Psychology Of A Religious Revival by Elbert Hubbard

Story type: Essay

Traveling to and fro over the land and up and down in it are men who manage street-fairs.

Let it be known that a street-fair or Mardi Gras is never a spontaneous expression of the carnival spirit on the part of the townspeople. These festivals are a business–carefully planned, well advertised and carried out with much astuteness.

The men who manage street-fairs send advance agents, to make arrangements with the local merchants of the place–these secure the legal permits that are necessary.

A week is set apart for the carnival, much advertising is done, the newspapers, reflecting the will of the many, devote pages to the wonderful things that will happen. The shows arrive–the touters, the spielers, the clowns, the tumblers, the girls in tights, the singers! The bands play–the carnival is on! The object of the fair is to boom the business of the town. The object of the professional managers of the fair is to make money for themselves, and this they do thru the guaranty of the merchants, or a percentage on concessions, or both.

I am told that no town whose business is on an absolutely safe and secure footing ever resorts to a street-fair. The street-fair comes in when a rival town seems to be getting more than its share of the trade. When the business of Skaneateles is drifting to Waterloo, then Skaneateles succumbs to a street-fair.

Sanitation, sewerage, good water supply, and schoolhouses and paved streets are not the result of throwing confetti, tooting tin horns and waiving the curfew law.

Whether commerce is effectually helped by the street-fair, or a town assisted to get on a firm financial basis through the ministry of the tom-tom, is a problem. I leave the question with students of political economy and pass on to a local condition which is not a theory. The religious revivals that have recently been conducted in various parts of the country were most carefully planned business schemes. One F. Wilbur Chapman and his corps of well-trained associates may be taken as a type of the individuals who work up local religious excitement for a consideration.

Religious revivals are managed very much as are street-fairs. If religion is getting at a low ebb in your town, you can hire Chapman, the revivalist, just as you can secure the services of Farley, the strike-breaker. Chapman and his helpers go from town to town and from city to city and work up this excitation as a business. They are paid for their services a thousand dollars a week, or down to what they can get from collections. Sometimes they work on a guaranty, and at other times on a percentage or contingent fee, or both.

Towns especially in need of Mr. Chapman’s assistance will please send for circulars, terms and testimonials. No souls saved–no pay.

The basic element of the revival is hypnotism. The scheme of bringing about the hypnosis, or the obfuscation of the intellect, has taken generations to carefully perfect. The plan is first to depress the spirit to a point where the subject is incapable of independent thought. Mournful music, a monotonous voice of woe, tearful appeals to God, dreary groans, the whole mingled with pious ejaculations, all tend to produce a terrifying effect upon the auditor. The thought of God’s displeasure is constantly dwelt upon–the idea of guilt, death and eternal torment. If the victims can be made to indulge in hysterical laughter occasionally, the control is better brought about. No chance is allowed for repose, poise or sane consideration. When the time seems ripe a general promise of joy is made and the music takes an adagio turn. The speaker’s voice now tells of triumph–offers of forgiveness are tendered, and then the promise of eternal life.

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The final intent is to get the victim on his feet and make him come forward and acknowledge the fetich. This once done the convert finds himself among pleasant companions. His social station is improved–people shake hands with him and solicitously ask after his welfare. His approbativeness is appealed to–his position is now one of importance. And moreover, he is given to understand in many subtile ways that as he will be damned in another world if he does not acquiesce in the fetich, so also will he be damned financially and socially here if he does not join the church. The intent in every Christian community is to boycott and make a social outcast of the independent thinker. The fetich furnishes excuse for the hypnotic processes. Without assuming a personal God who can be appeased, eternal damnation and the proposition that you can win eternal life by believing a myth, there is no sane reason for the absurd hypnotic formulas.

We are heirs to the past, its good and ill, and we all have a touch of superstition, like a syphilitic taint. To eradicate this tyranny of fear and get the cringe and crawl out of our natures, seems the one desirable thing to lofty minds. But the revivalist, knowing human nature, as all confidence men do, banks on our superstitious fears and makes his appeal to our acquisitiveness, offering us absolution and life eternal for a consideration–to cover expenses. As long as men are paid honors and money, can wear good clothes, and be immune from work for preaching superstition, they will preach it. The hope of the world lies in withholding supplies from the pious mendicants who seek to hold our minds in thrall.

