George Eliot, expressed her matured views on the subject of religious opinions in these words: "I have too profound a conviction of the efficacy that lies in all sincere faith, and the spiritual blight that comes with no faith, to have any negative propagandism left in me." This had not always been her attitude, for in her youth she had had a good deal of negative propagandism in her; but the experience of a lifetime led her to form this estimate of the value of sincere faith, independently of the particular form of thought which leads to it.
Tennyson also came to the same conclusion, and gives kindly warning
And thus these two great minds have left us a lesson of wisdom which we shall do well to profit by. Let us see how it applies more particularly to our own case.
The true presentment of the Higher Thought contains no "negative propagandism." It is everywhere ranged on the side of the Affirmative, and its great object is to extirpate the canker which gnaws at the root of every life that endeavours to centre itself upon the Negative. Its purpose is constructive and not destructive. But we often find people labouring under a very erroneous impression as to the nature and scope of the movement, and thus not only themselves deterred from investigating it, but also deterring others from doing so. Sometimes this results from the subject having been presented to them unwisely--in a way needlessly repugnant to the particular form of religious ideas to which they are accustomed; but more often it results from their prejudging the whole matter, and making up their minds that the movement is opposed to their ideas of religion, without being at the pains to inquire what its principles really are. In either case a few words on the attitude of the New Thought towards the current forms of religious opinion may not be out of place.
The first consideration in every concern is, What is the object aimed at? The end determines the means to be employed, and if the nature of the end be clearly kept in view, then no objectless complications will be
introduced into the means. All this seems too obvious to be stated, but it is just the failure to realise this simple truth that has given rise to the whole body of odium theologicum, with all the persecutions and massacres and martyrdoms which disgrace the pages of history, making so many of them a record of nothing but ferocity and stupidity. Let us hope for a better record in the future; and if we are to get it, it will be by the adoption of the simple principle here stated.
In our own country alone the varieties of churches and sects form a lengthy catalogue, but in every one of them the purpose is the same--to establish the individual in a satisfactory relation to the Divine Power. The very fact of any religious profession at all implies the recognition of God as the Source of life and of all that goes to make life; and therefore the purpose in every case is to draw increasing degrees of life, whether here or hereafter, from the Only Source from which alone it is to be obtained, and therefore to establish such a relation with this Source as may enable the worshipper to draw from It all the life he wants. Hence the necessary preliminary to drawing consciously at all is the confidence that such a relation actually has been established; and such a confidence as this is exactly all that is meant by Faith.
The position of the man who has not this confidence is either that no such Source exists, or else that he is without means of access to It; and in either case he
feels himself left to fight for his own hand against the entire universe without the consciousness of any Superior Power to back him up. He is thrown entirely upon his own resources, not knowing of the interior spring from which they may be unceasingly replenished. He is like a plant cut off at the stem and stuck in the ground without any root, and consequently that spiritual blight of which George Eliot speaks creeps over him, producing weakness, perplexity, and fear, with all their baleful consequences, where there should be that strength, order, and confidence which are the very foundation of all building-up for whatever purpose, whether of personal prosperity or of usefulness to others.
From the point of view of those who are acquainted with the laws of spiritual life, such a man is cut off from the root of his own Being. Beyond and far interior to that outer self which each of us knows as the intellectual man working with the physical brain as instrument, we have roots penetrating deep into that Infinite of which, in our ordinary waking state, we are only dimly conscious; and it is through this root of our own individuality, spreading far down into the hidden depths of Being, that we draw out of the unseen that unceasing stream of Life which afterwards, by our thought-power, we differentiate into all those outward forms of which we have need. Hence the unceasing necessity for every one to realise the great truth that his whole individuality has its foundation
in such a root, and that the ground in which this root is embedded is that Universal Being for which there is no name save that of the One all-embracing I AM.
The supreme necessity, therefore, for each of us is to realise this fundamental fact of our own nature, for it is only in proportion as we do so that we truly live; and, therefore, whatever helps us to this realisation should be carefully guarded. In so far as any form of religion contributes to this end in the case of any particular individual, for him it is true religion. It may be imperfect, but it is true so far as it goes; and what is wanted is not to destroy the foundation of a man's faith because it is narrow, but to expand it. And this expanding will be done by the man himself, for it is a growth from within and not a construction from without.
Our attitude towards the religious beliefs of others should, therefore, not be that of iconoclasts, breaking down ruthlessly whatever from our point of view we see to be merely traditionary idols (in Bacon's sense of the word), but rather the opposite method of fixing upon that in another's creed which we find to be positive and affirmative, and gradually leading him to perceive in what its affirmativeness consists; and then, when once he has got the clue to the element of strength which exists in his accustomed form of belief, the perception of the contrast between that and the non-essential accretions will grow up in his mind spontaneously, thus gradually bringing him out into a wider
and freer atmosphere. In going through such a process as this, he will never have had his thoughts directed into any channel to suggest separation from his spiritual root and ground; but he will learn that the rooting and grounding in the Divine, which he had trusted in at first, were indeed true, but in a sense far fuller, grander, and larger every way than his early infantile conception of them.
The question is not how far can another's religious opinions stand the test of a remorseless logic, but how far do they enable him to realise his unity with Divine Spirit? That is the living proof of the value of his opinion to himself, and no change in his opinions can be for the better that does not lead him to a greater recognition of the livingness of Divine Spirit in himself. For any change of opinion to indicate a forward movement, it must proceed from our realising in some measure the true nature of the life that is already developed in us. When we see why we are what we are now, then we can look ahead and see what the same life principle that has brought us up to the present point is capable of doing in the future. We may not see very far ahead, but we shall see where the next step is to be placed, and that is sufficient to enable us to move on.
What we have to do, therefore, is to help others to grow from the root they are already living by, and not to dig their roots up and leave them to wither. We need not be afraid of making ourselves all things to all
men, in the sense of fixing upon the affirmative elements in each one's creed as the starting-point of our work, for the affirmative and life-giving is always true, and Truth is always one and consistent with itself; and therefore we need never fear being inconsistent so long as we adhere to this method. It is worse than useless to waste time in dissecting the negative accretions of other people's beliefs. In doing so we run great risks of rooting up the wheat along with the tares, and we shall certainly succeed in brushing people up the wrong way; moreover, by looking out exclusively for the life-giving and affirmative elements, we shall reap benefit to ourselves. We shall not only keep our temper, but we shall often find large reserves of affirmative power where at first we had apprehended nothing but worthless accumulations, and thus we shall become gainers both in largeness of mind and in stores of valuable material.
Of course we must be rigidly unyielding as regards the essence of Truth--that must never be sacrificed--but as representatives, in however small a sphere, of the New Thought, we should make it our aim to show others, not that their religion is wrong, but that all they may find of life-givingness in it is life-giving because it is part of the One Truth which is always the same under whatever form expressed. As half a loaf is better than no bread, so ignorant worship is better than no worship, and ignorant faith is better than no faith. Our work is not to destroy this faith and this
worship, but to lead them on into a clearer light.
For this reason we may assure all inquirers that the abandonment of their customary form of worship is no necessity of the New Thought; but, on the contrary, that the principles of the movement, correctly understood, will show them far more meaning in that worship than they have ever yet realised. Truth is one; and when once the truth which underlies the outward form is clearly understood, the maintenance or abandonment of the latter will be found to be a matter of personal feeling as to what form, or absence of form, best enables the particular individual to realise the Truth itself.