Religion for Infidels, Part 5
Anthony M. Ludovici
Summoning Nature’s Powers
Part 5 of 5
In this final selection from Anthony Ludovici’s last book Religion for Infidels (London: Holborn, 1961), I have augmented John Day’s selections in The Lost Philosopher: The Best of Anthony M. Ludovici (Berkeley, Cal.: ETSF, 2003) with the concluding sections of the book. On Ludovici’s account, prayer is essentially meditation that mobilizes the deep forces of nature, even when it takes the form of petition addressed to non-existent deities.
[T]he fact in question is that, in all religions, it is not the peculiar features that differentiate them one from the other that constitute the more sound, more impregnable aspect of their character; it is not their peculiar creeds, dogmata, metaphysical and ethical systems, hopes and fears, nor are these peculiar features the part of them that is most immune to destructive analysis and criticism. On the contrary, these are the least sound, most perishable parts, the parts most deserving both of criticism and destructive analysis.
On the other hand, it is that aspect of them which consists in the manner of their observance, their physical drill, so to speak, which by its uniformity, almost throughout the whole of the human world, unites and stamps them as castings from a common mould; it is this aspect of them alone which is sound, unassailable and indestructible, if not immutable. Thus, not what mankind have here and there believed, not how they have interpreted the nature of the power behind phenomena, has been the rock of ages found on immutable truth, but the way their divination led them to order the kinaesthetics of the ritual of their religion, no matter what its tenets might happen to be. Indeed, the creeds and dogmata of the various religions more often act as hindrances rather than as aids to a proper religious life. Certainly this is the case in England today . . .
Thus, if in accordance with this conclusion, we study one of the most basic ritualistic features common to most religions—the posture of the religious man in the act of worship and supplication—we find a striking similarity between them. Whether we turn to Islam or Hinduism, to the ancient Hebraic religion or to Christianity—aye, even if we turn to the religion of the old Assyrian states—we invariably find that the posture assumed by the worshipper and petitioner is of a kind which psychologically spells self-surrender, the suspension of personal volition. In plain English, we find prostration, genuflexion or at least the sinking of the body and the bowing of the head as the posture of choice for the worshipper, especially in appealing as a supplicant to his godhead. The whole attitude is symbolical of the sentiment, ‘Not my will, but thine be done’ (Luke 22.42).
‘And at the evening of the sacrifice’, says Ezra, ‘I arose from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God’ (Ezra 9.5) . . .
It is always the same pattern. Genuflexion and the gathering of the body together in an attitude of will-less subjection . . . seems to be man’s natural reaction to the emotion accompanying self-surrender and humble supplication. Even among unsophisticated primitives this appears to be so, and in Christianity as early as St Basil (AD 330–379) kneeling was described as the lesser, and prostration as the greater, penance. Wherever the denial of any velleity to self-assertion, self-sufficiency or self-affirmation is the dominant mood, men almost universally and certainly instinctively fall into the posture instantly recognizable as expressing the abandonment of self-direction. Only when they praise or thank their deity do they stand, because in praise and thanksgiving they strike a personal note, express a personal appreciation and offer personal judgements for acceptance. Hence the posture during the recitation of the Psalms and in the singing of hymns.
It is, however, most important to bear in mind that the posture has not merely an objective significance. Even more vitally significant than its instinctive character and its impression on the onlooker is its subjective influence on the individual worshipper or supplicant himself, for its effect on his mind is to help him suspend volition. Apart from any emotions that may accompany it, qua poise it suggests to the mind of the supplicant the very mood or state most favourable to the success of his petition—namely, the abdication of his will. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine a more ingeniously effective method of suspending will power than the assumption of the one posture in the whole repertory of human muscular adjustments—falling on the knees, the sinking of the body into relaxed folds from which all tenseness has been banished—which most persuasively eliminates will power . . .
