HEART AND SOUL
NEW YORK THE CENTURY CO. 1921
Copyright, 1921, by THE CENTURY CO.
This book was not written with any idea of being published, but simply because I could not help it.
I got thinking about various things, in the lives of people about me, and in my own life, and, after a while, I found that my thoughts would not let me alone. They kept coming back, to trouble and haunt me, until finally I realized that the only way I could be rid of them and have a little peace, was to set them down on paper.
After that, I had the indiscretion to read parts of them to one or two who are near to me. These seemed to think that they might prove helpful to others who felt the same way and urged me to publish them.
I cannot be blamed very much for conceiving a hope that this might prove true. And, in that hope, I have followed their advice.
I DIAGNOSIS 3
II THE UP-TO-DATE PRINCIPLE 43
III REASON AND EXPERIENCE 59
IV AFFECTION 83
V FAITH 109
VI SCIENCE AND THE INTELLECT 167
VII HOPE 221
VIII HEART AND SOUL 234
HEART AND SOUL
HEART AND SOUL
Many of us, to-day, are disturbed and alarmed by the point of view and the behavior of people about us—especially the younger generation. Girls of good family are seen on all sides, who smoke and gamble and drink and paint their faces and laugh with scorn at the traditions and conventions which their grand-parents regarded with almost sacred reverence. The young men are worse, if anything, and as for the married people of the new era, what they are doing to the sanctity of the home and the bonds of matrimony might seem like a weird travesty of the teachings of the past.
What is the world coming to? Are things going on indefinitely, this way,—or more so? If not, who, or what, is to stop the movement and turn it in another direction? What is the meaning of it all? What is to be done about it?
Before attempting to speculate on these questions, it might be a good idea to consider for a moment the main, fundamental influences which have always been at work, to a greater or less extent, in determining the conduct of human beings.
First come the material instincts. Each individual is born with a large number of desires, appetites, feelings, impulses, tastes. There is also a natural wish to gratify these and the process of doing so brings with it a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. So that if these natural instincts were the only things to be considered, the problem of humanity in a general way would resolve itself into preserving life and getting as much pleasure out of it as possible. Why not follow the lead of our instincts, accept all opportunities as they come, and make the most of them?
Is not this point of view, however briefly and crudely expressed, the first principle of existence as it confronts each individual to-day, as it has confronted them in the past, and as it will continue to confront them always?
Is it not, in its essence, the starting point—the ever-present raw material—which must be recognized and dealt with somehow in any scheme of philosophy or morality?
The next consideration, which follows closely after, is that certain wishes cannot be gratified, certain pleasures are forbidden, certain instincts must be repressed or controlled.
For various reasons. The first being force and might. Some one stronger interferes and prevents.
Every child comes in contact with this principle at an early stage. It cannot have what it wants, it cannot do as it wills—because the nurse or the mother says "no."
A little later, if it undertakes to gratify a certain wish which has been forbidden, if it gives free play to an instinct for pleasure, against orders, it is slapped and scolded. It is made to feel that it has done wrong. And when one does wrong, punishment follows—one must learn to expect that.
This same principle confronts the individual in later years,—all through life. First the nurse and mother; then the father and other members of the family; then the neighbors and people at large; the police and the laws. All these embody the same principle, they represent greater force, without the individual, which interferes with its instincts, its pleasures, its wishes, which forbids certain things—declares they are wrong—and punishes, if they are done.
On top of this comes the church and religion. In a more exalted way, appealing to the imagination and the inner spirit, they nevertheless apply the same principle. Certain things are sinful and wicked, certain instincts and desires are temptations, contrived by an evil spirit. If temptations are yielded to, if evil is committed, punishment is sure to follow, if not in this world, then in another, a world beyond.
In this connection, it is not a question of any particular church, or creed, or any particular religion, but simply of the fundamental idea of all churches and all religions,—the idea that somewhere, somehow, in a spiritual world of some sort, good will be rewarded and evil punished.
Crudely and briefly stated, it is the same fundamental principle that begins with the child and nursemaid, and runs up through the highest forms of church and religious appeal. This is good, you are allowed and urged to do it, and it will bring reward; that is bad, you are commanded to resist it, and if you yield, it will bring punishment.
This, then, is what we have called the second consideration in the problem of life.
There is another consideration, of a different order, which exerts an influence on the acts of an individual; which causes it to repress certain appetites and desires, on the one hand, and urges it, on the other hand, to do certain things against its instincts and inclination.
This third consideration is the influence of reason and experience.
A crude example will suffice to illustrate the principle. A certain individual eats a plate of sliced cucumbers. Their taste is delicious and the sensation most enjoyable. An acute indigestion follows, however, with great discomfort and distress. On a later occasion, another plate of fresh cucumbers is so tempting that the experiment is tried again, with the same results.
Before long, this individual will refuse to eat a cucumber, no matter how fresh and tempting it looks. There is no question of right or wrong here involved. There is no outside force or command, to restrain him. It is his own reason, based on experience, which determines him to give up a present pleasure for the sake of avoiding a future pain.
In a reverse way, a certain individual who is tired and sleepy and yearns to go to bed, will force himself to sit up and work over annoying papers, in order to be free for a game of golf, the following day. He deliberately denies his desires and accepts present discomfort for the sake of future enjoyment.
This principle, if we look into it carefully and follow it through its ramifications and side lights, is an active and important factor in the conduct of nearly everybody. In its essence, it is personal, its force springs from within the individual—and in that respect, at least, it is quite different from the orders of parents, or the commandments of religion, which are issued from without and which the individual is called upon to accept and obey, irrespective of his own notions or preferences.
There is still another main consideration in this question of conduct. It is a very great factor in the lives of many people, and in some cases its force and influence are overwhelming. And it is totally different in its very essence and tendency from the other principles we have noted.
This is the influence of love and affection.
A mother will give up any pleasure, she will accept any pain for the sake of her sick child. She does not do it because any one has ordered her, or because of any commandment of any religion, or because of any reward or punishment in this world, or another. There is no selfish motive of any kind involved in her thought. Any sacrifice of self, she is ready to make without the slightest hesitation. What she does, and what she is willing to do is for her child alone—because she loves it and, for the time being, its little life seems of more importance than everything else in the world put together.
Now, if we pause right here a moment and reflect we can hardly fail to realize that we are in the presence of something strange and wonderful. It appears to be the very contrary and contradiction of all that has gone before. The life of the individual, as it unfolds from the first principle, is a question of self-preservation, self-gratification, appetites, desires, pleasures, as full a measure of enjoyment as it is possible to obtain. This is interfered with by outside force and considerations of reason and experience; certain desires have to be controlled by the idea of good and bad, reward and punishment; certain pleasures and pains have to be balanced against each other to determine a choice. But from beginning to end, it is all concerned in considerations of advantage—what is best for self, at the time being, or in the long run—in this world or the next. Why do this, that, or the other? because you will gain most by it, in the end. At bottom, the motive is taken for granted, whether openly admitted or more or less thinly disguised—self, self-interest, selfishness.
Then we turn and look upon a mother and her child—and we find that all thought of personal advantage can be transferred to another. Self-interest can be controlled and obliterated by a new and mysterious principle—the principle of love.
There are various kinds and degrees of feeling that go under the name of love and nothing in life is more interesting or more vitally important to study and understand. But in this preliminary summary it is enough to signal its existence as one of the factors in the problem of life.
It may be just as well to note, in passing, that mothers are to be found whose love for their children is not so completely unselfish. Mothers are to be found who care very little about their children. Mothers are to be found who regard children as a nuisance and a disadvantage and prefer to be without them. That will be found to be one of the curious side-lights of the problem when time comes to discuss it.
It does not alter the fact, however, that love exists, that the true mother's love of her child is the most complete and universal illustration of it.
Also in many other forms of love and affection, it is easy to recognize this same tendency toward unselfishness—a readiness to sacrifice one's personal pleasures and inclinations for the joy of another. A father may have this feeling for his son, or his brother, just as he may have it for his wife, or his mother. A man, or a woman, may have it for a dear and intimate friend, and be willing to make real sacrifices in order to benefit them.
This, then, is the fourth consideration—a fourth factor in the problem of life—and to avoid misunderstanding and confusion of ideas, we will call it affection—the influence of affection.
There remains one more consideration—one further class and kind of influence—which has its bearing on conduct. This may be summed up, in a general way, as love of an ideal, or an idea. Although it is less wide-spread and less potent in most lives than affection for fellow beings, yet it is, in varying degrees, a real factor that cannot be left out.
A sense of duty exists, to greater or less extent, in nearly all people. In people of breeding and good family it may become pride of race—noblesse oblige. A certain individual may have a strong affection for his home town, the little community with which he has been identified as a boy and man. Another is devoted to a cause, a political party, a Red Cross movement; while others have a strong feeling of patriotism, they love their country, their flag, and they are ready, at any time, to give up something for the good cause.
