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Theory of the Leisure Class, The

Chapter Twelve ~~ Devout Observances

A discoursive rehearsal of certain incidents of modern life will show the organic relation of the anthropomorphic cults to the barbarian culture and temperament. It will likewise serve to show how the survival and efficacy of the cults and he prevalence of their schedule of devout observances are related to the institution of a leisure class and to the springs of action underlying that institution. Without any intention to commend or to deprecate the practices to be spoken of under the head of devout observances, or the spiritual and intellectual traits of which these observances are the expression, the everyday phenomena of current anthropomorphic cults may be taken up from the point of view of the interest which they have for economic theory. What can properly be spoken of here are the tangible, external features of devout observances. The moral, as well as the devotional value of the life of faith lies outside of the scope of the present inquiry. Of course no question is here entertained as to the truth or beauty of the creeds on which the cults proceed. And even their remoter economic bearing can not be taken up here; the subject is too recondite and of too grave import to find a place in so slight a sketch.

Something has been said in an earlier chapter as to the influence which pecuniary standards of value exert upon the processes of valuation carried out on other bases, not related to the pecuniary interest. The relation is not altogether one-sided. The economic standards or canons of valuation are in their turn influenced by extra-economic standards of value. Our judgments of the economic bearing of facts are to some extent shaped by the dominant presence of these weightier interests. There is a point of view, indeed, from which the economic interest is of weight only as being ancillary to these higher, non-economic interests. For the present purpose, therefore, some thought must be taken to isolate the economic interest or the economic hearing of these phenomena of anthropomorphic cults. It takes some effort to divest oneself of the more serious point of view, and to reach an economic appreciation of these facts, with as little as may be of the bias due to higher interests extraneous to economic theory. In the discussion of the sporting temperament, it has appeared that the sense of an animistic propensity in material things and events is what affords the spiritual basis of the sporting man's gambling habit. For the economic purpose, this sense of propensity is substantially the same psychological element as expresses itself, under a variety of forms, in animistic beliefs and anthropomorphic creeds. So far as concerns those tangible psychological features with which economic theory has to deal, the gambling spirit which pervades the sporting element shades off by insensible gradations into that frame of mind which finds gratification in devout observances. As seen from the point of view of economic theory, the sporting character shades off into the character of a religious devotee. Where the betting man's animistic sense is helped out by a somewhat consistent tradition, it has developed into a more or less articulate belief in a preternatural or hyperphysical agency, with something of an anthropomorphic content. And where this is the case, there is commonly a perceptible inclination to make terms with the preternatural agency by some approved method of approach and conciliation. This element of propitiation and cajoling has much in common with the crasser forms of worship—if not in historical derivation, at least in actual psychological content. It obviously shades off in unbroken continuity into what is recognized as superstitious practice and belief, and so asserts its claim to kinship with the grosser anthropomorphic cults.

The sporting or gambling temperament, then, comprises some of the substantial psychological elements that go to make a believer in creeds and an observer of devout forms, the chief point of coincidence being the belief in an inscrutable propensity or a preternatural interposition in the sequence of events. For the purpose of the gambling practice the belief in preternatural agency may be, and ordinarily is, less closely formulated, especially as regards the habits of thought and the scheme of life imputed to the preternatural agent; or, in other words, as regards his moral character and his purposes in interfering in events. With respect to the individuality or personality of the agency whose presence as luck, or chance, or hoodoo, or mascot, etc., he feels and sometimes dreads and endeavors to evade, the sporting man's views are also less specific, less integrated and differentiated. The basis of his gambling activity is, in great measure, simply an instinctive sense of the presence of a pervasive extraphysical and arbitrary force or propensity in things or situations, which is scarcely recognized as a personal agent. The betting man is not infrequently both a believer in luck, in this naive sense, and at the same time a pretty staunch adherent of some form of accepted creed. He is especially prone to accept so much of the creed as concerts the inscrutable power and the arbitrary habits of the divinity which has won his confidence. In such a case he is possessed of two, or sometimes more than two, distinguishable phases of animism. Indeed, the complete series of successive phases of animistic belief is to be found unbroken in the spiritual furniture of any sporting community. Such a chain of animistic conceptions will comprise the most elementary form of an instinctive sense of luck and chance and fortuitous necessity at one end of the series, together with the perfectly developed anthropomorphic divinity at the other end, with all intervening stages of integration. Coupled with these beliefs in preternatural agency goes an instinctive shaping of conduct to conform with the surmised requirements of the lucky chance on the one hand, and a more or less devout submission to the inscrutable decrees of the divinity on the other hand.

