PRESENT STATE OF THOUGHT IN TO THE IMMORTAL It may be well for us here to consider the present state of the popular mind as touching the question of the immortal life. The further discussion will have more meaning for us after we have quietly considered where we stand in regard to this great question. In spite of apparent exceptions it is generally conceded by , those who have made a careful study of the subject that the belief in some sort of continued existence after death is practi cally universal. This does not mean that the lowest barbaric tribes have had any adequate conception of what we mean by immortality. Indeed, if we could be thoroughly certain that the individual overleaps the gulf of death that would not be proof positive that he is to go on forever; though I suppose that if we could be assured of a fact like that, the most of us would be willing to take our chances concerning any similar experience that might await us in the future. Practically, then, all people everywhere have believed that death, instead of being the end of personal consciousness, was only an inci dent in the advance of life. Indeed, bar baric peoples have found it hard to be lieve in death as in any way natural or intended. They are generally found to attribute it to magic or the machinations of some enemy, seen or unseen. If a man dies, the question is: "Who has killed him?"And they believe that the mind or the soul or the spirit or the shadow or the double or the second self or a some what bearing the burden of the individu ality has gone on and is still alive.
Skepticism on this subject is therefore a modern fact. It is one of the products of civilisation. It is the fruit of analysis and careful thought. It grows out of the at tempt of man to understand and picture to himself how the wonderful thing can be. This skepticism is seen to be especially connected with the decay of religions, or theologies, which are the theoretical sides of religions. In ancient Greece and Rome, for example, the belief in the under-world was connected with the belief in the popular gods; and when, as in the case of men like Caesar and Cicero, these mythological conceptions were outgrown, it was natural that they should begin to call in question other great faiths which had been bound up with them. So we find, at such periods in the history of the world, men frankly casting away all these beliefs, or else engaging in the work of trying to discover some reason for holding them other than that which had been sanc tioned by the traditions of the past. The young Christianity swept away the doubts and questions of the old classic world, and gave it the great ages of faith. Until the time of the Renaissance and the rise of the modern skeptical spirit connected with the enormous advance which science has made, there was practically no question about the other world. Indeed, during the Middle Ages people knew, or claimed to know, more about the other world than they did about this one. But the modern
time is repeating again the experiences of the more enlightened periods of classic antiquity. It is the very essence of the modern spirit to inquire. We demand evidence; we want proofs for the beliefs we hold. Huxley perhaps has given voice to a very wide-spread feeling when he says that it is not only irrational to believe without evidence, but it is immoral. I am inclined to agree with this statement. There is no virtue in believing. There is no vice in doubt. Both belief and doubt should be subordinated to the question of fact. We want the truth, for the truth only is real. The result of the rise of this spirit is that the old traditional faiths are seriously called in question. There are thousands of persons in the so-called or thodox churches who believe, or think they believe, believe they believe, until some great crisis of their life, and then everything goes by the board. Lowell ex presses this state of mind when he says: In the breaking gulfs of sorrow, when the helpless feet stretch out And find in the deeps of darkness no footing so solid as doubt.
Scientists like Haeckel tell us with se rene composure that such things as God, the soul, and the belief in immortality are old-world and worn-out superstitions which have no place in the rational beliefs of free men. On the other hand, men quite as eminent as he in science do not at all accept his calmly asserted logic. Mr. John Fiske, in his little posthumous book, Life Everlasting, tells us that there is nothing in modern science that touches or in any way threatens man's immortal hope. In a personal conversa tion some years ago with Mr. Herbert Spencer, I asked him the direct question as to what bearing, in his view, evolution had on the problem of immortality, and his reply was, that it left it precisely where it was before. Other scientific men, like Le Conte, one of the noblest this country has produced, are simple and earnest believers in a future life. Profes sor Shaler, of Harvard, in his remarkable work, The Individual, argues on the ba sis of the best-known science that there is at least ground for trust in a continued existence after death. He uses a most striking illustration, which is worthy of notice. He shows how the individual man in the case of natural generation is carried on from the parents by means of the tiny particle of living substance, so that, as he says,"the spirit may safely be given into the keeping of other forms of matter than the brain affords." He does not claim, of course, that this is a demon stration of continued existence. He only makes the point that the present state of our scientific knowledge gives us no right to decide the matter in the negative.