The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

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I f the belief in the spirits and their manifestations were an isolated idea, a product of a given system, it could be considered an illusion, with a certain dose of reason. However, tell us why such a belief is found so markedly in all peoples, antique and modern, in all sacred books of every known religion? The critics say that the reason is in the fact that human beings have always loved the marvelous, at all times.
• If that is so, what is then marvelous in your opinion?
• What is supernatural?
• What do you understand by supernatural?
• What is against natural laws?
• Do you know so well those laws that you can establish limits to God’s power? Well, then! You must prove that the existence of the spirits and their manifestations are contrary to the laws of nature; that such a thing is not and cannot be one of those laws. Follow the Spiritist Doctrine and see if that thinking does not have every indication of an admirable law. Thought is an attribute of the spirit; the possibility of action upon matter, of impressing the senses, and as a consequence of transmitting the thought results from its physiological constitution, if we can say so. Hence, there is nothing supernatural about it, nothing wonderful.
• However, they will say, you admit that a spirit can lift a table, keeping it in the air, without any support. Isn’t that a breach of the law of gravity?
• Yes; of the known law. But has nature given the final word? Before trying the lifting power of certain gases what would have happened to a heavy craft, carrying several human beings, could it have surpassed the force of attraction? Shouldn’t it look marvelous to the eyes of the masses, even devilish? Someone that a century ago had proposed to send a telegram message 500 leagues away in a few minutes would have been considered mad; had he been able to do so wouldn’t he be believed to be in collusion with the devil, since only the devil could walk so fast in those days? Why then an unknown fluid wouldn’t have the property, under certain circumstances, of opposing the effect of gravity, like Hydrogen does to the balloon? This is, by the way, just a comparison but not assimilation, and utilized exclusively to show by analogy that the fact is not physically impossible. Well, it was precisely when the scientists wanted to proceed by the avenue of assimilation, in the observation of those kinds of phenomena, that they were mistaken. In short, the fact is here. No denial may destroy it since denying something is not the same as demonstrating. To us there is nothing supernatural and that is all we can say about it by now.

If it is demonstrated – they will say – we will accept. We will even accept the cause that you have just mentioned, of an unknown fluid. But what is it that demonstrates the intervention of the spirits? That is the marvelous, the supernatural.

It would be necessary to demonstrate here, out of context and repeating ourselves, as a matter of fact, because it sticks out from every other part of the teaching. However, in order to summarize it in a few words we say that it is theoretically based on the following principle: every intelligent effect must have an intelligent cause. In practice, by the observation that the so called spiritist phenomena gave proof of intelligence, their cause must have been outside matter; that since the intelligence was not that of the audience – resulting from experience – it should be alien to them; and since the agent was not seen, it would be an invisible creature. It was then that from observation to observation it was acknowledged that the invisible being to whom it was given the name spirit is nothing else than the soul of those who lived the corporeal life and that were undressed of their thick visible wrapping, keeping only the ethereal body, invisible in its normal state. There you have the supernatural and the wonderful reduced to their simplest expression. Once the existence of invisible beings is attested, their action upon matter results from the very nature of the fluidic body. Such an action is intelligent because they have only lost their material body by death but kept their intelligence, which is their essence. That is the key to every phenomena erroneously called supernatural. Hence the existence of the spirits is not a preconceived system or an imaginary hypothesis to explain the facts. It is the result of observations and natural consequence of the existence of the soul. Denying such a cause is the same as denying the soul and its attributes.

May those persons who think that they can give a more rational solution to those intelligent effects, in particular explaining all facts, may those persons do that and only then the merit of each one be discussed!

To the eyes of those who consider matter as the only force of nature, everything that cannot be explained by the laws of matter is then wonderful and supernatural. Well, wonderful to them is a synonym of superstitious. From that point of view religion, which is founded on the existence of an immaterial principle, would be a fabric of superstitions. They dare not say it out loud but whisper that and pretend to save the appearances by admitting that a religion is needed for the people and that it is good to keep well-behaved kids.

Either the religious principle is true or false. If it is true then it is to everyone; if it is false, it is not better for the ignorant than the educated people.

Those who attack Spiritism based on the marvelous base their opinion, in general, on a materialistic principle, because by denying any effect outside matter they deny, as a consequence, the existence of the soul. Analyze the essence of their thought; scrutinize well the meaning of their words and you will almost always see this principle, if it is not categorically formulated, sticking out under the cover of a pretentious rational philosophy.

If you ask them face to face if they believe to have a soul, perhaps they will dare not say that they don’t, but they will say that they don’t know anything about it or are not sure. Since they attribute to the marvelous everything that results from the existence of the soul they are thus consistent with themselves; by not admitting the cause they cannot admit the effects. It results from a preconceived idea that impedes them from correctly assessing Spiritism, because they start from the principle that denies everything that is not material. As for ourselves, by the fact that we admit the effects that are consequences of the existence of the soul, does it result that we accept all facts classified as supernatural; that we are the champions of the dreamers; that we are the adepts of all utopias and systematic eccentricities?

