Misunderstandings, misconceptions, and ignorance in regard to what really is religion have caused countless millions to mourn—and worry; indeed, far more to worry than to mourn. Religion should be a joyous thing, the bringing of the son and daughter into close relationship with the Father. Instead, for centuries, it has been a battle for creeds, for mental assent to certain doctrines, rather than a growth in brotherhood and loving relationship, and those who could not see eye to eye with one another deemed it to be their duty to fight and worry each other —even to their death.
This is not the place for any theological discussion; nor is it my intent to present the claims of any church or creed. Each reader must do that for himself, and the less he worries over it, the better I think it will be for him. I have read and reread Cardinal Newman's wonderful Pro Apologia—his statement as to why and how he entered the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church, and it has thrilled me with its pathos and evidence of deep spiritual endeavor. Charles Warren Stoddard's Troubled Heart and How It Found Rest is another similar story, though written by an entirely different type of man. Each of these books revealed the inner thought and life of men who were worried about religion, and by worry I mean anxious to the point of abnormality, disturbed, distressed unnecessarily. Yet I would not be misunderstood. Far be it from me, in this age of gross materialism and worship of physical power and wealth, to decry in the least a proper degree of solicitude for one's personal salvation. The religious life of the individual— the real, deep, personal, hidden, unseen, inner life of a human soul—is a wonderfully delicate thing, to be touched by another only with the profoundest love and deepest wisdom. Hence I have little to say about one's own inner struggles, except to affirm and reaffirm that wisdom, sanity, and religion itself are all against worrying about it. Study religion, consider it, accept it, follow it, earnestly, seriously, and constantly, but do it in a rational manner, seeking the essentials, accepting them and then resting in them to the full and utter exclusion of all worry.
But there is another class of religious worriers, viz., those who worry themselves about your salvation. Again I would not be misunderstood, nor thought to decry a certain degree of solicitude about the spiritual welfare of those we love, but here again the caution and warning against worry more than ever holds good.
Most of these worriers have found comfort, joy, and peace in a certain line of thought, which has commended itself to them as Truth—the one, full, complete, indivisible Truth, and it seems most natural for human nature to be eager that others should possess it. This is the secret of the zeal of the street Salvationist, whose flaming ardor is bent on reaching those who seldom, if ever, go to church.
The burden of his cry is that you must flee from the wrath to come—hell—by accepting the vicarious atonement made by the "blood of Jesus." In season and out of season, he urges that you "come under the blood." His face is tense, his brow wrinkled, his eyes strained, his voice raucous, his whole demeanor full of worry over the salvation of others.
Another friend is a Seventh Day Adventist, who is full of zeal for the declaration of the "Third Angel's Message," for he believes that only by heeding it, keeping sacred the hours from sunset on Friday to Saturday sunset, in accordance with his reading of the fourth commandment, and also believing in the speedy second coming of Christ, can one's soul's salvation be attained.
The Baptist is assured that his mode of baptism—complete immersion—is the only one that satisfies the demands of heaven, and the more rigorous members of the sect refuse communion with those who have not obeyed, as they see the command. The members of the "Christian" Church—as the disciples of Alexander Campbell term themselves—while they assent that they are tied to no creed except the New Testament, demand immersion as a prerequisite to membership in their body. The Methodist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, and many others, are "evangelical" in their belief, as is a large portion of the Church of England, and its American offshoot, both of which are known as the Episcopal Church. Another portion, however, of this church is known as "ritualistic," and the two branches in England recently became so involved in a heated discussion as to the propriety of certain of their bishops partaking in official deliberations with ministers of the other, but outside, evangelistic churches, that for a time it seemed as if the whole Episcopal Church would be disrupted by the fierceness and anger gendered in the differences of opinion.
To my own mind, all this worry was much ado about nothing. Each man's brain and conscience must guide him in matters of this kind, and the worry, fret, stew, evolved out of the matter, seem to me a proof that real religion had little to do with it.
Recently one good brother came to me with tears in his voice, if not in his eyes, worried seriously as to my own religious belief because I had asserted in a public address that I believed the earnest prayer of a good Indian woman reached the ear of God as surely as did my own prayers, or those of any man, woman, minister, or priest living. To him the only effective prayers were "evangelical" prayers—whatever that may mean—and he was deeply distressed and fearfully worried because I could not see eye to eye with him in this matter. And a dear, good woman, who heard a subsequent discussion of the subject, was so worried over my attitude that she felt impelled to assure me when I left that "she would pray for me." I have friends who are zealous Roman Catholics, and a number of them are praying that I may soon enter the folds of "Mother Church," and yet my Unitarian and Universalist friends wonder why I retain my membership in any "orthodox" church. On the other hand, my New Thought friends declare that I belong to them by the spirit of the messages I have given to the world. Then, too, my Theosophist friends—and I have many—present to me, with a force I do not attempt to controvert, the doctrine of the Universal Brotherhood of Mankind, and urge upon me acceptance of the comforting and helpful doctrine, to them, of Reincarnation.
