The Theosophical Forum – September 1949

WORLD BROTHERHOOD — IN SPITE OF OURSELVES — Louis E. van Norman

A realization that all men are brothers is the greatest need of the world today. No "ism" or ideology, no social, economic or political system, no plank in a political party platform, could be as important or significant for the human race as a whole, or for any nation in particular, as a practical carrying out of the aim of the Theosophical Society which aims to form "an active brotherhood among men."

Such a realization would dispel fear and fear is the enemy of all peace and all happiness. Teaching nations or national groups to resent, or fear, or hate other nations, or races or groups, or other types of culture, is the sure road to the destruction of all.

The inner consciousness of brotherhood is deeply imbedded in our human existence. It is in fact a life principle which we are powerless to resist. Civilizations rise and fall. Worlds die and are born again. But, with all of them, are reborn the belief in the perfectibility of man, of his divine essence, his brotherhood with all his kind, and the knowledge — as yet secret from some — that man is one and indivisible. It is this esoteric knowledge that has inspired all religion and all true art. It is this message that Theosophy teaches to modern man, who, apparently, in so many lands has forgotten his divine origin and his familyhood on earth.

Biologically, physiologically and spiritually we are brothers. Life is ever demonstrating this truth. Theosophy brings to us modern men evidence of belief in this truth from the most ancient times, from all religions. Science is coming to the same conclusion. Philosophy is wholeheartedly of the same mind. Religion has always taught it. It is a blessed relief for thoughtful, spiritually-minded people to witness the increasingly chastened mood of scientific men today and their willingness to admit the insufficiency of materialistic conceptions to account for the universe and man's place in it. As for the philosophers, not only Shakespeare's Horatio, but ever more and more humble but honest thinkers are realizing that there are many more things in Heaven and Earth than they have ever dreamed of. The old tribal god has gone. The personal god in man's image will follow. Theosophy brings again to our memories the ancient truth that God is everywhere, in everything, is every thing, that we are God, and gods, and brothers.

What interests us in these days particularly is the fact that earnest people all over the world, of every race and culture are drawing together in the bond that always draws men and women together who are honestly seeking after truth, who understand their own common origin and destiny. In the words of Carlyle, there is after all but one race — humanity — and a mystic bond of brotherhood makes all men one.

It may seem a very bold statement, that, in spite of all the rivalries, hatreds, ambitions, misunderstandings and opposing "ideologies" now apparently dominating the human race, mankind is actually nearer to accepting — and practicing — the religion and rule of brotherhood than ever before in the race's long life on this planet. Yet it is the truth.

This realization — and practice — has come about, is coming about, through advances away from the law of the jungle and the reign of tooth and claw on the one hand, and, on the other, because of an ever more lofty conception of what we mean by God. It is a long story and the details are not important. But that progress is made is the most important thing in the history of the human family.

All human history has shown that there is no permanent remedy for evil in vengeance or violence. It has shown that, in acting on the assumption that we are saving our lives as nations when we do economic moral and spiritual wrongs, we are really denying the brotherhood of man. The unity of the family, now generally recognized, must be extended so as to include a recognition of the unity of all mankind in the essentials of life. If this recognition comes about only slowly, let us not be impatient. Recently, a Christian missionary, who had spent 25 years trying to convert the heathen, finally became discouraged and decided to resign and return to the West. To his superior he complained: "There's no use going on. Think of the few converts I have made, compared with the thousands who will not see the light." To this the superior replied, "The trouble with you, my friend, is that you want to work quicker than God." We modern men have enough brain power, courage and vision to launch what we Americans call brotherhood on a business basis. What we lack is spiritual understanding — and patience.

You are impatient to say that this is contrary to human nature. Is it? You will point to the fact that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus the Christ, known as the "Prince of Peace," and in spite of the wisdom and admonitions of all the other great saviors, saints, and sages, who have assured us that he who would save his life must lose it, and that all men are our brothers, we are again facing the ferocities of war, hatred, and destruction in more than one corner of the world.

There are signs that an understanding of world interdependence and solidarity is growing and deepening. The common interest that has already destroyed seclusion and isolation includes the vast reach of modern industrialism, the school, the advance of woman, the motor car, the airplane, the moving picture, the radio. All these have revolutionized our age-old notions of time and space. Today no nation can isolate itself from other nations, no matter how loud and strident may be its blatant nationalistic propaganda. Good will and the interchange of ideas, goods, and services are making narrow nationalism unprofitable. Even the most fanatical advocates of totalitarian autarchy are beginning to perceive that (as an English writer has put it) we simply must prepare, deliberately, sincerely and confidently for "a more majestic acknowledgment of common interests, material, social and spiritual."

The reiteration of the truth that man is, at the same time and of necessity, both a physical and a spiritual being and that he must fight the battle of life along both fronts, will gradually sink into our consciousness until it conditions our lives as individuals, and our acts and policies as nations.