Broadly speaking, and for lack of a better name, we may call this fifth principle in the problem of life—devotion to an ideal.
As a result of these influences, the character of an individual is formed, his conduct is determined. At any given time, in the presence of any given question as to what he will, or will not do, the answer will depend on the relative force, or sway, of the conflicting considerations.
This is merely stating an application of a general law—that all effects must have their causes. Only in the conduct of an individual, the causes at work are often very subtle and complicated.
If the average individual at the present time is behaving differently from the way he used to act, it is obviously because of some change in the influences. Certain motives and considerations which used to be decisive have now ceased to dominate. Other considerations have superseded them. So much is fairly obvious, and very little reflection is needed to locate these in a general way. They lie in the second group of our summary—the control of desires from without, enforced by rewards and punishments.
In the life of the average individual, this influence has become weaker all along the line. It is probably less dominating and decisive to-day, than it has ever been before in any period of civilization, ancient or modern. And the weakening of the influence begins in the earliest childhood, with the punishments of nurse and parents and extends right on to the end, through neighbors and public opinion, the police and the laws, and finally to the church and religion, with their everlasting retribution, heaven and hell.
There has been no great apparent change in the other considerations of our summary. People are still influenced by experience and reason, as heretofore. They still are moved by their affections; and there are the same class of people who will fight for their country and make sacrifices for an ideal.
It may be that the change of character which results from the weakening influences under our second heading, has an appreciable effect on the force of other influences, also. But that is a delicate and subtle subject, which will be discussed later on.
For the time being, we may stop at this point: that the startling changes which have occurred recently in moral standards and point-of-view are directly traceable to a corresponding weakening of an influence that has been one of the strongest in human lives.
The nature and extent of this process are worth considering in detail, because it is at the very root of the problem and the consequences are far-reaching.
And before we begin to analyze it, let us be careful to avoid a hasty and easy conclusion. Because the changes in people's views and behavior seem startling and alarming to those of the old school—that does not necessarily mean that the new tendency is bad and wrong. Any change in fundamentals is apt to be upsetting, for the time being. The new way, in the end, may really be better than the old, and represent progress. Or it may mean deterioration and decline. It will be time enough to discuss that phase of the question, after we have made sure that we thoroughly understand what it is, that has been going on.
Let us take one thing at a time and start with the simplest and most obvious.
A human life begins, with possibilities of development in all sorts of different directions. The child is taken care of from the cradle—guided, educated. In due time, it reaches an age where it is left to decide for itself and its actions are determined by its nature and what it has been taught.
"As the twig is bent, the tree's inclined." This is an old adage of the English language and the principle it expresses has been generally accepted throughout the world. "Spare the rod and spoil the child"—is another old adage which has been almost as universally accepted. Still another adage, expresses a fundamental principle: "Children should be seen, not heard."
These adages are sufficient to indicate the basic theory that governed the bringing up of children for countless generations. What do they imply?
Obedience, discipline, respect—respect for parents, respect for others, respect for traditions and laws—and with it a reverence and fear of God. The aim was to turn out law-abiding, God-fearing citizens; and the method, as expressed in the adages, was unquestioned for centuries and generally adhered to.
It has always been usual and natural among various peoples at various times, to inculcate in children from an early age those qualities which are considered worthy and admirable.
Among the American Indians, a true brave was he who presented an unflinching countenance to the enemy, even in torture. Consequently, boy children were pricked and burned by their parents, until they were schooled to accept any kind of pain without a whimper.
In China, tiny feet were considered desirable in a woman—so girl children's feet were tightly bound and kept so, for long periods, with great suffering, in order to attain the worthy object.
In these and similar cases in European civilization, the stern methods employed cannot be taken to mean that parents loved their children any the less—rather the contrary. Because they loved them, they did not hesitate to do what was necessary, according to their lights, to make them grow up as fine specimens as possible.
That was the old school. What, now, of the new?
It is obvious that, in recent years, there has been a vast change in the attitude of parents toward children, and perhaps an even greater change in the attitude of children toward parents.
The rod is used very sparingly, nowadays. In America, at least, it may be said to be no longer used at all. Among families of education and refinement, a child may still be spanked by the mother or father, but not very often. The significance of the proceeding is not very great, and half the time the spanking is occasioned by the irritable nervous condition of the parent rather than the act of the child.
A child may sometimes be slapped by a nurse, usually when the nurse is cross and ill-humored. But in nearly all cases, if a nurse dared to whip a child, or cause it real pain, the child would only have to tell its parents and the nurse would be discharged.
And such trifling chastisements as do occur to-day, are confined to a very early age of the child. A boy or girl of twelve or fifteen has no fear of a beating from father, or mother, or governess, or school-teacher. School-masters are no longer allowed to whip their pupils, or even to cuff them.
The old adage is no longer in force—it has been thrown into the discard. "Spare the rod—" yes, the rod is spared, but it remains to be seen whether on that account the child is necessarily spoiled.
"Children should be seen, not heard"—that idea, is also in the discard. Boys and girls have as much right to their say as anybody else. At the family table, in the home circle, the tendency is rather for their ideas and their affairs to usurp the conversation. Their impressions are fresher and more animated, and they are more abreast of the latest up-to-date topics. An attitude of respect and reverence for the opinions and notions of their parents, or grand-parents, would hardly be expected of them. So many of the things to be talked about—motors, wireless, airplanes, new wrinkles and changed conditions—are better understood by them than the old people. It is easy for them to get the feeling that the old people's ideas are rather moth-eaten and of not much account. It is for the rising generation to tell and explain what's doing now and for the setting generation to listen and make the most of it.
Of course, this is not meant to imply that children have ceased to have any respect for their parents. In any particular case, it is a question of degree, depending upon the quality of the children, the quality of the parents, the various conditions and influences of the family life. It is the general tendency we are looking for—the underlying principle—which makes itself felt to a greater or less extent, according to circumstances.
It is unquestionably true that the average child to-day is less often and less severely punished than the child of the past. If it disobeys, it has less fear of the consequences, so the importance of obedience becomes a dwindling factor in its mental attitude and its behavior.
It learns to take orders with a grain of salt and as often as may be, it disregards them, because they are not what it likes. That is the beginning of a tendency—the first bending of a twig.
As the twig goes on growing with this slant, and the horizon of the boy and girl opens out beyond the family circle to a larger world, existing conditions are such as to encourage a continuation of the same tendency. The selfish instincts and desires of the individual are opposed by the same kind of influences and restraints that have been in force since the beginning of civilization, but less effectively. And let us bear clearly in mind that, for the time being, we are confining our attention to the forces which act on the individual from without. That is the thread we are following—the second consideration in our summary.
The influences and restraints which act on the boy or girl, as they go forth from the home circle, are of various forms and kinds, but they may be grouped in a few simple classes.
First: The school with its teachers and teachings.
Second: The influence of example and imitation—what others of their age and kind are doing.
Third: The influence of public opinion, of tradition and customs—what everybody seems to think is all right and approves, on the one hand, and what is considered wrong and unworthy, on the other.
Fourth: Laws and regulations of constituted authorities.
Fifth: Sunday school and church—the religious influence with its standards of wickedness and goodness.
If we consider these in order, we are not impressed by any striking change in the school influence. In many respects, no doubt, schools are better planned and more intelligently managed than they ever were before. More attention is paid to ventilation, hygiene, recreation, on the one hand; and on the other the methods employed in imparting book knowledge are probably more enlightened.
As regards the question we are discussing—obedience, discipline, respect for authority—on the whole, there has probably been no great change. In the class-room and throughout the school regime, strict obedience is still maintained as an essential requisite, just as it has always been. The punishments and penalties for disobedience are perhaps a little less severe and drastic, but without any real difference in effect.
The only question worth raising in this connection is how far school-teachers and school-rules are taken to heart by the average boy or girl—how far they are made to apply to their notions and motives, when school is left behind. School-books, school-teachers and school-discipline are so apt to be bunched together and relegated to a special corner of the mind.
Our second group—the influence of example and imitation—has probably always been a more important factor in shaping conduct and character. What the older boys, just above you, do and believe, makes a lot of difference to you, if you are a boy.
It is no question here of old-fashioned precepts or theories, handed down by parents, grandmothers or school-teachers, to be taken with a grain of salt. It is something living and vital, which concerns you directly. You look up to the older boys: you want to be like them; and approved of by them. What they think and do may be at variance with the ideas of nurse, mother and school-master, but if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for you. It is a practical standard which you can't help being judged by. If you fail to live up to it, or refuse to accept it and try to act differently, there is a sure penalty. You will be sneered at, disliked, looked down upon, or laughed at.
