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Chapter 6: The Philosophy of Religion


PHILOSOPHY, understood as reflexion on our ultimate ideas, is almost as old as religion, and began to be the moment man consciously enquired concerning beliefs that had unconsciously arisen, What do they mean? He had to live much longer, forget much and learn more, before he could ask, What do I mean by my beliefs? A yet vaster revolution of time and mind had to happen before he framed the questions: What do my beliefs mean to me? and have their many changes of form and setting since the days of my youth left them still the old beliefs and still mine? But all these might be discussed as problems in religious philosophy without ever raising the distinctive questions in the philosophy of religion. The two are distinguished thus: the former is concerned with religious ideas, but the latter with concrete religion; the one deals with beliefs, their basis, psychological genesis, and intellectual forms, but the other enquires why religion as an objective fact and living organism has appeared, and how it has behaved; what are its sources and elements, its ideas and customs; what its dependency on man and on environment; what functions it has fulfilled, and with what results, and for what reasons in personal, tribal, national, and collective history. It recognizes religion as a universal fact which has to be construed through what is universal in human nature; and it seeks to discover the forces and the factors that modify the universal fact into the infinite variety of forms it assumes in time and place, and to determine the worth of these modifications. Its scope is therefore immense, and its problem intricate, but one thing it must never do, lose hold upon reality, the phenomena to be explained, or forget the obligation that lies upon it of finding for them a rational explanation.

§ I. The Phenomena to be Studied: the Religions

1. The philosophy of Religion starts with man, and sees that whenever and wherever he appears it is as a voyager between life and death, conscious of the mystery in which his voyage begins and the tragedy in which it ends. It never finds him without religious ideas or forms appropriate for their expression. These belong to his most solemn acts and the customs by which they are sanctioned. If we try to make the races of man, with their most transcendental ideals and governing enthusiasms, pass before the eye which sees in solitude, we shall find that what we have called up is a vision impressive above all others to the imagination. For we have summoned man in all his tribes and in all his ages to defile before us in ghostly procession, bearing his supreme hopes and fears, aspirations and agonies, dreams of deity, death, and bliss as they are incorporated in his religions. We may begin with what is esteemed their lowest and most primitive form, religion as interpreted and realized for us by the living savage. Anthropology has painted for us a picture of him which is as rich and complex as it is real and full; and has made us familiar with his weapons, his ceremonies, his ideas, his hopes, and fears. It may have tempted us indeed to exaggerate the rudeness, the audacious monstrosity of his thought and mythology; but one thing it has made conspicuously evident, viz., the place his religious beliefs occupied in his mind, and the space his religious customs filled in his life. How great these were may be discovered if we compare his total outfit for life in two respects, the material and the spiritual, with our own.

(α) As to his material outfit. This is represented by a rude weapon or two, a piece of flint sharpened to act as knife or spear-head; and possibly, if he be very highly gifted, to these may be added a bow and arrow, a fig-leaf round his middle, or the fat of some slaughtered animal with which he has been wont to daub his body, the scalp of an enemy he has worn at his girdle, the skull of a beast he has slain and used either as ornament or as weapon. If he dwells on an island or by the sea, he may have fashioned and sailed some curious canoe; and if he has learned to love rhythmic sounds, he may have contrived to form out of a piece of wood and a skin some instrument from which he can produce them. These, or something less than these, represent the whole of his material equipment; all the property he has either to carry with him to the tomb, or to leave behind to his family or his tribe. On the other hand, civilized man is found clothed, housed, fed by the products of all lands; able to travel over earth and sea with the speed but without the fatigues of a winged creature. He dwells in cities adorned with art, enriched by commerce, absorbed in industries, governed by law, illumined by history, informed by literature, comforted by religion, pervaded by a thousand-handed charity and watched by an even-handed justice which will not allow the aggressor to go unpunished. He can look with eyes that see to the ends of the earth, and can listen with ears that hear the faintest murmur amid far-off peoples of war or disaster, prosperity or distress, the suspicion that alienates man or the trust that unites them. If now we compare the two, could more utter or more pathetic destitution than that of the savage be conceived? The multitude of things that have become not simply conveniences but necessities to the civilized man, be he rich or be he poor, which are completely unknown to the primitive, makes one feel the distance that lies between the simple state of nature and the wealth of the poorest rustic that ever followed a plough, or was carried unlamented to his grave.

(β) Let us now place, in contrast with their material, their respective spiritual outfits. Here, indeed, the wealth of the savage bewilders. His ideas as to ghosts and gods are so multitudinous that every object he handles, everything he sees, has within it a hidden deity. Life, death, and the future speak to him as to us; but, with a more sensitive imagination than we can boast, he guards his life by charms and rites from those last terrors which cast upon him so dark a shadow. Souls he finds everywhere and in everything; and so he can hardly speak without weaving the phenomena of Nature into poetry. We have only to recall some of the many forms employed to explain his beliefs in order to show how complex they seem to us, whatever may have been their cogent reasonableness to himself. We have his legends construed in the terms now of a solar, and now of a floral mythology. In the one case sun and moon and stars are made the ancestors of all his gods and ours; in the other case, these are displaced in favour of trees and plants. Then we have an animal mythology, with varied legends of animal ancestry, and theories of animal and human kinship. Then we have a cosmogonic mythology, theories as to how Nature came to be, what the eclipse signified, and how the earthquake was caused. And we have an historical or ancestral mythology, where the memory of the tribe has been turned into a chronicle of divine names and a calendar of persons worthy of divine honours. And though these schools and types of mythology may signify much more as to the ingenuity of the civilized man attempting to read the savage mind than they signify as to the world which the savage actually knows; yet the very fact that such theories have been possible shows the amount of material that has to be interpreted, and the space which spiritual beliefs fill in the savage life. For his customs are as full of belief as are his tales:—his institutions, the sacred persons, the rain-makers, the wizards, the doctors he trusts; the sacred things like trees and rivers, bones and stones he fears; the sacred places he frequents, like cairns and mountains, forests and wells; the cave which he turns into a tomb and the grove he rails off as a home for his dead; the charms on which he depends for help against the malign forces that dwell in nature or act in man, all express the same thing—the wealth of his spiritual outfit compared with the appalling poverty of his material possessions. This is the more remarkable as civilized man is marked by a contrast of the reverse order. His spiritual world—however rich in intellectual formulæ or æsthetic adornment, in ceremonial and musical expression—is like the wilderness, in which the rose does not blossom, standing over against the prodigal luxuriance of the material comforts that make up so large a part of his life. It were dangerous to draw too sharp an antithesis; but if we judge from the ethnographic evidence, we may say that the savage, in contrast to the civilized man, is more occupied with supernatural and ideal than with natural and material things. Nature to him is of spirit all compact, and even the life we think so low and brutal has in its dreams and fears and crude beliefs the stores of a large imagination.

