Science, Phenomena and the Press
Theosophist, July, 1881
Fiat Justitia, ruat coelum is not the motto of our century. Nothing is so amusing as to watch at every fresh exposure of some tricky medium—of whom there are a good many—the attitude of the Press in general, and those time-serving editors of pseudo first-class papers—of whom there are still more—especially. In order to flatter the sympathies, and bow to the prejudices of their subscribers, they, who speak in terms of the utmost veneration of a church they often do not believe in, will, at the same time, denounce, in the most objurgatory and vituperative language, spiritualism in which they occasionally themselves believe, and Theosophy of whose tenets they know next to nothing.
Such is the present attitude of some Anglo-Indian papers in relation to the Fletcher case. The trial and sentence to hard labour of Mrs. Fletcher—who was punished for fraudulently obtaining valuables and not at all for being, or rather not being a medium—seems to have thrown some of them into ecstasies of joy. Two of them especially—one a Lahore and the other an Allahabad paper—have got quite off their balance and gone beating about the bush after those “impostors calling themselves Theosophists and Spiritualists.” (!?) We seriously doubt whether the respective editors of the two above-mentioned papers could ever hope for the high honour of being received into the company of even the flunkeys of some of our titled “Spiritualists and Theosophists” of England, whom they include in the category of “impostors.” But, as there is every probability, in the case in hand, of a certain professional envy on their part against spiritual mediums, their irritation may have its raison d’être. The mediums “produce” while these editors “absorb” spirits. Hence—with an eye to their incurable and well-known bibacity we have to be charitable. One, who is generally as drunk as David’s sow, can hardly be made responsible for what he says. The phenomena of obsession and possession assuming most varied forms, one medium will be obsessed by “an imaginary goblin,” while another one will be possessed—by the seven fiends of drink. Hence we accuse the two “medium-editors” of gross inconsistency. For, if the public is made to credit the witty definition of that American reporter who notified the world of his discovery that “materialized spirits are but frozen whiskey,” they ought certainly to show themselves a little more grateful toward their brother mediums than they do. Leaving, however, English and Yankee-Irish editors to the tender mercies of delirium tremens and the spiritual snakes in their boots—we will broach our subject at once.
That spiritualism has made itself unpopular, is an undeniable fact. That its phenomena have become so, chiefly owing to claims of supernatural intervention for them, to the agency of spirits in the production of the manifestations, is as incontrovertible. But when the sceptic has once pronounced in tones of contempt the tabooed word “Spiritualism,” is there one man in ten thousand who fully realizes the meaning of that which he so abuses? Is it Spiritualism proper that is denounced? Or, that faith which professes blind belief in the communication of the living men with the spirits of their departed friends, through mediums? Or, is it only belief in the occurrence of occult phenomena that the average public so strongly objects to? Which?
And now, we are inclined to demonstrate, that were Society—Christians and materialists included—ever capable of acting with anything like impartiality, and of reasoning its antipathies before it became entirely blinded by its prejudices, spiritualism could never have become its bête noire as it now has. At all events, whether judged from its social, or examined from its philosophical standard, it stands certainly higher than any of the sects of the “revivalists”—against which Society has nevertheless not a word to say. Since its ranks are composed chiefly of the well-educated classes, and that spiritualism was never half as aggressive offensive as we find most of the sects of dissenters, the public has no right to taboo it, as it does.
However it may be, as the policy of our paper is to present all things in their true light, we mean now to seriously analyse spiritualism. Owing to long years of study, we believe we are more competent to judge of it than those who really know nothing of it—as the native and the Anglo-Indian press for instance. On the other hand, our own theories as to the agency producing most of the phenomena being diametrically antagonistic to those of the Spiritualists—the accusation of partiality in our case can but fall to the ground. We will now show the inconsistency of the anti-Spiritualists of all classes.