Indeed, its very antiquity, its roots in the animal world of millions of years ago, causes it to be so unmistakable, so instinctive, that the sense of compulsion which forces men in religious supplication to fall on their knees and make all the muscular adjustments compatible with the suspension of volition is probably but a hang-over, a vigorous age-long and immortal vestige of that instinct in animals which, operating in response to an untoward environmental change, places them in imagination in touch with the life-forces and enables them to mobilize formative and improvisatory powers that secure improved adaptation . . .
The French are wont to say: ‘N’est pas diable qui veut’ [It isn’t the devil who wants.]. With equal accuracy it might be claimed that ‘N’est pas religieux qui veut’ [It isn’t the religious who wants.]. For it is not only a matter of keeping volition at bay. Prayer also depends for its efficacy on the amount of concentration, imaginative power and passionate desire we are capable of. In these democratic days we frivolously assume that everyone can love and feel deeply; we endow everybody with the gift of enduring attachment and the capacity to stay the course in passion. Similarly, we quite gratuitously assume that everyone can pray and perform those rites and exercises in contacting the life-forces which are akin to prayer and the results of which may be disclosed as either benign or evil. Yet the increasing incidence of wrecked marriages, and the rapidly loosening hold that religion has on all modern people, never seem to awaken us to the gravity of our error in expecting of all our fellow-men and -women mastery in activities which depend above all on ardent sensibilities and enduring passion. Because in love, as in prayer, as also in the inflexible adherence to any direction or aim, it is character, depth, stamina and singleness of purpose that are fundamental, and what chiefly stamps our age is shallowness, languor, neurasthenia, weakness and more especially plural and conflicting impulses contending in the same human breast. For this reason, apart from the widespread ignorance of the technique of prayer and its kindred exercises, it is extremely rare to find anyone far removed from the rude forest vigour of primitive mankind who is able to love or to pray, since ordinary competence in either of these undertakings depends on much the same temperamental integrity and strength. Hence the difficulty a modern psychologist may feel in hiding his misgivings when any average young person today speaks of his or her love as of a phenomenon that will halt the stars in their courses.
It is facts of this nature that are too often, if not habitually, left out of the account in estimating the efficacy of the various means of approaching and mobilizing the life-forces, and in the pronouncement of imprecations and curses. Yet, unless we allow for the factor of personality and the endowments of the individual man or woman who prays or employs some occult means of influencing the life-forces, how can we assess the efficacy of the means used? To condemn them offhand as myths or as ineffective without first scrutinizing their users would be as foolish as to disparage a 12-bore gun because it had made no kill, before we ascertained the marksmanship of its user. It is all the more important to be cautious in this respect, seeing that we live in an age in which debility, nervous prostration, general constitutional inferiority and instability of character are common to all classes of the community, and that consequently the qualities demanded of a good lover and of a competent man of religion have hardly ever been so scarce as they are today in modern northwestern Europe . . . (Religion for Infidels, pp. 146–254)
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What, then, is a reasonable conclusion to draw from all these findings? How is the infidel to understand and practise his religion?
First of all, he must try to grasp the nature of the life forces and the way they work; and, in order to do this, he will have to rid his mind of many deeply rooted, age-long assumptions about both the power behind phenomena, Man and the Universe. This may be his most difficult task because the philosophical and religious traditions of Europe are based upon these assumptions, and the thought and behaviour they inspire have become largely instinctive in the white man. It is, however, hoped that this book, elementary and imperfect though it may be, will offer him some help and guidance in the undertaking. Above all, he must accustom himeslf to the idea that the life forces, being utterly destitute of anything remotely resembling morality, the suggestions made to them in prayer, are accepted whether they happen to be good or evil. This is a truth towards which the Christian scientists have long been tending, though without any logical grounds in their cosmology, when they assert that illness and all other untoward turns of fate are due to “wrong thinking”.
