Read LETTING THE CROWDS BE GOOD - CHAPTER VII of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


But Fate has so arranged our lives that we all have to live cooped up in one particular generation.  Living in all of them, especially the ages just ahead, and seeing as one looks out upon them how goodness wins, may be well enough when one is tired or discouraged and is driven to it, but in the meantime all the while we are living in this one.  The faces of the people we know flit past us; the gaunt, grim face of the crowd haunts us-the crowd that will slip softly off the earth very soon and drop into the Darkness-a whole generation of it, without seeing how things are coming out; and there is something about the streets, about the look of women as they go by, something about the faces of the little children, that makes one wish goodness would hurry.  One cannot think with any real pleasure of goodness as a huge, slow, implacable moral glacier, a kind of human force of gravity, grinding out truths and grinding under people, generation after generation, down toward some vast, beautiful, happy valley with flowers and children in it and majestic old men thousands of years away.  One wishes goodness would hurry.  We are not content, some of us, with having the good people climb over the so-called evil ones and gain the supremacy of the world, and all because the evil people do not see what they really want to do or would have wished they had done afterward.  We want the evil ones, so called, to see what they really want now.  We cannot help believing that there is some way of attracting their attention to what they really want now.

I have seen, or seemed to see, in my time that there is almost no limit to what people can do if they can get their own attention, or if some person or some event will happen by that can get their attention for them.

Paralytics jumped from their beds at the time of the San Francisco earthquake and ran for blocks.  The whole earth had to shake them in order to get their attention; but it did it, and they saw what it was they wanted, and they ran for it at once, whether they were paralytics or not.  In the fire that followed the earthquake, people that had been sick in bed for weeks were seen, scores of them, dragging their trunks through the streets.

I have seen, too, in my time scores of people doing great feats of goodness in this way, things that they knew they could not do, dragging huge moral trunks after them, or swinging them up on their shoulders.  I have seen men who thought they were old in their hearts, and who thought they were wicked, running like boys, with shouts and cheers, to do right.  It was all a matter of attention.  The question with most of us would seem to be:  How can one get one’s attention to what one would wish one had done in twenty years, and how can one get other people’s-all the people with whom we are living and working-to do with us what they would wish they had done, in twenty minutes, twenty days, or twenty years?

Letting the Crowd be Good, all turns in the long run upon touching the imagination of Crowds.

In the last analysis, the coming of the kingdom of heaven, as it has been called, is going to be the coming slowly, and from unsuspected quarters, of a new piety and of new kinds of saints into the forefront of modern life-saints who can attract attention, saints who can make crowds think what they really want.

Using the word in its more special sense, the time has come when it is being keenly realized that if goodness is to be properly appreciated by crowds, it must be properly advertised.

How can goodness be advertised to Crowds?

Who are the people that can touch the imagination of Crowds?

The best and most suggestive truths that most of us could come to with regard to doing right, would come from a study of the people who have tried to make us do it.  Most of us, if we were asked to name the people most prominently connected with the virtues that we have studied and wondered about most, would mention, probably, either our parents or our preachers.  Many of us feel quite expert about parents.  We have studied vividly, and sometimes with almost a breathless interest, all their little ways of getting us to be good, and there is hardly any one who has not come to quite definite conclusions of how he should be preached to.  I have thought it would be not unfruitful to consider in this connection either our parents or our preachers.  I have decided to consider the preachers who try to make me good, because they are a little less complicated than parents.

Preachers can only be put into classes in a general way.  They often overlap, and many of them change over from one class into another every now and then on some special subject, or on some special line of experience which they have had.  But for the most part, at least as regards emphasis, preachers may be said to divide off into three classes: 

Those who tease us to do right.

Those who make us see that doing right, if any one wants to do it, is really an excellent thing.

Those who make us want to do it.

