IV. THE LAW OF PRESERVATION
1. INSTINCT OF SELF-PRESERVATION - 2. MEANS OF SELF-PRESERVATION - 3. ENJOYMENT OF THE FRUITS OF THE EARTH - 4. NECESSARIES AND SUPERFLUITIES - 5. VOLUNTARY PRIVATIONS - MORTIFICATIONS.
The Instinct of Self-Preservation
702. Is the instinct of self-preservation a law of nature?
"Undoubtedly so. It is given to all living creatures, whatever their degree of intelligence; in some it is purely mechanical, in others it is allied to reason."
703. To what end has God given the instinct of self-preservation to all living beings?
"They are all necessary to the working out of the providential plans; and therefore God has given them the desire to live. And besides, life is a necessary condition of the improvement of beings; they feel this instinctively, without understanding it."
Means of Self-Preservation
704. Has God, while giving to man the desire to live, always furnished him with the means of doing so?
"Yes; and if man does not always find them, it is because he does not know how to avail himself of the resources around him. God could not implant in man the love of life, without giving him the means of living; and He has accordingly endowed the earth with a capacity of production sufficient to furnish all its inhabitants with the necessities of life. It is only that which is necessary that is useful; that which is superfluous is never useful."
705. Why does not the earth always produce enough to provide mankind with the necessities of life?
"It is because man ungratefully neglects that excellent nursing-mother! Moreover, he often accuses nature of what is the result of his own unskilfulness or want of forethought. The earth would always produce the necessities of life, if men could content themselves therewith. If it does not suffice for all his wants, it is because men employ, in superfluities, what should be devoted to the supply of necessities. Look at the Arab in the desert; he always finds enough to live upon, because he does not create for himself factitious needs; but when half the products of the earth are wasted in satisfying fanciful desires, ought man to be astonished if he afterwards runs short, and has he any reason to complain if he finds himself unprovided for when a famine occurs? I repeat it; nature is not improvident, but man does not know how to regulate his use of her gifts."
706. By the term 'fruits of the earth,' should we understand merely the products of the soil?
"The soil is the original source of all other productions, which are, in reality, only a transformation of the products of the soil; for that reason, by 'fruits of the earth' are to be understood everything enjoyed by man in his corporeal life."
707. There are always persons who lack the means of existence, even in the midst of abundance. Who is to blame for this?
"In some cases, the selfishness which too often prevents men from being just to others; in other cases, and most often, themselves. Christ has said, 'Seek, and ye shall find;' but these words do not imply that you have only to cast your eyes on the ground in order to find all that you may desire, but rather that you must seek for what you want, and not indolently, but with ardour and perseverance, and without allowing yourselves to be discouraged by obstacles that are often only a means of putting your constancy, patience, and firmness to the proof." (534.)
If civilization multiplies our needs, it also multiplies our resources and our means of existence. But it must be admitted that, in this respect, much still remains to be done; for civilization will only have accomplished its task when it shall no longer be possible for any human being to lack the necessities of life, unless through his own fault. Unfortunately, too, many persons choose a path for which nature has not fitted them, and in which they necessarily fail of success. There is room in the sunshine for every one; but on condition that each takes his own place, and not that of another. Nature cannot justly be held responsible for the results of defective social organization, nor for those of personal selfishness and ambition.
There would, however, be blindness in denying the progress which has already been accomplished in this direction among the nations which are most advanced. Thanks to the efforts of philanthropy and of science for the amelioration of the material condition of mankind, and notwithstanding the constant increase of the population of the globe, the effects of insufficient production are considerably attenuated, so that the most unfavourable years are far less calamitous than formerly. Hygiene, unknown to our forefathers, yet so essential a condition of public and individual health, is the object of constant and enlightened solicitude: asylums are provided for the unfortunate and the suffering: and every new discovery of science is made to contribute its quota to the general weal. Far as we still are from having attained to the perfection of social arrangements, what is already accomplished gives the measure of what may be done with the aid of perseverance, if men are reasonable enough to seek after solid and practical improvements, instead of wasting their energies on utopian projects that put them back instead of helping them forward.
