The Destruction of Living Beings by One Another
20. The reciprocal destruction of living beings by one another is a law of nature which, at first sight, seems in no way reconcilable with the goodness of God. One asks why he has made it necessary for them to nourish themselves by destroying each other.
For him who sees things only in a material light, whose vision is limited to the present life, this appears indeed an imperfection in the divine plan, because they judge of divine perfection from their point of view. Their own judgment is their measure of his wisdom, and they think that God does not know as well as themselves. Their short-sightedness not permitting them to judge of the whole, they do not comprehend how a real good can result from an apparent evil. The knowledge of the spiritual principle, considered in its veritable essence and by the grand law of unity, which constitutes the full harmony of the universe, can alone give to man the key to this mystery, and show to him the providential wisdom and harmony precisely where he saw only an anomaly and contradiction.
21. The true life of the animal, as well of the man, is no more in the body than it is in the clothing; it is in the intelligent principle that pre-exists and survives the body. This principle has need of a body in order to develop itself by the work of controlling brute matter. The body is employed in this work, but the spirit is not thereby injured; on the contrary, it comes out of the strife every time stronger, more lucid and more capable. What matters if the spirit changes more or less frequently its envelope? It is no less a spirit. It is as absolutely as though a man should renew his clothings a hundred times a year: he would still be the same man.
By the constant spectacle of destruction, God teaches man of how little worth is the material envelope, and excites in them the idea of the spiritual life by making them desire it as compensation.
But some will say: Could not God arrive at the same result by other means, without obliging living beings to destroy each other? If all is wisdom in his works, we ought to suppose that his wisdom is no more defective in this particular than in any other. If we cannot comprehend it, it is necessary to ascribe the seeming folly to our lack of advancement. Each time we can try to seek the reason by taking this for our watchword: God must be infinitely just and wise. Let us, then, seek for his justice and wisdom in all things, and let us bow before that which surpasses our understanding.
22. The first reason which presents itself for this destruction – a purely physical utility, it is true – is this: organic bodies are supported only by the aid of organic matter. This matter alone contains the nutritive elements necessary to their sustenance. The bodies which are instruments of action for the intelligent principle, having need of incessant renovation, Providence makes them serve for their mutual support. That is why beings are nourished by one another. It is thus that body is nourished by body: but the spirit is not changed; it is only despoiled of its envelope.*
* See “Revue Spirite” August 1864, Extinction of the Races.
23. This is outside moral considerations of a more elevated order.
The battle is necessary to the development of the spirit. It is in battle that it exercises its faculties. He who attacks another that he may nourish himself, and he who defends himself to preserve his life, making an assault upon intelligence, thereby augments his own intellectual strength. As he must contend against stratagem, displaying intelligence, thereby both augment their intellectual force. One of the two succumbs. But what is it that the stronger or more skillful has in reality taken away from the feebler? His vestment of flesh, - nothing else. The spirit, which is not dead, will take another body.
24. With inferior beings in creation, with those in whom the moral sense does not exist, where instinct has not been replaced by intelligence, the struggle would have for incentive only the satisfaction of a material necessity. Now, one of the most imperious physical needs is that of food. They struggle, then, only to sustain life; that is to say, to seize prey, or to defend themselves from attack, for they cannot be actuated by a more elevated object. It is in this first period that the soul is elaborated and tried by the vicissitudes of life.
There is a period of transition where man is scarcely distinguishable from the brute. In the first periods of his existence animal instincts rules; and the battle has still for its incentive the satisfaction of material wants. Later, the animal instinct and moral sentiment are counterbalanced. Then struggles are no more simply for nourishment, but for the satisfaction of ambition, pride, and love of dominion; it is still necessary to destroy. But, accordingly as moral sense gains ascendancy, moral sensibility becomes developed; the desire to destroy diminishes, at length it becomes effaced and odious to him. Man has a horror of blood.
However, a struggle is always necessary to the development of the spirit. After having arrived at a point which appears to us the culminating one, he is still far from being perfect. It is only at the price of activity that he acquires knowledge by experience, and as he is despoiled of the last vestiges of animality; but then the effort, no longer brutal and bloody as it formerly was, becomes purely intellectual. Man struggles against difficulties, but no more with beings of his own species.*
* Without prejudging the consequences that one could take from this principle, we simply wanted to show, with this explanation, that the destruction of living beings, one by another, does not, by any means, lessen the divine wisdom, and that everything follows a sequence within the laws of nature. However, this chain is completely void if we disregard the spiritual principle. Our constant regarding of matter alone leads us to a multitude of unanswered questions.
The materialistic doctrines bring within them the seeds of their own destruction. For once they are faced with their own antagonism of mankind’s aspirations of universality and its moral consequences; they will be seen as agents of dissolution, causing them to be repelled by society. Secondly, they face their reluctance to comprehend one’s needs to become familiar with all that is brought forth by progress. Intellectual development leads man to search for answers. Well, as little as he may reflect, it will not take him long to recognize the inability of materialism to explain everything. One would question if a doctrine that upholds man’s most vital questions as enigmas could ever prevail, considering that it does not satisfy the heart, reason, or intelligence. The progress of ideas will defeat materialism, just as it has already destroyed fanaticism.