Being the substance of a paper read at Birmingham
It is a very natural question to ask of any organization or body, what are your objects, and what is it you hope to achieve by your meetings and discussions? Well, I think most of you may be able to give some sort of a guess from the very title of our well-known Publication as to the lines upon which we work and think. The two words Light and Reason are very significant, and when combined as they are here, are still more so—The Light of Reason—the illumination as it were of dark subjects and the chaos of uncertainty by means of the lamp of Reason or intelligent understanding. Bring this then to bear on matters of religion and the question of man's present and future, and the laws governing his being and evolvement and you have the answer in a broad sense. But we shall do well to go a little more fully into the matter and shall then be able to more fully appreciate the aims of this enterprise.
I think I shall be safe in saying that the Editor, and also the bulk of the Contributors, work on what are called "New Thought" lines, though the term is one which is open to some considerable objection, and is certainly a misnomer, for as there is no such thing as New Truth it is difficult to see how one can have New Thought.
Possibly it is chosen simply as a ready means of pointing out how much of the thought of the past has been on wrong lines, but at any rate the word New is out of place, for we have the self-same principles taught by our Lord, and also by many of the ancient sages, and certainly by Emerson, Carlyle and Ruskin.
Two of the chief points of importance are that contrary to the old notion that man is a poor fallen helpless victim to sin and the Devil, we are taught that man is divine, a son of God, a child of the Father, and endowed with divine attributes, a little lower only than the angels—and further, and equally important. That the only Devil he has to fear is his own lower self, that purely animal side of his nature which if given way to will usurp the position of his higher self or the spiritual side of his being.
Christ himself is to be our pattern, and we are to strive to carry out his command, "Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect."
This view is of course somewhat opposed to much of the traditional teaching of theology, but it is eminently reasonable, vastly encouraging, and fortunately is based upon the Truth which will stand criticism.
Furthermore it teaches that man is not a helpless victim to circumstances, but can control and fashion his destiny.
And how is all this to be done? you will say. Well, by practical endeavor on the right lines, persistent endeavor, life-long endeavor, and success is certain.
To conquer self and to constantly aspire to the highest and noblest ideals in thought and deed is no easy task, but that, broadly speaking, is the highway—and each one finds for himself that it is no level track which may be trodden without effort, but a veritable. A mountain pass, at times too rugged and steep almost for even the stoutest.
The training of the thought and will is an important part of the task, for our thoughts are things, and take unto themselves shape, and actuality, never by any possibility failing to bring about results, either good or bad, just in exact proportion to the quality of the thought
The power of thought is today better understood perhaps than ever before, and yet even now we are possibly only beginning to dimly realize all the latent possibilities which are contained in the faculty of thought and imagination, those two marvels of the human soul.
Speculations or theories as to a future state and the life beyond the grave are no part of our program, though the light of reason makes it abundantly clear that as man is here, so to a great extent must he be when disembodied, for whatsoever he sows shall he reap, both in the present and the future. Moreover, by the eternal law of progress it follows that the second stage as it were of life, that is, the stage immediately commencing when the mortal stage is ended, must be fashioned at its outset to a great extent by the past, that is to say a certain point of progress has been reached in this life, and from that point the journey upwards has to be recommenced, or rather continued, onward and upward until the evolution is completed.
This point of view is essentially practical and of high importance and value, and worth more than any theories, beliefs, or speculative opinions. Conduct and character are realities, the inner essences, the life principle, and will outlive all the theology, all the science, and all the doctrines the world has ever heard of.
"By their fruits ye shall know them." How true indeed! how practical! how simple! Just as we know a fruit tree by the kind and quality of its fruit, and by which alone we arrive at its value, not by the luxuriance of its foliage or its dimensions, so are men estimated and judged here and hereafter.
From what has been said on this point, you will readily see that we have no Creed or Dogma in our program—for "Deeds not Creeds" is our motto as it were, but if one is needed it is readily to be discovered in Christ's teaching on the Mount.
Naturally then our sympathies are inclusive, and draw no distinctions as to beliefs, for we seek only to recognize good in all men, and believing in the divinity of man we cannot fail to discover the good if we will only try. Evil is but a negation—the subversion of order—the darkness not yet penetrated by the beams of the light of goodness and truth; and when these appear, evil vanishes and ceases to exist.
We believe that it is our duty to sympathies with and co-operate as far as possible in all activities which have for their object the doing of good, the amelioration of wrongs, and the advancement of the gospel of mercy, justice and love, putting aside all prejudices as to the source, thus carrying out the spirit of Christ's saying, "He that is not against us is for us."
