CHAPTER IX VIII. THE LAW OF EQUALITY
1. NATURAL EQUALITY -- 2. INEQUALITY OF APTITUDES -- 3. SOCIAL INEQUALITIES -- 4. INEQUALITY OF RICHES 5. TRIALS OF RICHES AND OF POVERTY -- 6. EQUALITY OF RIGHTS OF MEN AND OF WOMEN -- 7. EQUALITY IN DEATH.
803. Are all men equal in the sight of God?
"Yes, all tend towards the same goal; and God has made His laws for the equal good of all. You often say, 'The sun shines for all;' and, in saying this, you enunciate a truth much broader, and of more general application, than you think."All men are subjected to the action of the same natural laws. All are born in the same state of weakness, and are subject to the same sufferings; and the body of the rich is destroyed like that of the poor. God has not given to any man any natural superiority in regard either to birth or to death all are equal in His sight.
Inequality of Aptitudes.
804. Why has God not given the same aptitudes to all men?
"All spirits have been created equal by God; but some of them have lived more, and others less, and have consequently acquired more or less development in their past existences. The difference between them lies in their various degrees of experience, and in the training of their will, which constitutes their freedom, and in virtue of which some improve themselves more rapidly; hence the diversity of aptitudes that you see around you. This medley of aptitudes is necessary, in order that every man may concur in working out the designs of Providence, within the limits of the development of his physical and intellectual strength. What one cannot do, another does; and thus each contributes his share of usefulness to the general work. Besides, all the worlds of the universe being united by solidarity, it is necessary that the inhabitants of the higher worlds, most of which were created before yours, should come and dwell in it, in order to set you an example."
805. Does a spirit, in passing from a higher world to a lower one, preserve, in their integrity, the faculties he had previously acquired?
"Yes; we have already told you that a spirit who has progressed cannot again fall back. He may choose, in his spirit-state, a corporeal envelope more benumbing, or a position more precarious, than those he quits; but all this is so combined as to teach him some new lesson, and thus to aid his future progress."The diversity of human aptitudes is thus seen to be the result, not of any diversity in the creation of men, but of the various degrees of advancement attained to by the spirits who are incarnated in them. God, then, has not created the inequality of human faculties, but He has permitted spirits of different degrees of development to be thus brought into contact with each other, in order that the more forward may aid the more backward, and also in order that all men, having need of one another's help, may arrive at the practical comprehension of the law of charity that is destined to unite them.
806. Is the inequality of social conditions a law of nature?
"No; it is the work of man, not of God."
-- Will this inequality eventually disappear?
"Nothing is eternal but the laws of God. Do you not see that it is being effaced, little by little, every day? Your present inequalities will disappear with the disappearance of pride and selfishness; the only inequality that will remain is that of desert. A day will come when the members of the great family of God will no longer regard themselves as being of blood more or less pure; they will know that it is only the spirit that is more or less pure, and that this does not depend on social position."
807. What is to be thought of those who abuse the superiority of their social position by oppressing the weak to their own profit?
"They deserve to be anathematized! Sad will be their fate; for they will be oppressed in their turn, and they will be re-born into an existence in which they will endure all that they have caused to be endured." (684.)
Inequality of Riches.
808. Is not the inequality of riches a result of the inequality of faculties, which gives to some persons more means of acquiring than are possessed by others?
"Yes, and no. And knavery and robbery? What do you say of them?"
-- But hereditary riches are not the fruit of evil passions?
"How do you know that? Go back to their source, and you will see whether it is always pure. How do you know whether they were not, in the beginning, the fruit of a spoliation or an injustice? But, without speaking of their origin, which may have been bad, do you think that the hankering after wealth, even when most honestly acquired, the secret longings to possess it more quickly, are laudable sentiments? These are what God judges; and His judgment is often more severe than that of men."
809. If a fortune has been ill-gotten in the beginning, are those who subsequently inherit it responsible for this?
"Most certainly they are not responsible for the wrong that may have been done by others, and of which they may be altogether ignorant; but you must understand that a fortune is often sent to such and such an individual for the sole purpose of giving him the opportunity of repairing an injustice. Happy for him if he comprehends this! If he does it in the name of him who committed the injustice, the reparation will be counted to both of them; for it is often the latter who has endeavored to bring it about."
810. We may, without infringing legality, dispose of property more or less equitably. Are we held responsible, after death, for the disposition we have made of it?
"Every seed bears its fruit; the fruit of good deeds is sweet that of others is always bitter; always--remember that."
811. Is an absolute equality of riches possible? and has it ever existed?
"No, it is not possible. The diversity of faculties and characters is opposed to it."
-- There are men, nevertheless, who believe it to be the remedy for all the ills of society. What do you think of them?
