Allan Kardec

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Chapter I


1. It is certain that we live, think, and act; it is not less certain that we shall die. But, on leaving Earth, where shall we go? What will become of us? Shall we be better off, or shall we be worse off? Shall we continue to exist, or shall we cease to exist? “To be, or not to be,” is the alternative presented to us; it will be for always, or not at all; it will be everything, or nothing; we shall live on eternally, or we shall cease to live, once and forever. The alternative is well worth the consideration.

Everyone feels a need to live, to love, and be happy. Announce, to one who believes himself to be at the point of death, that his life is to be prolonged, that the hour of death is delayed—announce to him, moreover, that he is going to be happier than he has ever been—and his heart will beat high with joy and hope. But to what end does the human heart thus instinctively aspire after happiness, if an ill wind suffices to scatter its aspirations?

Can anything be more agonizing than the idea that we are doomed to utter and absolute destruction, that our dearest affections, our intelligence, our knowledge so laboriously acquired, are all to be dissolved, thrown away, and lost forever? Why should we strive to become wiser or better? Why should we apply restraints to our passions? Why should we exhaust ourselves with effort and study, if our exertions are to bear no fruit? If, before very long, perhaps tomorrow, all that we have done is to be of no further use to us? Were such really our doom, the lot of humankind would be a thousand times worse than that of the brutes; for the brute lives thoroughly in the present, in the gratification of its bodily appetites, with no torturing anxiety, no tormenting aspiration, to impair its enjoyment of the passing hour. But a secret and invincible intuition tells us that such cannot be our destiny.

2. The belief in annihilation necessarily leads human beings to concentrate all their thoughts on their present life; for what, in fact, could be more illogical than to trouble ourselves about a future which we do not believe will have any existence? And as those whose attention is thus exclusively directed to their present life naturally places their own interests above those of others, this belief is the most powerful stimulant to selfishness, and they who hold it are perfectly consistent with themselves in saying: “Let us get the greatest possible amount of enjoyment out of this world while we are in it; let us secure all the pleasures which the present can offer, seeing that, after death, everything will be over with us; and let us hasten to make sure of our own enjoyment, for we know not how long our life may last.” Such as these are, moreover, equally consistent in arriving at this further conclusion—most dangerous to the well- being of society—”Let us make sure of our enjoyment, no matter by what means; let our motto be: ‘Each for himself;’ the good things in life are prizes for the most adroit.”

If a few are restrained, by respect for public opinion, from carrying out this program to its full extent, what restraint is there for those who stand in no such awe of their neighbors, who regard human law as a tyranny that is exercised only over those who are sufficiently wanting in cleverness to bring themselves within its reach, and who consequently apply all their ingenuity to evading alike its requirements and its penalties? If any doctrine merits the qualifications of pernicious and anti-social, it is assuredly that of annihilation, because it destroys the sentiments of solidarity and fraternity, which are the sole basis for social relations.

3. Let us suppose that an entire nation has acquired, in some way or other, the certainty that, at the end of a week, a month, or a year, it will be utterly destroyed, that not a single individual of its people will be left alive, that they will all be utterly annihilated, and that not a trace of their existence will remain; what, in such a case, would be the line of conduct adopted by the people thus doomed to a certain and foreseen destruction, during the short time which they would still have to exist? Would they work for their moral improvement, or for their instruction? Would they continue to work for their living? Would they scrupulously respect the rights, the property, and the life, of their neighbors? Would they submit to the laws of their country, or to any ascendancy, even to that of parental authority, the most legitimate of all? Would they recognize the existence of any duty? Assuredly not. Well, —the social ruin which we have imagined, by the way of illustration, as overtaking an entire nation, is being effected, individually, from day to day, by the doctrine of annihilation. If the practical consequences of this doctrine are not so disastrous to society as they might be, it is because, in the first place, there is, among the greater number of those whose vanity is flattered by the title of “free- thinker,” more of braggadocio than of absolute unbelief, more doubt than conviction, and more dread of annihilation than they care to show; and, in the second place, because those who really believe in annihilation are a very small minority, and are consequently influenced, in spite of themselves, by the contrary opinion, and held in check by the resistant forces of society and of the State: but, should absolute disbelief in a future existence ever be arrived at by the majority of humankind, the dissolution of society would necessarily follow. The propagation of the doctrine of annihilation would lead, inevitably, to this result.

