God the Known and God the Unknown
Samuel Butler

God the Known and
God the Unknown


Prefatory Note

"GOD the Known and God the Unknown" first appeared in the form of
a series of articles which were published in "The Examiner" in
May, June, and July, 1879. Samuel Butler subsequently revised
the text of his work, presumably with the intention of
republishing it, though he never carried the intention into
effect. In the present edition I have followed his revised
version almost without deviation. I have, however, retained a
few passages which Butler proposed to omit, partly because they
appear to me to render the course of his argument clearer, and
partly because they contain characteristic thoughts and
expressions of which none of his admirers would wish to be
deprived. In the list of Butler's works "God the Known and God
the Unknown" follows "Life and Habit," which appeared in 1877,
and "Evolution, Old and New," which was published in May, 1879.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that the three works are
closely akin in subject and treatment, and that "God the Known
and God the Unknown" will gain in interest by being considered in
relation to its predecessors.


God the Known and
God the Unknown




MANKIND has ever been ready to discuss matters in the inverse
ratio of their importance, so that the more closely a question is
felt to touch the hearts of all of us, the more incumbent it is
considered upon prudent people to profess that it does not exist,
to frown it down, to tell it to hold its tongue, to maintain that
it has long been finally settled, so that there is now no
question concerning it.

So far, indeed, has this been carried through all time past that
the actions which are most important to us, such as our passage
through the embryonic stages, the circulation of our blood, our
respiration, etc. etc., have long been formulated beyond all
power of reopening question concerning them - the mere fact or
manner of their being done at all being ranked among the great
discoveries of recent ages. Yet the analogy of past settlements
would lead us to suppose that so much unanimity was not arrived
at all at once, but rather that it must have been preceded by
much smouldering [sic] discontent, which again was followed by
open warfare; and that even after a settlement had been
ostensibly arrived at, there was still much secret want of
conviction on the part of many for several generations.

There are many who see nothing in this tendency of our nature but
occasion for sarcasm; those, on the other hand, who hold that the
world is by this time old enough to be the best judge concerning
the management of its own affairs will scrutinise [sic] this
management with some closeness before they venture to satirise
[sic] it; nor will they do so for long without finding
justification for its apparent recklessness; for we must all fear
responsibility upon matters about which we feel we know but
little; on the other hand we must all continually act, and for
the most part promptly. We do so, therefore, with greater
security when we can persuade both ourselves and others that a
matter is already pigeon-holed than if we feel that we must use
our own judgment for the collection, interpretation, and
arrangement of the papers which deal with it. Moreover, our
action is thus made to appear as if it received collective
sanction; and by so appearing it receives it. Almost any
settlement, again, is felt to be better than none, and the more
nearly a matter comes home to everyone, the more important is it
that it should be treated as a sleeping dog, and be let to lie,
for if one person begins to open his mouth, fatal developments
may arise in the Babel that will follow.

It is not difficult, indeed, to show that, instead of having
reason to complain of the desire for the postponement of
important questions, as though the world were composed mainly of
knaves or fools, such fixity as animal and vegetable forms
possess is due to this very instinct. For if there had been no
reluctance, if there were no friction and vis inertae to
be encountered even after a theoretical equilibrium had been
upset, we should have had no fixed organs nor settled
proclivities, but should have been daily and hourly undergoing
Protean transformations, and have still been throwing out
pseudopodia like the amoeba. True, we might have come to like
this fashion of living as well as our more steady-going system if
we had taken to it many millions of ages ago when we were yet
young; but we have contracted other habits which have become so
confirmed that we cannot break with them. We therefore now hate
that which we should perhaps have loved if we had practised [sic]
it. This, however, does not affect the argument, for our concern
is with our likes and dislikes, not with the manner in which
those likes and dislikes have come about. The discovery that
organism is capable of modification at all has occasioned so much
astonishment that it has taken the most enlightened part of the
world more than a hundred years to leave off expressing its
contempt for such a crude, shallow, and preposterous conception.
Perhaps in another hundred years we shall learn to admire the
good sense, endurance, and thorough Englishness of organism in
having been so averse to change, even more than its versatility
in having been willing to change so much.

Nevertheless, however conservative we may be, and however much
alive to the folly and wickedness of tampering with settled
convictions-no matter what they are-without sufficient cause,
there is yet such a constant though gradual change in our
surroundings as necessitates corresponding modification in our
ideas, desires, and actions. We may think that we should like to
find ourselves always in the same surroundings as our ancestors,
so that we might be guided at every touch and turn by the
experience of our race, and be saved from all self-communing or
interpretation of oracular responses uttered by the facts around
us. Yet the facts will change their utterances in spite of us;
and we, too, change with age and ages in spite of ourselves, so
as to see the facts around us as perhaps even more changed than
they actually are. It has been said, "Tempora mutantur nos et
mutamur in illis." The passage would have been no less true
if it had stood, "Nos mutamur et tempora mutantur in
nobis." Whether the organism or the surroundings began
changing first is a matter of such small moment that the two may
be left to fight it out between themselves; but, whichever view
is taken, the fact will remain that whenever the relations
between the organism and its surroundings have been changed, the
organism must either succeed in putting the surroundings into
harmony with itself, or itself into harmony with the
surroundings; or must be made so uncomfortable as to be unable to
remember itself as subjected to any such difficulties, and there
fore to die through inability to recognise [sic] its own identity

Under these circumstances, organism must act in one or other of
these two ways: it must either change slowly and continuously
with the surroundings, paying cash for everything, meeting the
smallest change with a corresponding modification so far as is
found convenient; or it must put off change as long as possible,
and then make larger and more sweeping changes.

Both these courses are the same in principle, the difference
being only one of scale, and the one being a miniature of the
other, as a ripple is an Atlantic wave in little; both have their
advantages and disadvantages, so that most organisms will take
the one course for one set of things and the other for another.
They will deal promptly with things which they can get at easily,
and which lie more upon the surface; those, however, which are
more troublesome to reach, and lie deeper, will be handled upon
more cataclysmic principles, being allowed longer periods of
repose followed by short periods of greater activity.

Animals breathe and circulate their blood by a little action many
times a minute; but they feed, some of them, only two or three
times a day, and breed for the most part not more than once a
year, their breeding season being much their busiest time. It is
on the first principle that the modification of animal forms has
proceeded mainly; but it may be questioned whether what is called
a sport is not the organic expression of discontent which has
been long felt, but which has not been attended to, nor been met
step by step by as much small remedial modification as was found
practicable: so that when a change does come it comes by way of
revolution. Or, again (only that it comes to much the same
thing), a sport may be compared to one of those happy thoughts
which sometimes come to us unbidden after we have been thinking
for a long time what to do, or how to arrange our ideas, and have
yet been unable to arrive at any conclusion.

So with politics, the smaller the matter the prompter, as a
general rule, the settlement; on the other hand, the more
sweeping the change that is felt to be necessary, the longer it
will be deferred.

The advantages of dealing with the larger questions by more
cataclysmic methods are obvious. For, in the first place, all
composite things must have a system, or arrangement of parts, so
that some parts shall depend upon and be grouped round others, as
in the articulation of a skeleton and the arrangement of muscles,
nerves, tendons, etc., which are attached to it. To meddle with
the skeleton is like taking up the street, or the flooring of
one's house; it so upsets our arrangements that we put it off
till whatever else is found wanted, or whatever else seems likely
to be wanted for a long time hence, can be done at the same time.
Another advantage is in the rest which is given to the attention
during the long hollows, so to speak, of the waves between the
periods of resettlement. Passion and prejudice have time to calm
down, and when attention is next directed to the same question,
it is a refreshed and invigorated attention-an attention,
moreover, which may be given with the help of new lights derived
from other quarters that were not luminous when the question was
last considered. Thirdly, it is more easy and safer to make such
alterations as experience has proved to be necessary than to
forecast what is going to be wanted. Reformers are like
paymasters, of whom there are only two bad kinds, those who pay
too soon, and those who do not pay at all.



I HAVE now, perhaps, sufficiently proved my sympathy with the
reluctance felt by many to tolerate discussion upon such a
subject as the existence and nature of God. I trust that I may
have made the reader feel that he need fear no sarcasm or levity
in my treatment of the subject which I have chosen. I will,
therefore, proceed to sketch out a plan of what I hope to
establish, and this in no doubtful or unnatural sense, but by
attaching the same meanings to words as those which we usually
attach to them, and with the same certainty, precision, and
clearness as anything else is established which is commonly
called known.

