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Fall River, Mass. 

Our ideas of God are suffering immeasurably from our 
conventionalities. The average man, whether in the pews or 
on the street, is failing to know God because of his crude mis- 
conceiving of what knowing God would be. The theologians, 
meanwhile, should help us here, but they are too busy running 
with the hounds (with the intellectual and critical, that is) by 
means of their innumerable reservations and elasticities and 
tolerances, and at the same time with the unthinking church 
public, the hares, by their apparent acceptance and support of 
that public's traditional conceptions. 1 Very many people have 
the vague idea, for example, that a real communion with God 
would be a talking back and forth with him, though the fact 
is that God as a clear-cut and conversationally approachable 
other-than-ourselves is simply an experience none of us, at 
least, has, and just to say so now and then would mightily 
clear the air! 

But life is too short for negatives. Let us consider in wholly 
unconventional and empirical mood certain actual outcrop- 
pings in our living which are possibly divine because they all 
in some sort transfigure living for us. 2 Several different and 

1 Professor D. C. Mackintosh's Theology as an Empirical Science should have 
made this criticism unnecessary, but unfortunately his philosophizings keep him from 
that getting at close grips with the concrete presuppositions of theology which one 
would naturally expect from his book's title. Certain topics, such as sin, salvation, 
the person of Jesus, and immortality, live up to it in brief and undistinguished fashion, 
but in his discussions of God he is dealing with definitions and hypotheses, preliminary 
and otherwise, the total aim of which is rather to justify the conventions handed down 
than to follow the facts wherever they may lead. 

3 It is, to the writer's mind, the note of augustness, of illumination, of lifting 
everything to a higher plane (one throws various figures at the experience, not to 
describe it but to suggest the inward " f eel " of it) which is our most dependable criterion 
of the divine presence. 



not particularly related experiences shall be brought forward: 
their very variety, it is to be hoped, will serve as a succession 
of "elevations" adding wholeness and solidity to the idea of 
God, and in particular pointing the direction in which will lie 
a more adequate conception of what knowing God is. 

Most elementary and fundamental of all there is that 
negative suggestion of the positive fact of God: the sense of 
unreality again and again flooding our drabness and monotony. 
It does not appear often when we are in the thick of our 
usual everyday occupations; our energetic concentration upon 
action, adaptation, effectiveness keeps us firmly fixed then in 
the framework of the ordinary, actual, outer world. It does 
descend upon us sometimes in the moments between, the 
moments of margin which supervene beyond that minimum 
which is immediately absorbed by the sheer necessity of rest. 
During our pauses, now and again, there has arisen for most 
of us a misty strangeness compacted of various constituents, 
partly of wonder at the mere fact of existence — that same 
wonder which has often been noted as the beginning of philo- 
sophical reflection — partly of awe at the complexity of things 
together with the resulting oppressive consciousness of our own 
vast ignorance, partly of terror at the dead lift of the task of 
living upon our shoulders, the task of toiling and pushing — 
strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield — and 
bearing, and then approaching, and then arriving at that death 
with which all have a rendezvous. How pervasive, how uni- 
versally experienced this sense of unreality is, may be gathered 
from the widespread phenomenon of pessimism in philosophy 
and literature; and pessimism is all the more significant in 
that it is not only found thus in thinkers and poets, but is 
keenly relished, at times at least, by the great majority of 
readers. A bare reference to "the weary weight of all this 
unintelligible world" starts an answering chord resounding in 
us who yield ourselves to Shakespeare's magic: even the wildly 
exaggerated gesture contained in his — 


Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player 
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage 
And then is heard no more: it is a tale 
Told by an idiot full of sound and fury, 
Signifying nothing, 

wakens our zestful interest and keen attention, not that we 
agree with it — at heart surely we do not, else we could not 
continue the effort living is, soon or late — but we have had in 
ourselves irruptions of blackness of the same quality as the 
mood which these words have permanently transfixed. 