Secondly, he must apply himself to acquiring a mastery of the technique of prayer; an accomplishment which, as we have seen, is far from easy, and far indeed from being purely psychological. As Wordsworth so truly said, “to converse with heaven — this is not easy” (The Excursion, Book 4). Only with the appropriate co operation of his body can he hope to attain to any mastery in this essentially religious practice. This truism, which sounds platitudinous in the ears of one who has long given up the absurdity of dualism, has to be repeated ad nauseam, because, imbedded in European tradition, its flat contradiction has reigned undisputedly for close on two millenniums.Thus, in a book recently published — Prayer Can Change Your Life, by Dr. W. R. Parker and Elaine St. Johns, 1959 — with the principal claim of which I agree, there is no mention of the necessary kinaesthetic (the physical or bodily) component of prayer, if it is to be effective. The authors’ nearest approach to the matter is to stress, quite properly of course, as they do on pp. 135, 136 and 159, that prayer is “an act of surrender”. How much more valuable their book would have been had they tried to state precisely how the body must co-operate if the surrender is to be perfect.
Enough has been said on this subject to make it clear that even to differentiate the psychological from the physical components of any human action or activity, in itself reveals an outmoded, not to say exploded, point of view. There can be no psychological exercise whatsoever, in which the body does not co-operate, and this is nowhere more true than in the activity we call prayer. Unless the recueillement of the spirit finds its parallel, confirmation and support in the appropriate bodily adjustments, the mood and temper indispensable to the proper performance of prayer cannot be summoned. Hence the absurdity of supposing, as many religious bodies do, that religion is wholly a matter of the “soul” or spirit.
For we have accepted Professor William James’s view that “Prayer is religion in act, that is, prayer is real religion. . . . Religion is nothing if it be not the vital act by which the entire mind seeks to save itself by clinging to the principle from which it draws its life” (V.R.E. Lect. XIX). We have also agreed with the Rev. Edwyn Bevan, that “prayer is by the very definition of the term petitionary . . . asking that something we desire [innocent or malefic] may take place” (C.P. Chap. VI). Unless, therefore, we know how to pray, we cannot pretend to be religious.
Strange as it may seem, even the question of whom we address when we pray, is of less fundamental importance than the manner of our supplication; because even when a man’s cosmology, like that of the Christian, is palpably false and self-contradictory, the fact that he may know how to pray will inevitably mean that the life forces will be stirred; although, when he recites his prayer, his lips and tongue will pronounce the words, “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
So that when we say prayer and the knowledge of how to perform it, are the whole of the infidel’s religion, we are excluding no essential factor of the religious life, nor do we differ from Professor William James and the Rev. Edwyn Bevan in any respect, except the important one of the cosmology we hold to be consistent with the scientific and philosophic conclusions of our age.
Thirdly, the infidel aspiring to a religious life, should bear in mind a truth not easy to accept in these days of reckless and fanatical democratization. At a time when standardization prevails in every department of human life, except where it is most important and most urgently needed — i.e., in the sphere of somatotypes, so that, although mass propaganda infects all of us with the same degenerate values, we are all so disparate, one from the other, that to see a thousand modern English people randomly collected together, is to behold as many distinct, incompatible and conflicting constitutional types — at such a time as this, when we are all egalitarians and resent having to concede any fundamental qualitative distinction, except the financial one (and even that is not true of everyone), between men, it is painful to be told that all are not equally endowed, whether for sound judgment, love, or prayer. We listen without indignation, let alone nausea, to thrice-married divorcees, male or female, when they declare that a new “passionate” attachment has swept them off their feet; just as we hear without incredulity of the hurricane engagement, marriage and honeymoon of one whose lack of stamina and fire might have allowed him to temporize with his passions without inconvenience through three lifetimes. In spite of massive evidence to the contrary, we in fact assume that everybody can love”. Nor, when we see the average congregation filing out of church or chapel after one of their so-called “bright” services, does it ever occur to us to speculate on the proportion among them of people who have been truly capable of any religious observance, let alone prayer.
