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


The people who are worried and discouraged about goodness in this world, one finds when one studies them a little, are almost always worried in a kind of general way.  They do not worry about anything in particular.  Their religion seems to be a kind of good-hearted, pained vagueness.

The religion of the people who never worry at all, the thoughtless optimists, is quite the same too, except that they have a kind of happy, rosy-lighted vagueness instead.

For about two thousand years now, goodness has been in the hands of vague people.  Some of them have used their vagueness to cry with softly, and some of them have used it to praise God with and to have many fine, brave, general feelings about God.

I have tried faithfully, speaking for one, to be religious with both of these sets of people.

They make one feel rather lonesome.

If one goes about and takes a grim happiness, a kind of iron joy in seeing how successful a locomotive is, or if one watches a great, worshipful ocean liner with delight, or if, down in New York, one looks up and sees a new skyscraper going slowly up, unfolding into the sky before one, lifting up its gigantic, restless, resistless face to God; there comes to seem to be something about churches and about good people and about the way they have of acting and thinking about goodness and doing things with goodness, that makes one unhappy.

Perhaps one has just come from it and one’s soul is filled with the stern, glad singing of a great foundry, of the religious, victorious praising spirit of man, dipping up steel in mighty spoonfuls-the stuff the inside of the earth is made of, and flinging it together into a great network or crust for the planet-into mighty floors or sidewalks all round the earth for cities to tread on and there comes to seem something so successful, so manlike, so godlike about it, about the way these men who do these things do them and do what they set out to do, that when I find myself suddenly, all in a few minutes on a Sunday morning, thrown out of this atmosphere into a Christian church, find myself sitting all still and waiting, with all these good people about me, and when I find them offering me their religion so gravely, so hopefully, it all comes to me with a great rush sometimes-comes to me as out of great deeps of resentment, that religion could possibly be made in a church to seem something so faint, so beautifully weary, so dreamy, and as if it were humming softly, absently to itself.

I wonder in the presence of a Christianity like this whether I am a Christian or not-the quartet choirs, confections, the little, dainty, faintly sweet sermons-it is as if-no I will not say it....

I have this moment crossed the words out before my eyes.  It is as if, after all, religion, instead of being as I supposed down at the foundry, the stern and splendid music of man conquering all things for God, were, after all, some huge, sublime and holy vagueness, as if the service and the things I saw about me were not hard true realities-as if going to Church were like sitting in a cloud-some soft musical cloud or floating island of goodness and drifting and drifting....

Not all churches are alike, but I am speaking of something that must have happened to many men.  I but record this blank space on this page, as a spiritual fact, as a part of the religious experience of a man trying to be good.

When this little experience of which the words have to be crossed out after going to Church-finally settles down, there is still a grim truth left in it.

The vagueness of the man who is good, who locks himself up in a Church and says, “Oh God!  Oh God!  Oh God!” and the vigour and incisiveness of the man who says nothing about it and who goes out of doors and acts like a god all the week-these remain with me as a daily and abiding sense.

And when I find myself myself, I, who have gloried in cathedrals since I was a little child, looking ahead for a God upon the earth, and when I see the foundries, the airships, the ocean liners beckoning the soul of man upon the skies, and the victory of the soul over the dust and over the water and over the air and when I see the Cathedrals beside them, those vast, faint, grave, happy, floating islands of the Saved, drifting backward down the years, it does not seem as if I could bear the foundries saying one thing about my God and the cathedrals saying another.

I have tried to see a way out.  Why should it be so?

I have seen that the foundries, the ocean liners, and the airships are in the hands of men who say How.

Perhaps we will take goodness and cathedrals, very soon now, and put them for a while in the hands of the men who say how.  If St. Francis, for instance, to-day, were to be suddenly more like Bessemer, or if Dr. Henry Van Dyke were more like Edison or if the Reverend R.J.  Campbell were more like Sir Joseph Lister or if the Bishop of London were to go at London the way Marconi goes at the sky, what would begin to happen to goodness?  One likes to imagine what would happen if that same spirit, the spirit of “how” were brought to bear upon a great engineering enterprise like goodness in this world.

