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Life and destiny

Life and destiny
Category:
Author: Adler Felix
Title: Life and destiny
Release Date: 2018-08-23
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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LIFE AND DESTINY

Life and Destiny

BY
FELIX ADLER
AUTHOR OF
“CREED AND DEED,” “MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE,” ETC.


London:
WATTS & CO.,
17 JOHNSON’S COURT, FLEET STREET, E.C.
1913

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CONTENTS

 PAGE
The Meaning of Life3
Religion17
Immortality31
Moral Ideals37
Love and Marriage53
Higher Life65
Spiritual Progress81
Suffering and Consolation89
Ethical Outlook105

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PUBLISHERS’ PREFACE

Dr. Felix Adler, from whose Addresses the following gems of thought areextracted, is widely known in the United States as an impassionedpreacher, a distinguished scholar, and a leading citizen. He founded in1876, in the City of New York, the first Ethical Society, of which he isstill the much-beloved inspirer and guide. Since that date the EthicalMovement inaugurated by Dr. Adler has taken root in many lands, and anInternational Union of Ethical Societies has been called into being, ofwhich he is President. According to him, the three fundamental tenets ofthe Ethical Movement are “the supremacy of the moral end of life aboveall other ends, the sufficiency of man for the pursuit of that end, andthe increase of moral truth to be expected from loyalty in thispursuit.”

In this volume connected excerpts bearing on the more intimate side oflife, as apprehended by the author, are offered to the reader. Here{viii} Dr.Adler reveals himself not only as some one who has explored the deeperrecesses of the human heart, but his words prove him to be of the longline of poets and prophets who have contributed to purify and elevatehumanity.

This small work appears destined by its form and content to be areligious and ethical classic, to be placed on the book-shelf alongsideof À Kempis’s “Imitation of Christ,” Pascal’s “Thoughts,” and Emerson’s“Essays”. Whoever craves for self-knowledge, reveres his deeper self,and seeks to be captain of his own soul, will feel that these pagesoffer him precious and sympathetic counsel.

In conclusion, the Publishers desire to express their grateful thanksto Dr. Adler for permission to issue this popular edition, and to statethat they are entirely responsible for the few omissions in the text.{1}

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THE MEANING OF LIFE

There are two kinds of light, the light on the hither side of thedarkness and the light beyond the darkness. We must press on through thedarkness and the terror of it if we would reach the holier light beyond.

We are here—no matter who put us here, or how we came here—to fulfil atask. We cannot afford to go of our own volition until the last item ofour duty is discharged. We are here to make mind master of matter, soulof sense. We do so by overriding pain, not by weakly capitulating to it.

When we are smitten by the rod of affliction do not let us sit still,but rather get to work as fast as we{4} can. In action lies our salvation.But it must be remembered that only a great aim, one which remainsvalid, irrespective of our private griefs, is competent in the criticalmoments to put us into action and to sustain us in action.

The thought that extreme suffering is a key which unlocks life’s deepestand truest meanings is the final rejoinder to the plea on behalf ofsuicide. It is a thought which, when fully apprehended, is calculated togive peace to every troubled soul.

The fact that there is a spiritual power in us, that is to say, a powerwhich testifies to the unity of our life with the life of others, whichimpels us to regard others as other selves—this fact comes home to useven more forcibly in sorrow than in joy. It is thrown into clearestrelief on the background of pain.{5}

In the glow of achievement we are apt to be full of a falseself-importance. But in moments of weakness we realise, throughcontrast, the infinitely superior strength of the power whose veryhumble organs and ministers we are. It is then we come to understandthat, isolated from it, we are nothing; at one with it, identified withit, we participate in its eternal nature, in its resistless course.

There are two terms of the series of progress which we should alwayskeep before us. The one is the starting-point, and the other the finalgoal. The former is the cave man; the latter is the divine man. We knowin a measure what sort of being the cave man was. Instructed byanthropologists, we know how poor and mean were the beginnings ofhumanity on earth. But of that other term of progress—the goal ofprogress,{6} the divine man of whom the cave man was the germ, the firstrough draft—of the man who is to be, our notions are vague. He risesbefore us, indeed, in a vision of glory, but his shape is nebulous. Andthe result of progress is just this, that it makes us more and more ableto define the outlines of that shape, to draw sharply and finely thenoble lineaments of that face; that it makes us more and more able tosee the divine, the perfect man, the only begotten son of all thespirits of the myriads of the generations of men—the man that is to be,the perfection of our imperfection.

The perfect man has never yet appeared on earth. The perfect man is anapparition of light and beauty rising in the boundless infinite, anideal to be more and more clothed with particularity. The purpose forwhich we exist is to help to create the{7} perfect man, to incarnate himmore and more in ourselves and in others.

