The Conquest of Fear by Basil King
Chapter II. The Life-Principle and God
It is obvious that one could not dwell much on the power of the life-principle without coming sooner or later to the thought of God. As already hinted, I did not come to it at once because my conception of God made Him of so little use to me.
And yet, in popular phraseology, I had "served" God all my life. That is, brought up in an atmosphere in which the Church was a divinely instituted system for utilising God, I served the system, without getting much beyond the surface plane of what were technically known as "services." When trial came such services offered me an anodyne, but not a cure.
The first suggestion, that my concept of God might not be sufficient to my needs came out of a conversation in New York. It was with a lady whom I met but that once, within a year or two after my experience at Versailles. I have forgotten how we chanced on the subject, but I remember that she asked me these questions:
"When you think of God how do you think of Him? How do you picture Him? What does He seem like?"
Trying to reply I recognised a certain naivete, a certain childishness, in my words even as I uttered them. In my thoughts I saw God as three supernal men, seated on three supernal thrones, enshrined in some vague celestial portion of space which I denominated Heaven. Between Him and me there was an incalculable distance which He could bridge but I could not. Always He had me at the disadvantage that He saw what I did, heard what I said, read what I thought, punishing me for everything amiss, while I could reach Him only by the uncertain telephony of what I understood as prayer. Even then my telephone worked imperfectly. Either the help I implored wasn't good for me, or my voice couldn't soar to His throne.
The lady smiled, but said nothing. The smile was significant. It made me feel that a God who was no more than what I had described could hardly be the Universal Father, and set me to thinking on my own account.
I wish it were possible to speak of God without the implication of dealing with religion. By this I mean that I am anxious to keep religion out of this whole subject of the conquest of fear. The minute you touch on religion, as commonly understood, you reach the sectarian. The minute you reach the sectarian you start enmities. The minute you start enmities you get mental discords. And the minute you get mental discords no stand against fear is possible.
But I mean a little more than this. Man, as at present developed, has shown that he hardly knows what to do with religion, or where to put it in his life. This is especially true of the Caucasian, the least spiritually intelligent of all the great types of our race. Fundamentally the white man is hostile to religion. He attacks it as a bull a red cloak, goring it, stamping on it, tearing it to shreds. With the Caucasian as he is this fury is instinctive. Recognising religion as the foe of the materialistic ideal he has made his own he does his best to render it ineffective.
Of this we need no better illustration than the state of what we conventionally know as Christendom. Christendom as we see it is a purely Caucasian phase of man's struggle upward, with Caucasian merits and Caucasian defects. Nowhere is its defectiveness more visible than in what the Caucasian has made of the teaching of Jesus Christ. It was probably a misfortune for the world that almost from the beginning that teaching passed into Caucasian guardianship. I see in the New Testament no indication on the part of Our Lord and the Apostles of wishing to separate themselves from Semitic co-operation. The former taught daily in the Temple; the latter, as they went about the world, made the synagogue the base of all their missions. The responsibility for the breach is not under discussion here. It is enough to note that it took place, and that Caucasian materialism was thus deprived of a counteragent in Hebrew spiritual wisdom. Had this corrective maintained its place it is possible that religion might now be a pervasive element in the Caucasian's life instead of being pigeon-holed.
The Caucasian pigeon-holes God. Otherwise expressed, he keeps God in a specially labelled compartment of life, to be brought out for occasional use, and put back when the need is over. It is difficult to mention God to a Caucasian reader without inducing an artificial frame of mind. As there are people who put on for strangers and guests an affected, unnatural politeness different from their usual breezy spontaneity, so the Caucasian assumes at the thought of God a mental habit which can only be described as sanctimonious. God is not natural to the Caucasian; the Caucasian is not natural with God. The mere concept takes him into regions in which he feels uneasy. He may call his uneasiness reserve or reverence, or by some other dignified name; but at bottom it is neither more nor less than uneasiness. To minimise this distress he relegates God to special days, to special hours, to services and ceremonials. He can thus wear and bear his uncomfortable cloak of gravity for special times, after which he can be himself again. To appeal to God otherwise than according to the tacitly accepted protocol is to the average Caucasian either annoying or in bad form.
I should like, then, to dissociate the thought of God from the artificial, sanctimonious, preternaturally solemn connotations which the Name is certain to bring up. I want to speak of Him with the same kind of ease as of the life-principle. I repeat, that I never found Him of much use in allaying fear till I released Him from the Caucasian pigeon-hole to see Him, as it were, in the open. Once in the open I got rid, to some degree, of the Caucasian limitations of thinking along the lines of sect, just as in the infinitude of the air you can forget for a minute houses with rooms and walls. The discovery--that is, discovery for myself--that God is Universal, which is not so obvious as it sounds, was, I think, the first great step I made in finding that within that Universal fear should be impossible.
