If I were a Preacher

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If I were a Preacher is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Glasgow Herald on 7 january 1929.

If I were a Preacher

The Glasgow Herald (7 january 1929, p. 10)
The Glasgow Herald (7 january 1929, p. 12)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on Spiritualism



To-day's article of the series under the title "If I were a Preacher" is contributed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who expounds the philosophy of Spiritualism.

Sir Arthur regards the "psychic revelation" as perhaps the most important event of any on the plane of religious knowledge, holding that through it we can break down the barrier of death. He visualises an etheric heaven where friends are reunited and the dead of this world survive in, as a rule, "a far higher state of society."

In Sir Arthur's opinion Spiritualist teaching does not in any way touch upon the ethics of Christ. The teaching is that belief and faith are small matters beside character and behaviour, that it is these latter which determine the place of the soul in the beyond.

The series will be completed to-morrow with a contribution by Miss Sheila Kaye-Smith, the eminent novelist.




It is indeed a privilege to be allowed to speak in this hallowed Fane, which in so associated with the aspirations, the triumphs, and the sorrows of our British people. I believe that I can best show nay appreciation of the honour by giving forth that which believe to be true, and which I am assured represents the religious knowledge of the future, even if for the moment it should be unpopular or misunderstood.

Religion cannot always stand still, or be referred enternally to documents thousands of years old, many of which are far below our modern standards of intelligence and morality. God still yearns over the world which He has created, and He still from time to time, as it is ready to receive it transmits to it by this or that chosen and inspired messenger fresh knowledge by which man may know something of his destiny.

I believe, that within the last eighty years a flood of such knowledge has been conveyed to us, and that we have been extraordinarily blind as to its validity and its overwhelming importance. So convinced am I of the vital nature of this psychic knowledge that I have been gradually forced to the conclusion that it is the most important event which has occurred in the world since that raising of ethical standards which we associate with the revered name of Jesus of Nazareth, and that on the plane of religious knowledge, as apart from ethics, it is actually the most important event of any.

Breaking the Barrier of Death

For consider what it means if it be true. We claim that we can break through the barrier of death, that those who have lived in this world have not changed either their forms or their characters, but only their vibrations, so that instead of manifesting through the flesh body which is a loss and slow vibration, they live now in an etheric body, which is on a high and fast vibration, and therefore invisible to our ordinary mortal eyes, exactly as many things in our daily life fail to impress our senses because they are on too fast a vibration. Colours beyond the spectrum and notes above our compass are examples of what I mean.

These etheric bodies do not, as we learn, live in a vacuum or in any indefinite state, but they pass from this earth into a more complex, but as a rule a far higher society, in which they have definite duties and congenial work in which they have every chance of developing to the full their own natural powers, as well at of enjoying those things which give them natural pleasure. We learn also that the bond of sympathy and affection is the one permanent thing which regulates the reuniting or the sundering of those who have been in contact with each other down here, and that happy reassembled households are usual there, with all elements of discord removed.

If this was all that we brought to mankind what a gigantic step forward — what an enormous advance of knowledge would it represent. It is the unknown nature of death and its severance of all our ties which cast a shadow upon our lives. But if we know that all is natural, that there is nothing to fear, and that our love ties are not broken, then what a load is lifted.

High Angels

The apathy and ignorance concerning this spiritual knowledge which is shown among many of the leaders of religion is as discreditable as it is hard to understand. It is fatal for the Churches which turn away from that spiritual help and inspiration which God's new revelation brings with it. Where does that spiritual help come in? It comes in from the fact that we can use our new powers not only to get into touch with our own loved ones, who may perhaps be on no higher a level of character and knowledge than we are ourselves, but also, when we are worthy, we get clear messages from these who are in a far more spiritual condition than ourselves, and are indeed, what under the old dispensation would be called high angels.

From these direct communications a flood of spiritual knowledge has come into the world, all of it, as it seems to us, of a beautiful and rational nature. We do not accept such statement blindly. We are not fanatics or visionaries. We weigh the messages with our own God-given reason, and we admit the fact that the medium-through whom the message passes may well colour it with his awn personality and beliefs, But none the less, making every allowance for this, the messages are so consistent and on so high a level that they have, as it seems to us, as good a claim to be a divine inspiration as any thing which has ever reached the world in the past.

