What Religion Is/Chapter 3



“In Him we live, and move, and have our being.”

Plainly such a spirit as I have been trying to describe is in unity with God, Man, and Nature. Nothing in all the consequences of religion is simpler or clearer than this. Nothing, again, more easily tempts us to draw out particular conclusions in which we may lose our way.

We are spirits, and our life is one with that of the Spirit which is the whole and the good. Then, surely, we are eternal; and, one way or another, your religion gives you this conviction. Now this is no matter for argument, or for trying to take away from you what you love to believe and what gives you strength. It is only a matter for holding fast to the centre. I will cite a few words from a clever popular book and I will not argue upon them, but will ask the reader just to turn them in his mind, and place them beside the essence of religion as we tried to describe it at first. I do not for a moment say that the talented writer from whom it is cited meant it otherwise than as a dramatic utterance by one of his characters, which need not in the least represent his own convictions. Quite probably he may have felt in it something like the difficulty which it presents to me. “It’s chiefly life after death that you are thinking of, which, come to bedrock, is the only religious question that has any interest, and is virtually the origin of all religion.”[1] It has been said, too, “We feel and experience that we are eternal.” We should fairly set these two attitudes of mind side by side with each other and with the full religious temper which simply rests on its oneness with what is deeper than anything temporal. When we begin to restrict and define, do we not begin to omit and to diminish?

But again, our purpose here is not to make any man doubt his religion; it is only to offer the suggestion that whatever his belief, he should take it so deeply, so in proportion, as not to lose contact with the complete attitude which makes it religion. What is united with the eternal is eternal. But how, how far, how transformed, or with what kind of consciousness, if consciousness is the right name at all, can we expect to know in particular, and, for religion, can it very much matter?

We must be on our guard against fining down and explaining away our unity with the eternal in the very act, as we think too hastily, of insisting on it. We must not let go our main grasp of the values which, wherever brought into being in a world, so far make heaven of that place and time, and which all religion teaches us to cherish here and now as everywhere and always — love, beauty, truth. In these our unity is solid and plain — our unity with God and with the whole of being. We must not do anything to throw these into the background, and place our unity in remote events.

Unity with God, as a character of human spirit, involves, it is plain, unity with man. And here again many questions offer themselves. What forms does this unity imply, historical, terrestrial, beyond the grave? Is there to be a millennium, a reign of peace and happiness on earth? What, in truth and reality, is the communion of saints? That spirits in unity with God must in the end be in unity with one another seems guaranteed by the very essence of religion. But what does “in the end” mean? Are we to ask more? and if we ask more, is it really asked in a religious spirit and interest? People who pray too much — it is an old folk-saying — pray themselves through heaven and out on the other side, and are set to herd the geese there. People who ask too many questions, claiming to be religious in asking them — it seems much the same. The shrewd old wives felt and saw perhaps that particularity and curiosity may harm the religious spirit. Science and Logic have their rights; but we must not confuse them with religion. What a man’s religion brings him, and what he cannot help receiving when he places himself humbly and sincerely in the attitude of religious faith, I should venture to suggest, let him hold to without scruple. It will be the nearest thing to truth that he can make his own. Against fancies and private interpretations, I am convinced that any great saint, any noble mystic, will warn him. The question is in the last instance for himself. Is it really religion — unity of will and belief with the supreme good — that he is thinking about in any particular doctrine, or is it something else? That is the question for him to answer with all pureness of heart and humility.

The unity of man and nature must be thought of in the same way. For the religious mind nature is the revelation and instrument, or one revelation and one instrument, of God’s will. We will look at other questions afterwards, such as the question of suffering. Here I am only thinking of the feeling to which we are liable that not nature, but something else, is where we are to look for the will of God. The supernatural; this is what we are apt to feel that our spiritual life depend s upon. Not merely, for instance, on the values we spoke of, truth, love, beauty. We do not think of these as supernatural; they are, happily, too familiar; though we might quite fairly do so if anything is to be supernatural. But they come home to us at once as our belongings, and as of one web and tissue with our world. Now if we go into ourselves, and keep fast hold of religion, we shall surely feel that all these things are just sides, aspects, consequences of it, ways in which the revelation of supreme will and goodness comes in our mind and heart. Then the seeking for a sign — for something marked as an exception to natural occurrences, or what looks like an exception — all this falls into its true place. If you cannot think of God without it, well and good; think of Him, I believe one must say, as you best can. Only, let nothing, no love of striking proofs, no yearning for a short cut to a special path of unity, oust you from the central citadel in which Mansoul possesses religion — oneness with the supreme good in every facet and issue of heart and will. This is what matters; innumerable outgoings arise from it, and each must certainly be pursued and grasped for a certain distance. But in any one of them, if you are allured by it, it is easy to lose yourself, and forget the one thing needful. If you are offered a doctrinal certainty, ask yourself of what it is a certainty. Is it really of a truth pertaining to religion, or is it of something quite different, which perhaps tradition or controversy has associated with it? Every one, I repeat, must judge for himself The absolute need in judging is sincerity, pureness of heart. Does this really belong to my oneness, in love and will, with the supreme good? Does it flow from this, and confirm me in it? If not, it may be an interesting and valuable speculation; but it is not a part of religion.


  1. The Tender Conscience, by Bohun Lynch, p. 120.