If you are a girl, the same principle applies. There is nothing new about the principle. It is as old as the hills and universal.
Is the effect of it to-day on the forming character any different from what it has been, in the past? Undoubtedly. A moment's reflection will show why and how this must be so.
Whatever the nature and influence of the family bringing-up may have been, in any particular case, the general tendency toward lack of discipline and disregard for authority can hardly fail to be reflected in the prevailing standards of the boys and girls to be found at any school. They have no connection with school regulations or school penalties. It is the fundamental question of instincts, desires, and notions—the attitude toward themselves and toward life outside the school-room which they are going to take with them where-ever they go.
The tendency begun at home finds reinforcement and further development in the boy or girl by example and contact with others, who are headed the same way.
Next comes the third group: The influence of public opinion—of tradition and customs.
There is no mistaking the fact that in the present generation there have been many striking changes in the prevailing customs, as they apply to the behavior and conduct of individuals. The growing boys and girls see these changes taking place on every hand.
When mother and father were young, Sunday was a day set aside for church-going and dull and decorous behavior. Games and fun of all kinds were laid away, everybody put on their best clothes and sat around and talked, or took quiet walks with an overhanging air of seemly propriety. To-day there are tennis and golf and baseball games and dinner-parties and gambling at the bridge-table, in which mother and father participate along with the rest.
It used to be considered improper for a girl of good family to go out at night to any kind of party without being accompanied by a chaperon. Nowadays, the girl who is obliged to take a chaperon with her wherever she goes, is liable to be laughed at by her up-to-date friends.
It was not so long ago that in any respectable community, a woman who painted her face, smoked cigarettes, drank cocktails and gambled with the men, would have been considered a shocking spectacle of depravity that no self-respecting wife, or mother, could accept or tolerate.
Nowadays, the growing boy and girl have only to open their eyes to see women doing such things everywhere—as likely as not their aunts and cousins, or their own mothers.
Examples of this nature could be given in great variety, but enough has been suggested to show the trend. In another connection it will be interesting to discuss these manifestations in greater detail and reflect on their cause and meaning.
For the present, it is sufficient to indicate that the social customs have changed and are changing very materially. Under such conditions, it would not be natural for young people to be unduly impressed by them. Such standards are so unstable and they differ so much to-day from what they were yesterday, and they differ so much in different circles and even in different families, that their force and importance are not very compelling. The authority of past customs has undergone a process of confusion and weakening, much the same as parental authority. There is less respect for it on the part of the new generation.
The same thing is true of traditions and public opinion. Traditions have been modified and lost sight of in the new movement, and public opinion on many questions is to-day so confused and indefinite as hardly to exist.
Some people still think that divorce and re-marriage is shocking. Other people thoroughly approve of divorce, and believe that when a marriage has proved unsatisfactory and objectionable, it is right and best to call it off and look for something better.
Some people think it wrong for young people to run to the picture-shows and see baby vampires and demoralizing examples of licence and misconduct; others are enthusiastic about the educational value of the movies and encourage their children to go as often as they like.
Some people disapprove violently of the way young people dance together and of the present attitude of girls and boys toward one another; while others accept it as a part of the new era of emancipation and enlightenment which is all in the way of progress.
There is practically no real public opinion to-day on these, and many other similar questions. A diversity of individual opinions and notions has taken its place, which young people are more or less free to follow or ignore, as circumstances may determine.
Yet it is not so long ago that public opinion in most communities was a firmly established, vital force. It was generally recognized and carefully respected by anybody, who wished to be considered respectable. Certain acts, certain kinds of conduct, were considered immoral, or shocking, or in bad taste and those who defied public opinion were made to pay the penalty. They were given the cold shoulder, cut off the visiting-list and made to feel the stigma of disapproval.
If a girl sneaked off alone with boys in the dark, or was caught smoking cigarettes—if a married man was seen consorting with a divorcee—if a woman drank highballs and gambled and broke up a happy home—if any member of the community did any one of a number of things which were considered improper, or unworthy, or immoral, or dishonorable, public opinion was sternly in evidence, unquestioned and unquestionable, to judge and to sentence.
Young people learned to take account of this consideration, just as their mothers and fathers did. They grew up with respect for it. In the new generation the thing itself has lost greatly in consistency and force, and the young people see no reason to be much concerned about it.
In the fourth group, are included the laws and regulations of constituted authorities. For the most part these find their chief representative in the policeman, with the jail and law-court, as a background behind him. About the only change in this influence lies in the mental attitude of the average individual.
A generation ago, people who got arrested were usually thieves, or drunkards, or crooks and criminals of some kind. To be a law-breaker and in the clutches of the police was something that a reputable citizen shuddered at. The police were the guardians of all good people, majestic, respected and a little awe-inspiring.
Nowadays, people of all sorts and kinds are constantly getting into trouble with the police, and getting arrested, and being hauled to court and fined before the same bar of justice as the crooks and drunkards. It is usually in connection with automobile driving. They are law-breakers—they know it and are caught at it.
And since the prohibition laws have gone into effect, another crop of law-breakers has sprung up on every hand. Deliberately and defiantly they disregard the law and scoff at it.
In addition to this matter of the police, there is a growing tendency on the part of the average person to question the worthiness and integrity of officials and representatives of government, all along the line. Aldermen, commissioners, mayors of cities—even senators of the United States—are frequent objects of mistrust, of sneering disrespect. Political scandals and corrupt deals in high places are commonplace topics in any community.
So young people, looking about and absorbing ideas, under these conditions, are inclined to have a lessened respect for constituted authorities and the laws.
Above and beyond this, having a deeper significance and effects that are more intimate and constant and far-reaching, is the change which has been taking place in the influences of the fifth and last group—Sunday school and church—the force of religion.
This is such a delicate subject, so close to the hearts of so many people and having so many variations and degrees in different individuals, in different families, in different communities, in different churches, that it is extremely difficult to discuss. It is largely a matter of private sentiment, of vague personal feelings for which the average person is unable to find adequate expression. No sooner is the subject broached than the individual mind takes refuge in a defensive attitude. As it does not intend to be disturbed in its own spiritual attitude and beliefs, it is ready to seize the first opportunity to raise objections.
Let me reassure such minds by saying that I am quite willing to agree with them concerning the good that is in their minister, or their church, or any other church, or religion they may be interested in. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the purpose and influence of all churches and all religions has always been in the direction of higher thoughts and more exalted motives of conduct. This is no less so to-day than it has been in the past.
The change that has occurred is in the attitude of the new generation toward the teachings of the church and the consequent weakening of its influence.
Not much reflection or observation is required to arrive at a general idea of the nature and extent of this tendency.
In most Christian homes it has been the custom to teach children to say their prayers every night before going to bed. And in teaching them to pray, the idea has been instilled in their minds that the all-wise Lord is listening to them and watching over them. Mothers and Fathers have accustomed them to the belief that no act of theirs—no matter how carefully they may conceal it from the human beings about them—can ever escape the all-seeing eye of the Lord.
Children have believed this from time immemorial and the Sunday school and church have encouraged and strengthened this belief, at all stages of their growth. And along with this, as we have observed, went the idea of divine, everlasting justice and retribution—the punishment of evil and the regard of good, if not in this world, then surely in the greater world beyond. Heaven and hell have for centuries been pictured as awe-inspiring realities, established by the Bible, expounded and thundered from pulpits.
Children found, as they grew up, that the idea was accepted and shared by mothers, fathers, neighbors—everybody in the community entitled to respect or consideration. In trouble or sickness, they turned to the Lord for comfort and help and those who yielded to temptation and ignored His commandments were in danger of eternal damnation.
When people believe such a doctrine, when it is a living conviction in their hearts and souls, no greater influence could be imagined for controlling their material instincts and desires. We have only to refer back to the days of the martyrs and saints to realize what the principle is capable of when it is fully applied. As compared to eternal salvation and everlasting bliss—how petty and unimportant are the temporary experiences of the body.
The great mass of normal human beings, while accepting and believing the doctrine, have never deemed it necessary, or practical, to carry it too far. But always in the past, so far as we know, the average individual has been influenced to a very considerable extent by his religious beliefs. The more deeply and intensely he believed in the teachings, the greater their influence in controlling his acts.
If we turn to the present generation, we find on all sides, evidences of a growing notion that many of the statements contained in the Bible will no longer hold water, when put to the test of scientific enlightenment. A minister of the gospel in this church, and another in that, announces from the pulpit that it is no longer possible for him to accept the doctrines of hell's fire and eternal damnation. Others follow their example and preach sermons, accordingly, to justify this stand. Next the question of heaven is brought into question by a conscientious divine, who expounds the conviction that it should be accepted in an allegorical meaning, not literally—that instead of being a paradise inhabited by the souls of the elect, it should be considered rather a state of mind of living mortals who behave rightly.
