Religion Different from Science.
WE have not finished yet with mapping out the plan of our work and with defining the exact limits of what really constitutes religion. We have seen that nature with its mountains rivers and trees with its sky sun moon dawn and wind can supply food for religious thought. We have seen that a belief in mankind as an unbroken chain leading from our own father to the great-great-grandfather of all men and all things may likewise become a most powerful religious influence; and I have tried to explain how the study of our own nature with its various capacities may lead and has led to a philosophical religion based on a perception of our true self and its relation to the Universal Self.
But it is clear that every one of these vast domains of thought must be pervaded by a very peculiar spirit before it can rise to the level of what we mean by religion.
Religion and Science.
At the present time for instance we see that not only religion but science also deals with the infinite or with much that lies beyond the horizon of our sensuous perception. All inquiries into the causes of natural phenomena transcend that horizon. When science traces back our perception of sound and colour to vibrations of what is called ether it deals with the finite and the infinite. All the so-called forces of heat electricity magnetism lie beyond the finite and by their very nature can never come within the purview of finite sensuous perception. If the sun and moon and the stars can rouse within the heart of man religious emotions they can also become the subject of minute scientific observation and calculation in the mind of the astronomer.
In ancient times however science had hardly as yet separated from religion and historically speaking science seems everywhere to have taken its origin from religion. The first attempts at lifting the veil of nature and fathoming the causes of things were religious. The first astronomical observatories in the world were the towers attached to the temples in Babylon. When the question was asked for the first time whence came the rain the lightning and the thunder the answer was that rain came from the rainer Ζϵὺς ὑέτιος in Greece from Jupiter Pluvius in Italy from India or Parganya in India; lightning from the lightner Ζϵὺς κϵραύνιος τϵρπικέραυνος Jupiter fulgurator and fulminator; and thunder from the thunderer Ζϵὺς ὑψιβρϵμέτης Jupiter tonans.
At a later time when these answers seemed no longer satisfactory new answers were attempted and science explained lightning as a discharge of electricity thunder as a tension of the air rain as the condensation of vapour. What had to be explained remained throughout the same; the difference arose from the new spirit of inquiry.
We must not forget however that even in our own scientific age prayers are still offered for rain that is to say that the religious view of nature has held its own if not against at least by the side of the scientific view. And this will help us to mark off the domain of religion from that of science. Both deal with that which lies behind or beyond our knowledge but while science looks for causes of events whatever these causes may be religion is satisfied with admitting agents for actions who assume different aspects according to the poetical genius of every race.
What imparts a Religions Character.
But we must restrict the sphere of religion so far as it is founded on perceptions of the infinite still further. The mere admission that there in an agent behind the rain the lightning the thunder behind night and day behind sun and moon is not yet religion. It may be called mythology throughout but in some cases it is not even that. If we say the wind blows we hardly speak mythologically though no doubt a very small addition of poetical imagination may change the wind into an Aeolus or as in modern illustrated books into an angel with wings blowing a visible puff of air out of his mouth. That would be mythology but not yet religion.
In order to avoid all confusion of thought we must reserve the adjective religious for those perceptions of the unknown or the infinite which influence man's actions and his whole moral nature. The mere reasoning for instance which would lead a sailor to spread his sail so as to catch the wind blowing from the West from the setting of the sun would not yet constitute a religious act even though the Westwind had been called Zephyrus and become known as tho son of Eos and Astraeos. We should have entered the domain of mythology but not yet that of religion. But when in the Iliad (xxiii. 192) the funeral pile with the corpse of Patroklos on it does not burn and Achilles prays to the two winds Boreas and Zephyros and promises them beautiful offerings (ἱϵρὰ καλά) if they will come and kindle the flames we shall then have to admit that we are at least on the threshold of religion though as yet on the threshold only. For though sacrifices are generally considered as religious acts they are sometimes mere customs which in the beginning had little or nothing of religion about them.
When however men begin to feel constrained to do what they do not like to do or to abstain from what they would like to do for the sake of some unknown powers which they have discovered behind the storm or the sky or the sun or the moon then we are at last on religious ground.
Moral Influences of Physical Phenomena.
