Materialism and its Lessons
Theosophist, May, 1883
Quotation from Prof. Maudsley | Note by H.P.B.
“Disclosing to man the stern and uniform reign of law in nature, even in the evolution and degeneracy of his own nature, it takes from him the comfortable but demoralizing doctrine that he or others can escape the penalty of his ignorance, error, or wrong-doings either by penitence or prayer, and holds him to the strictest
account for them. Discarding the notion that the observed uniformity of nature is but a uniformity of sequence at will—which may be interrupted whenever its interruption is earnestly enough asked for—a notion which, were it more than lip-doctrine, must necessarily deprive him of his most urgent motive to study patiently
the laws of nature in order to conform to them—it enforces a stern feeling of responsibility to search out painfully the right path of evidence and to follow it, inexorably laying upon man the responsibility of the future of his race. If it be most certain, as it is, that all disobedience of natural law, whether physical or moral, is
avenged inexorably in its consequences on earth, either upon the individual himself, or more often, perhaps, upon others—that the violated law cannot be bribed to stay its arm by burnt-offerings nor placated by prayers—it is a harmful doctrine, as tending directly to undermine understanding and to weaken will, to teach that either prayer or sacrifice will obviate the consequences of want of foresight or want of self-discipline, or that reliance on supernatural aid will make amends for lack of intelligent will. We still pray half-heartedly in our churches, as our forefathers prayed with their whole hearts, when we are afflicted with a plague or pestilence, that God will ‘accept of an atonement and command the destroying angel to cease from punishing’; and when we are suffering from, too much rain, we ask him to send fine weather, ‘although we for our infirmities have worthily deserved a plague of rain and waters.’ Is there a person of Sincere understanding who, uttering that prayer, now believes it in his heart to be the successful way to stay a fever, plague, or pestilence? He knows well that, if it is to be answered, he must clean away dirt, purify drains, disinfect houses, and put in force those other sanitary measures which experience has proved to be efficacious, and that the aid vouchsafed to the prayer will only be given when these are by themselves successful. Had men gone on believing, as they once believed, that prayer would stay disease, they would never have learned and adopted sanitary measures, any more than the savage of Africa who prays to his fetish to cure disease, does now. To get rid of the notion of supernatural interposition was the essential condition of true knowledge and self-help in that matter.”
Every intelligent, unbiassed mind of any religion will endorse Prof. Maudsley’s above definition of the true religion for humanity—which is taken from the Fortnightly Review. Every bigoted sectarian of them all will denounce it as the blasphemous mouthings of infidelity. The Theosophists of all creeds, that is to say, every person in every Church, who makes personal efforts to attain the higher knowledge, whether or not he calls himself such, or even knows himself to be of the class so denominated, will take Dr. Maudsley as a faithful interpreter of a great interior truth. As for the Buddhists, clergy and laity will alike say that the sublime Doctrine of Merit could scarcely have been better formulated by a Western materialist.