"They are framers of systems, or moved by ambition and jealousy; they do not understand that the equality they dream of would be speedily broken up by the force of things. Combat selfishness, for that is your social pest; and do not run after chimeras."
812. If equality of riches be not possible, is it the same in regard to well-being?
"No; but well-being is relative, and every one might enjoy it if men had arrived at a good understanding among themselves. For true well-being consists in employing one's time according to one's bent, and not in work for which one has no liking; and as each has different aptitudes, no useful work would be left undone. Equilibrium exists in everything; it is man who disturbs it."
-- Is it possible to arrive at this mutual understanding?
"Men will arrive at it when they practice the law of justice."
813. There are men who fall into destitution and misery through their own fault; surely society is not responsible in such cases?
"Yes; we have already said that society is often the primary cause of such failures; and besides, is it not the duty of society to watch over the moral education of all its members? Society often perverts their judgment through a bad education, instead of correcting their evil tendencies." (685.)
Trials of Riches and of Poverty
814. Why has God given wealth and power to some, and poverty to others?
"In order to try them in different ways. Moreover, as you know, it is the spirits themselves who have selected those trials, under which they often succumb."
815. Which of the two kinds of trial, poverty or riches, is the most to be dreaded by man?
"They are equally dangerous. Poverty excites murmurings against Providence; riches excite to all kinds of excesses."
816. If the rich man has more temptations to evil, has he not also more ample means of doing good?
"That is precisely what he does not always do. He often becomes selfish, proud, and insatiable. His wants increase with his fortune, and he never thinks he has enough, even for himself."Worldly grandeur, and authority over our fellow-creatures, are trials as great and as slippery as misfortune: for the richer and more powerful we are, the more obligations we have to fulfill, and the greater are our means of doing both good and evil. God tries the poor through resignation, and the rich through the use he makes, of his wealth and power.
Riches and power give birth to all the passions that attach us to matter, and keep us at a distance from spiritual perfection: this is why Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the needle's eye than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. (266.)
Equality of Rights of Men and of Women.
817. Are men and women equal in the sight of God, and have they the same rights?
"Has not God given to them both the knowledge of good and evil, and the faculty of progressing?"
818. Whence comes the moral inferiority of women in some countries?
"From the cruel and unjust supremacy which man has usurped over her. It is a result of social institutions, and of the abusive exercise of strength over weakness. Among men but little advanced morally, might is mistaken for right."
819. For what purpose is woman physically weaker than man?
"In order that to her may be assigned certain special functions. Man is made for rough work, as being the stronger; woman, for gentler occupations; and both are differenced that they may aid each other in passing through the trials of a life full of bitterness."
820. Does not woman's physical weakness make her naturally dependent on man?
"God has given strength to the one sex in order that it may protect the other, but not to reduce it to servitude."God has fitted the organization of each being for the functions which it has to discharge. If God has given less physical strength to woman, He has, at the same time, endowed her with a greater amount of sensibility, in harmony with the delicacy of the maternal functions and the weakness of the beings confided to her care.
821. Are the functions to which woman is destined by nature, as important as those which are allotted to man?
"Yes, and still more important; for it is she who gives him his first notions of life."
822. All men being equals according to the law of God, ought they also to be such according to the law of men?
"Such equality is the very first principle of justice. Do not unto others what you would not that others should do unto you."
-- In order to be perfectly just, ought legislation to proclaim an equality of rights between men and women?
"Equality of rights, yes, but not of functions. Each should have a specified place. Let man busy himself with the outer side of life, and woman with its inner side; each sex according to its special aptitude. Human law, in order to be just, should proclaim the equality of rights of men and women. Every privilege accorded to either sex is contrary to justice. The emancipation of woman follows the progress of civilization; her subjection is a condition of barbarism. The sexes, moreover, exist only through the physical organization. Since spirits can assume that of either sex, there is no difference between them in this respect, and they ought consequently to enjoy the same rights."
Equality in Death.
823. Whence comes the desire of perpetuating one's memory by means of funeral monuments?
"It is the last act of pride."
-- But is not the sumptuousness of funeral monuments more frequently due to the action of relatives desirous to honor the memory of the defunct, than to the defunct himself?
"In such cases it is an act of pride on the part of relatives who desire to glorify themselves; for assuredly it is not always for the one who is dead that all these demonstrations are made, but rather to gratify their own vanity by making an impression on others, and to parade their wealth. Do you imagine that the remembrance of their loved ones is less durable in the hearts of the poor, because the latter have no flowers to lay upon their graves? Do you imagine that marble can save from oblivion the name of him who has led a useless life upon the earth?"
824. Is funeral pomp blamable under all circumstances?
"No; when displayed in honor of a noble life, it is just, and conveys a useful lessen."The grave is the place of; meeting for all men--the inevitable end of all human distinctions. It is in vain that the rich man seeks to perpetuate his memory by stately monuments; time will destroy them like his body nature has so willed it. The remembrance of his deeds, whether good or bad, will be less perishable than his tomb; the pomp of his funeral will neither cleanse away his turpitudes nor raise him a single step on the ladder of the spirit-hierarchy. (320 et seq.)
