The book in question is a large anthology published in 1933 called Quests and Conquests by Dean C. Dutton Ph. D., a Methodist pastor who divided his work into two distinct parts: Quests - “A search for the Wealth of Life, Truth and Assurances of Reality, and Conquests - Building this Wealth into Personality.
The first part consists of excerpts from literature and the Bible arranged into “One Hundred and Twenty-one Lessons in Life Building.” Among other things, Dutton utilizes the second part – “The Supreme Philosophy" – to expound upon his metaphysics. As I thumbed through the anthology, I quickly realized that the anthology was a “self-help life course” and that Dutton had regarded himself as something of a spiritual “life coach”.
Part One -- “Search for the Wealth of Life, Truth, and Assurances of Reality” -- crackles with the energy and enthusiasm of a well-read, cultured, educated, mid-twentieth-century, American protestant preacher who believes his arrangement and compilation of inspirational “nuggets” taken from the Bible and other great works will save souls and the world. Dutton’s ardor in excerpt compilation and arrangement concludes with a fireworks explosion of self-affirmation aptly titled: “My Reverie”:
- I shall be a citizen of the Universe forever! The Universe is throbbing with beauty, power, and glory! Unfolding sublimities are everywhere!
- I am a partner of the Creator and am to share in the enterprise of these tremendously interesting unfoldings!
- I shall have access to the whole Universe! Forever! Forever! FOREVER!
- I have a soul as big as an empire!
- I find myself in the image of my Maker!
- I have a Saviour to keep me in tune with the Infinite! He is my tender understanding Shepard and Friend. The blessed Comforter now guiding me to ALL TRUTH!
- My life is just hard enough to bring out the heroic . . . I am growing to greatness . . . Little by little I am to unfold into a life of unusual usefulness . . . My devotion to God is helping me and others to understand the joy of friendship with Him!
- Everything great, interesting, and precious is up ahead in my path!
- I am to have continual unfolding, ripening into eternal comradeship with the Creator!
- I am to share with Him the joys of developing and unfolding the whole Universe Forever!
The fireworks reverie shines even more brightly when one considers that Dutton’s book appeared in 1933, at the height of the Great Depression.
Part Two – The Supreme Philosophy – begins with a note:
The Scourge of the Ages, a false Philosophy, is sweeping our nation in magazines, movies, materialistic instructors, and in every possible way, attempts are being thrust forth to break down our national life and Christian civilization.
The State, the Church, and the Home are the institutions it would destroy. They prophesy that in fifty years men will not marry. Childbirth out of wedlock will be common. These brats will be gotten out of the way by dumping them on the state. Lust spurns the responsibility of parenthood. The glory and joy of our high idealism they ridicule. They threaten the Heart Throb of our nation.
Never was there such a need for a great sane, constructive philosophy as in this terrific hour. In the light of the newer facts of Science and under the glow of sane, clear, logic we present “The Supreme Philosophy” with glad assurances of Reality.
A cursory browsing of Dutton’s philosophy quickly revealed that he certainly had his finger on the pulse when it came to the “big picture” of Creation:
The logic of the Universal setting calls for a program of unfolding and development. If, therefore, there is to be such an unfolding by what agency is the Universe to come to its development?
Man is the agency by which this earth has come to its development. But man is not allowed to remain here but a little while. Right in the midst of the most interesting developments he is interrupted by a knock at the door – It is the Angel of Death. Man is called out into the Greater Workshop. What does this mean?
We think it means that man is the agency not only to have a part in the development of the earth but we also think he is the agency by which the whole Universe is to be unfolded. We feel that man is allowed to remain on the earth just long enough to learn something about life and things and get acquainted with the WORLD DOMINION business. Then he is promoted to the larger realms – ultimately to be the pal and partner of the Creator in His tremendous program of unfolding and developing the Universe forever.
Man as “the pal and partner” of the Creator drips with the sheer, exuberant Americanism that undoubtedly filled Dutton’s soul but does not diminish the correctness of Dutton’s assumption that God desires to raise man up to the level of co-creator within Creation and that man’s agency is the key to this “raising up.” This assumption forms the core of Dutton’s philosophy, and he employs it as the foundation of his mostly Protestant metaphysics.
My hasty and slipshod skimming of Dutton’s obscure and little-known Magnus Opus leads me to believe that the author intuitively understood the spiritual dead end the West was heading toward in the middle of the twentieth century. He also appears to have grasped the way forward, which he embraced with admirable dedication and zeal.
Dutton was probably able to find that way forward himself, individually, but the life course and Supreme Philosophy he offered the world had no impact on the Great Scourge, which has virtually swept national life, Christian civilization, the state, the church, and the home away for good.
Why did the people of Dutton’s time largely fail to become “partners and pals” of the Creator? The answer lies somewhere within Dutton’s approach to his Supreme Philosophy, which was able to diagnose the problem and identify the cure, but ultimately failed to provide the correct treatment.
The fault seems to be in Dutton’s systematic and business-minded preoccupation with worldly achievement and utility coupled with the dogged belief that filling personality with external sources of greatness would inevitably create spiritual greatness internally and externally. Fill yourself full of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Mozart, Michelangelo, and watch your empire of a spirit expand! The approach appears to have worked for Dutton, but it was likely beyond the reach of most people who purchased his book.
Put more generally, the fault of Dutton’s Supreme Philosophy ultimately lies in his over-idealization of worldly institutions, worldly achievement, and an overly keen sense of American exceptionalism. Though he emphasizes the significance of human agency, Dutton appeared to have been unable to free himself from many idols:
Do we sense the high honor that is ours in being the pilot nation of the world?
Greece was the most highly cultured nation of her time. Rome reached a zenith of power tremendous. Both went down in a crash of selfishness, indulgence, and immorality.
What if America fails? Would it not mean a world collapse? If America fails the world, to whom might humanity cry for help?
World needs are intellectual, spiritual, moral, social, and industrial. We may dole out our millions for bread when they are starving, but what the world wants is to feel that America is living the life that Christian Democracy proposes. If America fails, the whole scheme of Christian civilization fails.
My conclusions about Dutton’s Supreme Philosophy are shallow speculations. Nevertheless, the inherent problem in his philosophy appears to lie not so much in his declaration of having a soul as big as an empire, but in the belief that his empire of a soul required an empire in which to flourish.
Greece and Rome were pagan rather than Christian empires, yet they managed to produce the sort of greatness Dutton admired. (Rome became Christian later, but only toward the end). All of this makes me wonder what how enthusiastic and connected Dutton’s empire soul would feel in today’s failed Christian civilization.
Would he still strive for spiritual heroism and greatness? Would he still approach each day as a blessing? I wonder.
Unlike Dutton, I believe the absence of Christian civilization could be beneficial to God’s creative purposes of raising men up to be co-creators. Man's current predicament may lead him to becoming more conscious of his agency, which may lead to another step toward participating in the unfolding and the development of Creation. But he'll have to discover this on his own, without the aid of any self-help programs.
I suppose it all comes down to what one believes the essence of Christianity to be once God’s creative purposes have been discerned. Quest appeals to me. Conquest? Well, it depends on what we've set our sights on conquering.
Note added: If you can shed any light on Dean C. Dutton or his book, please do. Online information on both is scarce. I don't know how well-known Dutton was in his time, but he appears to be wallowing in obscurity now.