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The Journal of Religion 



Volume I SEPTEMBER 1921 Number 5 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 



RUFUS M. JONES 
Haverford College, Pennsylvania 



Twenty years ago in A Dynamic Faith, after reviewing the 
new questions which the great sciences had raised for religion, 
I said: "There are still harder problems than any of these. 
Psychology has opened a series of questions which make the 
boldest tremble for his faith in an endless life or in any spiritual 
reality." The twenty years that have intervened have made 
my point much more clear. It is now pretty generally recog- 
nized that the deepest issues of the faith are to be settled in 
this field. The problem of the real nature of the human soul is 
at the present moment probably the most important religious 
question before us, for upon the answer to it all our vital 
spiritual interests depend. If man has no unique interior 
domain, if he is only a tiny bit of that vast system of naturalism 
in which every curve of process and development is rigidly 
determined by antecedent causes, then "spiritual" is only a 
high-sounding word with a metaphorical significance, but with 
no basis of reality in the nature of things. There is certainly 
no "place" in the external world of space where we can expect 
to find spiritual realities. They are not to be found by 
going "somewhere." Olympus has been climbed, and it was 
as naturalistic as any other mountain peak. Eden is only 
a defined area of Mesopotamia, and that blessed word can 
work no miracles for us now. The dome of the sky is only an 

449 



450 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

optical illusion. It is no supersensuous realm on which we can 
build our hopes. The beyond as a spiritual reality is within, 
or it is nowhere. Psychology, however, has not been very 
encouraging in promises of hope. It has gone the way of the 
other sciences and has taken an ever increasing slant toward 
naturalism. The result is that most so-called "psychologies 
of religion" reduce religion either to a naturalistic or to a sub- 
jective basis, which means in either case that religion as a way 
to some objective spiritual reality has eluded us and has dis- 
appeared as a constructive power. Many a modern psycholo- 
gist can say with Browning's Cleon: 

And I have written three books on the soul, 
Proving absurd all written hitherto 
And putting us to ignorance again. 

Two of the main tendencies in what is usually called 
scientific psychology are (i) the "behaviorist" tendency and 
(2) the tendency to reduce the inner life to a series of "mind 
states." Let us consider behaviorism first. This turns 
psychology into "a purely objective experimental branch of 
natural science." 1 It aims at "the prediction and control of 
behavior." "Introspection forms no essential part of its 
method." One is not concerned with "interpretation in 
terms of consciousness," one is interested only in reactions, 
responses — in short, in behavior in the presence of stimuli 
which produce movements. The body is a complicated organ 
and "mind" is merely a convenient term to express its "activi- 
ties." 2 The behaviorist "recognizes no dividing line between 
man and brute." Psychology becomes "the science of 
behavior," 3 the study of "the activity of man or animal as it 
can be observed from the outside, either with or without 

1 Watson, Behavior, p. 1. 

2 See Ralph Barton Perry's article "A Behavioristic View of Purpose" in the 
Journal of Philosophy, February 17, 1921. 

3 Pillsbury, Fundamentals of Psychology, p. 4. 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 451 

attempting to determine the mental states by inference from 
these acts." Emotions become reduced forthwith to "the 
bodily resonance" set up in the muscular and visceral systems 
by instinctive movements in the presence of objects, these 
curious movements being due entirely to the inheritance of 
physiological structure adapted at least in the early stages to 
aid survival. There is no way by which behaviorist psy- 
chology can give any standing to religion or to any type of 
spiritual values. "Aesthetics is the study of the useless," 
as William James baldly states the case. Conscience dis- 
appears or becomes another name for the inheritance or 
acquisition of certain types of social behavior. Everything 
which we call ethics or morality changes into well-defined 
and rigidly determined behavior. There is nothing more 
"spiritual" about it than there is in the fall of a raindrop or in 
the luminous trail of a meteor, or in any form of what has 
happily been called "cosmic weather." 

This reduction of personality to a center of activity is a 
reaction from the dualistic sundering of mind and body 
inherited from Descartes. The theory of psychophysical 
parallelism is utterly bankrupt. Idealism, which is an attempt 
to get round the impasse of dualism by treating mind as the 
only reality, is abhorrent to scientists and unpopular with 
young philosophers especially in America. Some other solu- 
tion is therefore urgent. The easiest one at hand, though it 
is obviously temporary and superficial, is to cut across the 
mind loop, ignore its unique, originative, creative capacity and 
its interior depth, to deal only with body plus body's activities, 
and to call that "psychology." 