About the same time I chanced on a passage written by Joseph Joubert, an eighteenth-century French Catholic, not so well known to the modern reader as he ought to be, which impressed me deeply.
"L'ame ne peut se mouvoir, s'eveiller, ouvrir les yeux, sans santir Dieu. On sent Dieu avec l'ame comme on sent l'air avec le corps. Oseraije le dire? On connait Dieu facilement pourvu qu'on ne se contraigne pas a le definir--The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes without perceiving God. We perceive God through the soul as we feel air on the body. Dare I say it? We can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him."
I began to see that, like most Caucasian Christians, I had been laying too much stress on the definition. The Trinity had, so to speak, come between me and the Godhead. I had, unconsciously, attached more importance to God's being Three than to His being God. Seeing Him as Three I instinctively saw Him as Three Persons. Seeing Him as Three Persons I did not reflect that the word Person as applied to God must be used in a sense wholly different from that in which we employ it with regard to men. To get into what I call the open I had to bring myself to understand that we cannot enclose the Infinite in a shape, or three shapes, resembling in any way the being with digestive organs, arms, and legs, which worked its way up from slime.
That is, in order to "dwell in the secret place of the Most High," where one is immune from fear, I was obliged to give up the habit of embodying God in any form. I had to confess that what is meant by the Three Persons in One God I did not know. Furthermore, I saw no necessity for thinking that I knew, since such knowledge must transcend all scope of the human mind. The formula, if you must have a formula, is one thing; but the turning it into a statute of limitations and applying it to the Illimitable is another.
 The Book of Psalms.
To make my position clearer, and to avoid the subject of religion, let me add that, inferring from the Bible that there is a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost, I did not feel it imperative on my part to go beyond this use of terms. Merely to abstain from definition was like a load taken off my mind. How the Son was begotten of the Father, or the Holy Ghost proceeded from them both, or what eternal mysteries were symbolised in this purely human phraseology, were, it seemed to me, matters with which I need not concern myself, seeing that they passed all my comprehension. Not the Trinity should come first to powers so limited as mine--but God.
It dawned on me, too, that God need not necessarily be to me what He is to others, nor to others what He is to me. Of the Infinite the finite mind can only catch a finite glimpse. I see what I can see; another sees what he can see. The visions may be different, and yet each vision may be true. Just as two painters painting the same landscape will give dissimilar views of it, so two minds contemplating God will take of Him only what each is fitted to receive. Water poured into differently coloured glasses will take on the colour of the cup which it fills, even though it be the self-same water in them all. If I find God for myself I shall probably not behold in Him exactly what anyone else in the whole world or in all time has ever beheld in Him before.
I saw, too, that from a certain point of view the stand of the agnostic is a right one. We cannot know God in the sense of knowing His being or His "Personality," any more than we can know the essence of the life-principle. Just as we know the life-principle only from what it does, so we know God only from such manifestations of Himself as reach our observation. Everything else is inference. Because we see something of His goodness we infer that He is good; because we experience something of His love we infer that He is loving; because we behold something of His power we infer that He is almighty. It is first of all a matter of drawing our conclusions, and then of making those conclusions the food of the inner spiritual man whose life is independent of the mortal heart and brain. But a sense in which God is "unknowable" to us has to be admitted.
I make this statement now in order not to be misunderstood when later I may say that God must be this or that. Though I shall do so for the sake of brevity it will always be in the sense that, if God is what we have inferred from His manifestations, He must be this or that. In other words, having to some degree worked my own way out of fear I must tell how I came to feel that I know the Unknowable, doing it with the inexact phraseology which is all I find to hand.
Reaching the conclusions noted above I was relieved of the pressure of traditions and instructions. Traditions and instructions helped me in that they built the ship in which I was to put to sea. The discoveries had to be my own. The God of whom I had heard at my mother's knee, as the phrase goes, had always been shadowy to me; the God who was served by "services" had always seemed remote. A God who should be "my God," as the psalmists say so often, must, I felt, be found by me myself, through living, searching, suffering, and struggling onward a step or two at a time. "That's pretty near free-thinking, isn't it?" a clergyman, to whom I tried to explain myself, once said to me. "No," I replied; "but it is pretty near thinking free."
