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


One of the things that makes one thoughtful in going about from city to city and dropping into the churches is the way the people do not sing in them and will not pray in them.  In every new strange city where one stops on a Sunday morning, one looks hopefully-while one hears the chimes of bells-at the row of steeples down the street.  One looks for people going in who seem to go with chimes of bells.  And when one goes in, one finds them again and again, inside, all these bolt-up-right, faintly sing-song congregations.

One wonders about the churches.

What is there that is being said in them that should make any one feel like singing?

The one thing that the churches are for is news-news that would be suitable to sing about, and that would naturally make one want to sing and pray after one had heard it.

There is very little occasion to sing or to pray over old news.

Worship would take care of itself in our churches if people got the latest and biggest news in them.

News is the latest faith men have in one another, the last thing they have dared to get from God.

It is not impossible that just at the present moment, and for some little time to come, there is really very little worth while that can be said about Christianity, until Christianity has been tried.  I cannot conceive of Christ’s coming back and saying anything just at the moment.  He would merely wonder why, in all these two thousand years, we had not arranged to do anything about what He had said before.  He would wonder how we could keep on so, making his great faith for us so poetic, visionary, and inefficient.

It is in the unconscious recognition of this and of the present spiritual crisis of the world, that our best men, so many of them, instead of going into preaching are going into laboratories and into business where what the gospel really is and what it is really made of, is being at last revealed to people-where news is being created.

Perhaps it would not be precisely true-what I have said, about Christ’s not saying anything.  He probably would.  But he would not say these same merely rudimentary things.  He would go on to the truths and applications we have never heard or guessed.  The rest of his time he would put in in proving that the things that had been merely said two thousand years ago, could be done now.  And He would do what He could toward having them dropped forever, taken for granted and acted on as a part of the morally automatic and of-course machinery of the world.

The Golden Rule takes or ought to take, very soon now, in real religion, somewhat the same position that table manners take in morals.

All good manners are good in proportion as they become automatic.  In saying that honesty pays we are merely moving religion on to its more creative and newer levels.  We are asserting that the literal belief in honesty, after this, ought to be attended to practically by machinery.  People ought to be honest automatically and by assumption, by dismissing it in business in particular, as a thing to be taken for granted.

This is what is going to happen.

Without the printing press a book would cost about ten thousand dollars, each copy.

With the printing press, the first copy of a book costs perhaps about six hundred dollars.

The second costs-twenty-nine cents.

The same principle holds good under the law of moral automatics.

Let the plates be cast.  Everything follows.  The fire in the Iroquois
Theatre in Chicago cost six hundred dead bodies.

Within a few months outward opening doors flew open to the streets around a world.

Everybody knew about outward opening doors before.

They had the spirit of outward opening doors.  But the machinery for making everybody know that they knew it-the moral and spiritual machinery for lifting over the doors of a world and making them all swing suddenly generation after generation the other way, had not been set up.

Of course it would have been better if there had been three hundred dead bodies or three dead bodies-but the principle holds good-let the moral plates be cast and the huge moral values follow with comparatively little individual moral hand labour.  The moral hand labour moves on to more original things.

The same principle holds good in letting an American city be good in seeing how to make goodness in a city work.

Let the plates be once cast-say Galveston, Texas; or De Moines, Iowa, and goodness after you have your first specimen gets national automatically.

Two hundred and five cities have adopted the Galveston or commission government in three years.

The failure for the time being apparently of the more noble and aggressive kinds of goodness against the forces of evil is a matter of technique.  Our failure is not due to our failure to know what evil really is, but due to our wasteful way of tunnelling through it.

Our religious inventors have failed to use the most scientific method.  We have gone at the matter of butting through evil without thinking enough.  Less butting and more thinking is our religion now.  We will not try any longer to butt a whole planet when we try to keep one man from doing wrong.

We will butt our way through to the man who sees where to butt and how to butt.  Then all together!

Very few of the wrongs that are done to society by individuals would be done if civilization were supplied with the slightest adequate machinery or conveniences for bringing home to people vividly who the people are they are wronging, how they are wronging them, and how the people feel about it.  This machinery for moral and social insight, this intelligence-engine or apparatus of sympathy for a planet to-day, before our eyes is being invented and set up.

Sometimes I almost think that history as a study or particularly as a habit of mind ought to be partitioned off and not allowed to people in general to-day.  Only men of genius have imagination enough for handling history so that it is not a nuisance, a provincialism and an impertinence in the serene presence to-day of what is happening before our eyes.  History makes common people stop thinking or makes them think wrong, about nine tenths of the area of human nature, particularly about the next important things that are going to happen to it.

Our modern life is not an historian’s problem.  It is an inventor’s problem.  The historian can stand by and can be consulted.  But things that seem to an historian quite reasonably impossible in human nature are true and we must all of us act every day as if they were true.  We but change the temperature of human nature and in one moment new levels and possibilities open up on every side.