CHAPTER X IX. THE LAW OF LIBERTY
1. NATURAL LIBERTY -- 2. SLAVERY -- 3. FREEDOM OF THOUGHT -- 4. FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE -- 5. FREE-WILL -- 6. FATALITY -- 7. FOREKNOWLEDGE -- 8. THEORETIC SUMMARY OF THE SPRINGS OF HUMAN ACTION.
825. Are there any positions in life in which a man may flatter himself that he enjoys absolute freedom?
"No, because all of you, the greatest as well as the least, have need of one another."
826. In what condition of life could a man enjoy absolute freedom?
"That of a hermit in a desert. As soon as two men find themselves together, they have reciprocal rights and duties to respect, and are, therefore, no longer absolutely free."
827. Does the duty of respecting the rights of others deprive a man of the right of belonging to himself?
"In nowise; for he holds that right from nature."
828. How can we reconcile the liberal opinions professed by some persons with the despotism they themselves sometimes exercise in their own houses, and among their subordinates?
"Their intelligence is aware of the law of nature, but this perception is counterbalanced by their pride and selfishness. When their profession of liberal principles is not hypocrisy, they know what ought to be done, but do it not."
-- Will their profession of liberal principles, in the earthly life, be of any avail to such persons in the other life?
"The more clearly a principle is understood by the intellect, the more inexcusable is the neglect to put it into practice. He who is sincere, though simple, is farther advanced on the divine road than he who tries to appear what he is not."
829. Are any men intended by nature to be the property of other men?
"The absolute subjugation of any man to another man is contrary to the law of God. Slavery is an abuse of strength; it disappears with progress, gradually, as all other abuses will disappear."The human law which sanctions slavery is a law against nature, because it assimilates man to the brute, and degrades him physically and morally.
830. When slavery is already established in the habits of a people, are those who profit by that institution to blame for conforming to a usage which appears to them to be natural?
"What is wrong is always wrong, and no amount of sophistry can change a bad deed into a good one; but the responsibility of wrong-doing is always proportional to the means of comprehending it possessed by the wrong-doer. He who profits by the institution of slavery is always guilty of a violation of natural law; but in this, as in everything else, the guilt is relative. Slavery having become rooted in the habits of certain peoples, men may have taken advantage of it without seeing it to be wrong, and as something which appeared to them altogether natural; but when their reason, more developed and enlightened by the teachings of Christianity, has shown them that their slave is their equal in the sight of God, they are no longer excusable."
831. Does not the inequality of natural aptitudes place some of the human races under the sway of other races of greater intelligence?
"Yes, in order that the latter may raise them to a higher level, but not that they may brutify them still more by slavery. Men have too long regarded certain human races as working animals furnished with arms and hands, which they have believed themselves to have the right of using and selling like beasts of burden. They fancy themselves to be of purer blood; fools, who see only matter! It is not the blood that is more or less pure, but only the spirit." (361-803.)
832. There are men who treat their slaves humanely, who let them want for nothing, and who think that freedom would expose them to greater privations; what do you say of such persons?
"I say that they have a better understanding of their own interests than those who treat them cruelly; they take the same care of their cattle and horses, in order to get a better price for them at market. They are not so guilty as those who treat them badly, but they nonetheless treat them as merchandise, by depriving them of the right of belonging to themselves."
Freedom of Thought.
833. Is there in man something that escapes constraint, and in regard to which he enjoys absolute liberty?
"Yes, in his thought man enjoys unlimited freedom, for thought knows no obstacles. The action of thought may be hindered, but not annihilated."
834. Is man responsible for his thoughts?
"He is responsible for them to God. God alone can take cognizance of thought, and condemns or absolves it according to His justice."
Freedom of Conscience.
835. Is freedom of conscience the natural consequence of freedom of thought?
"Conscience is an inner thought that belongs to man, like all his other thoughts."
836. Has man the right to set up barriers against freedom of conscience?
"No more than against freedom of thought, for God alone has the right to judge the conscience. If man, by his laws, regulates the relations between men and men, God, by the laws of nature, regulates the relations between men and God."
837. What is the effect of the hindrances opposed to freedom of conscience?
"To constrain men to act otherwise than as they think, and thus to make hypocrites of them. Freedom of conscience is one of the characteristics of true civilization and of progress."
838. Is every honest belief to be respected, even when completely false?
"Every belief is worthy of respect when it is sincere, and when it leads to the practice of goodness. Blamable beliefs are those which lead to the practice of evil."
839. Is it wrong to scandalize those whose belief is not the same as our own?
"To do so is to fail in charity, and to infringe on freedom of thought."
