Seth/Jane Roberts

William James "Faith" Essay



Excerpt from "The Afterdeath Journal of an American Philosopher", by Jane Roberts

Faith is both active and passive. it acts as a stimulant at one time, as a tranquilizer at another. Its action in the body promotes exactly those biological changes necessary to ensure health and vitality so that the pulses may be quickened or slowed, the hormones activated or quieted. Faith elicits the most specific biological responses by inciting a general overall sense of optimism, safety, and freedom. It therefore returns the individual, for whatever time, to that prime condition for growth, curiosity, and adventure in which he was immersed as a child.

That condition is blessedly free in that it does not acknowledge impediments. Woe to any poor infant freshly thrust into the world who was not equipped with natural faith, for it would instantly be stopped before it began, appalled at the infinite manipulations necessary for its locomotion, dismayed and in despair at its chances of growing to full stature were its own small size and vulnerability not superseded by an inner certainty of triumph and the willingness to accept challenge.

In faith's eyes, then, impediments vanish, not because a person is suddenly struck by a fool's stupidity that blinds him to them, but because they disappear in the light of his newfound sense of ease, freedom and certainty. He is simply no longer afraid. His cowardliness is gone. He comes into his true estate. Like a weary traveler after resting, he takes up his knapsack once again and goes cheerfully ahead, his steps lighter, covering twice the ground in the same time that he did before and wondering, perhaps, what imagined terrors had previously made the journey so frightening. Indeed, his earlier psychological reality may now be meaningless to him: how could he have worried so about robbers on the way, or the possibility that he might not find lodging, or grown weak thinking about the approaching hill so that its height grew in multiplied stages?

Yet what is it that our traveler can find to have faith in? He might well feel that science and religion have each betrayed him. He may not for the life of him be able to believe in a conventional personified God, white beard flowing in the clouds above and blessed finger pointing out heavenly directions. In fact, on ever seeing such an apparition, our modern man might fall into an instant faint, certain that the psychologist's demon, schizophrenia, had descended upon him. For the voice that once was considered the utterance of God speaking through mortals has become the most dreadful of self-deluding monologues, and if God spoke to a modern Moses through the branches of a bush and then set fire to it, our prophet would first call a psychologist and then the fire department.

So our traveler cannot call out for God's assistance in the old ways and may furthermore be rather embarrassed about the impulse to do so. If he sneaks side-glances upward at a particularly majestic cloud, he does not let himself know the reasons for his actions. If he cries out-silently-despite himself, "Oh, God," just as he is about to fall, and then does not fall but finds his feet unaccountably steadied, he smiles, shakes his head, and thanks the nature of coincidence.

For psychology has made him afraid of religious feeling. His intellect has allowed him to see through religion's gaudy carnivals and dreary morality plays alike. So he thanks coincidence for his delivery and goes his way. A traveler in an accidental universe needs coincidence on his side indeed, for it is coincidence that dictates which tree lightning will hit and which it will avoid; so it is very important that our traveler, running for shelter in a storm, know which side his coincidence is buttered on.

Religions offer frosted confections of packaged faith sold along the highway by robed vendors. Across the way, white-gowned scientists hand out good plain doctrines-the new bread and butter for the masses-and disdain the faith makers' honeyed stores. But our traveler finds that neither nourishment greatly nourishes, and as he consumes the various offerings, his hunger grows rather than diminishes.

Nor is our hypothetical traveler alone. He is surrounded by parades of his fellows, whether he would have it so or not. There are bandwagons, banners, armies, shimmering floats. The strutting, dancing, limping, laughing, old and young, all find themselves jostling mental elbows, beliefs, faiths, doubts. Many stride in rhythm. Others like our traveler stop, lose pace, spend too much time in one stall or another sampling the wares, gorging themselves on every available packaged theory only again to find themselves hungrier than before.

So faith seems an impossibility, for if religion, science and philosophy all fail, then where will our poor fellow put his faith, if indeed any remnants linger? In despair and desperation the scientist may turn to religion, the priest to science, the emotional man to reason or the intellectual to sentiment. The sportsman may suddenly plunge into learned periodicals, the scholar discover the ball court, the nun turn harlot, and the prostitute lower her skirts decorously and become morality's model. But in the end, such efforts usually bring only a desperate false optimism, a fake faith that must defend itself against implied threats until nothing seems worthy of faith and it seems to have no justification.