Heaven and hell, a jealous and all-mighty Being, seated on a majestic throne, watching and judging each act of mortal man, punishing and rewarding, through all eternity—these and many other biblical teachings, which for centuries awed the imagination and possessed the souls of humble men and women, have gradually been brought into question.
Some people are inclined to lay blame for this on the churches and the ministers. But that is superficial thinking. The causes for the change were not within the churches, but outside, and the ministers of the gospel, though human beings like the rest of us, were among the very last to take cognizance of them.
The doubts and questions and misgivings evidently began, some time ago, among practical, thoughtful minds of scientific training. Certain statements in the Bible, in the light of modern investigation, were found to be inaccurate. If parts of it were founded on the ignorance of men of more or less primitive instruction, it is easy to see where this line of reasoning was bound to lead. In addition to the statements of fact, many of the ideas and assumptions set forth in the Bible seemed crude, narrow, cruel—as primitive as the lives of those early peoples among whom it came into existence.
The moral code contained in it—the essence of its religious significance—was undoubtedly sound and eternally true and very possibly inspired from on high, but the details, the images, the formal conceptions were decidedly antiquated and unimpressive to the enlightened spirit of our advanced civilization.
This growing point-of-view began to express itself quite noticeably in the past generation, at least in America. Thoughtful men, when they arrived at it, were inclined to keep it to themselves. They did not care to disturb the simple, whole-souled faith of their wives and mothers and children. But when these men went to church with the family, and had to listen to the literal, orthodox expoundings of antiquated dogmas, they were apt to feel mildly bored and annoyed. They began to beg off from going to church. Then, little by little, in the various church congregations, there was a disquieting falling off in the attendance of men-folk.
Then some of these men began to exchange their views quietly with others, who felt the same way. Articles were written, here and there, calling certain dogmas into question—and women were sometimes led to take part in the discussions and face the conclusions.
Women, as has been observed from time immemorial, are by nature more conservative than men, more inclined to accept existing conventions and be governed by traditions. They are also more impressionable and the outward forms of church service mean more to them. Religious stimulant can come to them through their feelings and imagination without greatly involving the intellect. The same is true of children.
So it has happened that while the men questioned, lost faith and balked at church-going, the women and children kept on dutifully, for the most part content to accept things as they had always been.
But the contagion of advanced thought was in the air, spreading among progressive men, reacting to a certain extent among women, and it was probably not until this had been going on for some time that it began to be taken into account by the clergy. Sooner or later it had to be, if the church was to preserve any harmony with the thoughts of its congregation.
At the present time, things have reached a point where if you ask any of the younger women, of average intelligence and education, her sentiments concerning hell's fire and heaven's glories, and the jealous on-looking God who demands to be worshipped, the chances are she will answer with a shrug that those things are no longer preached by progressive ministers. She believes in the Bible, certainly, and considers herself a good Christian, but certain portions of the divine word, certain conceptions of the past, are no longer acceptable—they have gone into the discard.
And these women, holding such a view, have no hesitancy in expressing it in the presence of their children, if it so happens that they are old enough to be sitting by, listening to the conversation.
In the light of all this, when we come to consider the force of religion as a restraining influence in the growing lives of the new generation, the nature and extent of the changes is fairly obvious.
Let us suppose that to-day the average little children still have the beginnings of their religious training in much the same way as it has always been. And a large proportion of them undoubtedly do, because that is one of the family traditions which almost any mother would be loath to change.
The children, then, are taught to say their daily prayer—they are told that God hears them and sees them—that God is all-wise and all-powerful—that He loves good people and rewards them, while people, who do wrong, anger Him and cannot escape His punishment. And this teaching is continued and developed in the Sunday school, as soon as the children are old enough to go there.
The child mind absorbs all this, accepts it with the same simple faith with which it has accepted Santa Claus.
If we consider the period of early childhood carefully, we find that these two beliefs, so to speak, go hand in hand—and there is much similarity between them. Most children are also taught about Santa Claus from the earliest days. He becomes very real and wonderfully important in the child imagination. He, too, has a mysterious way of knowing whether people are good or bad; he, too, loves the good ones and rewards them by bringing them beautiful presents—and if the bad ones are too bad, he is liable to punish them by giving them no presents at all. Instead of praying to him at night, you can write him letters which he has a way of getting from the chimney, so that he, too, can understand the innermost wishes of your heart.
Sooner or later, however, the time must come when the existence of Santa Claus is called into doubt. The doubt usually begins with some remark made by an older boy or girl. But even if older boys and girls kept their mouths shut, the time would surely come when a growing mind would begin puzzling, reasoning, doubting, and by putting two and two together, would be forced to the conclusion that this pretty idea was only a make-believe, a myth, a humbug. A little further reflection might tell it that the myth must have been invented by some one, long ago, and was kept alive and carried on by people, generation after generation, on account of the value and influence it was found to have in bringing up children.
Even after a child has become too wise to believe any longer in Santa Claus, when the first reaction of feeling fooled and cheated is over, it is perfectly willing to go on pretending for the sake of little brother and sister, and when it grows up and has children of its own, it will go on pretending for them.
In the present generation, what is happening in the case of many people with regard to religious beliefs, is only one step removed. At a little later period of development, no doubt, but almost as inevitably, the moment arrives when the childhood teachings and conceptions begin to be called into question.
Is there really an all-wise Lord, looking on and listening when you say your evening prayers? How many ears and eyes He must have, when so many people are doing the same thing at the same time—hundreds, thousands, millions—all talking to Him at once—in different languages and about different things!
It was the same way about Santa Claus. How could he be bringing so many presents to so many people, all over the world, and delivering them personally, on the same Christmas eve? It would have taken him years to get through with all the houses in New York City alone—without thinking of London and Paris and all the other places.
In the past, when such a question came to mind and found expression, the answer was comparatively simple and direct. Religion is a matter of faith, not argument; the ways of the Lord surpass the human understanding: the Bible and the church are the authority, what they teach and ordain is to be accepted and obeyed. To doubt, or question, or disbelieve is the beginning of sin, and the consequences may be terrible.
When the individual was trained to the habit of obedience—when the attitude of the spirit within was one of respect and reverence for established authority and established traditions—that was one thing. If mothers and fathers and neighbors and wiser heads everywhere accepted this great mystery unqualifiedly, on faith, as the guiding light of their lives, was it not enough for their sons and daughters to follow their example and do likewise?
But in the new generation, as we have seen, the twig has already been bent in a different direction. Before the time comes for the young person to be bothered with thoughts about religion, he or she has already acquired the notion that the example of mother and father does not need to be followed in many things. Some of their ideas and traditions have become antiquated and more or less ridiculous in the light of the new movement. When one begins to make enquiries about this question of the Bible, enough has been said and heard to indicate that certain of its assumptions, at least, will no longer hold water and have been discarded by the ministers, themselves. So, say many of the new generation, when you come down to it, what is there to prove that these religious beliefs may not, after all, be only a legend, something like the one about Santa Claus, evolved in the distant past, kept alive and adhered to, generation after generation, for the same sort of reason?
A far greater number find it more convenient to refrain from expressing themselves. They may even go to church, occasionally, and they observe a superficial deference for the established forms of religion. But they are very little concerned in the sayings of the Bible, or the sermons of the ministers; they don't ask, or expect, any help from the Lord—nor do they live in fear of His punishment.
It is not to be inferred that any large proportion of the new generation have consciously or definitely followed out the chain of reasoning which we have indicated. Most of them don't bother their heads to think very far about such a serious subject. Their attitude, on this question, as on many others, is apt to be arrived at, in a more or less subconscious way.
If a growing nature has not been schooled to obedience; if it has learned to question and often disregard the ideas of its parents and elders and has formed the habit of laughing at old-fashioned traditions and conventions, there is nothing to be wondered at, if, when the time comes, it is prepared to take a more or less similar view of Bible and church.
That, undoubtedly, is the present tendency.
Now it is more than likely that such thoughts as these seem objectionable to many good Christians, because they consider that every well-intentioned person should strive to uphold the church and to refrain from the expression of ideas that might tend to unsettle faith.
Let me assure such people that my intentions are really of the best and I am as deeply concerned as they can be about the influences which appear to be undermining the spiritual welfare of my fellow beings.
But for the present, my aim is to look facts in the face, and to endeavor, patiently and simply, to understand and explain. When we have done our best in this direction, it will be time enough to hazard opinions and offer suggestions.
Also, let us bear in mind that in this question of religion, as in the other questions we have touched upon, it is only a tendency which we have been considering—a fairly general tendency, to be sure, but still only a tendency. In some communities, in some families, in some sects, it may be hardly noticeable.
