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The Growth of Public Opinion in the Direction of the Conquest of Death

It was nearly twenty years ago that I severed my connection with the paper that I was then on and with the friends I made while there, and I have often wondered if these friends have relaxed their opposition to what they called my pet hobby. I doubt not that many of them have. The idea is no longer regarded as absurd; it has become one of intense interest to millions of people. The interest in everything written on the subject is so great that it threatens to become a mania. Every city has its Century Clubs, and its Live-Forever Clubs, and they have spread to the country, and the villages are discussing them. The books that have been written on this subject, and almost forgotten, have been revived, and new editions of them are on the shelves of the bookstores.

There is the beginning of a groundswell of inquiry on the subject; the whole thinking public is slowly awakening; and as it does it draws its hopes from the distant heaven of delusive promise to the prospect of present salvation. Who does not know that "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?" and who is going to walk in the dark when once he has glimpsed the rising sun?

Introspection is a neglected art. If man would look within himself in his search for truth, he would gain more useful knowledge than all the colleges and all his travels through foreign countries could give him.

Nay, more; the man who goes outside of himself in his effort to gain wisdom bankrupts himself; and the knowledge he acquires may delude, instead of leading him in the direction of highest truth. Nothing can possibly lead any man to a higher growth but the understanding of himself.

What is the most important thing man can possess? I answer, it is himself. And when I say himself, I mean his body, and not his soul. Men have been soul-saving for thousands of years, and all that time the body has been dying of neglect.

Is the body of no importance, that we can afford to ignore it in this way? Is it true that the soul can exist without the body? Who really knows anything about the soul? And who does not know something about the body? We, at least, know from observation and practical tests that the body exists, and that it is a very convenient thing to have; we know that it is a machine or a combination of machines through which we transact all the business connected with life, and without which we would have no life on the terrestrial plane where we execute all the desires that make life worth living.

That we know almost nothing of ourselves, our resources and undeveloped powers, is because for thousands of years we have devoted our time and talent to exploring the soul—or some imaginary thing we call the soul—to the utter neglect of the body, which there is no doubt about our possessing. Owing to this blunder we know almost nothing about our bodies, and absolutely nothing of our souls, in spite of the fact that we have claimed to know so much about them for so long a time.

The soul—admitting its existence, which I am more than willing to do—is a secondary matter on our present plane of life; we are in a world where bodies, and not souls, do the work which is necessary to be done, in order that our lives be protracted in the fulfillment of those desires which belong to the body, and which are essential to its existence here.

We run this wonderful engine, the body, in a way that would shame a ship's captain in the command of his boat. The captain would want some knowledge of his vessel in order that he might control her properly and keep her from drifting at the mercy of wind and tide; but man—who owns the greatest piece of mechanism in the world, a piece of mechanism that combines within itself every law of mechanics known and unknown—makes no effort to understand it, and has no conception of the hundredth part of its meaning, nor of the thousandth part of its worth to himself.

What it is that lies back of this mechanism, no one knows. What the "I" that is always speaking for itself may be, is a secret. Whether this "I," which says, "My body," is really the body's very self, or some unseen thing hidden in the body or behind the body, no one can tell. The assertion "I" stands for the man, and the "I" not only says, "My body!," but it says, "My soul," also. Is the "I" one with the soul or one with the body? Or is it the intelligent union of both?

For my part, I believe that the "I" is all the soul a man has, and that it is the sum total of the body's entire life; its memory, in fact; its record of all the body's transactions, and that it is one with the body, the body being the external expression of it. The "I" records all the experiences through which a man passes; and if it takes note of these experiences and reasons on them, it becomes wiser every day. That the "I" says, "My body," is only a habit of speech, and does not prove that the body is one thing and the "I" another.

It is because I perceive the truth of the above statement that I have grown into a conviction of the immense importance of the body. The body is the man, and the man is adapted to the place he occupies now; his body correlates the needs of his life here, and this fact leaves the soul out of this treatise. If the soul is needed in another world, we will find it there.

What is the greatest desire of the human being? Let us be honest with ourselves. It is not for the salvation of his soul. We desire the salvation of our souls if it proves impossible to save our bodies; but first of all we want our bodies saved. The most delightful heaven the imagination of genius has devised does not allure us so much as the remnant of this bodily life with all its trials and sufferings.

"All that a man hath will he give for his life." It has always been so, and with the growing refinement of the race it becomes more so. In the early history of the race men yielded their lives far more readily than they do at this time. Would a man of the present age die for opinion's sake, as the heroes of old once did? No, he would deny everything in order to save his life, wisely thinking that life was far more valuable than opinion, as, indeed, it is.

Life is above all things; life right here, handicapped by our environments, and blurred in every conceivable way by our ignorance, is still more valuable than all else.

