THE SPIRITS’ BOOK

Allan Kardec

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CHAPTER VIII
VII. LAW OF PROGRESS
State of Nature - The March of Progress - Declining Nations - Civilization - Progress of Societal Legislation - Influence of Spiritism on Progress

State of Nature

776. Are the state of nature and the law of nature the same thing?
“No, the state of nature is the original state. Civilization is incompatible with the state of nature, while the law of nature contributes to the progress of humankind.”

The state of nature is the first phase of the human race, and the starting point of its intellectual and moral development. Human beings, born imperfect and containing the seed of their betterment, are not destined to live in the state of nature forever, just as they do not remain in the state of infancy. The state of nature is brief, and human beings outgrow it through progress and civilization. On the contrary, natural law rules humankind as a whole. People improve as they understand this law more clearly, and mold their actions to adhere to it.

777. In the state of nature, people with fewer wants do not have many of the tribulations as human beings who are socially more advanced. What should we think of the opinion of those who regard the former state as being that of the most perfect happiness that can be obtained on Earth?
“What do you expect? That is the ignorant bliss of the brute. Such happiness is that of an animal, but there are people who know no better. Children are also happier than adults.”

778. Can humankind regress to the state of nature?
“No. Humankind must always progress, and cannot return to the state of infancy. If they progress because it is God has willed it. An assumption that people can revert to the primitive condition is to deny the law of progress.”

The March of Progress

779. Do humans contain a force within them that propels them forward on the path of progress, or is their progress only the product of education?
“Human beings develop themselves naturally. Human beings do not progress at the same rate, or in the same manner. This is why the most advanced help others move forward through social contact.”

780. Does moral progress always follow intellectual progress?
“It is the result, but it does not always follow it immediately.” (See nos. 192-365)

a) How can intellectual progress lead to moral progress?
“By making human beings gain an understanding of good and wrongdoing they can then choose between them. The development of free will follows the development of intelligence and increases the accountability of human actions.”

b) How is it then that the most enlightened nations are often the most deviant?
“Complete and integral progress is the purpose of life, but nations, like individuals, reach it gradually. Until the moral sense is developed, they may even employ their intelligence in doing evil. Moral sense and intellect are two forces that are balanced over the course of time.” (See nos. 365-751)

781. Do human beings have the power to halt progress?
“No, but they can hamper it sometimes.”

a) What should we think of those who attempt to halt progress, and make the human race regress?
“God will punish them. They will be overthrown by the flow they want to stop.” Progress is a condition of human nature and no one can prevent it. It is a living force that bad laws may hamper, but not smother. When these laws become incompatible, progress breaks them down and continues to do so until the laws of humankind match Divine justice, which wills the best for everyone, and until all laws made by the strong to the detriment of the weak are eradicated.

782. Are there individuals who honestly obstruct progress while believing that they are helping it move forward, because they often regard something as “progress” that is not such?
“Yes, they are like small pebbles under the great wheel that cannot keep it from moving.”

783. Does the improvement of humanity always follow a progressive and slow march?
“There is a regular slow progress that inevitably results from circumstances, but when a population does not advance quickly enough, God creates a physical or moral shock that hastens its transformation.”

Human beings cannot remain unaware forever, because they must reach the goal God set for them. Circumstance enlightens them gradually. Moral revolutions, like social revolutions, are introduced into the minds of a nation slowly. They continue to evolve for centuries, and suddenly sprout, toppling the crumbling structure of the past that is no longer in harmony with the goals and objectives of a new day. Human beings often perceive only the fleeting chaos and confusion that affect them in their material interests, but those who raise their thoughts above themselves admire the Divine planning that brings good out of evil. Such commotions are like a storm that purifies the atmosphere after disturbing it.

784. The perversity of humankind is immense. It seems that human beings are regressing rather than advancing, at least in terms of morality.
“You are wrong. Look at the human race as a whole, and you will see that it is advancing. It has arrived at a clearer perception of what is evil, and witnesses the reform of some kind of abuse every day. An excess of wickedness is required to show the need for good and the need for reforms.”

