Wednesday, October 19, 2011

William James: On 'Inner Religion'

Wm. James
In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James, one of the acknowledged "fathers" of modern psychology, distinguished between outer and inner religious faith. To him, "outer religion" was the province of rituals, sacraments, vestments and bells, while "inner religion" was a state of consciousness. In the true sense of the word, he viewed "inner religion" (from the Latin ligare, meaning to 'tie' or 'unite') as a state of natural, unitive and acceptive consciousness in which "religion comes to our rescue and takes our fate into her hands."

"There is a state of mind, known to religious men, but to no others," he observes, "in which the will to assert ourselves and hold our own has been displaced by a willingness to close our mouths and be as nothing in the folds and waterspouts of God."

"In this state of mind," he notes, "what we most dreaded has become the habitation of our safety and the hour of our moral death has turned into our spiritual birthday. The time for tension in our soul is over, and that of happy relaxation of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived. Fear is not held in abeyance as it is by mere morality, it is positively expunged and washed away."

"This enchantment," he points out, "coming as a gift when it does come - a gift or our organism, the physiologists will tell us, a gift of God's grace, the theologians say - is either there or not there for us, and there are persons who can no more become possessed by it than they can fall in love with a given woman by mere word or command."

"Religious feeling is thus an absolute addition to the Subject's range of life," he concludes. "It gives him a new sphere of power. When the outward battle is lost, and the outward world disowns him it redeems and vivifies an interior world which otherwise would be an empty waste." "There are plenty of men," he adds parenthetically, "in whose religious life this rapturousness is lacking. They are religious in the wider sense; yet in this acutest of all senses they are not so."

[Wm. James, "The Varieties Of Religious Experience," pp. 47-48.]

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