It has often been considered very strange that a mere perception of the powers of nature should have influenced the acts of men or that even a belief in personal agents as manifested in such phenomena as the rising and setting of the sun the changes of day and night of the seasons and of the year or again in storm and rain in thunder and lightning should have supplied motives for virtuous efforts.
I am far from maintaining that natural phenomena by themselves would have sufficed to call out moral sentiments ideas of right and wrong in man. This is a subject that belongs to the student in ethics and on which I do not at present mean to touch. Thus Dr. Martineau writes in his Study of Religion i. 16: ‘The enquiries on which we are now entering have been preceded by a treatment of ethical theory (in his work The Types of Ethical Theory 1885) the results of which will here be assumed as known. This order of exposition undoubtedly implies that I do not regard moral rules as depending upon prior religious belief; and that I do regard the consciousness of duty as an originating condition of religion.’ Professor Flint also in his works on Theism and Antitheistic Theories regards ethics as quite independent of religion though he admits the powerful influence which religion may exercise on morality. In his chapter on Secularism (p. 242) he goes so far as to say that morality which ignores religion is inherently weak because inherently self-contradictory. But when these sentiments had once been called forth in however rudimentary a form the contemplation of natural phenomena whether in their unbroken order or in their violent disturbance might well have reacted upon them and developed them in a new direction. It has often been said that fear made the gods but it is equally true to say that the gods even in their purely physical character made men fear. When man had once learnt to fear the gods of the sky in their terrible aspect and to admire them in their beneficent character what was more natural than that this relation between man and the gods should call out the same feelings of fear and awe but also of respect and gratitude which a child feels towards his parents. If a child could implore his father to spare him or thank his mother for acts of kindness why should not man have implored the father of the sky to restrain the storm or thanked the mother Earth for her kindly gifts?
It is sometimes supposed that it was peculiar to the Aryan nations only to interpret the signs and wonders of nature in a religious sense. But it seems to me that the same spirit pervades all the pages of the Old Testament. Every deluge was accepted as a punishment and the bow in the cloud was interpreted as a token of a covenant between God and man. In the Psalms the anger of the Lord is constantly perceived in the great commotions of the sky and the earth. ‘The earth shook and trembled the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken because He was wroth.’
It is quite true that not every natural phenomenon nor every god would evoke such feelings of fear and awe. Hermes and Hephaestos Venus and Mars were not likely at first to react on the moral character of those who believed in them and celebrated their achievements. But the gods of thunder and lightning the god of rain and sunshine as soon as they had been recognised could hardly help being addressed by supplicants to grant them their favour and their protection.
You know the old prayer of the Athenians: ὐ̑σον ὐ̑σον ὠ̑ ϕίλϵ Ζϵυ̑ κατὰ τη̑ς ἀρούρας τω̑ν ᾽Αθηναίων καὶ τω̑ν πϵδίων ‘Rain rain O dear Zeus on the land of the Athenians and on the fields.’
Here we might translate Zeus by sky but the vocative ϕίλϵ Ζϵυ̑ dear Zeus at once brings in the personal element.
In the Veda also we can see how a poet first appeals to the mighty works achieved by Indra the god of storm and thunder and lightning and asks people to believe in him; and how he implores the same god not to hurt his children because he believes in him.
‘Look at this great and mighty work’ he says ‘and believe in the power of Indra.’
‘Do not hurt our nearest kin O Indra for we believe in thy great power.’
When the gods have thus been invoked as powerful beings able to injure man but also willing to protect him a mutual relation between gods and men is soon established and people profess to do what is right in order to please the gods and to avoid evil in order to escape their anger.
This is the earliest morality founded on a belief in physical deities. It may not be a very exalted morality; it is very much founded on the principle of Do ut des. But it contained germs which might grow and improve till men could say as Fichte said that all ‘moral action flows from the love of God gently and quickly as light flows from the sun.’
Moral Influence of Ancestral Spirits.