Perhaps the spirit of “how” is the spirit of God.

Perhaps religion in the twentieth century is Technique.

Technique in the twentieth century is the Holy Ghost.

Technique is the very last thing that has been thought of in religion.  Religion is being converted before our eyes.  It is becoming touched with the temper of science, with the thoroughness, the doggedness, the inconsolableness of science until it is seeing how and until it is saying how.

When the inventors, in our machine age, get to work on goodness in the way that they are getting to work on other things, things will begin to happen to goodness that the vague, sweet saints of two thousand years have never dreamed of yet.

In London and New York, in this first quarter of the twentieth century Christianity will not be put off as a spirit.  The right of Christianity to be a spirit has lapsed.

Christianity is a Method.

What Christ meant when He said He was the Truth and the Life, has been understood, on the whole, very well.  What He meant by saying He was the Way, we are now beginning, to work out.

A thousand or two years ago, when two men stood by the roadside and made a bargain, it was their affair.

When two men stand on the sidewalk now and make a bargain, say in New York, they have to deal and to deal very thoughtfully and accurately with ninety million people who are not there.  They do this as well as they can by imagining what the ninety million people would do and say, and how they would like to be done by, if they were there.

The facilities for finding out what the ninety million people would do and say, and what they would want, the general conveniences for assuring the two men on the sidewalk that they will be able to conduct their bargain, and to get the other ninety million in, accurately, that they will be able to do by them as they would be done by-these have scarcely been arranged for yet.

In our machine age, with our railroads, and our telephones suddenly heaping our lives up on one another’s lives, almost before we have noticed it, our religious machinery to go with our other machinery, our machinery that we are going to be Christians with, has not been invented yet.

Religion two-men size, or man and woman size, or one family or two family size or village size has been worked out.  Religion as long as it has been concerned with a few people and was a matter of love between neighbours, or of skill in being neighbourly, has had no special or imperative need for science or the scientific man.

Now that religion is obliged to be an intimate, a confiding relation between ninety million people, the spiritual genius, devotion, and holiness of the scientific man, of the man who says “how” has come to be the modern man’s almost only access to his God.

A ninety million man-power religion is an enterprise of spiritual engineering, a feat in national and international statesmanship, a gigantic structural constructive achievement in human nature.  Doing as one would be done by, with a few people, is a thing that any man can sit down and read his Bible a few minutes and arrange for himself.  He can manage to do as he would be done by, fairly well in the next yard.  But how about doing as one would be done by with ninety million people-all sizes, all climates, all religions, Buffalo, New Orleans, Seattle?  How about doing as one would be done by three thousand miles?

It is an understatement to say, as we look about our modern world, that Christianity has not been tried yet.

Christianity has not been invented yet.

What was invented two thousand years ago was the spirit of Christianity.

Christianity has been for two thousand years a spirit.

It is almost like a new religion to me just of itself to think of it.  It is like being presented suddenly with a new world to think of it, to think that all we have really done with Christianity as yet is to use it as a breath or spirit.

I look at the vision of the earth to-day, of the great cities rushing together at last and running around the world like children running around a house-great cities shouting on the seas, suddenly sliding up and down the globe, playing hopscotch on the equator, scrambling up the poles-all these colossal children!...  Here we all are!-a whiff of steam from the Watts’s steam kettle and a wave of Marconi across the air and we have crept up from our little separate sunsets, all our little private national bedrooms of light and darkness into the one single same cunning dooryard of a world!  Our religion, our politics, our Bibles, kings, millionaires, crowds, bombs, prophets and railroads all hurling, sweeping, crashing our lives together in a kind of vast international collision of intimacy.

All the Christianity we can bring to bear or that we can use to run this crash of intimacy with is a spirit, a breath.

We do not well to berate one another or to berate one another’s motives or to assail human nature or to grow satirical about God with all our little battered helpless Christians about us and our unadjusted religions.