This idea of a divine bankrupt court where you can get forgiveness by paying ten cents on the dollar, with the guaranty of becoming a winged pauper of the skies, is not alluring excepting to a man who has been well scared. Advance agents pave the way for revivalists by arranging details with the local orthodox clergy. Universalists, Unitarians, Christian Scientists and Befaymillites are all studiously avoided. The object is to fill depleted pews of orthodox Protestant churches–these pay the freight, and to the victor belong the spoils. The plot and plan is to stampede into the pen of orthodoxy the intellectual unwary–children and neurotic grown-ups. The cap-and-bells element is largely represented in Chapman’s select company of German-American talent: the confetti of foolishness is thrown at us–we dodge, laugh, listen and no one has time to think, weigh, sift or analyze. There are the boom of rhetoric, the crack of confession, the interspersed rebel-yell of triumph, the groans of despair, the cries of victory. Then come songs by paid singers, the pealing of the organ–rise and sing, kneel and pray, entreaty, condemnation, misery, tears, threats, promise, joy, happiness, heaven, eternal bliss, decide now–not a moment is to be lost, whoop-la you’ll be a long time in hell!

All this whirl is a carefully prepared plan, worked out by expert flim-flammers to addle the reason, scramble intellect and make of men drooling derelicts.

What for?

I’ll tell you–that Doctor Chapman and his professional rooters may roll in cheap honors, be immune from all useful labor and wax fat on the pay of those who work. Second, that the orthodox churches may not advance into workshops and schoolhouses, but may remain forever the home of a superstition. One would think that the promise of making a person exempt from the results of his own misdeeds, would turn the man of brains from these religious shell-men in disgust. But under their hypnotic spell, the minds of many seem to suffer an obsession, and they are caught in the swirl of foolish feeling, like a grocer’s clerk in the hands of a mesmerist.

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At Northfield, Massachusetts, is a college at which men are taught and trained, just as men are drilled at a Tonsorial College, in every phase of this pleasing episcopopography.

There is a good fellow by the suggestive name of Sunday who works the religious graft. Sunday is the whirling dervish up to date. He and Chapman and their cappers purposely avoid any trace of the ecclesiastic in their attire. They dress like drummers–trousers carefully creased, two watch-chains and a warm vest. Their manner is free and easy, their attitude familiar. The way they address the Almighty reveals that their reverence for Him springs out of the supposition that He is very much like themselves.

The indelicacy of the revivalists who recently called meetings to pray for Fay Mills, was shown in their ardent supplications to God that He should make Mills to be like them. Fay Mills tells of the best way to use this life here and now. He does not prophesy what will become of you if you do not accept his belief, neither does he promise everlasting life as a reward for thinking as he does. He realizes that he has not the agency of everlasting life. Fay Mills is more interested in having a soul that is worth saving than in saving a soul that isn’t. Chapman talks about lost souls as he might about collar buttons lost under a bureau, just as if God ever misplaced anything, or that all souls were not God’s souls, and therefore forever in His keeping.

Doctor Chapman wants all men to act alike and believe alike, not realizing that progress is the result of individuality, and so long as a man thinks, whether he is right or wrong, he is making head. Neither does he realize that wrong thinking is better than no thinking at all, and that the only damnation consists in ceasing to think, and accepting the conclusions of another. Final truths and final conclusions are wholly unthinkable to sensible people in their sane moments, but these revivalists wish to sum up truth for all time and put their leaden seal upon it.

In Los Angeles is a preacher by the name of McIntyre, a type of the blatant Bellarmine who exiled Galileo–a man who never doubts his own infallibility, who talks like an oracle and continually tells of perdition for all who disagree with him.

Needless to say that McIntyre lacks humor. Personally, I prefer the McGregors, but in Los Angeles the McIntyres are popular. It was McIntyre who called a meeting to pray for Fay Mills, and in proposing the meeting McIntyre made the unblushing announcement that he had never met Mills nor heard him speak, nor had he read one of his books.

