The Synthesis of Religious Belief

There is perhaps nothing which modifies and transfigures humanity to the degree of the religious it professes. They shape man’s destiny; they define his hopes; they control his nature; they influence, by modifying or exalting, his passions; they prompt his aspirations; they “assist at his birth and attend him in death.” So it is needful before all things that we should possess an official religion which shall be consonant to man’s development. Official religion is to be distinguished from fundamental religion. Fundamentally, there has never been but one religion in the world. There is and there can be only one way by which we can approach God, and that is by the way of the interior life. The reason is plain. God is the absolute reality, and there can be but one means of seeking Him, and that is through the reality which is ourselves. So far as we can trace it, the interior life, and its revelations, have always been known in the world. “Everywhere it has been the same, and everywhere carefully concealed.” It ruled everywhere; it was sublime everywhere; and everywhere it led mankind, or the elite of mankind which possessed it, into the eternal truth, into the divine light, into the perennial beatitude and joy. For him who possessed it the Mystics truly said:- omnia unum sunt, et omnia and unum trahit, et omnia in uno videt. But the religious sentiment has clothed itself in a thousand forms – many barbarous, many grotesque, some grand and beautiful there is a final transfiguration to come which will not pass away, because it will embrace all needs and all possibilities. It will be the most complete expression of the inner nature of religion.

When humanity has outgrown the shell of an official religion, as a shell it casts it behind. But religion does not die. Today, when there is a general disintegration of all forms of speculative belief, the vital spirit of religion was perhaps never more abroad in the world, is more conscious than ever of itself; the secrets of spiritual truth were never sought more eagerly, and never did the positive reality which is behind all official religious seem more likely to become universally known, and accepted with zeal and enthusiasm. It is therefore a day of revelation, a day of many teachers, of intellectual going to and fro, and of continual interior ferment.

Now, the synthesis of religious belief must be the work of the twentieth century. It is not possible to intellectually assert any longer the positive and exclusive truth of any one form of exterior religion. It is certainly not possible for Mystics. We have discovered the actual substratum which is the heart of all religions. We are not only convinced with Max Muller that there is a religion behind all religions, but we also know what it is. We are in one sense convinced of the truth of all those that are worthy of the name which they bear. But we cannot mistake the veil for the reality, type for antitype, signum for signatum. And once we have come to recognize that the official religions are a veil of symbolism, a woof of parable, it is clear that without irreverence, and without sacrilege, we, at least, who know something of the thing signified, may consider after what manner the veil is woven, whether it requires re-adjustment and another fashion of emblazonment, or even whether it would be well to invest the realities of religion with a new veil of symbolism, of a lighter and finer texture. One thing is certain. If we would accomplish the evolution of humanity we must have a public sacrament, or outward sign of inward grace and beauty, an economy of the positive truth which shall be consonant with the law of progress – a religion of light and joy, a religion of peace and beatitude, a religion of mildness and beneficence, a religion of aspiration, of dream and poetry – of the aspiration which is the source of poetry, of the beauty which is its expression, of the inspiration which is its birthright, of high, supreme, emancipated imagining. We no longer believe in dragons, in winged serpents, and in the monsters of unnatural history; we do not attach actuality to nightmares, nor objective truth to the revolting horrors of delirium tremens. The Inferno of Dante is sublime, but our veil of symbolism, our tissue of parable, must be stripped of the mythology of perdition even in its most exalted aspect. The good, the beautiful, and the true – these are the ends of our aspiration, these the substance of our hopes. And our religion must be like into these.

Its foundation should be also in the principle that man must inevitably work out his own salvation. Help he may have from beyond and outside himself, but the help from within is essential – it is the essence of conscious progress. It is not by the vicarious sacrifice of a Christ on a Cross, but by the personal immolation of the lesser and meaner man, crucified on the altar of the heart, that the sins of the world will be washed out.

And now if we refrain from proposing a scheme of universal religion, it is not because we are deficient in clear conviction as to the lines which that scheme must follow, but we are conscious of deficiencies within, and however much we may be energized with mystic zeal, we would avoid, as becomes us, the errors of incompetent temerity. We look for a leader of men; awaiting his advent, help from all quarters should be welcome to all Mystics, and here a word may be added for thinkers of the agnostics standpoint.

It is the main thesis of our whole instruction that the processes of Mysticism are evolutionary processes, and that the doctrine of development is at the root of our practical wisdom. At the same time, there is a religions aspect of evolution which is separable from Mysticism, which could be followed to the world’s profit were there no mystic science, and in this aspect it constitutes a kind of natural religion, which, addressing ourselves for the moment to the agnostic thinkers only, we would venture to recommend to their judgment as a possible field of activity. We assume that, when true to their name, they are the most negative and undogmatic of reasoners, that their judgment is suspended concerning the great issues of life, but that they are aware also of the incapacity of their principles to sustain the moral nature of humanity when it has cut itself adrift from the official mainstays of morality. Now, provisionally defining religious works as the construction of the race in the direction of its true end, we submit that a practical system for the creation of a correspondence with evolutionary law should not only enlist their sympathies, but should also command their co-operation. Mystics though we be, we should delight if agnostic philosophy developed an independent instrument for the creation of such a correspondence. However diverse the methods, we should be at work for the same end, and after the reason of the one law.