But unless we courageously try to know ourselves and have the nobility of character uprightly to recognize and resign ourselves to our particular limitations and deficiencies; unless we profit from the lessons of our life in order to assess approximately the sum and nature of our endowments, we may be bitterly disillusioned when we embark on any enterprise which depends on passionate earnestness and ardent sensibilities for its happy consummation. I repeat, “N’est pas amoureux ni religieux qui veut.” It is, therefore, inaccurate and actually uncharitable to lead everybody to believe that he is capable of love or religion; and such forms of deception can end only in frustration and misery.
To assume, as most modern people do, that without the requisite natural disposition and, above all, without any preparation in the psycho physical technique of prayer, any man can at the drop of a hat become a convert — an assumption at least implicit in the sort of mass religious enlistment of a recruiting missionary like “Billy” Graham — reveals not merely a profound misunderstanding of the subject, but also a shallow underestimation of its gravity and importance. Even the recruiting departments of the Army and Navy are wiser than this; for their present high proportion of prompt rejections, despite the relatively low standard of their requirements, which in any case are inferior to those that might reasonably be expected of a religious recruit, shows how far they are from assuming that psycho-physical fitness for the Services is a universal attribute. It would, therefore, be most interesting to know how many rejections per cent the Salvation Army, for instance, has to make every year from the number of its recruits. Aware as I am of the slap-dash methods of religious recruiting in general, I should guess, none. Even to suppose that everybody, when once given the necessary information and training in the technique, can become capable of, or can reach more than an amateur standard in religious observance is, as we have seen, a sad illusion. The most that might be conceded is perhaps that, as a desperate clinging to life is common to all men, there may be a moment in all human lives, irrespective of individual constitutional differences, when, if mortal danger threatens, passionate desire, like the temperature of one gravely sick, may soar to such abnormal heights as to simulate the native ardour of the gifted lover or man of religion. But, what may jeopardize even this means of performing efficacious prayer, is the fact that, in such ecstatic paroxysms, generated by deadly peril, passionate longing easily swings in the direction of importunate solicitation, peremptory imploration; in which case, as we know, volition stealthily intervenes and the effect is nugatory.
Does this mean that all hope, all chance, all prospect of leading a religious life should be denied to the majority of mankind? Not in the least! It is simply a timely and solemn warning, stated with perhaps exaggerated emphasis, because it is too seldom stated, that as the efficacy of prayer is no myth, no romantic fancy, or idle hoax, if it is found to fail, the fault should be sought, not in prayer, but in him who prays.
There remain one or two matters so far unsettled, and foremost among them is the question whether the infidel may include in his religious credo a belief in life after death.
All that can at present be said in reply to this question is that there is absolutely no evidence pointing to immortality, least of all for what is mystically called the “soul” of man. The whole idea of immortality as modern people conceive it — i.e., restricted to the soul alone — is moreover based upon a dichotomy for which, as we have seen, there is so little foundation either in the data of science or in the rules of reason that, except for the fact that it satisfies a natural craving, there is little to be said for it. Truth to tell, the position regarding this idea has altered so little since the middle of the eighteenth century, that, throughout the whole course of the last two hundred years, the validity of the conclusions reached by Hume in his essay, On the Immortality of the Soul, may be said to have remained unshaken.
As early as the fourth century A.D., from the prevailing thought of which our Apostles’ Creed derives, it is evident that Christian philosophers were then doubtless still unconsciously swayed by the realism and superior logicality of antiquity; for in that Creed all churchmen in their Morning Prayer proclaim their belief in the “resurrection of the body” (or the “flesh” as the old version had it), a belief which, however fantastic it may also seem, is nevertheless considerably more rational than the idea of a disembodied ghost living, not only eternally, but also blissfully. It may be that, in this notion of soul immortality alone, we have a reverberation of that Socratic and puritannical contempt of the body which, as we have seen, is probably the root of the dualistic concept, “body-soul”, as championed at least by Socrates (for it has older roots in Animism). Be this as it may, it reflects but little credit on us of a generation so much later than that of the fourth century, that we should be able to regard the idea of the resurrection of the body, except for the lip service we may pay it when reciting the Apostles’ Creed, as less acceptable than the notion of the immortality of the soul. And this is one of the few instances in which Christian dogma, owing to its tincture of ancient wisdom, reveals itself as more enlightened than modern thought. Although the belief in either consummation calls for some goodwill and forbearance on the part of an intelligent mind, and is an indication of the absurd lengths to which men will go in unreason and fantasy in order, as Hume points out, to gratify their longing for permanent survival of some kind, one needs to be possessed of excessive naïveté, not to say gullibility, in order with any sincerity to be able to entertain a belief in a heavenly society of countless billions of spectres, spooks and wraiths, revelling in an eternal existence.