But * whatever may be the consequences of the doctrine of annihilation, if that doctrine were true, it would have to be accepted; for, if annihilation were our destiny, neither opposing systems of philosophy, nor the moral and social ills that would result from our knowledge that such a destiny was awaiting us, could prevent our being annihilated. And it is useless to attempt to disguise from ourselves that skepticism, doubt, and indifference, are gaining ground every day, notwithstanding the efforts of the various religious bodies to the contrary. But if the religious systems of the day are powerless against skepticism, it is because they lack the weapons necessary for combating the enemy; so that, if their teaching were allowed to remain in a state of immobility, they would, soon, be inevitably defeated in the struggle. What is lacking to those systems—in this age of positivism, when men demand to understand before believing—is the confirmation of their doctrines by facts and by their concordance with the discoveries of Positive Science. If theoretic systems say white where facts say black, we must choose between an enlightened appreciation of evidence and a blind acceptance of arbitrary statements.

* We knew a young man of eighteen, who was attacked by a disease of the heart, pronounced by the faculty to be incurable. His physicians had declared that he might die in a week, or might live on for a couple of years, but that his life could not possibly be prolonged beyond that period. The young man, on becoming aware of the fate that awaited him, immediately broke off his studies and gave himself up to every sort of debauchery. To the arguments addressed to him upon the dangers of such a life of disorder to someone in his state of health, he invariably replied: “What does it matter, seeing that I have only two years to live? What would be the use of fatiguing myself with study? I am making the most of the remnant of life that is left to me, and am determined to enjoy myself while it lasts.” Such is the logical consequence of a belief in annihilation.

If this young man had been a Spiritist, he would have said to himself: “Death will only destroy my body, which I shall throw aside like a worn-out garment; but my spirit will live forever. I shall be, in my next phase of existence, just what I shall have made of myself by my present life. Nothing that I shall have acquired, in morality or in knowledge, will be lost to me, for every new acquisition I shall have made will be so much added to my advancement. The cure of every imperfection, of which I may have been able to rid myself during my present existence, will take me a step further on my road to felicity; my future happiness or unhappiness will be the result of the good or bad use I shall have made of the life which I am now living. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance for me to make the most of the short time still remaining to me, and to avoid whatever would tend to diminish my strength.”

Which of the two doctrines we are comparing is the preferable one?

4. It is in this state of things that the phenomena of Spiritism are spontaneously developed in the order of Providence, and oppose a barrier against the invasion of skepticism, not only by argument, or by the prospect of the dangers which it reveals, but also by the production of physical facts which render the existence of the soul, and the reality of a future life, both palpable and visible.

Each human being is, undoubtedly, free to believe anything, or to believe nothing; but those who employ the ascendancy of their knowledge and position in propagating, among the masses, and especially among the rising generation, the negation of a future life, are sowing wide the seeds of social confusion and dissolution, and are incurring a heavy responsibility by doing so.

5. There is another doctrine that repudiates the qualification of “Materialist,” because it admits the existence of a principle distinct from matter; we allude to that which asserts that each individual soul is to be absorbed in the Universal Whole. According to this doctrine, all human beings assimilate, at birth, a particle of this principle, which constitutes their souls and gives them life, intelligence and feeling. At death, their souls return to the common source, and are merged in infinity as a drop of water is merged in the ocean.

This doctrine is, undoubtedly, an improvement over that of pure and simple Materialism, in as much as it admits something more than matter; but its consequences are precisely the same. Whether individuals, after death, are dissolved into nothingness, or plunged into a general reservoir, is all one, as far as they themselves are concerned; for if, in the one case, they are annihilated, in the other, they lose their individuality, which is, for them, exactly the same thing as though they ceased to exist: in either case, all social relations are destroyed forever. What is essential for every human being is the preservation of the essential self; without that, what does it matter to them whether they exist, or do not exist? In either case, for them, the future is nil, and the present life is the only thing of any importance to them. As regards its moral consequences, this doctrine is, therefore, just as pernicious, just as devoid of hope, just as powerful a stimulus to selfishness, as materialism properly so called.

