Not a member?     Existing members login below:

The Varieties of Religious Experience

Lecture 19. Other Characteristics
We have wound our way back, after our excursion through mysticism and philosophy, to
where we were before: the uses of religion, its uses to the individual who has it, and the
uses of the individual himself to the world, are the best arguments that truth is in it. We
return to the empirical philosophy: the true is what works well, even though the
qualification "on the whole" may always have to be added. In this lecture we must revert
to description again, and finish our picture of the religious consciousness by a word about
some of its other characteristic elements. Then, in a final lecture, we shall be free to make
a general review and draw our independent conclusions.
The first point I will speak of is the part which the aesthetic life plays in determining
one's choice of a religion. Men, I said awhile ago, involuntarily intellectualize their
religious experience. They need formulas, just as they need fellowship in worship. I
spoke, therefore, too contemptuously of the pragmatic uselessness of the famous
scholastic list of attributes of the deity, for they have one use which I neglected to
consider. The eloquent passage in which Newman enumerates them[301] puts us on the
track of it. Intoning them as he would intone a cathedral service, he shows how high is
their aesthetic value. It enriches our bare piety to carry these exalted and mysterious
verbal additions just as it enriches a church to have an organ and old brasses, marbles and
frescoes and stained windows. Epithets lend an atmosphere and overtones to our
devotion. They are like a hymn of praise and service of glory, and may sound the more
sublime for being incomprehensible. Minds like Newman's[302] grow as jealous of their
credit as heathen priests are of that of the jewelry and ornaments that blaze upon their
[301] Idea of a University, Discourse III. Section 7.
[302] Newman's imagination so innately craved an ecclesiastical system that he can
write: "From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion:
I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion." And
again speaking of himself about the age of thirty, he writes: "I loved to act as feeling
myself in my Bishop's sight, as if it were the sight of God." Apologia, 1897, pp. 48, 50.
Among the buildings-out of religion which the mind spontaneously indulges in, the
aesthetic motive must never be forgotten. I promised to say nothing of ecclesiastical
systems in these lectures. I may be allowed, however, to put in a word at this point on the
way in which their satisfaction of certain aesthetic needs contributes to their hold on
human nature. Although some persons aim most at intellectual purity and simplification,
for others RICHNESS is the supreme imaginative requirement.[303] When one's mind is
strongly of this type, an individual religion will hardly serve the purpose. The inner need
is rather of something institutional and complex, majestic in the hierarchic
interrelatedness of its parts, with authority descending from stage to stage, and at every
stage objects for adjectives of mystery and splendor, derived in the last resort from the
Godhead who is the fountain and culmination of the system. One feels then as if in