What, then, should our traveler do? For it certainly seems that he is on a highway shared with others on a journey with no apparent purpose toward an end that is at best inglorious.

First of all, he can begin to think and feel for himself He can start with his present position: he is, after all, alive on a highway going somewhere; he is in motion. He can decide to throw away all theories that tell him not to trust his own intuitions, sentiments, or reasonings, and thusly begin to examine himself in a manner not possible earlier.

If indeed existence is accidental, he can see that it has some remarkably orderly characteristics. Each person grows from an infant upward, for example, just as if the entire affair were planned. Moreover, our traveler can note that during all of his musings and bewildering mental footwork. his body continues to keep him alive and reasonably comfortable; it sweats when too warm and continues as normal functions as if it had some intimate information denied to him. So he begins to look at his own equipment, which is after all personal, living-not the body but his body-and it seems to know where it is going whether he does or not.

Besides this, as he sleeps along the roadside our traveler is frequently awakened by strange dreams, like mental campfires blazing with the warmest comfort amid the frozen forest of his fears. He snaps awake, heats himself, and stares into the fire's circle where, lo and behold, dazzling images leap. Then he questions: is he sleeping or awake? For the dream images may speak to him or show with immense clarity scenes from his own past. But when the affair is over, he wonders. The dreams often seem to suggest that he move in certain directions or make alterations in his plans.

Hesitantly he tries following those suggestions, covering his path with appropriate rationalizations. For if the directions are wrong, they at least offer some recommendations not tried before; and they are after all, his own directions. For a while he may assign any correct or positive results to coincidence. But coincidence, it appears, is more dependable than it used to be.

His body, though weary, trudges on and he notices its dependability where before he harrassed it for not going faster, or worried that it would not keep up with the others. A second wind seems to come upon him, and sometimes a third or a fourth. Every once and a while from nowhere he is filled with a new buoyancy, an additional energy, a sudden exhilaration and enthusiasm-so is faith born again in a man, by leaps and bounds as he begins to trust his own nature and the terms of his private existence.

Our traveler finally notices that when he trusts himself and his nature, he feels strange stirrings pull and tug at his consciousness; urgings to do this or that, to go faster or slower as if, like a fine racehorse, he had been too nervous and sensitive before and now, suddenly, felt upon his back a new rider who knew what he was doing, looked ahead and prepared him for any barriers, nudged him safely aside, and overall considerably bettered his performance.

Further experience reveals, however, that horse and rider are one, or body and soul together. Where before one seemed to pull against the other, now both are smoothly synchronized, and instead of dreading an unknown journey our traveler is now filled with excitement and zest, knowing that nature works with him and not against him.

Furthermore, those odd rustlings of consciousness seem to move him beyond the known track, and sometimes his awareness feels continuous with all of nature itself. His motions become so easy, transparent, and effortless that he begins to understand something else: his consciousness is not riding astride his animal nature as it seemed to for a while, but instead his consciousness is continuous throughout his body and extends into the rest of nature as well.

Our traveler sees that he is not on a journey or in a race, but involved in a course of action, and he may dimly sense a grandstand and hear voices that shout down encouragement and suggestions. He realizes the grandstand is symbolic; yet when he imagines that he senses it, the suggestions and hints become clearer arid louder-directed, it seems, to him alone. Nor is this assistance limited to advice.

On occasion, caught in a mood of disappointment or weariness, he shouts out mentally for help. Remarkably enough, he is provided with an otherwise inexplicable boon: sudden energy or health or the solution to a problem. And he is almost certain that this assistance comes from outside of the normal course of events.

Perhaps for an instant his consciousness leaps beyond itself, climbing in quick ascent above the track of the road to that higher dimension. Its superior position allows him dizzy visions of vastness never glimpsed before, and he feels himself on the track and above it at once, in the course of events and outside it at the same time. More than that, however, he senses an extraordinary, super-natural Nature in which his own existence is safely couched, and a course of events of giant-sized proportions out of which ordinary events emerge.

None of this is really that simple, of course, and our traveler is not always exuberant, but he is overall less fearful and more daring. For if a man's most private dreams can bear messages that point him in the right direction, if his hunches can sometimes prove valuable in the objective world, then there seems to be something of a saving nature in his own subjective reality, a power that occasionally at least lifts him above his mistakes.

