What Does Cooper Gain?
1: Another forum of discussion
I note that your question “What does Cooper gain by ending her book with arguably its most philosophical chapter?” reflects upon the title of the chapter itself. The text answers the question by stating “The Gain from a Belief.” Right away Cooper sets up an “us vs. other” scenario. She imagines a figure watching the mass of humanity with “restless eyes” and drops a variety of negative connotations related to this figure. Cooper makes use of words such as solitary, cold, haggard, and deserted to give the reader the idea that whoever the stranger, you are thankful not to be him. Cooper using this tool–a way of setting up an “us vs. it” mentality–is interesting at this juncture of her text because heretofore her message has been one of coming together; let us each lend a helping hand. Cooper uses this “half cynical, half sad” (286) contenance as a symbol of “earth’s skepticism.” Here is her introductory idea: “speculative unbelief…unimpassioned agnosticism, that thinks–face to face with hobbling, blundering unscientific faith, that works” (287). Cooper gains another medium–in this instance religion–in which to elaborate upon her beliefs in a way that is hopefully uplifting and persuasive to her audience. The entire book consists of Cooper’s personal position on topics from womanhood and literature to the actual worth of a human being occupying the earth. Cooper primarily gains another forum to press forth her philosophy.
2. To teach
Cooper also gains the means to teach others about atheism and agnosticism. She may be illuminating otherwise unexplored areas of thought for her readers. She continues to use this teaching as a way to separate herself (and hopefully her adherents) from what she views as the robotic, inhuman thought processes of the non-believer. Cooper states that the atheist views man as no more than the sum of parts in a clock, “a brute” or “a plant that grows and thinks” (288). She wants to impart the idea that there are those among us who feel man has no morals and may “need to be restrained, probably, as pests of society” (289). Cooper wants her audience to know that according to the world of science, there is no God. Here, the author gains the advantage of teaching her audience about alternate philosophies; there are a plethora of ways to view God, religion and the way the world and humanity work. She does not teach these ideas in a neutral voice. As Cooper is dispensing information, she is also displaying a bias, which she certainly has the right to do.
3. To evaluate systems of belief
A third “gain” Cooper reaps in this final chapter is a basis upon which to persuade her audience that a belief in God and the practice of religion serves a positive force in our community. By elaborating on two or three differing beliefs regarding a higher power, Cooper is able to set up her argument for one side (belief/faith) and against another (atheism/agnosticism). Belief = good; non-belief = bad. Cooper’s argument is far from Rogerian and is laden with value judgments weighing each system of belief in the hopes she will convince her audience that Christianity will take them the farthest in life. For example, Cooper states that a Mr. Ingersoll, “the American exponent of positivism” fills his “Why I Am an Agnostic” essay with “a glittering succession of epigrammatic inconsistencies…” (293-4). She paints anyone who does not share a belief in God as being a lonely, sad wanderer that has very little, if any, feeling regarding our human struggle. During her persuasive anti-agnosticism stance she states that in that alternate point of view “…God and Love are shut out…the human will but fixed evolutions of law…morality a lie…responsibility a disease” (295). These types of inflammatory statements would have anyone (especially those less educated and hearing such things for the first time) running for the church to huddle under the shroud of religion to save themselves from such unsavory characters! Cooper describes key characteristics that healthy nations need to survive and uses them to work against the non-believers: “…there cannot be heroism, devotion, or sacrifice in a primarily skeptical spirit” (297). She invokes the image of Christ as being one of beliefs: “Jesus believed in the infinite possibilities of an individual soul” (298). For Cooper’s time and audience, I believe her argument to be ultimately persuasive given the way she attacks the issue. She has already proven herself to be a voice of reason and intelligence in her earlier chapters. She dispenses her ideas in a way that teaches a percentage of her audience something new, and she places a value on these alternative philosophies in which she concludes that belief in God is the superior point of view and action.