2. This absorption of the primitive man in religion is no mere accident; on the contrary it means that the nascent mind in him feels its kinship with the divine, gropes after it, and the more it gropes rises the higher in its manhood; and that it can only begin freely and intelligently to handle matter when it has in some measure clarified its outlook towards spirit. But if we desire to see how little the increase of intercourse with material things signifies any growth out of religion, we have only to turn our eyes on the peoples who can boast an historical and ordered being. Let us go back to our most ancient civilization, unbury the temples of Egypt, disinter her cities, rifle her tombs, unswathe her mummies, and read her hieroglyphs; and what do we find? That the thing that made her the mother of the arts, that bade her build her pyramids and her temples, that forced her to preserve her dead that the disembodied soul might on its return find again its ancient home, was belief: faith in the life that never died—her religion. Or let us take the greatest nation of merchants the world has ever known, the men who first learned how to navigate the pathless sea, to colonize for commerce, to weave the mysterious signs of the alphabet into written speech; and how do we trace their wanderings in search of gain? By the votive tablets which the Phœnician everywhere set up and left behind in the praise of his gods. Or let us move eastward till we enter the old Mesopotamian valley, dig into its shapeless and melancholy mounds and dig out its winged bull or its man-headed lion, discover and decipher its cuneiform inscriptions; and there read the history of its wars, the ambitions and the achievements of its kings, the myths and the legends of its people; and what have we discovered? That the thing all lived by and lived for was religion; kings ruled by favour of the gods, and delighted in the victories that did them honour. Or let us go further eastward till we reach India, and what is the idea that there penetrates everything, that fills all nature, that builds up and organizes all society, but the idea of an omnipresent Deity, who, though impersonal, is yet impersonated in all things, the bosom out of which all came, and into which all return? Let us move still eastward till we come to China, and there we find man held in the lean yet iron fingers of his dead ancestors; but all his ancestors—with the spirits that fill the heaven above, and people the earth below—speak to him of one thing—the religion which the people did not make, but which has made the people. And if we think that by returning to the saner West and investigating its sanest and sunniest peoples we may escape from this all-environing belief, what do we find? That the poetry, the art, the philosophy of Greece live and move and have their being in its religion; and without it these could not have been either what they were to the Greeks or what they are to us. And did not Rome conceive her Empire to be so much the creation of the religious idea that her emperors came to be honoured as deities? The gods built and ruled the city, and the city achieved her greatness by the favour of the gods; nay, she was herself imperial and eternal because she was divine. And what does this ubiquity of religion, with its all-penetrative and commanding action, mean? Not simply that man possesses it, but that it possesses man, and is the mother of all his order, all his arts, and all his architectonic ideas. Till religion, therefore, is explained he is inexplicable, and only as it is purified and strengthened can he be made perfect.

3. To speak of religion as the mother of our architectonic ideas may seem to many only a form of vain and sounding words, yet what they state is the sober truth. The thing that anthropology has made most certain is this—that primitive religion is not the apotheosis of accident, the child of nightmare and imaginative terror, but the organizing idea of society, the force which holds the whole social system together, builds it up, and gives to it its character and unity. Order is created because customs are established as religious, and are enforced by sanctions too dread to be despised. Law is divine, the oath is made sacred, and certain acts are stamped as crimes that must be punished by being conceived as violations of a will too awful to be corrupted and too inexorable to be defied. The forms of early society which are denoted by the uncouth terms which we owe to anthropology—taboo, totemism, fetishism—are the names of so many chapters in the early history of religion. By religious customs kinship is denned; through them kingship is established; by them the family, the clan, or the tribe, is delimited; and because of them the civil institution takes shape or finds its root and reason. And as it is in the most primitive societies, so it is also in the most stable, progressive, and civilized. The marvellous continuance of China is the fit handiwork of the one religion which can be truly described as “ancestor-worship,” which has saved the present by causing its indefectible loyalty to the past. The social system of India, the wonderful order of caste, so hateful and so little intelligible to the European, is but the articulation of racial pride, enforced by sanctions, preserved by customs, guarded by rites, consecrated by associations, which are all religious. The ancient empires of the East—Egypt, Assyria, Persia—were, in a sense, missionary associations, the victorious conqueror being but the potent apostle of his god. The greatest personal Empire was the shortest lived, it died with the man who made it, for with Alexander its only principle of life went out. The apotheosis of the Roman State expressed the idea that organized the Roman Empire; the tendencies that undeified the state dissolved its dominion. The societies that live longest and exercise the widest sovereignty are those which the religious idea has created and inspired. The Church of Buddha is a remarkable example of existence continued amid diffusion, unbroken by dispersal through peoples of alien blood and speech, unhurt by the downfall of friendly or the triumph of hostile states. The word of Mohammed laid hold upon the Arab tribes, divided by immemorial hates and centuries of bloody feuds, and fused them into a nation of a single passion and irresistible power. Translated into the soil of another and most ungenial race, the same word built the throne of the Turk in Europe and the Moghul in Asia. Religion remains thus, in all its forms and ages, a creative and architectonic force, a power all the more absolute that it is moral and intellectual rather than material, economical, or military.

§ II. Religion as Universal is Native to Man

From this rapid survey of religion, both in its primitive and historical forms, as of all facts the most universal and distinctively human, and as of all factors of movement and of social change the most potent and determinative, two or three important conclusions follow:

1. Science cultivates no field so necessary to the complete knowledge of man as that occupied by his religions. The circle of the sciences concerned with the interpretation of nature and man is immense, and it is all the fuller of knowledge and of meaning that no single science stands alone, but that each depends immediately or remotely upon all the rest. In their presence two things fill me with wonder—the immensity of the field they cover, and the inadequacy of them all combined, in spite of their coherence and their unity, to the interpretation of man as at once the interpreter and the interpretation of the universe. If we think of it, is not the point where these co-ordinated sciences stop even more remarkable than the point where they begin and the goal whither they tend? They start with those mathematics which are pure metaphysics, those ideas which the reason cannot think without or think away, and which underlie all its attempts at the interpretation of Nature as being in space. And then from this they rise through the more concrete sciences—physical, chemical, geological, biological—till they terminate in man as a social and economical being. The field is vast and crowded with marvels; but what is more marvellous than even its extent is its limitation. What is most cardinal and characteristic in man and his creations remains untouched, or is touched only at a point remote from the centre, and so distant from the enquirer that he cannot so see it as to bring it within the terms of anything that can be called scientific knowledge or discussion. Science indeed attempts to touch religion where it appears as savage custom and belief; but, as we are about to argue, these are for all scientific purposes much less significant than the historical religions; while the material they supply is less capable of judicial sifting and verification than the material,—monumental, institutional, literary, artistic,—available in history. There are indeed special sciences that cultivate these and cognate fields; but it is one thing to study religious art and archæology, or historical and literary criticism, and quite another thing to study the religion that produced the art and made the literature. And apart from the religion its creations cannot be appreciated; but to understand religion man must be understood, especially as regards those faculties, real or potential, by virtue of which he is its organ and bearer. Now the only science which has seriously concerned itself with this question is anthropology, which, like a new and more formal comparative anatomy, or a sort of psychological palæontology, takes up the dried and broken and scattered bones of savage myth, ritual, and institutions; and then, with the benevolent condescension which marks the child of culture when he deals with those lower civilizations out of which his own was born, it attempts to discover for us the process by which spiritual ideas first entered the primitive mind, and then organized themselves into the customs and the myths which are the originals of our civilized religions. Yet when it has spoken its last word, does it not leave unexplained the mystery of thought within the savage that compelled him to make and follow the custom, to think and create the myth? The man is more than the environment; it never could have acted on him as it is supposed to have done, or he have drawn from it what he did, had he not been man. More wonderful than the rudeness of his tools was the need he felt for them, how he made them, and what in his hands they accomplished; more remarkable than the extravagance of his beliefs was their existence, and they, like the tools, existed because of him. He, by the marvellous alchemy of his thought, distilled them from his experience; and they became the strong drink of his mind, now intoxicating and now inspiring, yet ever signifying that he had, by transfiguring nature into spirit, humanized himself. And his maddest dreams have within them the reasonable soul of a potential manhood. It does not become us to marvel at the grotesque things he said and believed at the supreme moment when the reason within him awoke, and he looked with the eyes of a dazed and perturbed imagination at the world without. For our own speech even now tends to become bewildered when we stand in presence of the mysteries of being, but are we to cease to think because the expression of our thought is inadequate? And is the scientific way to belittle thought through the inadequacy of its vehicle, or to read the vehicle through the reality of the thought? For it must have been some strong instinct in the savage that moved him to the creation of these naive beliefs and rites which we seek so curiously to explain. And this means that it was not the Nature without, but the nature within the man and behind the beliefs, that was the really significant and causative nature.