That the lofty form of man may be wholly disengaged from theencompassing clay, that the traces of our bestial ancestry may be whollypurged from our nature, that our spirits may stand erect as our bodiesalready do—this, I think, is the end for which we exist.

Every man, however humble, is worthy of reverence because, in hislimited sphere, he can be a beneficent, forward-working agent, he canhelp a little to create the perfect man. Every child is a possibleavatar of the more perfect man. On every child the whole past lays itsburdens, and of the outcome of its life the whole future is expectant.

The way to overcome dejection is to energise our nature vigorously. Aneminent physician is quoted as{8} saying: “I firmly believe that one-halfof the confirmed invalids could be cured of their maladies if they werecompelled to live busy and active lives, and had no time to fret overtheir miseries. The will has a wonderfully strong and direct influenceover the body. Good work is the safeguard of health. The way to livewell is to work well.” If this be true, even when the cause of thedejection is corporeal, how much more likely is it to be true where thecause is seated in the mind.

In cases of bereavement, what is it that can enable a man to weather thehurricane of grief which is apt to descend upon the soul immediatelyafter a great loss; and what can enable him to live through the deadcalm which is apt to succeed that first whirlwind of passionatedesolation? It is the thought that the fight must{9} still go on, becausethere are issues of infinite worth at stake; and that, though woundedand crippled, he must still bear his part in the fight until the end.

For singleness of purpose, I plead. This alone can give strength to ourwill, coherence to our life. Without it we drift; with it we steer. Letus have before us, whatever we do, a sovereign aim, but let us also makesure that it be a worthy aim, one that will purge the clay from oureyes, from our lips, from our brains, from our hearts.

A great man helps us by the standard which he erects. He never really islevel with his own standard, and yet we do not therefore reject him. Hehelps us by what he earnestly tries for, and by what he suggests to usthat we should try for; he helps us, not so much by what he achieves,{10}as by what he reveals, by the insight which he gives us into the natureof good.

So far as the forward movement of the human race is concerned, it is theeffort that counts, and not the attainment; the realm of time and spacecan never be the scene of complete realisation. The reward of the effortis the wider outlook upon the ultimate aim; the truer estimate of itscharacter as infinite, and, along with this, the recognition of thatinfiniteness of our own nature which enables us to conceive of andaspire to such an aim.

Joy is a light which those who possess are bound to keep burningbrightly for the sake of others as well as for their own sake. Everypure joy in the world is so much pure gain.

Cold and bare is youth without the glow of generous idealism.Con{11}temptible is middle age without the sense of definite attachmentsand the willing acceptance of limitations. And ungracious and unlovelyis old age if it be not illumined by the light of contemplation, if itbe not fruitful in counsel.

Every vocation, even the lowliest, which we pursue in a spirit of entiresincerity, is a means of acquiring culture. The artisan may be, in hisway, as truly a cultivated man as the artist or the scholar, for byculture I understand insight gained into all manner of activitiesthrough genuineness and thoroughness in one. To be cultivated is to seethings in their relations.

Our daily avocation, whatever it be, if we cling to it closely enough,is sure to engender in us a new respect for reality, a new humility.

To put forth power in such a{12} way as to be provocative of power inothers is the ethical aim that should guide men in all vocations and inall their relations.

This fair earth, with its fir-clad hills, its snowy mountains, itssparkling seas, its azure vaults, and the holy light of the stars, isbut a painted screen behind which lurks the true reality.

The beauty of this earth and all that is precious and great in thishuman life of ours is but a hint and a suggestion of an eternalfairness, an eternal rightness.

We need something of the virility of stoicism to grapple with thedifficulties of life; we need to cultivate a large patience; an humblespirit that teaches us to be prepared for every loss, and to welcomeevery joy as an unlooked-for gain. There are a thousand pleasures inlittle things which{13} we, with the petulance of children, daily spurn,because we cannot have all we ask for.

The question, Is life worth living? implies a species of blasphemy. Theright question to ask is: Am I worthy of living? If I am not, I can makemyself so. That is always in my power.

At bottom, the world is to be interpreted in terms of joy, but of a joythat includes all the pain, includes it and transforms it and transcendsit.

The Light of the World is a light that is saturated with the darknesswhich it has overcome and transfigured.{15}{14}

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RELIGION

Religion is a wizard, a sibyl. She faces the wreck of worlds, andprophesies restoration. She faces a sky blood-red with sunset coloursthat deepen into darkness, and prophesies dawn. She faces death, andprophesies life.

Religion has been so eager to supply us with information concerning theuniverse outside of us, its origin and its destiny, because our life

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