If one may leap to a contemporary, Mr. Arnold Bennett 
serves this generation well, not alone by his homely, exquisitely 
dumpy figures, instinct with common sense and vigor, and by 
his sure literary touch in general; but most effectively in his 
sinewy, realistic disclosings of the wonder of living as such, 
now in quietest gray tones suffused with despair (wonder with 
a negative sign), as in The Old Wives' Tale, now outlining 
appreciatively the never ceasing unfolding of one's life as it 
advances in years into things new and strange and amazingly 
interesting, as in Clayhanger and The Roll-Call. 

Those who seldom stop for thought may regard this which 
I call the sense of unreality as being tainted with introspection 
and at bottom decidedly morbid, and so it would be morbid 
in and of itself as an unrelieved attitude. In most of us who 
are aware of it, however, it does not exist alone and unmingled, 
but in and among many other more commonplace ingredients : 
as a flavor of bitter or sweet tang it should be welcomed, not 
cried down. 

Morbid or not, however, these aspects and moods which 
have been hinted at are at all events real, that is, really expe- 
rienced. Their significance does not lie in the fact that they 
have been scientifically arrived at, by any rigorous casting up 
of debit and credit, weighing over against each other the pains 
and the pleasures, the advantages and the disadvantages, the 
surprises and the ennuis of life. Nothing of the kind has been 


ordinarily even contemplated: these experiences are made up 
not of reasonings but of realizings, not of reckonings but of 
moods; we do not arrive at them, but are immediately aware 
through them of a something not ourselves and are startled, 
disquieted; in any case we are rendered self-conscious and 
unsettled by this otherness looming athwart our neatly arranged 
garden plots of everyday jog-trot knowing and feeling and 
willing. The feeling of unreality, of being outside it all while 
yet breathing and living with it all, is an experience not impos- 
sibly of God. Or rather one might put it that there is here an 
Ahnung of God at his shadowiest: not of what he is, but of the 
fact that he is. With that we have something of him: an 
incipient communion is already in effect. 

But to gain any satisfactory suggestions of that to which 
the foregoing experiences refer, one must look not to such 
elusiveness any longer, but to another group of positive and 
exceedingly vivid experiences. It is difficult to label this group 
in a few words unless use is made of the question-begging 
expression " God at the throttle," which expression will not do, 
surely not at this stage of our consideration. What is meant 
is a familiar enough experience in some form or other; to put 
it neutrally, there are occasions of sheer effectiveness on our 
part when what we do is in a sense the result of our minds' or 
spirits' effort, and yet in another sense — and this from the 
point of view of our own consciousness — there is about the 
achieving an inevitableness, a sureness, and hence often a 
gladness such that we feel rather carried on than carrying on. 
Even this description is manifestly far from colorless, though 
the anonymity of the "not ourselves" is resolutely maintained. 
The trouble is that one cannot be adequate, which is to say 
accurate, without mentioning and putting in a high light that 
"otherness" which every experiencer, whatever his theory, 
finds to be the inescapable differentia of the experience in 

The most striking type of cases under this rubric is that 
found in creative geniuses in the broadest denotation of the 


term. These men are characteristically humble. It must be 
granted that their humility is not always in evidence as regards 
their attitude toward those whom they are prone to call 
"philistines," the outsider class as such, but they are usually 
humble in that they will admit and even insist that it is not 
themselves really who bring to pass their marvelous crea- 
tions. They may refer to their star or to destiny in the case of 
generals or empire-builders like Napoleon or Cecil Rhodes, or 
to a dissuading daimon as it was with the profound thinker- 
discoverer Socrates. They may cry aloud in desperation with 
the prophet Jeremiah, "It is a fire within my bones that will 
not let me go!" The higher "creative" kind of scientist and 
philosopher calls this otherness "truth" and toils for it and 
with it in never ending investigation, or in contemplation of 
the facts, now rearing cloud-capped towers of hypothesis, now 
razing those elaborations and starting again and again and 
again. The sense of being buoyed up and carried exultantly 
on, issues in these quarters not in any sense of aid which the 
truth as such imparts, but in the keen, glad livingness of the 
search for the truth. When the savant is well immersed in 
the concerns of his laboratory or study, it is a fact of his expe- 
rience that his whole being is suffused with a zestfulness and 
all-absorbedness so intense, so sublime that it can easily be 
comprehended why Spinoza — one such creator — termed this 
and none other "eternal life"! Such a joy in work (to trans- 
late the poetic phrase into prose for the sake of clearness) is 
always vital and inspiring, nay more, all-significant and all- 
potent — a not-ourselves bearing us, not we it. It is open to 
the work done with the hands as well as to that done with the 
head, although alas its appeal seems in this snobbish age to 
be becoming less and less alluring to the artisans. 