Chapman and McIntyre represent the modern types of Phariseeism–spielers and spouters for churchianity, and such are the men who make superstition of so long life. Superstition is the one Infamy–Voltaire was right. To pretend to believe a thing at which your reason revolts–to stultify your intellect–this, if it exists at all, is the unpardonable sin. These muftis preach “the blood of Jesus,” the dogma that man without a belief in miracles is eternally lost, that everlasting life depends upon acknowledging this, that or the other. Self-reliance, self-control and self-respect are the three things that make a man a man.

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But man has so recently taken on this ability to think, that he has not yet gotten used to handling it. The tool is cumbrous in his hands. He is afraid of it–this one characteristic that differentiates him from the lower animals–so he abdicates and turns his divine birthright over to a syndicate. This combination called a church agrees to take care of his doubts and fears and do his thinking for him, and to help matters along he is assured that he is not fit to think for himself, and to do so would be a sin. Man, in his present crude state, holds somewhat the same attitude toward reason that an Apache Indian holds toward a camera–the Indian thinks that to have his picture taken means that he will shrivel up and blow away in a month. And Stanley relates that a watch with its constant ticking sent the bravest of Congo chiefs into a cold sweat of agonizing fear; on discovering which, the explorer had but to draw his Waterbury and threaten to turn the whole bunch into crocodiles, and at once they got busy and did his bidding. Stanley exhibited the true Northfield-revival quality in banking on the superstition of his wavering and frightened followers.

The revival meetin’ is an orgie of the soul, a spiritual debauch–a dropping from sane and sensible control into eroticism. No person of normal intelligence can afford to throw the reins of reason on the neck of emotion and ride a Tam O’Shanter race to Bedlam. This hysteria of the uncurbed feelings is the only blasphemy, and if there were a personal God, He surely would be grieved to see that we have so absurd an idea of Him, as to imagine He would be pleased with our deporting the divine gift of reason into the hell-box.

Revivalism works up the voltage, then makes no use of the current–the wire is grounded. Let any one of these revivalists write out his sermons and print them in a book, and no sane man could read them without danger of paresis. The book would lack synthesis, defy analysis, puzzle the brain and paralyze the will. There would not be enough attic salt in it to save it. It would be the supernaculum of the commonplace, and prove the author to be the lobscouse of literature, the loblolly of letters. The churches want to enroll members, and so desperate is the situation that they are willing to get them at the price of self-respect. Hence come Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Chapman, and play Svengali to our Trilby. These gentlemen use the methods and the tricks of the auctioneer–the blandishments of the bookmaker–the sleek, smooth ways of the professional spieler.

With this troupe of Christian clowns is one Chaeffer, who is a specialist with children. He has meetings for boys and girls only, where he plays tricks, grimaces, tells stories and gets his little hearers laughing, and thus having found an entrance into their hearts, he suddenly reverses the lever, and has them crying. He talks to these little innocents about sin, the wrath of God, the death of Christ, and offers them a choice between everlasting life and eternal death. To the person who knows and loves children–who has studied the gentle ways of Froebel–this excitement is vicious, concrete cruelty. Weakened vitality follows close upon overwrought nerves, and every excess has its penalty–the pendulum swings as far this way as it does that.

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These reverend gentlemen bray it into the ears of innocent little children that they were born in iniquity, and in sin did their mothers conceive them; that the souls of all children over nine years (why nine?) are lost, and the only way they can hope for heaven is through a belief in a barbaric blood bamboozle, that men of intelligence have long since discarded. And all this in the name of the gentle Christ, who took little children in his arms and said, “Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

This pagan proposition of being born in sin is pollution to the mind of a child, and causes misery, unrest and heartache incomputable. A few years ago we were congratulating ourselves that the devil at last was dead, and that the tears of pity had put out the fires of hell, but the serpent of superstition was only slightly scotched, not killed.

The intent of the religious revival is dual: first, the claim is that conversion makes men lead better lives; second, it saves their souls from endless death or everlasting hell.

