I find in William James' "Varieties of Religious Experience",
the following definition of religion: "Religion, therefore, as I shall ask you
arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts and experiences of
individuals in their solitude so far as they comprehend themselves to stand in relation to
whatever they may consider the divine."
It seems to me the common man would as soon understand Einstein as this definition. In
fact, the religious trends of the men and women in this world have many sources and are no
more unified than their humor is. Whether all peoples, no matter how low in culture, have
had religion cannot be settled by a study of the present inhabitants of the world, for
every one of these, though savage, has tradition and some culture. Theoretically, for the
one who accepts some form of evolution as true, at some time in man's history he has first
asked himself some of the questions answered by religion.
For my part, as I read the anthropologists (whose answers to the question of the origin
of religion I regard as the only valid ones, since they are the only ones without
prejudice and with some regard for scientific method), it is the practical needs of man,
his curiosity and his tendency to explain by human force, which are the first sources of
the religions. How to get good crops, how to catch fish and game, how to win over enemies,
how and whom to marry, what to do to be strong and successful as individual and group,
found various answers in the taboo, the prayer, the ceremony and the priest, magician and
scientist. Curiosity as to what was behind each phenomenon of nature and the tendency of
man to personalize all force, as well as the awe and admiration aroused by the strong,
wise and crafty contemporary and ancestor brought into the world the "old
man-cult," ancestor- worship, gods and goddesses of ranging degrees and power, but
very much like men and women except for power and longevity. Certain natural
phenomena--death, sleep, trance, epileptic attack--all played their part, bringing about
ideas of the soul, immortality, possession, etc. With culture and the growth of inhibition
and knowledge and the use of art and symbols, the primitive beliefs modified their nature;
the gods became one God, who was gradually stripped of his human desires, wishes,
partialities and attributes until for the majority of the cultivated he becomes Nature,
which in the end is a collection of laws in which one HOPES there is a unifying purpose.
But the vast majority of the world, even in the so-called civilized countries, worship
taboos, symbols, have a modified polytheistic belief or a personalized God, still attempt
to persuade the Power in their own behalf, to act favorably to their own purposes and
follow those who claim knowledge of the divine and inscrutable,--the priest, minister,
rabbi, the man of God, in a phrase.
A part of religious feeling arises in civilized man, at least, from the feeling of awe
in the presence of the vast forces of nature. Here science has contributed to religious
feeling, for as one looks at the stars, his soul bows in worship mainly because the
astronomer, the scientist, has told him that every twinkling point is a great sun
surrounded by planets, and that the light from them must travel unimaginable millions of
miles to reach him. As the world forces become impersonal they become more majestic, and a
deeper feeling is evoked in their presence. Science aids true religion by increasing awe,
by increasing knowledge.
A great factor in religion is the longing to compensate for death and suffering.
Religion represents a reaction against fear, horror and humiliation. It is a cry of
triumph in the face of what otherwise is disaster "I am not man, the worm, sick, old,
doomed to die; I am the heir of the divine and will live forever, happy and blessed."
Whether religious teaching is true or not, its great value lies in the happiness and
surety of those who believe.
In its very highest sense the religious life is an effort to identify oneself with the
largest purpose in the world. All cooperative purposes are thus religious, all competitive
nonreligious. The selfish is therefore opposed to the altruistic purpose, the narrow to
the broad. Good is the symbol for the purposes that seek the welfare of all: evil is the
symbol of those who seek the welfare of a person or a group, regardless of the rest.
If this definition is correct, then every reformer is religious and every self-seeker,
though he wear all the symbols of a religion and pray three times a day, is irreligious. I
admit no man or woman to the fellowship of the religious unless in his heart he seeks some
purpose that will lift the world out of discord and into harmony.
The power of the human being to believe in the face of opposed fact, inconsistency and
unfavorable result is nowhere so well exemplified as in religion. I do not speak of the
untold crimes and inhumanities done in the name of religion, of human sacrifice,
persecution, religious war,--these are parts of a chapter in human history outside of the
province of this book and almost too horrible to be contemplated. But men have believed
(and do believe) that some among them knew what God wanted, that certain procedures,
tricks and ceremonies conveyed sanctity and surety; that cosmic events like storms,
droughts, eclipses and epidemics had personal human meanings, that Infinite Wisdom would
be guided in action by the prayers of ignorance, self-seeking and hatred, etc., etc. The
savage who believes that his medicine man's antics, paint and feathers will bring rain and
fertile soil has his counterpart in the civilized man who believes that this or that
ceremonial and professed belief insures salvation. Faith is beautiful in the abstract, but
in the concrete it is often the origin of superstition and amazing folly. However
crudely intelligence and honest scientific effort may work, they soar in a heaven far
above the abyss of credulity.