That a belief in ancestral spirits might likewise influence human actions requires hardly any proof. I believe it could be shown that the earliest ideas of right and wrong in a legal sense arose from that belief. It was the father who had laid down what should be done during his life-time he being generally the stronger and the wiser man. And after his death whenever doubts arose as to what was right and what was wrong to be done an appeal to what the father had settled and laid down would often decide the question. Early law-books are very commonly ascribed to some distant ancestor some Unkulunkulu or as in India to Manu the father of mankind of whom it was said that ‘whatever Manu declared was medicine’ that is was a remedy and a prescription that ought to be followed by his children. Sir Henry Maine in his work on Ancient Law (p. 125) has well explained how law was originally the parent's word and how in Greece the so-called θϵμίστϵς were the awards of judges whether chiefs of families of tribes or of confederacies. They were not laws in our sense of the word but dooms decisions and they were supposed to have a divine character and even a divine origin because they were inspired by Justice the daughter of Zeus and only pronounced by the ancient judges. Sir Henry Maine has illustrated this first phase in the history of law by a comparison with Indian Law.
Ancestral Law in China.
Let me give you another illustration from China taken from a recent work on China its social political and religious life by M. Eug. Simon. M. Simon who has long lived in China tells us that the whole social system in China is based on the Family Council and Tribunal.
The incidents of the Family Council he writes which assembles at stated periods are roughly as follows:
‘The Father and Mother appear in the family assembly attended by their family. The names of the predecessors of the family are first recalled individually to the recollection of the family.
‘Food is then presented to their memory as a token of duties performed by those present in consequence of duties performed by those departed and as a pledge for the conduct of those to come.
‘The food the result of a typical reward for duties performed is then eaten with portions laid aside for those in need.
‘This is the first part. In the second the father seated between his wife and the eldest of the family opens the Books of Record.
‘These family books which every Chinese family must keep render unnecessary State interference or control and are considered as legal documents.
‘One contains matter relating to civil life births marriages deaths &c.; the others the family judgments records and biographies of the dead their Wills &c.
‘The necessary records having been entered the book containing historical record is opened and the life and action of those departed commented on. The minds of all being steadied by such reflections the meeting becomes a council and balances its affairs enquiring first into obligations outside the family and then to those relating to the interior management. The family would consider itself dishonoured were occasion given of right of demand for State or outside interference. Lastly misdemeanours are enquired into: the accused is at once separated from others present for trial or if information has to be obtained or proofs collected he is remanded to the next or to a special meeting.
‘Conceive the training in this method for every child. This is the paternal authority—an authority based only on judgment and method and therefore acting with a power and a love that we cannot understand.
‘Thus is to be seen the base of the union of administrative and judicial functions in the same hands.
‘This method of judicial sifting of evidence before action is to be universally found at the origin of all religion and government and is the source of the method of knowledge and only by such a process can the family protection exist and prosper.
‘Confucius says of this method:
‘“He who understands the ceremonies of the offerings to Heaven and Earth and the meaning of the several offerings to ancestors would find the government of a kingdom as easy as to look into the palm of his hand.”’
A belief in ancestral spirits therefore may easily become the foundation of a system of morality or at all events of law. With the Chinese Filial Piety or reverence for parents and ancestors has been recognised from the earliest times as the root of all religion and government. The Hsiâo King or ‘Classic of Filial Piety’ is one of their most sacred books.
Moral Influence of Psychological Deities.
Whether we can ascribe a similar moral influence to psychological religion also is more difficult to say. It has certainly developed into some kind of religion in India where meditation on the self within us and the recognition of its true relation to the Supreme Self forms to the present day the highest stage that can be reached by the faithful. In other countries that highest stage is generally divided from religion properly so called and handed over to the philosopher and the mystic. But apart from that we often see isolated germs of psychological thought fall on religious and moral soil and develop into mythology and even worship.
Temple to Mens.
In Rome for instance we read that about the time of the battle on Lake Thrasymene or according to others one hundred years later a temple was built to Mens Mind in order that the Roman citizens might always be of good mind. There were other temples dedicated to Pietas filial piety Pudicitia chastity Virtus manliness Spes hope Fides faithfulness. And not only were these deities worshipped in temples but such were for a time at least their power and influence that Regulus would rather die than break his fides or his troth. At a later time during the Second Punic War Hannibal allowed ten Roman soldiers to proceed to Rome on their word of honour. Eight only returned but the other two were declared infamous by the Roman Censors and such was then still the power of public opinion that both are said to have committed suicide because no one would treat them any longer as Roman citizens.