We have many reasons for thinking that this flood of information is truly supernormal. The first is that it has been accompanied by a vast body of signs which have been clearly supernormal. Much of this evidence has been physical, consisting of those phenomena which have been tested and confirmed by tens of thousands of hard-headed observers, including many notable men of science.

Supernatural Philosophy

Much of the evidence, too, comes from mental phenomena, independent of the darkness of the seance room, when great numbers of credible witnesses attest that they have come in contact with Intelligences which have been able to give them complete tests that they are indeed the souls of those whom they had known and who have left this sphere.

This is one reason for regarding our philosophy as supernatural. The second is that the explanation of the true scheme of the universe has come from a vast number of independent sources, many of which could by no means have been influenced by the others, and that, with some small exceptions, there is a truly remarkable agreement running through them. These messages have come from children, from uneducated people, from all sorts of sources, including, in one case for which I can answer, a confirmed sceptic who was made an involuntary instrument for writing down the truth.

But the final argument for the truth of our new revelation is that it is the most natural, reasonable, and comforting interpretation of the facts of human life and destiny which has ever been put forward. It is huge, sweeping, all explaining, reaching out to all our difficulties and giving adequate answers.

Whence, then, did it come? Is it to be imagined that the little group of uneducated people who received the first inspirations were themselves the inventors of this great, sweeping explanation of the universe? Is it to be thought that a man like Jackson Davis, who was perhaps the recipient of as much of the new knowledge ten anyone, was the inventor of this knowledge — he being a man who was entirely illiterate at the time? Such ideas are absurd. If the philosophy did not come from external supernatural prompting then whence did it come?

What Is Gained

Now let us look a little more carefully at what it is that we have gained. I have already alluded to the fact that our natural fear of death is removed. We learn from those who have been down the path before us that, though the illness which leads to death may be a severe trial, death itself is a sweet and pleasant langour, akin to that of the tired body dropping to sleep, and that it is made the easier in that the etheric eyes become clearer, while the bodily ones fade, and that we are aware of the smiling faces, and of the out-stretched hands of those whom we would most love to see again.

But here for a moment we must distinguish. Who are these kindly souls who meet the quivering spirit at the moment when it most needs help and guidance? All agree that they are those who love us. But if we have not won love how can they be there? Who is there to meet the cruel man, the selfish man, the man who has lived for himself alone? For such people it is a bleak and lonely moment, for they have begun to reap the harvest which they have sown. I will revert presently to what we know of the sad fate of such undeveloped souls, who are not the lowly of earth, but very often those of the greatest wealth and of the highest intelligence, who have not used that wealth and intelligence for God's purposes, or have perhaps allowed their brains to grow at the expense of their hearts. I will for the moment follow the fortunes of what I may call the average kindly man or woman, when released into their etheric life.

We are told that things follow each other in a very natural sequence. For a short period he is congratulated and reassured by the friends around him, and it is during that short time that his thoughts flash back often to those that he has left, and that he can, as so often happens, make some sort of telepathic impression upon their minds. These visions at the time of or just after death make quite a literature of their own, so that to that extent we corroborate from this side what they tell us from their own experience. Then for a time there is rest.

The New Life

This rest would appear to be of a longer or shorter duration according to the need of the individual. When it is over he finds the same kind guardians by his side, who will introduce him to the glories and the duties of the new world which await

I have already spoken of the natural and, if I may use the word, homely nature of this new life. To us the spirit body and its surroundings may appear to be vaporous, unsubstantial things. But that is a misconception. If people who lived in a world of lead looked upon our world it would seem to be light and vaporous. It all depends upon the comparison between the body and its surroundings. If these are all to scale, then the spirit body finds the world around it just as real and solid as we do ours. When this is realised all our difficulties about the shadowy ghost disappear. You get a false standard if you compare the things of one sphere with those of another. You must judge their condition by their own environment.

We have now got to the stage where the freed spirit goes forth into his new life. It is inconceivably beautiful in externals, and the soul is happy with such a deep satisfying happiness as this world cannot give. He is with those he loves, and all jarring elements have been removed. His home has been prepared for him by the loving hands of those who preceded him. It is just as he would like it to be. His own tastes have in all matters been consulted. He finds flowers and gardens, woods and streams, all illuminated by a golden radiance.

Elysian Fields

Soon he is offered a choice of duties, so that he may use his natural powers in the best way. There, as here, facilities are provided for the work in hand, libraries for the scholar, laboratories for the man of science, temples, lecture-rooms, centres for dramatic, artistic, and musical education. All these matters are pushed, they declare, far further than with us — indeed, our own developments are merely reflections from above.

