ETHICS OF NEW THOUGHT
Abel Leighton Allen
The Message of New Thought
“Truth is the one reality in the universe, the Inward Harmony, the Perfect Justice,the eternal Love. Nothing can be added to it, nor taken from it. It does not depend upon any man, but all men depend upon it.” — SWAMI VIVEKENANDA
THE supreme purpose of religion is to teach man to live a normal life. Ethics and religion cannot be divorced; they go hand in hand, they supplement each other.
The best religion teaches the purest ethics. Only from true religion can pure ethics flow. The religion that is not ethical, that does not teach the highest morality, is not true. When we discover a religion of absolute truth, we shall possess a code of perfect ethics.
Truth is constructive; error is destructive. Truth alone is ethical; error is unethical. Truth expands the mind; error contracts it. Truth alone prepares the mind for the reception of more truth; error, however innocently espoused, unfits it for the reception of truth. Error repels truth; it invites more error. Truth broadens the mind, error confuses and weakens it. Truth builds moral character; error tears it down. Truth emancipates man; error enslaves him.
Frank Crane observes that “There is only one thing in the universe of men and near
men that is always good, full of health, soundness, and peace, whose apples are of the substance of the soul and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, and that thing is truth.” Theosophy has well said there is no religion higher than truth. Another has said, “Truth is the property of God; the pursuit of truth is what belongs to man.” Goethe wrote: “It is not necessary that the truth be made clear; it is enough if it hovers about us like a spirit and produces harmony; if it vibrates through the air, gravely and kindly, like the sound of a bell.”
If the one great fact could be impressed upon men, that they can only come into harmony with God as they approach truth, and the nearer they get to truth the closer they come to God, it would be of more value than all the theological dogmas spoken since time began. This one fact would liberate the human mind and send it on its joyous discovery for the greatest of all treasures man can possess, truth. It would emancipate man from fixed and narrow beliefs, which are the real hindrances to the discovery of more truth. It would prepare his mind for the reception and assimilation of larger ideas and a broader understanding, the first steps toward true progress and real life.
When the theological mists and fogs which for so many centuries have hung like a pall over the race are dissolved and brushed aside, we find that real religion is the living a life. Religion that is kept for speculation and theorizing and not for use is not religion. Religion is for use alone, and no man has any that he does not use. That religion is best that fashions men’s lives by the highest ideals of truth, justice, and morality–that inspires the mind to reach out for still higher conceptions of truth.
To lead man into an honest, industrious, moral, and unselfish life, to bring him into harmony with the laws of Nature, to build character, to develop his spiritual nature, is the supreme end of all philosophies and all religions. Nature and truth are the basis of man’s life, and on them man and all his interests, relations, and concerns come to rest as certainly as the dawn follows the night.
It is his function and office properly to interpret the symbols of Nature and open and prepare the mind for the reception and assimilation of truth.
Whatever leads man away from selfish thoughts, whatever elevates his mental and spiritual understanding, whatever builds character, mental and moral, whatever inspires the desire for knowledge, a longing for truth is in the truest sense religious and in the highest degree ethical. The mind recoils from the thought that a creed or a dogma that professes to relieve the individual from personal responsibility can have any ethical or moral value. Nature wisely placed us under responsibility; whatever, therefore, seeks to evade its just consequences is immoral.
Likewise the mind shrinks from the idea that a particular belief will determine man’s future welfare and eternal destiny. Beliefs are important only as they have constructive tendencies, only as they mold character, only as they fit men to grapple the real things of life and lead them to higher ideals and more exalted ethical standards. It is true that positive beliefs, or more properly faith, are essential to all growth and development. The belief in one’s self, in our own illimitable possibilities and the universal law of cause and effect, the justice of the universe, the good in other men, are essential to all true progress and the symmetrical development of man. “The fearful unbelief is the unbelief in myself,” says Carlyle.
For fifteen hundred years or more theology has dealt in negative beliefs, the belief in man’s insignificance, his weakness, and inability to build his own character and now as the light of reason reveals man to himself and the potentialities of his own soul, they lament the decay and loss of those beliefs. Their contracted vision sees only darkness in the spiritual sky. Men of thought see growth and development, as such beliefs fade and disappear.
