The Varieties of Religious Experience HTML version

Lectures 14 and 15. The Value Of Saintliness
We have now passed in review the more important of the phenomena which are regarded
as fruits of genuine religion and characteristics of men who are devout. Today we have to
change our attitude from that of description to that of appreciation; we have to ask
whether the fruits in question can help us to judge the absolute value of what religion
adds to human life. Were I to parody Kant, I should say that a "Critique of pure
Saintliness" must be our theme.
If, in turning to this theme, we could descend upon our subject from above like Catholic
theologians, with our fixed definitions of man and man's perfection and our positive
dogmas about God, we should have an easy time of it. Man's perfection would be the
fulfillment of his end; and his end would be union with his Maker. That union could be
pursued by him along three paths, active, purgative, and contemplative, respectively; and
progress along either path would be a simple matter to measure by the application of a
limited number of theological and moral conceptions and definitions. The absolute
significance and value of any bit of religious experience we might hear of would thus be
given almost mathematically into our hands.
If convenience were everything, we ought now to grieve at finding ourselves cut off from
so admirably convenient a method as this. But we did cut ourselves off from it
deliberately in those remarks which you remember we made, in our first lecture, about
the empirical method; and it must be <321> confessed that after that act of renunciation
we can never hope for clean-cut and scholastic results. WE cannot divide man sharply
into an animal and a rational part. WE cannot distinguish natural from supernatural
effects; nor among the latter know which are favors of God, and which are counterfeit
operations of the demon. WE have merely to collect things together without any special a
priori theological system, and out of an aggregate of piecemeal judgments as to the value
of this and that experience--judgments in which our general philosophic prejudices, our
instincts, and our common sense are our only guides--decide that ON THE WHOLE one
type of religion is approved by its fruits, and another type condemned. "On the whole"--I
fear we shall never escape complicity with that qualification, so dear to your practical
man, so repugnant to your systematizer!
I also fear that as I make this frank confession, I may seem to some of you to throw our
compass overboard, and to adopt caprice as our pilot. Skepticism or wayward choice, you
may think, can be the only results of such a formless method as I have taken up. A few
remarks in deprecation of such an opinion, and in farther explanation of the empiricist
principles which I profess, may therefore appear at this point to be in place.
Abstractly, it would seem illogical to try to measure the worth of a religion's fruits in
merely human terms of value. How CAN you measure their worth without considering
whether the God really exists who is supposed to inspire them? If he really exists, then all
the conduct instituted by men to meet his wants must necessarily be a reasonable fruit of
his religion--it would be unreasonable only in case he did not exist. If, for instance, you