To think freely about God became a first necessity; to think simply a second one. The Universal Father had been almost lost to me behind veil after veil of complexities. The approaches to Him seemed to have been made so roundabout, requiring so many intermediaries. Long before I had dared to think of what I may call emancipation, the "scheme of salvation," as it was termed, had struck me as an excessively complicated system of machinery, considering the millions upon millions who had need of it. In theory you were told, according to St. Paul, to "come boldly before the throne of the heavenly grace," but in practice you were expected to do it timidly.
You were expected to do it timidly because the pigeon-holed Caucasian God was represented--unconsciously perhaps--as difficult, ungenial, easily offended. He measured your blindness and weakness by the standard of His own knowledge and almightiness. A puritan God, extremely preoccupied with morals as some people saw them, He was lenient, apparently, to the narrow-minded, the bitter of tongue, and the intolerant in heart. He was not generous. He was merciful only when you paid for His mercy in advance. To a not inconsiderable degree He was the hard Caucasian business man, of whom He was the reflection, only glorified and crowned.
It will be evident, of course, that I am not speaking of "the Father" of the New Testament, nor of the official teaching of any church or theology. To the rank and file of Caucasians "the Father" of the New Testament is very little known, while the official teaching of churches and theologies is so hard to explain that not much of it gets over to the masses of those willing to subscribe to it. I refer only to the impression on the mind of the man in the street; and to the man in the street God, as he understands Him, is neither a very friendly nor a very comprehensible element in life. Instead of mitigating fear He adds to it, not in the Biblical sense of "fearing God," but in that of sheer animal distrust.
While turning these things over in my mind I got some help from two of the words most currently in Christian use. I had long known that the English equivalents of the Latin equivalents of the terms the New Testament writers used gave but a distorted idea of the original sense; but I had let that knowledge lie fallow.
The first of these words was Repentance. In these syllables there is almost no hint of the idea which fell from the evangelistic pen, while the word has been soaked in emotional and sentimental associations it was never intended to be mixed with. The Metanoia; which painted a sober, reflective turning of the mind, had been so overcharged with the dramatic that sober, reflective people could hardly use the expression any more. Repentance had come to have so strong a gloss of the hysterical as to be almost discredited by men of common sense. It was a relief, therefore, to remember that it implied no more than a turning to God by a process of thought; and that a process of thought would find Him.
The other word was Salvation. Here again our term of Latin derivation gives no more than the faintest impression of the beauty beyond beauty in that which the sacred writer used. Soteria--a Safe Return! That is all. Nothing complicated; nothing high-strung; nothing casuistical. Only a--Safe Return! Yet all human experience can be read into the little phrase, with all human liberty to wander--and come back. True, one son may never leave the Father's home, so that all that it contains is his; but there is no restraint on the other son from getting his knowledge as he will, even to the extent of becoming a prodigal. The essential is in the Safe Return, the Soteria, when the harlots and the husks have been tried and found wanting.
I do not exaggerate when I say that the simplicity of these conceptions was so refreshing as almost to give me a new life. One could say to God, with the psalmist, "Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance"--and mean it. One could conceive of it as possible to turn toward Him--and reach, the objective. The way was open; the access was free; the progress as rapid as thought could make it. One could think of oneself as knowing God, and be aware of no forcing of the note.
"We can know God easily so long as we do not feel it necessary to define Him." Once having grasped this truth I began to see how natural knowing God became. The difficulty of the forced, of the artificial, of the mere assent to what other people say, of which the Caucasian to his credit is always impatient, seemed by degrees to melt away from me. No longer defining God I no longer tried to know Him in senses obviously impossible. I ceased trying to imagine Him. Seeing Him as infinite, eternal, changeless, formless because transcending form, and indescribable because transcending words and thoughts, I could give myself up to finding Him in the ways in which He would naturally be revealed to me.
These, of course, were in His qualities and His works.
Let me speak of the latter first.
I think light was the medium through which I at once felt myself to be seeing God. By this I mean nothing pantheistic--not that the light was God--but God's first and most evident great sign. Then there was the restful darkness. There were the moon and the stars, "the hosts of heaven," as the Hebrews aptly called them, becoming more and more amazing as an expression of God the more we learn how to read them. Then there were the elements, the purifying wind, the fruitful rain, the exhilaration of snow-storms, the action and reaction from heat and cold. Then there was beauty: first, the beauty of the earth, of mountains, of seas, and all waters, of meadows, grainfields, orchards, gardens, and all growing things; then, the beauty of sound, from the soughing of the wind in the pines to the song of the hermit-thrush. There was the beauty wrought by man, music, painting, literature, and all art. There were the myriad forms of life. There were kindness and friendship and family affection and fun--but the time would fail me! God being the summing up of all good things, since all good things proceed from Him, must be seen by me in all good things it I am to see Him at all.