At the moment I write these lines, the newspapers are full of a new movement undertaken by leading church societies of various denominations to have laws enacted, enforcing the observance of the Sabbath. They aim to bring about by this means, a return to the habits of church-going and Bible reading, as they were in the days of our forefathers. The very existence of such a movement is sufficient evidence of the tendency they seek to combat. Whether any law could be counted on to accomplish their purpose is another question, which need not concern us for the time being.
If we go back to our main thread of enquiry and draw together the results of our observations, they seem to offer a comparatively simple diagnosis of this supposedly mysterious disease which has gotten hold of our young people. We have located the seat of the trouble and indicated the nature of the developments which have, so to speak, thrown the motives of conduct out of their accustomed balance.
Obedience, discipline, respect for authority and traditions, consideration for others, fear of punishment, fear of consequences, fear of God,—these great check-weights to self-interest, self-seeking, have lost in weight and substance to such an extent that they no longer turn the scales and point the way. If our diagnosis is on the whole correct, we have finished with the first part of the problem.
N.Y. Times, July 5, 1921.—Says lax parents make boy felons. Judge Talley analyzes youthful crime. Defiance begins at home.
Judge Alfred J. Talley of the Court of General Sessions told several thousand persons gathered in the Mall in Central Park for an Independence Day celebration by the Knights of Columbus yesterday afternoon that modern American children are not brought up with the proper respect for their parents, law and order, or constituted authority, and that the fault lies with their elders. Judge Talley described the situation as a "cancer on the body politic." He drew a distinction between liberty and license and said that his experience in the criminal courts of New York had brought one great American failing very strongly home to him.
"The one thing the American people lack to-day," he said, "is a proper method for bringing up their children. I see the results of this every day. The hardened criminals turn out to be youths of 19 and 20 years who first thrust themselves against law and order at 16 and 17 years, and who at 14 told their fathers that they were leaving school—and left.
"Behind this hardened criminal stands the sullen drab figure of a girl who tries to show how loyal she is to the vagabond in the hands of the law. It all began with a misguided idea of liberty. The youth is the one who told his father he had had all the education he needed and promptly became a street corner type, and the girl, she who silenced her mother when bound for a dance by tossing aside criticism of the indecent dress she wore.
"In our schools to-day the child stands defiant and the teacher is unable to use the only kind of discipline that would do any good. The parent at home fails to understand disciplinary methods, and so we have the picture of the father obeying the son instead of the son the father; and the mother obeys the daughter."
To support his contention, Judge Talley said that statistics supplied a few weeks ago by the New York State Prison Commission showed the average age of penitentiary inmates to be 19 years. "This means that they began their criminal careers at 16 and 17, an age at which no Judge sends them to State prison. What is to be done to stem this tide of youthful depravity? There is only one way—we must encourage morality in public and in private, which means that we must bring back to our American life high standards and high ideals."
THE UP-TO-DATE PRINCIPLE
In the eyes of some good folks, the behavior of the girls and boys and young married people to-day appears totally unprincipled; and the good folks throw up their hands and declare "they can't understand it." As a matter of fact, they haven't tried to understand it and most of them are very far from understanding it.
There are nearly always two sides to a question—to any question—and no matter how strongly your personal views may incline you to take one side, before passing judgment, it is no more than common fairness to give the other side a chance to explain and justify its attitude. There is certainly very little chance of convincing your opponents that they are wrong, unless you have a fairly clear notion of what it is they have in mind.
It is quite natural for a grandmother to regard as "unprincipled," the conduct of this new generation. It is obviously not controlled by the same principles that she has lived by. She is impressed and disturbed by the disappearance of her principles and the shocking effects. The "impossible notions" that have apparently taken their place are beyond her comprehension, but she certainly would not dignify them by the name of principles.
But if these "impossible notions" are all that the new generation has to go by, and if they represent its spirit and attitude toward the problem of life, it makes little difference whether they be called principles or not, a principle of some sort is involved in them.
The first thing to do, therefore, is to arrive at as clear an understanding as possible as to what this principle is and what it implies.
Very little observation is needed to arrive at the conclusion that the essence of this new principle is the right of the individual nature to its fullest expression, to its most untrammelled development.
A large proportion of the new generation may not be consciously aware of this doctrine, or of their adhesion to it. But it is in the air and they absorb it; it grows up within them, as an unconscious product of other influences; it is present in those about them, and the "herd instinct" causes them to adopt it.
There are also a number who have given thought to the subject and are convinced of the soundness and progress of the new principle. They are prepared to defend it and proclaim it with a touch of superiority. Here and there, in magazine articles and newspapers, it is finding more or less authoritative expression and endorsement.
The following quotations, for instance, are from an article which appeared recently on the editorial page of the Hearst Newspapers. They represent some views on education by a leading exponent of advanced thought.
One great end of education that ought forever to be in mind is that the greatest enemy of attainment, as it is indeed of life itself, is Fear.
No man or woman can ever do good work, in the world, whatever be the task, until he has stricken from his hands and head and his heart the chains of Fear.
The very first lesson to teach a baby is to be unafraid.
Instead of that, fear is constantly resorted to in the family and in the school-room. We bribe, we threaten, we wheedle, we bull-doze. And by every such act, we do the child irreparable harm.
You ought to be much more thankful to God that your child defies you, than that he cringes before you.
It should always be kept in mind that what you are after with your child is not that he should learn obedience, but that he should learn how to govern himself.
The road to obedience is short, easy and nasty. All you need is a big stick. If you can be cruel and brutal enough, the little one will quickly learn to jump when you speak to him.
This is a part of the new principle, forcibly and typically expressed.
Is it any wonder that grandmother, brought up under the "Spare the rod, and spoil the child" and "Children should be seen, not heard" convictions, should find herself bewildered by such notions—that she should deem them "impossible."
Another article of a somewhat different kind which appeared recently in the Atlantic Monthly, was written by an Englishman, a moralist of the modern school. His lesson is addressed to women and the main point of it, developed in a most interesting and reassuring way, is that they are too much afraid of conventional ideas, of public opinion. They should not permit their aspirations and inclinations to be stifled by such considerations, but have the courage to give freer rein to their inner longings.
He refers, in his article, to the fact that American women are said to be far more advanced in this respect than their English cousins and approves of their example.
These, of course, are only scattered specimens of the many articles which have appeared and will continue to appear in support of the new principle.
And in this connection a rather curious side-light has come to my attention repeatedly, within the past few years. Among a certain class of people, especially those who pride themselves on superior intelligence and advanced thought, there has been a pronounced revival of interest and admiration for the free verse and freer morals of Walt Whitman. He has been, so to speak, re-discovered and embraced as a guide and a prophet. His creed of life, so exuberantly and defiantly expressed, was the exalted importance of his own ego. Wherever his desires led him, wherever joy for himself was to be found, there would he go, unabashed and inconsiderate.
With these indications in mind, we may proceed to consider some actual examples which will serve to illustrate.
A certain young woman is well-born and well-bred, occupying a prominent social position, decidedly intelligent—and good-looking, to boot. She has a husband of her own class and kind, who has always been devoted to her, and three lovely children, two boys and a girl.
She has apparently given considerable thought to the problem of life, and the point-of-view she arrived at finally would seem to be a typical product of modern ideas.
She believes first and foremost in the absolute right of the individual soul to recognize no master but itself—to follow out its desires and aspirations to the fullest extent. She has a feeling of scorn and contempt for conventions and conventional people. If you pay any attention to them, or their narrow, sheep-like opinions, or allow them to interfere in any way with your freedom of action, you are belittling yourself and your self-respect.
You must never be afraid to obey your own impulses. They come from within you, they are a part of your nature—your self—and that is where your true duty lies. It is better that you should be true to yourself, even at the expense of others, than that you should be afraid and cowardly.
The very fact that a desire, or an impulse, makes itself felt within you is the main point. It is not really the things you do that matter so much, as your wish to do them. If you wish to do a thing, and hold back out of cowardice, or fear of the consequences, that doesn't make you any better—only weaker and worse. You can't deny that the wish was there—without lying to yourself—so what's the use?
It is finer and braver to go on with it and attain at least the satisfaction of a wish fulfilled.
"But," some one objects, "how about your obligations to others? Suppose by doing the thing you wish, you will harm them?"
This little lady's answer to such an objection is usually accompanied by a shrug and a mildly condescending expression.
"If you are going to keep bothering your head about the effect of your actions on other people, might as well give up at the start and be a nice little sheep. The game isn't worth the candle.
"Besides, there's more humbug in that than any of the other bromides, weak natures prate about. Most people in this world have got to look out for themselves. You can't hope to be anything, or do anything worth while without occasionally treading on some one's toes. It has always been that way and if you're honest with yourself, you may as well recognize the fact and accept it philosophically.
