By exercise of its faculties the spirit grows, just as a muscle grows strong thru continued use. Expression is necessary. Life is expression, and repression is stagnation–death.
Yet, there can be right and wrong expression. If a man permits his life to run riot and only the animal side of his nature is allowed to express itself, he is repressing his highest and best, and the qualities not used atrophy and die.
Men are punished by their sins, not for them. Sensuality, gluttony, and the life of license repress the life of the spirit, and the soul never blossoms; and this is what it is to lose one’s soul. All adown the centuries thinking men have noted these truths, and again and again we find individuals forsaking in horror the life of the senses and devoting themselves to the life of the spirit. This question of expression through the spirit, or through the senses–through soul or body–has been the pivotal point of all philosophy and the inspiration of all religion.
Every religion is made up of two elements that never mix any more than oil and water mix. A religion is a mechanical mixture, not a chemical combination, of morality and dogma. Dogma is the science of the unseen: the doctrine of the unknown and unknowable. And in order to give this science plausibility, its promulgators have always fastened upon it morality. Morality can and does exist entirely separate and apart from dogma, but dogma is ever a parasite on morality, and the business of the priest is to confuse the two.
But morality and religion never saponify. Morality is simply the question of expressing your life forces–how to use them? You have so much energy; and what will you do with it? And from out the multitude there have always been men to step forward and give you advice for a consideration. Without their supposed influence with the unseen we might not accept their interpretation of what is right and wrong. But with the assurance that their advice is backed up by Deity, followed with an offer of reward if we believe it, and a threat of dire punishment if we do not, the Self-appointed Superior Class has driven men wheresoever it willed. The evolution of formal religions is not a complex process, and the fact that they embody these two unmixable things, dogma and morality, is a very plain and simple truth, easily seen, undisputed by all reasonable men. And be it said that the morality of most religions is good. Love, truth, charity, justice and gentleness are taught in them all. But, like a rule in Greek grammar, there are many exceptions. And so in the morality of religions there are exceptional instances that constantly arise where love, truth, charity, gentleness and justice are waived on suggestion of the Superior Class, that good may follow. Were it not for these exceptions there would be no wars between Christian nations.
The question of how to express your life will probably never down, for the reason that men vary in temperament and inclination. Some men have no capacity for certain sins of the flesh; others there be, who, having lost their inclination for sensuality through too much indulgence, turn ascetics. Yet all sermons have but one theme: how shall life be expressed? Between asceticism and indulgence men and races swing.
Asceticism in our day finds an interesting manifestation in the Trappists, who live on a mountain top, nearly inaccessible, and deprive themselves of almost every vestige of bodily comfort, going without food for days, wearing uncomfortable garments, suffering severe cold; and should one of this community look upon the face of a woman he would think he was in instant danger of damnation. So here we find the extreme instance of men repressing the faculties of the body in order that the spirit may find ample time and opportunity for exercise.