Douglas' "Magnificent Obsession" has a very interesting central thought. The author has made an unique attempt to solve the ever present riddle of placing religion on a rational basis. His hero in this otherwise charming but improbable romance is a scientist--an unchurched one. But he, like all mortals whose professions involve service to fellow men, discovered the need for spiritual energy to drive him to new accomplishments, and to overcome discouragement. He took his cue from an undisclosed passage of the New Testament. This became the guiding principle of his successful life. In effect, his rule was: whenever he felt his spiritual energies flagging--that is, his confident determination to succeed--he deliberately went out of his way to do a personal service for a less fortunate human; he insisted that his beneficiary should never reveal the deed, because all the good it would afford the giver would be ruined by doing so; and he would closet himself in contemplation to receive the gift of inspiration. This method of getting in tune by projecting ones personality is opposed to self-indulgence, and the other common escape mechanisms. I mention this to call your attention to a good book, in case you have not read it.
All of which makes me wonder why there is a peculiar halo around the head of the scientist. Most people throw up their hands at the mention of the word, and profess they know nothing about science. As a matter of fact they do know a lot about it, and merely do not have their definitions straight. There is no mystery about science, in spite of test tubes and gadgets. The scientist is merely a chap who is trying to find out what has been going on in the world since the year one. If you have learned how many teaspoon-fuls of sugar you like in your coffee, you are a scientist. Yes, it is as simple as all that. Science is classified knowledge. And the way to get at knowledge to classify it is to observe some phenomenon (such as the sweetness of coffee), to make a guess (say one spoonful), and to test the result (not quite enough). Every housewife is a scientist. I shall never forget our old astronomy professor banging his desk with his fist, keeping time with his sing-song repetition of "Observation--guess--test!"
And this makes me wonder what happened to the supposed conflict between religion and science which made the head lines not very many years ago. I most certainly do not wish to revive the controversy, and I have the greatest respect for any sincere religious belief; but my contacts with scientists of the laboratory type have impressed me. They labor without prejudice, unraveling the mysteries of an already created universe. They thrill with wonder at each new revelation. Could anyone work thus without a sense of human smallness? Unchurched, perhaps, but not anti-religious. Now, I believe in going to church for several very good reasons, and if the scientist doesn't go that is his hard luck. The point I am trying to make is that in our enthusiasm for some certain line of thought or belief it is not easy to blind ourselves to the true nature of those who labor in other fields?
Since I seem to be in a serious mood, I might as well finish this particular column (goodness knows what mood I'll be in next week) with some comments on a virtue which is greater than honesty. When I first stumbled over "disinterestedness" years ago it impressed me as quite a mouthful. Anyway, I looked it up, and discovered that instead of a negation of interest (it certainly looked like it) it involves reflective attention. It is the highest type of intellectual honesty. Honesty by itself may be misleading, because it may be narrow or omit the whole truth. Disinterestedness, however avoids these evils. It implies the ability to accept the truth, when most unfavorable to ourselves; and can impute worthy motives, even to our enemies. There is something to shoot at!
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