Conan Doyle Gives Reasons for his Belief in Spiritualism

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle Gives Reasons for his Belief in Spiritualism is an interview of Arthur Conan Doyle published in Current Opinion in january 1917. Illustrated with a photo of Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle Gives Reasons for his Belief in Spiritualism

Current Opinion, january 1917, p. 39
Current Opinion, january 1917, p. 40

"In spite of occasional fraud and wild imaginings, there remains a solid core in this whole spiritual movement which is infinitely nearer to positive proof than any other religious development with which I am acquainted." So writes Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in an article commended by Sir Oliver Lodge and published in the London Spiritualist weekly, Light. Sir Arthur's leaning toward Spiritualism, we learn from this article, dates back thirty years. He tells us that he is one of the oldest members of the Psychical Research Society. But we do not recall any statement of his views so sympathetic with Spiritualist doctrines as that contained in the present article. It may be noted that while the name Conan Doyle was made famous as that of a novelist, the bearer was a physician before he was a novelist. He was at one time senior physician at the Langman Field Hospital in South Africa.

The days are past, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle maintains, when the considered opinions of such men as Crookes, Wallace, Flammarion, Lodge, Barrett, Generals Drayson and Turner, Sergeant Ballantine, W. T. Stead, Judge Edmonds, Vice-Admiral Usborne Moore, the late Archdeacon Wilberforce and a cloud of other witnesses, can be dismissed as negligible. The time has come when "further proof is superfluous and the weight of disproof lies upon those who deny." If, "to take one of a thousand examples," the only evidence for unknown intelligent forces lay in the experiments of Dr. Crawford recorded in Light, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle does not see how it could be shaken. He continues:

"We should now be at the close of the stage of investigation and beginning the period of religious construction.

"For what is this movement? Are we to satisfy ourselves by observing phenomena with no attention to what the phenomena mean, as a group of savages might stare at a wireless installation with no appreciation of the menages coming through it, or are we resolutely to set ourselves to define these subtle and elusive utterances from beyond, and to construct from them a religious scheme which shall be founded upon human reason on this side and upon spirit inspiration on the other? These phenomena have passed through the stage of being a parlor game; they are now emerging from that of a debatable scientific novelty; and they are, or should be, taking shape as the foundations of a definite system of religious thought, in some ways confirmatory of ancient systems, in some ways entirely new."

The spiritistic phenomena, Sir Arthur proceeds, are confirmatory of the old doctrines in upholding those moral laws which are common to most human systems and which are so sanctioned by reason that where reason is developed they need no further support. They are confirmatory as to life after death. They are confirmatory as to the unhappy results of sin, "tho adverse to the idea that those results are permanent." They are confirmatory as to the idea of higher beings whom we may call angels. And, finally, they are confirmatory as to the existence of a "Summer-land" or heaven. When he comes to a discussion of the points at which the new doctrine corrects or supplements the old, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says:

"These take the form of more positive teaching as to the nature of death and of the world beyond. By this teaching death makes no abrupt change in the process of development, nor does it make an impassable chasm between those who are on either side of it. No trait of the form and no peculiarity of the mind are changed by death, but all are continued in that spiritual body which is the counterpart of the earthly one at its best, and still contains within it that core of spirit which is the very essence of the man.

"Nature develops slowly, and not by enormous leaps, so that it would seem natural that the soul should not suddenly become devil or angel but should continue upon its slow growth. Such would appear to be a reasonable solution, and such is the spiritual teaching from beyond. Nor apparently are the spirit's surroundings, experiences, feelings, and even foibles very different from those of earth. A similar nature in the being would seem to imply a similar atmosphere around the being to meet the needs of that nature, all etherealized to the same degree."

It is in possibility of communication between the living and the dead that the main feature of this new teaching lies, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle takes his position with those who believe that such communication has been established. "Many ways have been devised, all imperfect," he says, "but some of them wonderfully and fitfully successful. Clairvoyance, clairaudience, the direct voice, automatic writing, spirit control — these are the various methods, all depending upon that inexplicable thing so sacred and sometimes so abused."

There are only two reasonable attitudes, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's view, that we can take toward Spiritualism. Either we must recognize that "in recent years there has come to us from divine sources a new revelation which constitutes by far the greatest religious event since the death of Christ, a revelation which alters the whole aspect of death and the fate of man"; or else we must hold that "there has been an outbreak of lunacy extending over two generations of mankind and two great continents — a lunacy which assails men and women who are otherwise eminently sane." Sir Arthur concludes:

"Between these two suppositions I can see no solid position. Theories of fraud or of delusion will not meet the evidence. It is absolute lunacy or it is a revolution in religious thought, a revolution which gives us as by-products an utter fearlessness of death and an immense consolation when those who are dear to us pass behind the veil.

"Them are many superficial inquirers to whom the ideas of a divine revelation and of such humble phenomena as Rochester rappings or moving tables seem incompatible. The greatest things have always come from the smallest seeds. The twitching leg of a frog suggested the whole development of electric science, and the rattling lid of a kettle was the father of steam, as the falling apple is said to have suggested the law of gravity. It is the simple thing that catches the eye. But the wise investigator does not dwell too much upon the first suggestions, but passes onward to consider what they have suggested and whither they have led.

"There remains the question which troubles many earnest souls as to whether such communion is right. Personally I am not aware of any human power which has been given us without our having the right under any circumstances to use it. On the other hand, I know human power which may not be abused. It is an abuse of such a power as this that it should be used in a spirit of levity or that it should be used in a spirit of mere curiosity.

"It is either an absurd farce or the most solemn and sacred of functions. But when one knows, as I know, of widows who are assured that they hear the loved voice once again, or of mothers whose hands, groping in the darkness, clasp once again those of the vanished child, and when one considers the loftiness of their intercourse and the serenity of spirit which succeeds it, I feel sure that a fuller knowledge would calm the doubt of the most scrupulous conscience. Men talk of a great religious revival after the war. Perhaps it is in this direction that it will be."