As to what God is, beyond the fact that he is the Spirit and the
Life which creates, governs, and upholds all living things, I can
say nothing. I cannot pretend that I can show more than others
have done in what Spirit and the Life consists, which governs
living things and animates them. I cannot show the connection
between consciousness and the will, and the organ, much less can
I tear away the veil from the face of God, so as to show wherein
will and consciousness consist. No philosopher, whether Christian
or Rationalist, has attempted this without discomfiture; but I
can, I hope, do two things: Firstly, I can demonstrate, perhaps
more clearly than modern science is prepared to admit, that there
does exist a single Being or Animator of all living things - a
single Spirit, whom we cannot think of under any meaner name than
God; and, secondly, I can show something more of the
persona or bodily expression, mask, and mouthpiece of this
vast Living Spirit than I know of as having been familiarly
expressed elsewhere, or as being accessible to myself or others,
though doubtless many works exist in which what I am going to say
has been already said.

Aware that much of this is widely accepted under the name of
Pantheism, I venture to think it differs from Pantheism with all
the difference that exists between a coherent, intelligible
conception and an incoherent unintelligible one. I shall
therefore proceed to examine the doctrine called Pantheism, and
to show how incomprehensible and valueless it is.

I will then indicate the Living and Personal God about whose
existence and about many of whose attributes there is no room for
question; I will show that man has been so far made in the
likeness of this Person or God, that He possesses all its
essential characteristics, and that it is this God who has called
man and all other living forms, whether animals or plants, into
existence, so that our bodies are the temples of His spirit; that
it is this which sustains them in their life and growth, who is
one with them, living, moving, and having His being in them; in
whom, also, they live and move, they in Him and He in them; He
being not a Trinity in Unity only, but an Infinity in Unity, and
a Unity in an Infinity; eternal in time past, for so much time at
least that our minds can come no nearer to eternity than this;
eternal for the future as long as the universe shall exist; ever
changing, yet the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. And I
will show this with so little ambiguity that it shall be
perceived not as a phantom or hallucination following upon a
painful straining of the mind and a vain endeavour [sic] to give
coherency to incoherent and inconsistent ideas, but with the same
ease, comfort, and palpable flesh-and-blood clearness with which
we see those near to us ; whom, though we see them at the best as
through a glass darkly, we still see face to face, even as we are
ourselves seen.

I will also show in what way this Being exercises a moral
government over the world, and rewards and punishes us according
to His own laws.

Having done this I shall proceed to compare this conception of
God with those that are currently accepted, and will endeavour
[sic] to show that the ideas now current are in truth efforts to
grasp the one on which I shall here insist. Finally, I shall
persuade the reader that the differences between the so-called
atheist and the so-called theist are differences rather about
words than things, inasmuch as not even the most prosaic of
modern scientists will be inclined to deny the existence of this
God, while few theists will feel that this, the natural
conception of God, is a less worthy one than that to which they
have been accustomed.



THE Rev. J. H. Blunt, in his "Dictionary of Sects, Heresies,
etc.," defines Pantheists as "those who hold that God is
everything, and everything is God."

If it is granted that the value of words lies in the definiteness
and coherency of the ideas that present themselves to us when the
words are heard or spoken-then such a sentence as "God is
everything and everything is God" is worthless.

For we have so long associated the word "God" with the idea of a
Living Person, who can see, hear, will, feel pleasure,
displeasure, etc., that we cannot think of God, and also of
something which we have not been accustomed to think of as a
Living Person, at one and the same time, so as to connect the two
ideas and fuse them into a coherent thought. While we are
thinking of the one, our minds involuntarily exclude the other,
and vice versa; so that it is as impossible for us to
think of anything as God, or as forming part of God, which we
cannot also think of as a Person, or as a part of a Person, as it
is to produce a hybrid between two widely distinct animals. If I
am not mistaken, the barrenness of inconsistent ideas, and the
sterility of widely distant species or genera of plants and
animals, are one in principle-sterility of hybrids being due to
barrenness of ideas, and barrenness of ideas arising from
inability to fuse unfamiliar thoughts into a coherent conception.
I have insisted on this at some length in "Life and Habit," but
can do so no further here. (Footnote: Butler returned to this
subject in "Luck, or cunning?" which was originally published in

In like manner we have so long associated the word "Person" with
the idea of a substantial visible body, limited in extent, and
animated by an invisible something which we call Spirit, that we
can think of nothing as a person which does not also bring these
ideas before us. Any attempt to make us imagine God as a Person
who does not fulfil [sic] the conditions which our ideas attach
to the word "person," is ipso facto atheistic, as
rendering the word God without meaning, and therefore without
reality, and therefore non-existent to us. Our ideas are like
our organism, they will stand a vast amount of modification if it
is effected slowly and without shock, but the life departs out of
them, leaving the form of an idea without the power thereof, if
they are jarred too rudely.

Any being, then, whom we can imagine as God, must have all the
qualities, capabilities, and also all the limitations which are
implied when the word "person" is used.

But, again, we cannot conceive of "everything" as a person.
"Everything" must comprehend all that is to be found on earth, or
outside of it, and we know of no such persons as this. When we
say "persons" we intend living people with flesh and blood;
sometimes we extend our conceptions to animals and plants, but we
have not hitherto done so as generally as I hope we shall some
day come to do. Below animals and plants we have never in any
seriousness gone. All that we have been able to regard as
personal has had what we can call a living body, even though that
body is vegetable only; and this body has been tangible, and has
been comprised within certain definite limits, or within limits
which have at any rate struck the eye as definite. And every part
within these limits has been animated by an unseen something
which we call soul or spirit. A person must be a persona-
that is to say, the living mask and mouthpiece of an energy
saturating it, and speaking through it. It must be animate in all
its parts.

But "everything" is not animate. Animals and plants alone produce
in us those ideas which can make reasonable people call them
"persons" with consistency of intention. We can conceive of each
animal and of each plant as a person; we can conceive again of a
compound person like the coral polypes [sic], or like a tree
which is composed of a congeries of subordinate persons,
inasmuch as each bud is a separate and individual plant. We can
go farther than this, and, as I shall hope to show, we ought to
do so; that is to say, we shall find it easier and more agreeable
with our other ideas to go farther than not; for we should see
all animal and vegetable life as united by a subtle and till
lately invisible ramification, so that all living things are one
tree-like growth, forming a single person. But we cannot conceive
of oceans, continents, and air as forming parts of a person at
all; much less can we think of them as forming one person with
the living forms that inhabit them.

To ask this of us is like asking us to see the bowl and the water
in which three gold-fish are swimming as part of the gold-fish.
We cannot do it any more than we can do something physically
impossible. We can see the gold-fish as forming one family, and
therefore as in a way united to the personality of the parents
from which they sprang, and therefore as members one of another,
and therefore as forming a single growth of gold-fish, as boughs
and buds unite to form a tree; but we cannot by any effort of the
imagination introduce the bowl and the water into the
personality, for we have never been accustomed to think of such
things as living and personal. Those, therefore, who tell us that
"God is everything, and everything is God," require us to see
"everything" as a person, which we cannot; or God as not a
person, which again we cannot.

Continuing the article of Mr. Blunt from which I have already
quoted, I read :-

"Linus, in a passage which has been preserved by Stobaeus,
exactly expresses the notion afterwards adopted by Spinoza: 'One
sole energy governs all things; all things are unity, and each
portion is All; for of one integer all things were born; in the
end of time all things shall again become unity; the unity of
multiplicity.' Orpheus, his disciple, taught no other doctrine."

According to Pythagoras, "an adept in the Orphic philosophy,"
"the soul of the world is the Divine energy which interpenetrates
every portion of the mass, and the soul of man is an efflux of
that energy. The world, too, is an exact impress of the Eternal
Idea, which is the mind of God." John Scotus Erigena taught that
"all is God and God is all." William of Champeaux, again, two
hundred years later, maintained that "all individuality is one in
substance, and varies only in its non-essential accidents and
transient properties." Amalric of Bena and David of Dinant
followed the theory out "into a thoroughgoing Pantheism."
Amalric held that "All is God and God is all. The Creator and the
creature are one Being. Ideas are at once creative and created,
subjective and objective. God is the end of all, and all return
to Him. As every variety of humanity forms one manhood, so the
world contains individual forms of one eternal essence." David
of Dinant only varied upon this by "imagining a corporeal unity.
Although body, soul, and eternal substance are three, these three
are one and the same being."

Giordano Bruno maintained the world of sense to be "a vast animal
having the Deity for its living. soul." The inanimate part of the
world is thus excluded from participation in the Deity, and a
conception that our minds can embrace is offered us instead of
one which they cannot entertain, except as in a dream,
incoherently. But without such a view of evolution as was
prevalent at the beginning of this century, it was impossible to
see "the world of sense" intelligently, as forming "a vast
animal." Unless, therefore, Giordano Bruno held the opinions of
Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck, with more definiteness
than I am yet aware of his having done, his contention must be
considered as a splendid prophecy, but as little more than a
prophecy. He continues, "Birth is expansion from the one centre
of Life; life is its continuance, and death is the necessary
return of the ray to the centre of light." This begins finely,
but ends mystically. I have not, however, compared the English
translation with the original, and must reserve a fuller
examination of Giordano Bruno's teaching for another opportunity.