The masters of thought in all ages taught man how to live, how to act, not what to believe. They were content to give man rules for living, not formulas for believing. The Gentle Seer of Galilee laid down few rules for man’s guidance, but they all related to conduct. The essence of his teaching was realization, not belief. His directions were so simple, so few that men have over- looked them or said they were impracticable in a practical age. His whole life and career was one grand protest against formulas and rules. He was the greatest heretic of his age. Were he to return to earth again, the present church would so brand him. The essence of all his teaching is embraced in the one incomparable statement, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. How simple, how fair, how equitable, how explicit and easily understood. There was never a truer expression or completer definition of the term justice.
Did you ever stop to think what cruelty, wrongs, and bloodshed would have been spared the race if this simple rule had been observed, even by those who pretended to be the followers of him who gave it to the world? In modern times we call this rule the square deal. A gleam of its wisdom, utility, and justice is beginning to penetrate men’s minds. It is not only influencing the minds of individuals, but also governments, states, and political institutions. It is the basis of all movements to abolish war and bring about international peace. It is the foundation of all true diplomacy. Nations, as individuals, see that it does not pay to violate this rule of justice. “The dice of God are loaded.”
Selfishness is the fruitful cause of all vicious and culpable conduct. Jesus undertook to tell man how to eradicate selfishness and remove it from his life. His antidote was expressed in one word, Love. Love your enemies, return good for evil, was the acme of his thought. “Self is the only prison that can ever bind the soul; Truth is the only angel that can bid the gates unroll. ”
Never was a completer code of ethics given to man than in the Sermon on the Mount. Its principles are true to the laws of Nature. Their bare statement is a demonstration of their truth, to him who thinks and reasons. Their truth and wisdom intuitively flash upon the soul. They embody the wisest rules possible, for the solution of all life’s problems. They give man the key to a life of honest purpose, a life of success, and a life of power.
The Golden Rule is the best business maxim the world has yet observed. It had been declared for ages before and spoken in many languages and dialects, but Jesus impressed it anew upon the world. Underneath all the simple rules and as a basis upon which they all rest, is the universal law of cause and effect; as is the cause, so is the result. If we rob another, we rob ourselves; we rob ourselves of our own character and we have nothing left. “Every wrong is redressed in silence and certainty.” When men follow these precepts, they find peace, plenty, and power. When they violate them, they experience the opposite results. When they practice honesty to their fellow-man and are true to themselves, they have reached the highest ethical standards.
When Jesus said: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you, resist not evil,” he uttered a solemn protest against the law of retaliation, although it had been taught by no less a personage than Moses whom the world calls the great Law Giver. Understanding the nature of man, Jesus saw that such a law was not founded on the principles of morality and could not lead to the betterment of man. The Sermon on the Mount is a standing protest against much of the code of Moses. Man is not made better by the practice of cruelty or the exhibition of revenge. Morality is not thrust into the soul on the point of a sword. Man can only be made moral as he changes his thought. Until his thoughts are moral, his life cannot be moral.
Yet the world did not believe Jesus, nor do his professed followers believe him even to this day. Our Christian civilizations still follow the law of Moses and reject the teachings of Jesus. Society still persists in murdering men, because they murdered other men. We still practice the law of retaliation, the lex talionis, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
When did the orthodox churches whether Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic, or Protestant, ever enter a protest against the horrible spectacle of capital punishment? We assume the right of taking human life, which God only can give. Society, in sending the homicide to the gallows or the electric chair, effectually declares him unfit to live in their commonwealth, although deprived of citizenship and confined behind bars at hard labor for the remainder of his life; yet it always implores God to accept him in heaven, restored to his liberty and citizenship, that he may there become a resident and permanent inhabitant. Society says he is not good enough for us, but recommends him as worthy of a place in heaven.