708. Are there not social positions in which the will is powerless to obtain the means of existence, and in which the privation of the barest necessities of life is a consequence of the force of circumstances?
"Yes; but such a position is a trial which, however severe, the party who is subjected to it knew, in the spirit-state, that he would have to undergo. His merit will result from his submission to the will of God, if his intelligence does not furnish him with the means of freeing himself from his troubles. If death supervenes, he should meet it without a murmur, remembering that the hour of his deliverance is approaching, and that any yielding to despair at the last moment may cause him to lose the fruit of his previous resignation."
709. In critical situations men have been reduced to devour their fellow-men, as the only means of saving themselves from starvation. Have they, in so doing, committed a crime? And if so, is their crime lessened by the fact that it has been committed under the excitement of the instinct of self-preservation?
"I have already answered this question in saying that all the trials of life should be submitted to with courage and abnegation. In the cases you refer to there is both homicide and crime against nature; a double culpability that will receive double punishment."
710. In worlds in which the corporeal organization of living beings is of a purer nature than in the earth, do these need food?
"Yes; but their food is in keeping with their nature. Their aliments would not be substantial enough for your gross stomachs and, on the other hand, those beings could not digest your heavier food."
Enjoyments of the Fruits of the Earth
711. Have all men a right to benefit from the products of the earth?
"That right is a consequence of the necessity of living. God cannot have imposed a duty without having given the means of discharging it."
712. Why has God attached an attraction to the enjoyment of material things?
"In order, first, to excite man to the accomplishment of his mission, and next, to try him by temptation."
-- What is the aim of temptation?
"To develop his reason, that it may preserve him from excesses."
If man had only been urged to the using of the things of the earthly life by a conviction of their utility, his indifference to them might have compromised the harmony of the universe. God has therefore given him the pleasurable attractions that solicit him to the accomplishing of the views of Providence. But God has also willed, through this attraction, to try man by temptations that incite him to abuses against which his reason should protect him.
713. Has nature marked out the proper limits of corporeal satisfactions?
"Yes, limits that coincide with your needs and your well-being. When you overstep them, you bring on satiety, and thus punish yourselves."
714. What is to be thought of the man who seeks to enhance corporeal enjoyments by inventing artificial excesses?
"Think of him as a poor wretch who is to be pitied rather than envied, for he is very near death."
-- Do you mean to physical death, or to moral death?
The man who, in pursuit of corporeal satisfactions, seeks an enhancement of those satisfactions in any kind of excess, places himself below the level of the brute, for the brute goes no farther than the satisfaction of a need. He abdicates the reason given to him by God for his guidance: and the greater his excesses, the more dominion does he give to his animal nature over his spiritual nature. The maladies and infirmities, often occasioning death, that are the consequences of excess in the satisfaction of any corporeal attraction, are also punishments for thus transgressing the law of God.
Necessaries and Superfluities
715. How can men know the limit of what is necessary?
"Wise men know it by intuition; others learn it through experience, and to their cost."
716. Has not nature traced out the limit of our needs in the requirements of our organization?
"Yes, but man is insatiable. Nature has indicated the limits of his needs by his organization; but his vices have deteriorated his constitution, and created for him wants that are not real needs."
717. What is to be thought of those who monopolize the productions of the earth, in order to procure for themselves superfluities, at the expense of others who lack the necessities of life?
"They forget the law of God, and will have to answer for the privations they have caused others to endure."
There is no absolute boundary-line between the necessary and the superfluous. Civilization has created necessities that do not exist for the savage and the spirits who have dictated the foregoing precepts do not mean to assert that civilized men should live like the savage. All things are relative; and the function of reason is to determine the part to be allotted to each. Civilization develops the moral sense, and, at the same time, the sentiment of charity, which leads men to give to each other mutual support. Those who live at the expense of other men's privations monopolize the benefits of civilization for their own profit they have only the varnish of civilization, as others have only the mask of religion.