Spinoza disbelieved in the world rather than in God. He was an
Acosmist, to use Jacobi's expression, rather than an Atheist.
According to him, "the Deity and the Universe are but one
substance, at the same time both spirit and matter, thought and
extension, which are the only known attributes of the Deity."

My readers will, I think, agree with me that there is very little
of the above which conveys ideas with the fluency and comfort
which accompany good words. Words are like servants: it is not
enough that we should have them-we must have the most able and
willing that we can find, and at the smallest wages that will
content them. Having got them we must make the best and not the
worst of them. Surely, in the greater part of what has been
quoted above, the words are barren letters only: they do not
quicken within us and enable us to conceive a thought, such as we
can in our turn impress upon dead matter, and mould [sic] that
matter into another shape than its own, through the thought which
has become alive within us. No offspring of ideas has followed
upon them, or, if any at all, yet in such unwonted shape, and
with such want of alacrity, that we loathe them as malformations
and miscarriages of our minds. Granted that if we examine them
closely we shall at length find them to embody a little germ of
truth-that is to say, of coherency with our other ideas; but
there is too little truth in proportion to the trouble necessary
to get at it. We can get more truth, that is to say, more
coherency-for truth and coherency are one-for less trouble in
other ways.

But it may be urged that the beginnings of all tasks are
difficult and unremunerative, and that later developments of
Pantheism may be more intelligible than the earlier ones.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. On continuing Mr. Blunt's
article, I find the later Pantheists a hundredfold more
perplexing than the earlier ones. With Kant, Schelling, Fichte,
and Hegel, we feel that we are with men who have been decoyed
into a hopeless quagmire; we understand nothing of their
language-we doubt whether they understand themselves, and feel
that we can do nothing with them but look at them and pass them

In my next chapter I propose to show the end which the early
Pantheists were striving after, and the reason and naturalness of
their error.



The earlier Pantheists were misled by the endeavour [sic] to lay
hold of two distinct ideas, the one of which was a reality that
has since been grasped and is of inestimable value, the other a
phantom which has misled all who have followed it. The reality is
the unity of Life, the oneness of the guiding and animating
spirit which quickens animals and plants, so that they are all
the outcome and expression of a common mind, and are in truth one
animal; the phantom is the endeavour [sic] to find the origin of
things, to reach the fountain-head of all energy, and thus to lay
the foundations on which a philosophy may be constructed which
none can accuse of being baseless, or of arguing in a circle.

In following as through a thick wood after the phantom our
forefathers from time to time caught glimpses of the reality,
which seemed so wonderful as it eluded them, and flitted back
again into the thickets, that they declared it must be the
phantom they were in search of, which was thus evidenced as
actually existing. Whereon, instead of mastering such of the
facts they met with as could be captured easily-which facts would
have betrayed the hiding-places of others, and these again of
others, and so ad infinitum-they overlooked what was
within their reach, and followed hotly through brier and brake
after an imaginary greater prize.

Great thoughts are not to be caught in this way. They must
present themselves for capture of their own free will, or be
taken after a little coyness only. They are like wealth and
power, which, if a man is not born to them, are the more likely
to take him, the more he has restrained himself from an attempt
to snatch them. They hanker after those only who have tamed their
nearer thoughts. Nevertheless, it is impossible not to feel that
the early Pantheists were true prophets and seers, though the
things were unknown to them without which a complete view was
unattainable. What does Linus mean, we ask ourselves, when he
says :- "One sole energy governs all things" ? How can one sole
energy govern, we will say, the reader and the chair on which he
sits? What is meant by an energy governing a chair? If by an
effort we have made ourselves believe we understand something
which can be better expressed by these words than by any others,
no sooner do we turn our backs than the ideas so painfully
collected fly apart again. No matter how often we go in search of
them, and force them into juxtaposition, they prove to have none
of that innate coherent power with which ideas combine that we
can hold as true and profitable.

Yet if Linus had confined his statement to living things, and had
said that one sole energy governed all plants and animals, he
would have come near both to being intelligible and true. For if,
as we now believe, all animals and plants are descended from a
single cell, they must be considered as cousins to one another,
and as forming a single tree-like animal, every individual plant
or animal of which is as truly one and the same person with the
primordial cell as the oak a thousand years old is one and the
same plant with the acorn out of which it has grown. This is
easily understood, but will, I trust, be made to appear simpler

When Linus says, "All things are unity, and each portion is All;
for of one integer all things were born," it is impossible for
plain people-who do not wish to use words unless they mean the
same things by them as both they and others have been in the
habit of meaning-to understand what is intended. How can each
portion be all? How can one Londoner be all London? I know that
this, too, can in a way be shown, but the resulting idea is too
far to fetch, and when fetched does not fit in well enough with
our other ideas to give it practical and commercial value. How,
again, can all things be said to be born of one integer, unless
the statement is confined to living things, which can alone be
born at all, and unless a theory of evolution is intended, such
as Linus would hardly have accepted?

Yet limit the "all things" to "all living things," grant the
theory of evolution, and explain "each portion is All" to mean
that all life is akin, and possesses the same essential
fundamental characteristics, and it is surprising how nearly
Linus approaches both to truth and intelligibility.

It may be said that the animate and the inanimate have the same
fundamental substance, so that a chair might rot and be absorbed
by grass, which grass might be eaten by a cow, which cow might be
eaten by a man; and by similar processes the man might become a
chair; but these facts are not presented to the mind by saying
that "one energy governs all things"-a chair, we will say, and a
man; we could only say that one energy governed a man and a
chair, if the chair were a reasonable living person, who was
actively and consciously engaged in helping the man to attain a
certain end, unless, that is to say, we are to depart from all
usual interpretation of words, in which case we invalidate the
advantages of language and all the sanctions of morality.

"All things shall again become unity" is intelligible as meaning
that all things probably have come from a single elementary
substance, say hydrogen or what not, and that they will return to
it; but the explanation of unity as being the "unity of
multiplicity" puzzles; if there is any meaning it is too
recondite to be of service to us.

What, again, is meant by saying that "the soul of the world is
the Divine energy which interpenetrates every portion of the
mass" ? The soul of the world is an expression which, to myself,
and, I should imagine, to most people, is without propriety. We
cannot think of the world except as earth, air, and water, in
this or that state, on and in which there grow plants and
animals. What is meant by saying that earth has a soul, and
lives? Does it move from place to place erratically? Does it
feed? Does it reproduce itself? Does it make such noises, or
commit such vagaries as shall make us say that it feels? Can it
achieve its ends, and fail of achieving them through mistake? If
it cannot, how has it a soul more than a dead man has a soul, out
of whom we say that the soul has departed, and whose body we
conceive of as returning to dead earth, inasmuch as it is now
soulless? Is there any unnatural violence which can be done to
our thoughts by which we can bring the ideas of a soul and of
water, or of a stone into combination, and keep them there for
long together? The ancients, indeed, said they believed their
rivers to be gods, and carved likenesses of them under the forms
of men ; but even supposing this to have been their real mind,
can it by any conceivable means become our own? Granted that a
stone is kept from falling to dust by an energy which compels its
particles to cohere, which energy can be taken out of it and
converted into some other form of energy; granted (which may or
may not be true) also, that the life of a living body is only the
energy which keeps the particles which compose it in a certain
disposition; and granted that the energy of the stone may be
convertible into the energy of a living form, and that thus,
after a long journey a tired idea may lag after the sound of such
words as "the soul of the world." Granted all the above,
nevertheless to speak of the world as having a soul is not
sufficiently in harmony with our common notions, nor does it go
sufficiently with the grain of our thoughts to render the
expression a meaning one, or one that can be now used with any
propriety or fitness, except by those who do not know their own
meaninglessness. Vigorous minds will harbour [sic] vigorous
thoughts only, or such as bid fair to become so; and vigorous
thoughts are always simple, definite, and in harmony with
everyday ideas.