2. Religion is so essential to man that he cannot escape from it. It besets him, penetrates, holds him even against his will. The proof of its necessity is the spontaneity of its existence. It comes into being without any man willing it, or any man making it; and as it began so it continues. Few men could give a reason for their belief, and the curious thing is that when it is attempted the reasons are, as a rule, less rational than the beliefs themselves, and are but rarely possessed of a ratiocinative cogency. Its strength on the collective side lies in its institutions and usages; but on the personal side in its intellectual ideas and moral ideals. Men bear its institutions while they believe its truth; and no social or political revolution is possible anywhere save by those who have revolted from the beliefs on which the society or the State has been constituted. In the hour of the revolt individual men may will to have nothing to do with religion; but instinct is stronger than will, and religion in some form both of idea and usage returns, be it as the memory of a dead woman, as with Mill or Comte, or as an abstraction like Humanity—le grand Etre—loved of the Positivist, or as the Unconscious adored by the Pessimist, or as the Unknown affirmed by the logic and worshipped by the awe of the Agnostic. And what man is to religion he becomes to history. It is in his religion that he knows himself man, and through it that he realizes manhood. Like a subtle spirit it pervades his whole being, and controls both his personal and social development. His first attempts to interpret Nature are governed by religious ideas, and from his last attempts they are inseparable. He must, for he is rational, think, and what is the thought of a reasonable being but a factor which relates him to the Infinite and the Eternal? The society man creates, embodies his religious idea, and the same idea orders his history. Language in all its terms is instinct with religious feeling, and thought in its whole movement is governed by the religious problem. In theology philosophy begins, and in theology science ends, all the more that it may refuse to name the very notions which transcend its sphere and yet are implicit in all its premisses and will not be excluded from its conclusions. For what is the Agnostic but a man who confesses that there are ideas which he will not name but cannot escape from—ideas that he must disguise in order that he may reason concerning them? These ideas beget the ideals which have an infinite meaning for man, for they are born of religion and for ever cause religion to be born anew within him.

3. If religion be, as it were, so built into man as to be the heart of his being, it follows that the agencies which work most for its amelioration serve man in the highest possible degree. Genius is varied, and can accomplish great things in all the provinces and spheres of thought and life. In art it can give us the things of beauty that are joys for ever, and that govern the taste of all later ages; but art is not the whole of life. Sensuous beauty and moral uncleanliness have before now lived together without any feeling of mutual dislike or disgust; but in the course of ages the moral uncleanliness proves mightier to harm than the sensuous beauty to bless. Genius in literature may create the classical forms that educate all later intellects, but the most cultivated literary societies have often been cursed by the most absolute selfishness. In music the imagination of the master can blend the harmony of sweet sounds in the opera or oratorio that speaks to man in the language of the gods. But the delight music may give is of the sense rather than of the soul. Religion, on the other hand, affects and controls all these. To it art, pagan or Christian, owes it noblest subjects and highest inspirations. For it is not to be forgotten that art has everywhere lived and moved and had its being in religion. This is even more true of classical than of mediæval art, for it was at once a more adequate and a more refined expression of the religious ideal. Pheidias helped to spiritualize the religion of Greece in a sense and degree that has no counterpart in the work of Raphael for Italy; and if we do not read Greek art through the Greek idea that the Beautiful was the most fit symbol, if not indeed the very synonym, for the Divine, we shall never appreciate its nature, or understand what it achieved. From religion, too, literature has received the problems which have given it dignity, the spirit which has breathed into it sublimity, and the soul which has been its life. Without his mythology Homer would have made no appeal to the imagination of all time, Æschylus would have given us no tragedy, Plato no philosophy, Dante no Divine Comedy, Milton no Paradise Lost or Regained, without the motive and the material which religion supplied. And these are but typical cases, for to illustrate the point as it might be illustrated would be to marshal the masterpieces from the literatures of all peoples and times. And, finally, without religion music would lose most of its power to charm, for it elevates just as it breathes the soul of religion, and is the minister of the religious emotions. The religious is thus, as we have said, the architectonic idea of society, the commanding idea of conduct, the imperial idea of all our being and all our thinking, and he who can create its most perfect form is our supreme benefactor—the foremost person in all our history.

If, then, religion be to such a degree the force which makes for order in history, what are the philosophical problems it formulates for us? These are indeed a multitude, but they may be said to reduce themselves to three main classes: First, those connected with the nature, the origin, and the permanence of religion as such, i.e. the religious idea without reference to any of its specific forms. What is it? How did it come to be? Why does it continue to be? Secondly, those connected with the rise, the peculiar qualities and characters, and the distinctive behaviour of the special religions. How are we to conceive and explain the many forms the idea has assumed? To what causes do they owe their being? What forces—physical, personal, political—have worked for their modification? Thirdly, those connected with the historical action and generic significance of the particular religions; i.e. their merits, measured by some standard which philosophy may judge adequate, as systems embodying an ideal and working for its realization in the actual. What gives their worth to local religions? Is it enough that they have a history and serve their peoples? Is there such a thing as a universal or absolute religion? In what relation do the particular religions stand to each other and to the idea of religion in general? These are large questions, and we shall in this chapter confine ourselves to the two prior and fundamental points—(1) the idea and origin of religion; (2) the causes of variation in religions. The other point, as raising other issues, will be better discussed in a later chapter.

§ III. The Idea and Origin of Religion

1. Religion, so far as it is a matter of philosophical investigation, has a twofold sense—a subjective and an objective, or a personal and a collective, or an ideal and an historical. As subjective it denotes certain thoughts, ideas, feelings, and tendencies which belong to man as man. As objective it denotes the beliefs, the legends, the mythologies, the sacred books and creeds in which the thought is articulated; the ritual, ceremonial, acts or institutions of worship in which the feeling is embodied; the customs or laws by which the acts are regulated and sanctioned; and the practices, conventions, and social judgments by which the tendencies are developed and enforced. A provisional definition might therefore run somewhat thus:—Religion is, subjectively, man's consciousness of relation to suprasensible Being; and, objectively, the beliefs, the customs, the rites, and the institutions which express and incorporate this consciousness. But it may be necessary to say something more in explanation of both sides of this definition.