It is, however, the artist who is peculiarly and classically 
the channel of an effectiveness his own, yet not his own. 
One may describe him as striving and travailing in a poetic 
frenzy of high effort and hope, and then utterly inert and 
discouraged and self-loathing; the whole to-and-fro going on 


apart from his volition until there appears at last that soul- 
tearing but joy-bringing birth which was all along the goal. 
Pregnancy with its restlessness and nerves and selfish irrita- 
bilities is one current and very apt figure for the exasperating 
oddities and yet profound significances of the artistic tempera- 
ment. 1 There is an external compulsion there, both of that 
which is to be and of that by which it is (nature) which brings 
out not inappropriately the artist's experience of communion. 
There is another figure, however, which more fits our idea and 
is at the same time no less true to the consciousness of the 
artist: it is that of a higher authority laying hold of the 
musician or poet, or whatever he be, and using him as an 
instrument for its ends. So that the creator's effort needs to 
be expended not much, not at all as he views it, in the direct 
bringing forth of his works of art: his whole labor, assuming 
that he has mature command of his materials and his crafts- 
manship, consists in the back-breaking, heart-sickening drudg- 
ery of getting into the control and swing of that commanding 
power beyond him and so infinitely greater than he. At the 
outset of his career he gropes for it, not knowing where it may 
be or how he is to proffer himself to it, laboring or dreaming, 
sometimes for years, "to find himself" as it is called: yet this 
is but a way of speaking, for it is not himself but this other 
than he — though only to be found within himself — which he 
is seeking, if haply he may find it. 

This striving which is the artist's life-drama has its 
counterpart in his every working-day. He sits down to his 
easel, his music score, his typewriter, with the necessity upon 
him of toiling forth from the average general-human to the 
exceptional and divine-energizing attitude. To put it in 
homely but apt phrase, he must crank and crank and crank 
until the divine fire functions, first snappingly, then smoothly — 
and he is off on the wings of the wind: no longer pushing at a 
dead weight, but borne on and on, his effort now being the 

1 See in particular May Sinclair's novel The Creators. 


different one of directing and steadying the exuberant flight. 
Such an exertion sounds much easier than the preliminary 
striving for it, and so it is, in so far as it is stimulating and 
exhilarating to an extent such that no words can express 
adequately its infinite attractiveness; but judging by the 
vitality it takes out of a man and the unremittingness of its 
demands, it is at the same time incredibly difficult, much more 
so than the brute muscular (so to speak) drudgery which 
preceded it. One actually grasps now the true, the beautiful, 
the ultimate, or rather is grasped by them; and so the free, 
happy, yet unspeakably strenuous activity goes on, until, 
perhaps gradually, perhaps in a sudden insistent call, the usual, 
the material resumes its sway; if nothing else, the physical 
need of food, recuperation, sleep will drag him off the field of 
divine action. Loath though he be, he obeys perforce, and 
must strive and concentrate all over again, upon his return, to 
win through to the heavenly experience: so that it is hard to 
say which is the more irksome, to pause when one prefers to 
go on, or to get moving, drudgingly tugging one's self by one's 
bootstraps up out of the comfortable, ambling everyday. 

So much for the transitional moments, the painful begin- 
nings and breakings-off of artistic energy. The significant 
fact for our purpose here is that during the artistic activity as 
such, i.e., during its normal course irrespective of change, the 
picture the artist is painting, the symphony he is composing, 
the novel he is writing (and it is the same as regards the truth 
the thinker is seeking to formulate, or the cause the reformer 
lives and dies for — not to go into the other Protean forms 
taken by this divine which we call from this point of view 
imagination because we know not what else to call it) mounts 
him and drives him and in every way for the time being wields 
him, wearing him down and using him for its goals until at 
the last it allows him (though it keenly protests even then) to 
break away weak and spent. He will gaze later wonderingly 
at the work accomplished in those hours of creative experience. 


