Welcome to a fundamental node of the Pandeism index!!


Once upon a time, in my studies, I came upon the following 1872 letter from one Caroline Bray, written to Freelight, an early example of a magazine for Freethinkers.

To The Editor of Freelight.

Sir,—

Mr. Wallace, in his "Malay Archipelago," informs us that nearly all the mammalia in New Guinea are marsupials, and that the kangaroos are of a degenerate species, being but imperfectly adapted either for climbing trees or walking on terrafirma, in consequence of the fact that there are no carnivora in the island, and no enemies of any kind from which the kangaroos have to escape or defend themselves by rapid motion or by extra exertion of tail, claws, or legs. Happening to read this about the same time that I read the letter of "Sceptic," in the first number of Freelight, it occurred to me that in this fact of natural history, as one in a million, we may discern a glimpse of a possible answer to that weary questioning as to the "wherefore" of the misery of life, which troubles in secret many souls that have not the boldness to give it utterance; and a reply, too, that does not militate against our highest conceptions of the Source of Life. Substitute for kangaroos, Mankind; for New Guinea, the World; for beasts of prey, hunger, pain, death, and sorrow, and do not we see that it is alone by conflict with these enemies that man could have attained to his higher man-nature ?

Could courage exist without danger--patience, and fortitude, and sympathy, without suffering-—energy and intelligence, without difficulties to be overcome—-mercy, without error—-justice, without wrong—-or even love itself, without the possibility of separation and sorrow? Our sense of the sublime is partly composed from the sentiment of fear; our enjoyment of the beautiful partly depends on the existence of its opposite. And yet, deduct all these qualities from man, and you leave him certainly far behind the kangaroo in moral and spiritual status, and, perhaps, not very far from the original mass of jelly from which we are told he sprang.

. . . .

CAROLINE BRAY.


And so Ms. Bray concludes that all of our suffering benefits us, by bestowing upon us the wits and other gifts acquired in our struggle to overcome it. But be assured, friends, Ms. Bray was herself no bystander in the eternal battle for enlightenment!! She wrote about a dozen books -- surely a respectable number -- on history and philosophy, an uncommon feat for a woman of her generation. In one such book, titled Elements of Morality about a decade hence from the letter set out above, she repeated Wallace's report of the kangaroo and continued the line of thought:

It can hardly be doubted that men have been helped to become intelligent beings by the constant conflict with danger and difficulty which has stirred up their faculties. All those virtues which we value most have been born of difficulty and suffering. How could we be brave and courageous if there were no dangers to face? How could we be clever and energetic if there were no difficulties to overcome?

How could we be patient if we had no troubles to bear? How could our minds have grown if there had been no need for inventions and discoveries and knowledge, in order to shield us from danger, to cure disease, to save us from evil in every form?

How soon might not our own powers become puny and stunted, if there were no "lions in our path," no difficulties, no dangers!

We see, then, that these natural evils are in some degree blessings in disguise; and while we know that it is the duty of every one of us to try to lessen evil and suffering as much as we can, it is cheering to know that the mere attempt to conquer evil produces good.


Consider obversely this observation of the great American bard, Mark Twain, in his masterful and underappreciated late-in-life comedy, Pudd'nhead Wilson:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. Consider the flea!—incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage. Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than is the man who walks the streets of a city that was threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before.
Now, a flea is even smaller next to a kangaroo than next to a human; and is equally apt to bite that kangaroo -- which is not at all a sad kangaroo, for it has nothing to be sad about, and so no doleful experience against which to amplify its fortitude. So, if these sentimentations be true, both Bray and Twain I mean, then what consequence? What can this tell us towards meaning in our lives, and towards the characteristics of our Creator (should we believe ourselves to be created beings, be that Creation wholesale or retail)?

Consider that an entity so powerful as to be responsible for the Creation of our Universe could, logically, have no "experiential knowledge" of fear -- for what is it that it could be afraid of? There could in answer, naturally, be nothing for it to fear. And, as Bray hints and Twain states plainly (as is his way), without fear it is simply impossible to know courage, nor even contentment!! Now, can you imagine that? Leading your entire life and being able to experience not one single moment of bravery! Nor relief, nor even a mild surprise!? Can you imagine such as being the entire experience of a life that endures for countless billions of years? The denial of such experience might drive even a super-powered Universe-building being to madness!! And yet, can anything be more clear than that the chief mechanism by which an entity at that level of ability could experience true fear, sadness, grief, and regret (and so, all the positive contrary feelings, such as courage, happiness, relief, certainty) would be if, for a time it should surrender such power, and instead became something capable of harboring the feelings held by those less powerful than their surroundings and their destiny?

Bibliography:

-- Bray, Caroline, in Freelight, 1872, Volume I. Page 316
-- Bray, Caroline, Elements of Morality, 1882. Page 131-32.
-- Twain, Mark, Pudd'nhead Wilson, 1894, Chapter XII, page 155.

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