718. Does the law of self-preservation make it our duty to provide for our bodily wants?
"Yes; without physical health and strength, labour is impossible."
719. Is it blamable in a man to seek after the comforts and enjoyments of corporeal life?
"The desire of corporeal well-being is natural to man. God only prohibits excess, because excess is inimical to preservation; He has not made it a crime to seek after enjoyment, if that enjoyment be not acquired at another's expense, and if it be not of a nature to weaken either your moral or your physical strength."
720. Are voluntary privations, in view of a voluntary expiation, meritorious in the sight of God?
"Do good to others, and you will thereby acquire more merit than is to be acquired by any self-imposed privations."
-- Is any voluntary privation meritorious?
"Yes; the self-privation of useless indulgences, because it loosens man's hold on matter, and elevates his soul. What is meritorious is resistance to the temptation that solicits to excess or to indulgence in what is useless; it is the cutting down even of your necessities, that you may have more to give to those who are in want. If your privations are only a vain pretence, they are a mere mockery."
721. At every period in the past, and among all peoples, there have been men who have lived a life of ascetic mortification; is such a life meritorious from any point of view?
"Ask yourselves to whom such a life is useful, and you will have the reply to your question. If such a life is only for him who leads it, and if it prevents him from doing good to others, it is only a form of selfishness, whatever the pretext with which it is coloured. True mortification, according to the dictates of Christian charity, is to impose privation and labour upon yourselves for the good of others."
722. Is there any foundation in reason for the abstinence from certain aliments practiced among various peoples?
"Whatever man can eat without injury to his health is permitted to him. Legislators may have prohibited certain aliments for some useful end, and, in order to give greater weight to their prohibitions, have represented them as emanating from God."
723. Is the use of animal food by man contrary to the law of nature?
"With your physical constitution, flesh is useful for nourishing flesh; without this kind of sustenance man's strength declines. The law of preservation makes it a duty for man to keep up his health and strength, that he may fulfil the law of labour. He should therefore feed himself according to the requirements of his organization."
724. Is there any merit in abstinence from any particular kind of food, animal or other, when undergone as an expiation?
"Yes, if undergone for the sake of others; but God cannot regard as meritorious any abstinence that does not impose a real privation, and that has not a serious and useful aim. This is why we say that those whose fasting is only apparent are hypocrites." (See 720.)
725. What is to be thought of the mutilation of the bodies of men or of animals?
"What is the use of asking such a question? Ask yourselves, once for all, whether a thing is or is not useful. What is useless cannot be pleasing to God, and what is hurtful is always displeasing to Him. Be very sure that God is only pleased with the sentiments that raise the soul towards Him. It is by practicing His law, and not by violating it, that you can shake off your terrestrial matter."
726. If the sufferings of this world elevate us through the manner in which we bear them, are we elevated by those which we voluntarily create for ourselves?
"The only sufferings that can elevate you are those which come upon you naturally, because they are inflicted by God. Voluntary sufferings count for nothing when they are not useful to others. Do you suppose that those who shorten their lives by superhuman hardships, like the bonzes, fakirs, and fanatics of various sects, advance their progress thereby? Why do they not rather labour for the good of their fellow-creatures? Let them clothe the naked; let them comfort those who mourn; let them work for the infirm; let them impose privations upon themselves for the sake of the unfortunate and the needy; and their life will be useful, and pleasing to God. When your voluntary sufferings are undergone only for yourselves, they are mere selfishness; when you suffer for others, you obey the law of charity. Such are the precepts of Christ."
727. If we ought not to create for ourselves voluntary sufferings that are of no use to others, ought we to endeavour to ward off from ourselves those which we foresee, or with which we are threatened?
"The instinct of self-preservation has been given to all beings to guard them against dangers and sufferings. Flagellate your spirit, and not your body; mortify your pride; stifle the selfishness that eats into the heart like a devouring worm; and you will do more for your advancement than you could do by any amount of macerations out of keeping with the age in which you are living."