Things that are true about water stop being true the moment it is heated 212 degrees Fahrenheit.  It begins suddenly to act like a cloud and when it is cooled off enough a cloud acts like a stone.  Railroad trains are run for hundreds of miles every year in Siberia across clouds that are cold enough.  We raise the temperature of human nature and the motives with which men cannot act to-day suddenly around a world are the motives with which they cannot help acting to-morrow.

The theory of raised temperatures alone, in human nature, will make possible to us ranges of goodness, of social passion and vision, that only a few men have been capable of before.

All the new inventions have new sins, even new manners that go with them, new virtues and new faculties.  The telephone, the motor-car, the wireless telegraph, the airship and the motor-boat all make men act with different insights, longer distances, and higher speeds.

Men who, like our modern men, have a going consciousness, see things deeper by going faster.

They see how more clearly by going faster.

They see farther by going faster.

If a man is driving a motor-car three miles an hour all he needs to attend to with his imagination is a few feet of the road ahead.

If he is driving his car thirty miles an hour and trying to get on by anticipating his road a few feet ahead, he dies.

The faster a man goes-if he has the brains for it-the more people and the more things in the way, his mind covers in a minute-the more magnificently he sees how.

On a railway train any ordinary man any day in the year (if he goes fast enough) can see through a board fence.  It may be made of vertical slats five inches across and half an inch apart.  He sees through the slits between the slats the whole country for miles.  If he goes fast enough a man can see through a solid freight train.

All our modern industrial social problems are problems of gearing people up.  Ordinary men are living on trains now-on moral trains.

Their social consciousness is being geared up.  They are seeing more other people and more other things and more things beyond the Fence.

The increased vibration in human nature and in the human brain and heart that go with the motor-car habit, the increased speed of the human motor, the gearing up of the central power house in society everywhere is going to make men capable of unheard-of social technique.  The social consciousness is becoming the common man’s daily habit.  Laws of social technique and laws of human nature which were theories once are habits now.

There is a certain sense in which it may be said that the modern man enjoys daily his moral imagination.  He is angered and delighted with his social consciousness.  He boils with rage or sings when he hears of all the new machines of good and machines of evil that people are setting up in our modern world.

There is a sense in which he glories in the Golden Rule.  The moral-machinist’s joy is in him.  He is not content to watch it go round and round like some smooth-running Corliss engine which is not connected up yet-that nobody really uses except as a kind of model under glass or a miniature for theological schools.  He cannot bear the Golden Rule under glass.  He wants to see it going round and round, look up at it, immense, silent, masterful, running a world.  He delights in the Golden Rule as a part of his love of nature.  It is as the falling of apples to him.  He delights in it as he delights in frost and fire and in the glorious, modest, implacable, hushed way they work!

We are in an age in which a Golden Rule can sing.  The men around us are in a new temper.  They have the passion, almost, the religion of precision that goes with machines.

While I have been sitting at my desk and writing these last words, the two half-past-eight trains, at full speed, have met in the meadow.

There is something a little impersonal, almost abstracted, about the way the trains meet out here on their lonely sidewalk through the meadow, twenty inches apart-morning after morning.  It always seems as if this time-this one next time-they would not do it right.  One argues it all out unconsciously that of course there is a kind of understanding between them as they come bearing down on each other and it’s all been arranged beforehand when they left their stations; and yet somehow as I watch them flying up out of the distance, those two still, swift thoughts, or shots of cities-dark, monstrous (it’s as if Springfield and Northampton had caught some people up and were firing them at each other)-I am always wondering if this particular time there will not be a report, after all, a clang on the landscape, on all the hills, and a long story in the Republican the next morning.

Then they softly crash together and pass on-two or three quiet whiffs at each other-as if nothing had happened.

I always feel afterward as if something splendid, some great human act of faith, had been done in my presence.  Those two looming, mighty engines, bearing down on each other, making an aim so, at twenty inches from death, and nothing to depend on but those two gleaming dainty strips or ribbons of iron-a few eighths of an inch on the edge of a wheel-I never can get used to it:  the two great glowing creatures, full of thunder and trust, leaping up the telegraph poles through the still valley, each of them with its little streak of souls behind it; immortal souls, children, fathers, mothers, smiling, chattering along through Infinity-it all keeps on being boundless to me, and full of a glad boyish terror and faith.  And under and through it all there is a kind of stern singing.

I know well enough, of course, that it is a platitude, this meeting of two trains in a meadow, but it never acts like one.  I sometimes stand and watch the engineer afterward.  I wonder if he knows he enjoys it.  Perhaps he would have to stop to know how happy he was, and not meet trains for a while.  Then he would miss something, I think; he would miss his deep joyous daily acts of faith, his daily habits of believing in things-in steam, and in air, and in himself, and in the switchman, and in God.

I see him in his cab window, he swings out his blue sleeve at me!  I like the way he stakes everything on what he believes.  Nothing between him and death but a few telegraph ticks-the flange of a wheel....  Suddenly the swing of his train comes up like the swing and the rhythm of a great creed.  It sounds like a chant down between the mountains.  I come into the house lifted with it.  I have heard a man believing, believing mile after mile down the valley.  I have heard a man believing in a Pennsylvania rolling mill, in a white vapour, in compressed air and a whistle, the way Calvin believed in God.