 It would be amusing were it not sad to see how remarkably well some philosophers
use their intelligence and logic to prove the invalidity of intelligence and logic. They
praise emotion, instinct and "intuition" and such modes of knowing and acting,
yet their works are closely argued, reasoned and appeal throughout to the intelligence of
their readers for acceptance.
True religion in the sense I have used the word has faith in it, the faith that there
is a purpose in the universe, though it seems impossible for us to discover it. In the
personal character it seeks to establish altruistic feeling and conduct, though it does
not rule out as unworthy self-feeling or seeking. It merely subordinates them. It does not
deny the validity of pleasure, of the sensuous pleasures; it does not set its face against
drinking, eating, sexual love, play and entertainment, but it urges a valid purpose as
necessary for happiness and morality. It does not glorify faith as against reason, emotion
as against intelligence; on the contrary, it holds that reason and intelligence are the
governing factors in human life and only by use of them do we rise from the beast.
So the religious life of those we study will be of great importance to us. In the
majority of cases we shall find that social heredity, tradition and backing will play the
dominant role, in that most, in name at least, live and die in the faith in which they
were born. We find those who identify form and ceremonial with religion (the majority),
others who identify it with ethics and morality, and who can conceive no righteousness out
of it. Then there is the strictly modern type of person to whom right conduct is held to
have nothing to do with religious belief and who measures Christian, Jew, Mohammedan and
agnostic by their acts and not at all by their dogma, and who thus relegates religion, in
the ordinary use of the word, to a rather useless place in human life. Orthodoxy, piety,
tolerance and skepticism represent attitudes towards organized religion: altruism,
sympathy, good will, and fellowship are the measurements of the unorganized religion whose
mission it is to find the purpose of life.
We have spoken throughout of man as a mosaic of character, and we must modify this
statement. A mosaic is a static collection, whereas a man has character struggles, balance
and overbalance. Really to know a man is to get at the proportionate power of his various
trends, to understand his harmonies and disharmonies.
Character development is the story of the unification of the traits or characters.
Disharmony, disproportion of traits and characters may be progressive and lead to disaster
and mental disease, or a balance may be reached after a struggle and what we call reform
takes place. Though our social life tends to narrow and repress character, it also tends
to harmonize it by the preventing of excess development of certain traits. The social
person is on the whole well balanced, though he may be mediocre. On the other hand, the
non-social person usually tends to unbalance in the sense that he becomes odd and
What are the chief disharmonies? I mean, of course, glaring disharmonies, for no one is
of harmonious development, with intelligence, emotions, instincts, desires, purposes in
cooperation with each other. This I propose to consider in more detail in the next
chapter, on some character types, but it will be of use to sketch the great disharmonies.
Character is dynamic, and a fundamental disharmony, even if not noticeable early in
life, may progress to the point of disruption of the personality. Thus an individual who
is strongly egoistic in his purposes and aims may succeed if at the same time he is
determined intelligent and shrewd. But let us suppose he has a son who is as strongly
egoistic, is as determined, but lacks intelligence and shrewdness. Not becoming
successful, this person ascribes his failure to others and develops ideas of persecution.
Again, a true poet is a person of keen sensibilities, but he must possess at the same
time imaginative intelligence and the power of words. Let these be joined in proper
proportions, and his verse becomes ours and we hail him as a poet. But let him lack the
power of words, and though he sweat with a desire to write he is a failure or a hack poet,
making up by industry what he lacks in beauty. Suppose there is a man deeply passionate,
thrilled by the beauty of women and desiring them with a fierce ardor, and yet he has
strong inhibitions, great purposes which hold him steady. Then throughout life he seems
calm, chaste and controlled, and no one knows of the turmoil and battle within him. We may
suppose that old age or a sickness lowers his inhibiting qualities, and a startling
change in conduct results, one that we can scarcely believe and which we are inclined to
call a complete transformation of personality. In reality, a disharmony has occurred, some
trend has been released, and conduct, which is a resultant, changes its direction.