It would be necessary to know almost nothing about Spiritism to think that way. But our adversaries don’t look so closely into that. The need to get to know that they talk about it is the least of their concern. According to them the wonderful is absurd; well then, Spiritism is based on wonderful facts thus it is absurd. This to them is not a subject for discussion. They pretend to oppose an argument without replica after having carried out erudite researches about the convulsionary of Saint-Médard, the Camisards de Cévennes or the religious ladies of Loudun, and discovering patent frauds, disputed by nobody.

However, are these stories the Gospel of Spiritism? Have the adepts of Spiritism denied that certain facts were exploited by charlatanism, in a self-serving mode; that they were created by imagination; that fanaticism had exaggerated them? Fanaticism has no more solidarity to the extravagances committed in its name than true Science has with the abuses of ignorance, or even true religion with the excesses of fanaticism. Many critics only assess Spiritism by fairy tales and popular legends, which are their fictions. This would be the same as assessing history based on romances or tragedies.

Following elemental logic, in order to discuss something it is necessary to understand it since the opinion of a critic only has value when he knows perfectly well what he is talking about. That is the only way that his opinion may be taken into account, even if wrong. However, what is the value of his opinion when talking about a subject that he ignores? The true critic must not only give proof of erudition but also of profound knowledge about the discussed subject and of a vigorous reason and total impartiality, otherwise the first strolling troubadour to show up would pretend to assess Rossini and any sketcher to criticize Rafael.

Therefore, Spiritism does not accept every fact reputed as wonderful and supernatural. Far from that, it demonstrates the impossibility of a large number of those and the ridicule of certain beliefs that constitute proper superstition. It is true that there are things admitted by Spiritism that are considered purely marvelous by the incredulous. Be it. However, let us at least discuss these points and not the others about which there is nothing to say and you would be preaching to the choir. But, they may ask, what is the reach of the Spiritist belief? Read, observe and you will know. Every science can only be incorporated through study and time. Well then, Spiritism that touches the most serious questions of philosophy in all branches of the social fabric; that simultaneously embraces the physical as well as the moral person, it is a science on its own merit, a whole philosophy that cannot be understood in a few hours, as any other science, since it would be as childlike to see the whole Spiritism in the turning tables as it would be to see the whole Physics in certain kid’s toys.

Anyone who does not wish to remain on the surface needs to dedicate not only hours but months and years to probe all of its arcane.

May this be used to appraise the level of understanding and the value of the opinion of those who attribute themselves the right of assessing things, because they saw one or two experiments, most of the time as a pass time or a distraction!

They will probably say that they have no time to spare and dedicate the necessary time to such study. Either; nothing obliges them, however, when there is no sufficient time to learn something one should not speak about it and even less pass judgment on it as long as one does not want to take the risk of being accused of levity.

Well then, the higher the position that someone occupies in science the less forgiving for dealing lightheartedly with an unknown subject.

We stick to the following propositions:

1st – Every spiritist phenomena has, by principle, the existence of the soul, its survival to the body and its manifestations.

2nd – These phenomena are based on one natural law, there is nothing wonderful or supernatural about them, in the common use of those words.

3rd – Many facts are only considered supernatural because their causes are unknown. Spiritism places them in the domain of the natural phenomena by the assignment of a cause to them.

4th – Among the facts classified as supernatural there are many whose impossibility is demonstrated by Spiritism which places them among the superstitious beliefs.

5th – Although Spiritism acknowledges some traces of truth in many popular beliefs, in no way does it accepts the solidarity of every fantastic story created by imagination.

6th – Passing judgment on Spiritism by facts that it does not accept is a demonstration of ignorance, which neutralizes the value of the opinion.

7th – The explanation of the facts that have been accepted by Spiritism, their causes and moral consequences, constitute a whole science that requires a serious, deep and persevering study.

8th – Spiritism cannot be seen as a serious critic but the one who has seen and studied everything with the patience and perseverance of a conscious observer; someone who is as much confident about the subject as the most enlightened adept; consequently, someone who had learned outside the novels of science; to which there would not be a single fact that he had not known or a single argument to which he had not given serious thought yet; someone who did not argue just by denial but by other more peremptory arguments; finally, someone who could present a more logical cause to the observed facts. Such a critic is still to be found.

It goes without saying that those who neglect the wonderful, even with more reason, relegate the miracles to the terrain of illusions of imagination. Some words about it taken from a preceding article are found here in their proper place and it would not be wrong to recall them.