We can imagine a soul as living in the lowest slime that moves,
feeds, reproduces itself, remembers, and dies. The amoeba wants
things, knows it wants them, alters itself so as to try and alter
them, thus preparing for an intended modification of outside
matter by a preliminary modification of itself. It thrives if
the modification from within is followed by the desired
modification in the external object; it knows that it is well,
and breeds more freely in consequence. If it cannot get hold of
outside matter, or cannot proselytise [sic] that matter and
persuade it to see things through its own (the amoeba's)
spectacles-if it cannot convert that matter, if the matter
persists in disagreeing with it-its spirits droop, its
soul is disquieted within it, it becomes listless like a
withering flower-it languishes and dies. We cannot imagine a
thing to live at all and yet be soulless except in sleep for a
short time, and even so not quite soulless. The idea of a soul,
or of that unknown something for which the word "soul" is our
hieroglyphic, and the idea of living organism, unite so
spontaneously, and stick together so inseparably, that no matter
how often we sunder them they will elude our vigilance and come
together, like true lovers, in spite of us. Let us not attempt to
divorce ideas that have so long been wedded together.

I submit, then, that Pantheism, even as explained by those who
had entered on the outskirts only of its great morass,
nevertheless holds out so little hope of leading to any
comfortable conclusion that it will be more reasonable to occupy
our minds with other matter than to follow Pantheism further. The
Pantheists speak of a person without meaning a person; they speak
of a" him" and a "he" without having in their minds the idea of a
living person with all its inevitable limitations. Pantheism is,
therefore, as is said by Mr. Blunt in another article,
"practically nothing else than Atheism; it has no belief in a
personal deity overruling the affairs of the world, as Divine
Providence, and is, therefore, Atheistic," and again, "Theism
believes in a spirit superior to matter, and so does Pantheism;
but the spirit of Theism is self-conscious, and therefore
personal and of individual existence-a nature per se, and
upholding all things by an active control; while Pantheism
believes in spirit that is of a higher nature than brute matter,
but is a mere unconscious principle of life, impersonal,
irrational as the brute matter that it quickens."

If this verdict concerning Pantheism is true-and from all I can
gather it is as nearly true as anything can be said to be which
is predicated of an incoherent idea-the Pantheistic God is an
attempt to lay hold of a truth which has nevertheless eluded its

In my next chapter I will consider the commonly received,
orthodox conception of God, and compare it with the Pantheistic.
I will show that it, too, is Atheistic, inasmuch as, in spite of
its professing to give us a conception of God, it raises no ideas
in our minds of a person or Living Being-and a God who is not
this is non-existent.



We have seen that Pantheism fails to satisfy, inasmuch as it
requires us to mean something different by the word "God" from
what we have been in the habit of meaning. I have already said-I
fear, too often-that no conception of God can have any value or
meaning for us which does not involve his existence as an
independent Living Person of ineffable wisdom and power,
vastness, and duration both in the past and for the future. If
such a Being as this can be found existing and made evident,
directly or indirectly, to human senses, there is a God. If
otherwise, there is no God, or none, at any rate, so far as we
can know, none with whom we need concern ourselves. No conscious
personality, no God. An impersonal God is as much a contradiction
in terms as an impersonal person.

Unfortunately, when we question orthodox theology closely, we
find that it supposes God to be a person who has no material body
such as could come within the range of any human sense, and make
an impression upon it. He is supposed to be of a spiritual nature
only, except in so far as one part of his triune personality is,
according to the Athanasian Creed, "perfect man, of a reasonable
soul and human flesh subsisting."

Here, then, we find ourselves in a dilemma. On the one hand, we
are involved in the same difficulty as in the case of Pantheism,
inasmuch as a person without flesh and blood, or something
analogous, is not a person; we are required, therefore, to
believe in a personal God, who has no true person; to believe,
that is to say, in an impersonal person.

This, as we have seen already, is Atheism under another name,
being, as it is, destructive of all idea of God whatever; for
these words do not convey an idea of something which human
intelligence can understand up to a certain point, and which it
can watch going out of sight into regions beyond our view, but in
the same direction-as we may infer other stars in space beyond
the farthest that we know of; they convey utterly self-
destructive ideas, which can have no real meaning, and can only
be thought to have a meaning by ignorant and uncultivated people.
Otherwise such foundation as human reason rests upon-that is to
say, the current opinion of those whom the world appraises as
reasonable and agreeable, or capable of being agreed with for any
time-is sapped; the whole thing tumbles down, and we may have
square circles and round triangles, which may be declared to be
no longer absurdities and contradictions in terms, but mysteries
that go beyond our reason, without being contrary to it. Few will
maintain this, and those few may be neglected; an impersonal
person must therefore be admitted to be nonsense, and an
immaterial God to be Atheism in another shape.

On the other hand, if God is "of a reasonable soul and human
flesh subsisting," and if he thus has the body without which he
is-as far as we are concerned-non-existent, this body must yet be
reasonably like other bodies, and must exist in some place and at
some time. Furthermore, it must do sufficiently nearly what all
other "human flesh" belonging to "perfect man" must do, or cease
to be human flesh. Our ideas are like our organisms; they have
some little elasticity and circumstance-suiting power, some
little margin on which, as I have elsewhere said, side-notes may
be written, and glosses on the original text; but this power is
very limited. As offspring will only, as a general rule, vary
very little from its immediate parents, and as it will fail
either immediately or in the second generation if the parents
differ too widely from one another, so we cannot get our idea of-
we will say a horse-to conjure up to our minds the idea of any
animal more unlike a horse than a pony is; nor can we get a well-
defined idea of a combination between a horse and any animal more
remote from it than an ass, zebra, or giraffe. We may, indeed,
make a statue of a flying horse, but the idea is one which cannot
be made plausible to any but ignorant people. So "human flesh"
may vary a little from "human flesh" without undue violence being
done to our reason and to the right use of language, but it
cannot differ from it so much as not to eat, drink, nor waste and
repair itself. "Human flesh," which is without these necessary
adjuncts, is human flesh only to those who can believe in flying
horses with feathered wings and bills like birds-that is to say,
to vulgar and superstitious persons.

Lastly, not only must the "perfect man," who is the second person
of the Godhead according to the orthodox faith, and who subsists
of "human flesh" as well as of a "reasonable soul," not only must
this person exist, but he must exist in some place either on this
earth or outside it. If he exists on earth, he must be in Europe,
Asia, Africa, America, or on some island, and if he were met with
he must be capable of being seen and handled in the same way as
all other things that can be called perfect man are seen;
otherwise he is a perfect man who is not only not a perfect man,
but who does not in any considerable degree resemble one. It is
not, however, pretended by anyone that God, the "perfect man," is
to be looked for in any place upon the surface of the globe.

If, on the other hand, the person of God exists in some sphere
outside the earth, his human flesh again proves to be of an
entirely different kind from all other human flesh, for we know
that such flesh cannot exist except on earth; if in space
unsupported, it must fall to the ground, or into some other
planet, or into a sun, or go on revolving round the earth or some
other heavenly body-or not be personal. None of those
whose opinions will carry weight will assign a position either in
some country on this earth, or yet again in space, to Jesus
Christ, but this involves the rendering meaningless of all
expressions which involve his personality.

The Christian conception, therefore, of the Deity proves when
examined with any desire to understand our own meaning (and what
lawlessness so great as the attempt to impose words upon our
understandings which have no lawful settlement within them?) to
be no less a contradiction in terms than the Pantheistic
conception. It is Atheistic, as offering us a God which is not a
God, inasmuch as we can conceive of no such being, nor of
anything in the least like it. It is, like Pantheism, an
illusion, which can be believed only by those who repeat a
formula which they have learnt by heart in a foreign language of
which they understand nothing, and yet aver that they believe it.
There are doubtless many who will say that this is possible, but
the majority of my readers will hold that no proposition can be
believed or disbelieved until its nature is understood.

It may perhaps be said that there is another conception of God
possible, and that we may see him as personal, without at the
same time believing that he has any actual tangible existence.
Thus we personify hope, truth, and justice, without intending to
convey to anyone the impression that these qualities are women,
with flesh and blood. Again, we do not think of Nature as an
actual woman, though we call her one; why may we not conceive of
God, then, as an expression whereby we personify, by a figure of
speech only; the thing that is intended being no person, but our
own highest ideal of power, wisdom, and duration.

There would be no reason to complain of this if this manner of
using the word "God" were well understood. Many words have two
meanings, or even three, without any mischievous confusion of
thought following. There can not only be no objection to the use
of the word God as a manner of expressing the highest ideal of
which our minds can conceive, but on the contrary no better
expression can be found, and it is a pity the word is not thus
more generally used.

Few, however, would be content with any such limitation of God as
that he should be an idea only, an expression for certain
qualities of human thought and action. Whence, it may be fairly
asked, did our deeply rooted belief in God as a Living Person
originate? The idea of him as of an inconceivably vast, ancient,
powerful, loving, and yet formidable Person is one which survives
all changes of detail in men's opinion. I believe there are a
few very savage tribes who are as absolutely without religious
sense as the beasts of the field, but the vast majority for a
long time past have been possessed with an idea that there is
somewhere a Living God who is the Spirit and the Life of all that
is, and who is a true Person with an individuality and self-
consciousness of his own. It is only natural that we should be
asked how such an idea has remained in the minds of so many - who
differ upon almost every other part of their philosophy-for so
long a time if it was without foundation, and a piece of dreamy
mysticism only.

