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this. Reason cannot verify it, because Reason, for Browning, is only a critical and not a constructive power; it can only observe and criticise experience. Hence active productive energy of spirit is the only way to the meaning of things.
Work, for Browning, means work out; by working things out we arrive at the truth and goodness in them. (1) By thinking out an intellectual theory to the end, we find the errors in it; what is not true cannot be thought out consistently. Thus we may “wring knowledge from ignorance” (Rephan). (2) By working out evil its true character is betrayed and it fails; hence strenuousness in wrong-doing is better than a compromise of wickedness and prudence (see The Statue and the Bust, and Fifine, 128, 129). This doctrine is apparently immoral, but not really so; he considers the effect of the energy on the soul of the worker, and is prompted by a hatred of the spirit of half-heartedness (Revelation iii. 15, conpared with Ecclesiastes vii. 16, 17). Further, strenuousness in evil, leading as it must do to failure, may awaken to life the germs of good in the soul (see The Pope, 1001 - 1003). (3) On the other hand, strenuousness in working out what is good is the way to make the soul grow, so that it can find things in reality working together for good. This is what is meant by the “Will to Believe." See R. Ben Ezra,“ welcome each rebuff”; Fifine, 55; and Bishop Blougram, “when the fight begins within himself.” Rephan is the story of a “perfect” world, where no effort was needed, and which proved inferior to the present world.
Some of the consequences of growth in the case of the soul are that man's perfection cannot be a state of absolute knowledge and goodness, which in us would mean stagnation (see A Death in the Desert), and that the range of man's desires is a sign of his greatness, of what he may become (R. Ben Ezra, vii.; Saul, xviii., &c.) The object of the growth is to learn the power and reality of Love (A Death in the Desert). Browning's view of the highest Love is the same as in 1 John ch. iv. There are Degrees of Worth in Love, for Love is the feeling that any creature has for what it takes to be its good. Signs that Love is Power are its necessity for any fruitful work among men (hence Paracelsus failed) and its “faint beginnings” in Nature. The Power which has produced the world has produced us and the standard by which we condemn the world ; if that Power is the source of the evil in the world it is also the source of the human Love which spends itself in overcoming the evil (see Saul, and R. Ben Ezra, "rejoice we are allied ").
Browning's view of the problem of evil is important. Evil is "stuff for transmuting”; it exists to be transformed by the victorious progress of good. The living Love which is divine, the Love which must be ever bearing, believing, hoping, enduring, rejoicing not in iniquity but rejoicing in the truth, could never come to be but for the sufferings, sins, mistakes, and conflicts of life; which it still overcomes and in some measure turns to good.
The proposition with which we began was, that religion is the interpretation of an experience. We now see that this may be expanded as follows. The intellectual interpretation gives religious doctrine or theory. The experience is the basal element in religion. This experience is not merely a part of the finite individual; it involves an inflowing of the Divine Life; and it concentrates itself or comes to a head in our consciousness of the authoritative Ideals,
—Truth, Beauty, goodness,—which disturb us with a moving claim to be realised and embodied in the work of life. In our consciousness of these as our Ideals, and yet as real far beyond what we are, there lies the germ of an immediate consciousness of God as their Source and Sustainer.
The interpretation, doctrine, theory, or explanation, may indicate the meaning of the experience with a greater or less degree of Truth ; upon this its value depends, and in the end it must always be tested by the experience. But the experience itself may vary in depth and power and meaning; how then is the experience itself to be tested? Are we to be content to take it simply for what it is, as if to say, “Thus and thus are the limits of my experience, my range of fact, and to anything beyond this I will pay no attention”? Evidently such an attitude is quite irrational. The experience of a man depends partly upon what he is. His own interpretation of it tends to become established as a real belief and part of himself, and thus reacts on the experience which it interprets. And his activity is not all taken up in thinking, the production of ideas,—the interpreting function of thought; its central power lies in what Schopenhauer called Will; and by Will — that is, by energy of spiritmore than by anything else, human ex: perience is moulded and made.
Thus, when we consider the two facts on which Belief depends—Experience and its Interpretation — we cannot wonder at the resulting variety and conflict. We hear of the “duty to doubt”; but there are different kinds of doubt; and to relapse into the passive or negative attitude of unproductive doubt is so far from being a “duty,” that we might almost call it à disease ; it is to turn clean away from the possibility of knowing anything of the grounds of Belief. We shall find good reasons for thinking that Belief can never be given to a man merely from without, whether by argument or any other means; and to “doubt” in this fashion is equivalent
to a passive waiting for Belief to come. It would be just as unreasonable if the scientific investigator were to wait passively for knowledge to come to him ; while in fact results of value are only possible when a prepared mind, trained by previous experience, thought, and research, comes to Nature full of guesses and theories to be tested, not by mere observation, but by carefully devised experiments. This was what Tyndall meant by saying that “with accurate experiment and observation to work upon, imagination becomes the architect of physical science."1 In scientific research it may be truly said that we make the experience which we interpret. And in practical volition, in an even more real and intimate sense, we make our experience. As regards the social welfare of our race, and the possibilities of spiritual personality, we must will right, before the truth can be known,—there must be a will in order to believe; and then there is positive material
1 Tyndall, Fragments of Science, Essay on “The Scientific use of the Imagination.” Cf. Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. i. p. 126.