There is a relationship in this respect between the sporting temperament and the temperament of the delinquent classes; and the two are related to the temperament which inclines to an anthropomorphic cult. Both the delinquent and the sporting man are on the average more apt to be adherents of some accredited creed, and are also rather more inclined to devout observances, than the general average of the community. It is also noticeable that unbelieving members of these classes show more of a proclivity to become proselytes to some accredited faith than the average of unbelievers. This fact of observation is avowed by the spokesmen of sports, especially in apologizing for the more naively predatory athletic sports. Indeed, it is somewhat insistently claimed as a meritorious feature of sporting life that the habitual participants in athletic games are in some degree peculiarly given to devout practices. And it is observable that the cult to which sporting men and the predaceous delinquent classes adhere, or to which proselytes from these classes commonly attach themselves, is ordinarily not one of the so-called higher faiths, but a cult which has to do with a thoroughly anthropomorphic divinity. Archaic, predatory human nature is not satisfied with abstruse conceptions of a dissolving personality that shades off into the concept of quantitative causal sequence, such as the speculative, esoteric creeds of Christendom impute to the First Cause, Universal Intelligence, World Soul, or Spiritual Aspect. As an instance of a cult of the character which the habits of mind of the athlete and the delinquent require, may be cited that branch of the church militant known as the Salvation Army. This is to some extent recruited from the lower-class delinquents, and it appears to comprise also, among its officers especially, a larger proportion of men with a sporting record than the proportion of such men in the aggregate population of the community.

College athletics afford a case in point. It is contended by exponents of the devout element in college life—and there seems to be no ground for disputing the claim—that the desirable athletic material afforded by any student body in this country is at the same time predominantly religious; or that it is at least given to devout observances to a greater degree than the average of those students whose interest in athletics and other college sports is less. This is what might be expected on theoretical grounds. It may be remarked, by the way, that from one point of view this is felt to reflect credit on the college sporting life, on athletic games, and on those persons who occupy themselves with these matters. It happens not frequently that college sporting men devote themselves to religious propaganda, either as a vocation or as a by-occupation; and it is observable that when this happens they are likely to become propagandists of some one of the more anthropomorphic cults. In their teaching they are apt to insist chiefly on the personal relation of status which subsists between an anthropomorphic divinity and the human subject.

This intimate relation between athletics and devout observance among college men is a fact of sufficient notoriety; but it has a special feature to which attention has not been called, although it is obvious enough. The religious zeal which pervades much of the college sporting element is especially prone to express itself in an unquestioning devoutness and a naive and complacent submission to an inscrutable Providence. It therefore by preference seeks affiliation with some one of those lay religious organizations which occupy themselves with the spread of the exoteric forms of faith—as, e.g., the Young Men's Christian Association or the Young People's Society for Christian Endeavor. These lay bodies are organized to further "practical" religion; and as if to enforce the argument and firmly establish the close relationship between the sporting temperament and the archaic devoutness, these lay religious bodies commonly devote some appreciable portion of their energies to the furtherance of athletic contests and similar games of chance and skill. It might even be said that sports of this kind are apprehended to have some efficacy as a means of grace. They are apparently useful as a means of proselyting, and as a means of sustaining the devout attitude in converts once made. That is to say, the games which give exercise to the animistic sense and to the emulative propensity help to form and to conserve that habit of mind to which the more exoteric cults are congenial. Hence, in the hands of the lay organizations, these sporting activities come to do duty as a novitiate or a means of induction into that fuller unfolding of the life of spiritual status which is the privilege of the full communicant along.

That the exercise of the emulative and lower animistic proclivities are substantially useful for the devout purpose seems to be placed beyond question by the fact that the priesthood of many denominations is following the lead of the lay organizations in this respect. Those ecclesiastical organizations especially which stand nearest the lay organizations in their insistence on practical religion have gone some way towards adopting these or analogous practices in connection with the traditional devout observances. So there are "boys' brigades," and other organizations, under clerical sanction, acting to develop the emulative proclivity and the sense of status in the youthful members of the congregation. These pseudo-military organizations tend to elaborate and accentuate the proclivity to emulation and invidious comparison, and so strengthen the native facility for discerning and approving the relation of personal mastery and subservience. And a believer is eminently a person who knows how to obey and accept chastisement with good grace. But the habits of thought which these practices foster and conserve make up but one half of the substance of the anthropomorphic cults. The other, complementary element of devout life—the animistic habit of mind—is recruited and conserved by a second range of practices organized under clerical sanction. These are the class of gambling practices of which the church bazaar or raffle may be taken as the type. As indicating the degree of legitimacy of these practices in connection with devout observances proper, it is to be remarked that these raffles, and the like trivial opportunities for gambling, seem to appeal with more effect to the common run of the members of religious organizations than they do to persons of a less devout habit of mind.