"In most cases the harm that you do is much less than you imagine. That usually takes care of itself, somehow."
If people bore her, she doesn't believe in pretending that they interest her. She will not invite them to her house, or accept their invitations.
If she has agreed to go somewhere, where she expects to amuse herself and then, at the last moment, no longer feels in the mood for it, she calls it off. Or if in the meantime, something else turns up that she would prefer to do, she does not hesitate to switch to the thing she prefers.
If people don't like that, it is their affair. She has no intention of cramping her freedom, denying her desires, on their account. What she does means more to her than it does to anybody else. There is no good reason for her to pretend to be any different from what she is.
Moreover, in this particular case, there can be very little doubt, among those who know her, that she practices what she preaches. This, too, is something which occurs more frequently in the new generation than it did in the past. There is no great trouble in accommodating practice to theory—or rather the theory accommodates itself very readily to the kind of conduct which persons of this kind are ready to practice.
For instance, the lady in question wanted to visit Chinatown in one of the large cities and arranged with a professional guide to be taken there at night, alone with a girl friend. Among other things, they saw a Chinaman smoking opium and this gave rise to a desire on her part to experience the sensation for herself. The guide was prevailed upon, for a consideration, to procure her an outfit and a supply of opium; and that very night in her room she took a try at an opium dream. Why not?
At another time, at a cabaret party, she was introduced to a somewhat notorious young man of the Bohemian world. He was obviously dissolute, but talented and interesting. She danced with him, gave him encouragement, invited him to her home and was not afraid to be seen going about with him frequently on terms of intimacy. Among other things, he was addicted to the cocaine habit—he sniffed the powder from the back of his hand—and in due time he talked to her about it. He presented her with a bottle of the drug and after that, she always had a supply in reserve which she used when the impulse came. Why not?
If her husband had any objection to things that she did, he soon learned to keep them to himself. She could not and would not tolerate any interference with the rights of an individual soul. She must have the same freedom that she conceded to him. The kind of thing he chose to do, apart from her, was a matter for him to decide in accordance with his nature. The same rule must apply to her. The days of slavery had passed. Marriage was an arrangement between equals.
In due course of time, the husband had to leave her and the children for war service. While he was away, she fell in with another talented and dissipated Bohemian—a romantic-looking musician very much in the public eye. Very quickly their infatuation for each other was a matter of open comment on the part of the veriest on-looker. As he had the same idea that she had about the rights of the individual, and the same contempt for conventions and conventional people, there was no pretense of concealment, no need of observing the proprieties.
When the husband returned from overseas, she informed him, with the utmost candor of what had taken place. There was no shame and no remorse. Why should there be? A simple statement of fact—the forces of human nature in operation. She had found some one who appealed to her impulses more strongly than he. That was a truth which had to be accepted. The simplest way was to allow her to get a divorce.
But what of the children?
A very simple answer. Whether they went with their father or stayed with their mother—or were taken by the grandparents—anything was really better for children than being brought up in an atmosphere where all was pretense and whence love had flown. Of course she loved her children and always would, but if they grew up to be the right sort, they would understand her motives and admire her the more for being true to herself.
This case embodies the practical working of the new principle, carried to an extreme.
Here is another example of a different order: Two pretty girls of eighteen or twenty were talking together in the seat in front of me, in a trolley car. They turned out to be telephone operators at central switchboards. They were talking over their plans, which contemplated a visit to the movies with two young men—a supper and dance afterwards. The young men were still to be heard from and as the girls were going to separate places of employment the question was how to let each other know about final arrangements. For reasons best known to themselves, it wouldn't be wise to attempt that over the 'phone—they had better meet somewhere. Whereupon one of the girls suggested a place convenient to them both, where they could slip out and meet each other—at four o'clock. She would "plug in" all the terminals on her switchboard, so that all the lines in that central would be reported "busy" when people called up, and the other girl could do the same. Then they could talk things over quietly. "Nothing to be afraid of." And so they agreed. Why not?
Here is another symptom:
A married woman of my acquaintance is decidedly old-fashioned in her respect for conventions and moral standards. She has a sweet and rather shy daughter, who has been brought up closely under the mother's wing, and has never lost the habit of asking and telling her mother everything. She is seventeen.
One summer evening, recently, the daughter was called up on the 'phone by one of her girl friends and asked to make one of the party, who were arranging an impromptu dance at a private house. The girl friend and her brother would stop for her in their car and bring her home afterwards.
When the invitation was referred to mother, after a moment of hesitation and worry about the propriety of the proceeding, she gave her consent. Shortly after, the friend and her brother stopped at the house and took the daughter with them.
When she got back home, after midnight, she went to her mother's room and told her, at her bed-side, what had happened.
After they got to the house where the dance was to be and the others had all gathered there, it was decided for some reason to adjourn to another house. To get to this other house, the daughter was put into an automobile with a girl and two young men. She sat in front, beside the young man who was driving. She knew him only slightly, had danced with him a few times and thought him rather nice.
On the way, after chatting and joking, this young man stopped the car, then suddenly kissed her and took her in his arms. She didn't know what to do. When she looked around, she found that the same thing was going on in the back seat between the other boy and girl.
The young man beside her wouldn't listen to her objections. They seemed to take it for granted. If you liked each other, why shouldn't you? He said he liked her.
The occurrence is fairly typical of up-to-date standards—except in one particular. Most girls refrain from mentioning it to mother.
Here is another symptom, of slightly different complexion which applies to married life and suggests the extent to which the new principle is bearing fruit, in society circles.
It was brought to my notice, last summer, that in one colony on Long Island where I happened to be, there were fourteen different houses where the wife had deserted the family and the husband was keeping house alone with the children. This was among members of the fashionable set. In each of these cases, of course, the wife had come across some man who, for the time being at least, appealed to her more than her husband and a divorce had been obtained in some convenient way, or was in the process of obtaining.
It usually happens when a discussion takes place concerning the immorality of the present day, that some member of the party will advance the opinion in a more or less authoritative way that the tendency in question is confined almost entirely to the so-called upper crust of society and is consequently not entitled to the significance which is being attributed to it. The great mass of the people, in their simple homes and simple communities, are not in the least contaminated or disturbed by it. They are just as moral and clean-minded as they ever were, probably more so. Among the rich and idle upper classes, there has always been a lot of dissipation and immorality in all countries, at all times. If America is getting a little more than usual of it, at present, that is nothing to get excited about.
In the face of such sentiments, cheerily and forcibly expressed, the average gossip and fault-finder is usually willing to acquiesce with a shrug. And so the discussion ends with a feeling that an attempt has been made to exaggerate the importance of a restricted and unrepresentative class.
As a matter of fact, this kind of talk would appear to be founded on neither accurate information nor sound reasoning.
As regards the lower and middle classes—including those in small communities—especially those in small communities—it has been called to my attention repeatedly by those in a position to know that the change in standards, the so-called demoralization, has been quite as extreme as among the upper crust. And this view is in accord with my own notion.
Two important agents of the new movement are the automobile and the moving picture show. The mechanic's daughter, the store-keeper's daughter, the farmer's daughter like to go to the movies. It may be at first the mother, or father, took care to find out who the daughter was going with and how. A girl friend and her brother. How are they going? In the friend's automobile. Another time the father runs the daughter over to the friend's house in the Ford car. Another time the daughter runs herself over to the friend's house in the Ford car. It is only a short way. Or again, it is the friend's brother who stops for her, on his way to get the sister. After a while, this going to the movies has become such a frequent occurrence, that it is accepted as a matter of course, without bother or comment. If perchance the daughter comes home, some night, later than usual and the mother feels uneasy, the explanation is very simple. Instead of going to the nearby theatre, the daughter and her friend went over to a neighboring town where a more interesting picture was showing. In the end the daughter goes off about when she pleases and comes back in the same way.
Very often the stories she sees on the screen are largely seasoned with material that stirs the imagination and emotions in a hectic sexual way. If the girl and a young man get into a Ford car together to go home by moonlight, is it to be wondered at that the car comes to a stop on the lonely road and they forget old-fashioned proprieties?
The extent to which this sort of thing has been going on in many of the small town communities, according to the information I have received, is far too serious to be glossed over with easy optimism. In one relatively small and primitive district I happened to know of, more than one-half of the families with marriageable daughters have within the last three years had to bear the shame of illegitimate off-spring.
In the cities and larger towns, the same tendency appears to be in full swing among the shop-girls, stenographers, and daughters in the humbler walks of life.
REASON AND EXPERIENCE
In any case, from the examples and indications which we have cited and countless others of a similar kind which come within the experience of almost every one, nowadays, there can be little room for doubt that the new principle of conduct is very much in evidence throughout the length and breadth of our land. Consciously or unconsciously, it is affecting the character and determining the point-of-view of vast numbers in the new generation.