I had heard from childhood of a world in which God was seen, and of another world, this world, in which He was not seen. I came to the conclusion that there was no such fantastic, unnatural division in what we call creation--that there was only one world--the world in which God is seen. "The soul cannot move, wake, or open the eyes without perceiving God." It is a question of physical vision, with spiritual comprehension.
Seeing God breaking through all that I had previously thought of as barriers, it was easy to begin to think of Him as Universal. I say begin to think, because God's Infinitude had been only a word to me hitherto, not a quality realised and felt. I do not presume to say that to any adequate degree I feel and realise it now; but the habit of looking on every good thing as a sign of His activity cannot but bring Him close to me.
That is my chief point with regard to the Infinite--that it must be here. As I used to think of infinity I saw it stretching to boundless reaches away from me; but only from the point of view of present Good being present God did the value of the Infinite come to lie in its nearness rather than in its power of filling unimaginable space. On my part it was inverse mental action, seeking God where I was capable of finding Him, and not in regions I could never range.
But having grasped the fact that the Universal, wherever else it was, must be with me the purely abstract became a living influence. I felt this the more when to the concept of Infinitude I added that of Intelligence. I use the much-worked word intelligence because there is no other; but when one thinks for a second of what must be the understanding of an Infinite Mind, intelligence as a descriptive term becomes absurdly inadequate.
This was the next fact which, if I may so express myself, I made my own--that not only the Universal is ever with me, but that it is ever with me with ever-active concern. There was a time when it was hard for me to believe that a Mind busied with the immensities of the universe could come down to such trivial affairs as mine. Important as I might be to myself I could hardly be otherwise than lost amid the billions of forms of life which had come into existence through the ages. To the Three in One, on the Great White Throne, in the far-away Heaven, I must be a negligible thing, except when I forced myself on the divine attention. Even then it was hardly conceivable that, with whole solar systems to regulate, I could claim more than a passing glance from the all-seeing eye.
But to an Infinite Mind bathing me round and round I must be as much the object of regard as any solar system. To such a Mind nothing is small, no one thing farther from its scope than another. God could have no difficulty in attending to me, seeing that from the nature of His mental activity, to put it in that way, He could not lose sight of me nor let me go. When an object is immersed in water it gives no extra trouble to the water to close round it. It can't help doing it. The object may be as small as a grain of dust or as big as a warship; to the water it is all the same. Immersed in the Infinite Mind, closed round by it, it was giving God no extra trouble to think of me, of my work, my desires, the objects with which I was living, since by the nature of His Being He could do nothing else.
Having established it with myself that Universal Presence was also Universal Thought I had made another step toward the elimination of fear. I took still another when I added the truth of Universal Love.
I need hardly say that this progression was not of necessity in a strictly consecutive order, nor did it come by a process of reasoning out from point to point. I was simply the man in the street dealing with great ideas of which he had heard ever since he had been able to hear anything, but trying at last to see what they meant to him. My position might have been described in the words used by William James in one of his Letters to indicate his own. "The Divine, for my active life, is limited to abstract concepts, which, as ideals, interest and determine me, but do so but faintly, in comparison with what a feeling of God might effect, if I had one. It is largely a question of intensity, but differences of intensity may make the whole centre of one's energy shift." I did have a "feeling of God" however vague; but I had more of the feeling of a Church. I could dimly discern the Way, without going on to the Truth and the Life which give the Way its value. It will be evident then that if my "discoveries" along these lines were discoveries in the obvious, it was in that obvious to which we mortals so often remain blind.
During many years the expression, the love of God, was to me like a winter sunshine, bright without yielding warmth. I liked the words; I knew they expressed a truth; but between me and the truth there was the same kind of distance which I felt to lie between myself and God. "It is largely a question of intensity," to repeat what has just been quoted from William James, "but differences of intensity may make the whole centre of one's energy shift." My conception of the love of God lacked just that quality--intensity.