(i.) As to the subjective side, what is this consciousness? Can it be resolved into any single faculty or the function of any faculty, perception of the Infinite, intuition, or faith? Is it an intellectual, an emotional, or an ethical consciousness? Religion has, indeed, been conceived now as an act or state of knowledge, now as an act or state of feeling, now as an act or state of conscience. As thought or knowledge, it is a sort of provisional philosophy; as feeling, it is a more or less inchoate mysticism, a sense of dependence on Nature or natural forces or the Absolute; as a state of conscience, it has been resolved into a high morality, again into morality touched with emotion; and still again, into a categorical imperative apprehended as a Divine command. But the religious consciousness is too rich to be represented by any single element in the conscious life of man. It is neither knowledge, whether described as intuition or thought; nor feeling, whether conceived as sense of dependence or admiration; nor conscience, whether as a sense of obligation or as an organized and externalized authority. It is no one of these, yet it contains within it all these, for it is a consciousness which includes the whole energy of man as reasonable spirit. There cannot be religion without knowledge, for faith and knowledge are rather a unity than a true antithesis. Faith is intellectual, involves thought; and it is only as man conceives an object that he can have any conscious relation to it. The Unknown, as outside man's consciousness, is an object neither of thought nor of faith; and so has for him no real being, nor any relation to his conscious life. There can, therefore, be no religion without thought, for not to think were not to believe—to have nothing that could be described as either object or article of faith. Nor can religion exist without feeling, for all thought implies feeling; and there can be no feeling, without thought. To be conscious of emotion is to know ourselves as its subject, and something not ourselves as its cause or object; and the feeling will in its quality correspond to the qualities which thought has; predicated of its cause. No man can have a feeling of dependence who has not conceived himself as dependent on something, or conceived Some One as existing on whom he depends. Nor can religion be apart from conscience, for conscience is the unity of knowledge and feeling, the knowledge of the difference between acts and the qualities of acts, and the feeling of obligation to do acts that are of a given kind or have a certain quality. And so a relation such as is realized in religion is exactly the kind that supplies conscience with its law or norm. The consciousness, therefore, which knows itself related to suprasensible Being represents not one faculty, but the whole exercised reason—the concrete spirit reaching upwards and outwards to a spirit as concrete as itself.

(ii.) Turning now to the objective side, it is clear that the relation of which man is conscious is conceived as mutual, and not simply as one-sided. The God he thinks of is one who speaks to him as well as one who can be spoken to. The mutual relation is therefore conceived as a mutual activity; there is reciprocity between the related persons. Man worships, but God hears and sees and responds. While man offers himself to God, God communicates Himself to man. If it were believed that God ceased to be related to man, man would feel as if he also were without relation to God. And this implies an important addition to the ideas both of the object who is adored and the subject or person who adores, viz., the idea of a law or will which unifies the two and governs the relations which man, by his usages, seeks to establish between himself and the Deity. That law or will is the God who, as immanent both in nature and in man, is their common principle of unity. The evolution of religion is not a mere subjective process worked by an unconscious dialectic; it is a process in which man's whole environment takes part. It is due, as it were, to the converse of the soul with Nature—impossible without the soul to speculate, to question, to argue, to infer; but impossible also without an order that impels the soul to ask, and that answers as much by silence as by speech. And the real respondent in this controversy or discussion which provokes the soul to the dialectic that becomes religion, is not nature but God, the transcendent Reason using the terms of experience to awaken the transcendental idea. The Maker of man does not cease from relation with the man He made, and He cannot be related without exercising influence over him. This relation is one which every philosophy that seeks any ideal aim or rational process in this world has recognised. The reason that is in man is one with the universal Reason; his ideals must serve the order or stream of tendency which guides the systems of things to which he belongs. To conceive man and God as so related is to conceive the one as the form or vehicle in which the Other lives and through which He speaks. And so to complete the idea of the factors that work subjectively for the creation of religion, we must riot forget the God who dwells in consciousness any more than the consciousness which knows of His indwelling.

2. But the distinction between the subjective and objective senses of religion will, by being translated into more concrete terms, bring us to a new stage in our argument. The equivalent of the subjective sense is man, conceived as reason or spirit, the ideal ego who cannot be without thought and cannot think without affirming Deity. And the equivalents of the objective sense are the phenomena, the personal, social and ceremonial forms which embody his ideas, or constitute outward religion. Now if the relation between these two be conceived under the category of causation, man may be regarded as the producer, religion as the produced; but this needs to be qualified, as man is not an absolute cause, but conditioned; he never acts in isolation, but ever as a creature who lives within the limits of time and under the stimulus of place. Yet the most conditioned cause retains its causal functions and character; and so the subject must be conceived as the generative agent in religion. If, again, the relation be construed under the category of time, priority of being must be claimed for the subject through whose consciousness religion is realized. But the distinction is unreal, for the moment man thinks, his thought is objectified, and it exists for him only as it is an object. The two things, subjective and objective religion, are then, as a matter of fact, inseparable, though it is also true that in the order of thought the subjective is in being and in action the prior, the objective the later. In other words, man is before history; history is in consequence of man; i.e., it is the unfolding and expression of potentialities that were latent within him, and that have been evoked in the course of his personal and collective life. It is impossible indeed for history to reach the first man and describe him as he really was. He is, whether understood as person or as species, more or less symbolical, a creature of the imagination, made in order that he may be argued about. And this is as true of the idea of the primitive state as it is of the idea of the primitive man, whether with theology we speak of the one as Eden and of the other as Adam, or with science we describe the primitive as a savage state and name the person half-man, half-brute. Where we cannot investigate we must be content to speculate; and so all enquiries into the origin of early beliefs and institutions, however disguised in archaeology or in history, are really philosophical. Our modern anthropologies are in heart and essence as speculative as mediaeval scholasticism or as any system of ancient metaphysics. Indeed, the most barbarous metaphysical jargon which has ever been foisted upon patient thought, is that which uses terms like “taboo,” “totem,” “fetish,” “ghost,” to denote indiscriminated and even most dissimilar ideas, which are often, on the most unsifted and dubious evidence, attributed, first, to some scarcely known tribe; then, by an act of audacious generalization, to all primitive peoples; and, finally, to aboriginal man. There is no region where a healthy and fearless scepticism is more needed than in the literature which relates to ethnography. There is no people so difficult to understand and to interpret as a savage people; there is no field where competent interpreters are so few and so rare, where unlearned authorities are so many and so rash, or where testimonies are so contradictory, or so apt to dissolve under analysis into airy nothings. But what we deprecate is not the collection, the investigation, and the co-ordination of all facts connected with the habits, beliefs, state, and affinities of savage peoples; it is the philosophy they may be made to disguise. For the explicit and reasoned or implicit and inarticulated postulate of many ethnographically stated and illustrated speculations as to the earlier forms of religion, is a doctrine not simply as to the development of man and society, but as to the kind of being who was to be developed, what potentialities he had, and what forces made him the being he finally became. It is this doctrine which may both need criticism and repay it. For it does not follow that the anthropology which is an accurate description of man in his savage state is a good philosophy of religion.