What would Jesus say to the proposition of hanging or electrocuting men, who said to the woman, “Go, sin no more?” Could you conceive of him installing an electric chair, or adjusting the hangman’s noose? You say this is blasphemy. Is it? Jesus never shrank from the performance of a duty. He would not enact a law that he was not willing to execute.
Has any religious convention or conference or synod or any of their branches ever raised a voice against capital punishment? The horrible tragedies are still enacted, except where certain American States, realizing the folly and atrocity of the system, have abolished it by legislative enactment. At any time during the last thousand years the Church could have caused its abolishment, had it so desired, but the Church loved Moses more than Jesus. We read of six thousand executions in one nation during one administration, although the Church and State are united. It is only as men have broken away from Church domination and become independent, that they have become charitable enough to abolish the death penalty even for larceny.
Our whole system of criminal law is based on the law of Moses. We follow Moses instead of Jesus. Their utterances cannot both be true. If the law of retaliation is right, because Moses said so, why not follow all his laws? Why not sacrifice with burnt offerings? For did not Moses so direct? When our forefathers killed witches, they had the sanction of Moses and no doubt depended upon him for authority. It has been said that we are governed by the dead. We are not only governed by the dead, but by those who have been dead four thousand years.
As long as law sanctions a system of retaliation, cruelty, and hate, and practices methods of getting even, what kind of ideals is it setting before the individual? Must the individual rise above the standards and practices set by government? There cannot be two standards of right, one for society or the State and one for the individual. The law should set an ideal of righteousness for the individual to work to, not one that would drag him down to lower levels.
Jesus taught the supreme law of kindness. He looked into the depths of man’s soul and
understood every law of his nature. The wisdom of his rules can be demonstrated constantly in man’s everyday experience. Kindness is the only solvent for hatred; in all Nature like attracts like. Men’s attitude to us will be what our attitude is to them. If we send out kind thoughts, we attract kind thoughts; if we send out malicious thoughts, they return to us as malicious thoughts. Honest men attract honest men, and suspicious and dishonest men attract their own kind.
What we sow, that we reap. We are governed by laws fixed and eternal. We are never better than our thoughts nor grow beyond our ideals. Our conditions are measured by our mental and spiritual images. We get what belongs to us. We attract that upon which our thoughts dwell. If we commit crime, it is because we first admitted criminal thoughts into our minds. The only reform is to reform the mind.
Some one asks, How can I love my enemy? The answer is simple enough, the accomplishment is easy. If you banish hatred and malice from your mind, if you treat other men as you want them to treat you, you will have no enemies. If you have enemies, blame yourself, you made them.
The great lesson for man’s consideration is that we are under the control of a simple yet inexorable law. We get what we send. We govern not only the thoughts we send forth, but those that return to us as well. Our argosies come homeward bound, laden with the same kind of merchandise as on their outward voyage. John Burroughs sang, “My own shall come to me.” Henry Victor Morgan has beautifully and truthfully written:
“There comes to my heart more and more
This infinite spirit of trust,
That in spite of all earth-seeming wrongs,
The universe ever is just.
“No matter how heavy the load, nor how bitter
the trials we have known,
Though broken and crushed in the dust,
We are reaping just what we have sown.”
We attract the people who are attracting us. If we are worthy, we count the worthy as our friends. There is also a law of repulsion. We repel what we are not. The honest man does not attract the criminal, nor vice versa. Men foolishly think that the law of giving as taught by Jesus related only to money or tangible property. As usual they misunderstood his meaning. The law as stated by him embraces everything man has to give, whether money, tangible property, kindness, sympathy, or charity. It likewise includes the opposite, hatred, malice, envy, and every evil thought the mind sends forth.
Give and ye shall receive. How simple the statement, yet how profound the law! How lightly has the world valued this great utterance. Nature is evenly balanced. We cannot disturb her equilibrium, but we can fail to find our own. If men value us, it is because they see value in us. We weigh ourselves; we judge our own qualities and defects; we record the verdict, other men read it.