All this seems to argue, on the one hand, that the same temperament inclines people to sports as inclines them to the anthropomorphic cults, and on the other hand that the habituation to sports, perhaps especially to athletic sports, acts to develop the propensities which find satisfaction in devout observances. Conversely; it also appears that habituation to these observances favors the growth of a proclivity for athletic sports and for all games that give play to the habit of invidious comparison and of the appeal to luck. Substantially the same range of propensities finds expression in both these directions of the spiritual life. That barbarian human nature in which the predatory instinct and the animistic standpoint predominate is normally prone to both. The predatory habit of mind involves an accentuated sense of personal dignity and of the relative standing of individuals. The social structure in which the predatory habit has been the dominant factor in the shaping of institutions is a structure based on status. The pervading norm in the predatory community's scheme of life is the relation of superior and inferior, noble and base, dominant and subservient persons and classes, master and slave. The anthropomorphic cults have come down from that stage of industrial development and have been shaped by the same scheme of economic differentiation—a differentiation into consumer and producer—and they are pervaded by the same dominant principle of mastery and subservience. The cults impute to their divinity the habits of thought answering to the stage of economic differentiation at which the cults took shape. The anthropomorphic divinity is conceived to be punctilious in all questions of precedence and is prone to an assertion of mastery and an arbitrary exercise of power—an habitual resort to force as the final arbiter.

In the later and maturer formulations of the anthropomorphic creed this imputed habit of dominance on the part of a divinity of awful presence and inscrutable power is chastened into "the fatherhood of God." The spiritual attitude and the aptitudes imputed to the preternatural agent are still such as belong under the regime of status, but they now assume the patriarchal cast characteristic of the quasi-peaceable stage of culture. Still it is to be noted that even in this advanced phase of the cult the observances in which devoutness finds expression consistently aim to propitiate the divinity by extolling his greatness and glory and by professing subservience and fealty. The act of propitiation or of worship is designed to appeal to a sense of status imputed to the inscrutable power that is thus approached. The propitiatory formulas most in vogue are still such as carry or imply an invidious comparison. A loyal attachment to the person of an anthropomorphic divinity endowed with such an archaic human nature implies the like archaic propensities in the devotee. For the purposes of economic theory, the relation of fealty, whether to a physical or to an extraphysical person, is to be taken as a variant of that personal subservience which makes up so large a share of the predatory and the quasi-peaceable scheme of life.

The barbarian conception of the divinity, as a warlike chieftain inclined to an overbearing manner of government, has been greatly softened through the milder manners and the soberer habits of life that characterize those cultural phases which lie between the early predatory stage and the present. But even after this chastening of the devout fancy, and the consequent mitigation of the harsher traits of conduct and character that are currently imputed to the divinity, there still remains in the popular apprehension of the divine nature and temperament a very substantial residue of the barbarian conception. So it comes about, for instance, that in characterizing the divinity and his relations to the process of human life, speakers and writers are still able to make effective use of similes borrowed from the vocabulary of war and of the predatory manner of life, as well as of locutions which involve an invidious comparison. Figures of speech of this import are used with good effect even in addressing the less warlike modern audiences, made up of adherents of the blander variants of the creed. This effective use of barbarian epithets and terms of comparison by popular speakers argues that the modern generation has retained a lively appreciation of the dignity and merit of the barbarian virtues; and it argues also that there is a degree of congruity between the devout attitude and the predatory habit of mind. It is only on second thought, if at all, that the devout fancy of modern worshippers revolts at the imputation of ferocious and vengeful emotions and actions to the object of their adoration. It is a matter of common observation that sanguinary epithets applied to the divinity have a high aesthetic and honorific value in the popular apprehension. That is to say, suggestions which these epithets carry are very acceptable to our unreflecting apprehension.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.


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