840. Is it an infringement of the freedom of conscience to place hindrances in the way of beliefs that are of a nature to cause social disturbance?
"You can only repress action; belief is inaccessible."The repression of the external acts of a belief, when those acts are injurious to others is not an infringement of the freedom of conscience, for such repression leaves the belief itself entirely free.
841. Ought we, out of respect for freedom of conscience, to allow of the propagation of pernicious doctrines, or may we, without infringing upon that freedom, endeavor to bring back into the path of truth those who are led astray by false principles?
"Most certainly you not only may, but should, do so; but only by following the example of Jesus, by employing gentleness and persuasion, and not by resorting to force, which would be worse than the false belief of those whom you desire to convince. Conviction cannot be imposed by violence."
842. All doctrines claiming to be the sole expression of the truth, by what signs can we recognize the one which has the best right to call itself such?
"The truest doctrine will be the one which makes the fewest hypocrites and the greatest number of really virtuous people, that is to say, of people practicing the law of charity in its greatest purity and in its widest application. It is by this sign that you may recognize a doctrine as true; for no doctrine, of which the tendency to make divisions and demarcations among the children of God, can be anything but false and pernicious."
Free - Will
843. Has man freedom of action?
"Since he has freedom of thought, he has freedom of action. Without free-will man would be a machine."
844. Does man posses free-will from his birth?
"He possesses free-will from the moment when he possesses the will to act. In the earliest portion of a lifetime free-will is almost null; it is developed and changes its object with the development of the faculties. The child, having thoughts in harmony with the wants of his age, applies his free-will to the things which belong to that age."
845. Are not the instinctive predispositions that a man brings with him at birth an obstacle to the exercise of his free-will?
"A man's instinctive predispositions are those which belonged to his spirit before his incarnation. If he is but little advanced, they may incite him to wrongdoing, in which he will be seconded by spirits who sympathize with that wrong-doing; but no incitement is irresistible when there is a determination to resist, remember that to will is to be able." (361.)
846. Has not our organism an influence on the acts of our life, and if so, does not this influence constitute an infringement of our free-will?
"Spirits are certainly influenced by matter, which may hamper them in their manifestations. This is why, in worlds in which the body is less gross than upon the earth, the faculties act more freely; but the instrument does not give the faculty. In considering this question, you must also distinguish between moral faculties and intellectual faculties. If a man has the instinct of murder, it is assuredly his spirit that possesses this instinct, and not his organs. He who annihilates his thought, in order to occupy himself only with matter, becomes like the brute, and still worse, for he no longer endeavors to preserve himself from evil, and it is this which constitutes his culpability, because he does so of his own free-will." (See No.367 et seq., Influence of Organism.)
847. Does aberration of the mental faculties deprive man of free-will?
"He whose intelligence is deranged by any cause whatever is no longer master of his thoughts, and thenceforth is no longer free. Mental aberration is often a punishment for the spirit who, in another existence, has been vain or haughty, or has made a bad use of his faculties. He may be re-born in the body of an idiot, as the despot may be re-born in the body of a slave, and the hard-hearted possessor of riches, in that of a beggar; but the spirit suffers from this constraint, of which he is fully conscious; and it is in this constraint that you see the action of matter." (371 et seq.)
848. Is the aberration of the mental faculties produced by drunkenness an excuse for the crimes committed in that state?
"No; for the drunkard has voluntarily deprived himself of his reason in order to satisfy his brutish passions. He thus commits, not one crime, but two."
849. What is the dominant faculty of man in the savage state? Is it instinct or free-will?
"Instinct; which, however, does not prevent his acting with entire freedom in certain things; but, like the child he uses his freedom for the satisfaction of his needs, and obtains its development only through the development of his intelligence. Consequently, you, who are more enlightened than the savage, are more blamable than a savage if you do wrong."
850. Does not social position sometimes place obstacles in the way of free action?
"Society has, undoubtedly, its exigencies. God is just, and takes everything into account; but He will hold you responsible for any lack of effort on your part to surmount such obstacles."
851. Is there a fatality in the events of life, in the sense commonly attached to that word,--that is to say, are the events of life ordained beforehand, and, if so, what becomes of free-will?
"There is no other fatality than that which results from the determination of each spirit, on incarnating himself, to undergo such and such trials. By choosing those trials he makes for himself a sort of destiny which is the natural consequence of the situation in which he has chosen to place himself. I speak now of physical trials only: for, as regards moral trials and temptations, a spirit always preserves his freedom of choice between good and evil, and is always able to yield or to resist. A good spirit, seeing a man hesitate, may come to his aid, but cannot influence him to the extent of mastering his will. On the other hand, a bad spirit that is to say, a spirit of inferior advancement, may trouble or alarm him by suggesting exaggerated apprehensions; but the will of the incarnated spirit retains, nevertheless, its entire freedom of choice."
