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It is on record that W. T. Stead was a vigorous opponent of the stage so long as he had never entered a theatre, but that he changed his mind when he obtained experience. The warnings against Spiritualism remind us of him. “If a Spiritualistic Church is opened, do not go to its meetings, even if you are pressed to do so by others, and do your best to keep others out. God only knows what will happen to you if you enter. Keep outside! I warn you to keep away from the Spiritualistic mediums, for they may have a power over you, and then wreck your health and ruin your joy for the rest of your life, while they lead you to everlasting destruction”—and much more to the same effect.
Comment on such unsupported ravings is unnecessary.
There is a certain amount of difficulty felt by some minds on account of the “triviality” of alleged communications. Prebendary A. Caldecott, Professor of Moral and Mental Philosophy at King's College, London, is reported as having said that in Sir Oliver Lodge's book "Raymond" he had found only two or three pieces of evidence "which seemed to have any solemnity about them at all, and they were concerned with the most trivial things. On a subject of this kind all trivialities were painful, but it was a striking
*Mr. Parker, quoted by the Editor, apparently with approval, in Joyful News, October 4th, 1917. Somewhat similarly, even the Master of the Temple (Dr. E. W. Barnes) says that spiritualistic practices are "often gravely harmful,” but gives no evidence, as his legal hearers would note (Sermon, February 4th, 1917. Christian Commonwealth supplement, No. 327, March 14th, 1917).
fact that trivialities were all that the evidence could produce.” 1
The facts are (1) that "solemnity” is no proof of anything, and its presence or absence has nothing to do with the evidential problem; (2) that trivial personal details are probably the best evidence of personal identity, far more convincing than any amount of the "solemn” religious talk which Prebendary Caldecott seems to think desirable; (3) that they are not "painful” but are, on the other hand, extremely consoling, as when a soldier boy sends his love to correctly named sisters and brothers who are unknown to the medium; and (4) that the statement about trivialities being all that the evidence produces is incorrect. The literature of spiritualism abounds with religious communications—A. J. Davis wrote nearly thirty volumes of that kind of thing, and there are hundreds of othersand many of them are impressive to those who seek emotional qualities such as "solemnity.” But they are not evidential. Science requires facts and tries to consider them without the intrusion of disturbing emotion. In short, there is a tendency on the part of some well
, meaning but prejudiced people to ignore real evidence because it is not sensational. Clerics are perhaps specially liable to this, because they are largely concerned with influencing people through their emotions. A preacher is not continually engaged in the search for truth, as the man of science is; and he needs to be on his guard against the temptation to rhetoric which doth so easily beset him. Eloquence is well when it is well employed, on the side of truth; but it is commensurately evil when employed on the side of untruth. It is not a monopoly of the good; the Devil is a persuasive speaker, according to Milton and other authorities. Evil is wrought by want of thought (and knowledge) as well as want of heart. We must learn that it is definitely wrong to express strong opinions and to pose as teachers in matters which we have not adequately studied.
* Church Family Newspaper, November 2nd, 1917. Conference on “Life after Death,” at Caxton Hall, organised by the Christian Evidence Society.
But when our clerical friends move on to things more within their own domain they become at least interesting and their points worthy of consideration. For instance, the Editor of Joyful News (issue just quoted, October 4th, 1917), while admitting that many curious things happen and that some people have second sight and what not, is nevertheless hostile to Spiritualism, and quotes Biblical passages against it, such as Deuteronomy xviii. 9, Leviticus xix. 31, XX. 6-27, Exodus xxii. 18, i Chronicles x. 13, 14. A Wesleyan minister did the same thing recently, and imagined he had thereby disposed of Sir A. Conan Doyle. And of course it is legitimate enough to quote the Bible, and any quotation from it must have our serious consideration. But, in all fairness, and without any desire to score points, but calmly and quietly with the sole desire to get at the truth, we may ask, will these orthodox friends still maintain, after reflection, that their Biblical prohibitions apply to-day? For instance, Leviticus xix. certainly says: “Turn ye not unto them that have familiar spirits": but it also says: "When ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt
not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest . . . thou shalt now sow thy field with two kinds of seed; neither shall there come upon thee a garment of two kinds of stuff mingled together . ... ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard,” and so on, including instructions for offering a ram as a sacrifice in a certain kind of sin. Does anyone seriously assert that these prohibitions and laws are binding on us to-day, Does any cleric, however scrupulous, insist on his clothing being all wool or all cotton, or all silk? Does he exhort farmers, in times of dearth—or in any other times—to leave the corners of their fields unreaped? If not, if these parts of Leviticus xix. are no longer regarded as binding, how can it be maintained that verse 31 is binding? It is all or none; you cannot select without giving away your case. You may say your conscience or intuition assures you that verse 31 remains wise and valid while the other prohibitions are obsolete, but in doing so you are throwing overboard the authority of the Scriptures and falling back on your own judgment. This
you have a perfect right to do; but you can no longer shelter behind an impregnable Leviticus; you are out in the open, fighting on equal terms, not in a concrete blockhouse. You are driven to admit that it is a matter for the individual conscience, as indeed it is; which is a very different conclusion from the confident prohibition with which you started out. Other people have consciences and judgment as well as the Editor of Joyful News.
One occasionally sees the parable about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke xvi.) cited as a Biblical antiSpiritualistic pronouncement. This seems to arise from a mistaken recollection that a "great gulf” is said to be fixed between the dead and the living, and that communication is impossible. But it is plain enough in the parable that the great gulf is between "Hades” and “Abraham's bosom,” thus preventing any sending of Lazarus to the rich man to cool his tongue. This being impossible, Dives asks that Lazarus may be sent to earth, to warn Dives' living brothers of the afterdeath retribution for evil. Abraham does not say that this is impossible; he says nothing of any gulf in that direction, between the dead and the living. All he says is that it would not be any use, Dives' brothers evidently being settled in their ways, or perhaps because they held the opinions of Father Bernard Vaughan and would have regarded the apparition of a well-meaning Lazarus as a diabolic personation, to be exorcised or fled from.
Further, the story is a parable, no doubt intended mainly to teach kindness to the suffering, and the fact of disciplinary after-death punishment for selfishness and callousness. We are not bound to take its details of "torment," "flame," etc., as literal facts, any more than we are bound to believe that Jesus knew a man who fell among thieves between Jerusalem and Jericho; or one who gave a dinner and sent out into the highways and hedges for guests; or a man with a dishonest steward; or a vineyard-owner whose son was murdered by the employees when he went for some grapes. The stories were told for the lessons they conveyed. But, even considered as a narration of actual