The "mind-state" psychology takes us little farther on. 
It also is a form of naturalism. "Mind-state" psychology 
makes more of introspection than behaviorist psychology 
does, and it works more than the latter does in terms of 
consciousness, which for the behaviorist can be almost ignored 
or questioned as an existing reality. According to this view, 



452 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

mind or consciousness is composed of a vast number of "ele- 
mental units," and the business of psychology is to analyze 
and describe these units or states and to discover the laws of 
their arrangement or succession. Mind, on this theory, is an 
aggregate or sum total of "states." Professor James, who 
gives great place to "mind states," will, however, not admit 
that they are permanent and repeatable "units," passing and 
returning unaltered. In his usual vivid way he says that " a 
permanently existing 'idea' [i.e., mental unit] which makes its 
appearance before the footlights of consciousness at periodical 
intervals is as mythological an entity as the Jack of Spades." 1 
And yet he continues to deal with mind as a vast series of 
more or less describable states. Some states are "substan- 
tive," such as our "perceptions," our "memories," or our 
definite "images," when the mind perches and rests upon some 
clear and describable thought, and on the other hand there 
are "transitive states" which are vague, hard to catch or hold 
or express, and which reveal the mind in flight, in passage, on 
the way from one substantive state to another. 

When we ask the "mind-state" psychologist to tell us about 
the soul or to supply us with a working substitute for it, he 
relegates it to the scrap heap where lie the collected rubbish 
and the antiquated mental furniture of the medieval centuries. 
We have no need of it. It is only a word anyhow. It has 
always been an expensive luxury and a continual bother. 
We are better off with it gone. When we look about for a 
"self as knower," or for a guardian of our identity, we find all 
that we need in these same "passing states of consciousness." 
They not only know things and facts, but they also know them- 
selves, and successively inherit and adapt all the preceding 
"states" have gained and acquired. The state of the present 
moment owns the thoughts and experiences which preceded it, 
for "what possesses the possessor possesses the possessed." 
"In our waking hours," Professor James says, "though each 

1 Psychology (Briefer Course), p. 197. 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 453 

pulse of consciousness dies away and is replaced by another, 
yet that other, among the things it knows, knows its own 
predecessor and finding it 'warm,' greets it saying, 'Thou 
art mine and part of the same self with me.' " It seems, then, 
this famous writer concludes, that "states of consciousness 
are all that psychology needs to do her work with. Meta- 
physics or theology may prove the soul to exist; but for 
psychology the hypothesis of such a substantial principle of 
unity is superfluous." 1 We are certainly hard up if we must 
depend on proofs which theology can give us! 

We are thus once more reduced to a condition of sheer 
naturalism. Our stream of consciousness is only a rapid suc- 
cession of passing states, each "state" causally attached to a 
molecular process in the brain. "Every psychosis is the 
result of a neurosis." There is no soul, there is no creative 
spiritual pilot of the stream, there is no freedom, there are 
no moral values, there is nothing but passing " cosmic weather," 
sometimes peeps of sunshine, sometimes moonshine, sometimes 
drizzle or blizzard, and sometimes cyclone or waterspout! 
To meet the appalling thinness of this "cinema" of mind 
states, we are given the comfort of believing that there is an 
under-threshold world within, possibly more real and surely 
more important than this little rivulet of states which make up 
our conscious life. There is a "fringe" to consciousness 
more wonderful than that which adorned the robe of the high 
priest. This "fringe" defies description and baffles all 
analysis. It is a halo or penumbra which surrounds every 
"state" and holds all the states vitally together, so that 
"states" turn out to be unsundered in some deeper mysterious 
currents of being. Others would call this same underlying, 
mysterious part of us the subliminal "self," i.e., under- 
threshold "self." It is a kind of semispiritual matrix where 
the states of consciousness are formed and gestated. It is the 
source to which we may trace everything that cannot be 

