Have you ever seen a spirit? “No, not I, but my grandmother.” Now, you see, it’s just so with me too; I myself haven’t seen any, but my grandmother had them running between her feet all sorts of ways, and out of confidence in our grandmothers’ honesty we believe in the existence of spirits.
But had we no grandfathers then, and did they not shrug their shoulders every time our grandmothers told about their ghosts? Yes, those were unbelieving men who have harmed our good religion much, those rationalists! We shall feel that! What else lies at the bottom of this warm faith in ghosts, if not the faith in “the existence of spiritual beings in general,” and is not this latter itself disastrously unsettled if saucy men of the understanding may disturb the former? The Romanticists were quite conscious what a blow the very belief in God suffered by the laying aside of the belief in spirits or ghosts, and they tried to help us out of the baleful consequences not only by their reawakened fairy world, but at last, and especially, by the “intrusion of a higher world,” by their somnambulists, prophetesses of Prevorst, etc. The good believers and fathers of the church did not suspect that with the belief in ghosts the foundation of religion was withdrawn, and that since then it had been floating in the air. He who no longer believes in any ghost needs only to travel on consistently in his unbelief to see that there is no separate being at all concealed behind things, no ghost or—what is naively reckoned as synonymous even in our use of words—no “spirit.”
“Spirits exist!” Look about in the world, and say for yourself whether a spirit does not gaze upon you out of everything. Out of the lovely little flower there speaks to you the spirit of the Creator, who has shaped it so wonderfully; the stars proclaim the spirit that established their order; from the mountain-tops a spirit of sublimity breathes down; out of the waters a spirit of yearning murmurs up; and—out of men millions of spirits speak. The mountains may sink, the flowers fade, the world of stars fall in ruins, the men die—what matters the wreck of these visible bodies? The spirit, the “invisible spirit,” abides eternally!
Yes, the whole world is haunted! Only is haunted? Nay, it itself “walks,” it is uncanny through and through, it is the wandering seeming-body of a spirit, it is a spook. What else should a ghost be, then, than an apparent body, but real spirit? Well, the world is “empty,” is “naught,” is only glamorous “semblance”; its truth is the spirit alone; it is the seeming-body of a spirit.
Look out near or far, a ghostly world surrounds you everywhere; you are always having “apparitions” or visions. Everything that appears to you is only the phantasm of an indwelling spirit, is a ghostly “apparition”; the world is to you only a “world of appearances,” behind which the spirit walks. You “see spirits.”
Are you perchance thinking of comparing yourself with the ancients, who saw gods everywhere? Gods, my dear modern, are not spirits; gods do not degrade the world to a semblance, and do not spiritualize it.
But to you the whole world is spiritualized, and has become an enigmatical ghost; therefore do not wonder if you likewise find in yourself nothing but a spook. Is not your body haunted by your spirit, and is not the latter alone the true and real, the former only the “transitory, naught” or a “semblance”? Are we not all ghosts, uncanny beings that wait for “deliverance,”—to wit, “spirits”?
Since the spirit appeared in the world, since “the Word became flesh,” since then the world has been spiritualized, enchanted, a spook.
You have spirit, for you have thoughts. What are your thoughts? “Spiritual entities.” Not things, then? “No, but the spirit of things, the main point in all things, the inmost in them, their—idea.” Consequently what you think is not only your thought? “On the contrary, it is that in the world which is most real, that which is properly to be called true; it is the truth itself; if I only think truly, I think the truth. I may, to be sure, err with regard to the truth, and fail to recognize it; but, if I recognize truly, the object of my cognition is the truth.” So, I suppose, you strive at all times to recognize the truth? “To me the truth is sacred. It may well happen that I find a truth incomplete and replace it with a better, but the truth I cannot abrogate. I believe in the truth, therefore I search in it; nothing transcends it, it is eternal.”
Sacred, eternal is the truth; it is the Sacred, the Eternal. But you, who let yourself be filled and led by this sacred thing, are yourself hallowed. Further, the sacred is not for your senses,—and you never as a sensual man discover its trace,—but for your faith, or, more definitely still, for your spirit; for it itself, you know, is a spiritual thing, a spirit,—is spirit for the spirit.
The sacred is by no means so easily to be set aside as many at present affirm, who no longer take this “unsuitable” word into their mouths. If even in a single respect I am still upbraided as an “egoist,” there is left the thought of something else which I should serve more than myself, and which must be to me more important than everything; in short, somewhat in which I should have to seek my true welfare, something—”sacred.” However human this sacred thing may look, though it be the Human itself, that does not take away its sacredness, but at most changes it from an unearthly to an earthly sacred thing, from a divine one to a human.