In spite of the body's disabilities, and the pain that racks it, and the penury that starves it, we yet value it so much more than the prospective heaven of the future, that we will not end it voluntarily, though we might do so at the cost of a meal, and with less pain than an ordinary spell of indigestion. Does this mean nothing? Do not all things mean something? I assert that the simple facts I am stating will prove to be the most important truths of which the mind can get any conception, when once understood.

The inherent force and determination which always point in one direction, which begin in the elementary life cells themselves and increase with every step upward in race growth, have a meaning that no power of imagination can ever extend to its legitimate limits, for, indeed, it has no limits.

This force and this determination are expressed in the love of life in the body, and the avoidance of the body's death. They are manifested in every object in all the world. They manifest in the lowest forms no less than in the highest, as all persons must have observed many times. Turn over the half decayed piece of wood, and see with what hurrying fear the little creatures under it rush to safe places out of our sight. And the vegetables and trees also; note with what tenacity of life they mend their broken limbs, and go on growing in spite of the most adverse conditions. Even the crystals and rocks strive to assume shapes and enter into conditions of greater permanency.

It is the love of life—not of soul life, but of body life—and the hope of prolonging it that makes cowards of us all; in fact, it is the love of life that prompts every action we ever will or can make. No principle within us is so strong as this. "All that a man hath will he give for his life."

Looking through nature everywhere it is the same; the one great desire, first of all, is for life; after that come the minor desires. Often when it is necessary to kill something, my sympathy is so drawn into the effort of the creature to save its own life, that I become weak and faint and seem to partially die with it. At least, there is an approximation in my feelings toward this extreme point, and it shows how high my valuation of life is.

Down through the ages all men have accepted—apparently without thought—the belief that death was an unavoidable thing; they have accepted this belief in spite of their desire to live. I say all men; yet, as I have pointed out, there have been exceptions, the writers of the Old Testament having unquestionably had faith in the power of the body to conquer death sometime in the future, if not in their time.

The two facts—the desire to live, and the belief of the people that it is impossible to prolong life eternally in the body under present conditions—are at the foundation of all religions. Every creed in the world has been projected by the human brain, because, first, the desire to protract life was an unconquerable thing; and, secondly, because it did not appear possible to attain it here.

Suppose that men had seen the possibility of overcoming death here, and had gone to work to realize that possibility, would they have projected a place of future abode for themselves after this life was over? It would never have been over; then what need would they have had for a creed to save them in a hereafter? They would have labored to strengthen themselves in the present; to fortify and improve their external conditions, and to improve and develop the mighty tool for doing this; the only tool any man ever owned or ever will own—his body.

I have said that as the race refined death became greater terror to it; this is because man's increased knowledge of the body has rendered the body more sacred to him. He begins to perceive not only the uses of the body, but the beauty of it, and the happiness to be gotten through it, and his valuation of it increases with his knowledge of what it is worth to him; of not only what it is worth now, but of what it would be worth under more favorable circumstances. His hopes are for his body; his desires are centered upon its perpetuation. In proportion as his respect for his body increases, and his desire for the perpetuation of life in this world keeps growing, his concern for his soul and for the heaven of the future decreases.

It is this direction of growth in the race, all pointing to farther development here and now, that is causing the churches to go empty on Sundays; it is at the bottom of the complaints that the clergy are making, though they are not aware of it. The preachers are searching in a hundred different directions for the reason of the decline of religious influence, and because they have not yet looked in the right direction they have failed to find the cause. At a recent meeting in Brooklyn where many of the leading ministers of the country were in council, there were those among them who actually said that the indifference to Sunday service was the absence of fear of the devil and hell, which had become almost obliterated from the public mind; and they advised taking up this old piece of idiocy, and again working it in order to get their churches filled. It also came out at this council that there were nearly five thousand Congregational preachers who were without charges.

These facts are stated here in order to strengthen my argument concerning the growth in the race in its valuation of life in the body, and of its increasing indifference to the promises of a future heaven. The race is becoming more practical every day. It really does not know why it is neglecting the religious services upon which it was wont to give such regular attendance; it only knows that the Sunday sermon does not interest it as the Sunday papers do; and as the growing intelligence of the age has—unconsciously to itself—dulled its fear of the devil, if is not afraid to do what its inclination leads it to do.

Loss of interest in the next world, which has come from an increased interest in this world, is responsible for all the complaints the ministers are making about the falling off of church influence. Concentration is killing theology; it is drawing the powers of the intellect to the work of the present hour; it is bringing the scattered forces and the far roaming hopes home, and centering them upon what there is to do right here in this world, and right now. The visionary is doomed; the practical has arrived.

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Helen Wilmans

  • Born in 1831 and died in 1907
  • Studied under Emma Curtis Hopkins
  • Was a journalist and author
  • Was active in the Mental Science Movement
  • Was charged with postal fraud for healing through mail. Fighting this charged caused her lose most of her fortune.
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