I never go to hear a second time, if I can help it, a preacher who has teased me to do right.  I used to hope at first that perhaps a clergyman who was teasing people might incidentally slip off the track a minute, and say something or see something interesting and alive.  But, apparently, preachers who do not see that people should not be teased to do right, do not see other things, and I have gradually given up having hopeful moments about them.  Why, in a world like this, with the right and the wrong in it all lying so eloquent and plain and beautiful in the lives of the people about us, and just waiting to be uncovered a little, waiting to be looked at hard a minute, should audiences be gathered together and teased to do right?

If the right were merely to be had in sermons or on paper, it might be different.  My own experience with the right has been, if I may speak for one, that when I get out of the way of the people who are doing it, and let the right they are doing be seen by people, everybody wants it.  When people who are doing right are quietly revealed, uncovered a little further by a preacher, everybody envies them, and teasing becomes superfluous.  People sit in their seats and think of them, and become covetous to be like them.  If, this very day, all the ministers of the world were to agree that, on next Sunday morning at half-past ten o’clock, they all with one accord would preach a sermon teasing people to be rich, it would not be more absurd, or more pathetic, or more away from the point, than it would be to preach a sermon teasing people to be good.  They want to be good now; they envy the people that they see going about the world not leaning on others to be good-self-poised, independent, free, rich, spiritually self-supporting persons.

The men and women that we know may be more or less muddled in their minds with philosophy or with theology, or perhaps they are being deceived by expediency or being bullied by their environment, but they are not wicked; they are out of focus, and what they desire when they go to church on Sunday morning is to get a good look at beautiful and refreshing things that they want, and for an hour and a half, if possible, with slow steadied thought see their own lives in perspective.  It is a criminal waste of time to get hundreds of people to come into church on a Sunday morning and seat them all together in a great room where they cannot get out, and then tease them and tell them they ought to be good.  They knew it before they came.  They are already agreed, all of them, that they want to be good.  They even want to be good in business-as good as they can afford to.  The question is how to manage to do it.  The thing that is troubling them is the technique.  How can they be good in their business-more good than their employers want them to be, for instance-and keep their positions?  Doing as one would wish one had done afterward, or knowing what one is about, or “being good” as it is sometimes called, is a thing that all really clever people have agreed upon.  They simply cannot manage some of the details-details like time and place, a detail like being good now, for instance, or like being good here.  It is the more practical things like these that trouble people, or they grow mixed in their thoughts about the big goods and the little ones-which shall be first in order of importance or which in the order of time.  And when one sees that people are really like this in their hearts, and when one sees them, all these poor, helpless people, sitting cooped up in a church for an hour and a half being teased to be good, it is small wonder that it seems, or is coming to seem, to the clean-cut morally businesslike men and women we have to-day, a pitiful waste of time.

I come to the second class of preachers I had in mind with more diffidence.  My feelings about them are not so simple and rudimentary as my feelings about those who have teased me to be good.

Any man who travels about, or who drops into churches wherever he happens to be from Sunday to Sunday, is almost sure to find in every city of considerable size at least one imperious capable baffling clergyman.  If one is strictly honest and fair toward him, to say nothing of being a well-meant and hopeful human being who is living in the same world with him and who feels very imperfect too, finding any serious and honest fault with the sermon, or at least laying one’s finger upon what the fault is, seems to be almost impossible.  One simply comes out of the church in a nice, neat little glow of good-will and admiration, and with a strange, soothing, happy sense of new, fresh, convenient wisdom.

The only fair way to criticise the preacher who belongs in this class seems to be to take ten years for it, go in regularly and get a little practice every Sunday.  There are preachers who preach so well that the only way one can ever find what is the matter with their sermons is to sit quietly while they are preaching them, and look around at the people.  One thinks as one looks around, “These people are what this man has done.”

They are the same people they were ten years ago.

I often hear other sermons that are far easier to criticise.  They are one-sided or narrow, but they make new people.