True, it has generally been declared that this God is an infinite
God, and an infinite God is a God without any bounds or
limitations; and a God without bounds or limitations is an
impersonal God; and an impersonal God is Atheism. But may not
this be the incoherency of prophecy which precedes the successful
mastering of an idea? May we not think of this illusory
expression as having arisen from inability to see the whereabouts
of a certain vast but tangible Person as to whose existence men
were nevertheless clear? If they felt that it existed, and yet
could not say where, nor wherein it was to be laid hands on, they
would be very likely to get out of the difficulty by saying that
it existed as an infinite Spirit, partly from a desire to magnify
what they felt must be so vast and powerful, and partly because
they had as yet only a vague conception of what they were aiming
at, and must, therefore, best express it vaguely.

We must not be surprised that when an idea is still inchoate its
expression should be inconsistent and imperfect-ideas will almost
always during the earlier history of a thought be put together
experimentally so as to see whether or no they will cohere.
Partly out of indolence, partly out of the desire of those who
brought the ideas together to be declared right, and partly out
of joy that the truth should be supposed found, incoherent ideas
will be kept together longer than they should be; nevertheless
they will in the end detach themselves and go, if others present
themselves which fit into their place better. There is no
consistency which has not once been inconsistent, nor coherency
that has not been incoherent. The incoherency of our ideas
concerning God is due to the fact that we have not yet truly
found him, but it does not argue that he does not exist and
cannot be found anywhere after more diligent search; on the
contrary, the persistence of the main idea, in spite of the
incoherency of its details, points strongly in the direction of
believing that it rests upon a foundation in fact.

But it must be remembered there can be no God who is not personal
and material: and if personal, then, though inconceivably vast in
comparison with man, still limited in space and time, and capable
of making mistakes concerning his own interests, though as a
general rule right in his estimates concerning them. Where, then,
is this Being? He must be on earth, or what folly can be greater
than speaking of him as a person? What are persons on any other
earth to us, or we to them? He must have existed and be going to
exist through all time, and he must have a tangible body. Where,
then, is the body of this God? And what is the mystery of his

It will be my business to show this in the following chapter.



Atheism denies knowledge of a God of any kind. Pantheism and
Theism alike profess to give us a God, but they alike fail to
perform what they have promised. We can know nothing of the God
they offer us, for not even do they themselves profess that any
of our senses can be cognisant [sic] of him. They tell us that he
is a personal God, but that he has no material person. This is
disguised Atheism. What we want is a Personal God, the glory of
whose Presence can be made in part evident to our senses, though
what we can realise [sic] is less than nothing in comparison with
what we must leave for ever unimagined.

And truly such a God is not far from every one of us; for if we
survey the broader and deeper currents of men's thoughts during
the last three thousand years, we may observe two great and
steady sets as having carried away with them the more eligible
races of mankind. The one is a tendency from Polytheism to
Monotheism; the other from Polytypism to Monotypism of the
earliest forms of life-all animal and vegetable forms having at
length come to be regarded as differentiations of a single
substance-to wit, protoplasm.

No man does well so to kick against the pricks as to set himself
against tendencies of such depth, strength, and permanence as
this. If he is to be in harmony with the dominant opinion of his
own and of many past ages, he will see a single God-impregnate
substance as having been the parent from which all living forms
have sprung. One spirit, and one form capable of such
modification as its directing spirit shall think fit; one soul
and one body, one God and one Life.

For the time has come when the two unities so painfully arrived
at must be joined together as body and soul, and be seen not as
two, but one. There is no living organism untenanted by the
Spirit of God, nor any Spirit of God perceivable by man apart
from organism embodying and expressing it. God and the Life of
the World are like a mountain, which will present different
aspects as we look at it from different sides, but which, when we
have gone all round it, proves to be one only. God is the animal
and vegetable world, and the animal and vegetable world is God.

I have repeatedly said that we ought to see all animal and
vegetable life as uniting to form a single personality. I should
perhaps explain this more fully, for the idea of a compound
person is one which at first is not very easy to grasp, inasmuch
as we are not conscious of any but our more superficial aspects,
and have therefore until lately failed to understand that we are
ourselves compound persons. I may perhaps be allowed to quote
from an earlier work.

"Each cell in the human body is now admitted by physiologists to
be a person with an intelligent soul, differing from our own more
complex soul in degree and not in kind, and, like ourselves,
being born, living, and dying. It would appear, then, as though
'we,' 'our souls,' or 'selves,' or 'personalities,' or by
whatever name we may prefer to be called, are but the
consensus and full- flowing stream of countless sensations
and impulses on the part of our tributary souls or 'selves,' who
probably no more know that we exist, and that they exist as a
part of us, than a microscopic insect knows the results of
spectrum analysis, or than an agricultural labourer [sic] knows
the working of the British Constitution; and of whom we know no
more than we do of the habits and feelings of some class widely
separated from our own."-("Life and Habit," p. 110.)

After which it became natural to ask the following question :-
"Is it possible to avoid imagining that we may be ourselves
atoms, undesignedly combining to form some vaster being, though
we are utterly incapable of perceiving this being as a single
individual, or of realising [sic] the scheme and scope of our own
combination? And this, too, not a spiritual being, which, without
matter or what we think matter of some sort, is as complete
nonsense to us as though men bade us love and lean upon an
intelligent vacuum, but a being with what is virtually flesh and
blood and bones, with organs, senses, dimensions in some way
analogous to our own, into some other part of which being at the
time of our great change we must infallibly re-enter, starting
clean anew, with bygones bygones, and no more ache for ever from
age or antecedents.

"'An organic being,' writes Mr. Darwin, 'is a microcosm, a little
universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms
inconceivably minute and numerous as the stars in Heaven.' As
these myriads of smaller organisms are parts and processes of us,
so are we parts and processes of life at large."

A tree is composed of a multitude of subordinate trees, each bud
being a distinct individual. So coral polypes [sic] form a tree-
like growth of animal life, with branches from which spring
individual polypes [sic] that are connected by a common tissue
and supported by a common skeleton. We have no difficulty in
seeing a unity in multitude, and a multitude in unity here,
because we can observe the wood and the gelatinous tissue
connecting together all the individuals which compose either the
tree or the mass of polypes [sic]. Yet the skeleton, whether of
tree or of polype [sic], is inanimate; and the tissue, whether of
bark or gelatine [sic], is only the matted roots of the
individual buds; so that the outward and striking connection
between the individuals is more delusive than real. The true
connection is one which cannot be seen, and consists in the
animation of each bud by a like spirit-in the community of soul,
in "the voice of the Lord which maketh men to be of one mind in
an house"-"to dwell together in unity"-to take what are
practically identical views of things, and express themselves in
concert under all circumstances. Provided this-the true unifier
of organism-can be shown to exist, the absence of gross outward
and visible but inanimate common skeleton is no bar to oneness of

Let us picture to our minds a tree of which all the woody fibre
[sic] shall be invisible, the buds and leaves seeming to stand in
mid-air unsupported and unconnected with one another, so that
there is nothing but a certain tree- like collocation of foliage
to suggest any common principle of growth uniting the leaves.

Three or four leaves of different ages stand living together at
the place in the air where the end of each bough should be; of
these the youngest are still tender and in the bud, while the
older ones are turning yellow and on the point of falling.
Between these leaves a sort of twig-like growth can be detected
if they are looked at in certain lights, but it is hard to see,
except perhaps when a bud is on the point of coming out. Then
there does appear to be a connection which might be called

The separate tufts are very different from one another, so that
oak leaves, ash leaves, horse-chestnut leaves, etc., are each
represented, but there is one species only at the end of each

Though the trunk and all the inner boughs and leaves have
disappeared, yet there hang here and there fossil leaves, also in
mid-air; they appear to have been petrified, without method or
selection, by what we call the caprices of nature; they hang in
the path which the boughs and twigs would have taken, and they
seem to indicate that if the tree could have been seen a million
years earlier, before it had grown near its present size, the
leaves standing at the end of each bough would have been found
very different from what they are now. Let us suppose that all
the leaves at the end of all the invisible boughs, no matter how
different they now are from one another, were found in earliest
budhood to be absolutely indistinguishable, and afterwards to
develop towards each differentiation through stages which were
indicated by the fossil leaves. Lastly, let us suppose that
though the boughs which seem wanted to connect all the living
forms of leaves with the fossil leaves, and with countless forms
of which all trace has disappeared, and also with a single root-
have become invisible, yet that there is irrefragable evidence to
show that they once actually existed, and indeed are existing at
this moment, in a condition as real though as invisible to the
eye as air or electricity. Should we, I ask, under these
circumstances hesitate to call our imaginary plant or tree by a
single name, and to think of it as one person, merely upon the
score that the woody fibre [sic] was invisible? Should we not
esteem the common soul, memories and principles of growth which
are preserved between all the buds, no matter how widely they
differ in detail, as a more living bond of union than a framework
of wood would be, which, though it were visible to the eye, would
still be inanimate?