1 Ibid., p. 203. 



454 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

explained by the avenues of the senses. Demons and divinities 
knock at its doors and visitants from superterrestrial shores 
peep in at its windows. It is often treated, especially of 
course by Frederic Myers, as a deeper "self," more or less 
discontinuous with our conscious upper self, the self of mind 
states. All work of genius is due to "subliminal uprushes," 
"an emergence into the current of ideas which the man is 
consciously manipulating of other ideas which he has not 
consciously originated, but which have shaped themselves 
beyond his will in profounder regions of his being." As is well 
known, Professor James resorts to these "subliminal uprushes" 
for his explanation of all the deeper religious experiences and 
he has done much to give credit to these "profounder regions 
of our being" and to make the subliminal theory popular. 
He does not, however, as Myers does, treat it as another 
"self," an intermediary between earth and heaven, a mes- 
senger and a mediator of all those higher and diviner aspects of 
life which transcend the sphere of sense and of the empirical 
world. 

No theory certainly is sound which begins by cutting the 
subconscious and the conscious life apart into two more or less 
dissociated selves. There is every indication and evidence 
of continuity and correlation between what is above and 
what is below the threshold which in any case is as relative 
and artificial a line as is the horizon. The so-called "up- 
rushes" of the genius are finely correlated with his normal 
experience into which they "uprush." The "uprushes" 
which convey truth to Socrates beautifully fit, first, the char- 
acter of the man and, secondly, the demands of the temporal 
environment. Dante's "uprushes" correspond to the psycho- 
logical climate of the medieval world, and Shakespeare's 
"uprushes" are well suited to the later period of the Renais- 
sance. All subliminal communications are congruent and 
consonant with the experience of the person who receives them. 
The visions of apocalyptic seers are all couched in the imagery 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 455 

of the apocalyptic schools, and so, too, the reports of mediums 
are all in terms of spiritualistic beliefs. We shall never find 
the solution of our religious problems by dividing the inner 
life of man into two unrelated selves, by whatever name we 
call them, for any religion that is to be real must go all the 
way through us, must unify all our powers, and must furnish 
a spring and power by which we live here and now in the sphere 
of our consciousness, our character, and our will. 

It proves to be just as impossible to cut consciousness up 
into the fragmentary bits or units called mind states, or to 
sunder it into a so-called "self asknower" and "self as known." 
Consciousness is never a shower of shot — a series of discon- 
tinuous units. It is the most completely integral unity known 
to us anywhere in the universe. There are no "parts" to it; 
it is without breaks or gaps. It is one undivided whole. The 
only unit we can properly talk about is our unique persisting 
personal self in conscious relation to an environment. We can, 
of course, treat consciousness in the abstract as an aggregate of 
states and we can formulate a scientific account of this con- 
structed entity as we can of any other abstracted section of 
reality. But this abstracted entity is forever totally different 
from the warm and intimate inner life within us, as we actually 
live it and feel its flow. Any state or process which we may 
talk about is only an artificial fragment of a larger, deeper 
reality which gives the "fragment" its peculiar being and 
makes it what it is. Underneath all that appears and happens 
in the conscious flow is the personal self for whom the appear- 
ances occur. Any psychologist who explicitly leaves this out 
of his account always implicitly smuggles it in again. 

The most striking fact of experience is knowing that we know. 
The same consciousness which knows any given object in the 
same pulse of consciousness knows itself as knowing it. Self- 
consciousness is present in all consciousness of objects. The 
thinker that thinks is involved in and is bound up with all 
knowledge, even of the simplest sort. Every idea, every 



456 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

feeling, and every act of will is what it is because it is in living 
unity with our entire personal self. If any such "state" got 
dissociated, slipped away and undertook to do business on its 
own hook, it would be as unknown to us as our guardian angel 
is. The mind that knows can never be separated from the 
world that is known. One can think in abstraction of a mind 
apart by itself and of a world equally isolated — but no such 
mind and no such world actually exist. To be a real mind, a 
real self, is to be in active commerce with a real world given in 
experience. One thinks his object in the same unified pulse of 
consciousness in which he thinks himself and vice versa. There 
is no self-consciousness without object-consciousness, and 
there is no object-consciousness without self-consciousness. 
Outer and inner, knower and known, and not two but forever 
one. The "soul," therefore, is not something hidden away in 
behind or above and beyond our ideas and feelings and will 
activities. It is the active living unity of personal conscious- 
ness — the one psychic integer and unit for a true psychology. 
It binds all the items of experience into one indivisible unity, 
one organic whole through which our personal type of life is 
made possible. At every moment of waking, intelligent life 
we look out upon each fact, each event, each experience from 
a wider self which organizes the new fact in with its former 
experiences, weaves it into the web of its memories and emo- 
tions and purposes, makes the new fact a part of itself, and yet 
at the same time knows itself as transcending and outliving the 
momentary fact. 

