Luther Burbank - IMMORTALITY - Part Two


   He thought Emerson was right when he said:

   “Here is this wonderful thought [of immortality]. But whence came it? Who put it in the mind? It was not I, it was not you; it is elemental belongs to thought and virtue, and when- ever we have either, we see the beams of this light. When the Master of the universe has points to carry in his government, he impresses his will in the structure of minds...Wherever man ripens, this audacious belief appears... As soon as thought is exercised, this belief is inevitable; as soon as virtue glows, this belief confirms itself. It is a kind of summary or completion of man... The doctrine is not sentimental, but is grounded in the necessities and forces we possess.”

   Such a belief is a supreme act based on the reasonableness of God's work, he said. No philosophy, however keen; no science, however accurate, can solve a problem infinitely beyond human experience. All- powerful in the demonstration of facts, science is silent as man seeks from such a source an answer to the question of possible life beyond the grave. We need a surer anchorage than feeling. There was a time in his life when he felt the presence of departed friends and heard their voices speaking to him out of the other world. But that day passed out of his life like a spent wave on the strand.

   If the hope of immortality were blotted from the lives of our fellow men, the consciousness of the eternal blank that would ensue would be intolerable. No man of his day in Europe was a more merciless critic of structural religion than the French rationalist, Ernest Renan. Strong are his words on the psychological effect upon the world of a belief in an after life:

   “The day in which the belief in an after life shall vanish from the earth will witness a terrific moral and spiritual decadence. Some of us, perhaps, might do without it, provided only that others held it fast. But there is no lever capable of raising an entire people if once they have lost their faith in the immortality of the soul.”

   Renan, in his judgment, was absolutely justified in making that statement. And this fact makes it all the more important to draw up such a conception of the after life as accords with reason. No religion could hope to win the world that eliminated the doctrine of immortality from its teaching. It will find its true place in the Religion of Humanity. But it will differ in its formulation from the dogmatic superstitions of a theological system that have made a travesty of heaven and an inhuman tragedy of hell. It is not so much a question of continued existence as of the nature of that existence. The grotesque conceptions of life after death so jealously cultivated by the leaders of structural Christianity are responsible for much of the present indifference of the great mass of the people toward the subject of personal immortality.

   Referring to the nature of existence after death, the gradual evolution of the belief in life after death from the infancy of religions, he said, is clearly outlined in the history of the Israelites. Up to the period of the Babylonian captivity it is evident that the hereafter had no place in their religious beliefs. During the period of their captivity, however, in which for over two centuries they were in close contact with the Persian religion, they took over from that system belief in one God, a heaven and a hell, the resurrection from the dead and the final day of judgment. Then came the crowning stage as contained in the tenets of the Christian faith. It is a history throughout of faith, and faith alone, placed upon alleged fact, beyond the range of human experience.

   I submitted to Burbank my personal belief that the integrity of the Christian religion is based on the alleged fact of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Thus Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, took the bold stand: "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." We know there are millions of men and women in the world to-day living lives of consecrated service, with love toward God and their fellows, to whom that belief of Paul is the supreme comfort the mainstay of human life and purpose. And those millions are but a small fraction of the countless millions in the procession of the centuries who have lived and died with supreme faith in the gospel of the resurrection. Whatever indifference may have gripped the world in relation to that belief, men and women cling to it when they face the great adventure. No man is so brave that the message of the resurrection does not fail to make him a little braver. This was my experience as I ministered to our dying comrades on French soil in the World War. Who can calculate the stronger faith and calmer assurance that sustained the hearts of those millions who heard the message of their Master: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

   Burbank replied that this Christian conception of immortality has put hope and joy in the hearts of millions through the centuries, and therein we rejoice. It is one of the many gates, wide open, through which the souls of men pass into the life immortal. The omnipresent God, Infinite Spirit behind man's destiny, has many avenues of approach as hundreds of millions seek the life after death. And it is here that the Religion of Humanity will be a living force in the beliefs of men. It will teach the reality of spiritual being and deny the doctrine of a bodily resurrection. It will proclaim the truth of life after death, quite independent of the story of the risen Jesus. Apart altogether from revelation, belief in immortality will be taught as a sequence of evolution. Burbank shared with Charles Darwin his conception of that life when he said: "Believing as I do that man in the distant future will be a far more perfect creature than he now is, it is an intolerable thought that he and other sentient beings are doomed to complete annihilation after such a long-continued slow process." And he believed that such a perfected creature will belong to the realm of the spiritual. The Religion of Humanity will question the position taken by Paul and others that, "since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." There's no reason for bringing Adam into the question of the immortal. To him, the life of Jesus in his earthly ministry means more to the world than the story of his resurrected life. No man ever lived who taught the empire of the spiritual with such supernal force, and demonstrated the truth that man is in eternity, traveling across the face of time, with more conclusiveness. He believed in, and lived by, the reality of the "Eternal Now." The Religion of Humanity will take from the page of revelation only such statements on the doctrine of immortality as may harmonize with modem scholarship and the truth of science."