Eros and Psyche.
In Greece also some traces may be discovered of psychological mythology if not of religion. The best known instance is that of Eros and Psyche Love and Soul. In the form in which that legend is presented to us by Apuleius it is no doubt modern—nearly as modern in conception as on the frescoes of the Farnesina Palace. But it contains old elements—how old it is difficult to say considering how freely even men like Socrates still claimed the right of inventing or modifying a myth if it helped to teach some philosophical lesson.
And even in our own language there are survivals of psychological mythology and morality. There is a well-known line quoted from Menander Monost. 654:
Βροτοις ἅπασιν ἡ συνϵίδησις θϵός
‘To all mortals conscience is a god.’
It is not difficult to understand what Menander (342–290 B.C.) really meant by this verse but it is a curious verse for several reasons and in particular because συνϵίδησις is not the common word for conscience in classical Greek though it is the recognised term in the New Testament.
In classical Greek συνϵίδησις means consciousness rather than conscience and the question we have to answer first is how such words as σύνοιδα and συνϵίδησις from meaning to be conscious or cognisant came to mean to be conscientious. The psychological process seems to have been something like this. In primitive times a man might often do what seemed wrong to others but not to himself. In that case he himself would hardly remember what he had done. If asked he would not be conscious of having for instance taken an apple from a garden because he was in the habit of doing so and saw no harm in it. If however he had once been told by others that he ought not to take an apple which belonged to some one else or even if some unexplained instinct had told him that in taking it away he was doing what was disapproved by others or dangerous to himself then he would be conscious of his act and his consciousness of having done an act which by some authority or other had been judged to be wrong would gradually become what we call a conscience.
Again if two confederates had committed a criminal act they would if cross-examined appear as συνϵιδότϵς as knowing what they had done and thus συνϵιδώς would assume the meaning of an accomplice. Even in our courts of law a man is said to look conscious that is guilty and this conscious look would again be the outer manifestation of what we now call conscience. Thus conscience came to be a recognised name of what was originally a consciousness or a knowledge however acquired of what was right and wrong.
But this was not the only name by which this well-known state of feeling could be apprehended and to say that because there is in Sanskrit no word corresponding to conscience therefore the Hindus did not know what conscience means is absurd. Socrates did not use the word συνϵίδησις but when he spoke of the δαιμόνιον the spirit within him he meant the same thing though he called it by a higher name a name that comes very near to what the early Christians meant by the Holy Ghost.
In ancient languages like Sanskrit we must expect more primitive expressions for that inward state of consciousness of right and wrong.
In Sanskrit we find hrî which means glow blush and shame. This flushing or blushing was the outward sign of an inward commotion. A man being charged with a dishonourable act blushed; that was quite the same as when in later times he had learnt to control the beating of his heart and only looked conscious or foolish. A language therefore which has a name for blushing and shame has to all intents and purposes a name for conscience. A man who is said to blush at a thing or at the very thought of a thing may be said to be warned or kept by his conscience from doing a thing.
I doubt whether the German nations had a name like conscience before they came in contact with the Romans. As conscientia was a translation of συνϵίδησις Gewissen seems a mere imitation of conscientia. In Gothic it is midwissei. But the German had the word shame which if it was derived from a root skam or kam meaning to cover expressed again the outward sign of conscience the covering of the face to hide the flush or to avoid the searching look of the judge.
If there had been no word at all for conscience in Latin an expression like that of Lucretius (iii. 839) peccata remordent ‘sins bite back’ would be sufficient to show that he at least knew what conscience meant. One such expression of a single poet may lead to an abundant growth of thought and language in the same direction. Thus though remorsus is not a classical Latin word it rises to the surface in mediaeval Latin it becomes recognised as remors in French as remorse in English. And as we find conscientia translated in German by Gewissen and in Old English by Inwyt we find remorse rendered literally in Old English by Ayenbite that is againbite the two words together forming the title of one of the most important books of the fourteenth century the Ayenbite of Inwyt by Dan Michel. In German too we speak of Gewissensbisse the bitings of conscience that is remorse.