When we study the personal self deeply enough, not as cut 
up into artificial units, but as the living, undivided whole, 
which is implied in all coherent experience, we find at once a 
basis for those ideal values that are rightly called spiritual 
and for "those mighty hopes that make us men." The 
first step toward a genuine basis of spiritual life is to be found 
in the restoration of the personal self to its true place as the 
ultimate fact, or datum, of self-conscious experience. As soon 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 457 

as we come back to this central reality, our unified, unique, 
self-active personality, we find outselves in possession of 
material enough; as Browning would say, 

.... For fifty hopes and fears, 
As old and new at once as nature's self, 
To rap and knock and enter in our soul 
Take hands and dance there, a fantastic ring, 
Round the ancient idol, on his base again, — 
The grand Perhaps! 

What we find at once, even without a resort to a subliminal 
self, or to "uprushes," is that our normal, personal self- 
consciousness is a unique, living, self-active, creative center of 
energies, dealing not only with space and time and tangible 
things, but dealing as well with realities which are space and 
which are space- and time-transcending. "The things that 
are not " prove to be immense factors in our lives and constantly 
"bring to naught the things that are." The greatest events of 
history have not been due to physical forces; they have been 
due to plans and ideals which were real only in the viewless 
minds of men. What was not yet brought about what was to 
be. Alexander the Great with his physical forces, sweeping 
across the ancient world like a cataclysm of nature, was cer- 
tainly no more truly a world-builder than was Jesus, who 
had no armies, who used no tangible forces, but merely put 
into operation those "things that were not," i.e., his ideas of 
what ought to be and his conviction that love is stronger than 
Roman legions. The simplest and humblest of us, like the 
Psalmist, find the Meshech where we sojourn too straightened 
and narrow for us. We have all cried, "Woe is me that I 
sojourn in Meshech!" The reason that we discover the 
limits and bounds of our poor Meshech is that we are all the 
time going beyond the hampering Meshech that tries to contain 
and imprison us. 

The thing which spoils all our finite camping places is our 
unstilled consciousness that we are made for something more 



458 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

than we have yet realized or attained. Our ideals are an 
unmistakable intimation of our time-transcending nature. 
We can no more stop with that which is than Niagara can 
stop at the fringe of the fall. All consciousness of the higher 
rational type is continually carried forward toward the larger 
whole that would complete and fulfil its present experience. 
We are aware of the limit only because we are already beyond it. 
The present is a pledge of more; the little arc which we have 
gives us a ground of faith in the full circle which we seek. A 
study of man's life which does not deal with this inherent 
idealizing tendency is like Hamlet with Hamlet left out. 
Martineau declared: 

Amid all the sickly talk about "ideals" which has become the 
commonplace of our age, it is well to remember that so long as they are 
dreams of future possibility and not faiths in present realities, so long 
as they are a mere self-painting of the yearning spirit and not its personal 
surrender to immediate communion with an infinite Perfection, they 
have no more solidity or steadiness than floating air-bubbles, gay in the 

sunshine and broken by the passing wind The very gate of 

entrance to religion, the moment of its new birth, is the discovery that 
your ideal is the everlasting Real, no transient brush of a fancied angel 
wing, but the abiding presence and persuasion of the Soul of souls. 1 

In the same vein Pringle-Pattison, one of the wisest of our 
living teachers, has said : 

Consciousness of imperfection, the capacity for progress, and the 
pursuit of perfection, are alike possible to man only through the uni- 
versal life of thought and goodness in which he shares and which, at 
once an indwelling presence and an unattainable ideal, draws him "on 
and always on." 2 

It is here in these experiences of ours which spring out of our 
real nature, but which always carry us beyond what is and 
which make it impossible for us to live in a world composed 
of " things," no matter how golden they are, that we have the 
source of our spiritual values. When we talk about values 