To make men lead beautiful lives is excellent, but the Reverend Doctor Chapman, nor any of his colleagues, nor the denominations that they represent, will for an instant admit that the fact of a man living a beautiful life will save his soul alive In fact, Doctor Chapman, Doctor Torrey and Doctor Sunday, backed by the Reverend Doctor McIntyre, repeatedly warn their hearers of the danger of a morality that is not accompanied by a belief in the “blood of Jesus.”

So the beautiful life they talk of is the bait that covers the hook for gudgeons. You have to accept the superstition, or your beautiful life to them is a byword and a hissing.

Hence, to them, superstition, and not conduct, is the vital thing.

If such a belief is not fanaticism then have I read Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary in vain. Belief in superstition makes no man kinder, gentler, more useful to himself or society. He can have all the virtues without the fetich, and he may have the fetich and all the vices beside. Morality is really not controlled at all by religion–if statistics of reform schools and prisons are to be believed.

Fay Mills, according to Reverend Doctor McIntyre has all the virtues–he is forgiving, kind, gentle, modest, helpful. But Fay has abandoned the fetich–hence McIntyre and Chapman call upon the public to pray for Fay Mills. Mills had the virtues when he believed in the fetich–and now that he has disavowed the fetich, he still has the virtues, and in a degree he never before had. Even those who oppose him admit this, but still they declare that he is forever “lost.”

Reverend Doctor Chaeffer says there are two kinds of habits–good and bad.

There are also two kinds of religion, good and bad. The religion of kindness, good cheer, helpfulness and useful effort is good. And on this point there is no dispute–it is admitted everywhere by every grade of intellect. But any form of religion that incorporates a belief in miracles and other barbaric superstitions, as a necessity to salvation, is not only bad, but very bad. And all men, if left alone long enough to think, know that salvation depends upon redemption from a belief in miracles. But the intent of Doctor Chapman and his theological rough riders is to stampede the herd and set it a milling. To rope the mavericks and place upon them the McIntyre brand is then quite easy.

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As for the reaction and the cleaning up after the carnival, our revivalists are not concerned. The confetti, collapsed balloons and peanut shucks are the net assets of the revival–and these are left for the local managers.

Revivals are for the revivalists, and some fine morning these revival towns will arise, rub their sleepy eyes, and Chapman will be but a bad taste in the mouth, and Sunday, Chaeffer, Torrey, Biederwolf and Company, a troubled dream. To preach hagiology to civilized people is a lapse that Nemesis will not overlook. America stands for the Twentieth Century, and if in a moment of weakness she slips back to the exuberant folly of the frenzied piety of the Sixteenth, she must pay the penalty. Two things man will have to do–get free from the bondage of other men; and second, liberate himself from the phantoms of his own mind. On neither of these points does the revivalist help or aid in any way. Effervescence is not character and every debauch must be paid for in vitality and self-respect.

All formal organized religions through which the promoters and managers thrive are bad, but some are worse than others. The more superstition a religion has, the worse it is. Usually religions are made up of morality and superstition. Pure superstition alone would be revolting–in our day it would attract nobody–so the idea is introduced that morality and religion are inseparable. I am against the men who pretend to believe that ethics without a fetich is vain and useless.

The preachers who preach the beauty of truth, honesty and a useful, helpful life, I am with, head, heart and hand.

The preachers who declare that there can be no such thing as a beautiful life unless it will accept superstition, I am against, tooth, claw, club, tongue and pen. Down with the Infamy! I prophesy a day when business and education will be synonymous–when commerce and college will join hands–when the preparation for life will be to go to work.

As long as trade was trickery, business barter, commerce finesse, government exploitation, slaughter honorable, and murder a fine art; when religion was ignorant superstition, piety the worship of a fetich and education a clutch for honors, there was small hope for the race. Under these conditions everything tended towards division, dissipation, disintegration, separation–darkness, death.

But with the supremacy gained by science, the introduction of the one-price system in business, and the gradually growing conviction that honesty is man’s most valuable asset, we behold light at the end of the tunnel.

It only remains now for the laity to drive conviction home upon the clergy, and prove to them that pretence has its penalty, and to bring to the mourners’ bench that trinity of offenders, somewhat ironically designated as the Three Learned Professions, and mankind will be well out upon the broad highway, the towering domes of the Ideal City in sight.

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