In watching the growth of these names which were all intended for one and the same state of mind we can see how easily these acts of ours lead to the admission of a separate mental organ or faculty or as the Brahmans boldly called it a deity.
Have we a Conscience?
Because I am conscious of having done what to me seems either right or wrong I am supposed to possess a consciousness or as applied to moral questions a conscience which tells me what is right or wrong. But why should a man be supposed to possess such an organ or faculty or why should we appeal to a man's conscience as something apart from the man? If a man is tall he does not possess something called tallness. If he is hopeful there is not inside him a power called hope; if he is ashamed it is not something independent of him that makes him ashamed. Even his blushes are only the effect of the quicker movement of the heart and what makes the heart move more quickly is the quick rushing in of perceptions and imaginations caused by circumstances which are stronger than himself. We are justified therefore in saying that we are conscious of having done wrong; but as soon as we go a step further and say that we have a conscience which tells us what is right or wrong we go beyond the facts such as we know them. Conscience never tells us what is right or wrong but simply whether we have done what from some source or other we know to be right or wrong. Nothing is more common now than to call conscience an inward monitor or even the voice of God; to speak of conscience as the arbiter of right and wrong nay even as the source of all truth and the highest witness of the existence of God. But all this is philosophical mythology. If we possessed within us a faculty or an oracle or deity to tell us what is true and what is right and wrong how could Pascal have said that good and evil truth and falsehood differ with a few degrees of latitude? How could there be that infinite diversity of opinion as to what is true and what is right or wrong? We must learn that from other sources and when we have learnt it from our teachers and by our own experience and judgment then and then only do we become conscious of having done what is right or wrong. If we like to call that consciousness or that shame or that joy conscience we may do so provided we remember that we use poetical and mythological language and that such language unless properly guarded may exercise a powerful influence on our character whether for evil or for good. That almighty conscience may be a god to all mortals as Menander says but it may likewise become a dumb idol.
Sacrifices an Element of Religion.
It may seem strange that in trying to make my own definition of religion as comprehensive as possible I should nevertheless have left out what to many people seems an essential to some the most essential element of religion namely sacrifice.
It cannot be denied that sacrifice has assumed considerable prominence in most religions. Cicero as we saw defined religion simply as cultus deorum; but it is a well-known fact that there were religions without sacrifices in ancient times and that in modern times the most enlightened minds have completely freed themselves from all sacrificial obligations in the usual sense of that word.
I go even further and maintain that the priesthood also ought not to be considered as essential to religion though it may be an inevitable outcome of it. The office of the priest it should be remembered is always vicarious a fact which with the increase of priestly power may be forgotten in later times but which is self-evident in the early periods of all religions. If we look on religion as originally the property of each individual soul the priest would have no locus standi at all. Or if we trace religion back to the family the father or head of the family is ipso facto the priest. When families grew into clans and clans into tribes and confederacies a necessity would arise of delegating to some heads of families the performance of duties which from having been the spontaneous acts of individuals had become the traditional acts of families and clans. The origin of a separate priesthood varies so much in different countries that it is almost impossible to speak about it in general terms. In some countries the office of the priest would remain united to that of the king; in others an individual of exceptional gifts as a poet and prophet would obtain for himself and his descendants the privileges of a spiritual ruler. These are questions concerning the history of different nations into which we cannot enter at present. What is important for us is to understand clearly that the first origin of religion—and it is with this alone that we are dealing now—does not necessitate but on the contrary does really exclude the admission of priests.
The same applies to sacrifices. What are called in later times sacrifices or sacred acts must all in their beginning have been natural and spontaneous acts. We can easily trace back all prayers to the same feeling which would lead a child to ask for gifts from his father; and whoever understands the thoughts of a child in offering to his father a flower or a broken toy whether from a feeling of gratitude or from a hope of further favours will not look for any more remote motives prompting the offering of more or less valuable gifts to the gods after such gods had once been conceived. Expiatory or purificatory offerings and sacrifices can be traced back to the same source and have really nothing irrational in them nothing that requires explanation nothing with which we cannot fully sympathise ourselves.