Not long prior to this writing a good earnest man buttonholed me and held me tight for over an hour, while he outlined his own slight divergencies from the teachings of the Methodist Church, to which he belongs, and his interpretation of the symbolism of Scripture, none of which had the slightest interest to me. In our conversation, he expressed himself as quite willing—please note the condescension—to allow me the privilege of supposing the Catholic was honest and sincere in his faith and belief, but he really could not for one moment allow the same to the Christian Scientist, who, from his standpoint, denied the atonement and the Divinity of Christ. I suppose if he ever picks up this booklet and reads what I am now going to write, he will regard me as a reprobate and lost beyond the possibility of salvation. Nevertheless, I wish to put on record that I regard his attitude as one of intolerance, bigotry, fanaticism, and impudence— sheer, unadulterated impertinence. Who made him the judge of the thoughts and acts of other men's inner lives? Who gave to him the wisdom and power of discernment to know that he was right and these others wrong? Poor, arrogant fool. His worries were not the result of genuine affection and deep human sympathy, the irrepressible and uncontrollable desires and longings of his heart to bring others into the full light of God's love, but of his overweening selfconfidence in his own wisdom and judgment. And I say this in no personal condemnation of him, for I have now even forgotten who it was, but in condemnation of the spirit in which he and all his ilk ever act.
Hence, my dear reader, if you are of his class, I say to you earnestly: Don't worry about other people's salvation. It may be they are nearer saved than you are. No man can' be "worried" into accepting anything, even though you may deem it the only Truth. I have known men whom others regarded as agnostics who had given more study to the question of personal religion than any ten of their critics.
I can recall three—all of whom were men of wonderful mentality and great earnestness of purpose. John Burroughs's first essays were written for his own soul's welfare—the results of his long-continued mental struggles for light upon the subject. Major J.W. Powell, the organizer and director for many years of the United States Geological Survey and Bureau of American Ethnology, was brought up by a father and mother whose intense longing was that their son should be a Methodist preacher. The growing youth wished to please his parents, but was also compelled to satisfy his own conscience. The more he studied the creeds and doctrines of Methodism, the less he felt he could accept them, and much to the regret of his parents, he refused to enter the ministry. Yet, in relating the story to me, he asserted that his whole life had been one long agony of earnest study to find the highest truth. Taking me into his library, where there were several extended shelves filled from end to end with the ponderous tomes of the two great government bureaus that he controlled, he said: "Most people regard this as my life-work, and outwardly it is. Yet I say to you in all sincerity that the real, inner, secret force working through all this, has been that I might satisfy my own soul on the subject of religion." Then, picking up two small volumes, he said: "In these two books I have recorded the results of my years of agonizing struggle. I don't suppose ten men have ever read them through, or, perhaps, ever will, but these are the real story of the chief work of my inner life." I am one of the few men who have read both these books with scrupulous care, and yet were it not for what my friend told me of their profound significance to him, I should scarcely have been interested enough in their contents to read them through. At the same time, I know that the men who, from the standpoint of their professionally religious complacency would have condemned Major Powell, never spent one-thousandth part the time, nor felt one ten-thousandth the real solicitude that he did about seeking "the way, the truth, and the life." Another friend in Chicago was Dr. M.H. Lackersteen, openly denounced as an agnostic, and even as an infidel, by some zealous sectaries. Yet Dr. Lackersteen had personally translated the whole of the Greek Testament, and several other sacred books of the Hebrews and Hindoos, in his intense desire to satisfy the demands of his own soul for the Truth. He was the soul of honor, the very personification of sincerity, and as much above some of his critics—whom I well knew—in these virtues, as they were above the scum of the slums.
The longer I live and study men the more I am compelled to believe that religion is a personal matter between oneself and God and is more of the spirit than most people have yet conceived. It is well known to those who have read my books and heard my lectures on the Old Franciscan Missions of California, that I revere the memory of Padres Junipero Serra, Palou, Crespi, Catala, Peyri, and others of the founders of these missions. I have equal veneration for the goodness of many Catholic priests, nuns, and laymen of to-day. Yet I am not a Catholic, though zealous sectaries of Protestantism—even of the church to which I am supposed to belong—sometimes fiercely assail me for my open commendation of these men of that faith. They are worried lest I lean too closely towards Catholicism, and ultimately become one of that fold. Others, who hear my good words in favor of what appeals to me as noble and uplifting in the lives of those of other faiths of which they do not approve, worry over and condemn my "breadth" of belief. Indeed, I have many friends who give themselves an immense lot of altogether unnecessary worry about this matter. They have labelled themselves according to some denominational tag, and accept some form of belief that, to them, seems incontrovertible and satisfactory. Many of them are praying for me, and each that I may see the TRUTH from his standpoint. For their prayers I am grateful. I cannot afford to lose the spirit of love behind and in every one of them. But for the worry about me in their minds, I have neither respect, regard, toleration, nor sympathy. I don't want it, can do without it, and I resent its being there. To each and all of them I say firmly: Quit Your Worrying about my religion, or want of it. I am in the hands of the same loving God that you are. I have the promise of God's Guiding Spirit as much as you have. I have listened respectfully and with an earnest and sincere desire to see and know the Truth, to all you have said, and now I want to be left alone. I have come to exclaim with Browning in Rabbi Ben Ezra: Now, who shall arbitrate? Ten men love what I hate, Shun what I follow, slight what I receive; Ten, who in ears and eyes Match me. We all surmise, They this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe? For myself I have concluded that no one shall choose my religion for me, and all the worrying in the world shall not change my attitude.
