Non-Mormons on Practical Faith

Benjamin Franklin

The rapid progress true science now makes occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born too soon. It is impossible to imagine the height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the power of man over matter. We may, perhaps, deprive large masses of their gravity, and give them absolute levity, for the sake of easy transport. Agriculture may diminish its labor and double its produce: all diseases may by sure means be prevented or cured (not excepting even that of old age,) and our lives lengthened at pleasure, even beyond the antediluvian standard. Oh that moral science were in as fair a way of improvement, that men would cease to be wolves to one another, and that human beings would at length learn what they now improperly call humanity.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (Dedication to goodness despite weaknesses in one's faith tradition)

He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trave of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

David Deutsch

The class of transformations that could happen spontaneously - in the absence of knowledge - is negligibly small compared with the class that could be effected artificially by intelligent beings who wanted those transformations to happen.

Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell 528

Some people believe that it is hard to lead a heaven-bound life that is called "spiritual" because they have heard that we need to renounce the world and give up the desires attributed to the body and the flesh and "live spiritually."  All they understand by this is spurning worldly interests, especially concerns for money and prestige, going around in constant devout meditation about God, salvation, and eternal life, devoting their lives to prayer, and reading the Word and religious literature.  They think this is renouncing the world and living for the spirit and not for the flesh.  However, the actual case is different, as I have learned from an abundance of experience and conversation with angels.  In fact, people who renounce the world and live for the spirit in this fashion take on a mournful life for themselves, a life that is not open to heavenly joy, since our life does remain with us [after death].  No, if we would accept heaven's life, we need by all means to live in the world and to participate in its duties and affairs.  In this way, we accept a spiritual life by means of our moral and civic life; and there is no other way a spiritual life can be formed within us, no other way our spirits can be prepared for heaven.  This is because living an inner life and not an outer life at the same time is like living in a house that has no foundation, that gradually either settles or develops gaping cracks or totters until it collapses.

Helen Keller

I long to accomplish a great and noble tasks, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.

Nikos Kazantzakis

By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.

William James, The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, An address to the Yale Philosophical Club, published in the International Journal of Ethics, April 1891.

The deepest difference, practically, in the moral life of man is the difference between the easy-going and the strenuous mood.  When in the easy-going mood the shrinking from present ill is our ruling consideration.  The strenuous mood, on the contrary, makes us quite indifferent to present ill, if only the greater ideal be attained.  The capacity for the strenuous mood probably lies slumbering in every man, but it has more difficulty in some than in others in waking up.  It needs the wilder passions to arouse it, the big fears, loves, and indignations; or else the deeply penetrating appeal of some one of the higher fidelities, like justice, truth or freedom.  Strong relief is a necessity of its vision; and a world where all the mountains are brought down and all the valleys are exalted is no congenial place for its habitation.  This is why in a solitary thinker this mood might slumber on forever without waking.  His various ideals, known to him to be mere preferences of his own, are too nearly of the same denominational value; he can play fast and loose with them at will.  This too is why, in a merely human world without a God, the appeal to our moral energy falls short of its maximal stimulating power.  Life, to be sure, is even in such a world a genuinely ethical symphony; but it is played in the compass of a couple of poor octaves, and the infinite scale of values fails to open up.  Many of us, indeed--like Sir James Stephen in those eloquent Essays by a Barrister--would openly laugh at the very idea of the strenuous mood being awakened in us by those claims of remote posterity which constitute the last appeal of the religion of humanity.  We do not love these men of the future keenly enough; and we love them perhaps the less the more we hear of their evolutionized perfection, their high average longevity and education, their freedom from war and crime, their relative immunity from pain and zymotic disease, and all their other negative superiorities.  This is all too finite, we say; we see too well the vacuum beyond.  It lacks the note of infinitude and mystery, and may all be dealt with in the don't-care mood.  No need of agonizing ourselves or making others agonize for these good creatures just at present.

When, however, we believe that a God is there, and that he is one of the claimants, the infinite perspective opens out.  The scale of the symphony is incalculably prolonged. The more imperative ideals now begin to speak with an altogether new objectivity and significance, and to utter the penetrating, shattering, tragically challenging note of appeal.  They ring out like the call of Victor Hugo's alpine eagle, "qui parle au précipice et que le gouffre entend," and the strenuous mood awakens at the sound.  It saith among the trumpets, ha, ha! it smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains and the shouting.  Its blood is up; and cruelty to the lesser claims, so far from being a deterrent element, does but add to the stern joy with which it leaps to answer to the greater.  All through history, in the periodical conflicts of puritanism with the don't care temper, we see the antagonism of the strenuous and genial moods, and the contrast between the ethics of infinite and mysterious obligation from on high, and those of prudence and the satisfaction of merely finite need.

The capacity of the strenuous mood lies so deep down among our natural human possibilities that even if there were no metaphysical or traditional grounds for believing in a God, men would postulate one simply as a pretext for living hard, and getting out of the game of existence its keenest possibilities of zest.  Our attitude towards concrete evils is entirely different in a world where we believe there are none but finite demanders, from what it is in one where we joyously face tragedy for an infinite demanders' sake.  Every sort of energy and endurance, of courage and capacity for handling life's evils, is set free in those who have religious faith.  For this reason the strenuous type of character will on the battle-field of human history always outwear the easy-going type, and religion will drive irreligion to the wall.

It would seem, too--and this is my final conclusion--that the stable and systematic moral universe for which the ethical philosopher asks is fully possible only in a world where there is a divine thinker with all-enveloping demands.  If such a thinker existed, his way of subordinating the demands to one another would be the finally valid casuistic scale; his claims would be the most appealing; his ideal universe would be the most inclusive realizable whole.  If he now exist, then actualized in his thought already must be that ethical philosophy which we seek as the pattern which our own must evermore approach.  In the interest of our own ideal of systematically unified moral truth, therefore, we, as would-be philosophers, must postulate a divine thinker, and pray for the victory of the religious cause.  Meanwhile, exactly what the thought of the infinite thinker may be is hidden from us even were we sure of his existence; so that our postulation of him after all serves only to let loose in us the strenuous mood.  But this is what it does in all men, even those who have no interest in philosophy.  The ethical philosopher, therefore, whenever he ventures to say which course of action is the best, is on no essentially different level from the common man.  "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; therefore choose life that thou and thy seed may live"--when this challenge comes to us, it is simply our total character and personal genius that are on trial; and if we invoke any so-called philosophy, our choice and use of that also are but revelations of our personal aptitude or incapacity for moral life.  From this unsparing practical ordeal no professor's lectures and no array of books can save us.  The solving word, for the learned and the unlearned man alike, lies in the last resort in the dumb willingnesses and unwillingnesses of their interior characters, and nowhere else.  It is not in heaven, neither is it beyond the sea; but the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy hear, that thou mayest do it.