We are a new human race grappling with a new world.  Our Christianity has not been invented yet and if we want a God, we will work like chemists, like airmen, turn the inside of the earth out, dump the sky, move mountains, face cities, love one another, and find Him!

In the meantime until we have done this, until we have worked as chemists and airmen work, Christianity is a spirit.

It explains all this eager jumble of the world, brushes away our objections, frees our hearts, gives us our program, makes us know what we are for, to stop and think a moment of this-that Christianity is a spirit.

Everything that is passing wonderful is a spirit at first.  God begins building a world as a world-spirit, out of a spirit brooding upon the waters.  Then for a long while the vague waters, then for a long while a little vague land or spirit-of-planet before a real world.

And every real belief that man has had, has begun as a spirit.

For two thousand years Man has had the spirit of immortality.  Homer had it.  Homer had moments when improvising his mighty song all alone, of hearing or seeming to hear, faintly, choruses of men’s voices singing his songs after him, a thousand years away.

As he groped his way up in his singing, he felt them in spirit, perhaps, the lonely wandering minstrels in little closed-in valleys, or on the vast quiet hills, filling the world with his voice when he was dead, going about with his singing, breaking it in upon the souls of children, of the new boys and girls, and building new worlds and rebuilding old worlds in the hearts of men.  Homer had the spirit of hearing his own voice forever, but the technique of it, the important point of seeing how the thing could really be done, of seeing how people, instead of listening to imitations or copies or awkward echoes of Homer, should listen to Homer’s voice itself-the timbre, the intimacy, the subtlety, the strength of it-the depth of his heart singing out of it.  All this has had to wait to be thought out by Thomas A. Edison.

Man has not only for thousands of years had the spirit of immortality, of keeping his voice filed away if any one wanted it on the earth, forever, but he has had all the other spirits or ghosts of his mightier self.  He has had the spirit of being imperious and wilful with the sea, of faring forth on a planet and playing with oceans, and now he has worked out the details in ocean liners, in boats that fly up from the water, and in boats which dive and swim beneath the sea.  For thousands of years he has had the spirit of the locomotive working through, troops of runners or of dim men groping defiantly with camels through deserts, or sweeping on on horses through the plains, and now with his banners of steam at last he has great public trains of cars carrying cities.

For hundreds of years man has had the spirit of the motor-car-of having his own private locomotive or his own special train drive up to his door-the spirit of making every road his railway.  For a great many years he has had the spirit of the wireless telegraph and of using the sky.  Franklin tried using the sky years ago but all he got was electricity.  Marconi knew how better.  Marconi has got ghosts of men’s voices out of the clouds, has made heaven a sounding board for great congregations of cities, and faraway nations wrapped in darkness and silence whisper round the rolling earth.  Man has long had the spirit of defying the seas.  Now he has the technique and the motor-boat.  He has had the spirit of removing oceans and of building huge, underground cities, the spirit of caves in the ground and mansions in the sky, and now he has subways and skyscrapers.  For a thousand years he has had the spirit of Christ and now there is Frederick Taylor, Louis Brandeis, Westfield Pure Food, Doctor Carrel, Jane Addams, and Filene’s Store.  Vast networks-huge spiritual machines of goodness are crowding and penetrating to-day, fifteen pounds to the square inch, the atmosphere of the gospel into the very core of the matter of the world, into the everyday things, into the solids of the lives of men.

It takes two great spirits of humanity to bring a great truth or a new goodness into this world; one spirit creates it, the other conceives it, gathers the earth about it and gives it birth.  These two spirits seem to be the spirits of the poet and the scientist.

We are taking to-day, many of us, an almost religious delight in them both.  We make no comparisons.

We note that the poet’s inspiration comes first and consists in saying something that is true, that cannot be proved.

A few people with imagination, here and there, believe it.

The scientist’s inspiration comes second and consists in seeing ways of proving it, of making it matter of fact.

He proves it by seeing how to do it.

Crowds believe it.