852. There are persons who seem to be pursued by a fatality independent of their own action. Are not their misfortunes, in such cases, the result of predestination?
"They may be trials which those persons are compelled to undergo because they have been chosen by them in the spirit-state; but you often set down to destiny what is only the consequence of your own faults. Try to keep a clear conscience, and you will be consoled for the greater part of your afflictions.The true or false view we take of the things about us causes us to succeed or to fail in our enterprises; but it seems to us more easy, and less humiliating to our self-love, to attribute our failures to fate, or to destiny, than to our mistakes. If the influence of spirits sometimes contributes to our success, it is nonetheless true that we can always free ourselves from their influence, by repelling the ideas they suggest when they are calculated to mislead, us.
853. They are persons who escape one danger only to fall into another; it seems as though it had been impossible for them to escape death. Is there not a fatality in such cases?
"There is nothing fatal, in the true meaning of the word, but the time of death. When that time has come, no matter under what form death presents itself, you cannot escape it."
-- If so, whatever danger may seem to threaten us, we shall not die if our hour has not come?
"No, you will not be allowed to die--and of this you have thousands of examples; but when your hour has come, nothing can save you. God knows beforehand the manner in which each of you will quit your present life, and this is often known also to your spirit; for it is revealed to you when you make choice of such and such existence."
854. Does it follow, from the inevitability of the hour of death, that the precautions we take in view of apparent danger are useless?
"No, for those precautions are suggested to you in order that you may avoid the dangers with which you are threatened. They are one of the means employed by Providence to prevent death from taking place prematurely."
855. What is the aim of providence in making us incur dangers that are to be without result?
"When your life is imperiled, it is a warning which you yourself have desired, in order to turn you from evil, and to make you better. When you escape from such a peril, and while still feeling the emotion excited by the danger you had incurred, you think, more or less seriously, according to the degree in which you are influenced by the suggestions of good spirits, of amending your ways. The bad spirit returning to his former post of temptation (I say bad, in reference to the evil that is still in him), you flatter yourself that you will escape other dangers in the same way, and you again give free scope to your passions. By the dangers you incur, God reminds you of your weakness, and of the fragility of your existence. If you examine the cause and the nature of the peril you have escaped, you will see that in many cases its consequences would have been the punishment of some fault you have committed, or of some duty you have neglected. God thus warns you to look into your hearts, and to pursue the work of your self-amendment." (526-532.)
856. Does a spirit know beforehand the kind of death to which he will succumb in the earthly life?
"He knows that he has exposed himself by the life he has chosen to die in some particular manner rather than in another; but he also foresees the efforts he will have to make in order to avoid the danger, and he knows that, if God so permit, he will escape it."
857. There are men who brave the perils of the battlefield with the full persuasion that their hour is not come; is there any foundation for such confidence?
"A man often has a presentiment of his end; he may, in the same way, have a presentiment that his time for dying has not yet come. These presentiments are due to the action of his spirit-protectors, who may wish to lead him to hold himself ready to go away, or to raise his courage in moments when he has especial need of it. They may also come to him from the intuition he has of the existence he has chosen, or of the mission he has accepted, and which he knows, as a spirit, that he has to fulfill." (411-522.)
858. How is it that those who have a presentiment of their death generally dread it less than others?
"It is the man, and not spirit, who dreads death; he who has the presentiment of his death thinks of it rather as a spirit than as a man. He understands that it will be a deliverance, and awaits it calmly."
859. If death is inevitable when the time appointed for it has arrived, is it the same in regard to all the accidents that may happen to us in the course of our life?
"They are often small enough to permit of our warning you against them, and sometimes of enabling you to avoid them by the direction we give to your thoughts, for we do not like physical suffering; but all this is of little importance to the life you have chosen. The true and sole fatality consists in the hour at which you have to appear in, and disappear from, the sphere of corporeal life."
-- Are there incidents which must necessarily occur in a life, and that spirits will not avert?
"Yes, but those incidents you, in your spirit-state, foresaw when you made your choice. But, nevertheless, you must not suppose that everything which happens to you was 'written,' as people express it. An event is often the consequence of something you have done by an act of your free-will, so that, had you not done that thing, the event would not have taken place. If you burn your finger, it is not because such an incident was preordained, for it is a trifling inconvenience resulting from your own carelessness, and a consequence of the laws of matter. It is only the great sorrows, the events of serious importance and capable of influencing your moral state, that are foreordained by God, because they will be useful to your purification and instruction."
860. Can a man, by his will and his efforts, prevent events that were to have occurred from taking place, and vice versa?
"He can do so if this seeming deviation is compatible with the life he has chosen. And, in order to do good, which should be, and is, the sole end of life, he may prevent evil, especially that which might contribute to a still greater evil."