The division and strife amongst men is solely the outcome of limitation of idea, narrowness of view, and an inability to recognize the brotherhood of all mankind—a fact which, once grasped and understood and generally recognized, will work untold blessing to the world in which we live.
All the energies now wasted in division, strife and opposition, if combined and concentrated to the common good, might well be able to work wonders, which we at present cannot even imagine. Certain it is that one-half the sadness, suffering and sorrow under which humanity groans today would speedily be removed under the new conditions, never to return, and leaving us filled with wonder that they had ever existed to mar the natural joy and gladness of men's lives.
It has been truly said that all men are interdependent and co-existent—connected links as it were in one great chain, portions of a great whole, each one a single unit, but not standing alone. This being so, it becomes abundantly clear that the selfish or exclusive man places himself in an impossible position, for his isolation is a distinct loss, and not, as he imagines, a gain to himself.
It is with individuals as with nations; the broader and wider their sympathies and interests, the more influential do they become, the more fully alive; and on the contrary the greater the narrowing of their interests in a purely selfish manner the less is it possible for them to be a power or force in the universe.
Self-seeking never has paid and never can pay, for it is contrary to the law, and is a policy therefore which defeats its own ends utterly and entirely, and the practice of it proceeds from ignorance of the law. It is like expecting to gather figs from thistles to imagine that we can actually reap permanent good from a policy of selfishness.
Circles of readers of The Light of Reason have now been formed in some of the principal towns and cities in the United Kingdom. At these meetings original papers by the members are read and discussed, and much intelligent interest is aroused.
As regards the Publication itself it has impressed me very much on account of the simplicity and directness of the teaching it contains, and which is manifest in nearly all the various articles which appear each month—short and to the point, and eminently practicable, qualities which are of great importance in these days of pressure and hurry, for it often occurs to me the difficulty today is not to know what to read, but rather which of all is best to read, and the shorter and more direct the better.
Modern though our origin be as a body, yet are we but simply going back in reality to first principles, the teaching of Christ Himself so clear, so lucid, and yet which has been almost lost sight of in the trappings of ornate theology, and the details of mystifying creeds and man-made oracles, which have so long been thrust forward as of the a first importance, and made the subject of so much discussion, not to speak of bitterness and antagonism, that the "spirit which maketh alive" had almost given place to a the "letter which killeth."
Christ pointed always to the Truth, which shall make us free—enlightenment, knowledge of the law, that knowledge which makes it plain that the law is good and just and loving, and that we have nothing to fear from it, provided we will patiently strive to know what it requires of us, and having done so, train ourselves to a willing submission, the reward of which will be that we are protected, helped and strengthened by its action instead of suffering the punishment which must always follow opposition to its workings.
Precisely the same is it with our human laws, they have no terrors for the just and law abiding citizen, and can have none, for they are expressly designed to protect and guard him from injustice.
With Christ, then, as "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," we must follow carefully His teaching, and by careful self-analysis strive to discover all those countless tendencies within ourselves which are opposed to the Spirit of that teaching and use our most strenuous endeavors to subdue and eventually to completely eradicate each one of them, so that all that is highest and noblest and most God-like within us, only awaiting opportunity to manifest, may be developed and fostered to the utmost, until we are changed beings and have realized the truth of the poet's words:—
Of their dead selves to higher things.
To help us to do this, and to keep constantly before our minds is the object then of The Light of Reason Gatherings, and that is the object too of the Publication itself. And the teaching is all given on eminently practical lines, definite suggestions are put forward to help us to overcome our particular weaknesses, the necessity for the cultivation of certain virtuous qualities is pointed out and each of the short articles which appear in the book has a direct message, reminding us of our failings, calling us to action and the practice of some virtue which perchance we are neglecting, and that in no high-flown and fanciful language, but just in clear plain terms which cannot be misunderstood.
Extracts from the sayings and writings of great thinkers past and present are dotted about here and there, calling us to higher views of life and duty and reminding us of our high destiny, so that one cannot fail to benefit by even a cursory reading of a page or so from time to time.
Reading is very much like other food—a small quantity of the right sort, properly assimilated, is worth far more than a large quantity of a less nutritious kind or even of the same kind if imperfectly digested.
Fellowship and brotherhood unite all truthseekers as one body, having similar aims and one ultimate. We may help each other in our endeavors to attain, and may find some new rays of light, feel some new influence imparted to us simply through the new conditions we have created by getting outside of the possible limitations in which we have been previously situated, and so react upon each other for our mutual good as fellow-workers and brother pilgrims on life's highway.