The mistletoe appears as closely connected with the tree on which
it grows as any of the buds of the tree itself; it is fed upon
the same sap as the other buds are, which sap-however much it may
modify it at the last moment-it draws through the same fibres
[sic] as do its foster-brothers-why then do we at once feel that
the mistletoe is no part of the apple tree? Not from any want of
manifest continuity, but from the spiritual difference-from the
profoundly different views of life and things which are taken by
the parasite and the tree on which it grows-the two are
now different because they think differently-as long as
they thought alike they were alike-that is to say they were
protoplasm-they and we and all that lives meeting in this common

We ought therefore to regard our supposed tufts of leaves as a
tree, that is to say, as a compound existence, each one of whose
component items is compounded of others which are also in their
turn compounded. But the tree above described is no imaginary
parallel to the condition of life upon the globe; it is perhaps
as accurate a description of the Tree of Life as can be put into
so small a compass. The most sure proof of a man's identity is
the power to remember that such and such things happened, which
none but he can know; the most sure proof of his remembering is
the power to react his part in the original drama, whatever it
may have been; if a man can repeat a performance with consummate
truth, and can stand any amount of cross-questioning about it, he
is the performer of the original performance, whatever it was.
The memories which all living forms prove by their actions that
they possess-the memories of their common identity with a single
person in whom they meet-this is incontestable proof of their
being animated by a common soul. It is certain, therefore, that
all living forms, whether animal or vegetable, are in reality one
animal; we and the mosses being part of the same vast person in
no figurative sense, but with as much bona fide literal
truth as when we say that a man's finger-nails and his eyes are
parts of the same man.

It is in this Person that we may see the Body of God-and in the
evolution of this Person, the mystery of His Incarnation.

[In "Unconscious Memory," Chapter V, Butler wrote: "In the
articles above alluded to ("God the Known and God the Unknown") I
separated the organic from the inorganic, but when I came to
rewrite them I found that this could not be done, and that I must
reconstruct what I had written." This reconstruction never having
been effected, it may be well to quote further from "Unconscious
Memory" (concluding chapter): "At parting, therefore, I would
recommend the reader to see every atom in the universe as living
and able to feel and remember, but in a humble way. He must have
life eternal as well as matter eternal; and the life and the
matter must be joined together inseparably as body and soul to
one another. Thus he will see God everywhere, not as those who
repeat phrases conventionally, but as people who would have their
words taken according to their most natural and legitimate
meaning; and he will feel that the main difference between him
and many of those who oppose him lies in the fact that whereas
both he and they use the same language, his opponents only half
mean what they say, while he means it entirely... We shall
endeavour [sic] to see the so-called inorganic as living, in
respect of the qualities it has in common with the organic,
rather than the organic as non- living in respect of the
qualities it has in common with the inorganic."]



In my last chapter I endeavoured [sic] to show that each living
being, whether animal or plant, throughout the world is a
component item of a single personality, in the same way as each
individual citizen of a community is a member of one state, or as
each cell of our own bodies is a separate person, or each bud of
a tree a separate plant. We must therefore see the whole varied
congeries of living things as a single very ancient Being,
of inconceivable vastness, and animated by one Spirit.

We call the octogenarian one person with the embryo of a few days
old from which he has developed. An oak or yew tree may be two
thousand years old, but we call it one plant with the seed from
which it has grown. Millions of individual buds have come and
gone, to the yearly wasting and repairing of its substance; but
the tree still lives and thrives, and the dead leaves have life
therein. So the Tree of Life still lives and thrives as a single
person, no matter how many new features it has acquired during
its development, nor, again, how many of its individual leaves
fall yellow to the ground daily. The spirit or soul of this
person is the Spirit of God, and its body-for we know of no soul
or spirit without a body, nor of any living body without a spirit
or soul, and if there is a God at all there must be a body of
God-is the many-membered outgrowth of protoplasm, the
ensemble of animal and vegetable life.

To repeat. The Theologian of to-day tells us that there is a God,
but is horrified at the idea of that God having a body. We say
that we believe in God, but that our minds refuse to realise
[sic] an intelligent Being who has no bodily person. "Where
then," says the Theologian, " is the body of your God?" We have
answered, "In the living forms upon the earth, which, though they
look many, are, when we regard them by the light of their history
and of true analogies, one person only." The spiritual connection
between them is a more real bond of union than the visible
discontinuity of material parts is ground for separating them in
our thoughts.

Let the reader look at a case of moths in the shop-window of a
naturalist, and note the unspeakable delicacy, beauty, and yet
serviceableness of their wings; or let him look at a case of
humming-birds, and remember how infinitely small a part of Nature
is the whole group of the animals he may be considering, and how
infinitely small a part of that group is the case that he is
looking at. Let him bear in mind that he is looking on the dead
husks only of what was inconceivably more marvellous [sic] when
the moths or humming-birds were alive. Let him think of the
vastness of the earth, and of the activity by day and night
through countless ages of such countless forms of animal and
vegetable life as that no human mind can form the faintest
approach to anything that can be called a conception of their
multitude, and let him remember that all these forms have touched
and touched and touched other living beings till they meet back
on a common substance in which they are rooted, and from which
they all branch forth so as to be one animal. Will he not in this
real and tangible existence find a God who is as much more worthy
of admiration than the God of the ordinary Theologian-as He is
also more easy of comprehension?

For the Theologian dreams of a God sitting above the clouds among
the cherubim, who blow their loud uplifted angel trumpets before
Him, and humour [sic] Him as though He were some despot in an
Oriental tale; but we enthrone Him upon the wings of birds, on
the petals of flowers, on the faces of our friends, and upon
whatever we most delight in of all that lives upon the earth. We
then can not only love Him, but we can do that without which love
has neither power nor sweetness, but is a phantom only, an
impersonal person, a vain stretching forth of arms towards
something that can never fill them-we can express our love and
have it expressed to us in return. And this not in the uprearing
of stone temples-for the Lord dwelleth [sic] in temples made with
other organs than hands-nor yet in the cleansing of our hearts,
but in the caress bestowed upon horse and dog, and kisses upon
the lips of those we love.

Wide, however, as is the difference between the orthodox
Theologian and ourselves, it is not more remarkable than the
number of the points on which we can agree with him, and on
which, moreover, we can make his meaning clearer to himself than
it can have ever hitherto been. He, for example, says that man
has been made in the image of God, but he cannot mean what he
says, unless his God has a material body; we, on the other hand,
do not indeed believe that the body of God-the incorporation of
all life-is like the body of a man, more than we believe each one
of our own cells or subordinate personalities to be like a man in
miniature; but we nevertheless hold that each of our tributary
selves is so far made after the likeness of the body corporate
that it possesses all our main and essential characteristics-that
is to say, that it can waste and repair itself; can feel, move,
and remember. To this extent, also, we-who stand in mean
proportional between our tributary personalities and God-are made
in the likeness of God; for we, and God, and our subordinate
cells alike possess the essential characteristics of life which
have been above recited. It is more true, therefore, for us to
say that we are made in the likeness of God than for the orthodox
Theologian to do so.

Nor, again, do we find difficulty in adopting such an expression
as that "God has taken our nature upon Him." We hold this as
firmly, and much more so, than Christians can do, but we say that
this is no new thing for Him to do, for that He has taken flesh
and dwelt among us from the day that He first assumed our shape,
some millions of years ago, until now. God cannot become man more
especially than He can become other living forms, any more than
we can be our eyes more especially than any other of our
organs. We may develop larger eyes, so that our eyes may come to
occupy a still more important place in our economy than they do
at present; and in a similar way the human race may become a more
predominant part of God than it now is-but we cannot admit that
one living form is more like God than another; we must hold all
equally like Him, inasmuch as they "keep ever," as Buffon says,
"the same fundamental unity, in spite of differences of detail-
nutrition, development, reproduction" (and, I would add,
"memory") "being the common traits of all organic bodies." The
utmost we can admit is, that some embodiments of the Spirit of
Life may be more important than others to the welfare of Life as
a whole, in the same way as some of our organs are more important
than others to ourselves.