3. The point of our criticism may become more obvious if we distinguish the question touching the subjective and objective senses of religion from two very different questions, those, viz., as to the source of religion, and as to its oldest and most primitive form. The question as to the source asks, Why did man begin to have a religion? but the question as to the form enquires, What sort of religion had he in the beginning? It is possible, indeed, to agree as regards the sort of religion man began by having, and to differ fundamentally as to why and as to how he came by it. We may hold that in religion, as in other things, the primitive were the rudest and the lowest forms; while we also hold that they owed their existence, low as it was, to what was highest and most rational in man, even as he then was, reaching out towards what was highest and most reasonable in the universe. If we so think, we shall see in the lowest form the promise and potency of the highest, just as we see in the savage himself the prophecy of reason and knowledge, culture and civilization. But if we conceive that not reason, but accident or ignorance, was the subjective factor of religion, then we shall regard his beliefs as a series of “mistaken inferences” or as a “system of superstitions” to be outgrown with the growth of knowledge, rather, than as a soil rich with the germs of higher things. The phrase we have just used is Mr. Herbert Spencer's, but it is not a very felicitous phrase. A “superstition” is the belief of a lower stage of culture surviving into a higher, with which it has no affinity, and to which it adheres as a sort of fungus. Hence the belief in lucky days or magic formulæ, in witches or charms, becomes in an age of science a “superstition;” for it is a survival from a period when the notion of natural law was not into a period which conceives Nature as preeminently the realm of law. But the belief is not a “superstition” when it is part of a consistent whole, an integral element in the living view of Man and Nature. The term, therefore, is not applicable to the religions of lower races, which are entirely relevant to their stage of culture, and to use it of them is significant only as indicating the attitude of the enquirer's own mind. What it here expresses is Mr. Spencer's theory that the religion, or “system of superstition which the primitive man forms,” is due to “mistaken inferences” or to “erroneous interpretations” of familiar phenomena. But in order that he may formulate his theory in a manner that proves it, Mr. Spencer has first to make his “primitive man”; and this man is, of course, a purely imaginary creature, made in the study and after the image of his maker. And the religion attributed to him is as imaginary as himself, for it is put together by a method that knows no order and follows no law. Time and place, race and racial relations, historical antecedents and conditions, degree of culture and moment of development, are, in the matter of proof and method of treatment, utterly ignored. Thus Mr. Spencer will, in the same chapter, or even paragraph, cite the Tahitians, the American Indians, the New Zealanders, the Veddahs, the ancient Hindus, the modern Hindus, various African tribes, the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans, the Hebrews, the Arabians, Semites in general, and “Europeans in the old times,” whoever they may have been, whether Esquimaux, Finns, Basques, Kelts, Teutons or Slavs, and multitudes more,—to illustrate some particular statement or doctrine without the slightest regard to the cardinal point of their respective environments, and the no less cardinal point of the history and “experiences” of their antecedent organisms. He handles religions as if there was no such thing as chronology, or place, or genetic development, or historical evolution. Criticism, historical and literary, is for him as if it were not. He never distinguishes old and original from recent and foreign elements, but deals with the immensest systems as if they had had no history and had known no growth, at least none save such as could be determined by “the laws of mental evolution.”1 He cites2 the Rig Veda and the Laws of Manu as alike veracious witnesses as to “what the original Aryan beliefs were,” which is very much as if one were to quote the Epistles of Paul and the Decrees of the Vatican Council as equally valid testimonies concerning the most primitive elements in Christianity. With quite as delightful naïveté the Hebrews are proved to have had “rites like those of ancestor-worshippers in general,” mainly by an appeal to Deuteronomy, Ecclesiasticus and the Book of Tobit.3 The “Hebrew ideas of another life” are described in a few crude sentences,4 and ideas of Persian origin and peculiar to later Judaism are regarded as distinctively Hebrew. The Greek and Roman religions are handled without regard to their origin or significance, and are made to illustrate Mr. Spencer's thesis either by an utter inversion or entire forgetfulness of their meaning. He is aware, indeed, that his interpretations will be called “Euhemeristic,” but he does not see that the objection to Euhemerism is that it is radically unhistorical and unscientific, possible only where a developed mythology is studied through a philosophy; quite impossible where it has been studied in its genesis and development. It is significant, too, that he is as confident about his doctrines and theories when he cannot as when he can find evidence for them in the ancient religions. He finds in none but the Egyptian evidence of belief in a Resurrection, but he never seems to miss it. His case in no way rests on history or criticism; it is an evolution from consciousness, a theory transcendently deduced, ethnographically illustrated, but in no case historically proved. Allow a man to adapt the laws of logic and the method of proof to his own convenience, and give him the whole of time to range over for illustrations of his peculiar theory, and he will prove it; only the theory, when proved, will have but small scientific significance, since without any real relation to the growth of mind and the order of human development.

§ IV. Ethnographic and Historical Religion

1. Now this criticism of Mr. Herbert Spencer has, it is hoped, made several things evident. First, the difference between the ethnographic and the historical treatment of religion. Ethnography studies and sketches features, characteristics, customs, scattered, insulated, or separable phenomena; but history studies the organism as it lives and grows in its own home, affected by all the forces that surround and play upon it In ethnography the writer selects the incidents, the customs, the beliefs, the qualities that interest him, groups and grades them in his own way, throws the emphasis where he thinks it ought to lie; in a word, states the problem in his own terms, and finds the factors that he imagines will solve it; but history allows him no such freedom, defines for him the time and the space within which he must move, the growth he has to measure, the variations he has to explain. The only development ethnography can be made to exhibit is the one which the writer designs; it is like a picture painted on a flat surface by an artist who creates his own perspective, and by a skilful use of light and shade compels us to see just what his imagination has seen and as he saw it. But history presents us with a development which nature and man have combined to conduct, invites us to watch it proceeding, and to discover the factors by which it has been or is being accomplished. The ethnographic method is thus subjective, and either, if the man who uses it be an artist, simply descriptive, or, if he be a thinker, an illustrated dogmatic, i.e. a system speculatively deduced, though expounded in terms drawn from savage customs, real or imaginary. But the historical method is objective, and is possible only to a man who has an eye to see and to read, as if it were a living thing, the complex unity of thought and custom which man made for a religion to himself, and in making which he made himself man, and became a society, a state, and a people. It is not too much to say, that if Mr. Spencer had studied at first hand a single historical religion, we should never have had the theory which forms the basis of his sociology. And what is true of him may be said of many another ethnographer who has tried to turn his descriptive science into a philosophy.

2. But a second thing our criticism has made evident is the distinction and independence of the questions concerned respectively with the primitive form and the source or origin of religion. The question as to the form is historical, but there is no history that can resolve it. But the question as to the source is philosophical, and so admits of discussion. Yet there is a connexion between the two which may be thus indicated:—If we cannot trace religion to the hallucinations or dreams, with their suggestion of mysterious “doubles,” of a gorged or a hungry savage, it will be impossible for us to describe its oldest or most rudimentary forms in such terms as “superstitions” or “mistaken inferences.” What this means will become apparent in the next discussion, which has to determine two points: (α) the relation between the subjective factor and the objective fact of religion, and (β) between the assumed primitive or ethnographic religion, and the religions of history.

(α) The subjective factor is Mind, or, more concretely, Man, conceived as nascent reason, and so constituted that he cannot become rational without realizing religion. The first effort of the reason is to distinguish itself from Nature, i.e. to become a conscious person; and the second is to transcend the Nature which it knows is different from itself, i.e. to create an order which is not an order of Nature, but of Reason. Now both processes are accomplished in the same way—by the evolution and articulation of ideas which are native to the reason, because the ideas by virtue of which it is rational. These ideas are not external things implanted in the mind by various cunning contrivances, but they are educed from within, the products of thought acting according to its own nature or laws. The most hopeless of all problems ever set to human ingenuity is this: Grant an organized being without reason, by what process of Nature can we get reason inserted within him? Man does not get reason from without; he is reason, and as reason awakens it speaks, and its speech embodies the ideas which reveal its nature, and which are at the same time the mirror in which it beholds itself. Thus it follows that the ideas which reason expresses must correspond in character and quality to what it is in itself, rather than to what can only be denned as the negation of itself. What these ideas are we may best express by saying that they are those of a being who cannot think without thinking God, or act without incorporating his thoughts in appropriate customs and institutions, i.e. as his thoughts are beliefs concerning Deity, his usages are forms which speak of his relations to the Deity and of the Deity's to him. This means that man can as little choose to be religious as to be rational; he is both, and both by the same necessity of Nature. For expression is a necessity to reason; if it is to live, it must by speaking create speech. And, similarly, expression is a necessity to religion; if it is to live, it must take to itself shape—make for itself a body; and this body will have a double correspondence, on the one side to the reason, on the other to the place which is its home.