I might not always like to be in a congregation when a man is preaching a sermon that makes new people, because he may be making people or kinds of people that at the time at least I do not need to be.  But I naturally prefer, at least part of the time, a preacher who puts in, before he is through, some good work on me.  There is a preacher in B - who always arouses in me, whenever I am in the city, the same old, curious, hopeful feeling about him that this next one more time he is going to get to me, that I am going to be attended to.  I cannot say how many times I have dropped in upon him in his big plain church, seen him with his hushed congregation all about him, all listening to him up to the last minute, each of them sitting all alone with his own soul, and with him, and with the ticking of the clock.  And the sermon is always about the same.  You see him narrowing the truth down wonderfully, ruthlessly, to You.  You begin to see everything-to see all the arguments, all the circumstances, all the principles.  You see them narrowing you down grimly, closing in upon you, converging you and all your little, mean life, driving you apparently at last into one helpless beautiful corner of doing right.  You feel while you listen the old sermon-thrill you have felt before, a kind of intellectual joy in God, in the very brains of God; you think of how He has arranged right and wrong so cunningly, laid them all out so plain and so close beside each other for you to choose to be good.  Then the benediction is pronounced over you, the sevenfold amen dies away over you, and you go home and do as you like.

One sees the sermon for days afterward lying out there in calm and orderly memory, all so complete and perfect by itself.  There does not really seem to be any need of doing anything more to it.  It is what people mean probably by a “finished sermon.”  It is as if goodness had been put under a glass globe in a parlour.  You go home proud to think of it, and proud of course to have such a sermon by you.  But you would never think of touching such a complete and perfect thing during the week the way you would a poorer sermon, disturbing it hopefully or mussing it over, trying to work some of it into your own life.

So much for the first two types of preachers:  the preachers who stand before us Sunday morning with goodness placed beside them in a dense darkness while they talk, and who tease us to look at it in the darkness and to take some; and those who stand, a cold white light all about them, and use pointers and blackboards and things-maps of goodness, great charts of what people ought to be like-and who make one see each virtue just where it belongs as a kind of dot, like cities in a geography, and who leave us with the pleasant feeling of how sweet and reasonable God is, or rather would be if anybody would pay any attention to Him.

I have already hinted at the qualities of the third class of preachers-those who make me want to be good.  They seem to throw goodness as upon a screen, some vast screen of the world, of this real world about me.  They turn their souls, like still stereopticons, upon the faces of men-men who are like the men and women I know.  I go about afterward all the week seeing their sermons in the street.  Everybody I see, everything that comes up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, the very patterns of the days and nights, of my duties and failures, keep coming up, reminding me to be good.  I may start in-I often do-with such a preacher, criticising him, but he soon gets me so occupied criticising myself and so lost in wondering how this something that he has and sees just beyond us, just beyond him, just beyond me, can be had for other people, and how I can have some of it for myself, that I forget to criticise.  He searches my soul, makes me a new being in my presence before my eyes-that is, a new being toward some one subject, or some one possibility in the world.  He helps me while in his presence to accomplish the supreme thing that one man can ever do for another.  He helps me to get my own attention.  He makes me see a set of particular things that I immediately, before his next sentence, am trying to find means to do.  He does not attract my attention toward what he wants, like a preacher who teases; nor does he attract my attention to what God wants, like the preacher with the charts of goodness.  He succeeds in attracting and holding down my attention to what I really want for myself or others, and to what I propose to get.

The imagination of crowds is convinced only by men who have real genius for expression, for making word-pictures of real things, men who have what might be called moving-picture minds, and who are so picturesque and vivid that when they talk to people about goodness they have seen, everybody feels as if they had been there.  It has to be admitted that this type of preacher, who has a kind of genius, and has developed an art form for expressing goodness in words, is necessarily an exceptional man.  And it is unreasonable and unfair in the public to expect a man to get up in the pulpit and, with no costume and no accessories, merely with a kind of shrewd holiness or divination into human nature, present goodness so that we seem to be there.  It is small wonder that a man who finds he is expected to be a kind of combination of biograph, brother, spiritual detective, and angel all in one, in order to do his work successfully has days of feeling that he has joined the ranks of The Impossible Profession.