The Magazine

The Book of James

William James's lectures on religion, a century later.

Dec 30, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 16 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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People who believe the Bible always have insisted that faith produces good works, that the true believer will "look after orphans and widows in their distress." In this, they have an ally in the skeptic William James. "St. Paul made our ancestors familiar with the idea that every soul is virtually sacred," he wrote. "The saints, with their extravagance of human tenderness, are the great torch-bearers of this belief, the tip of the wedge, the clearers of the darkness." In the end, it seems, James reached a generous judgment of religion--not in spite of his hard-nosed scholarship, but because of it.

Joseph Loconte is a William E. Simon fellow at the Heritage Foundation.