If it is against “Spiritualism” proper that the public wrath waxes so hot, then every Christian who abuses it is untrue to his creed. He plays into the hands of Infidelity. Besides having been used for ages in contradistinction to that of materialism, the word spiritualism served no farther back than the first half of our century to designate the doctrines and religious life of that class of Christian mystics who believed themselves to be under the guidance of the Divine Spirit; the adjective “Spiritualist” having been always applied to those persons who spiritualized the Jewish Scriptures. In the past centuries such was the appellation given to Jacob Böhme, Madame Guyon, Miguel de Molinos and other Quietists and Mystics. In our present age it belongs by right to the Shakers of America, and even more so to the “Apostles” of the Calcutta New Dispensation, than to the lay believers in mediumistic phenomena, who—we are sorry to say, instead of spiritualizing matter, materialize Spirit. . . . As the notion stands though, the most that could be brought by orthodox Christians against modern Spiritualism is the accusation of being one of the many heretical Christian sects of the day. Not only have the majority of Spiritualists retained their belief in the Bible and Christianity, but even the most infidel among them do no worse than the Unitarians—who assert the simple humanity of Christ, contending that he was no more than a divinely illuminated prophet—a medium, say the Spiritualists. Hence Spiritualism as a sect has as much a right for recognition and at least outward respect as any other Christian sect. But it is perhaps their peculiar belief that is so hateful to the unbelievers? Another and still grosser inconsistency! For how can belief in spirits, the surviving souls of departed men—quite an orthodox Christian dogma—be held disreputable by a Christian public? We do not mean to be disrespectful but only fair, in asking the following question: Were a sane person placed under the necessity of choosing, but had yet the privilege of a free choice, which of the two stories, think ye, he would accept as the most likely to have occurred: that of a materialized angel and the she-ass whose mouth was opened by the Lord to speak to Balaam in a human voice, or that of Mr. Crookes’ materialized Katie King? It really would not be generous in us to insist upon a direct answer. But we will do this: placing the Spiritualists on one side, and the Christian Adventists or Millenarians on the other, we will offer our reader a bird’s-eye view of both. The former, in company with more than one eminent man of science, will be represented by us at his greatest disadvantage; namely, in a spiritual circle, in a half-darkened room singing in chorus a spiritual melody, and anxiously waiting for the apparition of a materialized relative. . . . The Millenarian—surrounded by his family and household gods roosting on the top of a tree, or the roof of his house, singing Christian psalms and waiting as anxiously for his Christ to appear and carry them all away into heaven over a crumbling universe! . . . We insist that our readers should not misunderstand us. We laugh no more at the faith of the Millenarian who, notwithstanding many such days of failure when instead of catching hold of his Saviour, he found himself drenched to the bones, caught a bad cold and was occasionally killed by lightning, 1 than we deride that of the believer in the materializations. We simply ask why should the press and the public permit themselves to despise and laugh to scorn the Spiritualist, while hardly daring to mention, let alone laugh, at the beliefs of the former? Learned divines meet and seriously discuss and devise means “to be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” Dr. Tyng, one of the best educated clergymen of New York, actually pronounces these words: “Yes; we firmly believe in the coming advent. A conference was held in London in February last, and the result was gratifying. . . . At this coming the dead that have died in Christ will rise first, and then those of his children who are alive will be caught up into the clouds with them, and their bodies will undergo a change, and they will dwell in heavenly places for a season”!!
Hence—the logical induction: So long as the Christian public professes belief in, and veneration for its ancestral faith, it behoves them little to throw the accusation of “degrading superstitions and credulity” into the teeth of spiritualism. They are no better than the hypocrites denounced in Luke; those who are commanded by Jesus to cast out first the beam of their own eye, and then offer to pull out the mote that is in their brother’s organ of sight. As for those gentlemen of the press, who, lacking the courage to denounce the superstitions of the strong and the mighty, fall back upon those, whose unpopularity has made them weak and helpless, they act more than in a cowardly way. They are the “Bashi-Boozooks” of Mrs. Grundy’s army—those, who under the cover of darkness and in perfect safety to themselves spoil and finish the wounded. The Theosophists and Spiritualists have at least the courage of their opinions They openly and fearlessly proclaim their heterodox and unpopular beliefs and face the enemy’s fire without flinching. How many of our colleagues of the press will dare to follow our example? Verily, the ugly cancer of sham and hypocrisy has gnawed down to the very bone of educated Society! We find truthfulness and moral courage now, but in a few atheists, who, like Bradlaugh and Colonel Ingersoll bravely defy the whole world. Even great and independent men like Tyndall, cower down before public wrath. He who did not blush to speak of Spiritualism as of “an intellectual whoredom” was made before the storm of indignation raised by him in the English clergy to half recant his publicly expressed scientific opinion of the absolute “potency of matter.” But he never thought of offering an apology for his insult to those of his scientific colleagues who believed in Spiritual phenomena. . . .
And now dropping off the adjective of “Spiritual” from the word phenomena—let us see how far sceptics are justified in throwing a slur upon the latter and to reject the testimony of the greatest men of modern Science in favour of their genuineness. And that, whenever a scientist went to the trouble of seriously investigating the phenomena, he was forced to admit the objective reality of these weird manifestations, is henceforth an historical fact. And it is precisely that which we purpose to prove in the next article.
1. Hardly a few years since such a case happened in America to some unlucky Millenarians, the elders of whose churches had prophesied the day and the hour of the second advent of Christ. They had sold their properties and given it away; settled their worldly affairs after which most of them climbed on that solemn day to the highest trees and hills. A shower, accompanied by a terrible thunderstorm and lightning brought two of the Adventist families together with their trees down to the ground instead of taking them Elijah-like to heaven. And that the belief of a physical advent of Christ is not confined to the ignorant classes alone is proved by the following clip from an American newspaper of 1878.
“A circular has been issued signed by the Rev. Dr. James H. Brookes of the Presbyterian Church, St. Louis; the Rev. Dr. Stephen H. Tyng, Jr., of this city; Bishop W. R. Nicholson of the Reformed Episcopal Church, Philadelphia; W. Y. Morehead; the Revd. A. J. Gordon of the Clarendon Street Baptist Church, Boston; Maurice Baldwin; the Rev. H. M. Parsons of the Presbyterian Church, Buffalo; and the Rev. Dr. Rufus W. Clarke of the Dutch Reformed Church, Albany, inviting those who believe in the personal pre-millennial advent of Jesus Christ to meet at the Church of the Holy Trinity in this city, on the 30th and 31st of October and the 1st of November, to listen to a series of papers on the pre-millennial advent of Jesus Christ, and to join in such discussion as the topics may suggest. A large number of professors, ministers, and laymen have endorsed the call. Among them are the older Tyng, Bishop Vail of Kansas, Professor Kellogg of Alleghany Presbyterian Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Imbrie of Jersey City, George T. Pentecost, the Boston Evangelist, and other well-known men.”—New York Sun.