1 Martineau, A Study of Religion (2d ed.), I, 12. 

2 The Philos, Radicals, and Other Essays, pp. 97-98. 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 459 

we may use the word in two senses. In the ordinary sense we 
mean something extrinsic, utilitarian. We mean that we pos- 
sess something which can be exchanged for something else. 
It is precious because we can sell it or swap it or use it to 
keep life going. In the other sense we see value in reference to 
something which ought to be, whether it now is or not. It 
is fit to be, it would justify its being in relation to the whole 
reality. When we speak of ethical or spiritual values we are 
thinking of something that will minister to the highest good 
of persons or of a society of persons. Value in this loftier 
meaning always has to do with ideals. A being without any 
conscious end or goal, i.e., without an ideal, would have no 
sense of worth, no spiritual values. It does not appear on the 
level of instinct. It arises as an appreciation of what ought 
to be realized in order to complete and fulfil any life which is 
to be called good. Obviously a person with rich and complex 
interests will have many scales of value, but lower and lesser 
ones will fall into place under wider and higher ones, so that 
one forms a kind of hierarchical system of values with some 
overtopping end of supreme worth dominating the will. 

It becomes one of the deepest questions in the world what 
connection there is between man's spiritual values or ideals and 
the eternal nature of things in the universe. Are these ideals 
of ours, these values which seem to raise us from the naturalistic 
to the spiritual level, just our subjective creations, or are they 
expressions of a co-operating and rational power beyond us and 
yet in us giving us intimations of what is true and best in a 
world more real than that of matter and motion? These 
ideal values, such as our appreciation of beauty, our confidence 
in truth, our dedication to moral causes, our love for worthy 
persons, our loyalty to the Kingdom of God, are not born of 
selfish preference or individual desire. They are not capricious 
like dreams and visions. They attach to something deeper 
than our personal wishes, in fact our faith in them and our 
devotion to them often cause us to take lines of action straight 



460 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

against our personal wishes and our individual desires. They 
stand the test of stress and strain, they weather the storms of 
time which submerge most things, they survive all shock and 
mutations and only increase in worth with the wastage of 
secondary goods. They rest on no mere temporary impulse or 
sporadic whim. They have their roots deep in the life of the 
race. They have lasted better than Andes or Ararat, and they 
are based upon common, universal aspects of rational life. 
They are at least as sure and prophetic as are laws of triangles 
and relations of space. If we can count on the permanence 
of the multiplication table and on the continuity of nature, 
no less can we count on the conversation of values and the 
continued significance of life. 

They seem thus to belong to the system of the universe 
and to have the guardianship of some invisible Pilot of the 
cosmic ship. The streams of moral power and the spiritual 
energies that have their rise in good persons are as much to 
be respected facts of the universe as are the rivers that carry 
ships of commerce. Moral goodness is a factor in the con- 
stitution of the world, and the eternal nature of the universe 
backs it as surely as it backs the laws of hydrogen. It does 
not back every ideal, for some ideals are unfit and do not 
minister to a coherent and rationally ordered scheme of life. 
Those ideals only have the august sanction and right of way 
which are born out of the age-long spiritual travail of the race 
and which tend to organize men for better team efforts, i.e., 
which promote the social community life, the organism of the 
Spirit. Through these spiritual forces, revealed in normal 
ethical persons, we are, I believe, nearer to the life of God and 
closer to the revealing centers of the universe than we are when 
we turn to the subliminal selves of hysterics. The normal 
interior life of man is boundless and bottomless. It is not a 
physical reality, to be measured by foot rules or yardsticks. 
It is a reality of a wholly different order. It is essentially 
spiritual, i.e., of spirit. In its organized and differentiated life 



PSYCHOLOGY AND THE SPIRITUAL LIFE 461 

this personal self of ours is often weak and erratic. We feel 
the urge which belongs to the very nature of spirit, but we 
blunder in our direction, we bungle our aims and purposes, we 
fail to discover what it is that we really want. But we are 
never insulated from the wider spiritual environment which 
constitutes the true inner world from which we have come and 
to which we belong. There are many ways of correspondence 
with this environment. No way, however, is more vital, 
more life-giving than this way of dedication to the advancement 
of the moral ideals of the world.