If you attempt to reason with them and they are willing and intelligent enough to express themselves frankly, their answer and justification for the way they are going sums up about as follows:
"Why shouldn't I think of myself and do what I like and want, as often as I get the chance?
"As long as I steer clear of the law and avoid breaking my neck, what other consequences are there that I need to keep worrying about?
"Why shouldn't I be a pleasure-seeker and a pleasure-lover? Why shouldn't I follow my inclinations and do what I like, whenever and wherever I get the chance?"
If you expect them to act contrary to their inclinations, to deny themselves the pleasures that they want, and to do things they do not feel like doing, there ought to be a good and sufficient reason. It ought to be so clear and convincing that it can be accepted with a whole heart and a settled resolve to abide by it.
The young people of to-day are made of exactly the same stuff as the young people of any other day. They have the same sort of instincts and the same underlying aspiration to get the most and the best out of life. Owing to altered conditions, for reasons which we have outlined, they are being left to go about it very largely in their own way, with less coercion from without, than young people have probably ever known before in the history of civilization.
How far will you get by telling them that the way they are going is immoral and sinful? They can answer by saying "If I choose to be immoral and satisfy myself, why shouldn't I? I'm not afraid of being sinful, or any of those old-fashioned scare-crows."
How far will you get by advising that the rod be taken out again and that they be beaten into submission to forms of authority which they no longer believe in or respect? This might result in teaching them duplicity and cunning and resentment, but probably nothing more beneficial to their spiritual health.
It seems to me more sensible to be patient with them and talk matters over with them and try to answer their question in exactly the same spirit in which it is asked.
The question is "Why shouldn't I go ahead and gratify my inclinations in any way that suits myself."
There are many reasons, some of which ought not to be very difficult for any one to understand. Broadly speaking, they are of three different kinds—First, experience; second, affection; third, faith.
Let us examine them in order, in a simple, leisurely way, and try to make clear the essence of each.
What does the question of experience lead to and imply?
First, there is one's own experience; then there is the experience of other people.
Our own experience teaches us very quickly that we often have impulses which it would be a mistake to obey. If you feel like pulling a strange dog's tail and the dog turns on you and bites your hand and the wound has to be cauterized, and you have to go through a lot of pain and trouble and fear of hydrophobia, one lesson will probably be enough for you.
Suppose you are overheated and feel like sitting in a draft and letting the cool air blow on you, and this is followed by a heavy cold which lays you up for a week or two?
Or suppose you are on top of a tall building and feel a strong impulse to jump out and go sailing through the air? Many people have this impulse, but they have previously had enough experience to know what happens to people who fall from high places.
The number of such examples might be multiplied indefinitely, but enough has been suggested to indicate the principle. It is quite obvious and childishly simple—the lessons taught to each and every one of us by our own experience.
Now let us follow this path a step further. It is quite possible for you to have impulses and inclinations to do things which might cause you irreparable harm. The consequences of these things are not something that you can remember and foresee, because in your own experience they have not occurred before. If you stick to your idea of obeying no one but yourself and of being unafraid to do what you want, the lesson in store for you may come too late.
Certain impulses of yours, if followed, may cause death. Others may cause permanent injury to yourself, or irreparable harm to others.
A little boy seeing an automobile coming along the road sometimes has an impulse to run across the road in front of the automobile, for the fun and excitement of it. If you are a boy and feel like it, why shouldn't you?
You have never tripped and fallen in front of an automobile—you have never misjudged the speed of it and been struck and killed that way.
You have never seen any other boy killed that way. There is nothing in your own experience to deter you.
If the automobile happens to hit you, you will have acquired experience that might be useful to you, but the cost is too great. If you are not dead, you may be crippled for life.
If you are convalescing from typhoid fever, you are likely to have a ravenous appetite. You feel very well and you derive considerable pleasure from the milk-toast and soft-boiled eggs you have been getting, but they do not begin to satisfy you. Every instinct within you calls for a big piece of juicy beef-steak and fried potatoes. There is no reason in your experience why you should not gratify your desire—you may have been told by the doctor that it isn't time for that yet and you must be content with what is ordered for you. But if you believe in doing what you feel like and the doctor is out of the way, why not have your beef-steak? I happen to know of two separate cases where this occurred—friends of mine. The doctor in each case apparently took too much for granted and failed to impress upon their minds forcibly enough the need of obeying his orders rather than their own inclinations. The experience came too late—because it brought death with it.
Or suppose you are in some out-of-the-way place and are hot and tired and very thirsty and the only water available comes from a supply which is not fit to drink? You may have been told this by some one who knows more about it than you do, but if you believe in ignoring other people's opinions and thinking only of yourself—and the water is cool and clear and you feel like drinking it, why shouldn't you? Suppose it turns out that clear, cool water may be polluted with cholera, or yellow fever, or other deadly germs? You may never recover from the effects of it.
These are crude, haphazard illustrations of a principle which is constantly at work in human lives in a great variety of ways. The obvious meaning of it is that your experience, or your own lack of experience, in many questions and emergencies may not be enough for you to go by, or depend upon.
Most young people have had very little experience of many things that are liable to have a vital bearing on their own lives, their own selves, their own hope of happiness.
As a matter of fact it must be evident to any one who will reflect a moment, that no one individual, however long he may have lived, or however full and varied his life may have been, can possibly have had in his own personal experience more than a small fraction of the things that may occur and do keep occurring in the world of humanity.
If he has led a clean, healthy, vigorous life, he cannot have experienced the feelings and problems of a drunkard and dope-fiend slowly submerging in dissipation and vice. If he married young and has known the joy of entire devotion to a loyal and loving helpmate, he cannot have had the experience of a profligate who has been divorced four times and is about to take another chance with a dashing grass-widow. Hundreds and thousands of situations that other human beings are called upon to face, he cannot have gone through on his own account.
But if we are able to find out and bear in mind the experience of other people, we can make use of it, as a warning and a guide, in much the same way as if it had happened to ourselves. If I have seen a boy try to run across the road in front of an automobile and stumble and get killed, it is not necessary for me to get killed in order to appreciate the danger of the experiment. You may never have seen this happen, but if I have and I tell you about it, you can use the information you get from me and still save yourself the necessity of risking your neck.
This principle is not at all difficult to understand. It has always been applied, to greater or less extent, in the lives of all human beings, everywhere. It is no more than common sense to profit by the experiences of others, and try to avoid their mistakes.
It seems strange that such a universal principle should be overlooked by the up-to-date minds of the new generation. Yet the least little glimmer of light from it would in itself seem to be a sufficient answer to their question.
"Why shouldn't I go ahead and gratify all my impulses?"
Because although your own limited experience may be insufficient to warn you and guide you, the experience of other people has shown repeatedly that such and such impulses usually lead to such and such consequences which would be very harmful to you.
In the long run the results of others' experience are a better guide to follow than your selfish impulses. You wish to be intelligent and reasonable, don't you? Well, if you lack experience and understanding, it is neither intelligent nor reasonable to imagine that you are the best judge of the consequences.
Of course, the examples we have cited so far—the strange dog that bites, the boy and the automobile, typhoid fever and polluted water—are very elementary. Also the questions they involve—the harmful consequences of certain impulses—are direct and immediate and entirely material. They serve well enough to answer a question and illustrate a principle and that is all they were intended for. The principle is worth bearing in mind, because its application extends to all sorts of complicated questions of conduct. One reason that the young people of to-day are so confused in their moral ideas is just because they have been allowed to overlook this simple, fundamental principle.
It frequently happens that the most important consequences of the thing you do, or fail to do, are not direct and immediate but fairly remote and obscure. An individual without much experience or knowledge of the world may easily neglect to consider them.
For instance, I have known several cases where young men of good family forged their fathers' names. They were up-to-date young men, of course. But even so, how could they come to do such a thing?
By gratifying their inclinations, in the first place, in accordance with the up-to-date idea. One natural consequence of this is that, in order to gratify a new inclination, or as a result of having gratified the last one, it becomes necessary to have more money. That is one of the annoyances of civilization, which even the most advanced of the new generation haven't yet been able to change. Many of their pet impulses cannot be indulged without money. It is an old-fashioned convention and very irksome, but for the time being, at least, it has to be made the best of.
The young men in question eventually found themselves faced with this problem. They had to have money. How could they get it? Not by asking their mother, or father, for it. That source of supply had been used up to the last drop, with the help of all sorts of pretexts, subterfuges and broken promises. There was no longer any available friend or relative to borrow from. That resource had also been used up. They had no jewelry left to pawn—that had been used up, too.
So finally, for the want of a better way, they arrived at this scheme of signing their fathers' names to checks.