785. What is the greatest obstacle to progress?
“Pride and selfishness. This is in terms of moral progress, as intellectual progress is constant, and at first glance, it seems to magnify those vices by developing ambition and the love of possessions and wealth. These feelings drive human beings to carry out the research that enlightens their minds, and this is how all things are linked together in the moral and physical worlds, and how good is eventually created out of iniquity. This condition is only temporary and will change as human beings become aware that there is an infinitely greater and everlasting happiness beyond the realm of earthly pleasures.” (See Selfishness, Chapter XII)

Two types of progress mutually support one another, but do not necessarily occur at the same rate: intellectual progress and moral progress. In civilized nations, the former is currently receiving a great deal of encouragement, and it has reached a degree of advancement that is incomparable to past ages. The second is very far from reaching the same point, although if we compare the social values across centuries, we are forced to admit that progress has also been made in this direction. Why has progress stalled in morality more than in intelligence? Why should there be less of a difference between the morality of the 19th and 24th centuries than between that of the 14th and the 19th? Not questioning the consistency of moral progress would be to assume either that the human race has reached the peak of perfection, which would be ridiculous, or that it is not morally perfectible, which experience contradicts.

Declining Nations

786. History shows us many nations that have relapsed into barbarism after being subjected to shocks or blows that have devastated them. Where is progress in these cases?
“When your house threatens to fall down, you tear it down to build another that is more stable and more practical. However, chaos continues in your home until the latter is built.”
“Here is another example. You are poor and live in a hut, but you become wealthy and leave the hut to live in a palace. A poor person then comes along and moves into the hut you have vacated. This individual is a winner in the move, as he or she was previously homeless. Well then, learn from this that the spirits incarnated in this declining culture are no longer those who had comprised that culture during its time of splendor. The more advanced spirits have moved on to better worlds and have progressed, while the less advanced have taken their vacated places, which they too will in turn vacate.”

787. Are there individuals who are intrinsically rebellious towards progress?
“Yes, but they are progressively becoming extinct, physically.”

a) What will be the fate of the souls that incarnate in these races?
“They will reach perfection by experiencing other lives. God does not disinherit anyone.”

b) So the most civilized human beings may have been savages and cannibals?
“You were one once, even more than once, before becoming what you are now.”

788. Nations are collective individualities that pass through the phases of infancy, maturity, and decline, just as individuals do. Does this truth, as proven by history, imply that the most advanced nations of this century will ultimately experience their decline and end, just like those of antiquity?
“Nations that only live a material life and whose greatness is based on force and territorial expansion are born, grow, and die, because the strength of a nation eventually becomes exhausted like that of an individual. Nations whose selfish laws are opposed to the progress of enlightenment and charity die because light kills darkness, and charity kills selfishness. That being said, nations and individuals also have a spiritual life, and those whose laws are in harmony with God’s eternal laws will continue to live and serve as a beacon for other nations.”

789. Will progress ultimately unite all the people of the Earth in a single nation?
“No, not into a single nation. That would be impossible because climate differences yield distinct habits and needs that make up nationalities, each of which always need laws tailored to its special habits and needs. Charity has no geographical boundaries and makes no distinction between skin colors. When God’s law is the basis of human made law everywhere and the law of charity is practiced among nations and among individuals, everyone will live in peace and happiness because no one will attempt to do wrong to a neighbor or live at the expense of others.”

The human race advances through the progress of individuals, who gradually become enlightened. When they constitute a majority, they take the lead and draw the rest forward. Persons of genius sporadically emerge and give momentum to advancement, and persons of authority, God’s instruments, carry out in the course of a few years what the race, left to its own devices, would have taken several centuries to accomplish.
The progress of nations further highlights the justice of reincarnation. Through the efforts of moral individuals, a nation advances intellectually and morally, and is ultimately happier in this world and in the next. However, during its slow journey over the course of successive centuries, thousands of individuals die every day. What is the fate of those who have fallen along the way? Does their relative inferiority deprive them of the happiness reserved for future generations? Is their happiness relative? Divine justice cannot permit such an injustice. Through experiencing many lives, the right to happiness is within the reach of all the legacy of progress does not exclude anyone. Those who have lived during barbaric times can come back in a period of civilization in the same nation or another, and can profit by the advancement of the various nations on Earth.