The ethical lesson of greatest value is this, that man is under the dominion of law, that he cannot escape the consequences of his own thoughts and acts. Every unworthy deed brings its own punishment, and likewise every worthy act has its own reward. Someone has wisely said, we are punished not for our sins, but by our sins. Pindar sang: “The Gods themselves cannot annihilate the action that is done.” Most creeds have mistakenly taught man that he is punished by some being outside himself, sometimes a capricious and changeable being. They have devised ingenious methods by which they thought he might escape the consequences of his own acts. Such teaching is unethical and cannot produce high moral results.
Man is both the actor and the judge. He must judge himself. He cannot escape responsibility. Responsibility is the foundation of all moral teaching. Without it man cannot develop character, and without character there cannot be any high order of morality. These are self-evident truths. This is the only creed worthwhile. It gives strength for worthy living; it impels us to a realization of our best and leads to honest thinking, honest deeds and honest lives.
Since we can never get beyond the law of cause and effect, and because absolute truth is the highest ethical standard, New Thought has one supreme test for all teaching. It asks one question, Is it true? It applies the pragmatic test to all creeds, dogmas, religions, philosophies, cults, and systems of thought. Pragmatic philosophy does not accept creeds, dogmas, religions, or theories because they are old and claim the sanction of authority, nor does it reject them because they are new. Indeed, it is difficult to find religious or philosophic thought that is new. Much of modern thought is older than the creeds and is supported by authority equally as authentic.
Pragmatism is free from all bias and all prejudice. It weighs all claims in equally balanced scales; it hears all the evidence, it listens to all arguments; it is moved neither by fear, nor flattery, and then renders a just and true verdict. It is an impartial arbiter. It accepts all creeds, dogmas, and philosophies on their merits, at their intrinsic worth.
To all institutions and their creeds and philosophies pragmatism says, the burden of proof is upon you. You cannot rely on authority, tradition, age or precedents, but you must make good. Are you able to show that you make better men and women? Do you give men something worthy and uplifting to carry into their daily tasks? Do you work well in everyday affairs? Do you help men to solve properly and wisely their life problems? Do you set before them the highest motive for honest, upright, and moral living? Do you place before men the highest ethical standards? Do you reveal to man the limitless powers within himself? Do you make plain that he must reap what he has sown, and must accept the consequences of his own thoughts and deeds?
If your religion, your philosophy, creeds or dogmas unequivocally comply with these tests, pragmatism will accept them as true. If they do not, it will reject them as untrue; if your theories are not true, they are not ethical. If they do not come up to the standard of truth, you have no right to impose them upon man. Make good or quit talking. No religion should be encouraged which does not make man strong, that does not constructively develop his best qualities and point him unerringly to the highest standards.
Pragmatic philosophy demands of all religions three qualities–truth, utility, and morality. New Thought invites these tests to all its teachings, to which all philosophies, religions, dogmas, and creeds must ultimately submit their claims. What is true of men is also true of religions, philosophies, and creeds, they must be known by their fruits, by their effects upon the lives and characters of men.
The final test of a creed is not whether it has remained unchanged for hundreds of years, but whether it is giving men and women strength to resist the temptations of life and build unassailable moral characters. This is a utilitarian age in more senses than one. The religions of today must bow to this requirement. Whatever is unethical, whatever tends to weaken the moral fiber of man, whatever would relieve the individual of responsibility, whatever belittles man, whatever seeks to sap the foundation of the law of cause and effect, finds no place in the code and philosophy of New Thought.
New Thought proclaims a religion for today, a religion of life, a constructive religion, a religion founded on the highest principles of morality, a religion that brings man into harmony with Nature and God.
Man cannot be brought to practice virtue, or a moral life, either by fear or cruelty, but only as his thought comes into harmony with that kind of a life, only as his desires prompt him so to live it. Whatever awakens in him the consciousness of his own divinity, and the possibilities of greater and better things, whatever leads him on the upward path, is a long step toward a normal moral and religious life. When that consciousness takes hold of man, he becomes moral and religious by choice, he lives that kind of a life because it is attractive, because it leads him to better things, because it brings him peace and plenty and into harmony with God.
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The Message of New Thought
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