More and more it is being charged that orthodox religion has failed to keep up with the thoughts and spiritual yearnings of human beings, with the changing social order. Consequently, it has been said, religion has lost — or is losing — its influence on the masses, or that it has failed to take into account changing moral ideas and standards.

History has something to say on this point. In industrial nations in the old world, when the church has failed to maintain sympathetic contact with the working classes, to inculcate love rather than hate, the workers have finally deserted the church and many of them have lost faith in any conception of God.

A revival of religious and ethical spirit can have far-reaching and deeply-searching effects on national destinies. Although such revivals often work in rather obscure ways, and their influence is not always easy to trace, they sometimes provide an emotional outlet for forces and psychological impulses which, otherwise, might easily blow off in violent forms. Why did England have no bloody revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, when the continent of Europe was convulsed with the play of rifles and bombs in what one historian has called the "ultima ratio regorum"? Another historian believes that the rise of the Methodist movement and the birth of the Salvation Army during these periods, both emphasizing brotherly love, may be the answer.

The salvaging power of religion and the spiritual instinct in national affairs was referred to in emphatic words by the late President Calvin Coolidge in the public statement of a truth no less profound because it has been enunciated so many times before. Outside the teaching of religion, he reminded us (no matter what form it may take), there is no answer to the problems of life. Our international and social relations cannot be determined by material facts and forces. Armaments, wages, profits, are not matters of mere quantity. They are at bottom problems of quality. Changing or fixing their amount will not — cannot — afford a final solution. The real problems of the world are not material but spiritual. Love in its highest manifestations, love and a realization of the basic fact of human brotherhood — these are the only answer.

It is finding its lodgment in human hearts, this truth. Increasing numbers of young people, boys and girls alike, are going direct from their studies into social work of some kind, into activities that have to do with public health and the relief of poverty and labor, as well as into work of education and aiding the ill and aged. This impulse must be rooted in an ethical interest. The youth of our day seems to be growing more and more conscious of the worth of the vision and conception implied in the question posed by a novelist in a book widely read and recently put on the moving-picture screen. "Have you any credit at the bank with God? When you pray for something your heart desires, has your deposit at God's bank been exhausted or overdrawn?"

But it is not only the young laity who are awakening. The clergy is also being aroused. In spite of every temptation to express the prejudices and instincts of well-to-do congregations, increasing numbers of young ministers, priests and rabbis are becoming the fearless and sometimes the lonely champions of the poor and down-trodden, whom they recognize as their brothers in fact and deed. In his book, Great Men of the Bible, Dr. Walter Russell Bowie says of many of the congregations of fashionable American churches today:

There are young men in college, or just out of it, who cannot rest in the complacent ideas of their families or their social groups, but who wrestle in mind and spirit with the insistent question of how to take their place in the world's every day affairs and still be just and fair and generous and brotherly.

There are women in settlements and organizations like the Consumer's League who have daily contact with the problems of the poor and who have transferred their

passionate loyalties from the class into whose exemptions they were born to the class with which, vicariously, they have become identified.

Then there are the almost innumerable societies, groups, and organizations of many kinds which have for their aim the cultivation of good will and understanding among men without regard to race, nationality, or position in life. It is a long and ever lengthening list. The entire world is becoming conscious of its economic, social, and spiritual interdependence and solidarity. The causes of many of our economic — even financial — crises are moral and intellectual. Even in this machine age man is often moved by intangible forces and impulses. Beyond the material techniques of the engineer there has been this growing consciousness of human solidarity, and this consciousness, this realization, this understanding of brotherhood, of the essential divinity of man, has come to be the inspiration of the artist and the poet. Beyond the material face of things the mystical soul has ever sought God. Love, in the words of a Japanese sage, Toyohiko Kagawa, "is the fuel of the universe." It behooves man to see that the engine of the world is not stalled for lack of fuel.

We are prone to be critical of those who are different from ourselves. This attitude is born of complacent self-satisfaction, contempt, and indifference. But the great mass of the people are good-natured folk who find no difficulty in showing good will.

The spread of the idea of brotherhood is due to our deepening understanding of our identity as "pilgrims of eternity" on this planet called earth. Although he was not a Theosophist consciously, the old Roman poet, Terence, was really one. You remember his dictum: "Homo sum. Humani nihil a me alienum puto." — "I am a man and nothing human can I regard as alien (foreign) to me."

In conclusion, a word for those who, consciously or not, are Theosophists, believers in the honest brotherhood of all men, there are the ringing phrases of the English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold. He understood the ancient wisdom of the East, and, you will remember, made a beautiful translation of that splendid Indian poem and scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. In his other poem Armageddon, the War Song of the Future, he flung abroad this challenge:

We are they who will not take,
From palace, priest or code,
A meaner law than brotherhood,
A lower Lord than God.


The Theosophical Forum

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