6. The doctrine we have been considering is open, moreover, to the following objection. All the drops of water contained in the ocean resemble one another exactly and possess identically the same properties, as must necessarily be the case with the several parts of any homogeneous Whole; how is it, then, that the souls of the human race, if they are only so many drops taken out of a great ocean of intelligence, are so unlike one another? Why do we find genius side by side with stupidity? The most sublime virtues, side by side with the most ignoble vices? Kindness, gentleness, forbearance, side by side with cruelty, violence, and barbarity? How can the parts of a homogenous Whole be so different from one another? Will it be said that they are modified by education? But, if so, whence come the various qualities which they bring with them at birth, the precocious intelligence of some, the good or bad instinct of others, that are not only independent of education, but often altogether out of harmony with the surrounding amidst which they are found?

Education, most undoubtedly, does modify the intellectual and moral qualities of the soul; but here another difficulty presents itself. Who is it that gives, to each soul, the education that causes it to progress? Other souls, who—according to the doctrine that makes them out to be drops of a homogenous ocean of soul—could be no more advanced than themselves! On the other hand, if the soul, after having thus progressed during its life, returns to the Universal Whole from which it came, it gives back an improved element to that Whole; and it would therefore follow that the general Whole will be, in course of time, profoundly modified, and improved, by this educational modification of its parts. How is it, in that case, that ignorant and perverse souls are constantly being produced from it?

7. According to this doctrine, the universal source of intelligence, from which souls are produced, is distinct from the Divinity; it is, therefore, not quite the same as Pantheism. Pantheism, properly so called, differs from this doctrine in as much as it considers the universal principle of life and intelligence as constituting the Divinity. God, according to Pantheism, is both spirit and matter; all the beings, all the bodies of nature, compose the Divinity, of which they are molecules, the constituent elements. God is the total of all that is; each individual, being a part of this total, is himself, or herself, God; the total is not ruled over by any commanding and superior being; the universe is an immense republic without a chief, or, rather, in which each of its members is a chief, endowed with absolute power.

8. This system is open to a variety of objections, of which the principal are the following: — It being impossible to conceive Divinity without the infinitude of God’s perfections, how can a Perfect Whole be formed of parts so imperfect as we see them to be, and having so great a need of progression? These parts being subjected to the law of progress, it follows that God must also progress incessantly; and, if God has been progressing from all eternity, it also follows that God must formerly have been very imperfect. But how is it possible that an imperfect being, made up of wills and ideas so widely divergent from one another, should have been able to conceive the harmonious laws, so admirable in their unity, wisdom, and forethought, that govern the universe? If all souls are portions of the Divinity, all of them must have concurred in establishing the laws of nature; how comes it, then, that they are perpetually murmuring against those laws which, according to this doctrine, are of their own inventing? No theory can be accepted as true unless it can both satisfy our reason and furnish a rational explanation of all the facts with which it deals; if it is belied by a single one of those facts, it cannot be true.

9. Examined from the point of view of its moral consequences, Pantheism is seen to be as unsatisfactory as it is intellectually absurd. In the first place, the destiny of each soul, according to this system, is, as in the system previously examined, its absorption in a general Whole, with the consequent loss of its individuality. If, on the contrary, it were admitted, according to the opinion of certain pantheists, that souls preserve their individuality, then God can have no unitary will, but is an amalgam of myriads of divergent individualities. Besides, each soul being an integral part of the Divinity, no soul is subjected to the sway of any power superior to itself; consequently, no soul incurs any responsibility for its actions, whether good or bad, no soul has any motive for doing right, and each soul is free to do all the wrong it pleases, with perfect impunity, seeing that each soul is the sovereign ruler of the universe.