His name is attached to it: he has the credit for it and will 
sometimes insist all but swaggeringly — human, all-too-human 
as he then is — upon the praise due him; yet he knows well, 
deep within, that it is not to him that the glory truly belongs, 
for the work came not so much from him as through him! If 
one may digress for the sake of clearer illustration into theology 
(though it is not really a digression, for the whole of this 
discussion, odd though this may sound, is nothing if not theo- 
logical), what the Gospel according to John sees and states 
with utter absoluteness, and so far as I can see with utter 
truth, is this significance we are pondering, the significance of 
that "other" rather than of one's self in the productions of 
creative genius. For example, there is this: "The words that 
I say unto you I speak not from myself, but the Father abiding 
in me doeth his works" (John 10: 14). It is a strange perver- 
sion, one which would be incredible if it were not nearly 
universal, to regard this and other such expressions as self- 
exultations rather than, what they so vividly are, disclaimers 
and the very extreme of humility. In general, for that matter, 
what our doctrinal statements call the divinity of Christ 
signified for the writer of the Fourth Gospel — and much more, 
one must think, for the consciousness of Jesus— not an exalta- 
tion of Jesus, but an exaltation of God, whom Jesus was aware 
of in a way analogous to that of the other creators just now 
outlined, but with a unique pervasiveness and spiritual range. 
Let it be freely granted that the argument thus far is being 
decidedly outrun when one plumps out thus prematurely the 
word "God"; our excuse is that the illustration from Jesus 
becomes far clearer if the word is not omitted. That it is God 
to whom these experiences point, it will be attempted to show 
in due time. For the present that matter may well be post- 
poned, the more as we are not done as yet with the phenome- 
nology of our subject. 

There must surely be mentioned, because conventional 
religious experience makes so much of it (and an experience is 


not necessarily false, as so many seem to think, because it is 
commonly and conventionally met with), the fact that a 
striving for a right life individual, social, becomes aware simi- 
larly of a something higher, abler, other than the striver as 
such. "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" is the forth- 
right description of this by one clear-seeing passionate pilgrim 
of this type. The reader should remark here not the name 
given to that other, but solely the sheer experience focused in 
such a description. Not otherwise, though in different con- 
nection, the Reformation theologians ascribed the forgiveness 
of sins (meaning by that what we should put as "the hope of a 
wholly satisfactory living") not to one's own works, but to the 
grace of God, 1 "grace abounding" in Bunyan's title. 

The Roman Catholics emphasize no less this aspect of the 
struggle for perfection. It is for them also a "not-ourselves" 
which co-operates with our effort to redeem life. Among them 
this matter is realized, for the common man at all events, by 
being externalized: in that certain specific, outward relations 
and officially (that is, validly) performed acts — speaking by 
and large, the sacraments — are proclaimed essential to salva- 
tion, the word here meaning virtually satisfactoriness. The 
mechanical quality of this procedure is not congenial to our 
prejudices, but it exhibits the more clearly their corporate and 
age-long developing conviction that it is not in man, himself 
alone, that walketh to direct his steps — and here again it is 
important to observe the nature of the conviction rather than 
to quarrel with its manner of expressing itself. 

It need not be said that the ecclesiastical opinions here 
adduced have been glanced at, not in the slightest degree as 
dogmatic proofs, but to illustrate the elementary religious 
perception which prompts them, a religious perception which 
is met with, with more or less consciousness of it, among most 
if not all of the morally and spiritually in earnest. The fact 