But all these prayers and praises and offerings and purifications even in their simplest form always presuppose the belief in those superhuman or supernatural beings whom we have accustomed ourselves to call gods and it would violate all rules of thought to place the sacrifice first and the conception of a person to whom a sacrifice is offered last.
Study of the Veda.
It seems to me that the study of the Veda is chiefly responsible for this delusion that religion begins with sacrifice. At first it was the fashion to represent the hymns of the Rig-veda as the most primitive utterances of religious thought recalling a period when there was as yet no system of religion no creeds no priesthood no sacrifice. I remember myself speaking of the Rig-veda as the true theogony of the Aryan race and I do not mean in the least to retract that statement. But it is one thing to say that the Veda brings us as near to the theogonic process of the Aryan world as any literary document will ever bring us and quite another to imagine that the Veda was composed by the first man who escaped from the glacial period or by the first poet who could stammer forth human language. Why will people always imagine the impossible to be possible? However it was but natural that after expectations had been raised to the highest pitch there should be a reaction. The Veda as I have always said in spite of its wonderful antiquity is like an oak in which we can count ring after ring testifying to an infinite succession of intellectual springs and winters. Not only are priests and sacrifices presupposed in many a hymn but most elaborate sacrifices performed by ever so many distinct priests are mentioned at all events in the more modern hymns. Because it was clear that some of the hymns had been composed in connection with these sacrifices it has of late become the fashion to maintain that all had been that in fact the whole Vedic poetry was the product of a priestly caste requiring song and poetry for the enlivenment of their sacrifices.
It is quite true that the hymns collected in what are called the Yagur and Sâma-veda have no other object than to be employed at sacrifices. But it is equally true that the collection of the Rig-veda had no such sacrificial purpose. And what is far more important is what every scholar knows namely that even many of the passages taken from the Rig-veda and embodied in the two other purely sacrificial Vedas are so turned and twisted in order to make them useful for liturgical purposes that no one could suppose for a moment that they were first composed for liturgical and afterwards collected for hymnological purposes. This idea however that because some hymns were meant from the first to accompany the sacrifices all Vedic hymns were the production of Vedic priests; that in fact the Hindus first elaborated a most complete and complicated ceremonial and then only set to work to invent the gods to whom their sacrifices should be offered and to compose hymns of praise to celebrate the greatness of these gods—this idea I say has so completely taken possession of certain philosophers that they now appeal to the Veda as the best proof that sacrifice must everywhere have come first and hymns to the gods nay according to some even belief in the gods afterwards. Gods we are told are not gods till they are worshipped (Gruppe l.c. p. 81). If such theories can be proved by facts in any part of the globe let it be so; but to quote the Veda in support of them is impossible.
And what applies to sacrifices offered to the gods of nature applies with equal force to the offerings presented to ancestral spirits. We have been told of late that sacrifices arose really from carousals and I do not deny that there is some truth in this only that as usual it is spoiled by exaggeration. Nothing is more natural than that after the death of a father his place at dinner should be kept vacant or that his share of food should actually be placed on the exact spot where he used to sit. That may seem childish but it is perfectly human. Again that a few drops of whatever served for drink at a meal should be poured on the ground in memory of the departed is perfectly intelligible. But in that case a belief in ancestral spirits was as necessary a condition of such pious acts as a belief in gods is presupposed by sacrificial offerings.
What however quite staggers me is the idea lately broached that not only did all religion take its origin in these carousals but that the first idea of sacrifice arose from some person persuading the people that by lighting in the morning the fire on the altar they could assist the sun in his daily or yearly fight against his enemies. Where could they have got a belief in the sun as a fighter and as having enemies? And how would it have been possible to convince them in spite of all evidence to the contrary that the small rush-light on their hearth could invigorate the power of the sun? It is perfectly true that such ideas appear in the Veda but they appear there preceded by many antecedent ideas which make them not only less grotesque but render them almost intelligible. But to imagine that such thoughts could be primitive and that they could help us to account psychologically for the evolution of religious and sacrificial ideas in the world at large is certainly to my mind passing strange. Well may the author of such a theory say that so absurd a thing could have happened once only in the history of the world and that therefore all religions of the civilised races of mankind came from the country in which this strange hallucination took possession of one weak-minded individual (p. 277).