Sacred things exist only for the egoist who does not acknowledge himself, the involuntary egoist, for him who is always looking after his own and yet does not count himself as the highest being, who serves only himself and at the same time always thinks he is serving a higher being, who knows nothing higher than himself and yet is infatuated about something higher; in short, for the egoist who would like not to be an egoist, and abases himself (i. e. combats his egoism), but at the same time abases himself only for the sake of “being exalted,” and therefore of gratifying his egoism. Because he would like to cease to be an egoist, he looks about in heaven and earth for higher beings to serve and sacrifice himself to; but, however much he shakes and disciplines himself, in the end he does all for his own sake, and the disreputable egoism will not come off him. On this account I call him the involuntary egoist.
His toil and care to get away from himself is nothing but the misunderstood impulse to self-dissolution. If you are bound to your past hour, if you must babble to-day because you babbled yesterday, if you can not transform yourself each instant, you feel yourself fettered in slavery and benumbed. Therefore over each minute of your existence a fresh minute of the future beckons to you, and, developing yourself, you get away “from yourself,”—i. e. from the self that was at that moment. As you are at each instant, you are your own creature, and in this very “creature” you do not wish to lose yourself, the creator. You are yourself a higher being than you are, and surpass yourself. But that you are the one who is higher than you,—i. e. that you are not only creature, but likewise your creator,—just this, as an involuntary egoist, you fail to recognize; and therefore the “higher essence” is to you—an alien essence. Every higher essence, such as truth, mankind, etc., is an essence over us.
Alienness is a criterion of the “sacred.” In everything sacred there lies something “uncanny,” i. e. strange, such as we are not quite familiar and at home in. What is sacred to me is not my own; and if, e. g. the property of others was not sacred to me, I should look on it as mine, which I should take to myself when occasion offered. Or, on the other side, if I regard the face of the Chinese emperor as sacred, it remains strange to my eye, which I close at its appearance.
Why is an incontrovertible mathematical truth, which might even be called eternal according to the common understanding of words, not—sacred? Because it is not revealed, or not the revelation of a higher being. If by revealed we understand only the so-called religious truths, we go far astray, and entirely fail to recognize the breadth of the concept “higher being.” Atheists keep up their scoffing at the higher being, which was also honored under the name of the “highest” or être suprême, and trample in the dust one “proof of his existence” after another without noticing that they themselves, out of need for a higher being, only annihilate the old to make room for a new. Is “Man” perchance not a higher essence than an individual man, and must not the truths, rights, and ideas which result from the concept of him be honored and—counted sacred, as revelations of this very concept? For, even though we should abrogate again many a truth that seemed to be made manifest by this concept, yet this would only evince a misunderstanding on our part, without in the least degree harming the sacred concept itself or taking their sacredness from those truths that must rightly be looked upon as its revelations. Man reaches beyond every individual man, and yet—though he be “his essence”—is not in fact his essence (which rather would be as single as he the individual himself), but a general and “higher,” yes, for atheists “the highest essence.” And, as the divine revelations were not written down by God with his own hand, but made public through “the Lord’s instruments,” so also the new highest essence does not write out its revelations itself, but lets them come to our knowledge through “true men.” Only the new essence betrays, in fact, a more spiritual style of conception than the old God, because the latter was still represented in a sort of embodiedness or form, while the undimmed spirituality of the new is retained, and no special material body is fancied for it. And withal it does not lack corporeity, which even takes on a yet more seductive appearance because it looks more natural and mundane and consists in nothing less than in every bodily man,—yes, or outright in “humanity” or “all men.” Thereby the spectralness of the spirit in a seeming-body has once again become really solid and popular.
Sacred, then, is the highest essence and everything in which this highest essence reveals or will reveal itself; but hallowed are they who recognize this highest essence together with its own, i. e. together with its revelations. The sacred hallows in turn its reverer, who by his worship becomes himself a saint, as likewise what he does is saintly, a saintly walk, saintly thoughts and actions, imaginations and aspirations, etc.
It is easily understood that the conflict over what is revered as the highest essence can be significant only so long as even the most embittered opponents concede to each other the main point,—that there is a highest essence to which worship or service is due. If one should smile compassionately at the whole struggle over a highest essence, as a Christian might at the war of words between a Shiite and a Sunnite or between a Brahman and a Buddhist, then the hypothesis of a highest essence would be null in his eyes, and the conflict on this basis an idle play. Whether then the one God or the three in one, whether the Lutheran God or the être suprême or not God at all, but “Man,” may represent the highest essence, that makes no difference at all for him who denies the highest essence itself, for in his eyes those servants of a highest essence are one and all—pious people, the most raging atheist not less than the most faith-filled Christian.
In the foremost place of the sacred, then, stands the highest essence and the faith in this essence, our “holy faith.”