1 For Martin Luther upon this point see Professor McGiffert's Protestant Thought 
before Kant, pp. 23-27. 


is indeed that the sectarians and dogmatists and infallibilists, 
who (in the Protestant as well as the Roman mode) are vastly 
numerous in our churches, are prone to exploit in the interest 
of theirpeculiar tenets this all but universal religious experience, 
the experience, that is, of added impetus, of a swing forward 
which the aspirant, outside as surely as inside the church fold, 
becomes aware of in his energetic pushing toward deeds worth 
doing. Undoubtedly this forging on is himself in one sense, 
and he will, if not theologically biased, be very likely to call it 
his "better self"; but however it be as to phrasings, there is 
in men an immediate realization, not as religious dogma but 
as religious fact, that there is something more august, worthier, 
abler, more enduring than one's own (usual) personality which 
must be taken into the reckoning during one's spiritual strivings. 
It is, it should certainly be noted, such a spiritual striving 
in one's self and most of all in society which is the context and 
basal reason for the most recent and undoubtedly the most 
familiar idea just now of God: I mean "the striving God" or 
"the finite God" as he is commonly called. This conception 
originated, for us at least, in Professor William James who put 
it forth as a religious corollary to his root-and-branch anathema 
against absolutism; it was enthusiastically subscribed to by 
the Pluralists, including the Neo-Realists, 1 by most of the 
novelists who poach at all upon this region, 2 and by many of 
the thinking public, lay and liberal theological. A good case 
could probably be made out for the thesis that no idea of God 
but this one would do as theoretical framework for the religious 
experience here being emphasized; in particular that no all- 
including, diffuse God could possibly be "other" enough, 
which means individual enough, to be associated with. Where- 
upon the opposite side would counter, very likely, that a God 
more than we (which the upholders of a finite God also insist 
to be true of God) might well be more in that he includes us 

1 See Professor Ralph Barton Perry, The Present Conflict of Ideals, chap, xxii, 
"Pluralism and the Finite God." Neo-Realism's "Amen" to it is given on p. 379. 

2 Mr. H. G. Wells and younger men of his school. 


and all men and all else; and the fact that God in the sort of 
experience in question effectively functions within the experi- 
ment or within society, immanently that is, decidedly indicates 
an Infinite All-Container. So the argument would wax no 
doubt hotter and hotter. We need not pause upon it, however, 
for though it would not be irrelevant, it would be lengthy; 
besides not being in the least necessary, for the only point 
intended to be made in the reference to the idea of a finite God 
has been gained already in the mere mention of it: the very 
existence of the idea bears testimony to religious experience of 
the sort referred to in this paper. 

The hints or illustrations (it is plain that they are no more) 
thus far brought forward by way of not so much supporting as 
presenting that religious experience, are far from being exhaus- 
tive; no mention has been made, for example, of what might 
be termed the social increment, meaning the experience that 
five people working together or even meeting together in any 
effectual way are considerably more effective from many 
points of view than that five times the effectiveness of one 
which would naturally be expected; and so with five hundred, 
or fifty million, 1 an experience well described if not precisely 
meant by Jesus' remark, "Where two or three are gathered 
together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 
18:20). Furthermore there has been a complete and even 
conspicuous ignoring of the much which the mystic of all ages 
and all religions has to tell; this has at all events been overmuch 
treated already and need not be gone over again. Despite 
these and other omissions, and despite also, be it said, the 
inevitable meagerness of outline throughout, it is to be hoped 
that the angle of consideration intended here is by now some- 
what intelligible and that it is, whether one agrees with it or 
not, at any rate clear what is meant by insisting that though 
the "Great Companion" is dead in the older sense, he is yet 
living and communed with in another and equally admissible 

1 Cf. G. Simmel, American Journal of Sociology, VIII (1902), 1 ff., 158 ff. 


But it is high time to turn from phenomenology to evalu- 
ation, from the fixating and denoting of this particular type of 
experience to the consideration of what or whom men do under 
such circumstances experience. The word "God" has been 
used above at more than one juncture, used prematurely, and 
in strict logic unjustifiably, because of the difficulty and 
unnaturalness of paraphrases. Can it be demonstrated now 
that this provisional use of the term was in fact accurate ? 
Can it be proven that that "other," as we usually called him 
with careful neutrality, is God ? The answer to such a direct 
question would of course have to be "no": God is, as such, 
we might say, never to be proved, but always to be believed in. 

It is at least possible to brush away certain objections to 
such a belief. It will be said by some, has probably been 
said often by the reader of the preceding pages, that the 
experiences described above point not to God but to the 
subconsciousness. I do not deny that the subconscious is 
involved in these experiences, but that fact in no sense dis- 
proves that the awareness in question is awareness of God. 
Nothing is more self-evident to the epistemologists of the 
present than that the channel through which an experience 
comes cannot as such make the experience an illusory one. 
In other words, the reality of anything of which we are con- 
scious is not refuted by an analysis of the perceptions concerned 
in bringing that reality to our consciousness. Shall it be denied 
us to be as healthily realistic regarding our belief in God as we 
are, by all theories of knowledge, admonished to be regarding 
the outer world ? Surely the ' ' egocentric predicament ' ' cannot 
bar our way here, where it is the subconscious ego which 
enters into the reckoning! 