However, the concept of one life presents another difficulty. According to that theory, the soul is created at birth. For some individuals to be more advanced than others, God would have to create souls for them that are more advanced than the rest of creation. What would be the source of this favoritism? How can one person, who has lived no longer than another, often not even as long, merit a superior soul? That is not the only problem. A nation, over the course of a thousand years, transitions from barbarism to civilization. If all human beings lived one thousand years, we could understand that they would have the time to progress. However, many die every day, at all ages, and people are continuously being reborn on Earth. At the end of one thousand years, no trace remains of those who were living in a country one thousand years before. The nation has become civilized – but who has progressed? Are they the people who were once barbarians? But they died a long time ago. Are they the newcomers? If the soul is created at birth, these souls did not exist during the period of barbarism, and we would be required to assert that the efforts made to civilize a nation do not have the power to improve imperfect souls, but to make God create more perfect souls.

We will now compare this theory of progress with that given by the spirits. The souls that come to a civilized nation have had their infancy, like all others, but they have already lived and are advanced due to prior progress. They are attracted by the circumstances best suited to them and their present condition. The efforts to civilize a nation are not aimed at creating better quality souls in the future, but rather, at attracting souls that have already progressed, regardless of where they have previously lived. The progress each nation accomplishes provides the key to the progress of humankind as a whole. It shows that when every nation on the Earth has reached the same level of moral advancement, our planet will be a haven of good spirits, who will live in a fraternal union. All the bad spirits will be repelled and forced to seek surroundings that suit them in inferior worlds, until they are worthy of coming back into our transformed world. The commonly accepted theory of the one life, devoid of the concept of reincarnation, leads to another consequence, specifically, that the work of social betterment is only beneficial to present and future generations. Its result is null and void for past generations, who made the mistake of entering the world too soon, and who have to make do, hampered by the faults of their barbaric past. According to Spiritism, the progress accomplished by later generations is also beneficial to the generations that preceded them, who can improve for the goal of civilization when they reincarnate at a point in the future. (See no. 222)

Civilization

790. Is civilization the progress of humankind or according to some philosophers, its decadence?
“It is incomplete progress. Humankind does not suddenly morph from infancy to maturity.”

a) Is it rational to condemn civilization?
“You should condemn those who abuse it, rather than God’s work.”

791. Will civilization be purified eventually so that the evils caused by it will disappear?
“Yes, when humankind’s moral nature is as fully developed as its intelligence. The fruit cannot appear before the flower blooms.”

792. Why does civilization not produce all the good it can produce?
“Because human beings are not yet ready or willing to obtain that good.” a) Could it also be because it generates new passions in creating new wants? “Yes, and because a spirit’s faculties do not progress at the same rate, everything takes time. You cannot expect perfect fruit from an incomplete civilization.” (See nos. 751-780)

793. What are the signs of a fully developed civilization?
“You recognize it by its moral development. You think you are advanced because you have made great discoveries and brilliant inventions and because you are better sheltered and clothed than savages. However, you will only truly have the right to call yourselves ‘civilized’ when you have eradicated vices from your society and when you live as brothers and sisters, practicing Christian charity. Until then, you are merely enlightened nations that have only passed through the first phase of civilization.”

Civilization has its degrees, like everything else. A civilization in transition is an incomplete civilization. It produces distinct evils unknown in the primitive state. Still, it constitutes a natural and necessary progress that remedies the problems it causes. As civilization is perfected it ends some of the problems it causes and these troubles vanish completely with moral progress.

The most advanced nation from any two that have reached the top of the social ladder is the one with the least amount of selfishness, greed, and pride. The one whose habits are morally better, more intellectual than material and where intelligence can develop freely. It is the one with the greatest amount of kindness, good faith, compassion and generosity. It is where prejudices of class and birth are not rooted because they are compatible with true love for one’s neighbor. Its laws do not allow privileges and are the same for every member of its society. It is the one where justice is administered with the least amount of bias and the weak always finds support against the strong. It is where human life, beliefs, opinions are respected and where there is the smallest number of poor and unhappy individuals. Finally, it is a nation where people who are willing to work are guaranteed the essentials for survival.

Progress of Societal Legislation

794. Can society be sufficiently governed only by natural law without human made laws?
“If the laws of nature were properly understood and people were willing to practice them, they would be sufficient. But society has its demands and requires special laws.”