And it is here where we may perceive the relation between the subjective factor and the objective fact. For religion, though its source be ideal, is yet not pure but embodied spirit, art expression of the reason conditioned by the environment in which it lives. Man can as little think as he can live in a vacuum, and the place he occupies will supply both form and colour to the thoughts he articulates. In other words, religion at its birth is an epitome alike of the spirit which bears it and the natural conditions within which that spirit lives. In it are mingled all the elements which compose the man and constitute his world. He can think of the gods only under terms intelligible to his intellect; still, however rude the form under which he thinks them, it is of gods he thinks. He may conceive the divine-as the magic which dwells in some stick or stone, in some; old garment or strange plant; or as the mysterious power which resides in some animal—a bull or bear, a dog or cat; or in some person—poet, medicine man, or chief; but however he may conceive it, what he conceives is to him as real a deity, and as truly supernatural, as Jehovah was to the Hebrews. The living heart of his belief is the theistic idea the form in which he expresses it is the accident of time and place, marking the stage and quality of his culture, and connoting the conditions—climatic, geographical, ethnical, and political—under which he has lived. The form is, as it were, the double of the world he lives in—therefore the creation of experience; but the matter is the double of the spirit he is—therefore the product of his own transcendency. His religion is made up, then, of two constituents (i.) the substantive or ideal, i.e. the conception of the transcendental, the supernatural, or the divine, which is a product of thought working on the phenomena it perceives; and (ii.) the formal or real, i.e. the terms or vehicles which embody his ideas, the stories, rites, and customs that come out of his own experience, both outer and inner. The ethnographic student of religion tends to emphasize the latter, and to select now one, and now another, of its features as the chief or essential element in religion. The emphasis has fallen now on the philological or literary expression; and the mythology, the folklore, the divine names and attributes have been investigated and compared. Then the emphasis has changed to institution or custom; and the totem, the sacrifice, the priest, the magician have become the fields of research and speculation. But these by themselves are more significant of the stage of culture than of the nature or character of the religion. For if man tells certain stories of his gods, it is only such stories as he could believe were they told of the more heroic men; and if he believes that the sacrifice is a meal which satisfies the gods, it is because he knows that even such a meal would please men, and express or seal amicable relations between them. But the life and permanence of the religion do not lie in the elegance of the mythology or the persistence of the institution or custom; they He rather in the continued and refining activity of the thought. It would be hard to exaggerate the rudeness of the form which religion assumes in the lower stages of culture; but this ought not to conceal from us the fact that the process which produced it was in its own order, if not as fine yet as rational and real, as that to which we owe the art, the poetry, and the philosophy of today. Man produced it because he was struggling to express or realize himself, within a system that forced him to be rational in order that he might be man while the system remained Nature. And the real continuity of religion lies in the continued activity of the creative process, the thought which is ever refining the forms it has inherited, and seeking fitter vehicles for its richer and sublimer ideas.

(β) The second question, as to the relation between ethnographic religion and the historical religions, is as important from a scientific as the first question was from a philosophical point of view. The generalities of anthropology may show how features persisted or customs survived; but they do not help us to see how the organisms called historical religions were built up, and quickened, and developed. To find a multitude of “survivals” is a thing as easy as it is insignificant; but what is much more difficult to explain, and much worthier of explanation, is how so many religious beliefs and customs have died while religion has survived, their death tending rather to its rejuvenescence than its decay. And what does this mean but the want of objective validity in what we have termed ethnographic religion as opposed to the religions of history? What is presented to us as the religion of primitive peoples is a mere abstract system stated and developed in the terms of generalized customs rather than of logical formulæ. The term totem, used by the North American Indians to denote one of their own customs, has been applied to Australasian tribes whose customs are too varied to be stated in identical terms, being indeed often, as the latest researches show, exactly the converse of the Indian; and the conveyance of the phrase has been naturally followed by the attribution of the thing and the whole order of thought it represented. But a particular fact stated as a general proposition is an argumentative proceeding whose worth can be easily appraised. As a consequence this product of the ethnographic method can be brought into organic relation with no single historical religion. Mr. Andrew Lang has plaintively bewailed that the strata in the field he has so thoroughly studied and so interestingly described, are not superimposed or even adjacent, but widely scattered. And the difficulty is to find the succession of the scattered strata; their sequence is a thing of imagination or conjecture, not of history. The fragments have to be collected, like the limbs of Osiris, from the most distant places, only Osiris has to be made out of the limbs, with no certainty that he ever was, or, if he ever were, that the limbs were really his. The image made of members collected from India, Australasia, America, China, Africa, and Europe, can hardly be expected to make a very homogeneous figure, though, indeed, it may well be a figure capable of being the parent of anything. But the impossibility of affiliating the forms or of finding any valid sequences in their order, makes the attempt to find the origin and roots of religion, or to define and determine its function in history and in the evolution of society through the study of its meanest and most barbarous forms, seem an altogether fallacious procedure For religion is neither a peculiarity of the savage state, nor is it there that its social action can best be studied. Man does not leave it behind him as he leaves his stone implements, his cave dwellings, his nakedness, his polyandry, and the other accidents of his savagery. It is the one thing that can be described as his invariable attribute; and, like all things which do not die, its higher or more perfect forms are more significant of its real nature, and therefore of its actual source and cause, than any multitude of low forms or rudimentary types. This does not mean that the comparative study of the primitive religions is worthless; on the contrary, it is a discipline that no student of human nature and history can afford to despise. The more we know of savage man the better we shall know man civilized; but then civilized has even more significance for savage man than savage for civilized, especially if our purpose is to discover his possibilities and intrinsic worth. The meaning of childhood becomes apparent to us only in and through manhood; and though the psychology of the child may be a matter of inexhaustible interest to the man, and most instructive to him if he be a parent or a teacher, yet it is only in the man that the mind of the child stands revealed. So if religion be studied through savage custom and myth, some religions may be better understood, and some elements in all religions may be made more intelligible; but religion as the most potent, universal, and permanent of all human things will not be any nearer scientific explanation. For it can be explained only as it is traced to causes which are as common and as constant as itself, which operate even more powerfully in the civilized than in the savage state, and do so because the civilized man is a truer type of humanity, because he is more of a man, than the savage.

§ V. The Causes of Variation in Religion

Religion, then, is best studied as an organism living within its own special habitat, experiencing change even while it performs work, and developing new organs and functions because it is daily challenged to exercise new energies. But this brings us to a question concerning which something must be said, viz., if religion have a common and single root, why have we such a multitude of religions? Are there any natural causes working for variation? The fundamental principle here is: What is most generic in religion has at once its root and organ in what is most generic in man. He is religious not by chance but by Nature, not by choice but by necessity. He did not stumble into religion, but grew into it, and it grew in and with him. The true survival in religion is not the superstition or the custom which persists from a lower into a higher state, but the idea which undergoes transfiguration but not conversion. The persistence of the idea means the continuous activity of the creative factor, but the infinite variety of the forms it assumes are due to causes more or less local and occasional. There is a constant conflict between the ideal and the formal elements in religion. The spirit which created is never satisfied with its own creations, is ever returning on them, questioning, doubting, re-formulating them; and it is by being continually handled that they continuously live, outgrow their ancient forms, and effect changes even in the things they themselves had made. But the forms—creeds, customs, laws, ceremonies, priesthoods—represent the formal elements; and their invariable tendency is to impose themselves and their limitations on the ideal. Man is conservative by virtue of what in him is local and particular—what is his own in distinction not only from what is another person's, but what is man's; but he is progressive by virtue of what in him is universal and generic—what in him is his own because he is man. Hence, while the ethnographic student thinks that the custom, and the institution, as the best conserved and least changeable element in religion, is the most characteristic and important; the philosophical student, aware that the institution endures only by virtue of the ideas read into it, seeks the secret of the religion in these ideas and their source. Without these the institution would die and the custom cease; it is the universal that keeps the local alive, while the local is ever threatening the universal with death. It is, therefore, in the local and occasional causes which create the outward forms that the factors of variation must be sought.