In any case, though much use has been made here of the 
word "other," otherness is by no means a sole and sufficient 
criterion of God; for the matter of that, the whole world of 
outer facts and persons, other though they are, are daily 
perceived and lived with, with no remotest thought of their 
being God — I am not including here the incorrigible theoretical 


pantheist, of course. The sense of otherness is an essential 
element in our idea of God, as — again save for certain eccentrics 
— it is essential to our idea of any reality apart from ourselves; 
but in the case of God this "not-ourselves" factor is combined 
with a sense of impalpableness and general elusiveness. In 
addition to these characteristics, which are at bottom negative, 
there would have to be certain positive notes, as most obviously 
that of irresistibleness. I do not use the word "omnipotent" 
which would seem to some more natural, for I am referring to 
our feeling in the matter, not asserting objective might. 

Even irresistibleness is too inclusive to serve us as a divine 
criterion, for it may be said of it, and of all the experiences 
alluded to above, that they might conceivably, even so, evi- 
dence an evil power, a "devil" in some form or other. This 
possibility, so far as anything thus far adverted to is concerned, 
must be admitted; yet these experiences, as we shall see, have 
a further precluding note. As for the possibility of a devil 
being really amongst us, it cannot be denied that there are 
certain very definite experiences pointing in that direction, not 
those detailed above but analogous to them: take, for example, 
the confidence of many a selfish adventurer in "destiny" or 
in his "star," as was the case with Napoleon; or there is the 
gambler relying upon his "luck" or the betting man upon his 
"hunch" — these all and others like them being not-hoped-for, 
but, for those concerned, actually experienced enablings. 
Such a realizing sense of the Evil One is less common, usually 
however, among his votaries than among his persistent oppo- 
nents — for the reason probably that evil and selfishness, as 
one of its many other injurious effects, slowly but surely clouds 
the vision and clogs the whole perceptive apparatus. 

So much for the argument from experience as indicating a 
Satan as well as a God in the world. It ought to be admitted 
indeed, more generally than it is, that every argument for the 
existence of a personal God will, analogously applied, serve 
equally well to prove the existence of a personal evil urge. So 
that to object to the reasoning above because it opens the door 


to an Evil One is no such reductio ad absurdum as at first might 

The note just now hinted at, which points to God and at the 
same time debars the inference to any evil power is the note 
of moral and spiritual elevation. A true sense of God will be 
pervaded — and, I submit, the positive experiences adduced in 
the body of this paper are pervaded — by unselfishness which 
means on the one hand an utter absence of sensuality and 
self-interest, and on the other hand, an outgoing and a 
benevolent interest in the good of all, the whole making for 
hope and unworried confidence and a gladness, not of an 
individual and selfish, but of a spiritual sort — "joy," in the 
religious terminology. 

But whatever be the correct theoretical description of its 
differentia, the sense of God is surely in no danger of becoming 
confused, on the part of those undergoing the experience, with 
that of God's opposite. If consequently we take our stand, 
as we are here doing, upon experience, no further effort need 
be spent upon the describing of this particular distinction. 
What is vitally needful is that one should avoid being misled 
by the smoke screens of conventional description implicit in 
many words and phrases. Only actual experience ought to be 
accepted as significant, which means among other things that 
it is not necessarily those who speak most clearly of communing 
with God who have experienced him or know anything what- 
ever at first hand about him. There are so many petty minds 
and erroneous parrot-repeated conceptions abroad among those 
who say "Lord, Lord!" with unction, not to say gusto. And 
vice versa, the profession and even the stout assertion of utter 
ignorance of God (very characteristic as these are of our 
inverted hypocrisy nowadays) should not in itself lead us to 
suppose that religious experience is in fact absent. Here, as 
everywhere else, the true procedure is that of being guided 
not by appearances or opinions, but solely by the realities in