And it is to the worrying of my friends that they owe this state of mind. For this reason, I found myself one day counting up the number of people of different beliefs who had solemnly promised to pray for me. There were Methodists, Campbellites, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Holy Rollers, and others. Then the query arose: Whose prayers will be answered on my behalf? Each is sure that his are the ones that can be effective; yet their prayers differ; they are, to some degree, antagonistic, and insofar as they petition that I become one of their particular fold, they nullify each other, as it is utterly impossible that I accept the specific form of faith of each. The consequent result in my own mind is that as I cannot possibly become what all these good people desire I should be, as their desires and prayers for me controvert each other, I must respectfully decline to be bound by any one of them. I must and will do my own choosing. Hence all the worry on my behalf is energy, strength, and effort wasted.
Let me repeat, then, to the worrier about the salvation of others: You are in a poor business. Quit Your Worrying. Hands off! This is none of your concern.
Believe as little or as much and what you will for your own soul's salvation, but do not put forth your conceptions as the only conceptions possible of Divine Truth before another soul who may have an immeasurably larger vision than you have. Oh, the pitiableness of man's colossal conceit, the arrogance of his ignorance. As if the God of the Universe were so small that one paltry, finite man could contain in his pint measure of a mind all the ocean of His power, knowledge, and love. Let your small and wretched worries go. Have a little larger faith in the Love of the Infinite One. Tenderly love and trust those whose welfare you seek, and trust God at the same time, but don't worry when you see the dear ones walking in a path you have not chosen for them. Remember your own ignorance, your own frailties, your own errors, your own mistakes, and then frankly and honestly, fearlessly and directly ask yourself the question if you dare to take upon your own ignorant self the responsibility of seeking to control and guide another living soul as to his eternal life.
Brother, Sister, the job is too big for you. It takes God to do that, and you are not yet even a perfect human being. Hence, while I long for all spiritual good for my sons and daughters, and for my friends, and I pray for them, it is in a large way, without any interjection of my own decisions and conclusions as to what will be good for them. I have no fears as I leave them thus in God's hand, and regard every worry as sinful on my part, and injurious to them. I have no desire that they should accept my particular brand of faith or belief. While I believe absolutely in that which I accept for the guidance of my own life, I would not fetter their souls with my belief if I could. They are in wiser, better, larger, more loving Hands than mine. And if I would not thus fetter my children and friends, I dare not seek to fetter others. My business is to live my own religion to the utmost. If I must worry, I will worry about that, though, as I think my readers are well aware by now, I do not believe in any kind of worry on any subject whatever.
Hence, let me again affirm in concluding this chapter, I regard worry about the religion of others as unwarrantable on account of our own ignorances as to their peculiar needs, as well as of God's methods of supplying those needs. It is also a useless expenditure of strength, energy, and affection, for, if God leads, your worry cannot possibly affect the one so led. It is also generally an irritant to the one worried over. Even though he may not formulate it into words he feels that it is an interference with his own inner life, a nagging that he resents, and, therefore, it does him far more harm than good; and, finally, it is an altogether indefensible attempt to saddle upon another soul your own faith or belief, which may be altogether unsuitable or inadequate to the needs of that soul.
There is still one other form of worry connected with the subject of religion.
Many a good man and woman worries over the apparent well-being and success of those whom he, she, accounts wicked! They are seen to flourish as a green bay tree, or as a well-watered garden, and this seems to be unfair, unjust, and unwise on the part of the powers that govern the universe. If good is desirable, people ought to be encouraged to it by material success—so reason these officially good wiseacres, who subconsciously wish to dictate to God how He should run His world.
How often we hear the question: "Why is it the wicked prosper so?" or "He's such a bad man and yet everything he does prospers." Holy Writ is very clear on this subject. The sacred writer evidently was well posted on the tendency of human nature to worry and concern itself about the affairs of others, hence his injunction: Fret not thyself because of evil doers.
In other words, it's none of your business. And I am inclined to believe that a careful study of the Bible would reveal to every busybody who worries over the affairs of others that he himself has enough to do to attend to himself, and that his worry anyhow is a ridiculous, absurd, and senseless piece of supererogation, and rather a proof of human conceit and vanity than of true concern for the spiritual good of others.
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