After all, looking at it from their point-of-view, and bearing in mind the freedom of the individual, why shouldn't they?
It would do no great harm to their fathers—no real harm at all. They had plenty of money in the bank.
But it would constitute forgery—a serious offense, against the law. "What of that? So is speeding an automobile against the law. Who's afraid of breaking the law—if you have the nerve?"
Is there no such thing as right and wrong? Don't you know in your heart that this would be wrong—very wrong?
"I've been fed up with that kind of talk all my life. What other people think about such things is their affair. I believe in deciding for myself and doing as I like.
"The main thing I've got to consider is my chance of getting away with it and what is liable to happen if I don't. I am sure I can make a good enough imitation of my father's signature to get the check cashed at one of the stores the family deals with. If it goes to the bank along with other checks and the amount is not large, there is small chance of any attention being paid to it. If it once gets into father's account at the bank, as likely as not it will never be discovered. And even if it should be, at some future date, no father would bring a charge against his own son. So the worst that can happen is another one of those family scenes which I have gone through before.
"The most important thing of all is that I need the money—I've got to have it—and this is the least objectionable way I can think of to get it."
This is presumably the process of reasoning the young men in question went through. In each case the immediate consequence of the act was apparently harmless and quite satisfactory to them. They got the money they wanted, the checks were taken in at the bank, time passed and no one knew the difference.
The indirect and remote consequences of this kind of conduct, however, came eventually. They nearly always do. The forgeries in each case were repeated—why shouldn't they be? And the day finally arrived when they were brought to light. In each of the cases the suffering and heart-break of the mothers and fathers was pitiful and beyond recovery in this world. That was one of the indirect consequences.
One of the young men, whom I had known as a bright, attractive collegian, was sent to prison, eventually, in spite of all his family could do. Another died in an institution for incurables. All forfeited their birthright of home, family, decent associations and ended up in degradation and wreckage.
That was one of the remote consequences.
Let us take a more usual example, much less extreme—the young man who steps on the throttle of his automobile because he feels like going fast.
As far as his own experience is concerned, where is the reason for him to deny his impulse?
If a traffic cop happens to see him, he might get "pinched" and fined. That's about the only thing worth considering. But if he keeps his eyes open and his companions in the back seat watch out behind, there's not much chance of that. And after all, suppose he does happen to "get pinched," what of it? There are plenty of others. His father will have to pay a fine and there will be a little scolding and unpleasantness in the family, at the worst.
As for the danger, who's afraid of that? It only makes it more exciting and more fun.
The result is logical enough, if you start with the premise that each individual is free to follow his inclinations and decide for himself.
Very few young men have sufficient experience of their own, or sufficient reflection and wisdom, to give due weight to the indirect and remote consequences which may come from such conduct.
Let us pause and imagine a few of them.
In the first place, an automobile skimming along the road at the rate of sixty or seventy miles an hour has in it elements of danger which are entitled to some consideration. The danger is not only for those who are in the car, but also for others who may wish to use the same road. An accumulated mass of experience has amply demonstrated this. That is the underlying reason for the speed laws—not that young men may be "pinched" by "traffic cops" and fathers be made to pay fines.
If the young man driving the car were the only one concerned in the danger, it might be different. He could claim the right to risk his own neck when he felt like it, and it might be conceded to him. But such is not the case—such is never the case—other people cannot help being affected by his conduct. His companions in the car, their families, his own family, other people on the road and all their families, may be very much concerned in a possible accident caused by his recklessness.
If he kills a little girl, or a boy on a bicycle, or a lady coming out of a cross-road, or if the damage is merely the injury of a few people and the wrecking of a car, there are sure to be unpleasant consequences for the young man himself.
So much for the question of accident or danger of accident, but there is another question of another sort involved.
Suppose the young man has promised his mother and father that he would not drive fast—never above thirty miles an hour—suppose it was on this distinct understanding that their anxiety was allayed and he was trusted to take the car by himself wherever he liked?
Does it make any difference to him whether he breaks a promise—to his mother and father?
He can say to himself that it is only a natural fussiness on their part, and as they are not in the car, they won't know anything about it.
But sooner or later they do know about it; such things nearly always have a way of coming to light. It is an old saying which has been very generally confirmed that, in the long run, "the truth will out." One of the girls in the car tells somebody how fast they went and that somebody refers to it before others until it gets to the boy's mother and father. What harm to the boy? A little scolding, perhaps, and a repetition of the warning and the promise?
That's only the superficial consequence. There is a deeper and more remote one. The parents' confidence in their boy receives a shock. The boy can't always be trusted to keep his word. Also he is inclined to be reckless and irresponsible.
The parents have always idolized the boy; the father has never ceased looking forward to the day when he could turn over to his son a big share of his responsibilities and see him carry on the name and prestige of the family. It is the most natural and fondest hope that fathers have.
This hope begins to be undermined when the boy does something which shows that he cannot be trusted. If he will break his word and take a reckless chance, merely for the sake of gratifying a trivial inclination, what is to keep him from doing so, on other occasions for the same reason? The same spirit and the same point-of-view are certain to find repeated opportunities for the same sort of irresponsible conduct.
When, in the course of time, the realization of this finally comes home to the mother and father, the consequences, although remote, are apt to be extremely serious for all concerned—including the boy.
His character is irresponsible and untrustworthy. His word, or promise, is of no account—he cannot be counted on to keep it. That has been proved by his conduct—unmistakably.
What the harm is to an individual of developing a character of this kind—or a lack of character—is a big and fairly complicated subject which is apparently not much considered by up-to-date young people, who are satisfied to judge things from the point-of-view of selfishness and personal experience. It may be left for discussion later on.
The harm to mother and father and members of the family is also a matter which they incline to imagine is no concern of theirs. According to the new principle, the main consideration is one's own ego and its right to freedom. This question, too, may be left for later discussion.
But there still remains a harm and a loss of a practical, material kind, which in due course is pretty sure to come to the young man, himself. As it has a direct bearing on his pleasures and inclinations, even the most selfish individual should find it worth considering.
If you do things that are reckless and irresponsible, if you break your word and fail to keep your promise, the people who cease to trust you, those who have most to do with you, will treat you accordingly. Those who have it in their power to contribute largely to your enjoyment, and to your opportunities, will refrain from doing so. Invitations, friendships, relationships of various kinds that might have been at your disposal, will be withheld from you.
To get the most out of life, even from an entirely material and selfish point-of-view, you need a lot of help from other people. First and foremost you need it from your own family, in countless ways.
Suppose your own father, as a result of your irresponsibility, refuses to let you have an automobile to break the speed laws with? Suppose he is forced by experience to realize that you can't be trusted with money, any more than you can be trusted with an automobile? This realization is sure to be a source of great disappointment and sorrow to him, but he has to accept it. He must abandon his hope of turning over his responsibilities to you. If money is placed at your disposal, you may be expected to gamble with it on the stock exchange, or the race-track, or to squander it in gratifications of an unworthy and demoralizing kind. A young man who thinks only of gratifying his inclinations, who is not afraid to be reckless and inconsiderate of others, and who fails to keep his word, is hardly a fit person to be placed in control of money. It frequently happens that a father feels it a duty, when he makes his will, to tie up the family inheritance in such a way that it will be beyond the reach of an untrustworthy son.
So that the remote and indirect consequences of this kind of conduct may be more harmful to a young man than his lack of experience and understanding makes him aware of, at the time being.
How about the young woman of superior intellect and breeding, who had an inclination to smoke opium, on one occasion, and to sniff cocaine, on another?
Suppose she had been better informed on the subject than she apparently was. Suppose she happened to have a friend, who had been connected with one of the state institutions for drug addicts, and this friend had told her about the inmates—how hopeless and pitiful their degradation was—how abject their slavery to the drug sensation for which they continually yearned. No way has been found to cure them, because they have no will to be cured. And the beginnings of the habit are so often accidental and trivial—curiosity, or bravado, or carelessness on the part of a practitioner. A Harvard college student, of good family, for instance, was on a spree in Boston, with some friends—they went to an opium joint and thought it would be fun to try the sensation. This particular boy remained in the den twenty-four hours, under the influence. That was the beginning—and the end. He went there again—he got himself a lay-out—and is now a hopeless wreck in the state institution, twenty-one years old. Another is a society woman who was given a dose of heroin and that one dose proved sufficient for her undoing. The craving for it came and she wanted more and more.
Or suppose some one had told her about a very remarkable case which came to my attention, a number of years ago. Four young physicians were associates on the staff of one of our leading medical institutions. A considerable part of their time was devoted to research work and among other things they started experimenting with the effects of cocaine, which was a comparatively recent discovery. They were brilliant young men of unusual character and promise, but all four succumbed to the cocaine habit. The last of them died in pitiful degradation, within five years of their first experiment.