But the above resemblances between the language which we can
adopt intelligently and that which Theologians use vaguely, seem
to reduce the differences of opinion between the two contending
parties to disputes about detail. For even those who believe
their ideas to be the most definite, and who picture to
themselves a God as anthropomorphic as He was represented by
Raffaelle, are yet not prepared to stand by their ideas if they
are hard pressed in the same way as we are by ours. Those who say
that God became man and took flesh upon Him, and that He is now
perfect God and perfect man of a reasonable soul and human flesh
subsisting, will yet not mean that Christ has a heart, blood, a
stomach, etc., like man's, which, if he has not, it is idle to
speak of him as "perfect man." I am persuaded that they do not
mean this, nor wish to mean it; but that they have been led into
saying it by a series of steps which it is very easy to
understand and sympathise [sic] with, if they are considered with
any diligence.

For our forefathers, though they might and did feel the existence
of a Personal God in the world, yet could not demonstrate this
existence, and made mistakes in their endeavour [sic] to persuade
themselves that they understood thoroughly a truth which they had
as yet perceived only from a long distance. Hence all the
dogmatism and theology of many centuries. It was impossible for
them to form a clear or definite conception concerning God until
they had studied His works more deeply, so as to grasp the idea
of many animals of different kinds and with no apparent
connection between them, being yet truly parts of one and the
same animal which comprised them in the same way as a tree
comprises all its buds. They might speak of this by a figure of
speech, but they could not see it as a fact. Before this could be
intended literally, Evolution must be grasped, and not Evolution
as taught in what is now commonly called Darwinism, but the old
teleological Darwinism of eighty years ago. Nor is this again
sufficient, for it must be supplemented by a perception of the
oneness of personality between parents and offspring, the
persistence of memory through all generations, the latency of
this memory until rekindled by the recurrence of the associated
ideas, and the unconsciousness with which repeated acts come to
be performed. These are modern ideas which might be caught sight
of now and again by prophets in time past, but which are even now
mastered and held firmly only by the few.

When once, however, these ideas have been accepted, the chief
difference between the orthodox God and the God who can be seen
of all men is, that the first is supposed to have existed from
all time, while the second has only lived for more millions of
years than our minds can reckon intelligently; the first is
omnipresent in all space, while the second is only present in the
living forms upon this earth-that is to say, is only more widely
present than our minds can intelligently embrace. The first is
omnipotent and all-wise; the second is only quasi-omnipotent and
quasi all-wise. It is true, then, that we deprive God of that
infinity which orthodox Theologians have ascribed to Him, but the
bounds we leave Him are of such incalculable extent that nothing
can be imagined more glorious or vaster; and in return for the
limitations we have assigned to Him, we render it possible for
men to believe in Him , and love Him, not with their lips only,
but with their hearts and lives.

Which, I may now venture to ask my readers, is the true God-the
God of the Theologian, or He whom we may see around us, and in
whose presence we stand each hour and moment of our lives?



Let us now consider the life which we can look forward to with
certainty after death, and the moral government of the world here
on earth.

If we could hear the leaves complaining to one another that they
must die, and commiserating the hardness of their lot in having
ever been induced to bud forth, we should, I imagine, despise
them for their peevishness more than we should pity them. We
should tell them that though we could not see reason for thinking
that they would ever hang again upon the same-or any at all
similar-bough as the same individual leaves, after they had once
faded and fallen off, yet that as they had been changing
personalities without feeling it during the whole of their
leafhood, so they would on death continue to do this selfsame
thing by entering into new phases of life. True, death will
deprive them of conscious memory concerning their now current
life; but, though they die as leaves, they live in the tree whom
they have helped to vivify, and whose growth and continued well-
being is due solely to this life and death of its component

We consider the cells which are born and die within us yearly to
have been sufficiently honoured [sic] in having contributed their
quotum to our life; why should we have such difficulty in seeing
that a healthy enjoyment and employment of our life will give us
a sufficient reward in that growth of God wherein we may live
more truly and effectually after death than we have lived when we
were conscious of existence? Is Handel dead when he influences
and sets in motion more human beings in three months now than
during the whole, probably, of the years in which he thought that
he was alive? What is being alive if the power to draw men for
many miles in order that they may put themselves en
rapport with him is not being so? True, Handel no longer
knows the power which he has over us, but this is a small matter;
he no longer animates six feet of flesh and blood, but he lives
in us as the dead leaf lives in the tree. He is with God, and God
knows him though he knows himself no more.

This should suffice, and I observe in practice does suffice, for
all reasonable persons. It may be said that one day the tree
itself must die, and the leaves no longer live therein; and so,
also, that the very God or Life of the World will one day perish,
as all that is born must surely in the end die. But they who fret
upon such grounds as this must be in so much want of a grievance
that it were a cruelty to rob them of one: if a man who is fond
of music tortures himself on the ground that one day all possible
combinations and permutations of sounds will have been exhausted
so that there can be no more new tunes, the only thing we can do
with him is to pity him and leave him; nor is there any better
course than this to take with those idle people who worry them
selves and others on the score that they will one day be unable
to remember the small balance of their lives that they have not
already forgotten as unimportant to them-that they will one day
die to the balance of what they have not already died to. I never
knew a well-bred or amiable person who complained seriously of
the fact that he would have to die. Granted we must all some
times find ourselves feeling sorry that we cannot remain for ever
at our present age, and that we may die so much sooner than we
like; but these regrets are passing with well-disposed people,
and are a sine qua non for the existence of life at all.
For if people could live for ever so as to suffer from no such
regret, there would be no growth nor development in life; if, on
the other hand, there were no unwillingness to die, people would
commit suicide upon the smallest contradiction, and the race
would end in a twelvemonth.

We then offer immortality, but we do not offer resurrection from
the dead; we say that those who die live in the Lord whether they
be just or unjust, and that the present growth of God is the
outcome of all past lives; but we believe that as they live in
God-in the effect they have produced upon the universal life-when
once their individual life is ended, so it is God who knows of
their life thenceforward and not themselves; and we urge that
this immortality, this entrance into the joy of the Lord, this
being ever with God, is true, and can be apprehended by all men,
and that the perception of it should and will tend to make them
lead happier, healthier lives; whereas the commonly received
opinion is true with a stage truth only, and has little permanent
effect upon those who are best worth considering. Nevertheless
the expressions in common use among the orthodox fit in so
perfectly with facts, which we must all acknowledge, that it is
impossible not to regard the expressions as founded upon a
prophetic perception of the facts.

Two things stand out with sufficient clearness. The first is the
rarity of suicide even among those who rail at life most
bitterly. The other is the little eagerness with which those who
cry out most loudly for a resurrection desire to begin their new
life. When comforting a husband upon the loss of his wife we do
not tell him we hope he will soon join her; but we should
certainly do this if we could even pretend we thought the husband
would like it. I can never remember having felt or witnessed any
pain, bodily or mental, which would have made me or anyone else
receive a suggestion that we had better commit suicide without
indignantly asking how our adviser would like to commit suicide
himself. Yet there are so many and such easy ways of dying that
indignation at being advised to commit suicide arises more from
enjoyment of life than from fear of the mere physical pain of
dying. Granted that there is much deplorable pain in the world
from ill-health, loss of money, loss of reputation, misconduct of
those nearest to us, or what not, and granted that in some cases
these causes do drive men to actual self-destruction, yet
suffering such as this happens to a comparatively small number,
and occupies comparatively a small space in the lives of those to
whom it does happen.

What, however, have we to say to those cases in which suffering
and injustice are inflicted upon defenceless [sic] people for
years and years, so that the iron enters into their souls, and
they have no avenger. Can we give any comfort to such sufferers?
and, if not, is our religion any better than a mockery-a filling
the rich with good things and sending the hungry empty away? Can
we tell them, when they are oppressed with burdens, yet that
their cry will come up to God and be heard? The question
suggests its own answer, for assuredly our God knows our
innermost secrets: there is not a word in our hearts but He
knoweth it altogether; He knoweth our down-sitting and our
uprising, He is about our path and about our bed, and spieth out
all our ways; He has fashioned us behind and before, and "we
cannot attain such knowledge," for, like all knowledge when it
has become perfect, "it is too excellent for us."