It came, to some degree, with the realisation that the Universal Thought must be with me. A non-loving Universal Thought was too monstrous a concept to entertain. The God who "broke through" my many misunderstandings with so much good and beauty could have only one predominating motive. The coming of my spiritual being to this planet might be a mystery wrapped in darkness, and yet I could not but believe that the Universal Father was behind that coming and that I was His son. I could rest my case there. The love of God, after having long been like a doctrinal tenet for which one had to strive, became reasonable, natural, something to be understood. Finding that love in so many places in which I had seen mere physical phenomena, and in so many lovely things I had never placed to its credit, I began to feel that life could be infused and transformed by it, in proportion as my own perception grew. So, little by little, the centre of energy shifted, as one came to understand what the Sons of Korah meant when they sang, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into, the midst of the sea." With Universal Thought concentrated in love upon oneself fear must be forced backward.
 The Book of Psalms.
And especially when you add to that the concept of Almighty Power. This fourth and last of the great attributes is the one with which I, as an individual, have found it most difficult to clothe the Infinite. I mean that it is the one for which it is hardest for me to develop what William James calls "a feeling," an inner realisation. I lay no stress upon this. It is a question of growth. The Presence, the Thought, the Love have become to me what I may be permitted to call tremulously vivid. In proportion as they are vivid I get the "feeling" of Almightiness exercised on my behalf; in proportion as they are tremulous the Almightiness may remain in my consciousness, but it seems exercised on my behalf but slightly.
In other words, the Infinitude of Thought and Love are, to some extent, apprehended by my inner self, while the Infinitude of Power is as yet to me rather an intellectual abstraction. What my inner self may be I am not prepared to say, but I know that it is there, as everyone else knows that it is in him. "Strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man," is what St. Paul says, and I suppose most of us recognise the fact that our inner self is stronger or weaker in proportion as it is more nourished or less nourished by our sense of the Being of God. It is largely a question of intensity. If I interpret William James aright he means by "a feeling" an intellectual concept after it has passed beyond the preliminary keeping of the brain, and become the possession of that inner man which is the vital self. To this vital self the sense of Almighty Power really used for me is still, to a great degree, outside my range.
 Epistle to the Ephesians.
I make the confession not because it is of interest, but because it illustrates a main deduction which I should now like to draw. It is to the effect that God is with us to be utilised. His Power, His Love, His Thought, His Presence, must be at our disposal, like other great forces, such as sunshine and wind and rain. We can use them or not, as we please. That we could use them to their full potentiality is, of course, not to be thought of; but we can use them in proportion to our ability. If I, the individual, still lack many things; if I am still a prey to lingering fears; it is probably because I have not yet rooted out a stubborn disbelief in His Power. If I succeed in this I shall doubtless be able to seize more of His bounty. It is not a question of His giving, but of my capacity to take.
The contrary, I venture to think, is the point of view of most of us. We consider God somewhat as we do a wealthy man whom we know to be a miser, forming the shrewd surmise that we shall not get much out of him. The God who fails to protect us from fear fails, I believe, because we see Him first of all as a niggard God. He is a niggard not merely with regard to money but all the good things for which He has given us a desire, with no intention of allowing that desire to be gratified. Once more, He is the hard Caucasian business man, whom His subordinates serve because they don't see what else to do, but whom they rarely love.
We shall not, in my judgment, overcome fear till we see Him as He surely must be, generous beyond all our conceptions of generosity. Years, experience, many trials, and some knowledge of the world, have convinced me that we have no lawful or harmless cravings for which, as far as God is concerned, there is not abundant satisfaction. I am convinced that absolute confidence in God's overflowing liberality of every sort is essential to the conquest of fear. If we don't profit by that liberality the fault is not His but our own. I am tempted to think that the belief of so many generations of nominal Christians in a God whose power was chiefly shown in repressions, denials, and capricious disappointments is responsible, in so small measure, for our present world-distress.
In my own case it was a matter of re-education. To find God for myself I had to be willing to let some of my old cherished ideas go. They may have been true of God as He reveals Himself to others; they are not true of Him as He makes Himself known to me. The Way that leads me to the Truth and the Life is undoubtedly the Way I must follow.
Doing that I have found so much, mentally, emotionally, materially, which I never had before, that I cannot but look for more as my absorbing power increases. The process is akin to that of the unshrivelling of the inner man, as a bud will unfold when the sunshine becomes strong enough. The transformation must be in thought. There must be first the Metanoia, the change of mind, the new set of concepts; and then the Soteria, the Safe Return, to the high, sane ideal of a co-operative Universe, with a loving, lavish Universal Heart behind it.
"To the chief Musician for the Sons of Korah:
"'God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.... Come, behold the works of the Lord.... He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, he cutteth the spear in sunder, he burneth the chariot in the fire.... Be still then, and know that I am God,'"
 Book of Psalms.