Although therefore a definition of religion which should exclude sacrifices and priesthood would certainly be deficient I hold that both the sacrificial and priestly character of religion is sufficiently secured by our restricting the perception of the infinite to such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man. It is the moral character of man that shows itself in those acts of fear reverence gratitude love and contrition which we comprehend under the general name of sacrifice and the delegation of these sacrificial acts to agents better qualified or more worthy to perform them than the rest may likewise be traced back to a sense of humility on the part of the people at large or what we now call the laity.
If now we gather up the threads of our argument and endeavour to give our own definition of religion it would be this:
‘Religion consists in the perception of the infinite under such manifestations as are able to influence the moral character of man.’
I look upon this as a definition of religion in its origin but if we once admit a continuity in the historical growth of religion the same definition ought to remain applicable to all the later developments through which religion has passed. In order to remain applicable to all these later developments our definition of religion must necessarily leave out whatever is peculiar to one or other of these later developments only; and it may happen therefore that what seem to some of us the most valuable characteristics of religion are missing in our definition of it.
To those who maintain that religion is chiefly a modus cognoscendi Deum a mode of knowing God we should reply that there is no conceptual knowledge which is not based first of all on perceptual knowledge and that Deus or God is not the only object of religion that in fact so narrow a definition would exclude all dualistic and polytheistic religions as well as all those forms of faith which shrink from comprehending the Divine under the limits of mere human personality.
To those who cling to the idea of religion as chiefly a mode of worshipping God modus colendi Deum our answer would be that so long as worship is a genuine expression of moral sentiments it is included in our definition; while when it has ceased to be so it is no longer religion but superstition only.
Kant's definition that ‘religion consists in our recognising all our duties as divine commandments’ is comprehended in our own for that definition represents only a later and higher stage of that original perception of something unseen and infinite which determines our moral acts. Nay if we go a step higher still and recognise religion as the surrender of the finite will to the infinite we have here again the fullest realisation of that primeval perception of the infinite as a power not entirely different from ourselves that makes for righteousness.
And while thus the highest conceptions of religion can be traced back as natural developments to that broad conception of religion on which our definition is based we shall find that the lowest forms of religion likewise are easily comprehended under it. Roskoff in his learned work Das Religionswesen der rohesten Naturvölker 1880 (The religion of the rudest races) which contains a most elaborate and exhaustive reply to Sir John Lubbock's theories defines the religion of these uncivilised tribes in the most general terms as ‘what lifts them above the real world.’ Much the same definition of religion is given by Hegel also. Here we have only to replace real by finite and we shall see that what he means is exactly what we mean by a ‘perception of something infinite beyond the finite world’ only that we qualify that perception of the infinite and restrict it to that class of perceptions which can influence the moral character of man.
I know in fact of no definition of religion—and I have dwelt in my lectures on the most important only—which cannot be accommodated within the wide boundaries of our own and what is even more important I know of no religion whether ancient or modern that cannot be caught in that wide net. Even Buddhism—I mean Southern Buddhism which refused to be caught by any other definition—cannot escape. Though Buddha declined to dogmatise on the Beyond and though from his unwillingness to predicate anything about it it dwindled down in the minds of some of his followers to a mere Nothing yet even that Nothing was not the finite or material world but lay beyond it undefined if not infinite. Buddha was lifted beyond the real world; and the practical side of Buddhism also its belief in transmigration and the never-resting wheel of the world presupposed a look that had pierced beyond the finite nay had raised the perception of the endless continuance of works or Karma into the most potent faith that could influence the moral character of man. ‘We are what we are’ as Buddha says in the very first verse of his Dhammapada ‘by what we have thought and done. As the cart follows on the heels of the ox that draws it so do our thoughts and deeds follow us.’ The experience of this finite world could not have taught him that lesson. It was a look backward and forward beyond the horizon of our experience—though not in his case a look upward—that alone could have taught Buddha that faith in absolute justice and eternal right which has made his religion the wonder of the world.