Another religious matter to which the infidel may expect reference to be made, is the question whether the power behind phenomena is a person. Troward claims that it is impersonal. My own view is that we have insufficient evidence to decide this question either way, and our present knowledge does not warrant any final decision about it. Behind the life forces there may be what we understand as a personality; but we do not know and cannot tell. All that we can positively state, and with the most complete conviction, is that if there is such a divinity or supernatural person, he cannot bear the faintest resemblance to the Jehovah-God-Father-Creator-First-Cause concept of the Christian cosmology. On the contrary, we could probably not hope to get a more exact image of his being and character than by flatly contradicting everything Christianity alleges about him, except his omnipotence, and by writing against every item in the Christian catalogue of his attributes, the precise converse of what the Church maintains.
Finally, there remains the question of the morality that is compatible with the infidel’s religion, as it has been briefly outlined in these pages. What is there to be said about this? Here again, we have not only to rid our minds of most of the Christian moral precepts, but also to root out of our unconscious and spontaneous moral impulses, those which are the outcome of two thousand years of Christian indoctrination. We have to try to resist the overpowering influence of the tradition and the present-day moral climate of Europe, and particularly of England, in its blind insistence on the paramount desirability and moral value of unselfishness and unselfish behaviour. Based as this insistence is on an utterly false psychology, we have to re-learn Nature’s way, which teaches us that only those actions and that behaviour are clean, wholesome, fragrant and founded on genuine sentiments, that are performed selfishly, and that we are therefore wise to eschew all those situations and relationships which are likely to demand the protracted exercise of self abnegation or denial. We must awaken to the fact that the moment any need for unselfishness insinuates itself into a situation, that situation is morbid and faulty. We must accustom ourselves to the thought that to have to behave unselfishly is already to have progressed some way along the wrong road, whether domestically or socially, and that every human relationship calling for so-called “altruism”, is on the rocks.
We must learn to regard pity as virtuous and admirable only when it is extended to the promising and desirable. Directed anywhere else, it is morbid and a sign of sentimental self-indulgence.
In our practice of charity, we should try to remember Nietzsche’s dictum to the effect that it is innocent posterity that usually has to pay for that love of our neighbour which Christianity enjoins. All about us today, as even the blindest must recognize, are proofs that we are all members of a posterity cruelly, crushingly penalized by the exorbitant neighbour-love displayed by our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers. They had their voluptuous fling in indiscriminate full-throated pity and reckless benevolence, and we, the victims of it are now paying in treasure, depression of spirits, oppression, and every kind of shackle on the flourishing life of our Age, for their “virtuous” self indulgence and their hope of heaven.
We must abandon the nonsensical view that love can be voluntary — a view implied by the Christian belief that it can be commanded or summoned by will. It has wrought so much harm and still causes so much bitterness in the world, that we cannot too soon nail it as counterfeit to the counter of commendable conduct.
Nevertheless, doubtless owing to the few intellectual pearls it happened to pick up during its early contact with pagan antiquity, the Christian Church sometimes reveals much greater wisdom than modern European and English thought. I have already given one instance of this. Another is its attitude towards the question of man’s pristine moral character. Contrary to the sentimental, erroneous and relatively recent view, championed particularly by Rousseau and nineteenth-century romantics à la Wordsworth, the Christian Church, with a realism exceptional in its Weltanschauung, and actually at variance with the view of its Founder (see Chap. III ante), has always maintained that man is born evil and has to become good, or fit for decent society, only by the action of external influences (“grace”). modern psychology has wholly confirmed this view, although thinkers like Dr. Johnson, Browning, Spencer and Baudelaire, as we have seen, long ago anticipated the recent scientific attitude to the question.
