A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together

A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification (D. H. Lawrence).

I found this great quote in the science fiction novel “Outies” by Jennifer R. Pournelle, a sequel to The Mote in God’s Eye and The Gripping Hand. (I will write a review). I was inspired to do some research.

The quote is in “The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Vol. 1,” edited by James T. Boulton, letter to Reverend Robert Reid of December 3, 1907.

David Herbert Lawrence was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter. He confronted issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, and instinct, and is best known as the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. At the time of his death, his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents. Of course, the “pornography” in his works is very mild by today’s standards. Lawrence was a free thinker in a bigot society, and he is now valued by many as a visionary thinker and significant representative of modernism in English literature.

In the same letter, Lawrence writes:

“I contend that true Socialism is religion; that honest, fervent politics are religion; that whatever a man will labour for earnestly and in some measure unselfishly is religion.”

This is similar to William James‘ “strenuous mood” which, as Lincoln Cannon noted in his opening presentation at the 2013 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, is very closely related to religion: “Most of us have regarded religion too narrowly, and much that’s supposed to be secular actually functions as religion. For example, some claim inspiration from science or ethics. Awe fills us as we contemplate the vastness of space or the voice of the people. Yet the inspiration is not merely in the reductionist implications of science or the procedural adjudications of ethics. Rather esthetics are woven through them, tying them together in meaning, and that’s why we care about science or ethics. Esthetics shape and move us, and at their strongest, they provoke us as a community to a strenuous mood. When they do that, they function as religion, not necessarily in any narrow sense, but esthetics that provoke a communal strenuous mood are always religion from a post-secular vantage point.”

Lawrence seems to reject Theism in favor of Deism:

“Cosmic harmony there is — a Cosmic God I can therefore believe in. But where is the human harmony, where the balance, the order, the ‘indestructibility of matter’ in humanity? And where is the personal, human God? Men — some — seem to be born and ruthlessly destroyed; the bacteria are created and nurtured on Man, to his horrible suffering. Oh, for a God-idea I must have harmony — unity of design. Such design there may be for the race — but for the individual, the often wretched individual?”

He says that he yearns for a “spiritual conversion,” but is unable to believe in traditional Christianity because of the Problem of Evil.

Many people are able to embrace without doubt, and draw hope and happiness from, the “religion-in-pills” received from their family, community, and church. But some deeply religious persons are unable to embrace anything without doubt. For them, religion is a quest, often slow and painful as Lawrence says. They always seek but never find clarity, understanding, purpose, meaning, hope, and happiness, and walk uphill in the wind all their life.

My own religious quest is based on the Cosmist idea, described by many thinkers including Nikolai Fedorov, Hans Moravec and Frank Tipler, that future generations and/or alien civilizations may develop technologies to resurrect the dead and build/become God(s). Perhaps these future and/or far away Gods are able, via space-time magic technologies that we are unable to imagine at this moment, to intervene in our world in subtle ways. A related idea is that our reality may be a “simulation” computed by entities in a higher-level reality, who may choose to copy those who die in our reality to another reality. Contemplating these possibilities, described in my essay “Transcendent Engineering in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, is my way to cope with the heartache of life,  and continue my quest.

In this framework, I analyzed the Problem of Evil in my talk at the 2013 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. At the end of the talk, I briefly discussed the tension between Theism and Deism, and the apparent disinterest of a Cosmic God for “the individual, the often wretched individual.”


  • Alan Brooks

    “[S]lowly and painfully” is correct: always, not often. Spock the Vulcan lived by logic; individuals and families stumble through, “adding… shaping… and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.”

    In the abstract it might appear such does not have to be slow, painful, yet in reality it does.

    “Of course, the ‘pornography’ in his works is very mild by today’s standards.”

    Today Disney Productions could make a film of ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ and rate it PG.

  • Alan Brooks

    … here’s a laugh:
    most yahoos confuse DH Lawrence with Lawrence of Arabia: TE Lawrence.