"Whither then," says David, "shall I go from thy Spirit, or
whither shall I go, then, from thy presence? If I climb up into
heaven thou art there; if I go down into hell thou art there
also. If I take the wings of the morning and remain in the
uttermost parts of the sea; even there also shall thy hand lead
me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say peradventure the
darkness shall cover me, then shall my night be turned into day:
the darkness and light to thee are both alike. For my reins
are thine; thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. My bones
are not hid from thee: though I be made secretly and fashioned
beneath in the earth, thine eyes did see my substance yet being
unperfect; and in thy book were all my members written, which day
by day were fashioned when as yet there was none of them. Do I
not hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am I not grieved with
them that rise up against thee? Yea, I hate them right sore, as
though they were mine enemies." (Psalm CXXXIX.) There is not a
word of this which we cannot endorse with more significance, as
well as with greater heartiness than those can who look upon God
as He is commonly represented to them; whatever comfort,
therefore, those in distress have been in the habit of receiving
from these and kindred passages, we intensify rather than not. We
cannot, alas! make pain cease to be pain, nor injustice easy to
bear; but we can show that no pain is bootless, and that there is
a tendency in all injustice to right itself; suffering is not
inflicted wilfully, [sic] as it were by a magician who could have
averted it ; nor is it vain in its results, but unless we are cut
off from God by having dwelt in some place where none of our kind
can know of what has happened to us, it will move God's heart to
redress our grievance, and will tend to the happiness of those
who come after us, even if not to our own.

The moral government of God over the world is exercised through
us, who are his ministers and persons, and a government of this
description is the only one which can be observed as practically
influencing men's conduct. God helps those who help themselves,
because in helping themselves they are helping Him. Again, Vox
Populi vox Dei. The current feeling of our peers is what we
instinctively turn to when we would know whether such and such a
course of conduct is right or wrong; and so Paul clenches his
list of things that the Philippians were to hold fast with the
words, "whatsoever things are of good fame"-that is to say, he
falls back upon an appeal to the educated conscience of his age.
Certainly the wicked do sometimes appear to escape punishment,
but it must be remembered there are punishments from within which
do not meet the eye. If these fall on a man, he is sufficiently
punished; if they do not fall on him, it is probable we have been
over hasty in assuming that he is wicked.



The reader will already have felt that the panzoistic conception
of God-the conception, that is to say, of God as comprising all
living units in His own single person-does not help us to
understand the origin of matter, nor yet that of the primordial
cell which has grown and unfolded itself into the present life of
the world. How was the world rendered fit for the habitation of
the first germ of Life? How came it to have air and water,
without which nothing that we know of as living can exist? Was
the world fashioned and furnished with aqueous and atmospheric
adjuncts with a view to the requirements of the infant monad, and
to his due development? If so, we have evidence of design, and
if so of a designer, and if so there must be Some far vaster
Person who looms out behind our God, and who stands in the same
relation to him as he to us. And behind this vaster and more
unknown God there may be yet another, and another, and another.

It is certain that Life did not make the world with a view to its
own future requirements. For the world was at one time red hot,
and there can have been no living being upon it. Nor is it
conceivable that matter in which there was no life-inasmuch as it
was infinitely hotter than the hottest infusion which any living
germ can support-could gradually come to be alive without
impregnation from a living parent. All living things that we know
of have come from other living things with bodies and souls,
whose existence can be satisfactorily established in spite of
their being often too small for our detection. Since, then, the
world was once without life, and since no analogy points in the
direction of thinking that life can spring up spontaneously, we
are driven to suppose that it was introduced into this world from
some other source extraneous to it altogether, and if so we find
ourselves irresistibly drawn to the inquiry whether the source of
the life that is in the world-the impregnator of this earth-may
not also have prepared the earth for the reception of his
offspring, as a hen makes an egg-shell or a peach a stone for the
protection of the germ within it? Not only are we drawn to the
inquiry, but we are drawn also to the answer that the earth
was so prepared designedly by a Person with body and soul
who knew beforehand the kind of thing he required, and who took
the necessary steps to bring it about.

If this is so we are members indeed of the God of this world, but
we are not his children; we are children of the Unknown and
Vaster God who called him into existence; and this in a far more
literal sense than we have been in the habit of realising [sic]
to ourselves. For it may be doubted whether the monads are not as
truly seminal in character as the procreative matter from which
all animals spring.

It must be remembered that if there is any truth in the view put
forward in "Life and Habit," and in "Evolution Old and New" (and
I have met with no serious attempt to upset the line of argument
taken in either of these books), then no complex animal or plant
can reach its full development without having already gone
through the stages of that development on an infinite number of
past occasions. An egg makes itself into a hen because it knows
the way to do so, having already made itself into a hen millions
and millions of times over; the ease and unconsciousness with
which it grows being in themselves sufficient demonstration of
this fact. At each stage in its growth {he chicken is reminded,
by a return of the associated ideas, of the next step that it
should take, and it accordingly takes it.

But if this is so, and if also the congeries of all the
living forms in the world must be regarded as a single person,
throughout their long growth from the primordial cell onwards to
the present day, then, by parity of reasoning, the person thus
compounded-that is to say, Life or God-should have already passed
through a growth analogous to that which we find he has taken
upon this earth on an infinite number of past occasions; and the
development of each class of life, with its culmination in the
vertebrate animals and in man, should be due to recollection
by God of his having passed through the same stages, or nearly
so, in worlds and universes, which we know of from personal
recollection, as evidenced in the growth and structure of our
bodies, but concerning which we have no other knowledge

So small a space remains to me that I cannot pursue further the
reflections which suggest themselves. A few concluding
considerations are here alone possible.

We know of three great concentric phases of life, and we are not
without reason to suspect a fourth. If there are so many there
are very likely more, but we do not know whether there are or
not. The innermost sphere of life we know of is that of our own
cells. These people live in a world of their own, knowing nothing
of us, nor being known by ourselves until very recently. Yet they
can be seen under a microscope; they can be taken out of us, and
may then be watched going here and there in perturbation of mind,
endeavouring [sic] to find something in their new environment
that will suit them, and then dying on finding how hopelessly
different it is from any to which they have been accustomed. They
live in us, and make us up into the single person which we
conceive ourselves to form; we are to them a world comprising an
organic and an inorganic kingdom, of which they consider
themselves to be the organic, and whatever is not very like
themselves to be the inorganic. Whether they are composed of
subordinate personalities or not we do not know, but we have no
reason to think that they are, and if we touch ground, so to
speak, with life in the units of which our own bodies are
composed, it is likely that there is a limit also in an upward
direction, though we have nothing whatever to guide us as to
where it is, nor any certainty that there is a limit at all.

We are ourselves the second concentric sphere of life, we being
the constituent cells which unite to form the body of God. Of the
third sphere we know a single member only-the God of this world;
but we see also the stars in heaven, and know their multitude.
Analogy points irresistibly in the direction of thinking that
these other worlds are like our own, begodded and full of life;
it also bids us believe that the God of their world is begotten
of one more or less like himself, and that his growth has
followed the same course as that of all other growths we know of.

If so, he is one of the constituent units of an unknown and
vaster personality who is composed of Gods, as our God is
composed of all the living forms on earth, and as all those
living forms are composed of cells. This is the Unknown God.
Beyond this second God we cannot at present go, nor should we
wish to do so, if we are wise. It is no reproach to a system that
it does not profess to give an account of the origin of things;
the reproach rather should lie against a system which professed
to explain it, for we may be well assured that such a profession
would, for the present at any rate, be an empty boast. It is
enough if a system is true as far as it goes; if it throws new
light on old problems, and opens up vistas which reveal a hope of
further addition to our knowledge, and this I believe may be
fairly claimed for the theory of life put forward in "Life and
Habit" and "Evolution, Old and New," and for the corollary
insisted upon in these pages; a corollary which follows logically
and irresistibly if the position I have taken in the above-named
books is admitted.

Let us imagine that one of the cells of which we are composed
could attain to a glimmering perception of the manner in which he
unites with other cells, of whom he knows very little, so as to
form a greater compound person of whom he has hitherto known
nothing at all. Would he not do well to content himself with the
mastering of this conception, at any rate for a considerable
time? Would it be any just ground of complaint against him on the
part of his brother cells, that he had failed to explain to them
who made the man (or, as he would call it, the omnipotent deity)
whose existence and relations to himself he had just caught sight

But if he were to argue further on the same lines as those on
which he had travelled hitherto, and were to arrive at the
conclusion that there might be other men in the world. besides
the one whom he had just learnt to apprehend, it would be still
no refutation or just ground of complaint against him that he had
failed to show the manner in which his supposed human race had
come into existence.

Here our cell would probably stop. He could hardly be expected
to arrive at the existence of animals and plants differing from
the human race, and uniting with that race to form a single
Person or God, in the same way as he has himself united with
other cells to form man. The existence, and much more the
roundness of the earth itself, would be unknown to him, except by
way of inference and deduction. The only universe which he could
at all understand would be the body of the man of whom he was a
component part.

How would not such a cell be astounded if all that we know
ourselves could be suddenly revealed to him, so that not only
should the vastness of this earth burst upon his dazzled view,
but that of the sun and of his planets also, and not only these,
but the countless other suns which we may see by night around us.
Yet it is probable that an actual being is hidden from us, which
no less transcends the wildest dream of our theologians than the
existence of the heavenly bodies transcends the perception of our
own constituent cells.



Back to Full Books