These are too man to be here analyzed and described, but they may be reduced to certain great categories, such as race, place, ethnical relations, history, social and economical needs, and special or creative personalities. Each of these affects religion on many sides and in many ways. We note only the most salient.

1. Race. It is easy to exaggerate both the fact and the function of racial characteristics, yet it is hardly open to doubt that such characteristics really exist. There is a psychology of peoples as well as of persons, and communities exhibit on a large scale the distinctive qualities that particular persons show on a scale infinitely minute. The fact that the literature of one people can be translated into that of another, implies their likeness; the fact that no translation can be the exact equivalent of the original, implies their difference. When M. Renan, in his early work on the Semitic Languages, expatiated on what he termed the monotheistic instinct of the Semitic peoples, he gave poetical expression to what he conceived to be a racial characteristic. This instinct might have no more to justify it in fact than that the parent monotheism of the world issued from a Semitic people; but the theory forgot that no Semitic people has been able by its own act to make monotheism a reality. The Arabian, without the help of the Persian on the intellectual side and the Tartar on the political and military, would never have made Islam the great missionary religion it became, and has remained. The Jew would have cancelled his monotheistic ideal by his tribal enthusiasm, which allowed the Gentile to become a worshipper of Jehovah only on the condition that he became a Jew. Yet the passion that breathed the breath of life into the idea of the one God, and made it live to other races, was distinctly Semitic. The passion may have implied a deficiency of imagination and a simplicity of thought, both of which may have been due to early associations with a nature more severe and monotonous than fruitful and varied; but whatever the reason, monotheism was in its origin a Semitic faith. The Aryan, on the other hand, has never been spontaneously monotheistic, though often monistic. The unities he has striven after have been unities of thought, abstractions rather than concrete personalities. He has loved to make his gods either speak in forms more or less appropriate to the senses, or exist in formulæ more or less intelligible to the reason: according to the one impulse he has been a polytheist, according to the other he has been a pantheist; and the harmony of the tendencies has been seen in this, that where he has been most pantheistic his polytheism has been the most multitudinous. These tendencies may express influences flowing out of ancient years when the susceptible mind was impressed and worked upon by a nature that seemed alive, that blossomed into beauty, that burst into fruitfulness, and ever revealed to sense an inner energy of being that delighted to break out in life and growth. But whatever may be the cause of its special characteristics, race has its value in things both of the mind and the imagination; and so we but formulate an obvious conclusion when we say that blood counts in religion as a factor determining its special type.

2. Place acts variously upon a people, but there are two distinct influences it may exercise;—either, directly, a physical, or, indirectly, an ethnical, due to its power from its position or its configuration to hinder or to promote human intercourse. Thus the child of the mountains or the son of the desert has each had his beliefs directly affected and modified by his place. The nature which environs the two is so different that the ideas it begets in them as to the creative and conservative powers appear in very different forms and with dissimilar qualities. If the sun dispels the cloud around the mountain, thaws the ice in the valleys, and sends down the fertilizing streams into the plains, it will have one meaning for man; and if it beats hotly upon him by day, endangering by its beams his life, heating the sand under his foot, and drying the water in the springs, it will have quite another meaning for him. And as he will read through the great forces of Nature that which is behind it, the sun will in the one case become to him the name or symbol of a beneficent deity; in the other case of a demonic or of an actually or potentially maleficent power. And so the attitude of man's mind to the theistic idea, and the terms or forms he uses to express it, will be largely conditioned by his physical environment. Hence races cradled amid a fruitful Nature,—where its vital force is the most manifest thing, compelling men to feel as if suckled at breasts of inexhaustible fulness—come to think of the creative life as something spontaneous and inner, an energy which struggles from within outwards. But races whose cradle has been the desert or the arid plain—where the forces without wither the feeble life that tries to issue from within, and where a man has to be strong if Nature is to be subdued—tend to think of the creative energy as outward, something which imposes its will on the reluctant wilderness. In the former case the tendency is to conceive Deity as an immanent energy, and life is deified as with the Egyptians, or the soul which dwells in all men and rolls through all things is made the sovereign god, as with the Brahma of the Hindus. In the latter case the tendency is to conceive Deity as outside and above Nature, a force which acts upon it rather than lives within it; and so gods are named masters, makers, lords, and described in the terms so familiar to the student of the Semitic religions. When the elements latent in each of these attitudes of mind are developed and unified, the conception becomes in the one case that of Divine immanence, in the other that of Divine transcendence. When the idea which had spontaneously arisen comes to be speculatively construed, the immanence will blossom into a Pantheism, the transcendence into a Monotheism. And as an indication of the long persistence of qualities which physical influences had tended to create, it deserves to be noted that while Pantheism is native to both Hindu and Greek thought, it has never appeared as a native product among any Semitic people, the cases which do occur having been due to the action of alien thought on special persons. And we may add, it is not without significance that the race which first learned the meaning of the Pole-star to the mariner, was one which came of a desert parentage. It applied to the trackless ocean the instincts that had been transmitted to it through fathers who had learned to seek in the heavens above guides for their way through the trackless sand below.

3. Ethnical relations, largely also affected by place, exercise varied influences. Their kind and degree and effect will depend on such things as whether the peoples meet as friends or foes, as cognates or aliens, as buyers and sellers, or as explorers and explored; whether they touch as it were only from a distance or mix and intermingle; whether their culture is alike or different in character and in stage; whether the one is of an established order with fixed laws and recognized usages, while the other is, in all similar respects, fluid and unformed; whether the one is conqueror and the other conquered, or both are equals. Thus the lower races are powerfully affected by the presence of the higher. It is doubtful whether the man who visits a new people that he may study their customs, does not cause or occasion some of the most characteristic customs he describes. The very attempt to render to a stranger an account of the thing he does, changes the attitude of the simple mind to the thing or to the mode of doing it. Wherever the foot of the white man touches, it works changes in the thoughts, blood, ways, and worship of the people. He may not mean to effect any change, but he effects one all the same; and his ubiquity has now made the discovery of a pure native religion a thing no longer possible. Then it has been often remarked, though not always with truth, that the gods of one race or tribe become the devils of another; and it is even more curious that the two things which people can most easily interchange are their vices and their gods. This is no new thing, but as old as man. It did not need to wait for illustration upon the action of our merchants and missionaries to-day; Egypt and Ph™nicia, Babylonia and Assyria knew it, and ancient literature is full of it. The intercourse of peoples then as now worked for good and evil, hastened civilization even where it changed religion. The races that were planted on the northern shores of the Mediterranean came early into contact with the older races on its eastern and southern shores, and learned from them arts and crafts, customs and beliefs that quickened their development, exercised their energies, and fitted them to play their great part in the history of the world at a much earlier period than their brothers who had remained in central and northern Europe. This ethnical intercourse made them, too, different in character and in destiny from the brothers who had wandered into India, and had become there such potent factors of religion and change. Man's influence on man, therefore, is as powerful as ever was the influence of Nature to modify worship and belief.

