Friday, March 02, 2012

"The Inner Life" by Rufus Jones, a retrospect from 1917

A couple months ago, I picked up a copy from a Sunday School class of a short book, 193 pages, “The Inner Life”, by Rufus M. Jones, from Haverford College, published by the Macmillan Company in 1917. It comprises an Introduction and six chapters, some of which are in sections.

The writing style is dense and abstract, but it does lay out the idea of the “larger life” from a Christian perspective, with some migration toward New Age ideas.

One of the paradoxes of Judeo-Christian culture starts with the historical fact that it did generate an advanced technological culture which, today, for the most part, safely guards individual rights and struggles with notions like equality. At the same time, the Gospels are filled with calls for self-sacrifice to meet the needs of others and to follow a purpose that seems in large part given to one as a kind of “lot”.  That comports with the idea that "nature" isn't very fair on an individual level. The story of the Rich Young Ruler certainly encapsulates this paradox. The young man had obeyed the laws, paid his bills, and not “made mistakes” or harmed anyone. But he hadn’t paid his dues or learned to bond to real people. If he was to become a future Da Vinci, he would surely stand alone.

The book does cover some key “paradoxes”, such as “faith” vs. “works”, and “otherism” instead of “altruism”.  He does get into Paul’s theory of the “gnosis” of salvation. He talks about the problems that evolution and “nature” provide. On p. 119 he writes in metaphor, “In order to have ‘nature’ at all, there must be a heavy tinge of redness in tooth and claw.”    

He does get into the "born again" experience, suggesting that it is a kind of within-life reincarnation. The reborn person remembers his/her former life and takes responsibility for it, but it does seem like a past life.

He doesn’t get into marriage or “family values” as we debate them today, or even “subsidiarity”, which Santorum espouses (a future review). The biggest concern is how the individual should or must set his or her own priorities. It’s no small order, because a “rich young ruler” can be wiped out by circumstances beyond his control, by the crimes (possibly motivated by indignation); without a connection to the “social capital” around him, he runs out of purpose, and evaporates.  

It's interesting that the "inner life" tends to accept external hardships as inevitable.  The New Testament, for example, never directly criticizes slavery, as shocking as the idea is to us today.

It's a paradox, too, that there could be so much emphasis on connectedness with others while at the same time the personal, individualized experience of the "inner life".  But the Bible, and most religious texts, seem critical of hyperindividualism, excessive introversion or self-satisfaction. It's dangerous to think you don't need others.

While on the topic of older religious books, I have my father's old copy of "The Story of the Bible" by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, published by Garden City in 1936. The book was distinguished by its clever hand drawings that look like wood-cuts.  The author refers to God as "Jehovah" and the Israelites as "The Jews" and makes a lot of their tribal value system, while emphasizing that they were obscure in the ancient world before the time of Christ.

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