 Sexual misdemeanor is not uncommon in old men who have hitherto been of hallowed
Inhibition control, may develop later than it should, as I have already mentioned. At
adolescence sex desire comes suddenly into play, but usually in one way or another there
are checks upon its effects already established. But often there is not, and the boy or
girl plunges into a sex life that brings them into violent conflict with themselves and
society. Despite their efforts the non-ethical conduct continues; despite their tears and
vows to reform they are swept by "temptation" into difficulty. Then suddenly or
gradually, perhaps long after every one despairs of them, the inhibition appears, and they
settle down to a controlled life. What has happened? We cannot say in anatomical terms,
but from a psychological standpoint the function of inhibition, delayed in its appearance,
finally comes on the scene. We see this delay in other phases of character; there is often
delay in sex feeling, in the interest in work, in love of the beautiful, in control of
anger, etc. Take the last mentioned: an irascible child grows into an irascible adolescent
and even into a similar adult, flaring up under the least provocation, to the dismay and
disgust of others and himself. "He can't control himself," so say others, and so
thinks he. He vows reform, but nothing seems to help. Then like a miracle comes the
longed-for inhibition; anger is still there when his will is crossed or his opinion
scouted, but a firm hand is on it, and he maintains a calm he had despaired of reaching.
Man is a bundle of disharmonies, as the great Eli Metchnikoff pointed out, physically,
psychologically and sociologically. When these disharmonies are within average limits we
do not notice them; when they are greater in degree they bring about conduct that at once
claims attention. Sometimes a disharmony is merely an excess development of some ability,
in which case, if the ability is socially valuable, we have the talented person or the
genius. This is often the case with the artistic abilities and also with the physical
powers. If the disharmony involve an instinct, an emotion or certain phases of the
intelligence, we are brought face to face with the abnormal.
There is, of course, disharmony through ordinary defect as in feeble-mindedness, as in
absence of some essential emotion or instinct. These are hopeless situations and belong in
the grim field of psychopathology. Often what seems to be a defect is a
"sleeping" quality, and one that will awaken under appropriate circumstance.
Conspicuously, maternal love is of this nature. One sees a girl who has no interest in
children, considers them bores and nuisances, who marries with the hope she will be
childless, and with the first baby becomes a passionately devoted mother, even fiercely
In the following pages I shall sketch some prominent character types. This has been
done by such masters as Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, La Bruyere, Stewart, Ribot, Mill, etc.,
but with a different purpose and starting point than mine.
Every great novelist is a professor of character depiction. Witness Scrooge, Pecksniff,
Mark Tapley, Pickwick, Sam Weller and his father, created by Dickens; the four musketeers,
especially D'Artagnon, of Dumas; Amelia and Rebecca Sharp, George, and the Major of
Thackeray; Jane Austen's heroines and George Eliot's men and women; the narrators in the
famous Canterbury Inn, the soldiers of Kipling, the Shylocks, Macbeths, Rosalinds and
Falstaffs of the greatest dramatist; the thousand and one fictitious and yet real figures
The temperament studies by the psychologists and philosophers have been too broad and
too classical to be of practical value. Sanguine and choleric temperament, the bilious,
the nervous and the phlegmatic, the quick and the slow, all these are broad divisions, and
no man really exemplifies them. What I propose to do is less ambitious, but perhaps more
practical. I shall take a few of the qualities with which the previous pages have
concerned themselves and show how they work out in individuals mainly sketched from life.
It will seem that perhaps a disproportionate number are pathological, but I wish to
insist that there is no sharp line between the "normal" and
"pathological" in character. In fact, normality is an abstract conception, an
ideal never reached or seen, and each of us only approaches that ideal in greater or
lesser degree. Moreover, certain deviations from the normal are useful, as the assemblage
of qualities that make the genius or the reformer of certain types. Others are not useful,
or at least not useful in the environment and age in which the deviated person finds
himself. Undoubtedly the abnormal have helped found religions, for one who
"hears" God and "sees" him as do many of the insane, if intelligent
and eloquent at the same time, easily convinces others; but if such a person occurs in a
group with well-established belief and resistant to the new, the insane hospital soon
lodges the new apostle.
I shall not attempt to consider all the varied shades of harmony and disharmony, the
extraordinary variety of types. There are as many varieties of persons as there are
people, and the mathematical possibilities exceed computation. Those depicted are some of
the outstanding types, in whom qualities and combinations of qualities can easily be seen