In its primitive meaning and etymology, the word miracle means “extraordinary thing”, something remarkable to see. However, and as with many other words, it has lost its original meaning and today it means, according to the Academy, an act of divine power, contrary to the common laws of nature. That is in fact its usual meaning, applied only as a comparison or metaphor to common things that stun us, whose cause is unknown. It is not our intent, absolutely, to evaluate if God could consider useful, under certain conditions, the breach of laws established by God. Our objective is to demonstrate that the spiritist phenomena, however extraordinary they may be, that they don’t absolutely breach those laws and have no miraculous character, as they are not wonderful or supernatural. A miracle is not explained; the spiritist phenomena, on the contrary, are explained in the most rational way. Thus, they do not constitute miracles but simple effects whose causes are in the general laws.

The miracle has yet another character: it is singular and isolated. Well, as long as a fact repeats, say, at will, and through the intermediary of several persons, it cannot be a miracle. Science makes miracles every day, to the eyes of the ignorant. For that reason those who knew better, in former times, were taken by witches. As it was believed that every super-human science came from the devil, they were burnt at the stake. Nowadays that we are much more civilized we are happy enough to send them to the psychiatric hospitals.

If a person who is actually dead comes back to life by a divine intervention we would then have a true miracle in that because it is contrary to the natural laws. However, if such a person has only apparent death; if he still had the latent life and if science or a magnetic action can reanimate him, to the educated person this will be a natural phenomenon but to the eyes of the ignorant this will be a miracle. If a physicist flies an electrical kite in certain regions of the countryside, creating a lightning effect upon a tree, the new Prometheus will certainly be seen as endowed by devilish power; but when Joshua stopped the Sun, or better, the Earth, that is a true miracle since we don’t know any magnetizer gifted by such a great power capable of operating that prodigy.

Among all spiritist phenomena one of the most extraordinary is, no doubt, that of direct writing, and one that most patently demonstrates the action of the occult intelligences. Nevertheless, by the fact that the phenomenon is produced by occult creatures it is not more miraculous than all other phenomena also produced by invisible beings, because those hidden creatures that populate space are one of the forces of nature, force whose action is incessant upon the material as well as the moral world.

By enlightening us about such a force, Spiritism gives us the key to a number of unexplained things, inexplicable by any other way and that in remote epochs could have been considered prodigies. As with magnetism, Spiritism reveals a law that if it is not unknown it is at least misunderstood, or even better, from which the effects were known, since they have always been produced in all times, but the law was unknown and it was the ignorance that gave rise to superstition. Once the law is known the wonderful and supernatural disappear and the phenomena enter into the order of natural things. That is why the spiritists do not make miracles by making the tables turn, or a deceased person write, or a doctor make a nearly dead person revive, or a physicist produce a lightning strike. Anyone who intended to make miracles with the support of this science would either be ignorant or a charlatan.

The spiritist phenomena, as with the magnetic phenomena, had been passed along as miracles before their causes were known. Like the skeptical, those of strong spirits, that is to say those who detain the exclusive privilege of reason and common sense, don’t believe that something is possible if they don’t understand it. That is the reason why all the so-called prodigious facts are cause for their mockery. Since religion has a large number of events of that kind they don’t believe in religion. That is only a step away from absolute incredulity. By explaining the majority of those facts, Spiritism gives a reason for their occurrence. It thus comes in support of religion, demonstrating the possibility of certain facts that no longer have a miraculous character, although not less extraordinary; and God is not smaller or less powerful for not having breached his own laws. How often haven’t the levitations of St. Cupertino been scorned? Well then, the suspension of heavy bodies in the air is explained by Spiritism. We have witnessed that ourselves and Mr. Home, like other persons of our knowledge, have repeated the phenomenon of St. Cupertino several times. Thus, the phenomenon becomes part of the order of natural things.

Among the first lines of facts of that kind are the apparitions, because they are the most frequent. The apparition of the Lady of Salette even divided the clergy is nothing unusual to us. In reality we cannot affirm that the event did happen since we do have the material proof. For us, however, it is possible because there are thousands of similar and recent facts to our knowledge. We believe in those not only because their reality was attested by us but also because we are aware of how they are produced. Please refer to the theory that we gave about the apparitions and you will see that such phenomenon becomes as simple and plausible as a number of physical phenomena that are considered prodigious just because there is a missing key. With respect to the person that appeared in Salette, that is another matter. Her identity was not demonstrated, absolutely. The only conclusion is that there might have been an apparition. The rest is not up to us. Everyone may have his or her own convictions about that, with which Spiritism has nothing to do. The only thing we can say is that the facts produced by Spiritism reveal new laws to us, giving us the key to the understanding of a number of things that seemed supernatural. As some of those phenomena that were considered miraculous now find a logical explanation, this is a reason for not so hastily denying what was once not understood.

The facts of Spiritism are contested by certain people, precisely because they seem to escape the common law, and they are not aware of that. Give them a rational basis and the doubt will cease. In this century in which there is no economy of words, an explanation is a powerful element of conviction. Hence, we daily see people who have never witnessed any event, who have not seen a table turning or a medium writing, who are as much convinced as we are, just because they have read it and understood. If we were supposed to believe only in what our eyes have seen we would then believe in very little things.

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