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Pagan and Christian Creeds
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7. Rites Of Expiation And Redemption
There is a passage in Richard Jefferies' imperishably beautiful book The Story of
my Heart--a passage well known to all lovers of that prose-poet--in which he
figures himself standing "in front of the Royal Exchange where the wide
pavement reaches out like a promontory," and pondering on the vast crowd and
the mystery of life. "Is there any theory, philosophy, or creed," he says, "is there
any system of culture, any formulated method, able to meet and satisfy each
separate item of this agitated pool of human life? By which they may be guided,
by which they may hope, by which look forward? Not a mere illusion of the
craving heart--something real, as real as the solid walls of fact against which, like
seaweed, they are dashed; something to give each separate personality
sunshine and a flower in its own existence now; something to shape this million-
handed labor to an end and outcome that will leave more sunshine and more
flowers to those who must succeed? Something real now, and not in the spirit-
land; in this hour now, as I stand and the sun burns. . . . Full well aware that all
has failed, yet, side by side with the sadness of that knowledge, there lives on in
me an unquenchable belief, thought burning like the sun, that there is yet
something to be found.... It must be dragged forth by the might of thought from
the immense forces of the universe."
In answer to this passage we may say "No,--a thousand times No! there is no
theory, philosophy, creed, system or formulated method which will meet or ever
satisfy the demand of each separate item of the human whirlpool." And happy
are we to know there is no such thing! How terrible if one of these bloodless
'systems' which strew the history of religion and philosophy and the political and
social paths of human endeavor HAD been found absolutely correct and
universally applicable--so that every human being would be compelled to pass
through its machine-like maw, every personality to be crushed under its
Juggernath wheels! No, thank Heaven! there is no theory or creed or system;
and yet there is something-- as Jefferies prophetically felt and with a great
longing desired--that CAN satisfy; and that, the root of all religion, has been
hinted at in the last chapter. It is the CONSCIOUSNESS of the world-life burning,
blazing, deep down within us: it is the Soul's intuition of its roots in Omnipresence
The gods and the creeds of the past, as shown in the last chapter--whatever they
may have been, animistic or anthropomorphic or transcendental, whether grossly
brutish or serenely ideal and abstract--are essentially projections of the human
mind; and no doubt those who are anxious to discredit the religious impulse
generally will catch at this, saying "Yes, they are mere forms and phantoms of
the mind, ephemeral dreams, projected on the background of Nature, and having
no real substance or solid value. The history of Religion (they will say) is a history
of delusion and illusion; why waste time over it? These divine grizzly Bears or