10. The theories we have been examining not only fail to satisfy either the reason or the aspirations of humankind, but they present to the mind a succession of insurmountable difficulties, of questions in regard to matters of fact, which they are utterly incapable of answering. We have to choose between three theoretic alternatives: annihilation, absorption, and the individuality of the soul before and after death. It is to this last belief that we are led by reason; and it is this belief that has constituted the basis of all religions in all the ages of the world.

If reason leads us to the conviction of the persistence of the soul’s individuality, it also leads us to the admission of the consequence of that persistence, viz., that the fate of each soul must depend on its own personal qualities; for it would be irrational to assume that the backward souls of the savage and the evil-minded are at the same level as those of the scientific and the benevolent. Justice demands that each soul should be responsible for its own actions; but, in order for souls to be thus responsible, they must be free to choose between good and evil. Unless we admit the freedom of the will, we must necessarily assume the existence of fate; and responsibility cannot co-exist with fatalism.

11. All religions have proclaimed the principle of the happiness or unhappiness of the soul after death, in other words, the principle of future rewards and punishments, summed up in the doctrinal idea of “Heaven” and “Hell”, which is common to them all. But those religions differ radically as to the nature of the rewards and punishments of the future, and especially as to the conditions upon which they depend. Hence, there have arisen contradictory beliefs, which have produced various forms of worship, and have led to the imposition of special practices by each of them as a method of honoring God, and thus of gaining admission to “Heaven” and avoiding “Hell.”

12. All the religions of the world were necessarily, at their origin, in harmony with the degree of moral and intellectual advancement of the peoples among whom they emerged, and who, — being still too deeply sunk in materiality to conceive of things purely spiritual — made the greater part of their religious duties to consist in the accomplishment of certain external forms. For a time, forms suffice to satisfy the mind; at a later period, when human beings acquire more light, they feel the emptiness of those forms, and, if the doctrines of their faith do not suffice to supply the void left by the collapse of its forms, they abandon their religion and become philosophers.

13. If that primitive formula had always kept pace with the accessional movement of the human mind, the same harmony would always have existed between them, and there would never have been any unbelievers, because the need of believing is natural to the human heart, and human beings will believe if they are presented with religious ideas in harmony with their intellectual needs. Humanity would joyfully know whence it comes and whither it is going; but if that which is set before men and women as the object of life does not correspond either to their aspirations, to the idea that they have formed to themselves of God, or to the data of physical science, —if, moreover, it is sought to impose on them, as necessary to the attainment of that object, conditions of which the utility is not perceived by their reason, — they naturally reject the whole. Those who embrace Materialism and Pantheism appear to them more rational simply because they reason and discuss. Their reasoning is false, but, at all events, they reason; and those who value rational thinking would rather reason falsely than not reason at all.

But let the doctrine of a future life be presented to them under an aspect that is, at once, satisfactory to their reason, and worthy, in all respects, of the greatness, the justice, and the infinite goodness of God, and they will renounce both Materialism and Pantheism, of which every person feels the hollowness in his or her secret soul, and which are only accepted for lack of something better; and, as Spiritism gives something very much better than those empty and comfortless theories, it is eagerly welcomed by all those who do not find, in the common beliefs and philosophies of the day, the certainty for which they long, and who are consequently undergoing the tortures of doubt. The Spiritist theory is confirmed both by argument and by facts; and it therefore furnishes the broad and solid basis of belief that no other theory is able to supply.

14. The belief in a future life is instinctive in the human mind; but, as human beings have hitherto possessed no clear and sufficient ground for this belief, their imagination has engendered the various religious systems that have given rise to the wide diversities of human worship. As the Spiritist Doctrine of the future life is not a work of imagination more or less ingeniously conceived, but is, on the contrary, deduced from, and confirmed by, the observation of physical facts that are now occurring in front of our eyes, it will continue to attract, as it has hitherto done, those whose convictions, on this most momentous of subjects, are divergent or unsettled, and will gradually establish a unitary belief in regard to it; a belief that will be based, no longer on a mere hypothesis, but on a certainty. This unification of human conviction, in regard to the future existence of the soul, will be the first step towards the unification of the forms of worship; it will thus exercise a most important and decisive influence on all the various religions of the world, and will lead, first, to their mutual tolerance, and, eventually, to their fusion.

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