795. What causes the instability of human laws?
“During barbaric times, laws were made by the strongest who established them to their own advantage. Therefore, as human beings have acquired a clearer understanding of justice, these laws have had to be modified. Human laws will become more stable as they approach true justice, meaning, as they represent everyone and are in harmony with natural law.” Civilization has created new needs for human beings, and these needs are relative to their social standing. People in civilized societies regulate the rights and duties of their standing through human laws. They have often created imaginary rights and duties that are condemned by the natural law, and that every nation removes from its code as it progresses because people are influenced by their passions. Natural law is absolute and the same for all. Human law is variable and progressive; at the inception of human societies, it only could establish the rights of the strongest.

796. Is the severity of criminal laws necessary for society as it stands today?
“A depraved society requires more severe laws, but your laws, unfortunately, are designed to punish wrongdoing after the fact, rather than eliminating the source of bad behavior. Only education can reform humankind, and then you will no longer require such harsh laws.”

797. How can human beings be led to reform their laws?
“This occurs naturally, based on the circumstances, and through the influence of more advanced individuals who drive the world forward on the path of progress. It has already changed significantly, and will continue to do so. Just wait and see!”

Influence of Spiritism on Progress

798. Will Spiritism become a widespread belief, or will it continue to only be accepted by the minority?
“It will definitely become a widespread belief, and will mark a new era in the history of humankind because it belongs to nature and the time has come for it to be recognized and accepted by human knowledge. It will have to withstand fierce criticism prompted by selfish interests rather than by conviction, because there are individuals whose interests lie in tearing down this belief, some out of pride, others for material motives. Its opponents, however, will be forced to join the general consensus, or otherwise risk undermining their own efforts.”

Ideas are only transformed over the course of time, never suddenly. Flawed ideas are weakened over successive generations, and end up disappearing little by little along with those who professed them. They are replaced by other individuals with new ideas, as is the case in regard to political ideas and principles. Look at paganism: no one today professes the religious ideas of pagan times. Yet, they left traces that could only be erased by the complete rebirth of the human beings who supported these beliefs for several centuries after the dawn of Christianity. The same will happen with Spiritism. It has been making considerable progress, but healthy skepticism will persist for two or three generations that only time will be able to break down. Nevertheless, its progress will be faster than that of Christianity, because Christianity itself clears the way for it and serves as its basis and support. Christianity had to destroy prior beliefs; Spiritism only has to build up from there.

799. How can Spiritism contribute to progress?
“By destroying materialism, which is one of the plagues of society, and making people understand where their true interest lies. When human beings no longer doubt the future life; they will understand more clearly that they can guarantee their future by the present. By destroying the prejudices of divisions, castes and skin color, it teaches individuals about the great solidarity that will one day unite them as brothers and sisters.”

800. Should we be concerned that Spiritism may fail to triumph over the negligence of human beings and their attachment to material things?
“This question demonstrates a very superficial knowledge of human nature, if one could believe that any cause could transform them by mere charm or enchantment. Ideas change gradually, depending on the individual, and several generations are needed for the complete eradication of old habits. Therefore, the transformation of humankind can be carried out only over the course of time, slowly, and step by step. With each new generation, part of the veil evaporates, and Spiritism will dissolve it entirely. In the meantime, even if it only cures human beings of a single fault, this is a step forward. This would be a tremendous accomplishment because this first step would make the rest much easier.”

801. Why have the spirits not taught what they are teaching now since the beginning of time?
“You do not teach to children what you teach to adults, just as you do not give newborn babies food that they cannot digest. There is a time and place for everything. Spirits have taught many things that human beings have not understood or that they have distorted, but that they are now capable of understanding. Through their teachings, they have prepared the ground to sow the seed that is now about to take hold and grow despite being incomplete.”

802. Since Spiritism must mark the progress of humankind, could the spirits speed up this progress through general and clear manifestations to convince even the most skeptical individuals?
“You want miracles, but God grants you miracles every day and yet you still have people who deny their existence. Did Christ convince his contemporaries by the miracles he accomplished? Do you not see people, to this day, denying the most evident facts, despite occurring before their very eyes? Are there not some who say that they would not believe, even if they saw it? No, it is not through miracles that God will bring human beings back to their senses. God’s goodness allows them to convince themselves through reason.”

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