He begins to take greater notice of coincidences, and it dawns upon him that they are isolated instances of a different kind of order, partially invisible, representing intersections, perhaps, of that sensed higher dimension and the physical one. He suspects that, concentrating upon such instances, he might discover that they represent those vaster patterns of action that connect him with his symbolic grandstand and with the audience that sometimes cheers him on.

And if one dream can be meaningful, illuminated with good intent, how can the universe-the road, himself, and the other travelers-be accidental, arising from nothing for no reason, and advancing into nothing? Testing, he calls out to the grandstand. Muses, imaginative personages, or projected images mirroring some magic disorder of the soul-still, he feels a response, a lessening of anxiety, an exuberance of heart.

But what strikes him most is his feeling that someone or something in the universe is cheering him on, that some kind of power exists outside of his present course of events, and when he calls upon it, that power can insert itself into the world, transform his reality to some extent by working through nature itself.

In his zest to find some answers, our traveler begins to ignore all of the authorities with whom he has already wasted so much time. As he does so, he notices things that before seemed trivial o.- beside the point of his concerns. A squirrel might dart through the treetops nearby, for example, gathering nuts to put away for his winter store. Our traveler marvels that blind instinct sees the next season's snow so well in the midst of the day's balmy weather, and if our traveler has a spark of lively emotion still left within him, he is struck by a marvelous humor at this and other such incidents.

For accidentally winter will come once again, following the orange leaves of autumn with perfect progression. Accidentally the birds will begin their migrations with miracle-like timing. The animals will thicken their coats for the cold spell, without reading weather reports. And without needing to take counsel with himself, the traveler knows that his own blood will thicken. The human body, unfurred, will take inner procedures against the approaching cold, conserving its own heat. And despite all he has heard to the contrary, he is in a flash convinced of the universe's good intent, his rightful place in it, and he senses his existence and the world's rising from another source that is both within and outside the natural framework.

How could he earlier have believed in religion's sinful self, tales of a vengeful God, or in science's mechanical and accidental universe? The rift between intuition and intellect is closed; they are united, their attraction one to the other is consummated and their differences forgotten. All the rustlings and stirrings of nature now seem to find response within his own feelings.

He knows that he and the universe are united yet separate, that some extra-natural force is both within the world and apart from it at once, and the wedding of intellect and emotion brings an offspring of greatest consequence: the birth of a faith that is indeed a twin to the first faith with which our traveler was once endowed. This faith, however, is faith-with-knowledge, where the infant's faith need not contend with the world's ways in the same manner as the adult indubitably must. This faith, like the second or third or even fourth wind of the runner, is even more exuberant, for it exists despite a knowledge of the world's ordinary course and of the impediments thrown up by ignorance or error.

The same material world surrounds our traveler now as in his previous torments. He is still walking along the road surrounded by his fellows, and on either side stretch the vendors of various doctrines. The street is lined with shops. universities, and churches. Yet what catches his notice are the simple, unauthoritative events that delighted his childhood: the direct enjoyment and experience of his body and mind, his trust in their achievements, the constant liveliness of the animals, and the entire cooperative commerce of the natural world.

That natural world and his own subjective experience within it shout with multitudinous voices that its existence and his cannot be accidental but share in a concern, a good intent, that is everywhere apparent. And that faith promotes in our traveler exactly the conditions needed for his support. Food does not miraculously appear out of the air for him-a table spread with a banquet-but he knows as surely how to provide for himself as the squirrel does, and he realizes this truth and no longer need worry. He simply follows the dictates of his nature, trusting that the same power that set him upon the road-mind and body in one living package is no less kindly disposed toward him than it is to the world's other living creatures.

In that moment of trust, he and his experience are transformed. Looking around, he can see glimpses of that trust trying to rouse itself in the religions and sciences alike, but he understands that for all of their merits institutions can speak only generally to any given individual, and that each man's life involves him in a direct confrontation with the universe in which he must ultimately trust both his own nature and the unknown source from which it springs. That greater source makes itself known through the living person in his living and his dying, and speaks directly through his own nature. Only that truth can illuminate and make sense of the facts of the known world. It is ultimately impossible to trust God and distrust the self, or vice versa.

Such a faith is not blind, however, for experience will prove it to be more factual than any mathematical formula. It will be demonstrated through the beneficial changes it brings in a person's life, for faith not only promotes health, vitality, and understanding, but a kind of accomplishment that produces a general overall transformation, bringing to flower abilities and characteristics of the most heroic nature that previously had lain latent and unused.