In any case it must be clear that, if we accept Jesus’s and Wordsworth’s point of view about children — i.e., to the effect that they arrive innocent, harmless and trailing clouds of glory “from God who is our home”; if we agree that “Heaven lies about us in our infancy”, the implication is that man is born good and that only his environment, the society into which he is plunged, subsequently corrupts him.
Now this point of view has been the source of an enormous amount of harm, especially in feministic societies like England and America; because, besides giving us a false picture of man’s primitive nature and innate tendencies, by making children appear sancrosanct and at all events morally superior to adults, it subverts the authority of their seniors, undermines discipline, and lends support to every mother’s self-indulgent urge to spoil her child, rather than to train it to become a fit member of a civilized community. Nor can there be any doubt that the sensational increase in juvenile crime in recent years, especially in England and America, has to a very great extent been due to this one feature in the body of false doctrine that now rules over modern public opinion.
The wise and thoughtful infidel will therefore incline in his morals to the point of view of the Christian Church, rather than to that of Jesus and the Wordsworthian romantics. He will hold the sensible view, now established by scientific psychology, that children are more asocial, more evil, than their seniors, that only when they have been purged of their asocial impulses and appetites can they be regarded as “good” or fit for their place in the community, and, therefore, that man cannot be regarded as born good.
To conclude this brief sketch of a morality to suit the infidel’s religion, we may summarize the whole of the duties of man in society as having for their object under all circumstances to promote and defend all those influences and points of view which favour superior and flourishing, and to resist and condemn all those influences and points of view which favour decadent and degenerate, human life. Everything eke denotes a misunderstanding of the proper function of compassion and is a crime against both justice, sanity, good taste and — posterity.
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This, then, concludes the description of the religion for infidels. In view of the harmony of many of its features and of its methods of contacting and of turning to its own account the formative and improvisatory powers of the life forces, it might perhaps be properly termed a “natural” religion; except that, in its observance by humanity, there is a provision in the moral code consistent with its cosmology, that amounts to an unnatural factor, or a factor not found operative in Nature (except possibly precariously, as we have seen, in the influence, of the will to power). For in the above-mentioned summary of the duties of man in society, we have seen that there is a strong influence that should operate constantly against degenerative trends, whereas in Nature, there is no similar influence, and degeneracy is just as likely as regeneracy to supervene. In this respect, provided that mankind should faithfully observe the duties above mentioned and abide by the code as summarized at the conclusion of my sketch of the morality, the religion for infidels is really superior to that of a truly natural religion; although, as we have no guarantee whatsoever that the moral code as summarized above will necessarily be observed by the majority of mankind, this superiority is far from being a certainty. The chances that the degenerative trends in Nature herself may not be consistently resisted and overcome by humanity, must therefore remain a possibility. Indeed, the evidence at present is all against a belief in the ultimate victory of the more desirable tendency. But this should not deter us from doing our utmost to promote this tendency and from furthering all those schemes and policies which aim at ensuring its ultimate triumph.
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The universality of humble supplication in religion seems rather overstated to me. It is my impression that for example the Germanic and Greek Gods were not at all charmed by such practices. Indeed they were repelled by self-surrender. They value strength and boldness above all, and are drawn to those who embody those qualities. These men did not have to supplicate to the Gods, they appeared of their own volition. “Fortes Fortuna adiuvat”. These Gods believe in the rights of the strong.
Much has been made by the Christians of the Greek Gods’ hate for hubris, but hubris is rather the violation of a taboo, not pride and self-assertion as such.
This religious attitude also dovetails nicely with Ludovici’s assertion that not everyone is equally fit for religious life, and with his warnings against unselfish behaviour.
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