861. Did the man who commits a murder know, in choosing his existence, that he would become a murderer?
"No; he knew that, by choosing a life of struggle, he incurred the risk of killing one of his fellow-creatures; but he did not know whether he would, or would not, do so; for there is, almost always, deliberation in the murderer's mind before committing the crime, and he who deliberates is, evidently, free to do or not to do. If a spirit knew beforehand that he would commit a murder, it would imply that he was predestined to commit that crime. No one is ever predestined to commit a crime; and every crime, like every other action, is always the result of determination and free-will.
"You are all too apt to confound two things essentially distinct--the events of material life, and the acts of moral life. If there is, sometimes, a sort of fatality, it is only in those events of your material life of which the cause is beyond your action, and independent of your will. As to the acts of the moral life, they always emanate from the man himself, who, consequently, has always the freedom of choice; in those acts, therefore, there is never fatality."
862. There are persons who never succeed in anything, and who seem to be pursued by an evil genius in all their undertakings; is there not, in such cases, something that may be called a fatality?
"It is certainly a fatality, if you like to call it so, but it results from the choice of the kind of existence made by those persons in the spirit-state, because they desired to exercise their patience and resignation by a life of disappointment. But you must not suppose that this fatality is absolute, for it is often the consequence of a man's having taken a wrong path, one that is not adapted to his intelligence and aptitudes. He who tries to cross a river without knowing how to swim stands a very good chance of drowning; and the same may be said in regard to the greater part of the events of your life. If a man undertook only the things that are in harmony with his faculties, he would almost always succeed. What causes his failure is his conceit and ambition, which draw him out of his proper path, and make him mistake for a vocation what is only a desire to satisfy those passions. He fails, and through his own fault; but, instead of blaming himself, he prefers to accuse his 'star.' One who might have been a good workman, and earned his bread honorably in that capacity, prefers to make bad poetry, and dies of starvation. There would be a place for every one, if every one put himself in his right place."
863. Do not social habits often oblige a man to follow one road rather than another, and is not his choice of occupation often controlled by the opinion of those about him? Is not the sentiment which leads us to attach a certain amount of importance to the judgment of others an obstacle to the exercise of our free-will?
"Social habits are made, not by God, but by men; if men submit to them, it is because it suits them to do so, and their submission is therefore an act of their free-will, since, if they wished to enfranchise themselves from those habits, they could do so. Why, then, do they complain? It is not social habits that they should accuse, but their pride, which makes them prefer to starve rather than to derogate from what they consider to be their dignity. Nobody thanks them for this sacrifice to opinion, though God would take note of the sacrifice of their vanity. We do not mean to say that you should brave public opinion unnecessarily, like certain persons who possess more eccentricity than true philosophy: there is as much absurdity in causing yourself to be pointed at as an oddity, or stared at as a curious animal, as there is wisdom in descending, voluntarily and unmurmuringly, when you are unable to maintain yourself at the top of the social ladder."
864. If there are persons to whom fate is unpropitious, there are others who seem to be favored by fortune, for they succeed in everything they undertake. To what is this to be attributed?
"In many cases, to their skilful management of their affairs; but it may also be a species of trial. People are often intoxicated by success; they put their trust in their destiny, and pay in the end for their former successes by severe reverses, which greater prudence would have enabled them to avoid."
865. How can we account for the run of luck that sometimes favors people under circumstances with which neither the will nor the intelligence have anything to do; in games of hazard, for instance?
"Certain spirits have chosen beforehand certain sorts of pleasure, the luck that favors them is a temptation. He who wins as a man often loses as a spirit; such luck is a trial for his vanity and his cupidity."
866. The fatality which seems to shape our material destinies is, then, a result of our free will?
"You, yourself, have chosen your trial; the severer it is, and the better you bear it, the higher you do raise yourself. Those who pass their lives in the selfish enjoyment of plenty and of human happiness are cowardly spirits who remain stationary. Thus the number of those who are unfortunate is much greater, in your world, than of those who are fortunate, because spirits generally make choice of the trial that will be most useful to them. They see too clearly the futility of your grandeurs and your enjoyments. Besides, the most fortunate life is always more or less agitated, more or less troubled, if only by the absence of sorrow." (525 et seq.)
867. Whence comes the expressions "Born under a lucky star"?
"From an old superstition that connected the stars with the destiny of each human being--a figure that some people are silly enough to take for literal truth."
868. Can the future be revealed to man?
"As a rule, the future is hidden from him; it is only in rare and exceptional cases that God permits it to be revealed.
869. Why is the future hidden from man?
"If man knew the future, he would neglect the present, and would not act with the same freedom, because he would be swayed by the thought that, if such and such a thing is to happen, there is no need to occupy one's self about it; or else he would seek to prevent it. God has willed that it should not be thus, in order that each may concur in the accomplishment of the designs of Providence, even of those which he would desire to thwart; and thus you, yourselves, often prepare the way, without your knowing it, for the events that will occur in the course of your life."
