Under the Southern Cross
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
When one desires to put forward a great new line of thought which runs contrary to preconceived scientific opinions, and which offends the religious prejudices of the narrower professors of religion, it is natural that one should turn one's attention to those portions of the world which have been newly settled in the hope that a freer atmosphere may pervade them. No doubt it was this consideration which induced Mrs. Hardinge Britten, the greatest and most whole-hearted of all the early pioneers id psychic religion to travel to Australia and New Zealand, and to remain some time dropping seeds which bore a good harvest. It was the same thought which led me to follow in her traces. Australia is liable to be neglected, since I here are not enough large towns to recompense a lecturer who is faced with certain heavy expenses and very uncertain profits. It is therefore the more necessary that when it is practicable it should be visited by those who can lay before it the most recent discoveries and developments in this, the most important subject which the mind of man can ever be asked to examine.
I have given my own experiences in my "Wanderings of a Spiritualist" and certainly I have never regretted the eight months which I and my family devoted to this quest.
The country varied much in its receptivity, but the same can be said of Great Britain. In Sidney I found the eager mentality of a great commercial centre, exactly as I find it in Glasgow. In Melbourne I found a conservative spirit which had its own virtues but was not conducive to the consideration of a new intellectual problem involving a reassessment of values. The Cathedral Cities of England are the nearest analogy to this attitude. Between these two extremes, there as here, one finds every variety of spiritual activity or inertness. What I regretted most was my inability to visit those numerous small centres where a few devoted men and women sorely needed some help in their efforts to keep a little light burning in the darkness. I could only hope that indirectly the press discussions which were raised by my lectures and the long reports of them would be of some assistance to them.
One who engages in this work is most amazed to find the strange variety and incongruity of the opponents with whom he is faced — alike only in their bitterness and too often in their reckless disregard of truth. Possibly the trio who face him in the local press will be a leading Freethinker, who proclaims that there is no life after death, a Jesuit who declares that what happens at seances is very important but diabolical, and a Conjurer who is ready to prove that nothing ever happens at all. They never pause to glance at the absurd contradiction involved in such opinions, but they are all, from mutually destructive reasons, convinced that they can show your fallacies to the public.
The Conjurer is as often as not an ignorant self-adventurer, and the Freethinker's position is natural enough for we are proving that the whole fabric of his philosophy is reared upon sand. But the most noisy and surely the most absurd of any is the view of the cleric, whether he be Jesuit or Protestant evangelical, and for once these two parties have met in most unholy alliance against truth. For consider the position — We live in a world which is devoted to materialism and where every religion is prepared to accept the general position that materialism and disbelief in the essentials of religion are the greatest evils. Yet we come along with an undertaking to prove these essentials which arc that one survives death and that one's fate is determined for a time at least by one's conduct while in life. That is the vital basis of every creed and that is what the materialist the agnostic or the atheist denies. One would think that the hard-pressed orthodox Christian, who cannot possibly meet his opponent in argument, but is bound simply to cry out to Faith to cover him, would rush to welcome such an ally. And yet he opposes it! Why? I confess that I never could understand. It is pure ignorance as a rule of what it is that we preach. He has never worried to enquire. He talks about the Witch of Endor in utter disregard of the fact that the well-instructed Spiritualist is as averse from fortune-telling as any purist could be, though he does not deny its possibility. These Christian opponents make out a case which is partly the quotation of texts (usually garbled) — partly ignorance, and partly, I fear, deliberate lying, and it is with this flimsy barrier that they try to prevent God's truth from entering the world. What strikes me most is their utter want of any sense of responsibility. Do they not realise that for every act we have to answer and that there will scone day be a very close reckoning for all this mental dishonesty which ridicules mediumship one moment, and sanctifies Joan d'Arc at another. Meanwhile we can but go on our way and pick at all obstacles until the road is clear.
I was fortunate indeed to get Mr. Horace Leaf to follow on my trail. I knew him as an able exponent of the subject with a thorough intellectual grasp of every aspect of it, and a pleasing platform manner and delivery. But above all this he has, what I lacked, those personal psychic powers which would enable him to give actual demonstration. These, as his narrative shows, he used with effect upon his missionary journey and its success depended no doubt to some extent upon them. He will find plenty of work awaiting him at home, for Britain is still very dark, although it is certain that the light is slowly but surely spreading. What is most wanted now is to get above the physical phenomena, which are mere stepping stones leading to the truth, and to devote our time and energy to spreading the enormously comforting news which those who have left us bring back to us, and which forms a philosophy so complete and so well-attested by hundreds of independent witnesses that the time is coming, I think, when the phenomena can be set aside and we can base our whole case upon the glorious revelation with its own intrinsic signs of truth. That is the work which now awaits Mr. Horace Leaf and every other toiler in God's vineyard.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.