Speaking of Spiritism by Allan Kardec

  1. A very natural and praiseworthy desire of all spiritists, a desire which cannot be too much encouraged, is to make proselytes. It is with a view to facilitate their task, that we propose here to suggest to them the surest method, in our opinion, of attaining this end, and of sparing themselves the labor of making efforts that may prove of no avail. We have already said that Spiritism is a new science, a new philosophy; he who wishes to understand it should therefore, as the first condition of doing so, lay himself out for serious work, with the full persuasion that this science, like every other, is not to be attained by making a play of it. Spiritism, as we have said, touches on every question that interest humanity; its field is immense, and it is especially in the vastness and importance of its consequences that the experimenter will find this to be true. A belief in spirits is undoubtedly its basis; but this belief no more suffices to make an enlightened spiritist, than the belief in God suffices to make a theologian. Let us, then, consider the mode of proceeding which is best fitted to enable propagandists to attain the end they have in view.
  2. It is generally supposed that, in order to convince, it is sufficient to demonstrate facts. Such would indeed appear to be the most logical method; nevertheless, experience shows us that it is not always the best, for one often meets with persons whom facts the most irrefragable do not convince in the slightest degree. The reason of this failure we shall now try to make apparent. In Spiritism, the question of spirit-communications is secondary and consequential; it is not the starting-point. Spirits being nothing else than the souls of men, the proper ground for argument is the existence of the soul. But how can we get the materialist to admit that beings exist outside the material world, when he believes that he himself is nothing but matter? How can he believe in spirits outside himself, when he does not believe that he has a spirit within himself? In vain will you urge the most conclusive arguments on such a one; he will contest them all, because he does not admit the principle which is their basis. All methodical teaching should proceed from the known to the unknown; what the materialist knows about, is matter; take your stand, then, on matter, and endeavor, above all things, while bringing his mind on to your standpoint, to convince him that there is in himself something beyond the laws of matter; in a word, before trying to make him a spiritist try to make him a spiritualist; but, for that purpose, you must appeal to quite a different order of facts, and adduce arguments of a very different character. To talk to a man of spirits, before he is convinced that he has a soul, is to begin where you should end ; for he cannot admit the consequence, if he do not admit the premise. You should, before undertaking to convince the incredulous, even by facts, make sure of their Opinion respecting the soul, that is to say, ascertain whether they believe in its existence, in its survival of the body, in its individuality after death; if their answer be negative, to speak of spirits would be trouble thrown away. This is the rule; we do not say there are no exceptions to it, but, in the exceptional cases, there is probably some other cause which renders your interlocutor less recalcitrant.
  3. We must especially distinguish two classes among the materialists. In the first class we may place those who are so theoretically. With these, it is not doubt, but negation, absolute, and rational from their point of view; in their eyes, man is only a machine, which goes as long as it is wound up, but of which the spring wears out; a being of which, after death, nothing remains but the carcass. The number of such thinkers being happily very limited, it seems hardly necessary to insist upon the deplorable effects which the generalization of such a doctrine would exert on social order; we have been sufficiently explicit in regard to this point in The Spirits’ Book (147 and Conclusion, III.) In saying that the incredulous cease to doubt when met by a rational explanation, we must except those ultra-materialists who deny all power and intelligence outside of matter; pride renders the majority of these obstinate, and they persist in their denials from personal vanity; they resist all proofs, because they do not wish to have to change an Opinion expressed by them. With such persons you can do nothing, not even when they feign sincerity, and say: “Let me see, and I will believe.” Others, more frank, say plainly: “If I saw, I should not believe.”
  4. The second class of materialists, and by far the most numerous (for materialism is a sentiment contrary to nature), comprehends those who are such through indifference, and, so to say, for want of something better; they are not materialists from conviction, and they would rejoice to be able to believe, for their state of uncertainty is a torment to them. In such men, there is a vague aspiration after the future, but this future has been represented to them under aspects that their reason could not accept; hence their doubt1 and, as the consequence of their doubt, their unbelief. With such persons, incredulity is not theoretic; present to them a theory which is rational, and they will accept it gladly; such men can understand us, for they are nearer to us than they think. With the first class, speak not of revelation, of angels, or of “paradise,” for they would not understand you, but, placing yourself on their own ground, prove to them, first of all, that the laws of physics are not able to explain everything; the rest will come in due time. It is altogether different with the incredulity which is not a foregone conclusion; in such cases, belief is not absolutely null, there is a latent germ, stifled by creeds, but which a ray of light may vivify; such doubters are like a blind man whose eyes you may open, and who will rejoice to behold the day, or like a ship wrecked mariner, who will seize the plank of safety you hold out to him.
  5. Besides the materialists, properly so called, there is a third class of the incredulous, who, though spiritualists, at least in name, are none the less troublesome to deal with on that account; they are the incredulous through ill-will. They find it unpleasant to believe, because it would trouble their enjoyment of material pleasures; they fear to see in Spiritism the doom of their ambition, of their selfishness, of the human vanities which are their delight; they shut their eyes that they may not see, and stop their ears, that they may not hear. We can only pity them.
  6. A fourth category may be called the incredulous through interest or dishonesty. They know well what Spiritism really is, but they outwardly condemn it from motives of personal interest. Of these, there is nothing to be said, as, with them, there is nothing to be done. If the thorough materialist deceives himself, he has at any rate the excuse of sincerity, and may be brought round by showing him his error; with the others, it is a resolution against which all argument fails. Time will open their eyes and show them, perhaps to their cost, where their interest really lay.

Allan Kardec

The Medium’s book. Chapter III.

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