870. Since it is useful that the future should be hidden, why does God sometimes permit it to be revealed?
"Because in such cases this foreknowledge, instead of hindering the accomplishment of the thing that is to be, will facilitate it, by inducing the person to whom it is revealed to act in a different way from that in which he would otherwise have acted. And, besides, it is often a trial. The prospect of an event may awaken thoughts more or less virtuous. If a man becomes aware, for instance, that he will succeed to an inheritance which he had not expected, he may be tempted by a feeling of cupidity, by elation at the prospect of adding to his earthly pleasures, by a desire for the death of him to whose fortune he will succeed, in order that he may obtain possession of it more speedily; or, on the other hand, this prospect may awaken in him only good and generous thoughts. If the prediction be not fulfilled, it is another trial, namely, that of the way in which he will bear the disappointment; but he will nonetheless have acquired the merit or the blame of the good or bad thoughts awakened in him by his expectation of the event predicted."
871. Since God knows everything, He knows whether a man will or will not fail in a given trial; where then is the use of this trial, since it can show God nothing that He does not already know in regard to that man?
"You might as well ask why God did not create man accomplished, perfect (119.); or why man has to pass through childhood before arriving at adult age (379.). The aim of trial is not to enlighten God in regard to man's deserts, for God knows exactly what they are, but to leave to man the entire responsibility of his conduct, since he is free to do or not to do. Man having free choice between good and evil, trial serves to bring him under the action of temptation, and thus to give him the merit of resistance, for God, though knowing beforehand whether he will triumph or succumb, cannot, being just, either reward or punish him otherwise than according to the deeds he has done." (258.)The same principle is practically admitted among men. Whatever may be the qualifications of a candidate for any distinction, whatever may be our confidence of his success, no grade can be conferred on him without his having undergone the prescribed examination, that is to say, without his desert having been tested by trial, just as a judge only condemns the accused for the crime he has actually committed, and not on the presumption that he could or would commit such crime.
The more we reflect on the consequences that would result from our knowledge of the future, the more clearly do we see the wisdom of Providence in hiding it from us. The certainty of our future good fortune would render us inactive that of coming misfortune would plunge us in discouragement in both cases our activities would be paralyzed. For this reason, the future is only shown to man as an end which he is to attain through his own efforts, but without knowing the sequence of events through which he will pass in attaining it. The foreknowledge of all the incidents of his journey would deprive him of his initiative and of the use of his free-will; he would let himself be drawn, passively, by the force of events, down the slope of circumstances, without any exercise of his faculties. When the success of a matter is certain, we no longer busy ourselves about it.
Theoretic Summary of the Springs of Human Action.
872. The question of free-will may be thus summed up: Man is not fatally led into evil; the acts he accomplishes are not written down beforehand; the crimes he commits are not the result of any decree of destiny. He may have chosen, as trial and as expiation, an existence in which, through the surroundings amidst which he is placed, or the circumstances that supervene, he will be tempted to do wrong; but he always remains free to do or not to do. Thus a spirit exercises free-will, in the spirit-life, by choosing his next existence and the kind of trials to which it will subject him, and, in the corporeal life, by using his power of yielding to, or resisting the temptations to which he has voluntarily subjected himself. The duty of education is to combat the evil tendencies brought by the spirit into his new existence--a duty which it will only be able to thoroughly fulfill when it shall be based on a deeper and truer knowledge of man's moral nature. Through knowledge of the laws of this department of his nature education will be able to modify it, as it already modifies his intelligence by instruction, and his temperament by hygiene. Each spirit, when freed from matter, and in the state of erraticity, chooses his future corporeal existences according to the degree of purification to which he has already attained; and it is in the power of making this choice, as we have previously pointed out, that his free-will principally consists. This free-will is not annulled by incarnation, for, if the incarnated spirit yields to the influence of matter, it is always to the very trials previously chosen by him that he succumbs, and he is always free to invoke the assistance of God and of good spirits to help him to surmount them. (337.)
Without free-will there would be for man neither guilt in doing wrong, nor merit in doing right, a principle so fully recognized in this life, that the world always apportions its blame or its praise of any deed to the intention, that is to say, to the will of the doer; and will is but another term for freedom. Man, therefore, could not seek an excuse for his misdeeds in his organization, without abdicating his reason and his condition as a human being, and assimilating himself to the condition of the brute. If he could do so in regard to what is wrong, he would have to do the same in regard to what is wrong, he would have to do the same in regard to what is right; but, whenever a man does what is right, he takes good care to claim the merit of his action, and never thinks of attributing that merit to his organs, which proves that he instinctively refuses to renounce, at the bidding of certain theory-builders, the most glorious privilege of his species, namely, freedom of thought.