4. But history tends to modify religion even more than nature or ethnical relations. The longer man lives the stronger grows the power of the past over the present. For not only does memory become more crowded with images, but the images grow more defined and definite. Imagination comes to its aid, and the hero experiences apotheosis; deity is made in the image of man, and anthropomorphism enlarges the qualities and attributes of the divine. But the stage of culture at which the process of apotheosis begins, as well as the underlying idea of Deity in its relation to Nature and man, must also be taken into account as helping to determine the specific character of the religious ideal. Thus the notion of the Divine immanence was native to both the Hindu and Greek mind, but their respective pasts made a notable difference in the form it assumed. In India it was an immanence that was primarily one of nature and class, but in Greece an immanence in the man as a man. It was the Brahman who was to the Hindu the pre-eminent incarnation of his God, but in Greece it was the hero—the most manlike of men. Then, too, the stage of culture made itself apparent in the construction of the Divine order. The Vedic mythology has been termed simultaneous, the Homeric successive, i.e. the Vedic deities stand together, independent, distinct, coordinate, but as it were uncombined and unsystematized; while the Homeric deities are reduced to system, and a principle of subordination has been introduced which reflects Greek society and the State. In the Homeric mythology there is a fine harmony between the worlds of gods and of men; neither is a reproach to the other, but each is wrought in the other's image. They do not differ in morals, lust, cruelty, love of friends, and hatred of enemies; the duties of hospitality and friendship reign in heaven as on earth. Zeus and Hera have their jealousies, quarrels, and inconsistencies even as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, though Olympus does not know a love so pure and invincible as Penelope's. In the councils of the gods the same infirmities of temper, the same swift and satirical speech, appear as in the assembly of the Greek chiefs. The gods, like so many hungry warriors, love the smell of fat beeves, and go where they can most enjoy it They are as envious as even men themselves can be of the happy or the prosperous man. In the upper world, as upon the earth, the under world is feared; and fate and death cast as thick a shadow upon Olympus as they do upon the homes of men. This complete anthropomorphization of the Greek god is the counterpart of the complete immanence of the idea of the divine in man; while in the Hindu mythology the pre-eminent incarnation of deity in a class or the instruments of a class, results in a notion of the divine so little man-like as to be now brutal, now physical, but never as human and ethical as we know the Greek gods tended to become.

5. But this action of history further shows itself in the influence exercised by the social or political ideal on the notion of the divine. We have very different conceptions of Deity and his relations to man in societies that are organized on the patriarchal or regal, and in those governed by the social or communal idea. Thus amid the Semitic tribes we have very early the patriarchate. The family is the natural unit of society and has at its head the father, who is the natural monarch. And we have in consequence two parallel phenomena: the most absolute sovereignty is ascribed to God and also to the king. This is connected with the notion of the Divine transcendence, which means that God is a Will above Nature, and not within it; just as the king is at once in being and will above the state, creative of it rather than incorporated within it. On the other hand, amid the Aryan tribes of India the regal as well as the priestly class are conceived as evolved from the people; they proceed from below upwards, or grow from within outwards rather than constitute the state by a transcendent and external will. The immanent notion and tendency which in thought created Pantheism built up a society which, in its very classes, grades, and functions, represented an inherent order. The social ideal of the tribal polity thus becomes the vehicle and symbol of the tribal theology. As a consequence the social and the religious worlds helped to organize each other; the same idea was the architect of both religion and the state.

6. But now as a special form of the historical influence qualifying the political and social, the action of great personalities must be recognised. There is no region in which they are at once so powerless and so powerful—so powerless to annihilate or create, so powerful to modify or change. It does not He with any human will to determine whether religion shall or shall not be; it is so much a product and decree of Nature that it will be whatever any individual may desire or decide. But its quality or character, its opportunity, form, or line of development may be powerfully influenced by the direct or indirect action of persons. To illustrate this would be to write the history of almost all religions; but some remarkable phenomena may be simply noted. In religions which emphasize the immanent idea creative personalities have been rarer than in those which emphasize the transcendental. There is no land or people so steeped in religion as the Indian; all their hopes and aspirations move in obedience to its will; their literature has been made by it, their social order embodies it; but the really remarkable thing is that, while the religious person, now as teacher, now as reformer, is everywhere in the history of India, the creative personality has but rarely appeared, and in a transcendent degree has appeared but once in its whole history, On the other hand, peoples with less of the genius for religion have had persons of vaster influence on the world's history. The small tribe of the Jews produced the prophets of Israel and the apostles of the Christian faith; a small tribe in Arabia, shut off from cosmopolitan influences, produced Mohammed; China, at a remote period in her life, produced Lao Tsze and Kung Fu Tsze; ancient Persia had its great personality in Zoroaster. The reason at once of the more frequent emergence and the vital power of the creative personality in religions which are governed by the transcendental idea, may lie here—that they emphasize in so much higher a degree personal freedom and will, while where immanence is so construed as to depersonalize deity he becomes the synonym for necessity both in man and in Nature. The things that are must be, and there is no power in man to change their course. On the other hand, the transcendental idea is an expression not of force but of will; though all else may be necessitated, yet God is free. Hence, though in the popular judgment fatalism may mark Islam, yet it is not the fatalism of an inexorable mechanism or blind necessity, but of an irresistible will. Where God necessitates but is not necessitated, there must ever exist the possibility of personalities appearing which He creates and sends to accomplish large things for religion; where the cycle of life is a necessity tempered by the contingencies of a social or sacerdotal order, there is no room for the free personality and its creative and modifying work.

These are a few of the factors of formal change in religion. But within the local there lives and moves what may be termed a universal Spirit, a life we may feel rather than analyze. God has never left Himself without a witness. He has manifested Himself to men; has written His name in their hearts, and they have never ceased to be conscious of the name. The attempt to read it may have resulted in the strangest misreadings, in grotesque interpretations and applications; but from the name and the necessity of finding Him whose name it is, man has never been able, nor indeed has ever wished, to escape. And as the name is there, He who wrote it has never forgotten His own handiwork, and has moved in men and nations like the spirit which quickens the understanding. And now and then man becomes conscious of this quickening spirit, and a change passes over him; a vision of higher ideals than the mean greeds and ambitions of his secular life possesses his soul. On such occasions a tidal wave of change sweeps over the face of humanity, and by some mystic method moves from east to west, or from north to south, over peoples who had never heard of each other's existence. In one century we may find great prophets in Israel, a great religious reformer in India and another in China, and all humanity moving to new religious impulses; and there are seasons when one race seems to dominate all other races, to be for a season the master of the world, till, defeated by its very victories, it declines into a deeper obscurity than that from which it had emerged. Where are the skill and the wealth and the statesmanship of ancient Egypt? where the military prowess of Assyria and Babylonia? where the ethical passion and imperial ambitions of ancient Persia? where the art and poetry of Greece? where the statesmanship and military discipline and genius of ancient Rome? And yet do they not all live in the men and peoples who are alive to-day, and alive in a manner impossible without these earlier states and peoples? The ebb and flow in the life of humanity is a marvellous thing, and the special moment at which a man is born has, in relation to the great tides that mark the onward movement of society, a special and peculiar significance. And what do these things signify but that changes do not come unbidden,—that the inspiration of the Almighty is a factor in human destiny, and that the God who works in history fulfils Himself in many ways?

  • 1.

    Principles of Sociology, vol. i. p. 232.

  • 2.

    Principles of Sociology, vol. i. p. 315.

  • 3.

    Principles of Sociology, vol. i. p. 317.

  • 4.

    Principles of Sociology, vol. i. p. 208.