For the children we read of delightful playing fields, simple, innocent pleasures, education under the most charming conditions. A mother will mourn the physical absence of her dead child, but when she knows what we can tell her the tears will be dried and the heart uplifted as she realises all that the child has gained and all that it has been spared.

The religious sense is awakened and stimulated by the glories which surround the new-born soul. His love and adoration increase when it is understood how infinitely kind the Creator has been, and when the riddle of life's apparent injustices and cruelties has been partially solved.

Such is the picture of the other life which we have received from the other side — in its most favourable aspect. Is there anything unnatural in it? Is it, on the face of it, improbable? All evolution is gradual, and we can well understand that the soul cannot at once be altered by its disengagement from the body. It carries with it the same tastes and aspirations, and it is reasonable, therefore, to suppose that the means of gratifying them is there.

Growing Through the Ages

Do not suppose that this serni-material heaven is a final one. Nothing is final. We grow and grow through the ages. But at least it is the next step, and it is no happy a step that we may well be satisfied, even if other glories await us beyond. It is the fulfilment of God's promises and the justification of all His dealings with the human race.

So much for the fate of the deserving people, who are really the vast majority of the human race. All this talk of our being naturally wicked and always plunged in sin is perfect nonsense. When one has subtracted all the sin I which is due to circumstances, to environment, to heredity, the balance is not no very serious. Most people make a brave, good fight amid all the disabilities which have to be faced.

But we cannot deny the existence of evil — of real evil which is within our own control. There is selfishness that is the root of nearly all flaws of character. There is cruelty, and nothing brings such retribution as that. Physical cruelty may be rare, but mental cruelty — the cruelty of the bitter speech, of the ill-natured gossip — is very common. When beyond all this there is the brutish mind, the mind which has no spirituality in it, the mind which has been entirely engrossed in the things of this world. There are the various types which suffer in the beyond.

We must make a distinction as to the form of suffering. There is the person who is tied to earth by his earthly interests. He is like an aeroplane which is too heavy to rise into the air. It lingers upon or near the surface of that world towards which its mind is turned. All whose thoughts have been utterly engrossed by the world are to be found there, many of them unable to realise that they are dead. At our rescue circles they ridicule the idea that they are dead. For centuries they may remain as in some vague nightmare. Then at last realisation comes, and that is the beginning of regeneration.

Dreary Thoughts and Places

Then apart from the earthbound, we have those who have passed on into true spirit life, but who are conscious of their own shortcomings upon earth. These are heavy-hearted at the thought of their own failure, and their condition seems to correspond with their mental and spiritual state, so that they are for the time in dim and cloudy places dreary surroundings match the dreary thoughts within. There they must linger until sooner or later their own conscience or some ministering angel comes to give them that upward help which is the beginning of their regeneration. It would seem to be a sad state while it lasts, but only by sorrow and pain does chastening and amendment come, as we may see so often in our ordinary human life.

How does each teaching react upon Christianity? It does not in any way touch upon the ethics of Christ. I have, if I may for a moment be personal, had more beautiful messages about the teaching and personality of Christ from my own guide Pheneas than I have ever had or heard of from any source. But there is nothing narrow in such messages. Always the teaching is that belief and faith are small matters beside character and behaviour, that it is these latter which determine the place of the soul in the beyond. Every faith, Christian or non-Christian, has its saints and its sinners, and if a man be kindly and gentle there is no fear for him in the beyond whether he is or is not the member of any recognised Church on earth.

Those well-meaning folk in the Christian Churches who shrink away from this new knowledge because it is new must remember that there is outside their Churches a vast assembly of men in every country, often as earnest as themselves, who have been so abashed by the degenerate religion which they see around them that they lost all belief either in a God or in the survival after death. It is to these people that spiritualism has often come as a light is the darkness. They have longed for some firm spot of ground in the quagmire of the faiths, where every creed had its own interpretations, and they have found that firm spot — the only one which my foot has ever found — in the philosophy of spiritualism.


Articles in the "If I Were a Preacher" series have appeared daily since Monday, December 31, the contributors being Mr G. K. Chesterton, Mr John Drinkwater, Sir Philip Gibbs, Lord Hugh Cecil, Mr Bertrand Russell, and Professor J. Arthur Thomson in the order named.