Fatality, as commonly understood, supposes an anterior and irrevocable ordaining of all the events of human life, whatever their degree of importance. If such were the order of things, man would be a machine, without a will of his own. Of what use would his intelligence be to him, seeing that he would be invariably overruled in all his acts by the power of destiny? Such pre-ordination, if it took place, would be the destruction of all moral freedom; there would be no such thing as human responsibility, and consequently neither good nor evil, neither virtues nor crimes. God, being sovereignty just, could not chastise His creatures for faults which they had not the option of not committing, nor could He reward them for virtues which would constitute for them no merit. It would be, moreover, the negation of the law of progress; for, if man were thus dependent on fate, he would make no attempt to ameliorate his position, since his action would be both unnecessary and unavailing.
On the other hand, fatality is not a mere empty word; it really exists in regard to the position occupied by each man upon the earth and the part which he plays in it, as a consequence of the kind of existence previously made choice of by his spirit, as trial, expiation, or mission, for, in virtue of that choice, he is necessarily subjected to the vicissitudes of the existence he has chosen, and to all the tendencies, good or bad, inherent in it; but fatality ceases at this point, for it depends on his will to yield, or not to yield, to those tendencies. The details of events are subordinated to the circumstances to which man himself gives rise by his action, and in regard to which he may be influenced by the good or bad thoughts suggested to him by spirits. (459.)
There is a fatality, then, in the events which occur independently of our action, because they are the consequence of the choice of our existence made by our spirit in the other life; but there can be no fatality in the results of those events, because we are often able to modify their results by our own prudence. There is no fatality in regard to the acts of our moral life.
It is only in regard to his death that man is placed under the law of an absolute and inexorable fatality; for he can neither evade the decree which has fixed the term of his existence, nor avoid the kind of death which is destined to interrupt its course.
According to the common belief, man derives all his instincts from himself; they proceed either from his physical organization, for which he is not responsible, or from his own nature, which would furnish him with an equally valid excuse for his imperfections, as, if such were the case, he might justly plead that it is through no option of his own that he has been made what he is.
The doctrine of Spiritism is evidently more moral. It admits the plenitude of man's free-will, and, in telling him that, when he does wrong, he yields to an evil suggestion made by another spirit, it leaves him the entire responsibility of his wrong-doing, because it recognizes his power of resisting that suggestion, which it is evidently more easy for him to do than it would be to fight against his own nature. Thus, according to spiritist doctrine, no temptation is irresistible. A man can always close his mental ear against the occult voice which addresses itself to his inner consciousness, just as he can close it against a human voice. He can always withdraw himself from the suggestions that would tempt him to evil, by exerting his will against the tempter; asking of God, at the same time, to give him the necessary strength, and calling on good spirits to help him in vanquishing the temptation.
This view of the exciting cause of human action is the natural consequence of the totality of the teaching now being given from the spirit-world. It is not only sublime in point of morality; it is also eminently fitted to enhance man's self-respect. For it shows him that he is as free to shake off the yoke of an oppressor, as he is to close his house against unwelcome intrusion; that he is not a machine, set in motion by an impulsion independent of his will; that he is a reasoning being, with the power of listening to, weighing, and choosing freely between, two opposing counsels. Let us add that, while thus counseled, man is not deprived of the initiative of his action; what he does, he does of his own motion, because he is still a spirit, though incarnated in a corporeal envelope, and still preserves, as a man, the good and bad qualities he possessed as a spirit.
The faults we commit have their original source, therefore, in the imperfection of our own spirit, which has not yet acquired the moral excellence it will acquire in course of time, but which, nevertheless, is in full possession of its free-will. Corporeal life is permitted to us for the purpose of purging our spirit of its imperfections through the trials to which we are thus subjected; and it is precisely those imperfections that weaken us and render us accessible to the suggestions of other imperfect spirits, who take advantage of our weakness in trying to make us fail in the fulfillment of the task we have imposed upon ourselves. If we issue victorious from the struggle, our spirit attains a higher grade; if we fail, our spirit remains as it was, no better and no worse, but with the unsuccessful attempt to be made over again: a repetition of the same trial that may retard our advancement for a very long period. But, in proportion as we effect our improvement, our weakness diminishes and we give less and less handle to those who would tempt us to evil; and as our moral strength constantly increases, bad spirits cease at length to act upon us.
The totality of spirits, good and bad, constitute by their incarnation the human race; and as our earth is one of the most backward worlds, more bad spirits than good ones are incarnated in it, and a general perversity is visible among mankind. Let us, then, do our utmost not to have to come back to it, but to merit admission into a world of higher degree; one of those happier worlds in which goodness reigns supreme, and in which we shall remember our sojourn in this lower world only as a period of exile.