Open Court - 2

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy

Open Court Publishing Company published affordable copies of the classics of philosophy, along with original scholarly books in philosophy, science and religion.  Some of which were vague presentations of newfangled ideas.  One of the newfangled ideas was Pragmatism, which reconciled logic as a system of symbols.  In other words, logic was not a rational system of correct reasoning based on cause and effect.  Rather it was symbolic, that is, correct reasoning is inferred from signs or symbols.  Which means that, like a disease in the human body, logic can only be diagnosed by means of symptoms.  Thus, understanding the symbols of logic is not intuitive, but very businesslike – the systematic recognition of known facts.

Pragmatism was the offspring of Charles Sanders Pierce.

And if you recall, I discussed Charles Sanders Pierce’s rather dismal life when I wrote about Margery Williams and the Velveteen Rabbit.  Pierce was a prime example of someone who is Unreal, someone who lives according to the logical and practical, someone who is, in a word, boring – beyond belief.  Carus was intrigued by Pierce’s scientific philosophy and published a number of Pierce’s articles.   

The articles appeared in his publishing company’s two magazines, The Open Court and The Monist.  Carus was the chief editor of both. 

Carus was not, though, a nutcase.  He was a true liberal in the full, energetic etymology of the word.  Fascinated by anything new and unparalleled, anything not chained by blind conviction, he carried on voluminous correspondence with some of the finest intellects of his day:  John Dewey, Ernst Haeckel, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Edison, Ernst Mach, Elizabeth Stanton, Nichola Tesla, and Booker T. Washington.

He was eclectic and searching for the truth at all times.  To Carus, truth and theology could not be separated.  Therefore he called himself a theologian, for the truth was in God and God was the truth.  Which means he was the first ecumenical and, probably, the first comparative religionist.  He tried to reconcile science with religion, and was one of the early proponents of Buddhism.  Yet Carus never committed himself to Buddhism, and never called himself a Buddhist.  Rather, he called himself a member of the Religion of Science, from which he eventually anticipated a universal cosmic religion to bloom. 

Carus rejected any type of dualism:  good and evil, body and mind, spiritual and material, body and soul, natural and supernatural.  He believed any such separation ignored the underlying ‘oneness’ of all things.  A oneness which he called Monism, which was nothing more than a new name for pantheism, which is the belief that God is not a person, but a life-force, even a ‘science,’ that flows through everything.  In other words, God is everything and everything is God.

And since there is no personal God, then the concept of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God was, according to Carus, untenable.  Carus did, however, recognize Jesus as a redeemer, but also allowed for other redeemers in other religions.  There was no single, exclusive redeemer.  This belief, of course, fits well with the tenets of pantheism and even contemporary New Age philosophy.

For Carus, science was the truth that flowed through all things – god.  Thus science was the revelation of truth to humankind.  And only by understanding this revelation would the truth be known.

In my opinion, Carus’s Religion of Science has many inherent flaws, the biggest of which is this:  theology has never been a scientific or philosophical issue.  In effect, Paul Carus attempted to walk down the middle path, the path between religion and philosophy.  So he married the two ideas:  he made a religion of science, with himself – as the representative of mankind – as the fulcrum, the one who must know.  Which is nothing more than Gnosticism.  Those who know are the enlightened ones (illumination, illuminati), and they in turn must bring enlightenment to everyone else. 

Carus, then, was a new kind of priest.  Only in his case, he did not minister or mediate between God and man, but between science – the god that flows through everthing – and man.

Or, try it this way:  Carus’s religion was buffet-style religion.  You slide your tray along the buffet, picking and choosing from the selections.  You take only what pleases you, what tempts your palate.  Anything you don’t like, you pass by.

I own and have read two of Paul Carus’ books:  The History of the Devil, and Venus:  An Archeological Study of Woman.  The first is an historical overview of the idea of the devil, also called Satan.  Erudite while simultaneously readable, it succeeds as history only if I accept the premise that the devil is a human invention, and does not really exist as the personification of evil.  Evil, according to Carus, is merely the result of failing to understand science – the revelation of truth.

Venus, the second book, is a study of Aphrodite and how her mythology has influenced mankind’s ideas of woman.  Basically, the book explains how Aphrodite is the conceptual fullness of god – science – as it flows through and out of females.  Simply put, it is a defense of Monism as presented by Carus. 

It’s a wonderful book, especially from the standpoint of archeology.  In all honesty, though, I must admit I never understood what he was saying about the ‘oneness’ of everything.  It went right by me.  

Paul Carus was like the young Prince in the Princess and the Pea.  Once he had grown up intellectually, “it was time for him to marry” God.  In the fairy tale, the Prince told the king and the queen, “And she must be a real princess.”  In Carus’s case it must be the real God.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote:  “But there were no princesses in the land where he lived, so the king and queen arranged for the prince to travel to strange and distant lands to find a bride.”

Likewise, Carus traveled intellectually to strange and distant philosophies, trying to find a bride. 

At the end of his travels, the Prince in the fairy tale came home “from his travels, weary, sad and lonely.”  “I will just have to remain a bachelor,” he told the king and the queen.”

So, too, did Carus.  In the whole world there was no real religion, thus no real God.    Paul Carus did what he had to do.  He created his own religion.  He called it Monism.

In the fairy tale, the Princess arrived unexpectedly at the castle, wet and rumpled.  After being tested, she proved to be a real Princess.

Carus strayed from the fairy tale.  He didn’t wait for God to arrive.  He invented his own, like a poor man’s version of Dr. Frankenstein.  Carus’s god was a god that he made.  Which, in effect, was no god at all.